Blogs: Spittoons for the deranged or fostering constructive debate?

In the aptly titled Some types are more fuckin’ than others? Java Jones, that inimitable voice in the Sri Lankan blogosphere, examines the timbre of expression on blogs and notes that:

Checking out one of the most popular (or would ‘most widely read’ be a more suitable term?) blogs on kottu yesterday I was struck once again by the vehemence of one respondent in particular who spared no pains to express his attitude towards the blogger in the most personal and vituperative way, even bringing the blogger’s family into the equation (okay, alright – it is Sittingnut and Indi that I’m on about – as if that would have required brains to figure out!). And this made me flash on the emotive responses that, in all probability, all us bloggers are susceptible to.

The post has inspired a tag renewal of sorts on often deliciously sarcastic Achcharu and gets Drac to ask of us, “… even when the discussion has steered clear of that sort of thing, has it really been intelligent and thought provoking? Or merely sycophantic and lengthy me-toos from either side of whichever divide is being posted about?

Also read:
A conversation with Indi Samarajiva
The end of Moju – But conversations go on…
Blogging Code of Conduct: Does one size fit all?

Statement on Respectful Online Communication

Bullard on blogging: How not to be civil online
Beyond O’Reilly’s online civility dictum: Fostering healthy debate on the web and internet
Auteurs and amateurs: The debates on citizen journalism continue…

Lawrence Lessig on ending corruption using ICT

ICT against corruption is an issue I’ve written on earlier, and it came as a surprise today that no less than Lawrence Lessig has set his mind on using ICT to combat corruption. “How will the Internet change the corruption of politics?” is one of the many questions Lessig answers and describes how the Internet and web, as a tools of participatory democracy, can make government more accountable and transparent.

Lessig’s vision is limited to the US, but there is no reason why the mechanisms and technologies he speaks about can be adopted and applied in other countries.

Facebook: Real or fake relationships?

Facebook purports to be a place for human connectivity, but it’s made us more wary of real human confrontation. When I was in college, people always warned against the dangers of “Facebook stalking” at a library computer — the person whose profile you’re perusing might be right behind you. Dwelling online is a cowardly and utterly enjoyable alternative to real interaction.

So even though Facebook offers an elaborate menu of privacy settings, many of my friends admit that the only setting they use is the one that prevents people from seeing that they are Currently Logged In. Perhaps we fear that the Currently Logged In feature advertises to everyone else that we (too!) are Currently Bored, Lustful, Socially Unfulfilled or Generally Avoiding Real Life.

For young people, Facebook is yet another form of escapism; we can turn our lives into stage dramas and relationships into comedy routines. Make believe is not part of the postgraduate Facebook user’s agenda. As more and more older users try to turn Facebook into a legitimate social reference guide, younger people may follow suit and stop treating it as a circus ring. But let’s hope not.

I’m an avid user of Facebook myself (though not as much as my wife, who is an unrepentant addict and also the person who introduced me to the platform), but am yet to be convinced of any wholly serious use for it. The Fakebook Generation, an op-ed on the New York Times by Alice Mathias seems to concur.

For sure, there are already stories on how it was used in facilitating information flows for worldwide protests against the recent actions of the military junta Myanmar and I’ve also set up a group on the platform for exchanging views and information ICT4Peace. However, even though some organisations such as the Nobel Peace Laureates Foundation have taken Facebook networking extremely seriously with the creation of groups and accounts to promote their ideas (such as Peace Tools), I’m not fully convinced that even with more adults joining up with the platform, it remains a serious competitor to services such as LinkedIn, which are specifically geared to facilitate professional networking.

Peace Tools on Facebook

There’s already a ton of articles that look into the merits of each system and how each one is a threat to the other, but most agree that some sort of a hybrid that mashes the best of both systems may be far more useful for professional networking and a platform for collaboration and information exchange.

Until then of course, should you choose to ignore Alice Mathias, you can always try to use Facebook professionally.

Let me know how it goes.

Back to basics – Nokia 3110 Classic

I’ve gone from a Samsung SGH-X820 to a Nokia E65 in the space of a year and before finally buying a Nokia 3110 Classic.

The Samsung by far offered the best picture, sound and video quality, but the worst battery life. As I SMS a lot and have primarily used Nokia phones, the predictive text input was also annoying in that the space was located differently to that of Nokia phones, drastically slowing down my text input rate. While the multimedia features of the phone are a cut above that which comparable Nokia phones have to offer, I found myself using it less as a media player and more as a phone / SMS device, which at the end of the day, meant that I had to deal with a battery that gave up at the end of each day, which if I ever forgot to charge it overnight or was travelling, was a disaster (though I did get a spare battery and external charger with the phone, which helps things a bit).

The Nokia E65, which I bought after the X820, is Morris Minor that’s donned a Ferrari outfit. It looks delicious, but when you begin to use it, you realise that it’s horrendously underpowered and over-featured. Admittedly, the Symbian operating system it runs is extremely capable and within a week of getting the phone I had installed a number of free programmes that got me the latest RSS feeds, allowed me to connect to Skype, Live Messenger, Yahoo Messenger and SIP through WiFi, got me daily weather updates, my Gmail account and even Reuters news. I even installed Opera Mini on it. Over a WiFi connection, using it to connect to these services was a breeze.

But here’s the rub. The phone, being a 3G device, constantly switched between the GPRS and 3G / UMTS network as I travelled around, almost invariably resulting in dropped calls or disrupted data flows. The final straw came when I was in Kandalama Hotel recently for a few days and EVERY single time I tried to make a call, the phone threw up a connection error message. Sick of trying numbers repeatedly, switching the 3G network off helped things considerably, which of course meant that most of the data services on the phone, including VOIP through Fring, were rendered unusable.

The E65 is also quite slow and frequently crashed when I tried to do things in rapid succession (one crash that was particular annoying and recurrent was when a call could not connect and I hit the End Call button, resulting in a total freeze of the phone). While I got it to work / sync with iSync and Address Book on my Mac using plugins for both from Novamedia, I never really used the high-end 3G functionality on the phone and never got around to getting Dialog to configuring its built in Realplayer to watch mobile TV. Also not entirely sure I would have enjoyed TV on it had I set it up, given that the E65 does not come standard with stereo headphones.

In the end, it was the performance, or significant lack thereof, that made me tire of the E65 and last week go in for a Nokia 3110 Classic, a new and basic mobile phone from Nokia that plays nice with my Mac, sports Bluetooth, a radio, stereo headphones, a media player and a wonderful, large keypad that is an absolute joy to type on. Using Nokia’s own operating system, it’s as fast and reliable as I remember and trust Nokia’s to be. No 3G, but using GPRS EDGE, connects to services like Facebook remarkably fast – which is really all I need when on the move since I always have my Mac with me. Design wise (and I’m a sucker for good design aesthetics in anything I buy) the 3310 Classic is more robust and even better looking than the significantly more expensive the E65.

The clear, if expensive, lesson for me – the most feature laden phone isn’t always the best for my needs. Looking forward to using the 3110 Classic in my work with Ken Banks and the development of FrontlineSMS to support peacebuilding and peace processes.

Outlawed: Extraordinary Rendition, Torture and Disappearances in the ‘War on Terror on Joost

Posting this from within Joost both as a test of the in-built blogging capability of the programme and also to alert readers to a programme that is truly worth watching (part of the Witness channel).

Joost thumbnail<

From Joost: Outlawed: Extraordinary Rendition, Torture and Disappearances in the ‘War on Terror

Outlawed tells the harrowing stories of Khaled El-Masri and Binyam Mohamed, two men who have survived extraordinary rendition, secret detention and torture by the U.S. government working with various other governments worldwide.


I’ve been an occasional user of Joost since around 6 months ago when I got the first invite only version to work on my Mac. This week, Joost released the first public beta and came out of the closed testing cycle.   What amazes me about the this beta is not so much the video quality, but the incredibly good sound quality. On my Logitech Freepulse headphones, the sound is on most programmes indistinguishable from the CD’s ripped onto iTunes (AAC, 128kbps).JoostAs this picture shows (with Joost running in Windowed mode) the picture is certainly up to DVD quality. Expand to full screen, and the compression artefacts become more evident. On my SLT ADSL connection, a rate of 75kbps on average gives me video and sound with only the extremely rare jitter or breakup.

Programming selection

Choice of programming as of now is no real competition to terrestrial TV. But if the makers are to be believed, more programming and of a more serious nature will give soon to be launched IPTV services like SLT’s IPTV a run for their money. Question is, whether SLT will throttle services such as Joost to capture market share in a new and untested market segment.

There seems to be some discrepancy between the channels on the Joost website and what’s really available through the P2P based programme (at the time of writing, CNN is unavailable through Joost though it is featured on the website). There’s also some advertising that occurs between programmes – though it’s much less, per hour, than terrestrial or cable TV.It remains to be seen whether Joost will prove a better economic model than Skype (both were built by the same programmers).

It also remains to be seen whether small, independent content providers will be able to access Joost’s programming platform, in the same manner as YouTube, which I feel would be necessary if Joost is to become a viable platform (wherever the bandwidth is available) for the dissemination of content founded on public service broadcasting values (and also as a viable replacement for the archaic video platform UNESCO uses).

Joost is a technical masterpiece, but whether it will succeed in markets outside the US will be based on how localised it can get with programming to suit regional and domestic markets globally. Literally and metaphorically, a programme to keep one’s eye on.

Download Joost here.

YouTube opens Nonprofit Channels

YouTube’s announced the creation of a Non-Profit Programme that gives US registered non-profits receive “a free non-profit specific YouTube channel where they can upload footage of their work, public service announcements, calls to action and more”. The non-profit channels will feature, inter alia:

  • A premium channel on YouTube that serves as a non-profit’s hub for their uploaded videos. Through the channel, people can connect with a non-profit via messages, subscriptions, comments and more. Non- profits will also receive enhanced channel branding features and increased upload capacity.
  • In the coming months, non-profit channels will have a centralized area on YouTube, making them and their videos more easily discoverable.

I only hope YouTube extends this new service to non-profits outside of the US. Visit their new Non-Profits page here.

To glimpse at what’s possible using YouTube, visit the Groundviews Video Channel here.