Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales Threatens To Encrypt Wikipedia

Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales threatened to encrypt traffic to the UK if new tracking laws are implemented:

But if we find that UK ISPs are mandated to keep track of every single web page that you read on Wikipedia, I’m almost certain – err, I shouldn’t speak for our technical staff – we would immediately move to a default of encrypting all our connections in the UK.

Truthfully, we’re going that way anyway. It’s only a matter of time before all websites will be moving to HTTPS for the sake of implementing SPDY or whatever succeeds it. I don’t see a non-secure standard taking hold any longer. Security is no longer considered a bonus, it’s a requirement. Facebook does it by default now, Twitter does it by default now, WordPress.com does it by default now (for SPDY). It’s not just personal communications. Lots of non-personal data is going over HTTPS now. The trend will keep accelerating. It’s no longer as cost prohibitive to implement. Don’t be shocked if this entire blog is HTTPS only in the not too distant future.

The Rise Of Open Data

There’s lots of talk about open source software in use all over the place. Linux runs everything from servers to cell phones. You can find it powering the entertainment system on your next flight. You can find it anywhere you use technology.

We talk much less about open data, but it’s equally interesting. The first and most prominent source is of course Wikipedia which is of course one of the largest sites on the Internet by most metrics. It’s data is widely used in many applications from being accessible on the Kindle to priming Facebook and presumably Quora (I don’t think they have ever confirmed it) with pages. It’s been downloaded and analyzed many times. Even the edits have been scrutinized by researchers to learn how people interact with each other.

Lesser known is OpenStreetMap, a project that may eventually challenge the long dominant Google Maps. OSM is to maps what Wikipedia is (or was) to encyclopedias. It’s website is still a bit crude and if made better would likely encourage some usage from folks who are opposed to Google on privacy grounds. Even more interesting is that OSM’s data is pretty widely consumed. Apple appears to be starting to use it. as they look to break the dependency on Google, a competitor for maps. Laminar Research uses it to generate a “plausible world” (their words not mine) in X-Plane 10. Think about that, a simulator using real street map data to generate a world that looks in many ways like the real world. It’s amazing.

Data has been ignored for so long, it’s just starting to get recognition. It was partly ignored because processing data used to be expensive. Cheap computing means data can be created, stored, processed, sifted and sorted, save and sent quicker and more affordable than ever before. We’re still at the beginning of this revolution.

Open Video

Just the other day I was complaining that Ogg Theora/Vorbis hasn’t really proven itself and achieved market penetration to the point where people will still care about it in several years. My concern with less popular file formats is that data is lost forever if future computing can’t view it. Popularity, while it may not be fair does help encourage it. For example I can still open up old WordPerfect files easier than I can Professional Write files (trip down memory lane anyone?)

I’m thrilled to see a push for open video. Better encoders and decoders along with working with the Wikimedia Foundation (Wikipedia’s use of Theora can be very influential) will hopefully provide a boost for these formats which tends to be a cyclical trend once it gains momentum.

Wikipedia’s Multimedia Push

Wikipedia is gearing up for a bigger multimedia push. It’s text based data is rather solid as the world knows, but media wise it’s most photos and even in that respect isn’t as well covered as it could be.

An even bigger concern is what format should this all be stored in so that this data is still relevant and useful in 10 years or more. I don’t see a problem with reading JPEG, MPEG2, MPEG4, MP3, in the next 10 years though I do wonder if some of the lesser known formats might disappear from computing. While I like Ogg Vorbis, it hasn’t really proven itself in my mind that it can penetrate and achieve enough market share for people to care about it in several years. VP6 (used in Flash prior to H.264) will likely be available assuming On2 Technologies is still around or the patent expired (no idea when that is).

One thing that strikes me is that it would really be ideal for it to partner with Internet Archive. They have already started the efforts to document and digitalize lots of media. While Internet Archive’s main goal is to archive, while Wikipedia is to “freely share in the sum of all knowledge”, it seems that there is still significant common ground.

That said, as the Internet itself becomes the record for many things in Wikipedia, the Internet Archive’s WayBackMachine may also become a relevant common ground.

Open Source And Recessions

There’s an interesting blog post on Open Source and recessions worth reading. Essentially the question is this: Does a recession have a negative impact on open source?

I’d say the answer is somewhat more complex than a simple yes/no. There are many different types of projects out there with entirely different circumstances. However I suspect a projects impact could be gaged on a few key aspects of it’s operation:

Purpose – The purpose of the project is likely the most critical aspect. For example, I don’t think there would be any significant impact on projects like the Linux kernel which is essential to many products out there including server infrastructure that powers much of the web and many companies computer systems. Then you have consumer products like TiVo, Google Android etc. Because it’s purpose is so broad there are enough people with a financial interest in seeing development continue. WebKit, Mozilla, Apache, are good examples of this. They have broad usage by many. Something specific to a more obscure task would have more trouble due to it’s more limited market.

Development Team – Of course for a project to succeed it needs one or more developers. During a recession one could theorize that many would be less inclined to participate. This may not necessarily so. First of all, quite a bit of open source development is loosely sponsored. Several projects have actual staff, paid employees who write open source code. For example Apple employees people to work on WebKit. Mozilla has staff working on Firefox. There are people paid to work on Linux (Red Hat, IBM, Novell, etc.) and many other open source projects. There are also companies who contribute some code that would be of strategic value to them. There’s also those who are simply willing to sponsor some work they want to see happen. All of which fund developers of larger open source projects. But would developers who aren’t sponsored or employed to code still participate? I theorize most still would as they don’t depend on it for income during good times, presumably a job during a recession wouldn’t generally prohibit participation and more than a job during years of economic growth. There’s also the impact of college students who participate partially for the educational aspect. The early 2000’s was a recession and still showed a fair amount of growth of open source. In fact many of todays stars really started to take shape during that period. For example:

Funding – Somewhat obvious: Funding is key. Who pays the developers (partially the last aspect I discussed)? Who pays for the projects needs (servers, etc.)? Many of the more popular projects (almost all of the above) have either an organization of for-profit company around built around it. That company often sponsors the needs of the project. Unless the needs of that companies product/service is no longer needed during the recession, funding likely remains. That’s partially the first aspect I discussed.

It’s my belief the larger and more popular open source projects would feel a minimal impact during a recession. I think history has shown this, and common sense agrees. They are mostly low development cost, adequately funded (often from diverse sources), stable, and have a broad team of developers. The projects that are in trouble are the ones who have very few or only 1 developer, even worse if they share the same sponsor, even worse if there is little community around the project. Most projects would generally experience a slight slowdown in development the degree would depend on the above. A few may go dormant for a period of time. Thanks to things like GPL licensing, another developer can pick up should there be a market in the open source ecosystem.

Overall I don’t think open source would be nearly as impacted as most businesses during a recession. The model is very different. Open source when successful has a community and many different sponsors. The diversity allows the project to survive even when recession causes some sponsors to need to reduce or eliminate involvement. Open Source also by definition is used to this type of environment. It’s used to developing on a budget, soliciting sponsors to help cover costs, etc.

The interesting thing about recession is that it impacts everyone, but the degree to which someone is impacted varies. For example construction and housing are generally harder hit than other industries. People tend to cut back on new home purchases before they cut back on other things. Each of those industries has computing needs, sometimes met by open source. This all feeds into the open source ecosystem.

I’d suggest that all of the projects I have mentioned here will do ok during a recession. Many with a slowdown, but all will still continue as long as they provide value. A notable situation is Mozilla’s income comes largely from Google which is based on ad revenue. During a recession and bubble bursting this would likely dramatically reduce the revenue brought in. This isn’t being ignored. As the 2006 Financial FAQ states:

First, the cash reserve is of course a form of insurance against the loss of income. We will continue to maintain enough of a reserve to allow us flexibility in making product decisions….

It seems that an open source project with a diverse stream of funding from individuals and companies of various industries, as well as developers in different situations is in the best position to survive.

It’s an interesting topic.

Underground bunker from 19xx

This is just a scary image. According to the caption it’s:

One of five underground bunkers built for the East German Foreign Intelligence Service.

Take a guess what year, then click on the image to see the original which has the date on it (I cropped and scaled this one).

German Command Center Scaled

According to Wikipedia, the image is a work of the US Government (and therefore in public domain) and is found on the CIA website.

Does anyone else think it looks about 30 years older than it actually is? Looks like 50’s-60’s to me. Yikes, that makes me feel old. Check out the awesome tech!

Wikipedia Surfing

Wilson WilsonHas anyone else noticed you can visit Wikipedia, view an article, and pretty much end up surfing on Wikipedia for hours? I’ve done this several times now. Just reading and “oh, that looks interesting [open in new tab]”, and by the time I read an article, 2+ new tabs are open. After a while I have a dozen things I want to read. It just goes on and on. A million +1 topics, a semi-coherent pattern, though still pretty random.

If I keep going at this rate, I’ll eventually be like Wilson (pictured right) from Home Improvement, rather than continue to have Tim Taylor like wisdom. Maybe that’s a good thing? I’m pretty sure it can’t hurt to read about various topics, at a minimum it’s mundane conversation ;-).

Did you know that France once awarded the Croix de Guerre to a Homing Pigeon? Before you laugh, keep in mind “he delivered 12 important messages, once despite being shot”.