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stan's blog

A new beginning

Life can move very quickly at times. A month ago I was a graduate student in a small German town, and now I'm living in Manhattan and working in a skyscraper. After a week of shellshock, I'm adjusting to the pace of life here and excited to be working in the industry again.

But what does this have to do with Outfoxed?

My new employer has agreed to give me time to develop Outfoxed, and now I will finally have that time. My personal journals have begun to overflow with ideas and optimizations in the last months and I'm eager to bring them to reality. That said, the primary goal in coming weeks will be in making Outfoxed into a rock-solid piece of software, and bringing it to other platforms.

I'll be doing limited releases of these new versions in the coming weeks. If you'd like to be part of this "front line" testing crew, then please shoot me an email.

Thanks again to everyone who has sent in suggestions, bug reports, and comments in the past weeks. Please keep them coming!


Keep on holding on...

I've been on a whirlwind tour of interviews and meetings, but it looks like the future of Outfoxed is secured. Expect a lot of improvements in the coming months!

Mac and Linux at last!

It's been too long since I've posted anything here, but rest assured that Outfoxed is still under development and it's future is looking brighter than ever.

Yesterday I gave the final presentation of my thesis work (big thanks to everyone in Osnabrück who was there!) and will have more time for coding now.

And best of all, yesterday I heard from Udo that he had successfully compiled Mac and Linux versions of Outfoxed! We'll package everything up this weekend and have distributions out soon after.

New update

A new update is available. It fixes some of the slow-startup and tempory browser-freezing issues. Get it from the download page.

In the pipe

So where is Outfoxed headed? Here are my primary targets at the moment. (At least for features...killing bugs remains a permanent goal!)

  • Integration with AdBlock: Blacklisted URL's and RegularExpressions entered as reports which can be shared through the informer network.
  • SHA-1 (256?) scanning and report-lookup of downloaded files.
  • Inclusion of public keys in informer file
  • Some sort of in-network communication system, probably encrypted.
  • Utility to limit server access (eg web pages) to only those in your informer network. (Using public key challenge-response.)
  • Option to combine URL with an XSL file to create a "virtual informer page". This will allow any page to be transformed into an informer file. (e.g., for grabbing stuff from stumbleupon pages.)
  • Thunderbird extension as companion to Outfoxed
    • Ability to enter reports on [hashes of] email addresses
    • Option to convert address book to reports (a la the import bookmarks function in Outfoxed.)
    • Some sort of white list functionality based on reports from informers in network.
    • Visualization to show your relation to someone who sends you an email.
  • A protocol for grabbing only changes to informer files, rather than downloading the whole thing each time.

If you would like to help with any of these modules, please let me know!



A new search engine, Zniff, takes a step in the right direction by using publicly available social bookmarks as indicators of worth. However, this approach is doomed to fail if it enjoys any success: If it becomes popular, it is all to easy for tricksters to create false bookmarks for the sole purpose of inflating the ranks of chosen pages. It's the same lesson that Google is learning now with googlebombing. You can never trust random pages on the internet. Not even social bookmark pages.

Restricted growth [...and the cult of the Outfoxed]

A nice about post about Outfoxed, from someone who obviously "gets it". (I'm still amazed at how many folks seem to think that Outfoxed is just a StumpleUpon clone!) Mushika clearly explains two possible problems, which seem like a good excuse for me to take a break from bug fixing and make some ramblings.

First, regardless of how much you like your friends the odds are very high that at least one of them is a total fucking idiot.

I mention this problem in several places, but should probably bring them all together some day. Primary is Keeping your network clean (which is based on the math of the previous section, Small world networks). This also came up in my email with Dave Methvin.

The best you can hope for is the to limit the radius of collateral damage from the fucking idiots, and keep the damage focussed on those closest to the idiots. This produces a nice feedback loop wherein the people most likely to have influence the idiots are the ones most affected. With its hop-based sorting of reports and the intrinsic small-world nature of social networks, Outfoxed attempts to make this the case.

The second problem is one I addressed in the post from a year ago: limiting all of your searches to things you are already interested in seems like a good way to restrict growth. I'm online a lot because I like learning new things; if every site I went to only reinforced things I already knew, I'd be learning nothing. And groups of people who implicitly restrict their viewpoint to that of other group members are called 'cults', not 'online communities', and individual members are called 'ignorant'.

This is indeed a concern, and one I've thought about a lot. It's more of a meta-level issue: is the service provided by Outfoxed (and similar social-filitering systems) a Good or a Bad thing?

In the past, information access was severly limited: Geographically, culturally, linguistically, etc... These information filters were the de-facto standards, and one had to work very hard (and be very lucky and or rich) to discover New Things.

Technology has changed all this: the printing press, the radio, the television, the internet. (Yes, I'm sure you've heard all this before, but stay with me for my next point.) When these built-in filters are removed, what New Things do people find? In every case, control of the exposure to New Things went to whoever had the power to get their message out: the corporations who could advertise and promote whatever they wanted into people's lives.

Is this a Good Thing or a Bad Thing?

What I'm trying to get at is that information will always be filtered. It has to be in order to fit into our limited human bandwidth. (If God surfs the web, he don't use Google. ) And if people don't delegate this task to agents which they trust, the job will be filled by biggest and strongest agents.

If there's a third option, I'd love to hear about it.

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