recentpopularlog in

robertogreco : freebasics   9

Angola’s Wikipedia Pirates Are Exposing the Problems With Digital Colonialism | Motherboard
"That brings us to what’s going on in Angola. Enterprising Angolans have used two free services—Facebook Free Basics and Wikipedia Zero—to share pirated movies, music, television shows, anime, and games on Wikipedia. And no one knows what to do about it.

Because the data is completely free, Angolans are hiding large files in Wikipedia articles on the Portuguese Wikipedia site (Angola is a former Portuguese colony)—sometimes concealing movies in JPEG or PDF files. They’re then using a Facebook group to direct people to those files, creating a robust, completely free file sharing network. A description for a Facebook group with 2,700 members reads: “created with the objective of sharing music, movies, pictures, and ANIMES via Wikimedia.” I was not admitted into the Facebook group and none of its administrators responded to my messages for an interview.

Wikipedia’s old guard, however, are concerned with this development. Wikipedia has very strict copyright guidelines and some editors of the site say they’re tired of playing whack-a-mole.

“I am reporting a possible misuse of Wikimedia projects and Wikipedia Zero to violate copyright,” one editor wrote on a Wiki discussion forum. “I am not sure if users are doing it in bad faith, but they have been warned and keep doing it. I don't think that Wikipedia Zero should stop existing there of course, but maybe something could be done, like preventing them from uploading large files or by previously instructing them in local language about what they can or [can] not do.”

In several cases, wide swaths of IP addresses suspected to belong to Angolans using Wikipedia Zero have been banned from editing stories on Wikipedia, which has had the side effect of blocking Angolans who are using Wikipedia Zero to contribute to Wikipedia in a more traditional way. (In one case, IPs were unblocked because a Portuguese Wikipedia editor decided that an Angolan amateur photographer’s photos were “of immense value.”)

In an email thread on the Wikimedia-L listserv and on Wikipedia talk pages, users in the developed world are trying to find a compromise."



"Many on the listserv are framing Angola’s Wikipedia pirates as bad actors who need to be dealt with in some way so that more responsible editors aren’t punished for their actions. This line of thinking inherently assumes that what Angola’s pirates are doing is bad for Wikipedia and that they must be assimilated to the already regulated norms of Wikipedia’s community. If the developing world wants to use our internet, they must play by our rules, the thinking goes.

But people in developing countries have always had to be more creative than those for whom access to information has always been a given. In Cuba, for instance, movies, music, news, and games are traded on USB drives that are smuggled into the country every week. A 20-year-old developer in Paraguay found a vulnerability in Facebook Messenger that allowed people to use Free Basics to tunnel through to the “real” internet. Legal questions aside (Angola has more lax copyright laws than much of the world), Angola’s pirates are furthering Wikipedia’s mission of spreading information in a real and substantial way.

“When users are faced with a choice of partial access to internet services but not to the entire internet, they might come up with ways to use that partial internet in creative ways that might negatively affect the entity giving it to them,” Josh Levy, advocacy director at Access Now, told me. Facebook Free Basics was criticized widely, but Access Now is one of the few groups that has said Wikipedia Zero is a bad idea because it creates a tiered internet.

While the “misuse” of zero rated systems is a new problem, it closely mirrors ones that have been going on in the wider internet for decades, and the smart money is on allowing Angola’s burgeoning internet community to develop without our interference, even if it means growing pains for Wikipedia. Proposed copyright protection laws such as the Stop Online Piracy Act, which would have censored sites that hosted pirated content, was widely believed to be one that could have fundamentally ruined the internet; limiting how Angolans (or anyone else using Wikipedia Zero) access the site could have detrimental impacts.

The Wikimedia Foundation, for its part, seems to have good intentions with its wait-and-see approach. The foundation gives no money to Unitel as part of the program; a good solution here, probably, would be cheaper or free access to the entire internet. While Wikipedia editors in Portugual can simply go to another website to download or share pirated files, Angolans don’t really have that option

“This is the type of thing that reflects larger battles that have gone on about the internet overall,” Charles Duan, a copyright expert at Public Knowledge, told me. “In general, it’s better to allow people more openness and freedom to use Internet tools because you never know what ends up being useful.”

Angolan’s pirates are learning how to organize online, they’re learning how to cover their tracks, they are learning how to direct people toward information and how to hide and share files. Many of these skills are the same ones that would come in handy for a dissident or a protestor or an activist. Considering that Angola has had an autocratic leader in power for more than 35 years, well, those are skills that might come in handy one day."
angola  colonialism  digital  digitalcolonialism  facebook  web  internet  online  2016  jasonkoebler  wikimediazero  digitaldivide  zerorating  freebasics  designimperialism 
march 2016 by robertogreco
Unless you speak English, the Internet doesn’t care about you | Fusion
"The internet is global but it is also regional. Cats are to the U.S. and Japan what goats are to Brazil and Uganda. If you speak an uncommon language, the internet can feel downright rural. The problem isn’t just getting online, but whether there will be anything for people who get online to actually do.

“What’s critical to understand is that, with the next billion users coming online, we’re going to see a wide variety of new languages represented online,” said An Xiao Mina, a co-founder of the Civic Beat and a technologist at Meedan working to build a platform to translate social media. “We live in a world of many internets, where even if you reduce the limits of geography, censorship and connectivity, language prevents large swaths of people from connecting with each other.”

But it’s not just ‘obscure’ languages that are discriminated against on the web.

Even use of Arabic—the sixth most commonly spoken language in the world and the fourth most common language among internet users—was until recently limited on many mobile phones. In some places on the internet, it still is. To cope, Arabic speak­ers developed “Arabizi”, a combination of Roman letters and numbers that make it easier to chat. Arabizi is a essentially a transliteration of Arabic into English characters, using numbers to stand in for some of the letters that don’t have direct counterparts in sound, like 7 for ح (ha), which sounds a bit like a guttural “h.”

It’s an ingenious solution, but one that shouldn’t have to exist. When emoji exploded in popularity, developers across all platforms worked quickly to make it easily usable on their devices. Why so slow with Arabic?

Arabic Wikipedia, by the way, has just 400,000 articles. A language spoken by more than 400 million people is less represented than Swedish, a language spoken by just 9 million. The demographics of the internet have historically been very different from that of the offline world, and those colonization effects are dramatic.

Recent research has shown that speaking English is a significant factor in determining whether someone adopts use of the web. Some languages are not well represented online, but others, like Tibetan, are completely invisible, unusable on browsers, operating systems, and keyboards.

The Tibetan blogger Dechen Pemba recently wrote about the frustrations of not being able to access the Tibetan language on a phone. Google, he wrote, failed to develop a Tibetan language interface and only recently incorporated the Tibetan language font on some Android phones. (That’s one way for Apple, which does support Tibetan, to win customers from Android.)

“Given that the Tibetan literary tradition goes back to the 7th century … my pet hate is when Tibetan language is described as ‘obscure,'” he wrote. “I wonder how it is possible that the language of Tibetan Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhists, comprising of as many as 60 million people, can be wilfully left behind in terms of modern technology?”

Facebook’s Free Basics program was controversial in India in large part because it limited the internet resources the digitally disadvantaged would have access to. Would it include access to domestic violence protection programs, or would it be a walled ghetto devoted to social media and online shopping? Language barriers can also force internet users into digital ghettos, or force them to forsake their mother tongue (and its culture) to escape them.

“The fact that a lot of groups have very little local-language content is problematic because it can contribute to a global homogenization of ideas and culture, and perhaps even knowledge itself,” said Mark Graham, a research fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute.

Graham predicts negative impacts on cultural diversity if the Internet’s language is predominantly English, Chinese, and Spanish. A version of this, for example, is happening right now in Iceland, where the packaging on so many imported goods is in English that it’s becoming more common than Icelandic in every day life.

A linguistically divided internet can also lead to the creation of monocultural bubbles. Wikipedia provides a good example: one study showed that most content on Wikipedia is available in exclusively one language. Even English Wikipedia only has articles that correspond with about half the topics of German Wikipedia.

“The Chinese internet is a good example of this,” Graham said. “There are more Chinese internet users online than internet users from any other country. So, this has meant that there is a lot of content out there in Chinese. Which, in turn, means that it is easy for Chinese internet users to exist in their own ‘filter bubble’—not really exposed to different content on the broader Web.”

Mina pointed out that the web’s prioritization of mainstream languages also leaves many tools for political organization and speaking out off-limits to marginalized groups.

“If you don’t speak a top ten language, the internet you have access to is extremely limited,” Mina told me. “Imagine going to a Chinese restaurant and just trying to order based on pictures.”

Graham told me he’d like to see more online spaces like Wikipedia that are digital commons where users can contribute content in any language they like, allowing local internet users to essential built their own web. But getting those digital commons filled with content first requires creating incentives to get people online in the first place. And part of that means making content that is already out there accessible across the boundaries of language. Mina is interested in chipping away at those boundaries by creating technology that translates social media content from one language to another. Scott Hale, a data scientist focused on bilingualism at the Oxford Internet Institute, told me that user interfaces could help break down language barriers by allowing users to interact with them in multiple languages at once. Most online interfaces—Google and Facebook among them— are designed with monolingual users in mind, only surfacing content in one language at a time. Allowing people to easily toggle between languages is one way to break down the linguistic silos that online life creates.

“You can’t just put a bunch of people in the network and expect that they connect,” Mina said.

The internet was supposed to be the thing that made all of our differences irrelevant, that erased borders and boundaries by translating everything into 1s and 0s. But online borders definitely exist with language boundaries that can be impenetrable."
internet  language  languages  web  online  anxiaomina  kristenbrown  wikipedia  arabic  english  translation  homogenization  culture  swedish  freebasics  arabizi  india  iceland  technology  socialmedia  politics  chinese  spanish  español  diversity 
february 2016 by robertogreco
Facebook the Colonial Empire - The Atlantic
[See also: https://backchannel.com/how-india-pierced-facebook-s-free-internet-program-6ae3f9ffd1b4#.lywam4h52 ]

"The kerfuffle elicited a torrent of criticism for Andreessen, but the connection he made—between Facebook’s global expansion and colonialism—is nothing new. Which probably helps explain why Zuckerberg felt the need to step in, and which brings us back to Free Basics. The platform, billed by Facebook as a way to help people connect to the Internet for the first time, offers a stripped-down version of the mobile web that people can use without it counting toward their data-usage limit.

“I’m loath to toss around words like colonialism but it’s hard to ignore the family resemblances and recognizable DNA, to wit,” said Deepika Bahri, an English professor at Emory University who focuses on postcolonial studies. In an email, Bahri summed up those similarities in list form:

1. ride in like the savior

2. bandy about words like equality, democracy, basic rights

3. mask the long-term profit motive (see 2 above)

4. justify the logic of partial dissemination as better than nothing

5. partner with local elites and vested interests

6. accuse the critics of ingratitude

“In the end,” she told me, “if it isn’t a duck, it shouldn’t quack like a duck.”

In India, where Free Basics has been the subject of a long, public debate, plenty of people already rejected the platform precisely because of its colonialist overtones. “We’ve been stupid with the East India Company,” one Reddit user said in a forum about Free Basics last year, referring to the British Raj. “Never again brother, Never again!”"



"Well, here’s the other side of the argument: When mobile-network operators allow some companies to offer access to their sites without charging people for data use, it gives those companies an unfair advantage. Free Basics makes Facebook a gatekeeper with too much leverage—so much that it conflicts with the foundational principles of the open web. Those principles, and what people mean when they talk about net neutrality, can be summed up this way: Internet service providers should treat all content equally, without favoring certain sites or platforms over others.

And doesn’t the fact that so many people upgrade to the full Internet so soon after trying Free Basics dismantle the claim that Facebook isn’t looking at the platform as a way to expand its global user base? People may start with an ad-free version of the site, but they quickly graduate to regular old ad-peppered, data-gathering Facebook.

All this raises a question about who Free Basics is actually for, which may further hint at Facebook’s motivations. Sumanth Raghavendra, an app developer and startup founder in India, points to this commercial for Free Basics—from back when it was still branded under the larger umbrella of Facebook’s Internet.org project—as representative of the local marketing for the platform.

“If you are awestruck by how cool India’s ‘poorest’ folks seem to be, don’t be …because these folks, the target audience for Free Basics, are far from being India’s poor!” Raghavendra wrote in an essay for Medium. “As is plainly obvious, the original target audience of Free Basics was not India’s poorest who have never come online but far more so, students and millennials to whom the hook was about surfing for free.”

As of October, one of India’s biggest mobile carriers said 1 million people had signed up for Free Basics. But only about 20 percent of Free Basics users weren’t previously using the Internet, Facebook told the Press Trust of India, the country’s largest news agency. (Facebook didn’t immediately respond to my request for comment and more recent numbers.) In other words, the vast majority of the people who used Free Basics already had Internet connections.

“Free Basics was hardly something aimed at poor people and even less so, targeted at people who have ‘no connectivity,’” Raghavendra wrote. “This entire narrative painting it as a choice between some connectivity and no connectivity is false and disingenuous.”

“There is absolutely no need to offer a condescending promise based on altruism to bring these folks online,” he added. “They will do so on their own time and at their own pace with or without any external help or artificial incentive.”

Zuckerman, from MIT, is even more pointed: “When Zuckerberg or Andreessen face criticism, they argue that their critics are being elitist and inhumane—after all, who could be against helping India develop? The rhetoric is rich with the White Man’s Burden.”

Some of the colonialist subtext in all this evokes what the writer Courtney Martin calls the “reductive seduction” of Americans wanting to save the world, and the hubris that underscores this kind of supposed problem solving. “There is real fallout when well-intentioned people attempt to solve problems without acknowledging the underlying complexity,” Martin wrote.

Representations of colonialism have long been present in digital landscapes. (“Even Super Mario Brothers,” the video game designer Steven Fox told me last year. “You run through the landscape, stomp on everything, and raise your flag at the end.”) But web-based colonialism is not an abstraction. The online forces that shape a new kind of imperialism go beyond Facebook.

Consider, for example, digitization projects that focus primarily on English-language literature. If the web is meant to be humanity’s new Library of Alexandria, a living repository for all of humanity’s knowledge, this is a problem. So is the fact that the vast majority of Wikipedia pages are about a relatively tiny square of the planet. For instance, 14 percent of the world’s population lives in Africa, but less than 3 percent of the world’s geotagged Wikipedia articles originate there, according to a 2014 Oxford Internet Institute report.

“This uneven distribution of knowledge carries with it the danger of spatial solipsism for the people who live inside one of Wikipedia’s focal regions,” the researchers of that report wrote. “It also strongly underrepresents regions such as the Middle East and North Africa as well as Sub-Saharan Africa. In the global context of today’s digital knowledge economies, these digital absences are likely to have very material effects and consequences.”

Consider, too, the dominant business models online. Companies commodify people as users, mining them for data and personally targeting them with advertising. “In digital capitalism—another stage of imperialism?—capital and corporation underwrite free-ness,” Bahri, the Emory professor, told me. “That’s why Facebook can claim to be always free.”

Incidentally, “users” is a term that Facebook now discourages, favoring “people” instead. Though “users” was, at least, an improvement over “dumb fucks,” which is what Zuckerberg called the people who signed up for Facebook when it was new, according to online chat transcripts that emerged as part of a lawsuit several years ago.

In 2010, Zuckerberg told The New Yorker he had “grown and learned a lot” since then. “If you’re going to go on to build a service that is influential and that a lot of people rely on, then you need to be mature, right?” he said at the time.

A lot of people, in 2010, meant Facebook’s 400 million users. Since then, that number has quadrupled to 1.6 billion people—the vast majority of them connecting to the site via mobile. Last year, Facebook’s market cap crossed the $300 billion threshold. Earnings statements show it made more than $5.8 billion in ad revenue in 2015, with more than 80 percent of that money—some $4.6 billion—coming from mobile ads.

Facebook is already, it is often said, eating the Internet. So it’s easy to see why Internet.org was rebranded as Free Basics. The old name sounded too much like a reflection of what Facebook actually is: a dominant and possibly unstoppable force, a private company exerting enormous influence on public access to the web. “The great social network of the early 21st century is laying the groundwork,” Austin Carr wrote for Fast Company in 2014, “for a platform that could make Facebook a part of just about every social interaction that takes place around the world.”

Free Basics might be stoppable. But is Facebook?

“It is an uncomfortable truth that, in emerging economies, Facebook had already won the Internet well before Internet.org and the FreeBasics campaign began,” Steve Song, a telecommunications policy activist, wrote in a blog post this week. “Facebook became the de facto Internet for many people because it did the most profoundly useful thing the Internet can do: Connect people.”"
facebook  colonialism  imperialism  india  freebasics  internet  2016  adriennelafrance  markzuckerberg  marcandreessen  class  whiteman'sburden  ethanzuckerman  web  online  economics  designimperialism  humanitariandesign 
february 2016 by robertogreco
Free Basics may not be totally on the Mark but don’t trash it - TOI Blogs
"Before I begin this, let me confess I am a bit of a Mark Zuckerberg fan. Who wouldn’t be? Harvard dropout creates internet startup, makes it one of the most valuable companies in the world. Facebook has a billion-and-a-half-plus active subscribers. People are addicted to FB. where they spend hours daily tracking their friends’ lives. Mark changed the world in the coolest way ever. He never forced anyone. Yet, he attracted everyone to his creation. He became a billionaire. Then, he did something even cooler. He pledged 99% of his $45-billion wealth to charity. It’s a staggering amount (around Rs 300,000 crore) to give away. All this, and Mark is only 31. I think, for all practical purposes, he is the coolest person alive.

Why is this important? It is because Mark is backing an initiative called Free Basics (earlier known as internet.org), supposedly to connect more people in the world to the net. Free Basics involves collaboration with existing telecom companies in developing countries, where internet penetration is still low. Telecom companies already connect people with voice services on the phone. Many such people cannot afford data services, so they are cut off from the world of the internet. A quick way to connect them is to offer them free internet, customized to a few chosen sites, which will be designed for lower bandwidth. The telecom companies and site owners will work out between them how the subsidy is absorbed.

So far so good. Who can argue with poor people being given free internet access? Even if it is slower, at least it’s better than nothing, right? Even if Free Basics just allows you to visit only a few sites, isn’t it better than visiting no sites? And this is where it gets tricky. This limited range of sites is at the core of the opposition to Free Basics. Which are those sites (FB is the main one, of course)? Who will be the gatekeeper for selecting those sites (FB seems to be the one)? If only a few sites are allowed, won’t owners of excluded sites suffer as they would have a smaller user base? Won’t the new netizens be denied competitive choices too — online retail options and media content, for instance?

These are real issues. Thankfully, the internet so far has not been regulated in terms of which site will be allowed which customers. Imagine Google being asked by regulators to pay up for every net user they reach in India. Just like spectrum, what if internet user access begins to get sold? It is possible. But it will kill the internet as we know it. Right now, any small startup can hope to create a killer website and reach the entire world (Facebook did exactly that). If governments or corporations regulate user access, only the big players will dominate the internet. They still do, but it isn’t forced. You choose Facebook, and that’s what makes it cool. Free Basics, even though cool in its intentions of connecting the world, lacks coolness when it restricts the sites available to users. It also sets a dangerous precedent, for soon it will be okay to have only a certain part of the Internet available to a certain set of users (based on pricing, country location etc).

Free Basics proponents counter this with: how does limited access matter when we are providing the internet for free? Those who want the full range of sites (essentially, the entire internet) can always take a paid plan. Access to a few sites will only whet the appetite for more internet, and a user is likely to buy a data plan sooner rather than later. Also, in a free market, if Facebook or any other company tries a monopolistic stunt, it will be exposed. These are valid arguments too.

Overall, Free Basics has issues. However, to throw it away altogether also doesn’t seem to make sense. A lack of understanding of what is a complex issue has led to Free Basics opponents painting Mark as a control freak and Facebook as the evil MNC empire. Its PR blitz (somewhat over the top with expensive ads featuring poor farmers) alone has created detractors. “Such expensive ads show there must be an ulterior motive” is not really a logical statement. There are win-win situations in life, and one can trust Mark more than many other businessmen out there.

We do need to welcome Free Basics as a concept, but bring out the concerns as well. Given the huge societal welfare along with business opportunity, a great solution can be hammered out. Facebook should feel secure that even with universal access, people will spend most of their time on it. We citizens need to accept that if Facebook is leading the initiative, they deserve to get some reasonable benefits out of it.

Our government is not able to provide services to the extent desired. Involving the private sector is thus necessary and inevitable. From public transport apps to free internet providers, we should welcome such initiatives and not paint them as villains. We must also, however, iron out any concerns. Free Basics is welcome, Mark, but only with a bit of free, basic common sense."
freebasics  india  facebook  2016  internet  online  web 
january 2016 by robertogreco
Can’t give it away | The Economist
"“WHO could possibly be against this?”, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s boss, asked in an editorial in the Times of India on December 28th. The “this” in question is “Free Basics”, a programme that gives its users free access to Facebook and a handful of other online services on their smartphones in 36 poor countries. According to Mr Zuckerberg, Free Basics acts as a gateway drug to the internet: half of those who first experience going online through the service start paying for full internet access within a month. Though the programme is promoted by Facebook, its costs are borne by the mobile-telecoms operators it works with—in the case of India, Reliance Communications, the country’s fourth-largest.

As it turns out, plenty of people are against Free Basics. They include everyone from India’s internet-and-mobile-industry body (of which Facebook is itself a member) to a ragtag group of volunteer activists who mustered almost 400,000 people to write to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) as part of a public consultation on whether mobile operators should be allowed to charge different amounts for different forms of data. At stake is one of the world’s largest and fastest-growing internet markets outside China, which bars foreign digital services such as Facebook from entering. Around a quarter of the Indian population—or 300m people—were online at the end of 2014, and the number is expected to double by 2020.

Critics of the programme say that Facebook’s generosity is cover for a landgrab. They argue that Free Basics is a walled garden of Facebook-approved content, that it breaches consumer privacy by sucking up all the data generated by users of the service, and that it is anticompetitive to boot. Moreover, critics fear that if new internet users are merely Facebook users, other online businesses will have no choice but to operate within Facebook’s world. Nandan Nilekani, an Indian tech luminary opposed to Free Basics, suggests that, instead, the government subsidise a monthly allowance of free mobile data for each user.

Facebook counters that the programme is open to all-comers that meet certain technical requirements, that user data are stored for only 90 days, and that there is no profit motive: the service does not include advertising. As for suppressing local competition, Facebook argues, “there is no greater threat to local innovation than leaving people offline.” If, as Mr Zuckerberg says, Free Basics users quickly graduate to paying for full internet service, India’s ferociously competitive mobile operators should provide it cheaply. And if Free Basics proved popular there would be little to stop India’s big media and e-commerce groups from creating rival services to attract new surfers to their web offerings.

Over the past few weeks, Facebook has run an extensive campaign with full-page ads in Indian newspapers touting Free Basics. Newspapers, blogs and television channels have presented arguments and counterarguments every day. Even All India Bakchod, a popular comedy collective, got into the act. The group’s video arguing against Free Basics has been watched 800,000 times on YouTube—and another 350,000 on Facebook itself.

Activists in India won early victories in 2015, leading Facebook to change the name of its service from internet.org, which they said was misleading, and forcing the company to accept more services than those it handpicks. In December the TRAI suspended Free Basics in India pending the results of its consultation. The TRAI has received 1.4m notes of support for Free Basics as part of this process, driven largely by an automated response tool Facebook used to gather support from its Indian users. But the regulator says it may have to disregard them, since they do not answer the question it is asking. The TRAI itself will deliver its verdict at the end of this month."
facebook  freebasics  india  2016  internet  web  netneutrality  online  designimperialism  humanitariandesign 
january 2016 by robertogreco
The Website Obesity Crisis
"Let me start by saying that beautiful websites come in all sizes and page weights. I love big websites packed with images. I love high-resolution video. I love sprawling Javascript experiments or well-designed web apps.

This talk isn't about any of those. It's about mostly-text sites that, for unfathomable reasons, are growing bigger with every passing year.

While I'll be using examples to keep the talk from getting too abstract, I’m not here to shame anyone, except some companies (Medium) that should know better and are intentionally breaking the web.

The Crisis

What do I mean by a website obesity crisis?

Here’s an article on GigaOm from 2012 titled "The Growing Epidemic of Page Bloat". It warns that the average web page is over a megabyte in size.

The article itself is 1.8 megabytes long."


Here's an almost identical article from the same website two years later, called “The Overweight Web". This article warns that average page size is approaching 2 megabytes.

That article is 3 megabytes long.

If present trends continue, there is the real chance that articles warning about page bloat could exceed 5 megabytes in size by 2020.

The problem with picking any particular size as a threshold is that it encourages us to define deviancy down. Today’s egregiously bloated site becomes tomorrow’s typical page, and next year’s elegantly slim design.

I would like to anchor the discussion in something more timeless.

To repeat a suggestion I made on Twitter, I contend that text-based websites should not exceed in size the major works of Russian literature.

This is a generous yardstick. I could have picked French literature, full of slim little books, but I intentionally went with Russian novels and their reputation for ponderousness.

In Goncharov's Oblomov, for example, the title character spends the first hundred pages just getting out of bed.

If you open that tweet in a browser, you'll see the page is 900 KB big.
That's almost 100 KB more than the full text of The Master and Margarita, Bulgakov’s funny and enigmatic novel about the Devil visiting Moscow with his retinue (complete with a giant cat!) during the Great Purge of 1937, intercut with an odd vision of the life of Pontius Pilate, Jesus Christ, and the devoted but unreliable apostle Matthew.

For a single tweet.

Or consider this 400-word-long Medium article on bloat, which includes the sentence:

"Teams that don’t understand who they’re building for, and why, are prone to make bloated products."

The Medium team has somehow made this nugget of thought require 1.2 megabytes.

That's longer than Crime and Punishment, Dostoyevsky’s psychological thriller about an impoverished student who fills his head with thoughts of Napoleon and talks himself into murdering an elderly money lender.
Racked by guilt, so rattled by his crime that he even forgets to grab the money, Raskolnikov finds himself pursued in a cat-and-mouse game by a clever prosecutor and finds redemption in the unlikely love of a saintly prostitute.

Dostoevski wrote this all by hand, by candlelight, with a goddamned feather."



"Everyone admits there’s a problem. These pages are bad enough on a laptop (my fan spun for the entire three weeks I was preparing this talk), but they are hell on mobile devices. So publishers are taking action.

In May 2015, Facebook introduced ‘Instant Articles’, a special format for news stories designed to appear within the Facebook site, and to load nearly instantly.

Facebook made the announcement on a 6.8 megabyte webpage dominated by a giant headshot of some dude. He doesn’t even work for Facebook, he’s just the National Geographic photo editor.

Further down the page, you'll find a 41 megabyte video, the only way to find out more about the project. In the video, this editor rhapsodizes about exciting misfeatures of the new instant format like tilt-to-pan images, which means if you don't hold your phone steady, the photos will drift around like a Ken Burns documentary.

Facebook has also launched internet.org, an effort to expand Internet access. The stirring homepage includes stories of people from across the developing world, and what getting Internet access has meant for them.
You know what’s coming next. When I left the internet.org homepage open in Chrome over lunch, I came back to find it had transferred over a quarter gigabyte of data.

Surely, you'll say, there's no way the globe in the background of a page about providing universal web access could be a giant video file?

But I am here to tell you, oh yes it is. They load a huge movie just so the globe can spin.

This is Facebook's message to the world: "The internet is slow. Sit and spin."

And it's not like bad connectivity is a problem unique to the Third World! I've traveled enough here in Australia to know that in rural places in Tasmania and Queensland, vendors treat WiFi like hundred-year-old brandy.

You're welcome to buy as much of it as you want, but it costs a fortune and comes in tiny portions. And after the third or fourth purchase, people start to look at you funny.

Even in well-connected places like Sydney, we've all had the experience of having a poor connection, and almost no battery, while waiting for some huge production of a site to load so we can extract a morsel of information like a restaurant address.

The designers of pointless wank like that Facebook page deserve the ultimate penalty.
They should be forced to use the Apple hockey puck mouse for the remainder of their professional lives. [shouts of horror from the audience]

Google has rolled out a competitor to Instant Articles, which it calls Accelerated Mobile Pages. AMP is a special subset of HTML designed to be fast on mobile devices.

Why not just serve regular HTML without stuffing it full of useless crap? The question is left unanswered.

The AMP project is ostentatiously open source, and all kinds of publishers have signed on. Out of an abundance of love for the mobile web, Google has volunteered to run the infrastructure, especially the user tracking parts of it.

Jeremy Keith pointed out to me that the page describing AMP is technically infinite in size. If you open it in Chrome, it will keep downloading the same 3.4 megabyte carousel video forever.
If you open it in Safari, where the carousel is broken, the page still manages to fill 4 megabytes.

These comically huge homepages for projects designed to make the web faster are the equivalent of watching a fitness video where the presenter is just standing there, eating pizza and cookies.

The world's greatest tech companies can't even make these tiny text sites, describing their flagship projects to reduce page bloat, lightweight and fast on mobile.

I can't think of a more complete admission of defeat."



"The other vision is of the web as Call of Duty—an exquisitely produced, kind-of-but-not-really-participatory guided experience with breathtaking effects and lots of opportunities to make in-game purchases.

Creating this kind of Web requires a large team of specialists. No one person can understand the whole pipeline, nor is anyone expected to. Even if someone could master all the technologies in play, the production costs would be prohibitive.

The user experience in this kind of Web is that of being carried along, with the illusion of agency, within fairly strict limits. There's an obvious path you're supposed to follow, and disincentives to keep you straying from it. As a bonus, the game encodes a whole problematic political agenda. The only way to reject it is not to play.

Despite the lavish production values, there's a strange sameness to everything. You're always in the same brown war zone.

With great effort and skill, you might be able make minor modifications to this game world. But most people will end up playing exactly the way the publishers intend. It's passive entertainment with occasional button-mashing.

Everything we do to make it harder to create a website or edit a web page, and harder to learn to code by viewing source, promotes that consumerist vision of the web.

Pretending that one needs a team of professionals to put simple articles online will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Overcomplicating the web means lifting up the ladder that used to make it possible for people to teach themselves and surprise everyone with unexpected new ideas

Here's the hortatory part of the talk:

Let’s preserve the web as the hypertext medium it is, the only thing of its kind in the world, and not turn it into another medium for consumption, like we have so many examples of already.

Let’s commit to the idea that as computers get faster, and as networks get faster, the web should also get faster.

Let’s not allow the panicked dinosaurs of online publishing to trample us as they stampede away from the meteor. Instead, let's hide in our holes and watch nature take its beautiful course.

Most importantly, let’s break the back of the online surveillance establishment that threatens not just our livelihood, but our liberty. Not only here in Australia, but in America, Europe, the UK—in every free country where the idea of permanent, total surveillance sounded like bad science fiction even ten years ago.

The way to keep giant companies from sterilizing the Internet is to make their sites irrelevant. If all the cool stuff happens elsewhere, people will follow. We did this with AOL and Prodigy, and we can do it again.

For this to happen, it's vital that the web stay participatory. That means not just making sites small enough so the whole world can visit them, but small enough so that people can learn to build their own, by example.

I don't care about bloat because it's inefficient. I care about it because it makes the web inaccessible.

Keeping the Web simple keeps it awesome."
pagebloat  webdesign  maciejceglowski  2015  webdev  participatory  openweb  internet  web  online  minecraft  accessibility  efficiency  aesthetics  cloud  cloudcomputing  amazonwebservices  backend  paypal  google  docker  websites  wired  theverge  medium  javascript  advertising  ads  acceleratedmobilepages  mobile  html  facebook  freebasics  jeremykeith  timkadlec  internet.org  facebookinstantarticles  maciejcegłowski 
january 2016 by robertogreco
Zero Rating: A Modest Proposal | Many Possibilities
[via: https://twitter.com/janchip/status/671018395161128960 ]

"Imagine a world where all phones were automatically connected to the Internet, at no charge. Is this an idle fantasy?

The current worldwide debate about Zero-Rating and Network Neutrality has brought the issue of affordable Internet access into sharp relief. I recently came back from the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Brazil where there were no less than seven sessions on Zero Rating and Network Neutrality. Internet.org, now renamed as Free Basics, continues to be a subject of often emotional debate as to whether it brings greater benefits or harms to those who use it.

This has got me thinking about how we value the Internet and how fast the Internet needs to be in order to qualify as ‘enough’. In one of his sessions at the IGF, Vint Cerf pointed out that we use the word Internet as if it meant the same thing to everyone but this isn’t really true. A feature-phone user browsing the Internet via Opera over a 3G connection does not have the same experience as the San Francisco-based developer on gigabit fibre staring at his/her dual 26 inch monitors.

The “all bits are created equal” debate in Network Neutrality doesn’t really take into account our varied experiences of Internet. On a personal level, it is clear that some bits are more valuable to us than others. A one or a zero that indicates whether your loved one is alive is worth infinitely more than four gigabytes of the latest Hollywood movie.

This leads me to question the assumption, implicit in most national broadband strategies, that the value of Internet increases more or less proportionately with increase in speed. The reality is that even very tiny amounts of data can be enormously valuable and that the value of access goes up dramatically with even a little access and then tapers off.

From a value maximisation perspective then one might conclude that it is more strategic to make a priority of ensuring that everyone has at least some connectivity as opposed to some percentage of the people getting fast Internet.

This got me thinking about the spread of mobile telephony in sub-Saharan Africa. The Pay-As-You-Go (PAYG) model implemented by mobile network operators (MNOs) meant that it didn’t cost any money to be part of the network. All phones with a SIM card automatically register on the network and are callable on the network. A credit on the network is not required. Why has this turned out to be a such a phenomenally successful model? Because MNOs recognised that each and every person connected to the network added value to the network whether they made a call or not because they increased the size of the callable network, thereby increasing value to paying users. This phenomenon is known as network effect and while it may have been a somewhat esoteric concept twenty years ago when the mobile industry started, it is now well understood by any Internet entrepreneur.

Registering and managing non-paying customers on the phone network is a significant operational and financial overhead for MNOs, especially now with mandatory SIM registration being more common. Connecting phones to the network for free has obviously proven to be worthwhile. The increase in size of the overall network also helps to transform those non-paying users into paying ones as they see more and more value from the increased number of people to connect to. It is a positive cycle.

This brings me back to an approach I suggested last year: low-bitrate, generic zero-rating. What if it were normal for all MNOs to offer low-bitrate, generic Internet access in the same manner that all MNOs connect phones to their network? Let’s imagine that Internet data were enabled by default for free at GSM (2G) speeds of only 9.6kbps to all users. Let’s also imagine that it is a best-effort service that might not always achieve that speed or may have terrible latency, a bit like real 2G service.

A million users consuming 2G at a modest 4.8kbps would consume about 4.8gbps per second of capacity. Looking at the adult population of South Africa of roughly 35M people, if everyone were consuming that data on their phones at one time, it would amount to 168 gbps of capacity across the entire country. Let’s put this in the context of South Africa’s undersea fibre optic cable capacity, which currently has an aggregate design capacity of 17 tbps, soon to reach 22 tbps when the ACE cable lands. Free 2G data for all would consume less than 0.01% of the design capacity of the international submarine cables landing in South Africa.

That is a very rough and inevitably flawed calculation. It doesn’t take into account whether the existing mobile networks could handle this capacity with their current spectrum allocations and technology. It also doesn’t take into account backhaul limitations where terrestrial fibre is not available. But we do know that MNOs are actively investing in upgrading their networks, which would make this amount of data an increasingly small percentage of their network traffic. But the value to individuals would not diminish. Generic low-speed zero-rating of mobile networks could have multiple impacts. It would:

• Spur adoption of data services. As Clay Shirky has so eloquently put it, “If things are expensive to try, people will hold back from trying them and they’ll spend all their time trying not to fail. If the cost of experimentation falls though, and I mean falls precipitously, then people will spend a lot of time experimenting, and instead of not failing, the goal becomes to fail informatively to learn something from the things you tried.”

• Legitimise data as a means of government/civic communication. If everyone can access basic data services just by having a feature/smartphone, then it is easier to justify government investment in e-services.

• Decrease the digital divide. Democratising access to data through free low-bitrate access would create a true on-ramp to the Internet and its vast diversity of services and interactions.

• Open up vast new markets to data service providers. The network-effects of millions of new data users would dramatically increase the value of data services in general.

• Spur innovation in low data consumption applications. If you know that you can reach *everyone* at a very low speed, it would spur both the public and private sector to develop applications that consume less bandwidth in order to reach more people. Indeed Facebook is already doing this with their application development.

I’ve asked you to imagine a world where mobile phones connect to the Internet in the same way that they simply connect to the mobile phone network, where there are no data charges for very low data speeds. On the surface at least it would seem that the benefits to both the public and private sector would dramatically outweigh the costs of doing this. If we accept that the value of access is not directly proportional to speed of access and that there is huge value in even small amounts of data access, then perhaps a national strategy ought to focus on getting everyone connected at a modest, free rate as opposed to say 80% of the people at say 2Mbps?

It will take more detailed cost modelling to really dig into this idea but I cannot help but think of more consumer benefits at every turn. Even for globe-trotting travellers. Imagine being able to pick up basic text messages and emails as soon as you get off the plane in a new country without having to search for a WiFi hotspot or wonder whether you dare turn on roaming. Always-on mobile data could open up new possibilities for mobile payment services.

Some operators like T-mobile in the US already offer 2G roaming but only for postpaid customers. What if it just made good social and economic sense to have basic rate Internet enabled for all mobile phones?"
zero-rating  freebasics  facebook  affordability  access  accessibility  internet  web  online  mobile  stevesong  2015  netneutrality 
december 2015 by robertogreco
NANJIRA: Free Basics may promise free Internet, but what about - Blogs | Daily Nation
[via: "Watching "free internet" play out. This from @NiNanjira in Kenya: http://www.nation.co.ke/oped/blogs/free-internet-freedom-create/-/620/2975634/-/f6hgvx/-/index.html "

https://twitter.com/janchip/status/670868878541520896 ]

"In this era of the knowledge economy, powered by Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs), the significance of the Internet -- economically, socially and politically -- is unmissable.

In Kenya, the Internet has served to enhance cohesion, in fits and starts. Kenyans from various parts of the country can exchange their experiences and perspectives via online platforms.

Through the Internet, we now have multiple sources of information, and stories that may not gain mainstream media attention can find audience on social media.

The Internet has enabled e-commerce, innovation, entrepreneurship, learning and so much more. As with any good, the internet often comes the bad and the ugly - all of which calls for balanced perspectives.

One of the great policy and governance questions of today and the future is how to provide Internet to all of humanity. Approximately 3.2 billion, or 40 per cent of the world’s population is connected, but many more are yet to be plugged into this global resource.

This has driven many, both in the public and private sector, to brainstorm and propose solutions to connect the “next billion” Internet users - most of whom are in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Since the unconnected also happen to be those bearing the heaviest burden of inequalities, the idea of making Internet access free for them has gained traction.

Facebook, the most popular social media platform in the world, is at the fore of efforts to bring the Internet to the developing world.

In 2013, Facebook founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, launched Internet.org, which aims to “bring Internet access and the benefits of connectivity to the two-thirds of the world that doesn’t have them.”

At face value, this effort does sound commendable, but as is often said, the devil is in the details.

ZERO RATING

Last week, Facebook and Airtel announced they would be providing free Internet to Kenya’s rural areas. To many, this is good news. Inch closer, however, and you find one of the most contentious issues in internet governance today.

Facebook’s version of a “free Internet” is advanced via Free Basics, which offers a range of free services on the Facebook-created platform.

Initially, the initiative had pre-selected services such as news sites, sports, weather and health apps, but has since opened up the platform for anyone whose application meets the technical specifications, key among them being zero-rating.

Zero-rating is a practice that enables mobile customers to download and upload online content without incurring data usage charges or having their usage counted against data usage limits. It is intended to minimise cost of access to the Internet, and is practiced in various forms.

The zero-rating we see at play in Kenya, for instance, consists entities like Facebook and telecommunications companies making parts of the Internet available for citizens to choose from.

TWO KINDS OF ‘FREE’

We see this in the partnership Facebook has with Airtel Kenya, and with the Unliminet package offered by the latter. It can be argued, therefore, that many more Kenyans can now access social media, but the Internet is more than social media platforms.

While it may attract more Internet users in the short term, this kind of zero-rating has been argued to be untenable in the long term, especially for local content creators and even consumers.

With Free Basics, Facebook decides which publishers and developers to allow on the platform, while reserving the right to reject them. Not to mention, it is unclear what community standards are upheld on Free Basics; for instance, how people report inappropriate content (services are not rejected on the basis of Facebook’s Community standards).

This places Facebook as a ‘gatekeeper’, something that has generated backlash in places like India.

The idea of a free Internet is compelling, but warrants scrutiny. ‘Free’ can go two ways, the no-cost-to-the-consumer approach or the freedom approach, where freedom on the Internet is upheld; freedom to choose what to consume, freedom to create, freedom to compete.

The free Internet being dangled our way is the former, and it is problematic for a couple of reasons. For one, if something is free, you are likely the commodity or product.

WHO GETS TO DECIDE

The currency for many Internet companies is data. In the absence of sound data protection policies, your consumption data can be traded by these entities for lucrative amounts.

Also, this approach skews the perception of what constitutes the Internet. This idea of a ‘free Internet’ is also sparking debate in developed economies.

The “spirit of the Internet” is that it enables all users to connect, create, consume and correct content. It facilitates a many-to-many communication, which is considered a democratising factor, and a disruptor of traditional modes of information flow which were predominantly of a one-to-many form.

Even as we connect the next billion users, we must aspire to retain this spirit, in the infrastructure and policies adopted. While “some Internet is better than no Internet at all”, we have to be vigilant about what constitutes ‘some’, who gets to decide on the ‘some’ and why they get to decide on others’ behalf."
facebook  freebasics  2015  nanjirasambuli  accessibility  internet  web  online  data  access  zerorating  kenya 
december 2015 by robertogreco
Taking Free Basics in Kenya for a spin. — Hacks/Hackers Africa — Medium
[via: https://twitter.com/janchip/status/669071409851707398 and https://twitter.com/whiteafrican/status/669017213572145152 ]

"I’ve been meaning to do this for a while. At my organisation, we believe in having user experience at the heart of consumer-facing technology. Also, I’ve heard many a Facebook exec counter the backlash with a valid question: how many advocates (for/against) have actually used Free Basics? So, on a lazy Sunday afternoon, I dug out my Airtel Kenya SIM card (Airtel is the current sole partner) and took the app for a spin. (For the record, I’m testing out Free Basics on a Smartphone — a Samsung Galaxy S3 to be precise, will also test out on a feature phone in coming days)."



"Facebook have been saying that at least 50% of Free Basics users have crossed over to the open and paid-for Internet within 30 days of coming online for the first time. Having pushed a bit further on the stat recently, one of their Heads of Policy said that they stay on the paid Internet, though this isn’t part of the popular narrative on the conversion rates. Who else, other than Facebook, has access to these statistics? Giving the benefit of the doubt, say the statistic is actually true. What norms about what the Internet is, does Free Basics (un)willingly postulate? Facebook says that Free Basics doesn’t create a two-tiered Internet and refers to the above statistic. They also say that without such a program, more people are left offline, unable to realise the benefits of the Internet.

We all want as many people, if not all to be connected. But the idea of a ‘free’ Internet is a particularly nefarious one, leaving room for loopholes such as these, and actually creating various tiers to Internet access. This has been compared to tiered access to water and education. While some may say that some water or education is better than none, why is it that there are different forms to access? So some Internet is better than none at all (especially for the developing world). But, what constitutes ‘some Internet’? Who decides on what ‘some Internet’ is, and why are they the ones to decide?

There are many arguments packed into the zero-rating, net neutrality and Free Basics discussions, and it wouldn’t do justice to pack them into one article. I will try to tackle the various domains, from my perspective, in future posts.

Would love to conduct this exercise with first time Internet users. Currently thinking through the research design, to enable unearthing of insights on the Internet they aspire to access, versus versions such as Free Basics issued. For now, I welcome discussion and feedback on the above, and perhaps others to take Free Basics on a spin in their respective territories! After all, advocacy for a free(as in freedom), open and secure Internet will require evidence and not mere opinion."
freebasics  facebook  accessibility  internet  nanjirasambuli  2015  africa  access  online  web  kenya  smarthphones  mobile  connectivity  netneutrality 
december 2015 by robertogreco

Copy this bookmark:





to read