How in-the-browser software should work
I wrote recently about my growing unease with the addiction we have with ever greater convenience with our computing over the necessity of control. A lot of this is driven by cloud, and software-as-a-service (SaaS).
The convenience of SaaS is difficult to argue with. No installing software. No upgrades. Files accessible wherever you want them. The ability to share documents and collaborate on them with others in real time.
The downsides are all to do with control of your data. If it’s a paid service, and you stop paying, can you still access and open your files? Or if the company behind the system goes belly up? Is all your data locked up inside a system, or in a format you can’t reuse?
It is possible for those behind cloud based software to get it right though. Take a look at Dave Winer‘s new tool, Fargo. It’s an outliner (and outliners are cool, remember) and based in the browser. However, it also:
- uses Dropbox for storage, so you have access to your files via Dropbox’s website, or downloaded locally to your computer, whenever you want. It’s not locked into Fargo’s own filesystem
- uses the open standard OPML for the file format, so if you stop using Fargo for whatever reason, you can still load your files into any outliner that uses the OPML standard (which they all do, if they’re worth their salt)
This is how in-the-browser software ought to work. All the advantages of cloud based applications without giving up the control over our data that traditional desktop apps give.
Codebunk looks like a neat in the browser editor for writing and testing code. Particularly useful, I think, for those learning to program.
Here’s a video that demonstrates how it works.
Clouds v cartels
Interesting article by the erstwhile US government CIO Vivek Kundra, in the New York Times:
AS the global economy struggles through a slow and painful recovery, governments around the world are wasting billions of dollars on unnecessary information technology. This problem has worsened in recent years because of what I call the “I.T. cartel.” This powerful group of private contractors encourages reliance on inefficient software and hardware that is expensive to acquire and to maintain.
Kundra posits that an increased use of cloud computing as being the answer to this problem. As Andrea DiMaio points out though, that might not quite be the solution, after all…
Let’s take the cloud. Vivek and others have done a lot to move the federal government in that direction. On the other hand, if any significant economies of scale must be achieved, there will be only a handful of suppliers that can provide what is needed. When migrations will accelerate and thousands of workloads, application and data will be in some form of cloud – be it private, government or public – why should cloud suppliers not establish a cartel? What evidence do we have that they really want to pursue interoperability and portability – so that their clients really have choice about where to source their IT services – as opposed to sharing the market as usual?
When clouds don’t taste so delicious
There appears to be a considerable amount of uncertainty about the future of Delicious, the web’s preeminent social bookmarking service.
Not sure what social bookmarking is? Here’s a video:
It seems a shame that Yahoo! have been unable to find a way to make a service with plenty of active and dedicated users pay for itself. I know I would pay a few quid a month to keep it going.
Either way, the service will be sold on or shut down in the nearish future. Users are looking for alternatives, with the likelihood being that if everyone leaves, who cares what happens? It’s easy enough to export your data from Delicious, and I would recommend you do it right away.
The two options at the moment seem to be Diigo or Pinboard. The former is much more polished than the latter, so it’s a case of choosing what matters to you. There are other options discussed in this post on SearchEngineLand.
Personally, I use Delicious mainly as a publishing tool – to get the links posts published every so often here on DavePress. Most things that I save to read later go into Evernote.
The potentially more worrying issue here is that Yahoo! also own Flickr, the photo sharing site. Bookmarks and links are one thing, but photos entirely another. I’d always advise users of cloud services to back up your stuff locally just in case something goes wrong – it’s good practice anyway.
That’s fine for those of us who have PCs or laptops at home where you can store media locally. But what of the future of low-cost computing – like the ChromeOS netbooks I wrote about the other day, where the machines themselves have virtually no storage and everything is held on the servers of companies like Google, Microsoft, Amazon and, er, Yahoo!.
This is one of the implications of cloud culture, where increasingly our cultural artefacts – books, music, films, photos, art – are being stored and curated by tech companies rather than traditional publishers, museums, libraries etc. The medium is also changing of course, from physical objects to digital ones.
The book won’t disappear anytime soon, of course, nor will painting on canvas. But the everyday access and storage of this stuff will be moving online, and we all need to have a proper think about how we deal with that.
Clouds and culture
Lloyd Davis is a lovely man, and a very clever one at that. He founded the Tuttle Club, a weekly networkingy sort of meetup for people who like the internet and other people, which is at the same time very simple but also rather ingenious.
He also sports an even more ludicrous job title than mine, for at least a part of his time – he is Social Artist in Residence at the University of London’s Centre for Creative Collaboration. What does that mean? Mary has a go at explaining here. I’ve written a bit about social artists, as has David Wilcox.
Lloyd ran a couple of sessions at last week’s Likeminds conference – he facilitated a panel session; and hosted a lunchtime discussion, which I attended, on ‘cloud culture’. This is a topic he has written about on his blog, and which has been the focus of quite a bit of attention from such luminaries as Charles Leadbeater.
I found it a really interesting topic for discussion, and I’m grateful to Lloyd – and the organisers of the conference – for creating a space where I was made to think about it properly. There are, of course, many aspects of our culture that are affected by the internet, and use of the cloud in particular.
There is the issue of cultural ‘stuff’ or products, like stories, music, films, art etc. Traditionally hosted by museums or galleries, or publishers; what effect will be had by this hosting now being performed by Amazon, or Apple, or Google?
The case of the music industry is particularly interesting, of course. People have been making music for thousands of years. Record labels have existed for a handful of decades. You don’t need the latter to make the former possible. Artists don’t need bigorgs to distribute their work any more – get over it.
There are other types of culture too. What about national culture, in the age of the internet and globilisation? If all our culture is online, in the cloud, what effect does that have on who we think we are?
One of my main interests is organisational culture, classically defined as ‘the way we do things around here’. This is an area where the effect of the internet is probably most measurable. It’s also true of course that the internet itself has a culture. What lessons can organisations learn from this internet culture?
This goes back to my constantly repeated point that the interesting thing about the use of online technology is not the technology but the implications of using it. Internet culture is open, it’s cooperative, it’s funny, it’s transparent. These are the things we should be pushing our government to be.
What I like are examples of offline activity that wouldn’t be possible without the internet. Tuttle is one of those. On the face of it, it’s an old school networking meetup. The truth is, though, is that it’s an old school networking meetup that’s been filtered through the internet and its culture. Most of those who attend know each other virtually, introductions tend to go along the lines of “oh, so you’re [insert twitter username]”.
GovCamp is another example. So we met in real life, and the agenda was put together with post its on a big blank bit of paper. But how was it that so many people were convinced to give up their Saturday’s to come and talk about government? It’s because of the internet culture of openness, transparency, collaboration and the democratisation of publishing. Just as anyone can publish online, whether with a blog or whatever, anyone can speak at an unconference.
As I mentioned earlier today, I’m hoping to run a session at this week’s London LocalGovCamp about what lessons internet culture can teach local authorities, and other public sector organisations. Anyone who is coming to the event, please do come along and join in. Those that aren’t, I’d appreciate any comments.
Here’s a video where Lloyd talks about his stuff:
City of Angeles moves to Google Apps
Google Apps will also help conserve resources in the city’s Information & Technology Agency (ITA), which is responsible for researching, testing & implementing new technologies in ways that make Los Angeles a better place to live, work and play. Because the email and other applications are hosted and maintained by Google, ITA employees who previously were responsible for maintaining our email system can be freed up to work on projects that are central to making the city run.
By ITA estimates, Google Apps will save the city of Los Angeles millions of dollars by allowing us to shift resources currently dedicated to email to other purposes. For example, moving to Google will free up nearly 100 servers that were used for our existing email system, which will lower our electricity bills by almost $750,000 over five years. In short, this decision helps us to get the most out of the city’s IT budget.
The decision to move to Google Apps was not taken lightly. The city issued a request for proposals and received 15 proposals, which were evaluated by city officials. The top four proposals were invited to give oral presentations, with CSC’s proposal for Google Apps receiving the highest marks. This decision was reviewed and discussed by the Los Angeles City Council which, after a healthy debate, voted unanimously to move forward with Google Apps.
Here’s a video for more: