Back to the future 1. - Using email as social media

The Internet was built on federated services and we still all rely on email as the backstop communication even when we set up fancy new social media services, and it is the ultimate federated service with millions of email servers around the world working together. Why do we need to use centralised services like facebook when we can all already communicate. Starting with the assumptuion that we really want small closed group communication (like WhatsApp), define a core set of email message templates and build a new email client that uses these to provide a user experience that feels like social media rather than the clunky email clients we use today. If you are heroic you could implement the Signal key exhange protocol by email to build in robust security… Some background reading here.

Back to the future 2. - Personalised RSS reader

RSS for those who have forgotten it, or never heard of it, provides a feed of updates to websites - for example news sites use RSS feeds allowing you to monitor new news stories and download short abstracts. So subscribing to a set of RRS feeds provides you with a personally curated news feed you can read through a news reader aggregator app - I used feedly. Contrast this with having a social media company decide which news sources it might promote based on possibly unknown profiling, and foreign powers paying to promote certain stories. However, if you subscribe to lots of RSS feeds you are overwhlemed by irrelevant news. So the project is to build an RSS news reader app (whether mobile or desktop or both!) that allows the creation and then refinement, by monitoring reading habits, of a personal news profile to prioritize news stories. This would then provide personalised news feeds without invading privacy. Enchancements could include reading your own social media output to augment the profile, sharing the profile across multiple of your devices along with which articles are read/unread.


Each of these projects needs a discusison as there are quite a few options to each…

What is Databox Video
Click to play

I am particularly interested in projects related to the Databox project; details of the mission are outlined in the paper “Personal Data: Thinking Inside the Box”. Databox is about the control of personal information. Our very own Prof Greenhalgh talking here on “What is Databox?”.

There are many project possabilities related to this, and I would welcome students suggesting their own projects. Here are some of my thoughts:

  • PrivAd “alike” - PrivAd was an attempt to provide privacy preserving tailored advertising; Databox provides a natural platform to realise this to enable directed marketting and advertising without tracking.
  • SOCKS or transparent webproxy and mobile app characterisation - configure a personal server/router to capture all URLs emitted by a mobile phone / tablet device and characterise the behaviours of apps.
  • Build and evaluate an interesting application for Databox, using the Databox SDK

More coming soon…