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March 25 2013


July 30 2012


Netsquared Regional Event for Cameroon and Nigeria

The Netsquared Regional Conference for Cameroon and Nigeria is a multi stake holder event that will bring together actors from local Netsquared groups, Internet Society, civil society, diplomatic institutions, government and the tech world to articulate on issues related to the social web and nongovernmental diplomacy. Citizens from three neighboring countries including: Cameroon, Nigeria and Central African Republic, in a two day event will seek to resolve the following challenges:

- The difficulties faced in introducing the social web for social development in the sub region

read more

April 17 2012


Microsoft: Moving the World's Media Streaming to the Cloud -- "We are buying hundreds of thousands of servers"

LAS VEGAS, Microsoft has taken the wraps off its Media Plaform which is now hosted on Windows Azure, here at the NAB Show.

Yesterday, we spoke with Brian Goldfarb, Director of Product Marketing for Windows Azure, about the industry demand leading to the product launch which is expected for later this year.

He explains how the "cloud" is becoming an integral part of the media dellivery stratetgy for global companies.  Gearing up for demand, he says in this inteview that Microsoft is buying "hundreds of thousands of servers."

He also speaks about an initiative with Deltatre and Akamai to provide streaming services to many of the world's broadcasters for the 2012 Olympics.

Andy Plesser



January 12 2012


Cisco Advances Cloud-Based "Videoscape" Service with Global Broadcasters

LAS VEGAS -- Building on its Videoscape product, tech giant Cisco has introduced several new features at this year's Consumer Electronics Show, Cisco's Scott Puopolo, VP of the company's Internet Business Solutions Group, told Beet.TV during an interview at the show.

Videoscape, introduced at last year's CES, is a cloud solution to help media companies and service providers deliver live and on-demand video across various devices and it's been a big focus at Cisco.  The company has rejiggered the product based on early feedback and the latest iteration includes more analytics, ingestion and migration tools, Puopolo said.

Cisco also announced new customers for Videoscape including Rogers of Canada, YES of Israel and Numericable of France.

Daisy Whitney

January 11 2012


Exclusive: Hollywood Studios Readying Common File Format for Digital Distribution

LAS VEGAS - The industry consortium of five of the the major Hollywood studios, the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE), is readying a common file format for digital content distribution, says Mitchell Singer, President of the group and Chief Technology Officer of Sony Pictures in this interview with Beet.TV

Singer calls it the first interoperable DRM system, allowing consumers to share digital films across multiple devices irrespective of the security solutions.   It will be released later this year, he tells Beet.TV

The work of DECE and progress with its product called UltraViolet was presented at a sesson at CES on Tuesday.  

A panel composed of the participating studios and executives from Samsung and Amazon was moderated by CNET News.com reporter Greg Sandoval who filed this report.

Singer says in this inteview that in 2012, some 250 million DVD's and Blu-ray disc will be enabled with UltraViolet, allowing consumers to store their physical collection in the "cloud."  

At the event, Amazon announced it would be joining the effort in a limited way.  Also, Samsung announced it would have an UltraViolet button on some new Blu-ray players to allow users to easily upload movies to their digital "lockers."

Andy Plesser

September 19 2011


Cool Apps Roundup: Green Apps

In my companion blog post on Why Apps Are Green, I talked about how apps permit the use of lighter IT infrastructure like mobile phones to accomplish things we previously used to do just on PCs. Mobile phones use much less electricity than PCs, and another benefit is that they make Internet and IT readily available in developing countries.

Another way that apps can be green is because some of them do environmental things. There's a surprising array of them actually. Planet Green's 7 Best Green Apps for Mobile Phones are a good example.

The ones I like are:

  • Ecorio which uses the GPS system on your phone to track your carbon footprint as you travel.
  • 3rd Whale searches for green businesses near you.
  • greenMeter tracks your vehicle's fuel and power efficiency.
  • Carticipate is a social media app with a very clever name to connect you with people who want to carpool.
  • PedNav tells you how to walk, bike or mass transit to wherever you're going and sets you up with an itinerary.
  • The Locavore app offers government and NGO info on which food items are in season in your locale. It also offers Epicurious recipes for them. It doesn't have a market-finder feature specific to in-season foods, however. Too bad.
  • Zerogate's MeterRead is an iPhone app in which you record your electric meter readings and it suggests ways to improve your energy efficiency. It doesn't connect up via the Internet to your smart meter. I found that one on Reuters Green apps that can save you money.

Consumer Reports' 7 free green mobile apps has some good ones as well:

  • The Eco Buzz Widget, for Android, is a configurable environmental news feed.
  • Eco Defense for Android is a game that pits angry plants against dastardly pollutants - for those of us with environmental passive-aggressive issues.
  • Green Gas Saver is an iPhone app that emulates a vigilant back seat driver, reminding you of when you're getting reckless behind the wheel. I don't know if I want that app.
  • iRecycle is Earth911's app for iPhone and Android that helps you find recycling locations for more than 240 types of materials.
  • IP Thermostat is an iPhone app that controls Proliphix Internet-connected thermostats from your phone so you can save on heating and cooling bills. There are now several brands of remote control thermostats that can be controlled from the Internet.
  • Schlage Link is an iPhone and Android app that controls several Schlage home devices including a module for lights, entry door locks, thermostats, and home video cameras. An example of a Schlage home device is the Schlage LiNK Wireless Keypad Entry System. It's much more expensive than a regular door lock, but then the app is free.

Here are a few more green app top picks from sundry publications:

This post was authored by Jim Lynch, Program Manager for GreenTech, and originally appeared on The TechSoup Blog. This is the first in a series of blog posts that we'll be doing as part of our new App It Up project called Cool Apps Roundup.

March 02 2011


What is the Value of the Cloud for CSOs in the Developing World?

This is the second of a three part series about Cloud computing as it relates to civil society organisations (CSOs).  This was originally posted on the GuideStar International blog. You can also read the first post here TechSoup Global: Teaching CSOs About the Cloud.

There has been a lot of talk lately about the benefits of Cloud computing to the nonprofit sector, but many CSOs in the developing world are unaware of how important this technology is quickly becoming.  This is in part because developing countries face additional constraints which limit its adoption, though the benefits that can be derived from its use are somewhat unparalleled.  CSOs in developing countries may arguably not be as worried about security and privacy, (though this too is by no means of little importance!) because infrastructure problems like lack of a reliable electricity supply, limited internet access and slow broadband are issues they must still overcome if they want to adopt many ICT services and truly take advantage of services like the Cloud.

On the other hand it is worth emphasising that NGOs and the many community based organisations, small businesses, educators and researchers they support can realise massive cost saving on software and ICT support, which can translate into developing countries having the competitive edge needed for a community region or country to emerge from poverty.

The Cloud is channelling the creativity of developers in the developing world despite the absence of sufficient infrastructure.  Wilfred Mworia, a young engineering student created an application for the iPhone that shows where events in Nairobi, Kenya are happening while also allowing others to add further information about them even though he did not possess an iPhone, which was also not available in Nairobi. He used the iPhone simulator… hosted far away … in the ‘Internet Cloud’ to develop the app. Decreased costs derived from the use of the Cloud provides tremendous potential for the nonprofit community in collaboration with well intentioned technologists and philanthropists in the developing world to develop apps that can be utilised to help with their work.

Moreover, research and education are two areas that are of vital importance to many NGOs located in the developing world, and the Cloud provides an opportunity for NGOs and the research and education centres they support to access the same information that those in developed world possess. It also provides an opportunity for increased collaboration and sharing of information. For example Elastic-R, is a Software platform that provides a collaborative virtual research environment in the Cloud. It enables African scientists to utilise digital vouchers subsidised by civil society organisations to pay per use.

As low cost smartphones and netbooks are increasingly made available in the developing world this also provides increased opportunity for CSOs operating there. Though many developing countries still struggle with lack of high speed broadband and related infrastructure problems, Cloud Computing has the potential to help them utilise the Cloud via their mobile phone to get services they need cheaply, easily and in some cases free. Cloudphone is one service that allows those who can’t afford the mobile handset to still have a mobile number and assess the information from any phone through the Cloud. As more Cloud based applications tailored to the constraints of the developing world are made available not only to individuals, SMEs and governments but also to CSOs, they will increasingly depend on such technology to carry out their work efficiently and cost effectively.

The Cloud is even being utilised for mapping crises. Ushahadi, is one nonprofit technology company that developed a free cloud based platform called Crowdmap. Crowdmap helps to crowdsource information needed to aid disaster and emergency response efforts.  It was used to aid relief efforts following the Haitian earthquake and the platform has been recognised as useful beyond the nonprofit sector.

If cloud computing is seen as vital for the growth of a developing economy more resources may be allocated to ICT infrastructure.  Michael Nelson argues in The Cloud, the Crowd, and Public Policy that the Cloud may force governments to provide subsidies or reform their policies in a way which promotes the use of broadband and helps to bridge the digital divide.  This will only serve to increase not only the use of the Cloud, but also the use of other related ICT products and services and help to engender greater creativity, another ingredient vital for development.

As problems related to lack of reliable broadband and an inadequate power supply are more quickly and hopefully surely overcome in developing countries, the Cloud can level the playing field and facilitate maximum efficiency for many local CSOs as well as some of the small businesses and public services they support.

February 08 2011


TechSoup Global: Teaching CSOs About the Cloud

This is the first of a three part series about Cloud computing as it relates to civil society organisations (CSOs) by Keisha Taylor, Communications Manager, GuideStar International. It was first posted on the GuideStar International blog.

Civil Society Organisations are waking up to the benefits of using cloud computing services (the Cloud) for their work. Nevertheless, issues like interoperability, security, privacy and lack of a supportive technology infrastructure persist, leading many CSOs unable to decide if it is right for them. TechSoup Global is educating CSOs about the value of Cloud Computing as well as the problems they may encounter as more and more cloud computing services are introduced to the sector.

The TechSoup website and blog contain a lot of useful information about cloud services available to nonprofits and their forum facilitates useful discussion among civil society organisations such as Cloud Computing: Is It More Secure? and Is Cloud Computing Greener?. Cloud computing services are available from some of the many partners that TechSoup Global works with in countries throughout the world. Have a look at some blog posts on the issue from the TechSoup blog below.

Jim Lynch, Co-Director of the GreenTech and Electronics Recycling & Reuse Programs at TechSoup says “TechSoup Global is working hard to find out what is and isn’t useful for CSOs as the Cloud descends upon all of us. It’s pretty clear that Cloud computing is a major transformation in the way that people will use IT as the use of mobile phones, computers, and Internet converge. To quote Nicholas Carr in his book The Big Switch“What happened to the generation of power a century ago is now happening to the processing of information. Private computer systems, built and operated by individual companies, are being supplanted by services provided over a common grid—the Internet—by centralized data-processing plants. Computing is turning into a utility, and once again the economic equations that determine the way we work and live are being rewritten.”

For those who want to get a more in depth and overarching view of the technical, security, legal, economic, development and environment issues involved in the use of the Cloud, read transcripts from some Cloud computing sessions held at the last Internet Governance Forum. At the Forum, Cloud providers, CSOs, governments, corporations, cloud evangelists and skeptics from around the world gathered to discuss and try to resolve some of the issues involved, in an attempt to ensure sure that cloud computing services develop in an environmentally friendly, secure and interoperable way.

January 12 2011


How Green is Facebook, Microsoft Push into Cloud Computing?

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Social Media content on MediaShift is sponsored by the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships, a program offering innovative and entrepreneurial journalists the resources of Stanford University and Silicon Valley. Learn more here.

Like many people this holiday season, the couple in the Microsoft ad below was stranded in an airport. With their plane delayed, the man has an idea. "To the cloud," he says to his confused partner. He then uses his laptop to stream TV shows the couple had stored in Microsoft's "cloud" of data centers.

The virtual cloud he referred to is made up of information stored in physical warehouses of high-powered servers. The commercial is intended to show that Windows 7 users can manage their pictures, videos, and documents from anywhere there is Internet access. Microsoft is spending hundreds of millions on similar spots to convince other consumers to follow the fictional couple's lead into cloud computing.

"Yay cloud," says the woman in the ad, engrossed in an episode of "Celebrity Probation."

But is the growing cloud something everyone should cheer? Information and communication technology (ICT) companies already account for up to three percent of global greenhouse gas emissions -- a figure projected to increase as more data centers are built to store the shift of information to the web. During interviews with MediaShift, executives at Microsoft and Facebook said cloud computing could have positive environmental impacts. But analysts and activists have expressed serious doubts about the implications of the coming data-center building boom.

Big Business, Big Emissions

One issue that all sides agree on is the tremendous growth potential for cloud computing. The cloud encompasses a wide variety of new media applications, ranging from established offerings such as email and e-commerce to rapidly expanding services like shared documents and social networking.

Already, the size of the worldwide cloud computing market is an estimated $37.8 billion according to MarketsandMarkets, a global research and consulting company. As broadband speeds, WiFi, and mobile Internet devices continue to improve, M&M predicts the value of the cloud will nearly quadruple to $121.1 billion by 2015.

Environmentalists fear that the carbon footprint of the data centers powering the cloud could grow at the same breakneck pace. Data centers consume vast quantities of energy to both operate and cool the cloud servers.

"The world's 44 million servers consume 0.5 percent of all electricity, with data center emissions now approaching those of countries such as Argentina or the Netherlands," the McKinsey Quarterly reported in 2009. "Without efforts to curb demand, current projections show worldwide carbon emissions from data centers will quadruple by 2020."

Surprisingly, there could be positive environmental side effects to this rapid expansion of the cloud. Although the influential SMART 2020 report from the Climate Group and the Global e-Sustainability Initiative had similar projections for the growing carbon footprint of data centers, it saw reason for cautious optimism: "ICT's unique ability to monitor and maximize energy efficiency both within and outside of its own sector could cut [carbon dioxide] emissions by up to five times this amount" in the next decade, it said.

How would the ICT sector prevent these future emissions? One way is by sharing the advances in infrastructure and software design that the industry is using to reduce emissions from its data centers with building engineers and tech developers outside of the ICT sector. By way of perspective, the report notes that the potential CO2 savings from this information transfer could be "greater than the current annual emissions of either the U.S. or China" -- the world's second and first largest greenhouse gas polluters, respectively.

Positive Potential

Industry spokespeople interviewed for this story were understandably eager to play up the potentially positive effects of the data center boom. All the companies spoke of their innovations in efficient data center design as well as the additional environmental benefits provided by their particular business model.

Executives at Facebook pointed to the emissions prevented by their popular photo sharing platform. In July, the dominant social network announced that its 500 million users were uploading more than 100 million photos every day. That massive influx of pixels has led the company to construct two new data centers, one in Washington State and another in North Carolina. Facebook policy communications director Barry Schnitt told me that storing the images in these new data centers -- coupled with a new virtual storage infrastructure referred to as Haystack -- prevents hundreds of tons of CO2 emissions that would be required to mail printed photographs.

Microsoft, which is trying to take Windows from the desktop to the data center, has been promoting a study it commissioned on the increased efficiency of cloud computing. The resulting research, from consulting firm Accenture, found that if companies switch from on-site servers to Microsoft's data centers, they can reduce data storage emissions by between 30 and 90 percent.

Industry analysts are not very impressed by these claims.

Ansimonheadshot.jpg"There is a lot more proof that needs to be put in place to show that the cloud can be green," said Simon Mingay, Gartner's vice president of research.

In collaboration with the World Wildlife Fund, his firm recently released a study examining the carbon footprint of the ICT industry. "Whilst we all recognize the potential of it, I haven't seen anything yet that convinces me that that's a reality today," Mingay said.

Speaking from his London office, Mingay criticized Microsoft's Accenture study, in particular.

"There's a distinct lack of real data there," Mingay said. It would have been more useful had the study revealed the used raw kilowatt hours of energy saved instead of making assumptions about emissions factors, which can be used for "fudging issues," he said. "I mean, it was interesting but it was in no way conclusive."

The same paucity of information gives reason to doubt the CO2 reduction claims Facebook makes in association with its digital photo platform. While the company's communications director said its Haystack storage system had produced big efficiency gains, he was unable to provide specific research to support the benefits of its massive photo library.

"How online activities replace carbon-intensive offline activities," Schnitt wrote in email, "is something we're interested in exploring."

Microsoft defended its study, saying it couldn't release more details for competitive reasons.

profile-photos-josh_jpg.jpg"A lot of the data that is associated with our data centers is proprietary and confidential," said Josh Henretig, a senior environmental field manager at Microsoft. "And for a peer organization that is also operating in this space, you could pretty easily back into some of the margins that we have, the services that we provide, and things that we just consider competitive in nature. It may be frustrating that we didn't reveal more within the study but we were really excited about the direction that the report exposed around the efficiency gains that can be achieved through that shared infrastructure model."

h2. Green Questions

Environmentalists are concerned about the industry's apparent confusion with the difference between efficiency and sustainability. Companies "need to recognize that energy efficient is not 'green' on its own, and is no longer enough. NGOs, and increasingly customers will demand more," Mingay wrote in a post on Gartner's blog.

Greenpeace blogger Jodie Van Horn explained why her NGO is so concerned about this confusion: "A highly efficient data center powered by coal destroys the planet, it just does so more slowly than one lacking in state-of-the-art efficiencies."

Jonathan Heiliger, the vice president of technical operations at Facebook and a Silicon Valley veteran, told me that tech companies traditionally treated "data centers like 'Fight Club' -- the thing everyone does but doesn't talk about."

Environmental groups feel that, given the threat of catastrophic climate change, tech firms can no longer continue with business as usual and risk forgoing the type of innovation the SMART 2020 report said is necessary to reduce global warming.

The loudest voice calling to change the ICT industry has been Greenpeace. The environmental advocacy group launched the Cool IT campaign in 2009 and published its fourth biennial leaderboard at the Cancun climate conference in December. In addition to publicizing and ranking the environmental efforts of IT firms, Greenpeace stepped up its pressure on the industry early last year by focusing on the data centers of a particularly public target: Facebook. The social network attracted Greenpeace's ire after it chose to locate two new, high-efficiency data centers in states that are heavily reliant on coal for power.

The decision to make Facebook the face of its IT campaign struck some industry analysts as an odd choice.

"There are certainly much 'dirtier' data centers out there and in the pipeline that Greenpeace could have attacked," according to a note by Tier 1 Research in September.

While that is certainly true, Greenpeace IT analyst Gary Cook explained that, because the company is young, high profile, and expanding rapidly, there's more scope for activists to exert influence. This strategy was most cleverly elaborated in a video Greenpeace made that was loosely related to the hit film "The Social Network":

In turn, Greenpeace wants Facebook to have its "friends" in Washington push for clean energy.

"Ultimately, they can't change the grids themselves and that's why we need to get them involved in the policy debate and demand cleaner sources of energy," Cook said. "If we're stuck with the same sources of energy 10 years from now, they're going to be a much, much bigger problem -- and they're already a significant problem. [ICT firms] like to talk about efficiency -- and that's great -- but when you're growing that much you have to look at the fuel source for the electricity."

Google -- whose popular Google Docs are in part responsible for Microsoft's focus on getting its Office Suite into the cloud -- is one tech firm that gets high marks for its clean energy advocacy and investment. In the last election cycle, the search giant came out strongly against Proposition 23, which would have suspended implementation of California's global warming law (commonly referred to as AB32) until unemployment in the state fell below 5.5 percent. The failed ballot initiative could have cost California $10 billion in private investments in clean energy businesses and 500,000 jobs, according to an analysis from the non-partisan Legislative Analyst's Office.

Google also backed up its clean energy talk with a $5 billion investment in Atlantic Wind Connection. If it's approved by regulators, this massive project will create an underwater transmission network capable of adding to the grid 6,000 megawatts of offshore wind energy. According to its developers, that's "enough power to eventually serve approximately 1.9 million households" -- or a lot of clean energy-powered data centers.

Sustainable Policy

So what exactly would green groups like to see from ICT firms that could alleviate their concerns about the cloud?

In the case of Facebook, Schnitt, the communications director, said he had met behind the scenes with Greenpeace before the holidays.

"We had a good conversation and they expressed their desire for us to reduce load and/or increase renewable capacity in the areas where we have increased load," Schnitt said in an email. "I asked them for specific proposals, which they sent earlier this week. We're reviewing those and hope to have them here in the coming weeks to discuss them and other issues."

More generally, environmentalists want to encourage ICT companies' continued shift towards greater transparency -- an area where even Google is in need of improvement, according to Greenpeace -- as well as more technical and political cooperation on clean energy issues. Collaborating on data center design is only a start. Green groups are asking for more sharing of both energy usage data and efficient data storage software as well as help in climate change policy advocacy.

That's not too much to ask, says Mingay. "That is a perfectly legitimate role for any commercial organization to play. And at the end of the day, the ICT sector will be a winner in a low carbon, more sustainable economy."

Corbin Hiar is the DC-based associate editor at MediaShift and climate blogger for UN Dispatch and the Huffington Post. He is a regular contributor to More Intelligent Life, an online arts and culture publication of the Economist Group, and has also written about environmental issues on Economist.com and the website of The New Republic. Before Corbin moved to the Capital to join the Ben Bagdikian Fellowship Program at Mother Jones, he worked a web internship at The Nation in New York City. Follow him on Twitter @CorbinHiar.

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Social Media content on MediaShift is sponsored by the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships, a program offering innovative and entrepreneurial journalists the resources of Stanford University and Silicon Valley. Learn more here.

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January 07 2011


Cisco Expects 12 Billion Net Connected Devices by 2014 and Plans to Deliver Video to Many

LAS VEGAS, Cisco Systems expects that there will be 12 billion devices connected to the Internet by 2014 and plans to deliver video to many of these devices through Cisco Videoscape, says Murali Nemani, Director of Video Solutions in this interview with Beet.TV

We caught up with him at CES on Wednedsday afternoon when Videoscape was announced.

Andy Plesser

December 22 2010


Virtualization in your desktop

As we in the non-profit world look at extending the life of our IT assets at work to be able to leverage Cloud Computing among other interesting technologies, when it comes to our personal choice, we love to splurge on the latest Windows 7 Laptop or the latest and the greatest dumping our personal computers along the way. Over the weekend I was wondering as to how much greener we could be if we could repurpose our devices and extend the useful life of the devices,laptops among others.

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November 10 2010


Talking Points Memo’s first developer talks startup life, jumping to ProPublica and data journalism

What’s it like being the only in-house techie at a news startup? Talking Points Memo’s first developer Al Shaw says “it’s kind of like being a reporter….you have to be a generalist,” doing everything from ad-side work to election-night interactives.

Shaw was the primary technical force behind most of the bells and whistles that cropped up at TPM over the past two years, including a redesign that lets producers switch up the layout of the homepage, and an array of slick interactives like the real-time election results tracker that made TPM look a lot less like a scrappy startup and more like an establishment outlet on Election Night earlier this month. (Shaw is quick to explain he had some help on the election map from Erik Hinton, TPM’s technical fellow.) He’s also been good about blogging about his technical endeavors in ways that could be useful to his peers at other news organizations.

Shaw announced last month he is leaving TPM to start a new gig at ProPublica, where he’ll keep working on data-driven journalism. On one of his few days off between jobs, I talked with him about what it’s like working for a news startup, what he hopes to accomplish at ProPublica, and where he thinks data journalism is headed. Below is a lightly edited transcript. (Disclosure: I used to work at TPM, before Al started there.)

Laura K. McGann: How did you approach your job at TPM? What did you see as your mission there?

Al Shaw: When I started, I came on as an intern right before the ’08 election. At that point, they didn’t have anyone in house who really knew much about programming or design or software. I came on and I saw an opportunity there because TPM is such a breaking-news site, and their whole goal is to do stuff really fast, that they needed someone to do that, but on the technology side, too.

I had a big role in how we covered the 2008 election. We became able to shift the homepage, rearrange stuff. Being able to really elevate what you can do in blogging software. That was kind of the first foray. Then I started redesigning some of the other sections. But the biggest impact I had was redesigning the homepage. That was about a year ago. I had the same goal of being able to empower the editors and nontechnical types to have a bigger palette of what they can do on the site. I created this kind of meta-CMS on top of the CMS that allowed them to rearrange where columns were and make different sections bigger and smaller without having to get into the code. That really changed the way the homepage works.

There is still Movable Type at the core, but there’s a lot of stuff built up around the sides. When we started to build bigger apps, like the Poll Tracker and election apps, we kind of moved off Movable Type all together and started building in Ruby on Rails and Sinatra. They’re hosted on Amazon EC2, which is a cloud provider.

LKM: What have you built that you’re the most proud of?

AS: Probably the Poll Tracker. It was my first project in Rails. It just had enormous success; it now has 14,000 polls in it. Daily Kos and Andrew Sullivan were using it regularly to embed examples of races they wanted to follow and it really has become a central part of TPM and the biggest poll aggregator on the web now. I worked with an amazing Flash developer, Michiko Swiggs, she did the visual parts of the graph in Flash. I think a lot of it was really new in the way you could manipulate the graph — if you wanted to take out certain pollsters, certain candidates, methods, like telephone or Internet, and then you could see the way the trend lines move. You can embed those custom versions.

I think the election tool was also a huge success [too], both technologically and on the design and journalism side. We got linked to from Daring Fireball. We also got linked to from ReadWriteWeb and a lot of more newsy sites. Andrew Sullivan said it was the best place to watch the elections. Because we took that leap and said we’re not going to use Flash, we got a lot of attention from the technology community. And we got a lot of attention from kind of the more political community because of how useable and engaging the site was. It was kind of a double whammy on that.

LKM: What was your experience working with reporters in the newsroom? TPM is turning ten years old, but it’s still got more of a startup feel than a traditional newspaper.

AS: It’s definitely a startup. I would fade in and out of the newsroom. Sometimes I’d be working on infrastructure projects that dealt with the greater site design or something with the ad side, or something beyond the day-to-day news. But then I’d work with the reporters and editors quite a bit when there was a special project that involved breaking news.

So for example, for the Colbert-Stewart rallies we put up a special Twitter wire where our reporters go out to the rallies and send in tweets and the tweets would get piped into a special wire and they’d go right onto the homepage. I worked with editors on how that wire should feel and how it should work and how reporters should interact with it. I remember one concern was, what if someone accidentally tweets somethng and it ends up on the homepage. How do we delete that? I came up with this system with command hashtags, so a reporter could send in a tweet with a special code on it which would delete a certain tweet and no one else would know about that, except for the reporter.

A lot of the job was figuring out what reporters and editors wanted to do and figuring out how to enable that with the technology we had and with the resources we had.

LKM: I remember an instance in my old newsroom where we had a tweet go up on the front page of another site and the frantic emails trying to get it taken down.

AS: Twitter is such an interesting medium because it’s so immediate, but it’s also permanent. We’re having a lot of fun with it, but we’re still learning how best to do it. We did this thing called multi-wire during the midterms, which was a combination of tweets and blog posts in one stream. There was a lot of experimentation with: When do we tweet as compared to a blog post? Should we restrict it to certain hours? That was a really interesting experiment.

LKM: What emerging trends do you see going on in data-driven or interactive journalism?

AS: It’s really good that a lot of sites are starting to experiment more with data-driven journalism, especially as web frameworks and cheap cloud hosting become more prevalent and you can learn Rails and Django, it’s really easy to get a site up that’s based around data you can collect. I do see two kind of disturbing trends that are also happening. One is the rise of infographics. They may not be as useful as they are pretty. You see that a lot just all over the place now. The other problem you see is the complete opposite of that where you’ll get just a table of data filling up your whole screen. The solution is somewhere in between that. You have a better way of getting into it.

It’s really great that there’s kind of a community forming around people that are both journalists and programmers. There’s this great group called Hacks/Hackers that brings those two cohorts together and lets them learn from each other.

LKM: How about at ProPublica? You mentioned you aren’t sure entirely what you’re going to do, but broadly, what do you hope to accomplish there?

AS: I’m most excited about working more closely with journalists on data sets and finding the best ways of presenting those and turning them into applications. That was one thing I was able to do with Poll Tracker, but it didn’t seem like TPM had as big of a commitment to individual stories that could have side applications. Poll Tracker was more of a long-running project. ProPublica is really into delving deeply onto one subject and finding data that can be turned into an application so the story isn’t just a block of text, there’s another way of getting at it.

One of the other things they’re working on is more tools for crowdsourcing and cultivating sources. I know that they want to start building an app or a series of apps around that. And they’re doing some cool stuff with Amazon Mechanical Turk for kind of normalizing and collecting data. I’m sure there’s going to be a lot more fun stuff to do like that.

October 07 2010


TechSoup Webinar: Cloud Computing - Why You Should Care

TechSoup Talks LogoThe term cloud computing is being used more and more, but what is it and why should you understand it? In this free webinar we will explain what cloud computing means, define the different types, discuss how it is impacting nonprofits and libraries, and outline some criteria for use. The challenges of using the “cloud” will be discussed, as well as whether cloud computing will simplify your life and reduce software and IT staffing costs.

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July 29 2010


OSCON 2010 Report

Highlights from this year's O'Reilly Open Source Convention in Portland.

June 17 2010


Exclusive Video: YouTube Seeks to Close Lag Time with New Online Editing Tool

SAN BRUNO, Calif  -- Late yesterday, YouTube launched an ambitious new product to allow users to edited uploaded videos in a range of file formats.  

In our tests, we have found that the process is slow, meaning there is a substantial lag time between keyboards commands and edit tasks. The slowness appears on the YouTube side as we use a fast 50 mps connection.

Latency has been an issue for online editing tools and YouTube is working on eliminating the lag time, we were told yesterday in this video interview with YouTube engineer Rushabh Doshi.

We visited YouTube headquarters to an overview of the new editing tool.

Andy Plesser,  Managing Editor

May 06 2010


The Newsonomics of simplicity

[Each week, our friend Ken Doctor — author of Newsonomics and longtime watcher of the business side of digital news — writes about the economics of the news business for the Lab.]

More and more, I’m thinking we’re making this new digital business too complicated. Sure, the technology behind the business is awe-inspiring — but then so was hydropower and electrification. Technology is often complex and developed by only a minority of us, while a majority of us are put to the task, and the fun, of using it.

The digital news business itself can be a blur, followed via Romenesko, Twitter, or the PowerPoint poison of your choosing. Lots there, always on. But business solutions — serving readers and advertisers better — aren’t complicated, and the more complex we make them, the less seems to get done.

Take this well-used quote from Larry Bossidy, once chairman of Honeywell, a prince of another technology era: “If you can’t describe your strategy in 20 minutes, simply and in plain language, you haven’t got a plan. ‘But,’ people may say, ‘I’ve got a complex strategy. It can’t be reduced to a page.’ That’s nonsense. That’s not a complex strategy. It’s a complex thought about the strategy.”

We can parse the differences between complex and complicated in the digital business, but won’t do it here. Probably the better exercise is to see how good a strategy you can express in a single tweet. And, of course, the collective consciousness has that figured out; small business blogger Lora Kolodny talked about the art — and four competitions based on it — recently in her New York Times blog.

Recently, as I look at the latest strategies being deployed, I’ve been using this emerging prism of simplicity. Here the newsonomics are simple: Make it easier to make new revenue; save expenses by adopting simpler solutions. I’ll share a few here, and hope you’ll add to them.

  • People love coupons: That’s at the top of the duh list, but the love is still eye-popping. Nielsen recently reported the explosion of digital coupons, with their redemption up 263 percent year-over-year. According to the report, newspapers are still the main source of coupon distribution, at 89 percent, and newspaper inserts account for the most coupons redeemed, at 53 percent. As Twitter studied commercial patterns, in the run-up to launching Promoted Tweets, what did they notice? Retailers like Whole Foods and Starbucks found their followers (and Facebook fans!) loved coupons. So now the challenge: taking that simple challenge and delivering location-aware, buying-interest-aware coupons, on the right platform, to the right customers, at the right time. Yes, that Wednesday food coupon is less old-fashioned than we think; now the simplicity required is finding the right technology to seamlessly offer digital coupons to news customers — before non-news companies do a better job of it.
  • Flyerboard: I recently talked to Victor Wong, one of the co-founders of Flyerboard, the oh-so-simple digital ad flier product that now finds itself on more than 100 newspaper sites, first adopted by Hearst and most recently by McClatchy. As a Yale undergraduate, he and a couple friends noticed that someone had begun digitizing the printed fliers commonly found on college neighborhood kiosks and walls. They then opened a company — PaperG — moved to commercialize the notion and have found great early uptake, based on an incredibly simple idea. They are now moving forward with PlaceLocal, a potentially far bigger idea: Harvest all the freely available digital information about local busineses, sweep it into templates, create spec ads on the fly and sell those to local retailers. Both ideas simply use already available information, repurporsed by smart technology and a company of a dozen or so people.
  • Outsourced regional editions: Okay, so you are The New York Times, and you want to double down on local engagement. You want to be a great national paper, but also a little regional, aware that such content might increase retention of all-important print subscribers. But you’re The New York Times, and the economics of the business don’t justify paying six-figure salaries to new regional staff. So you ask where can you get high-quality, low-cost journalism supply, and take advantage (in a symbiotic way) of the advent of the Chicago News Cooperative and Bay Citizen. You simply take advantage of the outflow of real talent out of top newsrooms — and stretch your six-figure payments to get lots more content than a single staffer would provide.
  • Content management in a cloud: Emerging from bankruptcy, Freedom Communications just announced an expansion of its relationship with technology provider DTI. It will move what had been its own hosted circulation and marketing management to DTI Cloud. Why hire, train and pay your own full-time tech staff — at each paper, I’d imagine — when a single company can give you a hosted, software-as-a-service solution in the cloud? Simple, in concept, at least: use someone else’s centralized technology to solve a problem that is replicated multiple times across multiple properties. Cloud computing, of course, isn’t new, but the newspaper industry has adopted it unevenly. MediaSpectrum (ads and content management) and Clickability (content management) are among the companies that have worked this cloud landscape in the news industry. Cloud “installations” carry their own support issues, of course; all solutions do. We’d have to believe, though, that the often-complex and costly solutions to production, printing, distribution, finance, and HR used in the news industry can benefit from some more heavenly solutions. Better to slim here and put resources into content creation and ad selling.

That’s just the top of a list. What else has the news industry done to introduce smart simplicity — or what else should it do?

April 25 2010


Cisco Has "Cached" Solution for Looming Demand for Internet Video

SAN JOSE, Calif --Exploding bandwidth consumption, resulting from HD and 3-D video, gaming and teleconferencing will create unprecedented  demands on Internet services providers.

Last month, our West coast bureau chief Daisy Whitney visited Cisco's company headquarters for this chat  with Suraj Shetty, Vice President, Worldwide Service Provider Marketing.

In March, Cisco announced CRS-3, its new platform for caching big files one the "edges" of the Internet, near users. 

Andy Plesser, Executive Producer

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