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February 20 2014

December 30 2013

Study: 1/3 of Women in U.S. Use Pinterest

Pinterest's popularity in the United States has surged in the last year, particularly among women, according to a new study.

The social bookmarking service is now used by more than one-fifth (21%) of American adults, up from 15% a year earlier, according to a survey of U.S. social networking habits from Pew Research. That puts Pinterest slightly ahead of Twitter and Instagram, though all three are well behind Facebook.

Pew's data suggests that Pinterest has experienced strong growth among women in particular. One-third of U.S. women now use Pinterest, up from 25% as reported in a similar study in February. Just 8% of men use Pinterest, though that's up from 5% previously Read more...

More about Social Networks, Pinterest, Business, Pew Research, and Travel Leisure

October 23 2013

Twitter Dethrones Facebook as Teens' Favorite Social Network for Shopping

Twitter beat out Facebook in the battle for teenagers' preferred social networks for online shopping. In a recent survey of teens' retail behavior, participants were asked about their favorite networks, and 26% responded that it was Twitter.

Facebook and Instagram each captured the hearts of 23% of survey respondents. Clearly, Instagram's rising popularity among teens took a toll on both Twitter and Facebook's popularity; Facebook saw a 10% decrease in the survey since six months ago and Twitter saw a 4% decrease

"The data point is likely unsurprising as the trend in our survey has been moving toward Twitter over the past couple of years," said analysts Gene Munster and Douglas Clinton in a note to clients. Read more...

More about Facebook, Twitter, Social Networks, Social Media, and Teens

September 13 2013

What Employers Look For In Your Online Profiles

Active job-hunters know that social networking sites can be some of the best tools for finding employment. These platforms showcase companies and their products, connecting job seekers to potential employment at businesses big and small by spreading awareness

Recruiters are now looking at social network profiles too, using a candidate's profile to assess how good of an employee they'd be.

LinkedIn, the largest social network for professionals, is the most popular destination for employers seeking new hires, but don't overlook the influence of Facebook and Twitter Read more...

More about Job Search, Social Networks, Features, Infographics, and Business

August 11 2013

Sick of Social Networks? Here's Your Salvation


Sometimes keeping on top of every major social network can feel like a full-time job. But let's face it — it's not easy to tear yourself away from the social web, even if you truly want to.

In this comic, Krishna Sadasivam of PC Weenies shows us that even the anti-social networking folks aren't ready to really quit the Internet

Comic illustration by Krishna Sadasivam, PC Weenies. Published with permission; all rights reserved.

BONUS: 14 Dos and Don'ts to Being a Good Facebook Friend

More about Comic, Comics, Social Networks, Humor, and Pc Weenies

June 20 2013

9 Social Networks for Organized Families

Ahh, summertime. Blissful relaxation, fun in the sun and backyard BBQs

But don't forget that Timmy's baseball tournament is coming up and Dad will be out of town on his golfing trip this weekend. And good luck planning that BBQ around visiting day at summer camp

Don't give up on family bonding time this summer. Before you cancel that trip to Wally World, try coordinating using one of these social networks

1. Facebook for Families

Looking for a more private Facebook alternative for your family? There are tons of options for private social networks. These three stand out as the simplest alternatives for families, while still providing the familiar social media experience Read more...

More about Social Networks, Social Media, Features, Parents, and Apps Software

June 17 2013

8 Social Networks for Fitness Freaks

Motivation plays an essential role in exercising. Without it, working out just becomes...working.

If you don't have a partner to push you through your lifting routines — "One more set, bro, you got this!" — consider these eight social networks instead. They're designed to keep track of your workouts, count your calories and, above all, push you to go above and beyond your wellness goals. Happiness guaranteed.

GIF courtesy of Photobucket

Are there any good ones that we forgot to include? Tell us which websites help you stay in shape Read more...

More about Social Networks, Lists, Photos, Features, and Mobile Apps

June 13 2013

8 Bizarre Social Networks You Won't Believe Exist

The Internet is home to hundreds of different social networks. Aside from the big-wigs, plenty cater to a more niche variety of interests

We browsed the web and compiled some of the strangest, most hobby-specific ones we could find. Some are geared toward a specific audience, while others are just plain — well, weird. Take a look at our collection below.

Are there any bizarre ones we missed? Share your coolest finds with us in the comments.

1. Date My Pet

Big date tonight? That's great. Until the two of you get back to your apartment ... and all your catsBe cool, you tell yourself, just pray he/she isn't allergic Read more...

More about Social Networks, Lists, Social Media, Features, and Wtf

August 29 2012

“Screensucking” Is Sapping American Productivity And Innovation

You can thank Mark Zuckerberg, Evan Williams and others for turning America’s legendary productivity into wasteful social media “screensucking.” While social media may be engaging, it does not always help us accomplish what really needs to get done. It’s time to refocus America’s software ingenuity on making productivity software as delightful to use as social networking.

Computers were once productivity boosters. Now they’ve morphed into social media touchpoints. This global trend - plus a dearth in computer innovation - is reining in productivity.

Americans spend about 1 billion hours each month on Facebook. And 140 million U.S. Twitter users devote 36 minutes a month to the service - totaling 84 million hours! The pervasive habit of being glued to LCD screens was aptly dubbed “screensucking” by Dr. Edward Hallowell in 2006.

Innovation Drives Productivity

Technology innovation became a substantial productivity driver during key periods in our country’s economic growth. Between 1973 and 1995, U.S. productivity grew about 1.5% per year. But between 1995 and 2000 productivity growth nearly doubled to 2.9% annually (PDF).


U.S. Productivity Trend (output per hour worked)

The New York Fed concluded in a December 2004 analysis that the sudden surge in worker productivity was fueled by “sectors of the economy that produce information technology (IT) or use IT equipment and software most intensively.”

So the dot.com boom markedly boosted productivity. Yet in the past four years productivity growth has fallen to a 2% annual rate. And while the recession and subsequent market doldrums are partially to blame for this decline, I believe that paying more attention to the development of entertaining “apps” has shunted innovation in software that could significantly boost our country’s productivity.

You’re A Drag On My Drop

Every day, office workers - you may be one of them - toil using technology meant to improve their efficiency. That is, until an email gets misdirected or a last-minute graph needs to be created and dropped into PowerPoint. Or until or a marketing list gets compiled in a spreadsheet and then exported as a .csv file so it can be laboriously imported into yet another tool in order to do whatever needs to be done.

.CSV files? In 2012? What hostile planet are we on?

Even Apple, a stalwart in mobile innovation, has spent a lot of time refining the faux “printed book” look of its address book program, yet its latest iteration, Contacts, is still not Facebook or Twitter-aware.

In 2004, I wrote an article for Fast Company titled “The Need for More Drag and Drop,” in which I expressed my wish that even the folks in IT should experience the joys of drag and drop. A casual search of Google shows that my dream remains unfulfilled.

Yet survey after survey shows that ease-of-use remains the paramount concern of computer users. In a study of 255 business intelligence tool users, ease-of-use was rated as more important than features or analytics, with 47% saying ease-of-use was “very important,” while 32% called it “essential.”

The Invoice Machine represents a new genre of easy-to-use Web services software that reinvent a difficult task, like the process of invoicing.

Fact is productivity software innovation, including Mac and PC software, is in a moribund state. And our economy is taking a direct hit as a result. We should be trailblazing exciting new software directions. Instead, we’re still chewing on leftovers from the ‘70s. Metaphors developed in another era, before the Internet and social media.

And this is why I believe software needs to be reinvented. As developed right now, it’s inefficient, cumbersome and not intuitive. Email, and in particular Customer Relations Management (CRM), need to enter the 21st century.

Here’s how it should work. Anyone, including Joe Sixpack CEO, should be able to push one button to send an email to the top 20% of customers without having to invoke the voodoo magic of the IT department. Creating a promotion should be as simple as graphically connecting a line between a database and word processor icons, and filling out a properties form. Yes, that simple.

Apple’s address book should intelligently sort contacts by social network, and allow you to seamlessly share subgroups with other programs without requiring a .csv degree in engineering. Next-generation software should anticipate user needs, so when you drag a name from a contacts list to your email program it should create an email. Drag it to your promo tool and it exports name and email address.

Thousand Points of UI Lights

To get there we need to pivot our development priorities toward software applications that will boost productivity. We need to create a thousand user interface (UI) design studios specializing in a new craft - total user experience (TUX).

There’s promise lurking over the horizon. HTML5 will make it easy to add drag and drop to Web-based services. And I’m encouraged by companies that broke through in data visualization (Mint), simplicity (Simple), or have made heretofore difficult tasks, like customer invoicing, much easier (The Invoice Machine).

But we need a bigger push toward new ways of doing things. You can help. Here’s a link to my Social Revolution ideation engine, where your ideas will be collected and ranked. I would like to hear your thoughts and opinions on what makes for better software and have other visitors like, or unlike, them.

It’s time to become productive again, and have fun doing it.


Guest author and public speaker Michael Tchong is the founder of Social Revolution, a San Francisco-based change agency, which seeks to transform the future through innovation and reinvention. Michael also founded four other startups, including MacWEEK and ICONOCAST, and authored Social Engagement Marketing, an easy-to-navigate guide to the world of social media. You can read his earlier ReadWriteWeb posts here.

Lead image courtesy of Shutterstock.

August 16 2012

LinkedIn Riding High As Job Marketplace

While Facebook struggles to feed ads to 900 million fickle members enjoying its free services, LinkedIn is working on selling paid services to its 175 million professional participants. Its fastest growing products, accounting for more than half of the company’s revenue, turn the serious social network into a giant job mart.

“[LinkedIn] is the best tool to come out so far for recruiters,” said Glenn Newman, a headhunter for Berkeley, Calif.-based Management Recruiters, an affiliate of global recruiting firm MRINetwork.

The Place For Headhunters

Fully 90% of recruiters use LinkedIn to seek candidates, according to a recent survey by MRINetwork. By comparison, the same study found that only 15% of recruiters use Facebook and 11% check out Twitter.

Financial Success

Revenue from LinkedIn’s hiring services rose 107% year over year in the second quarter, to $122 million, or 53% of the site’s total revenue. LinkedIn’s success has put pressure on traditional online job sites, like Monster Worldwide.

Impact on Job Sites

In the second quarter, Monster’s profit fell by more than half, mostly due to the weak job market in the U.S. and Europe. But in a recent interview with Dow Jones Newswires, Monster chief executive Salvatore Iannuzzi acknowledged that LinkedIn is likely hurting his business - especially at the high end of the job market where positions pay more than $80,000 a year.

Monster doesn’t provide much help for recruiters trying to fill executive positions. That’s because most people using the service are unemployed, and the most desirable executive candidates usually have jobs.

“Sometimes you find a diamond in the rough, but the candidates recruiters are looking for are those that are working, that are really good at what they do, that are happy and are sitting at their job doing what they do,” Newman said. “Not people who are out of work and have their resume posted somewhere.”

Why Recruiters Like LinkedIn

Recruiters turn to LinkedIn for leads on people they may be able to convince to jump to a competitor. But while the site is a good place to start, the search seldom ends there.

“It’s the lazy recruiter that uses LinkedIn as their bible,” Newman said. Recruiters often take the information on LinkedIn and use it in conjunction with their company’s database of potential candidates.

LinkedIn can also be helpful in finding people for specialized positions, he said. For example, Newman is looking for a western regional sales manager for a tea company. LinkedIn might avail me in accessing some names and companies that I wasn’t aware of."

More Than Just Jobs

LinkedIn’s focus on professionals is driving more than just its hiring services. Advertisers spent $63 million on the site in the second quarter, 64% more than a year ago. Revenue from people signing up for paid subscriptions rose 82%, to $43 million.

In the first half of the year, LinkedIn reported a 94% increase in overall revenue, far outpacing the growth of tech giants Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Google, according to figures compiled by Statista. LinkedIn topped Statista’s

LinkedIn’s revenue growth has also gotten a high five from investors. Its stock has more than doubled since its $45-a-share debut in 2011, while Facebook’s has been cut almost in half since its May initial public offering.


Which isn’t to say LinkedIn doesn’t face challenges. Herman Leung of Susquehanna Financial Group estimates the company is trading at 102 times 2013 estimated earnings, which is far higher than other Internet companies. How long LinkedIn can sustain that ratio remains to be seen.

But for now, investors don’t seem to worry, as LinkedIn’s revenue streams show no signs of slowing.


Lead image courtesy of Shutterstock.

33 Ways to Get Someone Online to Dump Your Boyfriend, Fiance or Spouse

Breaking up is hard to do. If you do it yourself. 


The crying, the cliches, the platitudes - no matter how you cut it, there's no right answer how to breakup. But when it's over, it's over, and whether you're ready to admit it or not, the longer you wait, the longer you're delaying the inevitable.

Bottom line, the hardest part is letting the other person know how you feel. Usually that means inviting them out to a nice dinner and dropping the bomb in front of a crowded room of strangers. But if public spectacles aren't your cup of tea, a handful of global online services can do it for you. Think of it like your own personal button man in the love mafia. 

In China, that country's version of Ebay, Taobao, has 26 breakup agents, who charge about $30 a piece to tell jilted lovers that it's over via phone call or in person announcement. Apparently, one of the agents was inspired to get into the business after watching the aptly titled South Korean romance "Sad Movie."

Here in the United States, sites are a little less personal, but just as plentiful. iBreakUp.Net lets your write a letter and then sends an email of that message to breakup. And if you're feeling remorseful, there is an option for a makeup message (if you're the impulsive type, this could be a good choice for you.

The self described "a**holes"of iDUMP4U offer three services, including a grisly divorce breakup and engagement breakup, which they perform via phone.

Rather email than call? BreakUpEmail.com does just that. Erase Ur X takes it a step further. The $0.99 cent iPhone app lets you create and send Dear John style emails, photos and video messages your soon-to-be ex, and then deletes their number from your phone.

Need more? Can't stop obsessing or checking on your ex online? Then there's BlockYourEx.com which lets you type in the name of your ex and block them from Facebook, Twitter, Google searches and more. 

Should you move on or stay strong? That is the question, and Swedish underwear brand Bjorn Borg created a whole marketing campaign around that very question. If you wanted to break up, Bjorn Borg printed underwear with your customized message and sent it to your soon to be ex. Genius. 

The Swedes are very thorough, and have come up with a very simple test -- scientific really. Watch below. If your partner annoys you in any way, well...you know...


If you said yes, click below: 


 Keyboard break up image via Shutterstock.

August 15 2012

August 14 2012

Understanding App.net: It's Microblogging As a Service

App.net has so far raised nearly $800,000 in membership fees with the promise that it will be a non-commercial, user and developer-friendly version of Twitter. It's off to a good start, with early adopters enthusiastically kicking the tires of App.net's alpha service and (perhaps more importantly) its API. But there is still a lot of confusion about what App.net is exactly. The key is not to view App.net as a Twitter clone, but as a service like Dropbox or Evernote.

That description of App.net as a service is based on something Dalton Caldwell told me, when I asked him why App.net isn't open source. Caldwell, who is CEO of App.net parent company Mixed Media Labs, responded that App.net is a "services company," just like Dropbox.

What Twitter Could Have Been (Disclaimer: We're Not Twitter)

The confusion about what App.net is was brought on by Caldwell himself. The inspiration for App.net came from a blog post he wrote at the beginning of July. In it, he lambasted Twitter for being too focused on advertising and not focused enough on users. App.net launched with the goal of becoming "what Twitter could have been" (the title of Caldwell's post). That's how App.net raised $800,000 and counting.

But App.net is not a serious threat to Twitter. Twitter is too big and established as a microblogging service. Just look at the usage of Twitter by Usain Bolt and millions of others during the Olympics. The purpose of App.net isn't to displace Twitter, it's to become "a new infrastructure for social web applications" - as entrepreneur/developer Orian Marx described it.

The current alpha service, which does resemble a basic version of Twitter, is just one of potentially hundreds of applications that will use the App.net infrastructure. We're already seeing third party applications built on this platform, such as a mobile-optimized site called shrtmsg and a Chrome browser extension called Succynct.

The Open Source Question

Which brings us back to the open source question. I asked Caldwell about open source because of a comment that Christian Scholz, a developer from Germany, left on ReadWriteWeb last night:

"I don't get why I should back a project which then is not open source. What's the point in that? What if they don't take off and the thing dies. Not even the source might be available then? What if they choose to change their business model? As long as it's not open source and distributed it's the same lock in to me."

That's a legitimate concern for developers, especially if they are going to build a commercial application on App.net's platform. It's also a valid concern for users, because they'll be paying to use the service.

Dalton Caldwell's response was that developers and users alike should treat App.net as a service similar to Dropbox, the online file storage company. People pay from $9.99 per month to have more than the basic storage plan on Dropbox. App.net, Caldwell is saying, is a service just like that. The risks of developing on or using App.net are the same as developing on or using Dropbox - if it fails, then it's game over. Although Caldwell is also hedging his bets - "to be clear we are *not* saying that we will not open source things, we are just trying to not over-promise at this point in time."

Why App.net Is a Service

Dave Winer, one of the inventors of RSS, suggests that an alternative to App.net would be "a microblogging server that's a simple install on EC2 or Rackspace or any other easy cloud-based server." In this approach, you're not relying on one company (Mixed Media Labs) to serve all of your needs. Winer's alternative is a decentralized approach, which spreads the risk.

But ultimately, App.net has picked a business model that suits this era of the Web. Increasingly, your content and digital life is online. Specialist "services companies" have emerged to take care of particular online needs - Dropbox for file storage, Evernote for notes, GitHub for code hosting, iTunes Match for music sync, and so on. Yes it is more of a risk, because these are centralized services that could eventually fail. On the other hand, these companies are specialists and their reputations rely on being the best at what they do. It's no different to buying a car from Volkswagen because you trust that brand.

So what is App.net? It's a self-described "social feed" service - a.k.a. a microblogging service. It's unclear at this point if this is a service many consumers will actually want. App.net is more likely to find success as an infrastructure service for third party developers who need microblogging functionality in their apps. But who knows, perhaps consumers will see the value in an ad-free premium microblogging service.

Whatever happens, App.net is a fascinating company to watch. It reminds me a lot of RSS circa 2003 and Twitter in its very early days.

August 13 2012

Backers & Hackers Start Playing With App.net

Over the weekend, budding Twitter competitor App.net reached its funding goal of $500,000. Already the service has an alpha website and an API, allowing backers and hackers alike to play with it. As to be expected, the early users are geeky - and mostly male. It's fun watching a nascent service find its legs. In particular how third party developers are experimenting with the API, which has been available for less than a week. Here's a look at what App.net is currently, along with some early third party apps.

App.net is a short messaging service like Twitter. The key differences are: a) it has a 256 character limit instead of 140, b) there won't be any ads on it, and c) users can control their own data (for example export it).

App.net exists because its founders believe that Twitter has become too focused on advertisers, instead of the users and developers which are at the heart of any social service.

Here's what App.net looks like in its present, very early, incarnation:

App.net stream

App.net profile

The directory of third party devs and apps, on GitHub, is beginning to fill out with web services, mobile apps and browser extensions. Here are just a few of the early third party apps, which give a taste of things to come:

An early statistics service, at appnetstats.com, created by @clint.

shrtmsg, a mobile-optimized site developed by @matthew.

A search engine created by @nanek.

We're all excited to see what App.net will turn into. Some of us from ReadWriteWeb are playing in the sandbox: yours truly Richard MacManus @ricmac; Jon Mitchell @ablaze (user #18, he proudly notes); Dan Frommer @fromedome.

Or perhaps, rather than us nerds, you'd prefer to follow Stephen Fry, a celebrity Twitter user who - just like the rest of us - is curious to see if App.net will take off.

August 07 2012

9 Ways to Follow the Curiosity Mars Rover Online

Will wonders never cease? NASA’s Curiosity landing was a social-media bonanza. The space agency had hits on several major social networks.

NASA has surprised two groups of people in getting the Curiosity rover safely on Martian soil. The first set were the skeptics who said the agency couldn't pull it off, and the second are skeptics of government-run social-media campaigns.

In both efforts, NASA has gone all in, with tactics and strategies that a lot, and maybe most, people doubted would succeed.

And yet, as Monday’s early morning landing of an SUV-sized robot proved, NASA at its best needs no help publicizing itself. It has even earned praise from veteran journalist Jeffrey Jarvis and has been viewed as a contrast to NBC’s contentious Olympics online strategy.

New dispatches from Mars are trickling out as the rover sits still while NASA completes status checks of the robot. Among them is spectacular video of the last two-and-half-minutes of the landing.

Will Curiosity determine if Mars ever supported life, or help map out a manned mission to Mars? It's too soon to say, but the answer will most likely debut on NASA social media. Here's how the Curiosity mission continues to play out online.


Like previous rover missions, NASA shared news of the mission live through multiple Twitter accounts, the most notable being @NASA, @NASAJPL (NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory), and @MarsCuriosity. @MarsCuriosity followed NASA’s four-year-old cheeky practice of tweeting in the first person as a rover, a tactic that amassed 400,000 followers in the 48 hours leading up to Curiosity's landing.

Celebrity astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson even got in the act, tweeting questions to Curiosity, to which the rover quipped back equally witty responses. It was this kind of playful social promotion that won the ordinarily very buttoned-down space agency a Shorty Award in 2009 for its Twitter campaign promoting the previous Phoenix rover mission to Mars.  

If you can only follow one of NASA’s social media profiles, ReadWriteWeb recommends @MarsCuriosity.  

Facebook, Google+

NASA, of course, has a Facebook page, liked more than 1 million times, and so does Curiosity. Information posted there is also posted on Google+ as well as on the Twitter accounts. Jason Townsend, NASA’s deputy social media manager, said NASA will experiment with Google+ hangouts, too.  


The space agency uses Flickr primarily to tweet official photos of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory crew and esteemed guests like Bill Nye "the Science Guy" or White House Science and Technology Advisor John Holdren.


The lab's YouTube channel,  JPLNews, has over 300 videos - tutorials, simulations, interviews and mission footage, including "Curiosity's Descent."  NASA's primary YouTube channel, NASA TV, houses another 2,000 or so videos. 


Along with a stream available on the JPL site and via Xbox Live, NASA hosts at least nine channels on the free service Ustream.

ReadWriteWeb recommends NASA’s HDTV Ustream channel, as it offers the best video quality.

Bonus Interactivity  

Eyes in the Sky” was the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s interactive computer simulation that followed Curiosity’s descent in real time. That sim also lets you check out other planets. And the lab also has several other interactive features

Even more interactive than “Eyes” is NASA’s free “Mars Rover Landing” game, on Microsoft’s Xbox 360 Kinect.

August 06 2012

Here's Why People Are Backing App.net

With seven days to go, App.net - the ad-free Twitter-like service that lets users control their own data - is 36% of the way to its funding goal. This weekend it opened the first basic, browser-based version of the member-funded messaging service for its backers to try out. ReadWriteWeb asked App.net’s early adopters what moved them to back the project and what they hope to see it become if it reaches its $500,000 funding goal.

App.net Treats Users As Customers, Not Products

With Developers Funding the Service, App.net Has Technical Advantages


App.net Is Better For the Long-Term Health of the Web Than Ad-Supported Networks Like Twitter and Facebook

The funding campaign at join.app.net is open until Monday, August 13 at 11:59 p.m. Pacific time.

August 02 2012

Senator Leahy's Anti-Privacy Gift to Netflix

Senator Patrick Leahy is offering a new amendment that would allow Facebook users to automatically share the titles of movies they rent through Netflix. His proposal would weaken a decades-old bill that keeps video rental record private. Guess what? The Vermont Democrat also wrote the old privacy bill, and he seemed to think it was smart public policy as late as the start of this year. Why the flip-flop? It may not be so mysterious in light of Congress' conflicting priorities.

The old Video Privacy Protection Act may have reflected Congress' instinct to protect itself as much as the public. It was 1987, and Washington was consumed with debate over U.S. Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork’s thinking on a Constitutional right to privacy. Bork’s hand-written records from his local Washington, DC, video store were leaked to Michael Dolan, who published a fairly goofy piece in the Washington City Paper on them. “The Bork Tapes,” as the ensuing kerfuffle was called, was in many ways a small-town affair, but the case set Washington on fire. A panicked Congress set out in the special way that it has to solve its own problems.

“If we’re going to tell people, especially people who want to be in any form of public life,” said Leahy 24 years ago this week, “well, if you do, we are going to go all the way back and find out what you checked out at your public library, what you took out on videos or what you watch at night on television programs, then we are in a sorry state.”

The issue wasn’t what Bork had popped into his VCR. Recapping the incident at a hearing this past January, Senator Al Franken described the judge’s predilection for “mysteries and caper films.” It was that no one from Joe Average to high-ranking public officials seemed to be safe from snoops. The Judiciary Committee was split on Bork, but it was “unanimous in its outrage,” the Minnesota Democrat recalled, over the revelation of Bork’s rental records. “The point was that the movies we choose to watch are our business and not anyone else’s,” said Franken.

The problem is that, two dozen years after the Bork Tapes, the movies we chose to watch are exactly someone else’s business. Data on our personal habits drive the digital economy, from Facebook to Google to countless other social-enabled sites. Netflix wants its own targeted fix specifically so it can integrate with Facebook. Never mind the argument made by some that the Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA) doesn’t apply to streaming video or that Netflix could satisfy the law by giving users a "play-and-share" option. That ambiguity, Netflix’s general counsel has said, creates “a drag on social video innovation that is not present in any other medium.” User accounts for music or books stores didn't exist in pre-iTunes era, but in 2012 what sense does it make that I can tell my Facebook friends what’s on my Spotify or Hulu or Social Reader playlist but can’t easily share what movies that I watched this weekend?

In December, the U.S. House of Representative agreed. The way things stand now, video tape providers can disclose rental records only when the customer gives written disclosure, which must happen each time they’re sought. But under H.R. 2471, consent can be given online and ahead of time, and is considered binding until the user says stop.

“Durable sharing,” as advocates have called it, would be a boon for Netflix. For one thing, it increases the possibility of targeted ads like the ones Spotify displays, which are tailored to the information Facebook knows about the user. For another, there’s simple word of mouth. Netflix is betting on its streaming business, and Facebook is a high-profile venue for promoting its wares, including in places like Latin America and Europe where it is hoping to grow its business.

To opponents, moves to modernize VPPA put privacy at risk. There’s nothing in the bill, for one thing, that limits Netflix to sharing my watching habits with Facebook—or to any other social network, for that matter. For another, our viewing histories might reveal more about us than we’d like others to know. It might be fine for the world to know you just rented The Godfather, Franken said at the hearing. Less comfortable might be sharing the fact that checked out Yoga for Health, Depression, and Gastrointestinal Problems. “Why else,” testified William McGeveren, an associate professor at the University of  Minnesota Law School, “did a newspaper reporter think Judge Bork’s rental history might be interesting in the first place?”

But there’s a bigger critique with this bit of lawmaking. It's that Congress is modernizing the country’s video privacy laws in one direction only: Netflix’s. Legislators are not otherwise coping with the new digital economy by, say, clarifying that privacy protections written for the video tape era apply to modern video streaming. And they’re not redefining the personal account information covered by VPPA to cover things like IP addresses.

In fact, some have argued that VPPA’s protections should be expanded, not reduced. Let’s go the other way and cover listening and reading habits, too, McGeveren argued, like California did in October with its Amazon-targeting Reader Privacy Act.

Not long ago, Patrick Leahy seemed to agree with that way of thinking. He opened that January hearing by telling a joke about how privacy comes naturally to Vermonters like him. It’s also perfectly natural, he explained, for companies like Netflix and Facebook to want to increase the flow of user data online. But that doesn’t make it right. Waving his hands in seeming consternation, Leahy raised the idea that “a one-time check off has the effect of an all-time surrender of privacy.”

So what changed in the last seven months? One possibility: Leahy is eager to get tech company support on the much-contested cybersecurity bill he and others have been working on for years. Netflix has been a high-profile backer of VPPA modernization, but there are others: Facebook, Google, Barry Diller’s IAC. The bill stands to benefit any tech company that wants to mine the streaming-plus-social space. Throwing an otherwise non-germane amendment into the cybersecurity mix might be a nice inducement to tech companies to help push the cybersecurity bill through the Senate.

But the video privacy bill is also a test case in Washington’s effort to grapple with digital privacy and consumer choice. Lawmakers, generally, can’t seem to bring themselves to imagine that people are willing to share as much of themselves on Facebook as we regularly demonstrate we’re perfectly willing to do. Congress might not understand social media, but it doesn’t want to kill it. It only wants to figure out the artful public policy that lets the digital economy flourish while upholding very high personal privacy standards. It's not ready to face the possibility that that might not be possible. So, instead, it tweaks laws, responding to its own needs here, responding to the needs of the increasingly vocal tech industry there.

An open question is what actual consumers in the digital age “like” when it comes to privacy. And that’s something that Congress and tech companies would, for now, rather not know.

August 01 2012

Top Career-Destroying Twitter Gaffes: Olympic Edition

The public glare never shines more brightly than when you have said something you wish you hadn’t. Add the wide reach and semi-permanence of Twitter and you’ve got a recipe for personal - and professional - disaster. That’s a lesson being learned the hard way right now at the Summer Olympics, but it’s hardly a new notion. Check out these five immortal Twitter career killers - Olympic and otherwise.

First, there’s the case of Greece’s triple jumper Paraskevi Papachristou. On July 22, Papachristou apparently thought it would be a good idea to tweet: “With so many Africans in Greece, the West Nile mosquitoes will be getting home food!!!” The Hellenic Olympic Committee, which has tried to establish strict limits on athletes' use of social media, banned her from participating in the games.

“We are not here just to get medals, but to promote the Olympic ideals, to show our character,” Isidoros Kouvelos, head of the Greek Olympic mission, said in an interview with Skai TV explaining the decision.

Then there’s Swiss soccer player Michel Morganella, who was upset that his team lost to South Korea 2-1 on Sunday. He tweeted: “Je les tous Defonce Coréens, allez vous tous Bruler, bande de trisos,” which translates in English to: “I want to beat up all South Koreans! Bunch of mentally handicapped retards!”

The Swiss Olympic Committee sent Morganella home on Tuesday and others are calling for him to be banned.

“Michel Morganella has discriminated against, insulted and violated the dignity of the South Korean football team as well as the South Korean people,” head of the Swiss mission Gian Gilli said.

With the Olympics, you don’t even have to be an athlete to land in hot water on Twitter. Independent reporter Guy Adams was temporarily suspended from Twitter for alledgedly violating Twitter’s privacy regulations.

And reports out of the United Kingdom indicate that a 17-year-old boy has been arrested due to Twitter comments he made to British diver Tom Daley after Daley and teammate Pete Waterfield finished fourth in the 10-meter synchronized diving event. Daley retweeted a message from the boy that read “You let your dad down i hope you know that.” Daley’s father passed away from brain cancer in 2011. Under Communications Act 2003 s.127, British citizens can be charged with a crime for making malicious or threatening online statements.

But these Olympian gaffes are only the latest in an ongoing string of otherwise savvy and well-meaning people torpedoing their careers in less than 140 characters. Remember these career-ending blasts?

Weinergate. Perhaps the best-known Twitter #Fail of all time, the New York Democratic congressman tried to dodge, parry, and -um - thrust after lewd pictures of him showed up on his Twitter account. But all the evasion was for naught: Weiner would later admit that the photos were posted by him and resigned from Congress.

Chrysler Disses Detroit. When New Media Strategies took over the @ChryslerAutos Twitter account, one of its reps apparently tweeted something on the client’s account instead of their personal account. So when “I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the #motorcity and yet no one here knows how to fcking drive” showed up on Twitter, the automaker was not amused. The New Media staffer wasn’t either, as he was eventually fired.

Fired on Hiring Day. A brand-new Cisco employee known on Twitter as @theconnor couldn’t contain a bit of personal honesty on Twitter on the very day Cisco offered her a job: “Cisco just offered me a job! Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work.” The now-infamous Tweeter soon found an open response from Tim Lavad, a Channel Partner Associate at Cisco, which read: “Who is the hiring manager. I’m sure they would love to know that you will hate the work. We here at Cisco are versed in the web.” theconnor, forever labelled the “Cisco Fatty” (though she is neither) endured months of parodies and jokes for months - and yes, the job offer was recinded.

Telling the truth as you see it may seem to be a virtue, but with the Twitterverse always watching, you can be sure someone will be judging what you say. You can all too easily torpedo your career on the skids in the time it takes to type 140 chracters.


"You are fired" image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Anthony Weiner image courtesy of  lev radin / Shutterstock.

Want Your Startup to Succeed? Stay Home

A new study shows that startups do better when they’re launched in the place where their founders were born or have lived for a long time. Makes sense, but the reasons why are surprisingly complex and modern.

Our first guess was that the key to startup success is the founder’s ability to go to their parents’ house to cadge a hot meal. And that’s not entirely wrong. But there’s more to it than that.

The study, by Professor Olav Sorenson of the Yale School of Management and Michael Dahl of Aalborg University in Copenhagen, Denmark, is titled “Home Sweet Home: Entrepreneurs’ Location Choices and the Performance of Their Ventures.” It looked at data from 13,166 Danish startups founded between 1995 to 2004 and discovered that companies launched by founders with an average tenure of 6.4 years in a region had a 9% lower failure rate and took in $8,172 more in annual profit than companies launched by newcomers. Each additional year of tenure reduced the failure rate by nearly 2% and increased profits by $1,362.

Location = Industry Experience

“The effect we found is substantial,” Sorenson told ReadWriteWeb. “It’s similar in size to the value of having prior industry experience.” Although his study was conducted in Denmark, he thinks the data would look similar in other parts of the globe.

Sorenson surmises that startup founders do better amid familiar surroundings because social networks are vital when you’re starting a business. “You need investors and early employees to trust you and those are people you already know,” he says.

Prevailing wisdom has it that the path to startup success is shorter and smoother if it leads through Silicon Valley. But Sorenson says this is not necessarily the case. Remember: for every Mark Zuckerberg who moves to the Valley to build Facebook, there are thousands of itinerant founders who go there and faceplant.

Follow the Money

His caveat: if some investor throws a stack of funding at you, go wherever the VC asks you to go. “If you find a VC who will fund your business if you move, you should probably move,” Sorenson said. “Because VCs don’t just bring money to the table, they connect you to other execs and early employees and suppliers and so forth. So that mitigates some of the disadvantages of moving to a new place.”

But what if you live in, say, Idaho and you have a great idea for a new company? Shouldn’t you load up the Corolla and set the GPS for Palo Alto? Sorenson said “no”. Unless you have VC waving cash at you from Sand Hill Road, you’re better off staying home in Coeur d' Alene.

“Your chances of success will be better, your expected profitability will be higher. And for the same amount of money you will probably get higher quality people onboard in Idaho.”

And you won’t have to pay $2,000 a month for a one-bedroom apartment in Cupertino.


Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

July 27 2012

The Twitter Rebellion: App.net Offers a Hacker's Alternative

Twitter is looking into making TV shows. That direction would have been unimaginable four years ago. But the Flock has made its nest. Twitter is a media goose that wants to lay a golden egg. And entrepreneur Dalton Caldwell doesn’t believe the company can squeeze it out.

Caldwell is building App.net, which he calls a “real-time social feed without the ads.” He wants a Twitter-like service that acts as infrastructure, the “dial tone for the real-time Web,” not an advertising vehicle with a captive, chattering audience.

ReadWriteWeb caught up with Caldwell in his office on Wednesday, just after Zynga, maker of those addictive games on Facebook and elsewhere, announced its miserable quarterly earnings. “I’ve seen this movie before,” Caldwell said of the ad-based social network landscape. Twitter and Facebook have grown large enough that they're able to make money from socially targeted advertising, but neither has found the formula that will generate enough cash to build a lasting business. “At the end of the day, a crap ad impression is a crap ad impression,” he says.

Caldwell tried the brute-force ad approach himself at imeem and picplz. It didn’t work. He couldn’t mine enough money from these kinds of social media. Facebook and Twitter have ascended on the promise that they can. Caldwell doesn’t buy it.

Twitter’s Chilling Effects

Twitter hasn't made its strategy entirely clear, but recent actions and statements strongly suggest that the company intends to close off its tinkerer's paradise, open for all to invent diverse experiences out of the service's core capabilities, and funnel users into the official Twitter apps. These apps are optimized for the newest features, which deliver rich media experiences designed to hold users' attention while Twitter shows them ads.

The warning signs are everywhere. Twitter has been beating the drum about cutting off the third-party apps responsible for roughly a quarter of its content. It’s doing so in the name of consistency - ostensibly to standardize the Twitter experience.

“You need to be able to see expanded Tweets,” Twitter Product Manager Michael Sippey wrote in June, referring to a rich-media feature that only Twitter's official apps currently display.

And Twitter's axe has begun to fall on third-party developers. In May, Kara Swisher at AllThingsD reported that Flipboard CEO Mike McCue might leave Twitter’s board. Swisher’s sources explained that McCue has begun to feel “that the companies are on a product collision course.” Since Twitter’s latest moves are all about corralling users within Twitter’s walls, the conflict with Flipboard, which repackages material from a user's Twitter stream for personalized browsing, seems obvious.

In June, on the same day Twitter delivered its latest warning about closing off its ecosystem, LinkedIn announced in a mournful blog post that Twitter had cut off the ability for LinkedIn users to automatically publish their tweets as LinkedIn updates.

On Thursday, Instagram released an update in which the "find friends from Twitter" feature is broken. Instagram shows a warning message: “Twitter no longer allows its users to access this information in Instagram via the Twitter API.” Other, smaller services still have this access, but Instagram users are screwed.

Caldwell sees in these events the classic symptoms of an online media company failing to fly. “Media companies are starving,” Caldwell says, “and that’s why they do crazy things.”

Hot Dogs & Caviar

On his blog at daltoncaldwell.com - a must-follow if you’re interested in these issues - Caldwell framed the problem with an appropriately gross metaphor: hot dogs and caviar.

Here's the story that Twitter - and Facebook, too, for that matter - is selling: The social messaging company will create some powerful new “social ad unit” that will turn the “hot dog” ad impressions currently annoying people who are just trying to talk to each other into “caviar” that tastes delicious and is worth lots of money.

That sounds unlikely to Caldwell. But Zynga and Facebook have already committed themselves to this direction. Twitter is another matter, because it doesn’t need to go this way.

At the beginning, “Twitter was the most open, radical, insane thing ever,” Caldwell says. “It was almost like an art project.” It just put this simple service out there, and its users and developers defined the features that built it into a massive service.

But “the ad guys won,” as Caldwell wrote before launching his App.net adventure. Now Twitter wants consistency and control. It wants to be a media company that others “built into,” not “build off” of.

“It makes me angry when I see businesses that are built on controlling bits,” Caldwell says. “Twitter is either going to destroy themselves and sell to Google or turn hot dogs into caviar.”

Caldwell doesn’t want to lose Twitter the service, even if he loses Twitter the company. So he proposes App.net as a business first and foremost, a model that will sustain a Twitter-like service and serve the interests of users and developers - that is, if it can meet its $500,000 crowdfunding goal.

What Is App.net?

App.net will be a paid service. Its members will pay an annual fee to be regular users. That means App.net has to keep them happy. It won’t advertise to them. It will let them own and control all of their data, so their privacy won’t be compromised. And they can leave at any time.

Developers who want to build apps for the network also pay for access. That means App.net has to keep them happy, too. It plans to do so by allowing them to build apps, extensions and businesses of their own on top of App.net’s managed, centralized service. They can even host their own, decentralized versions and just hook in at the end.

The service doesn’t exist yet. If you go to join.app.net, you’ll get the pitch, and you can back the project Kickstarter-style. The member tier costs $50, which covers the first year of service, and you can reserve your user name when you back the project. For $100, you get access to the developer tools, so you can hack on the service. The funding goal is $500,000, and it ends at 11:59 p.m. Pacific on Monday, August 13. At press time, it’s still shy of $100,000.

If App.net doesn’t meet its crowdfunding goal, well, it was worth a try. The backers keep their money. 

But Caldwell is already talking to well known developers, both of client apps for users and for back-end feed technologies. He says they’re intrigued. If the campaign succeeds, the community will be pretty strong from the get-go.

Caldwell chose the $500,000 goal for its symbolic value, but it represents an important threshold of interest. 10,000 committed users would be enough to incubate the service by experimenting with features and social conventions, just like Twitter did at the beginning.

Reinventing the Stream

Twitter already demonstrated the underlying, world-changing idea: a real-time service for short, public messages where every user can contribute a feed to which anyone can subscribe. That’s vital. Twitter has thrived because people found the service useful, even necessary.

But eventually, Twitter the company had to figure out what business to be in. It decided on ad sales, squeezing money out of the attention paid by its users, which requires clamping down on the Twitter experience. Caldwell is far from alone in feeling disappointed by that decision.

There have been other attempts to build a Twitter-like service that works the way it “should.” Identi.ca is still up and running, but it's hardly a developer's playground. Without business reasons to build better experiences for the service, it will never grow up. Others don’t believe a centralized service can ever be a lasting solution. Dave Winer has offered a neat list of suggestions for how a decentralized messaging service can be achieved, though it has some technical drawbacks.

One obvious problem with a paid, centralized service like App.net is reach. Twitter is great precisely because anyone can be on it. A decentralized service built into the Web itself would expand the reach by allowing people to access it with any app they chose. As a paid service, App.net will be limited, and that kills off much of Twitter’s appeal.

But that’s what the developer ecosystem is for. If App.net can build a good home for developers, it can build the federation needed to reach the outside world. Caldwell's model is GitHub. It's based on a decentralized protocol that anyone can take advantage of, but there's a premium, centralized, managed service that people use for the convenience and peace of mind.

The questions here are less about capabilities and more about motivations. All kinds of technologies can be used to build a new Twitter. But where is the organization that will actually do it?

By starting with a business plan, App.net has put the incentives in place. The product, if it gets funded, may not satisfy everyone. But that’s better than a perfect idea that never gets made.

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