SciTechBlog
June 21, 2010

We've moved to CNN.com/TECH!

Posted: 01:03 PM ET

No, we haven't stopped providing awesome content for your geeked-out brain - CNN Tech's newest posts have just gotten a new look and a new location. Our redesigned section at CNN.com/TECH has become your one-stop blog for the latest in tech news, including social media, mobile, web, gaming & gadgets and innovation.

All of our stories, videos and interactives are now posted there so you can easily access and filter them by the topic you're most interested in.

There are a ton of new and continuing columns from Tech experts like Mashable's Pete Cashmore and Netiquette specialists Andrea Bartz and Brenna Ehrlich.

Want to know more about what's coming up next in the world of science and technology? Check out our own John Sutter's weekly innovation piece at the CNN Tech Lab.

We've also collected our favorite Twitter feeds and streamed them onto our blog's Tech Pulse so you can keep up with the latest developments without leaving the page.

Of course, we still want to hear from the most important people - you. Which is why our Tech page has great user-generated feedback, like Facebook recommend and our ever-popular comment sections.

Keep in mind that the easiest way to get all this content is by sending it straight to your computer, whether that's through our CNNTech Twitter account or our RSS feed.

So whether you've been a loyal follower of the SciTechBlog for years or are just stumbling upon this for the first time, please head on over to CNN.com/TECH.

Filed under: CNN Labs • Internet


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May 25, 2010

AOL celebrates 25 years

Posted: 11:52 AM ET
Mario takes on the Universe
Mario takes on the Universe

AOL, an early titan of the internet that now finds itself struggling to rebrand in a vastly bigger online world, turned 25 on Monday.

In people years, 25 is young. On the internet, it makes you a wizened veteran.

At a celebration at AOL's Dulles, Virginia, campus, chairman and CEO Tim Armstrong worked to turn a celebration of the seminal web portal's past into a look at its future.

"Today's event is not just meant to honor that rich history, but celebrate the next 25 years of helping people through innovation and creativity," he said. "We're certainly proud of our past, but we're even more excited about what we have in store for customers as we move forward into the future."

To be sure, AOL's customer base is smaller than it once was in the dial-up days.

Known best for its pay e-mail service and "you've got mail!" greeting, AOL has watched a peak of 26 million customers dwindle to about 6 million by the end of last year. Its instant messenger service remains viable, although it too has slipped as people move toward text messaging and direct messages on sites like Facebook and Twitter.

But AOL's homepage remains one of the internet's most visited, ranking consistently in the top five sites and drawing about 250 million unique visitors a month, according to web analyzers comScore.

After a split late last year with CNN parent company TimeWarner (dissolving a deal that some analysts have called the worst corporate marriage in history) AOL rolled out a visual remake and a new strategy.

Focusing on advertising, a blog network and quick-hit news, AOL is stepping into areas that may not even carry the familiar AOL logos (the blue triangle and yellow "running man" have largely disappeared and AOL is now technically "aol." - with the period).

Some landmarks of AOL's first 25 years:

_ 1985: Launched as Quantum Computer Services
_ 1989: Members hear "You've got mail!" for the first time
_ 1989: Instant Messenger launches
_ 1995: AOL reaches 1 million members
_ 1996: The "running man" debuts on Instant Messenger
_ 1998: "You've Got Mail" movie is released
_ 2001: AOL and Time Warner merge
_ 2006: AOL begins offering e-mail and most of its web services for free
_ 2009: AOL separates from Time Warner. Time Warner stock that once sold at $99 hovers around $30 a share

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Filed under: Internet


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May 24, 2010

Britney passes Ashton atop Twitter

Posted: 11:07 AM ET
Mario takes on the Universe
Mario takes on the Universe

Alas, poor Ashton.

You may have beaten us to 1 million followers on Twitter, but that's so last year. Now, Twitter is Britney's world.

Over the weekend, the official Britney Spears Twitter account passed actor Ashton Kutcher's feed as the most popular on the microblogging site.

Both are closing in on a whopping 5 million followers - Britney had about 4,946,000 as of late Monday morning, compared to Kutcher's 4,942,000.

Her new place in the top spot comes despite the fact that Britney's feed, in contrast to Kutcher's ultra-personal musings, is largely filled by posts from her manager, Adam Leber, and other staffers.

She does chime in from time to time, though, with posts like "Happy mamas day ya'll!! -Brit," on May 9. The most recent Britney post on Twitter - where many popular users are always updating their status - is from last Wednesday.

There was no acknowledgement of the milestone on the feed.

On Kutcher's Twitter feed , he addressed the seismic shift in the Twitterverse by dismissing it.

He's been doing promotional interviews for his upcoming movie "Killers" and said that - behind "Are you having a baby?" - the most popular question from reporters has been about being passed by Britney.

"Answer 'I don't care. Aren't u suppose 2B a movie reporter?' " he wrote Sunday night.

Aside from the mind-boggling realization that Britney has at least 5 million fans, the most interesting aspect of the news may be what the numbers say about Twitter's growth - or at least the growth of its most popular users.

Just over a year ago, Kutcher and CNN's breaking news account, @CNNbrk, were publicly racing to become the first Twitter account with 1 million followers (that CNN account now has just over 3 million).

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Filed under: Internet • universe


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May 21, 2010

Politician tries to out anonymous Twitter critics

Posted: 11:42 AM ET

Pennsylvania's attorney general recently subpoenaed Twitter for the real names of two anonymous bloggers who have been criticizing him. Twitter generally doesn't give out user identities, according to a statement issued to the blog TechCrunch. And the American Civil Liberties Union in Pennsylvania now says it will represent the online critics.

"Any subpoena seeking to unmask the identity of anonymous critics raises the specter of political retaliation," Witold Walczak, legal director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania, says in a prepared statement. "It's a prized American right to criticize government officials, and to do so anonymously."

The anonymous Twitter users in question - @CasablancaPA and @bfbarbie - continue to use their feeds to criticize Tom Corbett, the current Pennsylvania AG, who also is running for the governorship in that state as a Republican.

According to the subpoena, as posted by TechCrunch, Corbett wants the Twitter users' names, addresses, contact info, IP addresses. This isn't the first time a politician or celebrity has tried to out anonymous dissenters online. Last year, the New York Supreme Court ordered Blogger.com, which is owned by Google, to release the identity of an anonymous online writer who had been ranting about former cover girl Liskula Cohen.

The identity fight in Pennsylvania also comes as the Web in general is becoming less anonymous. Facebook is leading the charge against anonymity, as it encourages its 400 million users to use their Facebook profiles - with photos, real names and background information - to comment on online news stories, music, events and other web content.

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Filed under: 4chan • anonymity • Facebook • Internet • Twitter


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May 20, 2010

Facebookers respond to 'Draw Mohammed Day'

Posted: 11:59 AM ET

Thousands of users posted illustrations of Muslim prophet Mohammed to the web Thursday, responding to a controversial Facebook group that prompted Pakistan to block access to the social-networking site.

Everybody Draw Mohammed Day encourages people to flout the belief by devout Muslims that it is wrong to depict religious figures because it could lead to idol worship. The group has more than 81,000 fans on Facebook.

Creators of the group say they got the idea after recent controversies surrounding the belief. A series of cartoons of Mohammed published in a Danish newspaper in 2005 led to riots in countries around the world.

At least two European cartoonists live under police protection after drawing Mohammed and, most recently, Comedy Central edited part of the animated show "South Park" because it showed the prophet.

By mid-morning on Thursday, more than 7,300 images had been uploaded to the Facebook page, most of them drawings of Mohammed.

Some are silly. But a quick scan showed many that are crude, and some seemed to be intentionally offensive.

The creators of the page said that's not what they're after - that their message is about free speech, not attacking Islam.

"Enjoy the rest of the day and draw Mohammed however you may like," said a Thursday morning post. "We will of course encourage you to make a creative and humourous picture, instead of something hateful."

Predictably, the group has created backlash. Another Facebook group, called "AGAINST Everybody Draw Mohammed Day," actually had more members - about 96,000, as of Monday morning.

Recent posts on that page called on members to "keep protesting against those filthy pages" and report the Draw Mohammed page to Facebook as being objectionable.

But a Facebook spokesman said the page does not violate any of the site's terms. A glitch prevented some users from accessing the page briefly Monday morning, but he said that was technical and has been fixed.

"We want Facebook to be a place where people can openly discuss issues and express their views, while respecting the rights and feelings of others," he said Thursday.

"With now more than 400 million users from around the world, who have varying cultures and ideals, using Facebook as a place to discuss and share things that are important to them, we sometimes find people discussing and posting about topics that others may find controversial, inaccurate, or offensive."

He did, however, suggest Facebook is monitoring the situation closely.

"When these feelings, or any content reported to us becomes an attack on anyone, including Muslim people, it will be removed and further action may be taken against the person responsible," he said.

He said Facebook is disappointed with Pakistan's decision to block the site and is considering legal action.

Pakistan's government issued an order Wednesday blocking Facebook for an indefinite time because the site had not removed the page.

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Filed under: Facebook • Internet


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May 18, 2010

Crowdsourced effort seeks to save 4-year-old's life

Posted: 04:47 PM ET

Seeking help for a charity or cause via social networking isn't new.

But a current campaign to save the life of a 4-year-old boy has taken off in a big way, hoping to capitalize on crowdsourcing and social media to help him beat the odds.

And according to a note on the group's website, there's a chance that it's already worked.

Devan Tatlow, whose family lives in Washington, D.C., has a rare form of leukemia and needs a bone marrow transplant. Complicating that is his mixed south Indian-northern European ancestry - which supporters say gives him a 1-in-200,000 chance of finding a match.

Doctors say they have less than 12 weeks.

Instead of trying to beat those odds the normal way, his family and their friends went online and turned their quest viral.

Rob Kenny, Devan's godfather, said hundreds of people have taken active roles drumming up support in what has become a global effort. While Devan lives in Washington, Kenny is in the United Kingdom, the Facebook campaign is being run out of Hong Kong and active recruitment drives are happening in Mexico, Singapore and other places.

Their message has been tweeted by the thousands on Twitter, and probably even more people have mentioned Devan's cause in their Facebook statuses.

Their efforts have been promoted throughout the online community through posts on the Huffington Post, tech blog Gizmodo and other sites.

The group is urging people to register at Be The Match, in hopes they'll be a match for Devan or someone else.

On Tuesday came some good news: there's a chance their efforts have paid off.

A message on the site's homepage said "a potential cord blood match" for Devan has been located. The group is awaiting confirmation that it truly is a match.

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Filed under: health • Internet • social-networking sites


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May 12, 2010

Meet Diaspora, the 'anti-Facebook'

Posted: 12:36 PM ET

Sick of the barrage of Facebook privacy scandals?

Don't trust a multi-billion-dollar corporation with your photos and personal information?

Well, there may be an online social network for you yet.

It's called Diaspora, and it's an idea from four New York University students who say in a video pitch that big online companies like Facebook shouldn't be allowed to have access to, and to some degree "own," all of the personal data that flows in and out of their social networks.

The site, which is still in development, has been dubbed "the anti-Facebook" by tech blogs.

The solution sounds a little wonky: Diaspora basically enables computers to share updates, photos and videos directly with each other. It eliminates the middleman, i.e. Facebook, Flickr, Google or Twitter, so no one has access to your data but you and your friends.

To set things up this way, each user has to have server space. In Diaspora-speak, these machines are called "seeds."

But, despite the potential technical confusion, the result, the site's founders say, is a fully private and secure network, without cutting down on the "sharing" aspect of the internet, which is such a trend at the moment.

"Social networks have only really existed for 10 years," one of the Diaspora founders says in a video introduction. "We don’t know what’s going to happen to our data. It’s going to exist into the foreseeable future. We need to take control of it."

"Because once you give it away once it’s no longer yours. You cannot stake claim to it," another chimes in.

Diaspora's founders - who look kind of like they jumped out of "Revenge of the Nerds," and, according to NYTimes.com, consider themselves to be pretty nerdy - posted their idea on the crowd-funding site Kickstarter to get money for the venture. If you're not familiar with Kickstarter, it's a site where people post information about their projects and ask random members of the internet for funding.

So far, about 900 people have contributed a total of nearly $29,000. That's more than the $10,000 the Diaspora founders said they needed to start the site.

ReadWriteWeb says that the way Diaspora works may confuse some general users. But, the blog notes, Diaspora may offer a paid service that would be simpler to use. Positioning itself as the anti-Facebook may help, too:

"If Diaspora is realized, it will be up to technology advocates to position the turn-key service in a way that will make it sound simple and appealing to precisely those sorts of mainstream users if it is to ever succeed. Taking shots at Facebook's privacy issues may be a good course (Take back control with Diaspora!)," the blog writes.

"We would like to see Diaspora come to be, even if it never goes mainstream, because it would finally offer privacy advocates a real alternative to the increasingly data-hungry Facebook."

Check out Project Diaspora's website and let us know what you think. Mark Zuckerberg co-founded Facebook in 2004 out of his Harvard dorm room; it now has 400 million users worldwide. Is it too late for a challenger? Or do the latest privacy concerns leave it vulnerable?

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Filed under: Facebook • Internet • social-networking sites


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May 11, 2010

Director: Firefox 4 will be 'fast, powerful'

Posted: 11:45 AM ET

The next version of Firefox will be a faster, more powerful Web experience, the browser's director says.

In a presentation to Firefox developers, Mozilla's Mike Beltzner said that the planned version 3.7 of the browser will now become Firefox 4.0 - a revamp clearly designed to close ground on Microsoft's Internet Explorer and stay ahead of competitors like Google's upstart Chrome.

"Usually software producers don’t present these sorts of plans in public until they’re finalized, but Mozilla is a little different," Beltzner wrote on his blog Monday. "We work in the open, socializing our plans early and often to gather feedback and build excitement in our worldwide community."

In a presentation Beltzner posted on his Slideshare page, he said the new default theme for Firefox will be simpler, with fewer controls needed to navigate and fewer pixels on the page to improve the speed of searches.

Firefox 4 also will let users store their passwords and settings for the websites they visit most, Beltzner said. It also will be possible to install add-ons - a popular developer activity on Mozilla's open-source browser - without having to restart.

Version 4.0 also will be optimized for HTML5 - the emerging language expected to be used for most web coding in the future - and other new technologies. It will have more personalization and developer tools and tighter security settings, according to Beltzner.

He said Mozilla plans to release Firefox 4.0 late this year - likely October or November - but stressed that the timeline is apt to change.

"As with past releases, we use dates to set targets for milestones, and then we work together to track to those targets," he said in the blog. "We always judge each milestone release against our basic criteria of quality, performance, and usability, and we only ship when it’s ready."

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Filed under: Internet • Web browsers


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May 10, 2010

Playboy to launch 'safe for work' site

Posted: 01:08 PM ET

You just read it for the articles, huh? Well, now's your chance to prove it.

Playboy has announced plans to roll out a work-friendly website, targeting office workers who browse the internet from their desks but don't want to get caught reading the iconic men's magazine.

"Playboy’s TheSmokingJacket.com is the safe-for-work website that brings you everything you love about men's entertainment and the internet, minus the stuff that'll get you into hot water at the office," Playboy spokeswoman Theresa Hennessey said in a written statement.

The site is up but not active and will be launched "in the coming months," Hennessey said.

The announcement comes as Playboy seeks to reposition itself in an adult-entertainment landscape drastically altered by the internet. In short, if you're looking for pictures of naked women, there are plenty of other sites to find that (and more) for free.

Playboy Enterprises reported a net loss of $1 million in the first quarter of this year - actually better than what was predicted. The company reported a loss of $13.7 million during the same quarter last year.

"We believe that 2010 will be a transitional year and that the true benefits of our strategy will be more fully evident next year," Playboy CEO Scott Flanders said in a statement last month.

Presumably, The Smoking Jacket - a nod to founder Hugh Hefner's preferred brand of leisure wear - would be part of that transition.

After its monthly photo spreads of playmates, Playboy magazine is also known for celebrity interviews, short fiction by big-name authors, rankings of the nation's top party schools and other content.

But as tech blog Switched notes, "... if The Smoking Jacket will not feature buxom beauties au naturel, what exactly will drive traffic to the site?"

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Filed under: Internet • online news • pop culture


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May 7, 2010

What is '.com' in Arabic?

Posted: 10:51 AM ET

If English is your first language, you probably take it for granted that all website suffixes - the .com's, .org's, .gov's and the like - come nicely packaged in Western characters, like the ones you're reading now.

But what if you spoke only Arabic? Or Chinese? Or Russian?

All of those languages make use of a completely different alphabet. And, until this week, none of those alphabets could be used in place of the ".com" portion of an internet address.

Now they can. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) announced this week that the first sites with all-Arabic Web addresses are now online.

“This isn’t just a minor change for the Internet, it’s a seismic shift that will forever change the online landscape,” Rod Beckstrom, CEO of ICANN, said in a written statement issued Thursday.

“This is the beginning of a transition that will make the Internet more accessible and user friendly to millions around the globe, regardless of where they live or what language they speak.”

The first of these internationalized suffixes is the Arabic form of ".masr," which means "Egypt."

Egypt's internet suffix now will look like this: .eg or .مصر

The Arabic characters read right to left.

This may not sound like a big deal from a Western perspective, but when you flip this scenario around, it's easier to understand, said Brad White, a spokesman for ICANN. Say you wanted to type in the Web address for Google.com, but, instead of .com, you had to type in equivalent letters from the Cyrillic alphabet.

"You may not have Russian characters on your keyboard," he said.

White said the switch is part of a long, technical transition to include non-Western characters. The foreign letters first showed up in the main piece of a Web address - so the "CNN" rather than the ".com." But completing the transition is important, he said.

So far, Chinese and Russian characters haven't been included. But 21 countries have applied to have domain name suffixes in 11 different languages. So you'll likely see more of these popping up online soon.

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Filed under: Internet • Web browsers


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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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