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Ring! Ring! Hot News, 3rd February 2009

In Today’s Issue: Facebook builds giant base in extinct volcano, denies planning for “world domination”; is hidden or overt surveillance more worrying? epic fail at Google; scheme to detect non-neutrality; RIAA tickles Eircom’s tummy, offers biscuit; all the Carter report that’s fit to print; Vodafone buys a map; 11 innovative applications, no money; Fring+last.fm=bandwidth hog; Kenyan voice-web integration; voice-command line memories of the Blair administration; perhaps time for a more intelligent intelligent network; WiMAX base stations run Linux; Nortel bails from mobile WiMAX; $9bn for US broadband; Renesys on the BGP routing costs of freedom

It’s coming: Facebook promises to make some money. This year. Real soon now. And, inevitably, it’s going to do this by selling its huge social-graph data pile to advertisers. It’s not clear whether this is going to be a Google Ads-style exercise - matching adverts to topics or groups of people - but Mark Zuckerberg’s remarks up in Davos suggest that they may be more interested in market research/business intelligence rather than advertising.

It’s a major theme of the times that the distinction between these fields is disappearing; an interesting question will be whether Facebook users are more or less tolerant of this because they can’t see it. After all, if the data is being used for market research purposes, Facebook might be able to extract significant revenue from it without actually having to annoy its users with ads; but then, it’s possible that the idea of being spied upon would actually be more offensive if the spying was invisible…

Anyway, they’re taking action on the CDR. Are you? You’ll need to be careful though; look what happened on Saturday afternoon. Google managed to mark literally all search results as “likely to harm your computer” for some 55 minutes after someone typed an extra / into a configuration file, thus accidentally creating a new address space containing literally everything, and then the intended blacklist. Doh!

Which is a pity, really; it happened the week Google joined an effort by various academic researchers and general-purpose do-gooders to detect discriminatory DPI deviationism deep down in the world’s ISPs and drop them directly in the doo-doo. The concisely named Measurement Lab will establish well-connected test machines all over the world in order to take lots of very accurate latency measurements, and then see if any sources of content are being systematically favoured or disfavoured.

Eircom can probably expect to be scrutinised early on: they agreed to implement “three strikes” against their users if the record industry asks them to, just after the UK government ruled it out. We predict sudden growth in VPN traffic across the border, but the UK is still blowing hot and cold about this; Lord Carter’s Digital Britain report promised to set up a “Rights Agency” to “inform and educate” users about copyright. Whatever that means. He’s also promising to make ISPs spy on BitTorrent users and “notify” them, but not apparently to do anything.

TelecomTV isn’t happy at the lack of any discussion of neutrality in his report; in fact, what with the general floppiness of the report, with its exciting target of 2Mbits broadband (woo!), you’d be pressed to find anyone who’s happy with it; a rundown of problems is here. The record industry and the surveillance lobby in general won’t find it punitive enough, telcos other than BT are facing the possibility of an inconvenient public service obligation, Carter’s view of users, businesses, and developers is summed up by the fact he wants “households” to “receive broadband” as if it was analogue TV and this was 1970, BT is neither getting rid of obligations nor getting funding for fibre….

All in all, it’s a classic example of the quote attributed to Sir Jeremy Greenstock: “What are we going to do? Ah, the D-word…” So far, although they are doing nothing, at least they aren’t doing anything actively evil. They have, however, decided to make the mobile networks very happy; it’s possible that 3G licences will not expire but instead be perpetual, and 900MHz refarming is right back on the agenda. All very good news for the Original Two GSM networks, not so good for 3UK; he also wants to encourage infrastructure sharing, but then, 3 and T-Mobile UK already did that.

Meanwhile, Vodafone buys a sat-nav software firm; as the report says, it’s hard to make money from maps when Google Maps Mobile is free, so it better be good. But then, a significant and growing chunk of the target market will have Nokia Maps 2 and GPS - and a lot of that is free as well. Our tip - get Wayfinder to hack up an interface for user-generated map overlays, like Google did for Maps and Earth, and then everyone else copied. At the moment, Google Maps Mobile doesn’t support any of the wonderful UGC capabilities of the non-mobile version, let alone its powerful KML and GeoRSS features; Nokia Maps, cracking product that it is, doesn’t do user-created overlays or underlays either.

After all, the whole buzzfest about mapping the Internet onto the fabric of the city is all about user-generated content; no-one seriously imagines that the Ordnance Survey, perhaps the world’s most clue-deficient mapping agency, or Rand McNally, or some other wholesale content deal will be able to tell you where you can dance with a transvestite robot to baile funk/Sigur Ros mashups. Isn’t that what we all want from location-based services? Personally, I think of it as dogware - it’s essentially simulating the experience of being a dog sniffing a lamppost.

The other thing about UGC is that, dammit, it’s cheap; something which Nokia’s 11 innovative apps could well do with. As The Register so rightly says, none of them have anything approaching a business model.

Meanwhile, Fring hooks up with annoyingly hip music site last.fm so you can bother your friends on the well-known mobile SIP network with broadcasts of whatever you’re listening to right now. Surely, if the music actually comes from last.fm (or hopefully, their CDN), it would be more sensible just to send your friends a SIP message with a link rather than restreaming the actual music? Stop the bandwidth insanity! Mind you, we know Fring and they have a clue, so there’s a reasonable chance that’s what they’re doing under the bonnet.

Getting away from the media-hipster twaddle, the voice-web integration stakes crank up again; Nairobi University is working on some interesting projects with text-to-speech, speech-to-text, the Web and SMS. We blogged about Me2Me, and we’ve noted IBM’s Indian research lab’s work on voice Web browsing before; this project is all about the visually impaired, but like IBM’s, it could also help the illiterate.

Either way, though, voice-web integration is an emerging hot spot. Interestingly, there is some limited experience with this stuff to go on - several carriers, notably Sprint and Orange UK, launched voice-command products back in the .com boom. Although none of them hit it big, they both succeeded at (as they say) creating passionate users - so, naturally enough, the telcos involved both shuttered the service as soon as times got tough.

As Alan Quayle points out, everyone’s IN systems installed back then are coming to their end-of-life together, so it’s a great time to look at exactly this kind of service. (Alan also has a good point about iPhone apps and open application/service development more broadly - they let you get at everyone else’s customers.)

Of course, the temptation to forget about that and just do it with Asterisk is strong…even if your project is a WiMAX base station. As Nortel bails out of Mobile WiMAX, their rivals are building their base stations on Linux.

After all, there’s no chance of a big order for - say - a rural hybrid fibre-wireless deployment coming along, is there? Whoops. Here comes the stimulus bill, with as much as $9bn for broadband, defined as 15Mbps up/45 down. The FCC is asked to rule on what constitutes open access within 45 days; talk about the devil in the detail.

Finally, when Renesys blogs it’s usually worth reading; here, there’s an interesting discussion of their presentation at NANOG-45. A small number of emerging market ISPs account for the bulk of instability in the Internet Routing Table; but is this a problem, or simply the cost of freedom? After all, even if they annoy Tier-1 network administrators, they are getting the Internet to places where the Tier-1s will never go. And further, the whole point of BGP is to make it possible for the Internet to (sigh) “route around damage” - isn’t this a sign that they just have a harder job?

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This article describes how some companies are already analyzing social network discussions for market research. No doubt there is more such research taking place than is being publicized.

I don't see how market research revenue alone could justify Facebook's stock market valuation.

Regarding the Digital Britain report it is worthwhile reading carefully action 13.

"to legislate, requiring ISPs to notify alleged infringers of rights (subject to reasonable levels of proof from rights-holders) that their conduct is unlawful"

The requirement on ISPs to notify customers has been well publicised, but it is worth noting the trigger for this. Rights holders have to provide reasonable levels of proof of infringement.

This is the old "notice and takedown" model that was developed by the IWF working with the ISPs many years ago.

The modern wrinkle is that ISPs always successfully argued that they couldn't be proactive because they didn't read the packets. Now that many are doing DPI, that argument doesn't hold.

If you are reading the packets for your own reasons, it becomes much harder to argue that you shouldn't have to flag up any unlawful activity you come across in the process...

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