Nominet 4th Annual Conference 2010 Morning Session.


One of the things that I am immensely proud of is that the company I work for is a Nominet registrar. That is I act as an agent for clients to register a domain with Nominet. When you register a .uk domain regardless of who it is they will be a Nominet registrar.

So last November my MD and I went down for the 4th annual conference which was hosted in the Science Museum. The moderator for the day was Sarah Montague from the Today program on the radio.

We started with the introduction and a celebration of 25 years of the .uk register. It boggles my mind that in 1985 a couple of individuals registered the first .uk domains. I mean I was still in junior school. Nominet itself was started in 1996 after the register has grown to 26000 domain names. This register had been maintained by a handful of volunteers who vetted and checked each registration.

But we are in the age that looks to the future, so the morning keynote was from Johnathon Margolis, who is a technical journalist for the Financial Times and an author. He started speaking about 4G mobile internet and the fact that you can get 100mbps when years ago the very idea of mobile tech being able to do this (at a time of 9.6kbps speeds on modems ) was laughable. 4G will be due out in 2012, current testing in a pub got 70mbps. Nice. Of course, the general point of Johnathon's talk was that Technology experts get it wrong, but people who are generalists with imagination will get it nearly right. Jules Verne made a prediction that was very much pointing towards the current delivery of MP3, except Verne described it as music will get pumped via the main pipe into a house from a music factory. (Hmm, bit XFactor really).

There is also now a hydrogen-powered motorbike out, however clean and nice the technology is, the infrastructure is not there for it to be taken up by the masses. There is only one filling station in South London and it takes 15 minutes to fill up a motorcycle tank. Hmm, as Johnathon points out you can see how this would cause a huge time sink with a car, 30 minutes to fill a tank. You can also see why oil forecourts will not stock it yet either really. Johnathon pointed out that as electric vehicles are quiet pedestrians could get knocked over and as electric cars will be required to have a sound he made his prediction: Car Ringtones, it makes sense, people will want their own sounds to make their cars sound unique. Makes me shudder really, although to be fair, car modders with their stereos already have their own ringtones so to speak.

I wonder that with all the doom-mongering about flood planes and global warming that perhaps there will be a product that lifts your house up and down on hydraulic lifts to be like stilt houses.

Johnathon also explored the idea of the fact that Facebook now has to deal with families wishing to leave their Facebook page online as a memorial. It reminds me of one of Anne McCaffery's short stories about Students processing dead peoples online storage and data with moral implications. Of course, the fact that you leave a digital footprint online whenever you use your smartphone, online services or a credit card you leave something of yourself. The opinions of people online are already surviving their death, in greater numbers. It also reminds me of the current premise for the Syfy channel program Caprica, where one of the characters is an avatar created from information including, school, medical records, bank statements etc.

The slight sci-fi imaginings continued with the possibilities of conscious machine intelligence and what rights they have. Some professors are already pondering this issue.

The panel afterwards was rather thought-provoking as well. Phillip Sheldrake of 6UK thought that the internet is about due for a midlife crisis and that in 10 years Facebook will be on its way out. The next stage of the Internet is the semantic web, which is understanding the data on the internet. Internet Nomads are less worried about computers than they are about the connection to websites and other people. IPV4 is running out of address space only 4 billion addresses available and there are currently 7 billion people on the planet. IPV6 can handle way more than that. Any device in the future like your fridge (if you want it to order stuff for you or tell you what's in it) will need a human-readable address, that will use a domain name.

There are also some rather interesting issues for writers that use some online services when doing their writing planning. Who owns it, the online company that owns the tool that collates your notes or the writer/writers estate when they pass away. Of course, the workforce of tomorrow are teenagers today, one of the Facebook executives have postulated that every 5 years that those people will want a wipe-clean button to delete their past. Not truly possible, and if it was then I can think of a rather nasty possibility that someone will take that data now, store it and then offer it as a checking service to employers. If I suspect this then I also think that there is a pretty good chance that there is a start-up somewhere preparing to do just that.

My apologies Pandora, however, the box is open.

Sam Leith of the Evening Standard and Wall St New was up next. He reminded me of Hugh Grant's foppish acting in Notting Hill and the like. But Sam soon won me over by talking about the future of online privacy. It's a fairly new concept when you think about the whole of human history. We were used to bringing up our children in large family groups publicly, that's changed quite a bit.

The concept of privacy can be dated to the Protestant reformation, by the idea that worshiping and your relationship with God should be private. There is pressure on Privacy on the Outer/Inner-self. It's all starting to become public again. This pressure happens because the goal is to make life easier, and people trade privacy for this and other benefits like power and influence. The state applies "systematic pressure" to make it easier for civil servants to do their job. People are willing to use Oyster cards as there is a reward in reduced fares, but the data from the journeys you take are stored somewhere.

The trouble is that people have trust in the database that they should not. Errors creep in. The DNA database alone has half a million errors. Imagine the implications for miscarriages of justice because of this false trust. In addition to this databases can walk. People carry copies on memory sticks and laptops and lose them. That data can be sold elsewhere. People use supermarket loyalty cards, which is a real boon for the supermarkets as they can get marketing data for free. They are also quite free to sell that on. Even if you have indicated that you do not wish them to.

The panel continued on much the same subject so, in addition, I learned from the Information Commission Office that you don't own your medical records, for example, the Secretary of State does. The public has no control over what data is stored and what any government does with it. No recourse. Frightening isn't it?