Lessons from Norway

Two days ago the foreign minister of Norway, Jonas Gahr Støre, had an op-ed in the New York Times about the lessons to be learned from the tragedy on Utøya and in Oslo on 22 July 2011. He believes there are implications here for the global war on terrorism:

Osama bin Laden successfully provoked the West into using exceptional powers in ways that sometimes have been in conflict with its commitment to human rights and democracy. This only strengthened the case of extremists, and it shows that we should try to avoid exceptionalism and instead trust in the open system we are defending.

This is not a soft approach. It requires and allows for tough security measures. But it is firmly anchored in the rule of law and the values of democracy and accountability.

I agree. We all have much to learn from the manner in which Norwegians have handled the aftermath of last year’s horrific events. It has been dignified, determined and literally awe-inspiring in every conceivable way.

Twitter’s path

Like many others, me included, Orian Marx is worried about the direction in which Twitter seems to be heading. In a comprehensive blog post (via @ayjay) that is a good, if somewhat depressing, read for anyone who cares about the service, he writes about its past, present and (potential) future:

I have had a love / hate relationship with Twitter for four years. As a technologist, it is impossible not to be enamored with the transformative effect Twitter has had not just within my industry but the world at large. As an entrepreneur and perhaps an idealist, it is impossible not to be embittered by the trajectory upon which Twitter has set itself as a company. […]

I think Twitter will continue to spread FUD until what’s left of the ecosystem remains wilting in the carefully arranged flower beds of its walled garden, foregoing the legacy of all the good ideas that got it to where it is today.

While I hope he is wrong, I am afraid he will be proven all too right. Twitter has now reached the point where they need to start making a profit, but like so many other web services they have chosen to make their users into the product they sell rather than the customers they serve.

Along with Facebook’s failed IPO and their, as well as Google’s, serial privacy violations, Twitter’s recent actions are just the latest indication that we are entering a critical new phase in the (admittedly short) history of social media companies. After several years of explosive user growth, which has also brought with it large amounts of investor funding, many of them now face increasing pressures to generate revenue in a market where “free” is the norm. Rather than giving users the chance of paying for services, they try to build their business exclusively on ad networks.

When that happens, openness quickly gives way to attempts at control in a modern enclosure movement. Except that today, the sheep being enclosed — or shut out — are you and me.