Sunday May 10, 2009

why I bought the Michelin Guide

As the issue of copyrights and intellectual property are moving up the public agenda (see this Economist article for example), I thought I'd write a few posts on what I do buy and work out why I did buy it, rather than say pirate it, to use the emotional term of the day. Let me start here with the Michelin Guide for the iPhone.

The Guide Michelin, as it is known in France, is famous world wide as a very professional database, sold until recently as a book, of the best restaurants in Europe. The Michelin Guide sends highly qualified inspectors anonymously to restaurants to evaluate the quality of their cuisine. They also check the cleaniliness of the kitchens, evaluate the service, the decor, and much more. The result is a reliable guide to restaurant quality.

So why did I spend €10 for the iPhone application for the database of French Restaurants? A search on the internet gives a lot of free restaurant evaluation services. I could have used those instead, right?

It's really all about dating. When you are out with a sophisticated girlfriend, or even on a business lunch, it just won't do to pull out your notebook, and spend 10 to 20 minutes searching on Google through reviews of restaurants, that might have closed a few months ago. It takes a lot of time to sift through open reviews simply because tastes differ massively. To be able to evaluate the quality of a restaurant through online reviews requires assesing the taste of the reviewer from the very limited information available to you from the text -- reviews that could furthermore easily have been faked or sponsored somehow by the owner of the restaurant himself. So when you are on a date or with your wife and she wants a good quality restaurant close to where you happen to be right now, you don't have more than 3 minutes to come up with an answer. You are going to spend easily €30 to €100 on the meal. And a bad meal can spoil a day or a business meeting. So compared to that, what is €10 for the Guide Michelin?

What is important here is that you want quality information here and now. The quality is provided by the inspectors of the Michelin Guide, and the system they put in place to do the tests and verifications. It is confidence in their methodology that gives confidence in their results. Perhaps something similar could be done using crowd sourcing, but I have not yet found such a site, and my guess is that this could be very difficult to put together (not impossible mind you: it is up to Michelin, to keep the cost of their information low enough that building up a parallel database remains uninteresting).

So here are a few reasons I can think of for paying Michelin directly for the information:

  • The information from old guides has no more value. The latest information is what I am paying for
  • by not giving money to the source I'd be reducing my chances of having good information in the future
  • if I got information from someone who did not claim to be using the info from the Guide even though they were, I'd have a lot less reason to believe their results
  • if they did use the info from the guide but sold it to me as a copy that was not respecting the policy of the guide, I'd have reason to doubt the honesty of the company giving me the info, and so of the quality of the information itself - trust is an essential ingredient in an information economy
  • The time it would take me to find a pirated version of the guide, and the nuisance of constantly finding updated versions, would be worth a lot more that €10 of my time.
And I am sure there are a lot more reasons to explain why buying directly from the source is important. In an information economy the current truthfullness of information is key to its value. I will pay for information I need that I can trust and have now.

An analogy with medicine is illuminating here. You can read up in libraries all about a physical problem you may have. But it could take you months to read up about it, and a lot more to get to the point where you felt that you were knowledgeable about the subject: ie that you could diagnose sympotms correctly and prescribe the best medicines for it. If the disease was about to kill you in a few months then you just clearly won't have time to learn. This is how we get scarcity in an information/knowledge economy. The information may be free to reproduce, but tracking the truthfulness of the information is very costly. Learning it takes time. Perhaps we need to replace the notion of the price of a good depending on the offer and the demand for it, with one of the price of a good being related to the accessibility of the good and the need of it. Learning is the procedure to aquire a knowledge resource. Learning takes time, and that has a cost: in other options that are no longer available, for example. Using the knowledge of others is a short cut to having to learn, and the value of this is reflected in its price.

Friday Apr 03, 2009

howto get a foaf+ssl certificate to your iPhone

In my previous post I showed that a passwordless distributed social web is already possible on the iPhone. It just requires one to upload a foaf+ssl certificate to it. Here is a relatively easy way to do this. I leave it up to the readers of this blog to build even better ways to do it.

First of course you need to have a foaf+ssl certificate. If you don't have a foaf file, then you may want to first check out foafbuilder to create a foaf file and help you tie your distributed persona on the web together. It would be great if foafbuilder could also create those foaf+ssl certs.... For the moment they don't so the easiest way to get it is using the certificate creation service. That will load the certicicate right in your browser, and help you test it.

Once you have a certificate in your browser - I am assuming Firefox here - you just need to export it to the hard drive. In FF go to Preferences, and click on the advanced tab, and choose the encryption section.

Firefox encryption tag

I have a number of foaf+ssl certificates as you can see here. Choose one of them and click the Backup button. This will open another window asking you where you wish to save your certificate. Save it somewhere obvious in pkcs12 format. Make sure the file ends with a .p12 extension. You will also be asked for a password to encrypt your certificate, so it can't be opened in transit. You can use a complex password here as you will only need to remember it once.

my certificates.

Then just mail yourself that .p12 file using an account you can access on the iPhone of course. It is just a matter then of going to your iPhone, and opening your mail. In my mail I added a link to the web service I wanted to use next, to save me typing later.

mail in iphone

When you click on the p12 link in your iphone, it will then ask you if you wish to install it. The certificate will most likely not be verified by another party. But that's ok, because you are the person who verified it. It is a certificate about you, and you know yourself better than most other people (except your mama of course).

iphone install profile window

You are then asked to enter the password you used to encrypt the certificate earlier. Once this is done your certificate will be installed on your iPhone, where it can stay happily for a very long time.

enter certificate password

If you wish to have a number of different personalities on the web you can create different foaf profiles of yourself, where you can link different pieces of your web life together. As all detective films show it is very difficult to keep things forever secret. But you can at least keep pieces of your life clearly seperated, to keep nosy people busy.

Global Identity in the iPhone browser

Typing user name/passwords on cell phones is extreemly tedious. Here we show how identification & authentication can be done in two clicks. No URL to type in, no changes to the iPhone, just using bog standard SSL technology tied into a distributed global network of trust, which is known as foaf+ssl.

After having installed a foaf+ssl certificate on my phone (which I will explain how to do in my next post), I directed Safari to, which is a foaf+ssl enabled web site. This brought up the following screen:

empty page

This is a non personalised page. In the top right is a simple foaf+ssl login button. This site was not designed for the iPhone, or it would have been a lot more prominent. (This is easy to change for of course). So I the zoomed onto the login link as shown in the following snapshot. Remember that I don't have an account on This could be the first time ever I go there. But nevertheless I can sign up: just click that link.

login link

So clicking on this foaf+ssl enabled link brings up the following window in Safari. Safari warns me first that the site requires a certificate. The link I clicked on sent me to a page that is requesting my details.

certificate warning

As I do in fact want to login, I click the continue button. The iPhone then presents me with an identity selector, asking me which of my two certificates I want to use to log in:

certificate selection

Having selected the second one, the certificate containing my WebId is sent to the server, which authenticates me. The information from my foaf file is then used to personalise my experience. Here gives me a nice human readable view of my foaf file. I can even explore my social network right there and then, by clicking on the links to my friends. Again, this will work even if you never did go to before. All you need is of course a well filled out foaf file, which services such as are making very easy to do. Anyway, here is the personalised web page. It really knows a lot about me after just 2 clicks!


The site currently has another tab, showing my activity stream of all the chats I have on the web, which it can piece together since I linked all my accounts together in my foaf file, as I explained in the post "Personalising my Blog" a few months ago.

activity stream

Other web sites could use this information very differently. My web server itself may also decide to show selected information to selected servers... Implementing this is it turns out quite easy. More on that on this blog and on the foaf-protocols mailing list.

Thursday Jul 12, 2007

java on the iPhone

According to Ed Burnette' misleadingly entitled post "Apple sneaks Java support onto the iPhone", a java virtual machine named Jazelle runs natively on the CPU that the iPhone is made from, and this feature is enabled on the processor. Apparently it is very small and very efficient, blatantly contradicting Steve Jobs' comments:

Jobs: “Java’s not worth building in. Nobody uses Java anymore. It’s this big heavyweight ball and chain.”
Java is available on every cell phone except his pretty much, on nearly every computer shipped, on robots, and credit cards... Presumably because nobody uses it. And now we find he would not even have to build it into the iPhone, as it is already written for that cpu - well perhaps Apple would have to do some work on the graphics libraries.
Perhaps it's not surprising that he would think this, given that he is surrounded by ObjectiveC programmers. On the other hand I have heard an interesting argument that this may be a way to entice various providers to start creating video streams in h.264 format...
Myself, I won't see the point of having such a phone if I can't have a good version of Java on it that is usable. I can wait.




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