[iDC] Replacing Facebook

six/michael silberman six.silberman at gmail.com
Thu May 27 05:55:20 UTC 2010

Patrick Anderson wrote:
> I wonder how we will share the hardware needed to host those kinds of
> Free Software...
> I can't seem to find any discussion of that difficult step.
> I have some ideas about how to approach the problem, but don't know if
> this is an appropriate forum for such a discussion?
> Even more aggressively I want to talk about how we, the users, can own
> and control the entire physical layer to become a Free as in Freedom
> ISP and cell-phone services, etc.

Distributed resource allocation and service provision is a
long-running topic in computational support for "big science"
projects. This is not by any stretch of the imagination my area of
expertise, but I have heard of Miron Livny and the "high throughput
computing" people in his group at Univ. of Wisconsin. My guess is that
their work will suggest some approaches, if not necessarily offer
immediate and directly transferable solutions: chtc.cs.wisc.edu

I imagine (perhaps fantasize) that this (and other related-in-sprit
projects, like for example an open-source but at least somewhat
'user-friendly' -- this means that sup.rubyforge.org, while very good
for self-identified "nerds", does not count -- alternative to gmail,
which may present similar personal and cultural challenges as
Facebook, even if not immediately) could be a good project for some
academics in departments that are interested in examining the
intersection of "the technical" and "the social" (as if they were
separate!) by constructing working systems with "real" "users" (as
opposed to running lab studies with a few dozen undergrads, or
recruiting "subjects" through platforms like Amazon's Mechanical
Turk). The argument for this in what is apparently called
"experimental computer science" (again, not my expertise) has been
made, not coincidentally, by Livny and his collaborators. (I don't
have a canonical citation. I saw a talk once. I liked it. I'm sure you
can tell.)

In human-computer interaction ("my" "field" -- that is, I have
previously presented and hope to continue presenting papers at
conferences that self-identify as being concerned with "human-computer
interaction") there is something of a crisis: if [technical]
"innovation" no longer comes from academic or even industry research
but rather from people in garages and dorms who have never read
academic papers on human-computer interaction -- and that now much HCI
research consists in documenting and analyzing what happens on these
platforms constructed by our non-academic Others -- what is academic
HCI good for? One slowly emerging response to this is that HCI
academics can design *and maintain* systems that could not survive as
for-profit operations. Thus far these are small (e.g., onebusaway.org,
turkopticon.differenceengines.com -- disclosure: I am involved in the
second of these, and interested but not involved in the first)
compared to commercial and even nonprofit systems (e.g., craigslist,
openstreetmap.org, coactivate.org, and older projects like riseup.net)
but if this kind of activity becomes legitimate academic activity for
more academics in different disciplines (that is, as more academics in
different disciplines make the argument that it should be considered
legitimate academic activity), perhaps more cross-disciplinary
collaborations can be fostered and more fair options (as the crew
behind quitfacebookday.com call it) can be made for users (that is,
all of us -- as Wendy Chun and Alex Galloway and others have pointed
out, the aspiring programmer is first, and simultaneously, a user).

Apologies for the hurried and rambling post; hopefully it will be of
some use, if only to prompt critique from the better-informed.

six    wtf.tw

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