SciTechBlog
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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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 14, 2009

Who should pay for online news?

Posted: 12:24 PM ET

Last week the New York Times e-mailed a survey to its print subscribers to ask how they felt about paying for online content.

According to the survey:

The New York Times website, nytimes.com, is considering charging a monthly fee of $5.00 to access its content, including all its articles, blogs and multimedia. All of this content is currently available for free.

The recession has not been kind to print news publishers. Several large newspapers such as The Rocky Mountain News have closed their doors for good, while others like the Seattle Post-Intelligencer have become Web-only publications. But advertising alone may be unable to sustain many news services, and publishers are scrambling to find new online sources of revenue.

Dwindling profits are also causing media companies to become more possessive of the news they generate.

In an article from the New York Times, Associated Press executives say they are concerned about news forums around the Web, including major search engines and aggregators like the Drudge Report, that link to news articles without paying licensing fees.

A group of European publishers is even pushing for new laws restricting online news distribution that, Ars Technica claims, "amounts to a long-winded rant against the Internet for stealing their news."

After years of easily accessible free news online, can the New York Times or any media company successfully retreat to a subscription-based method to monetize and control content?

Would you pay for access?

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Filed under: Internet • online news • technology


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June 30, 2009

Has the Pirate Bay given up piracy?

Posted: 10:02 AM ET

The Pirate Bay, a Swedish file-sharing Web site used by millions to exchange movies and music, is reportedly being sold to the Swedish company Global Gaming Factory X AB for nearly $8 million.

The Pirate Bay, a Swedish file-sharing Web site used by millions to exchange movies and music, is reportedly being sold to the Swedish company Global Gaming Factory.

A blog posted on thepiratebay.org Tuesday morning says rumors of the sale are true:

We've been working on this project for many years. It's time to invite more people into the project, in a way that is secure and safe for everybody... The profits from the sale will go into a foundation that is going to help with projects about freedom of speech, freedom of information and the openess of the nets.

The Pirate Bay and its founders have been under legal attack from copyright owners for years. While the Web site does not host copyrighted content, it does host millions of torrent files which enable peer-to-peer file-trading. Many of these torrent files point to copyrighted material.

In April four of the Website's co-founders were convicted of collaborating to violate copyright law and sentenced to one year in jail as well as ordered to pay $3.6 million in damages to several major media companies.

A press release from Global Gaming Factory suggests, following the sale, the Pirate Bay is done with piracy:

Following the completion of the acquisitions, GGF intends to launch new business models that allow compensation to the content providers and copyright owners. The responsibility for, and operation of the site will be taken over by GGF in connection with closing of the transaction, which is scheduled for August 2009.

There are hundreds of competing Websites that offer copyright infringing torrents, but it appears the Pirate Bay, which once claimed a spot on the Web's top 100, will no longer be among them. The site claims more than 3.5 million registered users.

The news made Pirate Bay one of the top trending topics on Twitter Tuesday morning, with many tweets mourning the sale. "The Pirate Bay walks the plank for new biz model," said one Twitterer.

Will the sale of the Pirate Bay mean an end to free copyrighted material for all? And can Global Gaming Factory monetize a site that is based on piracy?

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Filed under: file sharing • Internet • online news • piracy


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June 17, 2009

Download Internet Explorer 8 and feed the poor

Posted: 09:56 AM ET

As a longtime Firefox supporter and a web designer who is often frustrated by Internet Explorer's lax adherence to web standards, I was not particularly excited when Internet Explorer 8 (IE8) was released earlier this year. However, Microsoft's new IE8 marketing campaign has managed to grab my attention.

According to a Microsoft press release:

For every completed download of Internet Explorer 8, Microsoft’s Browser for the Better campaign will donate the financial equivalent of eight meals to Feeding America’s network of 206 local food banks, which supplies food to more than 25 million Americans each year.

In order to participate, users need to download a complete copy of IE8 from the Browser for the Better website by August 8, 2009.

Given that most web surfers (approximately 66 percent of the browser market) already use some version of Internet Explorer, this seems like the perfect opportunity for many people to upgrade. And those of you married to Firefox, Safari or Chrome can still participate.  I'm confident your favorite browser will forgive your brief infidelity if IE8 doesn't satisfy. After all, it was for charity.

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Filed under: computers • Google Chrome • Internet • online news


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June 12, 2009

Wikipedia editors for hire

Posted: 09:18 AM ET

Wikipedia may be 'The Free Encyclopedia,' but that's not stopping some editors from making a few bucks.

Tuesday, Wikipedia's community began a discussion to address the practice of paid editors, or editors who are hired by outside sources to alter content on the site. There are no specific rules that forbid Wikipedia editors from accepting payment and, currently, editors-for-hire are allowed to dance around Wikipedia's conflict of interest (COI) policy. But if the Wikipedia community decides that paid editing deserves no part in their free society, these entrepreneurial editors may find themselves out of a job.

Wikipedia's arbitration committee voted last month to block edits from the Church of Scientology after editors from within the church revised articles to reflect a pro-Scientology viewpoint.  Critics of paid editing see a similar violation of Wikipedia's COI policy occurring with financially motivated posts and believe they could damage the site's credibility. Wikipedia contributor Hmwith writes in the open discussion:

When it comes to reliability, Wikipedia already has a poor reputation as it is, and this would only further harm its public image. Paid editing is something that Wikipedia should neither encourage nor condone.

Though most participants in the discussion disapprove of using Wikipedia for financial gain, they stop short of condemning paid editing or calling for a ban. Alanyst writes:

If an article can go through the review processes and become featured, in the end it doesn't matter what the motivations were of the person who wrote it - whether out of nationalist pride, personal fulfillment, a vendetta, or the prospect of income.

How do you feel about paid editing? Can paid contributors maintain a neutral point of view - and if not, is Wikipedia's process of peer review enough to protect its integrity?

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Filed under: Internet • online news


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May 29, 2009

Wikipedia bans Church of Scientology

Posted: 03:47 PM ET

The collaborative online encyclopedia Wikipedia has banned the Church of Scientology from editing the site. The Register reports Wikipedia's Arbitration Committee, or ArbCom, voted 10 to 0 in favor of the ban, which takes effect immediately.

Wikipedia's innovative free-encyclopedia draws upon the knowledge of millions of users to create and edit articles on every conceivable topic. Edits appear immediately and do not undergo any formal peer-review process.

Wikipedia officially prohibits use of the encyclopedia to advance personal agendas – such as advocacy or propaganda and philosophical, ideological or religious dispute – but the open format makes enforcing such policies difficult.

According to Wikipedia administrators speaking to The Register:

Multiple editors have been "openly editing [Scientology-related articles] from Church of Scientology equipment and apparently coordinating their activities."

However, Karin Pouw, with the Church of Scientology's public affairs office, told me she is unaware of any coordinated effort to alter Wikipedia. Instead, she described the edits as individual attempts to correct inaccurate information by impassioned Scientologists and interpreted the ban as a typical Wikipedia response to arguments over content. She noted that even the U.S. Department of Justice received a temporary ban after someone  erased references to a controversial scandal from inside the government agency.

One Wikipedia contributor I spoke with that was involved in the Scientology arbitration agreed that some of the edits coming from the church were justifiable, but insisted the ban was necessary after the church refused to follow Wikipedia's policies:

"The edits coming out of Church of Scientology servers were of the sort that made their organization look better.  Up to a point that's justifiable, when it comes to correcting inaccuracies or removing poorly sourced negative information. There were times when they went beyond that and deleted well sourced information that was unflattering, and there were times when they insulted other editors in a manner that would reflect poorly upon any religion."

Some see Wikipedia's decision as a setback to the Utopian goal of Web 2.0 in which every user is allowed to freely contribute.

How do you feel about the ban? Should Wikipedia actively suppress self-serving, misleading or inaccurate information? Or does every voice deserve to be heard?

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Filed under: Internet • online news • Religion


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May 15, 2009

Remedies for RSS stress

Posted: 06:21 PM ET

Thanks to those of you who offered remedies to my RSS stress, which I wrote about in a recent post.

I think I've come to a solution that works for me. I pull up some sites I really love with tabs, just so I can see them and take in the feel of the site. Then I get a hearty dose of my online stories through an RSS reader. I took your advice and pared down some of the feeds (turns out, I had dozens too many). And - just to make it feel like less of a chore - I click "mark all as read" more frequently, so I don't have  to feel guilty about not getting to some stuff.

Here are a few of the comments I found useful.

John D. says RSS reader and Twitter overload are symptoms of our over-busy society:

RSS may have become cumbersome . . . but that is mostly because many of us are simply trying to follow too many things. I have two Twitter news services set up and some days they drive me nuts. Do I really want my mobile phone buzzing constantly because of news updates? No thanks! It buzzes enough with just my friends and their text messages. I will keep my RSS reader.

Justin B. says people need to decide what they really do and don't want to read

They haven’t become a chore at all. I have the few that I really want to follow, and that’s it. Sounds like the problem isn’t that RSS is ‘artless’, more that people drown themselves in it and don’t know how to delete the ones they don’t really want or need.

Nick M. says the speed of the RSS reader is important:

it’s not a chore to use Google Reader because i work hard to optimize my experience and weed out the feeds that don’t deliver over time. saying that RSS feeds are dying is like saying that email’s dying. yeah, there’s an unglamorous side to reading everything as minimal text, but the content takes precedence in that format, and i get access to greater amounts of information and knowledge at a greater speed.

And, on the subject of Twitter replacing the RSS reader, Sean has this quip:

Personally I believe the Twitter backlash started the moment they started talking about it on the Today show. Soon a clever developer will come up with a new spin on the RSS feed. Maybe it will be something that collects your RSS, Tweets, Facebook updates, calendar, e-mail, online bookmarks, diggs, etc. and puts them into an interface that doesn’t drive you nuts because of all the junk flooding in all the time. I know some developers have already tried, but I’m still waiting for the killer app that will make filtering all of this noise much easier.

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Filed under: online news • RSS reader


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The Pirate Bay fights back

Posted: 10:22 AM ET

Gottfrid Svartholm, founder of the popular file sharing site The Pirate Bay, may have been found guilty of collaborating to violate copyright law in April, but he is not giving up the fight.

Supporters of the web site 'The Pirate Bay' demonstrate in Stockholm, on April 18, 2009.

Supporters of the web site 'The Pirate Bay' demonstrate in Stockholm, on April 18, 2009.

Svartholm and his three co-defendants, who were sentenced to one year in jail and ordered to pay 30 million kronor ($3.6 million) to media companies, immediately appealed the court's decision and vowed never to pay up, declaring, "Even if we had the money I would rather burn everything I owned and not even give them the final dust from the burning. Not even the ashes."

However, last week Svartholm may have reversed his decision regarding the fine and launched a Swedish site internet-avgift, 'internet-fee' in English. Though the site's actual creator is unknown, the domain name internetavgift.se was registered by "svarth3024-00001."

The new site encourages Pirate Bay supporters to send extremely small sums of money to Peter Danowsky’s law firm, which represented the music companies in the trial. The idea behind the "fundraiser" is to inundate the law firm with such a high volume of insignificant payments that processing all the donations actually would cost them money.

The Blog Pirate calls the plan a Distributed Denial of Dollars attack (DDo$) and compares it to the common, and illegal, hacker practice of using DDoS attacks to knock websites offline:

The plan is an away-from-keyboard DDoS attack. DDoS attacks involve hordes of users overloading a victim with Internet traffic, damaging their ability to provide services. Money, instead of Internet traffic is used in this case.

CNET investigates the viability of DDo$ and interviews lawyer Peter Danowsky about the attack:

The scheme may turn out to be expensive for Danowsky's firm–or at least that's what the tricksters hope. According to the bank's rules (PDF in Swedish) companies can receive up to 1,000 payments a year for free... However, according to the law, each transaction, free or not, has to be entered in the law firm's books, which implies a lot of manpower.

Can the Pirate Bay defendants actually use their supporters to overcome a court order, or is this just a revenge attack initiated by Internet dissidents who support online piracy?

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Filed under: file sharing • Internet • online news


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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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