Heads Out


I tend to keep my head below the trenches, but this has got to be hypocritical when I'm asking other people to write to their MPs. So I've started writing to mine. The first missive she's received so far is to do with the ID card consultation process, and went via the web to fax gateway.

The meat:

I remain unconvinced that the introduction even of
technically voluntary ID cards will lead to the benefits
claimed by the Government.

I particularly fear that suspicion will fall on those
who do not carry the cards, rendering their voluntary
nature meaningless; it is to be expected that once
the generality of persons in the UK have such cards
the inconvenience cost of not having one will be sufficiently
great as to compel all but the most unreasonably diehard
privacy obsessives to adopt them as well.

The sense in which I hold such cards to "invade" privacy,
and I concede that "invade" is an unfortunately loaded
term, is that they will reduce the cost of ross-correlating
information about individuals and groups. It has always
been possible for the sufficiently determined and
well-funded to gather information about people; I believe
that what is at stake here is the expense associated with
such information gathering, and that this expense will be
substantially decreased by the increased standardisation
and centralisation of identity information about individual

Currently, this economic barrier is an important protection
for the privacy of the individual and the availability of
a private sphere in which one may conduct aspects of
one's life without the judgmental eyes of strangers
bearing down upon one. The availability of such a private
sphere ought to be secured in any society which respects
the autonomy and dignity of individual human beings,
and should be privileged against unjustified intrusions;
such an idea is reflected in Article 8 of the European
Convention on Human Rights, and finds its source
(ironically) in the common law traditions of our own
society here in the UK.

To the extent that the economic barrier protects the
private sphere in a manner justifiable in terms of the
respect society should accord to individual humans, it
should not be undermined by schemes such as the proposed
ID card scheme, which I therefore oppose.

The Toomey Challenge


At the Duke Public Domain conference, Jennifer Toomey from the Future of Music Coalition challenged the many academics present to take their best work and turn it into two sides of A4, so that activists could actually digest it. Needless to say, that isn't happening any time soon, since academics have better things to do with their time.

Activists, however, can take up the challenge and that's what I propose to do: create a 2 A4 page precis of all the good papers out there on the digital environment.

Here's how she put it:

There are many ways to lock people out of systems. We've talked about technical ones; we've talked about money. Information is a way that people are locked out of a system.

(I really appreciate what you said about getting it right; musicians do this all the time; you don't know how many times we write a song that maybe no-one else will hear, maybe one we won't even play for someone, but we're getting it right for ourselves and there's a value in that)

That said, I would put a challenge to all the academics here, within the next year, to take the most important information [that they've produced], their favourite paper, whatever they're most proud of, and translate it into something that's two pages long, and make it available maybe through your site, maybe through ours.

Because we need more ramps.

That's an open challenge to create the ramps that'll bring more people who aren't in this area up to speed.

Lowering the Bar


I've set up an email to blog interface as part of my ongoing investigation into making the day-to-day use of computers easier for normal people. That having been said, no-one other than me (than I?) can use it.

The guts of the new system is XML-RPC, something I'd never bothered learning until now; I can now see why it's useful.

The interesting part of this is: it it easier use your email editor, which has evolved in response to the ergonomic needs of thousands or millions of users, to edit the text for a webpage, than it is to use the mini editor inside your web-browser. So too the Content Management Systems of blog software ... these tend to be better than the CMSes for general websites, to the point where people are trying to adapt them for general use.

Blogs make the Internet an even less safe place for information


Bill Thompson strikes again in a new article for the BBC, concerning Google and blogging; he criticises the idea of blogging as superior to journalism, and the reputation metric ideas which support it. Despite saying nothing particularly new or unobvious, he has provoked criticism from bloggers.

This predictable retort from the denizens of the Distributed Republic of Blogistan interests me less than the application of Thompson's comments to Usenet.

To take Thompson further, blogs don't undergo the same level of rigorous scrutiny as the editorial process, and have less legal exposure motivating such rigour, therefore if we want information which has been rigorously assessed, we have to do this assessment ourselves. Blogs externalise scrutiny onto the reader, and thus cost us more than information from a newspaper. Other things being equal, we should disprefer blogs to journalism.

The most frustrating thing about Usenet, which is why I gave up on it in 1997, was that you couldn't force people to admit they were wrong. They'd just stop posting for a while. They'd come back again after sufficient time had elapsed that references to their past inaccuracies were dismissable as dragging up ancient history or being off-topic. Consequently the space was abusable by those who wished to propagate incorrect information unaccountably - in a courtroom or a legislature, just disappearing or falling silent is immensely harmful to one's interests. On the Internet, such tactics are rewarded, and thus can become part of strategy.

Any forum so unaccountable is unsuitable for democratic discourse. Blogs must always be considered in this light, whatever their merits for permitting people to express themselves to a wide audience.