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[liberationtech] dumb question

Nathan Freitas nathan at
Tue Sep 14 21:02:27 PDT 2010

Actually, a very good question, Xeni.

I think there is an increasing trend towards the startup competitive
attitude vs. the open academic commons in the area of technology meant
to make the world a better place. The startup mentality has been
encouraged more and more as a way to approach the solving problems for
the NGO/human rights world in a smarter/faster/cheaper/agile approach.
However, it also brings along the baggage of a tendency towards being
closed, and an affinity for high risk and high failure rates.
Unfortunately in this realm, failure has the potential to be much more

The startup project creates a new implementation of something because
there is an opportunity for personal gain from it or a window to grab
some advantage. The academic approach (generally) only creates new
implementations when there is an obvious way to improve upon an existing
system, and is required to reference previous work on the subject
through academic papers and presentations. The former is about "winning"
and the latter is about "improving upon". Lots of the former like to
think they are the latter in terms of capability/insight/functionality
without putting in the years of work that folks like Nick, Roger and the
Tor team have.

Putting my activist hat on, I know there are still usability questions
about Tor from normal users out there, and increasingly difficulties for
users from within China, for instance, to use Tor at all. I know that
Tor is actively engaged in this fight, and has spent a huge amount of
time on usability as of late, with the Tor Browser Bundle offerings.
However, users are impatient, and I receive emails, skype msgs, etc on a
weekly basis from Tibetans excited about some new proxy service or
gateway they are trying to use to free their interwebs (the most recent
being yet another opaque proxy service, -

They ask "is it safe to use?" and even when I give my stock answer
"probably not", they tend to use it anyway. Their hunger for access
outweighs their fear of retribution, and their ability to judge risk is
clouded by their inability to accurately weigh one solution vs. another.
Ultimately, this phenomenon is taken advantage of by new entrants to
this field looking for an opportunities to differentiate and establish
themselves, whether they are conscious of it or not.


On 9/14/10 11:07 PM, Xeni Jardin wrote:
> About Haystack. I keep wondering, as I did when I first heard about this in 2009: 
> Why bother creating something new from scratch when other, well-established services that seek to accomplish these same goals -- namely Tor, for my money -- already exist?
> Serious question, stupid though it may sound.
> What was Haystack attempting to accomplish that Tor has not accomplished, with years of very hard work from a comparatively large pool of developers and supporters? Am I missing something? Why did 2 guys think they could beat that, and more to the point, why did they feel they needed to?
> XJ
> --------------------------
> Xeni Jardin
> Editor and Partner, Boing Boing blog
> Host and Executive Producer, Boing Boing Video
> voicemail-by-email: 323-843-XENI (9364)
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