Category Archives: technology

In defense of Twitter’s role as a social media watchdog

Mike Rosenwald is concerned that overzealous critics will make Twitter boring.

twitter is ruining

Rosenwald, who has distinguished himself in articles and excellent enterprise reporting at the Washington Post, appears to have strayed into a well-trodden cul de sac of social media criticism.

Writing in the Post, he quotes from series of sources and highlights a couple of Twitter users to arrive at a grand thesis: online mobs taking tweets out of context could chill speech. Rosenwald’s point was amplified by Politico chief economic correspondent Ben White, whose tweet is embedded below:

When I went to grab the embed code for the tweet above, however, I found something curious: I couldn’t generate it. Why? After I strongly but politely challenged White’s point twice on Twitter, he’d blocked me.

Here’s what I said: I am disappointed that the democratization of publishing and speech continues to be resented by the press. Celebrities, media and politicians will be criticized online by the public for inaccuracy and bias. It’s not 1950 anymore. And for that, a journalist blocked me.

Irony aside, I wish White hadn’t taken the nuclear option. I’m no absolutist: when George Packer slammed Twitter 3 years ago, I suggested that he take another look at what was happening there:

Twitter, like so many other things, is what you make of it. Some might go to a cocktail party and talk about fashion, who kissed whom, where the next hot bar is or any number of other superficial topics. Others might hone in on politics, news, technology, media, art, philosophy or any of the other subjects that the New Yorker covers. If you search and listen, it’s not hard to find others sharing news and opinion that’s relevant to your own interests.

Using intelligent filters for information, it’s quite easy to subscribe and digest them at leisure. And it’s as easy as unfollowing someone to winnow out “babble” or a steady stream of mundanity. The impression that one is forced to listen to pabulum, as if obligated to sit through a dreary dinner party or interminable plane ride next to a boring boor, is far from the reality of the actual experience of Twitter or elsewhere.

Packer clearly read my post but didn’t link or reply to it.

Given his public persona, I suspect Rosenwald will be much more open to criticism than Packer or White have proven to be, although I see he hasn’t waded into the vitriolic comments on his story at the Washington Post, which slam Twitter or the article — or both. Here’s what I’ve seen other journalists and Twitter users tweet about the piece:

For my part, I tend to lean towards more speech, not less. Twitter has given millions of people a voice around the world, including the capacity to scrutinize the tweets of members of the media for inaccuracy, bias or ignorance.

That’s not to say that a networked public can’t turn to an online mob and engage in online vigilantism, but the causality that Politico chief White House correspondent Mike Allen trumpeted regarding Twitter use in yesterday’s Playbook was painful to read on Saturday morning.

Twitter makes people online vigilantes? Come on. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Google+ and other social media platforms have taken nearly all of the friction out of commenting on public affairs but it’s up to people to decide what to do with them.

As we’ve seen during natural disasters and revolutions across the Middle East and North Africa, including protests in Turkey this weekend, an increasingly networked public is now acting as reporters and sensors wherever and whenever they are connected, creating an ad hoc system of accountability for governments and filling the gaps where mainstream media outlets are censored or fear to tread.

That emergence still strikes me as positive, on balance, and while I acknowledge the point that White and the sources that Rosenwald quotes make about the potential for self-censorship, I vastly prefer the communications systems of today to the one-to-many broadcasts from last century. If you feel differently, comments — and Twitter — are open.

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Jake Tapper honors veterans with a #MemorialMessage

CNN anchor Jake Tapper has long been adept with online media, going back to his work at Salon.com. On the Friday before Memorial Day Weekend, Tapper showed how powerful a platform Twitter can be for collective remembrance when he catalyzed an outpouring of family memories from his followers.
  1. Tapper introduced the premise to his followers with a single tweet, sharing a hashtag, #MemorialMesssage, to organize the replies and modeling the response himself.
  2. Our hashtag game today is for those who serve. Send us your Memorial Day message. Mine? Thank you. We will not forget. Use #MemorialMessage
  3. Tapper received just one reply, at first.
  4. @jaketapper #MemorialMessage Remembering Captain Jeb Franklin Seagle a dear friend and hero who made the ultimate sacrifice in Grenada.
  5. Then he came back to Twitter, and shared more personal remembrances of those who served.
  6. This Memorial Day weekend i’ll be thinking about fallen heroes such as Lt. Col. Joe Fenty, Lt. Ben Keating, and Capt. Tom Bostick.
  7. RIP heroes of COP Keating: Kevin Thomson, Justin Gallegos, Chris Griffin, Michael Scusa, Vernon Martin, Stephan Mace, Josh Kirk, Josh Hardt.
  8. RIP this Memorial Day to Captain Robert Yllescas.
  9. Another fallen soldier I will be thinking about this weekend, PFC Chris Pfeifer projects.militarytimes.com/valor/army-pfc…
  10. And Pfc. Brian Moquin, who was killed in a helicopter crash in 2006 projects.militarytimes.com/valor/army-pfc…
  11. And SSG Ryan Fritsche sites.google.com/site/wryanfrit…
  12. And SGT Buddy Hughie projects.militarytimes.com/valor/army-sgt…
  13. More of his followers began chiming in — and Tapper began retweeting their memories of fallen service members to his more than 1 million followers
  14. @jaketapper CPL Robert Taylor McDavid KIA March 10, 2008. OIF. My brother-in-law.
  15. @jaketapper I’ll remember CTO2 Steve TESMER the sole operator type on board the EC121 shot down by NK in 68. my room mate and friend
  16. @jaketapper My daddy 1SGT Robert Scholz Died 2/7/2010 Served Vietnam and Korea twice each. Not in action but served our country for 20 yrs.
  17. @jaketapper Remembering Maj Charles Creech who passed away 2yrs. Ago after a distinguished career flying for the US Air Force. Dear friend!
  18. @jaketapper My great-uncle, MAJ Stanley Holmes, US Army, POW in Philippines during WWII, killed aboard the hellship Oryoku Maru, 12-15-44
  19. Thank you to my late grandfathers John A Petersen, Harry Gabbard #wwiiVets #memorialmessage @jaketapper
  20. @jaketapper CPT David Boris … Commander, A TRP 1/91 CAV, 12 Nov 2007
  21. .@jaketapper My wife’s bro, @USArmy Cpt Shane Mahaffee passed in ’06. 4 mournful Mondays in a row: death, burial, Memorial Day, b’day. #hero
  22. @jaketapper My Uncle, Maj. Kenneth P. Tanner. Killed In Vietnam in last major battle, Operation Ripcord. Left 4 children behind.
  23. .@jaketapper I’m remembering LT John Valek, USN. Served ’38-’52 – WW2/Korea. Survived the sinking of the USS Wasp in ’42. Passed in 2000 RIP
  24. @jaketapper Two Flight School classmates. ENS Ryan Anthony USN, LTJG Robert Roch, USN. Great friends.
  25. @jaketapper Sgt. Josh Madden, December 6, 2006, Hawija, Iraq.
  26. @jaketapper SSG Lillian Clamens. Saddest one I ever encountered. She was leaving the next day. 10/10/07 projects.militarytimes.com/valor/army-sta…
  27. @jaketapper I’m remembering my grandfather, Raymond Sanfilippo, who served on the USS Lake Champlain during WWII. #MemorialDayHeroes
  28. @jaketapper My Dad, Sgt William Lieder, served in US Army & Navy. Saw action in Korean War. Said he never should have left service, loved it
  29. @jaketapper Remembering Jerry Zovko. Killed in Fallujah. Still angry.
  30. @jaketapper RIP Jack Thurston-Bataan Death March survivor POW til MacArthur liberated-renaissance man from Corbin,KY #memorialmessage
  31. @jaketapper #memorialmessage Remembering my late Grandfather Edward and late Uncle Ricky; Ed – WWII, Marine Corps. Ricky – Korea, Air Force
  32. @jaketapper My father, SFC. Benjamin Davis Sr. US Army. 30yrs. WW2 Vietnam
  33. @jaketapper Specialist Theodore Matthew Glende – K.I.A. July 27, 2012 in Afghanistan. (23 years old. Husband of my best friend.)
  34. @jaketapper CPL Pruitt Rainey, 173rd ABCT, Chosen Company. One of 9 US KIA 7/13/08 at the Battle of Wanat. #ChosenFew
  35. @jaketapper my bro 1stLT Travis Manion USMC and his best friend SEAL Brendan Looney. Buried next to each other in Arlington. @TMFoundation
  36. @jaketapper My grandfather: Lt. Col. LeRoy Skaith. Passed in 1997. Bronze Stars WWII: Battle of Hurtgen Forest and Battle of the Bulge
  37. @jaketapper Uncle Al, 1st infantry division, Normandy, the Bulge, Germany
  38. @jaketapper My “Grandpop” Lt Walter Catanzarita. Wounded WWII, passed 1980.
  39. @jaketapper CIA Paramilitary Officer & former USMC Johnny Spann, KIA 11/25/01, Qala-I-Jangi, Afghan;1st KIA in country & a great guy. RIP
  40. @jaketapper RIP Jimmie “Sonny” Davis…Korean Conflict
  41. @jaketapper Remembering my great grandpa, Jesus Briseno – Navy – Pearl Harbor survivor. RIP.
  42. @jaketapper my grandfather, SSgt James Reynolds, 3rd US Army, Battle of the Bulge
  43. @jaketapper I’ll be remembering my friend, Capt Matthew Mattingly, Army 82nd Airborne, KIA in Iraq, 9/13/2006
  44. @jaketapper #memorialmessage remembering my CA grandpa, Captn (marines) WWII-Pacific & the brave woman he wrote love letters to back home.
  45. @jaketapper Remembering my Great Uncle, Salvatore Sanfilippo, Purple Heart recipient, Battle of the Bulge, WWII. #MemorialDayHeroes
  46. @jaketapper My Uncle Billy Knight, who died in ’82 from cancer caused by Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam. Our memories are warm & vibrant.
  47. @jaketapper Spc Ross McGinnis, December, 4 2006 – Medal of Honor
  48. @jaketapper Remembering my dad. He was so proud to have served in the Navy in WW2. Love you, Daddy, and thank you. #MemorialMessage
  49. .@jaketapper Anthony Marangiello, Glen Cove, NY. Bataan Death March, WWII. Came back with the respect of all. #memorialday
  50. @jaketapper H.S. classmate Lance Cpl. Howard March killed in Iraq 9/24/06
  51. @jaketapper TY for sharing all these memories, very powerful. My late grandfather served in WW2. Father-in-law served in USN Korea(surgeon)
  52. @jaketapper Remembering my grandpa, James C. Evans – Navy – Pearl Harbor survivor. #memorialday
  53. @jaketapper RIP my grandpa Robert W. English. Navy. Battle of Midway survivor. 1918-2013
  54. @jaketapper CW4 Phil Garvey died flying a rescue mission that wasn’t supposed to be his.He volunteered so pilots w young kids didn’t have to
  55. @jaketapper remembering my Pappy: James I “Jack” Martin. Combat Medic, US Army WWII – Pelilieu and other hot rocks. Never talked about it.
  56. @jaketapper : I honor Lance Cpl Bob W. Roberts. Died OIF Fallujah. May 2004. Childhood friend.
  57. @jaketapper I #GoSilent for SSG Christopher Cutchall, KIA Baghdad Sept 2003. Best scout, wonderful father, husband, & friend ever.
  58. I’m remembering my grandpa, Carl Conrad, Army, WWII, both Pacific & European Theatres. @JakeTapper pic.twitter.com/CC9VJmgAK3
  59. @jaketapper Cpl George Anthony “Tony” Lutz II, killed December 29, 2005, 6 weeks into his first deployment.
  60. @jaketapper my great uncle Leslie Fleming 200th Coast Artillery. Survivor of the Bataan Death March.
  61. @jaketapper in memory of my grandfather, Hugo Smith, survived the Battle of the Bulge
  62. @jaketapper Remembering my grandmother Rifka Frank, Yeoman First class, enlisted May 1, 1918 WWI. 1900-1986.
  63. @jaketapper My dad – Army Air Corps Flight Engineer – China, Burma, India WWII. I still wear his wings as a bracelet. He died in 1990
  64. @jaketapper My mom Sgt. Ellen Shanahan, Women’s Army Corp, WWII. Very proud of her service.
  65. @jaketapper my dad, CWO Hank Meadows, Headquarters Company, 8th Air Force, Bushy Park, London, England
  66. @jaketapper remembering my father, Stanley Caplan, WWII 1922-2011
  67. @jaketapper : CPL Wesley Wells, 2-27th Infantry USA Libertyville,IL KIA Naka, Afghanistan 09/04 #memorialmessage
  68. @jaketapper Remembering my dad, Leslie N Webster, served in WWII with 535th Engineers building bridges. Miss you Dad.
  69. @jaketapper my father PFC John T Henley WW2 Mindinao Philippines. Henley Wilson Merrills marauders
  70. @jaketapper Remembering both my papaws & hubby’s grandad-all served our country. Grateful 4 & blessed because of their service @JustinDOwen
  71. At the end of that outpouring, Tapper signed off and suggested that his followers use the hashtag if they continue to share memories, sustaining the distributed conversation he’d sparked and empowered.
  72. Signing off now tweeps… Use #MemorialMessage if you tweet more remembrances so we can all follow by clicking on the hashtag… God bless
  73. And they did:
  74. @jaketapper #MemorialMessage thinking of Patrick V. Needham, #USArmy in Korea, 31 yrs #ChicagoPolice, passed away 1984, too young.
  75. @jaketapper Miss WWII dad; taught us 2 “police the area” -clean the yard & sing Army songs(Dirty Bill lived on Garbage Hill)#MemorialMessage
  76. This was one of the best uses of Twitter I’ve seen this year. Well done, Mr. Tapper.

    And thanks to all those who have served and sacrificed.

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Hi! Click here to stop from getting phished on Twitter

Today, Twitter finally started rolling out dual-factor authentication for its users. Twitter will allow users to use text messaging to a mobile phone to confirm their identity upon log-in.

In a post and accompanying video on the company blog, Twitter product security team member Jim O’Leary (@jimeo) explained how Twitter’s version of 2-factor authentication will work:

…when you sign in to twitter.com, there’s a second check to make sure it’s really you. After you enroll in login verification, you’ll be asked to enter a six-digit code that we send to your phone via SMS each time you sign in to twitter.com.

To get started, visit your account settings page, and select the option “Require a verification code when I sign in”. You’ll need a confirmed email address and a verified phone number. After a quick test to confirm that your phone can receive messages from Twitter, you’re ready to go.

Twitter has lagged behind Google, Microsoft, Facebook and institutions that allow online banking in providing this additional layer of protection. It’s showed: Twitter has been plagued by phishing scams for years.

Recently, however, high profile hacks of Twitter accounts at the Associated Press, the Financial Times and The Onion have put more focus on adding this feature. As Twitter adds more e-commerce deals and becomes more integrated into politics and business, improving security will only become more important.

Today’s announcement is a much-needed improvement. Here’s hoping it gets rolled out quickly to the hundreds of millions of users who can’t get someone at Twitter on the phone after they clicked on the wrong link.

Hat tip: The Verge

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Yahoo buys Tumblr. Keep calm and reblog on?

Yahoo buys Tumblr. Keep calm and reblog on?

Yahoo’s board has approved a $1.1 billion all-cash deal to buy Tumblr, a New York City-based technology company.

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer tweeted that this is the first acquisition announced by an animated GIF and promised “not to screw it up,” keeping the team in place and offering support and integration, not re-invention. Yahoo famously acquired delicious, Flickr and Upworthy, amongst other hot online properties, only to let them moulder. Many users still haven’t forgiven Yahoo for its 2009 decision to close Geocities, an popular online community from the 1990s, without archiving it.

Tumblr CEO David Karp tumbled the news and sought to allay user concerns: “We’re not turning purple,” he wrote. “Our headquarters isn’t moving. Our team isn’t changing. Our roadmap isn’t changing. And our mission – to empower creators to make their best work and get it in front of the audience they deserve – certainly isn’t changing.”

$1.1 billion dollars is a lot of money for a (re)blogging network with tens of millions of users but scant revenue but it buys Yahoo a foothold in mobile social networking and, at least for the moment, many more young users — as long as the community doesn’t flee.

That’s likely one reason that both CEOs took such lengths to be reassuring this morning. Mayer joined Tumblr and has been posting cheeky animated GIFs that allude to seamier side of the social blogging service.

In the months ahead, Tumblr users will see more ads — “native ads” and dashboard ads from Yahoo’s ad network and perhaps in-line ads on the mobile app — much as Facebook users do. That’s no surprise, although finding the right mix of relevancy, frequency and intrusiveness for mobile advertising will be a delicate dance.
Mayer says that the two companies will work together to create “advertising opportunities that are seamless and enhance user experience.”

It will be interested to see if that means more sponsored posts and advertorial from “brand journalists” and corporate media writing for business tumblrs. John Battelle’s looks at on displays, streams and native advertising concludes that this move gives Yahoo “an asset that its branded display sales force can sell as sexy: native, content-driven advertising at scale.”

In an attention economy, ads need to be independently entertaining on their own to avoid the click away or being tuned out by the glazed, jaded eyes of young people exposed to an unprecedented bath of media before adulthood.

That’s a dynamic that WordPress founder Matt Mullenwag alluded to in a comment on his post on “Yahooblr“:

In an advertising business a lot of it comes down to attention: how much and where advertisers spend to get your attention usually lags 3-5 years from where people are actually spending their time, and when that gap closes it can be very impressive. Of course it doesn’t happen for free, there are lots of organizational changes needed to execute on that opportunity, and probably as many people screw it up as get it right.

I believe there is also an even-larger-than-advertising opportunity around subscriptions and products. The big shift from older forms of media is that people aren’t just passively consuming as they might in front of a TV, they’re creating. It’s a hobby and a passion, not a vice. In that context I think subscriptions are more aligned with users than advertising, and that’s the direction Automattic is pointed in.

The big question most technology pundits and business analysts will be asking today is whether this makes sense for Yahoo and puts them on a stronger course. The initial market reaction put Yahoo stock up nearly 1% at 11 AM.

On a personal note, I expect to keep tumbling, though I find WordPress to be a superior blogging platform. That said, my attention is spread across many different social platforms and media organizations, not to mention my inbox and iPhone.

If I’m confronted by too many ads on the Tumblr mobile app, I’m going to spend less time consuming and creating there. I’m sure I’m not alone.

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May 20, 2013 · 11:00 am

On unwiring


For the last decade, I’ve thought about going offline like Paul Miller. Turn off, drop off, tune in to life offline.

I’ve never done it. Thinking back, I don’t think I’ve been fully offline more than a month since 1999. I do periodically unwire. A night out here, a long bike ride there, a long weekend in the woods.

The last time it truly happened for more than 24 hours was in January in Anguilla, where I took long hikes, paddles, swims or went sailing without a connection. (I didn’t attempt a tweet during my kite boarding lesson.) Or last August, up in Cape Cod. Vacation is now virtually defined for me as being offline, without commitments. Before that trip, the last truly offline time was my honeymoon, in Greece, where, again, there was (often) no connection to be had.

I may still choose to share my experience and stay connected while I’m on vacation, or “paid time off,” as my former employer calls it, but doing so was always on my own time, at my own choosing. Each time I disconnect, I’ve learned something valuable about myself, both in terms of the person I’ve always been and the man I’ve become.

I’m glad Paul Miller did this and shared his experience. I think such reflection is important and the insight derived from it has always helped to shape and guide my subsequent choices about using technology.

In particular, his shift to finding other distractions, from games to television, was a reminder that we have agency in our own lives. We can choose whether and how to maintain our relationships, our minds, our bodies and our professional, intellectual or recreational pursuits, whether we’re connected or not.

It’s tempting to blame “the Internet” for poor choices or bad habits — and there are reasons to be cautious about how games or social networks tap into certain innate aspects of human behavior — but my personal experience with the network of networks has been enormously empowering and uplifting.

Your mileage, of course, may vary.

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Tweaser: noun — a movie teaser cut into a 6 second Vine video and tweet

I never expected to associate a “tweaser” with The Wolverine. (I assumed Wolverine’s healing powers would always extrude any splinter.)

That changed yesterday, when James Mangold, the director of the most recent cinematic treatment of the comic book hero’s adventures, tweeted the first “tweaser” of the new century. He used Twitter’s new Vine app to share the short clip, a tightly edited 6 seconds of  footage from the upcoming film. You can watch Vine’s big moment in tweet embedded below.

Twitter certainly has come a long way from txt messages. As Lily Rothman quipped at Time, the emergence of a 6 second tweaser that can be retweeted, tumbled and embedded gives “new meaning to the intersection of Hollywood and Vine.”

Jen Yamato has the backstory behind 20th Century Fox’s debut of a 21st century tweaser over at Deadline, including credit to Fox executive Tony Sella for the coinage:

Last week FilmDistrict was the first studio to use Twitter’s new looping app as a marketing tool. Here’s an even buzzier use of Vine: A 6-second “tweaser” (that’s Twitter teaser, or “TWZZR”) previewing Fox’s July 26 superhero pic Wolverine.

I suspect that at least a few of the tweasers that go flickering by on Twitter, Vine and blog posts will lead people to do what I did: become aware of the upcoming and film and look for a longer version of the teaser trailer elsewhere online. If a tweaser comes with a custom short URL, so much the easier.

To that point, If you want to watch a higher quality “full-length” version of the teaser, there’s now a teaser trailer available on the iTunes Store and a YouTube version:
… which, it’s worth pointing out, can also be embedded in tweets.

Hopefully, history remember will remember “The Wolverine for more than being the subject of the world’s first “tweaser.” Then again, our attention spans may not be up to it, particularly if the length of the interactive media we consume continues to shorten at this rate.

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Can journalists change their social media avatars to political symbols?

Nisha Chittal asked a number of journalists (including me) about where they stand for on using same-sex marriage symbols on their social media profiles.

Here’s what she found: “The answer is a multi-layered one: it depends on the journalist, the outlet they work for, the social media platform, and whether the journalist is covering this week’s Supreme Court hearings.”

hrc-fb-page

I was honored to see that Nisha gave me the “kicker quote” at the end. If you’d like to weigh in on your stance on this ethical issue, comment away.

Here’s the statement I submitted to her inquiry:

In general, the consensus answer amongst the journalists I respect is that changing your avatar to a symbol like this is not OK, based upon the ethics policies of places like the AP, WSJ, NYT, PBS or NPR.

I think the capacity to demonstrate support for one side of a contentious social issue like this varies, depending upon the masthead a journalist is working under, the ethics policy of that masthead, the role of the journalist and the coverage area of the journalist. Staking out positions on a reporter’s beat is generally frowned upon.

Opinion journalists who regularly take positions on the issues of the day as columnists have often already made it clear where they stand on a policy or law. Advocacy journalism has an established place in the marketplace for ideas. Readers know where a writer stands and are left to judge the strength of an argument and the evidence presented to back it.

If a reporter takes on overt, implicit position on an issue that she is reporting on, however, will it be possible to interview sources who oppose it?

On the other hand, there are a number of social issues that may have had “sides” in past public discourse but have now become viewpoints that few journalists would find tenable to support today.

How many journalists were able to remain neutral or objective in their coverage of slavery in the 1860s? Womens’ suffrage in the early 20th century? Civil rights in the 1960s? Child slavery, sex trafficking, so-called “honor rape” or the impression of child soldiers in the present?

Interracial marriage was illegal in some states in the Union, not so many years ago. That is not the case any longer. It seems to me that gay marriage is on the same trajectory. The arc of the moral universe is long indeed, but I tend to agree with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on its trajectory: it bends towards justice.

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I Heard It Through The App Vine

After surfing around a bit tonight, I’m not sure yet whether the new Vine App will be to video what Instagram is for pictures. (Vine went live last Friday, when I was on vacation in Anguilla.) The amount of buzz I’ve found upon returning from vacation suggests at least a few of the people I follow and read think it’s possible.

It sounds like the initial launch was a bit buggy for some users, though I had no issues when I downloaded and installed Vine tonight. I found it quite easy to join, find friends from Twitter and my address book (if not Facebook) and then to create and share a 6 second spot using the app, which I promptly deleted.

Vine is Twitter’s first standalone app, like Facebook’s Poke or Messenger. As is the case with tweets, vines have their own permalink and play in embedded tweets, like Twitter CEO Dick Costolo’s tweet that shows how to make steak tartare:

A mobile social network that’s built around mobile sharing of videos from iOS devices and integrated into other media, particularly tweets and blog posts, could have legs online — along with many other body parts. Tonight, posts on multiple outlets suggested that Vine has a “porn problem.”

I’m not sure if this revelation will not shock many long-time observers of people’s behavior online, when faced with webcams. Exhibit A: Chatroulette. I instantly thought of Avenue Q’s classic assessment of what the Internet is for.

(With a little help from Twitter, I was able to source the quote to Ethan Zuckerman’s 2008 talk at ETech on the cute cat theory.)

I tend to agree with Joshua Topolsky’s assessment at The Verge: it’s Apple that has the porn problem, not Twitter or Vine. We’ll see how Apple responds. Steve Jobs was clear in 2010 when he wrote that Apple has a “moral responsibility to keep porn off the iPhone.” Apple does not, however, censor the websites or, critically, user-generated content (UGC) on them when users access them through the Safari mobile Web browser. Treating UGC platforms like Flickr, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google+ like Web browsers might make more sense to users. (I don’t know how that approach would sit in Cupertino or the Federal Trade Commission.)

Regardless of the larger issues surrounding Apple’s policies as a powerful gatekeeper for app makers, parents take note: letting young children search raw Twitter feeds or Vine apps for #porn is going to turn up media that’s NSFW, much less NSFK(ids).

While there’s certainly porn to be found, I didn’t see any when I watched the automagically randomized selection of vines at Vinepeek, which I found thanks to a tweet from Mitch Kapor. Despite inevitable flashes of crudity and banality, I found many of these glimpses of shared humanity endearing, just as YouTube can be at its best.

There are many other ways Vine can be used for business or other less salacious purposes, however, as Chris Brogan pointed out on Friday. Given my interest in cooking, I think creative spots that show how to make different recipes, like the one Costolo filmed, could be particularly interesting. While there are plenty of possibilities for media creation, for I’m not sure whether journalists will wholeheartedly move to quickly adopt Vine professionally, although there were certainly plenty of early adopters on Instagram.

I remember the idea of a social network of video shorts when it first floated to the top of my social stream: it was called Seesmic, and Loic Le Meur shuttered it in 2009. That said, the context for Vine is different, given the tens of millions of iPhones and iPads in people’s hands today.

I think Vine will be worth watching, so to speak. If Vine does catch on, expect “vining” and “vines” to become part of the tech vernacular.

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“This Isn’t the Petition Response You’re Looking For”

The official response from The White House to the epetition to create a Death Star is, in Internet terms, epic.

By turns geeky, funny, informative about U.S. space programs, and unabashedly supportive of science and technology education, the response to a popular petition on the “We The People” e-petition platform instantly entered the annals of online government history this Friday night.

“The Administration shares your desire for job creation and a strong national defense, but a Death Star isn’t on the horizon,” wrote Paul Shawcross, Chief of the Science and Space Branch at the White House Office of Management and Budget.

“Here are a few reasons:

  • The construction of the Death Star has been estimated to cost more than $850,000,000,000,000,000. We’re working hard to reduce the deficit, not expand it. 
  • The Administration does not support blowing up planets. 
  • Why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship?” 

However, look carefully (here’s how) and you’ll notice something already floating in the sky — that’s no Moon, it’s a Space Station! Yes, we already have a giant, football field-sized International Space Station in orbit around the Earth that’s helping us learn how humans can live and thrive in space for long durations. The Space Station has six astronauts — American, Russian, and Canadian — living in it right now, conducting research, learning how to live and work in space over long periods of time, routinely welcoming visiting spacecraft and repairing onboard garbage mashers, etc. We’ve also got two robot science labs — one wielding a laser– roving around Mars, looking at whether life ever existed on the Red Planet.

Keep in mind, space is no longer just government-only. Private American companies, through NASA’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Program Office (C3PO), are ferrying cargo — and soon, crew — to space for NASA, and are pursuing human missions to the Moon this decade.

Even though the United States doesn’t have anything that can do the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs, we’ve got two spacecraft leaving the Solar System and we’re building a probe that will fly to the exterior layers of the Sun. We are discovering hundreds of new planets in other star systems and building a much more powerful successor to the Hubble Space Telescope that will see back to the early days of the universe.

We don’t have a Death Star, but we do have floating robot assistants on the Space Station, a President who knows his way around a light saber and advanced (marshmallow) cannon, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which is supporting research on building Luke’s arm, floating droids, and quadruped walkers.

We are living in the future! Enjoy it. Or better yet, help build it by pursuing a career in a science, technology, engineering or math-related field. The President has held the first-ever White House science fairs and Astronomy Night on the South Lawn because he knows these domains are critical to our country’s future, and to ensuring the United States continues leading the world in doing big things.

If you do pursue a career in a science, technology, engineering or math-related field, the Force will be with us! Remember, the Death Star’s power to destroy a planet, or even a whole star system, is insignificant next to the power of the Force.

Paul Shawcross is Chief of the Science and Space Branch at the White House Office of Management and Budget

When White House director of digital strategy Macon Phillips replied to a tweeted question about an outstanding petition on open access, he proved his Star Wars bonafides with a echo of Yoda’s unusual grammar.

This Star Wars fan is glad to have hilarity to share on The Kojo Nnamdi Show on the power of online epetitions on WAMU next Tuesday.

Photo Credit: Noel Dickover, Carving the Death Star Pumpkin

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Why journalists need to pay attention to Google Author Rank in 2013

Remember back in 2011, when Google linked the Google Plus profiles of journalists to Google News, and folks like Emily Bell,  Erik Wemple, Amy Gahran, Megan Garber  and I had a cross-platform conversation about it? (OK, probably not.) I thought then that Google integrating Plus with journalism online was probably inevitable. Here we are in 2013, where Google’s “Author Rank” is now putting journalists’ faces into search results and linking to their Google+ profiles.

abh-search-results-ogp

If you focus on online marketing, journalism and SEO — and like it or not, if you publish on the Internet, you need to keep an eye on these areas — this is a noteworthy development. It’s worth taking the time to understand Author Rank, learn how it works, why it matters to SEO, and think about how it might apply to what you do online. To learn more, check out  Google’s Authorship page on Plus.

I’m far from the first to point this out. Denis Pinsky wrote in December 2012 that journalists should care about Author Rank a lot more than Amazon sales rank. Megan Garber, who teased apart some of the issues in a November 2011 post on Google+ at the Nieman Lab, noted Google ran a pilot that in the summer of 2011 that put profiles into search engine results. The article that caught my attention yesterday and prompted this post was by Erin Griffith at Pando Daily, who looked at how Author Rank changes marketing and journalism.

As Griffith suggests, the addition of Author Rank is likely related to the quality of search results. By prioritizing posts written by verified authors who have authority in a given topic in search, Google users will be exposed to better results — and posts created by spammers and link factories will be deprecated. Or so the thinking goes.

According to an SEO agency president cited in a PandoDaily article about the shift, “bylined stories rank higher, and they get more real estate. Most importantly, they return clickthrough rates that are 40 percent greater than normal.”

If accurate, that’s quite a carrot for Google to dangle in front of SEO-obsessed media organizations and freelancers alike, which will lead to influence that may well call for renewed caution about the power the search engine giant holds to organize the world’s information. There are reasonable concerns about how Google has proceeded here. For instance, Google could have given journalists the option to link to a profile on another social network, or to a page on their masthead’s website. Instead, Google Plus is being put forward.

The road ahead

Is linking a Google+ profile to search results a negative for journalists? Given what I’ve seen since 2011, on the whole, I still don’t think so. I’m willing to be proven wrong, as always. As I wrote then (self-plagiarism alert!) Edd Dumbill opened my eyes to the transition ahead of us some time ago in his post about why he thinks Google Plus is the social backbone for the Internet.

I highly recommend reading Edd’s post and thinking through what else might be tied together beyond journalists and their articles. It could be connecting people and places. Or teachers to schools, bartenders to pubs, managers to stores. Or other makers or creators, like musicians to tracks, filmmakers to videos, or photographers to their photos. Connecting coders to their code would be a natural fit for Google. Communities could advance those signals.

Facebook has followed much the same sort of thinking in extending the semantics of its social graph within its network — and has more than 1 billion users at present. Given this shift, I have to wonder whether we’ll eventually see the public Facebook profiles of journalists associated with bylines and stories in Bing search results — and how quickly publishers and journalists will move to associate themselves with Google search engine results.

Media now have a clear choice before them: join Plus to connect profiles with their stories or stay out of the social fray. It will be a different decision than joining Twitter or Facebook was in years past, before it was clear to the general public that social networking would not be a passing fad. There will be more pressure for journalists to join Google Plus now, given the rewards in traffic and profile visibility that will accrue to having your face in Google News and search results.

I chose to tie my profile to my bylines in the summer of 2011, in that pilot, so that people looking for information would see my face in search results and connect to me. New readers are now finding me through many social networks (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Plus and others) and search. Given what I do, it made sense for me.

It will likely not be the right choice for investigative journalists who cover organized crime or government corruption, or for those who operate from conflict zones or under autocratic regimes. For many others, however, being “discoverable” to their communities, beats and colleagues on Plus now looks as professionally relevant as participating on Twitter or Facebook.

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