Monday, December 19, 2011

Two sets of rules in the internet age?

Copyright remains a big bone of contention on the internet.

While we tend to think of copyright as being an issue mainly for music and movie studios, it's also a problem for the news publishing industry.

Recently, Rupert Murdoch had a hissy-fit over Google's use of headlines from his online publications in its Google News service although he eventually saw the light and backed down from a threat to take action against the search giant.

However, there are still a good number of organisations within the news industry who are highly protective of their content and regularly threaten bloggers and others who reproduce their copy without permission (such permission almost always requiring payment).

With this in mind, I was gobsmacked to see a judgment made by The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) in which it ruled that it was now okay for the news media to publish images it had snatched from FaceBook - without the permission of the original poster.

It seems that the ACMA believes that such content, if it's made publicly available by the FaceBook account owner, can be republished without infringing copyright.

With this in mind, I'm certain that the ACMA will be standing behind any blogger or other Net user who chooses to republish (without permission) any of the work the news media -- so long as that work has been made "publicly available" by being first published by the news-organisation concerned, via its own website.

I will contact the ACMA to get their position on this but I think we all know what it will be.

Does this sound fair to you?

Monday, December 12, 2011

A solution in search of a problem

The quantum world is fascinating...

So much uncertainty and so very different to the Newtonian world we're all familiar with.

When we measure the position of a quantum object, we can't be sure of its speed and if we measure its speed, we're no longer sure exactly where it is.

Totally fascinating.

As we continue forward into the second decade of the 21st century, we are still gifted with only the slightest understanding of the quantum world but already, we've done something very, very clever.

A group of scientists at Bristol University have created the first programmable quantum photonics chip.


It won't really do anything you can show your mother -- but never the less, it's a gigantic step forward in our attempts to harness quantum effects.

Of course it's pretty much useless as anything other than a proof of concept and, as a practical device, it's even less useful than the very first integrated circuit - but oh the potential!

Unfortunately, we're just not sure what that potential can be used for.

In theory, the quantum computers that may eventually evolve from devices like this one, will be immensely useful for such complex tasks as data encryption and complex mathematics but, as of now, it's all theory.

However, just as the CPU in the computer you're using right now, with its millions or billions of individual silicon junctions grew from those very first transistors created over half a century ago by Bell Labs -- the computer of the future may be filled with devices that owe their very existence to this quantum photonic device.

The future will be a great place and fortunately, that's where we'll all be spending the rest of our lives. Enjoy.

Monday, December 5, 2011

YouTube's new look, not a good look according to many

Regular readers will recall that just a few short weeks ago, I wrote a column titled Stop messing with my user-interface in which I criticised Firefox for stuffing up what was a perfectly good user-interface.

Well it seems that nobody is listening when users vent their dislike of user-interfaces or websites that are arbitrarily "updated" and "improved" without warning or consultation.

On several occasions, Facebook has angered tens of millions of users when they decided to implement changes to the world's largest social networking site and now, it would appear, Google has made the same error of judgment in updating YouTube's look and feel.

If the comments posted in the Youtube feedback forum are anything to go by, the new look is roundly disliked by YouTube users.

Key functionality, such as the ability to see who is subscribed to what channels, is now missing and there are many other niggles that seem to be upsetting the very core of YouTube's lifeblood -- those who contribute and watch the videos around which it is built.

It's becoming pretty clear that Google's stated intention to convert YouTube from a "community" to something more like a regular TV system may lie at the heart of the changes.

Google no longer wants a collection of eclectic videos that people have to subscribe to in order to receive regular updates -- they want to turn the site into a huge video resource that automatically offers-up video content to its viewers. This will make it a far more practical source of content for an IPTV service -- because TV users just want to watch, not go searching for their viewing.

As a result, the emphasis seems to have gone out of building a one-to-one relationship between the content producer and the viewer -- to the extent that now, YouTube content creators don't actually know who has subscribed to them -- they simply get a head-count.

It will be very interesting to see what happens next.

It's been my experience that most people are averse to change. Like a comfortable pair of slippers, they like what they know and are familiar with. Unexpected and unsolicited change can often create feelings of dissatisfaction but, eventually that passes and users just forget about it.

On the other hand, the internet is a fickle place and, as some have found out to their cost, upsetting the great unwashed masses can turn a popular hangout into a ghost-town almost overnight -- so long as they have somewhere else to go.

In YouTube's favour, there aren't a lot of other places to go and certainly none of the alternatives are nearly as convenient as Google's flavour of user-generated video content.

So I suspect that the wailing and gnashing of teeth will continue for a little longer -- but eventually it will subside and, in a month or two, it will be as if nothing had ever happened.

However, wouldn't it be nice if, just every now and then, companies actually consulted the people who use their products and services -- before they decided to make major changes.