SciTechBlog
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 17, 2010

Group sets May 31 as 'Quit Facebook Day'

Posted: 11:27 AM ET

Frustrated by Facebook's recent privacy changes, a group is urging users to delete their Facebook accounts en masse on May 31.

The campaign comes amid complaints that the social-networking juggernaut is diminishing users' privacy with its "open graph" model that adds Facebook connections on other sites across the internet. A handful of glitches during the rollout of the changes have, in fact, put some personal info at risk, if only briefly.

It's clear that some folks are leaving the popular site.

But the organized effort to get people to abandon their Facebook accounts doesn't appear to have gained much traction so far among the site's 400 million-plus users.

More than 2,700 people had pledged to quit Facebook on the group's website Monday morning. The Quit Facebook Day site asks, "Sick of Facebook's lack of respect for your data?" and calls on users to quit the site all at once on May 31.

And about 1,090 people had "liked" the site's Quit Facebook Day page - which, ironically, is on Facebook - as of Monday morning.

By contrast, more than seven times that many people are fans of former "Top Chef" contestant Kevin Gillespie's beard. A fairly random user-created page called "I Love Facebook" had roughly the same number of members as the "Quit Facebook" page.

On Friday, the San Francisco Chronicle's Business Insider blog poked fun at the effort, albeit when the fledgling site had only a couple hundred people signed up. The post's title? "Uh-Oh, 0.00000068% Of Facebook Users Promise To Quit On May 31."

Facebook doesn't provide the number of people who delete their accounts. But the overall numbers are clearly going the other way. A spokeswoman told CNN.com last week that Facebook had added 10 million active users since late April.

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Filed under: Facebook • privacy • 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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April 22, 2010

Dear Facebook: What about 'dislike' and 'go away?'

Posted: 08:28 AM ET

Is my writing that bad?

When I wrote about the fact that Facebook is scattering "like" buttons all over the Internet, several of you commented that you wish there was a "dislike" button.

Zing!

But I don't take it personally. In fact, that's a really good point.

Maybe Facebook is being too sunny in thinking the only information a person would want to share with friends is the fact that he or she "likes" something.

In a speech in San Francisco, California, on Wednesday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the "like" button is simple and convenient. That's one reason he's making a push to get it all over the Internet, not just on Facebook.com.

But to like or not to like? Maybe it's reductive not to give users that choice, as some of you pointed out.

Here's a look at some of my favorite "don't like" (and otherwise negative) comments on the story about Facebook's quest to sprinkle the web with cheer:

**FB has to come w/ something new, things are getting old out there. How about an " annoying" "Go away" " leave me alone" "not interested" "dislike" "no thanks" buttons. That would help... So all over the web will have this annoying feature.

**All of a sudden the drive to add a "dislike" button has become much more important.

**I just dropped facebook this morning. this is the definition of 'TMI'

**Only a 10-year-old or a complete fool would ever use Facebook again.

**The internet default will be social? And what if I don't want to socialize?

Others have had similar thoughts. If you use the web browser Firefox, you can  download a plug-in that gives you access to a "dislike" button.

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Filed under: Facebook • social-networking sites


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March 30, 2010

Chatroulette isn't going away - at least not yet

Posted: 01:10 PM ET

Chatroulette - a Web site that pairs-up strangers for live video chats - became a cult hit with blogs, magazines and news sites in January and February.

Some lauded the site's randomness. Unlike Facebook or Twitter, Chatroulette reaches across social networks, often setting users up with people on the other side of the globe.

But what's happened since that initial buzz? Is Chatroulette just a fad, or will it stick around? Read the rest of this entry »

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Filed under: Chatroulette • Internet • social-networking sites


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March 25, 2010

Facebook causes syphilis? The Web smirks

Posted: 03:50 PM ET

Do you think risky behavior and a lack of proper medical attention caused that unfortunate case of syphilis?

Not so fast – a health official in England says it might have been Facebook.

A public health director recently told London’s The Telegraph that a rise in sexually transmitted diseases in his area could be linked to the fact that sites such as Facebook are popular there.

"Social networking sites are making it easier for people to meet up for casual sex,” Peter Kelly, director of public health in Teesside, said according to a Wednesday article in the paper.

The story, which appeared in numerous British tabloids, was met with smirks online. Social-networking site Mashable called the report “stretched at best.”

Blog TechCrunch called the story “dubious” in a post titled, “Calm down. Facebook doesn’t cause syphilis.”

Meanwhile, Facebook called the reports ludicrous.

“While it makes for interesting headlines, the assertions made in newspaper reports that Facebook is responsible for the transmission of STDs are ridiculous, exaggerate the comments made by the professor, and ignore the difference between correlation and causation,” said Facebook spokesperson Andrew Noyes in a written statement.

“As Facebook’s more than 400 million users know, our Web site is not a place to meet people for casual sex – it’s a place for friends, family and coworkers to connect and share.”

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Filed under: Facebook • Internet • social-networking sites


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March 14, 2010

SXSW: Finding great food, based on its location

Posted: 02:15 PM ET

Location is obviously a big theme at South by Southwest Interactive this year - that emerging-technology conference that's going on this weekend in Austin, Texas. Whether you’ve elected to use Austin-based Gowalla or New York-based Foursquare, checking in and sharing useful tips with friends are the major tenets of these location-based applications.

But what if you took that concept one step further and consider a specific community?

I spoke with the co-founder of San Francisco-based Foodspotting.com about her Web site and mobile app that binds worldwide foodies together in a Foursquare-ish sort of way.

“The time was really right for something like this,” said Alexa Andrzejewski, a user-experience designer from Adaptive Path.

Andrzejewski traveled to Japan and Korea, where she discovered and developed an appetite for street food.  She wanted to inspire Americans to learn about and appreciate other foods from Asia, “aside from sushi,” she said. Plus, she wanted to help people to easily locate those dishes.

While in Asia, Andrzejewski noticed a phenomenon: passionate foodies were taking pictures of their fabulous dishes at restaurants and posting them to their social networks.  So she decided to create a location-smart food guide, à la Flickr, that would allow people to find, photograph and share specific dishes they crave.

Foodspotting launched in January, and it has since grown to 7,000 members.  The site features more than 20,000 kinds of foods worldwide.  As you would expect, the top cities are foodie havens - San Francisco, New York, and Honolulu.

“We’re kind of like the Foursquare of food,” says Andrzejewski, who launched the Foodspotting mobile app a week before SXSW.

Food spotters build their reputation whenever someone is enticed by the dishes you spot.  For example, you can earn ten points if someone ‘wants’ that pecorino crème brulee you managed to capture in some dessert habitat.  You’ll get 25 points if someone nominates or ‘noms’ your dish.

Your guilty pleasures can even pay off in the form of badges - bronze, silver, gold, platinum - earned for spotting the same dishes and food types.  Addicted to tiramisu?  Spot it 50 times and you’ll earn the platinum expert badge.

Andrzejewski says she plans to add more game-like features in the coming months.

Foodspotting also offers scavenger hunts for food enthusiasts.  I decided to attempt Foodspotting’s ‘SXSW Street Food Scavenger Hunt’ in Austin with iReport Senior Producer Lila King.

Our first taste was a heavenly pancake taco at the One Taco truck.  I’ve never been a fan of breakfast burritos or even breakfast for that matter.  But let’s just say if a pancake taco truck roamed the streets of Atlanta, I’d earn that platinum badge in no time at all.

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Filed under: Foursquare • location • social-networking sites • SXSW Interactive


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SXSW: Microsoft Surface, Flavors.me, FunMail and HuddleHub

Posted: 01:23 PM ET

The South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive festival, which is known for being one of the preeminent events for introducing tech innovations, began this weekend in Austin, Texas. More than 100 cutting-edge interactive businesses set up shop along an exhibit hall floor here, in an attempt to attract attention from tech insiders. I braved the large crowds and product pitches to check out what some of the coolest emerging technologies.

Here are four products that most caught my eye:

Microsoft Surface:

What is it? Multi-touch technology that enables users to interact with their digital content on a tabletop surface without a keyboard or mouse.

Microsoft Surface responds to natural hand gestures and real-world objects, helping people interact with digital content in a simple and intuitive way. Think 'Minority Report' meets the CNN Magic Wall on a beautiful table setting.

During a demonstration of prototype software, a tablet reader was rested on the tabletop while magazine content was dragged over from the Surface tabletop to the users' account with a flick of the finger. Microsoft Surface is currently geared for commercial and developer use, but could be marketed for consumers in the near future. It features an open API which allows developers to build apps to work with the product.

Flavors.me:

What is it? A personal identity management Web site that allows users to combine social network profiles onto the same page for a "unified online presence."

Flavors.me provides a clean interface for curating and showcasing your Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Tumblr and other feeds into a 'one-stop digital storefront.'  If you've longed for a home worth showcasing your many online wares (personal homepages, lifestreaming, splash and microsites, celebrity fan pages, commercial promotion, brand marketing and everything in between), this could be the tool for you. Flavors.me offers free basic service and a premium package ($20 annual) which includes your own web domain name.

FunMail:

What is it? For users interested in adding a little visual spice to their messages, FunMail from FunMobility is a next-generation visual messaging platform that attaches multimedia to your text, tweet or status update.

FunMail uses a learning technology that gets smarter about making insightful connections between imagery and language every time a FunMail is sent. When I typed in "Hated losing an hour of sleep this morning," for Daylight Savings, for example, the search engine found images of people lying in bed, dogs asleep on couches and one very close up shot of a toothbrush.  I chose the toothbrush.

FunMail is currently available for iPhone and Android devices as well as online.  The company hopes to offer a Blackberry version soon.  Just in time for South by Southwest Interactive the company has released FunTweet, a Web service that turns any Twitter stream into visual messages. There's also a Facebook app.

HuddleHub:

What is it? An online management tool for people who 'own' multiple fantasy sports teams.

If you're a fantasy sports geek like me, then you'll want to check out HuddleHub. The service, which just launched, promises to aggregate your player updates, provide live sports and fantasy updates via web and mobile, and - here's where it gets fun - a recommendation engine for advice on player personnel moves via algorithms.  Just imagine taking some of the guess work out of that pending blockbuster fantasy trade.

I asked the company founder if there were any assurances this tool would provide me the competitive edge to earn championship trophies in my future fantasy sports league endeavors. He said it should help, but made no guarantees.

The Web version of HuddleHub is free and available now.  HuddleHub expects to release an iPhone version in June.

What do you think of these products? Let us know in the comments.

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Filed under: Microsoft Corp. • social-networking sites • SXSW • SXSW Interactive • SXSWi • technology • Twitter


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November 11, 2009

Wi-Fi scale tweets your weight loss (or gain)

Posted: 12:29 PM ET

A new WiFi-enabled scale from Withings encourages users to lose weight by sharing their body weight, lean & fat mass, and calculated body mass index (BMI) on Twitter.

WiFi scale shares results with Twitter.

WiFi scale shares results with Twitter.

Personal metrics have been shown to help people reach their fitness goals. And Wired.com recognizes new devices like the Nike+ can get people moving.

Noone is now running four times a week and just did her first 10-mile race ... And she attributes much of her newfound fitness to the power of data. "I can log in to Nike+ and see what I've done over the past year," she says. "That's really powerful for me."

But will sharing embarrassing weight-fluctuation info help dieters in the same way fitness data has encouraged runners?

A press release from Withings confirms that the scale will not share your information without your consent. "By default, the Twitter feature will not be activated when you purchase your scale ... Only the users that enable this feature will benefit from the online peer motivation."

Engadget is not impressed with the scale's social abilities:

Not only does this bad boy register your weight, body fat, and BMI, but you can now configure it to send your stats to "the Twitter" either daily, weekly, monthly, or each and every time you weigh - and your followers will start dropping faster than even you could imagine.

What do you think? Would you be willing to share your weight-loss struggle with the Twitterverse if it could inspire you to become the next Biggest Loser? Or is this one Fail Whale you would prefer to keep private?

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Filed under: consumer tech • Internet • iPhone • social-networking sites • Twitter


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September 8, 2009

Trapped girls update Facebook instead of calling cops

Posted: 10:16 AM ET

The role of online social networks in disaster situations is being called into question after two girls in Australia got lost in a storm drain and, instead of calling the police or their parents, posted a message on Facebook.

Things worked out OK for the girls, ages 10 and 12, since a friend saw the post, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. But authorities are worried about the girls' preferred means of emergency communication. They should have called 000, Australia's version of 911, a fire official told the news service:

Glenn Benham from the [Metropolitan Fire Service in Adelaide, Australia] says it was fortunate a young friend was online at the time and was able to call for help for them.

"It is a worry for us because it causes a delay on us being able to rescue the girls," he said.

"If they were able to access Facebook from their mobile phones, they could have called 000, so the point being they could have called us directly and we could have got there quicker than relying on someone being online and replying to them and eventually having to call us via 000 anyway."

The incident, which was reported Monday, is weirdly timed with a new U.S. awareness campaign on the use of social networks in emergency situations. The Safe America Foundation, an Atlanta-based non-profit, reportedly is working with the U.S. government to promote alternative means of communication - Facebook, Twitter, text messages - for use in disasters and emergencies where other lines of communication might be cut.

As Mashable points out, this isn't the first time someone has used a social network to call for help. In May, an Atlanta city councilman was worried his mobile phone battery might die and posted to Twitter instead of calling the cops about a woman he found in distress. Mashable says he posted this message: “Need a paramedic on corner of John Wesley Dobbs and Jackson st. Woman on the ground unconscious. Pls ReTweet”.

There also was a U.S. student arrested in Egypt last year who summoned help via Twitter. And, according to VentureBeat and the Industry Standard, there's been talk of an emergency broadcast service using that micro-blogging platform.

What do you think? Are social networks useful tools during an emergency?

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Filed under: Facebook • social-networking sites • Twitter


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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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