Friday, 11 January 2013

N Y 2013: The State Of The Internet

Happy new year, everyone. I hope your Christmas was as great as mine. Here's a roundup of what happened last year and where we're likely to be going in this one.

2012 was the year I became an internet activist and got into mobile-ready web design. It was also the year of the internet backlash against censorship, the year of the Pirate Party, the year of domain seizures and website shutdowns, and the year of the cyberwars. Government efforts to make surveillance an acceptable norm fell apart as resistance grew and for the first time, ordinary people made a difference on international trade policy when we took down ACTA. Let's take it month by month, shall we?


January


This was when SOPA and PIPA came to public attention. Techdirt's Mike Masnick led the charge, writing posts to bring the legislation to public attention. As the bill morphed, Masnick kept an eye on it and reported all the changes. This was back in October 2011. Then it got picked up and spread around on Twitter and Reddit. By January 2012, the big tech companies, spurred on by public outrage, were on board, culminating in the internet blackout of January 18. Today, the activist groups spawned by opposition to SOPA/PIPA are growing, tirelessly working to fight off efforts to bring about widespread internet censorship. Just as it ended, I got involved, joined the Internet Freedom Movement and started taking an interest in politics. It was the internet wot won it, but we're not about to settle down and forget about it. We're awake now. This is also the month Kim Dotcom was arrested in a contentious dawn raid and his MegaUpload website was shut down and hacktivism became more widespread.

February


As the fuss about SOPA began to subside, other legislative initiatives came to light. I'd started reading Techdirt more often and this is how I discovered the Trans Pacific Partnership. The new trend in international trade agreements is to keep the terms secret till the details have been hammered out, then get them signed into law on the quiet. However, now that I was aware of threats to the internet, I was paying attention. Thankfully, so were the other activist groups, and we've been keeping the spotlight on it ever since. The negotiators haven't budged on the secrecy, which means we can't trust them not to put in maximalist positions.

Censorship efforts increased and there was a lot of talk about getting cyberbullies, etc., under control and keeping tabs on internet users on the grounds that they MIGHT get up to no good. It's for the kids, etc. Panorama did a piece on it, positing that anonymity was the problem. No, being a prat is the problem. Kids need to be aware of net safety and parents need to pay attention to what their kids are up to. Website takedowns, which had already been going on in America sans due process, began happening over here, with the same lack of consideration for law enforcement and based on the say-so of the RIAA. I started to reference ACTA then, building up support for opposing the secretive treaty. I started bending my MP's virtual ear, then went to join in a protest that fell flat, and met the Pirate Party's Loz Kaye. I've been advocating for them ever since.

Internet centralization began to catch my attention; I learned about mesh networking and started to talk about it online. Efforts at undermining our privacy came to light; the big tech companies and the government are vying to see who can be the most intrusive, it seems. Meanwhile, I got into (and out of) fights with Armovore and PayPal, both of which came to a satisfactory conclusion and I discovered the power of social media shaming.

March


Kim Dotcom has been in the news at least once a month. As the facts began to emerge the overweening arrogance of the US authroities and the lack of a spinal column on the part of the Kiki government became apparent. One of the more interesting facts was that Dotcom had given the studios access to the servers in order to remove infringing files themselves. They're STILL determined to drag him to the States and put him on trial for copyright infringement even though it's doubtful that they have a valid case against him. ACTA was also in the news as the EU valiantly tried to defend it. However, as it's often been said, you can't polish a turd. The EU, needless to say, went nuts with the Pledge, to no avail.

Anonymous/LulzSec hacktivists were arrested in a global sweep in which it was later revealed that an insider had turned state's evidence and betrayed his colleagues.

Liam Stacey got sent to prison for making racist tweets about the footballer Fabrice Muamba, who had a heart attack on the pitch. I'm glad to say he recovered, though unfortunately he had to retire. This started a big debate on freedom of speech. Personally, I think a caution would have been more proportionate.

I started getting gigs on oDesk. I've actually signed up for PPH and Elance, too, both of which have failed to deliver in terms of paying clients. The oDesk work is bitty but I'm building up a reputation of being reliable, which is what I'm after. It started with a forum. Since then I've been working on WP projects for some people and subcontracting for others. The people I subcontractor provide web design and development services, then hire me to do the work, so they don't like me advertising the jobs I do for them. I'm halfway through the Halloween Business job and am waiting for the next milestone payment before proceeding further.

Google-plus bashing became a thing. Apparently it's a ghost town. Well that's what it feels like till you take an interest in other people. When you're all about you, you'll be forever alone on G+. Try circling and engaging with people, then see what happens.

Yahoo was written off as the walking dead and the cyberwars began in earnest.

April


The cyberwars began in earnest; Yahoo V FB and the Silicon Valley tech companies began to duke it out over IPR, the idea being to gain revenue from trolling rather than, you know, innovate, or something. Freedom of speech became an issue as people were jailed for making the wrong kind of tweets and blog posts.

CISPA and the Communications Data Bill, aka The Snooper's Charter, came to light. Richard O'Dwyer was in the spotlight, fighting extradition and the internet rallied around him and his indefatiguable mother. CISPA, a catch-all surveillance law, actually passed Congress. It was ON, and we activists fought fiercely to keep the matter in the public eye, unsupported by the big tech and telco firms, which were actually set to benefit from it. They complained about cyberbullying when we called them out. Oh, and politicians whined and claimed it's undemocratic to protest against those laws and treaties we don't want. Boo hoo!

May


In the local elections Labour won but the Pirate Party made a good showing, getting interviewed by the local papers and generally raising awareness of the party. UK leader Loz Kaye demonstrated his op-ed writing skills in a range of newspapers and has consistently impressed me with his knowledgeable take on IPR and the music business, and his FUD-free way of communicating. I've yet to see him put a foot wrong. I did some investigation into the ridiculous IPR regime we're in, and wrote a series of exposes on how the game is rigged for the big boys while locking out the small, independent creative artists. You don't need copyright rents to make a living as an artist, a fact lost on those who are too protective and fearful to consider the alternatives.

Yahoo's woes continued as activist shareholder Daniel S. Loeb outed CEO Scott Thompson's CV padding. Hint: if it's checkable, be honest. Thompson resigned in shame a few days later and Loeb got onto the board. Yahoo later did a stock deal with ecommerce giant Alibaba to raise money down the line. Result: Yahoo gains money but loses equity, reducing its overall stake in the company. The appears to have stopped around the time Loeb came on board.

IP wars continued as Oracle fought Google for the copyright to APIs, which is the most stupid thing to try to copyright. It's like trying to copyright bridges or roads. Oracle, which provided great open source codes and applications such as OpenOffice, has gone patent troll and as a result is spending a lot of time in court over licensing, sometimes over the open source applications the previous owners of the company developed. Shenanigans were called when it emerged that the presiding judge is a programmer.

I took the Pirate Party founder Rick Falkvinge to task... I guest post on his blog these days. He pointed out the need to get publicity by being controversial at times, and I have to admit that is true. However, you don't want to do it too often or it gets old and you can lose credibility. It didn't do the Pirate Party any harm, though... they had some big wins in the German elections.  So much happened in the final week that I ended up writing a roundup post. Short version: "Who owns the internet?"; copyright articles of note; Republican nutbaggery; Cyberwars: the Flame virus; Oracle V Google, Yahoo/Alibaba; TPP/ACTA, and Dotcom/MegaUpload's server seizure by the FBI gave me too much to write about at the time.

June


ACTA came up again, as did TPP and questions over the future of the internet. My most popular post, Is Letting Under 13s On Facebook A Good Idea?, was written. Page view numbers keep rising. There doesn't seem to be a surefire way to get eyeballs on my blog posts except by writing about contentious issues. I've also learned that updating every few days causes page views per article to drop for some reason. I actually need to give each one some space to breathe, it seems.

I took part in an anti-ACTA protest. It was a bit of an anti-climax but this time a few of us arrived and because there were so few of us we went evangelising with anti-ACTA leaflets, some of which I designed. I'm not sure what my personal impact was but overall, the Europe-wide protests got our MEPs' attention and ACTA, which began as a sure thing, cracked and faltered.

Charles Carreon became an internet hate figure and responded by doubling down. Johnny Heward demonstrated that people are more interested in the appearance of a thing than the facts. He's still massively popular as a result of that viral post about the allegedly unfaithful army wife. Bus monitor Karen Klein became an internet sensation when a video of her being mistreated went viral. Result: a fundraiser was set up to provide her with money for a holiday. It grew big enough for her to retire. The kids involved were outed, taken to task, and punished.

Twitter outages caused nervous breakdowns and cries of despair, but the Fail Whale was designed for a reason: too many users on at the same time causes Twitter's servers to overload.

July


ACTA died spectacularly and I had a good old gloat over it, mostly because the smackdown came on 4th July. After months of campaigning, it was a fitting end to the story. Karel De Gucht promised to bring it back to the table but it's dead. That hasn't stopped the trade negotiators from trying to bring it back in other forms. However, this was the first time a popular revolt had killed a treaty and hopefully it won't be the last. The negotiators and lobbyists haven't learned a thing, though. They've doubled down on the secrecy, which has only served to double our mistrust.

I fell out with a client, and, in the process, learned that if you work for free you get no respect. The more you charge, the more respect you get. Still, you have to be competitive if you want to get the punters. I also learned that the internet will not form an angry mob to exact retribution on account of a person's naivety. I could have ended up in a backlash situation but I admitted that I was whingeing and that I needed to learn from the experience rather than broadcasting butthurt. That calmed things down. I still feel some annoyance over it, but for the most part I've moved on. This resulted in some blog posts that I now refer clients to.

Kim Dotcom met Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, who actually went to Dotcom's mansion, where the German-born enfant terrible is still under house arrest. The ripples from the case are actually affecting trade policy. New Zealand, where Dotcom lives now, is in the middle of negotiations for the TPP, and the IPR chapter is one of the bones of contention. Kiwis are getting a taste of what life under TPP would be like, and they're not keen on it at all.

Thanks to tech blogger Glyn Moody, I was given the opportunity to write a "Favourite posts of the week" guest post for Techdirt, my go-to source for tech and IPR news. This ended up becoming a repeat gig. I posted on the Canada-EU treaty CETA later on that month. Cyberwars, censorship, and IPR continued to be major themes and I started getting more interested in US politics because it affects us here in the UK to such a great degree.

August


 Cyberwars stories dominated as more malware targeted at "enemies of the US" were reported in the tech press. It emerged that CISPA and the other surveillance laws were about tracking them to make sure they didn't end up being used on Americans. A rash of desperate pleas for funds via the internet came about and needless to say I got interested in the ones that succeeded and the ones that did not.

Julian Assange took refuge with the Ecuadorean embassy, stiffing the people who had paid his bail bonds. He's being accused of rape but there's a lot of contention as to whether the charges are justified or not. Assange comes out of this looking arrogant and selfish, which doesn't help his case. The internet has rallied round him on principle, though. The ridiculously gung-ho talk of storming the embassy quickly turned to diplomacy and at present, Assange remains in the Embassy.

The Olympics were held in London, and spawned funny memes of the Queen and gymnast McKayla Maroney. Mitt Romney said we weren't ready to host the Olympics on his World Insult Tour, which was supposedly to showcase his statesmanlike qualities. He came off as a low-information idiot and was exposed as a debt-leveraging Gordon Gekko by the furious Matt Taibbi in the Rolling Stone. I shared most of his posts on Google Plus as I advocated against Romney. I also advocated for the Green Party's Jill Stein and the Libertarian Governor Gary Johnson. Fun fact: long after you've ended your term in office you are still addressed as "Governor."

NASA's Curiosity video was pulled due to a DMCA takedown, sparking a furore. Nothing changed, of course. In other IPR unfairness, website operator Anton Vickerman got four years in jail for essentially doing the same thing Google does: linking to content.

Misogyny online was called out and got a mention in Techdirt. That needed to happen; trolling can be funny but there's never been a good enough reason to create a game in which people annoyed by a woman's views on the portrayal of women in games can be punched in the face with mouse clicks, causing "damage" each time. That's just gross. Also in Techdirt, my guest post on the India-EU Trade Agreement appeared.

Finally, I published my ebooks, Canterville's Quest and The Marconi Men on Smashwords. A bargain at only $0.99 each.

September


Corporate Rights: A New Frontier For Political Correctness?  The idea that corporations deserve to be protected from discrimination was laughed at by Techdirt's Mike Masnick, but don't be surprised to see that become a thing down the line. The notion of intellectual property rights was scorned when it first came out and look where we are now.

Go Daddy were allegedly hacked by a troll but said it was a server issue. Case not proven by troll, who was pretty convincing, I must say.

The Innocence of Muslims furore blew up over an offensive badly-made film that was created just to annoy Muslims. One of the actresses tried to sue over the resulting death threats. She'd have been better off shutting up and keeping her head down.

By this time I'd joined a pro-Obama group on G+ advocating for the re-election of President Obama due to the douchebagginess of his opponent, one Mitt "Liar, Liar, Pants On Fire" Romney, whose egregious lies and lack of personality, not to mention his frequent gaffes outraged pretty much everyone except his supporters. The famous "47%" remark was secretly filmed and released by Mother Jones. The backlash pretty much killed his campaign. I stayed with politics for the rest of the month, examining conservatism and its various offshoots in the meantime. "Conservative" in America currently means "idiots who value opinion more than facts." I've called them out any number of times over it, the result of which is my friend count on the right of the aisle has dropped. I won't stop, though. Truth is more important to me than being popular. I try not to be too self-righteous over it and to be fair I've seen stupidity on the left as well.

On a lighter note, well-meaning amateur Cecilia Gimenez ruined the fresco "Ecce Homo" in a Spanish church, which leveraged the resulting interest by charging people to see it. Other people got in on the act, releasing online apps and merchandize. Gimenez, who is over eighty, was not impressed and demanded her share of the revenue for viewing the botched restoration. Good luck with that, love.

October


As the election went into high gear, I spent more time on politics and the importance of objective thinking. War on Women legislation, which was turning off a lot of voters, continued nonetheless, and a few aquaintances were dropped for being, not to put too fine a point on it, nuts. "Ideological purity" is basically extremism and anything not based on fact is not worth taking seriously.

I wrote two guest posts for Falkvinge on Infopolicy and one for Techdirt. They were, respectively, UK Hands Out Tax Breaks For 'Using' Patents (Techdirt), The Next Big Battles (Falkvinge), and The Scary Spectre Of Perpetual Copyright (Falkvinge). I made my own graphics for the Falkvinge posts, as is my custom. 

Alien-hunting hacker Gary Mckinnon's extradition was blocked by Home Secretary Theresa May in a rare outbreak of common sense. I've been bashing her over her insistence on passing the Communications Data Bill, aka The Snooper's Charter. It'll stop when she blocks that, too.

I was asked to make a Facebook banner for the Guitar Masters tour. Anything to help a Plusser, as we call each other on Google Plus. I'm friendly with Catherine Maguire, guitarist Preston Reed's wife.

November


President Obama won re-election by a landslide. Romney only got... wait for it... 47% of the popular vote. Hah! Cue another guest post for Falkvinge: Obama's Second Term: The Battle For Digital Rights Continues. This was followed later on by The Unitary Patent And Why We Should Be Worried, another guest post for Falkvinge. This one was about the Unitary Patent, a law that created a new patent court. I predict shenanigans and software patents increasing in Europe.

Meanwhile, the postmortem on the US election continued to chip at the internet. Conspiracy theoreis abounded but basically it was business as usual. GOP staffer Derek Khanna wrote a memo on the need for copyright reform. Twenty four hours later, it was pulled, but the shockwaves continue to ripple through the internet.

December


Richard O'Dwyer, a website owner slated for extradition to the US over linking, averted extradition by striking a deal with the authorities.

In tech news, GOP staffer Derek Khanna lost his job for advocating copyright reform in a paper for the Republican Study Committee. Okay, who is surprised by that?

Writer Marva Dasef posted a friendly review of my work on Smashwords. One good turn deserves another, and all that, so I returned the favour and began the hashtag G+Writers.

A disagreement with a client ended up with my writing a rather snarky post about web design that has already garnered nearly two thousand views. I maintain that if they don't know this they don't know anything:


  1. How the internet works

  2. How websites work

  3. How to best present your content

  4. How to build for mobile

  5. Best practice principles

What's the point of hiring me if you can do the job yourself? Sheesh!

Building Websites On Blogger came about because I redesigned Dynamic Heights Training and hosted it on Blogger per my client's request to host it for free. It can be done and it does look good but be warned, if you want to use Blogger as CMS and add third party plugins, you'll have to hack it to bits. Paid hosting with WordPress as CMS is the better option. Mumba got her free Google Apps account as part of the Getting British Business Online initiative. You have to pay for Google Apps accounts now.

Finally, I had a bit of fun with Byron Rempel, who draws zombies for fun and profit. The idea was initially that he would provide all the artwork but when that fell through I did it myself and created a folder for the mobile version. Here's the big screen version: Zombie Santa, an ebook and here's the mobile version.

Well, that was last year... this one is off to a heck of a start!

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