Posted by: Dirk | July 29, 2008

New nerdy stuff on the internet

Although this is not my field, I want to talk about new stuff related to the internet. First, there is a new service by Google called knol. It is a direct competitor to Wikipedia, presenting articles written by one specialist at a time. This should make for better quality. There is still choice, since more than one author can write on any one topic. However, the need for collaboration is absent. After all, the one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience (Harper Lee).

In other news, Google is attacked by a new outfit that has been started by former Googlers: Cuil. The search-engine has a bigger catalogue than Google itself and saves a lot of energy due to its black background. It collects less private information and seems to present itself as the nicer Google. Interesting.

The last topic is a new book by Jonathan Zittrain called The Future of the Internet. Of course, there is a corresponding blog. Science has a review, which I find quite revealing:

A prominent feature of his framing, repeated throughout the book, is the dichotomy between generative and sterile technologies. At the outset, Zittrain uses two technologies developed by Apple to illustrate this idea. First, he describes the Apple II personal computer as a “quintessentially generative technology” because it was a “platform,” it “invited people to tinker with it,” “Jobs (and Apple) had no clue how the machine would be used,” it was “designed for surprises,” and fortunately, nothing constrained the personal computer to the “hunches of the founders.” At the opposite extreme, he tells us, is the Apple iPhone, which is “sterile” because it “comes preprogrammed”; is not a platform for user innovation; its “functionality is locked in”; and only Apple-authorized innovation is permitted.

First, I think there should be a correction. By now, Apple allows third-party software to run on its iPhone (see here). Then, I cannot see how a specialized device like the iphone “comes preprogrammed”, whereas the Apple II (we used these in high-school back in the 90s) is “a platform for user innovation”. I think that my current Mac Mini is an even better platform (and I do not plan to replace it with an iPhone). The iPhone is itself an extension of a mobile phone. I would argue that an old-school mobile phone is more “preprogrammed” than an iPhone. From reading the review, I wonder whether Jonathan Zittrain is comparing Apple IIs with orange iPhones.


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