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ObamaTech : under construction, no more IM 4 U potus, Mac vs PC

In his">first
weekly YouTube address, President Obama has announced the imminent launch of a new site, which will be transparently tracking "how and where your tax dollars are spent". The site will launch following the passage of the Recovery and Reinvestment plan.

It's not all been as progressive as this for the Obama tech-team however, although the President is now being allowed to keep his Blackberry (or at least a modified version of it) none of the staff are to be allowed to use any instant messaging software according to Ben Smith at Politico. Despite only being able to have one conversation at a time during their time in the West Wing, staffers can at least take some comfort in the fact that their less discrete IM chats will never be made public in the future.

Worse than all of this, further reports are suggesting that the Mac-friendly new administration are being forced to use legacy PC systems running something called 'windows', spokesman Bill Burton claimed that moving into the White House was like moving from "an Xbox to an Atari". Bringing change to the troubled United States was nothing - let's see how the new boy fares against a surly IT department.

Flight Sim grounded, sad

Recent job cuts at Microsoft have hit one of the few of their products anyone actually felt any love for. ACES studio in Washington has seen the development team of Microsoft Flight Simulator laid off in a brutal fashion, documented by a staffer's blog post. Lovers of flying might now be advised to look toward the open source Flightgear as an alternative.

Pope creates YouTube channel, unlikely to Tweet

In one of the more unexpected developments of the week, Pope Benedict XVI has launched his YouTube channel. In his most recent post his holiness speaks of the internet promoting the search for truth, a sentiment any Wikipedia user can surely align with.

Mac hits 25

Finally - with Steve Jobs away (hopefully) recovering, Apple Macintosh became twenty-five this last week. To celebrate, here's some footage of the consummate showman's first ever demo of the Macintosh.

Watching this, one begins to understand quite how central he is to the brand.

Death knol?

In the recent culling of a number of its less successful initiatives, Google has stopped development and open-sourced Jaiku, ceased developing Google Notebook but inexplicably continued development on its Wikipedia alternative Knol.

This difficult-to-understand service aims to differentiate from Wikipedia by attracting specialists to write a knol (a 'unit of knowledge') on their chosen subject, the added motivation being that writers might earn revenue from ad-views served on their pages.

Unfortunately, knol has evolved into a seemingly random collection of articles neither weighty enough to be authoritative or trivial enough to be entertaining. Surely knol must end soon?

Iain Simons writes, talks and tweets about videogames and technology. His new book, Play Britannia, is to be published in 2009. He is the director of the GameCity festival at Nottingham Trent University.
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Why the philosophy of people-rating app Peeple is fundamentally flawed

The app claims that “character is destiny”, and that we should be constantly judged based on our past interactions with others. But do we really believe that? 

Yesterday, you were probably one of the millions around the world who recoiled from their screen in blank-eyed horror at the news: Peeple, an app to be launched in November, will let others rate you, publicly, on the internet, and there's nothing you can do about it. You can't opt out, and you don't need to join in order to be rated on a scale of one to five by colleagues, friends, and romantic partners. That boy whose girlfriend you stole? He can review you. The boss you swore at as you quit? Her, too. Those people in your life who think you're just a bit average? Expect a lukewarm three stars from them.

Of all the online rage at the app's announcement, perhaps the most was directed at the fact that you can't remove your own profile. Other users need only submit your mobile number and name to create your page, and you have no control about who posts on there. Reviews of two stars or less are invisible to the public for 48 hours, and you have the chance to review them and try to "work it out" with the rater. Once that time is up, though, the negative reviews appear for all to see. You can comment on them to defend your corner, but unless they break the app's rules, you can't delete them.

There are all kinds of problems with Peeple's premise. Despite its founders' promises that bullying and harassment won't be tolerated (helped slightly by the fact that users must be over 21 and use their full name and Facebook profile to comment), it seems impossible that they'll be able to moderate this effectively. And as we've learned from sites like TripAdvisor or Yelp, the majority of reviews are from those seeking to boost the company's reputation, rivals, or angry customers - it's rare to see one that's balanced and helpful.

Yet the biggest flaw of all is the assumption that public rating and shaming has a place, or is even acceptable, in our society. There's something fundamentally broken in the app's presmise, which is summarised in its tagline, "character is destiny".  As western society has moved on from earlier ages where people were fundamentally changed in the eyes of the law and public into "criminals" by virtue of their deeds, or a time where a woman was utterly defined by her sexual acts, we've ceased to accept this as truth. The app's whole set-up assumes that someone who has offended a co-worker is likely to do it again, or a positive review from a partner makes it likely you'll enjoy a good relationship with them. As a society, we accept that some violent criminals are likely to re-offend, but we also see the value of rehabilitation, and can accept that people make mistakes they're unlikely to repeat. 

The dark side of social media is that it moves us backwards on this front. It allows permanent imprints of our online lives to be seen by everyone, to the extent where they seem to represent us. Victims of cyberbullying terrified that naked photos of them will be released, or people who make public gaffes on social media, become reduced to and defined by single acts. The mental health deterioration (and sometimes  suicide) that follows these shamings hints at how unnatural it is for single actions to change lives in such disproportionate ways. 

Jon Ronson, author of So you've been publicly shamed, which cleverly links the current culture of internet shaming with a legal past where criminals were shamed indefinitely as criminals for a single illegal act, seems chilled by the prospect of Peeple:

As one review of Ronson's book noted:

As Ronson makes patently clear, all these people’s punishments by far outweighed the gravity of their so-called crimes. In fact, having researched the history of public shaming in America in the Massachusetts Archives, he can only conclude that Lehrer, for one, was humiliated to a degree that would have been thought excessive even in the 18th century, the Puritans of New England having seemingly worked out that to ruin a person in front of his fellows is also to refuse him a second chance in life.

As Ronson explores in his book, extreme public shaming doesn't make us better people, or encourage us not to repeat offend: it shuts us down and exiles us from society in a way that benefits no one. (This makes Peeple's URL – – seem grimly ironic). What Ronson calls "chronic shame" occurs when our regretted actions harden into something far greater, something we allow to become part of ourselves. As Gershen Kaufman, a scholar of shame, notes:  "Shame is the most disturbing experience individuals ever have about themselves; no other emotion feels more deeply disturbing because in the moment of shame the self feels wounded from within."

We also shouldn't be forever defined by a clutch of "good" actions, or people who see some benefit in leaving us gushing reviews. Those who measure their worth through social media come to rely on the endorphins sparked by small online interactions and boosts to their confidence, at the expense of the more slow-burning satisfaction of real life. A single person's thoughts about us are relatively inconsequential, whether positive or negative - but they're given far greater weight on the internet  by virtue of their permanence and publicity.

In Mary Gordon's novella The Rest of Life, a character wishes that someone had told her earlier that "the world is large and will absorb the errors you innocently make". If we're to avoid tearing each other to pieces, we need to make sure that this remains the case. 

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.