Dan Frommer tells you the only five things that matter at Mobile World Congress. This and more in today’s Daily Wrap.
Sometimes it’s difficult to catch everything that hits tech media in a day, so we wrap up some of the most talked about stories. We give you a daily recap of what you missed in the ReadWriteWeb Community, including a link to some of the most popular discussions in our offsite communities on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+ as well.
Beyond the distractions of tons of people, hundreds of booths and great panels, Dan Frommer reminds us that there are five things that we can’t miss at this year’s Mobile World Congress. One of those is that the show itself is amazing, but beyond that, there are some significant lessons to learn about Google, Apple, Samsung and telecoms. Read “The Only 5 Things That Matter at Mobile World Congress” to stay up to date on this year’s upcoming mobile trends.
From our readers:
rawryree – That’s the sad part. Until WebOS and Tizen get their act together, even the open source realm is pretty much monopolized by Android, allowing mediocrity to reign. The only reason Android is flourishing right now is that it’s the only alternative to Apple.
(Yeah, there’s Windows Phone 7, but it’s not going Open Source any time soon so they’re relegated to the third-party status like BlackBerry OS.)
More Must Read Stories:
This morning Facebook launched Timeline For Brands, which will give brand pages the same look, feel and functionality as the personal page Timelines the social network has been rolling out since September. (more)
The FBI launched Perfect Hedge Investigations, an effort to root out insider trading that includes monitoring of social networks.
The emphasis on social media and online communications platforms like Skype accents how complex law enforcement is becoming in the connected era: a simple phone tap or document subpoena is no longer enough to catch Gordon Gecko-like figures in an age where people have dozens of options for sending information to associates. (more)
We hear a lot about how dramatically the music industry is changing. And indeed, there are plenty of positive trends amidst the disruption. Music creation is easier than ever. So is music discovery. Streaming services offer a new model for the consumption of music on any device, in any location. Whether from within a startup or at Music Hack Day, developers are building new things everyday that will help shape the future of music. (more)
There are more smartphones in the hands of consumers than ever. The natural consequence of smartphone penetration is that more users are downloading more apps. It comes down to simple economic theory: as volume increases the cost of acquiring loyal users goes down. (more)
The art of entrepreneurship and the science of customer development is not just getting out of the building and listening to prospective customers. It’s understanding who to listen to and why. (more)
Are you seemingly stuck with trying to suss out what to do with Twitter? Don’t know how to get started? Does 140 characters seem daunting? Then you might want to take a look at a new O’Reilly book called Tweetsmart. (more)
At the Strata Jumpstart session on Tuesday, Diego Saenz of Data Driven CEO made the case for three skills that are must haves for CEOs to become “data driven.”
Much of Saenz’s talk focused on one specific data-driven CEO: Robert McDonald of Procter and Gamble (P&G). (more)
The company is called CrowdStrike (not “CloudStrike”), and most folks attending the NSA session featuring the company Wednesday morning had never heard of it. That wasn’t why they were there. The man behind CrowdStrike is George Kurtz, the former chief technology officer of McAfee, and the man widely credited with bringing that company into the realm of seriousness. (more)
In addition to understanding the many real concerns that today’s parents have with video games, it’s also worth considering the benefits and positive aspects that contemporary interactive entertainment choices provide. (more)
Joshua Schachter and his team of star developers at TastyLabs have begun work on a second project, an endorsement and people search engine called Skills.to. The site lets you endorse people for their skills in various fields, see what the people you know have been endorsed for and search for people with particular skills.
The site is just beginning. “We have a lot to do, lots of ideas here and lots of places we can go next,” Schachter told me by Twitter DM today. What’s the core idea behind the site? “Search engine for people by property of the person,” he says. “Portable reputation someday.” There’s certainly something refreshingly Delicious-like about it, the way you can navigate around the site by clicking any link and navigating by a few simple properties.
The TastyLabs team, which is full of rock-stars beyond just Schachter, first built a social-help site called Jig last Summer. That site works well and is fun to use, but it’s not clear how much traction it’s seen yet. That service launched an iPhone app earlier this month, a welcome move since Jig is particularly conducive to mobile use.
Schachter is best-known for building archetypal social bookmarking site Delicious, which he sold to Yahoo who didn’t know how to love it. The site has since been sold again to a team led by the founders of YouTube, who may be even worse still at loving it. Delicious offered something simple on the surface – the ability to save links you wanted to read later – but surfaced far more interesting information when analyzed in aggregate.
That potential was never really realized but it’s the same kind of thinking behind Jig, and I presume behind Skills.to. These are services that offer a clear and simple value proposition to the end user, but that can offer even more derivative value once patterns of use are analyzed and used as a platform to reform the user experience.
Lots of people have tried to create a discovery-through-endorsement website, but I’d be willing to bet that the TastyLabs team is going to bring some extra special insight and creativity to this seemingly simple space.
The portable identity angle that Schachter mentions could be the first example of that dynamic: imagine taking your Skills.to endorsements with you to sites around the web. That could prove useful in all kinds of circumstances – from establishing credibility to targeting content to powering recommended social and content connections.
Disclosure #2: Upon announcing internally that I was going to write about this, RWW Community Manager Robyn Tippins also disclosed that she has done some marketing consulting for TastyLabs. Lucky them, their team of smart people goes on and on.
Two weeks ago, a security researcher set off an intentional firestorm over the discovery of data that seemed to indicate a flaw in the way cryptographic systems using “multiple secrets” (more than one key) protect a session. Since the report of that discovery was published, experts have claimed its author may have reached an unsubstantiated conclusion.
In any event, yesterday at the RSA Security conference in San Francisco, the man the report’s very title praised for being “right” all along – cryptographic pioneer Whitfield “Whit” Diffie – told attendees that if a problem actually does exist, its solution may be deceptively simple.
The problem, as the report “Ron was wrong, Whit was right” indicated, was that a substantial percentage of generated RSA keys contained common factors, thus rendering them ineffective or untrustworthy. “That seemed very serious to me, and sort of a phenomenon unique to RSA,” Diffie told a packed keynote session. “And eventually I realized – and as I thought about it for a week, it’s come to seem just as charming, but as a practical matter, much less serious than it did to start with, but something that probably does need a bit of addressing.”
Diffie noted, with perhaps a hint of sarcasm, that the report’s authors – who included Swiss professor Arjen K. Lenstra – avoided sensationalism by refraining from alleging that RSA keys had been “cracked.” But he posited that what Lenstra’s data could actually be indicating is a flaw in as few as one bad random number generators. “It seems unlikely that two independent prime random number generators are going to be producing the same 500-bit primes.” He then expressed skepticism at the idea that one person’s key could be compromised by someone else, simply by virtue of that person holding a key generated by a common factor – when that fact is not automatically made evident to either party.
“But the fact is, if you manufacture your key material correctly – that is to say, you’re very careful about production testing of your own random numbers – this is simply not going to happen to you,” he said. “If you adopt a random number generator that has whatever this fault is, you might get this effect.”
To help improve the system, Diffie suggested it might be necessary to “out” the bad random number generators. “So my notion is, why don’t we just publish hash codes for all of the primes selected to go into keys? As a matter of fact, you might publish hash codes for all of the keys that you’ve selected for any purpose… and then anytime you generate one, if you see that it’s already in the database, you know two things immediately: One, you probably have the same random number generator they did. Two, it’s no good.”
At that point, Diffie turned to the fellow that Prof. Lenstra called “wrong,” who was seated to his immediate left: Ron Rivest, the “R” in “RSA.” “I think if I get a chance to referee the paper, I’ll suggest a change of title,” Rivest said. “You are often right, and I am sometimes wrong.”
Switching back to serious mode, Rivest suggested that behind the firestorm in the report, there really wasn’t much substance. He noted a much earlier work in 1996 by Adam Young and Moti Yung on cryptovirology – the intentional creation of deceptively secret and malicious software, often for extortion. A maliciously bad random prime number generator could theoretically be written, Rivest said, so that the public key may be computed in such a way to reveal the corresponding secret key to an adversary. “I don’t think we’ve paid enough attention to that possibility,” he remarked, noting the much more serious prospect for damage.
It’s easy to take jabs at Apple for sometimes being to “closed.” From restrictions on mobile apps to the limited customizability of the iPad, it’s a reputation that the company has earned even as it sells millions upon millions of devices. Even the original Macintosh infamously discouraged tinkerers by requiring specialized tools to physically open it up.
While it may frustrate many hobbyists and hackers, this approach is simply a cost of being one of Apple’s millions of otherwise satisfied customers. It’s rare that the company crosses over the line between closed and alarming. But that’s exactly what just happened.
The trouble started shortly after Seth Godin submitted his latest e-book to Apple’s iBookstore. The marketing pundit and super-prolific author penned a book titled “Stop Stealing Dreams” and sent the finished copy along to Apple for approval. Much to his shock, the book was rejected.
The reason? An email from Apple identified “too many links to Amazon store” as the prime offense. Yes, simply linking to one of Apple’s competitors is a bold and forbidden enough gesture to cause a book to get banned from its digital storefront.
As Godin himself outlines on PaidContent, this is pretty disturbing stuff. “What’s inside the book shouldn’t be of concern to a bookstore with a substantial choke on the marketplace,” Godin writes. “If it’s legal, they ought to let people read it if they choose to.”
On the iPhone, Apple has certain obligations to the carriers and its own market dominance, which sometimes lead the company to forbid certain features from finding their way onto the iOS platform. In many cases, this is understandable.
But this is different from free mobile WiFi tethering or other app features that directly compete with Apple or the carriers. These are books. You know, the things that have historically been banned and burned when the powers that be don’t appreciate their contents. Books contain ideas and information. You know, the stuff that’s supposed to be much more fluid and accessible thanks to technology.
Of course, the book-burning analogy has its limitations. Anybody who really wants to read Godin’s book can go get it from Amazon or in another format outside the iBookstore. But there’s something unsettling about a dominant player in a information-centric marketplace such as this refusing to offer a piece of content strictly for competitive reasons. How would we feel if Barnes and Noble refused to carry a book about the history or corporate philosophy of Borders or Amazon? Or if they wouldn’t order a book written by the CEO of a competitor, simply because doing so would inadvertently aid the enemy? Many people would rightly be freaked out by that.
Last week, I talked to Google Search lead designer Jon Wiley about the process of designing Google’s iconic interface. What goes on behind that white box? For the second part of my interview series with the people who make Google Search, I talked to Google Fellow Ben Gomes. He’s one of the elite engineers addressing the never-ending array of challenges we users pose by asking ever-more-complicated questions of Google.
The first time I spoke to Ben, he was introducing me to a brand new Google concept called Search, plus Your World. This time, we were able to delve much deeper into the fundamentals of Web search. Computing power at Google’s scale is awesome to behold, and I asked Ben to take us along for a search query’s ride one step at a time.
ReadWriteWeb: Where does search begin?
Ben Gomes: The journey of a query begins well before the user has typed in the query or even thought about the query. The first step of that journey is crawling and indexing the Web’s content.
We fetch tens to hundreds of billions of pages. When I first got here [in 1999], it was about 50 million pages, and that was the biggest index then. It’s hard to imagine, but it’s three orders of magnitude bigger today. We’re used to this sort of growth in the tech world, I suppose, but three orders of magnitude is still a heck of a lot.
We’re really quickly crawling the content that’s changing fast. The content that doesn’t change as fast, we don’t crawl as often. And then, we’ve gotten really good at bringing that data from the Web to the user in a very short period of time.
When I joined Google, it would take us about a month to crawl and build an index of about 50 million pages. Today, with real-time search, that can happen in some cases in less than a minute.
It’s like the index in the back of a book, but because its so large, it’s a lot more complex than that. You can think of it like this: Suppose you had to assemble a whole bunch of widgets from parts, and you have to do this repeatedly in the course of a day. What you would do before that is set those parts up optimally, so that you could assemble those widgets as quickly as possible when the time came.
Building an index is kind of like that. We have to set it up in such a way that it’s very quick for you to actually construct the result page at the moment the user asks for it. So, you type in the query “49ers,” and within a fraction of a second, you get back the search result page that says, “We found 52 million pages that matched, and here’s the top 10, and here’s another thousand.” That’s sort of the brawn of the whole system.
RWW: So what’s the brain behind the system?
BG: Ranking is the brain behind the system. What it does is, it looks at over 200 signals to determine which are the most relevant pages to your particular query. So as the user starts typing in the query, what happens? As you start typing, you notice auto-completions. These are predictions of what you might want to type. And with Google Instant, we begin to provide you with actual results right then. This is enabling you to formulate your query on the fly.
So you start typing “owl,” and in your mind “owl” is about the bird. But it turns out “owl” also refers to [the Online Writing Lab] at Purdue, it refers to other things on the Web that people talk about when they use the word “owl.” So you [finish] typing “owl bird,” and then you get what you want.
Google Instant enables you to formulate a better query by letting you see the results even as you’re typing. It’s providing you with that intimate feedback loop that allows you to understand what the Web is saying.
Understanding The Query
RWW: How does Google begin to understand the query?
- On average, a Google search query travels 750 miles each way, to and from the data center.
- 16 to 20% of queries that get asked every day have never been asked before.
- Google has answered 450 billion unique queries since 2003.
- Last year, Google made around 500 changes to search.
BG: The query is sent back to Google through the Internet. Typically, this is a journey of over 750 miles in either direction. We have data centers all over the world, but, on average, your query travels about 1,500 miles.
Behind that, all this work we’ve done setting up the index now comes into play. We parse the query, we understand what your intent was, we [may] personalize the results, and then we send it off to our giant index and get back the top results for your query.
In addition to the results themselves, we need to create the presentation of those results, the titles and what we call the “snippets,” the two lines of text that you see. In order to do this, we look at the copy of the Web that we keep and find the most relevant parts of every page, bring up those two most relevant lines for your query and show those to you for each result.
This is also an enormous amount of computation. It’s going from the few words that you typed in to the result pages that we found, to find where on those pages is the text most relevant to your query.
In the case of Instant, we’re doing that as you’re typing, so the whole process is compounded. So this complex process of ranking is happening in the middle of your typing. If we did this naïvely, we’d be ranking almost 20 sets of results for every query you type, but we are more sophisticated about it. We do a lot of caching and so on.
Then, at the end of that, you get back this beautifully presented result page.
Overall, we put a huge amount of effort into speeding up the connection between your brain and that information you’re seeking.
RWW: How do searches get personalized for the user?
It actually happens at every stage of the pipeline. When you start typing your query, if you’re signed in, the auto-completions will prefer queries that you’ve typed in before. If you’re in a given metro area, we will prefer queries that make sense to you in that metro area.
The second level it happens at is, when we process your query, we also take into account your Web history and so on in order to guess at your intent. During ranking, the process of actually looking at the documents, we also take into account personal signals that make sense for you, and when we search for your personal content in Search, plus Your World, we take into account your personal signals over there.
Finally, when we have the full set of results assembled, we then customize them for you.
So personalization of your results is deeply embedded right through the search process. Some of that is giving you the right context for things like date and place, and some of it is personalization based on your previous queries and so on.
Next page: How Google Search Changes Over Time
Would you mind putting down your smartphone for a moment to read this? Thanks, we really appreciate it.
A new study released today by Pew sheds light on the lurking, albeit very real notion that we all not-so-secretly fear: There are actual consequence to the hyperconnected lifestyle that many 21st century millennial Americans live! But calm down, it’s not all frowny-face emoticons and Sherry Turkle-esque Alone Together narratives.
Yes, there are some major downsides to relying on the Internet as our “external brain,” including the desire for instant gratification, and the increased chances of making”quick, shallow choices.” But researchers also say we networked young people are nimble, quick-acting multitaskers who will do good in the world.
Teens and young adults are hyper-immersed in technology. A total 95% of teens ages 12-17 are online, 76% use social networking sites and 77% have cell phones. Of the slightly older age group (18-29 year olds), 96% are Internet users, 84% use social networks and 97% have cell phones. More than half of those users have smartphones and 23% own tablets such as the iPad.
Pew talked to 1,021 technology “stakeholders and critics” through an entirely opt-in survey. In other words, the people who participated did so of their own volition. Of those surveyed, approximately 55% agreed that the future for hyperconnected individuals looks positive. Meanwhile, a total 42% thought otherwise saw negative outcomes. This outcome skews slightly more positive; Pew in fact admits that the outcome is actually more like 50-50. So, is the cup half-empty or half-full?
The Networked Future Looks Good, Mate! Fair Sailing Ahead!
Approximately half (or, arguably, 52%) believe that hyperconnectedness will have a positive impact, suggesting a stronger ability to multitask, cycle through personal- and work-related tasks and become more adept at finding answers to deep questions. These people – who are mostly millenials – will be able to tap into the Internet’s greater knowledge base, accessing more information and working together to do so via crowdsourcing.
Says acclaimed Microsoft Senior Researcher danah boyd, who studies the cybercultures of teens and young adults: “Brains are being rewired – any shift in stimuli results in a rewiring. The techniques and mechanisms to engage in rapid-fire attention shifting will be extremely useful for the creative class whose job it is to integrate ideas; they relish opportunities to have stimuli that allow them to see things differently.”
We have already started to see that happen. Facebook is a natural space for artists to exchange ideas and engage in fast discussion. The Internet pinboard social network, Pinterest, is a beautiful space for posting inspiring images. The creative class benefits from these visual, idea-oriented forums.
The Networked Future is a Dark, Deserted Island of Doom
Half of the people surveyed by Pew disagree with the above rosy statements. The believe that the brains of such millenials will not retain information. They think millenials will be focused on short social messages and content that will entertain. They will be incapable of deep engagement with people and knowledge. These Internet users will surf around, grabbing the first bit of information they find. They will take fiction as fact.
“Increasingly, teens and young adults rely on the first bit of information they find on a topic, assuming that they have found the ‘right’ answer, rather than using context and vetting/questioning the sources of information to gain a holistic view of a topic,” says one survey participant. Instant gratification plays into this negative consequence, along with an overall lack of patience.
Another non-millenial encounters the same problem. “I’m 33 years old and over the last two years have ramped up my time spent on the internet to 10-plus hours a day. The effects have been detrimental. My attention span for longer-form information consumption such as books, movies, long-form articles, and even vapid 30-minute TV shows has been diminished immensely. My interpersonal communications skills are suffering, and I find it difficult to have sustained complex thoughts. My creativity is zapped and I get very moody if I’m away from the Web for too long.”
But there will always be those few outliers who see a different kind of opportunity in the seemingly dark abyss. They will seize it, and run forward.
One Pew participant believes that millenials will start to truly see the value of slow and steady wins the race. The tortoise beats the hare: “Long-form cognition and offline contemplative time will start to be viewed as valuable and will be re-integrated into social and work life in interesting and surprising ways,” the person says.
And who will do all that deep thinking, now that we are addled with Internet-induced ADD? The division of labor will shift accordingly.
“Perhaps the issue is, how will deep thinking get done – including by whom – rather than will everyone be able to do deep thinking,” says Marjory S. Blumenthal, associate provost at Georgetown University and former director of the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board of the National Academies.
The Internet, Facebook and all these Web technologies are here to stay. Our challenge now is to figure out the best ways to interact with them. After all, says Tiffany Shlain, director of the film Connected and founder of the Webby Awards, “As Sophocles once said, ‘Nothing vast enters the life of mortals without a curse.’”
“The Cliché Young People of Today” and “Tortoise & Hare” images courtesy of Shutterstock.