Archive for the ‘standards’ Category

Why opening Spotify this morning made me nervous

May 23, 2010

I opened up Spotify on the desktop for the first time in some weeks this morning, and noticed that the “People”-tab – sparsely populated last time I used the desktop app – was overflowing with Facebook contacts.

This is… pretty neat. But it makes me feel a bit queasy.

If this is how the social component of applications is going to work – by pulling your friends from Facebook – it means that you will have to have a Facebook account to use those social components. You can’t befriend people using Facebook when being hooked into another social network.

Consequently, to use Spotify to its full extent, I now have to accept Facebook’s privacy policies. For instance, I can’t use those Spotify features and hide who my friends are on Facebook. I don’t approve of this chain of logic.

The “social graph” functionality that Facebook has introduced is way too important to be controlled by any single company. We need an open protocol for this, just as we have open protocols for e-mail, web, telephony and so on.

The question is whether this change will come about due to regulatory pressures – Facebook is bound to run into some competition watchdog sooner or later – or whether an open alternative will emerge before that happens. (Unlikely as long as Facebook has a monopoly on the social graph and refuses to enable integration with other social networks.)

BBC article on privacy, Facebook and potential competitors
Facebook, Google and privacy (The Economist)
Facebook’s gone rogue – it’s time for an open alternative (Wired)
Diaspora, an attempt to create an open social network

The lovely low-fi Philips AZ382 CD/radio speaker syste

August 18, 2009

Yeah, I’m usually more into expensive gadgets, like high-end phones. However, now and then I come across a cheap, low-tech piece of electronic equipment that merits a little attention.

Behold the Philps AZ382!

The Philips AX383

The Philips AZ382

Yes, this is the kind of device no one bothers to give a fancy name – like “iPod Nano” or “HTC Magic”. No worries – at least you know very few of the 500 NOK (80 USD) you pay go into branding the unit!

What’s so great about this sound system?

* It has a decent-quality FM radio and a large, reliable-looking antenna to go with it.
* There is a CD player there.
* You can put MP3 and WMA files on a memory stick and play them through the USB port in the front.
* It is small, and thus easy to place.
* It can run on batteries.
* Those speakers produce sound of mediocre quality, but they play pretty loud.
* And, best of all, there is a 3,5 mm mini-jack audio input port on the side! This means you can use those speakers to play from pretty much any audio source you have.

You get all this stuff for a very low price. Currently, this little utilitarian pebble of a low-fi system is playing news over FM in the mornings and podcasts and The Economist from my mobile phone when I’m working in the kitchen. The USB port works, but I haven’t had any use for it, as I prefer the user interface on my phone. Navigating thousands of MP3s through a numerical display is not ideal, but if you populate a memory stick with good stuff and set the player to shuffle, you’re good to go.

Apart from the less than fantastic MP3 user experience (which is really excusable when you consider the price), my only criticism is that the FM tuning dial is a bit too sensitive. In an area with lots of FM transmitters, finding the right one can be a bit tricky. Since the 3,5 mm jack is there, I’ve even sometimes just tuned my Nokia into the desired FM station and hooked that one up instead.

Overall, two thumbs up for the AZ382, my new everyday hero among sound systems and a fabulous example of a device achieving versatility through the use of standards!

Facebook, WordPress, flickr, interoperability and integration

March 6, 2007

I’ve just started using Facebook, and it’s pretty nice. A lot like LinkedIn, only focusing on leisure instead of work.

The problem is that Facebook is networking, blogging, online photo album and lots more, all rolled into one application. I’m already using WordPress for blogging and flickr for photos. Fortunately, Facebook can import my weblogs from WordPress automatically. The integration isn’t flawless, though – comments to the post on WordPress are separate from those made at Facebook.

Right now, a part of me feels that it would be great if Facebook was aquired by Yahoo – it would probably mean nice flickr integration with Facebook (since flickr is part of Yahoo). However, we don’t want the internet dominated by a small number of huge companies, do we? Nooooo.

What we need is standards and open APIs, so that it’s possible for Facebook developers and anyone else to access a user’s flickr photos provided they get the user’s login information. Fortunately, it seems we are moving in that direction – getting my posts from WordPress and displaying them in Facebook and being able to blog on WordPress from flickr are good examples.

Separating storage from presentation on the web
However, it strikes me as unlikely that these interoperability/integration issues will be fully resolved until we separate the basic work of just storing our stuff (photos, our social network, blog posts, music, videos or whatever) and presenting it in a frontend. Right now, the money is earned in the frontend, through advertising, and you are locked into one frontend since they have all your data and the associated metadata.

What we as consumers need is the opportunity to pick one company for storing all our stuff in one secure location and then let any other company present the data to us and let us modify and add to it through any standards-compliant interface.

I think Amazon is taking us in this direction with Amazon S3 – Amazon Simple Storage Services. They store 1 gig of your stuff for 0,2$ per month. If a company such as Amazon provides a standardized storage service, with suitable APIs for getting to the content, other companies, such as flickr and Facebook, could compete for our custom by providing the best interface to all that information.

In that world, I would pay Amazon a fee for storing all my stuff. Then I would use flickr to upload (into my storage at Amazon) and tag my photos, since they provide the best interface for doing that. Facebook would interface with the same storage repository, so all my photos would automatically be available there, if I wanted it to. If Facebook started providing a better interface for photo management, I’d start using their interface instead of flickr’s. When looking at my content on my phone, I would probably use a specialized Mobile Photo Album service, since mobiles are so different from desktops, and I would still have access to all my photos without any hassle.

If an unknown company appeared and created wonderful new web applications for combining videos, photos and social networking information in a seamless interface, everyone would be able to try it out using all their media without any fuss. Just type in the address of your Amazon repository, and off you go. Imagine what kind of innovation such a world could see.

Wouldn’t it be great?