Chris Hardie

Blog, Tech, Business and Community Building

internet

June 18, 2013

I have read and agree to the terms of service

NSA Seal

As revelations continue about the US Government capturing and monitoring online activities and communications, I'm glad (and, ok, only a little bit smug) to see that more conversations are happening about just what privacy expectations we should give up by using modern Internet tools and services.

Most of the mainstream conversation has been focused on what information "big data" companies like Google, Twitter, Facebook and Apple do or don't hand over to the government and under what circumstances, and debating where those lines should be.

The built-in assumption here is that it's inevitable that these are the companies that will continue to have access to our private information and communications. I grant that it's a pretty safe assumption - I don't foresee a mass exodus from Facebook or a global boycott on iPhones - but I do think it's important to note that this is a choice we are making as users and consumers of these services.  We are the ones who click through the "terms of service" and "privacy policy" documents without reading them so we can get our hands on cool free stuff, we are the ones who are glad to entrust our intimate exchanges to technology we don't understand.

A certain amount of naiveté about the security and privacy implications of the tools we use is understandable here.  When I've given presentations on email privacy and security issues, some attendees are legitimately gasping at the new understanding that their e-mail messages are traversing the open internet as plain text messages that can potentially be read by any number of parties involved in the management of those servers and networks.  The average user probably assumes that the Internet was designed from the ground up to be a robust and secure way of conducting financial transactions and sending suggestive photos of themselves to amorous contacts.

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May 20, 2013

The end* of website development as a profession

Glass Art at Indy Art Center

In the beginning was the <blink> tag

In 1997 I co-founded a company whose business model was based on the value of building highly customized websites for our clients.  Those clients often didn't know (or want to know) much about the inner workings of HTML, Photoshop, hyperlinks and web hosting, but they knew that the World Wide Web and the Internet represented a new era of marketing and communications, and it was worth paying someone else to figure those details out so that they could be a part of that in some form.

And so in a time before content management software, Google, PayPal or GoDaddy, we - like other web development companies starting to pop up around the world - built websites, online stores and interactive community tools from scratch.  At first we hand-coded sites in HotDog Pro or BBEdit, and then later used Dreamweaver and Fireworks.  We created complex software applications using Perl, and others used PHP, Python, TCL and C.  We tested for compatibility with Netscape and Internet Explorer, and we submitted links to AltaVista for crawling when we were done.

That model evolved as we went and worked pretty well until around 2008, when we saw the maturity of many new "software as a service" offerings and a bunch of off-the-shelf tools and programs that often made custom website development unnecessary, or at least seen as too costly in the eyes of clients who once had few other choices.  We also saw the focus on developing an online presence shift away from "doing it right" to "doing it quickly" - edgy, authentic and in-progress began to trump polished and highly produced.

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September 10, 2012

Everything on the Internet is Free!

Brian Keith Whalen rocking out at the Starr Gennett Walk of FameAfter my post this past weekend about why I think paying for access to local news reporting is worth it, I checked out some of the reasons that people who were complaining about said fees were giving for not wanting to pay.  Chief among them was the argument that "if it's on the Internet, it should be free!"

I hadn't previously thought about how mainstream that line of thinking probably is right now.  But it makes sense.  The dominant business model for so many Internet resources over the last several years has been to give away access to tools, content or other things and then either sell advertising or sell a "premium" version (Wired magazine had a good story on this trend back in February of 2008 if you want to see how much it's taken hold even in that short time).

People are used to learning of some new service or app, putting in their e-mail address and picking a password (if that much), and they're off and running to use the shiny new thing.  Facebook, Gmail, Twitter, Google let users spend all day using up their resources at no charge.  You can download high quality web browsers and entire office software suites for free.  Pandora lets you listen to and discover great music all day long for free.  There are paid apps in mobile app stores, but the free or $0.99 ones get most of the attention.

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January 17, 2012

Stand With Main Street ads and taxing online commerce

You might open a newspaper soon to see an ad like the one at right which appeared in my local paper a few days ago.  It encourages you to "Stand With Main Street" to protest "special treatment" of Amazon.com that allows them to forgo the collection of sales tax on online purchases, resulting in an unfair advantage over "every Hoosier brick and mortar retailer."  I don't usually see full-page ads related to Internet commerce in a market this size, so I thought I'd investigate the issues at stake.

The question of taxing e-commerce transactions is a bit complicated to be sure.  If you have a strong and concisely-worded position on it, you're probably running for national political office, or a Libertarian, or both.

On one hand we can see the clear financial and psychological advantage that an online retailer has with customers who are weighing a purchase from a local store that charges tax against an online store that doesn't, and maybe offers the item at a slightly lower price too. At the same time, that online retailer may be benefitting from the infrastructure that sales taxes others are collecting help pay for (setting up warehouses, trucking goods around state roads, etc.).

On the other hand, we know that laws around state sales taxation were created prior to the age of the Internet and that the models of online business and affiliate sales have completely changed the way the world does business, and current attempts to rewrite them in order to create short-term bandaids on ailing state economies are probably not in the best interest of business innovation, especially when they favor large retailers (online and off) and send small businesses and people who make a living as Amazon.com or eBay affiliates into a quagmire of tax collection bureaucracy.

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October 2, 2010

The Social Network

I saw the movie The Social Network tonight, here are my spoiler-free comments.

The movie was incredibly well made.  Aaron Sorkin's writing was as good as the best days of The West Wing, each member of the cast seemed to just nail their role, the editing was some of the best I've seen, and so on.

Perhaps most enjoyably, this is a mainstream movie that is at least in part about the culture and goings-on in the modern world of Internet entrepreneurship, I believe the first of its kind. It fully embraces the geekiness that was and is a part of building a web application like Facebook: in the first 30 minutes, the Apache webserver software project is mentioned at least twice, there are dramatic lines about needing more Linux webservers running MySQL, there are punchlines that involve the emacs text editor, and scenes of glorious code writing marathons - wow.

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October 27, 2009

5 ways to use Twitter without being a Twitter user

Beautiful TreeI have a lot of friends and colleagues who are rightly skeptical of the value that Twitter brings to the world, but who are also aware that there are things "happening" there that might be of interest.  Often the perception is that they either have to break down and sign up for a Twitter account to use it full force, or that they have to miss out on those happenings altogether.  Here I offer those folks (and perhaps you) a list of five ways you can use Twitter without actually being a Twitter user:

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October 6, 2008

6 tips for good email message subject lines

Writing good subject lines in your email messages is important. As email continues to serve as a primary communication tool for many people, and as our inboxes are filled up with ridiculous amounts of stuff that we may or may not need to actually act on, we will all benefit from writing good subject lines that save time and improve productivity.

My suggested tips for success: - Read More -

April 21, 2008

Using Stock Photos to Show You Care

Creepy scary stock photoOne of the funniest parts of browsing the Internets is when I come across the funny stock photos of professional people in various professional settings, used by site owners to put a "human face" on their web presence in the most generic way possible. It began with using the headshot of the attentive and waiting customer service representative to show you that "operators are standing by now," and it's just gone crazy from there.

With the photo here, I don't even know what the hell is going on. It's like the creepy older guy is trying to arm wrestle with the maniacally screaming younger dude over who gets to use the laptop, while the two women totally ignore them and instead grin broadly at the hamster dancing on their screen. But I'm like "creepy older dude, BACK OFF!" Why does he need to lunge into younger dude's space like that, using his fingertips as a push-off to further invade? And why won't either of the women help younger dude? This is some messed up stock photography. What was the photographer yelling at them? "Pretend you went to the office holiday party and took Ecstasy!"
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October 14, 2007

Using real names in online communities

E7EBC5781A8911DA.jpg I remember the first time I was logging onto a remote computer system (a BBS) and was asked to choose a handle - an alias for my online activities. There'd been plenty of times where a computer game or other piece of software had asked for one, but this was the first time when other people were going to know me by this name. Wow! I thought about it carefully...what nickname would be the best representation of my personality and my approach to life, while also exuding the appropriate amount of playfulness, mystery and anonymity? At the time, I chose something that might politely be called "lame."

Since then, I've used a few other handles that were more appropriate and cool (to me, anyway), but lately, I've decided that the handle that best represents of my personality online is the same one that represents it offline: my real name. And in most cases, I'm of the opinion that we should all use our real names when engaging in online discussion and community-building.

It's sometimes a suggestion that makes people uncomfortable, so I want to provide some additional reasoning to consider and discuss:
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