A first taste of the distributed social web

Posted April 13th, 2010 by konrad

The days of social data silos are finally counted … yesterday OneSocialWeb made a plug-in for OpenFire and a console client available for download. These two programs are the first bricks for building a distributed social network.

A screen shot of the web client

A screen shot of the web client

A web client and a client for Android will follow soon (I had luck – Laurent Eschenauer provide me with an account for an installation of the rudimentary web client). If you play around with the programs you will recognize that they have many rough edges and miss many functions so far – they are in a very early stage. Despite this OneSocialWeb is in my opinion on of the most promising projects in this field and a look at the protocol specification made me quite exited. Everything is build on XMPP (=> real-time) and other open standards. On the list of functions are Activity Stream over XMPP (which works currently), VCard4 over XMPP, Social Relationships and a Personal Eventing Protocol (PEP) Inbox. If you like to play around with early stage (console) tools have a look at the github repositories of the project and help to improve them.

Update: If you need an account for a running server – ping Laurent.

Last week I registered to Cliqset in the hope to finally find the last ├╝ber-aggretator I need to combine all my live stream services. As my expectations were not fulfilled I tried to explore my disappointment and to find out what I was missing in all the aggregators I tested so far. In my opinion the problem is that platforms like friendfeed, cliqset, lifestream.ff etc. are build to spread my content to other platforms and to bundle my various output streams into one. The function that is missing is the insertion of streams of other people than me from outside the platform. An example might make this clearer: I would like to read the postings of all the people I follow in e.g. twitter, identi.ca and friendfeed in one service. This service could be friendfeed. What I see there in my personal view are all the streams of people who have a friendfeed account and who I follow. If all these people would have a twitter account and added that one to their friendfeed stream I could theoretically unfollow them on twitter and just read their posts on friendfeed. Unfortunately this is not reality and only a fraction of the people who I follow on twitter and identi.ca own a friendfeed account. So I would like to tell friendfeed to take all the status messages of the people I follow on twitter and identi.ca and integrate them like postings of friendfeed users into the stream that I see. At this point redundant postings (same person – same text – different platforms) could be removed.

Let’s talk tech for the case that I still could not make myself understood: I want a combined, real-time, non-redundant stream of

  • http://friendfeed-api.com/v2/feed/<username>/friends
  • http://twitter.com/statuses/friends_timeline.xml and
  • http://identi.ca/konrad/all

If you step back now and have a look at what I just have described you see that this is kind of a real-time RSS reader (time for PubSub, isn’t it?) including all the other goodies that friendfeed offers (e.g. sending to multiple platforms, commenting). An other description would be a multi-service client for status services.

My question: I this already possible to do so with friendfeed or one of it’s clones and I just missed it? Or am I the only one interested in that? Is there something around like this? Even Regine who is usually quite informed about the options of such tools could not help me (but inspired me to do a little visualization). … Maybe the solution will be Google buzz that just arrived (not yet available for me).

Update: Google buzz seems to be more a part of the problem than a part of the solutions. Maybe Cliqset was not a too bad hint. It offers a FeedProxy for many other services and makes it very easy to harvest the streams nicely wrapped using Activity Streams. This could be easily used to write something from scratch. But I still hope to find a ready solution.

Reclaiming your identity – distributed social networks

Posted February 2nd, 2010 by konrad

Tin can telephoneIt’s good to see that there is a growing movement that aims to free the online identity and the social graph from silo platforms with dubious privacy agreements and to offer decentralized entities as new harbors. While I like the idea of the Diso Project that tries to implement decentralized social networks by extending server-located platforms like WordPress (and luckily being heavily based on open standards) there is another approach to tackle the problem – by putting the identity in your browser. Aza Raskin stated that identity will be one of the defining themes of the web in the next five years and made hopes that Firefox will offer such functionality in the future. Unfortunately it looks like the Firefox community has only some mocks to offer currently. Interestingly there has been some research going on in this field in the last years that might point to solutions for some of the problems which have to be overcome: There are social networks that are based on the P2P concept (more precisely F2F) and offer a high level of privacy granularity by working with a so called Matryoshkas concept. One of the main problems is the persistence of a user’s personal data in the case that he is offline. There is a good introductionary paper discussing (and solving) these issues and proposing an implementation called Safebook [1]. Other early stage projects are Lifesocial and Persona. While I think the basic idea of P2P-based distributed social networks is the right direction I think it is done wrongly by not integrating it into the browser which is the natural habitat for the online identity. This might be partly due to technical limitations of browser plugins.

Another issue is the following: As far as I understand the profile data would be displayed in the browser for users that use this networking functionality. But in many cases it would be needed to present parts of the identity to the public e.g. on a plain web page. So based on the privacy setting the underlying identity data would have to be rendered to HTML and send to a server. Sounds technically trivial but might have further privacy implications.

For me there is also the burning question of how the concepts could be applied to replace specialized networks with many different purposes and requirements (like Couchsurfing) to get “one to rule them all”.

Currently it is not clear that decentralized networks will win against their centralized counterparts in the near future. The raising awareness of privacy and of the value of online identities might be driving forces to make that shift happen. I expect that we will observe quite some development in this area soon.

[1] Cutillo, Leucio Antonio;Molva, Refik;Strufe, Thorsten,
Leveraging social links for trust and privacy in networks, INetSec 2009. Open Research Problems in Network Security. April 23-24, 2009. Zurich, Switzerland

Photo by fadderuri.

New name – new theme – new drive

Posted November 14th, 2009 by konrad

Finally I finished a new theme for my page that suits my functional and aesthetic wishes. Currently I think it is too early for HTML5/CSS3 but I will move to it at some point based on the current theme. Additionally I changed the name of the blog to something more meaningful – “dao of flow”. After all this I hope to find time to have a look at all the blog post ideas that are sitting in my todo list and are begging to be written down.

HAR – 03 – TOR, Stylometry and a happy end

Posted August 19th, 2009 by konrad

Enlighted CCCThere were two other HAR presentations that I like to recommend: At first Roger Dingledine explained the performance issue of the network privacy tool TOR in his talk and the ways of dealing with this in the future. He had a lot of small anecdotes about the project that made the talk really interesting and memorable.

I often thought about the problem of the possibility that people could be identified by their writing style. Especially today as many people generate a huge online available corpus that could be used to train detection algorithm (which are similar to the ones used e.g. in bioinformatics). Accidentally I was stuck (this wasn’t planned but it was my great luck :)) in a talk by Mike Brennan about stylometry that shed light upon this issue. In the first part of his talk Mike presented how sophisticated this field is. There are e.g. unsupervised pairing methods with 95% accuracy even if only with a short text is available. Mike also presented methods to protect against such privacy attack: A very successful method is the imitation of the writing style of another person (e.g. a famous author). He proposed assisting software to increase the success rate of this approach.

If you are interested in one of the many talks just have a look at the stream dumps that are already available. I assume there will be further processed versions in the near future.

Many thanks to everybody who made the HAR such a great event!

HAR – 02 – Mobility

Posted August 15th, 2009 by konrad

At HAR are some electro mobility hardware hacks around and people are usually happy to offer a test ride.

Electric kart ... with netbook :)

Electric kart ... with netbook :)

Electric ... whatever

Electric ... whatever

or borrow test a Segway

or just borrow a Segway

HAR – 01 – The first talks

Posted August 15th, 2009 by konrad

It’s summer hacking camp time again! The Hacking at Random (HAR) opened its gates on Thursday and a lot of interesting things have been going on there since that. As usual I want to share some of my personal views on selected parts of this huge event and give some insights about what is happening here. Although this is just a small fraction of the whole camp I like to point out that you can follow the talks via lifestreams (check the main page for links) .

HAR 2009 - WikiLeaksAfter the official opening the WikiLeaks project presented some highlights of their published whistle blower documents and pointed to the recently created list of most wanted documents. Due doe the growing trend of censorship that is going on in many countries in the recent time there was the need for some follow up sessions. Yesterday was a panel discussion just about this topic. It was a fine line up of known people from the scene. It would have been interesting to have somebody from the other side who a pro-censorship. Still this was an informative session that ended with the conclusion that this global trend to (internet) censorship has to be fought by global, united voice against it. The Internet Society might offer a umbrella for that.

Michael NielsenAnother early talk was hold by Michael Nielsen. After being in contact with him now for some years it was great to see him in person. In his talk he was covering the current trends and future of scientific communication. He pointed out that it the new technologies are mainly used by young researchers but also by selected already established individuals like Terence Tao who might have a lighthouse function.

Movie recommendation – “Home”

Posted June 4th, 2009 by konrad

Earth - Eastern Hemisphere - photo is in the public domainHere comes just a quick movie recommendation of a film that I haven’t even seen so far but am quite excited about. I am talking about the documentary “Home” by the French journalist Yann Arthus-Bertrand. It captures the beauty and diversity of the earth and shows the negative impact of the human culture in aerial shots. The combination of images and sounds are mind blowing. Only when watching the trailer or the making-of of parts of it I got goose bumps. Another really special thing about the movie is that it will be released world wide at the same time (5th June, 2009, 00:00 UTC+2 … so basically in some minutes) in cinemas, some TV channels and on Youtube. In a recent TED talk Yann Arthus-Bertrand mentioned that the movie “has no copyright” – I haven’t found any other source confirming this but I hope that this movie will be published in the public domain or at least under a Creative Commons license. Well, lets see. They could have made it available via bittorrent but this still give some negative association in some circles so Youtube is a company-clean way, I guess (or they want to make money with the HD versions). Anyhow, I am looking forward to it and organized a little get-together to watch it tomorrow evening.