Assault on Net Neutrality: How Corporations Are Ready To Control The Internet

August 10, 2010

Above is a speech given in July by Senator Al Franken, in which he calls the Comcast-NBC deal the “first domino” in the collapse of internet freedom. Last week’s Google-Verizon deals seems to prove him absolutely right and then some.

This week Google and Verizon partnered up for a deal that has sparked an angry fervor across the web, and for good reason. In public statements, Google veiled the actual heart of the deal with calls for “strictly-regulated transparency” on all wired networks – the DSL or Cable you probably have at home. But if you read between the lines, you can see a very different plan being formed for wireless networks; the real future of the internet.

For those not versed in the debate over net neutrality; here’s a quick catch-up from techngadgets.com:

The debate pits network providers (like Verizon) against companies and individuals who use said networks to deliver products and services to customers (like Google). As web applications become more central in nearly every aspect of public and private life, the network providers have grown increasingly interested in recouping the massive amounts of money they spend on building and maintaining network infrastructure by charging those companies who use an inordinate amount of bandwidth (like Google) for privileged access and delivery to customers. The internet has never worked this way, so the idea is obviously upsetting to many people, who cite the web’s inherent openness as a key, if not the key detail that has allowed it to fundamentally change all of our lives in such a powerful way, and will allow it to continue to do so at the same breakneck pace in the future.

The plan establishes protection against tiered or paid services for any wireline networks, meaning all sites and domains get equal access to users. But the plan explicitly leaves wireless open for complete corporate control. If this plan is implemented, network providers will have the ability to give priority to certain services, such as their own internet tv services (this is mentioned especially in the release), while blocking other services which hog bandwidth. So depending on which corporation you’re getting your internet from, you might be allowed access to Netflix’s watch instantly service and blocked from accessing any other movie streaming service. Network providers would have the ability to block protocols like bittorrent entirely. It’s possible that you would be allowed access to any site you’d like, but only if you pay a certain premium. In the tiered-web model, different levels of payment would allow for different levels of access. Not to mention that the deal claims the ability to ban or remove any content deemed “unlawful”. This seems like a good thing, but it sets a precedent for censorship on the web. If a site like wikileaks is deemed “unlawful”, then there goes the last bastion of true government transparency.

Google justifies all this by emphasizing the freedoms they’d preserving for wireline networks; and deemphasizing the stranglehold they’re placing on all wireless networks. But anyone who’s considered buying a phone in the last 6 years knows that there is no question about it; wireless is the future of the web. Google’s plan even mentions encouraging governments to expand wireless access. This has been my personal tech dream for a long time, blanketed wireless access would be an incredibly important innovation for the internet. Think about the potential of every device you own having constant internet access. Now think about the potential implications of corporations having control over every aspect of the internet, which is constantly connected to every device you own.

Verizon’s reasoning for this is that current-generation wireless networks are fragile to maintain and expensive to build. But this is clearly an excuse for a deal which has been perfectly timed. As technology advances, wireless broadband access will become a much less precious commodity. Think about the amount of bandwidth you had when computers used regular phone lines to connect to the internet. That has changed incredibly quickly, and the nature of technology is that it advances exponentially. Don’t be surprised if soon after the Verizon-Google deal goes through, Verizon comes out with an even faster, more advanced wireless service, and suddenly Youtube looks like HBO and it’s given bandwidth priority over every other video streaming site. One day we will likely be swimming in more bandwidth than we know what to do with, but by that time, we’ll have forgotten what it means to have an internet which is a free, uncensored forum, where anyone can say anything, create anything, and share anything. In a world where so many elements of our lives are controlled experiences, the internet is one of the last places where we as users can freely have an unadulterated experience which isn’t watched by a corporate or governmental eye. The ball is already rolling, and it’s on course to crush net neutrality.

Al Franken Net Neutrality Petition

TechNGadgets Informative Article

FreePress Article

Google Public Policy Statement 1

Google Public Policy Statement 2

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The Future In Progress: 3D and Multi-Touch Combined

August 9, 2010

A new tabletop touchscreen on display at the SIGGRAPH computer graphics and animation conference shows off the ability to manipulate a 3d display with touch, while the display adjusts depending on the users point-of-view.

As of late, interest in both 3d and multi-touch display technologies has been steadily increasing, but it wasn’t until now that anyone has found a way to combine the two. Now Jean-Baptiste de la Rivière and colleagues from Immersion, a visual simulation company based in Bordeaux, France, have at last managed to combine the two technologies into an interactive 3D table-top display.

It seems counterintuitive to have a “touchable” 3d image, as anyone who’s reached out to touch the 3d movie in a movie theater would agree. To keep from breaking the 3d illusion, the table uses infrared sensors to detect a hand moving in, and adjusts the images so they seem to be floating within the table.

This technology is a far cry from the interactive holographs many might hope it to be, but it is certainly a step in the right direction. Through the use of technologies like these, we might finally be able to break out of the constraint of screen-size and make touch-screen phones and computers whose only screen is projected by the device.


Google Makes Changes – How Can You Stay at the Top of the Page?

July 2, 2010

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is an interesting industry. It also happens to be pretty large considering its actual purpose: exploiting imperfections in search engines. The people who work in SEO generally don’t like to look at it this way, but all they’re doing is cheating at a game. The goal of a search engine is to give users the most accurate, high-quality results possible. When someone with a floundering website which isn’t receiving the pageviews they’d like seeks out a specialized SEO company just for the sake of getting better search-engine results, they are saying they’d rather get traffic than improve the quality of their site. Well as of late, the companies that provide the short-term relief that is SEO are going nuts, and it’s all because the company they make all their profit off of, Google, has made a pretty major change to their search algorithm.

It’s not exactly being explained this way, but the change seems pretty precisely designed to eliminate the ability to exploit faults in the existing algorithm, exactly the service that SEO companies provide. What the algorithm actually does is improve the quality of results by promoting sites with unique content.

When it comes to Google’s pay-per-click advertising, the updated algorithm will continue to use the quality and cost-per-click (CPC) figure but will be slightly tweaked for that coveted top ad position. Instead of using the actual CPC, Google will use the advertiser’s maximum CPC in the overall equation. In addition, Google will be applying a stricter threshold on the quality component for the top ad positions. Actual CPC is determined, in part, by the bidding behavior of the advertisers below you. This means that your ad’s chance of being promoted to a top spot could be constrained by a factor you cannot influence. By considering your ad’s maximum CPC, a value you set, you will have more control over achieving top ad placement.

According to Google, “In addition to increasing control for advertisers, the improved formula increases the quality of our top ads for users. This is due to more high quality ads becoming eligible for top placement, thereby allowing our system to choose from a larger pool of high quality ads to show our users.”

Other side effects include that the long-tail and mid-tail keywords (phrases with 3 or more words) are passing through more stringent semantic and ranking filters (meaning the array of broad match keywords a page could potentially rank for) have been tightened up or reduced to increase relevance.

Here’s a pretty technical video explaining the actual changes:

So who will be impacted by this change? First, those who currently have top ad positions will see more competition in that area. Second, the people who have spent their time increasing keyword density on their site just for the sake of reaching a higher position on the search engine will have wasted their time.

Really, it’s not as if Google is making a targeted assault on SEO. They are just trying to increase the quality of results and keep up with the evolving state of the web. They’ve recently begun to integrate real-time social media content into their results, which means that it will be impossible to pay a search engine marketing company to be constantly tweaking your site. Regardless, this is only reinforcing the reality that tweaking the content of your site so it’s more kosher for Google results will never stand up to regularly adding genuine, well-written content to your site which people will want to link back to. The truth is that if people reach a site solely because of SEO but the site itself is not well designed, does not have decent content, or doesn’t look trustworthy, no one is going to buy from it or link to it.

So what are the steps to take in order to compensate for this change? Obviously it’s still important to focus on where your site will place on Google. But the way to go about this is not to think from the search engine’s end and build your site around what will be successful on a results page. Rather, the priority should be the quality of your site and its unique content, its accuracy to its message or what its selling. Google is simply trying to make the web a better place – where the best sites are also the most popular sites.

Contact Us or check out our website and we would be happy to help you figure out how you can make a truly good website tailored to a better internet.


Videochat and Social Media: The Missing Link

June 22, 2010

  

It’s time to take videochat seriously. Videochat a prime example of futuristic technology that would’ve seemed unimaginable 30 years ago but is currently available. You can have a decent-quality video phonecall with someone thousands of miles away in realtime – why hasn’t this technology taken off? The key lies in social media.

Now that Apple is taking on videochat with “Facetime” on iPhone 4 we can expect some major steps forward in the technology and hopefully in the popularity of this area of communication. Virtually all computers nowadays are equipped with webcams, but people are generally only using these to record video rather than to make live calls. Usually people blame this on the lack of quality and consistency in leading videochat programs like Skype, but in reality the quality is there, it’s just not being used. The problem with current videochat programs can be understood more deeply if you look at them in comparison with videochat’s predecessor: instant messaging.

The online plain of videochat currently looks almost exactly the way instant messaging used to. Sites like stickam and tinychat provide public video chatrooms as well as the ability to create private rooms, similar to the old aol chatrooms. Skype can be equated to AIM, the instant messaging program used ubiquitously for the past 6 or 7 years – at least by middle and high school students. But instant messaging has moved on; now almost all instant messaging dialogues take place over facebook chat, a huge change considering the past popularity of AIM. Skype has the same problem AIM did, it requires you to seek out your friends through their service and create a buddy list which is unique to Skype. Facebook Chat stole instant messaging away from AIM simply because every friend you could ever want to chat with is at your fingertips; you don’t have to find out their special username – you’re already friends with them. Considering the natural trend of tech it seems logical to say that we can expect videochatting to become easier, more reliable, and following these, more popular. The moment it’s possible to create a lightweight decent-quality videochat program within Facebook – expect Skype to disappear.


10 Internet Predictions for 2010

December 24, 2009

Taking a Look into the Future of the Web

1. Increased shift towards online sales. In 2000, when I asked the class I was teaching at FDU, how many of you have made an online purchase, only one person raised their hand. Now it’s the opposite. Expect double-digit gains in online Ecommerce again this year, while Brick & Mortar stores struggle to stay even.

2. Social Media starts making cents. That’s dollars and cents. Businesses and Brands of all sizes are catching on. This week we launched a ground-breaking Social Media site to connect Brands-to-Fans. Checkout Smile.ly and let us know what you think. The secret to making money online in 2010 will be getting your business connected to consumers through social media.

3. Search engines will interface with social media. Through integration with new real-time capabilities, search engines will be able to include real-time data (i.e. twitter posts). Awareness of your web-activity will allow search engines to include previously private data from social network friends. Search engines may eventually incorporate their own social element, using data from other web users to hone search results. This combination of search engines and social networking will help to filter results, leading to more refined searching. It may also mean more relevant and effective search engine advertising, with ads that incorporate friends’ viewpoints or personal preferences.

4. Sites with subscription fees. There is an increasing flow of professional video content online – whole seasons of TV shows, entire sports events, etc. Thus far studios and networks are only making money off advertising. However, as most video media migrates to the web, other revenue streams are going to be pursued. Video streaming speed and reliability will have to increase greatly. But considering how quickly it has improved over the past year, it seems likely that online streaming will reach near television quality over the next year. Most likely, there will be some sort of combination of advertising with subscription services. This will also only increase the irrelevance of broadcast television. Advertisers are shifting more and more of their dollars to the Internet, where results are trackable and more targeted. Expect more interfacing of computers with TV screens, or increased sales of cinema displays specifically for computers. It will take a long time for TV to lose its position as the top video media outlet, but the change toward the Internet is gaining pace.

5. Increase in people trying to find and save money online. Unemployment is expected to continue to rise and consumer confidence is lower than it has ever been. In 2010, increasing amounts of people will turn to the web to find a new source of cashflow. Members-only discount groups like Hautelook.com, Ruelala.com, and Gilt.com can expect to see a rise in traffic. Auction sites like ebay.com,swoopo.combigdeal.com, and gobid.com will also garner more interest as the amount of people looking to cut spending rises.

6. Land-line phones will be completely obsolete. The transition of video media from television to the Internet along with the increase in speed and reliability of online video streaming will only be another nail in the coffin for land-line phones in the wake of VoIP and services like Skype. Land-lines are already almost completely unnecessary due to cell-phones, and with quick, reliable video streaming, we should be able to have video-calling, and certainly voice-calling next year over the internet which is almost completely live and stutter-free. At that point, land-lines would be a completely obsolete technology. In my ideal world, we would have ubiquitous WIFI, and either super-portable computers such as the netbooks which are rapidly growing in popularity or just internet-capable phones, on which one could run reliable VoIP. If this were the case, the only fee one would have to pay for communication would be for bandwidth.

7. Broadening of Internet audience and in addition, broadening of high-speed internet access. Internet usage will continue to rise as more ways to access the Internet become available to consumers. The main forces behind this trend are devices like Internet-enabled TV’s, MP3 players, smartphones, and gaming consoles. Teenagers and adolescents are already Internet-active with a variety of devices, and this activity is only on the rise. The real change, however, will take place in adults age 55+, many of whom have already shown interest in consumer electronics, and are just beginning to discover social networking and other online media outlets. Hopefully this increase in the Internet’s user-base will also mean a redefinition of the US’s broadband standards. Currently the US is not even in the top-ten of broadband providing countries when it comes to household penetration and quality of connection. The FCC has been tasked with creating a National Broadband Plan by February 17, 2010, so we should see some changes taking place around then.

8. Proliferation of social gaming. This year, social games completely took over Facebook. 17 out of 20 of the top apps were social games as of November 23rd. Next year might be the year we can expect social gaming to expand out from their social platforms onto the general Internet. Social games which are independent from Facebook would use the social aspects of Facebook (interaction with friends within the gamespace) without the limitations Facebook places on email, instant messaging, etc. in the interest of maintaining privacy. Console gaming has also seen the beginnings of major changes brought about by high-speed Internet. Videogames, which are traditionally sold on discs in stores or online, are seeing an increase of digital sales. Services like Xbox Live and Direct2Drive allow users to download a wide variety of mainstream video games directly to the hard drives of their console or PC. Eventually we could expect most or all games to move to downloadable formats as increased connection speeds make this a viable possibility. This is just another example of storage devices such as CDs becoming obsolete for the transfer of software as the ability to simply download larger and larger files increases.

9. Increased utilization of crowdsourcing for various applications. What is crowdsourcing? Put simply, it’s when a company takes a project which would usually be handled by an employee or contractor and outsources it to the “Internet crowd” with an open call. Crowdsourcing represents a big step in the practical potential of the Internet. Wikipedia is probably the most mainstream example of crowdsourcing, where a huge source of information has been compiled, and its creation was really only possible because there were countless motivated contributors making it happen. Essentially, crowdsourcing is the first example of the collective brainpower of the masses of people connected through the Internet being utilized for practical purposes. As modes of communication and cooperation through the Internet only become more efficient; we can expect to see more companies realizing the potential of and taking advantage of crowdsourcing in more creative and interesting ways.
Some favorite Crowdsourcing Sites for you to checkout: Threadless, 99Designs, Namethis, YahooAnswers, MahaloAnswers, Kickstarter.

10. Further development of 3D technology and further penetration of 3d into traditional media. Avatar is being hailed as a huge step forward for 3D media. The truth is that Avatar is really just a milestone in the journey of 3D towards the mainstream. Movies have been playing around with 3D for years now, but mostly just as a gimmick. With Avatar, 3D is now an acceptable mainstream technology which we can expect to see more and more in media. Videogames have been working with different forms of human-interfacing, as we can see with the tremendous success of Nintendo’s Wii. 3D gaming is an old and in the past, generally unworkable concept. Perhaps with current or future technology, 3D gaming could be a reality. Judging by these developments, it doesn’t seem like an unreasonable assumption to say we could expect to see 3D on our computer screens by next year. If 3D becomes at all commonplace, expect to see it in online videos, simulations, and games. Basically all independent development happens on the web, so this is probably where we’d see the most creative innovation with 3D. If only we can get rid of the glasses! (maybe we can – check out this video)

Here’s a little online 3D doodling toy, the beginning of many?


Is Google Wave The Future Of The Social Internet?

July 7, 2009

If you haven’t heard of Google Wave, prepare to find out a lot more about it in the coming year. So what is it? 

Google Wave is a real-time communication platform. It combines aspects of email, instant messaging, wikis, web chat, social networking, and project management to build one elegant, in-browser communication client.

The Big Deal

Communication Consolidation: What’s amazing about Wave is that it takes every social media platform you’ve used separately since social media first came into public use and consolidates them in real-time. All your communications with individuals is tracked across every platform imaginable like AIM, email, twitter, and facebook and combined into a “wave”.

Really Real-Time: By real-time, they mean really real-time; you can see exactly what someone else is typing, character by character.

Communication History Playback: Waves are also continuous and essentially infinite. You will be able to look back through the entire history of your consolidated conversations with any individual since your initial implementation of Wave. You can also playback any part of a wave if you wish. You can see how this would be useful for business interactions.

Drag-and-Drop File Sharing: Wave also has drag-and-drop file sharing, attachments are a thing of the past.

Open For Development: Wave is completely open source and developers can build things akin to facebook apps, bots, and games within waves.

Embedability: In a way, this may be one of the most exciting features of Wave, when combined with its other functions. Waves can be embedded in any third party website. Right now, Google is working on implementing Wave with Youtube. This could mean that the dynamic and active waves could replace the static comments we’re used to. Overall, waves could have a huge effect as far as creating and invigorating communities.

What Does Wave Mean For Our Current Social Media Sites?

One might worry that this signals the end for communication platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Email, and IM, but I don’t think that’s the case. Google isn’t looking to supplant your traditional communication mediums. Instead, it’s looking to improve them by making them work together. The prospect of carrying a conversation across all those mediums in an organized thread is an exciting thing. If Wave is a success, it could be a look into the future of our internet communication, where all the pieces we’ve been working with are finally fit together. If you’re in business and want to stay on top of the next potential encompassing communication platform, then stay on top of the Wave. Here’s an article for reference and Google’s own Preview Video.


How Twitter Can Make History

June 25, 2009

Time for us to enjoy another video from the great intellectual resource that is TED. This time we’re watching Clay Shirky, a veritable “internet philosopher”, talk about the internet as a new form of media, and its place in our world. Or rather, our place in its world. I’m posting it here because it interestingly parallels the very first post I made on this blog.

Disclaimer: The video is about 17 minutes long. In the interest of appeasing our ever shrinking attention spans and the lack of free time in the work day, I’ll give you a quick summary. Read it with the knowledge that Mr. Shirky does a much better job presenting his points, and with the plan to watch the video later.

Basically, Shirky starts off by talking about the evolution of technology as a social tool. He describes how social technology, from the printing press to the telephone to the television, are effective either as 1 to 1 communication or as 1 to many communication. The Internet is the first vestige of many to many communication. He also explains how Internet’s nature is to absorb all other past forms of media, which we see occurring now and will surely see in more abundance in the future.

Mapping the Internet

Mapping the Internet

According to Shirky, the key to the “many to many” communication of the internet is the fact that it allows everyone to be both a producer and a consumer of media. Whereas with something like television, a message was crafted and then distributed from a relatively small group of producers to the wider consumer audience, with the internet, anyone can say anything they like, and anyone else can receive that message. The benefits of the simultaneous consumer/producer role was evidenced through the recent earthquakes in China. Shirky explains how citizens using the internet were the first to report the earthquakes which China traditionally tries to cover up. We also see the benefits of social internet through the protesting in Iran. Our traditional media outlets have been cut off from reporting in Iran, and as a result, social media through the internet has become a primary source of information.

Purposeful Twittering: Iranians Twitter Too

Purposeful Twittering: Iranians Twitter Too

Shirky concludes with the idea that what used to be the monologue of media, the producers forming a message which they distribute to consumers, is now a dialogue. What’s more, the dialogue is only part of a larger conversation among the audience as a whole. Now this huge audience of amateurs, a group substantially larger than the professional elite, can talk to one another en masse. Shirky postulates that as a result of this, the majority of our media, now and in the future, will be produced by the amateur crowd.

Shirky’s conclusion is that the internet as a new form of communication is less about the traditional methodology: craft a single message, send it to the masses, and more about creating environments for fostering groups of people who then converse.

The final question Shirky asks to end his talk is one which you as someone interested in marketing on the internet should consider, both as a producer and a consumer: As someone trying to reach people, how do you take advantage of this new media environment?

I think that’s a question we’re constantly endeavoring to answer through this blog, and a problem Pathfinder is consistently solving for its clients.


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