Internet Archive

The GIF is dead – long live the GIF

Already more than a decade old and with roots reaching back half a decade before the World Wide Web itself, the GIF was showing its age. It offered support for a paltry 256 colors. Its animation capabilities were easily rivaled by a flipbook. It was markedly inferior to virtually every file format that had followed it. On top of that, there were the threats of litigation from parent companies and patent-holders which had been looming over GIF users for five long years before the fiery call to action. By Burn All GIFs Day, the GIF was wobbling on the precipice of destruction. Those who knew enough to care deeply about file formats and the future of the web were marching on the gates, armed with PNGs of torches and pitchforks.

And yet, somehow, here we are. Seventeen years later, the GIF not only isn't dead. It rules the web.

Sometimes, things just work - even if it sucks.

Obsolesced: rise and fall of the Gopher protocol

In the years that followed, the future seemed obvious. The number of Gopher users expanded at orders of magnitude more than the World Wide Web. Gopher developers held gatherings around the country, called GopherCons, and issued a Gopher T-shirt - worn by MTV veejay Adam Curry when he announced the network's Gopher site. The White House revealed its Gopher site on Good Morning America. In the race to rule the internet, one observer noted, "Gopher seems to have won out."

Well, things turned out a little differently. Sadly, we tend to only remember the victors, not the ones lying in a ditch by the side of the road to victory.

Moving 12 years of email from GMail to FastMail

Fast forward to July 15, 2016 (there’s that lab journal again…) when, after receiving an email from Google asking me to indicate how exactly I would like them to use my data to customise adverts around the web, and after thinking for a bit about what kind of machine learning tricks I would be able to pull on you with 12 years of your email, I decided that I really had to make alternative plans for my little email empire.

Somehow FastMail came up and in one of those impulsive LET'S WASTE SOME TIME manoeuvres, I pressed the big red MIGRATE button!

The rest of this post is my mini-review of the FastMail service after almost 3 weeks of intensive use.

I'm pretty sure at least some of you are contemplating a similar migration, away from companies like Google, Microsoft, and Apple, to something else.

Dark Patterns are designed to trick you

Ars Technica talks about dark patterns:

Everyone has been there. So in 2010, London-based UX designer Harry Brignull decided he'd document it. Brignull’s website, darkpatterns.org, offers plenty of examples of deliberately confusing or deceptive user interfaces. These dark patterns trick unsuspecting users into a gamut of actions: setting up recurring payments, purchasing items surreptitiously added to a shopping cart, or spamming all contacts through prechecked forms on Facebook games.

I can't recall ever falling for a dark pattern, but I see these things everywhere - a sure sign that whatever company, website, or whatever, you're dealing with is not worthy of your time.

Twitter has no obligation to protect your right to free speech

Twitter has banned one of its most notoriously contentious voices. On Tuesday evening, the microblogging service permanently suspended the account of , a day after he incited his followers to bombard Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones with racist and demeaning tweets.

"People should be able to express diverse opinions and beliefs on Twitter," a company spokesperson said in a statement provided to BuzzFeed News. "But no one deserves to be subjected to targeted abuse online, and our rules prohibit inciting or engaging in the targeted abuse or harassment of others."

With platforms like Twitter and Facebook having become the de-facto space where people come to voice their opinion and a central axis in world events - think the attack in Nice, the failed coup in Turkey, which effectively took place on Twitter and Facebook - a lot of people lose sight of what these platforms really are: glorified, very large and very popular online forums.

There's no difference between that forum you run for the community of frog statuette collectors you're a part of on the one side, and Twitter on the other. If people on your forum post insulting messages, harass your fellow frog statue collectors, or send in waves of trolls to post racist, hateful, and abusive messages at them, you'd ban them, remove their comments, delete their accounts.

Twitter is no different. Twitter, like your frog statuette collector forum, is a private enterprise, a personal space, where you set the rules regarding what's allowed and what isn't. I do the same here on OSNews. Banning people from your forum, from OSNews, or, indeed, from Twitter, is not a freedom of speech issue. The right to free speech protects you from the government, not from Twitter, forum moderators, or me deleting your hateful comment from OSNews. Or, for that matter, from deleting your perfectly valid and well-argumented comment (which I don't do, but you get the point). Platforms like Twitter may have become a popular forum for expression, but it has no more obligation to "protect" the "right to free speech" than you have the obligation to accept people walking into your house and saying hateful comments to you or your loved ones.

Twitter and Facebook face huge problems with systematic abuse from trolls, and banning this particularly nasty troll is nothing more than lip service to a famous actress and comedian, and it does nothing to address the core problem the platform faces. Twitter might consider spending less time screwing over third party developers and creating nonsense nobody wants, and focus on the real problems many of their real users have to face every single day.

The history of the URL: path, fragment, query, and auth

In 1992 Tim Berners-Lee created three things, giving birth to what we consider the Internet. The HTTP protocol, HTML, and the URL. His goal was to bring 'Hypertext' to life. Hypertext at its simplest is the ability to create documents which link to one another. At the time it was viewed more as a science fiction panacea, to be complimented by Hypermedia, and any other word you could add 'Hyper' in front of.

There was a fervent belief in 1993 that the URL would die, in favor of the ‘URN’. The Uniform Resource Name is a permanent reference to a given piece of content which, unlike a URL, will never change or break. Tim Berners-Lee first described the "urgent need" for them as early as 1991.

Interesting history of the URL.

Facebook Messenger deploys end to end encryption

Facebook Messenger has started rolling out Secret Conversations, a feature that enables end to end encryption for conversations within Messenger. Secret Conversations is built on Signal Protocol, a modern, open source, strong encryption protocol we developed for asynchronous messaging systems.

Signal Protocol powers our own private messaging app, Signal. The protocol is designed from the ground up to make seamless end-to-end encrypted messaging possible and to make private communication simple. To amplify the impact and scope of private communication, we also collaborate with other popular messaging apps like WhatsApp, Google Allo, and now Facebook Messenger to help integrate Signal Protocol into those products.

These are all good steps forward, trail-blazed by - at least among the big companies - Apple.

The tyranny of messaging and notifications

It would be nice if, like most email services, these major and forthcoming messaging services could somehow interoperate in the same client of your choice, so they could all somehow learn your preferences and you could use a single scheme of settings and preferences to control their behavior (maybe you could "snooze" them) and their notifications. But that seems highly unlikely. Palm's webOS operating system had a feature something like this called Synergy, but it's defunct.

Or, you know, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Google, etc. could come together and create a single, open, open source, standardised messaging platform for which everybody can make clients. They could, perhaps, call it "Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol" or XMPP.

Of course, that would require those companies actually giving a rat's bum about their customers, which they don't really do, so suck it up, Mossberg.

Interview: Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves

When I asked President Ilves how he observes Estonia’s technological, social, and cultural changes from 2006 until now, the first thing he mentioned was the advent of fully digital prescription. Estonia, like nearly every other EU member state, has universal health care. Since 2002, Estonia has issued digital ID cards to all citizens and legal residents. These cards allow access to a "citizen’s portal," enabling all kinds of government services to exist entirely online: essentially any interaction with the government can be done online, ranging from paying taxes, to voting, to even picking up a prescription.

"In the United States, 5,000 people die a year because of doctor's bad handwriting," he said. "It's very simple. You go to the doctor, and he writes the prescription in the computer, and you go to any pharmacy in the country, and you stick your card in the reader, and you identify yourself, and you get your prescription."

As he pointed out repeatedly, "the stumbling blocks are not technological," but rather, are bureaucratic.

I'm pretty sure we have the same digital prescription system here in The Netherlands - it really is as simple as the doctor sending out his prescription to the pharmacy for you, so it's ready for you right as you pick it up after the doctor's visit. I have no idea if this system I encounter here in my small, rural hometown is nationwide. In addition, I'd also assume that in the US, not every doctor is still using paper prescriptions - it's probably a patchwork of digital and paper.

Setting that all aside - I have never heard a head of state speak this eloquently about digital matters, the internet, open source, and similar topics. Looking at my own politicians, who barely know how to hold a smartphone, yet decide on crucial digital matters, this is a huge breath of fresh air. I know too little about the man's policy positions and history other than what's being said in this interview, so it might be that Estonians who know him will hold a different view.

Really do watch the video interview.

Chrome to start blocking Flash later this year

Later this year we plan to change how Chromium hints to websites about the presence of Flash Player, by changing the default response of Navigator.plugins and Navigator.mimeTypes. If a site offers an HTML5 experience, this change will make that the primary experience. We will continue to ship Flash Player with Chrome, and if a site truly requires Flash, a prompt will appear at the top of the page when the user first visits that site, giving them the option of allowing it to run for that site

And so the slow march of death of Flash continues, ever onward, never looking back, into the abyss, a neverending blackness, cold and deep, nevermore to return.

Vivaldi closes in on the cure for the common browser

If you miss the old Opera, the Opera of the Opera 12-era, then Vivaldi is for you. And if the current crop of browsers leaves you wanting more or you end up installing a dozen extensions to get things the way you like them, Vivaldi is well worth a look. But even if you never use this new browser directly, Vivaldi looks to have enough innovative new features that it's very likely some will end up in whatever browser you do use.

Vivaldi has certainly piqued my interest - especially since I'm having major issues with browsers on OS X. I prefer Chrome on Windows, but Chrome on OS X is far too resource-intensive and sucks tons of battery. Safari for OS X is very buggy for me (nine out of ten times it will refuse to load pages after waking from sleep, forcing you to restart the browser) and I'm experiencing a ton of bugs with YouTube in Safari.

So, I'm looking for a browser that I like on both Windows and OS X, and reading all the positive reports about Vivaldi, it's definitely worth a look.

The web is Doom

Recall that Doom is a multi-level first person shooter that ships with an advanced 3D rendering engine and multiple levels, each comprised of maps, sprites and sound effects. By comparison, 2016's web struggles to deliver a page of web content in the same size. If that doesn't give you pause you're missing something. So where does this leave us?

It leaves us with a web that is horrible to use.

Vivaldi browser officially launched

We are all absolutely unique and we want different things. Vivaldi web browser lets you do things your way by adapting to you and not the other way around. You prefer the browser tabs placed at the bottom or on the side of the window? - You prefer a different address bar location? Go ahead and customize your preferences be it your keyboard shortcuts, mouse gestures, appearance and so on.

It's supposed to scratch that Opera itch, but I know just how demanding Opera users are. I am really curious to see if Vivaldi will ever be able to walk in those footsteps.

Twitter kills TweetDeck, Facebook stops BlackBerry development

Two high-profile companies are shutting down development for two platforms this week. First, Facebook has announced it is ceasing development of the Facebook and WhatsApp applications for BlackBerry OS.

The app landscape continues to evolve, and in ways that are not always within our control. Recently, Facebook made the decision to discontinue support of their essential APIs for BlackBerry and WhatsApp announced they would end support for BlackBerry 10 and BBOS at the end of 2016.

In addition, Twitter announced it is ceasing development of its only application for desktop Windows, TweetDeck.

To better focus on enhancing your TweetDeck experience, we'll no longer support a standalone Windows app. If you use Windows, you'll still be able to visit TweetDeck on the web - nothing is changing about TweetDeck itself, just where you access it from. This change will take effect on April 15th.

TweetDeck was the only desktop Twitter client the company ever supported (it bought TweetDeck several years ago), and while it is far from perfect, it's the only desktop Twitter client that was halfway decent. Twitter never created a proper Win32 client, and neither did anyone else. They do have a Metro client developed by a third party, but it's pretty terrible and a horrible user experience on a desktop machine.

Unlikely as it is, I'm still stubbornly holding out hope somebody creates a nice and elegant Win32 Twitter client, because with the shutdown of TweetDeck, I don't have any options for using Twitter on the computing platform I use the most (i.e., Windows).

Linux Distros Don’t Keep Up with WebKit Updates

Major desktop browsers push automatic security updates directly to users on a regular basis, so most users don't have to worry about security updates. But Linux users are dependent on their distributions to release updates. Apple fixed over 100 vulnerabilities in WebKit last year, so getting updates out to users is critical.

This is the story of how that process has gone wrong for WebKit.

How to blow up your PR: the John Legere master class

There are several acknowledged rules on the Internet. Rule Zero, translated into more appropriate language,of course, is don't commit violence against a cat. Rule One ought to be don't mess with the EFF.

The EFF is one of those few organisations you can just always trust to have your best interests at heart. Their track record is impeccable, and their causes always just.

Don't mess with the EFF.

The website obesity crisis

Let me start by saying that beautiful websites come in all sizes and page weights. I love big websites packed with images. I love high-resolution video. I love sprawling Javascript experiments or well-designed web apps.

This talk isn't about any of those. It's about mostly-text sites that, for unfathomable reasons, are growing bigger with every passing year.

While I'll be using examples to keep the talk from getting too abstract, I'm not here to shame anyone, except some companies (Medium) that should know better and are intentionally breaking the web.

This is an amazing and hilarious read we can all agree with it. I doubt there's going to be any pointless bickering over this one.

Can web standards make mobile apps obsolete?

Currently, standards are advancing rapidly in the area of mobile Web applications as part of the emerging HTML5 platform. The goal, backed strongly by Google and Mozilla, is for websites to be able to do anything that native apps can. If this happens, native apps may no longer be necessary or desirable - right? Would the considerable advantages of the mobile Web (its near-zero footprint, updates performed on the server, and support for all platforms) convince developers and users to target the Web instead of the iPhone and Android? And would Apple allow this to happen?

This utopian dream has existed in one form or another for at least two decades now, and I wonder if we'll ever get there. It'd be nice to be freed from the clutches of Google Play and the App Store, but it's a long way off, still.

Internet freedom is actively dissolving in America

It's the end of 2015, and one fact about the internet is quickly becoming clear this year: Americans' freedom to access the open internet is rapidly dissolving.

Broadband access is declining, data caps are becoming commonplace, surveillance is increasing, and encryption is under attack.

This is not merely my opinion. The evidence is everywhere; the walls are closing in from all sides. The net neutrality victory of early this year has rapidly been tempered by the fact that net neutrality doesn't matter if you don't have solid access to said 'net.

A lot is going to depend on whatever president the American public elects next year. All Republicans are obviously off the table when it comes to an open and free internet, and Clinton, too, considers encryption a problem that needs to be addressed (i.e., broken, users be damned).

I don't want to do any endorsements, but I think y'all can do the math. Make it happen, America.