Category: Internet

GaesteBin: a secure pastebin for Google App Engine

TL;DR: gaestebin is a private, secure, open source pastebin for Google App Engine.

PastebinPastebins are incredibly useful. But most of the public pastebins are not suitable for sharing within a company (think code fragments, log messages etc.) and most private pastebins are either ugly (except hastebin!), hard to setup/maintain and usually forced to be behind the firewall (for security).

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The future of advertising

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Image courtesy Wikipedia

Facts:

  1. The Internet dominates our lives.
  2. The Internet thrives on advertising (think Google, Facebook, Twitter, Hulu)

It therefore follows that our lives are dominated by Internet advertising.

The traditional model for advertising has been that publishers put out ads to catch the attention of consumers via some like of delivery network. In the past these delivery networks were in print, on radio, on television and now, on the Internet. It seems like a win-win for everyone: the delivery network gets paid by the publishers; the publishers make money because they get more customers; the consumers find out about publishers that they may not have otherwise known.

But a new trend is emerging now: consumers directly pay the delivery networks to NOT see ads from publishers.

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Is website design becoming irrelevant?

Where & how do you consume content on the web these days? I find that increasingly, I get to the content without ever going to the website of origin.

For instance, on my iPhone I read pretty  much everything via Flipboard. On Android, I’m still struggling to find a good Flipboard replacement and shuttle between Pulse, Google Currents and recently, Feedly. In either case, I rarely ever go to the actual website.

I still get some of my content fix from Google Reader (xkcd, Abstruse Goose etc).

Most of the “news” — that is, when I’m in “skim mode” — comes from social media, mostly G+ and a tiny bit from Twitter.

I remember the days (several years ago) when Techcrunch changing it’s site layout used to be a news in itself. Now I can’t remember the last time I visited Techcrunch (well, that could be partially attributed to the content quality…)

My point is, in all of the above cases, the app or service presents the content in an origin-agnostic manner. When you read something on Flipboard, it’s presented to be consumable via the Flipboard interface (in most cases), and not meant to preserve the look and feel of the origin website.

And such apps and services are just becoming more and more prevalent: Evernote Clearly; Readability; content-provider specific apps such as those from Time, CNN, NYT etc.

So, is website design becoming irrelevant? Especially for content-heavy sites?

(The Oatmeal is an exception — Matthew forces you to visit the website, and it’s always worth it)

Bitcasa: First Impressions

Bitcasa

I got my invite for the Bitcasa beta last week but only got around to installing it yesterday. I’ve only used it sparingly thus far. If you are in a hurry, here’s the TL;DR version:

  • Users might find the “cloudify” model confusing
  • Built using osxfuse (not to be confused with MacFUSE) and Qt
  • Infinite storage sounds too good to be true. What’s the catch?
  • Building trust with users will take time

Cloudification and Confusion

Here’s Bitcasa on what cloudify does:

When a folder is Cloudified, a corresponding virtual folder is created on the Bitcasa server and the contents of your local folder are copied up to the server. When Connected to the Bitcasa server, any changes or additions to the folder will live on the server. When not Connected to the Bitcasa server, any changes or addition to the folder will live locally.

Just think about that for a second. The “cloudify” model sounds great in principle, but it does add a lot of complexity in terms of how users interact with the system. For instance, when I’m offline and make changes to one of my cloudified folders, that change happens presumably locally. I would assume that when I come back online, these changes are synced back to Bitcasa ala Dropbox. But what if I accidentally disconnect a folder, make some changes and then reconnect — per the FAQ, the changes made locally won’t be synced.

The consumer cloud storage is fairly mature right now and one can learn a lot by looking at how people respond to other systems. This thread on Quora is particularly insightful: again and again, simplicity comes up as one of the key reasons behind Dropbox’s success.

My prediction is that Bitcasa’s cloudify feature will be leveraged primarily by power users and the rest would end up using the default Bitcasa folder, Dropbox style.

Nuts and Bolts

Bitcasa seems to be built primarily using Qt. This isn’t a surprise: Qt is a mature, open source and cross-platform library.

$ otool -L Bitcasa
Bitcasa:
 /usr/lib/libSystem.B.dylib (compatibility version 1.0.0, current version 159.1.0)
 /usr/lib/libz.1.dylib (compatibility version 1.0.0, current version 1.2.5)
 /usr/lib/libcrypto.0.9.8.dylib (compatibility version 0.9.8, current version 44.0.0)
 @executable_path/../Frameworks/libmacfuse_i64.2.dylib (compatibility version 10.0.0, current version 2.0.0)
 /usr/lib/libssl.0.9.8.dylib (compatibility version 0.9.8, current version 44.0.0)
 /System/Library/Frameworks/CoreServices.framework/Versions/A/CoreServices (compatibility version 1.0.0, current version 53.0.0)
 @executable_path/../Frameworks/QtWebKit.framework/Versions/4/QtWebKit (compatibility version 4.7.0, current version 4.7.4)
 @executable_path/../Frameworks/QtXml.framework/Versions/4/QtXml (compatibility version 4.7.0, current version 4.7.4)
 @executable_path/../Frameworks/QtGui.framework/Versions/4/QtGui (compatibility version 4.7.0, current version 4.7.4)
 @executable_path/../Frameworks/QtNetwork.framework/Versions/4/QtNetwork (compatibility version 4.7.0, current version 4.7.4)
 @executable_path/../Frameworks/QtCore.framework/Versions/4/QtCore (compatibility version 4.7.0, current version 4.7.4)
 /usr/lib/libstdc++.6.dylib (compatibility version 7.0.0, current version 52.0.0)
 /usr/lib/libgcc_s.1.dylib (compatibility version 1.0.0, current version 1105.0.0)

$ mount
Sample Videos on /Users/diwaker/Bitcasa/Sample Videos (osxfusefs, nodev, nosuid, synchronous, mounted by diwaker)
TryBitcasa on /Users/diwaker/TryBitcasa (osxfusefs, nodev, nosuid, synchronous, mounted by diwaker)
TryBitcasaDedup on /Users/diwaker/TryBitcasaDedup (osxfusefs, nodev, nosuid, synchronous, mounted by diwaker)

Note further that Bitcasa represents “connected” folders as mount points over the existing folders. This is why when you disconnect a folder and make changes, they won’t propagate to Bitcasa’s copy of that folder. They are using osxfuse which implies that Bitcasa is intercepting file system calls; this is in contrast to Dropbox-like systems that detect changes to the local filesystem asynchronously. I haven’t compared fine-grained read/write performance just yet.

Here’s a snapshot of the Bitcasa Folders UI:

Bitcasa also does some deduplication. Uploading 100MB of mostly random data took around 4 minutes on a pretty fat pipe which isnt’ bad at all. Copying that data back out took just as long, if not longer. A copy of the same folder took less than 10 seconds to cloudify!

Security

Much has been said about Bitcasa’s security. However, most of the articles are concerned with a specific dimension of security: encryption.

A detailed discussion of Bitcasa’s security in general and encryption, in particular, deserves a post of its own. For now, suffice to say that even after several years of user experience, Dropbox still hit some pretty nasty security snafus in 2011. Like a lot of you, I’m very concerned about security, especially with a service that is offering me infinite storage for free! It takes time to build trust with your users — there’s no short cut.

Overall, Bitcasa is definitely interesting. Dropbox was almost beginning to monopolize the consumer cloud storage market, so some good competition will hopefully benefit the end users in the long run.

Review of iPhone apps for Indian news

I like and use the iPhone apps for CNN, NYT and NPR news, but none of them are any good for staying up-to-date with happenings in India. So one day, out of curiosity, I started looking around for apps specifically for Indian news. Here’s what I found.

Summary: the NDTV app is probably one of the best free apps. I didn’t consider paid apps.

First, the usual suspects:

Times of India: The ToI app’s UI is functional, but otherwise not remarkable at a first glance. In true ToI tradition, the “Entertainment” section is feature prominently on the home page, just under top news. Of course, readers of ToI know that “Entertainment” and “Photos” are just euphemisms for soft porn — ToI happily parlays all kinds of NSFW material under the guise of “news”. I’m really curious to know how much of their app traffic (indeed, their website traffic) goes to the entertainment section.

The ToI App

Thankfully, buried under the “Settings”, the app allows reordering the various sections. You can also optionally specify a home city. I haven’t really used the Video section of the app, so can’t comment on it.

Overall, the app is not bad, but it can’t compensate for ToI’s reporting.

NDTV: The NDTV app feels only slightly more polished than the ToI app; structurally they’re quite similar and most differences are cosmetic. Unlike ToI though, NDTV’s Photos section is closer to what I’d expect on a news app (there’s still a heavy entertainment bias, of course).

But perhaps the most killer aspect of the NDTV app is that you can watch various channels of the NDTV group live!!

The NDTV App

The only downside of the NDTV app is that it shows a lot more ads than the other apps I looked at.

Hindustan Times: the HT app is probably not being actively developed — it still has a CWG section!! Other differentiators are a dedicated “Blogs” section. Compared to ToI and NDTV, this app offers basically no customization, no videos. The content is not as rich or fresh as the other apps.

The HT App

There were a lot of other news apps but none of them felt credible. The IBN Live app looked interesting but it seems to focus mostly on live TV and not news articles. For now, I’m sticking with the NDTV app.

What apps do you use to get your does of Indian news?