Skip to main content
Peace in our Time - Not!

For Microsoft to suggest that AOL is a monopoly may appear absurd or indeed, the worst kind of hypocrisy but the argument as to whether AOL is as bad as Microsoft has been going on for some time.

Professor Lawrence Lessig, in his book, “Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace”, worried that the Internet might collapse into a handful of ‘walled gardens’, Portals dominated by the likes of Microsoft or AOL and to an extent, this is happening around us. Of course, no single interest can dominate the Internet but the content management and the middleware upon which it relies, is open to a kind of 21st century land grab.

For the end user, middleware is invisible, even irrelevant and content is everything. Witness the battle between the two companies over the future of Instant Messaging, the virtual presence of the future. Today, like me, you may use Hotmail’s Instant Messenger or AOL or ICQ to maintain an on-line relationship with a range of different people, something I have started to rely upon. I move in and out of conversations all day, with the editor of CW360, friends, my brother-in-law, the fabulous Pussycat-1, my pen friend and office colleagues. Very soon, that kind of relationship, courtesy of .Net and other similar technologies, will migrate to your smartphone and your television set. Even your email. Send an Outlook message, with a signature icon that let’s the other person know whether you are on-line or not. Don’t believe me? Visit and try it for yourself.

Now Microsoft is squabbling over AOL about content and whether the AOL/Time Warner media empire has an unfair advantage, which will exclude .NET from sites using AOL's Magic Carpet technology. The danger of course is exactly what Lessig predicted, a kind of splendid isolation for tomorrow’s Internet users. You’re either using our technology and our messenger and our content or you’re with them. You can’t have it both ways. You’re with us (as a valued customer) or you’re against us as one of their customers.

Personally, I think that this is a far greater worry for the future than the rather jaded debate over who is the biggest monopolist or baddest playground bully. Unless AOL and Microsoft can arrive at a compromise or even frigid coexistence, then the future is going to be an awkward one for everyone else. Nobody wants to live in a technological ‘Us or them’ future but sadly, that’ s the way it’s heading with all the promise and optimism of the Middle-east peace process.

If AOL and Microsoft can’t sit down and agree on a future, one which includes transparent competition and a borderless Internet, in every area, content, middleware, messaging, you name it, then Government may be forced to show them the way. Unfortunately, I don’t have much faith in anyone being large enough, determined or influential enough to broker a future, which will be in the best interests of the half billion or so Internet users out there.

But then, what else would you expect from a cynic like me?


Popular posts from this blog

Civilisational Data Mining

It’s a new expression I haven’t heard before. ‘Civilisational data mining.’

Let me start by putting it in some context. Every character, you or I have typed into the Google search engine or Facebook over the last decade, means something, to someone or perhaps ‘something,’ if it’s an algorithm.

In May 2014, journalists revealed that the United States National Security Agency, the NSA, was recording and archiving every single cell-phone conversation that took place in the Bahamas. In the process they managed to transform a significant proportion of a society’s day to day interactions into unstructured data; valuable information which can of course be analysed, correlated and transformed for whatever purpose the intelligence agency deems fit.

And today, I read that a GOP-hired data company in the United States has ‘leaked’ personal information, preferences and voting intentions on… wait for it… 198 million US citizens.

Within another decade or so, the cost of sequencing the human genome …

The Nature of Nurture?

Recently, I found myself in a fascinating four-way Twitter exchange, with Professor Adam Rutherford and two other science-minded friends The subject, frequently regarded as a delicate one, genetics and whether there could exist an unknown but contributory genetic factor(s) or influences in determining what we broadly understand or misunderstand as human intelligence.

I won’t discuss this subject in any great detail here, being completely unqualified to do so, but I’ll point you at the document we were discussing, and Rutherford’s excellent new book, ‘A Brief History of Everyone.”

What had sparked my own interest was the story of my own grandfather, Edmond Greville; unless you are an expert on the history of French cinema, you are unlikely to have ever hear of him but he still enjoys an almost cult-like following for his work, half a century after his death.

I've been enjoying the series "Genius" on National Geographic about the life of Albert Einstein. The four of us ha…
The Mandate of Heaven

eGov Monitor Version

“Parliament”, said my distinguished friend “has always leaked like a sieve”.

I’m researching the thorny issue of ‘Confidence in Public Sector Computing’ and we were discussing the dangers presented by the Internet. In his opinion, information security is an oxymoron, which has no place being discussed in a Parliament built upon the uninterrupted flow of information of every kind, from the politically sensitive to the most salacious and mundane.

With the threat of war hanging over us, I asked if MPs should be more aware of the risks that surround this new communications medium? More importantly, shouldn’t the same policies and precautions that any business might use to protect itself and its staff, be available to MPs?

What concerns me is that my well-respected friend mostly considers security in terms of guns, gates and guards. He now uses the Internet almost as much as he uses the telephone and the Fax machine and yet the growing collective t…