PGTS Humble Blog
Thread: Internet Freedom/Filtering
|When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.|
Official End Of The Dot-com Bubble?
Chronogical Blog Entries:
Date: Wed, 23 May 2012 21:43:04 +1000
When your humble blogger started this blog entry a few weeks ago, it was going to be titled "Same Old Same Old". But events kept unfolding ... And the entry kept on changing ... It seemed that in the IT and communications sector there may be a signs that of what we might refer to as the "Official End of the Dot-com Bubble". There are many developments in the relationships between Google, big media, social net-working sites and their customers.
When the Berlin wall fell in late 1989, many commentators heralded the event as the "Official End of World War II" ... Sometimes it can take a long time for events to work their way into the "Zeitgeist". Of course WWII was a far more serious and deadly event then the Dot-com bubble, which seems silly and inconsequential by comparison. But the panic that gripped financial markets after the Dot-com bubble lead directly to the even more extreme financial insanity of the Global Financial Crisis.
NASDAQ Composite Index 1987 - 2012 (bigcharts.marketwatch.com)
In Virtual Space, There Is No Gravity -- Or is there?
It is true that initial public offerings have increasingly become a game for early investors and their Wall Street enablers. Since the 1980s, average first-day gains on new stock issues have risen steadily. According to one 2006 study, the average first-day return on IPOs in the 1980s was 7 percent. By the mid-1990s, it was 15 percent. In the 1999-2000 dot-com boom, it was 65 percent.
-Gretchen Morgenson, NYTimes.com 2012-05-19
For the last few weeks the blogosphere has been quivering and twittering with waves of speculation about the value of the Facebook IPO. For the past month or so, the potential worth of Facebook was up and down like the proverbial whore's drawers ... And that was before even a single share had been officially traded ... The dilemma facing genuine investors was in one sense perennial and yet in another sense was typical of the 21st century silliness widely promulgated during the most wild excesses of the Dot-com bubble ... Namely that: there is no limits to growth in a virtual domain.
In today's rather gun-shy finance-crisis world, your humble blogger does not have to explain why theories about limitless virtual growth are software financialese gobble-de-gook... However Facebook has (arguably) the world's largest database of netizens ... And that's just gotta be worth something! The problem facing someone contemplating putting real money on the table for such an enterprise is ... How exactly does one calculate the worth of such a database? There are many contradictory factors that would have to figure in such a calculation ... Among them:
- The newly re-discovered fact that share price and property value does not constantly and automatically appreciate.
- Mark Zuckerberg is a spin-Meister merchant guru, possible on a par with other great messiah figures like Steve Jobs and (the greatest of them all) Citizen Gates. At merely 27 years, he (Zuckerberg) seems to be the youngest ever in this illustrious class and he will probably improve with age. His presence as principal share-holder and front man for Facebook must add value to the company.
- Big Players, like Yahoo, Microsoft and Google have offered real money for Facebook. And the sums have been eye-wateringly humungous ... But nowhere near the inflated valuations promoted immediately before the IPO.
- Facebook's primary product is its user-base. And the "relationship" they have with those users is crucial for their survival. In order to make money Facebook must commercialise the user-base. This becomes problematic if large numbers of users form the conclusion that the two dimensional sketches of Facebook pages do not adequately represent the diversity and complexity of their human existence ... Or if a perception spreads amongst users that Facebook is more concerned with data mining than helping users connect with one another ... Ironically if such a perception did spread it would most likely be transmitted via Facebook! Facebook must be very careful not to jeopardise these vital relationships.
At the end of the first day's trading, Facebook was worth almost the same as it was when it started. Which was, considering that the IPO was over-valued and the finance sector is pre-occupied with the Greek Tragedy currently unfolding in the Euro-zone, not such a bad result ... But it caused some unease amongst early bird investors and institutions behind the IPO.
And then on the second day, cruel reality asserted itself. Many early investors will be watching the price carefully. Facebook on the other hand will probably be watching the progress of Google+ ... Or if they aren't they should be.
Gradually Facebook's share price has responded to the implacable pull of gravity. Despite the best efforts of various institutions to talk it up, it seems to be slowly but inexorably sinking towards its "true market value" (possibly closer to what Microsoft and/or Google actually offered?) ... It seems that the laws of physics now apply in virtual space as they do in real space.
Same Old Same Old
Senate Judiciary Committee staffers plan to take a look at allegations that Microsoft has made it difficult for competing Web browsers to run on a certain version of Windows, an aide to Antitrust subcommittee Chairman Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) told The Hill Thursday.
-- TheHill.com, 2012-05-10
And there are changes in "old technology" companies as well.
It seems that Microsoft has not learned much from the Browser Wars. This extraordinary campaign, waged last century was, unlike WWII as far as your humble blogger is aware, entirely bloodless. But it sure cost a lot. In particular the cost of maintaining HTML standards which were deliberately diluted and weakened during the great virtual conflict, was considerable. And despite initial tactical success, Microsoft eventually lost the war despite winning several battles. About five years ago Microsoft threw in the towel and announced that MSIE8 would comply with W3C standards. Although collectively, we continue to bear the onerous burden of untidy HTML standards.
In addition to this return to Browser skirmishing, it seems that Microsoft has plans to offer the upgrade to Windows 8 Pro for only $15. Which is remarkable considering the price tag on Windows 7 ... Especially since Windows 7 should have been a free patch for Vista (arguably, the second worst distribution ever).
The recent rumours about Senate Judiciary Committees have surfaced because Mozilla have discovered that Microsoft is not making certain APIs available to non-Microsoft browsers on Windows RT. And the news may have passed you by completely ... There has not been a lot of publicity about this because Windows Phone has such a small market share.
Truth be known, nobody really cares much about what Windows phones will or will not support.
What is probably most interesting about this news is the lack of direction in Microsoft's strategy to implement their mobile platform. Perhaps this should not surprise us? In a recent BBC Documentary, "Secrets of the Superbrands", Alex Riley drew our attention to how tiny the Microsoft logo is on the Xbox packaging ... Ah but there is a good reason for this, dear reader ... In subsequent interviews with children, Alex discovered that young Xbox users thought perhaps the Xbox might be manufactured by some cool dude like Mr. Xbox ... If they'd only known that it was manufactured by someone old and smelly like Mr. Microsoft, those game consoles may not have seemed so cool!
Given all this, the decision to keep the name "Windows" figuring prominently with the new phone platform is interesting ... Possibly even courageous ... And one that your humble blogger suspects may have been imposed by "Corporate" ... Your blogger can't imagine any media-savvy head of mobile division being very enthusiastic about the prospect of either of the words "Windows" or "Microsoft" being associated with their product.
If the best that the Microsoft apparatchiks can come up with is to mandate that their software impede other browsers access to APIs and then to offer cheap copies of Windows 8 to the public ... Then the next release of Windows may be destined for the trash can of irrelevance.
The Price Of Everything And The Value Of Nothing
Live by the sword, die by the sword
-Derivation from Ye Olde School Biblical Parable
More old technology stories ... The problems continue for Yahoo, who seem to be changing CEOs as regularly as some folks change their linen. A couple of weeks ago it transpired that their then CEO, Scott Thompson was not a graduate of computer science, as he had claimed on his resume ... Instead it seems that he had an accounting major! This probably does not surprise you dear reader, since most companies are top heavy with accountants and sales and marketing analysts. But there was lots of commotion about this both inside and outside the board-room.
And since the extraordinary failed Microsoft takeover in 2008, Yahoo has been stricken with proxy battles, raids and board-room coups. Before long Scott Thompson was rolled, ostensibly for not being a computer science major ... Although there were some rumours that he had commented to Steve Ballmer that Yahoo might be better off using Google as a Search Engine rather than Bing ... And you might well wonder, dear reader, if this had been a trifle undiplomatic?
In any case, your blogger cannot help but offer his humble opinion that Yahoo certainly could do with some additional computer science expertise.
For the time being Yahoo seems destined to continue sinking ... As does Bing, weighed down with Mr Microsoft's great heavy money-belt ... The two are locked in a deadly embrace like two drowning men clinging to each other ... On a one way descent into Davey Jones' locker.
The Official End Of The Phone Hacking Saga?
And she knifed her way into the grey-black depths of the Barents Sea, her still racing engines her own executioner ...
- Alistair MacLean, HMS Ulysses.
Ancient technology stories ...
On the 15th of May, Rebekah Brooks and her husband were charged with "conspiracy to pervert the cause of justice". At the time she made vague reference to the fact that the case was a side-show ... Which may have left some people in high places feeling a little uneasy, and possibly wondering when the main event would begin?
It would seem that the Phone Hacking Saga is now entering the end-game phase. The Murdoch Empire, which has dominated the news and political landscape for so long, is also experiencing interesting times. Will this old school media group be able to adapt their news reporting to the new technology? Or is the newspaper division also headed for Davey Jones' locker along with Yahoo, Bing and Windows phone?
For all the misdemeanours that News Of The World reporters may or may not have committed while pursuing celebrities it seems ironic that Phone Hacking has grown into a scandal that now threatens a global news enterprise. Because as far as your humble blogger's understanding of these events go ... No phones were actually "hacked". What happened was really more like "voice mail hacking" (cracking?).
Although it seems that the new smart phones do contain vulnerabilities that might make them easier to "hack" than older (not so smart) mobile phones, it is still a technically complex task. Voice mail on the other hand is inherently insecure and very easy to break into. It seems that the reporters and/or their agents dialled into various voice mail boxes and tried simple and/or default numerical combinations until they discovered a PIN that allowed them to listen to the messages that the owner had not deleted. It is a trivial task, although such snooping is possibly unethical and probably against laws or regulations governing the use of telecommunications devices, it is difficult to detect ... Unless the snooper does something careless or foolish like deleting or modifying messages in the mailbox.
And it really does stretch our credulity to the limit for editors and CEOs to deny that they had any knowledge whatsoever about how their staff were obtaining the very same news that their papers were printing.
Considering that Newscorp is a media organisation it also seems amazing that they showed so little understanding of the media. Listening in to politicians and celebrities to find out their dirty little secrets is one thing ... But deleting the messages from (murdered schoolgirl) Milly Dowler's voice mail in order to make room for more messages was beyond the pale, and when it finally came to light, triggered mass outrage and revulsion.
Even more extraordinary is the fact that when they were "sprung", senior management didn't manage the PR disaster in a sensible manner ... Something along the lines of "We are so very, very sorry ... It will never happen again ... These are the steps we are taking to make sure that it doesn't." etc, etc.
Instead, someone high up in the organisation opted for bullshit rather than contrition, in the mistaken belief that bullshit was a more effective PR management tool ... And this might be true when your transgressions are undiscovered ... But it almost never is once you have actually been caught out!
So it seems that those who "live by the sword, die by the sword" ... Or considering that the pen is mightier than the sword should that be "live by the pen, die by the pen" ?
The Dark Side
Do not under-estimate the power of the dark side!
- Yoda, Return of the Jedi
While all of these changes are taking place with older technologies, there seem to be changes afoot for new technology leaders like Google.
The reason why the paper giants like Newscorp are imploding and politicians are losing grip with the levers of power is of course due to the disruptive influence of the Internet. And companies like Google are at the sharp end of this disruption.
And disruption like this generates fear and uncertainty amongst politicians and the ruling classes. There are numerous concerns being expressed about Google and privacy. Google is running into difficulties in Europe, the USA and China to name but a few significant regions.
And since many of the fears that have been expressed have focused on "privacy" ... One of the responses from Google has been to "hide" keywords in keyword searches. At first this seemed innocuous enough, but lately Google has been removing keywords from the referer strings that it forwards to webhosts.
And a little technical detail may be required here ...
In the past when an online customer used Google's service they would perform a key-word search ... After which, Google would show a list of websites ... And when that customer clicked on a link in the list their browser would take them to the site. However when someone clicks a link, most browsers show a "referer string" which is added to the agent string details when the session is opened. Google helpfully added the query to the referer string ... So when the session started on the target webhost, the query would be visible in the webhost logfiles.
So, if the website owner inspected the apache log files there would be some additional information in the referer string like the following:
Which would tell the web-site owner what key-words the visitor had entered into Google Search before starting the session on the their web-site.
Lately however, some queries have begun arriving with something like the following:
This means that the query is hidden.
It may not seem like such a big deal. But it does undermine the open nature of the Internet. Web-site owners still can get an analysis of keyword searches routed via Google, but only with Google's own Analytics product.
Sometimes it seems that as the Internet appears to be dominated by a few large sites like Google and Facebook, there is a tendency to overlook the fact that the Internet consists of billions of sites bound up in a tangled web tapestry,
Certainly there is a need to balance privacy with transparency. But removing keywords from search strings hampers website owners who create their own logfile analysis scripts and hinders them from developing inhouse procedures for monitoring their own traffic. As a practice, it closes many more doors than it opens.
Possibly Google needs to examine their mission statement?
And on another front, Google has completed their acquisition of Motorola mobile. They are now a fully fledged mobile phone manufacturer. This presents the company with many new opportunities ... And perhaps, a few challenges. It certainly will be one to watch.
This blog had only been posted for a few days when stories surfaced about Microsoft planning to promote an 80-inch tablet for general office use ... When your blogger first heard the rumours he thought it may have been a (rather lame) joke! But it is true! For once your humble blogger cannot cannot make any remarks of an even slightly satirical nature about the 80-inch tablet ... Because it is so, so beyond satire!
Also there was a very good article in the online edition of the Washington post attributed to Associated Press about the Facebook IPO ... And how the slowly sinking share price just might be a good thing ... And it hinted that this might just help remind institutions that the Dot-com bubble is well and truly over.
And news stories are coming to light about Facebook buying Opera and Yahoo selling a browser plug-in.
May we all live in interesting times!