Twitter

•May 1, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Twitter is a free social networking and micro-blogging service that enables its users to send and read other users’ updates known as tweets. Tweets are text-based posts of up to 140 characters in length which are displayed on the user’s profile page and delivered to other users who have subscribed to them (known as followers). Senders can restrict delivery to those in their circle of friends or, by default, allow anybody to access them. Users can send and receive tweets via the Twitter website, Short Message Service (SMS) or external applications. The service is free to use over the Internet, but using SMS may incur phone service provider fees.

Since its creation in 2006 by Jack Dorsey, Twitter has gained extensive notability and popularity worldwide. It is often described as the “SMS of Internet,” in that the site provides the functionality (via its application programming interfaces) for other desktop and web-based applications to send and receive short text messages, often obscuring the Twitter service itself.

Four gateway numbers are currently available for SMS — short codes for the United States, Canada, India, and an Isle of Man-based number for international use. There is also a short code for Vodafone users from the United Kingdom. Several third parties offer posting and receiving updates via e-mail.

Estimates of the number of daily users vary as the company does not release the number of active accounts. In November 2008, Jeremiah Owyang of Forrester Research estimated that Twitter had 4-5 million users. A February 2009 Compete.com blog entry ranks Twitter as the third most used social network (Facebook being the largest, followed by MySpace), which puts the number of unique monthly visitors at roughly 6 million and the number of monthly visits at 55 million, however only 40% of users are retained. In March 2009, a Nielsen.com blog ranked Twitter as the fastest growing site in the Member Communities category for February 2009. Twitter had a growth of 1382%, Zimbio had a growth of 240%, followed by Facebook with a growth of 228%.

Finances

About US$57 million of Twitter is owned by venture capitalists. CEO Evan Williams raised about $22 million in venture capital. Twitter is backed by Union Square Ventures, Digital Garage, Spark Capital, and Bezos Expeditions (led by Jeff Bezos of Amazon). Institutional Venture Partners and Benchmark Capital backed Twitter in 2009, investing an additional $35 million.The Industry Standard has pointed to its lack of revenue as limiting its long-term viability. On February 13, 2009, Twitter announced on its official blog that it had closed a third round of funding in which it secured more than $35 million When asked about how he was going to use the additional investment funds in an interview, Williams said:

We don’t know all the ways we’re going to use that money, hopefully we’ll keep a lot of it in the bank. If we never need a lot of it, that’s great, but in the climate we’re in we don’t want to assume too much, and we don’t want any short term concerns to distort the potential of our long term vision, and our investors and the boards and everybody is very on board for building a very long term viable company. We need to do that step by step, and we need to invest a lot to get there.

Technology

Twitter has been described as akin to a web-based IRC client. The Twitter web interface uses the Ruby on Rails framework. From the spring of 2007 until sometime in 2008 the actual messages were handled by a pure-Ruby persistent queue server called Starling. Starling was replaced in 2008 with Scarling, a persistent queue server written in the Scala programming language, which has since been renamed Kestrel. The Twitter API itself allows the integration of Twitter with other web services and applications. In late April 2008, TechCrunch reported that, due to downtime related to scaling problems, Twitter would abandon Ruby on Rails as their web framework and create a new system with PHP or Java. Evan Williams, however, soon debunked this report in a Tweet he sent on May 1, 2008.

Twitter messages may be tagged using hashtags, a word or phrase prefixed with a #, such as #beer. This enables tweets on a specific subject to be found by simply searching for their common hashtag, provided that the user has tagged his or her tweet. Meanwhile, the @ sign before a username, such as @example, is used to distinguish a reply directed at that user. A message preceded by the @username prefix can still be read by anyone, but is treated as directed firstly to the user in question. This capability was initially called @reply, but was later renamed more descriptively as a “mention.”

Privacy and security

Twitter collects personally identifiable information about its users and shares it with third parties. Twitter considers that information an asset, and reserves the right to sell it if the company changes hands.

A security vulnerability was reported on April 7, 2007, by Nitesh Dhanjani and Rujith. The problem was due to Twitter’s using the SMS message originator as the authentication of the user’s account. Nitesh used FakeMyText to spoof a text message, whereupon Twitter posted the message on the victim’s page. This vulnerability can only be used if the target’s phone number is known. Within a few weeks of this discovery Twitter introduced an optional PIN that its users can specify to authenticate SMS-originating messages.

On January 5, 2009, 33 high-profile Twitter accounts were compromised, and falsified messages — including sexually explicit and drug-related messages — were sent. The accounts were compromised after a Twitter administrator’s password was guessed via a dictionary attack.

Twitter began experiencing problems related to its growing number of users in 2007. The service has experienced outages resulting from traffic overloads due to its increased popularity. The Wall Street Journal wrote, “These social-networking services elicit mixed feelings in the technology-savvy people who have been their early adopters. Fans say Twitter is a good way to keep in touch with busy friends. But, some users are starting to feel too connected, as they grapple with check-in messages at odd hours, higher cellphone bills, and the need to tell acquaintances to stop announcing what they’re having for dinner.” Satirical references have also been made, such as speculations as to what Shakespeare and Freud might have tweeted, if they had used Twitter. Steve Dotto opines that part of Twitter’s appeal is the challenge of trying to publish such messages in tight constraints.

According to Nielsen Online, its 40% retention rate of users, who tend to drop the service after a month, means the site potentially can reach only about 10% of Internet users.

Outages

Twitter experienced approximately 98% uptime in 2007, or about seven full days of downtime. Twitter’s downtime was particularly noticeable during events popular with the technology industry, such as the 2008 Macworld Conference & Expo keynote address.[35][36] When Twitter experiences an outage, users see the “fail whale” error message created by Sydney artist and designer Yiying Lu,[37][38] a whimsical illustration of red birds using nets to hoist a whale from the ocean. The message reads: “Too many tweets! Please wait a moment and try again.” The fail whale has been featured on NPR. During May 2008 Twitter’s new engineering team implemented necessary architectural changes to deal with the scale of growth. Stability issues resulted in down time or temporary feature removal.

As of August 2008, Twitter withdrew free SMS services to users in most of the world. For approximately five months, instant messaging support via a Jabber bot was listed as being “temporarily unavailable”. On October 10, 2008, Twitter’s status blog announced that IM service was no longer a temporary outage and needed to be revamped. IM status is said to return at some point, but requires major work to be completed.

In the media

In March 2009 Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury strip began to satirize Twitter, with the strip characters ironically highlighting the triviality of “tweets” and Roland defending the need to keep up with the constant-update trend or else lose relevance.[43] SuperNews!, similarly, satirized Twitter as an addiction to “constant self-affirmation”.

During a 2 March 2009 episode of the The Daily Show, the host Jon Stewart negatively portrayed members of Congress who chose to “twitter” during President Obama’s address to Congress (on 24 February 2009) rather than pay attention to the content of the speech. The show’s Samantha Bee satirized media coverage of the service saying “there’s no surprise young people love it – according to reports of young people by middle aged people”.

Another episode of the Daily Show on February 26, 2009, during which host of NBC Nightly News, Brian Williams (a guest on the Daily Show and a journalist) derided “tweets” as only having subject matter which refers to the condition of the author in any given instant. Williams implied that he would never use Twitter because nothing he did at any given moment was interesting enough to publish in Twitter format.

During a February 2009 discussion on NPR‘s Weekend Edition Daniel Schorr noted that Twitter accounts of events lacked rigorous fact-checking and other editorial improvements. In response, Andy Carvin gave Schorr two recent examples of breaking news stories that played out on Twitter and said users wanted first-hand accounts and sometimes debunked stories.

In April 2009 a large number of mainstream media outlets claimed that an fMRI study by Antonio Damasio and colleagues had shown that rapid-fire news updates and instant social interaction are too fast for the ‘moral compass’ of the brain to process. The original study, however, had not addressed Twitter or other social networking tools at all, and media reports had exaggerated the study’s implications for both Twitter and the ‘moral compass’.

Prominent users

British comedian Stephen Fry is one of the most followed celebrities on Twitter.

The Los Angeles Fire Department put the technology to use during the October 2007 California wildfires. Some NASA projects such as Space Shuttle missions and the International Space Station provide updates via Twitter. Several 2008 U.S. presidential campaigns used Twitter as a publicity mechanism, including that of Democratic Party nominee and President Barack Obama. The Nader–Gonzalez campaign updated its ballot access teams in real-time with Twitter and Google Maps. Twitter use increased 43% on election day. David Saranga of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that on December 30, 2008, Israel would be the first government to hold a worldwide press conference via Twitter to take questions from the public about the war against Hamas in Gaza. The use of Twitter by victims, bystanders, and the public to gather news and coordinate responses to the November 2008 Mumbai siege led CNN to call it “the day that social media appeared to come of age.”

British comedian Stephen Fry is also well known for having a large number of followers and was reported in The Times as being the celebrity with the most followers on Twitter in April 2009. However, the most followed celebrity today is Ashton Kutcher who is the first Twitter user to reach the one million follower mark, with the CNN “Breaking News'” account, and singer Britney Spears in second and third place respectively. The Faculty of Psychology of the University of Vienna has been using Twitter for formative course evaluation.

Usage

On February 12, 2009, there was a global meet-up called Twestival where Twitter users came together in over 170 cities around the world to take the online community surrounding Twitter offline as well as to raise money and awareness for Charity: water.

On April 10, 2008, James Buck, a graduate journalism student at University of California, Berkeley, and his translator, Mohammed Maree, were arrested in Egypt for photographing an anti-government protest. On his way to the police station Buck used his mobile phone to send the message “Arrested” to his 48 “followers” on Twitter. Those followers contacted U.C. Berkeley, the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, and a number of press organizations on his behalf. Buck was able to send updates about his condition to his “followers” while being detained. He was released the next day from the Mahalla jail after the college hired a lawyer for him.

Research reported in New Scientist in May 2008 found that blogs, maps, photo sites and instant messaging systems like Twitter did a better job of getting information out during emergencies, such as the shootings at Virginia Tech, than either the traditional news media or government emergency services. The study, performed by researchers at the University of Colorado, also found that those using Twitter during the fires in California in October 2007 kept their followers (who were often friends and neighbors) informed of their whereabouts and of the location of various fires minute by minute. Additionally, organizations that support relief efforts are also using Twitter. The American Red Cross uses Twitter to exchange minute-to-minute information about local disasters, including statistics and directions.

Media outlets are also starting to use Twitter as a source of public sentiment on issues. The first trades union Twitter service was launched by the news and campaigning website LabourStart in June 2008 During the CBC News television coverage of the Canadian federal election on October 14, 2008, the CBC cited a graph, produced by the Infoscape Research Lab, of items mentioned on Twitter, along with Tweets regarding Elizabeth May and Stéphane Dion, with the majority of the Dion Tweets calling for him to step down in response to the election results.

During the 2008 Mumbai attacks, eyewitnesses sent an estimated 80 tweets every five seconds as the tragedy unfolded. Twitter users on the ground helped in compiling a list of the dead and injured. In addition, users sent out vital information such as emergency phone numbers and the location of hospitals that needed blood donations.[70] In January 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 experienced multiple bird strikes and had to be ditched in the Hudson River after takeoff from LaGuardia Airport in New York City. Janis Krums, a passenger on one of the ferries that rushed to help, took a picture of the downed plane as passengers were still evacuating and tweeted it via TwitPic before traditional media arrived at the scene. In February 2009, the Australian Country Fire Authority used Twitter to send out regular alerts and updates regarding the 2009 Victorian bushfires. During this time, the Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd, also used his Twitter account to send out information on the fires, how to donate money and blood, and where to seek emergency help.

In October 2008 a draft US Army intelligence report identified the popular micro-blogging service as a potential terrorist tool. The report said, “Twitter is already used by some members to post and/or support extremist ideologies and perspectives.”

The first criminal prosecution arising from Twitter posts began in April 2009 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested Daniel Knight Hayden, a supporter of the Tea Party protests against the policies of President Barack Obama. Hayden was allegedly sending tweets threatening violence in connection with his plan to attend the Tea Party protest in Oklahoma City.

Related services and applications

There are many services and applications that work with or enhance Twitter. Many are designed to allow easy access to Twitter from specific devices, such as the iPhone or BlackBerry whilst others are designed to make it easier for users to access and update their Twitter account.

Similar services

A number of Twitter-like services exist, including sending text messages to multiple people at once. Some services use a similar concept but add country-specific services or combine the micro-blogging facilities with other services, such as file sharing. Other services provide Twitter-like functionality, but within closed networks for corporations, nonprofits, universities, and other organizations. In May 2007, one source counted as many as 111 such “Twitter look-alikes” internationally where, despite Twitter efforts to localize, Chinese-language clones have far outdone the original’s own progress in China.

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Blogs

•May 1, 2009 • Leave a Comment

A blog (a contraction of the term weblog) is a type of website, usually maintained by an individual with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material such as graphics or video. Entries are commonly displayed in reverse-chronological order. “Blog” can also be used as a verb, meaning to maintain or add content to a blog.

Many blogs provide commentary or news on a particular subject; others function as more personal online diaries. A typical blog combines text, images, and links to other blogs, Web pages, and other media related to its topic. The ability for readers to leave comments in an interactive format is an important part of many blogs. Most blogs are primarily textual, although some focus on art (artlog), photographs (photoblog), sketches (sketchblog), videos (vlog), music (MP3 blog), audio (podcasting), which are part of a wider network of social media. Micro-blogging is another type of blogging, one which consists of blogs with very short posts. As of December 2007, blog search engine Technorati was tracking more than 112 million blogs. With the advent of video blogging, the word blog has taken on an even looser meaning — that of any bit of media wherein the subject expresses his opinion or simply talks about something.

Types

There are many different types of blogs, differing not only in the type of content, but also in the way that content is delivered or written.

Personal blogs

The personal blog, an ongoing diary or commentary by an individual, is the traditional, most common blog. Personal bloggers usually take pride in their blog posts, even if their blog is never read by anyone but them. Blogs often become more than a way to just communicate; they become a way to reflect on life or works of art. Blogging can have a sentimental quality. Few personal blogs rise to fame and the mainstream, but some personal blogs quickly garner an extensive following. A type of personal blog is referred to as “microblogging,” which is extremely detailed blogging as it seeks to capture a moment in time. Sites, such as Twitter, allow bloggers to share thoughts and feelings instantaneously with friends and family and is much faster than e-mailing or writing. This form of social media lends to an online generation already too busy to keep in touch.

Corporate blogs

A blog can be private, as in most cases, or it can be for business purposes. Blogs, either used internally to enhance the communication and culture in a corporation or externally for marketing, branding or public relations purposes are called corporate blogs.

Question blogging

is a type of blog that answers questions. Questions can be submitted in the form of a submittal form, or through email or other means such as telephone or VOIP. Qlogs can be used to display shownotes from podcasts or the means of conveying information through the internet. Many question logs use syndication such as RSS as a means of conveying answers to questions.

By media type

A blog comprising videos is called a vlog, one comprising links is called a linklog, a site containing a portfolio of sketches is called a sketchblog or one comprising photos is called a photoblog.[4] Blogs with shorter posts and mixed media types are called tumblelogs. Blogs that are written on typewriters and then scanned are called typecast or typecast blogs; see typecasting (blogging).

A rare type of blog hosted on the Gopher Protocol is known as a Phlog.

By device

Blogs can also be defined by which type of device is used to compose it. A blog written by a mobile device like a mobile phone or PDA could be called a moblog. One early blog was Wearable Wireless Webcam, an online shared diary of a person’s personal life combining text, video, and pictures transmitted live from a wearable computer and EyeTap device to a web site. This practice of semi-automated blogging with live video together with text was referred to as sousveillance. Such journals have been used as evidence in legal matters.[citation needed]

Some blogs focus on a particular subject, such as political blogs, travel blogs, house blogs, fashion blogs, project blogs, education blogs, niche blogs, classical music blogs, quizzing blogs and legal blogs (often referred to as a blawgs) or dreamlogs. Two common types of genre blogs are art blogs and music blogs. A blog feaurting discussions especially about home and family is not uncommonly called a mom blog.[citation needed] While not a legitimate type of blog, one used for the sole purpose of spamming is known as a Splog.

The Blogosphere

The collective community of all blogs is known as the blogosphere. Since all blogs are on the internet by definition, they may be seen as interconnected and socially networked, through blogrolls, comments, linkbacks (refbacks, trackbacks or pingbacks) and backlinks. Discussions “in the blogosphere” have been used by the media as a gauge of public opinion on various issues. A collection of local blogs is sometimes referred to as a bloghood.

Blog search engines

Several blog search engines are used to search blog contents, such as Bloglines, BlogScope, and Technorati. Technorati, which is among the most popular blog search engines, provides current information on both popular searches and tags used to categorize blog postings[9]. Research community is working on going beyond simple keyword search, by inventing new ways to navigate through huge amounts of information present in the blogosphere, as demonstrated by projects like BlogScope.[citation needed]

Blogging communities and directories

Several online communities exist that connect people to blogs and bloggers to other bloggers, including BlogCatalog, MyBlogLog[10], and YULBlog, a combination online and offline community for people with blogs based in Montreal.

Blogging and advertising

It is common for blogs to feature advertisements either to financially benefit the blogger or to promote the blogger’s favorite causes. The popularity of blogs has also given rise to “fake blogs” in which a company will create a fictional blog as a marketing tool to promote a product.

Popularity

Researchers have analyzed the dynamics of how blogs become popular. There are essentially two measures of this: popularity through citations, as well as popularity through affiliation (i.e. blogroll). The basic conclusion from studies of the structure of blogs is that while it takes time for a blog to become popular through blogrolls, permalinks can boost popularity more quickly, and are perhaps more indicative of popularity and authority than blogrolls, since they denote that people are actually reading the blog’s content and deem it valuable or noteworthy in specific cases.

The blogdex project was launched by researchers in the MIT Media Lab to crawl the Web and gather data from thousands of blogs in order to investigate their social properties. It gathered this information for over 4 years, and autonomously tracked the most contagious information spreading in the blog community, ranking it by recency and popularity. It can therefore be considered the first instantiation of a memetracker. The project is no longer active, but a similar function is now served by tailrank.com.

Blogs are given rankings by Technorati based on the number of incoming links and Alexa Internet based on the Web hits of Alexa Toolbar users. In August 2006, Technorati found that the most linked-to blog on the internet was that of Chinese actress Xu Jinglei. Chinese media Xinhua reported that this blog received more than 50 million page views, claiming it to be the most popular blog in the world. Technorati rated Boing Boing to be the most-read group-written blog.

Gartner forecasts that blogging will peak in 2007, leveling off when the number of writers who maintain a personal Web site reaches 100 million. Gartner analysts expect that the novelty value of the medium will wear off as most people who are interested in the phenomenon have checked it out, and new bloggers will offset the number of writers who abandon their creation out of boredom. The firm estimates that there are more than 200 million former bloggers who have ceased posting to their online diaries, creating an exponential rise in the amount of “dotsam” and “netsam” — that is to say, unwanted objects on the Web (analogous to flotsam and jetsam).

Blurring with the mass media

Many bloggers, particularly those engaged in participatory journalism, differentiate themselves from the mainstream media, while others are members of that media working through a different channel. Some institutions see blogging as a means of “getting around the filter” and pushing messages directly to the public. Some critics worry that bloggers respect neither copyright nor the role of the mass media in presenting society with credible news. Bloggers and other contributors to user-generated content are behind Time magazine naming their 2006 person of the year as “you”.

Many mainstream journalists, meanwhile, write their own blogs — well over 300, according to CyberJournalist.net’s J-blog list. The first known use of a blog on a news site was in August 1998, when Jonathan Dube of The Charlotte Observer published one chronicling Hurricane Bonnie.

Some bloggers have moved over to other media. The following bloggers (and others) have appeared on radio and television: Duncan Black (known widely by his pseudonym, Atrios), Glenn Reynolds (Instapundit), Markos Moulitsas Zúniga (Daily Kos), Alex Steffen (Worldchanging) and Ana Marie Cox (Wonkette). In counterpoint, Hugh Hewitt exemplifies a mass-media personality who has moved in the other direction, adding to his reach in “old media” by being an influential blogger. Equally many established authors, for example Mitzi Szereto have started using Blogs to not only update fans on their current works but also to expand into new areas of writing.

Blogs have also had an influence on minority languages, bringing together scattered speakers and learners; this is particularly so with blogs in Gaelic languages. Minority language publishing (which may lack economic feasibility) can find its audience through inexpensive blogging.

There are many examples of bloggers who have published books based on their blogs, e.g., Salam Pax, Ellen Simonetti, Jessica Cutler, ScrappleFace. Blog-based books have been given the name blook. A prize for the best blog-based book was initiated in 2005, the Lulu Blooker Prize. However, success has been elusive offline, with many of these books not selling as well as their blogs. Only blogger Tucker Max cracked the New York Times Bestseller List.

Blogging consequences

The emergence of blogging has brought a range of legal liabilities and other often unforeseen consequences.

Defamation or liability

Several cases have been brought before the national courts against bloggers concerning issues of defamation or liability. The courts have returned with mixed verdicts. Internet Service Providers (ISPs), in general, are immune from liability for information that originates with third parties (U.S. Communications Decency Act and the EU Directive 2000/31/EC).

In Doe v. Cahill, the Delaware Supreme Court held that stringent standards had to be met to unmask the anonymous posts of bloggers and also took the unusual step of dismissing the libel case itself (as unfounded under American libel law) rather than referring it back to the trial court for reconsideration. In a bizarre twist, the Cahills were able to obtain the identity of John Doe, who turned out to be the person they suspected: the town’s mayor, Councilman Cahill’s political rival. The Cahills amended their original complaint, and the mayor settled the case rather than going to trial.

In January 2007, two prominent Malaysian political bloggers, Jeff Ooi and Ahiruddin Attan were sued by pro-government newspaper, The New Straits Times Press (Malaysia) Berhad, Kalimullah bin Masheerul Hassan, Hishamuddin bin Aun and Brenden John a/l John Pereira over an alleged defamation. The plaintiff was supported by the Malaysian government. Following the suit, the Malaysian government proposed to “register” all bloggers in Malaysia in order to better control parties against their interest. This is the first such legal case against bloggers in the country.

In the United States, blogger Aaron Wall was sued by Traffic Power for defamation and publication of trade secrets in 2005. According to Wired Magazine, Traffic Power had been “banned from Google for allegedly rigging search engine results.” Wall and other “white hatsearch engine optimization consultants had exposed Traffic Power in what they claim was an effort to protect the public. The case was watched by many bloggers because it addressed the murky legal question of who’s liable for comments posted on blogs. The case was dismissed for lack of personal jurisdiction, and Traffic Power failed to appeal within the allowed time.

Employment

In general, attempts at hiding the blogger’s name and/or the place of employment in anonymity have proved ineffective at protecting the blogger. Employees who blog about elements of their place of employment raise the issue of employee branding, since their activities can begin to affect the brand recognition of their employer.

In fall 2004, Ellen Simonetti was fired for what was deemed by her employer, Delta Air Lines, to be inappropriate material on her blog. She subsequently wrote a book based on her blog.

Delta Air Lines fired flight attendant Ellen Simonetti because she posted photographs of herself in uniform on an airplane and because of comments posted on her blog “Queen of Sky: Diary of a Flight Attendant” which the employer deemed inappropriate. This case highlighted the issue of personal blogging and freedom of expression vs. employer rights and responsibilities, and so it received wide media attention. Simonetti took legal action against the airline for “wrongful termination, defamation of character and lost future wages”. The suit was postponed while Delta was in bankruptcy proceedings (court docket).

In the spring of 2006, Erik Ringmar, a tenured senior lecturer at the London School of Economics, was ordered by the convenor of his department to “take down and destroy” his blog in which he discussed the quality of education at the school.

Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, was fined during the 2006 NBA playoffs for criticizing NBA officials on the court and in his blog.

Mark Jen was terminated in 2005 after 10 days of employment as an Assistant Product Manager at Google for discussing corporate secrets on his personal blog, then called 99zeros and hosted on the Google-owned Blogger service.[35] He blogged about unreleased products and company finances a week before the company’s earnings announcement. He was fired two days after he complied with his employer’s request to remove the sensitive material from his blog.

In India, blogger Gaurav Sabnis resigned from IBM after his posts exposing the false claims of a management school, IIPM, led to management of IIPM threatening to burn their IBM laptops as a sign of protest against him.

Jessica Cutler, aka “The Washingtonienne“, blogged about her sex life while employed as a congressional assistant. After the blog was discovered and she was fired,[38] she wrote a novel based on her experiences and blog: The Washingtonienne: A Novel. Cutler is presently being sued by one of her former lovers in a case that could establish the extent to which bloggers are obligated to protect the privacy of their real life associates.[39]

Catherine Sanderson, a.k.a. Petite Anglaise, lost her job in Paris at a British accountancy firm because of blogging.[40] Although given in the blog in a fairly anonymous manner, some of the descriptions of the firm and some of its people were less than flattering. Sanderson later won a compensation claim case against the British firm, however.

On the other hand, Penelope Trunk, writing in the Globe in 2006, was one of the first to point out that a large portion of bloggers are professionals and that a well-written blog can actually help attract employers.

Political dangers

Blogging can sometimes have unforeseen consequences in politically sensitive areas. Blogs are much harder to control than broadcast or even print media. As a result, totalitarian and authoritarian regimes often seek to suppress blogs and/or to punish those who maintain them.

In Singapore, two ethnic Chinese were imprisoned under the country’s anti-sedition law for posting anti-Muslim remarks in their blogs.

Egyptian blogger Kareem Amer was charged with insulting the Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and an Islamic institution through his online blog. It is the first time in the history of Egypt that a blogger was prosecuted. After a brief trial session that took place in Alexandria, the blogger was found guilty and sentenced to prison terms of three years for insulting Islam and inciting sedition, and one year for insulting Mubarak.

Egyptian blogger Abdel Monem Mahmoud was arrested in April 2007 for anti-government writings in his blog. Monem is a member of the banned Muslim Brotherhood.

After expressing opinions in his personal blog about the state of the Sudanese armed forces, Jan Pronk, United Nations Special Representative for the Sudan, was given three days notice to leave Sudan. The Sudanese army had demanded his deportation.[44][45][46]

In Myanmar, Nay Phone Latt, a blogger, was sentenced to 20 years in jail for posting a cartoon critical of head of state Than Shwe.

Personal safety

One consequence of blogging is the possibility of attacks or threats against the blogger, sometimes without apparent reason. Kathy Sierra, author of the innocuous blog Creating Passionate Users, was the target of such vicious threats and misogynistic insults that she canceled her keynote speech at a technology conference in San Diego, fearing for her safety. While a blogger’s anonymity is often tenuous, Internet trolls who would attack a blogger with threats or insults can be emboldened by anonymity. Sierra and supporters initiated an online discussion aimed at countering abusive online behavior and developed a blogger’s code of conduct.

Therapeutic benefits

Scientists have long known the therapeutic benefits of writing about personal experiences. Blogs provide another convenient avenue for writing about personal experiences. Research shows that it improves memory and sleep, boosts immune cell activity and reduces viral load in AIDS patients and even speeds healing after surgery.

History

The term “weblog” was coined by Jorn Barger on 17 December 1997. The short form, “blog,” was coined by Peter Merholz, who jokingly broke the word weblog into the phrase we blog in the sidebar of his blog Peterme.com in April or May 1999.[52][53][54] Shortly thereafter, Evan Williams at Pyra Labs used “blog” as both a noun and verb (“to blog,” meaning “to edit one’s weblog or to post to one’s weblog”) and devised the term “blogger” in connection with Pyra Labs’ Blogger product, leading to the popularization of the terms.

Origins

Before blogging became popular, digital communities took many forms, including Usenet, commercial online services such as GEnie, BiX and the early CompuServe, e-mail lists[56] and Bulletin Board Systems (BBS). In the 1990s, Internet forum software, such as WebEx, created running conversations with “threads.” Threads are topical connections between messages on a metaphorical “corkboard.”

The modern blog evolved from the online diary, where people would keep a running account of their personal lives. Most such writers called themselves diarists, journalists, or journalers. Justin Hall, who began personal blogging in 1994 while a student at Swarthmore College, is generally recognized as one of the earliest bloggers, as is Jerry Pournelle.[citation needed] Dave Winer’s Scripting News is also credited with being one of the oldest and longest running weblogs. Another early blog was Wearable Wireless Webcam, an online shared diary of a person’s personal life combining text, video, and pictures transmitted live from a wearable computer and EyeTap device to a web site in 1994. This practice of semi-automated blogging with live video together with text was referred to as sousveillance, and such journals were also used as evidence in legal matters.

Early blogs were simply manually updated components of common Web sites. However, the evolution of tools to facilitate the production and maintenance of Web articles posted in reverse chronological order made the publishing process feasible to a much larger, less technical, population. Ultimately, this resulted in the distinct class of online publishing that produces blogs we recognize today. For instance, the use of some sort of browser-based software is now a typical aspect of “blogging”. Blogs can be hosted by dedicated blog hosting services, or they can be run using blog software, or on regular web hosting services.

Rise in popularity

After a slow start, blogging rapidly gained in popularity. Blog usage spread during 1999 and the years following, being further popularized by the near-simultaneous arrival of the first hosted blog tools:

Open Diary launched in October 1998, soon growing to thousands of online diaries. Open Diary innovated the reader comment, becoming the first blog community where readers could add comments to other writers’ blog entries.

Brad Fitzpatrick, a well-known blogger started LiveJournal in March 1999.

Andrew Smales created Pitas.com in July 1999 as an easier alternative to maintaining a “news page” on a Web site, followed by Diaryland in September 1999, focusing more on a personal diary community.

Evan Williams and Meg Hourihan (Pyra Labs) launched blogger.com in August 1999 (purchased by Google in February 2003)

Forums

•May 1, 2009 • Leave a Comment

An Internet forum, or message board, is an online discussion site. It is the modern equivalent of a traditional bulletin board, and a technological evolution of the dialup bulletin board system. From a technological standpoint, forums or boards are web applications managing user-generated content.

People participating in an Internet forum can build bonds with each other and interest groups will easily form around a topic’s discussion, subjects dealt with in or around sections in the forum.

Registration or anonymity

In the United States and some parts of Europe, most Internet forums require registration to post. Registered users of the site are referred to as members and are allowed to submit or send electronic messages through the web application. The process of registration involves verification of one’s age (typically over 12 is required so as to meet COPPA requirements of American forum software) followed by a declaration of the terms of service (other documents may also be present) and a request for agreement to said terms. Subsequently, if all goes well, the candidate is presented with a web form to fill requesting at the very least: a username (an alias), password, email and validation of a CAPTCHA code.

While simply completing the registration web form is – usually – enough to generate an account the status label Inactive is commonly given by default until the registered confirms the email address indeed belongs to him. Until that time, the registered can log in to his new account but may not use the forum for communication (posts, threads, private messages).

Sometimes a referrer system is implemented. A referrer is someone who lead one or otherwise “helped someone” with the decision to join the site (similarly how a HTTP referrer is the site who linked one to another site). Usually for forums referrers are other members. The referrer system is also sometimes implemented so that if a visitor visits the forum though a link such as referrerid=300, the user with the id number (in this example, 300) would receive referral credit if the visitor registers. The purpose is commonly just to give credit (sometimes rewards are implied) to those who help the community grow.

On Asian Internet forums, especially in China and Japan, registration is frequently optional and anonymity is sometimes even encouraged. On these forums, a tripcode system may be used to allow verification of an identity without the need for formal registration.

Rules and policies on forums

Forums are governed by a set of individuals, commonly referred to as administrators and Moderators, which are responsible for the forums’ conception, technical maintenance and policies. Most forums have a list of rules detailing the wishes, aim and guidelines of the forums creators. There is usually also a FAQ section contain basic information for new members and people not yet familiar with the use and principles of a forum.

Rules on forum usually apply to the entire user body and often have preset exceptions, most commonly designating a section as an exception. For example, in an IT forum any discussion regarding anything but computer programming languages may be outlawed, with the exception of a general chat section.

Forum rules are maintained and enforced by the moderation team, but users are allowed to help out via what’s known as a report system. Most American forum software contains such a system. It consists of a small function applicable to each post (including one’s own). Using it will notify all currently available moderators of its location, and subsequent action or judgment can be carried out immediately, which is desirable in large or very developed boards. Generally, moderators encourage members to also use the private message system if they wish to report behavior. Moderators will generally frown upon attempts of moderation by non-moderators, especially when the would-be moderators do not even issue a report. Messages from non-moderators acting as moderators generally declare a post as against the rules, or predict punishment. While not harmful, statements which attempt to enforce the rules are discouraged.

When rules are broken several steps are commonly taken. First a warning is usually given; this is commonly in the form of a private message but recent development has made it possible for it to be integrated into the software. Subsequently, if the act is ignored and warnings do not work, the member is – usually – first exiled from the forum for a number of days. Denying someone access to the site is called a ban (as in “you have been banished”). Bans can mean the person can no longer log in or even view the site anymore. If the offender, after the warning sentence, repeats the offense, another ban is given, usually this time a longer one. Continuous harassment of the site eventually leads to a permanent ban. However, in most cases this simply means the account is locked. In extreme cases where the offender – after being permanently banned – creates another account and continues to harass the site, administrators will apply an IP ban (this can also be applied at the server level): if the IP is static, the machine of the offender is prevented from accessing the site. In some extreme circumstances, IP range bans or country bans can be applied; however, this is usually for political, licensing or other reasons. See also: Block (internet), IP blocking, Internet censorship.

Offending content is usually deleted. Sometimes if the topic is considered the source of the problem, it is locked; often a poster may request a topic expected to draw problems to be locked as well, although the moderators decide whether to grant it. In a locked thread, members cannot post anymore. In cases where the topic is considered a breach of rules it – with all of its posts – may be deleted.

Troll

A troll is a user that repeatedly and intentionally breaches netiquette, often posting derogatory or otherwise inflammatory messages about sensitive topics in an established online community to bait users into responding, often starting flame wars (see below). They may also link to shock sites or plant images on networks that others may find disturbing in order to cause confrontation. Trolls known as gravediggers (or necromancers) purposefully post in old and irrelevant threads simply to bring that thread to light again.

Sock Puppet

The term sock puppet refers to someone who is simultaneously registered under different pseudonyms on a particular message board or forum. The analogy of a sock puppet is of a puppeteer holding up both hands and supplying dialogue to both puppets simultaneously. A sock puppet will create multiple accounts over a period of time, using each user to debate or agree with each other on a forum. Sock puppets are usually found when an IP check is done on the accounts in a forum.

Spamming

Forum spamming is a breach of netiquette where users repeat the same word or phrase over and over, but differs from multiple posting in that spamming is usually a willful act which sometimes has malicious intent. This is a common trolling technique. It can also be traditional spam, unpaid advertisements that are in breach of the forum’s rules. Spammers utilize a number of illicit techniques to post their spam, including the use of botnets.

Some forums consider posts consisting solely of: Thank you., I love it. – or similar phrases – spam.

Double posting

One common faux pas on Internet forums is to post the same message twice. Users sometimes post versions of a message that are only slightly different, especially in forums where they are not allowed to edit their earlier posts. Multiple posting instead of editing prior posts can artificially inflate a user’s post count. Multiple posting can be unintentional; a user’s browser might display an error message even though the post has been transmitted or a user of a slow forum might become impatient and repeatedly hit the submit button. Multiple posting can also be used as a method of trolling or spreading forum spam. A user may also send the same post to several forums, which is termed crossposting. This problem was inherited from Usenet and is a common complaint in many forums.

Word censor

A word censoring system is commonly included in the forum software package. The system will pick up words in the body of the post or some other user editable forum element (like user titles) and if they partially match a certain keyword (commonly no case sensitivity) they will be censored. The most common censoring is letter replacement with an asterisk character; for example: in the user title it is deemed inappropriate for users to use words such as “admin”, “moderator”, “leader” and so on, if the censoring system is implemented a title such as “forum leader” may be filtered to “forum ******”. Rude or vulgar words are common targets for the censoring system.

Forum structure

A forum consists of a tree like directory structure containing at the lowest end topics (commonly called threads) and inside them posts. Logically forums are organised into a finite set of generic topics (usually with one main topic) driven and updated by a group known as members, and governed by a group known as moderators.

User groups

Internally, Western-style forums organise visitors and logged in members into user groups. Privileges and rights are given based on these groups. A person viewing a closed thread as a member will see a box saying he does not have the right to submit messages there, but a moderator will likely see the same box granting him access to more than just posting messages.

An unregistered user of the site is commonly known as a guest or visitor. Guests are granted access to all functions that do not require database alterations or breach privacy. A guest can view the contents of the forum or use such features as read marking. A person who is a very frequent visitor of the forum, a section or even a thread is referred to as a lurker and the habit is referred to as lurking. Registered members often will refer to themselves as lurking in a particular location, which is to say they have no intention of participating in that section but enjoy reading the contributions to it.

Posters

The posters to the forum are considered the driving force behind the community. On some forums, a poster may edit or delete his or her own posts, although sometimes these rights are reserved.

Western-style forums often allow an avatar and signature. The avatar is generally a small image often limited to 80×80 pixels (other common dimensions include 100×100 and 90×90 pixels) and limited to a certain filesize (6 kilobytes and 50 kilobytes are common) displayed below a user’s username. The forum signature (or sig) consists of text and/or images defined by the user and appended at the end of each of his posts. Both fundamentally are just expressions of the user’s creativity, although many forums extend their rules to signatures.

Specialized forums like to split the members into specific groups; a military-themed group, for example, may use military-style ranks, with basic members as ‘privates’ while administrators would be styled as ‘generals’, and moderators may bear the title ‘MP’. These titles are usually displayed below the username or avatar, and also indicate which members have which access.

Moderator

The moderators (short singular form: “mod”) are users (or employees) of the forum which are granted access to the posts and threads of all members for the purpose of moderating discussion (similar to arbitration) and also keeping the forum clean (neutralising spam and spambots etc). Because they have access to all posts and threads in their area of responsibility, it is common for a knowledgeable and trustworthy member to be promoted to moderator for such a task. Moderators also answer users’ concerns about the forum, general questions, as well as responding to specific complaints. Moderators themselves may have ranks: some may be given mod privilege over only a particular topic or section, while others (called ‘global’ or ‘super’) may be allowed access anywhere. Common privileges of moderators include: deleting, merging, moving, and splitting of posts and threads; closing, renaming, stickying of threads; banning, unbanning, warning the members; or adding, editing, removing the polls of threads.

Administrator

The administrators (short form: “admin”) manage the technical details required for running the site. As such, they may promote (and demote) members to moderators, manage the rules, create sections and sub-sections, as well as perform any database operations (database backup etc). Administrators often also act as moderators. Administrators may also make forum-wide announcements, or change the appearance (known as the skin) of a forum.

The term prune used extensively in administration panels is synonymous with delete or remove. The term comes from pruning, the practice of removing diseased, non-productive, or otherwise unwanted portions from a plant.

Post

A post is a user submitted message enclosed into a block containing the user’s details and the date and time it was submitted. Members are usually allowed to edit or delete their own posts. Posts are contained in threads, where they appear as boxes one after another. The first post starts the thread; this may be called the original post, or OP. Posts that follow in the thread are meant to continue discussion about that post, or respond to other replies; it is not unknown for discussions to be derailed.

On Western forums, the classic way to show a member’s own details (such as name and avatar) has been on the left side of the post, in a narrow column of fixed width, with the post controls located on the right, at the bottom of the main body, above the signature block. In more recent forum software implementations the Asian style of displaying the members’ details above the post has been copied.

Posts have an internal limit usually measured in characters. Often one is required to have a message of minimum length of 10 characters. There is always an upper limit but it is rarely reached – most boards have it at either 10.000, 30.000 or 50.000 characters.

Thread

A thread is a collection of posts, usually displayed – by default – from oldest to latest, although the option for a threaded view (a tree-like view applying logical reply structure before chronological order) can be available. A thread is defined by a title, an additional description that may summarise the intended discussion, and an opening or original post (common abbreviation ‘OP’, which can also mean original poster) which opens whatever dialogue or makes whatever announcement the poster wished. A thread can contain any number of posts, including multiple posts from the same members, even if they are one after the other.

A thread is contained in a forum, and is displayed in chronological order from newest to oldest, where the date is taken as the date of the last post (options to order threads by other criteria are generally available). When a member posts in a thread it will jump to the top since it is the latest updated thread. Similarly, other threads will jump in front of it when they receive posts. When a member posts in a thread for no reason but to have it go to the top, it is referred to as a bump or bumping. Threads which are important but rarely receive posts are stickyed (or, in some software, ‘pinned’). A sticky thread will always appear in front of normal threads, often in its own section.

A thread’s popularity is measured on forums in reply (total posts minus one – the opening post) counts. Some forums also track page views. Threads meeting a set number of posts or a set number of views may receive a designation such as “hot thread” and be displayed with a different icon compared to others threads.

Discussion

Forums prefer a premise of open and free discussion and often adopt de facto standards. Most common topics on forums include questions, comparisons, polls of opinion as well as debates. Because of their volatile and random behavior it is not uncommon for nonsense or unsocial behavior to sprout as people lose temper, especially if the topic is controversial. Poor understanding of argumentation theory and differences in values of the participants is a common problem on forums. Because replies to a topic are often wording aimed at someone’s point of view, discussion will usually go slightly off into several directions as people question each others validity, sources and so on. Circular discussion and ambiguity in replies can carry out arguments for several tens of posts of a thread eventually ending when everyone gives up or another similar debate takes it over. It is not uncommon for a style over substance or ad hominem debates to be the ones to take it over. Other problems on forums include catch-22 logic, regress arguments, vagueness, counterfactual history arguments and so on.

Flame wars

When a thread — or in some cases an entire forum — becomes unstable the result is usually uncontrolled spam in the form of one-line complaints, image macros or abuse of the report system. When the discussion becomes heated and sides do nothing more than complain and not accept each other’s differences in point of view, the discussion degenerates into what is called a flame war. To flame someone means to go off-topic and attack the person rather than their opinion. Likely candidates for flame wars are usually religion and socio-political topics. Threads which degenerate to a level below the forum moderators are usually locked but when the problem is considered contagious they are deleted.

When a topic that has degenerated into a flame war is considered akin to that of the forum (be it a section or the entire board) spam and flames have a chance of spreading outside the topic and causing trouble, usually in the form of vandalism. Some forums (commonly game forums) have suffered from forum wide flame wars almost immediately after their conception, because of a pre-existing flame war element in the online community. Many forums have created devoted areas strictly for discussion of potential flame war topics that are moderated like normal.

Google Earth/Streets

•May 1, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Google Earth is a virtual globe, map and geographic information program that was originally called Earth Viewer, and was created by Keyhole, Inc, a company acquired by Google in 2004. It maps the Earth by the superimposition of images obtained from satellite imagery, aerial photography and GIS 3D globe. It is available under three different licenses: Google Earth, a free version with limited functionality; Google Earth Plus (discontinued), which included additional features; and Google Earth Pro ($400 per year), which is intended for commercial use.

The product, re-released as Google Earth in 2005, is currently available for use on personal computers running Microsoft Windows 2000, XP, Vista, Mac OS X 10.3.9 and above, Linux (released on June 12, 2006), and FreeBSD. Google Earth is also available as a browser plugin (released on June 2, 2008) for Firefox, Safari 3, IE6 and IE7. It was also made available on the iPhone OS on October 27, 2008, as a free download from the App Store. In addition to releasing an updated Keyhole based client, Google also added the imagery from the Earth database to their web based mapping software. The release of Google Earth in June 2005 to the public caused a more than tenfold increase in media coverage on virtual globes between 2005 and 2006, driving public interest in geospatial technologies and applications.

Google Earth displays satellite images of varying resolution of the Earth’s surface, allowing users to visually see things like cities and houses looking perpendicularly down or at an oblique angle, with perspective (see also bird’s eye view). The degree of resolution available is based somewhat on the points of interest and popularity, but most land (except for some islands) is covered in at least 15 meters of resolution. Melbourne, Victoria, Las Vegas, Nevada, and Cambridge, Cambridgeshire include examples of the highest resolution, at 15 cm (6 inches). Google Earth allows users to search for addresses for some countries, enter coordinates, or simply use the mouse to browse to a location.

For large parts of the surface of the Earth only 2D images are available, from almost vertical photography. Viewing this from an oblique angle, there is perspective in the sense that objects which are horizontally far away are seen smaller, but of course it is like viewing a large photograph, not quite like a 3D view.

For other parts of the surface of the Earth 3D images of terrain and buildings are available. Google Earth uses digital elevation model (DEM) data collected by NASA‘s Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM). This means one can view the Grand Canyon or Mount Everest in three dimensions, instead of 2D like other areas. Since November 2006, the 3D views of many mountains, including Mount Everest, have been improved by the use of supplementary DEM data to fill the gaps in SRTM coverage.

Many people use the applications to add their own data, making them available through various sources, such as the Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) or blogs mentioned in the link section below. Google Earth is able to show all kinds of images overlaid on the surface of the earth and is also a Web Map Service client. Google Earth supports managing three-dimensional Geospatial data through Keyhole Markup Language (KML).

Google Earth has the capability to show 3D buildings and structures (such as bridges), which consist of users’ submissions using SketchUp, a 3D modeling program. In prior versions of Google Earth (before Version 4), 3D buildings were limited to a few cities, and had poorer rendering with no textures. Many buildings and structures from around the world now have detailed 3D structures; including (but not limited to) those in the United States, Canada, Ireland, India, Japan, United Kingdom Germany, Pakistan and the cities, Amsterdam and Alexandria. In August 2007, Hamburg became the first city entirely shown in 3D, including textures such as façades. The Irish town of Westport was added to Google Earth in 3D on January 16, 2008. The ‘Westport3D’ model was created by 3D imaging firm AM3TD using long-distance laser scanning technology and digital photography and is the first such model of an Irish town to be created. As it was developed initially to aid Local Government in carrying out their town planning functions it includes the highest resolution photo-realistic textures to be found anywhere in Google Earth. Three-dimensional renderings are available for certain buildings and structures around the world via Google’s 3D Warehouse and other websites.

Recently, Google added a feature that allows users to monitor traffic speeds at loops located every 200 yards in real-time. In version 4.3 released on April 15, 2008, Google Street View was fully integrated into the program allowing the program to provide an on the street level view in many locations.

On January 17, 2009, the entirety of Google Earth’s ocean floor imagery was updated to new images by SIO, NOAA, US Navy, NGA, and GEBCO. The new images have caused smaller islands, such as some atolls in the Maldives, to be rendered invisible despite their shores being completely outlined.

Google Street View is a feature of Google Maps and Google Earth that provides for many streets in the world 360° horizontal and 290° vertical panoramic views from a row of positions along the street (one in every 10 or 20 meters, or so), from a height of about two meters. It was launched on May 25, 2007, and has gradually expanded to include more cities, and in these cities more streets, and also some rural areas. These photographs are currently available for countries including United States, United Kingdom, Netherlands, France, Italy, Spain, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. Coverage is shown by dragging “pegman” from its position, on a map of any scale.

Google Street View displays photos taken from a fleet of Chevrolet Cobalts in North America, Opel Astras in continental Europe, Holden Astras in Australia and New Zealand, Vauxhall Astras in the United Kingdom and Toyota Prius cars in Japan. Pedestrian areas, narrow streets and park alleys that cannot be accessed by car are not always covered. However, sometimes Google Bikes are used. On each of these cars (and bikes) 9 directional cameras for the 360° views, GPS units for positioning, Laser Range Finders for the measuring of buildings and 3G/Wi-Fi aerials for whereabouts on 3G and Wi-Fi hotspots are all mounted.

Where available, street view images appear after zooming in beyond the highest zooming level in maps and satellite images, and also by dragging “pegman” to some position. Using the keyboard or mouse the horizontal and vertical viewing direction and the zoom level can be selected. A straight or broken line in the photo shows the approximate path followed by the camera car; two arrows link to the next photo in each direction. At junctions and crossings of camera car routes, more arrows are shown.

On November 21, 2008, Street View was added to the Maps application installed on Apple’s iPhone. On December 10, 2008, Street View was added to the Maps application for S60 3rd Edition. Street view has now also been added to the Windows Mobile version of Google Maps. All versions of Google Maps for Android feature street view, and the digital compass can be used to look around the locations.

Google Street View was first introduced in the United States on May 25, 2007, and only covered areas of the United States until July 2, 2008. As of today, images can be seen in seven countries (although parts of other countries can be seen from locations located near national borders; for example, large portions of Vatican City can be viewed from Rome’s streetview). Introductions have generally occurred every 2 days to 100 days. Up until November 26, 2008, major cities (and early on, the only cities) were marked by camera icons, more of which were added each time. Then, all camera icons were discontinued in favor simply of “blue” coverage.

Europe

Google’s StreetView Camera Car near Zürich, Switzerland in April 2009

Google’s Street View Camera Car in Taipei, Taiwan in March 2009

The first views anywhere outside the United States were introduced on July 2, 2008, when the Tour de France route was added. Nineteen camera icons, each indicating part of a French city or town and Cuneo, Italy were included.

On October 14, 2008, camera icons were introduced in six French cities, Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Nice, Paris, Toulouse. At the same time, all other icons that had been introduced in France on July 2, as well as the one of Cuneo, Italy, were removed, representing the first time in Street View’s history that a camera icon that once marked a place was removed. But the amount of coverage that France had since July 2 was not diminished.

On October 27, 2008, four Spanish metropolitan areas were added to the list of growing street view locations in Europe. These include Madrid, Barcelona, Seville and Valencia.

On October 29, 2008, Italy received four camera icons for the localities of Florence, Milan, Rome, and Lake Como.

On March 18, 2009, United Kingdom and Netherlands images were added. In the case of Great Britain, only major centres have so far been uploaded, and coverage of those centres is not 100%. For example, as of mid-April 2009, Edinburgh is missing Street View images of two of its key thoroughfares: Princes Street and the Royal Mile (although portions of both are visible from adjoining streets that have been imaged).

Google Sky is a feature that was introduced in Google Earth 4.2 on August 22, 2007, and allows users to view stars and other celestial bodies. It was produced by Google through a partnership with the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, the science operations center for the Hubble Space Telescope. Dr. Alberto Conti and his co-developer Dr. Carol Christian of the Space Telescope Science Institute plan to add the public images from 2007, as well as color images of all of the archived data from Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys. Newly released Hubble pictures will be added to the Google Sky program as soon as they are issued. New features such as multi-wavelength data, positions of major satellites and their orbits as well as educational resources will be provided to the Google Earth community and also through Christian and Conti’s website for Sky. Also visible on Sky mode are constellations, stars, galaxies and animations depicting the planets in their orbits. A real-time Google Sky mashup of recent astronomical transients, using the VOEvent protocol, is being provided by the VOEventNet collaboration.Google’s Earth maps are being updated each 5 minutes.

Google Sky faces competition from Microsoft WorldWide Telescope (which runs only under the Microsoft Windows operating systems) and from Stellarium (computer program), a free open source planetarium that runs under Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux.

On March 13, 2008 Google made a web-based version of Google Sky available at http://www.google.com/sky/.

Historical Imagery

Introduced in version 5.0, Historical Imagery allows users to traverse back in time and study earlier stages of any place. This feature is very useful for research purposes that require analysis of past records of various places.

Mars

A High Resolution View of Victoria Crater Displayed in 3D using the Mars feature on Google Earth 5

Google Earth 5 included a separate globe of the planet Mars that could be viewed. The maps are of a much higher resolution than those on the browser version of Google Mars and it also includes 3D renderings of the Martian terrain. There are also some extremely high resolution images from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter‘s HiRISE camera that are of a similar resolution to those of the cities on Earth. Finally, there are many high resolution panoramic images from various Mars landers, such as the Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, that can be viewed in a similar way to Google Street View. Interestingly enough, layers on Google Earth (such as World Population Density) can also be applied to Mars. Layers of Mars can also be applied onto Earth.

On Demand Video

•May 1, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Video On Demand (VOD) or Audio Video On Demand (AVOD) systems allow users to select and watch/listen to video or audio content on demand.

VOD systems either stream content through a set-top box, allowing viewing in real time, or download it to a device such as a computer, digital video recorder, personal video recorder or portable media player for viewing at any time. The majority of cable– and telco-based television providers offer both VOD streaming, such as pay-per-view, whereby a user buys or selects a movie or television program and it begins to play on the television set almost instantaneously, or downloading to a DVR rented from the provider, for viewing in the future.

Functionality

Download and streaming video on demand systems provide the user with a large subset of VCR functionality including pause, fast forward, fast rewind, slow forward, slow rewind, jump to previous/future frame etc. These functions are called trick modes. For disk-based streaming systems which store and stream programs from hard disk drive, trick modes require additional processing and storage on the part of the server, because separate files for fast forward and rewind must be stored. Memory-based VOD streaming systems have the advantage of being able to perform trick modes directly from RAM, which requires no additional storage or CPU cycles on the part of the processor.

It is possible to put video servers on LANs, in which case they can provide very rapid response to users. Streaming video servers can also serve a wider community via a WAN, in which case the responsiveness may be reduced. Download VOD services are practical to homes equipped with cable modems or DSL connections. Servers for traditional cable and telco VOD services are usually placed at the cable head-end serving a particular market as well as cable hubs in larger markets. In the telco world, they are placed in either the central office, or a newly created location called a Video Head-End Office (VHO).

History

From September 1994, a VOD service formed a major part of the Cambridge Interactive TV trial in England. This provided video and data to 250 homes and schools connected to the Cambridge Cable network (later part of NTL, now Virgin Media). The MPEG-1 encoded video was streamed over an ATM network from an ICL media server to set top boxes designed by Acorn Online Media. The trial commenced at a speed of 2 Mbit/s to the home, subsequently increased to 25 Mbit/s. The content was provided by the BBC and Anglia Television. Although a technical success, difficulty in sourcing content was a major issue, and the project closed in 1996.

In 1998, Kingston Communications became the first UK company to launch a fully commercial VOD service and the first to integrate broadcast TV and Internet access through a single set-top box using IP delivery over ADSL. By 2001, Kingston Interactive TV had attracted 15,000 subscribers. After a number of trials, HomeChoice followed in 1999, but were restricted to London. After attracting 40,000 customers, they were bought by Tiscali in 2006. Cable TV providers Telewest and NTL (now Virgin Media) launched their VOD services in the United Kingdom in 2005, competing with the leading traditional pay TV distributor BSkyB. BSkyB responded by launching Sky by broadband, later renamed Sky Anytime on PC. The service went live on 2 January 2006. Sky Anytime on PC uses a legal peer-to-peer approach, based on Kontiki technology, to provide very high capacity multi-point downloads of the video content. Instead of the video content all being downloaded from Sky’s servers, the content comes from multiple users of the system who have already downloaded the same content. Other UK TV broadcasters have implemented their own versions of the same technology, such as the BBC‘s iPlayer, which launched on 25 December 2007, and Channel 4‘s 4oD (4 On Demand) which launched in late 2006. The BBC, ITV and Channel 4 plan to launch a joint platform provisionally called Kangaroo in 2008.

VOD services are now available in all parts of the United States. Streaming VOD systems are available from cable providers (in tandem with cable modem technology) who use the large downstream bandwidth present on cable systems to deliver movies and television shows to end users, who can typically pause, fast-forward, and rewind VOD movies due to the low latency and random-access nature of cable technology. The large distribution of a single signal makes streaming VOD impractical for most satellite TV systems; however, EchoStar recently announced a plan to offer video on demand programming to PVR-owning subscribers of its Dish Network satellite TV service. After the programs are automatically recorded on a user’s PVR, he or she can watch, play, pause, and seek at their convenience. VOD is also quite common in more expensive hotels. VOD systems that store and provide a user interface for content downloaded directly from the Internet are widely available.[citation needed]

According to the European Audiovisual Observatory, 142 paying VoD services were operational in Europe at the end of 2006.

Near video on demand

Near video on demand (NVOD) is a pay-per-view consumer video technique used by multi-channel broadcasters using high-bandwidth distribution mechanisms such as satellite and cable television. Multiple copies of a program are broadcast at short time intervals (typically 10–20 minutes) providing convenience for viewers, who can watch the program without needing to tune in at a scheduled point in time. This form is bandwidth intensive and is generally provided only by large operators with a great deal of redundant capacity and has been reduced in popularity as video on demand is implemented. Pay-per-view provider In Demand provided up to 40 channels in 2002, with several films receiving up to four channels on the staggered schedule to provide the NVOD experience; however the service now provides only six channels of content, with In Demand sports PPV using the other channels.

Push video on demand

Push video on demand is a technique used by a number of broadcasters on systems that lack the interactivity to provide true video on demand, to simulate a true video on demand system. A push VOD system uses a personal video recorder (PVR) to automatically record a selection of programming, often transmitted in spare capacity overnight. Users can then watch the downloaded programming at times of their choosing. As content occupies space on the PVR hard drive, downloaded content is usually deleted after a week to make way for new programs. The limited space on a typical PVR hard drive means that the flexibility and selection of programs available on such systems is more restricted than true VOD systems.

Alternate Reality Games

•May 1, 2009 • Leave a Comment

An ARG, also known as an alternate reality game (ARG), is an interactive narrative that uses the real world as a platform, often involving multiple media and game elements, to tell a story that may be affected by participants’ ideas or actions.

The form is defined by intense player involvement with a story that takes place in real-time and evolves according to participants’ responses, and characters that are actively controlled by the game’s designers, as opposed to being controlled by artificial intelligence as in a computer or console video game. Players interact directly with characters in the game, solve plot-based challenges and puzzles, and often work together with a community to analyze the story and coordinate real-life and online activities. ARGs generally use multimedia, such as telephones, email and mail but rely on the Internet as the central binding medium.

ARGs are growing in popularity, with new games appearing regularly and an increasing amount of experimentation with new models and subgenres. They tend to be free to play, with costs absorbed either through supporting products (e.g. collectible puzzle cards fund Perplex City) or through promotional relationships with existing products (for example, I Love Bees was a promotion for Halo 2, and the Lost Experience and FIND815 promoted the television show Lost). However, pay-to-play models are not unheard of.

ARGs are now being recognized by the mainstream entertainment world: The Fallen Alternate Reality game, produced in the fall of 2007 by Xenophile Media Inc. was awarded a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Achievement for an Interactive Television Program. Xenophile Media Inc.’s ReGenesis Extended Reality Game [3]won an International Interactive Emmy Award in 2007 and in April 2008 The Truth About Marika won the iEmmy for Best interactive TV service. The British Academy of Film and Television Arts recognises Interactivity as a category in the British Academy Television Awards.

There is a great deal of debate about how to define the term “alternate reality game” and what should be included or excluded by the definition. Sean Stacey, founder of the website Unfiction, has suggested that the best way to define the genre was not to define it, and instead locate each game on three axes (ruleset, authorship and coherence) in a sphere of “chaotic fiction” that would include works such as the Uncyclopedia and street games like SF0 as well.

If one accepts noted game designer Chris Crawford‘s definition of a game (it requires that there is an opponent), then ARGs are perhaps better understood as puzzles. However, if the puppetmasters are actively changing the game while it is going on (as happened with The Beast), then the ARG does more closely fit the definition of a game.

Unique terminology

Among the terms essential to understand discussions about ARGs are:

Puppetmaster – A puppetmaster or “PM” is an individual involved in designing and/or running an ARG. Puppetmasters are simultaneously allies and adversaries to the player base, creating obstacles and providing resources for overcoming them in the course of telling the game’s story. Puppetmasters generally remain behind the curtain while a game is running. The real identity of puppet masters may or may not be known ahead of time.

The Curtain – The curtain is generally a metaphor for the separation between the puppetmasters and the players. This can take the traditional form of absolute secrecy regarding the puppetmasters’ identities and involvement with the production, or refer merely to the convention that puppetmasters do not communicate directly with players through the game, interacting instead through the characters and the game’s design.

Rabbithole – Also known as a Trailhead. A Rabbithole marks the first website, contact, or puzzle that starts off the ARG.

Trailhead – A deliberate clue which enables a player to discover a way into the game. Most ARGs employ a number of trailheads in several media, to maximise the probability of people discovering the game. Some trailheads may be covert, others may be thinly-disguised adverts.

This Is Not A Game aesthetic, which dictates that the game not behave like a game: phone numbers mentioned in the ARG, for example, should actually work, and the game should not provide an overtly-designated playspace or ruleset to the players.

Massive-scale commercial games and mainstream attention

After the success of the first major entries in the nascent ARG genre, a number of large corporations looked to ARGs to both promote their products, and to enhance their companies’ images by demonstrating their interest in innovative and fan-friendly marketing methods. To create buzz for the launch of the Xbox game Halo 2, Microsoft hired the team that had created the Beast, now operating independently as 42 Entertainment. The result, I Love Bees, departed radically from the website-hunting and puzzle-solving that had been the focus of the Beast. I Love Bees wove together an interactive narrative set in 2004, and a War Of The Worlds-style radio drama set in the future, the latter of which was broken into 30-60 second segments and broadcast over ringing payphones worldwide. The game pushed players outdoors to answer phones, create and submit content, and recruit others, and received as much or more mainstream notice than its predecessor, finding its way onto television during a presidential debate, and becoming one of the New York Times’ catchphrases of 2004. A slew of imitators, fan tributes and parodies followed. In 2005, a pair of articles profiling 42 Entertainment appeared in Game Developer magazine and the East Bay Express, both of which tied into an ARG created by the journalist and his editors.

The following spring, Audi launched The Art of the Heist to promote its new A3. Developed by Audi ad agency McKinney+Silver, Haxan Films (creators of The Blair Witch Project) and GMD Studios, the Art of the Heist took live events to a new level and received extensive media placement. GMD Studios followed up by producing Who is Benjamin Stove?, a promotion for GMC’s ethanol campaign.

Roughly a year after I Love Bees, 42 Entertainment produced Last Call Poker, a promotion for Activision’s video game Gun. Designed to help modern audiences connect with the Western genre, Last Call Poker centered on a working poker site, held games of “Tombstone Hold ‘Em” in cemeteries around the United States — as well as in at least one digital venue, World of Warcraft‘s own virtual reality cemetery — and sent players to their own local cemeteries to clean up neglected grave sites and perform other tasks.

At the end of 2005, the International Game Developers Association ARG Special Interest Group was formed “to bring together those already designing, building, and running ARGs, in order to share knowledge, experience, and ideas for the future.” More recently, An ARG over at http://www.exeoinc.com was created by THQ for the game Frontlines: Fuel of War around peak oil theories where the world is in a crisis over diminishing oil resources.