Spimes, Blogjects, And Other Buzzwords: A Primer

Spime is a pretty stupid sounding word (like most neologisms), but it describes an increasingly important concept – they are objects that can be digitally tracked through their entire life-cycle. There’s a little more to them than that, because the man that coined the term, Bruce Sterling, is a big techno-hippy, and felt the need to include ideas about their manufacturing process and some notions about recycling in there too. I’m reasonably sure that given time and usage, that part will fall away (and to be honest, since I am also a big techno-hippy, I’ll be sad about that) and we’ll be left with the specifically useful definition, of an object that generates a data cloud than can then be accessed by other objects.

To make the example more concrete, I’ll quote from the Wikipedia entry for spime – in a near future spimeworld, where your house has a Star Trek style voice activated computer, and all your possession are spimes, instead of spending a fruitless twenty minutes searching for your shoes in the morning, you will simply be able to say “Where are my shoes?” out loud and Majel Barrett will respond “Your shoes are under the bed”, because your household computer will be able to track the datacloud generated by your shoes and your bed, and combine it with in house mapping systems to work out their proximity. (Or, if you’re me, you’ll have ripped the Majel Barrett bit of the code out with claw hammers, and replaced it with something with a decent and attractive accent. Possibly something Scottish. But I digress…)

Which brings us to blogjects. Another word that practically clunks whenever it’s used, a blogject is exactly what you’d think: an object that blogs. An object that publishes data about itself to the web at intervals, without the intervention of a human. One might make the case, for instance, that I have turned my hi-fi into a blogject, because I have a set-up that produces a weekly top-ten type chart of music I’m listening to. It’s not strictly accurate, because it’s not the hi-fi itself that’s doing the playing, recording and publishing – I play all my music via iTunes on a PC, going out through the hi-fi, and it’s the PC doing the publishing, which is then interpreted by several intvening services and scripts. But it’s an example of what the future of things might look like.

And where it all gets really exciting/frightening is that almost everything you do will be generating data like this. Me, as much as it creeps me out a little, I think overall it has the potential to be interesting at least.

It’s part of the reason I run ala.sda.ir. Yes, it’s convenient for others (I hope), but it’s also a chance for me to slowly adjust to where I see the web going, the idea that people will continuously generate personal data, that will be available from central “personal portals”. At the moment, I’m choosing to provide it of my own free will, but there’ll come a point where it’s generated my my spimes automatically. For example, if my camera had a built in GPS device (and believe me, I’d love it if it did), all the photos on my photoblog could be geotagged, and (were I to publish enough photos) someone might be able to build up a reasonable picture of where I’ve been on a given day. That is, of course, if my weekly calendar were not enough – although what I’d quite like is something that would compare before-and-after the fact, so I could track how many of the things I book, I wind up doing, and then provide data about which of my friends I wind up cancelling plans with most often, or who I haven’t seen in a while, and so on…

My point is, that the systems I’ve build to do all this proto-spime stuff are slowly coming together, and becoming more accessible to everyone, and we need to start thinking about how we want to manage our privacy in this strange Doctrow-esque future. At the moment, my calendar will allow me to block stuff from public view, and several of my datafeeds allow me to toggle what turns up on the portal. We need to be sure we give users control over what data they expose to the general public.

Which leads in to another topic, identity management, that I’ll come back to another time.

This entry was originally published at my workblog.

Emerging markets and censorship.

Microsoft follows Yahoo, bows to censorship pressure from China.

It’s a big topic, this, so I think this one gets a post to itself, because I honestly don’t know what I think. I was faintly admiring of a friend (the same one I stole this link off) when he stopped using any yahoo-provided service in the wake of their own caving. I didn’t, because they owned flickr (and now del.icio.us, and upcoming.org) as well this mailing lists, and it would just have been too much hassle to quit using theri stuff. Also, I have friends who work for Yahoo, and I have intention of stopping talking to them.

Microsoft, of course, represents another, even bigger hassle to quit, and I’m not going to do that, either. But is quitting using these companies’ products the answer? There’s the saw about how trade with China will eventualyl improve human rights/democracy over there, as they’re forced/encouraged to become more and more a part of the same world as the rest of us. There’s the flipside of that, that they’re going to do shitty things, no matter what we do, so we might as well conduct trade with them anyway. (Yes, it’s true, eveything I know about international affairs, I learned from The West Wing.)

Clearly, Yahoo and MS have bought one or the other of those lines. It’s not hard to see why: even if everyone were to suddenly stop using MS and Yahoo, and they were to stop going along with China, would it make any difference inside China? Almost certainly not. And so it’s easy to excuse ourselves.

Except of course for Burke’s maxim. “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”. Surely, regardless of whether or not it’ll make a difference, there’s a moral imperative to stand up and register your dissenting opinion? And doesn’t the internet make it really easy to do just that?

Or does it actaully make it harder, as the technologies we use on it are increasingly owned by the same small group of companies?

This entry was originally published at my workblog.

Google Base

Well, it’s interesting. I’m going to have to sit and play with it properly at some point, but it’s certainly an interesting idea. One thouht occurs: it’s a move away from social networking, back to a more web-tradtional approach – the idea here is not that you share content with a taste-tribe or a network of friends, but that you make it available to everyone.

I understand why Google themselves might want this: they’re getting structured data for free, that they can use to make themselves the first port of call for anyone looking for any information ever (and if you aren’t frightened by Google by now, you really should be). But like many others, I don’t see where the incentive for the public to use it is. What value do I derive from putting a copy of the content on here into their “news and articles” database?

I can in fact, see the potential value for a large corporation, from a marketing perspective, and I note that Google Base will take bulk RSS/Atom uploads of content, so in fact, and a reasonably switched-on operation should be able to dump data in there quite fast, but still, I wonder why they’d bother – surely Google will index their web content anyway?

I suspect that this is either another daft experiement, like Orkut (OK, yes, most of Brazil are on Orkut. No-one else is.) or the start of a larger plan for Google.

This entry was originally published at my workblog.

Design 2.0

Web 2.0 isn’t even properly here yet, and already I’m bored of the design style. I mean, I know that design goes in trends, and by late 2006, all the new launching stuff will look different, but I’m now heartily sick of sites with a white/cream background, and then pale blue, green and orangeused as colour indicators.

I’m sick of titles being in a slightly oversized blue font. Actually, I’m just sick of everything being slightly oversized. I’m sick of tag clouds, even though I know they’re here to stay. I’m sick of form elements that turn pastel yellow on selection.

One of the things I like about the web is the infinite variations on design, but thanks to the cleverness of a very few sites (Flickr and the 37 signals family of tools, it seems like everyone with a bit of Ajax-enabled software is using the same bloody colours all the damn time. Can we have some web 2.0 things that look different, please?

This entry was originally published at my workblog.

Search Engine Optimisation and Free Information

Two unrelated links – Ethical Search Engine Optimisation. As some of you might know, my career started out when I was hired by was was effectively the marketing and SEO arm of a major web agency. (And yes, some years later, I worked for a permission based email marketing outfit, and now I work in the music business for a very much pro-DRM outfit. I figure the only way it can get worse is if I get into virus-writing for organised crime for my next job.) Anyway, while the ideas he’s putting out are basic common sense to me, it might be a useful reference for explaining this sort of thing to others in the future.

Secondly, the World Summit On Free Information Infrastructures is on in London next weekend, and looks like it could be very interesting.

(Credit where credit is due department: I ran across that last one on Friday, but it’s only seeing it and the ESEO on Tom Coates’ blog that has reminded me to link it.)

This entry was originally published at my workblog.

The Comet Effect

Sixapart announce Comet, which sounds like the reasonably predicatable fusion of Moveable Type blogging and Livejournal that’s been been on the cards since they bought LJ. There’s some talk of better media integration than current blogging tools provide, and it’s certainly something I’ll watch with interest, but I do wonder what the point is.

Having come back to “proper” blogging after a few years of LJ-only stuff, I’ve found that I like the difference that the community-free aspect of blogging provides. I’m aware that this blog has a small audience, but I’m not aware of who they are, and I know that they’re coming here because (I assume) they like the content they find here, rather than because they’re part of a community. I write what I want here, rather than worrying about spoiling someone’s community experience.

Another one for the write-more-later file, I think…

This entry was originally published at my workblog.

Communication and Conviction

I’ve been thinking a lot about soap boxes, and getting one’s message across, and basically how people can tell others the things they care about and generally get heard. And then I read Desolation Jones #3, and it got me to thinking. This essay is very much only a start, but I wanted to just set down where my head is at with regard to what I do all day right now, in the hope of building on it. It’s a bit scattershot, but it’s there to clarify a few things for me. Next time, I’ll try and get stuck into techniques for on-line discourse, or something…

This entry was originally published at my workblog.