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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.

September 05 2011


Look at Netflix, Hulu, Apple TV - Future of TV is "TV in the cloud"

TechCrunch :: TV is moving to the cloud. It is inevitable, just as other kinds of media from books to music are increasingly delivered over the Internet. Netflix, Hulu, and even Apple TV are making inroads when it comes to distributing traditional TV shows and movies to Internet-connected screens. YouTube keeps grabbing more of our attention, accounting for 7 percent of total time spent on the Internet in the U.S., according to comScore.

Erick Schonfeld: "And yet the TV as well as movie industry are proving more resistant to change than any other form of media. Change will come, but it won’t happen as quickly as it is with music, news, or books."

Continue to read Erick Schonfeld, techcrunch.com

August 03 2011


Apple hiring developer to help build iWork web (!!) apps

TheNextWeb | TNW :: Apple is looking to hire a software engineer to help the iWork team craft a web experience, according to a job posting discovered by Appleinsider. The position calls for an applicant to work with the iWork team on the ‘front and/or back end of scalable web applications’.

The posting comes just a day after Apple revealed its iCloud.com beta service which allows access to web apps like the Calendar, Contacts and Mail.

Continue to read Matthew Panzarino, thenextweb.com

July 07 2011


Amazon fires back at Google & Apple with unlimited cloud music storage

Mashable :: Amazon Cloud Player, the online retailer’s cloud-based music service, is striking back at its competitors with unlimited music storage and a web app for iPad. The changes affect all new purchases of Cloud Drive storage plans

Continue to read Ben Parr, mashable.com

February 10 2011


Mark Liu introduction for GCS

Hi:  I'm Senior Manager for Planning and Analysis for TechSoup Global. I'm focused on strategic planning and program business planning for our social enterprises. In recent months, I've been looking into how the cloud and other new technology trends can be leveraged by civil society and how TechSoup Global should change its programs to respond to technology and industry changes.

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.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

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.

read more

April 12 2010


News(paper) in the cloud

I think it’s possible today to run a news organization — up to the point of publishing — from the cloud, changing not only the production process of news but also its culture. John Paton, CEO of Journal Register, is about to prove it with his Ben Franklin Project.

John and I were sitting in my CUNY office as he told me about the technology he’s saddled with at this orphaned newspaper company where he just took the helm. He used a term I swear I hadn’t heard in well more than a decade: “VDT.” That stand for “video display terminal,” the old, dumb box that was wired into newspaper mainframes. I was talking with a bunch of young journalists shortly afterwards and they’d never heard of VDTs (though they thought it could be cured with a shot). Well, Paton still has VDTs.

And so, as he was talking about having to buy new computers, I took to the whiteboard and drew out how I think a news(paper) can be produced from WordPress, Google Docs, and Flickr (or their equivalents). We’ll get to the other functions shortly.

This up-in-the-air production is made possible by Paton’s edict at JRC (as he dictated at ImpreMedia before) that digital comes first, print last. If print comes first, newspaper people will worry about H&J (hyphenation & justification — that is, fitting text to finite holes in print designs). That dictated their process.

But not JRC. By putting print at the end of the line, production for paper won’t dictate the rest of the line. So now a reporter can start blogging at the beginning of a story. And that makes a profound shift in the culture of news: it opens up the process to the public. “Here’s what I think I’ll work on,” the reporter says to the community she covers. “Good idea? Is there something else you think I should do instead? What’s the best use of my time? What do you want me to find out for you? If I do this story, what questions do you have? What do you know? Whom should I call?” As the process continues, the reporter can share what she learns — and doesn’t learn — and the community can help fill in blanks and make the reporting better.

At some point in this process, the reporter likely will write what we’d still recognize as an article. Indeed, writing it before publication opens the possibility of the community still helping by correcting and enhancing.

Then a print editor can grab the story and fit it for print. No longer a big deal.

At the same time, the reporter and editor can ask the community for photos to illustrate the story. They can be shared via Flickr. When it’s time to print, an editor can copy the high-resolution version of an image. If the photographer chooses, he can make the photo available under Creative Commons. If the paper chooses to (as Bild does in Germany), it can pay. That’s up to them. The taking of photos can become competitive: a reader says “I can beat that.”

There are still bureaucratic details that must be handled: schedules of stories, who’s working on what, and so on. Google Docs is perfect for that. My CUNY colleague Jeremy Caplan showed our faculty how much more Docs can do: enabling reporters to, for example, graph data and create their own illustrations. Docs can be used to publish documents to the web.

From these three streams, content can come to a print editor — who is now, remember, at the end of the line — to fill the paper (which my friend and fellow JRC advisor Jay Rosen points out, is the most expensive space). The readers can even help the editor decide what deserves ink.

Note the profound cultural shift this new process brings to a news organization. Rather than doing everything we do and then sharing it with the public — and allowing them to comment on (or snark at) our work — we become transparent, we view news as a process instead of a product, and we open up our process to constructive collaboration with the community we serve. Hallelujah.

The rest of the process of publishing a newspaper is more complicated — at least to me, as I don’t know the tools. I’m not sure all that can be done with free tools but I’ll bet it can all be done in the cloud. At a Salesforce.com event last week, I talked with an exec who said that his service can be used to handle ad order entry. Other systems can handle business tracking, payroll, H&R, and such. I don’t think JRC needs to be dogmatic about living in the cloud but I do think it can avoid huge expense of buying and integrating new systems and hardware.

All this is why I’m delighting in advising JRC and Paton. They are going to try to do the things I’ve been wanting to see news(papers) do — I’ve been writing about this since at least 2005 — the things that tradition and fear prevented other papers from doing. They’re not alone. AnnArbor.com (which I also advised) is entirely on Movable Type. Online news organizations, of course, operate on blogs. But here’s the chance to jump a newspaper company from the past — from the age of VDTs and discs — to the future. I can’t wait to watch and help.

November 05 2009

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