Category Archives: Social Networking
Social networking is changing the way we find information.
By Nicholas Carr
How do you parse a tweet? Five years ago, that question would have been gibberish. Today, it’s perfectly sensible, and it’s at the front of Amit Singhal’s mind. Singhal is leading Google’s quest to incorporate new data into search results in real time by tracking and ranking updates to online content–particularly the thousands of messages that course through social networks every second.
Real-time search is a response to a fundamental shift in the way people use the Web. People used to visit a page, click a link, and visit another page. Now they spend a lot of time monitoring streams of data–tweets, status updates, headlines–from services like Facebook and Twitter, as well as from blogs and news outlets.
Ephemeral info-nuggets are the Web’s new currency, and sifting through them for useful information is a challenge for search engines. Its most daunting aspect, according to Singhal, is not collecting the data. Facebook and Twitter are happy to sell access to their data feeds–or “fire hoses,” as they call them–directly to search providers; the information pours straight into Google’s computers.
What’s really hard about real-time search is figuring out the meaning and value of those fleeting bits of information. The challenge goes beyond filtering out spam, though that’s an important part of it. People who search real-time data want the same quality, authority, and relevance that they expect when they perform traditional Web searches. Nobody wants to drink straight from a fire hose.
Google dominates traditional search by meticulously tracking links to a page and other signals of its value as they accumulate over time. But for real-time search, this doesn’t work. Social-networking messages can lose their value within minutes of being written. Google has to gauge their worth in seconds, or even microseconds.
Google is notoriously tight-lipped about its search algorithms, but Singhal explains a few of the variables the company uses to analyze what he calls “chatter.” Some are straightforward. A Twitter user who attracts many followers, and whose tweets are often “retweeted” by other users, can generally be assumed to have more authority. Similarly, Facebook users gain authority as their friends multiply, particularly if those friends also have many friends.
Article Continues -> http://www.technologyreview.com/computing/25079/?a=f
Get ready for fame, tweeters of the world: the Library of Congress is archiving for posterity every public tweet made since the service went live back in 2006. Every. Single. Tweet.
Matt Raymond, one the Library’s official bloggers, notes that “important tweets in the past few years include the first-ever tweet from Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, President Obama’s tweet about winning the 2008 election, and a set of two tweets from a photojournalist who was arrested in Egypt and then freed because of a series of events set into motion by his use of Twitter.”
But even those billions of other tweets and retweets, the ones about how you just got back from the worlds’ most epic jog or how you’re sick at home with the crocodile flu or how your crappy Internet connection just went down again and you can’t take it any more—those matter too.
There’s been a turn toward historicism in academic circles over the last few decades, a turn that emphasizes not just official histories and novels but the diaries of women who never wrote for publication, or the oral histories of soldiers from the Civil War, or the letters written by a sawmill owner. The idea is to better understand the context of a time and place, to understand the way that all kinds of people thought and lived, and to get away from an older scholarship that privileged the productions of (usually) elite males.
The LoC’s Twitter archive will provide a similar service, offering a social history of hipsters, geeks, nerds, and whatever Ashton Kutcher is. As Twitter continues its march into the mainstream, the service really will offer a real-time, unvarnished look at what’s on people’s minds.
Digital technologies pose a problem for the Library and other archival institutions, though. By making data so easy to generate and then record, they push archives to think hard about their missions and adapt to new technical challenges. While archiving the entire Web and all its changes is simply impossible, the Library of Congress has collected a curated, limited subset of Web content “since it began harvesting congressional and presidential campaign websites in 2000.” Today, it has 167TB of Web data.
Raymond sums up the Library’s goal: “In other words, if you’re looking for a place where important historical and other information in digital form should be preserved for the long haul, we’re it!”
People seem to agree that this is big news; as Raymond noted when I contacted him for details, “I’m already getting flooded. This is already our biggest re-tweeted tweet ever!”
So if you don’t want history to remember that burrito you had for dinner last night (and its aftermath), tweet carefully—now it’s for posterity.
by Tom Krazit
Almost everything you’ve ever said on Twitter is about to be discoverable through Google.
Google announced plans Tuesday to roll out a timeline of archived Twitter messages organized by topic, allowing searchers to see when Twitter activity spiked with tweets related to their search query. When the user clicks on a particular day that contained an outsized number of tweets related to that topic, they’ll be presented with a scrolling list of the individual tweets from that day.
It’s sort of like the timeline search feature that Google rolled out several years ago, only for tweets. Searchers will be able to start at “right now” at the far right-hand side of the timeline and scroll back through time by moving to the left.
“The conversation to date has been about what’s happening right now,” said Dylan Casey, a product manager at Google overseeing the project. But now, searchers will be able to find tweets related to something that happened in the past, at both a national news level and at a local event level. “This kind of archival experience around content is something we’re not new to.”
It’s not complete yet: Google said only tweets going back to February of this year will be available at launch over the next few days. But the plan is to eventually surface tweets as far back of March 2006, when Twitter made its debut.
Google’s bid to organize the real-time Web kicked off in earnest last December, when it announced real-time search. Twitter isn’t the only component of the real-time Web–which includes things like status messages and microblog posts–but search experts agree that it’s certainly the biggest part, and harnessing the “firehose” of Twitter content has proved a daunting task to date.
Twitter operates its own search page, but the results are grouped either around the trending topics of the day or simply blasted at the searcher as people post Twitter updates minute by minute. Twitter also lets users see an archive of their last 3,200 tweets, but for some people that’s maybe a couple of weeks at best, and there’s no good way to search that archive for particular topics.
So, what happens when that embarrassing tweet from April 2007 shows up in Google search results for “shotgunning beers” attached to your name? Casey said that Google is only displaying publicly available tweets, so if a Twitter user goes back and deletes a particularly mortifying post, it won’t show up in search results.
However, it’s less clear how Twitter users will be able to purge tweets that fall outside the 3,200-tweet archive limit. Google allows Web publishers to flag content meant to be private if it appears in search results, and Casey said although Google doesn’t have something like that available at the moment for this feature, it’s working on something similar.
Twitter is holding its first developer conference this week in San Francisco.
FarmTown creator SlashKey is warning players that the site has been hit with malicious software.
The virus resides in advertisements displaying fake security warnings with the aim of persuading users to provide their credit card details to buy anti-virus software.
“We believe at this time that it is harmless to your computer and a result of one or more of the ads on the site, but you should NOT follow any links to any software claiming to ‘clean your system’,” says the company.
“If you suddenly get a warning that your computer is infected with viruses and you must run this scan now, do not click on the link, close the window immediately.”
“Such malicious advertising (or malvertising as it is known) has been the vector for other infections in the past, including attacks against the readers of the New York Times and Gizmodo,” says Graham Clueley of security firm Sophos..
“What makes this attack all the more serious, of course, is the sheer number of people that regularly play Farm Town, and that – in all likelihood – they might not be as tech-savvy as the typical Gizmodo reader, and thus more vulnerable to falling for the hackers’ scam.”
SlashKey is asking users to report any instances of the virus, but Clueley thinks it’s not going far enough.
“Itt might be sensible for the company to disable third-party adverts appearing alongside Farm Town until the problem is fixed,” he says.
“It may not be Farm Town’s fault that a third-party advertising network is serving up malicious ads, but doing anything less is surely showing a careless disregard for the safety of its players.”
By Bianca Bosker
One of the biggest questions confronting Twitter has been: how will the site make money?
Finally, it seems Twitter has answers. The site plans to unveil details of an advertising plan that will help Twitter monetize its quickly-growing user base.
The New York Times describes Twitter’s plan for allowing advertising on its site for the first time ever:
The advertising program, which Twitter calls Promoted Tweets, will show up when Twitter users search for keywords that the advertisers have bought to link to their ads. Later, Twitter plans to show promoted posts in the stream of Twitter posts, based on how relevant they might be to a particular user.
The advertisements will begin rolling out Tuesday, April 13, to between 2 and 10 percent of users.
The 10 initial advertisers will include Starbucks, Best Buy, Virgin America, Bravo, Red Bull, and Sony Pictures.
The Wall Street Journal reports that details on the pricing of the ads are still sketchy:
For now, Twitter’s ad-matching and pricing formula is a work in progress. The company will start by charging marketers per thousand impressions of their ads. Over time, it plans to move to a more complex model, charging based on how users interact with the messages. The Twitter spokesman said it will not show ads that don’t receive a certain “resonance” score, based on factors like how many people clicked on or forwarded the ad.
Twitter described the plan on the company’s official blog, calling Promoted Tweets “non-traditional,” “easy,” and something that “makes a ton of sense for Twitter.”
“We strongly believe that Promoted Tweets should be useful to you,” Twitter said in its blog post. “We’ll attempt to measure whether the Tweets resonate with users and stop showing Promoted Tweets that don’t resonate.”
What do Twitter users think of the advertising plan? See how Twitter is reacting to the announcement.
This chain e-mail caught our attention after readers debated its validity on the PolitiFact Facebook page. It purports to be Obama’s comments about veterans who opposed a proposal to change their health insurance.
“Look, it’s an all volunteer force,” Obama complained. “Nobody made these guys go to war. They had to have known and accepted the risks. Now they whine about bearing the costs of their choice? It doesn’t compute.”
“I thought these were people who were proud to sacrifice for their country,” Obama continued. “I wasn’t asking for blood, just money. With the country facing the worst financial crisis in its history, I’d have thought that the patriotic thing to do would be to try to help reduce the nation’s deficit. I guess I underestimated the selfishness of some of my fellow Americans.”
The problem is Obama never said these words. They actually come from the humorist John Semmens, who writes satire on the news.
Semmens wrote his report in March 2009 after the White House abandoned a plan to bill veterans’ private insurers for their war-related injuries. It was intended as a cost-savings measure, to save the Veterans Administration $530 million a year.
Veterans groups opposed the plan, and the White House scuttled the idea. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs issued a press release on the matter on March 18, 2009:
“The President demonstrated his deep commitment to veterans by proposing the largest increase in the VA budget in 30 years and calling VSO (Veterans Service Organizations) and MSO (Military Service Organizations) leaders into the White House for an unprecedented meeting to discuss various aspects of the budget proposal,” Gibbs said. “In considering the third party billing issue, the administration was seeking to maximize the resources available for veterans; however, the President listened to concerns raised by the VSOs that this might, under certain circumstances, affect veterans and their families’ ability to access health care. Therefore, the President has instructed that its consideration be dropped. The President wants to continue a constructive partnership with the VSOs and MSOs and is grateful to those VSOs and MSOs who have worked in good faith with him on the budget proposal.”
This chain e-mail is still going around even though our friends at the other fact-checking organizations — Factcheck.org and Snopes– have both already debunked it. It also contrasts sharply with Obama’s actual attitude toward the troops.
Look at this excerpt from recent remarks he made to troops in Afghanistan on March 28, 2010.
“You are part of the finest military in the history of the world, and we are proud of you. And so I want you to know that everybody back home is proud of you. Everybody back home is grateful. And everybody understands the sacrifices that you have made and your families have made to keep America safe and to keep America secure in this vital mission,” Obama said.
“You’ve been there for us, tour after tour, year after year, at a time when too many American institutions have let us down, when too many institutions have put short-term gain in front of a commitment to duty and a commitment to what’s right,” he added. “You’ve met your responsibilities, you’ve done your duty — not just when it’s easy. That’s why you’ve inspired your fellow Americans. That’s why you inspire me. That’s why you’ve earned your place next to the very greatest of American generations. And all of you represent the virtues and the values that America so desperately needs right now: sacrifice and selflessness, honor and decency. That’s why you’re here today. That’s what you represent.”
The chain e-mail that purports to be Obama’s comments on troops is maliciously false. But it’s not the first time we’ve seen satire re-purposed for a chain e-mail, and it probably won’t be the last. We rate this one Pants on Fire!
Attackers made sophisticated use of social media sites to steal Indian government data.
By Erica Naone
Classified documents were stolen from high levels of the Indian government by hackers over the course of several months, according to a report released on Monday night by researchers from the University of Toronto.
The researchers, from the Citizen Lab at the Munk Centre for International Studies, traced the botnet (a network of compromised computers) used in the attacks to hackers based in China, but say there isn’t any evidence linking the activity to the Chinese government. Their report reveals how the hackers made sophisticated use of social media sites to control their botnet, making it much harder to trace and shut down.
The compromised documents included confidential assessments of India’s international relations with West Africa and the Middle East, visa applications, and personal information concerning a member of the Directorate General of Military Intelligence. The attackers also broke into systems belonging to academics, journalists, and the offices of the Dalai Lama–they were able to obtain a year’s worth of the Dalai Lama’s e-mail, and academic reports on several Indian missile systems.
Many of the techniques used by the attackers have been employed by other spy networks, including GhostNet, which was revealed by the same researchers last year, and the recent attacks on Google. As before, the attackers stole data by sending malware targeted to specific individuals within an organization. The malware then connected compromised computers to a botnet commanded by the attackers that issued instructions and funneled the stolen data to servers where attackers could access it. “Antivirus systems are not terribly effective against these targeted attacks,” says Greg Walton, a SecDev Fellow at the Citizen Lab who researched the attacks.
However, this time attackers also used cloud-based websites to make it harder to shut down their botnet’s command-and-control infrastructure. Ron Deibert, director of the Citizen Lab, said in a press conference that the way that attackers use social media sites to shield their malicious activity reveals the “dark, hidden core” of cloud services.
After a computer was infected with malware, it would check in with the botnet for orders. Usually that would mean contacting a server controlled by the attackers. But in this case, infected computers were programmed to access social sites including Twitter, Baidu blogs, and Google Groups, where they were directed to the URL of a control server. Using the social sites allowed attackers to move their operations whenever part of their infrastructure was shut down, explained Nart Villeneuve, who is a senior SecDev research fellow at Citizen Lab, at the press conference. It also kept network administrators from becoming suspicious.
Story Continues -> http://www.technologyreview.com/web/25000/?a=f
FarmVille, a Facebook game with over 82 million players worldwide, is notoriously addictive–there’s even a ‘FarmVille Addicts Anonymous’ Facebook group.
Council members of the Plovidv City Council in Bulgaria are among FarmVille’s fervent fans: the Bulgarian councilors were recently caught “milking virtual cows” on FarmVille during budget meeting debates (using government-issued laptops, no less).
The Chair of the Council, Ilko Iliev, delivered a strong scolding to the officials–to no avail.
Novinite, a Bulgarian news outlet, reports that not long after Iliev’s warning, one politician, Dimitar Kerin, was yet again nabbed tending to his online crop.
Kerin was promptly voted off the council committee for playing FarmVille on the job.
The proposal to remove Kerin from his respective municipal committee came from Todor Hristov, a former member of Kerin’s party, who has argued that Kerin “needs more time for his virtual farm.” Thus, Kerin was removed from his committee with 20 votes in favor and 19 votes against; as a result, he has lost the additional pay he received as a member of a municipal committee.
Kerin said, in his defense, that he was not the only FarmVille fanatic in the bunch: he explained that he ‘had reached only Level 40, whereas Daniela Zhelyazkova, a councilor from the rightist Democrats for Strong Bulgaria party, was already at Level 46.’
By Ryan Singel
How can you tell the difference between a real report about online vulnerabilities and someone who is trying to scare you about the security of the internet because they have an agenda, such as landing lucrative, secret contracts from the government?
Here’s a simple test: Count the number of times they use the adjective “cyber.” Nobody uses the word “cyber” anymore, except people trying to scare you and trying to make the internet seem scary or foreign. (Think, for instance, of the term “cyberbullying,” which is somehow much more crazy and new and in need of legislation than “online bullying.”)
When was the last time you said, “I saw this really cool video in cyberspace” or “My cyber connection is really slow today”? Of course, no one speaks like that anymore. The internet is no longer distant or foreign (though it thankfully remains beautifully weird). It’s familiar and daily. It’s the internet. It’s so ordinary, Wired.com stopped capitalizing it more than five years ago.
Need an adjective to describe something that is internet-based? Try “online.”
But when it comes to scaring senators, presidents and the nation’s citizens into believing the Chinese, the Russians or Al Qaeda are stealing all our secrets or bringing down the power grid, the internet somehow morphs back into “cyberspace.”
Here’s a good example of the “cyber” test from a pretty interesting story from The Washington Post about the National Security Agency disabling (rather ineptly, it seems) an online forum used by radical Islamic fundamentalists to plan terrorist attacks.
The Post uses the adjective 12 times in describing how the NSA and CIA bickered over whether NSA “cyber-warriors” should use hacking techniques to take down a message board that suspected Al Qaeda were using to make plans. In a brilliant stroke of “cyberwar,” the NSA “cyber-operators” took down the CIA-sponsored honeypot message board where extremists were being monitored, somehow inflicting collateral damage on some 300 innocent servers in the process.
Forbes got into the “cyber” action this week as well.
Amit Yoran, a respected security expert who runs a company that sells computer security services to the government, wrote a long post on a Forbes blog this week to defend the concept of “cyberwar,” in no small part because this blog ranted about how that term is used to hype militarization of the internet and feed a new and very dangerous arms race.
Yoran says the debate doesn’t matter (even as he falls firmly in the cyberwar camp), but what’s important is that everyone recognize that the dangers of underestimating online risks is worse than “the impact of misrepresenting or miscalculating risk [...] in the sub-prime market,” which led to “cascading global financial meltdown.”
That sounds scary. Bad firewalls will lead to something worse than a global financial meltdown? (That sounds suspiciously like what Michael McConnell told President Bush to scare him into creating a secret government “cybersecurity” plan.)
Those looking for a reality check might check how many times Yoran uses “cyber” in the body of his piece?
The answer: 42. (Yes, we think that’s funny, too.)
Yoran defines “cyberwar” as being launched via “cyber attacks” or “cyber exploitation.” He defines the latter as “the compromise of these targets without their destruction or disruption, but rather through covert means, for the purposes of accessing information or modifying it or preparing such access for future use in exploitation or attack.”
That’s the very definition of what the NSA does — wiretapping abroad (and sometimes domestically), finding ways to spy on electronic machines simply by capturing their unintentional electromagnetic radiation, and scooping up radio and satellite communications of allies and adversaries alike.
Yoran and Forbes also fail to mention that his company, NetWitness, markets computer security equipment to the government and has a vested interest in the outcome of this debate.
Yoran disputes that his company stands to gain if the “cyberwar” terminology wins.
“We’re not a government ‘cyberwar’ operation by any stretch and have nothing to gain by the terminology I suggested in my blog,” Yoran wrote, saying that his company sells the exact same technology to corporations and governments. “I don’t care what it’s called. And think, if anything, the war implication is a bad one for many reasons.”
But for those who relish the idea of a new front for war, it’s way cooler and scarier to say we are in the midst of — and losing — a cyberwar, than to factually state that the Chinese want to steal our secrets and we want to steal theirs and we should have better computer security.
That kind of rhetoric doesn’t launch sensationalist — and often demonstrably false — scare stories in opinion-making outlets like 60 Minutes, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and the National Journal.
No, when that kind of fear-mongering is needed to loosen the purse strings for computer security, only one word will do.
And it’s even better when repeated ad nauseum in front of Congress and at the country’s top security conferences by former and current government officials, even if those people couldn’t even enable MAC address filtering on their own wireless routers.
Or as the Beastie Boys might have put it a couple of decades later, “Our Backs Are Up Against the Wall/Listen All Y’all, It’s Cyberwar.”
By Ryan Paul
Nokia is tapping into the collective wisdom of mobile technology enthusiasts on the Internet as it designs a new smartphone concept device. The handset maker has launched a new project called Design by Community which aims to collect feedback about preferred device characteristics from visitors to the Nokia Conversations blog.
The website has a set of sliders that can be used to select a desired phone configuration within certain parameters. When the user has selected their optimal configuration, they can click a “submit” button to send their choices to Nokia. The company will tabulate the results and use the information to design the new device concept. There will be several rounds during which a separate set of parameters will be put up for voting.
The first round focuses on the input mechanisms and device display. Users can select a preferred screen size, specify what kind of screen they want, and indicate their preferences for the keyboard and physical buttons. The voting system imposes some restrictions on the combination of device characteristics that can be chosen. If the user chooses a configuration that is too radical or not sufficiently ambitious, the system won’t let them submit it.
The next round of voting, which will open on March 22, will allow participants to select a preferred size and shape for the concept device. Subsequent rounds will focus on materials, connectivity, and camera features. There will also be a round in which users will vote on whether they favor the Linux-based MeeGo platform or the newly-opened Symbian operating system.
Nokia says that it received thousands of votes within the first 24 hours of the project. In a blog entry, the company expressed appreciation for the volume of responses and also explained the reasoning behind some of the limitations that are being imposed on the experiment. For example, Nokia says that it intentionally decided to exclude hardware specifications—such as processor performance and memory quantity—from the voting so that the design wouldn’t become dated too quickly by advancements in mobile component technologies.
Based on the responses so far, Nokia says that a majority of the voters want a 16:9 capacitive touchscreen and a physical QWERTY keyboard. The most common choices for screen size are 4.5-inch and 4-inch, indicating that users favor a spacious screen but don’t want a monolith.
In light of Nokia’s growing affinity for the collaborative open source software development model, it’s unsurprising that the company is experimenting with crowdsourced product design. Last year, Nokia polled members of its Maemo community to gain feedback on user preferences for keyboard layout. The new Design by Community project is a much more ambitious polling effort.
Although the responses will give Nokia some instructive insights into what design characteristics and capabilities people want from modern smartphones, it’s unclear if a community-driven design process can produce meaningfully usable data or serve as the basis for producing a product that is genuinely desirable.
Successful product development arguably transcends the specifics. In practice, delivering a holistically compelling user experience may be more important than conforming with a checklist of expected features. That said, there is still a lot of practical value in understanding consumer expectations. The challenge for Nokia will be respecting the feedback it gets from its users without becoming slavishly committed to implementing the resulting feature checklist.