Friday, January 13, 2012

A Google/Facebook blackout might not kill SOPA

Abstract: At least one person (a must read post) in Washington explicitly wants to censor the Internet and our attempts to stop it may just be giving them more motivation to do it. 

This is the kind of thing that I could do without knowing, but it kind of confirms my thoughts on the subject.  SOPA and PIPA may have started out with big money from the entertainment industry as a way to protect an aging business model, but soon Washington realized what an opportunity this was.  The first step down a slippery slope where a central body has control over what gets published on the Internet, and they get to do it under the guise of protecting an industry's "intellectual" property.  The technically literate community is irate...

Let's think about that for a minute.  Does everybody have their tinfoil hats on?  Great, let's begin.

The Internets are pissed 
(how we see things)

Who are the Internets for the purpose of this discussion?  They are the people that are active participants in the web of information exchange.  That is they use message boards, social media sites, and other means of exchanging ideas with others like them.  For examples see postings on Slashdot, reddit, Hacker News, and the list could go on and on...

Somehow (it does not really matter how at this point) the Internets got wind of these really bad pieces of legislation that were trying to get pushed through.  It was shared among us and the shared response was like something out of a scene in Braveheart.  In my mind reddit is as close to a William Wallace as we've come, but our reaction has been in general to attempt to stir up as much dissent among the Internets and hopefully the average American as possible.  Why not?  After all it has worked pretty well in the past.  

We have done a good job about voicing to the technical among us that SOPA and PIPA is bad and there is none that I know of that are in support of it (or at least that dare to mention it).  Something strange was happening though, none of the major news outlets (read - things my parents would see) were covering it at all.  It wasn't that we were not being loud enough about it; they don't want to cover it.  They want to bring as little attention to it as possible, and that means not trying to spin it as positive (a hard feat indeed) but not talking about it at all.  Recognizing this issue reddit is leading the charge with a way to make sure that we are getting everyone's attention - make people mad.  The claim is that by blacking out popular Internet services that you can illustrate to people what a censored Internet would feel like and prod them to action.  As Forbes pointed out blocking reddit wouldn't be enough and is in a sense preaching to the choir.  They claimed that Google and/or Facebook needed to join in to make this truly effective.  I thought this just might work.  

Imagine if everyone in the US got a message to call or visit their representatives when they visited Google or Facebook.  The response would be unprecedented.  It would show for the first time how powerful the Internet could be - the "nuclear option."  How could it not work right?  If most of the country is calling you really irate and threatening to throw you out of office if you vote for SOPA, are you going to take that chance?

The Internets are causing trouble again
(how they see things)

There is a certain amount of smug pride in being a member of the old guard in Washington and some representatives use the fact that they don't use the Internet and don't care to know how it works as something of a bragging right.  For most of them the Internet is something of a toy or an annoyance.  Then comes the Arab Spring.  All of a sudden the Internet becomes a force for leveling the playing field not only in business, but also in the struggle and dissemination of governing power.

Imagine that you are a representative and people are calling you left and right telling you that they don't want you to support SOPA/PIPA.  On one hand the entertainment industry has a lot of power in the US and they are stuffing your pockets with wads of cash if you are willing to play ball, but on the other hand if people are angry enough you might loose your job.  The tension really starts to heat up when you start hearing about the "nuclear option," and you realize that larger portions of your votes are at risk.  

If you vote against SOPA/PIPA then you are going to lose the support of the massive entertainment industry, and make your constituents really happy (until the next thing that comes along they don't like).  But doing this confirms for those pesky Internet folks that they have a lot of power, and sets a precedence that threatens your future income from lobbyists and their clients.  

If you vote for SOPA/PIPA then you are assuring long term support from the entertainment industry, and the framework will be in place to silence whatever critics might arise in the future.  Since the majority of your voters will move on to whatever reality TV bullshit is trending or the latest shiny toy in a few days anyways, what's to risk?  Possible short-term lost, but a very substantial long term gain.

This is just crazy talk!

By doing what we thought was best at the time - raising awareness about an important issue - I fear that we may have given the politicians more incentive to implement a framework for shutting us up.  

Think about it - the more the Internet flexes its muscles the more the politicians see it as a threat and the harder they will fight to cripple it.  They are getting closer to the point where they risk losing everything and may result to extreme measures to protect their position of power.

The truth is at this point that at least one of our leaders see this as a golden opportunity to silence a very vocal minority.  Civil liberties are rarely lost over night, but it is a gradual descent.  We will not be North Korea over night, but as Benjamin Franklin put it, "those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."  I can't help but think about that now every time I have to fly.

I hear myself and know how crazy all of this sounds.  Hopefully this will all disappear soon, but this one didn't.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Android/iOS Apps I would like to see

I have been posting quite a bit lately about politically charged things, and not to worry I am gathering sources for another one soon.  That being said I wanted to comment on some Android apps that I would like to see built.  I am not an Android developer, and I lack the time to become one, and these applications would need to be well integrated with existing services so it is unlikely that anyone outside of these companies could easily construct them.

Ikea personal shopping assistant
I was shopping with my wife and kids at Ikea and I saw a great opportunity to make the shopping experience more streamlined.  If you have never shopped at an Ikea before I highly recommend that you try it out at least once for the unusual experience that it offers.  The gist of it is that you start at one end of the store and follow a planned route that takes you through the entire store until you reach a self-service area where you pick the items that you saw on the show-room floor earlier and place them on your cart.  As you are walking through the store you jot down item numbers and locations of the items in the self-service area for reference later.  So me and my wife are trying to shop for furniture, watch two toddlers and jot down long series of numbers with tiny pencils - not ideal.

We both have Android phones.  I imagine that when I enter the Ikea, instead of picking up my list and pencil that there is a WiFi network, and a QR code for the Ikea app.  I install the app and it recognizes (based on the WiFi network) that I am in a particular Ikea.  Maybe I can sign in with my Ikea "family" account maybe I don't have to.  As I am walking through the store and finding items that I want I can simply scan the QR code on the item and place it in my shopping cart.  Let's think about the advantages of such a system for the consumer.

  • I have a running total of how much stuff I am putting in my cart
  • I can get suggested items that are needed to complete the setup (the slatted bed base!)
  • If the stock of an item is limited the app can alert me that I might need to pick a backup
  • When I go to find the items in the self service area the app can give me a well planned path to take
  • A list of videos for assembling the furniture is queued up for later use.
There are also advantages for Ikea.
  • As people in the show-room place items in the carts you can ensure that they are well stocked in the self-serve area
  • Increase ticket totals by suggesting complementary products
  • Increase the number of people served by helping them move through more quickly
  • Identify shoppers with large numbers of heavy items on their lists and offer additional assistance
  • Easy way to alert customers to in-store promotions and draw attention to items that you want to move quickly
Indoor navigation is not great at this point and shouldn't be a show stopper, but with innovations in this area you could do some really cool things.  Imagine something with augmented reality like the Yelp Monocle app.  You could hold up your phone's camera to the show-room floor and have overlays of prices and reviews for the products.  While all of this is great, I would be happy with just having an app that allows me to scan QR codes and add them to a list.

Basically Ikea needs to put less effort on their catalog app and buy/implement a better integrated version of Ikea Picking List.

Netflix/Hulu remote
My wife and I watch all of our "TV" online these days and even though we have a long range wireless keyboard and mouse it is still cumbersome to operate our Mac from across the room.  There are lots of solutions with tiny keyboards and track pads, but those miss the point.  If I am typing an email I am going to go up to the computer, I just want to control certain sites.  I will open a browser window to Netflix and can even search for the movie that I am looking for, but I would like to have an app on my Android device that allows me to play/pause and fast forward or rewind the movie that is playing.  I don't want/need to watch the move on my phone but I would like to be able to control the movie that is playing across the room.  Maybe this would be best implemented with a browser extension, but I feel like it is possible with existing web development tools.  The advantages to the consumer in this case are obvious, but there is an advantage for the content provider.  Key ad real estate!  You would annoy consumers to no end with banner ads on screen for content, but how about an ad on their remote?  Obviously there are people that would rather not have ads on their remote and there would be a paid version of the app for that.

Basically all I am asking for is porting of the YouTube Remote app to work on Netflix.  They already have a Neflix app.

In closing
If there are any folks from Ikea or Netflix listening please develop these Android (or iOS) apps ASAP. Also if there are any gifted Android developers out there who want to make a go of this I would happily help with the server-side development.