April 18, 2009

dopplr v tripit: Use both!

I've been on dopplr for quite a while and found it fun and useful. After some raving notes on Twitter, I decided to give TripIt a spin.

Where dopplr's claim to fame is the social networking aspect, TripIt's is that it's a really nice tool to manage information: Take an itinerary (or a hotel booking confirmation), send it to TripIt, and all that important information will be extracted. You can then subscribe your calendar to it, or access your account through a relatively nifty iPhone application. No more searching for that hotel address when you arrive at an airport -- quite useful indeed, information at one's fingertips. It appears like you can also manage your entire meeting schedule during a trip through the application, though I haven't tried that.

Interestingly, TripIt's strengths don't really seem to be on the social networking side. Case in point, dopplr (like facebook) actively encourages finding friends and colleagues to share one's data with. TripIt lets its users walk their social network, and it lets them invite others by e-mail address -- but nothing in between (like a search by name).

Want to manage your flight data and hotel stays, and have a backup of all that travel information in the cloud? Go for TripIt.

Want restaurant recommendations or city guide pages that are built by the users? Better stay with Dopplr.

Fortunately, though, it's possible to combine TripIt's information management with Dopplr's social networking strengths: You can subscribe your dopplr account to the calendar feed made available by TripIt. The result: Dopplr gets the page views, TripIt does some of the grunt work till Dopplr catches up on that.

I'm having a hunch whose business model is going to survive better.

PS: I won't spend time expanding my network on tripit -- the one on dopplr is larger, I don't want to rebuild it, and it isn't too useful for the things I'll use TripIt for.

March 27, 2009

Persistence is hard.

Keeping historical documents around is hard, as my native city of Cologne painfully experienced a few weeks ago, when the city archive collapsed.

But it's also hard on the web. Case in point, a number of important early specifications for the Web (like pre-standard SSL, or the original Cookie spec) have traditionally been sitting at netscape.com URIs. Unfortunately, AOL seems to have pulled these pages around the time they disbanded the remains of Netscape.

While the wayback machine helps us out this time, one would wish that organizations that acquire historically important technology spent more effort preserving the documents they have. With the consolidation that the economic crisis will bring, I fear that this hasn't been the last time that these kinds of historical documents disappear from their canonical location.

February 22, 2009

Facebook me!

While I'm usually comfortable using social networks of all kinds, I hadn't ever joined Facebook.

Well, the recent ruckus about their terms of service tickled my interest sufficiently that I finally gave in. no-such-thing.png There really is no such thing as bad publicity for facebook.

Now, what's interesting about it for this latecomer? Beside not finding much actually useful or new on facebook (well, perhaps except for new lows in advertisingim-a-jerk.png), two points really struck me: An incredibly simple user interface, literally going out of the way when it should, making it as easy as at all possible to let me do what I'd most likely want to do -- and all that, of course, within the walled garden's fences. As an exhibit, consider the exchange between Ann Bassetti and myself up there: With Twitter, I'd have linked to it. In Facebook, it seems like I can't do that, so your only chance is going into the walled garden and trying to search for it. Second, a subtle persuasion that I'm safe and secure there. For the first couple of "friends", I'm bothered with a CAPTCHA (which goes away eventually), to "make sure I'm legit"; when I "friend" somebody who isn't in the "same network" as I am, I'm politely told that (and why!) I can't see their profile. Nothing like letting your users softly run into limits if you want to convince them that they're protected by these limits, and that you're their friend, by enforcing these limits. Remember: Facebook is your friend, it is not scary, and it helps you keep your privacy. There is nothing that Facebook would ever do wrong with your data. It helps you keep your privacy.

It's almost fortunate, then, that Facebook also inflicted one of its little indiscretions on me...


I hadn't quite told the world that I had given in to that particular temptation, yet, despite some misgivings on principles. Well, this takes care of that.

So, what's the conclusion? So far, Facebook indeed very much looks like Hotel California, with nice rooms, and a somewhat chatty concierge. Nothing to see here as far as I'm concerned, except for network effects in action, and some really neat persuasion packed into UI.

(Good that I can use Twitter to update my status.)

October 29, 2008

Election transparency good. Vote transparency bad.

Google is encouraging people to video their vote. That sounds like a good idea, in particular where difficulties with voting machines are to be expected.

Just one caveat: I'd rather that voters don't video who they vote for.

Classical paper ballots are a fairly sophisticated security system with many important properties, and one of them turns out to be the inability of the voter to prove their choice to a third party: If a voter can prove to a third party how they voted, then selling one's vote turns into a viable business model. That's one of the reasons why absentee voting is problematic from a big picture perspective, and why it's sometimes only permissible under exceptional circumstances. It's also why people shouldn't even be allowed to video their vote.

If you think that videoing one's vote is necessary to expose trouble with voting machines, think again, and look at the Chaos Computer Club's excellent work in Germany: They're sending volunteer observers to any computerized election that's going on, they document problems as they occur (and failures to follow business processes critical to the voting system's security), and they take their work to court where they need to.

September 23, 2008

"Attached, please find ICANN's proposal to sign the root zone file with DNSSEC technology."

ICANN has just published an exchange of letters with the US Department of Commerce, around a proposal to deploy DNSSEC in the DNS's root.

September 21, 2008

iPhone 3G: I'm not buying it.

Every once in a while, I'm at risk of falling for the iPhone -- it's a really nice device after all, and from day one, the user interface had something going for it. The first generation of the device was just too expensive for my taste, and it didn't have either 3G or GPS. It was also a closed platform, but presumably, that was going away at some point, so I guess I was willing to compromise on that point.

The 3G variant pretty much looks like the phone I'd take; the price range (including the one of the subscription that I'd need to change into) works for me, and the feature set (except for the camera's resolution, but hey, it's rare that any cell phone camera leads to great photos, so that's not a big deal at all) is what I'm looking for; the UI looks like they have taken care of many of the subtleties that I heard others complain about (e.g., you can now navigate the address book by initials).

But what really keeps me away from that phone is Apple's attitude of keeping applications off the device for competing with Apple, or for having an interpreter built in, or for whatever other reason they come up with, depending on the phase of the moon.

What we're seeing in action here is an environment that's tightly controlled, and in which innovators indeed need to ask for permission from some company that thinks it's competing with them. So I'll stick to Nokia for now, where I can run applications like Joikuspot to my heart's content. (Now, if Nokia would just finally get its act together and release decent desktop software for any platform other than Windows...)

September 1, 2008

Building an IPv6 bridgehead

For no good reason in particular, I started looking into IPv6 this week-end. The quick summary first: It works. It's not really difficult to set up. But it's not easy enough, either.

The first realization was that the Macintoshs on the network here had been hapiily chatting IPv6 among themselves while I wasn't looking; link-local addresses had configured themselves, and multicast DNS had glued things together seamlessly. Kudos to Apple for that.

Now, the first thing to try was of course telling the MacBook to open a 6to4 tunnel. That's supposedly all that's needed to connect a host to the ipv6 Internet, and it's really easy. Except, well, you need a publicly routed IPv4 address, static if you want to get routed ipv6 addresses from one of the tunnel brokers out there. Bummer.

Next thing to look at, the NAT box. It's actually in a reasonably good position to set up these things, but, alas! -- there's a plethora of firmware options out there, some without IPv6 support, some with broken IPv6 support, some with outdated documentation. The firmware that's installed doesn't support IPv6, and I wasn't in a device-bricking mood.

The solution that I went for was two-tiered: First, IPv6-enabling the server that runs this Web site. Second, setting up Debian on a spare machine here and connecting it to that server through OpenVPN.

Continue reading "Building an IPv6 bridgehead" »



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