Het Groen-complex

Groen zit sinds haar deelname aan de macht (nu ook alweer bijna 10 jaar geleden) in een weinig benijdenswaardige positie; zowat elk voorstel van de partij wordt onmiddelijk als onrealistisch of -als het een beetje tegenzit- bemoeiziek en dom van tafel geveegd. Het debacle rond de “downloadtax” is daar een goed voorbeeld van; een vaag artikel in de pers en direct afgeschoten op Facebook, Twitter en in de lezerscommentaren op de krantensites natuurlijk.

“Helemaal op hun kop gevallen”
“géén extra belastingen om weer eens een nutteloos instituut mee op te richten of overheidsschulden mee te delven”
“Een partijtje van niets die ons nog wat extra euro’s wil afhandig maken in deze tijd van crisis. Zou dat extra geld misschien moeten dienen om nog wat meer asielzoekers te kunnen regulariseren? Grrr…”

Of hoe een op zich niet onverdienstelijk voorstel (gewild of ongewild) totaal verkeerd wordt begrepen. Want waar gaat het eigenlijk over? Mensen downloaden illegaal en zullen dat ondanks een repressieve aanpak (sluiten van p2p-netwerken, vervolgen van downloaders, …) blijven doen, ook al denkt Frankrijk daar anders over. Het voorstel van Groen/ Ecolo vertrekt dan ook van een heel ander uitgangspunt;

  1. iedereen mag alles legaal downloaden dankzij een ‘uitgebreide collectieve licentie’
  2. die licentie wordt gefinancierd door de ISP’s die voor elk breedband-abonnement met hoge downloadlimiet maandelijks een aantal euro’s betalen aan de auteursrechtenorganisaties
  3. dat geld wordt verdeeld aan de hand van steekproeven van het downloadgedrag
  4. de maximumprijs voor die breedband-abonnementen wordt wettelijk vastgelegd (zoals dat ook bij bv. brood gebeurd) om te vermijden dat de ISP’s de licentiekost op hun klanten verhalen

Vanzelfsprekend is dit geen waterdicht voorstel, maar het is tenminste een frisse kijk op het probleem van illegale downloads en een “uitgebreide collectieve licentie” zou (zeker als dat op Europees niveau wordt vastgelegd) wel eens echt een goed idee kunnen zijn. Maar een eenzame uitzondering daar gelaten doet niemand zelfs maar de moeite om het voorstel correct te lezen.
Nee, Groen, dat zijn wereldvreemde bemoeials die ons, als ze konden, nog zouden willen laten betalen om te ademen Mijnheer! Ondanks een blijkbaar sterke ecologische betrokkenheid van “de Vlaming”, kunnen voorstellen van Groen op basis van hun imago (dat andere partijen overigens graag mee in stand houden) en door gebrekkige Groene communicatie (het artikel in HLN was maandagochtend nog heel vaag en op de sites van Freya Piryns en de partij zelf was er geen letter over te vinden, hemeltergend als het onderwerp “internet” is) nooit serieus genomen worden. Indien Groen ooit terug echt politiek relevant wil worden, dan zal ze echt wel anders moeten gaan communiceren.

Enhanced privacy for embedded YouTube

While looking into the possibility to play embedded YouTube clips with html5’s video-element on this blog, I noticed Google added an ‘Enable privacy-enhanced mode‘ flag to the embed-options. This small tweak ensures that visitors who arrive on a page that has YouTube embedded, don’t immediately get tracking cookies stuffed down their throat. Unless they play the video or click through to youtube.com, that is.
Enabling the “enhanced privacy” option just changes the URL in the embed code from youtube.com to youtube-nocookie.com;

<object width="560" height="340"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube-nocookie.com/v/FuGJfVAgiTM&hl=en_US&fs=1&rel=0"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube-nocookie.com/v/FuGJfVAgiTM&hl=en_US&fs=1&rel=0" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true" width="560" height="340"></embed></object>

The change has no impact whatsoever on the user experience, so I immediately tweaked the code of the Smart YouTube WordPress plugin on my server and I asked the developer to add the option to his plugin as well.
Yet another small step in the fight against Google’s omniscience!

AddToAny removed-from-here

Update 02-2015: the information below does not reflect the way AddToAny works now and as such only has historical value, read this comment by the developer for more info.
When looking at my blog’s performance in Google Webmaster Tools I saw Google complained of multiple dns-lookups. I knew about stats.wordpress.com, google-analytics.com (well, yeah …) and gravatar.com, but one domain in the list didn’t make sense to me at all; media6degrees.com, so I started to investigate a bit. Grepping the wordpress-, theme- and plugin-code on my server didn’t reveal anything, so I went into Firebug to see what was happening in javascript.
Apparently the AddToAny WordPress-plugin was initiating the call:
  1. add-to-any requests http://static.addtoany.com/menu/page.js (which is rather big but gzipped & cache-able)
  2. page.js in turn contains tracking (near the end of the file), by requesting an 1X1 pixel image at http://map.media6degrees.com/orbserv/hbpix?pixId=2869&curl=<encoded URL of page>
  3. media6degrees then sends the pixel and … sets multiple cookies in the process

And what’s media6degrees business you ask? Maybe they’re just providing the add-to-any author with statistics? Well, not exactly. This is what media6degrees writes on their website: “We deliver scalable custom audiences to major marketers by utilizing the online connections of their consumers.” So by using AddToAny, you’re providing media6degrees with data about your site’s visitors, which they can use to sell targeted communication to their customers.
If visitors of small-time blogs like mine would be the only ones affected by this, the damage would be limited. But AddToAny is also implemented on large local news-outlets such as deredactie.be or De Standaard Online and no doubt on some big international sites as well. Somehow I doubt those organizations know they’re feeding their visitors to media6degrees and I bet some of them would even strongly disagree.
I’m not happy about this, that much is clear. AddToAny offers great functionality, but:

  • it adds unneeded requests to my page, causing the page to finish loading later (dns-request + http-request)
  • it enrolls my site visitors in a targeted communication platform without anyone knowing (or agreeing)
  • none of this is communicated on the AddToAny website or on the AddToAny WordPress plugin page

I mailed the author about this earlier this week (when i didn’t even know about media6degrees tracking cookies yet), but got no feedback up until now and I logged an issue on the wordpress.org support forum as well. And I decided to pull the plug on AddToAny off course, replacing it with sociable, making my blog render yet another millisecond faster, while at the same time protecting my visitors from this sneaky behavioral tracking by AddToAny and media6degrees.

Flash isn’t evil, but …

Last week’s prediction about Flash becoming irrelevant was pretty controversial, and some of you Flashheads had interesting remarks and -rhetorical- questions both in the comments and on Twitter (a big shout-out to Clo Willaerts for sharing). So without further ado, here’s my follow-up.

Flash isn’t evil

Some people seemed all too happy to dismiss my post as being plain old Flash-bashing. Sorry to disappoint you, but I”m not saying Flash is evil or that it will (or should) disappear altogether. Next correction: I do have Flash player installed and in general I do know if a application is made in Flash or not. Heck, the web has been my job for more than 10 years now and Flash has been a point of interest for quite some time already. And yes, there indeed are innovative web applications and games that are build in Flash. That being said, I do think (because of accessibility, SEO and some more philosophical reasons) it’s best to avoid using Flash to develop a site’s core functionality if the same can be achieved with non-propriety, standard web technology.

It’s not about Flash vs HTML5

The comments on last week’s blogpost seemed to focus very much on the individual merits (or lack thereof) of HTML5, CSS3 or Canvas, as if these are islands with no history and no connections to the web mainland. This is, off course, wrong; these “new” technologies just happen to be the most recent evolutions of the core components of the rapidly evolving ecosystem that is the “open web”. Moreover, with HTML, CSS and Javascript being the brick and mortar, libraries such as JQuery, Dojo and YUI are the “prefab” building blocks of open web development, offering plug&play components to efficiently build cross-browser rich web interfaces. So the discussion is not about Flash vs HTML5, but about the choice between Flash and the powerful “open web technology stack”.


“The only constant is change” and that’s all the more valid on the web. Flash has an important role to play in this respect, having pushed the boundaries of  web-based UI’s for many years. But as some of the cutting-edge features that once were only available in Flash, can now be created more efficiently using non-propriety technology, there’s a shift towards the use of those open web components (e.g. the Flash carousel on National Geographic website that was shown in the Adobe video from my previous post has been replaced by a JQuery implementation).
I believe (and that’s what the previous post was about) this trend will continue in 2010 because of features of HTML5, CSS3, canvas, … becoming available to a wider audience either natively (in new browsers) or through libraries that provide cross-browser compatible implementations. And yes, I’m afraid that in my book that means Flash will become less relevant (“irrelevant” in my previous post being an obvious hyperbole).

Loose ends & examples

To sum it all up: when Adobe Flash evangelist Serge writes “Flash Player has it’s place on the web today and in the future” I can only agree. But I’ll bet you that place in the future will be less prominent than the one it holds today.

Het einde van m’n grote gelijk

Een gewetensbezwaarde en een beroepsmilitair stapten samen op de trein in Brussel-Noord. Ik was die gewetensbezwaarde en het werd een fantastisch gesprek vol wederzijdse interesse en nuance.
Ik zou wat meer gesprekken moeten aanknopen, op de trein, maar zo zijn we niet. Afgesloten achter de laptop, zoals ik, nu. Of een krant of een boek of gewoon slapen.
We zouden meer gesprekken moeten aanknopen en dan ook echt luisteren, zeker als er iemand tegenover ons zit die er een andere mening op nahoudt. Want als je dan naar elkaar kunt luisteren in plaats van je discussiërend terug te trekken achter de linie van het eigen grote gelijk, dan wordt het pas écht interessant!
Ik zal er aan proberen denken, als ik het vervolg op m’n controversiële ‘flash irrelevant’ blogpost schrijf.

2010: the year Flash became irrelevant

My 2nd prediction for 2010 (the first one being ‘offline is the new online‘): the glory days of Flash are over. The reason for this is twofold; the mobile web and the strong advances “open web” technology is making.

Open web moving in, fast

Remember the days when everybody wanted to spice up otherwise dull websites with “a flash splash page” and “flash menu’s”? Now menu’s are built in accessible, SEO-friendly HTML once again, using CSS to add style and even behavior, adding some Javascript if magic dust is required . And splash pages, well, those were pretty useless to begin with. Adobe Flash’s stronghold now is video playback and animation, but they’re bound to eventually lose that battle as well.
For starters; video (and audio) on the web doesn’t have to be based on a plugin any more. Firefox, Safari and Chrome have built-in html5 audio- and video-playback capabilities and several video-sites are already experimenting with those native browser multimedia-features. True, there’s still that darn codec-problem, but I bet you that’ll get solved in 2010 (clue; Google is negotiating the acquisition of video codec specialists On2 Technologies).
On the animation-front things are moving at such a fast pace, I even need a bulleted list;

Mobile; the Flash-less revolution

There’s no Flash on the iPhone. It wasn’t there at launch, back in 2007 and –despite me thinking it would arrive in 2009– it’s still not there. This decision is said to be Steve Jobs’, who in 2008 stated that a full-fledged version of Flash “performs too slow to be useful“. And it seems as though the turtlenecked CEO was right all along; on one hand the mobile web boomed thanks to the iPhone browser and on the other hand Adobe is still struggling to provide a decent mobile Flash experience, despite huge efforts in 2009. The fact is there’s no Flash on the booming mobile web, no-one seems to miss it much and it doesn’t look like that will change any time soon.

Adobe’s answer; mobile banners & deploy to Appstore

So with a Flash-less mobile web and with strong browser-native competition for both multimedia and graphics on the “normal” web, how does Adobe see it’s future? Well, they plan to roll out “iPhone packager for Flash” in CS5, allowing any Flash developer to publish to the AppStore, but there’s still no news about in-browser Flash on the iPhone.
For non-Apple devices, Adobe is boasting a preview version of Flash 10.1 in a mobile browser (the Android 2.0 browser on Google Nexus One in this case) with this promo video;

Flash Player 10.1 on Google's Nexus One Phone

I don’t know about you, but somehow a sub-par game, web video and banners don’t convince that Flash has a bright future ahead. Not on mobile and maybe even not on the open web as it’s shaping up to be.
But maybe you think Flash will remain in the spotlights despite all of this? Why? Let us know in the comments!

As found on the web (January 11th)

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