Notes on media, politics & technology, by Adam Wilcox.

Antisocial - Ello and Facebook


There is a new social networking site,, which is “simple, beautiful & ad-free.”

Ello has been bubbling under the surface since March this year, but over the last week a number of articles have inflated its profile and non-tech people have become aware of its existence. It’s an attractive new service pitching itself under the banner of “Facebook is rubbish these days, vive la révolution!”

I’m not that old - within shambling distance of 30 - but I’ve been online for long enough to see various social networks come and go. The dominant social network currently is Facebook, with 71% of the internet using the site, and despite predictions that the site will lose up to 80% of its users within the next three years, it remains a seemingly unstoppable beast.

Ello isn’t the first anti-Facebook; I had an account on and backed Diaspora on Kickstarter, but neither have gained any traction other than with the first wave nerds.

I deleted my Facebook account in November 2012, and in the almost two years since then I’ve hardly missed it. I realise I’m not normal in this regard, along with Facebook my Google account is gone. LinkedIn never sat well with me. I guess I’m just not a social network kinda guy.

I’ve stuck with Twitter, even though I’ve assumed for ages now that eventually Twitter will become unusable. I don’t know what replaces it though, if it wasn’t for the various forms of Tweetbot I’d struggle to use Twitter’s own product as it is.

Ello promises to be the new Facebook, a Facebook without adverts and selling out your data. That promise already seems questionable, as Ello has taken a $435,000 round of seed funding in January from FreshTracks Capital, a Vermont-based VC firm. VCs expect a return on investment. Ello says that it’s going to monetise by selling features. It might work, but enough to be sustainable and keep VCs happy? Not likely Andy Baio:

VCs don’t give money out of goodwill, and taking VC funding — even seed funding — creates outside pressures that shape the inevitable direction of a company.

Every social network I’ve used has either failed to gain enough traction to encapsulate the full range of people that make up ones nearest and dearest, or been forced to pivot from social utility to corporate advertising media platform.

Social Networks are “YOUR FRIENDSHIPS! (Sponsored by Subway)”. Two incompatible forces of social connectedness and corporate interests.

I can’t work up any enthusiasm for Ello. I certainly don’t intend to use Ello. Maybe I am just getting old. Or maybe social networks have had their day. Facebook is 10 years old this year, and the internet has changed so much in 10 years.

When Facebook started, communication online wasn’t particularly easy. It was message boards and forums. You could contact friends online via email and instant message. Both required a desktop computer, and often only after checking no one else needed to use the phone-line. Today email and instant message have been replaced by… email and iMessage.

My iPhone can contact anyone, anywhere, anytime. I don’t need a social network to facilitate my interactions with friends and family.

Contempt of Court


When someone famous finds themselves in trouble with the law, it can be very tempting to hop on Twitter and crack a joke at their expense. Particularly when that individual happens to be an odious scumbag that you’ve always suspected of being up to no good.

However, by doing so, you risk committing Contempt of Court. ‘Contempt’ is the law that protects the judicial process. It covers not only misbehaviour in the courtroom itself, but also anyone making prejudicial comments that might force trials to be abandoned. Comments on social media fall into this category.

The Attorney General has made it clear that when you publish something on the internet, you are considered a journalist. The Contempt of Court Act 1981 says that there are criminal sanctions up to and including imprisonment for anyone who acts in a way ‘tending to interfere with the course of justice in particular legal proceedings regardless of intent to do so’.

How to Avoid Committing Contempt of Court.

The Contempt of Court Act 1981 kicks in once somebody has been arrested or civil proceedings have started, such as when a warrant has been issued, or they have been orally charged. If this has happened, you should avoid publishing something which creates a substantial risk of serious prejudice or serious impediment to those proceedings.

Serious Prejudice or Impediment?

So Should I Just Keep Quiet?

Well, yes and no. You are in the legal clear discussing cases in broad terms, so for example if there is a high profile case regarding domestic abuse you can discus the issues around domestic abuse, but not specific commentary on the case.

Referring to someone having allegedly committed the alleged offence is in theory safe, but unless you are Ian Hislop, or really, really sure of your ground it’s probably not worth the risk.

My thanks to David Banks, one of the UK’s leading media law trainers and consultants, for double checking this post for me.

Nominet, Privacy, and the .uk Domain


I’ve been building websites for about fifteen years, and in that time I’ve owned quite a few domain names, as you do. You kinda collect them by accident, like golfers probably end up with way more daft shirts than they really need.

When you buy a domain, it gets listed in a WHOIS database, which shows among other things your name and address as well as the server details and IP address block. If the domain is for personal use, (not a business), you can choose to opt-out of having your personal details displayed in the database.

Since June however, Nominet, the company which manages the .uk registry, has started to strictly enforce the requirement that domain name owners list their full legal name, and home addresses if they receive any compensation from the site.

To opt out, you must be a ‘consumer’ i.e. an individual who has registered and is using the domain name for a purpose unconnected with any business, trade (this includes the registration of domain names for monetisation purposes, e.g. pay per click advertising etc) or profession.

So if you have advertising on the site, or you are promoting your small etsy-style business, or you are a graphic designer taking commissions and using the domain as a portfolio; you could be required to list your name and address. This is a privacy disaster.

In the case of Andrew Norton, his details were leaked via WHOIS when Nominet noticed he was linking to his book for sale on Amazon.

I was alarmed to discover earlier this month that some domains I had registered and never used, (the domains were blank and not containing anything that could be construed as ‘compensation’), were listing my current full name and home address. I got onto Nominet and got the domains canceled immediately.

Because this domain is a .org, it is classed as a US domain and I use a US service that protects my name and address, so when you WHOIS this website, you get the contact details of RespectMyPrivacy, LLC.

Because of this move by Nominet, I’ve finally got rid of every .uk domain I own. I refuse to run the risk of my privacy being sacrificed at the whim of Nominet. Just because I own a domain of my own, I do not believe I should sacrifice the privacy of my name, home address and phone number hanging out there on the Internet, free for the taking.

Monument Valley


Winner of an Apple Design Award, Monument Valley is a great little game on iOS.

I played Monument Valley when it first came out in March, but whilst on holiday last week I handed my iPad to my girlfriend and suggested she played Monument Valley. I didn’t get my iPad back until she’d finished it; in one sitting.

The beautiful original soundtrack for the game is now available to buy on iTunes.


DRM and eBooks


From The Guardian:

Scholastic, the publisher of such children’s book juggernauts as The Hunger Games and the Harry Potter series, announced recently that its Storia ebook shop would shortly be “transitioning” to a streaming model. What this means for its readers is that books they have already purchased might become unreadable.

When you ‘buy’ an eBook with digital rights management (DRM), you are not really buying the book; merely renting it.

According to Scholastic’s website: “The switch to streaming means that eBooks you’ve previously purchased may soon no longer be accessible.”

Imagine if you got up one morning, and wandered into the kitchen to make a cup of tea, only to discover that a representative from Russell Hobbs had snuck in overnight and made off with your kettle, because buying the kettle “no longer suited their business model”. This is the insane situation we have with eBooks, and it really shouldn’t be like this.

I’ve never bought anything from the Scholastic website, but I have bought eBooks from the Amazon Kindle Store.

eBooks purchased from Amazon come with DRM, and if Amazon decided to close your account, you would lose access to all your books, (something they have done before). You need an insurance policy against losing access to your account, or the specific DRM simply being no longer supported.

I use Calibre and install plugins to strip Amazon’s DRM from my purchased eBook files. Zachary West has a clear guide to removing Amazon’s DRM.

Obviously, this should only be used for gaining full access to your own ebooks for archiving, conversion, or convenience. Don’t go uploading them to PirateBay, that doesn’t help the case against DRM and it only hurts the original authors of the books.