Seeing as it’s Friday, I thought we’d take a light-hearted look back at the last week or so from a social media and tech perspective. Here are some of the highlights that had us excited, intrigued, amused and confused in the office…
- The writing was on the wall
I guess the big one is the ‘shock’ revelation on Twitter that Ryan Giggs was the “leading premiership footballer” who had filed a privacy junction after a few too many away fixtures threatened to tarnish his reputation. The trending topic ‘Naming Private Ryan’ raised more than a few chuckles from this corner of the office.
A couple of weeks ago Microsoft announced their purchase of Skype. A couple of jokes later along the lines of “why pay $8.5bn for something they can just download for free?”, and then the damned thing went and crashed yesterday. The Apple fan-boys in the office immediately started to point the finger at Bill Gates, but the problem has also cropped up on OS X and Linux machines, so it seems unfair to lay the blame at Microsoft’s feet.
Mark Zuckerberg has also just cranked things up a notch on the weird scale, by announcing that he will only eat meat from animals that he has personally killed himself. This is apparently his ‘task’ for this year. Last year he challenged himself to learn Mandarin, and the year before he pledged to wear a tie everyday. Sounds like the guy has got a screw loose, but then again he is little older than me and already a multi-billionaire – I think we know who’s winning in life.
On Tuesday whilst President Obama’s security personnel were scanning rooftops and crowds for any would-be assailants outside the American Embassy in Dublin, the greater danger turned out to be an inanimate object. The pavement, as it happens. As President Barrack Obama’s limo, known as “The Beast” was leaving the embassy, it got stuck. The video obviously has been doing the rounds on Facebook and YouTube, so here it is, in all it’s glory:
Facebook’s security, particularly in relation to third-party apps, has been brough into question again this week. It was discovered by security firm Symantec that some programs were inadvertently sharing access tokens, which could in theory be used by advertisers. As of last month, up to 100,000 applications were still enabling leaks.
The access tokens are essentially ‘spare keys’ to a Facebook user’s account. These ‘keys’ will typically be given out, with the user’s permission, to aid applications on the Facebook platform junction. Normally, applications with the keys could access a user’s profile and photographs, as well as posting messages on their wall – for example when you complete a quiz or get a high score on a game which is a Facebook app, it will post on your wall with the results.
However, the newly-discovered weakness in the old authentication method would allow millions of access tokens to be passed to further third-parties – likely to include advertisers – through referral data. However Symantec’s Nishant Doshi downplayed the risk, adding: “Fortunately, these third-parties may not have realised their ability to access this information.”
Kevin Purdy, Facebook’s director of developer relations disputed the findings. He said: “We’ve conducted a thorough investigation which revealed no evidence of this issue resulting in a user’s private information being shared with unauthorised third parties.”
To further ease user anxiety, Paul Mutton, a security analyst at Netcraft, said that while the vulnerability could potentially be used for malicious purposes, no secure data such as passwords has been taken.
Facebook have come up with an interesting way of keeping workforce morale up and preventing employee burnout. The Palo Alto company last week formally announced its internal initiative that allows some engineers to leave their current team in favour of working on a side project of their choosing. As well as the primary goal of preventing burnout, “Hackamonth” as it is being called, should result in some cool new products.
In the last year, Facebook trialled the Hackamonth initiative with 35 engineers being encouraged to submit project ideas that would require around a month’s worth of work. It was this process that spawned Facebook’s new Deals feature. The Hackamonth idea is an extension of Facebook’s longtime tradition of engineering “hackathons,” overnight events complete with beer, food, and DJs. During hackathons, employees must only abide by one rule: They can’t work on anything related to their everyday projects.
Slater Tow, a Facebook spokesman said: “For engineers, hackathons are opportunities to dive into any other project they’ve had their eye on. It’s a chance to shake things up for a night.” He added: “Hackamonth is a way to perpetuate this hackathon mentality into a full month.”
All in all, it’s a pretty smart move from the social networking giant. Not only are they keeping their employees sane and happy, but also getting them to reach their creative best without any bureaucratic restraints stifling their cognitive flow.
Those of us on Twitter will often use it to notify the world of our presence at a place or event of significance – in March I tweeted something to the effect of “At Twickenham with my Dad for England vs Scotland #6Nations #Guinness”. It’s a convenient way of telling your friends what you are up to or where you are. Much the same as the ‘Check-In’ feature on Facebook. But this practice is also becoming a bit of contest, a form of one-upmanship if you will, where people try to out do each other by checking in at more exciting and exclusive locations each time. But NASA have really gone and taken the biscuit…
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration currently runs over 100 twitter accounts, 20 of which belong to astronauts who share details of their day-to-day lives and experiences, which has proved to be a huge hit with their millions of followers. Astronaut Doug Wheelock kept in contact with us mere earth-dwellers by using social networks such as Foursquare and Twitter, and will have trumped everyone else with his check-in at the “International Space Station”. Sure as hell beats Buckingham Palace, The Empire State Building or the Taj Mahal.
One of Doug Wheelock's photos showing Hurricane Earl over the Atlantic in August 2010
But forgetting the fact that a few lines of text on a screen tell us that someone who we don’t personally know is somewhere we could only ever dream of going to, there are some perks to following these people on Twitter. The snippets of information they impart to us lesser mortals about their exploits in space are, to me at least, fascinating and wondrous. Maybe it’s just my inner space-geek coming to the surface, but I’ve always been fascinated by what lies beyond Earth’s immediate surroundings. Having an expert in this area drip-feed me information and images from space is quite an acceptable tonic to my own lack of understanding.
Some interesting Tweeps to follow:
Douglas Wheelock (Astronaut) – @Astro_Wheels
Scott Kelly (Astronaut) – @StationCDRKelly
NASA – @NASA
With the death of any person of note, there will inevitably be the morbidly voyeuristic people who want to see pictures of the body or footage of the deceased meeting their maker. It’s too good and opportunity to pass up for the spammers and scammers, so they jump on this wave of interest as a means of spreading malicious software and wreaking havoc upon internet users.
Therefore it is of little surprise that there are already scores of links and pages circulating on Facebook and email purporting to contain images of Osama Bin Laden’s corpse, and the video of the US led raid in Pakistan that killed him. One message claims to link to a photo of the terror leader holding a newspaper to prove he’s still alive. One e-mail, written in Spanish, uploads a Trojan horse virus when a photo link is clicked. And a phony Facebook page asks users to paste a script in their browsers which, in turn, spams their friends with the same link.
David Marcus, head of security research for McAfee Labs goes into more detail about the various scams on his blog, with some useful screen-grabs to show you what to look out for.
Given the amount of secrecy that the actual operation and preparation were shrouded in for the last goodness knows how many months, it’s not too much of a stretch to think that the US Government can keep the lid on a few photographs and some video footage.
So if you see any links or pages of this nature, just give it a miss. Otherwise your hard drive, personal information or social network accounts might go same way as the person you were trying to look at.
Yesterday the world learned that the most wanted man in history had finally met his end at the hands of United States Special Forces carrying out a precision operation. The announcement was made by President Obama that Osama Bin Laden had been killed. However, the first whisperings of what was going on as it happened were actually on Twitter.
Obviously those soldiers on the ground and the high commanders watching events unfold via video link in The Pentagon were savvy to what was going on, but an IT consultant, living in Abbottabad, unknowingly tweeted details of the US-led operation as it happened.
Sohaib Athar told that a helicopter was hovering overhead shortly before the assault began and also said that he though it might not be a Pakistani aircraft. Later tweets described the sound of “A huge window shaking bang here in Abbottabad” and his sense of worry that this could be “the start of something nasty”.
Moving away from the whole 9/11, Bin Laden, targeted kill story – which is frankly a macabre narrative that was never going to have a happy ending – we are shown that the power of Twitter as a communication tool is not to be underestimated.
The first glimpse that many people had of the site’s potential was in 2009 when a US Airways plane made an emergency landing on New York’s Hudson River. The first images to emerge were tweeted by a ferry passenger moments after the plane came down, and well before any news crews were on the scene.
With the world literally at everyday citizens’ fingertips, mobile devices are becoming the new field reporters and film crews. The obvious exception being that you don’t need to be employed by a news network to be able to share your message with the world.