SciTechBlog
July 30, 2009

Author posts novel, one tweet at a time

Posted: 12:14 PM ET

Matt Stewart wants to revolutionize literature, even if it means surrendering some authorial control to the social-media masses. The San Francisco-based author is tweeting away his entire novel, "The French Revolution," on Twitter, claiming to be the first person to do so on the micro-blogging site.

"I see this as a way to give people quick shots of literary joy throughout their day," he said during a recent interview on CNN.com Live.

Stewart, who describes his writing style as a cross between Junot Diaz and Jonathan Franzen, believes some people may be simply too busy to sit through an entire book.  But they do have time to absorb 140 characters, he said.

Still, Stewart does not think Twitter's short-attention-span format is ideal for reading a novel.

"I don’t honestly expect people to read the whole book on Twitter. It’s just not that convenient to follow a long form story," he told CNN.

If you’re picturing Stewart glued to TweetDeck all day, that isn't the case.  A friend of his built a tool that breaks down the novel into 140-character bits and automates the tweets.  Stewart said it should take about a month to post the entire book.  Right now, he has about 1,000 followers on his Twitter page.

Free copies of his novel are posted on his Web site, and he’s also selling a $2 version for Amazon's Kindle e-reader. Stewart encourages authors to explore new ways to connect with their fans, and even surrender some control in the process.

"We’re not using any of the cool technology we have to make books more interesting," he said. "I think that books and the industry will benefit by trying new things to attract new readers."

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Filed under: Twitter


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July 29, 2009

Twitter redesign focuses on search

Posted: 01:28 PM ET

Twitter.com unveiled a new design for its homepage today that brings search functionality to Twitts and non-Twitts alike.

The new homepage design features a prominent search field that can be accessed without logging in to Twitter. Public tweets that match your query are cleanly rendered below the search area.

The new look also includes trending topics by the minute, hour and day. Clicking on one of these topics provides a brief description followed by recent search results.

TechCrunch sees the change as a step forward for Twitter:

This is simply part of Twitter’s goal to make the service more accessible and obvious to new users, as well as increase engagement, and the use of search/trends. The bigger goal is to make it easier for businesses to use Twitter, which will allow the service to finally make some money.

What do you think of the change? Would you like to see similar updates to the internal areas of Twitter or do you like things the way they are?

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Filed under: Internet • online news • Twitter


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Woman sued over 'malicious' tweet

Posted: 09:38 AM ET

A 127-character tweet about a moldy apartment in Chicago could end up costing @abonnen $50,000.

On May 12th Amanda Bonnen, who has since deleted her Twitter account, responded to a friend with the tweet, "@JessB123You should just come anyway. Who said sleeping in a moldy apartment was bad for you? Horizon realty thinks it's okay."

@abonnen only had about 20 followers that directly received the message, but her profile was set to public, and Chicago-based Horizon Group Management discovered the tweet.

Chicago Now reports the company then filed a defamation lawsuit alleging Bonnen, "maliciously and wrongfully published the false and defamatory Tweet on Twitter, thereby allowing the Tweet to be distributed throughout the world."

Horizon is seeking $50,000 in damages.

If @abonnen's statement is determined to be false and tweets are considered a legitimate form of publishing, she could be held liable for damages to Horizon's reputation. But it isn't quite that simple.

Ars Technica explains some of the complexities:

There is much debate as to whether people's Twitter streams are more like blogs—which are increasingly being held to the same legal standards as regular media when it comes to defamation—or a giant chat room, where most people presume "anything goes." It may actually be somewhere in between, but the one problem with trying to hold tweets to a higher journalistic standard is the hard character limitation—it's difficult to back up your comments within 140 characters (or even within several 140-character tweets), plus links to sources or pictures of evidence.

Horizon owner Jeffrey Michael told the Chicago Sun-Times the company never tried to contact @abonnen about the tweet adding, "We're a sue first, ask questions later kind of an organization."

Michael later said his remark was meant to be "tongue-in-cheek," and further explained his company's position:

No mold was ever found but her unit was one of several that experienced an overnight leak during roof repairs...

On June 24th, much to our surprise given her previous silence, Bonnen sued Horizon Realty Group, and we are currently defending this claim which, again, we believe has no merit. In conducting our due diligence into this matter, we identified Bonnen's public Tweet regarding mold and acted to protect our reputation.

Unfortunately for Horizon, the media attention surrounding this Twitter lawsuit will likely damage the company's reputation far beyond the scope of @abonnen's message to her 20 followers.

Do you feel tweets should be held to the same legal standards as other publications regarding defamatory remarks, or does the conversational nature of social networks release them from libel?

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Filed under: Internet • online news • social-networking sites • Twitter


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Nintendo's 'Wii Sports Resort'

Posted: 09:25 AM ET

CNN's David Daniel has information on the arrival of Nintendo's "Wii Sports Resort" in this week's Gameplay:

Filed under: video games


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July 27, 2009

AT&T lifts Web site ban

Posted: 11:39 AM ET

Last night Internet Service Provider (ISP) AT&T began filtering portions of the controversial image board 4chan.org.

AT&T broadband subscribers found they were unable to access the infamous /b/ and /r9k/ sections of the site.

4chan.org is a system of message boards primarily dedicated to anonymous discussion and image hosting. The site's popularity is largely due to minimal posting regulations that stimulate a freewheeling, Wild West atmosphere.

The news of AT&T's filtering sparked a firestorm of criticism from blogs and Internet forums by contributors who believed AT&T was censoring content. 4chan fans and detractors alike condemned what they believed to be an apparent violation of net neutrality. Sites such as Encyclopedia Dramatica began calling on users to respond to AT&T with a show of anonymous force:

Flood the callcenters and inboxes of AT&T. Make them confirm that img.4chan.org (make sure its img.4chan.org and not just 4chan.org) is down. Then make the honest threat of service cancellation if this censorship isn't undone.

The objective of this little operation is to basically make sure that this precedent is not set. Make it absolutely abundantly clear that this [Internet censorship] is NOT acceptable to American consumers and this WILL NOT be allowed to happen, or else face financial and political suicide.

Anonymous posters also began to spread rumors claiming AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson was found dead outside his home and that AT&T had stopped carrying the iPhone in attempt to affect AT&T's stock price.

By noon Monday, AT&T responded with the following statement:

Beginning Friday, an AT&T customer was impacted by a denial-of-service attack stemming from IP addresses connected to img.4chan.org. To prevent this attack from disrupting service for the impacted AT&T customer, and to prevent the attack from spreading to impact our other customers, AT&T temporarily blocked access to the IP addresses in question for our customers. This action was in no way related to the content at img.4chan.org; our focus was on protecting our customers from malicious traffic.

Overnight Sunday, after we determined the denial-of-service threat no longer existed, AT&T removed the block on the IP addresses in question. We will continue to monitor for denial-of-service activity and any malicious traffic to protect our customers.

It is unlikely that 4chan.org, or any popular web server, would engage in the illegal practice of denial-of-service attacks. Moot, owner and administrator of 4chan, offers another explanation:

For the past three weeks, 4chan has been under a constant DDoS attack. We were able to filter this specific type of attack in a fashion that was more or less transparent to the end user. Unfortunately, as an unintended consequence of the method used, some Internet users received errant traffic from one of our network switches. A handful happened to be AT&T customers.

In response, AT&T filtered all traffic to and from our img.4chan.org IPs (which serve /b/ & /r9k/) for their entire network, instead of only the affected customers.

In the end, this wasn't a sinister act of censorship, but rather a bit of a mistake and a poorly executed, disproportionate response on AT&T's part.

Though the cries of censorship and claims AT&T violated net neutrality may have been misguided, AT&T should have informed its customers before blocking such a large and controversial Web site.

I doubt that is a mistake they will make again.

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Filed under: Digg • Internet • online news


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July 24, 2009

Your favorite music Web sites

Posted: 11:18 AM ET

Thanks to those of you who responded to my story about changes in the digital music scene.

I listed 10 Web sites where you can find new music. The story was pinned on the news that some formerlly illegal and shut-down sites - like KaZaA, Napster and possibly Pirate Bay - are clawing their way out of the grave in legal forms. It's all part of the Internet's shifting music scene. Streaming music is becoming more popular; buying it, less so.

Many readers chimed in with cool Web sites I didn't include. Here are a few of your favorites, from the story comments:

Amie Street: an indie download site where popularity determines price

Folk Alley: streams folk music

Slacker: one reader calls this "by far the best online streaming site I have seen so far"

Jango: radio-like streaming

LastFM: recommends music based on what you like

iTunes and Amazon: they were left off the CNN list because they're not new or changing, but they remain staples just the same

As always, thanks for the input!

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Filed under: Music


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July 22, 2009

Amazon faces criticism for deleting e-books

Posted: 04:49 PM ET

Last week owners of Amazon's Kindle e-book reader felt the painful effects of DRM (Digital Rights Management) when Amazon remotely removed copies of George Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm from their libraries.

Amazon explained that the books had been mistakenly released and the e-book publisher did not own the rights to sell the either novel. However, the company's explanation and a refund did not appease readers who felt their personal copy of 1984 was remotely destroyed by Big Brother.

The Internet lit up with blogs and forum posts condemning Amazon's actions. InformationWeek claims Amazon can't keep its promises, and Slate likens the deletion to book-banning's digital future:

Amazon deleted books that were already available in print, but in our paperless future—when all books exist as files on servers—courts would have the power to make works vanish completely.

[Harvard law professor Jonathan Zittrain] writes: "Imagine a world in which all copies of once-censored books like Candide, The Call of the Wild, and Ulysses had been permanently destroyed at the time of the censoring and could not be studied or enjoyed after subsequent decision-makers lifted the ban."

Police routinely confiscate stolen property. But copyright infringement, similar to possessing improperly licensed books, was determined by the Supreme Court case of Dowling vs. United States not to constitute theft. Amazon's actions were an effort to please publishers who wanted the book pulled rather than a legal requirement.

Amazon has acknowledged that deleting the books from users' personal devices may have been a mistake. In an e-mail to the New York Times Amazon spokesman Drew Herdener said, “We are changing our systems so that in the future we will not remove books from customers’ devices in these circumstances.”

Do you think Amazon's decision to remotely delete the books was justified to defend copyright, or should digital content hold the same protections as physical property? Will Amazon's promise to change its policy restore your confidence in the Kindle?

Update [July 24, 2009]

On Thursday, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos posted this apology on a Kindle community public forum:

This is an apology for the way we previously handled illegally sold copies of 1984 and other novels on Kindle. Our "solution" to the problem was stupid, thoughtless, and painfully out of line with our principles. It is wholly self-inflicted, and we deserve the criticism we've received. We will use the scar tissue from this painful mistake to help make better decisions going forward, ones that match our mission.

With deep apology to our customers,

Jeff Bezos
Founder & CEO
Amazon.com

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Filed under: books • consumer tech • DRM • gadgets


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Digging a grave in a short-URL wor.ld

Posted: 11:08 AM ET

The Web is full of middlemen and aggregators. Google is the biggest. Digg once was the coolest. And now Twitter and URL-shortening services create (mostly) transparent bridges between Web content, like news stories, and online readers.

People both love and hate these go-betweens. On one hand, sites like Digg, Facebook and Twitter give readers access to all kinds of news and social content they might not otherwise see. But small changes can make a benevolent middleman seem downright meddlesome.

And that's what happened to Digg this week.

The Web 2.0 rock-star site - which lets a community prioritize news stories by voting them up or down - is drawing fire from tech blogs for sticking itself between its links and the news stories it promotes. A confusing change to the site's service caused some shortened story links to redirect to Digg's pages, rather than to the original pages on blogs and news sites.

Don't get bogged down in the details of the change. Part of the problem is that the change is confusing to everyone. TechCrunch writer Jason Kincaid calls the move "career suicide" for a Digg toolbar and "incredibly irritating" to users.

On its blog, Digg says it backed off of the change somewhat, making it only apply to future news stories, not retroactively to all Digg-shortened links.

But part of Digg's problem is that the site is overly responsive to criticism in a way that obscures its vision of the future, writes Josh Lowensohn of CNET, a CNN.com content partner.

Behind the Digg story is another fear: that other go-betweens, particularly URL shorteners, will start similarly bothersome practices in order to direct more traffic to their sites. [See a new chart of the top sites for sharing URLs: Facebook leads with nearly a quarter of the market.]

Right now, sites like bit.ly and snurl.com take Web links and shorten them so they'll fit in Twitter posts or e-mails without taking up too much space. Click on one (this for example: http://bit.ly/iqfI) and you go straight to the original site. These services may outcompete Digg's linking service because of their simplicity and reliability, writes Michael Arrington of TechCrunch.

But there also could be a future in which all links must pass through a middleman site, thus slowing down search for online news and entertainment down.

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Filed under: Digg


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What Apple's record earnings mean

Posted: 09:31 AM ET

Apple reported record earnings on Tuesday. But what does that mean?

The BBC says the software company has a good problem: It can't make new iPhones fast enough.

"We are currently unable to make enough iPhone 3GSs to meet robust demand, and we're working to address this," said Apple's chief financial officer Peter Oppenheimer in a conference call about quarterly earnings, the news site says.

What's more, Apple plans to release the popular new iPhone - which has a video camera and is touted as faster than its two predecessors - in 20 new countries in August. The phone is expected to be sold in a total of 70 countries by the end of the year.

TechCrunch has a different take. The blog says the report is an indicator that the basic iPod - once Apple's flagship mobile device - is effectively dead.

It's been replaced with the iPod Touch, which looks more like the red-hot iPhone and accesses the Internet with Wi-Fi, which old-school iPods don't. The blog does some math to determine that old iPods are sinking otherwise stellar numbers for Apple's mobile devices, or "pocket products":

Of the three pocket products, two saw huge year-over-year growth this quarter, one did not. While iPhone sales grew a massive 626% year-over-year, iPod touch sales actually grew just about 130% too. And while Apple may consider the iPod touch outside of the iPod line, for financial purposes, it’s still counted with them. So when you hear that overall the iPod family saw a 7% decline year over year, you know that the actual iPod numbers minus the iPod touch, must not be very good at all.

And while Apple wouldn’t specifically give those numbers, Oppenheimer did note that the iPhone and iPod Touch are very much “cannibalizing” the stand-alone MP3 iPod market.

Here are some highlights from the report, compiled by Fortune, a CNN.com content partner:

  • Mac sales: 2.6 million units, up 4% year over year
  • iPhone sales: 5.24 million units, up 626%
  • iPod sales: 10.2 million units, down 7%
  • Gross margin: 36.3%, up from 34.8% last year
  • Cash holdings: $31.1 billion, up $2.2 billion for the quarter.
  • Guidance for the September quarter: revenue between $8.7 and $8.9 billion, EPS between $1.18 and $1.23, and gross margins of 34% — considerably higher than expected.

What do you make of the numbers? Are you among the iPhone converts? Feel free to chime in with comments.

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Filed under: Apple • iPhone • iPod


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'Rock Band' game goes country

Posted: 08:45 AM ET

The guinea pigs from "G-Force" hit consoles and "Rock Band" adds a bit of twang. David Daniel has more on the latest video game releases in this week's Gameplay:

Filed under: video games


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Are you a gadgethead? Do you spend hours a day online? Or are you just curious about how technology impacts your life? In this digital age, it's increasingly important to be fluent, or at least familiar, with the big tech trends. From gadgets to Google, smartphones to social media, this blog will help keep you informed.

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