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.

A Strategic Plan for United States Federal Cybersecurity R&D

It was back in April when I first read Obama’s plans for a National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace, and as this had happened in the wake of Sony’s cybersecurity problems, I’d also blogged about it.

A couple of days ago the Whitehouse announced it’s new strategic plan for Federal Security R&D. It’s a roadmap and it takes the approach of prioritising research on all areas including policy and technology: understanding the deficiencies, developing solid scientific foundations, maximising the impact and accelerating adoption.

A post by the CTO and Cybersecurity Coordinator on the Whitehouse OSTP blog states:

“Given the magnitude and pervasiveness of cyberspace threats to our economy and national security, it is imperative that we fundamentally alter the dynamics in cybersecurity through the development of novel solutions and technologies.”

And that’s exactly the point. Cybersecurity is no longer just a concern for techies and hackers – it’s of economic and national security relevance for every country in the world. And the open invitation to researchers and innovators in the industry to come forward and participate in the acceleration of the transition to a more secure cyberspace is surely received very well.

NASA to SpaceX – Man on Mars by 2020?

Three days ago, on the 21st July 2011, the last Space Shuttle landed for the last time, bringing to a close the programme that lifted the first shuttle in 1981. I have always been fascinated by the shuttle, especially by its ability to go and do its business in space and then land on a runway like a giant bird. So that’s a dream gone ablast – watching it lift off one day from Cape Canaveral.

The last mission was STS-135 and it shuttled more than 4,260Kg worth of supplies to the International Space Station. The supplies are vital to sustaining America’s part of the international mission in space. The ISS was first designed as a laboratory in space, developing an understanding of how the human body reacts to long-term exposure away from Earth. This will help to build knowledge on whether colonies of humans staying away from Earth will ever be possible. The space agencies of USA (NASA), Russia, Japan, Canada and Europe participate in mission control from Earth.

The long and short is that NASA will continue to participate in low Earth orbit through a contract of 12 missions with the SpaceX Falcon9 launch vehicle and Dragon spacecraft.

The big question is when will SpaceX be able to operate a manned craft in space? Following the success of an unmanned launch and the succesful return of the capsule to Earth in December 2010, the company was awarded a further contract of $75 million to evolve their technologies such that the Dragon spacecraft can carry astronauts.

“With NASA’s support, SpaceX will be ready to fly its first manned mission in 2014.” says Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO. Until then, American astronouts will have to hitch a ride on Russian Soyuz capsules!

Musk (SpaceX CEO) is also cofounder of PayPal. In an interview to Fora.tv he told Michael Malone that SpaceX will “try” to put humans on Mars by 2020. What does the man who built the future of online payments have to do with spaceflight?! Nothing. He is just terribly smart.

I am confident that someone who can build SpaceX with its three launch vehicles (Falcon 1, Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy) and the Dragon spacecraft in eight years (since 2002), can also put a man on Mars given one and a half times that (2020). NASA’s FAQ page on the Space Shuttle puts the cost of one mission to $450 million. A mission with SpaceX will cost $133 million. On the SpaceX updates webpage Elon Musk makes it clear that: If there are cost overruns, SpaceX will cover the difference. (This concept may be foreign to some traditional government space contractors that seem to believe that cost overruns should be the responsibility of the taxpayer.)  How’s that for trusting the man?

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.

Election monitoring using facebook

Just over a week ago I read this brief note on facebook that explains how a simple screen was used on election day to remind people to vote and asking them to click on a button if they had already voted.

Of course I couldn’t not reflect on this and how facebook is becoming a platform that promulgates openness at all levels of society. People who went out to vote just had to say they did, and others who hadn’t, saw it and were teased about their responsibility towards the nation.

What is certainly interesting is that the facebook tool combined these people’s interactions with age and political views stated on their profile. The numbers showed that a 65 year old was almost three times as likely to vote as an 18 year old, and this matched CNN’s traditional exit polls based on over 17,500 respondents coming from the voting booths. This is the thing which struck me most, and which we could certainly learn from again – almost exactly two years after Obama engaged social media and social networks to win the United States presidency.

Information, obtained through open/public data does not lie. It’s reliable. Does it follow logically that, thus, the medium which is the Internet is worth working in one’s favour all along?

 

Finally – a word before I close this post. This time of year is that time when Wikipedia reminds us that we all use it, and so few of us ever donate anything to keep it free. Please donate $20, $35, $50 or more by following this link. Thank you.

 

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

Revisiting the Citizen Initiative

Back in November, I blogged about the Citizen Initiative — a concept entrenched in the Lisbon Treaty. I am interested in this because of its direct relevance to the world of open governance. Open governments are transparent, and invite collaboration and participation. I believe that the initiative is about making all of that possible in the EU — by creating a direct link between citizens and the institutions where it is so needed that 1 million such citizens demand it!

Beautiful.. but how will it work? And will it? Simon Busuttil, one of Malta’s MEPs wrote in The Times of Malta today and gave some insight to answer the first question. I still would like to see more people comment on how this initiaitive will exist in a world that always gives more space to the social media. Will the EU lag behind the US? Will we continue to ignore social media?