Technology

The business and culture of our digital lives,
from the L.A. Times

Category: Deborah Netburn

Most Facebook users get more from it than they put in, study says

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The Pew Research Internet Project released a report about Facebook on Friday, providing insights into the company that you won't find in its IPO filing.

Rather than focusing on the company's financials, the report "Why Most Facebook Users Get More Than They Give" sheds light on how Facebook's 845 million users engage with Facebook and what they get out of it.

The findings show that social interactions on Facebook closely mirror social interactions in the real world.

For example, over the course of a one-month period, researchers found that women made an average of 11 updates to their Facebook status, while men averaged only six. Also, women were more likely to comment on other people's status updates than men.

"There was a general trend in our data that women use Facebook more than men," said Keith Hampton, a professor at Rutgers and lead author of the report. "This is a phenomenon that is not unique to Facebook. Women are traditionally in charge of social relationships offline, and that seems to be true of the online world as well."

The report says men are more likely to send friend requests and women are more likely to receive them. That's something else we see in the real world -- especially in bars.

The report also says that most people who use Facebook get more out of it than they put into it, which may explain why they keep coming back.

Researchers found that 40% of Facebook users in a sample group made a friend request, while 63% received at least one friend request. They found that 12% of the sample tagged a friend in a photo, but 35% were themselves tagged in a photo. And each user in the sample clicked the "like" button next to a friend's content an average of 14 times but had his or her own content 'liked' an average of 20 times.

Why the imbalance?

"There is this 20% to 30% who are extremely active who are giving more than they are getting, and they are so active they are making up for feeding everyone extra stuff," Hampton said. "You might go on Facebook and post something and have time to click 'like' on one thing you see in your news feed, but then you get a whole bunch of 'likes' on your news feed. That's because of this very active group."

He also said extremely active users tend to have a niche: Some are really into friending, others are really into tagging photos, and still others click the 'like' button a lot. Rarely is any one user extreme in all those ways.

I asked Hampton what he could tell me about these extremely active people, whom he calls Facebook "power users." Are they unstoppably social? Unemployed? Lonely?

"It could be people who are always active -- whatever they are doing in their life, they are very active. Or it could be that just in the one month we observed them they are active and another month a different group of people would rise up," he said. "It could be that there is something going on in their life that causes them to be very active, or it could be that some people think of it almost as a job to be active on Facebook."

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Steve Jobs turning over in his grave? Look-alike touts rival Android

-- Deborah Netburn

Photo: A worker at Facebook's headquarters in Menlo Park. Credit: Paul Sakuma/AP Photo

Steve Jobs turning over in his grave? Look-alike touts rival Android

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Steve Jobs likeness continues to pop up in the most unlikely places. He's been immortalized as a bronze statue in an office park in Hungary, his image was painstakingly recreated in what might be the world's most detailed action figure, and now a Taiwanese commercial making its way around the Internet depicts the recently deceased Apple visionary as a shill for an Android-based tablet called Action Pad.

Oh, the irony!

The man playing Jobs in the commercial is Taiwanese comedian and impersonator Ah-Ken, according to a report in Reuters. The commercial never explicitly uses Jobs name, but Ah-Ken is dressed in Jobs trademark black turtleneck and blue jeans, his hair is a silvery grey, and he's wearing glasses. He's standing on a stage meant to mimic those that Jobs paced across during major Apple announcements and speaking excitedly to an applauding audience. One thing he has that Jobs never had: a halo and wings.

At the end of his talk he says, "Thank God I can play another pad."

Jobs of course hated Android with his whole being. His biographer Walter Isaacson writes that he never saw Jobs as angry as when he was talking about a lawsuit Apple had filed against Android.

After telling Isaacson that he considered Google's Android to be a wholesale ripoff of the iPhone, he said:

"I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple's $40 billion in the bank, to right this wrong. I'm going to destroy Android, because it's a stolen product. I'm willing to go thermonuclear war on this. They are scared to death, because they know they are guilty."

Maybe things change in the afterlife?

Action Electronics, the company that makes the Action Pad along with other electronic gadgets, sees no problem with the advertisement. "Steve Jobs always promoted things that were good for people, Apple products, so his image can also promote other things that are good," a spokeswoman told Reuters. "It's just an impersonator, not Jobs," she said.

The reaction on YouTube has been mixed with commenters vacillating between disgust and amusement, but the video itself is rapidly racking up views.

 

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-- Deborah Netburn

Image: Screen grab from a Taiwanese commercial for Action Pad that depicts Steve Jobs as a shill for the Android-based tablet. Credit: YouTube

Facebook's S-1 already has a (fake) Twitter account

Facebook's S-1's Twitter feed wasn't born yesterday -- it was born today

Just moments after Facebook filed its long awaited S-1 on Wednesday afternoon, the S-1 itself got its own Twitter feed.

"Hey, I'm new here," it began, simply enough. And shortly thereafter, it tweeted, "Hey! Anything interesting happen today? LOL!!!"

No clever names for this silly feed -- just the straightforward @FacebooksS1. It's profile says it was born on February 1, 2012, and lists its location as Menlo Park, CA.

Can't argue with that!

Facebook's S-1's self-assigned task seems to be responding to any online remarks it can find about itself, which in the initial crunch immediately following the filing came mostly from the tech media.

When Alexia Totsis of TechCrunch tweeted "This Facebook S-1 is like an animal carcass and us bloggers are like a pack of rabid wolves," Facebook's S-1 responded: "Animal carcass?! WTH? I work out."

And when New York Times tech reporter Jenna Worthman tweeted, "curious: Facebook is alternately capitalized and written in lower-case throughout the filing." Facebook's S-1 shot back: "I like to keep it edgy."

Of course it took just about, oh, a couple of hours or so, for everything to start getting meta.

Just before 5 p.m. Pacific time, Josie Mora (@uncouthgormand) tweeted that she would be printing the Facebook SEC S-1 report, which she expected would be a fascinating read. Her friend @KrisDub wanted to know if Facebook's S-1 would be cool with her looking at its private parts.

Facebook's S-1 didn't miss a beat. "Whoa, ladies," it tweeted. "This is a G-Rated filing here. Except for the value of Zuck's shares. That's just obscene."

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-- Deborah Netburn

Image: A screen grab of Facebook S-1's twitter feed.

Facebook's IPO will put Zuckerberg's 'open, connected' mantra to the test

Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook's F8 developer conference in 2011

Almost exactly eight years ago today, on the first Wednesday of February 2004, Mark Zuckerberg famously launched thefacebook.com out of his Harvard dorm room.

And now on the first Wednesday of February 2012, the company he built has filed papers for what's expected to be the largest initial public offering ever to come out of Silicon Valley, not to mention one of the largest in U.S. history.

But from dorm room to IPO, Zuckerberg says the vision for his social networking site has remained the same. The goal with the company that has made him billions, he says, has never been about making money, but rather to make the world more "open" and "connected" -- two words he has been known to repeat, like a sort of mantra.

On Facebook's 6th anniversary in 2010, when the networking site had less than half of the 845 million monthly users the company claimed in Wednesday's IPO filing, Zuckerberg  wrote a letter to Facebook users explaining the company's mission: "Facebook began six years ago today as a product that my roommates and I built to help people around us connect easily, share information and understand one another better," he wrote, "...and thanks to you we've made great progress over the last year towards making the world more open and connected."

In a letter to investors included in Facebook's IPO filing, Zuckerberg drilled down on that theme, starting with the first line of the letter:

"Facebook was not originally created to be a company. It was built to accomplish a social mission -- to make the world more open and connected," he writes.

Of course, some are concerned about the lack of privacy in the "open" and "connected" world of the future that Zuckerberg has conceived, and helped create -- especially as Facebook will likely face pressure from investors and Wall Street analysts to turn its biggest asset -- personal information about its hundreds of millions of users -- into bigger and bigger profits.

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--Deborah Netburn

Image: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg delivers a keynote during the Facebook f8 Developer Conference in September of 2011. Credit: Kimihiro Hoshino /AFP

No mind-reading yet, but scientists eavesdrop on brain impulses

An illustration showing a human brain with the electrode array

You've heard of mind reading, but how about mind listening?

In a move that brings us one step closer to a world in which Big Brother could listen in on what you're hearing from inside your head, scientists have found that they can re-create a single word that a person has just heard by tracking the brain's electrical response to the sound.

Brian Pasley, a neuroscientist at UC Berkeley and lead author of the paper "Reconstructing Speech From Human Auditory Cortex," explained that the brain analyzes speech by its acoustic frequency, and that different sites in the brain respond to different frequencies. To listen in on what the brain is hearing, Pasley and his team essentially created a model, or map, of which part of the brain responded to which frequency. 

But it's not like a brain wiretap is on its way anytime soon. The researchers' brain code allows them to translate only words that the brain actually hears, not words that the brain thinks up on its own.

Also, the process of listening in on what the brain hears is not a simple one — at least not yet. For this study, researchers worked with people who already had an array of electrodes placed directly on top of their actual brain as part of a treatment for eplilepsy.

"For what we are studying, it was a really unique window into what the brain is doing when we are trying to understand speech," said Pasley. "The types of signals you are getting when you are recording directly from the brain are much more precise than other methods."

Still, he said he had to play these kind volunteers a single word for five or 10 minutes before he got enough data from the brain to re-create it.

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— Deborah Netburn

Image: An illustration showing a human brain with the electrode array. Credit: Adeen Flinker / UC Berkeley.

 

Will Lifeline guarantee high-speed Internet access for all?

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Life, liberty and high-speed Internet access for all?

Under the Lifeline program, low-income Americans were guaranteed affordable access to basic phone services for the last 25 years. Soon, the program might also help subsidize their access to high-speed Internet as well.

On Tuesday, the Federal Communications Commission, which manages Lifeline, said it will spend $25 million on a pilot program to examine what it would take to ensure low-income Americans have affordable access to broadband Internet.

"About 32% of the country doesn't have broadband at home and that number is double for low-income families," said Mark Wigfield, a spokesman for the FCC. "Back in 1985 when the Lifeline program first started phone service was considered essential, and it still is, but broadband is taking over."

The announcement of the broadband pilot program was folded into a larger announcement by the FCC that it will overhaul Lifeline in order to address redundancies and waste in the program that the FCC said should result in up to $2 billion in savings over the next three years. This will be welcome news to Americans who help pay for the program via a Universal Service charge of $2.25 or $2.50 that appears each month on their phone bill.

Reaction to the announcement was mixed.

Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-Palo Alto), a member of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee, came out in strong support."The establishment of a broadband adoption pilot program will help close our nation’s digital divide, while addressing a key recommendation of the FCC’s National Broadband Plan," she said in a statement.

But Larry Downes, a Senior Adjunct Fellow at the think tank TechFreedom, was less positive. "While we share the goal of making broadband Internet available to all Americans, we're troubled by the Commission’s continued determination to regulate without authority from Congress," he said in a statement.

He added that he thinks it is imprudent to spend money on a pilot before it's clear how much will actually be saved from the reforms.

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Photo: Is broadband access for everyone the American way? Credit: Paul Sancya /Associated Press

Gingrich vs. Romney: Whose website got the most hits?

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Does the number of people who click on a political candidate's website have any correlation to how many votes he or she receives?

On Tuesday night, we might find out.

Experian Hitwise, an online measurement company, has released some data on how many people have visited Mitt Romney's website versus how many people have visited Newt Gingrich's website in the last four weeks.

The results are mixed.

In Florida, Romney is the clear winner (online). Over the last three weeks, his website got 39.5% of traffic to the four remaining Republican presidential candidates' websites from Florida users. Gingrich came in second with 26.53%. Rick Santorum's site got 19.20% of the traffic, and Ron Paul got 14.75%.

But outside of Florida, the top two positions were reversed. Experian reports that last week in the U.S. overall, Gingrich's site got 35.74% of the hits, while Romney's site received just 29.31%. Then came Ron Paul, who got 20.48%, and finally Rick Santorum with 14.47%.

Weird!

And add this to the mix: Up until mid-January, Gingrich was clearly leading in online hits from Floridians. It wasn't until the week of Jan. 15 that Romney started to take the lead.

Matt Tatham, a spokesman for Expedia Hitwise, said that online visits do not necessarily translate to offline votes. "You never know what people are going to visit on," he said. "The Romney traffic could just be due to him being in the news more than the others."

He added that most of the Romney searches in the last week have centered on his tax returns and his net worth.

"Sometimes Internet users just search on people -- they want to know their background, find out what the family is like, see what the life looks like. But having said all of that, maybe it will translate to votes. You never know. You could argue both sides."

As for whether Gingrich should be heartened by his website's nationwide online hit lead over Romney, Tatham didn't think so. "If you are them, you are only worried about one state," he said.

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--Deborah Netburn

Photo: Newt Gingrich supporter Mary Gaulden listens to the Republican presidential candidate speak at a campaign rally Monday in Tampa, Fla. Credit: Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA

Helen Gurley Brown gives Stanford, Columbia $30 million

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The intersection of media and technology just got better funded.

Today the Columbia Journalism School and the Stanford School of Engineering announced a joint $30 million gift from longtime Cosmopolitan magazine editor Helen Gurley Brown to establish the David and Helen Gurley Brown Institute for Media Innovation.

The idea is to get the best media minds on the East Coast to start working with the best technology  minds on the West Coast and get innovating!

"David and I have long supported and encouraged bright young people to follow their passions and to create original content," said Helen Gurley Brown in a statement. "Great content needs usable technology....It's time for two great institutions on the East and West Coasts to build a bridge."

If you are thinking this bridge might be a bit arbitrary, it may help to know that Helen Gurley Brown's late husband graduated from Stanford University and the Columbia School of Journalism.

Each school will receive $12 million for "Institute activities"--enough to endow a professorship holder and to support graduate and post-graduate fellowships at both schools. Columbia will receive an additional $6 million for construction of a building that will feature a high-tech newsroom.

"New York City as the major center for the television, music, print media and advertising, is profoundly affected by rapidly evolving digital technology," said Stanford engineering professor Bernd Girod, who will be the institute's founding director, in a statement. "The Brown Institute will bring together creative innovators skilled in production and delivery of news and entertainment with the entrepreneurial researchers at Stanford working in multimedia technology."

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Photo: David Brown and Helen Gurley Brown in 1979. Credit: Los Angeles Times.

 

Two teens send a Lego man into near space

Two Canadian high school students have successfully launched a Lego man almost 80,000 feet above sea level--high enough to capture video of the plastic toy hovering above the curvature of the Earth.

Now the results of their experiment have gone viral, racking up more than 600,000 views on YouTube in just two daysand inspiring the young engineers to make their small astronaut his own Facebook page--Lego Man in Space.

The Toronto Starreports that the two teens, Matthew Ho and Asad Muhammed, were inspired to do the project about a year and a half ago when Ho saw a YouTube video of MIT students who sent a balloon to near space. Ho wanted to see if he could do it too.

The friends spent four and a half months working on the project, mostly on Saturdays. In a video interview with the Star, they said the hardest part was making the parachute, which they decided to hand-sew, even though neither of them had any sewing experience.

They also constructed a lightweight Styrofoam box to carry three point-and-shoot cameras, a wide-angle video camera and a cellphone with a downloadable GPS app. They purchased a professional weather balloon for $85 online. The helium that would lift it up came from a party supply store. For launch, they put two mitten warmers in the Styrofoam box to keep the cameras working at that altitude. The whole project cost them about $400.

After the balloon was constructed, the two waited until weather conditions would ensure that the Lego man would land in Canada and not somewhere in the U.S. because they didn't want to take their chances with U.S. Homeland Security, the Star reports.

Ho and Muhammed estimate that it took their balloon craft one hour and five minutes to climb 80,000 feet before it finally popped. The descent took a little more than 30 minutes.

Besides online notoriety, the two also received a congratulatory note from Lego.

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Thomas Edison, Steve Jobs top young adult list of greatest innovators

Lemelson-MIT-Invention-Inde
Alexander Graham Bell. Thomas Edison. Marie Curie. Steve Jobs. Which of these people would you consider the greatest innovator of all time?

A few weeks ago the Lemelson-MIT Program put a similar question to 1,000 young adults ages 16 to 25, and stodgy old purists can breathe a sigh of relief. Thomas Edison trumped everyone.

"Though part of the 'Apple Generation,' many young Americans surprisingly chose Thomas Edison (52%), as the greatest innovator of all time, demonstrating that education around the history of invention exists in today's curriculum," the organization wrote in a statement on its annual Lemelson-MIT Invention Index.

Still, nearly a quarter of respondents identified Steve Jobs as their first pick for greatest innovator, beating that old stalwart Alexander Graham Bell, who received just 10% of the votes.

Mark Zuckerberg made the list, although only 3% of respondents identified the Facebook founder as the world's greatest innovator. He tied with Amelia Earhart.

Bill Gates, however, was notably missing.

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-- Deborah Netburn

Image credit: From the Lemelson-MIT Program.

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