Tuesday, April 10, 2012 4:50 PM
Why honeybees haven’t been
Is Google erecting its very
Recreating San Francisco streets with
toothpicks and an incredible level of commitment.
Why are so many solar
panels made in
Do Americans believe race
relations are getting
A house in Japan blurs
the line between living room and garden.
How fictional sociopaths captured our
What dachshunds can teach
us about the public sector.
Sherman Alexie on why
banning a book only makes it more
Five economic ideas more
important than GDP.
What to say if you offend
century Chinese dinner guests.
Why a really good
belongs in the circus.
A nifty infographic on why
How to own your
very own one-horse town in Wyoming.
Sneetered by a
snollygoster, and other truly
wonderful phrases from across the country. The new Dictionary of American Regional English has picked up on hundreds of local gems like these, from the great state of Kentucky. But if you aim to make use of these whoopensockers, be warned: most have multiple spellings and a handful of contradictory definitions. Which of course makes them that much more fun.
Image by Christopher Down, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, October 12, 2011 11:01 AM
“The Swiss have mountains, so they climb. Canadians have lakes, so they canoe. The Australians have canyons, so they go canyoneering, a hybrid form of madness halfway between mountaineering and caving in which you go down instead of up, often through wet tunnels and narrow passageways.”
A rival to the Booker Prize has been announced, sending the literary world into an uproar.
A black male feminist speaks out.
Finally, you can carry David Bowie in your wallet.
Afghanistan, Iraq, Ecuador, Antarctica, and more are the latest citizens of Google Maps’ growing empire of crowdsourced maps.
For all you typography junkies (you’re out there, right?), Kerntype offers a strangely addictive kerning game, in which you move the letters in words left or right to achieve even spacing and optimal readability.
One writer’s takeaway from South by Southwest Eco: We should care for the planet not because it makes economic sense, but because it’s the right thing to do.
Big Agriculture mounts a PR campaign to counter the side effects of Food Inc.
Let’s downsize Sprawlopolis by shifting property taxes to land dues.
Gibson Guitar hits a sour note with environmentalists as it cozies up to the Tea Party.
Murder City: The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime offers a world map detailing homicide rates around the world.
An upstart newspaper files dispatched from the edge of capitalism. Introducing, the Occupied Wall Street Journal.
How do you get people to attend a reading? Host a Literary Death Match.
The big business of televised food is bigger than you think. The ice in a beverage, for example, might be made of acrylic and cost $500 a cube.
The decline and fall of America’s decline and fall.
Puff, puff, pour? Leave it to the gourmands to add marijuana to upscale beers and wines.
This new medical device is like a super soaker for the burn unit: It coats a burn victim’s wound with their own skin cells, allegedly healing the injury in days instead of weeks.
Snarky t-shirt or serious chic? A design writer for imprint teases out the difficulties of choosing what to wear to a protest.
What if Facebook developed a web browser to challenge Google?
Image by spacecadet, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, May 12, 2011 1:23 PM
In a project called National Jukebox, the Library of Congress is making thousands of recordings from 1901 to 1925 available online. Here are nine of the best.
The Navy Seals’ codename for Osama Bin Laden was “Geronimo,” and American Indians are understandably upset.
Mother Jones chronicles 33 years of Newt Gingrich’s extreme rhetoric.
National Post has published two excerpts from Jonathan Kay’s Among the Truthers, a book on the paranoid culture of conspiracy theorists. The first excerpt examines the long influence of The Protocols of Zion, and the second shows the internet as an echo chamber effect for crackpots.
Noam Chomsky weighs in on Osama bin Laden’s death.
Facebook’s smear campaign against Google…and apparently they did it because they were worried about privacy issues. Now that’s rich.
It looks like Superman is pro-immigration, saying, “That’s the idea that America was founded on, but it’s not just for the people born here, it’s for everyone.”
Ever wished you could watch a lightning storm in slow motion? Well, here’s your chance.
If you like cliffhangers, check out this vertigo-inducing Al Jazeera report on a perilous mountain trucking route in Pakistan.
In Dallas, an expensive attempt to re-engineer river rapids has gone horribly wrong.
Wednesday, May 11, 2011 5:01 PM
Content farms. Search Engine Optimization. Algorithms. These words have become ubiquitous in the world of online journalism. They’ve also been the focus of many articles about the current quality and quantity of content on the web—from the fears of writers who think such driving forces will be the end of high-quality journalism to supporters who claim that these are the tools to deliver content that readers actually want. Gone are the days, the latter claim, of being told what you should read and when; the internet will be a place fueled by reader demand. On the other hand, the former group sees the bygone good ol’ days of 75 cents a word replaced by the going rate of 3 cents—something apparently more in line with what those words are actually worth in terms of advertising dollars—and stories having to do with topics like, oh, Afghanistan. Until people become interested in how to build an Afghan-style home or the place becomes a vacation hot spot, chances are advertisers aren’t going to be chomping at the bit to get their ads displayed next to the search results for “War in Afghanistan.”
No matter which side of the discussion you land on, Ira Basen has a good overview of the matter in the current issue of Maisonneuve. Basen doesn’t necessarily take a stand himself, though he does try his hand at writing for a content farm—and gets paid a whopping $5 for his first article, which he spent nearly two hours researching and writing. Despite the low pay, Basen writes, “On one level, I appreciated—and was, frankly, surprised by—the editorial rigour that Demand Media displayed. Fact-checking and line-editing are becoming increasingly rare in mainstream journalism.” And in regards to the larger picture, Basen writes,
Not surprisingly, the most vociferous critics of content farms are people currently working in mainstream media. They mock the poor quality of content farm production, and decry their appallingly low pay scale. But big news outlets could learn a lot from Demand Media. For too long, newsrooms have been run as closed shops, with companies relying on polls, surveys and focus groups to find out what audiences want. This disconnect has undoubtedly contributed to mainstream media’s declining fortunes. Search engines are more precise, and likely more reliable, than focus groups, and companies like Demand Media are unapologetic about their focus on what readers ask for.
Still, Basen ultimately questions the quality of the content being produced, even admitting that with one article he wrote—and presumably had accepted—he had “no idea whether [he] got it right.” Basen also points out that the “closed shops” have simply shifted from newsrooms to the algorithms themselves:
One of the defining features of the age of the algorithm is that we are being asked to trust decisions made through uncontrollable processes. The keepers of these secrets can assume enormous power for good or mischief; the inner workings of their creations are legally protected as intellectual property, far from the glare of public scrutiny.
In the end, one of the comments in response to the story online pretty much nails it. “The irony of this article,” writes commenter Guppy Tranta, “is both laugh-inducing and heartbreaking: a beautifully-crafted, well-researched piece of long form journalism is used to decry the advent of algorithmic determination of content.” I have to admit, I felt the same bite of irony as I was filling in the keywords for this blog post.
Monday, February 14, 2011 3:59 PM
As reporter Mike Miliard points out in “You are Being Watched,” most recently published by the Sacramento News & Review, those vested in online privacy have been “drawn to a battle between two conflicting notions—and the winner of that battle may determine what kind of Internet we end up with.”
“The voices advocating for increased privacy protections argue that our actions online should remain invisible—unless we give our express consent to be watched and tracked,” Miliard writes. “But some of the most powerful voices on the Web are beginning to suggest that you should be responsible for your online actions: that your anonymity on the Web is dangerous.”
Those in the first camp are most concerned about corporate opportunists and government spies, known collectively as Big Brother. Even if some citizens haven’t yet surrendered their anonymity to Facebook or Twitter, when anyone logs in at work or browses almost anything online their every keyboard stroke and mouse click is being tracked, analyzed, and saved. “Your smart phone—jam packed with apps coded by who knows who and potentially loaded with spyware—is a picket homing beacon, trackable by satellite,” Miliard reports. “There are trucks with cameras on their roofs, trundling past your apartment, duly noting your unsecured Wi-Fi signal.” Walmart is even “putting radio frequency identification tags in your underwear."
There are also, according to a special report Miliard references from the Washington Post, some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies in the U.S. developing programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security, and intelligence.
While Big Brother gets all the ink, though, there’s an equally insidious threat to our privacy that some Internet advocates have come to call Little Brother. “Who is Little Brother?” Miliard asks rhetorically. “He’s all the people you know, sort of know or wish you didn’t know: creepy, barely remembered high-school classmates; Machiavellian co-workers; your angry ex. But mostly you really don’t know who Little Brother is, because Little Brother is anonymous. He or she is part of a sea of nameless faces: the anonymity-emboldened tough guy on a message board, or an auteur posting a sadistic video on YouTube, or an obsessive Twitter stalker, or, sometimes, a malicious suburban mom hiding behind a hoax identity while taunting a teenager to suicide.”
Or, as the Sacramento News & Review points out in the tease for Miliard’s well-reported overview: “Don’t want the government, big industry and some 15-year-old to know your secrets? Guess you’re out of luck.”
Sacramento News & Review
Image by o5com, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, January 06, 2011 12:53 PM
Is it possible to understand how an entire society thinks, to objectively examine the sum of a culture’s obsessions and anxieties, its fetishes and fascinations? And if so, could we extrapolate some deeper historical truth from the exercise, or just a mass of superficial conclusions? Cultural anthropologists write ethnographies, urban planners crunch demographic statistics, and media watchdogs sniff out trends and biases in mainstream media with the hope of gleaning some understanding the zeitgeist, be it past or present. But the various fields of study, due to their inherent specificity, can’t help missing the bigger picture. Even the shrewd, data-driven analysis of the urban planner is imperfect; it misses the nebulous, unquantifiable nuances of human experience. How do you statistically account for a heightened fear of foreigners, or infatuation with celebrities, or changes in artistic aesthetics? Assuming that we even want to know the contours of our national culture from an outside perspective, we’ll need to form an uncommon alliance: between scholars in the humanities and the arbiters-of-all-knowledge Google.
One of Google’s latest gifts to the Ivory Tower is Ngrams, an easy-to-use interface that pulls word-frequency data from the company’s massive database of books and plots them against a timeline. By agglomerating the text of as many books as possible from every conceivable field of writing, the theory behind Ngrams goes, one can begin to form a more comprehensive idea of what our culture is (and has been) all about.
This type of broad, numbers-based study of texts (called corporal studies in academia) isn’t entirely new, but computer-accelerated applications like Ngrams lend the practice an unprecedented computational power. A recent article in The Chronicle Review guardedly appraises this new scholarly field of “culturomics.” (Culturomics is meant to rhyme with genomics and carries the same assumptions: that culture can be quantified and then decoded, just like the human genome.) The article’s author, linguist Geoffrey Nunberg, frets that anyone with an internet connection can become an armchair-statistician-cum-cultural-critic. “I think that [Yale comparative literature scholar Katie] Trumpener is quite right to predict that second-rate scholars will use the Google Books corpus to churn out gigabytes of uninformative graphs and insignificant conclusions,” writes Nunberg. “But it isn’t as if those scholars would be doing more valuable work if they were approaching literature from some other point of view.”
People poking around on Ngrams will ultimately be beneficial to scholarship. “Whatever misgivings scholars may have about the larger enterprise, the data will be a lot of fun to play around with,” writes Nunberg. “And for some—especially students, I imagine—it will be a kind of gateway drug that leads to more-serious involvement in quantitative research.”
So here’s a bit of armchair scholarship. I plotted the use of two phrases (above) that mean a lot to us at Utne Reader—“alternative press” and “mainstream media”—from year 1900 to 2000. Both phrases don’t come into use until about 1970. Although “alternative press” enjoys more of a presence in written discourse for the following 15 years, “mainstream media” begins to skyrocket into our consciousness in 1985. What inferences can we draw? Perhaps the accelerated use of “mainstream media” is a symptom of an expanding cable news network or growing academic interest in the subject. Might the stagnation of “alternative press” be indicative of suppression of fringe opinions? And should this inflate our underdog ego? Admittedly, it’s hard to conclude anything from these graphs. After all, I was just playing around on Google.
Source: The Chronicle Review
Image by Carlos Luna, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, September 02, 2010 12:58 PM
On the website The Wilderness Downtown the über-indie band Arcade Fire offers fans personalized music videos, labeling them a “Chrome Experiment” that are “[m]ade with some friends from Google.” (Chrome is Google’s web browser and the site recommends that you use Chrome to get the whole experience of the video.) Visitors to the site are instructed to type the address of the home where they grew up. What ensues are a series of videos interacting with one another, personalized to the address the user put it using Google map images, as well as a page for viewers to interact with the video and write a message of their own, all set to the song "We Used To Wait" by Arcade Fire.
Whether or not you’re a fan of Arcade Fire, or of Google for that matter, this is a pretty interesting step for music video. And a pretty wild ride.
Get your own personalized video, or check out the video for Utne’s offices.
This isn't Arcade Fire's first foray into interactive music video, though. An article in the January 2010 issue of Creative Review profiles Vincent Morisset (article not available online) and his work with the band on the interactive websites for Neon Bible and the song Black Mirror.
Source: The Wilderness Downtown
Image from an interactive film by Chris Milk.
Thursday, July 08, 2010 1:48 PM
"Globally, the IT industry produces about the same volume of greenhouse gasses as the world’s airlines do,” writes Jason Stamper in Standpoint. That’s somewhere in the neighborhood of two percent of the modern civilization’s CO2 emissions.
Even your Google searches have a carbon footprint:
A Google search can leak between 0.2 and 7.0 grams of CO2, depending on how many attempts are needed to get the "right" answer. At the upper end of the scale, two searches create roughly the same emissions as boiling a kettle.
To deliver results to its users quickly, Google has to maintain vast data centres around the world, packed with powerful computers. As well as producing large quantities of CO2, these computers emit a great deal of heat, so the centres need to be well air-conditioned - which uses even more energy.
So here’s something funny: According to Google’s search trends database roughly 368,000 people search “carbon footprint” every month. You get where I’m going with this, right? Even the words “carbon footprint” have a carbon footprint! Ugh.
Image by GuenterHH, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, March 25, 2010 4:18 PM
Could over-sharing on Google, Facebook, and blogs mean the end of shame? On his blog Tweetage W@steland, Dave Pell writes:
The firehose that is the social web sprays (often very) personal details about others across your screen, whether you like it or not. The children of the social, realtime web will likely have encountered so many examples of what used to be secretive behavior that almost nothing will seem wildly out of the ordinary. While I have my deep reservations about the wanton nature with which we are throwing privacy to the curb, I do wonder (perhaps over-hopefully) whether the end of privacy might also herald the end of the often useless feeling of alienated embarrassment.
In their seminal work, The Cluetrain Manifesto, the authors wondered “What would privacy be like if it weren’t connected to shame?” Now, more than a decade later I’d ask a slightly different question:
Can shame survive in a world without privacy?
Will shame be able to so easily attack our minds when we are connected to a virtual army of those who share our perceived symptoms and situations?
Source: Tweetage W@steland
Tuesday, February 09, 2010 11:04 AM
The Google Voice service does more than route calls, voicemails, and provide transcriptions of voicemail messages. It also creates poetry. When reading over the typos and imperfections in his voicemails from Google Voice, Richard Eskow writes for 3 Quarks Daily, “I see an authorial sensibility taking form, like a face emerging from a cloud bank. These transcriptions can be read as poetry.”
Eskow provides a few examples, including this one:
Love Begins a Picture
Hi Cat, I could possibly do in the morning actually in the morning
on the way
so I could meet me in the morning
Anyway, just check back with me man and I will go from there.
Love begins a picture and I'll talk to you real soon.
3 Quarks Daily
Wednesday, October 21, 2009 5:12 PM
The deals are a “stunning one-two punch,” according to All Things Digital: Microsoft announced today that it has struck agreements to integrate real-time feeds of status updates from Twitter and Facebook into Bing. The deals are nonexclusive—which means Google could follow suit—but for the time being, Bing has something the search giant has yet to tap, at least in the case of Facebook. And get this: Microsoft is paying for it—exact terms, of course, haven’t been disclosed.
This is nonetheless “a precedent that the ability of search engines to index and link to content is worth some money,” Ryan Chittum writes for Columbia Journalism Review. “Where this goes from here no one knows. . . . Would the AP yank its news off Google if Bing paid and Google didn’t? Would it be worth it in the lost revenue from not showing up in as many search results? That’s too early to tell.”
One thing is clear, as Chittum says: This will be worth watching.
Sources: All Things Digital, Columbia Journalism Review
Thursday, July 16, 2009 2:33 PM
Inside Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California, employees take part in a meditation class called “Search Inside Yourself.” The program, profiled by Shambhala Sun, is the brainchild of Google employee number 107, Chade-Meng Tan. Now that Google’s success has made him rich, Meng is devoting his time to popularizing meditation worldwide, a goal that he believes will literally bring forth world peace.
The classes started as a stress reduction program, but Meng found that engineers and other Google employees weren’t interested in reducing their stress. Now the classes focus on teaching about emotional intelligence. Among the lessons, employees learn about “mindful emailing,” where people are taught to stop after writing an email, take three breaths, and visualize the recipient’s emotional and mental response before sending. Meditation experts have been brought into advise the proceedings and tackle the inevitable dilemmas involved in mixing spirituality with the corporate work environment, including “Will they truly serve the participants’ lives or just the company’s goals of efficiency and profits?”
Source: Shambhala Sun (article not available online)
Wednesday, July 15, 2009 11:38 AM
As Google’s self-proclaimed “Jolly Good Fellow,” Chade-Meng Tan works to reduce employee stress and bring peace to the workplace. Buddhist culture magazine Shambhala Sun features Meng's employee enrichment program Search Inside Yourself, which introduces Google employees to basic mindfulness through journaling, listening, and walking mediation.
Meng even teaches mindful emailing. It's simple: type an email and then take three breaths, looking again at the messgae and imagining the recipient’s emotional and mental response, then rewrite where necessary. Who knows, you might abandon the email altogether. One employee says he shocked a colleague when, after worrying his email would be misread, picked up the phone. A revolutionary act in today's quick-hit e-correspondence culture.
Source: Shambhala Sun (full article not available online)
Image by Yodel Anecdotal, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, June 30, 2009 10:44 AM
Google and the Saddleback megachurch have more in common than the undying worship of their devotees. Both organizations are set up around “campuses” that are meant to be spaces where people can do more than just work. They both have beach volleyball courts and cafes, where people can socialize and feel a greater connection to their organizations. Triple Canopy reports that the architecture “is meant to persuade church members or secular employees—especially younger people—to spend their most productive time there.”
The modern corporation and the Christian megachurch have developed simultaneously, according to Triple Canopy. Both organizations have tried to figure out how to maximize the engagement and productivity of their devotees. For the churches and the corporations, creating city-like campuses represents “the logical next step in their colonization of everyday life, part and parcel with the ever-more-diffuse protocols they have developed for managing souls.”
Source: Triple Canopy
Image of the Saddleback Megachurch.
Thursday, June 25, 2009 3:35 PM
Search results from Google are a bit too godless for some. That’s why intrepid, religious entrepreneurs started Koogle, a search engine designed to adhere to Jewish law. The name is a play on the delicious and traditionally Jewish casserole, kugel. Explicit material, including scantily clad women, will be filtered out of the search results, according to the San Francisco Business Times. Results will also exclude televisions, which are verboten in orthodox homes, and will prohibit shopping during Shabbat.
(Thanks, The Blingdom of God.)
Monday, February 09, 2009 2:54 PM
The big dogs of the internet, including Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Yahoo, are stocking up in an arms race to power the future of information, according to the new issue of IEEE Spectrum. The companies are building gargantuan data centers, or “warehouse-sized computers,” that will theoretically create the backbone for the future of the information economy.
The data centers are designed to facilitate “cloud computing” where people will be able to store much of their private information remotely, rather than on a physical hard drive. Gmail or online banking are manifestations of this idea. In the future, people may be able to store much more.
Housing the servers that will store these massive troves of information is proving to be a challenge for electrical engineers. Microsoft’s datacenter in Quincy, Washington, for example is nearly 43,600 square meters in size, and consumes enough energy to power 40,000 homes. The article profiles some of the (rather complicated) steps that these companies are taking to control their energy usage, and cut down a bit on their carbon footprints.
Image by Paul Hammond, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, January 16, 2009 4:25 PM
A new form of censorship has quietly crept over the internet. Though governments continue to pursue old-school forms of prior restraint, technology is quickly making the blackened-ink style of censorship obsolete. The new ways to restrict free speech don’t require killing information entirely, governments and private companies simply inconvenience and frustrate people away from information they want to keep under wraps.
The internet was meant to foster communication, and it still creates opportunities for vibrant free speech. At the same time, computer science professor Harry Lewis writes for the Chronicle of Higher Education that the internet’s “rapid and ubiquitous adoption has created a flexible and effective mechanism for thought control.” As people increasingly rely on the internet for their news and information, banishing something from the web means effectively striking it from the public consciousness.
Governments have already begun to influence internet usage inside of their countries to enforce social and political norms. Lewis writes that on the internet, there is already “no sex in Saudi Arabia, no Holocaust denials in Australia, no shocking images of war dead in Germany, no insults to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in Turkey.”
China sits at the vanguard of this new form of censorship. The country’s famed “Great Firewall” is one of the most advanced information blocking tools in the world. Every savvy netizen, however, knows of proxy servers, encryption services, and other ways to skirt the firewall and find information that China doesn’t want its citizens to see. “The Great Firewall of China isn't impenetrable, “Jacqui Cheng reported for Ars Technica in 2007, “it just takes a little elbow grease and high Internet traffic to squeeze a few banned terms through.” That requirement of elbow grease constitutes the cornerstone of the new censorship.
Governments don’t have to censor all the information that comes into their country anymore, either. Censorship increasingly relies on one information bottleneck: Google. Jeffrey Rosen wrote for the New York Times that Google and its subsidiaries, including YouTube, “arguably have more influence over the contours of online expression than anyone else on the planet.” Governments and businesses now realize that banning information from Google means effectively censoring it from a massive audience of people, and they are developing strategies accordingly.
“To love Google, you have to be a little bit of a monarchist, you have to have faith in the way people traditionally felt about the king,” technology expert Tim Wu told the New York Times. After the Turkish government successfully lobbied YouTube to take down videos inside of Turkey that were deemed offensive, the Government tried to ban the videos worldwide to protect Turks living outside the country. These videos would all be available on websites other than YouTube, but with one website eclipsing all others for web videos, really, who would know?
In the United States, copyright laws are often invoked to frighten people into censorship. The Electronic Frontier Foundation reported that the McCain-Palin campaign, an unlikely advocate for internet freedom, claimed that YouTube “silenced political speech” after it took down campaign ads due to copyright violation claims.
YouTube general council Zahavah Levine responded saying, “YouTube does not possess the requisite information about the content in user-uploaded videos to make a determination as to whether a particular takedown notice includes a valid claim of infringement.” Because of that lack of information, the site often takes down videos first and examines the validity of copyright claims later. By the time videos are restored, especially in a fast-moving political campaign setting, the damage has already been done.
The website Chilling Effects documents many of these cease-and-desist letters in an attempt to combat some of the unnecessary censorship. The site was created in partnership with the Electronic Frontier Foundation and a number of universities to help people understand their First Amendment rights and protect legal online speech. But with governments and businesses exchanging and learning from each other’s censorship tactics, the strategies to restrict free speech will likely grow more sophisticated.
Tuesday, December 30, 2008 3:09 PM
CatholicGoogle, which deems itself “the best way for good Catholics to surf the web,” launched last week. The new search engine, which is not affiliated with Google, makes use of “ ‘safe search’ technology” to favor Catholic-related sites and screen out “unsavory content.”
Snarky bloggers have seized on the browser's priggish tone, and largely dismiss it as a backwards attempt to censor information that's unfriendly to Catholic doctrine. Religion Dispatches offers a slightly more substantial take. It ran some hot-button words—contraceptives, abortion, stem-cell research—through the engine, and reports that it generally returned conservative Catholic sites.
But CatholicGoogle’s no Catholic Big Brother: The Religion Dispatches search results were shaped by the rhetoric of the search terms. By changing ‘contraceptives’ to ‘contraceptive rights’ and ‘abortion’ to ‘abortion rights,’ I received links to some progressive Catholic organizations, as well as NARAL, the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy, and Atheism.com.
The site's not so ominous, then. Whether Catholics will find it particularly compelling is another story.
Monday, November 10, 2008 1:03 PM
When television broadcasting goes all-digital in February, a range of old TV frequencies known as “white space” will be up for grabs, and technology pioneers like Google’s Larry Page have been lobbying the FCC to dedicate that spectrum to free internet and other public communication.
But the National Association of Broadcasters, mobile phone companies, and other entities who stand to profit from private, pay-based communication have been fighting white space liberation.
Until last week, that is, when the FCC ruled to open white space to unlicensed use (pdf), scoring a huge victory for Page’s camp. This essentially means that online communication will be faster and available to more people, especially rural and low-income users. It will also likely result in cheaper offerings from internet, cable, and cell phone service providers as competition in those markets intensifies.
Jeff Jarvis outlines these and other benefits of public white space at his blog BuzzMachine. (“Note this historic moment,” he writes. “I’m praising the FCC.”) He argues that the internet is no longer a merely a privilege, but a right: “Access to the internet—and open, broadband internet that is neither censored nor filtered by government or business—should be seen, similarly, as a necessity and thus a right. Just as we judge nations by their literacy, we should now judge them by their connectedness.”
Jarvis also does a good job of explaining white space and its benefits in non-wonky terms, focusing on the ways it will benefit education, government, and society at large.
Image courtesy of rvaphotodude, licensed by Creative Commons.
Thursday, October 30, 2008 1:24 PM
After two years of litigious wrangling, on Tuesday Google announced an agreement with the U.S. book industry that will allow the media giant to sell online access to millions of titles—many of them out-of-print or hard-to-find.
For several years now, Google has been laboriously scanning books, making their pages available through the company’s Google Book Search. Two years ago, the Authors’ Guild and representatives of the American Association of Publishers filed class action lawsuits against Google, charging copyright infringement.
The three parties hailed the $125 million settlement—which awaits approval by a federal court in Manhattan—“as a key moment in the evolution of electronic publishing,” reports the Guardian. If the deal is approved, users will be able to search for books via Google, sample the contents, and purchase reading rights. Google will fork over a share of the proceeds to a newly established nonprofit Book Rights Registry (BRR), which will then distribute funds to authors and publishers.
The BRR also would “locate rightsholders, collect and maintain accurate rightsholder information, and provide a way for rightsholders to request inclusion in or exclusion from the project,” according to Google.
In short, the BRR would operate a whole heck of a lot like ASCAP does today, writes Adam Thierer at Technology Liberation Front. That’s a good thing for writers and publishers, but the architecture of the deal also has Thierer wondering: “Could this be the beginning of a move toward a more comprehensive online collective licensing system for other types of content as everything moves online[?]”
The magic ingredient to collective licensing schemes, as Thierer and others have pointed out, is a gigantic, trusted middle organization—capable of handling all the transactions. (Who else but Google can tap the resources to scan and digitally archive the individual pages of 7 million books?) In the current media-and-publishing landscape, we’re probably to be forgiven if the words trusted and gigantic don’t seem a natural coupling.
Assuming the settlement goes through, however, we could have a glimpse of our digital future. “This will make it substantially easier for authors and publishers to find, distribute and monetize out-of-print books—in effect, creating or enhancing a ‘long tail’ for book publishing,” writes Mathew Ingram, a technology writer for the Globe & Mail, on his personal website. Ingram also points out that libraries stand to benefit—as part of the settlement, Google will provide free online access to millions of books through public libraries and universities.
Tuesday, October 07, 2008 4:07 PM
Just when you thought Google couldn’t get any more useful (or pervasive), engineers at Google Labs have launched Mail Goggles, a Gmail feature designed to prevent you from sending drunken emails you may regret in the morning. Here’s how it works: When the feature is enabled, Mail Goggles will ask you a series of basic timed math problems to see if you’re functional enough to know what you’re typing. If you pass, your message will be sent. If you fail, it’s probably best to wait until morning to write to your ex (or mother or boss).
To activate Mail Goggles in Gmail, go to the settings, click on "labs" on the right-hand side, and scroll down to find it. The default active time frame for the feature is late at night on weekends, but you can tailor it to your specific needs; say, if you tend to go overboard on the Bloody Marys during brunch, or if you plan on playing one of several drinking games designed for the presidential debates.
Image courtesy of
, licensed under
Tuesday, July 22, 2008 5:05 PM
For the car-deprived among us (like me), Google Maps was once a frustrating application. Getting directions involved being directed down highways and making rough time estimations based on how long a trip would take in a car. As if they knew what I was thinking (and maybe they do...) Google has begun offering walking directions on Google Maps. Now I know that it would take approximately 17 days for me to walk from Minneapolis to Manhattan. Maybe now I can stop agonizing over the best route on the way to the office every morning.
Monday, July 21, 2008 5:51 PM
“Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) today embarked on an historic first-ever visit to the Internet,” satirist Andy Borowitz joked on his website. In an effort to pull the headlines away from Barack Obama’s trip to the Middle East, Borowitz wrote that McCain, surrounded by reporters, visited “Weather.com and Yahoo! Answers, where he inquired as to the difference between Sunnis and Shiites.” Borowitz did not mention any plans of visiting, as Sen. McCain once said, “a Google.”
Thursday, July 10, 2008 1:35 PM
Privacy experts panicked last week when a federal judge ordered Google to turn over sensitive information about its users to Viacom. The New York Times reports that some believe, “the video viewing habits of tens of millions of people could be exposed.” Viacom asked for the information to assist in a $1 billion copyright infringement lawsuit against Google’s video sharing site YouTube, but the case is sure to have larger implications than a few illegally posted videos.
Some privacy advocates have called attention to the inevitable flaws in Google’s system of collecting private data. Writing for Computer World, Jaikumar Vijayan asked, “what is Google doing collecting and retaining all that data in the first place?” According to Vijayan, the company is clearly trying to improve targeted marketing campaigns, but users should be skeptical of any company that keeps such a huge cache of personal information.
There is one way that Google could get back into the good graces of some privacy advocates. If they’re being forced to turn over all the personal information to Viacom, TechCrunch suggests that Google should simply produce it in dead-tree paper form. The information they’re ordered to turn over is estimated at about 12 terabites—enough to fill up the Library of Congress. Printing it all out wouldn’t be eco-friendly, but it would definitely slow down Viacom’s efforts to parse the info.
UPDATE: What does 12 terabites of data look like? Neatorama breaks it down: 2,615 DVDs or 5 billion single-spaced typewritten pages.
Friday, March 14, 2008 8:56 AM
The jumbled mess that is the internet has a certain charm. Masses of confusing information and useless web pages sit neatly along side important sites, with Google standing as one of the only ways to tell them apart. Google is still the top dog in organizing the web, but the internet has evolved since the company began 12 years ago (that’s about 90 in web years). In fact, Tim Berners-Lee, who’s credited with inventing the World Wide Web, told the Times Online that he believes Google will be “superseded” by the Semantic Web.
Instead of simply focusing on web pages, the Semantic Web would, in theory, organize all kinds of information from bank statements to maps to photos to medical research studies. In a video for Technology Review, Berners-Lee talks about how Semantic Web technology could help doctors compare different kinds of medical data, combining the information with nutrition data or seemingly unrelated data like air travel patterns, illuminating trends and information that could literally save lives.
For now, much of the promise of the Semantic Web has yet to be realized, but companies are busy preparing to take advantage of the new technology. The latest incarnation is a website called Twine, created by Radar Networks, currently in private beta testing. CNet News reports that the company has raised $18 million in two stages to implement the technology.
Right now, Twine looks a lot like Facebook, MySpace, or other social networking sites. Users create a profile, upload a picture, and connect with other users on the site. The company hopes that users will soon begin dumping massive amounts of emails, research data, and other work-related information into the site, so that people will begin to make sense of the information in new ways.
The difference between Twine and MySpace, Facebook, or other social networking sites is that “a social network that is about who you know, Twine is more about what you know,” Radar Networks founder Nova Spivack told CNet News. If the Semantic Web works as well as Spivack and Berners-Lee hope it will, people will soon start to know a lot more.
Image by Noah Sussman, licensed under Creative Commons.
Just for fun, here’s a very cool video about organizing the web:
Friday, February 22, 2008 3:20 PM
In the latest incarnation of the highly offensive Facebook/MySpace-divide hypothesis, an article in TechCrunch reports on data suggesting that wealthy people tend to use Google for their Internet search engine while poor people tend to use Yahoo.
Monday, January 14, 2008 12:10 PM
Intimate details of peoples’ lives are freely available through the magic of Google. Many people post their names, email and street addresses, phone numbers, and photos to the internet, without much thought about it. According to a survey released last month by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 60 percent of internet users aren’t worried about how much of their personal information is available online.
Teenagers and children are often accused of being too cavalier with the details of their lives, but the survey suggests that adults are even more open with their personal information. Among people with visible profiles on social networking sites, such as MySpace or Facebook, the study reports that teens “make more conservative choices with respect to visibility” than their adult counterparts. A full 61 percent of adults don’t try to limit how much information is available about them online, and only 38 percent said that they have taken action to limit that information.
“Of course, what amuses me is that adults are saying one thing and doing another,” writes social networking guru Danah Boyd on her blog. Adults are telling children to protect themselves online, and then not protecting their own information. That kind of “do as I say, not as I do” attitude could hinder a meaningful and nuanced view of privacy in both children and adults.
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