Tuesday, September 26, 2006

VaporStream Does Not Matter

Void Communications' VaporStream software is a "recordless" "email-IM hybrid." Although there are no technical documents or real demos on the site, VaporStream claims to send messages back and forth without ever leaving a record of your communication.

This is a cool idea. While corporate IM and email networks still leave the possibility of end users or peeping toms preserving messages that you'd rather not propagate, a VaporStream-like technology forces both parties to relent and accept a "stream discussion." One could consider this a true Internet-based substitute for personal conversations; if you need to hear what someone said again, you have to ask them to repeat it.

On the other hand, this is a silly idea. VaporStream claims that the message "never exists" on either end. How do you view it? The message is stored in your video buffer, and unless you're using hardware overlays, screenshots can preserve communication, and OCR will make it parseable. How about on the sender's side? Same problem, and the presence of keyloggers pose the possibility of third parties snooping in, too.

So, if this communication isn't as ephemeral as they're claiming, what's the benefit? It's not secrecy from network traffic analytics; encrypted email has been around for ages, and works fine. The only problem is that headers still let people know that Person A is talking to Person B. If this is really a problem, VaporStream could potentially serve as a mediator. At that point, snoopers will only be able to tell that Person A and Person B are using VaporStream (and not necessarily communicating with one another). For $39.99 a year, this may be an acceptable price, but something tells me a direct communication between users over pre-established lines of communication aren't going to be obviated by VaporStream.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Where Sony's Priorities Lie

Feast your eyes on a mockup of the PlayStation3's box art. Just gaze upon it, let the sheer Sony-ness of it all sink into your brain: Sleekness, minimalism, brand synergy...wait--brand synergy?

Yeah, what's going on here? What's with the intrusion of Sony's different divisions on our beloved PlayStation? Let's break it down:
  • Their universally-recognized "PS" logo would easily fit behind a dime.
  • The "PlayStation 3" text is in the "Spiderman" font, made popular by Sony's trilogy of movies.
  • The whole case is blue, with a "Blu-ray Disc" bar that takes up almost as much real estate as the entire "PS" logo and "PlayStation 3" text put together.
Sony has truly reached that oft-postulated "souless conglomerate" state that your ultra-liberal philosophy professor reviled. The kind who's happy to sell you their end-all, be-all product, their crowning achievement. Just please bend over and accept all their other brands at the same time.

Maybe I'm giving Sony too much credit. After all, PSone didn't use MiniDisc. PS2 didn't use Memory Stick, although they did call their IEEE1394/FireWire port "i.Link." Perhaps Sony ran out of ideas. Maybe the launch/success of the Xbox360 and the foaming anticipation of the Nintendo Wii forced Sony's hand, before they could finish designing the public face of their future console. That was certainly my guess when the PS3 was first showed off.

"Screen captures of Spider-Man? Spider-Man font?" Surely it was all provisional, just like that boomerang controller of theirs. Something tells me it was all intended to be final, but the controller got such an acidulous reaction that they reneged on that front. Maybe this post is a couple E3s too late.

Either way, why has Sony suddenly become so insistent on cramming all their properties down our throat at once? Couldn't they have just used a clean, attractive font if they wanted to be cliché? Wouldn't it have been enough for me to buy their console? Did it have to push their next-gen DVD format? Did it have to advertise an upcoming sequel, for god's sake?

The answer, of course, is "no, they could have shown consumers some respect." However, Sony chose the other, more asinine course of action. Let's see what it gets them.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Thursday Hubris, Part II

Facebook, popular website for collegiate social networking, rolled out a "News Feed" feature a while back. On Facebook, you can view profiles, events and the like, see who's dating who, and who's saying what to whom. Think of the feed as a "delta" for Facebook. That is, out of the profiles and events you yourself have access to, the news feed summarizes recent changes to inform you of who just said what to whom, who is breaking up with whom, et cetera.

This, oddly enough, has caused an "outrage" in the Facebook community. This feature does nothing more than summarize public knowledge, making available in a more convenient form. Who would protest something that would keep you from missing new photojournals, or the latest happenings with your friends? Well, wonder no longer. The news feed has awoken the phenomenally bad writing skills of thousands of students who probably shouldn't be in college:
This new facebook is waaaaaaaaaaay too stalkerish!!!!
We want to feel just a LITTLE bit of privacy, even if it is facebook.

theyre saying this is our generation's first revolution, pretty fuckin sweet
r facebook stopin us from invitin more people into this group now
its kind of funny becasue i heard about this group through the News Feed...
Even the opponents of the news feed acknowledge its usefulness. Through the avalanche of excruciatingly poorly written posts, the main criticism of the feed presents itself: it makes "stalking" someone too easy. The problem with this criticism is that it's the same Facebook, but with a new summary feature. Anyone who wants to stalk someone could, and still can. If you have a tendency to attract stalkers, you probably want to stay off of websites like Facebook. The whole site is an invasion of privacy to which you voluntary submit.

So, while it's not hard at all to stage a protest online (in fact, it's much easier thanks to the Facebook news feed), this protest has marginal hubris thanks to the speed at which it has grown. Still, being upset because of a "delta" feature is not too smart, so the Facebook news feed protest gets one hubris point, for being phenomenally ignorant.