We should cherish email

Recent launch of Basecamp’s Hey service made me realize how much I love email. Their pitch is actually on point: Email gets a bad rap, but it shouldn’t. Email’s a treasure. Damn right it is. Email is a set of open protocols. We can argue about the “implementability” of IMAP clients and such, but it remains the only widely used, open communication system we have on the internet. XMPP was supposed to become its equivalent for instant messaging, but failed, and no other protocol took its place because it’s in no messaging platform’s interest to give its users freedom of choice.

DNS and domain registration services generally suck. GoDaddy people hunt elephants. Hover is okay, but has mediocre customer service (personal experience) and bad web interface (objective truth). There’s tons of bad domain registrars out there. But amongst them, there are people that know their shit and know it well, and they don’t try to scam or bullshit you.

What follows is an unpaid advertisement for ISNIC and iwantmyname.

I own a couple of domains, and amongst them is piotrkazmierczak.com. piotrkazmierczak.com used to be my primary email domain, but recently more and more often I have to spell my email address to people, and if it’s Dutch people I’m talking to, and my email is in piotrkazmierczak.com domain, things aren’t as smooth as they should be. So I intended to simplify things, and bought piotr.is, which I now use as my primary domain. It’s shorter, simpler, better. And it’s Icelandic.

Some of you may not know this, but Icelandic domains are controlled by ISNIC, aka “Internet á Íslandi hf.“ ISNIC is the registrar and keeper of rules, of which there are many. Not only when it comes to registration, but also technical ones. ISNIC also has a clunky web interface that it forces its clients to use.

And you know what? I ❤️ these people. They are smart. Their rules are sane. Their website contain no idiotic javascript and no advertisements. Their technical support is smart af. They don’t bullshit. The internet needs more people like ISNIC.

And then there’s the other domain registrar I use, they’re called iwantmyname.com. And despite the somewhat ridiculous name, this Wellington, NZ-based company is hands-down the best general-purpose domain registrar I ever used, by a fat margin.

Again, like in the case of ISNIC, the web interface of iwantmyname.com contains no adverts, no heavy javascript, and no bullshit. Their support is absolutely brilliant. Every support email I got was full of technical depth and to the point; I was always amazed. They don’t try to trick you into buying additional services.

iwantmyname.com is a small business. Just look at them. They run on Perl, Erlang, and FreeBSD. They have opinions, which are actually well thought-through. And they all hail from Wellington, NZ.

Is there something about remote, slightly too-windy and too-rainy places that makes good network engineers? Is there something about these places that makes people setup companies/institutions that customers actually want to love and send flowers to?

And if yes, how do I get to move there? 🤔

Hossein Derakhshan writes about how reading on the web changed in the last few years and makes a ton of great observations:

The web was not envisioned as a form of television when it was invented. But, like it or not, it is rapidly resembling TV: linear, passive, programmed and inward-looking.

I’m not a huge fan of social networks myself but I understand the appeal of the Stream, as Derekhshan calls it. The web became too big, and no one was able to earn any money on RSS, not even Google, so social networks like Twitter or Facebook became the preferred way of consuming web content for many people. It is ironic, though, that his insightful article is posted on medium.com, which is itself a social network, and which is guilty of many of the faults he mentions.

Peter Sunde writes a guest post for Wired:

Only a few activists left are actually doing things. We’re way underfunded, we’re getting older and we’re getting lazy. We’re trying to work smart while still having a family life, managing our lives with boy- and/or girlfriends, thinking about careers.

A sad piece in which one of The Pirate Bay’s founders shares his disheartened view on the status of Internet-related legislation and general public’s indifference on the subject.1

The sad part is that it all boils down to convenience. In the world of cheap Netflix, HBO, Spotify, Rdio and others, taking the time (and possibly risk) to download torrents just doesn’t make that much sense.2 I don’t really have any statistics to back this up, but I observe the same trend amongst desktop linux users/contributors. When I installed linux for the first time on my desktop computer (late 1998, SuSE 6.0), the alternative was the buggy and ugly Windows 98, or the insanely expensive and also buggy MacOS 8. Now lots of developers switch to OS X, with its UNIX-based environment and excellent hardware, or even to Windows, which, beginning with XP I believe, became stable, fast and relatively fuss-free. There’s simply no need for linux on the desktop, because it’s trying to solve a problem that isn’t there. I’m afraid it’s the same with The Pirate Bay.

  1. I kinda like Sunde, and sort-of sympathize with his cause(s), but I feel like what The Pirate Bay crew tried to stand for in recent years isn’t exactly the same what it represented in the beginning. I feel perfectly fine with using PGP to encrypt my emails, running linux on my home media server, using open formats for documents, supporting government transparency and openness, and yet being opposed to the illegal downloading of TV shows using p2p networks. The fact that people stopped caring that much about The Pirate Bay doesn’t necessarily entail they no longer care about other aspects of Internet freedom.
  2. That is, unless you’re one of those unlucky millions that don’t have access to these services. Remember that Netflix, Internet’s biggest on-demand video-streaming provider, is available in only 40 countries, excluding such big and potentially lucrative markets as, e.g., Australia & New Zealand. Spotify’s slightly better, being available in 59 countries.

put.io is a service that lets you download and seed torrents, and also watch the downloaded movie files, in the cloud. An obvious question that such a business model raises is a matter of illegal downloads, and that spawned an interesting discussion on HN.

Whenever I read discussions about illegal torrent downloads, I immediately think of three issues.

The first one is convenience – as a Netflix and HBO Nordic customer I miss the comfort of watching great quality mp4 files so much that I… became an IPredator customer, and I download the movies/shows I already payed for simply to be able to watch them without my laptop fan spinning like crazy.1

The second is the whole issue of what’s right, and how human beings aren’t necessarily entitled to watch the latest episode of “Mad Men” whenever and however they want. I used to support this claim and I still think that the argument of “I can’t get it in any other way so I’m gonna download it illegally using bittorrent” is weak, but I find it very unpragmatic to simply forbid downloading. I’m also starting to believe that contemporary TV shows and movies are becoming a significant part of modern culture to a degree that it’s just not right to deny access to that part to people who don’t have Netflix in their countries, or can’t afford going to the cinema very often.

And that brings me to the third issue, which is especially visible in the HN discussion linked above: it’s astonishing how many people (mostly Americans I guess) don’t realize how little digital content is legally available outside the US and the UK. The “if you can afford a modern computer and a fast internet connection, you can afford paying for TV/movies” argument is probably one of the weakest arguments against internet piracy, and is in fact the crux of the whole problem. What MPAA or RIAA don’t acknowledge is that the vast majority of the world’s population simply has no means of paying for a great number of TV shows or movies, because these are unavailable in their respective countries.2 People also seem to forget that high-speed internet became very cheap to most people of the world, same as computers, but digital goods are still hardly available anywhere outside the US. It’s baffling.3

So yeah, the whole piracy discussion aside, put.io is actually an interesting service, and I wish it well, hoping it won’t be seized by the Dutch police any time soon.

  1. Yeah, both HBO Nordic and Netflix’s streaming hogs my macbook’s CPU incredibly. Both services also regularly crash my Safari.app, either due to bugs in Flash or Silverlight. Also, HBO Nordic’s iPad app is one of the worst things in the entire universe.
  2. Or available after years of delays, with terrible dubbing.
  3. Unless you’re a lawyer. Then I guess it’s no longer baffling but obvious, because the obstacles are clearly not of technical nature.