Archive for August, 2011

Blocking Social Media in the UK? Can’t be done

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock over the past week, you will have
undoubtedly heard that in certain areas of London as well as other cities in
the UK gangs of teenagers have been looting and stealing high value (as well
as not so high value) goods from various shops. It got to the point that David
Cameron cut short his holiday and recalled Parliament to discuss what was
going to happen next.

Apparently the way that these riots (although I’m not so sure if riot is the
right word since it just seems to be mass robbery) have been organised have
been through Blackberry’s BBM service as well as the usual scapegoats, Twitter
and Facebook. So the government in their usual kneejerk fashion is talking
about the possibility of cutting off access to these services if the rioting
continues.

So this brings me onto why this cannot be done. There are (at least) two
reasons why.

Firstly from a Democratic point of view:

If the government had its way and blocked access to these services, that would
affect me and the millions of other residents of the UK who have nothing to do
with these acts of violence. Admittedly I don’t own a Blackberry, nor do I
have aa Facebook account, but I use Twitter on a daily (if not hourly) basis.
I haven’t been involved in what’s been going on. The only thing connecting me
and the so-called riots is that I’ve been using Twitter to keep myself in
what’s going on from a grassroots level. So why am I getting punished? I, like
I’m sure many of my fellow tweeters, would not stand for it.

The second reason why it cannot happen is a purely technical one. In an age of
virtual servers, where it takes less than 5 minutes (usually far less) to have
a fully functioning server, connected to the internet and serving content the
government would basically have to completely cut off the UK from the rest of
the world as far as the internet goes.

There is nothing they can do to stop me from setting up a proxy server in the
US and routing all my traffic through that. Or setting up a server (again,
outside the UK borders) as a proxy and connect that to the Twitter API to make
and read tweets. Obviously if the government were to take the step in blocking
UK citizens from connecting to these services then this would probably become
illegal and so I would never do it, nor would I suggest that people would do
the same.

So what can the government do? Firstly I would hope that they can see this
stance as it is: nothing more than a knee jerk reaction. Secondly they can
look to the causes of these problems: the fact that most of these kids (most
seem to be under 18 so I think that justifies me calling them that) are bored
and have nowhere to go except their homes since the government seems to be
cutting various facilities where they could be; they also need to be taught to
respect both the law and those who protect it. I don’t want to go as far as
suggesting that military service should be brought back but some kind of
activity to teach both respect and discipline would go a long way.

Why I’m loving Quora at the moment

I asked my first question on Quora back in
October of last year. Since then I’ve asked 54 questions and given 140
answers. Not a huge amount, but recently I’ve noticed that it’s very easy to
get answers from people who have worked on some pretty major stuff.

For example, a couple of days ago I was watching Toy Story and had a question
about it. Within 12 hours, I had an answer; not from a film buff (although
that too would have been good) but from someone who actually worked on the
film! This, to someone who has no connections to the industry, is a fairly
remarkable thing.

More and more people are getting into Quota and this means that more and more
questions can be answered by people who actually know the answers, as opposed
to those who have an opinion. This is where Quota will become a phenomenal
tool I. the future. And why I love it. The people on it are knowledgeable,
friendly and, above all, rather than write a condescending answer to a silly
question, take the time to answer in a way that enables both the asker and
those who come and read the questions later to come away knowing something
that hadn’t known before.