A good friend of mine once referred to their smartphone as an iPhone even if it was an Android phone. When I pointed out the “mistake”, this was the reply: ‘Don’t be so pedantic’.
It’s not that the person is stupid – far from it – or didn’t know what kind of phone they owned. It was just their way of referring to this new type of phone with the fancy, animated buttons, a ‘large’ screen and computer like behaviour (and so complicated that even Bjarne Stroustrup finds it too much – allegedly).
I guess there is nothing new here – the Danish word for ‘instant coffee’ is ‘Nescafe’. The French fought hard to regain ‘Champagne‘ (and leaving the Australians with the word ‘sparkling wine’), and similar for the Greeks who beat the Danes over the word ‘Feta‘. But as a consumer, it doesn’t really matter, even if the producers don’t like the association.
This is unfortunate not always the case for software products, as the strength of a brand can adversely impact our own choices.
A lot people still cannot associate a desktop or laptop with anything other than Windows. I like to read the odd article at techcrunch.com, but the comments section mandates a login to Facebook. For software, a strong brand can actually dramatically reduce our choice – e.g., equating a web login account to Facebook or smartphone to iPhone would not be a good thing. I, for one, would like to live in a world with more than Windows, Facebook and iPhones…
We (as in those of us involved with software development in its broadest sense) are not often, if ever, asked about the moral implications of ‘our’ software. Sure, most have heard of the privacy discussion about the information stored within browsers, the cloud or with other organisations. But morality rarely figures as part of the discussion.
It was about ten years ago, that I first encountered the talk of (mobile) software’s ability to track the user’s location and ‘contextualise’ the behaviour – e.g., display ads for the movie running at the cinema, that you happen to walk past. Foursquare, Google Latitude, and Facebook Places are three such services available today – albeit for other purposes, but stay tuned for that movie ad.
However, the privacy discussion is not just about privacy settings (easy or not). Damon Horowitz certainly asked some interesting questions about morality and technology in his recent TED presentation titled ‘moral operating system‘. It is akin to the discussions found in science about morality, e.g., hydrogen bomb; and the what if Weismann’s barrier is permeable – should we (still) apply gene therapy, if we also risk a heritable change to our DNA?
Developing software hasn’t so far been associated with these types of moral questions, but it seems that our technology has reached a critical mass where we might need to get used to discussing these. More isn’t just more . . .
The Great Experiment, a.k.a. The Internet, rolls on at ever greater speed – but I would like you to stop for a moment and think about the points below. There are some fundamental problems, that I believe needs addressing to avoid the experiment going bad. In no particular order:
Social Networks are fundamentally broken. To illustrate, imagine if emails only work within the same domain – e.g., you’d need a hotmail account to email hotmail users, and a gmail account to email Google users. The idea about email would become useless, yet, this is exactly how social networks work today. Users today ‘fix’ the problem by moving to the same the domain (i.e., Facebook) and thereby artificially inflating the perceived value of the network – in effect re-creating the web version of Microsoft’s Windows monopoly. I for one could do without another one of those monopoly. The truly scary scenario is when people start to see the Internet = Facebook (or any other company – shiver). There is a good cover story on IEEE Spectrum about Diaspora – four New York guys working towards an Internet not dominated by a single company. Continue reading