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Use the Cloud to Get a Clue

An analysis of an open communications philosophy, a distributed computing model, and
social networking, which could change the way you use the Internet.

by Colin McAllister

email: colin.mcallister@ymail.com
blog: http://cmcallister.vox.com/

About the Author

Colin McAllister is a Physics Lecturer at Curtin University of Technology, Sarawak,
Malaysia. He graduated from Queen’s University of Belfast and Dublin City University. He worked
as a Software Engineer in the USA before moving to Malaysia to work in higher education.

A thirst for openness and access to the Internet is driving the evolution of personal
communications. The Internet has revolutionised how people communicate, using email, instant
messages (IM), blogs (web logs), and social networks. I investigate the importance of openness to
this revolution by focussing on one declaration of openness: The Cluetrain Manifesto, one model of
computing: Cloud Computing and one application: Social Networking.
Cluetrain is a revolutionary approach to open communications, which insists that business
messages be more personal and less formal. Cloud computing is data processing that is distributed
over a network of computers. How can you employ cloud computing to get aboard the Cluetrain?
Answer: By using social networks.
Social networking supports communications between individuals and groups. It has evolved
beyond email, static web pages and groupware. It uses modern scripting frameworks, e.g. Ajax
(Asynchronous JavaScript + XML) to provide two way communications and a rich user interface.
I argue for the necessity of openness in developing communications technology. The methods
of openness are the diametric opposites of: closed standards, proprietary technology and DRM
(Digital Rights Management).
I wish to encourage you to experiment with more openness in your communications, while
remaining aware of the risks involved. I mention about twenty social networking services and
applications, some of which you might choose to try out for yourself.

Openness and Freedom

Openness is the mission of Internet companies, but that depends on what the meaning of the
word “openness” is. Google wants to make information "universally accessible and useful."
Facebook wants to “make the world more open and connected" (Farber, 2008). Most social
networking systems are proprietary, and not open like the Internet or open-source software.
Openness, in the case of the Internet, is a suite of protocols that are in the public domain. The
specifications are published as RFC 1122 and RFC 1123 (Requests for Comments) by the IETF
(Internet Engineering Task Force). The Internet is an open system. RFC 1122 states: “Finally, the
goal is full 'open system interconnection': an Internet host must be able to interoperate robustly and
effectively with any other Internet host, across diverse Internet paths. Internationalisation and
Localisation (support for multiple languages) are no small part of openness (W3C UK, 2002).
Openness is “networked person-to-person conversations” as defined by Cluetrain (thesis 18).
It is “open access” or “open knowledge” that you are free to use without restriction (OKFN, 2004).
It is “open content” that you are free to share and remix, e.g. a creative work to which the author has

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assigned one of the Creative Commons licenses (CreativeCommons.org).
Openness is software that you are free to modify and distribute, under an open-source
license, such at the GPL (GNU General Public License). GNU’s new Affero licence (FSF, 2007) has
been designed for server software, because of the trend to move applications from the desktop to the
server. Mozilla's Firefox browser (Mozilla.com) is open-source software, runs on the Microsoft
Windows, OS/X and Linux operating systems, and competes successfully with Microsoft's
proprietary Internet Explorer.
Six Apart released their Movable Type blogging software under the GPL in 2007. To quote
Anil Dash, V.P. of Six Apart, “With a name like 'Movable Type', we've always been keenly aware of
the importance of freedom, as that name echoes both the birth of the printing press and the creation
of independent media that an individual can control” (Dash, 2007).
There are counter-examples to openness. Apple Computer has successful proprietary
products; however it makes use of public domain standards (the Internet) and open-source software
(BSD Unix) when necessary. Most social networks are proprietary (dot-com), and control which
add-on applications are permitted (Ling, 2008).

The Cluetrain Manifesto

The Cluetrain Manifesto (Levine et al, 1999) is a list of 95 theses, which define an approach
to marketing communications that is open and trusting. It advocates that business messages should
be more personal and less “corporate”. Corporate web sites become irrelevant as employees and
customers become more connected. “The best [Intranets] are built bottom-up by engaged individuals
cooperating to construct something far more valuable” (thesis 45).
We can use the first thesis, “Markets are conversations,” to identify the relevant Internet
services; those that support conversation: email, instant messaging, chat, blogs and multimedia.
These are the services that social networking integrates.
The manifesto promotes a network of human contact that could be described as organic,
web-like, rhizomatic or even chaotic. It is an appropriate business model for analysing social
networking. It has its critics, (Dvorak, 2002) for example. It is a dot-com era echo of the advice in
E.F. Schumacher’s classic 1973 book “Small is Beautiful”, reminding us that the industrial world has
moved on from the era of the mass production line.
Much of the Manifesto is descriptive, observing the changing state of affairs in business. It
takes on the voice of the customer: “We are those markets.” (thesis 63) and of the employee: “We're
also the workers” (thesis 66). Both of these groups want to talk to each other without bureaucracy
getting in the way. The second half of the Manifesto becomes more prescriptive: “They [companies]
need to resist the urge to "improve" or control these networked conversations” (thesis 47).
The Manifesto is not a document to be adopted as company policy, because it is not the
business of companies to tell their employees how to communicate. The document will have value
when it is discovered by individual employees and customers, who may be inspired by it, or not, as
they choose.
There is a clue as to why social networking succeeds: “our new-found conversation is more
interesting” (thesis 90). Faced with today's avalanche of information, people will naturally focus their
attention on what is interesting. Finally, there is a reference to the tools of social networking:
“networked conversations may appear confused” and “we have better tools” (thesis 94). The social
networking revolution (Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy - thesis 7) is already happening (We are not
waiting - thesis 95).
Cluetrain is a useful reference point, but I draw on a variety of frameworks for open
communications, e.g. the Creative Commons (CreativeCommons.org). The Internet itself is built on
open standards (RFCs), as is the World Wide Web.
Wikipedia is a good example of Cluetrain-style communications in action. The low-budget
film, “The Blair Witch Project”, was successfully promoted by viral marketing (Delana, 2008), which
is exactly the “Markets are Conversations” formula of Cluetrain (Searls, 2001). Not everyone prefers
Wikipedia to Encyclopaedia Britannica or YouTube to Hollywood. In his book “Cult of the

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Amateur”, Andrew Keene argues that user-generated content, the lifeblood of the social networking
business, corrodes the quality of culture and knowledge (Keene, 2007). The online encyclopaedia
Citizendium aims to restore some quality to our knowledge base by having experts oversee the
editing of articles (Assignment Zero, 2007).
The manifesto is an online and printed book (Locke, 1999). Chapter 4 says “The Net is a
real place where people can go to learn, to talk to each other, and to do business together.” That is a
good definition of social networking. Chapter 4 also quotes Metcalfe’s Law, “the value of a network
increases as the square of the number of users connected to it.” Therefore, social networking
becomes much more useful as it accumulates more users, which it does rapidly by viral extension of
membership to friends and friends of friends (Schofield, 2004).

Growth of Personal Communications

The Internet and the World Wide Web have expanded since the release of the first Web
browser (Mosaic) in 1993. More people are connected via broadband, wireless laptops and mobile
phones. Innovations in semiconductors, as described by Moore's Law, enable increasingly complex
communications services. New services like video telephony (Skype) and peer-to-peer networks
become commonplace. In the data centre, databases can be scaled across multiple servers to support
high volume traffic. Virtualization lets one PC host many virtual servers, providing cheap web site
Commercial services can be offered for free, by including in-page advertisements, and using
metrics to calculate their effectiveness. Search engines like Google and Yahoo are an essential part of
this calculation, and many web sites employ Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to get better ratings.
Anyone can register for webmail, blog hosting and social networking, without the inconvenience of
paying for membership. Social networking adds the dimension of multicasting; broadcasting your
messages to your network of friends, and broadcasting targeted advertisements.
It is not clear if the past growth of social networking will continue. The number of social
networking users in the U.S. levelled off in April 2008. Advertising estimates by eMarketer for U.S.
social networks in 2008 were lowered from U.S. $1.6 billion to U.S. $1.43 billion (Malik, 2008).

Cloud Computing
A service is “cloud computing” if the user has access to distributed computing resources
without needing to know where the data is processed. It must be scalable, as it has to support many
users around the world. Social networks fall under this general definition.
Internet companies like Google, Amazon and Yahoo (Grid Today, 2008) are reorganising
their businesses to provide cloud computing as a product. Their customers are pioneers in a new
model of business data processing. A Gartner report, “Assessing the Security Risks of Cloud
Computing.” advises any business considering the use of cloud computing to get a security
assessment of the provider (Brodkin, 2008).
Amazon.com provides EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud), which offers three levels of service
depending on how much data processing you need (MyTradeDomain.com, 2008). Google offers App
Engine cloud computing as a free preview release (Google App Engine 2008), which can be scaled
up to 5 million page views per month.
Mozilla’s Weave 0.2 environment for the Firefox browser synchronises your browser
environment (bookmarks etc.) as you move from one online computer to another. Mozilla intends to
provide an API, so that third party cloud computing applications may be developed.
Cloud computing is available for research and development as open-source software
(EUCALYPTUS, 2008), which is compatible with Amazon's EC2 cloud computing interface and
runs on the Linux operating system.
Peer-to-peer software is used for sharing large media files, and download-accelerator
software provides similar functionality as a browser extension. These programs are a type of cloud
computing; the hosted files are distributed over many computers at different locations.

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Web 2.0 Software
Web 2.0 (Thompson, 2006) encompasses almost any web-based service that doesn't rely on
static HTML pages, according to Tim O'Reilly, publisher and Internet advocate. It permits web
surfers to become content creators, blogging their opinions or sharing their photographs. It supports
complex web pages that are a mosaic of data from a variety of sources. Web 2.0 includes standards,
such as the XML or JSON, RSS (Really Simple Syndication) or Atom, XMPP and Ajax, which
provide rich communications features. Office applications can be programmed with an ergonomic
graphical user interface that is presented as a web page.
Web 2.0 uses a variety of scripting languages, carried through from Web 1.0, including
JavaScript on the browser and PHP on the web server. Blogging software, such as Wordpress, has
Web 2.0 features which make the updating and linking of web sites easier.

RSS and Atom Feeds

Syndication protocols, or “feeds”, allow an event, such as a blog posting, to propagate as
needed, making your web surfing more productive. They allow web sites to embed or syndicate
content from other sites, just as newspapers do with printed syndication.
RSS (Pilgrim, 2002) and Atom (AtomEnabled.org) are competing syndication protocols.
They are both open standards (MacManus, 2007) and use the XML data format.
You can monitor RSS and Atom feeds using Windows Explorer 7, or the Feed Demon or
Feed Reader applications. When you subscribe to an RSS feed, an URL is copied from the source
web site and pasted into your feed reader.
You can develop RSS and Atom feeds for your web site (Hammerlsey, 2005). The Feedsmith
plugin for Wordpress (Feedburner, 2007) creates a feed from your blog posts and logs access
statistics. You can make your blog more interesting by embedding feeds from other web sites
(Wordpress, 2006).

Why not Experiment with Social Networking?

Social networks like Facebook and MySpace are a place to post content that defines your
online identity and interests. You may be an email or instant messaging user, depending on your age!
Social networking is replacing both of these (Shiels, 2008). Why not experiment with new social
networks, and new software add-ons, to find out if they are effective for you?
My modest attempt at social networking was to start a blog on Vox (cmcallister.vox.com). It
was easy to set up, and has a professional appearance. Anyone can access it; they don't need to join a
social network. A Vox blog or individual postings can also be configured as a friend network.
I joined Facebook, and added some applications like “Blog It” (SixApart.com) and “Books
iRead” (weRead.com). “Blog It” is an online text editor which uploads to multiple blogs. “iRead” is
an online book sharing site. When I picked a book, “iRead” embedded the title and author into an
URL (Universal Resource Locator), which makes it vulnerable to Internet filters. The Orkut social
network (Orkut.com) has a similar bookshelf application “Reading Social”, (O'Shaughnessy, 2008).
It is available on Facebook as the “Visual Bookshelf” application (LivingSocial.com).
Interesting applications continue to be developed, so try some software that is still in beta-
test, as announced at Mashable.com or ReadWriteWeb.com, if you are willing to take the small risk
of a data leak or software crash.
There are alternatives to closed social networks; one is an open-source social tool, ELGG
(ELGG.org; Wired, 2008). The Wired article also mentions an open format, the Open Data
Definition, for exchanging data between social applications (OpenDD.net).

Your Internet Profile and Your Privacy

I approached social networking with caution because of news about data leaks and identity
theft (Patel, 2007). Registration was easy, through a graphical web page. Within a few minutes I was

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greeted by the profiles and pictures of familiar people. Your first task is to enter your personal
details. Depending on the network and on your circumstances, you can use give your real name or a
pseudonym (Walker, 2005; Aquol, 2006). Different countries have different attitudes to online
identity. In Japan, less than 5% of users of the popular Mixi network use their real names or photos
(Toto, 2008). Your real name will give authenticity to your messages and let you network with other
people. It is your decision about how much personal information to provide, as concepts of privacy
vary widely from person to person. You might want to enter an approximate birthday, and set it to
private, if you are concerned about the risk of identity theft. Privacy choices can be confusing to
navigate, as they are labelled as: “hidden”, “don’t show”, “restricted”, or even “custom”. Data leaks
do occur occasionally, even of data marked as private (Mills, 2008) Concerned about privacy,
Facebook temporarily suspended a third party application, “Top Friends”, because it displayed
private information from users’ profiles (Ling, 2008).
Your profile on a social network reflects on you, and proverbially influences your future
employer's hiring decision. Increasingly, the absence of an online presence will be a stigma. Social
networking is a dynamic activity, so the kind of traffic that you generate will say more about you
than the static description on your profile page.

Online Social Networks as Public Houses

Joining an online social network is like bringing your address book to the pub. You give it to
the bar tender. He checks to see if any of your contacts are his regulars, and calls them to say you've
stopped by. He asks if he can phone all of your contacts and invite them along too. He calls them
your “friends”, just to keep everything cosy. Then, he'll send everyone a text message every time you
buy a bag of crisps, or play a game of darts. So, it looks like the place is really busy, even when not
much is happening. There are lots of menus; let's call them “third party applications”. You can order
wings from next door or a burger from across the street. Of course, no one will take responsibility if
you get food poisoning. The bar tender shows you a bunch of photos and says “They all want to be
your friends too.” You say “Why not?”, and order another packet of crisps. You get bored and
wander off to the next pub. The bar tender asks to see your address book. You ask “Again?”

Life Streaming and Privacy

Life Streaming is the process of informing your readers about your activities; including your
blog posts, photos and which web sites you visit. You can drive this from your blog, social network
or from integration software like FriendFeed.
Do you want your activities to be broadcast to your online friends, and to the world? Will
you be focussing on a particular interest, or writing about your life in general? If your audience is
friends and family only, select that option when you first register your blog, social network or photo
sharing site. When posting a message or photo, think “Is it for information, fun, or family?” Your
relatives might prefer that their pictures on Flickr are visible to family only. Match the sensitivity of
your material with the terms of service provided. Cluetrain claims that there are no secrets, but
perhaps that business document you prepared should not be posted on a social network that claims
rights over the content. Facebook's “Wall” lets you “Send a funny photo!”, an indication that its
purpose is entertainment, not business.
If privacy is important to you, avoid giving out personal details such as your birthday or
address. You can lose privacy in a variety of ways. Upload a geo-tagged photo of your house, and
you have indirectly publicised where you live. Browser cookies record details about your web
surfing. Your IP (Internet Protocol) address identifies you to your ISP (Internet Service Provider)
and to any web site you visit. Inquire about a book on a social network or an online library, and the
title and author's name may be scanned by Internet filters. Bogus emails (phishing), social network
messages or web sites might persuade you to provide your bank account number or to download
infected updates that can take control of your PC.

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Social Bookmarking
If you find something of interest on the Internet, you can share your link with the world using
one of the social bookmarking services: “Digg”, “Stumbled Upon” or “del.icio.us”. To share links
with your friends, use “Mento.com” (Glazowski, 2008). The Firefox add-on Scribefire for Firefox
combines a blog editor and “del.icio.us” bookmarking (Brockmeier, 2007). If you just want to move
your bookmarks from one PC to another, export your Favorites as an HTML file to a USB pen-
drive. Portability of your browsing environment is one of the features of the Weave cloud computing
environment for Firefox (Arstechnica, 2008).

Collaborative Editing
Collaborative editing is one of the applications of social networking. A Wiki (e.g. Twiki) lets
multiple authors organise and edit shared documents. The principal of “many eyeballs” says that the
best way to debug a computer program is to make it open-source, using a revision control program
like CVS or GIT to support collaboration. The same principle applies to Wikis, notably Wikipedia,
the online encyclopaedia. To edit office documents online, as sole author, or in collaboration, use an
online word processor such as Zoho Writer (Guardian, 2006) or Google Docs. Calendars and
appointment books require collaboration; as provided by the Scalix (Guardian, 2006) and Chandler
(Glazner, 2006) open-source software or by Microsoft Exchange.

Spam in Email, Blogs and Social Networks

If you use email, you are already aware of spam (unsolicited email), and of comment spam, if
you host a blog. A blogger can choose to moderate comments, or to set up a spam filter. Social
networking has similar problems, unsolicited instant messages or friendship requests, perhaps
generated by an automatic program. Anti-spam software filters messages using statistical methods to
analyse their content. It is already enabled in most email and webmail services. It is statistical, not
perfect, occasionally diverting important emails to your Spam folder.
New types of spam proliferate as new social networking features are invented. The personal
details that you publicise on a social network could be used by both advertisers and spammers to
customise their messages specifically for you. You should be wary of incoming social network
messages, which could direct you to web sites hosting malware. Spam is propagated to generate
links and clicks, the currency of the Internet, to promote products and for fraudulent aims. There are
even whole blogs and that consist solely of spam. It can be generated by Botnets (Acohido, 2008);
malware that uses the Internet to take over unprotected PCs. Being more interconnected makes your
PC more vulnerable to malware. Keeping your software up to date and installing anti virus and other
defensive software is a starting point for protecting your own PC, and the network in general.
The Internet attained its vitality by being open and unfiltered. There are differing opinions on
how its development will continue, as the volume of traffic increases and the use of filtering becomes
more prevalent. If the filtering is unreasonable, Internet users will find a way around it.

Information Overload
The large volume of social network traffic can become unmanageable for both the user and
the servers. For example the Twitter messaging service became unreliable in mid 2008 due to the
large volume of traffic generated. Social networking fatigue is the name given to the exhaustion felt
by some users in trying to keep up to date with their communications. If you maintain a blog for
example, it becomes almost compulsory to update it with new opinions every day, so that it is well
rated by search engines.

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Separating Work, Education and Leisure
Each new generation has its own preferences for online communications. Universities
(Lombardi, 2007) and companies (Shiels, 2008) need to adapt their communications services to let
students and employees become more engaged with their work. A Gartner survey (Shiels, 2008)
found that 38% of PC users connect to social networks, and concluded that businesses are missing a
huge opportunity to harness how their employees use the Internet. Some companies use employee
blogging as an effective way of communicating with their customers. You have the right to express
your opinions, but it is possible to get fired for blogging about work (Wen, 2005).
You are free to experiment with social networking at home, but there may be restrictions on
your use of the Internet at work or on campus. All organisations have sensitive information of one
form or another that they are required to protect. They may operate Virtual Private Networks
(VPN), and encryption protocols such as IPSec, so that they can use the Internet as a medium for
private communications between authorised participants. They might forbid use of free webmail
services for business related email. Peer-to-peer is very popular and efficient, yet it is often banned at
work because it could be used for non work related content, or for illegal file sharing. Employers
need to ensure that their networks are used legally and for the benefit of their business.
It is human nature to initiate change and strive for progress. If there is a social networking
feature that you find invaluable at home, then why not negotiate for a similar feature to be provided
at work. Rules can be changed to adapt to advances in Internet technology. The U.S. SEC is
changing its regulations, to permit companies to use the Web for public disclosure of information,
perhaps using blogs, multimedia and some social networking features (McCullagh, 2008).

Integration of Social Networking Software

If you are on MySpace, Friendster and Facebook, it will be difficult to keep up with your
messages, and you may need an integration program like FriendFeed or Pownce. You can add extra
services for entertainment or productivity. Try “Blog It” for Facebook to post to multiple blogs and
notify your friends of the update. Use Mento to merge Facebook, Friendfeed and other services into
a single interface. Use www.sproutbuilder.com or www.profilactic.com to create your own mash-up
by combining two or more Internet services.
If the advertisements annoy you, you can remove them. The CustomizeGoogle add-on for
Firefox hides the in-page adverts in Google's Gmail. The web browser Maxthon, an extension for
Internet Explorer, blocks all adverts and pop-up windows.
The web browser, Flock, is designed to coordinate your online communications. The Flock
menu links you to a selection of social networks. If you use the Firefox browser, you can obtain
similar functionality by adding on “Yoono” or “My Social 24x7”. Friendfeed is a web site that
integrates messages from your various social networks. Instant messaging is one means by which a
social network can expand its user base, and hence its advertising revenue. Meebo (McCarthy, 2008)
with 54 million users of IM, are launching their “Community IM” service, which will notify a user
when a friend logs in to a partner service. The Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP),
as used for Jabber IM and soon Facebook IM, permits the integration of IM across multiple services.
Social networks will need to link with their partner sites to stay competitive with blogs.
Everyone on the Internet can interact with your blog. Only members or members of partner networks
can interact with you on the social network. The Open Data Definition (OpenDD.net) is available as
a standard for the exchange of user data between partner social networks.

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Comments on Password Management
As you register with more online services you will accumulate more usernames and
passwords. Password management is beyond the scope of this article. It is important enough that you
should seek advice from qualified sources. If you are on campus or at work, your ICT (Information
and Communications Technology) department should be your first contact for ICT advice and policy.
Password management programs are available as shareware and open-source software, but they
would need to be qualified individually for your computing environment. There are a variety of risks
that could result in loss of your passwords and loss of access to services. Your passwords might not
be protected in all circumstances. The Information Card Foundation and the OpenID initiative offer
alternatives to current password practices (Stross, 2008).

The Power of Open Standards

In the 1980's I used a character-based terminal to program a DEC VAX minicomputer. When
I asked to use a PC instead, my request was declined. With good reason; I worked for a company
that manufactured character-based terminals. IBM had just released the specifications of its PC, so
that anyone could design one. DEC was still relying on sales of their outdated VAX minicomputer.
Eventually DEC built the Rainbow PC, but it was too late. Digital Equipment Corporation
disappeared and the IBM PC became ubiquitous. I moved on to a new job, where I began using a
PC. This example shows the power of open standards to defeat an established company like DEC
and, in this case, to start the Personal Computing revolution. For a brief analysis of “DEC’s Final
Demise”, I refer you to the Forbes.com article (Malone, 2000).
The PC revolution gave people their own computers, instead of depending on a central
mainframe or minicomputer. They could edit documents or program spreadsheets on their desktop.
Office PCs were connected by Local Area Networks using proprietary LAN protocols from
Microsoft and Novell. These proprietary protocols disappeared, due to the overwhelming success of
the Internet protocols that were defined by open standards and connected computers globally.
Ethernet is the open standard for the lower layers of LAN and Internet communications. It
was part of the Personal Computing revolution, providing Local Area Networking among office
PCs. Drivers for most Ethernet cards are available as open-source, enabling use of Linux on the
desktop. Ethernet continues to advance in speed and range, displacing competing protocols like
Frame Relay.

Drawbacks of Social Networking

Social networking requires you to invest time and effort. At first there will be nothing to use
it for, unless you have friends who are active users. When you post online, it is naturally at some cost
to your privacy, but the risks can be minimised with a few basic precautions.
It might be discouraged in your workplace because it could be detrimental to your
productivity, or you could use it for inappropriate activities. However, well motivated people will
find ways to use Web 2.0 services, or even office stationery, for the benefit of their enterprise.
Social networks have terms of service that are not compatible with IT policies, and which
claim extensive rights over your messages, photographs and other data. Like any additional software
package, it is a potential path for malware to access your PC. Some features, e.g. photo albums,
require Active-X, which is not supported in all PC environments. Using social networking or instant
messaging puts extra traffic on the corporate network. Sharing of video files is part of the social
networking experience, but that requires a high data rate which many PC networks do not have the
capacity to handle. Many of the servers are based in the USA, so service will be slower for the rest
of the world.
Captchas (distorted pictures of words), are an intentional inconvenience for validation of
activations, such as adding a friend. They serve to block abusive automated scripts and anyone with
the audacity to have poor eyesight. One free Captcha service (reCAPTCHA.net) provides an audio
challenge, so that it is accessible to blind users, and helps digitize old books.

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Enron, Eggs and Ethics
The financial scandal at Enron Corporation (Blodget, 2005) prompted the U.S. Government
to enforce stricter regulatory requirements on public companies. Enron employees lost their life
savings because they had invested most of their 401(k) retirement fund in Enron stock.
There are two relevant lessons here. Firstly, that there will be constant change in the
regulations that govern what you do at work, and that includes your use of the Internet. In the U.S.,
IT managers are required to be compliant with SOX, HIPAA and FISMA regulations. Secondly,
diversification is an important strategy for investing your savings, and also for the way in which you
use the Internet. If you spend a lot of time online, then spend some of that time investigating new
tools for communicating, and in exploring alternative personal attitudes to openness and privacy that
could make your communications more effective and safer.
The ethical controversy (Brooke, 2005) that led stem cell researcher, Hwang Woo Suk, to
resign from South Korea's new research laboratory in 2005 encompassed many ethical issues. One of
these is relatively minor; the use of false names by egg donors, but it was an action that enabled a
breach of medical ethics, donation of eggs by members of the research team. Social networking is
not as critical as medical research, but there are clearly some situations, online and offline, where it is
necessary to give your real name.

This essay is a survey of opinions, drawn together to determine the value of openness in
digital communications. I discussed the trend to share online, as shown by the popularity of social
networking and file sharing, especially among young people. Hopefully, I introduced you to a social
network that you didn't “stumble upon” before. I did not have time to discuss mobile phones, which
are important in social networking, due to their popularity and capabilities.
Openness in communications is declared at several levels, ranging from the protocol
specifications of the Internet, to the goals of Internet companies to connect people and make
information universally accessible (Lashinsky, 2007). The Cluetrain Manifesto of 1999 is a specific
definition of the modern appetite for open communications, and it is even more relevant today with
the popularity of social networking. It both observes and recommends: communications as
networking, and marketing as conversation. I gave viral marketing as an example of successful
marketing communications that is in conformance to the Cluetrain Manifesto.
Cloud computing is both a general term for almost any distributed system, and specific type
of data processing product. I use the general meaning for the purpose of discussion. I did not
expand on cloud computing as specific products, except by referring you to a couple of brief online
articles that discuss business potential, and security risks. Social networks are built on Web 2.0
protocols. Web 2.0 is a mechanism for “cloud computing” in the general sense of the term, an enabler
of distributed services.
A social network provides communications among its members and members of partner sites.
I pointed out two risks of social networking; accidental release of private data, and identity theft.
Different networks have different cultures of anonymity; Facebook users are expected to give their
real name, and Maxi users rarely do. There is a cultural gap between people who are comfortable
with sharing information, and people who desire their privacy. It is self explanatory that social
networking will be more useful if you are comfortable in sharing aspects of your life online.
Setting up your own blog is not difficult, if you choose standard template. A blog is open for
anyone to browse and leave comments, not restricted to members only, like a social network. Blogs
provide some of the features of social networking e.g., photo sharing and friend networks.
Sharing does exist in corporations, but it is called collaboration or marketing, is
departmentalised and costs a lot to manage. Secure channels such as Virtual Private Networking are
the opposite of social networking, yet they are required for sensitive business communications.
Social networks are free, usually sponsored by in-page advertising. They may also claim extensive
rights over your data. Social network providers and business users need to relax their regulations, if
they are to bridge their incompatible data processing obligations.

Use the Cloud to Get a Clue Page 9

If you work for a company or study at a university, you may experience resistance to your
passion for social networking or peer-to-peer software. You should not be too pessimistic, as there
are many instances of one technology succeeding where another has failed. Network capacity will
not be an obstacle to peer-to-peer usage in the long term, as computing power grows exponentially,
and routers and switches become more intelligent in managing their traffic.
The obstacles to Internet applications are more legal than technical. Each enterprise needs to
find the right balance between respecting the freedom of its personnel and respecting the copyrights
of shared media files. The Internet is a hosepipe feeding you vast quantities of information, and Web
2.0 tools help you digest it in a timely manner. The suitability and efficiency of web technology
encourages regulators to permit its use, even where it was previously forbidden e.g. for public
disclosures by U.S. public companies (McCullagh 2008).
The given examples show that standards, conversations and companies based on openness
succeed. Of course, there are many variables and events that determine success or failure, and there
are counter examples of successful companies based on proprietary standards. Openness is more an
act of faith than a scientific law. In the realm of technology, it gives consumers a choice of products
and enables competing products to communicate. “Openness is necessary” defines the Internet, email
and the Web, so it is no less of a “law” than Moore's law which defines the progress in the
performance of integrated circuits and of the gadgets that use them.
Successful Internet companies have stated that openness is part of their corporate mission
e.g. Facebook (Farber, 2008) and Six Apart (Dash, 2007). The worldwide success of open protocols
like the Internet and of the open-source software, which runs most of its servers, is evidence to back
them up. By linking friend to friend, the spread of a social network is viral. It will link more
successfully, if it uses open standards to interface to other services. A diversity of social networks is
needed to match the diversity of people who need to communicate.

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Editorial History

Use the Cloud to Get a Clue Page 14

Edited by Colin McAllister, 24 August 2008.

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