John C. Abell

Egypt’s Internet gambit misfires. Surprised?

Jan 31, 2011 16:42 UTC


As China prepared to quell the Tienanmen Square protests in 1989, the government of Deng Xiaoping made a crucial tactical decision: It ordered western networks to shut down their satellite trucks, making sure the violent end to the revolution would not be televised.

As Egypt tried to contain nationwide protests this past weekend, the government of President Hosni Mubarak at first did nothing to stanch the endless real-time flow of street-level video showing angry, violent confrontations.

Instead, they turned off the Internet.

China’s ruthless approach handed the regime an enduring propaganda victory, of course. Even though hundreds of peaceful protesters were mercilessly mowed down when the military swept through Tienanmen Square, the most iconic image of the crackdown is downright peaceful: A tank commander refusing to challenge a single, unarmed civilian who would not yield.

On the other hand, for all the democratizing power the internet provides, Egypt’s decision to shut the internet door shortly after midnight Friday (along with much wireless service), while technically effective, was entirely ineffectual. And as for TV: It was only on Sunday that Cairo moved to silence Al Jazeera, which had been broadcasting non-stop, in what one hopes is not prelude to a Tienanmen Solution.

It all gets down to critical mass. Twitter and Facebook are peerless accelerants, but when you can look out of your window to see where the protesting is going on (to paraphrase veteran NBC correspondent Richard Engle) the power of the internet is dwarfed by pure people power.

The next Google is — Google?

Jan 24, 2011 16:34 UTC

google_timeIt’s a sort of Silicon Valley parlor game played by the tech press and hungry, aspiring would-be entrepreneurs: Who will be the next Google? With a shift at the top of the search giant which restores a founder to the corner office, the next Google may just be Google.

Co-founder Larry Page, now all grown up, is set to return to official corporate leadership after a decade with Eric Schmidt in that role. With college buddy co-founder Sergey Brin, the three formed a power-sharing triumvirate that saw the company go public, dominate search and achieve a market cap of nearly $200 billion.

Page inherits a company that is still larger than life, but which seems a tad more mortal after a few ideas that didn’t quite pan out — like Wave — and a worrisome inability to catch a wave in social media, dominated by Facebook. In one of those internet stories that seems to speak volumes, Facebook went live to little notice just as Google was going public to become the biggest IPO in the tech boom’s second phase.

Gird yourself for the Verizon iPhone stampede — not

Jan 17, 2011 15:36 UTC

Screen shot 2011-01-17 at 12.15.45 AM

Considering the frustration AT&T’s iPhone customers have vented since nearly the first day the wireless company became the exclusive carrier for Apple’s revolutionary smartphone, you might think that we’ll be seeing lines outside Verizon stores, saturation media coverage and another appearance from Greg “First In Line Guy” Packer.

But for the seemingly sizable demographic that is iPhone lover and AT&T hater, long-suffering souls for whom having an alternative to AT&T seemed an impossible dream, February 10 may not be so much “Independence Day” as, “Yeah, Well, Maybe Next Year” Day. If that.

There are mundane reasons why we won’t see the sort of stampede suggested by a ChangeWave poll, to which 26 percent of iPhone customers said they plan to switch to Verizon, and 16 percent of all AT&T subscribers say they’ll switch because of the Verizon iPhone. Let’s start with contracts that impose onerous early termination fees and the family plans which multiply their cost. Nothing disperses an angry virtual mob like what it costs to stay in one.

CES hangover: Deliver us from ‘evil’ tech

Jan 10, 2011 16:57 UTC

Let us all now give thanks to the passage of this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, the tech bazaar which debuts the bizarre, the pointless and sometimes the amazing. We can finally catch our breath as tech news goes into a January lull — along with retail shopping, print ad sales and feature films with any Oscar potential.

It’s a good time to gird for the soon-to-resume bombardment of solutions in search of problems, answers to unasked questions and devices that make it easier for us to do things it never would have occurred to us to do at all. And to question some business that hasn’t been attended to either.

Tablets (about 80!), smartphones and non-existent 4G networks took center stage at CES, feeding our wont to extend the digital living room as far as we care to range. But there’s still a war going on for analog living room supremacy. Attempts to convince us to e-mail and surf on our TVs are thankfully over but that doesn’t mean the emperor isn’t being pitched a digitally-enhanced makeover that has no clothes.

For newspapers, the future is now

Jan 3, 2011 15:45 UTC

Let’s just put it this way: This wasn’t exactly the decade of the newspaper.

Newspapers got a pretty good thrashing by the internet in the first 10 years of the millennium — call it karma for shrugging off web site startups and doing little to replace their cash cow, classified ads. The headline, though, is that after years of implosion and pontifications about the future of media, we’ll finally get some real answers in 2011. The future is now.

The fun begins this month, when the New York Times takes a second, and more sophisticated stab at a paywall on its web site, and when News Corp. is expected to launch its iPad-only “Daily” on a $100 million rocket.

Five backward-compatible forecasts for 2011

Dec 27, 2010 14:18 UTC

Innovation doesn’t know what day it is. It’s also true that we never seem to predict the most interesting things which actually do happen. Oh sure — years of speculation preceded Apple’s iPad announcement last January. But did anyone actually figure on the iPad?

With trepidation, then, I’ve committed to a forecast at years’ end, a moment of no moment for either tech or media. Sadly, there is no fiscal year option in the pontification game that could postpone this to a more sensible time in Q2.

So, in the spirit of tradition, I offer my First Annual Backward Compatible Tech Forecast.

An open letter to CEOs: Why so Twitter averse?

Dec 20, 2010 10:53 UTC

Screen shot 2010-12-15 at 3.39.19 PM

Dear CEO of [Your Name Here]: Why aren’t you on Twitter?

In retrospect, I have come to understand your relative lack of interest in blogging, when blogging was the thing to do. It’s time consuming. It’s easy to overthink (and underthink). A blog requires readers to find you, and return — embarrassing if they don’t. You always have to feed the beast (darn you, pesky time stamps).

All this changed with the advent of Twitter, a haiku melting pot where you don’t have to be more pithy or verbose than you might be when making polite conversation at a cocktail party that nobody minds you crashed, and the right name or title or station virtually guarantees a large following (even if nobody is actually paying attention to anything you say).

But you don’t seem to be participating in micro-blogging any more than you participated in blogging. Oh sure, lots of companies hire social media marketing experts — you probably signed off on that without even realizing it.

WikiPiques: Let’s all just calm down

Dec 10, 2010 13:54 UTC

John Abell is New York bureau chief for Wired.com. The opinions expressed are his own.

The pariah du jour to the United States and the countries who do business with it is one Julian Assange, a soft-spoken Australian whose motives may be obscure but whose life work is pretty clear. The founder of WikiLeaks, Assange is the whistleblower’s whistleblower, enabling the disclosure of anything in digital form — which, in the age of the Internet, is everything.

The drama to marginalize/silence/demonize Assange is playing out like a (bad) Hollywood script, but the stakes — to commerce, to free speech, to the freedom of the Internet — are quite real. It’s a good time to take a deep breath.