MediaFile

from Paul Smalera:

All your Tumblr are belong to Them

Forget Instagram’s billion-dollar payday. Forget IPOs, past and future, from Facebook, Groupon, LinkedIn and the like. And ignore, please, the online ramblings of attention-hungry venture capitalists and narcissistic Silicon Valley journalists with the off-putting habit of making their inside-baseball sound like the World Series. Their stories, to paraphrase Shakespeare, are tales told by idiots, full of sound and fury, but signifying very little about the impact of technology on most of our lives. (Sure, some of their tales are about great fortunes, but those are only for a select few; to summon the Oracle of Omaha rather than the Bard of Avon, only a fool ever equated price with value.) Their one-in-a-million windfalls are just flashes in the pan. Or, actually, they are solitary data points, meaningless when devoid of context.

That context is here. It’s come, in part, because of the cunningly simple social and curatorial tools that media companies like Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook and Pinterest give away to their users. But making sense of our social world is only possible with the the tools and technology behind what we call Big Data. The massive information collections spawned by our digital world are too big to address directly, so smart scientists have used fast computers to carve the data into real knowledge. This is how Big Data is already changing the way the world works.

But Big Data is young; though there are hundreds of accessible data sets already, there are still many more chaotic stores of information its tools can tame. Take, for example, social media: Yesterday, social media API company Gnip announced that it is providing customers with all of Tumblr’s data, what in techspeak is called the firehose. What Gnip and competitors like DataSift are providing to customers are Social Big Data firehoses that can be perfectly filtered into gently babbling brooks lined with digital gold nuggets. When the tech media wonder out loud how social companies will ever make a buck – sifting the gold out of their user-generated content is a huge piece of the puzzle.

At Gnip, Tumblr joins Twitter, WordPress, Disqus and the Chinese microblogging service Sina Weibo as the latest tree in a forest of Social Big Data accessible via API. A well-written API can transform a jumble of numbers into a perfectly organized multiplication table – on the order of millions or even billions of complex data pieces. (See this recent Economist visualization of the data record of a single tweet for more context.)

The data pieces are valuable, but not solely because they help advertisers sell more widgets: In an email, Gnip Chief Operating Officer Chris Moody explained one of the coolest uses of data his company has enabled may have actually helped firefighters do their job better: “During the 4 Mile Canyon Fire in Boulder in 2010, [Gnip customer] VisionLink was able to provide fire crews and managers a realtime view into what was happening on the ground by layering geo-tagged Tweets and Flickr images onto a Google map of the area.”

Unmetric gets funding to help brands gauge their social media clout

This guy probably has social media clout. How many 'likes' will he get this November?

What would you get if social media ego measurement tool Klout had a baby with comScore, the Web traffic measurement firm? It would  probably be Unmetric, a new “social media benchmark” tool that helps brands measure their social media engagement.

If you’re a big brand-owner all those Facebook Likes and Twitter Retweets by your customers and ‘fans’ are fine but what do they really mean in terms of engagement and customer sentiment? More importantly, how do they stack up against your rivals? These are some of the questions Unmetric hopes to help answer after raising $3.2 million in Series A financing led by Nexus Venture Partners.

Tech’s forbidden touch

“You can look, but you can’t touch” – great advice in most museums, and every strip club. But it makes no sense when it comes to our computers. We are getting very touchy-feely with our smartphones and tablets, and this is how it should be. Even BlackBerry and Amazon’s Kindle, which launched with hardware keyboards to differentiate it from the competition, have abandoned them.

It’s no accident. We touch instinctively. We are born touching everything, and only learn where the boundaries are later in life. Our handheld devices are reconnecting us with the primary technique we used to learn about the world we had just entered. The metaphor extends. Now it’s the mobile computers that we use to learn about the world around us, and we control them with our fingers, by touching a screen. How do you place a price on that?

Many are trying, thanks to software patents. Patents have become a bane to the very essence of innovation. They are arsenals, ostensibly meant to defend but more often used to offend. Yahoo’s lawsuit against Facebook over 10 patents further proves that weaponizing software patents is the last gasp of a dying business.

Why can’t Facebook and Twitter say the A-word?

What’s the most uncool word in social media?

Advertising.

Just look at the pains the top social networking companies take to avoid uttering the dreaded term.

Twitter started the trend when it rolled out its advertising products in 2010, which it dubbed “promoted Tweets.” Chief Executive Dick Costolo (who was COO at the time) insisted that the marketing pitches coming to Twitter were not ads at all – they were simply standard Twitter messages that companies could pay to promote.

Now Facebook, which derived 85 percent of its revenue from advertising last year, has developed a similar aversion to the A word.

Tello tries to make customer service gripes more effective

From firing off angry tweets to writing nasty Yelp reviews, there are many ways to vent about bad customer service in the age of social media.

But while it feels good to blow off steam, it doesn’t always produce results for companies or customers.

Tello, a year-old mobile app that lets consumers rate the employees who served them at restaurants, shops and other businesses, is looking to make all that online griping more productive for both consumers and businesses.

from Paul Smalera:

What real Internet censorship looks like

Lately Internet users in the U.S. have been worried about censorship, copyright legalities and data privacy. Between Twitter’s new censorship policy, the global protests over SOPA/PIPA and ACTA and the outrage over Apple’s iOS allowing apps like Path to access the address book without prior approval, these fears have certainly seemed warranted. But we should also remember that Internet users around the world face far more insidious limitations and intrusions on their Internet usage -- practices, in fact, that would horrify the average American.

Sadly, most of the rest of the world has come to accept censorship as a necessary evil. Although I recently argued that Twitter’s censorship policy at least had the benefit of transparency, it’s still an unfortunate cost of doing global business for a company born and bred with the freedoms of the United States, and founded by tech pioneers whose opportunities and creativity stem directly from our Constitution. Yet by the standards of dictatorial regimes, Internet users in countries like China, Syria and Iran should consider themselves lucky if Twitter’s relatively modest censorship program actually keeps those countries’ governments from shutting down the service. As we are seeing around the world, chances are, unfortunately, it won’t.

Consider the freedoms -- or lack thereof -- Internet users have in Iran. Since this past week, some 30 million Iranian users have been without Internet service thanks to that country’s blocking of the SSL protocol, right at the time of its parliamentary elections. SSL is what turns “http” -- the basic way we access the Web -- into “https”, which Gmail, your bank, your credit card company and thousands of other services use to secure data. SSL provides data encryption so that only each end point -- your browser and the Web server you’re logging into -- can decrypt and access the data contained therein.

Microsoft’s msnNOW targets hot news, gossip

Microsoft’s MSN portal, like Yahoo’s, is finding it tough to compete with Facebook and Twitter as people’s first port of call on the Internet.

The software giant is looking to grab back some buzz and appeal to younger users with a new service that delivers a snapshot at any minute of the day on news stories, people and topics that are most popular on the web.

The product, branded ‘msnNOW’, launches on Thursday at now.msn.com, and will be integrated into items on Microsft’s main MSN site.

from Paul Smalera:

The piracy of online privacy

Online privacy doesn’t exist. It was lost years ago. And not only was it taken, we’ve all already gotten used to it. Loss of privacy is a fundamental tradeoff at the very core of social networking. Our privacy has been taken in service of the social tools we so crave and suddenly cannot live without. If not for the piracy of privacy, Facebook wouldn’t exist. Nor would Twitter. Nor even would Gmail, Foursquare, Groupon, Zynga, etc.

And yet people keep fretting about losing what’s already gone. This week, like most others of the past decade, has brought fresh new outrages for privacy advocates. Google, which a few weeks ago changed its privacy policy to allow the company to share your personal data across as many as 60 of its products, was again castigated this week for the changes. Except this time, the shouts came in the form of a lawsuit. The Electronic Privacy Information Center sued the FTC to compel it to block Google’s changes, saying they violated a privacy agreement Google signed less than a year ago.

Elsewhere, social photography app Path was caught storing users’ entire iPhone address books on their servers and have issued a red-faced apology. (The lesser-known app Hipster committed the same sin and also offered a mea culpa.) And Facebook’s IPO has brought fresh concerns that Mark Zuckerberg will find creative new ways to leverage user data into ever more desirable revenue-generating products.

How ‘don’t be evil’ became ‘let’s all be evil’

It’s been nearly a decade since the tagline “don’t be evil” was attached to Google in a Wired magazine profile. Google, a little more than four years old, adopted the phrase as a code of conduct as it navigated through a growing list of hard questions, and as it increasingly shaped the Web itself. Since then, the term has been hurled back at its founders again and again — every time a saucy blogger or disgruntled user had a bone to pick with the company.

Google’s executives have long since stopped saying “don’t be evil” in public, and the company has been more willing to make bold moves that court controversy (as long as they lead to changes that will promote further growth). Case in point: Last month, Google altered its search results to favor pages from its Google+ social service over other social sites.

Facebook responded by designing a browser extension called “don’t be evil” that played up results from non-Google+ social sites, like Facebook and Twitter. It was an amusing potshot at Google — but for the wrong reasons. Facebook’s track record at focusing on its users’ needs and preferences is even worse than Google’s. Beyond the privacy snafus that flare up regularly, Facebook has designed its site not to make it easier for us to share content with our friends, but to weave corporate brands and ad campaigns into those friendships.

LinkedIn “alert” shows users still on edge about privacy

By Gerry Shih and Himank Sharma

Looks like social media users are getting twitchy about their online privacy rights.

Days after Google made known its decision to establish a common privacy policy across  its scores of products,  a chain-message of uncertain origin began circling on the Internet, claiming LinkedIn had quietly changed its own policy on the treatment of user data.

The chain message — which contained step-by-step instructions on how to opt out of this supposed new policy — took on a life of its own, ricocheting across Twitter and spawning numerous discussion and email threads. It suggested LinkedIn had given itself the right to use personal information and photos in ads — without notification .