Monday, May 04
Search engines have come a long way, but as The Independent reports, a revolution may be on the horizon:
The new system, Wolfram Alpha, showcased at Harvard University in the US last week, takes the first step towards what many consider to be the internet’s Holy Grail – a global store of information that understands and responds to ordinary language in the same way a person does.
Being able to make Internet searches more personable is cool and all, but Wolfram Alpha has something else up its sleeve:
The real innovation, however, is in its ability to work things out “on the fly”, according to its British inventor, Dr Stephen Wolfram. If you ask it to compare the height of Mount Everest to the length of the Golden Gate Bridge, it will tell you. Or ask what the weather was like in London on the day John F Kennedy was assassinated, it will cross-check and provide the answer. Ask it about D sharp major, it will play the scale. Type in “10 flips for four heads” and it will guess that you need to know the probability of coin-tossing. If you want to know when the next solar eclipse over Chicago is, or the exact current location of the International Space Station, it can work it out.
An Internet that not only stores information but can also work out problems? What could possibly go wrong?
The rural demand for broadband can be seen from the level of utilization for those who do subscribe. Rural households transfer more information on average than their urban counterparts. This may be because rural users turn to the Internet for products and services that they cannot get locally, whereas urban users have more options.
Peha, Jon M. “Bringing Broadband to Unserved Communities.” Part of The Hamilton Project, Advancing Opportunity, Prosperity and Growth. (Washington DC: The Brookings Institution) May 2008.
More facts about broadband and rural areas.
Friday, May 01
With the $7.2 billion in federal money approved for broadband deployment yet to be tapped, companies hoping to dip into the funds continue to jockey for position. Via the Wall Street Journal:
The National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative, which represents 1,500 rural utilities and telecom providers, recently announced a deal with WiMAX provider DigitalBridge Communications, which offers high-speed wireless broadband service in rural areas. The rural utilities cooperative is pouring $10 million in funding into DigitalBridge in hopes that the company will help its members offer more wireless broadband services in rural areas — and potentially win some of the broadband stimulus funding.
Grant proposal details are expected from Commerce and Agriculture Departments sometime this month.
Iran has perhaps the strictest online censorship program on the planet. But, as the New York Times reports, that’s not stopping many Internet users in the country from accessing banned content:
Last July, on popular sites that offer free downloads of various software, an escape hatch appeared. The computer program allowed Iranian Internet users to evade government censorship.
College students discovered the key first, then spread it through e-mail messages and file-sharing. By late autumn more than 400,000 Iranians were surfing the uncensored Web.
As it turns out, the censor-busting software has come from a surprising source:
The software was created not by Iranians, but by Chinese computer experts volunteering for the Falun Gong, a spiritual movement that has beem suppressed by the Chinese government since 1999. They maintain a series of computers in data centers around the world to route Web users’ requests around censors’ firewalls.
TechCrunch digs through the numbers and decides online advertising isn’t recession-proof:
With the four largest Web advertising companies (Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and AOL) having reported March quarter financials, we can get a pretty good sense of how the sector did as a whole. If you add up the online advertising revenues of these four online advertising bellwethers, the total online advertising revenues for the quarter came to $7.9 billion, a 2 percent decline from a year ago and a 7 percent decline from the fourth quarter.
This is the first quarter in (its relatively short) history that online advertising has posted a decline in profits.
Thursday, April 30
With $7 billion waiting to be deployed for broadband expansion, connecting rural areas is getting a lot of focus. From the Wall Street Journal:
Rural communications networks that connect to major Internet arteries will be key investments that will come from the $7.2 billion in broadband stimulus money, a senior adviser to President Barack Obama said Wednesday.
“Investments in backhaul networks, particularly in rural communities, will likely be particularly helpful,” said Susan Crawford, a National Economic Council member and special assistant to the president.
Major carriers such as Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ) and Sprint Nextel Corp. (S) and some cable operators have said Obama’s goal of blanketing the country with high-speed Internet can’t be accomplished without significant investment in so-called “backhaul” networks that stretch to hard-to-reach communities.
There is some debate, however, about whether those networks should be financed with government money or private-sector investments. Extending cable to rural communities can be prohibitively expensive for Internet carriers, which is why those areas tend to have few connectivity options.
Recently, the French Parliament tried to crack down on online piracy by passing a law that required ISPs to pull the Internet access of copyright offenders. But in a surprising defeat, the National Assembly voted the law down.
Now, as Ars Technica reports, the so-called “Three Strikes Law” is back:
The bill is now back in the National Assembly for a second reading, according to French newspapers, and its backers don’t sound ready for anything like “compromise” after being tricked the first time around. If it passes, the bill would create a new administrative authority called HADOPI to handle copyright infringement notices; HADOPI could then choose to warn or disconnect Internet users, placing them on a national Internet blacklist.
But the European Parliament isn’t keen on the idea, and has voted several times to basically ban such practices without judicial oversight. MEPs like France’s Guy Bono have repeatedly sought to make the issue part of the massive “Telecom Package” reform bill that will reshape Europe’s telecom architecture, but Parliament’s bills need to pass muster with the European Council before becoming law. The Council, made up the various EU member states, has opposed (under French leadership) most attempts to restrict Internet disconnection rules.
Today, though, it appears that a compromise has been reached in principle between Parliament and the Council. Reuters notes that the Telecom Package will now contain a line about cutting off Internet access only when an “impartial and independent tribunal” agrees. This deal is broader than past attempts to get judges involved, but narrower than Council ideas about letting any “legal authority” oversee disconnections.
Today’s New York Times reports on how Google is helping Mexican officials keep tabs on the spread of Swine Flu by offering a special Flu Trends service:
Google Flu Trends, which was first released in the United States, in November, tries to track the incidence of flu based on the ebb and flow of searches for keywords related to influenza. The company called its Flu Trends for Mexico experimental because unlike in the United States, it does not have historical surveillance data to validate that its search data correlates to actual infections.
You can check out the special Mexico Flu Trends site here.
Wednesday, April 29
Tuesday, April 28
Yesterday we posted about the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention turning to Twitter to keep people informed about the spread of “Swine Flu.” But as Foreign Policy points out, the popular micro-blogging service is also spreading misinformation:
Who knew that swine flu could also infect Twitter? Yet this is what appears to have happened in the last 24 hours, with thousands of Twitter users turning to their favorite service to query each other about this nascent and potentially lethal threat as well as to share news and latest developments from Mexico, Texas, Kansas and New York (you can check most recent Twitter updates on the subject by searching for “swine flu” and “#swineflu”). And despite all the recent Twitter-enthusiasm about this platform’s unique power to alert millions of people in decentralized and previously unavailable ways, there are quite a few reasons to be concerned about Twitter’s role in facilitating an unnecessary global panic about swine flu.