Diaspora Project doubtful to kill Facebook

The Diaspora Project, if you haven’t heard about it, you should do some research and check out this site. The project is jointly run by 4 developers namely: Daniel Grippi, Maxwell Salzberg, Raphael Sofaer and Ilya Zhitromirskiy. Its worth mentioning all 4 of the team members are students and are hoping to complete Diaspora development in one summer. This being the summer of 2010.

The following are the 2 main reasons why I doubt Diaspora will be the Facebook killer some of us are hoping for (in no particular order):

  • The majority of Facebook users are more than happy with the service FB supplies them. Facebook may offer very basic services, but it does have a lot going for it, primarily FB has more than 100 million users. Thats a lot of users, no other service on the planet offers a more comprehensive social directory. FB can also boast high retention rates of 70% per annum, compared to say Twitter which has less than 50% retention rate. In fact if there was a social network site that needed replacement the first prize would go to Twitter.
  • Facebook services most users needs very well, it provides the following services – the ability to hook up with most people in the world, the ability to share textual and photographic information and the ability to chat in real time.
  • Facebook does have huge privacy issues BUT this is not a show stopper. Facebook might be in the business of selling your data to marketing companies, but guess what? Hardly anyone cares. I’ve proven this time and again, I’ve explained this to many people, I’ve asked Facebook users if they’re aware of the privacy issues, and guess what? MOST ARE! Yet they still continue to use Facebook, privacy for most is not a massive concern. Then while on this point there is another type of privacy users are concerned with, this is the ability for the users direct details to be shared with the general internet public, for example photos or a list of your friends via Google. Facebook are already aware of these issues and are working on addressing these concerns.

Since I’ve followed Diaspora, I’ve also had a reality check, here is what I think 2 months in.

  • Diaspora project raised over $100 000 dollars, why would 4 talented students need that much money to develop a product they believe would take them just 1 summer to complete? I don’t get this at all. As a developer I’ve often thought of developing some new idea, the highest cost in software development are the human resources. Since these 4 developers are the human resources writing the application using open source solutions, why the need for $100 000 dollars. Now I know they only asked for $10 000 upfront, but my point is why ask for any money at all? Why not just develop it, then once its developed find investors to fund the marketing. Infact Diasporas rise to fame is primarily based on the success the team achieved while raising that $100 000 dollars.
  • The Diaspora site lacks priority, it seems more like a competition give away site than a serious open source development effort. Other real open source projects I’m interested in have way more focus on the actual work, not on publicity or give away gimmicks. Tell me, do you see any SVN repository on the Diaspora site? Have you seem any detailed technical discussions by the Diaspora team? The Diaspora team seem preoccupied deciding which T-Shirts to hand out to their sponsors.
  • The Diaspora team raise interest, use catch phrases like “Open”, “Free”, “Privacy”, “Secure” but never give any detailed technical accounts of what they’re planning on implementing, the reason is because they haven’t fully planned what they’re implementing. They have great high level theoretical concepts, but I am not entirely convinced they’re always that practical.
  • In my experience the Diaspora team are not the best communicators, the site, the work, the goals, the progress of the development are all shrouded in a blanket of mystery. Diaspora team seldom (if at all) reply to questions sent via email. I understand developers might not enjoy handling public communication, but since this is a publicly sponsored high budget development effort, why don’t they just hire someone to maintain the website and handle email communication? Surely some of that $100 000 could go into keeping their supporters updated?

Lastly, Diaspora is designed to be P2P based, focusing on nodes with the ability to self host data for ultimate privacy. In other words extremely geeky, if the development does actually complete then at raw best, geeks will have a new social network. That’s best case scenario, because I don’t see the majority of internet users rushing out to get web hosting just to be able to socialize on the web. There will be publicly hosted versions of Diaspora, but how exactly is that different to Facebook? Are the privacy concerns really addressed?

Should Diaspora be thanking Pivotlabs for their free coffee, or thanking us (the planet) for the fish!

Mass effect – players review

if Mass effect could be described in 1 word that word would be – confusing. I might get flamed for saying this but its true.

My first impression of the game, was the size (its a 10GB client) which I thought would be great, surely lots of content. However most of that content is cut scene animations, dialogs and sound.

The game itself was not designed to run in HD (1080p or higher) so I had to manually edit some config file to get this to work. But the confusion didn’t end there.

Here are my main frustations with the game:

  • The guns all look the same and its hard to know what you’ve equipped and for what reason. I’ve played lots of FPS’s everything pretty much since Quake and Unreal days. In a typical FPS, or for example in Crysis, you don’t need to guess what weapon you’re yielding or why. Weapons mainly fall into the following categories (short range / max spread shotguns; mid / long term rifles ; back up pistol ; sniper long range ; long range max spread / slow rate of fire grenade launchers). These are the main categories but there are others, in Mass effect there is little distinction between any of the weapons, and you don’t seem to get ammo either. You see in a typical game with ammo, you use the most powerful weapon at your disposal then when you run out of ammunition you downscale.  With Mass effect you have another annoying problem, your guns over heat, and so in combat you’re switching your weapons all the time till other weapons cool off.
  • All the planet areas are Arenas. The game was never designed to be a sandbox, but I think once you’ve played a few sandbox style games, you come to expect some level of freedom in a modern title. Planet areas feel too artificial to be enjoyable.
  • City areas are confusing, they’re big and not intuitive enough, feels exactly like KOTOR.
  • Every lift you take means a long wait. This adds to the realism of the game, but it does get annoying.
  • When you finally leave the initial space station, you think this is great, freedom! Finally! Only to be disappointed by having predefined locations, all of which are as confusing as the space station. Modern, loveless and static locations.

Before you think I’m being too hard on the game, it does have some redeeming qualities:

  • It has an excellent story, in a way its like watching a DVD
  • The character voice acting is highly believable, perhaps the best I’ve ever heard in a video game.
  • If you enjoy games like Dragon Age which are loaded with cut scenes and steep dialogs, then this game is for you.
  • It has a strange way of making you want to finish it, or play it till you’ve finished it, even through some of the game elements are far from perfect.

All in all if it was the first video game I had ever played I would think it was amazing, after all its not a 1/2 bad video game in its own right, the problem is that since I’m playing a lot of bleeding edge titles lately, I end up comparing game play. In this regard, unfortunately Mass Effect just doesn’t stand up to what I hoped for in a game.

South Africa sucks blog, why it kept getting deleted?

I tried to find the original South Africa Sucks blog, but it was taken offline many times by Google. Since I have never read the blog, I can’t tell you what content the blog contained, but apparently it violated Google’s terms of service, and for this reason was taken down. What I have managed to find is vast amounts of forum posts and comments, scattered around the internet where people have been discussing this SA sucks blog in great detail.

Here are my thoughts.

According to the posts I’ve read, the original SA Sucks blog, hosted on Google’s BlogSpot contained over 3000 posts and had millions of reads and a huge subscriber base. For what ever reason Google shut it down. So what do you think the authors decided to do? I would imagine they were infuriated, but they decided to open up a new blog under a new name, which slowly gained momentum and once again the fan base grew, the problem is the twits decided to open up the new blog once again hosted with Google’s BlogSpot.

You can imagine what happened next? There is a saying in SA that only a donkey hits its head twice, well clearly the twits who authored the blog must have been donkeys, Google once again shut them down.

So what do you think they did. Infuriated, the twits decided to once again “teach Google a lesson” and opened up attempt 3. You would think by now they would have got a clue, but no once again using? Yup you guessed it (sigh) Google’s BlogSpot. I can imagine it must have taken a lot of energy to author the new articles for site no.3. Clearly these guys can type faster than me.

Well its a no brainer what happened next? Goggle once again decided to shut them down.

Now I have no problem with people venting about the situation in SA, I think online blogging of current issues, especially things that annoy you can be a great way to channel frustration and at the same time bring to light problems that lead to change. What I am still thinking about is what possessed the original blog authors to open 3 versions of the blog with Google if the blog clearly violated Google’s TOS?

Do I agree with Google for banning this blog? No, I don’t, however not having seen the exact content, I can’t say forsure, but I would imagine the blog entries would be mainly about the typical issues facing SA as a whole, something I believe bloggers have the right to blog about. Bloggers after all provide a “street view” of current affairs. At the end of the day, we’re not really bloggers, just people expressing ideas and sharing information. Google should really be agnostic towards the information being blogged about, naturally unless these blogs are of a criminal nature containing taboo topics like child porn etc. However, at the end of the day this is at the discretion of Google, and ultimately the blogger who is not paying Google to use the free blogging application should respect that.

Did these guys respect Googles TOS? No, instead they got infuriated and decided to try tackle the bear. This was pointless, at the end of the day they wasted their own time and energy, on the other hand the whole Google ban was more than likely automated.

What would I have done, I would have used WordPress which is a good free option, or self hosted my own blog. Since being with WordPress I’ve blogged about a lot of issues, and tackled a lot of controversial subjects. I’ve always tried to maintain my dignity, but I’ve never left my readers with bitterly politically correct content. I’ve experienced freedom of speech using WordPress.

Anyways, I sincerely hope that the authors of the original SA sucks blog do open up a new site, hosted with a provider who allows them freedom of speech, hopefully their 4th attempt will be slightly more permanent than their last 3 feeble attempts. Come on guys grow a brain will ya?

You’ve heard of Diaspora right?

If you haven’t heard of Diaspora, then this short article will update you.

Diaspora is essentially a new social media platform with a twist. A very good twist.

Why another social media platform?

This is a good question, we already have more than enough of them out there, Facebook, MySpace, Shitter (I mean Twitter) and all the rest of them. The problem with almost ALL of these mainstream social media sites is they make it very clear that they “own” ANY/ALL of your information once its uploaded. They have the ability to pattern scan and analyze trends sitting in casual comments, status updates, and photo albums.

For example : (On Facebook) An every day Joe Facebook user, might post about their new mobile phone, 20 people might like this and comment. In turn, in other social networks the same phone is getting talked about much more than any other brand (The iPhone comes to mind). Now using clever scanning algorithms, Facebook will scan for any comments on the original item that contain certain keywords like BUT or Perhaps. For example: “I like this phone but I wish it had a…. ” or “Perhaps I would buy it, if it didn’t cost…..” This is a very basic example of how Facebook and marketing companies are raping our information.

How about that innocent holiday photo album you just uploaded. Did you label it “Ski Holiday Alps 2010” or “Egypt Vacation 2009” or just “Rio Dec 2009”. It doesn’t really matter the point is, since Facebook knows where you live, have pictures of you in your profile section, can using image analysis techniques detect You, in your pics, and since you’ve provided a location, they know where you’re going on holiday. This information alone is not useful, but once you apply this technique to the entire Facebook user base, suddenly you know exactly where in the world people are going to on holiday, at what times, from what locations, and this information is sold to (amongst others) developers, airline companies and hotels. For example: You might determine that Egypt is the most popular destination for people travelling from the UK, but only at certain times of the year. You might also determine that some cities are suffering out of season, and try to find ways to provide motivation for people from, for example Russia to travel to this location during certain months of the year. Again these are basic examples.

I didn’t answer the question, why Diaspora?

Diaspora is the social platform writing by ordinary people who identified what I spoke about above, and want to change that, giving people back the rights to own their own information. Diaspora doesn’t turn people into digital crop sharers. Diaspora offers a platform that is decentralized and competes directly with the “big boys” who have sold us out to marketing companies. Diaspora is essentially a glimmer of hope on the horizon.

Who is developing Diaspora?

4 (four) very smart young people. Students actually who have been funded via a community funding project called Kickstarter. Diaspora will be completely open source and be more p2p based, people will own their information, and all communication will be encrypted.

But I love Facebook?

I don’t think anyone really is in love with Facebook. People really like that all their friends are using this platform, and that it is indeed an active platform. But if you think about it, its a very basic platform, offering the ability to share textual and photographic information, and form groups and play certain games. Facebook doesn’t do very much, if you think about it. Diaspora will be able to do more, offering levels of communication, and have the ability to segregate social networks, for example – who ever found Facebook unable to distinguish between friends and family. So your drunk party photos, also happen to be available to your mother. Diaspora solves issues like this. But Diaspora does more, offering extensions that make it possible for Diaspora to communicate directly with Facebook, Twitter (Shitter) or any other platform you may be on. So you can use Facebook via Diaspora, until more people join Diaspora.




Who gives a toss about IIS7?

IIS 7 is positioned exactly between a rock and a hard place. Its bundled in with the more recent MS Server Products (2008+), but sadly will not install on Windows Server 2003. This is the crux of the matter that unfortunately puts IIS 7 out of reach.

Developers want to work with the most recent technologies. This is seldom  possible in the world of Windows development in 2010. In a distributed SOA environment a great deal of customers are still using, yup you guessed it – Windows Server 2003.

Lets say you have a web application, and you install this at your customer sites. Assuming you have more than 1 customer, and hopefully more than 10, a problem will quickly come to light. If just one of your customers has Windows Server 2003, your web app needs to be compatible with the version of IIS that ships with Windows Server 2003, yes ladies and gents IIS6. You cannot assume any of the advanced features in IIS7, you have to code for worst case scenario right? You can’t ship a feature if the client’s server infrastructure doesn’t support it.

The situation gets more cynical when you realize that even without  customers, you should infact plan for the worst case scenario. There is still a wide client audience running Win 2k3, hence IIS6 becomes your target web server.

Its 2010 and clients still don’t want to upgrade past Windows Server 2003.  Can you truly blame them if Win2k8+ provide no real business value and induces additional costs. Linux outshines Windows in this regard, there is no political motivation to bundle in web server versions with OS version.

The longer I ponder on this article, the more I realize that to a great many developer out there, IIS7 hardly even exists.