Of IMs and usability

My choices in IM clients were dictated more by the inceasing number of contacts who started using different services. Took the plunge with Mirabilis ICQ in 1997 – some months before the takeover by AOL. Also used Yahoo Messenger for a while until the start of the millenium when most of my contacts were MSN Messenger users. Naturally, I couldn’t just get rid of the other clients, because most of them were exhibiting the kind of brand loyalty that a marketing man gets wet dreams about, so I turned to multi-protocol clients.

Trillian was the first and it was good while it was free. It did all that was expected of it and connected to all 3 protocols at once without the overhead of the pretty and overly fancy individual clients. I was later introduced to GAIM and always being one to fly the OpenSource banner, I decided to try it out for a few weeks (of course – the fact that I was playing around with Knoppix and other *nix flavours at the time also pushed me to use the same client on my Windows partition too).

I am now a huge fan of the Open Source Miranda IM. Unbelievably large collection of plugins allows the user to customize it to a very large extent. There’s also support for so many different protocols, some of which I haven’t even heard of .

But then comes Google Talk with its simplistic interface and it’s innate ability to conduct voice chats all embedded in a client smaller than some images that I’ve seen. I was hooked.

Now it’s a combination – for most times I use Miranda for communicating with all 4 protocols (ICQ / Yahoo / MSN / Google Talk). For vox chats – I switch to Google Talk.

I’m now championing the cause of IPB Image, a web based multi-protocol messenger service that functions within a browser window, has full support for Firefox and also keeps logs of the chats you’ve had so it’s easy to dig up references to any topic you might have discussed with your friends earlier. It’s being continuously developed and new features are being added regularly.

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The Internet Is Evil?

The above statement is one that is certain to provoke a furious discussion among geeks, technology evangelists and those of us who are completely overawed by the hugely increasing capabilities being offered by the use of the Internet.

Let me however, try to break things down into a simpler format – First, setting apart the personification applied as to whether an inanimate collection of electronically linked devices can actually be thought to have characteristics that can be termed as “malevolent” (or just plain evil to you and me),let’s start by asking who the most likely people would be to think of this as a true likelihood…

The Internet is all about sharing information; it was built essentially to share information between various organisations. Information, thus used is usually termed to be knowledge and having knowledge, as is oft-quoted, is said to be having power. Leaving the philosophical discussion about the inherent risks associated with power and responsibility (didn’t I see that in a super-hero movie sometime?), I’ll focus on the factor that all of us know for a fact can possibly be categorized as “evil” – people. It’s the people using the internet to create and distribute obscene content, malicious applications and the like. It’s the people who try to track your online movements and then serve you advertisements for products and services that you certainly don’t need. It’s the public servant who no longer can enforce his price-list of bribes in order to carry out your work thanks to online procedures and transparency, who thinks the Internet to be evil. It’s your local post office and the lazy hypothetical postman who now thinks twice before delaying your “Speed Post” package, by saying it’s stuck in transit, while you know thanks to Internet tracking that the package has already reached the post office – he’s one of the ever increasing band of people terming the Net evil for trying to increase his efficiency. And what about the sniveling touts that greet you outside every Railway Ticket Reservation Centre – the Internet has put paid to a heavy chunk of their income obtained by falsely telling passengers that seats weren’t available while half the train would roll out empty.

The above are just a small slice of the pie of people who think that the Net is evil. Why then do so many of us when asked our first impression of the Internet, think that it’s nothing more than a cesspool of scams, obscene and pornographic content and a place that allows terrorists to secretly exchange messages? Perhaps because it is so or it is just human nature to search for and lock on to the black spot in a white kerchief.

The Internet as it currently stands is nothing more than an extension to the happenings in the real-world. Human nature is an extremely complex set of concepts. What worries some one will more likely than not be just fine for the person sitting next to them. I personally have seen a middle-aged man, buying a magazine with adult content. None of our so called moral police object to that. I fail to see how the medium of distribution rather than the content itself comes under fire.

I need to clarify something which might not be understood by all and at once – there lies a difference, albeit a subtle one, between the evils of the Internet and the Internet being evil itself. As in life, I have heard of stories that warm a geek’s heart like that of people being re-united after being separated for lifetimes thanks to contact established via the Net. Fundraising for many a worthy cause as opposed to the steady stream of fictitious dollars being pumped out of most African nations (if someone were daft enough to believe the content of those emails).

It’s a firm belief of mine and some may say that I belong to a dying breed that as in life itself, the online world must be watched. Online freedoms must be protected as they are in the real world. A pre-condition though does exist as ably described by the Roman poet Decimus Junius Juvenalis:

“Quis costodiet ipsos custodes?”

Who will watch the watchers?




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