Archive for the ‘Comment’ Category

Ten years of techlun.ch

February 21, 2017

Astonishingly, today marks the tenth anniversary of this blog. I don’t post very often these days, partly as I only work part-time and also, perhaps, a sign of the times as so many of us are paying more attention to Facebook and Twitter. But, back in the day, there was a post a week, covering all sorts of technical stuff whipped in with some jokey items on the state of the ‘business lunch’ in modern times.

Looking back through the blog it is remarkable not only to see what sorts of technical debates were in the air, but also what a record there is of what I was up to in the years when I was running Intelligent Content Ltd and handling futurology for JISC. As I read through the old posts, events I had all but forgotten came back to me: Leeds University’s computer jubilee event (with free, hexadecimal beer), interviewing Richard Stallman, Oxford’s Open Source and XML workshops, Nottingham’s Festival of Words, and the EU’s ICT event in Lyon (there’ll be no more of that I guess for us Brits).

On the technical front, ten years ago it was Second Life (Reuters were advertising for a journalist to report from inside the virtual world that everyone was talking about), the sustainability of open source software, Microsoft launching a coffee table with a screen, XML, and 3-D web searching.

And of course Web 2.0. This is was being discussed everywhere in early 2007. Time magazine had just put a mirror on its front page and announced that their Person of the Year was ‘You’, the reader, acting together through the new forms of social media.

One of the first posts concerned the formal launch of a report I wrote for JISC on the subject. This proved to be a spectacular success, and to date has had over 100,000 downloads and 1,900 citations. It also led on to me being commissioned to write a book, “Web 2.0 and Beyond” – still available from all good bookshops as they say.

What will be the big techie story in ten years’ time? The increasing impact of AI and robotics on work I suspect, but who can say, ten years is a very, very long time in technology.

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Denial of Service attack predictions

February 6, 2017

Recently I’ve been working with activereach to help them with their blogging activities. Here’s the latest piece I’ve written for them, summarising industry predictions for Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks in 2017.

DDoS attacks involve flooding a victim’s network with data requests in order to knock it out of action. This is done either to stop the organization operating for a period of time or to divert IT staff attention whilst a data theft takes place. Last year there was a significant rise in the number and scale of attacks and it seems likely this trend will continue in 2017 with many in the industry talking about “terabit attacks”.

Barry Cooper and Turing

December 18, 2015

I was saddened to hear of the death of Barry Cooper, a Leeds University mathematician, who specialised in computability, the fiendish maths of proving whether something is calculable. As the Guardian obit makes clear he arguably did more than anyone else to make Alan Turing and his work known to the wider public, and was instrumental in organizing the great computer scientist’s centenary year in 2012. It seems doubtful that Turing would have won a pardon or that films would have been made about his time at Bletchley without Cooper’s initial efforts. He taught at Leeds whilst I was an undergraduate, although I don’t recall attending one of his lectures. You can read more about Cooper’s ideas, research and his championing of Turing at his webpage.

British Library may foil Tories plan to delete their Internet history

November 13, 2013

According to Computer Weekly, the Tories have tried to delete records of their previous speeches from the Internet. Various tricks have been used such as robot blockers. However, they seem to have forgotten that the British Library has been archiving the UK Web since the mid-2000s. You can see snapshots of old Tory party sites here.

A free Internet?

December 3, 2012

This campaign map of social media support for a free, and open, Internet is both beautiful and powerful. Add your voice to Vint Cerf’s campaign using the #freeandopen hash tag.

Live map of #freeandopen trending on twitter

Live map of #freeandopen trending on twitter

http://www.freeandopenweb.com

Turing: nearly on the money

October 29, 2012

Turing statue at Bletchley Park (photo: Antoine Taveneaux, Creative Commons CC BY-SA 3.0)

I’ve long been a supporter of the campaign to put Alan Turing on the back of a ten pound note in recognition of his mathematical achievements. So I was pleased to get an email over the weekend confirming that the national e-petition has reached 21,996 signatures. This is good news for the campaign and as the e-mail from HM Government says:

“As this e-petition has received more than 10 000 signatures, the relevant Government department have provided the following response: The Bank of England has been including historic characters on its notes since 1970. The Bank welcomes suggestions from members of the public for individuals who might feature on future banknotes, and publishes a list of these suggestions on its website. These suggestions inform the process when a new note is under consideration.”

So all good. A glance at the published list, however, shows the competition that our Alan is up against. There must be around 150 names, ranging from philosopher Roger Bacon to singer Robbie Williams (yes, you read that correctly).

More signatures on the petition can only help. Surely the inventor of the founding theory of digital computers can beat the singer of 90s hit ‘Angels’?

Exploiting the Social Graph

July 3, 2012

The Web is now a subject of academic study outside the confines of computer science. It is informing, and being informed by, a range of different disciplines as diverse as law, economics and media studies. However, because of the huge data sets about individuals and their social ties that are being collected, the potential for social science and computing is especially strong.

As Cameron Marlow, in-house sociologist at Facebook, recently told MIT Review:

“The biggest challenges Facebook has to solve are the same challenges that social science has…”

Up until fairly recently, social science was essentially restricted by the difficulty of obtaining data from large numbers of people, such as accurate details of their friendship links. Web 2.0 services can now provide that data easily as millions of us have happily uploaded and shared details of our private lives, creating what are known as social graphs, studied formally by graph theory.

Back in September 2010 when I was writing my book I came across the philosopher Pierre Lévy speaking to the Royal Society to the effect that: “Graph theory will be one of the main bases of the future of the human sciences”. At the time I thought Lévy was taking things too far, but it is now clear that social media, the exploration of complex networks and the scale of data being collected have opened new and fruitful horizons for the humanities. Added to the drive and ambition of the companies involved, he might not be far wrong.

What is a troll?

June 14, 2012

It makes for a cracking headline, but Internet ‘trolling’ is not the abusive behaviour that has been reported in various newspaper articles this week.

Subs from both the Guardian (‘Internet troll told by court to keep away from public figures’, 12 June) and the Telegraph (‘Trolling abuse got worse for victim Nicola Brookes after Facebook victory’, 11 June) have had fun with this word in the last few days.

The truth is though that the word ‘trolling’ has been widely used in Internet circles for years to refer to the act of tying up online forums, and other social media, in meaningless and time wasting discussions. The idea is to post something that is deliberately incorrect and lure other users, particularly newbies, into wasting time arguing about it. According to net scholar Susan Herring and colleagues at Indiana University it derives from a fishing term whereby a baited line is dragged behind a boat (see an example paper here).

The behaviours described in the newspapers are more accurately described as ‘flaming’, or more succinctly, just abuse.

Chinese Social Media

May 24, 2012

QZone is one of China's biggest online social networks

One of the interesting aspects of research for the book was finding out more about how social media is used outside the West. In particular, there is a huge, and mainly homegrown, Web 2.0 environment in China. Services such as QZone, RenRen and CyWorld dominate their home market and have hundreds of millions of users.

I was reminded of this a couple of days ago whilst reading about the Facebook IPO. The Guardian published an analysis by technology editor, Charles Arthur, which included the following quote from Ed Barton, a digital media specialist:

“Facebook depends on advertising, and I would highlight that the fastest-growing internet media markets are China and the Far East, India and Brazil. Facebook’s potential is nowhere near as strong in those as it has been in the US. And in those markets there are often a number of locally oriented social networks already in place.”

With billions in the bank from its IPO, the normal route to expansion for Facebook might be a major purchase in one of these emerging markets. But things are never that simple in one-party-state China. The IPO may have run into local difficulties in the last few days, but the battle for Chinese users is a longer term strategic challenge for the company.

Bubble 2.0?

May 2, 2012

My new book on Web 2.0, which comes out later this month, concludes with a brief review of the prospects of us entering a second Internet stocks bubble. Although somewhat forgotten now (eight years is an eon in computing), the original concept of Web 2.0 emerged out of the dot-com crash that followed the Internet bubble of the late 1990s. With the Facebook flotation and recent purchase of Instagram this has become a topical issue, and I was interested to read a piece on GigaOm which reviews the evidence for and against.