The culture of free!

The world of IT is a relatively fast moving one. New trends and technology come thick and fast, and with every new trend or technology there follows a host of new terms, phrases, acronyms, and of buzz words.
One term that I have heard cropping up more and more lately, is “the culture of free”. It’s fairly easy to guess what this term might relates to, but why has it started to crop up now, and is a ‘culture of free’ a good thing, or could it have a downside?
While today’s internet generation may not remember, there was a time when you had to purchase browser software. Then one day someone came up with the idea of giving it away free, and a culture was born, and it didn’t stop at software, web based services (file sharing, storage, instant messaging, email and social networks) soon followed suit, and more recently data owner’s have started to share their data freely too.
There is even a ‘Culture of Free movement’, founded by Lawrence Lessig (a lecturer at Stanford University and author of ‘Free Culture’. The movement which is often associated with Creative Commons, promotes the freedom to distribute and modify creative works, using the Internet as well as other media. Lessig and his followers object to overly restrictive copyright laws, often completely rejecting the concepts of copyright and intellectual property altogether, claiming it creates a “permission culture”. Others, most prominently Andrew Keen, (an academic, author and technologist) criticizes the ‘Free Culture’ ideals, referring to them instead as the ‘Cult of the Amateur’.
When you think about it, the internet is fundamentally built on a culture of free, with all of its knowledge freely available, but blogger Leo Babauta, points out – we must distinguish between “free” as in you don’t have to pay for it, and “free” as in you are free to distribute and use the information.
So why would bloggers, photographers, film makers, citizen journalism, musicians, illustrators or authors, use things like creative commons licensing to distribute their work freely? Well they’re working on the premise that reaching a larger audience may bring returns in other ways, whether its through donations, public speaking engagements, lucrative commissioned work or just improving their profile.
Can there really be a downside to free? After all everybody likes getting something for nothing and the people giving it away seem happy. Well I guess the answer to that depends on your point of view. Some would argue that when things are given away freely it erodes their value and others would argue that the ‘culture of free’ is eroding the very skills and standards that we have spend decades building up. buzzword

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The culture of free!

Data Corruption at ma.gnolia

This blog entry has taken me a while to post, largely because I really didn’t wanted not to have to post it at all.

I have been a huge fan of social bookmarking ever since i first heard of it. For me it just makes so much sense. I store all my bookmarks online, so whether i’m on my macbook, my office pc, my mobile phone or using someone else’s computer i have access to the sites i love.  But its more than that, i’ve signed up to a number of groups of like minded peers, and am now part of those communities. I can see the sites that my friends have discovered, and access those resources, quite often these sites that i come across in this slightly serendipitous way are the real gems.

magnolia logo

Having played with several social bookmarking sites i’d settled on ma.gnolia.com as the site that worked best for me. It was easy to use, worked graphically, had some nice tools, a great community, and i found Larry Halff the founder very likable.

Disasterously in early February magnolia’s suffered catastrophic data corruption. The database which was approaching half a terra bit (500gb) became corrupt. While backed up, the backup was simply backing up live data and not making archived duplicates go could not be roled back to an earlier version. After several attempts to recover the corrupt data, it was decided that there was no hope of recovery of the datastore. Larry managed to come up with some tools to recover individual users datastores from cached local and google data, and suggested other social bookmarking with good communities that users might migrate too.

Typically of Larry,  has been very open and very honest about the whole thing, sharing his experience so other people can learn from it. In the video below Larry Halff talks to Chris Messina of citizen’s garden about the history of magnolia, what happened with the data corruption and what the future holds for magnolia.

Larry Halff Discusses ma.gnolia.com
Larry Halff discusses ma.gnolia.com past,present and future with Chris Messina

I simply can’t imagine how much pain magnolia must be feeling right now, having spend to much time and effort to build up the site and the community surrounding it. While to ma.gnolia’s credit  i’ve never heard them once blaming anyone else or coming up with excuses. as an IT manager i have some idea how much pressure there must have been from users to maximize running speed and performance even at the expense of back-end services like backup and recovery.

I was lucky in that i had a recent backup and i was mirroring my bookmarks on delicious, what i miss mos though is the sense of community. I hope that magnolia does make a recovery and comes back bigger and better than ever, and that i and the rest of the magnolia community get an opportunity to help in whatever way possible.

One lesson that maybe we could all learn from this, is that we all need reliable back up plans of our own, and shouldn’t rely on internet based services too much because you really dn’t know when disater can strike.

Data Corruption at ma.gnolia

Who’s Responsible for Data in the Cloud.

While trawling through the internet i came accross an a couple of articles that made me think, about

The first one was on the bbc technology site and it talked about cloud computing and the US Patriot Act, this is similar to the UK’s anti terrorism legislation and as far as i can see it gives the US government the right to look at data stored in the states if they think that it might include information about terrorists.

You might me thinking, well what does that have to do with me i’m not an american, so what if the americans can look at data within their own country. But what you have to remember is that many many services like amazons S3 data storage, hotmail, skydrive and gmail are all hosted in the states, so any data stored on these is covered by the Patriot Act.

What’s i bet that if they really wanted to they could make these laws extend to any data travelling through there network, so if you send an email, a twitter message, a file or any other string on ones and zeros and its routed through the us or any ther country they would be at liberty to read that information, and use it to whatever purpose they saw fit.

This got me to thinking as a system administrator, if i’m storing data in the states and viewing it on terminals in the Uk, do i need to adhere to both the Uk’s data protection Act and any american version of the same act, or does the data protection act only apply to data held on citizen of a particular country, if so do what laws do i have to adhere to if i have a mailing list which contains data from people in several different countries.

The second artical i came accross was something on tech crunch about a German Politician, that had a legal ruling made to prohibit the local german version of wikipedia from accessing information on the main wikipedia database in miami.

The focus of my thoughts here really is were does responsability lie if an english company say has a website hosted in the US, but bought and paid for in the UK, and you want to take them to stop them from false advertising, do you persue the Uk company, or the US isp hosting their data? And what if for example the banner ads you object to on the site as simply embedded links to data on a video server in say germany. In fact the whole area of links seems quite complicated, if you for example display an rss on your site from elsewhere on the internet and they say something that is could be slanderous are you also guilty of slander and howdoes this work across borders, i mean something may be deemed slanderous in one country but not another. There was talk yesterday that the german politicians background in the german police was protected under german law, but does that extend outside of germany.

what are you thaughts on this?

Who’s Responsible for Data in the Cloud.

Are IP addresses personal data?

.net this month (April) has an interesting piece about whether our ip addresses should be regarded as personal information and protected under the data protection act.

It would seem that this debate has been raging across Europe if not the world, with the German data protection commissioner (peter Scharr) telling the European Parliament that if a person can be identified from an IP address, then it has to be regarded as private. A recent French court, on the other hand argued that IP addresses relate to specific computers or networks and not specific users therefore they do not constitute personal data.

While it may seem an insignificant point, as to whether an IP should be classed as personal data or not, it has huge impact of the way search engines and webmasters collect data on who is accessing, and indeed how there sites are being used.

Googles spokes person told .net that it “depended on the context”, where an ISP assigns an IP address to a user, and knows that users name and address this may be considered personal data, but where an IP address is collected by a website simply as a statistic then it is not. Google store IP addresses for all users performing a search for at least 2 years to help improve their search statistics and accuracy.

The implications for all of the worlds websites and search engines that collect IP’s for statistical purposes having to treat these as confidential data, and go through the data protection procedures to protect them are huge.

Another huge implication will be to the peer to peer piracy police, where IP addresses are being used to identify, track and prosecute people illegally copying, sharing and publishing audio/video and software illegally.

This is a very grey area and I would imagine that the debate will go on for some time.

Are IP addresses personal data?