Sunday, April 26, 2015

Everyone has an Angel and Devil in Them

Last week I had (what I thought was) the rare privilege to have a conversation with Jimmy Wales, the reluctant-to-admit-so co-founder of Wikipedia.

It was all a part of the #NetNeutrality campaign to save the Internet. I built a Firefox add-on called Zero Internet which would simulate what happens to a poor mother of three (who can't afford a data-pack) when she visits the "Internet" through Internet.org.

I submitted it to reddit, and for a few hours, it was the top post on r/india (which, to be honest, has been the rendezvous for sane Indian Internet users, and would have upvoted even if Deepika Padukone supported Net Neutrality).



Surprisingly, Jimmy Wales responded (with harsh criticism), both on twitter and on reddit, as if he was personally leading Internet.org. He said:

"This is deeply dishonest and makes me think you haven't even done the most basic homework as to how this works.

In all cases, people who are using Internet.org are on data plans (often daily plans or plans with quite restrictive data caps). One reason Facebook has been successful at getting ISPs to go along with this is that it is viewed as a win/win by the carriers - it gets people online and using data.

For the very poor, if they can't even afford a daily plan, then they don't look at the Internet at all. At least this way they have something. For those who are a bit less poor, the program offers them a way to save money on data - they can look at some sites for free (like Wikipedia) and use their precious data for other things.

Your plugin gives a completely false impression."
...which is quite contrary to what Mark Zuckerberg is making people believe (He says Internet.org is about bringing Internet access to those who do not have it yet) and also calling my add-on dishonest was dishonest. For poor people who can't afford data plans, going out of the sites allowed by Internet.org is impossible. And that's exactly what my add-on does.

So, on twitter, I went on a couple of rounds of arguments over the issue. And it turns out Jimmy Wales really, truly believes that Internet.org is the only way for poor people in India to access Internet.

Afterwards, Pirate Praveen helped me understand why I was feeling awkward.

"the problem is with your expectation. We want angels and devils so we don’t have to think. But everyone has both these aspects in them. Just because someone does a lot of good is not a reason to support them when they do something wrong. Attacking someone who is in opposing camp is easy. But standing up to someone in your own group needs immense courage and conviction. Every privilleged person thinks its their god given mission to help the poor and show their kindness. They do not want to acknowledge that their privillege is the result of historic oppression and they are part of the reason why they remain poor. They think poor people needs charity and kindness. What we really need is a conscious collective effort to end systematic oppression of people and that will need questioning of our own roles and privilleges. Accepting our role in creating the poor is much harder than feeling good about helping poor."
In fact, I now have a tagline for Wikipedia (which I would have never thought about till last week)
"Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to *some* of all human knowledge. That's what we're doing."
NB: Jimmy Wales is an Objectivist. His life philosophy is based on that. And therefore any comment on where Objectivism gets it wrong is appreciated.

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Sunday, April 5, 2015

Internet Will Become Dramatically Useless in the Near Future, Unless What is Said in This Happens

Allow me to introduce you to "net neutrality" if you haven't heard of it yet.
Hindu had an editorial about why it is important yesterday.

Net Neutrality is the concept that all data traffic on the Internet should be considered equal. There shall be no discrimination.

So, say, if you pay for 1MBps Internet, your ISP should give you 1MBps itself (neither high, nor low) no matter if you use torrents, or WhatsApp, or Facebook, or Wikipedia, or YouTube, or whichever site/service you're connecting to.

But, for people like Reliance, Airtel, Uninor, Vodafone, etc this is bad for their pocket. Because people won't send SMS or make phone calls, they can get money only via data packs. And they are greedy for making more money.

So, what they have been trying to do, is to charge people differently if they're using Viber, WhatsApp, Facebook, etc. This comes in the form of "free" Wikipedia, "free" Facebook offers, or "special" Facebook packs, "special" WhatsApp packs, etc. These all give differential treatment for different services. And that is bad!



Last week, they forced TRAI to release a consultation paper for "regulating" (read: putting restrictions on) these services (Over The Top services - Whatsapp, Facebook, etc.). According to this paper, a lot of ideas - like licensing the OTT services, slowing them down unless you pay TSPs more, making the OTTs pay the TSPs, etc - are being considered to be put in place.

A lot of people are already campaigning to protect the Web by keeping it neutral. Example:

What we need to do is: raise awareness of why net neutrality is important, and ask stakeholders to send their comments to advqos@trai.gov.in

You can read more analogies and get links to the paper at learnlearn.in/net-neutrality/

If anything is unclear, please ask in comments.

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Saturday, April 4, 2015

Free and Open-Source Software

Imagine you discovered how to make a delicious cake. You are the only person in the world who knows how to make it. It is so tasty that you could make a fortune selling it. What would you do?

If the first thought that came to your mind is to start a bakery and make profit out of selling the cake, think again.

There would have been one point in your life when you did not know what a cake is. From that point, all your knowledge about cakes came from people around you. Sure, you made a discovery with your own effort, but the world empowered you to make that discovery.

Now imagine, instead of making profit out of the cake, you let the recipe out. You let everyone in the world know how to make your cake. Suddenly, you are making a lot of people happy.

Slowly, others modify your recipe to make even better cakes. Even you enjoy the new variations. And the whole world is grateful to you. You are immensely satisfied.

But the world is not fair. Sometimes the world goes for less tasty, but heavily advertised cakes with top-secret recipes. And you wilt away into oblivion while the world conveniently forgets about your beautiful contribution to the world. The picture isn't so rosy, is it?

Image: "Free Software" by user ryyo on flickr


Replace the cake with software and you just read a small introduction to the Free and Open-Source Software (FOSS) philosophy.

If FOSS, "anyone is freely licensed to use, copy, study, and change the software in any way, and the source code is openly shared so that people are encouraged to voluntarily improve the design of the software."

Creating such software most often does not bring economic prosperity to the developer (the person or group who creates the software). But to a large extent, they always enjoy the satisfaction that is obtained from people's appreciation of what they have made. Also, the world gains so much because others can make contributions (extra features, fixing security bugs), which will again benefit everyone using the software.

But we do not code, what can we do? We can not be a cruel world. We can support this cooperative culture and appreciate the effort of those developers who are willing to share, learn, and create better products that we all use daily to make our lives easier.

Here is a list of most common FOSS packages for you to use.
Mozilla Firefox - for browsing
GIMP - for photo editing
Libre Office - for word processing, spreadsheet, presentations, etc.
VLC - for playing media files
7-zip - for file compression
(compiled from) Wikipedia - for sharing knowledge!

(ɔ)  Copyleft (No rights reserved)

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