What We Googled in 2011... really?

In a short video and an extensive data site, Google Zeitgeist takes us back... and shames us with what we have searched for in 2011. This year we searched Google for answers about Rebecca Black, Steve Jobs, Google+, and the nonexistent iPhone 5.

The video: In December 2011, Google released its annual list of "the searches that compose the year's Zeitgeist — the spirit of the time." Google compiles its Zeitgeist reports by scouring billions of Google searches around the world and identifying the fastest-rising queries. You can delve deep into the data at its Zeitgeist 2011 website, and/or just watch its year-in-review video of top search topics (view it below). Topping the search list of world-captivating things: Rebecca Black, famous for a much-mocked music video. Next on the Top 10 list are Google+, deceased Jackass star Ryan Dunn, acquitted murder suspect Casey Anthony, Battlefield 3, the nonexistent iPhone 5, Adele, Fukushima I Plant, Steve Jobs, and the iPad2.

The reaction: Holy cow, "if this is the spirit of our time, then we are living in a sad time," says Sam Biddle at Gizmodo. What we apparently think "mattered" doesn't get any better if you dig through Zeitgeist a little deeper: Planking? "Tom Brady Haircut"? Google is showing us that we're, collectively, "awful people." Hey, "it was a weird year," says Jon Mitchell in ReadWriteWeb. Yes, the Arab Spring, the death of Osama bin Laden, and lots of other weighty things are more important than Adele, but with so many "grim and tumultuous events" in 2011, maybe we can be excused for our "mostly frivolous" googling. I'm in the "shame on humanity" camp, says Nitasha Tiku in BetaBeat. But Google's video retrospective is "actually quite moving," if you can ignore "the hideous Coldplay soundtrack — and that thing about Rebecca Black." Watch the video here...

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Let’s Talk Tech: News in Review - Dec, 2011

What a month in tech it’s been! Here are some of the top stories…

Tech News Stories of the Month

Occupy Everything on the Web
There's a "digital land grab underway” thanks to Occupy Wall Steer, said Suzanne Woolley in Bloomberg Businessweek, Internet domain registrar Go Daddy.com has sold 5,200 domain names with “Occupy” in them from September to early Novemeber, compared with 80 from January throught August.” People have snatch up everything from Occupy Boston to Occupy KStreet. There are sites dedicated to White House hopefuls (Occupy Herman Cain) the holidays (Occupy Hanukkah), and various locales (Occupy The Sea, Occupy the Universe), There’s Occupy This and Occupy That, Occupy You and Occupy and Occupy Me. Jordan Fainberg wants people in Occupy Bethesda in a conventional sense: by buying one of the Bethsesda, MA, houses the real estate agent has listed on ihns site. “It’s getting a bunch of hits.”

Privacy Dies with a Whimper
It may sound Orwellian, but GPS tracking is just the next step in the rapid erosion of privacy that followed 9/11, said Jonathan Turley at The Washington Post. How much privacy should Americans expect? asked Jonathan Turley. The answer to that question may determine whether the government will soon have the right to track you 24 hours a day, without a warrant. Under current law, the government needs a warrant to conduct any kind of surveillance that intrudes on a citizen’s “reasonable expectation of privacy.” But in a new case before the Supreme Court, the Obama administration last week argued that police should not be required to get a warrant to affix a GPS tracker to your car, to see if you’re involved in crimes; when driving, you really can’t expect any privacy, can you? It may sound Orwellian, but GPS tracking is just the next step in the rapid erosion of privacy that followed 9/11. Out of its fear of terrorism, the public has accepted airport pat-downs, surveillance of phone calls and emails, and constant monitoring by TV cameras in public places and offices. In this brave new world, we think Big Brother makes us safer. So don’t be surprised when privacy disappears altogether. “The problem is not with the government but with us.” Marking that shot “friends only” won’t prevent an online buddy from copying the picture and distributing it, said Farhad Manjoo at Slate.com. “Mark Zuckerberg wants you to know that Facebook has reformed,” said Farhad Manjoo. After a series of privacy violations and a Federal Trade Commission investigation, the social-media boss last week admitted that his site had “made a bunch of mistakes,” and he promised to give users greater control over how they share information. But Facebook’s privacy issues are as much our fault as Zuckerberg’s. Too many users seem to believe they can control who gets to see the private thoughts and photos they post to a site with 800 million users throughout the world. Facebook was designed to be “one of the most intrusive technologies ever built,” a vehicle for sharing personal information. Upload a photo of your drunken antics, and it’s on the Internet, stored on dozens of servers around the world. Marking that shot “friends only” won’t prevent an online buddy from copying the picture and distributing it. So next time you’re wondering about whether you should post something on Facebook, remember this simple rule: “The only sure way to keep something private on Facebook is not to post it to Facebook.”

Just 4.74 Degrees of Separation
Popular wisdom says that only “six degrees of separation” stand between you and anyone else. Now, a new Facebook study says we’re getting more closely linked than that. University of Milan researchers analyzed the “friend” links among Facebook’s 721 million members. On average, only 4.74 hops from friend to friend were needed to bring any two members together, as opposed to 5.28 three years ago. That means “when considering even the most distant Facebook user in the Siberian tundra or the Peruvian rain forest, a friend of your friend probably knows a friend of their friend,” Facebook says. The data highlight how useful social-networking sites can be to researchers studying the behavior of extremely large groups of people. But the new networks created by social media may not be as strong as friendships made the old-fashioned way. Facebook, Cornell computer scientist Jon Kleinberg tells The New York Times, allows us to be “close, in a sense, to people who don’t necessarily like us, sympathize with us, or have anything in common with us.” What Teens Don’t Know about Google Other studies have also shown that students really don’t bother trying to assess the credibility of information found online, said Clive Thompson at Wired.com. Young people are supposedly our most Web-literate citizens, said Clive Thompson. “But just how savvy are they?” Not very: They simply swallow whatever they find on Google. To study kids’ online-search skills, scientific researchers asked a group of students to look up answers to a series of questions. Not surprisingly, the kids relied on Web pages at the top of Google’s results list. When researchers switched the order of results, most students were easily tricked, and relied on the (falsely) top-ranked pages. Other studies have also shown that students really don’t bother trying to assess the credibility of information found online. Is an “article” a disguised advertisement? Was that profile of Martin Luther King Jr. actually posted by white supremacists? The average high school and college student is unable to discern the hidden agendas. This naivete is largely the fault of schools, which rarely teach critical thinking. And mastering “crap detection 101” isn’t easy; you need to be savvy about the world and how it works. Ultimately, a broad-based education is the only “true key to effective search.”

Here’s One Way New Terms are Created…
Union officials are not just complaining about “normal outsourcing”—their beef is with “Asianization,” said Chris Berg at the Sydney Morning Herald. The union dispute that grounded the entire Qantas fleet for two days last month has a nasty racial component, said Chris Berg. Union members are furious that Qantas is considering locating some of its operations abroad. But they’re not just complaining about “normal outsourcing”—their beef is with “Asianization.” That’s a clear “dog whistle” to racists. Google the term, and you’re buried in pages offering “manic claims about the Yellow Peril and warning about our national suicide.” This is no accident. Protectionism in Australia has often been linked to xenophobia. The “White Australia” immigration policy of the first half of the 20th century was led by a union movement that wanted to squelch labor competition. It explicitly encouraged employers to fire “colored” workers and replace them with white union members. Use of the term “Asianization” should have brought a chorus of outraged denunciation from our pro-multicultural, liberal media—and it would have, if a conservative had uttered it. But because it was a union leader calling for protection of Australian jobs, we didn’t hear a peep. So let me say it: “Warnings that Qantas will be ‘Asianized’ are ugly, xenophobic, and just plain wrong.”

Censorship, no matter where you are, is Never a Good Thing
Pakistan is having a bad month, and to top it all off, they've notified phone companies it would ban 1,109 "obscene" English words from text messages, including "quickie," "condom," "flatulence," and "periord." Really? I wondered what Siri will do! Who’s Siri, see next update…

Siri: Artificial Intelligence Becomes more Human
Apple’s voice-activated “virtual assistant” for the new iPhone 4S can talk in clear, conversational English. She can text your kids with words you dictate aloud. She can book you an appointment online. She knows precisely where you are, and can find the nearest Chinese restaurant, call a cab for you, and tell you what the traffic will be like on the way. Her name is Siri, said Brandon Griggs in CNN.com, and she’s Apple’s voice-activated “virtual assistant” for the new iPhone 4S. Simply by speaking to your phone, you can tell Siri to perform any number of tasks—and she can talk back, in clear, conversational English. Not incidentally, this dutiful assistant has a female name and “distinctly female” voice. Does that mean Apple is relying on—and reinforcing—gender stereotypes? It’s a fair question, said Rebecca J. Rosen in TheAtlantic.com. Like most disembodied computer voices, Siri evokes the pleasantly compliant and submissive female assistant, as she goes about “classic personal secretary tasks.” Chauvinists might enjoy the idea of having a female secretary in their pocket, said Michael Agger in Slate.com. But Siri is no doormat. Apple wisely has given Siri a tart and witty personality. Curse at her, and she’ll tut: “Now, now.” Ask her to “talk dirty,” and she’ll say, “Compost. Pumice. Silt. Gravel.” Call her a bitch, and she will make you feel ridiculous: “Why do you hate me?” she’ll say. “I don’t even exist.” As a result, she comes across less as a sexy secretary than as a “second-grade teacher,” quick with a sarcastic response but also “willing to patiently explain.” It makes Siri so life-like, you almost forget that “the intelligence we’re dealing with is artificial.” That’s the plan, said Jon Stokes in Wired.com. Siri is a “cloud” application, meaning that Apple’s developers can update her “canned responses” in real time based on user inquiries. Over time, she’ll be able to draw on the questions of tens of millions of users and the responses by hundreds of Apple employees. As she gets smarter and smarter, you’ll be able to talk with Siri in a way that is almost indistinguishable from “intelligent conversation.” Hello, future, said Alexis Madrigal in TheAtlantic.com. Humans have always dreamed of creating a “talking automaton” that speaks “in the natural language that defines being human.” Siri is a big step in that direction. As she listens and learns from us, and helps organize our lives, she will transform “how we interact with our computers.”

Health Scare of the Month: Does Wi-Fi damage sperm?
An experiment by researchers in Argentina suggests that radiation from a Wi-Fi–enabled laptop may be strong enough to cause cell damage in sperm. If you’re worried about infertility, don’t try to Google the term with a computer on your lap, says the London Telegraph. A new experiment suggests that radiation from a single Wi-Fi–enabled laptop may be strong enough to cause cell damage in sperm. Argentine researchers took samples of ejaculated semen and left them directly under a computer—simulating holding a laptop directly above male genitals. Within just four hours, 25 percent of the sperm stopped swimming, and 9 percent showed signs of DNA damage. A control group of sperm stored at the same temperature, but away from a computer, showed much less degradation. Researcher Conrado Avendano says his team suspects that electromagnetic radiation in wireless devices “positioned near the male reproductive organs may decrease human sperm quality.” Scientists who specialize in fertility, however, say that sperm isolated outside the body are more vulnerable, and that further research is needed.

In Business Moves of the Month

War Video Game Sets Sales Record
The video game Modern Warfare 3 has set a sales record for the entertainment industry by grossing $775 million in global sales during its first five days on the market. The game, which retails for about $60, sold 6.5 million copies in North America and the United Kingdom on its first day alone.

Spotlight on Reid Hoffman
If you are a budding Internet entrepreneur, there’s really only one man you need to see for money, advice, and connections, said Evelyn M. Rusli in The New York Times. That’s Reid Hoffman, “the startup whisperer of Silicon Valley.” The co-founder of business-networking site LinkedIn, Hoffman is considered “something of a Yoda” in the social-media universe. “He’s the first stop for every hot deal,” says tech investor David Siminoff. A “nerd’s nerd” who likes to wax philosophical about the future of technology, Hoffman got his first job at age 12 when he “thrust a manual, marked with his suggestions in red ink,” into the hands of a fantasy-game developer. It was the beginning of his fascination with the way multiplayer games, and later social networks, come together. Hoffman “created the original social network, a dating service called SocialNet, in 1997,” said Nicole Perlroth in Forbes.com. It flopped, but Hoffman learned from his mistakes and has helped “create nearly every significant social network since.” He’s also moonlighted as a tech investor for more than a decade, seeding early money in companies like Facebook, Zynga, and Flickr. Today he has a second full-time job, at venture capital firm Greylock Partners, where he invests in the “next generation of promising tech startups.”

Spotlight on Drew Houston

Drew Houston, the CEO of digital-storage service Dropbox, didn’t merely refuse to sell his company to the famously determined Steve Jobs in 2009, said Victoria Barret in Forbes. He refused Jobs’s nine-figure offer. Even then, Houston knew he had one of Silicon Valley’s most closely watched companies, and it’s only gotten better in the two years since. Dropbox, which gives people access to their files from any device, has had a “stunning ascent.” Its users have tripled in the last year, to 50 million, with “another joining every second.” Revenue is projected to hit $240 million this year even though 19 out of 20 users pay nothing. Little wonder, then, that the company recently became a verb (“Dropbox me”) and landed $250 million in venture funding to expand. Houston, 28, came up with the idea for Dropbox when he forgot to bring a USB stick on a long bus trip, said Jennifer Saba in Reuters.com. He is determined to stay independent and isn’t concerned about competition from Apple’s iCloud. “We were not the first or the 10th or the 100th company to have this idea,” says Houston. But “if it were easy to build, someone would have built it already.”

Tech: Yelp Hopes to Raise $100 million in IPO
Yelp, the website of user reviews of businesses and restaurants, wants to become “the latest unprofitable Internet company to go public,” said Douglas MacMillan in Bloomberg.com. The San Francisco–based company, founded in 2004, has filed for an initial public offering next year that could raise as much as $100 million. The announcement seems timed to build on the success of online coupon site Groupon, whose IPO last month generated $700 million despite the company’s lack of profits. “Investors are open to taking bets on companies that are generating losses” right now, said IPO analyst Tom Taulli.

Crowdfunding your Start-Up
“Need start-up capital—and fast?” asked Sarah E. Needleman in The Wall Street Journal. An increasing number of start-up entrepreneurs are turning to crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter.com and IndieGoGo.com, which allow contributors to pledge money to developing businesses. The funds are gifts, not loans, and the campaigns must be completed in a set time frame and reach preset goals; otherwise funds won’t be released or the sites will take a bigger commission. But many campaigns bear fruit, says Slava Rubin of IndieGoGo.com. For the best results, he says, “have a good pitch, be proactive, and find an audience that cares.”

And In Tech Gossip…
Charlie Sheen: A Tweet meant for Justin Bieber went to Sheen's 5.5 million followers instead. Charlie Sheen could use a Twitter tutorial, said the London Daily Mail. The actor, 46, was overwhelmed by phone calls and text messages last week after he tried to send a private Twitter message to Justin Bieber, but instead tweeted it to his 5.5 million followers. “310-954-7277 Call me bro. C,” wrote Sheen. “Charlie’s phone immediately went into meltdown,” said a friend. “It was ringing wildly, and he got 1,800 text messages in minutes.” Sheen later changed his number.

- As seen in The Week
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Issue of the Year: High-Tech Burnout

Tech workers are beginning to object to the grueling hours and outsize expectations that are characteristic of start-up companies... really?

Discord is brewing in California’s Silicon Valley, said Evelyn M. Rusli in The New York Times. Life at a tech start-up can be notoriously stressful, but frustrated workers at Zynga, maker of uber-popular Web games like FarmVille and Mafia Wars (who held their IPO last week), say the long hours, relentless pressure, and outsize expectations have pushed them to the breaking point. With CEO Mark Pincus, a “professed data obsessive,” running the show, teams are constantly measured and forced to meet aggressive deadlines. That makes goings-on at the company feel like “a messy and ruthless war,” feeding a frustration that could “jeopardize the company’s ability to retain top talent.”

Michael Arrington has three words for these frustrated folks, said Connor Simpson in TheAtlanticWire.com: Suck it up. The influential blogger and tech entrepreneur says he’s sick and tired of hearing young Valley talent whine about how they have “to work so darn hard.” If you’re in the tech sector and feel that way, he says, “find a job somewhere else that will cater to your needs.” Working at a start-up is grueling, and it always has been. People in Silicon Valley have been sleeping under desks, passing out from exhaustion, and crying themselves to sleep for years. They stay because the rewards are great, and because they want to “make a dent in the universe.” So “work hard,” Arrington says. “Cry less. And realize you’re part of history.”

It’s a mistake to dismiss the depression that is stalking start-ups, said Foster Kamer in The New York Observer. The tech community has been quietly mourning last month’s suicide of 22-year-old Ilya Zhitomirskiy, the co-founder of social network Diaspora. The circumstances around his death aren’t known, but it’s sparked a debate over the culture’s punishing pressure. “I’d be really surprised if you could find a [tech] founder who hasn’t been through depression,” says one entrepreneur. You keep pushing yourself to work more hours and meet more deadlines, he says, because that’s what’s expected.

That grind is no longer limited to start-up companies, said Rebecca J. Rosen in TheAtlantic.com. It’s now “a feature of the American economy.” Worker productivity has soared as the number of jobs stagnates. Hardly anyone is immune from the pressure to work longer and harder. The Great Speedup may affect tech entrepreneurs more acutely, and perhaps they do have a shot at making history. But more likely, they—and the rest of us—are just part of “a broken American economy.”

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Can You Imagine Life at Work without Email?

Is email obsolete? Atos, Europe’s largest IT firm, thinks so. The company last week announced that it was banning internal email, as CEO Thierry Breton thinks that 90 percent of messages sent between employees are a waste of time.

Instead, Breton wants his 74,000 staff members to talk to one another in person or on the phone, and switch to "in real time" messaging tools like Facebook. According to Steven Rosenbaum in FastCompany.com, it looks as if other companies will soon follow suit. By 2014, a technology research group has predicted, social networking will replace email as the main method of communication for 20 percent of businesses.

Good riddance, said William Powers in The New York Times. Email was supposed to boost productivity, but it has done the opposite. When a worker sends an office-wide message about a broken vending machine, everyone stops work to read a pointless bit of trivia. Studies show that such in-box–clogging interruptions can cost a 1,000-employee company up to $10 million a year.

Dumping email won’t fix those problems, said Peter Bright in ArsTechnica.com. Whenever office workers are interrupted—whether by an email, a phone call, or simply a co-worker stopping by their desk for a chat—it typically takes them 15 minutes to regain their focus and get back to work, studies have shown. So while 90 percent of Atos’s internal email might be worthless, ditching it entirely “doesn’t mean that employees will end their unproductive communication.” In fact, life without email could be far worse, said Richi Jennings in Computerworld.com. By nixing a “successful and efficient” communication tool, Breton will force employees to hold more time-consuming phone conferences and face-to-face meetings.

But like it or not, electronic mail is slowly wheezing toward the grave, said Dominique Jackson in the London Daily Mail. “The younger generation has all but given up on it”—visits to email sites by 12- to 17-year-olds fell 18 percent in 2010—and digitally savvy teens now communicate “almost entirely via social networks and instant messenging services.” These chat-type systems “have the advantage of immediacy over the disjointed timeline” of an email exchange; messages do not sit for hours in somebody’s inbox. In fact, instant chatting can almost feel like you’re having a real F2F conversation with a co-worker. Remember what that was like?

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Should I Shut Down My Computer or Put It in Sleep Mode?

The Answer? Shut it down. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, running a computer at night is akin to leaving on about 10 lightbulbs. You turn off lamps before you go to bed. Why not do the same to your PC?

That simple click saves energy and money. For every household computer you shut down, you could cut $10 to $30 off your annual electric bill, estimates Andy Leach, a Best Buy Geek Squad agent in New York City. Sleep mode uses less juice than full power, but shutting down has the added benefit of increasing your computer’s functionality, says Randy Gross, the chief information officer of the Computing Technology Industry Association. It gives your hard drive time to cool off (prolonged heat shortens its life span) and allows for automatic software updates. If you just snooze, you lose.

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For the Love of Funny, Clever Words :-)

The Washington Post's Mensa Invitational once again invited readers to supply alternate meanings for common words.

Here are the hilarious winners:

1. Coffee, n. The person upon whom one coughs.

2. Flabbergasted, adj. Appalled by discovering how much weight one has gained.

3. Abdicate, v. To give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.

4. esplanade, v. To attempt an explanation while drunk.

5. Willy-nilly, adj. Impotent.

6. Negligent, adj. Absentmindedly answering the door when wearing only a nightgown.

7. Lymph, v. To walk with a lisp.

8. Gargoyle, n. Olive-flavored mouthwash.

9. Flatulence, n. Emergency vehicle that picks up someone who has been run over by a steamroller.

10. Balderdash, n. A rapidly receding hairline.

11. Testicle, n. A humorous question on an exam.

12. Rectitude, n. The formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists.

13. Pokemon, n. A Rastafarian proctologist.

14. Oyster, n. A person who sprinkles his conversation with Yiddishisms.

15. Frisbeetarianism, n. The belief that, after death, the soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.

16. Circumvent, n. An opening in the front of boxer shorts worn by Jewish men

The Washington Post also published the winning submissions to its yearly contest, in which readers are invited to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition. And the winners are:

1. Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period of time.

2. Ignoranus: A person who's both stupid and an asshole.

3. Intaxicaton: Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.

4. Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly.

5. Bozone ( n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.

6. Foreploy: Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.

7. Giraffiti: Vandalism spray-painted very, very high

8. Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it.

9. Inoculatte: To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.

10. Osteopornosis: A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.)

11. Karmageddon: It's like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it's like, a serious bummer.

12. Decafalon (n.): The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.

13. Glibido: All talk and no action.

14. Dopeler Effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.

15. Arachnoleptic Fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after you've accidentally walked through a spider web.

16. Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito, that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.

17. Caterpallor ( n.): The color you turn after finding half a worm in the fruit you're eating.

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The 99% Movement: Discover what Occupy Wall Street is all about

As a resident of New York City, I'm frequently asked about the Occupy Wall Street movement. In short, I think it's fabulous that people are speaking out, about anything. The fact that this demonstration grew out of the financial crisis is modern movement for sure, but it's not just about money. It's about inequality, like the billion dollar start-up valuations I covered in my last blog. And it's not about hate, it's a revolution of love. So if you still don't know what the 99% are protesting, read the quote below and then read this amazing PDF "Occupy Wall Street: No Demand is Big Enough."

“Inequality creates a lopsided economy, which leaves the rich with so much money that they can binge on speculation, and leaves the middle class without enough money to buy the things they think they deserve, which leads them to borrow and go into debt. These were among the long-term causes of the financial crisis and the Great Recession. Inequality hardens society into a class system. Inequality divides us from one another in schools, in neighborhoods, at work, on airplanes, in hospitals, in what we eat, in the condition of our bodies, in what we think, in our children’s futures, in how we die. Inequality saps the will to conceive of ambitious solutions to large collective problems, because those problems no longer seem very collective. Inequality undermines democracy." - George Packer in Foreign Affairs

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15 Startups With $100 Million+ Valuations That Hardly Existed Last Year

As reported by Alyson Shontell in Business Insider, many of the world's most valuable startups haven't been around for very long. Some companies with $100 million+ valuations were founded just this year in 2011. Others have been around, but didn't receive any traction until a few months ago. Take a look at what investors perceive to be the most valuable new companies in the world.

15. Betterworks - A business platform where businesses can create, more rewarding work environments for their employees. Founded in 2011 and based in Santa Monica, CA it's estimated value is $100 million. The CEO is Paige Craig / Investors: Redpoint Ventures. The analysis? Betterworks is a social platform for employees that rewards them and encourages collaboration. In August 2011, Betterworks raised $8 million with an implied valuation of $100 million.

14. Instagram - Photo sharing for iPhone. Launched in November 2010 and based in San Francisco, CA, it's estimated value is $100 million. The CEO is Kevin Systrom / Investors: Andreessen-Horowitz, Baseline Ventures, and Benchmark Capital. The analysis? Instagram is a photo sharing application that is receiving an immense amount of traffic. It is growing shockingly fast. In less than a year, it has amassed 9 million users. There's no revenue model yet, but investors tend to get very excited about companies that grow their user-bases this fast. We therefore estimate that the company is worth $100 million.

13. Warby Parker - A prescription glasses online discount retailer. Founded in late 2010, launched early 2011 and based in New York, New York, it's estimated value is $120 million. The Co-CEOs are Neil Blumenthal and Dave Gilboa / Investors: First Round Capital, SV Angel, Lerer Ventures, Davis Smith. The analysis? While margins for online retailers aren't huge, glasses are something that are purchased almost annually; Warby's product inherently encourages repeat customers. One of the sources estimates that Warby Parker has already sold more than 100,000 pairs of glasses in the last year. Two sources involved in the financing and one additional industry source say that the $12 million round Warby Parker just raised was at an estimated valuation of $100-200 million.

12. Beachmint - Social commerce company where celebrities launch lines and products. Founded in late 2010 and based in Santa Monica, CA, it's estimated value is $150 million. The CEO is Josh Berman / Investors: New Enterprise Associates, Trinity Ventures, Lightbank, Scale Venture Partners, Stanford University, Anthem Venture Partners. The analysis? The startup raised $23.5 million in June at a reported $150 million valuation, Film at 11.

11. Flipboard - Personalized social magazine for iPad. Founded in 2010 and based in Palo Alto, CA, it's estimated value is $200 million. The CEO is Mike McCue / Investors: Venture Partners, Comcast Capital, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Index Ventures, the Chernin Group, angel investor Ron Conway, Square CEO Jack Dorsey, actor Ashton Kutcher, and Facebook co-founder and Asana founder, Dustin Moskovitz. The analysis? Flipboard is an easy news reading experience for the iPad. In April, Flipboard raised $50 million at an estimated $200 million valuation.

10. Shoedazzle - Personal styling and fashion services including the sales of shoes, handbags, jewelry, and more for a monthly fee. Founded in March 2009 and based in Los Angeles, CA, it's estimated value is $280 million. The CEO is Brian Lee / Investors: Andreessen Horowitz, Lightspeed Venture Partners, Polaris Ventures, Accel Partners, Comcast Ventures, Allen & Company, and Khosla Ventures. The analysis? Shoedazzle offers its members personalized fashion, including shoes, jewelry, handbags, and other accessories. Users are charged to receive the monthly accessories at their doorsteps. The company is expected to generate $70 million in 2011 revenue, up from $23 million in 2010. Shoedazzle raised $40 million in May of 2011, with a valuation north of $200 million. Applying a 4x on 2011 revenue, Shoedazzle's valuation is at $280 million.

9. Vostu - Online gaming site and virtual goods. Founded in 2007 and based in San Paulo, Brazil, it's estimated value is $300 million. The CEO is Daniel Kaife / Investors: Tiger Management, Accel Partners, Intel Capital and General Catalyst Partners. The analysis? Vostu is an online gaming company that is big in Brazil. It has 42 million users. Vostu raised $30 million at the end of last year at what we estimate was a $300 million post-money valuation. While the company has grown significantly since then, a lawsuit with Zynga is a potential risk for Vostu. We estimate that Vostu will do about $50 million of revenue this year. We use a 6x multiple, keeping the valuation at $300 million.

8. One Kings Lane - Flash sale site. Founded in 2009 and based in San Francisco, CA, it's estimated valuation is $440 million. The CEO is Doug Mack / Investors: Tiger Global Management, Institutional Venture Partners, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Greylock Partners, Accel Partners, Comcast Ventures, Allen & Company, and Khosla Ventures. The analysis? The Wall Street Journal says One Kings Lane will likely generate $100 million in revenue this year, up from $30 million last year. In September 2011, the company raised $40 million at a $440 million valuation.

7. ZocDoc - Online booking for doctor and dentist appointments. Founded in 2007 and based in New York, New York, it's estimated value is $700 million. The CEO is Cyrus Massoumi / Investors: Jeff Bezos, DST Global, The Founders Fund, Khosla Ventures, Mark Benioff, and SV Angel. The analysis? ZocDoc is an easy way to book last-minute doctor appointments online. It is used by more than 700,000 people per month. ZocDoc is free for patients and charges every featured practice $250 per month. In the summer of 2011, DST Global invested $50 million and Goldman Sachs invested $25 Million in ZocDoc at about a $700 million valuation.

6. Storm8 - The creator of Role Playing Games on the iPhone, iPod Touch and Android device. Founded in March, 2009 and based in Redwood Shores, CA, it's estimated value is $1 billion. The CEO is Perry Tam / Investors: Accel Partners and Technology Crossover Ventures. The analysis? Storm8 creates role playing games for mobile devices. It is rumored to be raising a $300 million round at around a $1 billion valuation from the likes of Accel Partners and Technology Crossover Ventures. Zynga was interested in acquiring Storm8 but took its name out of the running because the price was too rich.

5. Spotify - A digital music service that provides access to millions of songs. Founded in 2006 and based in Stockholm, Sweden, it's estimated value is $1.1 billion. The CEO is Daniel Ek / Investors: Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers and Digital Sky Technologies Global. The analysis? Spotify is enormously popular in Europe and recently launched in the US, where it has already amassed 2 million subscribers. The $50 million Spotify raised in February, 2011 was reportedly at a $1.1 billion valuation.

4. Rovio - Game development and merchandise, well known for the popular game, Angry Birds. Founded in 2003 (Angry Birds launched December 2009) and based in Finland, it's estimated value is $1.2 billion. The CEO is Peter Vesterbacka / Investors: Accel Partners and Atomico Ventures. The analysis? In March 2011, the Angry Birds maker raised $42 million from Accel Partners and Atomico Ventures at an estimated valuation of $200 million.In 2011, we estimate the company is on track to generate $80 million of revenue, and it's supposedly raising an even bigger round at a $1.2 billion valuation.

3. Airbnb - Offers a global network of accommodations offered by locals. Founded in August 2008 and based in San Francisco, CA, it's estimated value is $1.3 billion. The CEO is Brian Chesky / Investors: Andreessen Horowitz, DST Global, and General Catalyst. The analysis? Airbnb is a short-term apartment rental service. The company raised $112 million in July 2011, but Airbnb is not without its issues. Users have publicly complained about their apartments being destroyed by other Airbnb users. Reports suggest that Airbnb will do north of $500 million of gross merchandise sales in 2011, and book net revenue of about 5% of that. We put the company's value at $1.3 billion, which is about 2X gross merchandise sales and the reported valuation of the most recent financing.

2. Square - Accept credit card payments anywhere with your iPhone, iPad or Android phone. Founded in 2009 and based in San Francisco, CA, it's estimated value is $1.6 billion. The CEO is Jack Dorsey / Investors: In 2009, Khosla Ventures invested $10 million in Square. In January 2011, Square raised $27.5 million from Sequoia Capital, Khosla Ventures, and Jeremy Stoppelman. In June 2011, Square raised a massive $100 million round led by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Tiger Global Management. The analysis? Earlier in 2011, Square raised capital at a $240 million valuation. In June 2011, it raised an additional $100 million; two inside sources say the round valued Square at $1.6 billion. Square is getting used by more and more small businesses, but it is still largely unprofitable. The New York Times reports, "Square is on track to notch gross revenue of about $40 million. But its adjusted operating income is expected to be in the red, at negative $20 million. The hope is for Square to reach profitability in 2012 with gross revenue of at least $200 million."

1. Dropbox - A free service that lets you bring your photos, docs, and videos anywhere and share them easily. Founded in 2007 and based in San Francisco, CA, it's estimated value is $4 billion. The CEO is Drew Houston / Investors: Dropbox is rumored to have closed a massive round at a $4 billion valuation led by Index Ventures last month. It received seed money from Y Combinator and, in fall 2008, Sequoia Capital led a $7.2M Series A with Accel Partners. The analysis? Before the round was reported in August 2011, rumors were flying that Dropbox could be worth as much as $8 billion. Due to tanking markets or an interest in specific investors, Dropbox settled for a lower valuation. The $4 billion valuation could be justified. Dropbox makes it easy to store and backup documents in the cloud, sync them between devices and retrieve them later. It solves a problem everyone has, so it has a very big potential market. Dropbox's costs are always going to go down, because cloud computing costs are always getting cheaper. On the revenue side, Dropbox's revenues are always going to go up. It's a freemium business model, and freemiums works best when the value of the services go up over time. Most people won't pay to back up a few files on Dropbox. They'll pay to store them all.

- As seen in Business Insider and brought to you by NetLingo: Improve Your Internet IQ

Cleaning Up the Space Junk

The Earth is surrounded by an ever-growing cloud of space junk. Is it too late to take out the extraterrestrial trash?

How much space junk is up there?
Since the space age began with the launch of Sputnik 54 years ago, we've turned the region just above Earth's atmosphere into a giant scrap yard, littered with everything from exploded rockets to tools lost during space walks. The U.S. Space Surveillance Network is currently tracking some 22,000 pieces of orbital trash that are at least 4 inches across. NASA estimates that tens of millions of smaller, non-trackable objects are circling the Earth, such as screws and flecks of spacecraft paint. It can take centuries, but everything that goes up comes down. Smaller trash burns up on re-entry; larger objects can reach the ground. That was the case last month, when a 6-ton NASA satellite made a fiery descent through the atmosphere and splashed into the Pacific Ocean. With more and more countries lobbing satellites into space, Earth's orbit is filling up with waste faster than gravity can empty it. "The problem is worse now than it was 10 years ago," says NASA engineer LeRoy Cain. "In 10 years it will be worse still." Even if humanity never sends up another rocket, the number of stray objects will continue to climb.

Why might that happen?
There's so much debris in orbit, says the National Research Council in a recent study, that it could set off a "collision cascade": an unending chain reaction in which pieces of junk collide and create more debris, which in turn causes more collisions and debris. This runaway process could create a clutter barrier in space that would make it difficult to operate the satellites that enable our communications, meteorological, and GPS systems. "We've lost control of the environment," says retired NASA scientist Donald Kessler, who wrote the NRC study.

What makes the junk a hazard?
Most space debris flies at or near an orbital velocity of 17,500 miles per hour. At that speed, even a tiny bolt can cause massive damage. “If one collides with a satellite or another piece of debris at the not-unreasonable relative velocity of, say five miles per second, it will blow it to smithereens,” says NASA engineer Creon Levit. The International Space Station has been fitted with more than 100 shields made from layers of aluminum, ceramic, and Kevlar fiber that can withstand strikes from objects measuring 0.4 inches and smaller. But in April the ISS had to maneuver to avoid a large piece of debris — the fifth time since 2008 it was forced to do so. Two months later, the six-man crew rushed to their Soyuz escape pods when a small hunk of junk hurtled toward the station. The debris passed within 1,100 feet of the station, its closest shave yet. Other satellites make maneuvers almost daily to avoid collisions, costing them precious fuel and shortening their lifespans.

Can't we stop the buildup?
In 1981, NASA tweaked the design of its rockets so they would no longer explode into hundreds of pieces after delivering payloads into orbit. The Europeans, Russians, and Chinese followed suit over the next decade, and it appeared as though the space junk problem had been largely contained. That all changed in 2007, when China blasted apart a defunct weather satellite with a missile, creating 150,000 new pieces of debris, 3,118 of which are large enough to be tracked from the ground. Then, in 2009, the retired Russian communications satellite Cosmos 2251 smashed into a working satellite owned by the U.S. firm Iridium. The collision created another 2,000 big chunks of orbiting scrap. "Those two single events doubled the amount of fragments in Earth orbit, and completely wiped out what we had done in the last 25 years," says Kessler.

Is it possible to remove the junk?
The U.S. Air Force is developing a $1 billion "Space Fence" radar system to track debris as small as 0.4 inches and supply advance warnings to satellite operators. But there's a growing consensus that monitoring the problem isn't enough — someone needs to take out the trash. The European Space Agency has suggested sending up a probe to spray old boosters and satellites with expanding foam. The foam would increase the junk's atmospheric drag, ensuring a quicker re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere. ESA scientists say their plan could remove the 50 largest pieces of junk within 30 years. NASA, meanwhile, has suggested using Earth-based lasers to nudge large pieces of space junk off collision courses.

When will the cleanup start?
At the moment, all the junk-busting gadgets are still doodles on the drawing board. But even if we had the technology at hand, no nation has the legal right to launch a mass cleanup of space. "You can't take, touch, or salvage space objects from another country," says Joanne Gabrynowicz, a space-law expert at the University of Mississippi. That’s a big problem, since only 29 percent of the clutter is American, while 37 percent is Russian and 28 percent Chinese. The international community isn’t likely to resolve this legal quandary anytime soon. "The U.N. Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space are still arguing about where space begins," says Victoria Samson of the Secure World Foundation, a lobbying group. That’s "the same argument they’ve been having for 40 years."

Getting hit by falling garbage
NASA estimates that at least one piece of trash hits the Earth's surface every day, but only one person is known to have ever been struck. Lottie Williams was strolling in a Tulsa park in 1997 when she saw a fiery streak in the sky and felt something tap her on the shoulder. It turned out to be a metal strip from a Delta II rocket, about the weight of "an empty soda can," she says. So don't panic next time a satellite re-enters the atmosphere. The European Space Agency estimates that in the course of a typical 75-year lifetime, the risk of being injured by space junk is less than one in 1 billion. In comparison, the lifetime risk of being struck by lightning is around one in 80,000.

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Twitter Reveals Humanity’s Mood Swings

People everywhere tend to feel chipper at breakfast, get grumpier over the course of the day, and brighten again before going to bed. That is the central finding of a vast new study of Twitter users, which may be even more significant in establishing social-networking sites as “the foundation of a new social science,” Harvard University sociologist Nicholas A. Christakis tells The Washington Post.

Researchers at Cornell University tracked the changing moods of 2.4 million people in 84 countries over two years by analyzing their tweets. Using special software, they searched some half a billion posts for words that indicated positive feelings, like “awesome” and “fantastic,” or negative feelings, such as “panic” and “fear.”

When they graphed the results based on the timing of the posts, they discovered a universal daily pattern: Happiness peaks around breakfast, between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m.; falls to a low between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m.; and then rises to another high after dinner. The same trend holds true on weekends, when most people aren’t at work. The study, the first to track the emotions of so many people across cultures, suggests that innate biological rhythms play a big role in our moods.

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10 Words That Describe How the Internet Empowers Us

The existence of the Internet has had an immeasurable effect upon how we, as a society, view and access the world. No other device, service or outlet has achieved what the Internet has in broadening the awareness of all those who have taken part in its offerings or have been uniquely affected by those who do. There is a ‘power’ within that cyber-world that is accessed by a few minor finger-clicks on a keyboard; and it’s a power that is unmatched.

1. Accessibility - Whether in the comfort of my own home, on a plane, on the beach or huddled in the corner at my favorite coffee shop, the Internet is there and available to me. With the advent and subsequent development of tangible, reliable wireless services, the Internet is accessible from nearly any location on the earth.

2. Diversity - The menu of information, resources, interest is only limited by my own imagination to access such things via the Internet. Somewhere in that cyber-world there lays the answer to my queries or the exact need to pique my contemporary whim; and retrieving these things is incredibly simple to do.

3. Anonymity - Whether I’m communicating in a forum, chat room, or simply conversing with some cyber-friends I can do this in a manner that wholly suits me. I may choose to don a disguise for the day, type while in my pajamas—whatever–I can communicate, unabated by normal social standards or protocol.

4. Engagement - The choice is all my own as to whether, or not, I choose to engage with the Internet. It is there for me to use whenever I feel the need, or want, to do so. It demands nothing from me and is my dutiful servant.

5. Exploration - The Internet permits me to satisfy any curiosity that I may bring forth. Whether I’m researching news events, historical accounts, or the mating behaviors of the kiwi, the availability of this information is always there.

6. Uninhibited - Unlike traditional forms of research resources, the Internet doesn’t keep any hours of operation. It is always available to me, regardless of time or day.

7. Entertainment - Along with all the wealth of knowledge available on the Internet, it also includes all manner of entertainment. The entertainment can be accessed as an onlooker from your monitor portal, or it can be participatory for those of a more exhibitionist nature. The Internet has become a stage upon which anyone can gain access.

8. Economical - The cost-effectiveness for vendors in publishing and advertising on the Internet has profound influence on how I choose to shop or market for services. With time always at a premium and travel expenses at an all-time high, I am able to research, evaluate and even purchase products via the Internet and have them shipped directly to my home.

9. Enrichment - Given the plethora of quality information and resource on the Internet, I am able, and empowered, to delve into social, economic, political and entertainment interests at a level that suits me best.

10. Communication - The true beauty, to me, of the Internet is that I may choose to communicate with virtually anyone, and to do so in real time. I don’t have to wait for the postal service to deliver my correspondence. I can send a note, request, solicitation or resume to anyone; and this communication is delivered in milliseconds. I may also befriend and socialize with those whom I’ve never met, or would ever have a chance to know, on the other side of the planet. The Internet enables me to keep in touch, more effectively and much more effortlessly.

Special thanks to my friends at ISPs.org for submitting this blog piece :-) Communications and enhancements of our personal lives have never been more attainable and easier with the use of the Internet; and with it, we are truly rulers of our private domains.

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Why Reading is Better in Print

Print, it seems, better enables editors to perform an “agenda-setting function,” said Jack Shafer at Slate.com.

"I canceled my subscription to The New York Times a few years back," said Jack Shafer. "I wasn’t disappointed with the Gray Lady’s coverage; I just found it more convenient to get my news from the newspaper’s excellent website. But less than a year after my Times cancellation, I was paying for home delivery of the newspaper again. Despite spending ample time on the website, I failed to notice many worthy stories; I also found I couldn’t recall much of what I’d read."

“My anecdotal findings about print’s superiority have been backed up by a new study: Oregon University researchers found that readers of the Times’ print edition remembered significantly more stories, facts, and ideas than online news readers. Print, it seems, better enables editors to perform an agenda-setting function—the use of placement, prominence, and type size to signal what’s most important. When you read online, meanwhile, you’re frequently interrupted by intrusive ads and the need to click through to second and third pages. I’m no luddite, and I like the Web and the iPad. But for real reading satisfaction I still reach for the print editions. What do you think?

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I'd wear a computer on my wrist would you?

We may soon be wearing our electronic gadgets—from heart monitors to cell phones—as a second skin. Researchers have discovered a way to create circuits so thin and flexible that they can be applied like temporary tattoos.

“All established forms of electronics are hard, rigid,” study author Yonggang Huang, an engineer at Northwestern University, tells ScienceDaily.com. But by using wires thinner than a hair and mounting them in flexible sheets of silicon and rubber, he and his colleagues were able to make digital patches that are as soft and elastic as human skin. The circuits, called epidermal electronic systems, can be rubbed on with water instead of needing tape or glue to attach. And they’re small enough to be recharged with solar power.

Researchers say the technology will be nearly invisible to wearers and could be used instead of bulky machines to record medical patients’ vital signs. The paste-on computers will also let us interact with video games and MP3 players using muscle or voice commands. “Ultimately,” says co-author John Rodgers, they will “blur the distinction between electronics and biology.”

Would you wear one on your wrist?

- As seen in The Week
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Evidence Suggests that the Internet Changes How We Remember

MIT’s Technology Review’s Kenrick Vezina writes on a recent study that says we augment our memory with the Internet. The flood of information available online with just a few clicks and finger-taps may be subtly changing the way we retain information, according to a new study. But this doesn't mean we're becoming less mentally agile or thoughtful, say the researchers involved. Instead, the change can be seen as a natural extension of the way we already rely upon social memory aids—like a friend who knows a particular subject inside out.

Researchers and writers have debated over how our growing reliance on Internet-connected computers may be changing our mental faculties. The constant assault of tweets and YouTube videos, the argument goes, might be making us more distracted and less thoughtful—in short, dumber. However, there is little empirical evidence of the Internet's effects, particularly on memory.

Betsy Sparrow, assistant professor of psychology at Columbia University and lead author of the new study, put college students through a series of four experiments to explore this question.

One experiment involved participants reading and then typing out a series of statements, like "Rubber bands last longer when refrigerated," on a computer. Half of the participants were told that their statements would be saved, and the other half were told they would be erased. Additionally, half of the people in each group were explicitly told to remember the statements they typed, while the other half were not. Participants who believed the statements would be erased were better at recalling them, regardless of whether they were told to remember them.

Another experiment had subjects again typing predetermined statements into a computer, but this time, some were told that their statements would be saved in a specific folder on that machine. Participants were better at remembering the names of the folders a statement was stored in than they were at remembering the statements themselves.

The experiments suggest that we are less likely to remember facts when we know they can be easily looked up online, the researchers say. This conclusion is an extension of an idea proposed some 30 years ago by Sparrow's mentor (and a coauthor of a paper describing the latest work), Daniel Wegner, of Harvard's psychology department.

Wegner proposed the idea of "transactive memory" as a collective social memory of sorts. For example, if a friend has an exhaustive knowledge of Greek history, you can simply remember that The Iliad is Greek and that your friend knows about Greek things, rather than remembering who wrote the epic poem. Sparrow and Wegner say that the Internet may serve a similar function, acting as an extension of this external memory.

Mary C. Potter, professor of psychology in MIT's Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, says the study supports the commonsense idea that we use external tools to remember information. She notes, however, that many of the results are at the threshold for statistical significance, and says the study should be seen as suggestive rather than conclusive.

Potter also wonders if the results may be due to sociological rather than psychological phenomena. When your friend whips out his smart phone to look up information about a band, this could be "because it's fun" rather than being about changes to how our brains store information, she says.

Nicholas Carr has been one of the leading voices in the debate. His book The Shallows, published in June, contends that the Internet is having a detrimental effect, an argument he supports with numerous scientific studies. He says Sparrow's study "indicates how flexible our brains are in adapting to our tools."

However, he's not convinced that this adaptation is positive. "It's critically important to remember that there's a difference between external memory and internal memory," he says. "If you're not internalizing ... then your understanding becomes less personal, less distinctive, and, I think, ultimately more superficial."

Sparrow, on the other hand, sees this adaptation as positive. She says our minds are molding to the Internet, just as they have in the past with technologies like the written word.

She's now trying to probe the benefits of this external memory with more experiments. Imagine a history student reading a dense passage, full of dates and names, about the American Revolution. Perhaps if the student is confident that the details will be available on the Internet, he will be better able to get a larger sense of why the revolution happened. Her intuition is that when we expect the details to be available later, we're better at looking for larger messages that might be obscured if we were preoccupied with minutiae.

- As seen in Technology Review

Pentagon Wants a Social Media Propaganda Machine

You don’t need to have 5,000 friends of Facebook to know that social media can have a notorious mix of rumor, gossip and just plain disinformation. The Pentagon is looking to build a tool to sniff out social media propaganda campaigns and spit some counter-spin right back at it, according to Adam Rawnsley in Wired.

Defense Department extreme technology arm DARPA unveiled its Social Media in Strategic Communication (SMISC) program. It’s an attempt to get better at both detecting and conducting propaganda campaigns on social media. SMISC has two goals. First, the program needs to help the military better understand what’s going on in social media in real time — particularly in areas where troops are deployed. Second, Darpa wants SMISC to help the military play the social media propaganda game itself.

Not all memes, of course. Darpa’s not looking to track the latest twists on foul bachelor frog or see if the Taliban is making propaganda versions of courage wolf. Instead, it wants to see what ideas are bubbling up in among social media users in a particular area — say, where American troops are deployed.

More specifically, SMISC needs to be able to seek out “persuasion campaign structures and influence operations” developing across the social sphere. SMISC is supposed to quickly flag rumors and emerging themes on social media, figure out who’s behind it and what. Moreover, Darpa wants SMISC to be able to actually figure out whether this is a random product of the hivemind or a propaganda operation by an adversary nation or group.

Of course, SMISC won’t be content to just to hang back and monitor social media trends in strategic locations. It’s about building a better spin machine for Uncle Sam, too. Once SMISC’s latches on to an influence operation being launched, it’s supposed to help out in “countermessaging.”

Darpa’s announcement talks about using SMISC “the environment in which the military operates” and where it “conducts operations.” That strongly implies it’s intended for use in sensing and messaging to foreign social media. It better, lest it run afoul of the law. The Smith-Mundt Act makes pointing propaganda campaigns at domestic audiences illegal.

What exactly SMISC will look like it its final form is hard to say. At the moment, Darpa is only in the very beginning stages of researching its social media tool. They’re focused on researching the brains of the program — the algorithms and software that’ll identify, locate and make sense of social media trends.

For that, they need some social media data to play around with and test on. Darpa wants bidders to create it in one of two ways. Bidders can round up a few thousand test subjects willing to let their social media data be a guinea pig for SMISC’s software. Alternatively, they can rope in some consenting test subjects for a massively multiplayer role playing game in which generating social media data is a key part of gameplay.

SMISC is yet another example of how the military is becoming very interested in what’s going on in the social media sphere. Darpa has plans to integrate social media data into its manhunt master controller, Insight. NATO has already been paying keen attention to Twitter, using data from the micro-blogging service as an intel source to aid in bomb targeting decisions.

Darpa’s presolicitation offers a very vaguely-sourced anecdote spelling out how SMISC could be used. It details how a social media rumor about the location of a particularly reviled individual — identity and location undisclosed — almost led a lynch mob to storm a house in search of him. Authorities who happened to be paying attention to the Internet rumor were fortunate enough to spot it in time to intervene. In this telling of SMISC’s potential applications, the software could be used to as a tripwire to stop potentially dangerous social media campaigns in their tracks. But we’re sure you — and the Pentagon — can think of a lot less anodyne uses for Darpa’s social media propaganda tool.

- As seen in Wired

Army Seeks Social Media Gurus to Save Afghan War

Know how to tweet? Or how to put words into the mouths of foreign security functionaries? If so, the U.S. Army wants you to help un-quagmire the Afghanistan war. In honor of the 10th anniversary of 9/11, here's one way you can help and get out of the bleak job market.

A new solicitation from the Army seeks communications experts to run the full spectrum of outreach and messaging for the war effort, said Spencer Ackerman in Wired. A new “Web Content/Social Media Manager” will work with the U.S. military command in Afghanistan, known by the acronym USFOR-A, to spruce up and maintain “the command’s official website and related social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr.” Other officials will dig into the Afghan security ministries to advise key officials how to convince people they’re competent, energetic and not at all corrupt.

To non-Afghan eyes, USFOR-A’s got a pretty robust social media presence. Check out how often it tweets its messaging on Twitter. Its YouTube channel is filled with positive videos, and its Facebook page — folded into the NATO command’s page — has nearly 80,000 Likes. Is the war won yet?

Evidently not. The solicitation sees the Taliban doing a better communications job than the U.S.: ”To date, the Insurgents (INS) have undermined the credibility of USFOR-A, the International Community (IC), and Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA) through effective use of the information environment, albeit without a commensurate increase in their own credibility.” Guess the Army thinks the Taliban’s recent English-language tweeting and SMS terror campaign is having an impact. Or that Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s 2009 plea to revamp the war’s communications apparatus didn’t have the desired effect.

That problem’s magnified when it comes to the Afghan government, which is so corrupt that Ryan Crocker, Obama administration’s nominee for ambassador to Kabul, compared its perfidies to a “second insurgency” on Wednesday. The answer? “[C]ulturally-astute and culturally-attuned communication and public affairs advisement” to mouthpieces for the ministries of Defense and Interior.

What will those advisers do? The short answer is teach them how to spin. The long answer: “better align media reporting and public perception and proactively engage opinion-shapers, from media to key leaders, in order to bring these attributes of the information landscape into alignment.”

This is only partially about gaining or keeping Afghan support. The bolstered social networking push needs to have rapid translation into Dari and Pashto, as well as ceaselessly nimble translations of the local press so the military gets feedback, the solicitation says. But it’s primarily to “inform key audiences” — that is, “media and civilian populations internationally and within the region” about USFOR-A spin. And when the best that the smooth diplomat Crocker can tell the Senate about the war is that it’s “not… hopeless,” it’s no wonder that the Army thinks USFOR-A needs all the communications help it can get.

- As seen in Wired

Google: Changing how people think?

A new Columbia University study found that the use of Internet search engines alters the way the brain stores information.

Is Google making human memory obsolete? asked Matt Peckham in Time.com. That’s the question raised by a new Columbia University study, which found that the use of Internet search engines like Google and Yahoo changes the way the brain stores information. In a series of experiments, researchers found that student subjects quickly forgot information they’d entered into a computer, if they believed they could just retrieve it from the computer later. In another test, subjects were asked to remember a string of facts and which folders these facts were stored in. To the researchers’ surprise, the subjects recalled the correct folders—but not the information itself. What this study reveals, said Kari Lipschutz in Adweek, is that we’re adapting to a powerful new technology by altering how we think. In effect, “Google is becoming your brain’s external hard drive.”

As one who likes my brain the way it is, said Jakob Nielsen in Businessweek.com, I find this pretty alarming. It’s certainly convenient to, say, pull up any historical fact in a microsecond. But for a sense of the relative strength of European navies during the Renaissance, and how the struggle for power in that era has shaped the modern world, I still read a book or two—and weave that information into my memory. That’s what you call learning, and it’s what leads to “deep understanding.” The Web has its uses, but mainly, it “fragments information into tiny nuggets that can be digested in a two-minute visit.”

Socrates made a similar complaint in 370 B.C., said Ronald Bailey in Reason. That was long before Google, of course, but back then, the Greek philosopher was worried that writing was making human beings dumber. The written word transmits merely “the appearance of wisdom,” Socrates said, arguing that it would diminish the importance of memory and extemporaneous speech. He was wrong. So are the people who think Google will make us illiterate and shallow, said David Alan Grier in Businessweek.com. Over the last decade, Google and the Internet have raised research standards, stimulated political argument and discussion of thousands of topics, and given any individual with a computer instant access to an ever-expanding body of human knowledge. Does Google “provide all the information that we will ever need?” Of course not. Does it, on the whole, make us smarter? Sure it does.

- As seen in The Week

Tech Book Review - The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding From You

The former director of MoveOn.org, Eli Pariser, shows how Google, Facebook, and other sites track your mouse clicks so they can filter results and tailor them to your preferences.

The idea of the Internet as a free and open conversation “is fast becoming quaint,” said Jesse Singal in The Boston Globe. Not long ago, it was still possible to hope that the Internet would forever be a “clearinghouse of information and fierce debate,” a place where users would constantly be confronted by new and challenging ideas. As Eli Pariser observes, things haven’t turned out that way. Pariser’s Google isn’t your Google. Even his CNN.com isn’t your CNN.com. Instead, the pages many of us see have been tailored to who we are, where we live, and what we’ve clicked on. Pariser, the former director of the liberal activist group MoveOn.org, liked to monitor the opinions of conservative pundits using Facebook; one day, the pundits disappeared. Google had filtered his “news feed” not for political reasons, but to limit his updates to “friends” he’d interacted with.

Welcome to what’s euphemistically called the “personalized” Web, said Christopher Caldwell in the Financial Times. Google, Facebook, Amazon.com, and other “filtering Goliaths” are forever tracking your mouse clicks and keystrokes in order to feed you the news you’re likely to want and the kind of products and advertising pitches you’re likely to respond to. The Internet isn’t even tailored to suit your tastes, really. It’s “personalized the way a blackmail note is personalized—to better fit your particular vulnerabilities.” Yet even our most benign impulses can lead us into cul-de-sacs, said The Economist. As filtering continues to privilege the popular above the unpopular, “people will be invisibly steered away from important issues that are unpleasant or complex, such as homelessness or foreign policy.”

“There’s another problem with filters: People like them,” said Paul Boutin in The Wall Street Journal. In a book that’s mostly a “powerful indictment” of a system that threatens to turn us all into ill-informed partisans, Pariser “fumbles around in search of a solution” because he knows that the Internet is too unwieldy now to be navigated without filtering software. Even so, “The Filter Bubble is well-timed” because the threat it describes is “real but not yet pandemic.” As Pariser notes, Google and Facebook both provide ways that users can disable personalization filters if they choose to. What’s more, the effects of filtering are sometimes mild. “In a test I conducted myself,” I recently asked a handful of Google users across the country to search a phrase in the news and we came up with almost identical results. “To tell the truth, we were kind of disappointed.” - Get the book The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding From You on Amazon.com!

- As seen in The Week

Tasty Tidbits of News from the Tech Front

A Social Network for Seniors
Proust.com encourages older users to share memories and life stories by prompting them with questions. Barry Diller’s IAC this week launched a social networking site specifically designed with senior citizens in mind, said Austin Carr in FastCompany.com. Proust.com encourages older users to share memories and life stories by prompting them with questions about cherished events like their first kiss and favorite birthdays. Co-founder Tom Cortese said the idea of preserving family stories came to him after watching his grandmother battle dementia. “It was just this process of seeing memories go by the wayside,” he said. “There were so many stories I wish I knew about her life.” Modeled after a questionnaire devised by the master of nostalgia, French novelist Marcel Proust, the site helps users craft personal histories through its Q&A format. It also allows members and close family to purchase e-books and even physical copies of the digital autobiographies.

Ryan Seacrest's Fear of BlackBerry Neck
Ryan Seacrest is terrified of contracting “BlackBerry neck,” says the National Enquirer. The distinctive pattern of unsightly creases and wrinkles is caused by spending hours with a bent neck, looking down at one’s smart phone. The American Idol host is on his BlackBerry all day, and a source says he “keeps showing everybody his neck and asking if they can see anything. Now he’s trying to train himself to text without bending.”

Taking a Byte out of Cybercrime
Tens of thousands of new malicious pieces of software are being identified every day. The fight against hackers is projected to cost U.S. companies $130 billion in 2011, triple what they paid in 2006, said David Goldman in CNNMoney.com. This “rising tide of online crime” could be even more dangerous than the cyberwar the Pentagon fears, said Noah Shachtman in The Washington Post. With tens of thousands of new malicious pieces of software (malware) being identified each day, the Web could soon look “like the South Bronx circa 1989—a place where crooks hold such sway that honest people find it hard to live or work there.” Yet it’s only a “relatively small number of companies that support the criminal underground.” Half the world’s spam comes from just 1 percent of Internet service providers (ISPs). More data might lead us right to the criminals, but currently only 30 percent of companies report all of their data breaches.

The ID10T Story of the Week
A fugitive by the name of Victor Burgos taunted police on his Facebook page, posting "Catch me if you can. I'm in Brooklyn." Cops quickly tracked down Burgos to an apartment in Brookly where he was sitting at a computer with his Facebook page open. Uh dewd, it's called using the privacy setting?

Three Reasons Why Millionaires Love Facebook And Hate Twitter
Millionaires are signing up for Facebook in droves, but dropping out of Twitter, according to a new survey reported on by the Wall Street Journal. Julie Zeveloff of Business Insider says the survey, by Spectrem Group, found that 46% of online users with investible assets of $1 million or more are members of Facebook, up from 26% a year ago. The number of millionaire Twitter users, on the other hand, decreased from 5% to 3%.

There are three reasons for the difference in millionaire usage between the two sites, which are often mentioned in the same breath. First, Twitter is super open, making it tough for "control freak" millionaires to filter information. Facebook, meanwhile, has plenty of privacy settings. The second factor is age. From the WSJ: According to the study, among those with $5 million or more in investible assets, the boomers are slightly more likely to use Facebook than the youngest investors — 56% vs. 50%, respectively. (Warren Buffett is an exception, of course). Twitter was generally more popular with the younger-millionaire crowd. Finally, Twitter is a broadcasting tool, while Facebook is a networking tool. Savvy millionaires prefer the latter.

And finally, one of the perils of online relationships...
Cheryl Gray, 50, of Michigan is suing Wylie Iwan, 35, of Washington state after he ended their online relationship. Gray claims that after "meeting" Iwan on Facebook, she bought him gifts and spent hours a day communicating with him, before Iwan met someone else and disparaged her on Facebook. "I did nothing wrong," said Iwan. "It was an online relationship."

- As seen in The Week