サンフランシスコの空の下から~Kyle's monthly topics~(英語)

Vol.2 台頭する数々のSNS.けれど…

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I have resisted joining any of these many "social networking" sites, but I recently created a Facebook page. For whatever reason, I find the name "Facebook" rather unpleasant. It isn't rude or vulgar in English--it just gives me a slightly creepy feeling. But obviously no one else feels the same way, simply based on the size of its userbase. I read an article from last summer about the Japanese version, a user-driven localization of what remains essentially the English language site, obviously quite unlike Mixi. Some of my friends seem to use Facebook as a substitute for Twitter, posting little comments to their Facebook profile throughout the day. I confess I have not tried Twitter. I have an account but don't use it and don't find it particularly exciting. I mean, do I really need to tell my friends when I'm going down to the 7-11? Do I really want to know when a friend goes to the bathroom? Twitter certainly has its uses, but Sturgeons Revelation holds true for it: "Ninety percent of SF [science fiction] is crud, but then, ninety percent of everything is crud." (Ted Sturgeon was a great science fiction writer, and very perceptive!) I suppose I can see why Google might be interested in buying Twitter, as it would provide yet another avenue for the Google monster to deliver advertisements, and I can see Twitter being useful when you are travelling, or working on a project that requires notifications to groups of people. But is it really anything more than a massive one-way Instant Messenger? And I know my friends don't care so much about me that they want or need to know my step-by-step moves. The graphic on the http://twitter.com/help/why page is of a stylized tree with half a dozen birds in it, which to me conveys the opposite of what the page designer intended: I imagine an unintelligible cacophony. And that is what some of my friends use Facebook for, much to my chagrin. I like to keep up with what they are doing in their lives, but not that they are, for example, thinking of cookies at this particular moment. Well, I have no wish to deny them the right to say so, but thankfully Facebook let's me turn off such notifications. Unfortunately, there appears to be no way to weight some types of comments as more important than others. I would still like to see the notifications that my friends consider important and not see the trivial ones. Japanese use seems to be limited to Japanese who want to keep in touch with Westerner friends. Mixi appears to fit the needs of the Japanese market better.

I've been making use of more streaming audio applications on my iPhone recently, with a new version of Pandora and a new utility called Stitcher which gives instant access to a large variety of podcasts. Stitcher now has a Japanese "channel" as well as ones from elsewhere in Europe and Asia. It is basically a podcast RSS aggregator, and it seems to do that adequately. It saves time and provides convenience, and also lets me discover information sources I would probably not ordinarily have come across. Unfortunately, I find that Ted Sturgeon is right again. Lots of dross out there, lots of dull programs, and unlike a web page you cannot easily "dip into" a podcast for a minute or two and know if you will find it interesting. But I imagine Stitcher will become more useful as I weed out channels that are dull and discover hidden gems. Not a lot of Japanese content yet, but this is still early days, and other aggregators could well appear to fill that gap. Plus, the iPhone isn't particularly popular in Japan, and the handset competition is far more advanced. I mean, you can watch TV on your phones in Japan, but it is far harder for me to watch TV on my iPhone. I must admit, though, that I don't watch a lot of television anyway, but I'm glad that there are more and more opportunities to do so online now. The iTunes store has been selling TV programs for quite a while, but there are far cheaper options becoming available. One I have tried a few times is hulu.com, a joint venture between NBC Universal, News Corp. and some outfit called Providence Equity Partners (that one sounds like a venture capital group, sometimes called "vulture capital" by more cynical people). The video quality is very good, and the selection is okay (albeit limited to only a couple of production companies), and the advertising is unobtrusive. Compared to most Internet home connections, mine is fairly fast, 6Mbps downstream, but even so hulu.com stutters from time to time as it hits some latency and rebuffers the stream. I have 4GB of RAM in this machine, though, and so I wish FireFox and Shockwave/Flash and hulu would take advantage of the resources available.

Hulu's designers appear to be playing tricks with its URLs, perhaps in an an attempt to stop alternative browsers from displaying its programming, for example "boxee" or hacked Apple TVs. I don't see this as being particularly worthwhile for hulu. Provided hulu wants to keep its material supported by advertising and boxee or other web browser plays their video stream including their advertisements, I think hulu should be satisfied. But this is such a new delivery system that hulu and others seem almost paranoid about control. Their Terms of Service certainly goes to quite an extreme telling us what we cannot do with their "Video Player." Interestingly, their lawyers do not explicitly define just what their Video Player is. Perhaps they mean the browser window that contains the video data, but, not being a lawyer, I cannot be sure. It does say that we can "embed videos using the Video Player" provided there isn't any other objectionable material with it (porn, etc) but we "may not embed the Video Player into any hardware or software application." That makes no sense. How can we embed the Video Player but not embed it in software? Bizarre. Also, we cannot use "the Video Player in a manner that enables users to view the Content without displaying visibly both the Video Player and all surrounding elements (including the graphical user interface, any advertising, copyright notices, and trademarks) of the webpage where the Video Player is located. " But their Video Player has a "full screen" option that removes all the graphical user interface elements, advertising, copyright notices, and trademarks. The only thing it leaves is a "hulu" logo (which is superimposed over the video in the lower right corner) and some video controls which only appear when you move the mouse and promptly disappear when you are finished with them. I think Hollywood is really struggling with the Internet. They and their lawyers want to have a strong presence there but have trouble adapting themselves to the extremely quick developments in technology, and the first inclination is to fight against disruptive innovations which build on their own intellectual property. I really applaud their attempt to deliver their programming and hope that they add more and maintain the unobtrusive advertising, but not fight innovation. I just wish they kept older programming around longer, but they tend to keep only one or two "seasons" of a program available, probably hoping that we will buy the DVDs. But there is really no technical limitation preventing them from streaming them. I say, take advantage of inexpensive disk space and the growth of bandwidth--get your whole library online!

Netflix (www.netflix.com), a rent-DVDs-by-mail company, is getting much praise for its video streaming of full length movies to our TVs via a variety of devices. One of them, the US$99 Roku Digital Video Player, can play not only over 12,000 movies and TV shows from Netflix (for a fee starting at from US$8.99 per month) but over 40,000 movies and TV shows streamed from Amazon.com (paid for individually). So finally we are beginning to have some real choices in video delivery. Unfortunately, we can't yet view it all on our telephones here, but at least they're trying to take advantage of the technology we do have. (Too bad Sturgeons Revelation is true for their shows and movies.)

Speaking of taking advantage of all technical resources available, it took only 10 seconds for Mr. Charlie Miller to crack a Mac and win a $5,000 prize at CanSecWest's PWN2OWN hacking contest. It was his second win in a row, and he did it faster than last year, too. It was a fully patched Mac as of mid-March, and all the judges did was visit a URL using Safari. Mr. Miller had prepped the site with code that took only seconds to compromise the Mac, and the organizers then passed the exploit on to Apple. A little later at the same event, another researcher broke into a Sony laptop running Windows 7, that one via a flaw in Internet Explorer 8. I find it more amusing than disturbing, but yes, of course, no vulnerability is really funny, especially if it harms an innocent. But I think it would be better for us to spend more time simply being careful of where we surf and what we install, and using browser plug-ins like NoScript on Firefox or PithHelmet on Safari wherever possible. Friends of mine still get their World of Warcraft accounts hacked, losing all of their gear, even having their characters deleted, all because of sloppy browsing habits. To help stop that, Blizzard has released a free iPhone/iPod Touch version of their authenticator, a software version of the small hardware key I have now. Making it free is a very good move. Unfortunately but understandably, I cannot use both it and the hardware one I already have, but that's okay. When that one runs out of batteries, if I still need one, I can switch to the iPhone version. If I'm still using an iPhone, that is, because the authenticator is supposed to have a seven year life. What kind of phone will I be using then, I wonder? The authenticator's battery isn't replaceable, and according to someone whose device died and who cut open the sealed case, the unmarked battery is soldered onto its small circuit board. So, hooray for the iPhone option. Unfortunately Bill Gates' wife doesn't have that option. She told Vogue magazine, "There are very few things that are on the banned list in our household, but iPods and iPhones are two things we don't get for our kids... Every now and then I look at my friends and say 'Ooh, I wouldn't mind having that iPhone'." (http://www.style.com/vogue/feature/2009/02/gates-of-heaven/) It is bad enough that she can't have an iPhone, but imagine their sad, sad children. Only Zunes for them.

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