SciTechBlog
May 7, 2010

Facebook may debut 'location' feature this month

Posted: 11:43 AM ET

There's been plenty of online buzz recently about the possibility of "location" or "place" features coming to Facebook.

That sounds wonky. But the gist is interesting: You may soon be able to use a smartphone's GPS to post on Facebook about exactly where you are, in addition to what you're doing and thinking.

The latest news on this front comes from Advertising Age, which claims that Facebook will release such a feature this month. Among the first advertisers to jump on board, the site says, is McDonald's, which will let people "check in" to these fast-food chains through Facebook. McDonald's then would put ads about its food on your Facebook wall.

That might not sound entirely appetizing (especially if you're a Jamie Oliver fan), but there's plenty of excitement online about these location-based features.

Mobile phone apps like Foursquare and Gowalla have made them popular among tech's early adopters, who "check in" to their favorite stores, pubs and restaurants to earn points and merit badges. (Apparently, being a digital Boy Scout is cool.)

But Facebook could take this idea to the next level, bringing it to a user base of 400 million people.

CNN has not confirmed if or when Facebook will announce such location feature. At a recent news conference, CEO Mark Zuckerberg dodged questions on the subject.

Such a feature - which could tell you where someone is almost all the time - also raises privacy concerns. And Facebook has not been having a good time of it on that front.

This week, a bug, which has since been fixed, temporarily caused private Facebook chats to be public to other friends. And Facebook's "Open Graph" system, which was announced at the f8 conference on April 21, has brought further concerns about preserving some degree of anonymity online.

More on the privacy angle from the blog Mashable, which is a CNN content partner:

"It’s clear that not all users understand the risks of public sharing or how to protect their likes, groups and updates. When they risk exposing their locations to the general populace, another layer of security precautions ... is sure to follow," the blog says.

Do you see any value in telling friends where you are? Before you judge, check out this helpful guide to using Foursquare, the service that has been paving the way for these location features.

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Filed under: Facebook


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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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May 6, 2010

Texting during sex? Some say it's OK

Posted: 12:07 PM ET

It may sound ridiculous, but a few blogs today are considering this question:

Is it appropriate to send or receive text messages during sex?

The chatter is a spin-off from a 1,000-person survey, published in March, which found about one in 10 people younger than 25 say that they would not mind being "interrupted by an electronic message" during sex.

Among people older than 25, 6 percent said they would be fine with that inconvenience, according to the online survey by Retrevo, a website that reviews consumer electronics.

The survey reports a 4 percent error margin.

About a quarter of people in the under-25 group said they wouldn't mind getting a text message or e-mail while using the restroom (the chart actually says "on the John," but can we all agree to boycott that phrase?). And half of the younger people said they would be OK with a digital intrusion into a meal.

Older people were less fond of this all-the-time messaging. Sixty-two percent of people older than 25 said they don't like being interrupted by digital communications in general.

Maybe there's a serious conversation to be had somewhere in these salacious details.

Do you find electronic messages intruding in on your life?

Would you text during dinner with a friend? Are there any limits?

As food for thought, here's an interesting video debate about some of these issues between NYT blogger Nick Bilton and Diane Sawyer, the ABC anchor.

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Filed under: texting


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May 5, 2010

Google shows off a new spring look

Posted: 01:48 PM ET

If you search for information on Google today, you may notice the results have a slightly new look.

The world's dominant search engine on Wednesday announced some changes that it refers to as its "spring metamorphosis."

"Today’s metamorphosis responds to the increasing richness of the web and the increasing power of search — revealing search tools on the left and updating the visual look and feel throughout," Google says in a blog post.

"While we are constantly rolling out small changes and updates, today’s changes showcase the latest evolutions in our search technology, making it easier than ever to find exactly what you're looking for."

Some changes are largely cosmetic: Navigation that was at the top of the page is now in a redesigned column on the left, for example. That column also lets searchers filter their results by category, potentially making it easier to shuffle from news stories to images and blog posts in the same search.

MercuryNews.com also says the Google logo changed slightly, and that the search box is now larger.

Here's some detailed analysis from the site Search Engine Land.

Google still dominates the search world, with 70 percent of the market share, according to a March report from Hitwise, which monitors internet traffic.

But it has come under threat lately from Facebook, which recently unveiled a plan to stretch into the rest of the internet, making it more social, and potentially taking away some of the power of Google's links; and from the growth of Bing, a rival search engine from Microsoft, which bills itself as more visual than Google. Bing has about 10 percent of the search market, Hitwise says.

Check out Google's changes and let us know what you think. Is Google just trying to get attention for some cosmetic shifts? Or are these changes significant?

Also note that even look-and-feel changes to search engines can be a big deal.

When Bing, for example, darkened the shade of its blue links, the company reportedly earned an extra $80 million in annual revenue.

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Filed under: Bing • Google • search engines


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Facebook fixes security bug in chat program

Posted: 12:13 PM ET

UPDATE 2:06 p.m. ET: A Facebook spokesperson says the security bug has been fixed; chat will be up shortly.

The blog TechCrunch posted a scary video today.

Writer Steve O'Hear shows that it's possible to eavesdrop on the private live chats of your Facebook friends by previewing your profile through the site's privacy settings.

Facebook shut down its chat function on Wednesday in response the security bug, a Facebook spokeswoman said in an e-mail to CNN.

"When we received reports of the problem, our engineers promptly diagnosed it and temporarily disabled the chat function," the e-mailed statement from Facebook says.

"We also pushed out a fix to take care of the visible friend requests which is now complete. Chat will be turned back on across the site shortly. We worked quickly to resolve this matter, ensuring that once the bug was reported to us, a solution was quickly found and implemented."

The social network's chat feature - which lets people have live conversations through instant text messages - appeared to be "down for maintenance" as of noon ET, when CNN tried to replicated the hack.

Watch the full video to understand how the flaw works.

"I know Facebook wants us to share more information and open up, but I’m not sure that this is quite what they had in mind," O'Hear writes on the blog.

He accesses a friend's supposedly private chat conversation by using a feature that lets people preview their profile through the eyes of their friends. This feature is intended to let people see if they've managed their privacy settings correctly. A person, for instance, might make some Facebook information viewable to everyone, while keeping co-workers or professional contacts in the dark about new photos or status updates.

When O'Hear previews his profile through the eyes of a friend, he pulls up that friend's private chat.

We'll keep an eye on this and let you know if we hear back from Facebook.

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Filed under: Facebook • privacy


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Find the Apple fanboy of your dreams at 'Cupidtino'

Posted: 10:32 AM ET

Do you spend your nights debating the merits of iPhone multitasking?

Do you have a poster of Steve Jobs on your bedroom ceiling?

And are you looking for a partner who has plenty of free wall sockets, so you can charge up your iPod, iPad, iBook and iPhone - all at once?!?

Well, maybe Cupidtino is the website for you.

The new dating site, designed exclusively to set-up fans of Apple gadgets, says it will launch in June.

For the uninitiated, the name is a combination of Cupertino, the California city where Apple Inc. is based, and Cupid, that love-mongering cherub that shows up every February. Apple fans have a reputation in the tech world for being, well, pretty fanatical. Some make pilgrimages to Apple stores. Others own nearly every product Apple puts out. When the iPad debuted earlier this year, some people waiting in line to buy it said they didn't really know what it was - but they trusted that Apple would know what's best for them.

Some people love Apple for its sleek, consumer-oriented products. Others hate the company just as much - dubbing its fans the "Cult of Mac." (A blog has actually appropriated that name and made it positive).

Cupidtino says it started the Apple-fan dating site because people who love Apple share other things in common, too:

"Cupidtino is a beautiful new dating site created for fans of Apple products by fans of Apple products!" a message on the site says. "Why? Diehard Mac & Apple fans often have a lot in common – personalities, creative professions, a similar sense of style and aesthetics, taste, and of course a love for technology. We believe these are enough reasons for two people to meet and fall in love, and so we created the first Mac-inspired dating site to help you find other Machearts around you."

At first, it didn't seem entirely clear whether the site was a joke or not.

But Cupidtino's Twitter feed sent a message to CNN saying, "We're for real."

The "about" section of the website says it was created by three people in San Francisco, California.

Here's how they describe themselves:

"We’re 3 geeks (2 devs and a designer) with backgrounds at Google, Microsoft and Yahoo! We’re based in San Francisco and obsessed with our Apple gadgets (we have them all!). We’re privately funded and would love to discuss interesting partnership opportunities. More info to come soon as we release more broadly."

Some Apple-relevant blogs are pumped about Cupidtino:

"If there's one thing that all Mac-obsessed creatures have in common, besides their undying devotion to Apple products, it's the need to be loved," writes a blog called the iPhone Savior.

The blog notes that Mac fans have gotten married in Apple Stores before. If you meet the fanboy or -girl of your dreams, the blog suggests, "just be sure to pre-order your iPhone cake in advance."

Not everyone online is this excited about the thought of Apple fanatics falling in love, however:

Apple fans can be annoying when they’re on their own," writes Michael Arrington at the blog TechCrunch. "The thought of them breeding and creating little Apple fans, a whole family of hard core hipster Apple lovers, is just not a good thing.

"On the other hand, making sure that Apple fans only date other Apple fans is a good way of stopping them from spreading their Apple fan genes to the general population, I guess. So maybe this site isn’t all bad."

When it launches this summer, the Cupidtino service will only be available through "Apple platforms."

What do you think?

Apple fans: Do you feel a connection with other Macheads that could be useful in a dating context?

And PCs: Do you feel left out?

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Filed under: Apple


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May 4, 2010

Internet Explorer losing grip on browser market

Posted: 01:19 PM ET

Many people complain about Microsoft's Internet Explorer. There have even been campaigns to kill old versions of the Web browser.

But despite the haters, IE has always remained way on top. In June 2002, 95 percent of computers accessed the Internet through the product, which comes installed as the default web-surfing tool on Microsoft Windows computers.

IE remains dominant today. But, compared to its heights in the early 2000s, it's slipping. This week, the market researcher NetApplications released a report saying IE has fallen to less than 60 percent of the browser market.

Meanwhile, alternative browsers like Google's Chrome and Mozilla's Firefox are catching up a bit.

Firefox makes up nearly a quarter of the browser market; and newer Chrome is at about 7 percent, up from about 2 percent a year ago in May.

A new version of Internet Explorer - IE9 - is expected to debut soon.

Gartner analyst Jeffrey Mann tells the BBC that alternatives to IE continue to catch consumer attention:

"There are more viable alternatives now. Google has been advertising and there are more people using Macs and Apple's Safari. There is just a great awareness that there are alternatives," he says.

That's impressive, considering there's plenty of anecdotal evidence that many Web users don't know what a browser is. (If you're one of them, don't feel bad. It's the program you open in order to access the internet. It's what you're using to view this story.)

What do you make of IE's slipping market share? Which browser do you use and why?

[via BBC Tech]

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Filed under: browsers • Internet


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May 3, 2010

Scientists try to turn people into 'smart dust'

Posted: 11:08 AM ET

Scientists are in the process of putting tiny wireless sensors all over the globe.

HP wants to install a trillion of these "smart dust" sensors, which initially were going to be the size of dust particles but, at least for now, look more like matchbooks. The aim is to get more information about how cities and the environment work - and then use that data to be more efficient and create less environmental damage.

But the idea of deploying a trillion sensors in the environment is tricky in some ways. The sensors have to have batteries that last a long time or are able to gather energy from the sun or waves in the ocean. They also might require maintenance from time to time, which would be cumbersome on such a huge scale.

That leads some computer scientists to say, "skip the wireless sensors."

Why not just use people and their phones to collect data about the world?

There will be 5 billion mobile phone subscriptions by years' end, according to the International Telecommunication Union. Many of those are equipped with sensing technology: They have cameras, location monitors and accelerometers.

By tacking on temperature trackers, air quality monitors and the like, these phones could become a vast and potentially useful network of wireless monitors, scattered all over the Earth.

Here are a few examples of how this is starting to happen:

  • Researchers Allison Woodruff and Alan Mainwaring at Intel Research have developed a prototype for a phone that could record air quality measurements and send them back to a database.
  • The U.S. National Parks Service has an active project called What's Invasive! to use mobile phone photos to track invasive species through protected lands.
  • Elizabeth Cochran, an assistant professor of seismology at the University of California at Riverside, has developed a network of 1,400 computers called the Quake Catcher Network that records the Earth's vibrations and, in effect, can be used as real-time earthquake monitors.

Cochran hopes to move this technology from laptops to mobile phones soon. If that network is expanded, people could get up to 60 seconds of warning before a quake hits.

"That would be enough to get under a table, maybe shut off the gas if you're cooking something on the stove," she said.

Would you be willing to be part of this "smart dust" network? There are obvious privacy concerns with the idea. To send in air quality data, for example, you would also have to send in information about where the data was collected, which would tell someone where you are, potentially all the time, if the data are collected continuously.

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Filed under: mobile phones


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iPad hits 1 million sold - faster than the iPhone

Posted: 10:02 AM ET

Will the iPad be bigger than the iPhone?

That's true in a physical sense, obviously. Apple's iPhone fits in your pocket. Its iPad - which is a touch-screen computer without a keyboard - would look ridiculous if you put it up to your ear.

But the iPad, it turns out, is also bigger in terms of initial sales.

Apple on Monday announced it has sold 1 million iPad computers in the 28 days the device has been available. The iPhone, which debuted in 2007, didn't hit the million mark until 74 days after it went on sale.

“Demand continues to exceed supply and we’re working hard to get this magical product into the hands of even more customers," Apple CEO Steve Jobs says in a press release.

That begs the question: Will the iPad end up being a bigger hit than the iPhone, which has revolutionized the smartphone industry?

It's very early, and the iPad still has a long way to go. While 1 million iPads have been sold this year, the analyst firm Piper Jaffray says 36 millions iPhones will be sold this year worldwide, according to the blog AppleInsider.

It's also important to note that the iPhone cost $499 and $599 when it first hit the market. Sales didn't really take off until 2008, when Apple slashed the entry-level price of the device to $200, putting it within reach of more consumers.

Let us know what you think in the comments. What, if anything, do these sales figures mean? Is the iPad on track to change popular computing the way the iPhone changed what a mobile phone could be?

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Filed under: Apple • iPad • iPhone


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April 30, 2010

Adobe responds to Apple's Flash snub

Posted: 12:12 PM ET

It was already at reality-show proportions. But the tech feud between Apple and Adobe continues to escalate as Adobe responded Thursday to Apple CEO Steve Jobs' sharp criticism of its Flash player format.

The gist from Adobe: So what? We have other friends to play with.

"... Given the legal terms Apple has imposed on developers, we have already decided to shift our focus away from Apple devices for both Flash Player and AIR. We are working to bring Flash Player and AIR to all the other major participants in the mobile ecosystem, including Google, RIM, Palm (soon to be HP), Microsoft, Nokia and others," Adobe's chief technology officer, Kevin Lynch, posted in a blog on Thursday evening.

Lynch said that he still holds out hope Apple and Adobe can work together on the mobile Web.

"We could provide a terrific experience with Flash on the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch," he wrote.

This comes after Jobs posted a missive about flaws with Adobe's Flash. He said the format leads to crashes, hinders app development and doesn't work well with touch-screen devices. That's why Apple does not support Flash video or games on the iPad, iPhone or iPod, he wrote.

Adobe says it has other plans for Flash.

"We look forward to delivering Flash Player 10.1 for Android smartphones as a public preview at Google I/O in May, and then a general release in June. From that point on, an ever increasing number and variety of powerful, Flash-enabled devices will be arriving which we hope will provide a great landscape of choice," Lynch wrote.

Now that both companies have weighed in - all blog style - who do you side with?

Read the source material for yourself (Apple | Adobe) and let us know in the comments. Several of you posted yesterday that you thought Steve Jobs was right to snub Flash.

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Filed under: Adobe • Apple


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About this blog

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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