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TWA Moonliner atop an office building in Kansas City


A replica of the TWA Moonliner II -- centerpiece of the TWA Moonliner at Disneyland's Tomorrowland from 1955-1962 -- sits atop the old TWA headquarters in Kansas City, MO, at 1795 West Baltimore Ave. This is an important fact that no one brought to my attention in a timely fashion when I was in KC on the Pirate Cinema tour, for which I blame all of you.

Google Maps (Thanks, Dan!)

Google shutting down Google Reader: where should we go next?

Google has announced the imminent shutdown of Google Reader, effective July 1. I use Reader every day, often as the back-end for other RSS reader apps, like the excellent Newsrob for Android, and it's the core of how I blog and stay informed -- over the past several years, I've gradually shifted over from bookmarked tab-groups to feeds -- I used to have hundreds of the former, now it's more like a hundred, and my feeds have ballooned into the thousands.

Various forums have vigorous discussions of Reader readers should do next. Reddit, Hacker News and Lifehacker all give high marks to Newsblur, where I've had a paid account for quite some time. I tried Newsblur a couple years back, and liked it at first blush, but at the time found it too slow and not well enough integrated into Android for my taste. Apparently, both of those issues have improved a lot since those days, though at the moment the whole site appears to be slow due to the enormous attention it's received since the Reader shutdown notice.

What do you use for RSS?

Official Google Reader Blog: Powering Down Google Reader

Dr. Google proves himself somewhat useful

Googling what ails you sounds like a good and empowering idea — until you run into barren fields of Yahoo Answers, swamps of misinformation peddled by charlatans, and orchards of seemingly useful sites that yield only the bitter fruit of tiny bits of information you have already read 5000 times already. But, it turns out that Dr. Google can actually be good for something. At The New York Times, John Markoff reports on a study that found Google search data could be used to discover and track previously unreported side-effects of common medications. Maggie

RIAA you suck at SEO

The RIAA says Google doesn't list the sites it likes highly enough on search result pages. Masnick on TechDirt nails 'em to the wall: "For everyone else in the world, if they're not satisfied with how the sites they favor rank in Google, they learn a little something about search engine optimization. But, noooooooo, not the RIAA. They think that it is a requirement that Google be tailored to them directly." Cory

Google Glass demo video

This promotional video apparently demonstrates the Google Glass experience. The video itself reminds me of one of Hollywood's cliche friends-having-fun-day-out montage, only this one doesn't end with a pillow fight. Probably because it might damage the Google Glass.

Account hijackers stymied

Google reports that account hijacking is down 99.7% in the last two years. Rob

Google adds North Korean death-camps to maps


Google Maps has added notorious, secretive North Korean prison camps to its maps of the country. The data is gleaned from user contributions, including a first-person account of Shin Dong-Hyuk, who escaped from Camp 14, a death camp where he was born and raised.

Called Map Maker, Google’s information for the country’s layout comes primarily from visitors and from former citizens who defected, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

The mapping idea stemmed in part from a 28-year-old South Korean who tried to use Google maps on a trip to Laos four years ago, but found it unhelpful, at best. He ultimately helped devise the Google map application for North Korea.

“I thought if I could fill in information on North Korea, it might be useful in an emergency or tragedy if Google can provide a map for aid agencies,” the South Korean told the Wall Street Journal.

Google maps North Korea, including prison camps [Cheryl K. Chumley/Washington Times] (via /.)

When it comes to cloud data, Google tells the Feds to come back with a warrant


Google's latest transparency report reveals that the company has refused to turn over stored email to law enforcement unless a warrant is presented. The ancient Electronic Communications Privacy Act assumes that any file stored on a server for more than six months is abandoned and can be requested without a warrant, and Congress has refused to modernize this law for the age of Gmail and cloud storage (law enforcement agencies love the fact that most of your life can be fetched without having to show cause to a judge).

Google has refused to comply with warrantless requests for its users' stored cloud data, and instead demands that law enforcement officers get a warrant.

Google demands probable-cause, court-issued warrants to divulge the contents of Gmail and other cloud-stored documents to authorities in the United States — a startling revelation Wednesday that runs counter to federal law that does not always demand warrants.

The development surfaced as Google publicly announced that more than two-thirds of the user data Google forwards to government agencies across the United States is handed over without a probable-cause warrant.

A Google spokesman told Wired that the media giant demands that government agencies — from the locals to the feds — get a probable-cause warrant for content on its e-mail, Google Drive cloud storage and other platforms — despite the Electronic Communications Privacy Act allowing the government to access such customer data without a warrant if it’s stored on Google’s servers for more than 180 days.

“Google requires an ECPA search warrant for contents of Gmail and other services based on the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, which prevents unreasonable search and seizure,” Chris Gaither, a Google spokesman, said.

I can't stress how exciting a development this is. Google has historically reserved the right to give docs to law enforcement without a warrant in its terms of service. Indeed, a group of authors asked the court to block the Google Books Settlement unless Google promised not to hand over your reading habits without a warrant. Google refused to do so. It would be wonderful to see Google enshrine "Come back with a warrant" in its terms of service, making it a promise and not just a habit.

Google Tells Cops to Get Warrants for User E-Mail, Cloud Data [Wired/David Kravets]

Positive externalities thrive online

My latest Guardian column is about positive externalities, the value that bystanders get from the stuff you're already doing:

That's the crux of this irrational fear of positive externalities: "If something I do has value, I deserve a cut." It's one thing to say that someone who hires you to do a job, or purchases your product, should pay you money. But positive externalities are the waste-product of something we were already going to do. They're things that you have thrown away, that you have thrown off, that you have generated in the process of enjoying yourself and living your life.

The mania to internalise your positive externalities is the essence of cutting off your nose to spite your face. I walk down the street whistling a jaunty tune because I'm in a good mood — but stop as soon as I see someone smiling and enjoying the music. I keep my porchlight on to read by on a warm night, but if I catch you using the light to read your map, I switch it off, because those are my photons — I paid for 'em!

Worse still: the infectious idea of internalising externalities turns its victims into grasping, would-be rentiers. You translate a document because you need it in two languages. I come along and use those translations to teach a computer something about context. You tell me I owe you a slice of all the revenue my software generates. That's just crazy. It's like saying that someone who figures out how to recycle the rubbish you set out at the kerb should give you a piece of their earnings. Harvesting positive externalities involves collecting billions of minute shreds of residual value – snippets of discarded string –and balling them up into something big and useful.

If every shred needs to be accounted for and paid for, then the harvest won't happen. Paying for every link you make, or every link you count, or every document you analyse is a losing game. Forget payment: the process of figuring out who to pay and how much is owed would totally swamp the expected return from whatever it is you're planning on making out of all those unloved scraps.

Why trying to charge for everything will kill online creativity

Social media turns into boring old media

Warren Ellis, always a shrewd observer of online media, supposes that we've reached peak social media, the point at which exciting new communications forms ossify into dull media titans:

Twitter alters its terms of access to its information, thereby harming the services that built themselves on that information. Which was stupid, because Twitter gets fewer and fewer material benefits from allowing people to use its water. And why would you build a service that relies on a private company’s assets anyway? Facebook changes its terms of access regularly. It’s broken its own Pages system and steadily grows more invasive and desperate. Instagram, now owned by Facebook, just went through its first major change in terms of service. Which went as badly as anyone who’s interacted with Facebook would expect. As Twitter disconnected itself from sharing services like IFTTT, so Instagram disconnected itself from Twitter. Flickr’s experiencing what will probably be a brief renaissance due to having finally built a decent iOS app, but its owners, Yahoo!, are expert in stealing defeat from the jaws of victory. Tumblr seems to me to be spiking in popularity, which coincides neatly with their hiring an advertising sales director away from Groupon, a company described by Techcrunch last year as basically loansharking by any other name.

This may be the end of the cycle that began with Friendster and Livejournal. Not the end of social media, by any means, obviously. But it feels like this is the point at where the current systems seize up for a bit. Perhaps not even in ways that most people will notice. But social media seems now to be clearly calcifying into Big Media, with Big Media problems like cable-style carriage disputes. Frame the Twitter-Instagram spat in terms of Virginmedia not being able to carry Sky Atlantic in the UK, say (I know there are many more US examples).

His closing remark is "I wonder if anyone’s been thinking twice about giving up their personal websites." Good question.

The Social Web: End Of The First Cycle

Google's daily Transparency Report data-dump includes all DMCA requests

Fred von Lohmann, Legal Director at Google, has published a blog-post explaining the company's new practice of publishing data and reports on the number of takedown requests they get. It's all about helping policy makers understand whether the censorship provisions in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act are doing their job:

Starting today, anyone interested in studying the data can download all the data shown for copyright removals in the Transparency Report. The data will be updated every day.

We are also providing information about how often we remove search results that link to allegedly infringing material. Specifically, we are disclosing how many URLs we removed for each request and specified website, the overall removal rate for each request and the specific URLs we did not act on. Between December 2011 and November 2012, we removed 97.5% of all URLs specified in copyright removal requests.

As policymakers evaluate how effective copyright laws are, they need to consider the collateral impact copyright regulation has on the flow of information online. When we launched the copyright removals feature, we received more than 250,000 requests per week. That number has increased tenfold in just six months to more than 2.5 million requests per week today. While we’re now receiving and processing more requests more quickly than ever (on average, within approximately six hours), we still do our best to catch errors or abuse so we don’t mistakenly disable access to non-infringing material.

More data about copyright removals in Transparency Report (via Copyfight)

Finally, Google Maps for iPhone again

TO13 3 1Google Maps is now available again for iPhone. I'll be home soon. (via Google's Official Blog)

Google’s driver-less cars and robot morality

In the New Yorker, an essay by Gary Marcus on the ethical and legal implications of Google's driver-less cars which argues that these automated vehicles "usher in the era in which it will no longer be optional for machines to have ethical systems."

Marcus writes,

Your car is speeding along a bridge at fifty miles per hour when errant school bus carrying forty innocent children crosses its path. Should your car swerve, possibly risking the life of its owner (you), in order to save the children, or keep going, putting all forty kids at risk? If the decision must be made in milliseconds, the computer will have to make the call.

Google's cheaper Chromebook: enough of a computer

The cheaper Chromebooks that Google introduced last month don’t deserve credit for being a cheap way to read e-mail and surf the web: any smartphone meets that specification. But the $249 Samsung model I’ve been testing for the past two weeks also plausibly replaces a low-end laptop.

Read the rest

Google's Hurricane Sandy crisis map

Here's an excellent resource to link and re-tweet: a crisis/storm-tracking map from Google, with shelter information, and updated data on Sandy's expected course.