Exsting implementations which deserve a higher mindshare

Add me as a friend on

If you read this blog, I’d like to encourage you to add me as a friend on It’s really the only social networking site I can be bothered to spend time with. Why manage friends on LinkedIn, Friendster, Orkut,, or indeed any social networking site while the world is still in desperate need of social and political change? allows you to meet people, but you meet them around specific causes you support, rather than because of their professional background or taste in music.

The site still needs to expand to become fully international in scope, but it’s already doing a great job tracking some of the most important global issues just weeks after its launch. You can find me, of course, through my pet cause number one: free educational content.

Deb A Day is Back!

I hadn’t realized that Deb A Day is back online. Now run by multiple authors, this blog features cool open source packages with detailed descriptions. All the packages can be trivially installed using Debian’s brilliant package management system. But whether you’re a Debian/Ubuntu user or not, you’re likely to discover some new tools reading this blog. I already found three which I’m likely to keep around:

  • Qalculate – a desktop calculator with autocompletion, history, and plenty of built-in unit converters (including currency conversion using Internet data).
  • Zim – a desktop wiki and outliner. I previously used Tomboy. Zim appears to be a little bit cooler in that it supports namespaces (which can be used to build a document tree, and export selected branches) and comes with a calendar plug-in which makes it easier to manage daily to-dos in parallel with global pages. At least that’s the theory — I’ll see how it works out.
  • htop – just a neat replacement for your run of the mill command line process manager. There’s probably hundreds of these replacements for common Unix tools out there. I wish distributors would start making the cooler versions the default.

The value of Deb A Day also demonstrates that we need better open source knowledge bases. Wikipedia is pretty good (the free software portal is an excellent index to tools for various purposes), though the deletionists sometimes aggressively remove “non-notable” applications (I had to fight to rescue poor Pingus from deletion). Pakanto could become a good source for vendor-neutral freely licensed package descriptions. And is good to find highly rated or popular tools in a particular category. But what’s missing is a database of in-depth reviews and tips, one which (like Deb A Day) highlights interesting new projects or little known old ones. For now, this nice little blog will have to do.

Jamendo – (More or Less) Free Music

When I discover something great, new on the web that has been around for a while, I always feel this weird combination of pleasure and shock. First: “Wow, this is great!” Then: “Why did I not find out about this sooner?! Damnit, I’m supposed to know this stuff!” (Occasionally followed by: “I should blog about this!” 😉

Jamendo is an example. It’s a multilingual web 2.0 style music-sharing community with an emphasis on copyright licenses which are at least free as in beer. Some are also free as in speech. You can browse the available music by genre and license, and download or stream the tracks you want. BitTorrent is supported, though I haven’t seen any mega-size torrents yet (it would be neat to download an entire genre). It’s got everything else you could want: RSS feeds, discussion & review boards for each album, prominent donation links, cover images ..

The reason I hadn’t heard about is that its largest community is French-speaking. But Jamendo is multilingual, so it seems only a matter of time until the other languages catch up. The site seems to be a bit buggy at times, but reloading usually does the trick for me. Now I’ve got lots of new music to explore ..

Social social networks

The web 2.0 hype is beginning to make an impact in the political and activist sphere. Two examples are and is the capitalist’s approach to changing the world, relying on markets and information to make all the difference. Here, people gather to rate the impact of a company’s actions on the world. It’s an interesting approach and may work well in some cases. Then you have examples like Philip Morris getting a positive impact rating for a $50K charity project in Vietnam. Given that their core business is to kill people by selling addictive substances, I wonder whether the “let’s reward them when they do good and punish them when they do evil” approach is really applicable to all companies. Market forces also make little difference when we’re not talking about domestically mass-marketed products but, say, the international trade in land mines. At some point, the discussion needs to go to another level, political regulation and control.

With itself being a for-profit, we also have to wonder how they will behave if they do become successful, and how susceptible the whole thing is to PR. That said, it’s certainly an innovative platform, and I wish them well. The market principle is complemented nicely by, a navigation tool for finding ways to make a difference — and connecting people with NGOs which are already working to do so. In true web 2.0 style, the page opens with a tagcloud, but one which is actually useful, showing the issues most people care about. For each issue, there’s a page which allows people to post blogs, videos, images — and importantly, links to relevant organizations and networks. I’m not seeing any style features, which could make things even more exciting.

The whole thing seems pretty well thought out, with a clean UI that makes the gimmicks unobtrusive. The software itself does not appear to be open source, nor do I find any information about the organization that runs the project. But they support donations through and get their NGO list from GuideStar, so they seem to know what they’re doing.

These are some very important first experiments, and I think things will get very interesting soon. Once we have a good idea what works and what doesn’t, open source components to replicate the success models won’t be far off, no matter what the originators do. There are two areas where similar experimentation has yet to happen on a large scale: direct democracy, and distributed fundraising.

Tagged Planet aggregators rock

Planet aggregators are pretty cool, but many of them are “polluted” by blog posts that have nothing to do with the subject. If I subscribe to a MySQL or Apache feed, I don’t want to read about what the MySQL or Apache devs are having for breakfast. Planet Maemo is an example of an aggregator that works well. It still has the occasional off-topic posts, but thanks to tag-specific feeds, many of the aggregated sources are filtered. It’s a truly powerful way to keep up to date with the devs, while still allowing them room for individual expression.

I guess it’s time for me to start lobbying for a Wikimedia planet aggregator. The additional issue here is language — perhaps we need one for each language, unless there’s an aggregator software that supports multilinguality.

Blasphemy Challenge

The Blasphemy Challenge is one of many interesting uses of Youtube’s video reply functionality. A bit silly, it challenges viewers to upload their own videos where they “deny the Holy Spirit,” an unforgivable sin according to the New Testament. Up to 1,000 responders will get a free DVD of the documentary The God Who Wasn’t There.

This kind of decentralized collaboration will become really interesting when people can actually start to, well, collaborate: i.e., turn many small snippets of video into a documentary. Even now, it’s an interesting display of the new media culture that is arising on the Net.

Faking File Sharing Evidence

The Swedes have come up with a neat tool that can be used to generate fake screenshots showing the use of file sharing software to distribute illegal files from a particular IP address. What’s the point? Screenshots like this have been used in court as evidence of illegal file sharing. This kind of tool can help to throw out such as “evidence” as inadmissible.

Literate Programs

A very interesting new wiki project: Literate Programs. Source code is posted directly to the wiki and can be commented and edited by the community. An extension allows downloading all the relevant source files in an archive. Syntax highlighting for various programming languages is supported. This could become pretty big, I think.

Website Time Lapse

The history of AltaVista, Yahoo! and Google visualized as GIF animations. Would be even cooler with a slider.

Losing fat for charity

Either webcomics artists are an unusually innovative bunch, or I’m reading too much of their work. 😉 In any case, on the heels of OhNoRobot, Biggest Webcomic Loser is another very interesting (and somewhat bizarre) project coming from the comics community. Overweight comics artists have decided to join forces to lose money and raise fat for charity. Er, sorry, the other way around. It works like this:

  • Each artist defines a personal weight goal.
  • The site is updated regularly with new comics from the artists who have signed up for the project.
  • Visitors can choose to pledge financial support to UNICEF on a per-lbs basis (apparently they’re not innovative enough to use the metric system).
  • The financial support per-lbs is indicated next to each comic.

The total amount of pledged money for all comics is already at over $5K, and given that it’s only been running for a few weeks, it seems like it could go much higher. Once any artist has reached their weight loss goal, those who have pledged to support “them” (i.e. UNICEF) will be reminded to make a donation.

The one thing I would change is to try to pick a general theme for the comics to follow — otherwise they tend to focus on the idea itself, which might not be the best way to attract readers who do not have the same, er, problem.

It’s a bit strange to tie this specifically to the webcomics community, but it has the advantage of providing interesting new content (comics) every day. I wonder if something similar might work for blogs. See Pledgebank for a very cool generic pledging system.