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%.
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.
SoundCloud announced Monday that it has reached a milestone: more than 10 million users and 5 million downloads of the SoundCloud mobile app.
But what's probably more interesting to SoundCloud users is a new Instagram-compatible Web app called Story Wheel that the Berlin company launched Monday.
"It's a really big thing for us to have the community get to that point," Alex Ljung, SoundCloud's co-founder and chief executive, said in an interview. "It's just been a great last year for us. Everything has sort of ramped up faster and faster and recently we're signing up about a million users a month."
The audio-hosting and -streaming service, which we've said aspires to be the YouTube of audio, has grown largely by word of mouth, Ljung said.
"The SoundCloud community is really pushing it forward," he said. "We see now super clearly that sound is mobile with the number of sign-ups and usage growth on the mobile app side. We've also seen over the last year just how wide sound can be beyond music."
One example of that diversity is that there are more than 3.3 million tags that SoundCloud users identify their recordings with, Ljung said.
Another example of SoundCloud's "sound is more than music" ethos is the Story Wheel app, which is essentially an online version of a slide show with a projector sound effects, to re-create the feeling of sharing photos the old-school way with friends and family.
The app enables users to import in photos from the popular iPhone photo-sharing app Instagram and add recorded narration -- hosted by SoundCloud -- to go with the pictures.
On Monday, Ljung and SoundCloud co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Eric Wahlforss posted a Story Wheel of their own that offered up a bit of company history: Their first SoundCloud "office" was a Berlin coffee shop.
The app started last November in Boston as a project at Music Hack Day, which SoundCloud helps organize, then continued in the company's Berlin and San Francisco offices. The inspiration for Story Wheel came when SoundCloud engineers found themselves telling each other the stories behind the photos they posted to Instagram.
"We chose Instagram is because it's the service we use the most for our own photos," Ljung said. "We built Story Wheel because it's something we wanted to see and we thought it was something our users would like to see and use too. And we built the whole thing on the same API that we offer to our developers, who have made more than 10,000 apps on our platform."
About a year ago SoundCloud had about 2 million users, Ljung said, adding that he thinks third-party developers and the popularity of the company's mobile apps deserve as much credit for the growth to 10 million users as the word of mouth spread by users.
So where does SoundCloud go from here? Ljung said the 80-employee company is focused on continuing its growth and creating more things like Story Wheel that show users what they can do with the audio files they record and share on SoundCloud's website.
Aiding that effort is a recent round of venture funding and the addition of Mary Meeker, a renowned tech analyst and partner at the investment firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, to SoundCloud's board as an observer.
Ljung, however, wasn't too interested in talking about Meeker or just how much money SoundCloud has raised.
"I think for us it's not such a big deal," he said. "It's just kind of like a background thing that helps the company grow. It's great to have good partners and have great apps built on our platform. But for us, the 10-million-user figure is really more interesting. Everything we do, we think about how it will affect our users because without the users, none of the other stuff is there."
MegaUpload, one of the world's largest file-sharing websites, was shut down Thursday by the U.S. Department of Justice, which accused it of violating piracy and copyright laws.
In an indictment, the Justice Department alleged that MegaUpload was a "mega conspiracy" and a global criminal organization "whose members engaged in criminal copyright infringement and money laundering on a massive scale."
The Justice Department said MegaUpload, which had about 150 million users, tallied up harm to copyright holders in excess of $500 million by allowing users to illegally share movies, music and other files. Prosecutors said in the indictment that the site's operators raked in an income from it that topped $175 million.
MegaUpload was just one of the many services that allow for the easy sharing of large files online. Others include sites such as Mediafire and Rapidshare and cloud storage services that allow for shared folders such as Box.net and Dropbox.
One way MegaUpload differentiated itself was with its online marketing campaign that featured celebrities such as rapper/producers Kanye West, Lil' Jon, Sean "Diddy" Combs and Swizz Beats stating in YouTube videos why they loved using the site. Other videos feature tennis star Serena Williams, boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr., Def Jam Records founder Russell Simmons and director Brett Ratner testifying to their use of MegaUpload.
The release of the Justice Department indictment came after dozens of websites, led by tech heavyweights Wikipedia, Craigslist, Mozilla and Google, altered their websites to protest two anti-piracy bills under consideration on Capitol Hill: the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA).
Critics of the bills say the proposed laws would give the Justice Department the ability to censor the Internet by giving the agency clearance to shut down a site without having to get court approval of an indictment, as it did with MegaUpload. Although the indictment was unsealed Thursday, it was issued by a federal court in the Eastern District of Virginia on Jan. 5, the agency said.
In a statement issued with the indictment,the Justice Department said "this action is among the largest criminal copyright cases ever brought by the United States and directly targets the misuse of a public content storage and distribution site to commit and facilitate intellectual property crime."
The Justice Department said that at its request, authorities arrested three MegaUpload executives -- officially employed by two companies, Megaupload Ltd. and Vestor Ltd. -- in New Zealand, including the site's founder, Kim Dotcom, who was born Kim Schmitz. The agency is also looking to arrest two additional executives.
The indictment charges the two companies with running a "racketeering conspiracy, conspiring to commit copyright infringement, conspiring to commit money laundering and two substantive counts of criminal copyright infringement."
According to the Associated Press, before the MegaUpload site was shut down Thursday, a statement was posted on the site saying the allegations made against it were "grotesquely overblown" and that "the vast majority of Mega's Internet traffic is legitimate, and we are here to stay. If the content industry would like to take advantage of our popularity, we are happy to enter into a dialogue. We have some good ideas. Please get in touch."
Visits to Megaupload.com on Thursday showed the website as unable to load. The Justice Department had ordered the seizure of 18 domain names it linked to the alleged wrongdoing.
[Updated at 3:42 p.m.: As noted by Times reporter Ben Fritz on our sister blog Company Town, the hacker group Anonymous has allegedly lobbed a denial-of-service attack that has temporarily taken down the websites for the Department of Justice and Universal Music as a move in retaliation for the shutdown of MegaUpload. Forbes is reporting that the same attack has struck the sites for the Recording Industry of America and the Motion Picture Assn. of America.]
[Updated at 3:50 p.m.: The Twitter accounts @YourAnonNews and @AnonOps are taking credit on behalf of Anonymous for the web attacks on the websites of the Justice Department, Recording Industry of America, Motion Picture Assn. of America and Universal Music.]
Watching from China, where Web censorship is practically a national hallmark, some can't help but smirk and crack jokes about the controversy raging over Internet freedom in the U.S.
"Now the U.S. government is copying us and starting to build their own firewall," wrote one micro-blogger, relating China's chief censorship tool to the U.S. plan to block sites that trade in pirated material.
The Relevant Organs, an anonymous Twitter account (presumably) pretending to be the voice of the Chinese communist leadership, quipped: "Don't understand the hoopla over Wikipedia blackout in the U.S. today. We blacked it out here years ago. Where are OUR hugs?"
Humor aside, the brouhaha has generated some strong opinions in the country that Google fled, not the least because opponents of the SOPA and PIPA anti-piracy bills are conjuring Chinese Web censorship to promote their case.
The consensus here, however, appears to be this: Americans should try a minute in our shoes before invoking online Armageddon.
There's something awesome and kind of a folksy feeling about today's first semi-coordinated online protest against anti-piracy bills that have been circulating around Congress.
But how many people have actually been moved to action?
That's where the kind of coordinated-ness of it all gets a little annoying. Almost all of the striking websites suggest visitors take some sort of action against the bill -- some recommend you get in touch with your congressional representative to express your opposition to SOPA and PIPA, others ask users to sign a petition expressing their concern over the bills.
But even these petitions are not centralized, so it's difficult to tally how many people have been moved to participate.
Here's what we have been able to gather, as of this writing:
48,882 people have liked the Against the Stop Online Piracy Act page on Facebook.
Google is reporting more than 3 million Americans have signed various petitions opposing SOPA.
51,689 signed a petition on the White House's website We the People, asking the Obama administration to veto SOPA.
1.4 million people worldwide signed a "Save the Internet" petition on the activist website Avaaz.org
BlackoutSOPA.org is reporting that 68,620 people have changed either their Twitter, Google+ or Facebook profile picture to feature an anti-SOPA message.
Fight for the Future, a nonprofit, is reporting that 75,000 sites have signed up to participate in the protest, and that between its two sites Sopastrike.com and AmericanCensorship.org, 350,000 people have sent emails sent to their two senators and their representatives.
The group, which reportedly has about 20,000 members, targeted Schumer and Gillibrand for the protest because the two are co-sponsors of PIPA. The protesters, which police corralled into metal barriers on a sidewalk in front of the senators' Manhattan offices, called for Schumer and Gillibrand to withdraw their support for PIPA -- a move a few politicians took on Wednesday amid the widespread online actions against the proposed laws.
While lawmakers in support of SOPA and PIPA have said that the bills are written to protect against online piracy and theft of American-made films, TV shows, music and other digital goods, those against the bills say the legislation would open the door to online censorship that would essentially ruin the free flow of information on the Web.
Andrew Rasiej, chairman of the New York Tech Meetup, told the New York Daily News that not only would SOPA and PIPA open the door to censorship of the Internet, but the laws would also have negative effects on the ability of the U.S. to remain a leader in the global tech industry.
"Because a new innovation by a start-up could be interpreted by a judge unfamiliar with how the technology works as infringing on copyright, investors and entrepreneurs would be discouraged from moving forward with a start-up due to a significantly increased risk of legal entanglement," Rasiej told the New York Daily News. "This in turn would dampen job creation and future opportunities for New Yorkers and Americans as a whole."
Photo: People gather outside the offices of two U.S. senators from New York, including Sen. Charles "Chuck" Schumer, to protest against proposed laws to curb Internet piracy. Credit: Stan Honda / AFP/Getty Images
Three co-sponsors of the SOPA and PIPA antipiracy bills have publicly withdrawn their support as Wikipedia and thousands of other websites blacked out their pages Wednesday to protest the legislation.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) withdrew as a co-sponsor of the Protect IP Act in the Senate, while Reps. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) and Ben Quayle (R-Ariz.) said they were pulling their names from the companion House bill, the Stop Online Piracy Act. Opponents of the legislation, led by large Internet companies, say its broad definitions could lead to censorship of online content and force some websites to shut down.
In a posting on his Facebook page, Rubio noted that after the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously passed its bill last year, he has "heard legitimate concerns about the impact the bill could have on access to the Internet and about a potentially unreasonable expansion of the federal government's power to impact the Internet."
"Congress should listen and avoid rushing through a bill that could have many unintended consequences," Rubio said in announcing he was withdrawing his support. While he's committed to stopping online piracy, Rubio called for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to back off plans to hold a key procedural vote on the bill on Tuesday.
Rubio's withdrawal will reduce the number of co-sponsors to 39. Last week, two other co-sponsors, Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), joined four other Senate Republicans in a letter to Reid also urging him delay the vote. But Grassley and Hatch have not withdrawn their support.
Terry and Quayle were among the 31 sponsors of the House legislation before they withdrew their support Tuesday.
Quayle still strongly supports the goal of the House bill to crack down on foreign websites that traffic in pirated movies, music, medicine and other goods.
"The bill could have some unintended consequences that need to be addressed," said Quayle spokesman Zach Howell. "Basically it needs more work before he can support it."
Terry said that he also had problems with the House bill in its current form and would no longer support it.
Wikipedia, Reddit and about 10,000 other websites blacked out their pages Wednesday with messages warning of the dangers of the legislation and urging people to contact their congressional representatives. Howell said Quayle's office had not seen a major increase in calls or emails Wednesday, but that the piracy bills have been the main issue in recent weeks for people contacting the office.
There has been a "manageable increase" in visits to House member websites Wednesday, said Dan Weiser, a spokesman for the House office of the chief administrative officer.
"It’s possible some users will see a short delay or slow loading of a member's web page," he said.
Wikipedia is the biggest name among the approximately 10,000 websites that pledged to go dark Wednesday in a broad Internet protest of the SOPA and PIPA online anti-piracy bills. But word has quickly spread about how to circumvent the blackout.
Visitors to Wikipedia's English-language site -- either directly to its homepage or via a link from a search engine query -- are diverted in seconds to a dark page that asks people to "Imagine a world without free knowledge." There's a couple of sentences about threat from the bills, and a box to enter your ZIP code to help contact your member of Congress about the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect-IP Act.
Mashable.com lists a couple of ways to bypass the blackout screen and get to Wikipedia's pages.
The easiest is to go to Wikipedia's mobile version, which is not being blacked out. You don't have to use a mobile device to do it. The mobile version is available via your Web browser at en.m.wikipedia.org.
There's a black bar at the top that notes the piracy protest, but the rest of the site is fully accessible.
Another easy workaround is the Simple English version of Wikipedia, which is designed for children and adults learning the language. It's not as extensive as Wikipedia's main site, but could be helpful for youngsters working on school projects.
The Village Voice offers another alternative. Wikipedia's foreign-language sites -- with dozens of options, from Afrikaans to Zeêuws -- are not participating in the blackout and are open for surfing if you're multilngual or have quick access to Rosetta Stone.
One day before major players in the online community plan to launch a virtual protest against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) making its way through Congress, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) issued a statement saying the committee will delay its markup of the bill until February.
But Smith said the delay is unrelated to Wikipedia's announcement that it would black out its English sites for 24 hours, or to Reddit's decision to black out its site for 12 hours, or to Google's announcement that it will place a link on its homepage to highlight its opposition to the bill.
In a statement released Tuesday afternoon, Smith said the delay was because of Republican and Democratic retreats scheduled for the next few weeks.
Then he reiterated his commitment to sending the bill to the White House.
"To enact legislation that protects consumers, businesses and jobs from foreign thieves who steal America's intellectual property, we will continue to bring together industry representatives and Members to find ways to combat online piracy," Smith said. “I am committed to continuing to work with my colleagues in the House and Senate to send a bipartisan bill to the White House that saves American jobs and protects intellectual property."
What does an Internet strike look like? You're about to find out.
Wikipedia, Reddit, BoingBoing and hundreds of other websites have pledged to go dark Tuesday night to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) -- two anti-piracy bills that are currently making their way through Congress.
"This is an extraordinary action for our community to take," said Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales in a statement Monday announcing Wikipedia's decision to go dark. "While we regret having to prevent the world from having access to Wikipedia for even a second, we simply cannot ignore the fact that SOPA and PIPA endanger free speech both in the United States and abroad, and set a frightening precedent of Internet censorship for the world."
Wikipedia -- the Web's fifth-most popular property with 470 million monthly users -- is the largest Web entity to declare its intent to go dark, but it joins many other websites that have already pledged to shut down for 12 to 24 hours to draw attention to legislation that they say will hasten the end of the free Internet.
Reddit was one of the trailblazers of the blackout movement, declaring its intent to go dark on Jan. 10. Two days later, Ben Huh, chief executive of Cheezburger, which has a network of 50 sites including the seminal ICanHasCheezburger as well as Fail Blog, Know Your Meme and the Daily What, said his sites would be joining the strike.
Blackouts are not the only types of protest you'll find online Wednesday. Google announced Tuesday that, while its search engine will continue to function, the company will place a link on its home page to highlight its opposition to the bills.
“Like many businesses, entrepreneurs and Web users, we oppose these bills because there are smart, targeted ways to shut down foreign rogue websites without asking American companies to censor the Internet,” Samantha Smith, a Google spokeswoman, said in an email Tuesday. “So tomorrow we will be joining many other tech companies to highlight this issue on our U.S. home page.”
And Scribd, which claims to be the world's largest online repository of documents, said visitors to its website would find a pop-up roadblock Wednesday in protest of SOPA and PIPA that will lead to a call to action and an online petition.
Craigslist started its protest early. A starred section at the top of the site urges users to "help put a stop to this madness" and links to a page dedicated to the topic.