July 19, 2007

In their latest spasm of incompetence in the on-going Strikethrough 2007 drama, LiveJournal’s admins have clarified that they were just kidding about that all that free speech and community stuff for long enough to get the last batch of permanent accounts sold.

Countdown to Harry Potter spoilers being posted in that thread: in 10… 9… 8…

ETA: Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies. Youtube and Google win again. I think I slightly prefer Harry Potter and the Brokeback Goblet, myself. Both spoiler free.

I look up potential interviewees on Facebook (as well as Google, obviously). Unlike the proctors at Oxfrod, I don’t care whether you’ve been photographed covered in flour or shaving cream, as long as you look like someone who’s smart, and gets things done.

livredor recently posted an entry in which she talks about online privacy, linking to Charlie Stross’s essay on the subject. I think Stross has this article on teenagers and online privacy in mind when he talks of a generation growing up with the idea that you have no privacy online and it doesn’t matter anyway. livredor is coming to the conclusion (which I share, see my replies in the comments) that she “should just make everything open and take care never to post anything that I could be ashamed or embarrassed about”.

As the comments on her posting point out, the problem is working out what you could be embarrassed about. The problems mentioned in the Times article are partly the result of a generation gap between people who aren’t surprised that some of their peers have put their lives online, warts and all, and the staid elders who are shocked to learn stuff that proctors, employers and parents didn’t previously find out about. I suspect that absence of evidence of shaving cream was never really evidence of absence, but it’s going to take a while for the elders to work that out. It seems sensible for the younger people to be a little circumspect in the meantime, so it’s not surprising that many existing Facebook users are tightening up their privacy options. Relying on privacy settings is another risk, because you’re trusting your e-friends and the site you’re using, but at least you’re keeping your embarrassing university antics out of sight of indexers and archivers, and you’re not assuming that the elders cannot join the site you’re using.

livredor also mentioned the possible problems which might be caused by people migrating away from email to the messaging systems offered by sites like Facebook. Gervase Markham has some thoughts on the subject. Conventional email is a lot less slick than, say, Facebook’s internal messages, and faces a greater spam problem, in part because email is distributed but Facebook has centralised control. These proprietary systems have their downsides too, of course: balkanisation, and a single point of failure when Facebook gets shut down by a law suit.

I think there’s some mileage in building an email system which is a bit more like Facebook’s walled garden. When I say spam in its current form is a solved problem, what I mean is that you can solve it by only accepting messages from well-behaved parts of the Internet. What I mean by well-behaved is stuff like not being in space given to cable modems and the like (Spamhaus PBL, checks on the presence of reverse DNS and that the hostname does not contain some variant of the IP address), not being a known baddie (Spamhaus SBL and XBL or your own email providers local list of scumbags), and not sending bulk email except by prior arrangement (DCC with whitelisting for mailing lists).

Alas, not all badly-behaved emailers are spammers, some of them are just managed by incompetents. Sometimes these incompetents work for large companies who aren’t going to change, so you have to start making holes in your garden wall to keep your users happy. However, an inbound email gateway for a hugely popular site like Facebook could enforce these restrictions by fiat without losing anything, since their users are using the internal system to send each other messages anyway, so anything else is a bonus (you could also make a nice interface for whitelisting legitimate bulk senders by requiring them to produce a Facebook application, say). If Facebook does take over the world, it needn’t mean the death of email. It might just bring the incompetents into line, we can but hope.