Coldly killed by Jordanian MPs, the Internet, the free cyberspace directly responsible of Jordan’s entrepreneurship, creative initiatives, alternative media and of 14% of our country’s GDP, died today, age 16. A celebration of life service was held in front of the parliament.
It was 1996, when the Internet came to Jordan, at that time, the less-than 56k speed we got looked terrific, me and my brother were lucky enough to convince my parents to sign up for a dial-up Internet connection at home although the astronomical costs of a now-defunct ISP named NETS. Since the beginning, it was clear that web would open a brand-new world, building a new digital generation in Jordan.
Unhappy, like others, with the traditional media and boundaries imposed by society, the Internet offered freer ways of communication, the nation-wide popular Netscape Navigator was there to access news on arabia.com or to check the latest Abu Mahjoob cartoons on Baladna, these Jordanian websites, now offline, discovered very early the net’s potentials, together with sites like Maktoob, that is still considered a crowning achievement in Jordan’s tech entrepreneurship.
I don’t know if the Amman-born Khaled Mardam-Bey, the creator of mIRC, knows how popular his software was at the beginning of the last decade in his country of birth. For sure, who was a teenager like me at that time, remembers hours and hours spent on mIRC, it was without doubts a social phenomenon; the Internet started to be an inseparable part of our lives.
At that time as well, I was studying in Irbid, and I witnessed how the Internet transformed the social and business life of the tiny university city. Irbid’s unique University Street, was popularly renamed the Internet Street, referring to the huge amount of cybercafes that opened at that time, hundreds clustered in less than one kilometer, the number of internet cafes per capita was the highest in the world allowing Irbid to apply for a Guinness World Record. People from all ages, but especially young students, were among the ordinary clients of these mushroom-growing cafes, Internet allowed us to be connected to anywhere in the world, and to access knowledge through means completely unimaginable before.
There was a new shiny hope for Jordan, the vision of Internet openness Jordan had, the laissez-faire policies, allowed the IT sector to grow, and encouraged thousands of people like me to get a Computer Science university degree, and to work in the new, flourishing sector.
The Internet created a vibrant, productive sector that now generates 14% of Jordan’s GDP, and a workforce of tens of thousands, making Jordan the Arabic leader in online content production, and letting it gain the title of Middle East’s Silicon Valley by many.
Things have changed regarding the IT sector, the Internet is now considered a threat by many of the policy makers in this country, they are pushing for government’s censorship of the Internet not different to the way Jordanian authorities deal with traditional media. Lawmakers today expressed their total ignorance of how Internet works, explicitly saying that is a right, even a duty, for the government to block access to websites, making the Internet looking no more than a small toy in government’s hands.
At JOSA, we used to promote concepts like digital rights, net neutrality and the open web, to suddenly discover that our government and representatives do not understand anything, they are only willing to accept a new state-owned media, they call it Internet.
Yes, the parliament today killed the Internet as we know it, it killed thousands of jobs, companies and more importantly it killed the ambitions of this country and its people.
After government's green light to block websites under very dubious "ethical" reasons, the Jordanian government approved today the new Publications Law, which gives authorities more power to control and censor the Internet in Jordan, Issa Mahasneh reports.
The Jordanian council of ministers approved today a new law amending the Publications and Press Law of 1998, making the new law, if approved by lawmakers, one of the biggest threats to Internet Freedom in Jordan.
"The draft law was needed to regulate work of electronic sites, make them accountable under the penal code and oblige the ones interested in covering Jordan's internal and external affairs to register and get license like the print press", our state-run news agency reported, although news websites were already included in the Press Law and classified as press publications in a 2010 Supreme Court decision, a decision met with fierce opposition from journalist, media organizations and, of course, by Jordan Open Source Association.
Today's new amendments are even more draconian, the Director General of the Department of Press and Publication is given the right to block any non-Jordan based website in case of violations. Based on what news websites are reporting, although not being a judicial figure, this Director General has now the executive power to block pieces of Internet, and to issue tsar-style ukases against any news website registered in Jordan.
Additionally, in a very discussable amendment, news websites will be totally responsible of user generated content, like comments, in case they are published. Meaning that any comment should be moderated and, actually, censored by website administrators.
The new law requires websites to store any comment for a 6-month period, it is important here to see that comments, even published or not, should be stored, what it is not clear, as the full text of amendments are not made public yet, is which control the government will have on these stored comments.
If approved by parliament and royal assent, this primitive, medieval legislation will considerably restrict press freedoms on the net, making the only real democratic space in Jordan, the only space that allows citizens to get free information and have their say, under the control of the government.
The Jordanian government is adopting stronger positions against Internet Freedom, after speaking in favor of black-censoring websites that might contain "pornographic" materials and considering a draft law to "regularize" news websites, it is now the turn of political content, officially asked to be removed from Google. Issa Mahasneh shares his fears that Internet in Jordan will not be free anymore soon.
In the last six months, Google has received more than one thousand requests from government authorities to remove content which are considered 'harmful'.
The bad story for us is that one of the new-entries is, unfortunately, Jordan, whose authorities have requested the removal of "less than 10" pieces of content, for the first time since Google started publishing these data.
The Mountain View based company started releasing publicly all the countries' requests in its "Transparency Report" since January 2010.
Although in other countries most of the requests are court orders, cases where content have been found to not comply with national laws according to the country's juridical system. In Jordan, all the requests were from the Government, which implicates that content requested to be removed are mostly allegations on political basis.
In fact, most of the requests Google receives for such removals are politically related, as explained by Dorothy Chou, Senior Policy Analyst at Google, "We’ve been asked to take down political speech" she said, adding that free expression is at risk.
Google reported that none of the Jordanian requests were fully or partially complied with. But the fear of having the government asking for more of content removal from Google is understandable.
It is now clear that the Jordanian government has strong intentions to tighten its control on the Internet, making it less free, the role of the civil society now is to not putting the censor's scissors in the hands of the government under any excuse, and if we really care about the Internet (and we do), we should really fight for its first principle, openness.
In this digital era, we should believe that Internet Freedom is one of the main freedoms we should fight for. The question we have to answer is easy; can we really give the government the authority to decide what we can see on the web or we cannot?
Starting last November, Google Chrome rose to no. 2 spot among web browsers, overtaking Firefox. Both are good, Saifallah Qasim skeptically says in this blog post, but what were the reasons of Firefox's downturn and is that so relevant to the Open Source community?
Firefox is the popular, open-source browser developed by the non-profit organization Mozilla. Firefox has always been on top of Google’s Chrome until recently, a new stats report showed that Chrome has surpassed Firefox and is now the second most-used web browser after Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE). What went wrong and why?
Google Chrome is based on the open-source project known as Chromium, with some Google-powered color scheme and features (such as the syncing feature), this browser was a big surprise to many of us as it performed pretty well. Everyone who used Chrome, even remotely, couldn't help but describing it as “snappy”. Clean UI, wide-range of extensions (no need to restart the browser) and “apps”, silent update mechanism and a Google product all make Chrome a clear winner. It launches very quickly (either cold or warm) which is, for most, a very important trait.
In my personal opinion Chrome is for those who just want to launch the browser and get going, it’s not very attractive to geeks or power users. The settings have been clearly developed for my grandparents with very limited “tinkering” and the UI is almost locked and can’t be customized. Chrome relies heavily on the memory (RAM) which could get really messy sometimes. Chrome has no personality.
Mozilla Firefox is an open-source browser that made to save humanity from the curse of IE. A very huge catalog of add-ons, the magical about:config and an unmatched customization features are the main pillars, so far, of Firefox. Yet Mozilla has succeeded to make it also a user-friendly product for those who just want something to function properly and at the same time something attractive for the nerds and hackers craving for “more”.
Since Mozilla decided to adopt the rapid-release strategy, a part of its user base, including me for sometime, has lost interest and questioned Mozilla for their decision especially that most of the updates didn’t really show any progress, user-end-wise. Some Add-ons still require the browser to restart in order to function (I wonder when will Mozilla get over this one), more time to launch, and the “complexity” of the options scare away regular users and oblige them to switch to Chrome.
No one can blame them, in addition that not many care about open-source and its philosophy. Mozilla sensed it and released a video hoping to remind people that abandoned Firefox for Chrome of their values, beliefs, and continous help for the web community.
No one can deny the role that marketing plays in this game and Google is a unique expert in that field. Their mellow ads over Youtube had great effect over some and converted them to Chrome users. Mozilla relies heavily on donations, sponsors and community support, who’s the clear winner? What’s our part? Should we even care?
What do Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter have in common? All of them are giant social media websites, but the companies behind them are releasing more and more open source tools. Issa Mahasneh listed the most important ones that marked the last year.
Busy open source year for the biggest social media platforms, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter all have released some good open source tools. The companies, that strongly relied on open source for building their websites, are now giving back to the community, even as a sign of love or to benefit from others' contributions.
'Twitter Wants To Make It Harder For Governments To Snoop' - Open Sources Android Security Tool
Twitter has released in December a technology for encrypting SMSs on Android devices as open-source. The secure text-messaging client, named TextSecure, allows people to add encryption to all sent and received texts from their Android phones, and can encrypt texts for transmission if they are being sent to another TextSecure user.
The tool Twitter published its source code on Github, is owned by the micro blogging platform since its acquisition of Whisper Systems that has "always been interested in the ability for individuals and organisations to communicate freely and securely", according to Whisper Systems Development Team.
"We hope that as an open-source project, TextSecure will be able to reach even more people, with an even larger number of contributors working to make it a great product", they added.
By this move "Twitter wants to make it harder for governments to snoop", some press sources reported. "Originally built to protect activists' phone messages from being picked up by the government, Whisper's products make it harder to snoop on Android phones".
According to Mashable, open sourcing this software means that "those same dissidents can engineer new features and adapt the software for their own purposes, potentially making them even more secure".
Finally, Some Good Hip Hop Music
HipHop is a code transformer for PHP developed by Facebook, HipHop transforms PHP script code into compiled code, through converting it into optimized C++ and later to machine code. Why to use HipHop? Easy, compiled code is basically faster, with HipHop, a PHP application can be 2 to 6 times faster. Different PHP sites like Drupal, MediaWiki and WordPress have their performance boosted by HipHop.
Although released in 2010, some good news appeared a month ago, Facebook is working on a HipHop Virtual Machine (hhvm), which improved upon HipHop interpreter performance by 60% (and reduced memory usage by 90%).
If you are a computer scientist you would probably know that languages like Java and C# have a dynamic translation to native machine code (a.k.a just-in-time or JIT compilation), the current HipHop compiler and interpreter do not share a unified intermediate representation (since they have two different ASTs), with the HipHop virtual machine; a PHP, or more exactly, a HipHop bytecode is created that is turned into x64 by a dynamic translator.
Jason Evans, who announced the HipHop Virtual Machine on the Facebook Engineering blog, said "We hope that the PHP community will find hhvm useful as it matures and engage with us to broaden its usefulness through technical discussions, bug reports, and code contributions".
If you want to check it out for yourself, it’s all open-sourced on GitHub. Till now, 20 people have contributed to the HHVM project.
Facebook Opens Its Data Centers
Kudos to Facebook as well for their good decision to make their data centers' design and architecture public, acting different than other companies (like Google, that keeps its data center a highly-guarded secret), Facebook provided full specification of their infrastructure in an open way.
Starting April 2011, the social networking company initiated the Open Compute Project, in which it provided full specifications of its computing infrastructure using open source software and hardware to "democratize access to the best server, storage and data center technologies available". According to the project, the focus is on open technologies that can be multi-sourced.
Last year Facebook released as well its own Scribe log aggregation tool. If you want to know more about all the tools and technologies open sourced by Facebook check the Open Source page on Facebook Developers.
LinkedIn Open Sources Search Engine (For the 2nd Time)
LinkedIn has open sourced software obtained in October 2011 with its acquisition of the IndexTank search-engine company. "We are excited to add IndexTank to this array of powerful open source tools" said Diego Basch, LinkedIn Director of Engineering.
IndexTank is the same company that deployed search systems for other big web sites, including BitTorrent, TaskRabbit and Reddit.
LinkedIn had previously donated source code of tools related to search, including Bobo, a Java-based extension to Apache Lucene that can search semi-structured data, Zoie, a real-time search engine built on Lucene and Cleo, a library for text form autocomplete services.
IndexTank has three components; IndexEngine: a real-time fulltext search-and-indexing system designed to separate relevance signals from document text, APIs and Nebulizer, a framework to host and manage an unlimited number of indexes running over the cloud.
These components are open source (released under the Apache 2.0 license) and code can be downloaded from GitHub.