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Is Zynga’s break with Facebook a sign that software developers, feeling trapped by the platforms on which they grew, want to down the garden wall?

The biggest app maker on Facebook may want to break up with the social network site. Flash and Apple have divorced, citing irreconcilable differences. We’re moving past the days of net neutrality, into those of app neutrality. Are the garden walls of social networks and mobile devices ready to crumble, just as rigidly controlled online services gave way to the Web fifteen years ago?

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Colt firearm from SZuppo on Flickr

September, 2014 was unusually cold for Boston. The chill from the Charles drifted in through an open window and slid across the floor of the one-bedroom apartment. Special Agent Ross took in the mess of books, records, and DVDs scattered around the room, framing the dead body of Janet Somers.

Back at the office, he started filing in the forms of the homicide report, detailing the execution-style killing—one shot to the back of the head—and signs of struggle. He’d barely had time to fetch a fresh cup of coffee when the PDA on his hip started buzzing. “Ross.” he answered curtly, annoyed by yet another interruption in what was already looking like a long day.

“This is Mike Lynch. I work for the U.S. Marshals,” explained the caller. “You filed the homicide report on Janet Somers, right?”

“Sure. You knew her?” asked Ross.

“Detective Ross, I work in Witness Protection. It’s not that I knew her, so much as I tried to make the world forget her. Based on what happened today, it sounds like I failed,” said Lynch.

“Yeah, it looked like a professional job: one shot to the back of the head at close range. What’s up?” asked Ross.

“I need you to tell me what music Janet listened to,” Lynch replied.

Ross scowled at the thought of spending hours in Janet’s frosty apartment. “Oh, come on. She’s dead. What difference does that make?”

“Listen, we’ve had six other killings this week. Same M.O. I need your help here.” replied Lynch.

And I thought I was having a bad week, muttered Ross under his breath.  “All these victims were under your protection?”

“Nope, none of them were,” said Lynch. “But the other six victims were all women in their mid-thirties, like Janet. They were all killed, execution-style, late at night, just as Janet was. And most importantly, all six of them liked the same music.

Ross took a sip of coffee and furrowed his brow. “I don’t get it,” he said, “what does their music have to do with it? You don’t shoot people for bad taste.”

“Listen, Ross,” growled Lynch, clearly annoyed. “If Janet liked the same music as the other six, then that means the killer’s using wishlists, iTunes, Last.fm and other online services to find people we’ve spent years working to hide.” The Marshal paused, letting it sink in. “We can change their faces, their cities, their jobs — but we can’t stop them listening to shitty music. And that might just get them killed.”

The US Witness Protection Program has hidden nearly 20,000 people since it was launched in the 1970s. So far, nobody in its custody has been harmed, despite Hollywood’s love of this plot device. Witnesses change their names, their appearance, and even their jobs — anything to hide their past. But can we hide who we really are?

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Dr Alexandra BowyerWhen we heard about the world’s first synthetic lifeform, we realized we needed a science expert to help us explore and share the real significance of the news. So we’re very pleased to introduce our first guest blogger, Alexandra Ruaux (wife of regular contributor Alexander Bowyer). Alexandra has a PhD in Biochemistry from the University of Southampton, UK and is currently a postdoctoral researcher at the Biotechnology Research Institute in Montréal, where she spends most of her days growing and isolating bacterial proteins to determine their molecular structure. She has published several journal papers and contributed structures to the Protein Data Bank.

 


Synthia is the first living organism on the planet to have a computer for a parent. From just four bottles of chemicals (the basic components of DNA; Adenine, Cytosine, Guanine and Thymine) Dr. Craig Venter and his research group at the J. Craig Venter Institute synthesised the entire genome of a bacterial cell. They used a known genetic code as a recipe and transplanted it into a different cell, effectively causing it to ‘change’ species. What does this mean for mankind? Are we about to have the magic of life reduced to just 4 chemicals? Will terrorists be able to synthesise terrible bio-weapons? Can we now design cells that do whatever we want?
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Got a problem with the way someone thinks? Then you’ll love social networks like Facebook, because they give you easy ways to harass your ideological opposites.

Search makes it easy to find someone you disagree with. Once you’ve found your ideological target, get your friends to report them, and let the automated antispam systems do their work. ReadWriteWeb has an example of groups reporting someone in order to wrongfully shut down their online accounts already.

How did we get here?

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For six years, I’ve shared my life with Facebook, dutifully posting my status and responding to constant pleas to read or comment. We were happy at first, Facebook helped me rekindle old friendships and spark new ones. But now, with the passage of time, I can see her for what she really is, a heartless bitch with no respect for me, my privacy or my feelings.

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i09 says that researchers have demonstrated true nanobot-scale manufacturing. This isn’t just building something really small: this is building something small that builds something. It’s a nanofactory. As we’re now learning, things that work at really small scales are subject to different laws–those of quantum physics–that may give them access to other sources of energy.

This research may one day give us efficient ways of building anything (an idea touched on Neal Stephenson’s book The Diamond Age.) This all sounds promising. Except… Read more »

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Man with camera attached to cycle helmet

What if you could remember everything? Not just birthdays and photos, but your entire life. Technology is now affordable and powerful enough to make this a reality. This is lifelogging – using computers to extend your brain and outsource your memory.

 

What is lifelogging?

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At Web2Expo this week, I chatted with Kevin Weil, who runs analytics at Twitter. We’ll publish the interview in audio form here soon, but one of the most interesting things I learned from him was how Twitter infers a relationship. Not all followers are equal, apparently.

  • If there’s a symmetric follow between two people, Twitter assumes they know one another and the relationship is conversational.
  • On the other hand, if it’s a one-way relationship — I follow the Bay Bridge, but it doesn’t follow me back — then Twitter assumes the relationship is around subject matter (in other words, I want the traffic updates from the bridge.)

Does this mean that if you’re the kind of person who follows everyone back, you’re not thought of as a subject matter expert? If so, expect a rash of unfollowing as users tweak their online profiles.

As Twitter’s opinion of us becomes increasingly important for things like advertising effectiveness, people are bound to try and game the system. Analysis of social graphs will be part of an arms race similar to that seen in Search Engine Optimization, where unscrupulous marketers try to convince Google to list them in search results. Call it Social Graph Optimization (SGO).

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Shot of newspapers by Shironekoeuro (http://www.flickr.com/photos/shironekoeuro/4040697914/)

Newspaper and magazine publishers see the the arrival of tablet computers like the iPad as a salvation for their ailing industry. They expect it to lower delivery costs and move them from a once-a-day news source to a constant, immediate service.

The excitement is justified, but misdirected. If tablets do save publishing, it’ll won’t be because they’re digital or more up t. It’ll be because they make newspapers interactive, and in doing so, let any reader place an ad right on the page they’re reading, opening up an entirely new revenue stream. Read more »

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Who owns your voice online?

Gagged on Flickr by Sebastiano Pitruzzello

When I call you, I don’t care who your service provider is. When I send a letter, I don’t care who delivers it to the door. But with online communication, it’s not so simple. If I want to “friend” you, I can only do so if we both use Facebook. If I want to share a thought publicly, you’re unlikely to see it unless you’re on Twitter, too. Twitter, Facebook, MSN and Skype are new forms of communication that did not exist before the Internet – but unlike their old world equivalents, they’re controlled by corporations and the messages you send with them are restricted in audience and reach.

Much of the media attention on Twitter and Facebook is on the products and the companies behind them, but we would do well to stop thinking in those terms, like we did with email, and start thinking more about the means of communication that they provide.

It’s only when we take a step back and think about the digital communications revolution in these terms, that the picture becomes evident. It’s not a pretty one. Almost every form of digital communication is dominated by one company, and locked in to members of that service (See table below). We are in a poor state for a free, open exchange of ideas.

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