The Connected Wire

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Should we be concerned about privacy online?

This Post Originally Appeared on The Connected Wire.

On every website you visit, including this one, information about who you are is being collected.  Information including your general location, language, whether you’re a Mac or a PC, your internet service provider, and which browser you prefer.  However, on many other sites, such as Facebook and Google, much more information is known about you, such as your name, age, who your friends are, your interests, and much, much more.  This information is stored by the computer through Cookies that are saved onto your machine so they can be used across sites.

This comes extremely useful for advertising services that want to provide the most relevant ads possible.  If these services can show you an ad that is extremely relevant, there is a much higher chance that you will click on it.  The more these ads are clicked, the more money is made.  Also, it is far more likely that the advertiser will make a sale.  Though if all this information is stored by your computer, and by the various services that exist online, should we be concerned that they know too much about us?

Continue Reading on The Connected Wire.

The Democratization of Content

(This post originally appeared on The Connected Wire)

As the internet becomes even more ubiquitous, more services are becoming available that make it even easier to create and distribute content. Services like Google Music, iTunes, and cdbaby allow anyone to sell their music with no obstacles and as computers become even more powerful, anyone can create professional level content easily.  This is going to (and in many cases already is) radically change the way we consume content.  Every type of media is going to have a few changes that will completely change the industry.

1. With more content available, it will be harder to find great content.

2.  Prices for content will drop.

3. Content will serve more niche audiences, allowing everyone to get the best content for them, and ending up enjoying it more.

 

TV

It is becoming even easier to make great videos, since the prices for quality cameras plummeting and computer software is becoming increasingly powerful.  With services like YouTube, Vimeo, UStream, or just your blog, you can instantly make your content available to anyone in the world for free.   To reach even a fraction of that audience before the internet was extremely difficult, and you had to be supported by giant media companies that decided what could be aired.

Now that anyone can make great videos, it becomes extremely difficult to find ones of good quality.  However, creativity can blossom and ideas that wouldn’t have been considered previously can become extremely popular. Since it is so cheap to produce the content, it is becoming even cheaper, just look at YouTube, you can watch professional level content absolutely free.  Previously, TV shows and movies were aimed at a broad audience, trying to appeal to as many people as possible, so more people will watch to offset the cost of making the show.  This isn’t true anymore.  Since it is so cheap to make quality videos, you can aim at a small niche, and super-serve those people.  This means that people will get content that exactly fits their interest.

Take TWiT.tv as an example. It is an online network that covers technology news, and is doing very well.  They serve a very small (yet very enthusiastic) niche of technology news and analysis, which wouldn’t have been possible before the internet.  Also, look at the No Agendashow; a podcast that covers political news that is entirely supported by fan donations, not advertising.

These are prime examples how the internet is completely changing the Television industry; however, they aren’t the only industry that is affected.

Music

This is an industry where the affects of the internet is much more obvious.  Just look at how people bought music before the internet existed.  The only hope of getting discovered was buy a giant record label that produced your CD.  If you were lucky enough to be chosen, you probably had one song on an album everyone wanted, with the rest of the songs being filler.  But since people wanted that one song, they bought the hole album.

Independent labels were really small, and generally not that successful.  Without being signed to a popular label, you had almost no chance of being discovered and getting your music sold.  The industry consisted of the extremely rich and successful, and the struggling artist hoping to get their big break.

Then came the internet.  People began to realize they could share music and get it all for free through services like Napster.  Suddenly the record labels realized they had to do something, and quick.  They had to completely change their business model if they wanted to stay alive, so they made a deal with Apple.  They couldn’t sell whole CDs anymore, they were forced to sell tracks individually, meaning that every song had to be as good a single to get the same sales.  Also, this made it extremely simple for anyone to have their music reach a very massive market.

Everyone is now their own music label, and has the potential to become extremely popular.  Just look at Rebecca Black, the music video for her sing Friday became a viral hit.  Even though it wasn’t a good song, and was mocked by the internet community, she is probably still making a ton of money.

While this is just the beginning of the tidal wave of change, we are already beginning to see the effects.  With all of this music available, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find the more obscure music you would probably love.   There are several companies that try to make it easier to find music, such as Pandora, Spotify, RDIO and many more. Prices are dropping, such as being able to pay just for one song, instead of having to buy a whole CD just to get the one song you like.  Also, you can pay per month for streaming services, and listen to unlimited music for the price of a CD.  Lastly, the niche is better served.  For example, I doubt DubStep would have gotten nearly as many followers before the internet.

Books

While the same aspects are true for books as with other mediums, the change is just beginning and isn’t as obvious yet.  Books have remained the same for a very long time; even ebooks still have the same format as books, just in digital form.

However, the self publishing scene is rapidly changing. Since it is virtually free to get an ebook published, anyone can become an author and sell their books. Also, with services like Lulu, anyone can publish their book, and just pay to buy one.  Suddenly everyone can sell their book and become popular, which is leading to prices dropping, and more books being available about a wide range of topics.

While it may be difficult to find niche books, it is still fairly easy to find good books, because the industry hasn’t been completely upended yet.  Also, since it is a much more difficult task to write a good book, any accomplished author will be present in a bookstore, which acts as a curator for good content.

It will be a while before the book industry is changed, though it is beginning to happen.  The changes have happened in several stages, with music industry being the first affected, followed by Television and eventually books, which isn’t far off.

 The future

The internet is billed as the great equalizer, with everyone on a the same playing field and the chance of becoming popular.  While there are downsides to this, since the super popular won’t make as much money as they have previously; however, there will be many more people who can get their big break.  Also, with more people making more content, suddenly the vast majority are of very low quality.  This is the biggest hurdle we will face going forward.  Services will need to become better at filtering through the piles of dirt, so we can find the one gem.  Though once we get very good at this, the content becomes king and everyone that deserves to be discovered will be.

There are many sites like this currently available, however, they aren’t as good as they can potentially be.   It is very hard, nearly impossible, for an algorithm to determine quality.  Social signals are going to become increasingly important going forward, with you friends influencing the kind of content you will see.  Hopefully it will extend even beyond your group of friends, and showing content liked by people who are similar to you.

This is the reason that Google just integrated Google+ results into their search.  They know that your friends know more about you than any computer program can, and they can help influence your results for the better.  While they shouldn’t be the driving factor in what results you get, they should at the very least play a part.  Google has historically had the best formula for finding content, going forward the company that is able to master social signals will be the one that prevails.

5 Technology Predictions for 2012

This post originally appeared on theconnectedwire.com

The year has come to a close, which means it’s time to lay down the predictions for what next year is going to bring. So without  further ado, these are my top 5 predictions for the next year in tech.

1. RIM is going to be too late releasing BlackBerry 10, and is the next cellphone company to fall

The rumors are circulating that RIM won’t be able to get out the next version of its operating system until late 2012, by then it is going to be too late, and RIM is going to lose a tremendous amount of market share.  They are going to lose so much that they will have no choice but to sell off to another company.  I think that Dell is a likely candidate, their phone division hasn’t been doing well, and they desperately want to get in to this space.  Also, Amazon and Microsoft have been poking their noses in and seem interested as well.  I think Amazon could buy them, since they are increasingly trying to push their way into the consumer electronics market, especially since they have the fire out now, they might want to sell a phone as well.  Lastly, Microsoft could be a good option since Windows Phone 7 isn’t gaining the market share they hoped, and RIM could give them much more clout in the market, especially with the enterprise customers. Though I think that Microsoft is more likely to make a deal with RIM than outright buy them, much like they did with Nokia last February. Also, by this time next year, RIM will have new people in charge of the company, Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie will be out.

2. Ballmer will no longer be the CEO of Microsoft

Microsoft’s stock has been very stagnant for almost 10 years, and it doesn’t seem like that is about to change.   This will be Steve Ballmer’s last year as CEO of Microsoft, and he will resign by the end of the year.  There is no chance that Bill Gates will come back to take over the company, which he has made clear, instead I think that Steven Sinofsky could be a likely candidate to take over the reigns.

3. Apple will release a TV

The rumors about Apple releasing a TV have been circulating for several years now, and I think this will finally be the year.  In the Steve Jobs biography, there was a small segment about the TV.

And [Steve Jobs] very much wanted to do for television sets what he had done for computers, music players, and phones: make them simple and elegant.  ’I’d like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use,’ he told me.  ’It would be seamlessly synced with all of your devices and with iCloud.’  No longer would users have to fiddle with complex remotes for DVD players and cable channels. ‘It would have the simplest user interface you could imagine.  I finally cracked it.’

There’s no doubt he was referring to a TV that Apple seems very close to releasing this year.  My guess is it will be announced at WWDC in June, but won’t be named iTV, it will either go by Apple TV, or have another name entirely.

4. Google will strip the patents from Motorola and sell the rest

Google bought Motorola this year, most likely for the patents so they can protect other Android manufacturers.   For the time being Motorola is being operated as a separate entity, and is continuing to make phones.  Once the deal is finalized Google will take all the patents and get rid of the rest.  Google isn’t going to start making its own hardware, so they are going to sell all the parts they don’t need to someone else, or spin it off, though I think that is less likely.

5. Windows 8 sales will be mediocre or Microsoft will change its mind about Metro

Microsoft is going to release Windows 8 this summer, and after playing with it extensively, I doubt it is going to be extremely successful.  It will be similar to Vista and will largely be considered a disappointment.  This will be because of the omni-present Metro start screen, which may work ok for tablets, it doesn’t translate to the desktop at all.  Consumers won’t want to upgrade, and Enterprises definitely won’t, unless Microsoft changes their mind and allows that screen to be optional, or completely limited to tablets.  I also think that Microsoft’s tablet push will be extremely unsuccessful and it won’t gain any traction.

 

Those are my predictions about the next year in technology.  However, this industry can be very difficult to predict.  This time last year no one thought that Motorola would be owned by Google,Apple would no longer be run by Steve JobsWebOS would be dead, or the government would try to ruin the internet.  Who knows what next year will bring?

SOPA explained and why you should care

This Post Originally Appeared on The Connected Wire, click the link for more technology related stories!

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is passing through congress and has the potential to completely change the internet.   While the name implies good intentions, it is a misguided bill that stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of how the internet works and is the result of millions of lobbying dollars from huge corporations including the Motion Picture Association of America, the Recording Industry Association of America, Viacom along with other large content creators.  This bill, if passed, could drastically harm the internet and give too much power to content creators to take down websites without due process.

The Goal

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  First, lets address what the bill wants to do, which is stop piracy on the internet.   Obviously this is a problem online and the content creators want, and have the right, to  protect their content.  This is exactly what the aim of this bill is; to protect content creators and allow them to make money off of their work.  However, though the goal is a good one, the execution is very, very bad.   The language of the bill is vague enough to affect more than just the bad guys stealing content.  The bill could affect website that you and I use everyday; sites like Twitter, Youtube, Facebook, or Google.  The idea is to block sites that “engage in, enable or facilitate” copyright infringement.

Ok…

So we are blocking access to the sites of online pirates only right? Wrong.

The act doesn’t require concrete evidence of copyright infringement before the site is taken down, all it requires is a claim from the copyright holder.  They don’t need to confront a judge or even step foot in a courtroom and they can have a site taken down and block all credit card payments.  They would be required to stop service to the website immediately after a claim is received and only a counter notification from the website could reverse this.

There are many similarities between this act and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which gave copyright holders the right to request that a specific piece of content be taken off of a website.  However, now they can off all advertising revenue and even have the site itself shut down until the content is removed.

How it Works

Once a site is identified as allegedly violating copyright, the DNS for the website gets blocked.  The DNS is what translates the IP address to a readable domain name.  For example, Google’s IP address is 74.125.225.16, and if you can navigate to the website just by using the IP address.  However, you don’t want to have to remember a string of numbers for each website you want to visit, it is much easier to remember a name, like Google.  This is where DNS comes in.  DNS stands for Domain Name System, and translates a domain name to the IP address, which is what actually takes you to a website.  You can think of the IP address like a phone number, and the domain name as what you have the contact named in your phone.

So if the DNS is blocked for The Connected Wire, no one would be able to access the site unless you knew the IP address.  However, since many domains are shared on a server, the DNS is also what directs the IP the correct site.  For example the IP address for this site is173.193.63.131, but if you try to find the site using that, you will just reach a page from my hosting provider since it doesn’t know which site is the correct one.

This means if a company decides to have my site blocked, it will be impossible to access it and all it would be is my word versus the content company’s.  Once a company files a suit to have a site or payment blocked, they company providing the service has five days to oblige, and the alleged offended has this time to file a counter notification, which doesn’t have to be accepted by the service provider.  This is because they have immunity as long as they have “reasonable belief” that the site is violating copyright.   This also means that sites previously deemed legal for hosting content, like YouTube which isn’t responsible for the content its’ users put online, could be affected by this act.

Potential Ramifications

Apart from the obvious effects of blocking access to websites and violating the open culture of the internet, without even having a court order, SOPA could actually harm the internet itself.  It could render the Internet less secure and less stable.  Instead of attempting to explain it myself, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), had a great explanation.

All censorship schemes impact speech beyond the category they were intended to restrict, but this bill will be particularly egregious in that regard because it causes entire domains to vanish from the Web, not just infringing pages or files. Worse, an incredible range of useful, law-abiding sites can be blacklisted under this bill. These problems will be enough to ensure that alternative name-lookup infrastructures will come into widespread use, outside the control of US service providers but easily used by American citizens. Errors and divergences will appear between these new services and the current global DNS, and contradictory addresses will confuse browsers and frustrate the people using them. These problems will be widespread and will affect sites other than those blacklisted by the American government.

What You Can Do

Presently there is a large host of internet companies fighting SOPA, including Google, Reddit, Kickstarter, Tumblr, Mozilla, Yahoo, AOL, Facebook and Twitter, but you can also help.  First and foremost, call your congressperson, or visit the American Censorship Day web site and send them a letter.  If they receive a large amount of potential voters complaining abut an issue, they will vote the way you want. Secondly, spread the word! Tell other people about this bill and the potential harm it could have.  The people control the government, and we can stop this bill from being passed.

[via LifehackerEFF(1), (2)Ars Technica]