Philosophical Musings

May 3, 2010

Since When is a Phone Call as Bad as a Weapon of Mass Destruction?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Elad Kehat @ 12:57 pm

The following paragraph appears in Google AppEngine’s terms of service (emphasis mine):

2.2. Your use of the Service must comply with all applicable laws, regulations and ordinances, including any laws regarding the export of data or software. You agree not to use the Service in the design, development, production, or use of missiles or the design, development, production, stockpiling, or use of chemical or biological weapons. You agree not to use the XMPP API to operate or to enable any telecommunications service or in connection with any applications that allow users to place calls to or receive calls from any public switched telephone network.

So if I develop an app that may hurt the profits of incumbent telcos I’m on the same level as Saddam Hussein? Actually, I’m probably a worse person – he didn’t have WMDs after all. (Well technically he did, just not in the second Iraq war). Better watch out what apps you develop, or a Tomahawk cruise missile could find its way to your home office…

Note: Don’t get me wrong – I love app engine. What I don’t like is lawyers gone mad. At the very least they could have separate those prohibitions into different subsections.

March 19, 2010

Not the Author’s Fault

Filed under: Uncategorized — Elad Kehat @ 9:20 pm

I just saw this:

It is traditional for the author to magnanimously accept the blame for whatever
deficiencies remain. I don’t. Any errors, deficiencies, or problems in this book are
somebody else’s fault, but I would appreciate knowing about them so as to determine
who is to blame.

(Appears in the preface for Steven S. Skiena, The Algorithm Design Manual, Second Edition)

I never expected a good laugh right at the beginning of a book on algorithms…

July 5, 2009

The Directed Social Graph, or Why I prefer Twitter to Facebook

Filed under: Uncategorized — Elad Kehat @ 8:31 am

My two cents on why Twitter is all the rage right now, and Facebook finds itself following: The social graph is directed. Twitter provides a better depiction of the social graph as it truly is.

Let me explain. An undirected graph is a graph in which relations between vertices (“points”, or people in the social graph) are symmetric. That means that like on Facebook, if I want to be your friend you have to approve and become my friend as well. A directed graph on the other hand is a graph in which vertices (“relations”, or “friendships” in the social graph) can go one-way. Like on Twitter, where I can follow people I admire, like Larry Lessig, but they have no obligation of following me back.

Twitter’s version of the social graph is in my opinion a better depiction of reality. When it comes to listening to what other people have to say, most of the connections we make are in fact one-way. We’ll listen to them, but they don’t necessarily listen to us. We all have connections whom we’d be happy to hear if they call us, even though we know they won’t reciprocate. It’s just human nature – we may be equal in the eyes of the law, but society’s playing field isn’t level.

Personally, I find it exhilirating that I can follow someone on Twitter with no need for confirmation and no expectation that they’ll follow back. I’d like to listen to what they have to say but don’t expect them to listen to me in return. It’s alright that I may have to work hard at saying interesting things before many people choose to listen. That works the other way too – it’s much better that I don’t have to make a boolean decision (agree to a friend request or reject it) every time someone decides to follow me. They’re all free to follow, and so remain on the periphery of my social conciousness. Occasionally I might discover that one such follower is actually interesting enough for me and follow back.

The fact that not following back isn’t considered a social faux-pas, makes Twitter a friendlier network. I don’t have to automatically acknowledge people I may know but not care much about, and not fear that they’ll feel rejected – as they surely would if I ignored a Facebook friend request. On top of that, everyone can send me a message via an @ reply. If I choose not to reply that’s OK – it probably got lost in the torrent of updates – sorry I missed it. No harm done. The freedom to ignore someone when you’re inundated with messages without the fear of hurting their feelings is simply the best feature that any 21st century communications mechanism can offer.

December 6, 2008

The Falacy of Online Privacy

Filed under: Uncategorized — Elad Kehat @ 11:40 am

You think that social media is a threat to your privacy? Think again. It’s actually your savior.

Some people still think and act as if they have privacy. They’re wrong.
Scott McNealy called right it back in 1999 when he said: “You have zero privacy anyway, get over it.”

Why was McNealy right, even back in ’99, before the age of MySpace, Facebook or Twitter?
A lot of our actions leave a digital footprint, and have been doing so for many years. Our major life events are recorded by our governments, our shopping habits are recorded by credit card companies, our movements by mobile communications providers, when we walk the streets of London we’re being constantly filmed by numerous video cameras, and of course our online activities are recorded by our ISP and many others. All of that’s been going on since way before we started telling the world about ourselves through various social websites.
The problem with all this data (save the last kind): you have zero control. You don’t know what is being collected exactly (though it would be a safe bet to assume that everything is), you don’t know who collects it, who has access, or what they do with it or will do with it in the future. Nobody warns you in advance that anything you say or do can and will be held against you, but rest assured that at some point it will.
The second problem is that you’re not really aware of all of this collection going on. Most people don’t realize how easy it is, given enough data and cheap processing power, to make connections and inferences about you. Some times you do become aware for a while, get slightly uncomfortable, but soon enough forget the whole thing and go on with your life.

Now the biggest problem is that where we are aware of the issue is exactly the wrong place.
It’s very easy to get worried about privacy with relation to social networks – it’s so in your face. You look at some stranger’s profile on MySpace, and realize that there’s so much there that you’d consider private. You read about someone caught lying by his employer after calling in sick then posting photos of himself partying to Facebook, and the danger becomes clear.
But it’s wrong to worry. The power of social media is that YOU have power. First, you know where you have profiles. Second, you choose how to describe yourself.
True, control is not absolute – other people can post about you too, and you have no control then, but at least you can set up some alerts on your name and make sure you know when they post – you know what data is out there.
Note that I didn’t say you choose what data to reveal. You can’t control that. What you do have some control over is what kind of information is the most prevalent – what comes up first when someone googles your name.
In short, your brand is out there whether you like it or not. Social media gives you the power to curate it and try to affect the way you’re perceived. The most sensible thing to do isn’t to chase privacy. Instead, it is to publish a lot of the things that you want people (and machines) to find about you.

September 23, 2007

Philosophy, Summarized

Filed under: Uncategorized — Elad Kehat @ 8:25 am

While I usually try to add something to the conversation rather than copy and paste other’s words, this one is probably true, and worth spreading:

“Wittgenstein is popularly credited with the idea that most philosophical controversies are due to confusions over language. I’m not sure how much credit to give him. I suspect a lot of people realized this, but reacted simply by not studying philosophy, rather than becoming philosophy professors.” – Paul Graham

August 23, 2007

Lies, Damned Lies, and HitWise

Filed under: Uncategorized — Elad Kehat @ 11:10 am

Not to be outdone by his competitors at ComScore, Bill Tancer, General Manager of Global Research at Hitwise, engages in some shoddy reasoning practices on his blog:

“Our regional map gives some clues as to interest in the Dunkin Donuts brand, note there are currently no franchises in California yet it ranks 10th in states sending Internet traffic to the site.”

Also note that California has more than 10% of the total US population, and sends just 2.83% of the traffic to the Dunkin Donuts site. That’s 10 times more people then Connecticut, which sends almost 3 times more traffic (7.43%) to Dunkin Donuts. So a person in Connecticut is (which ranks 3rd to California’s 10th) is roughly 30 times more likely to visit the Dunkin Donuts website than someone in California. Now doesn’t this sound much less sensational?

April 23, 2007

Weak?! Participation in Web 2.0 sites

Filed under: Uncategorized — Elad Kehat @ 8:39 am

This story from Reuters cites finds that Web 2.0 “is far less participatory than commonly assumed”.
Only 0.16% of YouTube visits are by video uploaders, only 0.2% of Flickr visits are by photo uploaders and a mere 4.6% of Wikipedia visits are by page editors.
The article’s title, “Study finds weak participation…” makes it clear that this is an attempt to diss the sharing phenomenon. Now this is a classic case of reading the data plain wrong, and is based on the assumption that participation means “everybody talking and nobody listening”. Instead, what it proves is just how well the whole sharing thing works – people do a little bit of talking and a hellovalot of listening. In a world with so many voices, that’s the only way to have a conversation… The unidentified Reuters author forgets that participation means listening too.
Now let’s take a look at the mechanics of a Web 2.0 site. After I upload some photos to Flickr, I send an email to my friends to come in and see them. That’s one small visit for me to upload, and a large number of visits to watch. When they upload their photos, it’s the same. Also, I occasionally wonder around Flickr to look at photos by people I don’t know. Some of them are absolutely stunning.
So, is my level of participation “weak”? No. If everyone uploaded more photos than everyone else looks at, then the average photo would have an infinitely small number of viewers. Uploading on average 2 photos for every thousand I view, means that on average photos have hundreds of viewers (averages lie of course, as this “market” probably has long tail attributes, but that’s besides my point). Now that doesn’t change the fact that I’m a participant – I did my share of sharing my own content.
The difference between this new phenomenon of social websites and user generated content and what we had in the past is that now everyone has a change to participate at all. I bet that 99.9% of Flickr users never presented their photos in a gallery. We must also remember that the economics of digital content, or virtual stuff don’t work the same as those of actual atoms. That the amount of content that the average user donates is much smaller than the amount he consumes is just fine.

Update:

Here’s an interesting related article on the parts different people play in social networks.

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