September 22, 2013


URL shorteners--when widely adopted--have access to usage trends and make their money through such analytics. Similarly, read-later apps have access to the same usage and may provide better analytics since not only can they track clicks, but also an intent to read. If a service has a primary use, metrics of that primary use become its secondary use. The obvious example is social networks (Facebook's recent work with AI will be interesting to follow).

Compare with how web sites themselves can extract meaningful information, beyond just popularity, from usage. In a discussion on the future of journalism, ReadWrite contributor Owen Thomas recounted how a spike in visits to an old article revealed that people were having issues with a software beta release. This seems to be a similar approach to the external/tangent analysis that is pulled from URL shorteners and read-later apps. The depth of information in a news site lends itself to a more dynamic application of such mining.

posted by sstrader at 11:20 AM in Internet | permalink

September 6, 2013


The Guardian has a review of a documentary called Mission Congo [ IMDB ] that just premiered at the Toronto Film Festival. It documents Pat Robertson's deceptions during and after the Rwandan genocide where he conned people to donate to his African diamond mining operations. At the time, the Virginian Pilot newspaper exposed his scam. The state government investigated and found his dealings fraudulent but politicians, backed by large donations from Robertson, did not prosecute. Sometimes an obvious injustice is just ignored.

During conversations on the possible invasion of Syria, I listened to an historian dispassionately list the half-dozen or so recent military actions the US went into based on lies-not-misstatements. Beginning with the Gulf of Tonkin incident which was the catalyst of the Vietnam War, the false testimony of the Kuwaiti ambassador's daughter--organized by a PR firm--which was presented as a reason to invade Kuwait, and more recently the non-truths that were told in order to invade Iraq. On this last point, during the time that the government was peddling its wares, Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel of Knight Ridder were exposing them (and very easily, they recall) as lies. Another item that was just ignored.

And this week brought the latest of the Snowden revelations: the US government can crack a large portion of encrypted data going over the internet. There is much technical nuance here that I'm still digesting and getting wrong, but there is definitely a there there. Schneier's essay is an absolute must-read and very quotable. However, not enough people are taking the software and hardware engineers to task for their complicity in this. When I found out that NPR killed stories that legitimately put into question the arguments behind the invasion of Iraq, I wished them the worst for betraying the trust they had. Now, knowing the depths that engineers go--good ones--to subvert a trusted technology, I feel similarly ashamed.

And, although I expect the general populace to ignore this ("for our security!"), I hope that it won't be forgotten by the engineers that respect how technology can liberate members of a society rather than stifle them.

posted by sstrader at 8:19 PM in Internet , Politics | permalink