Monday, September 20, 2010

what I do

I started with Linux and Open source software around 1999, since then and till today I was amazed about the helpful community that form around different open source projects. In the early days, whenever I'd hit a bug or don't know how to do something, I'd jump over to IRC and someone was always there to help debug the problem! This just felt amazingly empowering, I remember thinking to myself, hell this is way much better than what you get with commercial software! In a few years, I transformed from being a passive user, into someone who tries to help IRC users every time someone has a problem. The culture of open source got me I guess. I started giving presentations at Universities, writing for local IT magazines for free to help spread what FOSS is all about. I always wanted to contribute much more to the free software world, however limited free time available was always an issue. Now that my day job is to work with and help grow the community around Ubuntu, I feel extremely excited and thankful for Canonical for giving me this opportunity.

Being the newest member of the "horsemen" team having joined a little over a month now, I feel like I haven't done enough yet. Nevertheless, I'd like to mention a few of the things that have been keeping me busy the past few weeks

  • The very first thing I had done with Canonical was to write the Ubuntu Server Map application. The idea behind it is to encourage and spur the community behind Ubuntu server. Basically the aim is to make Ubuntu server users feel part of a huge user community all over the world. What the application does is to detect the visitor user's city using his IP address after the user accepts (anonymous process) and then marks that city with a cute little orange Ubuntu logo. So far the Map is full of orange Ubuntu logos. It really feels great to be part of such a world wide community of Ubuntu server and cloud users and contributors

  • As part of helping the Ubuntu cloud community grow around open source cloud technologies, I have focused on consolidating any fragmented communication paths available. Thus far, the Ubuntu cloud community has the following #ubuntu-cloud as the official IRC channel for everything Ubuntu cloud related. And the recently created Ubuntu Cloud Forum as the official Ubuntu cloud forum. The Ubuntu Cloud mailing list is an alternate community communication venue as well

  • Recently I've been putting a lot of focus on creating a Ubuntu cloud portal, which aims to be a central hub for the Ubuntu cloud community. You can read all about the portal specs and give me feedback over IRC (kim0 in #ubuntu-cloud). The portal should provide a list of rolling news that relate to Ubuntu cloud, helping interested community members always be on top of all the new happenings. It also helps community new comers by becoming their one stop shop with links to all documentation and support channels. As well as guide new contributers on how to get involved

  • Something which I am thinking about and which will definitely take a lot of focus soon is studying potential hurdles in the way of new contributers to Ubuntu server and cloud. Basically how to make it easy and more fun for newcomers to join in, find all the information they need in place and start contributing and engaging with the community. Part of that is giving tutorials over IRC or other mediums as well as sponsorship and guidance along the way

It is definitely great being part of such a great community such as the Ubuntu one, and I hope the next period is going to be very exciting for the open source Cloud communities in general

Monday, September 6, 2010

Why our Internet2.0 is broken

The modern Internet which I'll refer to as Internet2.0 is being seen as a new applications platform. It is no longer a series of "pages" that you click through, it is rather a collection of applications. I just needed this intro in case you still thought of the Internet as pages. So the Internet is now the Operating System, and different web sites (Gmail, Facebook, Twitter...etc) are the new applications if you will. I've got news for you, this Internet2.0 thing, is horribly broken! Here is why

To begin understanding the kind of problems we have to go through using the online systems of today, let us apply the same online mechanisms, to standard old and boring desktop apps. Let's imagine the following workflow, You are 3 friends working on an important report, and you all share your progress online, each person via his blog

  • You login to your computer, you start your email application. You find your friend has edited the report, emailed you the new copy and blogged about his progress

  • You check your email, find the attachment, you download that

  • You must copy the attachment over a USB stick in order to be able to open it in any other application. You copy it to the USB stick

  • You open your word processor. You authenticate to it!

  • You plugin your USB stick, open the document, edit it, save it

  • Re-copy it to the USB stick

  • Re-open your email application, upload the attachment, send it

  • You visit your first friend's blog, you add a comment that you updated the report.

  • Your third friend is not notified of your comment

You get the idea. If that user experience sounds horrible, it is pretty similar to what we face today with web applications especially if you want to use different applications from different providers in concert. It is just plain broken. Here is my criticizm spot on

  • Why do I have to login separately to each and every web application (Google, Facebook, Zoho, Twitter, MS...)? On my Linux PC I don't have to go through that

  • Why do I have to teach each web application my social graph. Reconnect to all my friends on facebook, then twitter, then Google Buzz...? The connectivity between me and my friend belongs to us, it does not belong to Facebook. Any other app on the Internet which I allow to access this data, should be able to. It should not be held captive by the likes of Facebook

  • Assuming I love to use a email address (which I don't :) and like to use Google docs to edit my email attachments. Why do I have to download the attachment to my PC first, reupload to Google to edit, save, download, upload, email, yikes! The Unix architecture designed 10s of years ago, was all about sharing data between apps (pipes), why in this modern age are we unable to easily connect different webapps especially from different providers

  • When I write a comment on my friend's blog, the comment is MINE. I created it, I own it. My friend's blog maybe displaying it currently, but it should not own it! If my friends are interested in seeing my comments on every website I visit, and if I allow them to, they should be able to do so very easily. The 20 comments I've written today, should not die if the websites I have written them onto decide to die

  • The same actually goes for using online editors a la Google docs. Google should not "own" the document. The document is mine. It should be stored in a place I control. I may "Allow" Google web based editor to read/write it now, because I "choose" to. Because it maybe the best editor around. Not because I have to, and not because I need to "migrate" my data off of Google should I want to use something else. If I decide to use Zoho editor tomorrow, I should be able to allow it to access my data in-place. Just like how on the desktop one can use MS Office, OpenOffice and Mac Pages to open a presentation on one's desktop

As a new application pops up, say like Apple's new Ping service, you need to (again) rebuild your social graph teaching it all your friends. Afterwards any music you purchase will show on Ping, but won't really show up on Facebook because Apple and Facebook couldn't agree on that. Can you say that again, "I" purchased a music track, and I want to tell "MY" friends about it, and I can't because Apple and Facebook couldn't agree! Can you see how horribly broken our Internet2.0 is

How I see things could improve is as follows. Each user needs to own a certain web exposed storage space somewhere. All of my online trails (documents, friendship, Likes, comments, blogs...) should live there. I should "allow" Google docs to read/write to those document if I like it. Tomorrow I could revoke that access and allow Zoho for example or any other online editor. My connections to my friends should be stored in that storage space. Any application that I allow can see who all or some of my friends are. For example I can allow Linkedin to access my work friends, while allowing Ping to access my music friends. If I make a comment somewhere on the Internet, this is content I created, If I Facebook style "Like" something, it is again content that revolves around me. It should be stored in my storage area, and Facebook should be notified of it and allowed to display it should I want to. This architecture makes it quite easy for a new young startup to create a Facebook or Gmail killer tomorrow. Since the application from day one will have access to all my data, emails, friends, comments, blogs...etc i.e. as much content as I want to give it. We become no longer locked into different online service providers. We can switch at will. This is the way how it can and should be done. The diaspora and FreedomBox folks are doing some awesome work and designing their systems along similar lines of thought. They are however more ambitious, and are after user data confidentiality, while all I'm asking for is open-data access and portability. They want to replace all of today's web applications with distributed clones that you can run inside your home. That would be fantastic, however I still it as advantageous and easier if a user can use "closed" cloud apps like Gmail or Facebook should she want to, and switch to a different provider at will, while still owning her online digital trail and every piece of content she ever created