The two deaths that got everyone talking in 2011… and what can kill the Internet as we know it

According to Storify, their users selected two major events to build stories from tweets this year. Both are deaths – that of Osama Bin Laden and that of Steve Jobs. If one had to draw a similarity between the two persons, apart from both having worn a beard, it is surely that they have both been disruptive (challenging) of the status quo. By its very nature, disruption causes people to talk, and they did.

On 1st May 2011, somebody else was disrupted – this time, from his attempt to take a break. Sohaib Athar had left the city of Lahore to live in quieter Abottabad and had no idea he shared ground with Osama Bin Laden who lived just a few kilometres away.

The Storify team looked deep at the data of the 3 million times that Storify users searched for a tweet, found it and pulled it into a story – this year.

The 2nd ranked is the tweet of Sohaib Athar (@ReallyVirtual). His tweets of 1st May are indeed a live coverage of the event. His story is all over the internet and you can read that part of history somewhere else. So what’s the news?

@ReallyVirtual: Helicopter hovering above Abbottabad at 1AM (is a rare event).

Recently, Sohaib Athar tweeted to @Storify saying that their site had been blocked by his ISP. This apparently followed Storify’s mention of the tweet that made history. Both events happened on the 15 December 2011.

Outrageous… you’d say. These things would not happen in America!

BUT that is not necessarily going to remain true for ever. Sohaib Athar, as the copyright holder of that tweet, may soon stop anybody from reproducing it on another webpage! Legislators in America are discussing the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian, explained that Reddit would not exist says if SOPA was around in 2005.

If someone submits links to a piece of copyrighted material on Reddit or Facebook, our whole site could be shut down.
(Alexis Ohanian)

The Attorney General can issue restraining orders against infringing websites. If Sohaib Athar made claims against the reproduction of his tweet (above), search engines like Google would stop showing links to the whole of WordPress.com even if only one post, from the millions it hosts, allegedly breaks copyright! And Paypal would stop processing their payments!

If you’re wondering how many times WordPress.com bloggers embed tweets, YouTube videos, google maps and Flickr images, this too collectively runs into millions (official stats here). It’s interesting that each one is potentially a copyright breach. And people do it because it’s the nature of the Internet to link and embed. And because social media is all about that.

Comic on SOPA Bill

More Information

1. Petition for the President Obama administration to veto the SOPA Bill. (“This will kill the free flow of information and conversation on the internet.”)

2. Storify is blogging for everyone. Anybody with a Facebook or Twitter account can write a story and link it to all the gossip from the social sites… also YouTube, Flickr, Google+ etc.. The Storify beta website went live eight months ago in April 2011. Analysis of which tweets were used to build stories revealed that the 1st, 4th, 5th and 6th talk about the death of Steve Jobs. The 2nd, 3rd, 7th, 8th, and 9th talked about the death of Osama Bin Laden.

googlegoesgaga… Lady Gaga does it again!

In my post of Feb 9th, I compared Obama to Lady Gaga. She had 8 million followers then, a number which increased at the rate of over 20,000 every day to count 8,831,651 as I write. Lady Gaga hasn’t been sleeping on her online success and followed on the steps of Obama / Biden’s “Transition Project” (December 2008) which allowed any registered user to make or vote on questions that the Whitehouse then answered.

Since then YouTube put together the Worldview Channel and Barack Obama was back to answer questions in January 2011, followed by UK Prime Minister David Cameron, US Parliament Speaker Joe Boehner and now… Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Lady Gaga’s official YouTube channel now allows people to ask questions and vote for the most popular ones which she will answer. This Gaga project is open till the 18th March and, with this degree of openness, the star has joined a league of world leaders conquering web 2.0 tools to engage with her fans! The woman does not stop there with social media! She accepts questions also over Twitter with any tweet tagged #GoogleGoesGaga being syndicated directly to the channel and qualifying for voting. And in her own words…

Millions must be searching for “Lady Gaga” on Google as that term scores 69/100 in Query Popularity on Alexa. This especially when compared to “Barack Obama” (52/100); “Obama” (57/100); and “Whitehouse” (40/100).

The question submission and voting uses Google Moderator. It was launched in September 2008 and first used with a bang the following December in the Obama / Biden Transition Project – “Open for Questions”. Since then Change.gov, the project’s website, has now closed. Google Moderator continues to make crowd-sourcing a reality and is now a freely available API.

Twitter puffs as Barack Obama quits!

Barack has put up the barricade and quit smoking! Back in June 2009, Obama had admitted to the occasional puff. But now, according to wife Michelle, he’s been clean for about year. Congratulations Mr. President! But what does this have to do with a blog that talks about what’s happening in the digital world?

Michelle Obama broke the news of the anniversary of the last puff to reporters at the Whitehouse yesterday. The BBC and the Guardian reported it in the UK along with many other papers. Google grabbed it and put it on Google News. But I got to know through Twitter… as literally thousands of people found this event to be of great value to their own cause of quitting smoking. I just searched ‘Obama smoking’ in Twitter and a few minutes ago somebody said “Yayyy Obama quit smoking. If the president can do it, anyone can. :)” And I guess that Melissa’s 860+ followers  will be pleased to share that point of view. So, thank you Michelle for bringing such good example from your household to the world at large. Twitter did the job of bringing it to the masses – even those who don’t care about this type of news. Power of the internet.

Twitter now has over 190 million users (source: Quantcast as quoted in Wikipedia). It’s users are said to generate about 65 million tweets – short, 140 character messages which can be broadcast or directed specifically to other users. I looked up the more successful tweeters of all times and Lady Gaga has over 8 million followers with just over 600 tweets in the last three years. Lady Gaga’s followers increased by over 10 thousand a day ever since the 21st January! So how does this compare to Barack Obama? He follows less people (145,000 when compared to Gaga’s 700,000) and gets less followers (6.6 million). He also tweets more. Yet that’s comparing an American President to one of the top performing pop performers who has sold over 55 million records!

Google Instant.. another breakthrough for users to experience “common intelligence”.

 Google Instant was launched in the US on Wednesday.

Marissa Mayer VP for Search Products and User Experience says.. “It provides the user with an easier way to enter a query, with a lot of feedback and awsomely makes search very very efficient.”

Google co-founder Sergey Brin says “I think it’s a little bit of a new dawn in computing”.

One more intelligent step in the direction of user experience by Google! On the 30 August I wrote about the future of a child of Google and facebook. Google is the strongest search engine by far, taking 92% of  the market in te UK and 83% in the US. Facebook has over 500 million users and over 1 million websites have integrated with its platform. Yet, we have seen many a social network come and go without even a gravestone left in its memory. However encouraging these numbers may be, the future lies not with them but with whoever is innovating, making his offerings obsolete before the competiotion will. Users need products that evolve and adapt to their individual specific requirements.  The personalised experience that we as users really need is to know enough when we need to, and without having to ask for it. I call this “common intelligence”. We do not want to log in to five websites to get all the information together: we want them to talk to each other and present the information without as much as an extra click.

This is why Google Instant is another important step. It gets the search results out to you as you type. It is not just a drop-down box under the search box… the results page changes as you type so that San Francisco Museum comes up as the first result after the user has typed only sfm and has not yet pressed enter.

google instant

But we need yet to see more networking between Google users and the providers of Web content. Will Google (or indeed search) ever become everywhere on my Internet space? Will it be integrated with with my computer, my email and my Facebook so that, when I am writing a short message to my friends, it brings up in my Compose screen all that I need to know? As I type… “Will be in San Francisco and would love to see if there are any works by Picasso at the museum of modern art…” … will it bring up San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in a little box, a link to its website and its position on Google Maps (just in case I need attach them). I would then love it to also bring up some relevant information such as the fact that Picasso’s Les femmes d’Alger (’55) is exhibited there.

Common intelligence… isn’t it?

Learn more about Google Instant

Priority Inbox in Google’s gmail

I write about user experience all the time.. and so Google’s gmail deserves applause. The internet experience has just become better with the personalisation offered by Priority Inbox. It sifts through the emails that come in and brings forward the ones which are truly important. It learns with you and you can help it learn.

Check it out…

People always need to know more… is Facebook always going to be enough?

People in general need to know just about enough about anything that surrounds them. Some of this is called is gossip, some known as current affairs and some as networking. It makes knowledgeable people interesting. It makes it easy for this lot of interesting people to have a thousand friends on Facebook – connecting with everybody, sharing photos, making events popular by attending them and YouTube videos a success because they post them on their walls.

Facebook Creator ZUCKERBERG (Photo by Andrew Feinberg - Everystockphoto.com)
Facebook Creator ZUCKERBERG (Photo by Andrew Feinberg - Everystockphoto.com)

A decade ago, the Internet was nicknamed the Information Superhighway. The world talked about building an Information Society. Companies talked about how many Knowledge Workers they employed. In the world we live in, you don’t ask somebody who comes in for an interview if they have Internet at home. You don’t ask if they use email, if they’re familiar with how to write a document on a computer, or if they are on Facebook. People don’t send in typewritten CVs through the mail. They apply online, or send a PDF through email.

At the same rate that people have become more connected to the Internet, computing resources have also become ever so more accessible. Using computing power to extract intelligence has become infintely more possible. We now need not think how much such power we need: we can hook to a grid that gives us much as we need, when we need it. Virtualised computing resources, available on demand, are sometimes referred to as cloud computing. The information superhighway has become a reality not because you can Google up just about anything, but because all this data is now connected. There is also so much computing resource that we can crunch it into the useful information we need, when we need it.

So, begs the question: When will this infinite computing resource be used to connect data and people intelligently? When will this be done so that it matters not where the data is stored, what email account you used to upload it, whether you tagged that person as a friend on Facebook or whether it’s on the Googlemail contacts?

Today: You meet somebody at a party. A month or so later, you need a graphic designer and you remember that the person you met at the party was a freelance designer with her experience at one of the big publishing houses in Milan. You remember just the first name: Inga. So you go to Facebook, look up the friend who organised the party. You look up his friends, and in it you find Inga. Then you add her as a friend. When she accepts the friendship request, you can send her a message asking to meet and discuss the project.

Tomorrow: You meet Inga at the party. A month later you need a graphic designer – quick – and you think she might be interested. So you start composing a new email… “Hi Inga, we met at Mike’s housewarming party…”. Email will match which Mike in all your contacts had an event called “housewarming” to which both you and an ‘Inga’ were invited. Privacy settings permitting, email will immediately connect you with Inga and offer to add her to your contacts. Inga has shared some photos of the party which are intelligently matched with your profile picture: you are prompted to validate them and if you confirm that it’s you in the photo they will also be published to your wall.

In February’s post about Usability I wrote about digital natives who need product usability to evolve and adapt to their expectations. Facebook has stopped being innovative and, at this rate, even if it now prides 500,000-plus users, it will be replaced by any future social engine that will make it possible for information to be truly ubiquitous. The next big thing will be the Facebook that is also a Google of what I call common intelligence.

Acknowledgements: Thanks to Juan Pablo for the inspiration.