Cloud-Computing Cautions

November 22, 2010

According to Mashable, experts argue that we’ll be working primarily with web and mobile cloud-based applications such as Google Docs or Facebook by 2020, boycotting the majority of desktop software. They argue:

The advantage of instant access to information regardless of device, operating system or location is a huge factor in the dominance of web apps over desktop apps. “The cloud” is accessible from work, from home, from any location with an Internet connection, and increasingly, from our ever-smarter mobile devices.

The term “cloud-computing” has become a vague, all-encompassing definition for the advantages of web 2.0. While it has its obvious advantages, like most technological systems it is important to be cautious. To arguments that we might one day be running soley off the cloud, there is still a long way to go to successfully run large applications on the cloud. While it may get there, there are privacy concerns that would need to be addressed to make it a possibility.

For now, cloud computing provides and excellent backup for files, and sharing. It has been already successful at making it possible to remove the portable USB storage device from daily life. For those of us who are constantly moving and already engrossed in the digital lifestyle, cloud computing in the sense of storage and accessibility means added benefits and ease of life to the everyday.

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Not even a day after Facebook’s release of its new messaging system that left most critics indifferent and only mildly curious, problems have negatively trended the debut. A bug in the Facebook system started disabling user accounts, primarily female, with claims that they were “inauthentic”. This trend was first reported just after midnight PST ironically enough on the other social media powerhouse, Twitter.

Reporters at Read Write Web were able to get this announcement from a Facebook spokesperson:

Earlier today, we discovered a bug in a system designed to detect and disable likely fake accounts. The bug, which was live for a short period of time, caused a very small percentage of Facebook accounts to be mistakenly disabled. Upon discovering the bug, we immediately worked to resolve it. It’s now been fixed, and we’re in the process of reactivating and notifying the people who were affected.

Individuals who had their account disabled reported these suspicious instructions:

Please upload a government-issued ID to this report and make sure that your full name, date of birth, and photo are clear. You should also black out any personal information that is not needed to verify your identity (e.g., social security number).

If you do not have access to a scanner, a digital image of your photo ID will be accepted as well. Rest assured that we will permanently delete your ID from our servers once we have used it to verify the authenticity of your account.”

With so many consecutive Facebook security scares, it is obvious that this bug, though resolved, still has more havoc to reap. After a beautiful introduction to the new messaging concept, a la “Cisco: The Human Network”, it is quite possible the backlash from this bug could cause enough harm to make people all the more hesitant to use the new mail feature. Though it is hard to fathom this being enough to get people to boycott Facebook, as nothing has been successful enough so far, there is certainty a trend towards insecurity and hard questions about how Facebook handles privacy, and how it will up the ante with the advent of @facebook.com. With Facebook already being the fourth largest phishing target, topped only by Paypal, Ebay, and HSBC, consecutively. Reporters at Mashable are keen that the new Facebook messaging will only increase Facebook as a target. They ask several poignant questions:

  • How will Facebook deal with spam messages that are sent from a user you call a friend? As we’ve seen in the past, it’s not difficult for rogue apps to take over your message account and send malware links or spam to people on your friends list.
  • What types of attachments can be sent and received via Facebook.com e-mail addresses? Will these attachments be scanned for malware before being delivered to your inbox?

This is only several of the questions that need to be asked, and will continued to be asked as the new Facebook messaging continues to launch. While the new messaging system could have a lot of potential for those who spend a significant portion of time on Facebook, for the rest we eagerly await the developments and the downfalls as they progress. It is reassuring to see people asking the right questions about Facebook and seeing it more as the for-profit billion-dollar machine that they are, and learn how to adapt properly without risking their information and privacy.

Photo from XKCD under Creative Commons license.

Navigating SEO Basics

November 2, 2010

SEO, or Search Engine Optimization is one of those tools necessary for anyone wanting to develop an extensive online personality, though it proves to be both a gift and a curse to beginners. While it is excellent for providing feedback on readership and response to content, it is easy to get lost in the numbers and overwhelmed by the process.

To understand SEO requires a more in depth understanding of how the internet functions, something that the general public has a habit of skimming over. Furthermore, simple, easy-to-use information on the functionality of the internet and search engines is few and far between. Search “SEO Basics” online and you’ll get plenty of hits, but most are lengthy, poorly formatted and difficult to read. Often they assume beginners understand the jargon, completely defeating the purpose of the term “basics”.

The best resource I can recommend wholeheartedly is SEOmoz’s Beginners Guide to SEO. It’s buried beneath pro-tools and paid services, but it is by far the most detailed, easy to understand, and engaging free resources on understanding how SEO works. Starting with the basic concepts behind search engines, it starts with a solid foundation of information before ever discussing the optimization. It mentions keywords in ways that make them easy to understand for the general user. Overall, it is successful in decoding the maze of information and recommendations that is SEO. For example, the first chapter discusses “crawling”:

Imagine the World Wide Web as a network of stops in a big city subway system. Each stop is its own unique document (usually a web page, but sometimes a PDF, JPG or other file). The search engines need a way to “crawl” the entire city and find all the stops along the way, so they use the best path available – links.

The tutorial also includes an interesting take on how people interact with search engines, broadening the general interpretation of why SEO is important. They touch on usability and experience in regards to the necessity of search engines. The graphics, graphs and other visual aids in the 10 chapters make it all the more engaging. Plus, you can download the tutorial as a PDF.

If you’re looking for an in-depth tutorial on beginner SEO and why it is important, take some time to read through (and/or download) this educational tool. You will be a better-informed web-user for it, regardless of skill level or interest.

Firesheep, a Firefox add-on released on Sunday is attempting to create awareness about current internet privacy issues by allowing the average internet user to abuse insecure networks. According to TechCrunch, Firesheep allows users to use any open Wi-Fi network to capture other users cookies to masquerade as the user when they access unsecured sites. Social networking has become the obvious target, with Facebook and Twitter being the top two. Among others are the popular Gowalla and Foursquare, Amazon.com, bit.ly, CNET, Evernote, Flickr, Github, Google, Windows Live, NY Times, tumblr, WordPress, and Yahoo.

Creator Eric Butler argues he created the plug-in as a way to promote awareness, according to his blog:

Websites have a responsibility to protect the people who depend on their services. They’ve been ignoring this responsibility for too long, and it’s time for everyone to demand a more secure web. My hope is that Firesheep will help the users win.

Unusually, the coverage and uproar about this development has been remarkably understated. The argument has been limited to those who already understand security controls, or the lack thereof, and are therefore unaffected. Social media coverage has been demur, though it has been rumored that Facebook blocked any links referencing Firesheep.

The lack of public interest, even fear about this add-on seems to establish we are either so desensitized that people are unenthusiastic, or that we’ve reached a point that we accept the current lack of privacy on the sites we visit. Neither are production options. Thanks to open accessibility to the code, anyone can modify the extension for other, possibly more sensitive sites such as student accounts or other email accounts. It’s not any more effective for people to be petrified to ever open up a laptop at a Starbucks again, but we still need to be cognizant of the dangers when we do. Awareness is not about having to boycott social media or completely ignore the privacy issues, it’s about what you perceive to be the value of your information. A comment in response to Eric Butler regarding Firesheep put it simply:

Whether you should lock something and how secure you make it isn’t a binary decision – it depends on the value of the thing you’re protecting and the likelihood of an attack.

For those who want to safeguard their information on unsecured networks for the time being, try the Force TLS 2.0 add-on for Firefox to prevent from unknowingly (or knowingly) stumbling upon unsecured sites, and adding additional security protocols on those unsecured sites.

Privacy and the Internet Photo via FlowingData

Evernote announced today that it has raised $20 million to expand features and ultimately boost the number of paying members for its product. According to Gigaom, Evernote has created 4.7 million users of the application in two and a half years, thanks to desktop applications and mobile devices, and has been adding 10,000 new customers a day over the last two months alone. As someone who only recently heard about Evernote, those numbers are overwhelming and curious. Gigaom places the success of Evernote in converting non-paying users such as myself into paying members on the freemium model, known to be successful with cloud-based services such as Dropbox.

Evernote isn’t a new application, nor is the concept of cloud-based note-taking. But Evernote has seamlessly integrated all of it’s uses with online, desktop, and mobile applications, and with the addition of the Trunk – a host of hardware and applications that easily integrate with Evernote make it much more successful than other similar software and applications. Lifehacker makes a good case for Evernote’s triumph over many other cloud-based note applications.

A universal capture application is only as good as its ability to catch information no matter where you are and what you’re doing. With support for accessing and adding notes from your cellphone, through any web browser, or through the desktop version, the most popular note-taking applicationEvernote is perhaps the closest option to a true universal capture tool available next to plain old pen and paper.

Between articles, reviews, and my own preliminary experimentation with Evernote, I’ve yet to be entirely convinced, but there are some key features that Evernote does better than most. what are the features that make Evernote

1.Evernote allows you to capture virtually anything, on any platform.

Evernote is the most fully integrated universal capture tool I’ve yet to come across. Too many are based on just one operating system, or web browser to be truly effective. For example, as effective and streamline as MobileMe is, despite claims that it does work with PC it ultimately is meant to work more efficiently with Mac, and only Apple mobile devices. Bookmarks work equally as well with Firefox as Safari, and equally for Windows and Mac (I’ve yet to see much about Linux). Similarly on the Mobile front, there is rave reviews for iPhone, Android and Windows Mobile.

2. Evernote supports both advanced tagging and advanced searching

One of the features I fell in love with immediately when I got my first Mac was Spotlight, and it is by far the most used feature on my computer to this day. Similarly, the advanced tagging feature of Del.ici.ous Bookmarks made me an easy convert. Evernote combines these two features by allowing users to effortlessly tag every note, clipping and picture they create or upload. In return, Evernote makes it incredibly simple to then search the tags you have created to find specific information.

3. Evernote optimizes your handwritten notes

Evernote’s ability to recognize text in images – i.e read my shoddy handwriting is an incredible tool for those of us who still take handwritten notes from time to time. I’ll often get crazy with an idea on a pad of paper, and dread transcribing it on the computer later. Not only will this do a good job of transcribing hand-writing, it also becomes another set of searchable tags to easily access later. This, in conjunction with tools like Livescribe make it a great multi-media note-taking tool for a variety of situations.

I’m not an easy convert, but Evernote definitely has proven to be a great introduction to universal capture for those who have yet to experience its functionality. For informationphiles like myself though, Evernote still runs the risk of becoming more of a mind-dump hub than an actual organization tool. I have high hopes for Evernote’s development and growth with this new funding.

Photo from Flickr user verbeedlingskr8 under Creative Commons license.

Making Money on Blogs

October 12, 2010

I’ve been reoccurring curious as to how so many of the bloggers I follow, even those of a less “professional” caliber make money. There is a misconception I found about the possible monetary gains of blogging that says either you make no money off of your blog, or you must sell your soul to the ad companies to make it worthwhile. While I’ve seen both, it would seem there are ways to make money off of your blog, with a little bit of work and dedication. This will begin a series of articles on steps to marketing your blog for profit. I’ll be testing some of the suggestions on a new blog project for university students coming soon.

To begin, what is very much stressed at the introduction of all the articles about blogging for profit is to understand your own goals. There are people who blog for profit (myself as one of them), but those articles are not the same as what I put on my own blog, though there is overlap in article content. What we are covering, however, is using your blog for profit, whether using an existing blog or creating a new one.

It is important to be realistic, if not almost cynical about this process for it to work. Though there are an amazing amount of ways to make profit on blogs, most of the suggestions won’t make enough to matter on their own, but combined they can come out to something. Could it come out to a hefty sum? It’s possible, but you are competing in a heck of a crowd. As the blurb on ProBlogger says:

Whether it be to earn a few extra dollars a week to feed their coffee habit, or making enough money to stop them having to get a part time job to get through college, or whether they’ve got it to a point where they are able to make a full time living from their blogging – there are tens of thousands of bloggers who make money blogging.

Darren Rouse’s article on the same site has a list of rules to wake up the dreaming blogger who thinks they’ll make a ton.

1. It takes a concerted long term effort

2. It takes luck

3. It takes a lot of work

4. Many don’t make much money blogging

5. It’s hard.

So after all that tough news, why try? It’s the key question that needs to be addressed before even starting to look at marketing, ads, selling links, and all the rest.  From the articles I read, it would seem that the majority of those who start blogging specifically to make profit, fail. It’s those who started making no money, but did it anyways because they loved the subject and were passionate about getting the information to the general public who have the drive and patience to actually make money off of this endeavor.

The blog I’ll be starting isn’t for profit, but I think it has a more realistic chance of getting a lot of people interested, and wanting to be connected. Will I continue if it doesn’t pay? Of course. But with all that I’ve learned and continue to learn, why not use this as an opportunity?

 

Perhaps the most important part of the previously discussed Local East Village project is the vastly understated Virtual Assignment Desk application that made its debut with the project. Made by students at New York University, it is essentially a WordPress plugin that enables the users with a seamless interface to interact in the process for picking, producing and shaping news journalism. Users of the Assignment Desk can point to stories they find particularly interesting or important for someone to cover, or can volunteer to cover the story themselves. Those who don’t want to write stories can vote for suggested stories.

This technology is still in constant development, but they’ve been updating to a new version quite consistently. The feedback forums are full of suggestions and bug fixes, all of which have been addressed in a timely manner. The description on the WordPress Plugin Directory says:

Assignment Desk hopes bring any community member into the story production process in a structured way. But it could also be used to manage a large staff of professional or semi-pro contributors and distribute assignments to them, while permitting them to suggest ideas, as well.

The larger implication of this interface is vastly underwhelmed in this statement, though it still holds that glimmer of possibility. While the LEV project may not last, Assignment Desk has vast potential to redesign how online journalism is currently presented.

I’m a sucker for independent documentaries on technology, and this is one I would love to see come to fruition. The Pirate Bay: Away From The Keyboard (commonly TPB AFK) is a documentary on the three minds behind the file-sharing website The Pirate Bay. This appears at a rather poignant time, starting one month before the Court of Appeals hearings start in Stockholm, Sweden for the 2009 convictions of 1 year in jail and over4 million dollars in ‘having assisted in making copyrighted content available’.

My original concern for this piece was that it would demonize the government’s role in copyright law, rather than focusing on this case being a possible opportunity to spark the debate of internet and copyright on a more universal level. From the footage clips I’ve seen so far, I’m confident that this very well could achieve that goal. Copyright is one of those touchy subjects rarely discussed thoroughly by non-academics or those who perhaps don’t agree with the current state of copyright affairs. Regardless of what your view is on copyright and pirated materials, this film with luck will be a launching pad for a discussion that has been waiting to take flight.

I would encourage anyone to look into this case, and this documentary further. I’ll be curious to see the outcome of the appeal, and the path this documentary leads.

For anyone interested in donating to the documentary, their Kickstarter information is below.

I often get in discussions with people who have a lot of trouble grasping the “point”, or usefulness of Twitter as a social media tool. I too struggled with the concept of Twitter for a long time, finding the format irritating and muddled, a hodgepodge of often useless information about the private daily details of extended acquaintances.

Paper.li allows you to de-clutter the basic Twitter feed by creating customized online newspapers of articles and media topics of your choosing that are posted on Twitter. The strategy is simple; log in with your Twitter information, and create a newspaper from either a Twitter user and those who follow them, a #Hashtag, or an @List. Within seconds paper.li creates a beautifully formatted online newspaper for you to read at your convenience. They are clean, airy and allow you to browse the topics and information before delving into them.

Gigaom had a great summary of the useful implication of Paper.li:

“In many ways, this is a natural extension of the idea that if the news is important “it will find me.” In other words, if something is important or interesting, it will eventually make its way to you through your social network, by being shared on Twitter or Facebook or some other service. This is an almost complete inversion of the way media traditionally works, where editors decide what is important, then publish it for readers. In that sense, it’s “demand” media rather than “supply” media, or pull rather than push.”

It is incredibly simple to share your creations by linking back to Twitter (or Facebook). You also can get notified via email when a new edition of your paper is created.

I particularly like how it ties topics together to give you a much fuller range of topics. For example, my hashtag newspaper #Media shown above gave me suggested other topics and articles that related to media, and gave me ideas on how to create my other 9 newspapers allotted at one time.

While this is not the first service like this, I have to agree that this is by far the most user-friendly and classy designs to date. Though it is still in alpha, I have yet to stumble upon any serious problems. Paper.li was developed by SmallRivers in Lausanne, Switzerland. They state on their site:

Any Twitter user is thus a kind of editor-in-chief, with the people they follow being trusted journalists. The sum of what is shared by them is thus a unique perspective of what is deemed of interest on the web on any given day. A bit like a newspaper.

This concept especially peaks my interest, addressing a broader issue of print vs. online media. I’m curious to follow the development of Paper.li and see if it leads to a larger concept able to address the divide between print news and social media. While it may not seem like much more than a productivity tool at the moment, I believe it offers some greater opportunities for creative solutions.