Google’s edgy brand

Will a Google takeover of Wikipedia be a good thing or a bad thing? Don’t ask me. I’m more interested in what Google‘s offer says about the company’s persistently geeky culture. I may be wrong but I’m about 90% sure that it hasn’t occurred to anyone at Microsoft to host Wikipedia (this would be more their style). Wikipedia – and Wikis in general – are a good analogue for the net itself, an expression of its technically distributed and socially collaborative nature.

Wikipedia’s intelligence lives, necessarily, at its edges. In fact it barely has a centre at all in the old-fashioned sense. Most businesses find that sort of thing pretty alien, which, presumably, explains why the poor, benighted (but still awesome) Encyclopaedia Britannica actually survived the net’s first big attack only, by the look of it, to be completely broadsided by bottom-up knowledge sharing. Google‘s culture, though, evidently still thrives on funky, open, edgy phenomena like Wikipedia. Absorbing Wikipedia (which would, presumably cause barely a ripple in Google’s Ocean of CPU and bandwidth) might be commercial nonsense but it shows that the brand is alive and well.

Xmas toys: good and bad. Number 5 – The Giants and The Joneses audiobook by Julia Donaldson

Cover art from the CD of The Giants and The Joneses by Julia Donaldson
Julia Donaldson has written some of our favourite kids’ books – The Gruffalo, The Snail and the Whale, Room on the Broom and loads more – all beautifully-written. The Giants and The Joneses is aimed at a slightly older age group than these but the brilliant (unabridged) CD audiobook, read by Helen Lederer, is one of the rare stories that will keep our 6 year-old boy and our 5 year-old girl happy at the same time (and it’s over three hours long so it’ll keep them amused for quite a long ride in the car).

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I’ll consider myself helped then

First of all, this wasn’t supposed to happen. I didn’t expect dozens of you to chip in with solutions to my HTML/CSS problems (well, 19 in all, including the emails). So now I either have to bankrupt myself shipping Champagne to every corner of the English speaking world… or draw lots. I think I’ll draw lots. If you were one of the lovely people who helped me to sort out my three-column layout, watch the skies. I’ll be in touch with one of you for an address (or perhaps I should just send it to Alex who seems to have prompted most of the responses. Thanks Alex!).

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Book Review: file sharing and open source licensing (and ‘a manual of survival in the prison that is Amerika’)

cover from Steal This File Sharing Book, Wallace WangCover from Steal This Book, Abbie HofmannCover from Understanding Open Source and Free Software Licensing, St. Laurent

Steal This File Sharing Book by Wallace Wang, Understanding Open Source and Free Software Licensing by Andrew M. St. Laurent (and Steal This Book by Abbie Hoffman).

Starting with Steal This File Sharing Book. I would really like to tell you that this is a great book. Or that it cleverly updates Abbie Hoffman’s yippie freeloader’s bible, Steal This Book (Stealing it from amazon is going to present some problems, though, I guess). Or even that it’ll help you understand file sharing. Sadly, I can’t. I’ll keep it around but it’s tough to imagine a use for it beyond this review. I wish Wang had provided a history of file sharing technologies. I wish he’d thought more about the future (beyond version updates and law suits). I wish he’d found the time to discuss the ethical context and I wish he’d been a bit less morally ambivalent about file sharing. Where Hoffman is morally certain (thieving from dumb corporations and dumber Governments is a good thing), Wang worries the issue and leaves the reader frankly at sea. I’d also have liked some discussion of new rights models (GPL, Creative Commons and so on) and of new methods like BitTorrent. I wonder if file sharing is one of those topics that really doesn’t warrant a book at all?

This is more like it. Understanding Open Source and Free Software Licensing is a small but perfectly formed 194 pages on every kind of software license you’ve ever heard of, including the non-free and nearly-free ones. Actual licenses, annotated and explained, are the body of the book with plenty of legal asides and some gentle (legally-phrased) criticism where necessary. I’m not about to release a software product but if I were I’d buy this unpretentious book and since software licensing seems to be the bleeding edge of the fast-changing rights landscape (can landscapes have bleeding edges?), where all the interesting work is being done, I think this book should interest a lot of non-techies too.

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Right. This is your last chance to save bowblog’s three-column layout. Most of you (the Explorer users, basically) don’t even know this is a three-column web site because, for you, the third column displays somewhere down there (underneath the left-hand column). Some of Britain’s finest minds have examined my CSS and HTML and no one seems able to fix it so that the right-hand column displays where it ought to over there on the right (although the esteemed Phil Gyford did improve things markedly). So (trying not to sound desperate), if you reckon you’ve got what it takes, why don’t you sort it out for me and I’ll send you a bottle of Champagne (own brand, natch). I guess you can just view source if you need the HTML and here’s my stylesheet.

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America on the radio

First: amazing story, this: Malcolm X’s personal archive – correspondence, photographs, writings, the lot – wound up on eBay (or at least on eBay‘s posh cousin Bonnington’s). Tony Phillips made a very personal programme about it for Radio 4.

Second: the US Government’s own auditors say that $8.8 billion (including three palettes of hundred dollar bills weighing 14 tons for which someone forgot to fill in a deposit slip) have gone missing from the funds set aside for reconstruction in Iraq. Gerry Northam, in this File on 4 programme, notes that Capitol Hill has taken very little interest in the missing billions while putting the boot into the UN over Oil for Food.

Provided they haven’t been overwritten you can listen to these programmes at these links: Selling Malcolm X and File on 4 on Iraq or download MP3s here: File on 4 and Malcolm X.

Categorized as radio

Misery at Ground Zero

Don’t read this excellent review from the NYRB if you’ve been sort of distractedly assuming that the reconstruction of the twin towers in NYC was going to be one of those uplifting stories of human nobility, resilience and creativity in the face of brutal nihilism; vigorous American mercantilism overcoming poisonous cynicism and all that. It’s not. It’s a dispiriting mess. Very sad.

Watching Ofcomwatch

If you’ve been watching Ofcomwatch for a while you’ll have seen it grow from a sort of scrappy… er… scrapbook on the new regulator to something really quite slick and useful. If you’re watching Ofcom you’ll need these guys – there are probably only a handful of people who understand the regulator’s‘s Byzantine org chart like they do.

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What’s the story?

Reading about Microsoft’s belated entry to grown-up web search the thing that struck me was actually how level the playing field is right now. According to Infoworld, search breaks down like this: Google: 34.7%. Yahoo: 31.9%. MSN: 16.3% and AOL (Time Warner): 9.4%. That leaves about 8% for the gaggle of ‘others’ (including the benighted Ask Jeeves). Hardly a one-horse race.

Categorized as Business

Azeem’s babies

Salman Azeem Azhar, born 8 January 2005
I’d like to mark (a bit late, as usual), the arrival of two babies. First, Salman, a son for Shen and Azeem, nine weeks early (impatient, like his Dad…) and, second, Rising Slowly – a weather blog and latest output from the UK’s only proper nanopub business, Mink Media. Both lovely, of course. Welcome!

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