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Why Google killed off Google Reader: It was self-defense


It’s not a huge surprise that Google is dropping Google Reader, the blog reader it operated since 2005. After all, they’d let it go for some time now (not that I’m complaining – it was after all, a free service, a fine product, and a boon for the overall ecosystem of blogging, podcasts and RSS).

The reality, though, is that Google operates at vast scale, and a niche consumer product like Reader just doesn’t move the needle. As crazy as it may sound, today even a billion-dollar business is simply a distraction to Google (unless, of course, it’s well on the way to becoming a five-billion-dollar business).

So all those who are signing petitions to Google  (and even one to The White House!) are missing the bigger point: that this is a victim of the company’s DNA, one that’s accelerated under Larry Page’s management. Some companies specialize in keeping the status quo, others specialize in moving forward. Google is the latter. If the company maintained every niche product with N thousand fans, even paying ones, it’d become the very bungling bureaucracy we love to hate. For a company with Google’s ethos and standing, any such dead-end, non-revenue-producing product that’s retained is holding others back, and prevents the company from moving forward and making true innovations instead of incremental improvements.

Open standards just a means to an end

While Google is giving up on Reader, I believe the company will still embrace subscriptions in a big way, just without RSS (by which I mean RSS, Atom, PubSubHubbub, etc.) Sure, they may continue to lean on RSS as part of their technical infrastructure – e.g. Googlebot will still be crawling external RSS feeds to identify fresh content – but users won’t see those three letters or the shiny feed icon that accompanies them.

To understand why Google’s walking away from RSS, look at Google’s relationship with open standards over the past decade. Google has experimented with various open technologies and found it difficult to win over Google-scale audiences and developers. The list of casualties would include OpenSocial (present in Orkut but not Plus), Activity Streams (present in Buzz, but not Plus, though certainly an inspiration), Social Graph API (no longer available) and RSS (not just Reader, but Feedburner is fading out and podcast app Listen was killed months ago).

Furthermore, Android has been a stonking success for the company, and while it may be open source, with a relatively open store policy, it’s not particularly based on open standards in the way that ChromeOS, WebOS, and now Firefox OS are.

So overall, Google’s lesson has been to lead with a compelling user experience first and then build an API from there, an API which may be based on open standards, but only if it’s a means to an end. Developers are much more attracted to a big market than a glorious proclamation of Open. It’s this philosophy that explains why Google has been so cautious with the Google Plus API.

Doubling down on media

Google isn’t giving up on blogs and media. Far from it. They already have Google News, Google Currents, and Google Now. And on Plus, they have vibrant product pages and communities. The Economist, Time, and ESPN all have over 2 million followers, for example.

This comes at a time when Facebook has been facing a backlash from journalists, with people saying that unless you’re paying for sponsored posts, it doesn’t show up in streams. Facebook’s recent design aims to fix this with a separate Subscriptions area, but as discussed on this week’s TWIT, it’s looking more like they experimented with subscriptions, that it wasn’t core to their business of connecting individuals, and now it’s off to the side.

So Google has an opportunity to win over media brands right now, and I believe they’ll be placing an emphasis on this in their own apps like Currents, as well as on Google Plus proper. In many respects, Currents is exactly what you’d expect from Google in 2013. It’s pretty, mobile-native, and “just works” without anyone having to learn the details of RSS.

Looking further ahead, Google has a vision heavily influenced by machine learning. The company has long known that the best search is the one you didn’t have to make, and this always-on attitude is now coming to fruition with Google Now. Google Now anticipates what users might be interested in at any time, and that includes the kind of articles people might presently be discovering on Google Plus.

Reader’s demise is understandably a sad moment for many, but I believe in time, it will be a positive for the overall ecosystem. Google simply wasn’t innovating on Reader, and as people shift over to services like Feedly or Newsblur (and new ones are popping up as I write), those companies will have extra incentive to innovate and extra resources to do so. Meanwhile, Google will continue to work on what it does best: boiling oceans and shooting for the moon.

Michael Mahemoff previously worked at Google and is founder of cloud podcasting service player.fm. Follow him on Twitter @mahemoff.

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via Filter RSS feeds http://gigaom.com/2013/03/16/why-google-killed-off-google-reader-it-was-self-defense/

Keyboard Maestro as OmniFocus’s Little Helper



OmniFocus to me still is the task manager on the Mac. Even if I’m increasingly having trouble finding an intended purpose for contexts, just like Gabe Weatherhead from Macdrifter who has recently started a series were he is looking for a worthy alternative to OmniFocus.

Although, I moved a good part of my task out of OmniFocus into TaskPaper, I’m not a hundred percent there yet and OmniFocus is still functioning as main brain for my custom GTD system.

Since I use it daily I thought it would be appropriate to enhance it with a little bit of Keyboard Maestro’s magic. Here is my tool belt for making the marriage between these two work:

1. The Perspective Switcher


What you are looking at here is a typical Keyboard Maestro palette1 which I trigger via one of my rather rare global working hotkeys (here: ctrl-opt-`). It allows me to choose an OmniFocus perspective of my choice and directly switch to it no matter what application I’m currently in. So let us start.

For the palette hotkey open Keyboard Maestro and choose “add group” from the leftmost column. Use the following settings:


The structure of the individual macros is as simple as could be. As an example here’s what my “Now perspective” looks like:

  1. Triggers are all zeros on my keyboard (= also those on the number pad).
  2. If OmniFocus isn’t open then it will be opened by the macro, followed by a small 0.5 second breather before the last step of the macro.
  3. The menu entry from the choosen perspective gets selected and activated.

This is what my perspective palette looks like:


Those of you who don’t want to do the handwork don’t worry – I got you covered and put my macros on GitHub. You still need to change the names to fit your own perspectives and choose a shortcut that makes sense to you.

2. The Tool Belt

The so-called tool belt is also a palette; in this one are all the AppleScripts which I need to access most of the time when operating inside of OmniFocus – be it the daily or weekly review, organizing tasks or exporting lists.

Since I only need those scripts inside OmniFocus, the settings of the palette look like this:


After the call (here ctrl-`) this hud opens:


For simplicities sake I uploaded the collection of scripts also on my GitHub. But since I didn’t came up with all those brilliant ideas by myself you’ll find a list of references to the sources here where you can find the original scripts.2


Move to Top/Bottom

Script by The Omni Group Forums member ptone: go to this thread and download it.

Postponing Tasks

Dan Byler has a great OmniFocus AppleScript collection – everything one could wish for:

  • “Clear dates” removes the start and due dates from selected tasks.
  • “Defer” your selected tasks. The start and due date will changed by a choosen amount of days.
  • “Snooze” is not only my favorite in the morning when I’m dealing with my alarm clock, but also in OmniFocus. It postpones start dates from selected tasks by the amount of days you choose. There you are!
  • “Today” sets the start date to today.
  • “Tomorrow” sets the start date to tomorrow
  • “This Weekend” sets the start date to the weekend.

For a detailed description visit Dan’s site. All of his scripts are easy to customize for instance if you like due dates better than start dates, Dan gots you covered.

Clear All Flags

Curt Clifton has put this nifty script on his GitHub page… and there is more.

Stagger Tasks

The website of Ryan Davis is also full of useful scripts, I only use these two:

  • “Stagger dates”

Stagger Dates takes the selected tasks and redistributes them one weekday at a time. For example, if it is Monday and you select 5 tasks and hit Stagger Dates, you’ll have one task on each day of the week. If it is Tuesday, then you’ll have 4 for this week and 1 on next Monday.

  • “Stagger times”

Stagger Times does the same thing as Stagger Dates, but for a single day. It takes the selected tasks and reschedules each task to start at the end of the previous task based on the previous due time and the estimated time of the task.

This lets me throw everything to a single day (which will use the default due time) and then spread them out throughout the day. If the tasks go too late, I know I’ve bit off more than I can chew for that day.

Send Tasks Via Email

Copy Tasks as Plain Text

Copy a Task URL

A pretty useful script for getting a link to an OmniFocus task. If the task is relevant I use the URL in my some of my nvALT, TaskPaper and Evernote notes. I found it via a famous search engine on a japanese blog.

Send Tasks to DueApp

Sean Korzdorfer has provided this script – and it is one of my absolute favorites since Due syncs to iOS and I get bothered every minute with an alarm if I choose to ignore it (which is often times my default mode).

Go to his GitHub page and download the version that works best for you there.

Export as OPML

To be completly honest. I don’t exactly know where I got this script from, but the handwriting screams RobTrew to me. So what I’m going to do is give you this link and let you search the forums by yourself – it’s a goldmine anyway.

  1. The best explanation for how to make these palettes is available here at Macdrifter – also read the comment section where other alternatives are pointed out.

  2. Considering OmniFocus 2 is soon to be released there is a good chance that some of the scripts won’t work properly after you’ve upgraded. In that case just visit the sources. Probably the popular ones will already be updated.

via RocketINK http://rocketink.net/2013/01/keyboard-maestro-as-omnifocus%27s-little-helper.html

Frog Design’s Hartmut Esslinger Reveals Early Apple Designs in New Book (Juli Clover/MacRumors)


Juli Clover / MacRumors:
Frog Design’s Hartmut Esslinger Reveals Early Apple Designs in New Book  —  Designboom (via The Verge) today got a hold of some photographs of early Apple computer designs from Hartmut Esslinger’s new book, Design Forward.  —  Esslinger founded Frog Design, the company that Apple partnered …

via Techmeme http://www.techmeme.com/121228/p43#a121228p43

The iPad Mini and the cost of Retina


The iPad Mini is a conflicted product.

It’s much better than the iPad 3 and 4 to handle, carry, and hold up during use. It has the best external design of any iPad to date. It runs cooler than the iPad 3 or 4, it has almost the same battery life despite its much smaller size and weight, and it matches the iPad 2 and 3 in most performance benchmarks. It charges more quickly than the iPad 3 or 4, and it’s more versatile in charging, since it’s the first iPad able to charge at full speed from an “iPhone” AC adapter. The Smart Cover even sticks to the back better when it’s flipped around.

And, of course, it’s much cheaper than the other iPads.

But the non-Retina screen is rough. If you’ve never used a Retina-screened device, you probably won’t care, but if you’ve been spoiled by Retina, you’ll notice the lack of it in the Mini almost every time you turn it on. I stop noticing after I start doing something with it, of course, but those first few seconds are a rough reminder every time.

The iPad Mini is conflictingly high-end and low-end. It’s the cheapest, “entry-level” model, but since this is Apple and this is their second-most-important product, it’s not bad, much like the 11” MacBook Air. On the contrary, the screen is the only thing about the iPad Mini that feels low-end. If they release a Retina iPad Mini next fall — and I don’t expect one earlier — no part of it is likely to feel low-end except the price, a recipe for a fantastic product.

Despite being the cheapest model, the Mini has top-notch build quality and materials. Almost every hardware spec is great: great battery life, great performance, great storage and cellular-data options. It doesn’t feel cheap at all, and no part of it feels like it was short-changed or underpowered because of price alone.

Including the screen.

A Retina screen at iPad resolution has a much higher cost than the price of the panel. I’m convinced that the other tradeoffs and costs are why the Mini doesn’t have a Retina screen.

This isn’t theoretical: we can see the cost of Retina for ourselves with the iPads 3 and 4. The iPad 3 was the first Retina iPad and showed us the initial issues, and the iPad 4 shows us the best Retina iPad that Apple could ship with the technological improvements available since the iPad 3.

We can see that a Retina iPad screen is a much bigger power hog than a non-Retina screen of the same size. That’s why the iPad 3 needed to be thicker and heavier than the iPad 2, and why it takes so long to charge: the battery is huge. The iPad 4 has roughly the same size, weight, and battery as the iPad 3, so we know that technological progress hasn’t been able to meaningfully shrink it yet.

And we can see that pushing four times the pixels needs four times the GPU power to keep performance similar to the non-Retina equivalent, especially in games. To achieve this, the iPad 3’s A5X needed to be inelegant: it was physically huge, it drew a lot of power, and it ran noticeably warm even under routine tasks like web browsing. The iPad 4 was able to improve significantly with the much faster, die-shrunk A6X, but its GPUs still need a lot of power and it still runs warm.

It’s not hard to imagine, given what we see with the iPad 3 and 4, what an iPad Mini with a Retina screen would be like with today’s technology. Its battery life, portability, or performance would suffer significantly. (Probably all three.)

Apple didn’t make an arbitrary decision to withhold Retina on the Mini to save money, upsell more buyers to the iPad 4, or “force” the first generation of iPad Mini owners to upgrade next year. They chose not to ship a Retina iPad Mini because it would be significantly worse than the previous iPads in very important factors.

Imagine the fallout if a Retina Mini shipped with only three hours of battery life, or was inelegantly thick and heavy. Or, very importantly to the iPad’s market, imagine if its GPUs were slower and it ran existing iPad games extremely poorly. And then add the component-price differences: imagine a Retina iPad Mini that was bulkier, shorter-running, or much slower (or all three) and that started at $399 instead of $329.

That’s why we don’t have a Retina iPad Mini yet. It’s not only about price: it’s because the resulting product would suck in at least two other important ways.

Until a good Retina iPad Mini can be made, it will be an unfortunately conflicted product: high-end in every way except the screen, which is a big one. But this tradeoff is anything but arbitrary.

via Marco.org http://www.marco.org/2012/11/12/ipad-mini-cost-of-retina

US military looks to social nets for intelligence strategy


Students at a U.S. military graduate school in California are mining social media with new methods that may change the way the armed forces collect intelligence overseas.

Students and researchers at the Naval Postgraduate School have tackled two projects that could begin the shift in the way intelligence is gathered. The first is a piece of software they wrote that harnesses the Twitter API (application programming interface) and the second is a project focusing on Syria that uses many social networks to look at U.S. policy options there, though civil liberties experts say the technology concerns them.

The software for Twitter, called the Dynamic Twitter Network Analysis (DTNA), is now being field-tested by three Defense Department units overseas to help gauge public opinion in some of the world’s hot spots.

The software pulls in data from the public Twitter feed, then sorts it, live, by phrases, keywords or hashtags. The program is continuously updated, integrating a mapping feature and geo-tagged information. Intelligence officers could use DTNA to understand people’s moods about a topic, or hopefully prevent or simply respond faster in any future U.S. embassy attacks.

To read this article in full or to leave a comment, please click here

via TechHive http://www.techhive.com/article/2013726/us-military-looks-to-social-nets-for-intelligence-strategy.html

7 half-truths, lies and fallacies that productivity gurus tell

http://cdn.thenextweb.com/wp-content/blogs.dir/1/files/2012/11/109794464-520×245.jpg 109794464 520x245 7 half truths, lies and fallacies that productivity gurus tell

To many, the meteoric rise of blogs about productivity in the mid-2000s was inexplicable and came out of left field. It probably shouldn’t have been a surprise.

Products like Stephen Covey’s 1989 book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and David Allen’s 2001 book Getting Things Done were immensely popular well before the ‘productivity blogger’ was a thing. People seem to be looking for some kind of golden ticket to achieving great things — or at least, doing a lot of stuff.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this kind of content, though one could say there’s not much left to say and a lot of the information out there is misguided. In fact, over the past seven years this phenomenon has given rise to plenty of tropes that adherents cling to like holy gospel, unwilling to admit the highly personal nature of how we think and accomplish things. Here are # golden and immutable rules productivity gurus will tell you that are at best misguided and at worst outright lies.

Early rising will turn you into Superman

Productivity people tell you that no matter whether you’re a night owl or a natural early riser, if you’re not out of bed by 5AM you may as well give up and go home. This is one of those cases of information dispensed in a misguided way. Research proves that sleep schedules are highly personal. They’re not ambiguous, though, and the ideal sleep schedule for you is easy to determine.

The chronotype, well-summarized by Brain Pickings, is like your own personalized internal clock that determines whether you perform best when you wake up early or by sleeping in. The evidence shows a broad range of types at every age group. It points to the fact that teenagers do best when they stay up late and also rise late, explaining why millions around the world are chronically exhausted after early mornings thanks to the school structure that governs their lives.

It does reveal that people tend to move towards earlier chronotypes as they age, but that’s simply a statistical trend; each case is still different for each individual, and the validity of ‘early riser’ advice remains dependent on personal information.

Never process your email first thing in the morning

The recurring advice is that you should always focus on big projects early in the morning, shunning your email for later in the day. There’s also advice that you should only check your email once or maybe twice in a day.

This is great advice for some people, but it all depends on how you work. For me, getting straight into email in the morning is an awesome momentum builder. I keep in touch with my team and get into a working mood over coffee, which I can then leverage to start on big projects. For others, it’s totally derailing and they never quite escape the grasping tendrils of their inbox.

The advice to check your email on a less regular basis is by and large good, but also role dependent. As a Features Editor dealing with long-form content and other features, getting mired in email can be counterproductive. For my news-gathering colleagues, a missed email (or even tweet) can mean a lost scoop. The structure of their role suits it, too: you find a story, you write it up, and you go back to looking for the next one. It all comes down to what works given the situation.

So for productivity advice that is less misleading, listen to this: Some people work better by focusing on big projects first thing in the morning, others find processing email builds the momentum required to get the brain going and can then launch into big tasks from that frame of mind.

It’s not so much advice as it is a big “it depends” — and that’s the core problem with many of these myths.

All the screens!

Many productivity bloggers talk a big talk about getting rid of notifications and other distractions — I don’t believe for a second that most of them actually do this — and focusing on just one file from one project at a time.

It may be cause for confusion, then, that these same bloggers recommend you set up a dual — or triple! — monitor setup so that you can look at more stuff at the same time.

There have been studies bandied about on the topic in past years that gave us all the evidence we needed to rush out and grab a second or third monitor, but we’re talking about studies sponsored or even published by companies who make monitors and profit from their sale. So that kills any credibility. There are just as many studies proving the opposing point. Are those guys right?

Well, probably not. It really comes down to what you need in your situation. Day trader or news reporter? It’s likely to be a boost (sometimes — and yes, the commenters on that post did miss the point that monitoring Twitter and the like is part of the job for many here at TNW). Need to focus on more than one thing at a time? A screen that forces you to do this is going to force you to have better focus (though it’s not a fix for poor self-discipline).

A lifehack a day keeps procrastination away

While this isn’t something anyone has out and out said, productivity bloggers make their dough on the idea that you’ll come back tomorrow for another little trick that’ll save you about as much time as it takes to read and implement.

I like reading Lifehacker. Sometimes I learn cool stuff and change the way I do things. But there’s no magic bullet to productivity. Self-discipline, focus, good nutrition, exercise, sleep and maintenance of your stress levels are all far more effective for gearing you into action than any app review or flossing shortcut.

If you head to Google for advice because you can’t think straight after eating a hamburger for breakfast following a four-hour sleep because you were up until 3AM drinking, you’ve got to reconsider the basis for productivity, energy and motivation — and that’s all on how you take care of yourself.

I can fit all this in a day!

Common advice tells you to schedule your day’s work and slot in a guess for how long each task will take you.

But our brains are wired to hinder us in this regard. Hofstadter’s Law and the planning fallacy say things always take longer than we expect, and studies show that this is because we have no real mechanism for perceiving time. I won’t steal too much of Dave Goodsmith’s thunder — you can read his piece on The Next Web that provides solutions to the problem.

If you’re feeling unproductive because you scheduled all this work in for the day and didn’t get through it all, it’s because productivity types are telling you to fill up your day without equipping you to plan realistically.

Output shouldn’t be measured by some time:work ratio

Ever had a boss who wants you to quanitfy every minute you worked with the tasks you completed in that time?

While that’s classic micromanagement of the worst kind, I’m sure it’s needed for those chronic procrastinators out there. But it fails to take into consideration the fact that our brains aren’t mechanical machines. They’re sort of like computers, in that they need to process things, but they do it in a far more abstract way.

There’s a quote from Mad Men you may be familiar with, when Roger Sterling tells Don Draper, “I’ll never get used to the fact that most of the time it looks like you’re doing nothing.” For an advertising copywriter, and many other information careers in particular — though this applies to some extent to everyone who has to make a decision at some point in life — getting content onto the page is only one part of the process. The bulk of the work takes place in the mind.

And when we feel pressured to be constantly moving and doing things visibly in a corporate world that doesn’t accept time to think as part of a role, we take precious cycles away from that brain. Truth is, we could get stuff done much faster if it was acceptable to sit, think and process. That’s where 90% of the work happens.

With some exceptions, most productivity gurus encourage this status quo by advising you to life a task-driven life.

The right system will add more hours to my day

Productivity bloggers are always talking about optimizing systems and trialling new software and tweaking this and that like it’ll magically make more hours appear.

Seriously, guys?

We have 24 hours in a day, and we spend a good chunk of them sleeping (hopefully, if we want to get good quality work done). We can get organized and that’s great. We can use a system, and that’s great, too. Getting organized is what systems are for and it’s important to understand that organization is not magic, it just makes life smoother.

The cold hard facts of life come into play here. There are only so many hours in your day, year, life. Each task takes a certain amount of time, unless you’re blazing through and producing crap. Relaxing the mind, giving it time to process things and time to rejuvenate by drawing new creative ideas from social discussion, movies and exercise also takes time.

Your favorite productivity guru is incapable of changing the laws of physics last I checked, but they lead you to believe otherwise.

There are, in fact, good people giving good productivity advice

Don’t get me wrong. While you don’t need 1% of the stuff that’s out there on productivity, there’s good advice to be had. Most misguided productivity bloggers have good intentions, but then there are a few with the ability to deliver life-changing advice to those who haven’t been taught the skills of organization, time management and self-motivation (as we all should be, in an ideal world, during our formative years). The odd lifehack is fine and fun, and sometimes it helps to just feel like there’s something new in our workday.

But get out of the trap while you can. Get some good advice, make it part of your life and move on to learn some new, unrelated skills. That good advice is simple stuff that doesn’t take a lot of time to learn. This industry that has sprung up around robbing you of the hours you’re supposed to be saving is a dangerous mouse wheel.

Image Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

via Filter RSS feeds http://thenextweb.com/lifehacks/2012/11/04/productivity-guru-lies/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+TheNextWeb+%28The+Next+Web+All+Stories%29

MIT researcher says he can predict Twitter trends (Derrick Harris/GigaOM)


Derrick Harris / GigaOM:
MIT researcher says he can predict Twitter trends  —  A researcher at MIT claims to have developed an algorithm that can accurately predict what topics will trend on Twitter.  But Twitter being a relatively minor business in the grand scheme of things, the algorithm might end up being more useful elsewhere …

via Techmeme http://www.techmeme.com/121101/p71#a121101p71

When does community action against an anonymous troll become a lynch mob?


If you’ve been following the progress of Hurricane Sandy and its impact on New York — and the way that Twitter was used as a real-time newswire for many of those affected by it — then you’ve probably heard of @ComfortablySmug, the anonymous account that was criticized for posting fake news reports. The person behind that account is no longer anonymous, however, after BuzzFeed revealed his identity in a sort of public shaming, and now he faces potential legal action for what he posted. This raises the same kind of question as the recent unmasking of Reddit troll Violentacrez: When is it justified to reveal someone’s real-world identity as a punishment for something they did online?

(Note: This question led to some heated back-and-forth between GigaOM staffers in our internal editorial chat room, which is hosted on Socialcast, so for the first time we have posted a condensed version of that internal discussion online)

Just to recap, @ComfortablySmug posted a number of fake news items during the worst part of the storm on Monday night — including what appeared to be news bulletins about Con Edison shutting down power to all of New York and flooding at the New York Stock Exchange. The Twitter account was called out by a number of journalists and other users at the time for posting these fake reports, and then the following day the user behind the account was revealed in a BuzzFeed post to be Shashank Tripathi, a 29-year-old campaign manager for Republican congressional candidate Christopher Wight.

BREAKING: Confirmed flooding on NYSE. The trading floor is flooded under more than 3 feet of water.

  (@ComfortablySmug) October 30, 2012

Tripathi has since posted an apology, and appears to have removed a number of the offending tweets from his timeline. But his actions have clearly had repercussions that go beyond just public ridicule: it’s unclear just how much it has affected his livelihood, but he has resigned as Wight’s campaign manager, and a New York city council member is having discussions with the district attorney’s office about possibly charging Tripathi with a crime for the things he posted. “I hope the fact that I’m asking for criminal charges to be seriously considered will make him much less comfortable and much less smug,” Vallone said.

Did ComfortablySmug deserve to be outed?

In an email, BuzzFeed writer Jack Stuef said that he had no qualms about outing @ComfortablySmug because he was a public figure and his behavior warranted it:

“He was the campaign manager of a major party’s congressional candidate, so if there was going to be any question about outing an average citizen, the point was moot. He was working in the public sphere. Obviously it reflects very poorly on your campaign to have your campaign manager scaring people with willful lies in a crisis situation. And obviously the reason he thought he could get away with such behavior was because he had hidden his identity.” — Jack Stuef, BuzzFeed writer

Could Tripathi be charged and prosecuted for what he did? He definitely could, although — as my colleague Jeff Roberts noted — proving that he deliberately tried to incite panic is likely to be difficult, if not impossible. It’s not even clear that Tripathi was the original source for all of the fake news he posted, most of which I saw posted by others as well, including people who claimed to be watching a fire at the Coney Island Hospital. Should they all be identified and charged with a crime?

Everyone likes to use the “shouting fire in a crowded theater” analogy, but as lawyer Ken Paulson pointed out to Jeff, charging someone with a crime for a couple of tweets amid hundreds of thousands or even millions would be a difficult challenge given the First Amendment. And as a legal blogger noted during the recent furore over the “Innocence of Muslims” video — when the “fire” analogy was used by many as justification for censoring the video — this theory has often been just a cover for censorship, even by its most famous proponent, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

The consensus when I asked this question on Twitter was that Tripathi deserved to be publicly shamed and his identity revealed because he had caused panic during a critical moment, when people were already afraid for their lives and their safety:

@mathewi Yeah, he did. Be a dick, get served.

Mike Isaac (@MikeIsaac) October 30, 2012

Does the punishment fit the alleged crime?

That would seem to qualify as shouting fire, but is Twitter really a crowded theater? And did the few tweets that Tripathi posted really cause panic? For someone whose family members were in the Coney Island Hospital, perhaps — but how many people who fit that criteria would have even seen his tweets? Another complicating factor is the role of Twitter itself: if it is already monitoring and blocking tweets for the German government and others, what responsibility does it bear for transmitting fake news that may be causing public panic? And what duty do other users who retweeted it have?

Sociologist Danah Boyd wrote recently about the unmasking of the Reddit troll known as Violentacrez for his behavior on the site, which consisted of posting and encouraging others to post photos of young women — and in some cases children — without their consent. As she describes in her piece, there are a host of questions raised by this phenomenon: Who decides whether someone should be publicly shamed or not? How do we respond when that impulse becomes a lynch mob, or identifies the wrong person, as happened with the alleged tormentor of bullying victim Amanda Todd?

“More often than not, those who use these tools do so when they feel they’re on the right side of justice. They’re either shining a spotlight to make a point or to shame someone into what they perceive to be socially acceptable behavior. But each act of outing has consequences for the people being outed, even if we do not like them or what they’ve done.”

The most popular response in the case of Tripathi is that he deserves everything he gets because he was “being a dick,” as more than one person described it. But does that still hold if he loses his job, or his family (assuming he has one) or is charged with a crime and becomes unemployable? What if he becomes depressed and jumps off a bridge? Pursuing and “doxxing” (i.e. forcibly revealing someone’s real identity) could be seen as a form of harassment and bullying itself — so when is that equivalent to or worse than the alleged offence that the anonymous person committed?

As Boyd points out, the more we become a networked society and live a large chunk of our lives online, the more we will run into these kinds of dilemmas. Each one becomes a kind of slippery-slope problem, where drawing the line between appropriate and inappropriate behavior becomes harder, and the risk of lynch-mob type activity becomes greater. And in some cases, the penalty could turn out to be severe.

Post and thumbnail images courtesy of Shutterstock/Andrea Michele Piacquadio

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Amazon reportedly in talks to buy TI’s mobile chip division

http://res3.feedsportal.com/images/emailthis2.gif Amazon is reportedly looking to bolster its mobile device division by purchasing the smartphone chip division of Texas Instruments.

via AppleInsider | news http://appleinsider.com/articles/12/10/15/amazon-reportedly-in-talks-to-buy-tis-mobile-chip-division

Big data politics: Why you can’t outrun campaigns by avoiding the TV


If you think you can avoid the ceaseless barrage of political ads by merely avoiding the television at all costs and keeping your telephone silenced, think again. Politicians and their campaign managers know you too well, and they know you have to consume content somewhere. They’ll be damned if they’ll let a little thing like the internet get in the way of letting you get to know them just as well.

An ancient history lesson

We call it big data in the age of the ubiquitous web, but the truth is that politicians have been amassing attachés on potential voters for at least a decade. Some experts credit the strategy to Bill Clinton’s reelection team in 1996, which decided to focus its efforts on winning over swing voters rather than the entire electorate. George W. Bush took it even further, narrowing his focus down to swing-voter Republicans so as to maximize resources even more efficiently. All of this required a tremendous amount of data mining to figure out who these people were, where they lived and what they cared about.

Fast-forward to 2008, and the Barack Obama campaign took the process to another level thanks to its well-executed web campaign. In the process of raising about half a billion dollars online, the campaign gathered around 13 million email addresses and 5 million friends across the social media landscape. After mining this data and combining this stuff from voter-registration records, the team was able to identify the cream of the crop in terms of potential voters and deliver them a personalized campaign experience — everything from organizing rides to polling places to phone calls addressing specific points people had raised online.

You might have noticed by looking at the names associated with these efforts that running a data-driven campaign works. Managing large teams of volunteers, paying for television ads and otherwise running a major campaign is expensive business (save for those dirt-cheap and annoying robo-calls). Knowing who to target lets campaigns spend their valuable resources in the right places and avoid wasting money trying to win over individuals staunchly on the other side or unlikely to actually get out and vote.

The age of big data

As it has with business though, particularly on the web, the age of big data has changed political campaigns yet again. Heading in the 2012 election, for example, President Obama has more than 20 million Twitter followers and his Facebook page has more than 29 million “likes.” Mitt Romney lags considerably behind — with less than 2 million Twitter followers around 9 million “likes” — but still has access to a lot digital data.

Thanks to technologies such as Hadoop, campaigns are able to store more data — and more types of data (think of all that unstructured social media data) — than ever before and process it en masse. Not only does this help with targeting individuals or groups, but it could also help with longer-term strategies such as where to schedule rallies and what issues to discuss at them. As feelings toward issues change, regular analyses of ever-expanding data sets should reflect those changes and let candidates shift their strategies accordingly.

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Of course, all this additional data means more than just knowing what issues matters. It also means just knowing you, period. What you drink, the car you drive, where you shop — they’re all pieces of a digital profile that lets politicians make sure they put their messages in front of the right people. It’s a process called microtargeting, and it’s very real — especially online.

Bryan Gernet

Bryan Gernet, CEO of Resonate Insights, explained to me recently how his company goes about serving billions of targeted web ads to its growing stable of political customers. In 2008, he said, neither presidential candidate spent very much money advertising online, but Resonate is presently involved in about 100 campaigns, with clients that include campaigns, political action committees and other special interest groups. At present, he said, Resonate has about 250 terabytes of behavioral and opinion data; it runs a 110-node Hadoop cluster and a 300-billion-row database.

All that data feeds predictive models based on mountains of data gleaned from surveys, web behavior, demographic information and other sources to deliver specific ads to specific web users. Resonate’s algorithms take into account 300 million “decision nodes” to in order to model all the attributes of each user, and they deliver each user the best-possible ad from a collection of a client’s pre-manfactured ads. So, a socially conservative independent will see a different ad compared to a fiscally moderate liberal or a centrist independent with a laser focus on job creation as the election’s most-important issue.

Things are only going to heat up. Gernet says he foresees candidates in future election cycles doing a lot more with custom videos targeting specific voter segments, as well as putting a much bigger emphasis on how to deliver optimal ads on tablets and smartphones.

Joe Lichtenberg, VP of edge computing for Mirror Image Internet, sees a lot of his company’s clients implementing what he calls “dynamic creative optimization,” and wouldn’t be surprised to see this approach make its way into politics. Essentially, that means advertisers create templates that can be populated with custom content on the fly to fit each web user’s specific profile. Already, startups such as DataPop and BloomReach have built businesses around this practice for customizing web site content and ads on search engines.

Mirror Image hosts application logic for customers, including Resonate, on geographically dispersed edge servers so it can calculate incoming data and deliver content in real-time without requiring it to hit a centralized server somewhere.

Does it work?

The great thing about doing this type of targeting online is that campaigns can get pretty clear evidence of whether it works. Gernet said his company can track traditional metrics such as clickthroughs and length of time engaged in pre-roll video before skipping it and getting to the featured video. Thanks to the cookie-tracking policies on candidates’ web sites, it could be relatively easy to track whether site visits or other actions follow the consumption of personalized content. Resonate will even engage in some online polling to gauge effectiveness.

And while studies suggest that voters are turned off by the idea of being targeted — some respondents even say they’d be less likely to vote for a candidate who targeted them — it might not matter too much in the long term. For one, these personalization algorithms are complex and marketers are smart, so voters won’t necessarily know when or why they’re being targeted. Another reality is that how voters feel and how they vote doesn’t always go hand-in-hand, which is why negative ads persist despite rather widespread contempt for them.

If the data says microtargeting works, there’ll be no escaping campaign ads without a serious curtailment in the amount of data web sites, mobile apps and other platforms can collect about users. Until that happens, though, all our online activity just creates a smorgasbord of personal data upon which candidates are more than happy to feast. So, you tax-hating, gun-toting, gay-rights-supporting swing voter, get ready to know why both candidates have your back in 2016.

Feature image courtesy of Shutterstock user iQoncept.

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