Archives for category: internet

Today I came across a relatively new (month-old) feature in Facebook Messenger: you can hail an Uber from within the app. Both Facebook and Uber act as (and have aspirations to be) interesting “front door” or “gateway” apps. For instance, for more and more people Facebook is not a page on the World Wide Web: it is the Web. All browsing starts in Facebook. Similarly, Uber has aspirations to be the first thing people think of when they want to move themselves around in a place.

Both of these “front door” functions actually are about reducing hassle, or friction. It is a hassle to find links to visit. It is a hassle to get in a car, drive yourself to a place, and park. Facebook and Uber remove those hassles (or intend to).

This frictionless society has been building inexorably, and it is interesting to think about its timeline and to reflect at how different the world has become and is becoming.

In thinking about this timeline, it is possible to start as early as 1969 when Arpanet was created, or 1989 when AOL was launched, or 1991 when the first Web page was published (actually that link points to a replica).

But instead I am thinking about the efforts and effects of major companies. Depending on your viewpoint, this could be a dystopic history or the description of a pathway to an easier lifestyle — or it could be both.

In any event, think about it:

  • Amazon (buying things) established 1994
  • craigslist (local want-ad stuff) established 1995
  • Wells Fargo Web banking established 1995
  • Peapod (groceries) established 1996
  • Google (searching) established 1998
  • PayPal (paying people) established 1998
  • Wikipedia (knowledge) established 2001
  • iTunes (digital music) invented 2001
  • Gmail (best email) launched 2004
  • Facebook (social community) established 2004
  • YouTube (video) established 2005
  • Google Maps (wayfinding) launched 2005
  • Twitter launched 2006
  • Apple TV launched 2006
  • Hulu (broadcast TV) established 2007
  • iPhone launched 2007
  • Spotify (even easier music) established 2008
  • Uber (transportation) established 2009

Just the above list does not do justice to the massive dislocation that a handful of these companies have created. Just think about how altogether possible it is to:

  • Buy everything you need through Amazon (groceries through local delivery service like Peapod)
  • Maintain connected to community, communicate, and learn about news through Facebook
  • Pay all bills through web banking
  • Listen to any music you want through Spotify
  • Watch any filmed entertainment (TV shows or movies) through Apple TV
  • Get around using Uber
  • Find people to do housework through craigslist and pay them through PayPal

Each of these services is attempting to create a total “front door” ecosystem, and they have to varying degrees created footholds among and between each other (Facebook + Uber for example).

What else is ripe to become more frictionless? Making objects (3d printing)? Learning (Lynda)? Remembering things (Evernote)?

I’m delighted to announce that the latest issue guide from the National Issues Forums is now available. “What Should Go on the Internet? Privacy, Freedom, and Security Online” is freshly updated for 2013 and includes new data as well as stories to illustrate key points. (Order.)

An excerpt from the introduction:

NIF_Internet_2013.cover

(Click to enlarge)

The same Internet that has given us new ways to socialize, learn, and engage in civic life has also given criminals new avenues to steal from us and scam us, often using information gleaned from public government documents now posted online….And because no one’s in charge, there’s no single authority we can call to complain.

When does our personal information become public? What data collection is acceptable? Should there be limits on what we can do online? It’s time to find a way to balance our needs to safeguard privacy, preserve free speech, and ensure security for all our citizens, young and old.

It’s time to answer the question: What should go on the Internet?

This 12-page issue guide presents three options to consider:

Option One: Protect Individual Privacy

Privacy is a fundamental American value. But the Internet has obliterated the line between public and private, forcing Americans to live in a virtual fishbowl. Our top priority must be to safeguard personal information on the Internet.

Option Two: Promote Freedom of Speech and Commerce

The Internet is a revolutionary leap forward for democratic societies and free markets. Direct or indirect censorship by concerned citizens, special interests, or government could stifle this great resource.

Option Three: Secure Us from Online Threats

The Internet is a Wild West of criminal activity that threatens our personal safety, our economic vitality, and our national security. Our top priority must be protecting our children and ourselves.

Click here to order these issue materials.

 

YouTube has, no question, revolutionized the way we interact online. It opened the door for video sharing and now when something new is going on in our lives, one of our first questions is: “Should I take a photo or a video?” It’s also a great avenue for getting ideas out there — the solo talk into the camera.

Yes, it’s a critical component of the new social media world, the world of user-generated content such as blog posts, photos, videos, podcasts, shared slideshows, and comments.

So why is YouTube’s comment system so broken and lame?

It’s actually not the system so much as it is the content of the comments. Anytime I post a video that has more than a handful of viewers, I get comments. Three out of four are off-topic, weird, or just plain mean.

In fact, this article was spurred by my most recent comment: “You got that earring on the wrong side.” Seriously? My earring is on the wrong side? Are we still in the 80’s?

But I digress. This got me thinking — why are YouTube comments so reliably poor, while in so many other avenues the comments are helpful and become part of the value of the original item?

I think it has to do with our mindset when we are consuming video.

I think that, when we are watching video, we are not in a good frame of mind to write and interact in text. We’re in a frame of mind to critique (either positive or negative) and the things that move us emotionally to make such comments are typically elements of the video that have little to do with the intent of the producer.

For instance, I may be watching a video and intending to stick all the way through. But there is something about the lighting that makes it almost invisible, or the sound is terrible, or the camera angle makes the speaker look hilarious. It bugs me. I want to vent.

So I leave a comment: “Yr lighting sux.”

I am not saying every comment I get on YouTube is unhelpful, just that the difference between YouTube comments and every other avenue where I allow comments is palpable. Maybe something else accounts for it.

What do you think?

Alarm Clock 3 by Flickr user alancleaver_2000

"Alarm Clock 3" by Flickr user alancleaver_2000

According to Doug Ward’s excellent OpenGovBlog, the first deadline under President Obama’s “Open Government Directive” has come and gone with 26 agencies failing to meet the Directive’s requirements. Here’s what Obama is requiring: “Within 45 days, each agency shall identify and publish online in an open format at least three high-value data sets and register those data sets via Data.gov. These must be data sets not previously available online or in a downloadable format.” The deadline was January 22.

What’s more, in many cases what counts as “meeting the requirements” is just lame. One agency took data that had been available in PDF form and posting it as an Excel spreadsheet with headers. Another agency reposted data that had been available since 2004, just labeling it with a more specific timeframe.

The Sunlight Foundation, which focuses on this issue relentlessly (and well), has written a piece recapping what they are seeing so far as they sift through the data. Their take:

As a first step toward making agency data available in more accessible formats for sophisticated users, the open government directive is so far somewhat successful–plenty of data sets that had been available only as PDFs, or had to be pulled down by scraping Web sites, are now there for the taking (we’ll have better counts of this later in the week). But new data sets are not predominant: the major agencies covered by the directive released 58 data sets, of which, by our count, 16 were previously unavailable in some format online.

That sounds like progress, I suppose . . . but a long way to go before we have real “transparency.”

The Facebook data analysis team recently finished taking a hard look at the diversity statistics for the more than 94 million users who live in the United States. (Fun fact: There are more than 350 million users worldwide, making Facebook a larger “country” than the U.S.)

Ethnic Makeup Of Facebook Users

The data team dove deeply into the numbers and used a range of tools to make sure that they were doing their best to remove bias and error. The chief tools they used are statistical breakdowns of ethnicity and last names. Their report goes into detail about the methods they used and while one can quibble with things here and there, it appears overall reasonable.

The upshot: “We discovered that Facebook has always been diverse and that the diversity has increased significantly over the past year to the point where U.S. Facebook users nearly mirror the diversity of the overall population of the country.”

The graph illustrates this. The dotted lines represent the distribution of various (nonwhite) ethnicities in the overall Internet population, while the solid lines represent U.S. Facebook users:

From Facebook

From Facebook

You can see that each solid line is trending toward its corresponding dotted line — implying that the ethnic distribution within Facebook is moving, over time, to match the distribution of general Internet users.

Ethnicity Of Internet Users Vs. All Americans

Note that the Facebook analysis team is comparing  their statistics to Internet users, not U.S. population as a whole. That raises the question, how do the Internet penetration rates map onto the ethnic makeup of the U.S.?

The answer is that with overall Internet adoption reaching 80%, Facebook’s statistics tend to roughly mirror the U.S. population that is  online, but that the digital divides persist. That’s because Internet use does not distribute across the population in the same way for each ethnicity.

According to the latest data from the Pew Internet And American Life Project, penetration rates are higher among whites (80% of Non-Hispanic Whites are online) than among Blacks (72% are online) and Hispanics (61% online).

Here’s another way to look at it, using data from NetRoots Nation and from the U.S. Census:

Internet Penetration Compared To Ethnic Distribution

Internet Penetration Compared To Ethnic Distribution

In other words, White Non-Hispanics are slightly over-represented online, while other ethnicities are slightly underrepresented. Hispanics show the widest gap.

(Note that I am comparing households and individuals here, so the numbers aren’t precisely comparable, but they illustrate the point.)

The Real Digital Divide

While there are very real divisions in the United States when it comes to race and ethnicity, when it comes to the “Digital Divide,” a larger driver is economics and education (which itself is in large part driven by economics).

For instance, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 94% of college graduates are online, while just 72% of high-school only Americans are. And for adults with less than high school the online rate is just 37%.

And, while 95% of people who make more than $75K per year are online, the number drops to 62% for those who make less than $30K.

The suggests an interesting avenue for the Facebook team to pursue, which is a study of economic and education data as it relates to Facebook users.