The Parrot AR Drone – Technology versus privacy, the war just escalated

I saw a video recently about a totally kickass little gadget.

It’s a quadricopter (4-rotor) drone that carries a camera, and transmits images via wi-fi to your iPhone. Oh, and the same iPhone is the control device as well. The video is streamed live via wifi – and it integrates augmented reality in the vidstream as well.

What this gives you is a remote controlled device that can get out there, roam around, pick up info on what’s happening and give it to you live. All while you sit in the comfort of your home.

Seen Surrogates? This is one step closer. When you have a machine that can get out there and, as long as the battery lasts, move around, broadcast video, pick up object-associated info, live… it’s a step away from being able to interact with the real world (right now it just watches, and watches in far greater detail than reality – that’s what AR is all about, anyway-) the potential is awesome.

As a gadget, it’s instant geekgasm.

But also raises some serious issues about privacy. It’s ultimate surveillance. How comfortable are we when there’s 3-4 of these hovering around when we’re outside – and we know they’ve identified us, called up our tweets, our addresses, our social network profiles, likes and dislikes… and in the right (or wrong) hands, your emails, credit history, criminal record…

Not to mention the sheer privacy-destroying impact of augmented-reality cameras floating around, able to fly, and untraceable to source.

Read the more detailed writeup here –

Do you need to be on another social network?

Got this one from Manu –

At first glance, it’s one more social network. It has status updates, friend lists, photo albums, file sharing, link sharing… what really distinguishes it from the others seemed to be 2 features.
1. Private and Public streams. One for your friends, one for everyone on Vyoom.
2. Rewards for everything you do, redeemable for a good collection of cool stuff. Really good, cool stuff.

Public and Private streams – I don’t get it. If you’re a public figure and want the whole world to follow you… use Twitter. If you just want friends to see you… use Facebook. The twin feeds don’t make immediate sense.

Now, let’s look at points in more detail.
Say, I want the Wii, 3 million points. when I sign up, I get a big bonus – 75,000 points. Another whole bunch of points comes from creating wishlists, uploading photos, links, etc… 5000 points. Another 600 for completing profile. I have at least 200 friends that I’m pretty sure I can get aboard, so @5000 points per friend, that’s a million points. Say, another 50,000 for some twitter followers.
Sounds good so far? That’s 1.13 million points already, in just a few days. A third of the way! Doing pretty well, I say!

Not so fast, sunshine.

These are one-time-only points. You do it once, can’t do it again. The rest comes from being active on the site – 5 points per activity. (There’s also points for replying, but it’s not mentioned how many, so I ignore it for now)
On an average, I update my facebook status 3 times a day; which means, on Vyoom, 450 points per month. I need to make another 1.9 million points.
Dude, it’ll take me 346 years to get that Wii!!
Unless I’m making some major miscalculations. Which seems likely. Maybe all the other activities can be done every month, except the profile completion and signup. And, say, I add 10 friends every month. Won’t make me too popular, but what the hell.
The score is now 2.8 years, at average activity levels.
One the other hand… If I freelance 6 articles, each an hour to write, then I can make the money I need to buy it retail. In a day.

Let’s look at a larger issue now. Assuming I can sustain that kind of an activity, what do I really get out of signing up?

Vyoom is brand new. There is no clear USP yet. It’s not business like LinkedIn or timepass like Facebook. There’s no potential large audience like Myspace. It’s not even region-specific (yet) like Orkut or Friendster. Everyone had a Yahoo! id because of Y!Messenger until Gtalk came along… which worked because Gmail had already replaced all other mail services, and everyone had a Gmail id.
The features aren’t very killer, or even startlingly new. FB changed the game with live feeds. Orkut got ahead because ‘everyone was on Orkut’ at least for a while. Everyone else had some first-mover advantage until the feature got incorporated by a bigger site.
So, there’s no reason to be on this parallely to any others.

Why do we come on social networks? In the end, if you get right down to it, it’s because a) someone we wanted to meet was on it, or b) we thought someone we would like meeting would be on it. That’s hygiene. Features are just keepers. And every network gets to be more and more a part of you, as you use it; your history, your friend circle, your interactions, links outside… Moving is progressively more difficult. Try changing your personal email id, or your cellphone  number. It’s possible, but very painfully inconvenient, in most cases. The only reason that would justify a move is the original reason we joined is now gone to somewhere else – which explains the mass Orkut exodus to FB.
So, there’s no reason to replace your existing networks with this.

So why shift?

[Update –
Had a comment from Zane which pointed out some areas I might have missed out, so felt it’s only fair to add on some updates. Read the comments for more details, but here’s 2 that immediately caught my eye –
Realtime streams – which means Vyoom also combines the features of an Instant Messenger.
Page customization, so you can organize everything you get to know about a little better. Something Facebook sorely needs.
I’m still not too sure about the points system, but maybe I’m an atypical user, or Vyoom might update points gathering systems in future to get what you need faster. A free Wii for a year of regular usage is a good incentive regardless.
Still leaves the primary question open – which I guess nobody can really answer – is why change social networks. Orkutters had the same issue with FB, until enough people migrated; once everyone’s on Vyoom, and using it regularly, you would too.
The nearest comparison I can see coming up is
Google Wave, which is supposed to include Realtime conversations (among many other things). The advantage, of course, they will have is that integrating with Gmail and Gtalk will be a matter of course – putting a significant number of your people already in the network.]

Facebook my ass!

A&E is doing a programme in their reality series called Tattoo Highway where you can have your twitter username tattooed.

My first reaction was WTF?! until I thought about it. You get your favorite music tattooed on, your girlfriend’s name, brands, formulae… and at least until complete number portability happens, your facebook username is one of the few permanent things in life.

…and the next time you wake up, clutching your head and wondering what the f happened after the thirteenth drink, and realize there’s someone else fast asleep next to you and you have no clue who… you can just do a quick once-over, and do a FB lookup long before she wakes up.

They should make this mandatory, man.

Ghajini jokes will not be appreciated.

Losing Shine

The digital reputation

It’s fascinating to watch how rapidly a single screw-up can completely destroy your online reputation. Look at Shiney. I don’t know if he did it or not, or what exactly happened, etc – and I’m not going to guess – but just look at this stark example of how, at least digitally and in the space of just about an hour, Shiney lost his shine.

A generic Google search is bad enough.
“Shiney Ahuja” – 173,000 results.
“Shiney Ahuja”+Rape – 30,700 results. 18%.

On Blogs – (using Blog Search)
“Shiney Ahuja” throws up 46,900 results. Add the word “rape” to the search term, and it drops to 16,900 – 36%. More than a third. This is UGC. People have started creating content about him.

Technorati – 24% of all Shiney Ahuja results are rape story-related. The new content is being linked, tagged and shared.

Tweets are flying fast, 55 more results since I started writing this text. Any suggestions on where you can count tweets at a particular time? Tweetmeme reports 114 links, 97 in the last 1 day, 10 in the last hour. No prizes for guessing what they’re talking about.

His Wikipedia entry already has a reference to the arrest and the charge.

And the killer – someone’s already coined a term. It’s funny as hell, it’s instantly understood (at least in the Indian audiences) and it’s supremely viral. It’s going to rip across the globe in seconds and completely finish him.


I don’t think he’ll ever be free of it.

Let’s see how things change by evening…

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