In Praise of Anonymous Internet Advice Columns
August 11, 2011
“Can’t you ask the computer?” my seven-year-old son regularly demands when I fail to supply the answer to one of his seemingly random questions. His generation knows implicitly what mine has gradually learned: That the Internet is essentially a garbage dump for information, albeit one that requires increasingly sensitive tools to pick out objects of value. “Crowdsourcing,” a term that Wikipedia (appropriately) tells me was coined only five years ago, has become the preferred way to answer any and all questions. Need a dentist in Missoula or a brunch spot in New Orleans?
The perpetrator of nearly 30 million Facebook spam messages surrendered to authorities last week. “Spam King” Sanford Wallace faces criminal charges that could land him in jail for perhaps more than 16 years. Wallace is alleged to have hacked roughly a half-million Facebook accounts, sending those obnoxious (and dangerous) wall posts which fool users into visiting websites that steal their personal information. By now, many Internet users are savvy enough to know better than to click on an email promising a prince’s trapped fortunes or free prescription drugs.
The web is buzzing with discussion of the case of Deborah Copaken Kogan, a writer and Financial Times columnist who discovered—via Facebook—that her child had a rare and dangerous disease. Kogan’s story began when her four-year-old son developed a stubborn rash, followed by a fever and intense swelling. After Kogan began to post photos of her sick child on Facebook, she received a panicked phone call from a former neighbor who had seen the photos. “You have to get to the hospital,” the neighbor warned.
Don't Be Evil
July 13, 2011
In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives By Steven Levy (Simon & Schuster, 423 pp., $26) The Googlization of Everything (And Why We Should Worry) By Siva Vaidhyanathan (University of California Press, 265 pp., $26.95) I. For cyber-optimists and cyber-pessimists alike, the advent of Google marks off two very distinct periods in Internet history. The optimists remember the age before Google as chaotic, inefficient, and disorganized.
Why Silicon Valley’s Current Boom Isn’t At All Like 1999
July 09, 2011
There’s a time warp along the stretch of Highway 101 that runs between San Jose and Marin County in Northern California. To many there, it looks like 1999 all over again. While the rest of the country is landscaped with foreclosed homes and empty big-box stores, San Francisco and Silicon Valley have a shortage of office space. Established tech companies like Google are offering seven-figure bonuses to retain talented engineers, while the Sand Hill Road offices of venture capitalists are full of optimistic twentysomethings looking for funding—and many of them are getting more than they need.
President Obama’s Twitter Town Hall was kind of lame. Admittedly, it wasn’t as lame as I thought it would be. But it still showed the White House has yet to fully embrace social media, at least when it comes to the president himself. I had expected that Wednesday’s event would unfold like the social media interviews the president has conducted in the past. Steve Grove, head of YouTube News and Politics, has hosted two interviews with the president using text and video questions selected by YouTube users.
Myspace and the Curse of Success
June 29, 2011
Today, Specific Media, a digital advertising company, announced that it has purchased Myspace (remember Myspace?) from News Corp. Just five years ago, News Corp paid $580 million for Myspace, but since then, the once-powerful social networking site has shed users and been overtaken by Facebook. In January, Myspace laid off nearly half its staff, and Specific Media, according to a number of reports, paid just $35 million for it. How could Myspace have fallen so far, so fast? According to one 2009 study, the website may have been a victim of its own success.
Tim Pawlenty: Why It’s Way Too Soon to Count Him Out
June 24, 2011
As the 2012 Republican presidential field began to take shape earlier this year, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty looked like the perfect on-paper candidate: a former blue-state, blue-collar governor from the Midwest who was cozy with both social conservatives and Tea Party folk, and who didn’t have Mitt Romney’s problem of heretical past positions.
Slideshow: Saudi Arabian Women Defy the Driving Ban
June 18, 2011
On Friday the women of Saudi Arabia staged a protest against the nation’s unwritten but often brutally enforced rule that only men may drive. The protest was called for by activist Manal al-Sharif, a 32-year-old Internet consultant for the state-run oil company Aramco. Al-Sharif had been arrested on May 21 after posting this video of herself driving on YouTube. In late May Al-Sharif had also posted messages on Twitter and Facebook calling for a nationwide protest on June 17.
Hawk Cam: What Are We Looking for When We Watch Birds?
June 15, 2011
For the better part of this spring, as I write or look at websites or putter around at home, I’ve kept open in a corner of my screen the Hawk Cam run by the City Desk at The New York Times. The red-tailed hawks, christened Violet and Bobby—like all reality TV stars, they have both a Facebook page and a Twitter feed—built their nest over the winter on a ledge outside the office of NYU’s president; in March, Violet laid three eggs. I started watching in late April, when the City Room blog announced that the eggs were about to hatch.