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Songs on the Security of Networks
a blog by Michał "rysiek" Woźniak

Long-expected KMail2 rant

This is an ancient post, published more than 4 years ago.
As such, it might not anymore reflect the views of the author or the state of the world. It is provided as historical record.

WARNING: This is a rant. You have been warned.

This bragpost has been growing on me for some time now. About since the very day I had the questionable pleasure of trying out Akonadi-based KMail2. That would be about 2 years, and back then KMail2 was buggy and slow.

Today it is buggy and on the verge of being almost possible to consider as trying to be usable. That’s how far this project has gone in these 2 years.

Good Ole Days

In the Good Ole Days, and by that I mean “pre-KMail2”, there were more or less two kinds of FLOSS e-mail clients out there.

Bad UI, decent engineThunderbird was an example here; compared to KMail 1.x, Thunderbird had completely absurd layout of configuration options and doing simple things (like creating a new e-mail identity and connecting it to SMTP and IMAP/POP accounts) seemed daunting.

Completely subjectively I include in this group also Evolution and Mutt, simply because I use KDE (hence GTK is bad mojo) and am a GUI afficionado (yeah, yeah, so shoot me).

Great UI, great engine – in my book, this group consisted of just one project: KMail 1.x. It had everything: IMAP/POP/SMTP, TLS/SSL/STARTTLS, Sieve, advanced local filters, multiple identities connectable not only to specific accounts but to specific mail folders, proper standards support, proper quoting, and everything configurable via a sane interface with predictable results. All mail kept nicely in standard Maildirs so that KMail’s mail was the easiest to handle by any standard Maildir tool.

And from verions to version there actually were incremental improvements still. What’s not to love!

What the hell happened?

Since then the KMail2 team apparently decided to take a different route, which I would guess was something along the lines of:

  1. take the best e-mail client out there;
  2. mangle in ways nobody would believe were possible;
  3. ???
  4. PROFIT!!

And thus today KMail2 lands squarely in the “WTF UI, WTF engine” category (at least retaining the “the only one in that category” title).

So, what’s wrong with KMail2, exactly?

Well, what isn’t?.. Not really even sure where to start. So let’s start with the “migration assistant”.

Migration assistant

The first time a user runs KMail2 over an existing KMail 1.x setup, a “migration assistant” appears. Not much to it, it just informs the user about the need for migration and then attempts to migrate all the accounts and e-mails from KMail 1.x. this takes a lot of time, usually, but hey, that’s the price of progress, right? Once the migration is finished the user is set up and are ready to go.

What the user doesn’t know, however, is that the end of the migration is just the beginning of fun times. During the next few days the user will notice many entertaining facts.

Like the fact that the migration assistant does not migrate e-mail filters. Got 200+ KMail 1.x filters set-up to help you stay afloat on the flood of everydays e-mail activity? Tough luck, buddy, that’s history. Good luck re-creating them all.

Like missing e-mails (or duplicate e-mails). Or that viewing e-mails that actually got migrated will be unbearably slow at times. Some folders will just get marked as “corrupted” (yes, these folders that were created by the “migration assistant” itself, why do you ask?) and will cause KMail2 to block the whole account entirely (with a nice red tint on all folder names) until KMail2 and Akonadi get restarted…

As it turns out you can actually skip the migration and import messages from KMail 1.x store later on, and that seems just a bit better idea (caveat: “better” does not mean “perfect”, or even “good”).

But wait, why the heck do I need to migrate my 10GiB of e-mail history from a perfectly working (and standard!) set-up of MailDirs at all, just to use KMail2? And what the heck is Akonadi?


Akonadi is supposed to be the data engine behind all PIM (Personal Information Manager) related content in KDE. It handles contacts, calendars, e-mail and possibly other data (the list is growing). And it was released as stable as soon as it achieved more-or-less alpha status. At least that’s what I can tell from how well it does the job at hand.

The fun part with Akonadi is that it has to have a database back-end set-up. By default it uses MySQL, so when you have Akonadi, you have MySQL instance running.

But hey, relational databases are a true and tested technology, why not use it, instead of some internal, in-memory data store that Akonadi would use either way? And of course now Akonadi doesn’t have to use any internal, in-memory data store for data retrieved from such a database. Surely, the additional abstraction layer won’t change much, at least not to a point where it’s evident Akonadi is a problem.

Finally, it’s not as if keeping everything in nice, editable, standards-compliant files on disk makes anything (backups? trying a different e-mail client? export/import? data recovery after a failure?) easier and safer, right?..


Some problems with KMail2 are related to Akonadi; some are clearly the fault of KMail2 itself. Of both kinds there are many.

The first biggie is the slowness. KMail 1.x displayed the list of e-mails in a given folder instantly. And I mean instantly. Same thing with displaying the contents of an e-mail once clicked. In KMail2 I have to wait several seconds for the list to appear and be usable (i.e. the list can be visible, but not clickable). That is probably related to the fact that e-mail data are now retrieved from Akonadi, but why do I care? From the end-user perspective this is worse.

Now, displaying the folder contents is one thing. Moving a folder with a few hundred or thousand e-mails from one place in a folder tree to another – that’s a whole different game. This can take about a minute (yes, I have actually timed it) before it’s done and the interface is usable again.

Oh, and you get no visual cues that that’s the case – the folder list looks perfectly normal. You can try to click a folder, only you’ll not see the contents. You’ll also notice that your CPU fan goes berserk and the whole interface grinds almost to a halt… and then magically, the folder being moved appears in the place it’s being moved to and the interface is almost usable, again – with no visual cues to that effect.

Then there’s inconsistency. Duplicate e-mails. E-mails that magically become unread again. Folders that have their whole contents disappear after deleting a single out of many e-mails they contain, only to show the missing e-mails after the user starts pondering, frantically, when was the last time a full backup was made…

Like the e-mails in the outbox waiting for user’s explicit “send now”, that get sent automagically once a new Internet connection is available. In the outgoing accounts configuration there even is an option of configuring what should happen with messages in the outgoing folder. This setting is completely ignored. Messages get sent out when KMail2 (or Akonadi?) decides so and that’s that.

Like new e-mail accounts that, upon failure, display random failure messages – sometimes it’s “Authentication failed”, sometimes it’s “KWallet access denied” (even though KWallet was never used, or was explicitly instructed to permit its use and is open), sometimes only a cryptic “Account misconfigured” even though the account worked just minutes ago.

Then there’s mail importing. Supposedly a different, better way to import KMail 1.x e-mails into KMail2 than the “migration assistant”, it does a decent job of importing your e-mails from the old KMail 1.x store and marking them all unread. One would think that if KMail2 is importing e-mails from KMail 1.x store, it would be possible for it to properly import also the status of messages. Apparently, one would be mistaken.

In my case that meant I had 140k (no, not a typo) unread messages I had to sift through and find the few messages that actually were unread. And then mark all the rest as read – which, unsurprisingly, took a lot of time, mainly because even marking a mail folder as unread takes much longer than in KMail 1.x.

And after I’m done with that, there’s the joy of moving the imported folders (conveniently put in a “KMail-Import-mail” folder) to their correct accounts and places in the folder hierarchy. Which, as we already know, is excruciatingly slow.

Finally, the protocol or what-have-you changes. Even though KMail2 and Akonadi are being shipped as stable, the protocol and formats of the internal storage changes just a tiny bit with some minor releases. And that means that you can have all the fun and all the entertainment with “migrating” your e-mails more than once. Indeed, you can be sure you will.

But apart from these important problems, there are scores of smaller annoyances, discovery of which brings endless joy to a happy KMail2 user. I won’t be able to go into detail and describe them all – mainly because there are so many of them. But here are some of my favourites.

Handling of ignored threads – that’s a great feature for mailing lists: the user marks a thread as “ignored” and all future e-mails in that thread get automagically marked “read”. If it only worked! In KMail2 if a thread is marked “ignored” you get 50/50 chance a given new e-mail in it will get marked “ignored” and “read”. You can have (and indeed, I do have) threads marked “ignored” with several unread, un-ignored e-mails inside. Which, of course, defeats the purpose.

But wait, there’s more! Once the user gets annoyed and un-ignores, pretty much all e-mails in it get marked “unread”. Yay!

Password prompt for each and every outgoing e-mail. KMail 1.x had a nice, simple and very usable feature: during sending the password for a given account (if not stored) only had to be supplied once; after all messages have been sent, the password was being forgotten again. So, for 20 outgoing e-mails from a given account the user had to supply the password only once. Usable and safe.

Of course, KMail2 improves upon this idea by asking for the password separately for each and every e-mail.

Which wouldn’t maybe be that annoying had the password prompt been focused properly.

Un-focused password prompt. So, you want to send your e-mail, but the SMTP password is not stored in KWallet? No worries, KMail will display a password prompt for you; but be careful, if start typing your password instantly as soon as the prompt appears, your password will land in the random other application accepting focus, as the e-mail prompt is un-focused (and there seems no way to make it focused by default).

So, instead of:
Ctrl-Enter -> type-in-password -> Enter -> sent
…you get:
Ctrl-Enter -> find-the-damn-prompt-window-and-click-on-it -> type-in-password -> Enter -> sent.

Or, well, you would, if only the following was not the case…

“Send now” means “ask when to send”. In KMail 1.x the “Send now” button and short-cut meant just that: send the message being composed immediately. KMail2 usability experts decided that simple actions like “Send now” are too simple and they need to ask the users what they really want to achieve. Once you click “Send now”, you get a nice dialog box asking you, if you really want to send now, or maybe send layer, or cancel the whole ordeal.

To add insult to injury, there is a setting in outgoing accounts configuration called “Default sending method”, with two options:

  • send immediately;
  • send later.

This option is also completely ignored.

This is completely bollocks. If the user clicks “Send now”, what makes you think, pray tell, that they want to do anything different than, you know, sending the e-mail immediately?.. This adds the need for additional (and completely unnecessary) click for each outgoing message. Usability FAIL.

“Send later” means “ask me in detail”. There is also the “Send later” action. In KMail 1.x it simply saved the composed e-mail directly in the outgoing mail folder, waiting for user to initiate sending.

In KMail2 the user gets an additional dialog box containing a date and time picker, an option to configure repetition of sending of this e-mail (with no explanation if it will be attempted until successful at configured times, or is the same e-mail going to be sent again, and again, and again…), and an option to just “move to outbox”.

While I can see the potential usefulness of an option to configure in detail when a given mail will get sent, this should be a separate option. Users accustomed to the good old perfectly functional “Send later” action are only going to find such a “feature” annoying. That’s another click on every mail they send each day. That’s a lot of unneeded clicks.

End of Rant

I have been a loyal KMail 1.x user for almost a decade. Started using it in KDE 3.x series, I always admired the standards-compliance, the configurability and adaptability, the feature set, the speed. It was so good, indeed, that no other Qt-based clients gained traction. They were unneeded. KMail 1.x simply did the job best.

Compared to KMail 1.x, KMail2 is a sad excuse of a rewrite. It’s all KMail 1.x has never been to me – unstable, buggy, slow, unpredictable, with daunting configuration that has options that get ignored; nigh-unusable with the over-engineered Akonadi under the hood.. This is very sad, as there are no other Qt-based, KDE-integrated, configurable and advanced e-mail clients to choose from.

KMail2 has been in development for years now, and effects are far from satisfactory. Users want to be “saved” from it, bloggers warn about it; the question everybody asks is “Anyone succeeded with kmail2?”.

I am still using KMail2 now, but am on the look-out for some sane Qt-based e-mail client. Trojitá is still too basic for my needs, but at least it’s usable. If you have any suggestions where to look, please do drop a line or comment on Diaspora.

Facebook for schools

This is an ancient post, published more than 4 years ago.
As such, it might not anymore reflect the views of the author or the state of the world. It is provided as historical record.

Today I had the pleasure of attending the Safer Internet conference. Among educators, IT specialists and NGO activists galore present was also Gabriela Cseh, Facebook’s Head of Public Policy for Central and Eastern Europe, with a talk on how Facebook can be useful in classrooms.

I find the idea dangerous. The main argument used by Mrs Cseh was that Facebook makes it “easy” to do things together in a class, while also keeping it “safe” and “privacy aware”. I am not sure about the “easy” part, but “safe” and “privacy aware” this simply cannot be.

As there was time for questions at the end of the talk I took the liberty of asking some of my own.

Private interests in public schools

First of all, using a single, centralised tool throughout the education system seems dangerous, rather than safe. It exposes the whole education system to policy changes and decisions made by a single privately-owned entity that is in no way influenced by the local education board. In other words, it exposes public education to private interests.

You said that Facebook is “not top-down control tool”. Of course, from the perspective of the teacher, that holds true. However, this tool is top-down controlled by Facebook itself.

Facebook’s answer: “it’s not mandatory”.

This is not enough, not even close. Vendor lock-in is a real problem, causing real damage; once a school invests (time, money, knowledge) into building their curriculum around a given technology (here: Facebook’s offering) and once students and teachers all have their accounts there, the school would be very strongly disinclined from changing, even if some policy decisions on Facebook’s part are not in line with school policy.

The only way around it would be using open protocols so that other companies can offer similar, compatible service, and hence schools would have a real possibility to change a provider should there be a policy conflict. This, of course, makes no business sense for Facebook.

Censorship in classrooms

One of such policy clashes is immediately visible. Facebook has blocked New Yorker’s profile for a benign cartoon that had female breasts visible. How, in that context, can Facebook be used in biology class? And what if Facebook’s board of directors decides at some point that teaching, say, evolution is not exactly compatible with Facebook’s corporate policy?

The only answer that was given was that “Facebook decided nudity is not allowed on the platform”. Full stop. Want to use the platform? Play by the rules.

Not only do we have an example of a policy clash, we already get a taste of how it would get resolved. Bottom line: it should not be Facebook (or any private entity, for that matter!) setting the rules by which children are educated.


Mrs Cseh spoke also about “deep privacy tools”, and how they are geared towards protecting privacy of users (including students) from other people on the Internet and on Facebook itself. Problem is, they in no way protect privacy of citizens from privacy-hostile organisations like the NSA. This is a serious question in light of information about the PRISM programme.

This question was met with an emphatic retort that “Facebook has never been a part of PRISM”. Which does not change much – had it been a part of it, it could not admit it.

One question I haven’t asked is: how are the “deep privacy tools” protecting citizens (including schoolchildren, as is being proposed) from being profiled and exposed to having a full dossier by advertisers Facebook cooperates with? We already know that Facebook profile data can influence credit ratings, for example. Is making children’s school history a part of such dossier is really such a great idea?..

Not only Facebook

Of course, these problems are not Facebook-specific. Using Google Docs or Microsoft SkyDrive brings up many if not all of these questions. Schools (indeed, public institutions in general) should not use for their data closed, proprietary and incompatible services they do not control.

In which I call upon United Poland parliamentarians to guarantee citizens the right to Internet free of surveillance

This is an ancient post, published more than 4 years ago.
As such, it might not anymore reflect the views of the author or the state of the world. It is provided as historical record.

Ideas for porn filtering (“regular” porn; this time not talking about child pornography) tend to return like a boomerang. Hard to tell if members of Polish parliament, affiliated with United Poland, just discovered porn on the Internet, or cannot get enough of it and need some help getting that monkey off of their backs.

Either way, United Poland parliamentarians decided to introduce a draft resolution that calls upon the Minister of Administration and Digitization to guarantee parents a right to porn-free Internet.

The more he looked inside the more any sense wasn’t there

The title itself is delicious – in proposals like that it’s usually about the children. But not here. Here, surprisingly, the title claims it’s parents whom members of parliament worry about. Parents that, supposedly (and I’m guessing here), can’t control their own lust for porn. Do members of parliament base on their own experiences here?

The document offers so much to a careful reader! I, for one, had no idea that “pornography (…) generates an estimated 30% of the whole Internet traffic”; to be honest, I’ve been convinced it’s much, much more! But what do I know, after a paltry few years as a systems and network admin at the Warsaw University of Technology. Not really proper for me to question the authors here, is it? Yes, the number’s been pulled out of a rectum (as providing any sources is way below the dignity of a parliamentarian, of course), but it’s been pulled out of a rectum personally by a parliamentarian!

It also turns out that the “estimated value of Internet porn market is in the range of 5bln. dollars”, which again is a number supported only (or even?) by parliamentarians’ authority. “5bln. dollars” is a lot of money, maybe instead of blocked, porn should be taxed? United Poland claims economic solidarism (as one can read on its Polish Wikipedia page; not being a parliamentarian, I should source my claims), and yet – such hostility towards entrepreneurs, working hard for a loaf of bread.

Let’s move on, shall we? “Taking into account that pornographic Internet websites are readily available, also for children”… Okay. So it’s about children, after all. Children, whose “average age of first contact with such materials is 11 years”. Just wondering here what was United Poland parliamentarians age of first contact with completely non-Internet-based top-shelf magazines…

It’s a bit better further on, thankfully: “expert sexologists opine that contact with pornography at such an early stage of human sexual development causes a number of adverse effects, including warped perception of sexual sphere, and raised numbers of sexual harassment cases in schools”. So, United Poland seems to notice the sex-ed problem in Poland? Can’t be! Can’t wait for them to also listen to expert sexologists on how dearly needed sex-ed classes in Polish schools are.

Back to “worse”, though, as “current technology-based solutions, including parental filtering applications, are ineffective, as they require IT competences from parents and are costly, and in effect not broadly used”. First of all, no technical solution can be 100% effective here, there’s simply too many circumvention methods – regardless whether it’s implemented on home router or core network level. Secondly, it would seem to be a good idea to provide members of parliament with some basic Internet search use training; here, let’s start with a simple search for “free parental filters software”.

Let’s finish it off with a positive! “At this time parents have no way of providing their children with safe Internet access, that is access to Internet without pornography”, and that can only mean that all other true or imaginary threats have been cleansed from the Internet. Champagne and kudos all around!

The important part

That was just the intro, as at this point in our lecture we encounter the magic words: “resolves the following” and the concrete solutions extracted by United Poland parliamentarians from the immense depths of their wisdom. What are they, then?

Let’s quote the whole thing…

  1. Sejm of the Republic of Poland moves for the Minister of Administration and Digitization to prepare technical and legislative solutions which will guarantee parents a right to access the Internet network free from pornography.
  2. These solutions should follow these guidelines:
    1. Any person should have the right to demand their Internet service provider to block transmission of pornographic materials;
    2. An internet service provider should be responsible for creating effective filters enabling blocking transmission of pornographic materials;
    3. An internet service provider is required provide the right to Internet without pornography free of charge;
  3. Minister of Administration and Digitization shall present a proposal of such technical and legislative solutions within 6 months from the date of adoption of this resolution.

Or, in other words, “honestly, we have no idea how to do that; let the Ministry handle that along with ISPs, and the ISPs should foot the bill”.

I am impressed, though. United Poland parliamentarians make up for their lack of technical understanding with political prowess. A resolution built like that (if, by a twist of fate, it passes the parliament) makes the Ministry do the heavy lifting and ISPs pay; not only that, but it also forces the Ministry (not the parliamentarians, after all!) to conduct uneasy public consultations of the proposed Internet censorship solutions, which are (we know this after RSiUN and ACTA) a minefield. And in case of a failure, the blame goes to… the Ministry, of course, as the drafted solutions were bad!

Finally, one more tasty bit: nowhere, not in a single point of this resolution, is pornography defined. Which means that along with RedTube, Wikipedia and Polish National Museum website might get blocked.

Seriously on porn

Seriously, though, children’s access to pornography on-line is a problem which needs a solution, nobody is going to argue with this.

Preventive censorship on the Internet is not the solution, however – it’s uneconomical, technically nigh-impossible, and raises serious questions regarding basic human rights: freedom of speech, secrecy of correspondence, right to privacy.

The British example (or our own, Beniamin) shows such filters will be overused and abused, the catalogue of blocked content will be expanded to contain other topics, other kinds of content. Creating such a tool once will mean that it can and will be used for political struggle in the future…

Besides, it’s simply impossible to introduce Internet censorship without introducing Internet surveillance – can’t censor traffic you don’t read, just as you can’t censor snail mail without opening and reading it.

The right approach to finding a solution here is education. Sexual education and media competences for children and youths. Educating parents about existing technical solutions for blocking their kids from accessing porn, including free software and gratis solutions.


This is an ancient post, published more than 4 years ago.
As such, it might not anymore reflect the views of the author or the state of the world. It is provided as historical record.

The sheer number of complaintivists – people that complain about things without doing squat about them – I interact with daily starts to get to me.

Take PayPal’s recent MailPile SNAFU – we’ve all known that PayPal is not a good solution, to say the least, for years. Unsurprisingly I do not have a PayPal account. But while discussing that with fellow hackers (and not only) I was met with standard form of complaintivism – some of them complained about how evil and bad PayPal is, but are they going to do anything about it? Nah, that would mean paying few cents more for their Humble Indie Bundle (I am not making this up!). Why bother.

So please treat this post as my anti-complaintivism manifesto.

Identifying Complaintivists

The main characteristic of a complaintivist is twofold:

  • there is an issue they seem to care about, as they will complain about it;
  • yet they will not do anything about that issue, regardless of how small a personal sacrifice (or even lack thereof) would be required of them.

Complaintivists have much in common with slacktivists. In fact I’m convinced that there are many people that are both at the same time: in general they’re complaintivists that can’t be even bothered at all, but if there’s enough peer pressure they will indeed “engage” by slacktivism/clicktivism – and after clicking a “Like” button will consider their job done.

Please note, complaining about an issue can constitute “doing something” about it, as long as it’s done in a way that can influence the issue. Consider the following:

  • complaining to me about PayPal – if not accompanied by other actions – is complaintivism;
  • complaining about PayPal in your favourite on-line shop’s contact form (“please introduce some alternative to PayPal payment methods as PayPal has a very bad track record”) is just barely not;
  • complaining in a on-line shop’s contact form that they just lost your business as you refuse to use PayPal is the preferred course of action.

But afterall, what can a single person do?..

Ah, clicktivist’s favourite refuge: “I can’t possibly influence the outcome myself” (with the implicit second part “(hence I shall not even try”)!..

If I had a BTC0.01 each time I heard this phrase used in a discussion, I would be a rich, rich man. Incidentally, that also means that had all the complaintivists actually done something about issues they claim to care about, there would be an army of people doing something about these issues.

All activists have that thought now and then – but we draw a different conclusion: “okay, let’s find a way to get other people involved!”

If you can’t be bothered to even send an e-mail, use a contact form, write a letter to people that can have some actual influence in issues you claim to care about, stop bothering me with them. Because what this means is: you do not care about those issues. I mean, come on! How many hours have you spent choosing just the right shoes, or just the right phone (or even standing in line for just the wrong one)? Now, compare it to the amount of time you have spent actually doing something about the issue you claim to care about.

And now please come back and tell me again how much you “care”.

Not a single flying frak is given by me about how you “feel” about something if you are not prepared to do something about it. You can “feel” whatever the hell you want about anything, I am not your psychologist. You want to talk to me about some issue? Be prepared to act.

You don’t have to do a lot, for starters just do something. If everybody does, that will be a lot of people doing something. And that’s already a lot.

It's his own fault

This is an ancient post, published more than 4 years ago.
As such, it might not anymore reflect the views of the author or the state of the world. It is provided as historical record.

The scenario is always the same: a girl is raped, often in some secluded place and/or after dark; this gets media attention for one reason or another; then some politician (unsurprisingly, it’s almost always a male politician) remarks what a tragedy this is and how nobody can feel safe nowadays, but after all we already know that so she should have known better and not run after dark, or dress differently, or not run alone, etc. In short – some version of “it’s her own fault”.

And a shitstorm starts. Womens’ rights activists attack the politician (and rightfully so) on how insensitive and ill-advised such a remark is and how making it seem as if the victim is herself somehow guilty in such a scenario is simply offensive and should not be happening.

Then some “traditional-values” public person attacks the activists on how they overreact and how this was just “a simple statement of fact”, and that it is “just common sense to not run alone in the dark”, and that such an attack on the politician is uncalled for.

That’s the point at which I would love to see womens’ rights activists to retort simply: “well, the politician should have known better not to spew such bullshit; had he stayed quiet, none of this bad press would have happened; it’s his own fault”.

Lies, damn lies, and analytics

This is an ancient post, published more than 4 years ago.
As such, it might not anymore reflect the views of the author or the state of the world. It is provided as historical record.

Full disclosure: I have finally installed some analytics on this brag.

Now, now, keep your cool! No need for those pitchforks, please put them down and read on.

  • no, I am not and will never be using Google Analytics; for that matter, all content, fonts, CSS, images directly embedded in this site are and shall always be self-hosted locally – that means no Google/Yahoo/Bing/whatever Webfonts, no external JS tools, no external anything;
  • no, I am not setting any cookies; I am tracking visits on the server-side, directly from this brag’s engine; I have no way of tracking returning visits and I do not intend to – day to day stats and rudimentary geo data are plenty for me;
  • no, I am not using any JavaScript on this site, this site is and at least in the foreseeable future will remain JavaScript-free; you can check the code yourself.

I am using Piwik, hosted locally. Works great, it was easy to set-up, and even easier to implement on the site, and has everything I need (and then some).


I guess you want to hear some stats, so here they are:

  • I get ~2000 visits and ~7000 pageviews daily; the wow factor is strong in this one…
  • so far record number of visits and pageviews in a given day: 4412 and 14151, respectively (a day after my article has appeared on Slashdot);
  • 15% of my visitors use Linux, another 34% – “other operating systems” (whatever that might be);
  • Firefox is the most often used browser with 28% visitors using it; Chrome is unfortunately close second, with 25% (seriously, people, use Chromium instead);
  • interestingly, I get about the same amount of visits/pageviews regardless of time of day…
  • …which is probably related to the fact that I have had visitors from every continent apart from Antarctica;
  • most of visitors seem to come from the United States, with France second and Poland third; surprisingly, I had ~1200 visits from mainland China, too.

By the way, if anybody is interested in translating some of the articles here to languages not featured yet, please feel free; I am very fortunate to have received Spanish translations from Carlos and Laura (thank you!), new languages are always welcome!

On with the stats, though! Now the question everybody’s been asking – the most popular bragposts!

I seem to be getting about 120 hits via RSS and 170 via Atom daily. Not sure how many subscribers that boils down to, though.

What does it all mean?

Bear in mind these are from about a month of gathering. All this will probably change during next months.

Still, the numbers are very encouraging. 2k visits daily? 7k pageviews? Wow. I hoped for a few dozen, maybe. Happy to see my bragging is interesting for you! I’ll try to keep up the apparently decent work.

Shortest Internet censorship debate ever

This is an ancient post, published more than 4 years ago.
As such, it might not anymore reflect the views of the author or the state of the world. It is provided as historical record.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of taking part (via a radio interview) in the shortest Internet censorship debate ever.

In the morning the Minister of Justice has apparently discovered there is porn on the Internet (welcome to the Net, dear Mr Biernacki; wish you’d been here earlier) and has voiced his support for implementing the British “solution” in Poland; already in the evening PM Donald Tusk and Minister of Administration and Digitization Michał Boni categorically denied any such plans.

In the meantime the NGOs that had been involved in several Internet censorship debates in Poland during the last few years were flooded with media inquiries about the subject – and criticised both the British idea and Minister Biernacki’s statement.

Obviously subject matter arguments were used, unchanged as they are for years: censorship can’t work; it does not solve the actual proble, just hides it; is a great potential danger to free speech and privacy; and so on, and so forth. However, it was also noted that, sadly, the same cabinet (give or take a few Ministers) keeps floating this idea over and over again, and we have to get back to this debate that has been already had several times during last 4 years in Poland.

This observation is however incorrect – to great joy and surprise of the undersigned.

And yet they learn!

We shall not block access to legal content regardless of whether or not it appeases us aesthetically or ethically
PM Donald Tusk, 26.07.2013

I would like to find solutions that are effective and at the same time do not cause concerns regarding surveillance of Internet users or over potential of erroneous limiting our Internet activity. (…) Filtering does not remove the content.
Minister Michał Boni, 26.07.2013

Chapeau bas! Turns out that years of subject matter discussion, with concrete evidence and arguments, have not been wasted, at least as long as we’re talking about the PM or the Minister of Administration and Digitization. This gives hope.

Next time some Minister discovers with horror that there is pornography on the Internet and that it might have a bad influence on youth (which I can understand might actually be true), before they offer their “revolutionary” idea of censoring the Internet for everybody, maybe – just maybe! – they will simply first ask their colleagues in other departments (Ministry of Health? of Education? of Administration and Digitization?) if there were better and more sane solutions available.

Meanwhile, could the UK and other so-called democracies please do something with their politicos and their moronic ideas, so that our political class doesn’t get ideas of their own?

How information sharing uproots conservative business models

This is an ancient post, published more than 4 years ago.
As such, it might not anymore reflect the views of the author or the state of the world. It is provided as historical record.

(and why this is not necessarily a bad thing)

UPDATE: heartfelt thanks to Carlos Solís for the Spanish translation. ¡Gracias!


With each day we seem to acquire new – faster, better, more convenient – ways of sharing information; and today almost anything can be information: from software operating the fastest supercomputers, through terabyte-sized datasets craved by science, to digitised works of art. All available in byte-form, ready for copying and sharing.

This digital revolution is not compatible with business models of old, and their benefactors fight back vehemently.

Is this the best strategy? New, emerging business models that take these vast sharing opportunities into account seem to suggest otherwise.

Historical outline

When the Licensing of the Press Act of 1662 expired in 1695, the Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers – remembered in history in short as the Stationers’ Company – found itself without the state-guaranteed monopoly on printing that fueled their flourishing during previous decades. Knowing full well that authors themselves would not be able to publish their works on their own, as that would require significant investment into printing infrastructure, Stationers’ Company invented (then quite a revolutionary) notion that is ringing in every copyright debate to this day: authors’ inherent right to their works.

This argument was so potent that it led directly to enacting in 1710 of the Statute of Anne and creation of the copyright law in form we are familiar with today.

Just as at that time, today this argument is still used as an instrument of protecting the livelihood not of the authors, but of publishers. The middlemen.

Cornerstones of Human Knowledge

Arguably the ability that had the biggest influence on human history is the ability to communicate. During millenia human race perfected it, with few inventions bringing real, qualitative change in its speed and accuracy. Each such invention was followed by great intellectual, cultural and social leaps – and political backlash.

Inventing speech allowed our ancestors to transfer knowledge directly, co-operate better in a group, exchange ideas – from very rudimentary at the dawn of men, to great intellectual constructs that were all but lost in time. It also sparked our ability to think in abstracto and operate with logic.

Next great leap was the invention of writing. Immensely important, it catered to the need of preserving the intellectual constructs made possible by speech. This led to the golden age of philosophy, first historical records, literature and poetry. In a way, it enabled communicating through time – great thoughts could be sent across years, decades and further, simply by conserving them in writing.

Printing press brought the written word to the masses, and in effect uprooted the social and economic structure of feudal Europe, leading finally to modern-day democracies. By lowering the costs of creating multiple copies and decimating the time needed for creation of a single copy, ideas could be spread faster and more accurately than ever before – more people could afford to have their thoughts written down and disseminated, more people could afford to own a book. Written word ceased to be the domain of the ruling elite.

Today, the Internet and digital technology lowered those costs even further, dramatically; it enabled almost cost-less transfer of information around the world and instant creation of perfect copies. What was a hard, complicated, arduous and prone to errors process just a couple of decades ago is now a click of a button away.

Disruptive technology

We do not know about speech, but all the remaining inventions were seen as disruptive and met with resistance at the time of introduction.

Socrates refused to write down his concepts claiming that writing is harmful to author’s memory, and to the concepts themselves. Printing press was opposed and curtailed by Church and the crowned heads, for it was seen (quite aptly, as Luther’s example shows) as a tool of great revolutionary potential.

Today, no one disputes the importance and value of those inventions, and how instrumental they were to scientific, social and economic development of humanity. Early attempts to curb their use, to exert control over whom can use them and to what ends – like the infamous Index Librorum Prohibitorum – are rightly called censorship and seen as detrimental.

Nevertheless, even with such historical lessons, we find ourselves engulfed in debates on how dangerous Internet is and about ways of curtailing it by the gatekeepers of old.

Devil in the Net

Arguments brought about against uncensored Internet are many and can be roughly categorized into:

  • moral objections to some content (e.g. pornography; anti-religion content),
  • alleged dangers to society stemming from certain kinds of content (e.g. critiques of the ruling; dissent groups; nazizm; hate-speech),
  • perceived infringement upon rights of those hitherto privileged (this argument, for obvious reasons, is not usually publicly stated).

Notably, all those categories were present in the European anti-printing-press narrative centuries ago. The Index was created as a measure to enforce official moral and social norms of the times, its creation argued necessary to prevent break-up of societies exposed to “subversive” writings, while at the same time acting as a tool of continually exerting control by the Church – control that was to date exercised through a de facto monopoly on truth, impossible to maintain in the era of print.

In this paper I would like to focus on the last category of arguments against a censorship-free Internet.

Technology versus law

Current copyright law descends directly from the Statute of Anne; this is apparent even in its very name: it lays down the rules under which copies of works can be made and who has the right to make them. Created in times when printing was a difficult process, requiring resources and manpower, aimed (as it still is today) to protect publishers’ – and other middlemen – investment.

Publishers’, not authors’: copyright law was created only when the business of publishing emerged; before the advent of printing press and the need for printing workshops there was no need for copyright law, and thus none existed. Without any fast and exact method of copying a work of art (including a book), there was no need to protect the rights to it – books and other artforms were treated just like regular objects: sold, traded, etc., without any discussion of “authors’ rights”.

Complicated printing process also meant that it was in fact possible to efficiently exert control over printing workshops – printing presses had to be purchased, skilled personnel was needed, all this could be controlled to great extent.

Today copyright law is still being used to defend business of middlemen. However, what centuries ago was envisioned as protection of an emerging and useful industry, today is stifling innovation by needlessly defending outdated business models. This stems from a few crucial changes digital technology brought about:

  • copying is nigh effortless and cost-less, requires almost no technical prowess, and produces exact, perfect copies, indistinguishable from the “original”;
  • distribution across the globe, once the work is in digital form, is also almost effortless and cost-less;
  • tools needed to be able to copy and distribute are in abundance and easy to use.

Copyright law is based on assumptions (copying being resource-intensive; distribution being troublesome; censorship being workable) that no longer hold. Traditional business models based on it are, thus, also outdated and ever harder to maintain. Middlemen are gradually becoming obsolete, as each and every author is able to self-publish and reach their fans directly.

However, instead of looking for new models that do work within this new technological framework, the middlemen of old – conventional print, media and entertainment companies – are pushing for ever sterner copyright, ever more enforcement.

This goes against both technology and society, already treating the culture of sharing as the norm, at the same time jeopardising emerging models of financing production of cultural works and endangering works already published.

Of “pirates” and fans

Please note: the term “pirate” in this particular context is an act of language abuse; downloading content from the Internet, even without copyright holders’ permission, is legal in some jurisdictions (e.g. Poland), even if publishing it might not be.

As studies around the world have shown, the greatest fans also tend to download the most content from the Internet. A correlation between rising amounts of so-called “illegal content” downloaded via new electronic distribution channels (like peer-to-peer networks) and purported dwindling profits of media companies has not been, however, proven.

On the contrary: yearly revenue reports from biggest entertainment companies seem to suggest otherwise – their revenues evidently rise along with the amount of downloaded “illegal content” worldwide.

There is even a visible correlation between the amount of downloaded illegal content of a particular artist and the artist’s revenue from sales – although it is unclear whether there is any causation present, and in which direction. This might, however, mean that peer to peer networks, besides being allegedly detrimental to sales figures, might be actually a good marketing venue.


This is already being used as a foundation of emerging business models. Notorious torrenting website The Pirate Bay has decided to work with artists willing to take part in an experiment – and launched The Promo Bay: instead of site’s logo, visible to millions of visitors each day, a new artist and album is being promoted.

It is a new venture and it is hard to assess its long-term viability, but already many participating artists report a surge in interest – and revenue.

The “marketing through sharing” strategy is itself verified, though – the Brazilian Tecno Brega music genre strives on treating CDs recorded in local studios as advertising material, sold for symbolic price or simply given away for free. Sharing on the Internet is not being discouraged as money is being made on live sound system parties with thousands in attendance, by charging entrance fees and selling recordings of the live performance after the party.

Instead of fighting against technology and social norms, Tecno Brega industry takes advantage of technical possibilities of easy copying and distribution to sell something that cannot be readily copied: thrill of live concert, and memories from it.

Sell what cannot be copied

While not musically related to Tecno Brega, Polish Przystanek Woodstock festival organizers follow a similar path. This biggest in Europe open-air music and culture festival (catering to over 400 000 music fans each year) does not collect admission fees at all – however, one can buy professionally made recordings and merchendise each year.

Merchendise and concert admission fees are great examples of a business model compatible with culture of digital sharing, but there is even more to make money on than that. Turns out, fans will pay good money for the sheer thrill of knowing they helped make their favourite show or album possible.

This is the idea behind crowdfunding – asking regular people, not big media, for cash up front, so that production could commence. That’s how Pioneer One got founded. That’s where open-source social network software Diaspora got a kick-start. Fans and people that simply liked the idea gladly chipped-in a few dollars to make those – and many more – projects possible. Both were released under open licenses (Creative Commons-based, and AGPL license, respectively).

In fact, this method of receiving pay for work supports many libre/open-source software and libre culture projects. The key here is to make donations as easy, and the resulting product as useful and pleasant to experience or use, as possible – this, in fact, encourages such projects to use libre licensing terms. Terms that are entirely compatible with culture of sharing.

An interesting twist on that particular idea is the Humble Indie Bundle. Mixing the trait of easy donations and maximum freedom of use after purchase with funding drives known from political rallies, NGOs or lately Wikipedia (an interesting example by itself), and with an honourable cause, HIB operators gather independent games in a “bundle” and do a two-week funding drive.

Each client can set their own amount to pay for it, and can set how the money is shared between game developers, HIB operators and two notable NGOs. In return, each client receives games that work on all major operating systems (including the open-source Linux-based ones), not boggled-down with unweildy DRM used by big game publishers to “protect” their games from illegal sharing.

This model is already being copied, for example by Polish start-up Music Rage, doing similar promotional drives for independent music bands.

More inclusive models

Also worth noting, and not usually noticed by pundits, is the fact that with many of the above models (specifically: those in which the buyer/founder sets their own price/amount), artists and authors are able to receive payments from income groups that would be excluded in traditional models.

With a CD costing a fixed amount many will not decide to buy: the potential client will not receive the work, nor author the money, even if the client would, in fact, be willing to pay just a little less.

And conversely – should the client decide they would like to reward the author more than the fixed price, this too is impossible (short of buying a second album).

This is not the case with those flexible models. Because copying and distribution is pretty much cost-less, authors can let clients set their prices, and hence cater to both of the above groups.

They can, in fact, incentivise the wealthier clients to make more generous payments by additional services, like inclusion of the name in ending credits in case of a film (again, Pioneer One is an example here).

Middlemen stifle business innovation

Traditional middlemen – publishers, big media conglomerates, collection agencies – are trying to roll back technological progress to save old, failing and unsustainable business models, built upon assumptions that no longer hold. By doing so they are actively hurting emerging business models that are both compatible with the technology and social norms aready in place.

A century ago it was not deemed proper to enact laws that would defend horse buggy makers from competition from car makers. Technology moved forward, and so did the affected industry – it was seen as a natural process.

In this paper I hope I have demonstrated the viability of a few examples of emerging business models that take advantage of available technology. I do not believe these are the only models possible, nor that these are the best models conceivable.

I do, indeed, hold that there probably are other and better models for the future. However, unless we stop hampering and hindering technological and business progress in the name of outdated assumptions, we might never be able to find them.

This article has appeared in a peer-reviewed publication “Innovating innovation. Essays on the intersection of information science and innovation” (Warsaw 2013, ISBN:978-83-925759-8-6) edited by dr Bruno Jacobfeuerborn and published by the MOST Foundation.

Posts' markup is now available

This is an ancient post, published more than 4 years ago.
As such, it might not anymore reflect the views of the author or the state of the world. It is provided as historical record.

Thanks to a suggestion made by Sam ‘samthetechie’ Carlisle it is now possible to download source markup of every single post on this brag: just add a .src to the post’s address (or click the nice src link under post’s title).

The markup is a subset of Trac’s WikiFormatting – I like it as it’s clean, simple and fast to edit. Yes, I do prefer it to Markdown. All versions of any given post are generated on-the-fly (and cached) from this markup.

It’s my own little contraption, if you’re interested in the technical details, please feel free to browse the repo. Files of interest here are:

Internet is not a problem

This is an ancient post, published more than 4 years ago.
As such, it might not anymore reflect the views of the author or the state of the world. It is provided as historical record.

This is the text of a speech given at the 2nd FLOSS Congress in Katowice, Poland, on June 7th 2013; and on the CopyCamp conference in Warsaw, Poland on 1st of October, 2013.

Interesting times we live in, aren’t they. Times of the digital revolution that changes the way we think. A breakthrough requiring a change of approach in almost every area of human thought.

It’s hard to overestimate the importance of our ancestors starting to use tools. Today we rightly consider this a turning point in human history. Up until lately, however, all the tools we have ever used and created, extended our physical capabilities: we used them to throw farther, hit harder, cut stronger materials.

The inventions of the computer and the Internet are the first tools in the history of humankind that extend – so directly – our mental abilities! We can count faster and more precisely, have access to an insurmountable wealth of information and knowledge, and communicate with speeds that just 2 generations ago were a pure fantasy. That’s a change of an era, happening before our very eyes!

In the physical world moving is the most basic operation. When I give something to somebody, I lose it. If I want to get it back, somebody has to let go of it. In the digital world, the most basic operation is copying. Even when I “move” a file from hard-drive to a pendrive, in fact it gets copied and then deleted.

Copying something in the physical world is arduous and costly, if even possible at all. In the digital world, it’s the most basic operation one can perform. Sharing suddenly is not inextricably connected with loss. This single fact makes a world of difference.

Such ease of sharing gave us the Free Software movement, Wikipedia, and libre culture. It gave us OpenStreetMap and innumerable other wonderful projects, that at their heart have this core value: sharing. Sharing of knowledge, of data, of any results of our work.

This means, however, that old business models – built around the physical world’s difficulty of copying – start to be inoperable. Just as the business model of horse-and-buggy makers stopped being operable once cars were invented.

The tragedy of our times is that there are people who find this mundane reason enough to treat this amazing chance, this one of a kind revolution in our ability to access knowledge, culture, information… like it was a problem. It’s truly tragic that instead of looking for new business models, time and money is spent on finding technical and legislative means of introducing a rule from the physical world into the digital reality: trying to make copying hard again.

I believe that to be the wrong approach. Previous similarly important invention – writing and the printing press – are universally considered rather positive developments; the Internet and the digital revolution are as important and valuable, and crucial.

And there are business opportunities available! Instead of saving buggy manufacturers, why not ponder selling cars? Instead of creating artificial bounds for the free flow of ideas and information, why not find ways of building a new, digital economy for the new, digital era? Built on new assumptions and new rules, rather than badly emulating rules from the Old World. New economy that treats the user as a partner, not as a thief.

The Internet isn’t a problem. It’s an opportunity. Let’s seize it!