Archive for the ‘speed’ tag
Google really cares about the web being faster. In 2010 it led a group of contributors in releasing a module for Apache web servers called PageSpeed. Today, the same group has released a version for Nginx, an alternative to Apache, which is also open source and used by massively trafficked sites like Netflix, Hulu, Pinterest, Airbnb, WordPress.com, Zynga, Zappos and GitHub.
In alpha testing, content-delivery network provider, MaxCDN, reported a 1.57 second decrease in average page load times, with bounce rates dropping by 1 percent. While those seconds might not seem like a big deal, they are, especially when you have multiple visitors on your site performing multiple tasks. Think about how it feels when you use Hulu at a Starbucks; that almost 2 seconds could ease some of your frustrations in waiting for a page and video to load.
The module is available for webmasters on GitHub, with open source participation coming from Google, Taobao, We-Amp and individual developers.
With Google pushing to bring faster Internet to everyone in the world, starting with a few cities in the United States, it makes sense that the company would participate in projects like this to help the rest of the web keep up. Naturally, Google is able to leverage the work of projects like this for its own sites, since speed is a huge concern of CEO Larry Page for its existing and future products.
“The stock market today is a war zone, where algobots fight each other over pennies, millions of times a second…inevitably, at some point in the future, significant losses will end up being borne by investors with no direct connection to the HFT world, which is so complex that its potential systemic repercussions are literally unknowable.” Felix Salmon
I’ve written about algorithms before. I think it’s inevitable that the trading of media space will become ever more automated. Price customisation software will play an ever bigger role in the optimisation of pricing. And I think algorithms are fundamental to the future of content. But what about when they go wrong?
A fortnight ago, a computerised trading programme belonging to leading US stock broker Knight Capital Group ‘ran amok’, with staffers at Knight unable to stop it trading for more than half an hour. The result was a near fatal $440 million loss, the company kept alive only by emergency financing, and now in a position where it is likely to have to sell off parts of its business to keep going.
On May 6th 2010 in the so-called Flash Crash, algorithmic trading contributed to the second largest point swing and the biggest one-day point decline in the history of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, as it lost about 9% of its value, only to recover those losses within a matter of minutes. A joint report by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission identified how an unusually large sell-off of E-Mini S&P 500 contracts by a large mutual fund firm had initially exhausted available buyers, but then off the back of that how high-frequency algorithmic traders had then started aggressively selling, accelerating the effect of the mutual fund’s selling. The report portrayed “a market so fragmented and fragile that a single large trade could send stocks into a sudden spiral.”
Such algorithmic trading is more common than you might think. As of 2009, High Frequency Trading (HFT) firms accounted for 73% of all US equity trading volume. HFT uses algorithms to make highly complex decisions at lightening speed before human traders are capable of processing the same information. Automated trades are used on the buy side (by pension funds and mutual funds for example) to sub-divide large trades to minimise market impact and risk (and in some sense hide what they’re doing), and on the sell side (by so-called market makers and hedge funds) to provide liquidity to the market. Many however, have questioned the value of that liquidity saying that it “has a rather ghostly quality and tends to vanish when needed most”.
The animated GIF above shows the amount of high-frequency trading in the stock market from January 2007 to January 2012. It shows not only the rise in HFT over that time but a world that, as Felix Salmon of Reuters noted, “in aggregate seemingly has a mind of its own when it comes to trading patterns”. The stock market, says Salmon, is clearly more dangerous than it was in 2007 incorporating a much greater tail risk and yet in return for facing that danger, “society as a whole has received precious little utility”.
Automation and algorithms are changing the structure of our markets. That much is perhaps inevitable. But is it right that in the quest for speed and frequency we are building the kind of systemic risk whose scale may be unknown but which could well impact far outside the domain of the financial markets?Personally, I think not.
HT to @BBHLabs for the Felix Salmon link
How weird us human beings are….for instance, we often wait until something is broken before we fix it….why? Today is the end of the London Olympics so as a way of wanting to inspire you for tomorrow at work…
Think about Dick Fosbury. People had a way of teaching the high jump – it worked. But Dick Fosbury reinvented the method. He developed a revolutionary approach that took high jump to …new heights!
He didn’t have exceptional strength or speed but what he had was a revolutionary approach that brought him a gold medal at the 1968 Olympics.
He did not listen to the critics, the people who banned the technique…he believed in his ability to create a new method that would help him achieve his dream
Tomorrow…..think about what could bring you that Gold Medal…think about redesigning what you do, not because it is broken…but because you just want to be better than the competition
The following is an excerpt for the forthcoming book, Attack of the Customers: Why Critics Assault Brands Online and How to Avoid Becoming a Victim, by Paul Gillin and Greg Gianforte. The target publication date is late 2012. I’ll be posting a few excerpts here during the next few months and would appreciate your comments.
We’ve all heard that a million monkeys banging on a million typewriters will eventually reproduce the entire works of Shakespeare. Now, thanks to the Internet, we know this is not true.
Berkeley professor Robert Wilensky uttered that memorable quote in 1996. Were he speaking it today, he might refer instead to Twitter.
Twitter is the enigma of social networks. It’s limited to text messages of 140 characters. It doesn’t support photos, videos or applications natively. Instead of friends, it uses the simpler connection metaphor of follower or subscriber. Even its website is so weak that only a minority of its members use it.
How does a service with so little going for it create so damn much trouble?
The answer lies just above the number 3 on your keyboard. The hash tag (#), which was created by the Twitter community to help bring order to the service’s inherent chaos, has become one of the Internet’s most powerful organizing and amplification tools. It’s helped Twitter become a core utility for arranging everything from book signings to mass protests. It’s also established the popular microblog service as a prime channel for customer complaints and a favored tool of the critics we call “Casual Complainers.” The #fail tag, which denotes poor performance by a person or company, is monitored by millions and is not one you want to see next to your name.
Order From Chaos
More than five years after Twitter launched, we still hear questions all the time about its value. To the uninitiated, it’s a cacophony of voices sharing mostly useless information. And to a large extent that’s true. The low barrier to entry and ease-of-use are two of Twitter’s most endearing points. People can share anything and they do. The power of Twitter comes from filtering out the junk and focusing on what’s important to you.
Twitter’s simplicity and accessibility are it strongest features. Messages can be sent and received on nearly any cell phone. Updates are instantaneous, which makes Twitter a valuable news tool. When seeking updates on a breaking news story, Twitter is often a much better source than the traditional media. Instead of relying on just one channel for information, you tap into the collective reports of many. Within a few seconds of news breaking anywhere, it’s on Twitter. People with large Twitter followings can quickly magnify a complaint with a single retweet, and the media has learned to use Twitter both as an amplifier and a leading indicator of developing news.
While Twitter has occasionally been used to originate major attacks, its 140-character message limit doesn’t permit much poetic license. Attackers are more likely to post their gripes on a blog or Facebook and use Twitter to extend their reach.
Twitter, Facebook, e-mail and other social networks are all amplifiers to some extent, but Twitter is unique in that its content is public. Facebook members share messages and links mainly with people they already know. In contrast, following a hash tag enables you to see all messages from all Twitter users about that topic. As a result, awareness can spread more quickly on Twitter than in any other social medium.
While the number of links shared on Twitter is less than one-third the number shared on Facebook, Twitter links are clicked on about 12% more often, according to a study by ShareThis, Starcom MediaVest Group and Rubinson Partners. Sharing a tweet with one’s followers is a two-click process on most PCs and mobile devices. This ease of sharing is why Twitter’s amplification power is so great. About 40% of messages on Twitter include a URL. This makes Twitter a rapid vehicle for spreading long-form content like videos and blogs.
Another distinguishing – if not unique – value of Twitter is its speed. Messages can be fired off in a few seconds and instantly reach a global audience. The combination of speed and hash tags has made Twitter an effective medium for managing crowds. During the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York in 2011, for example, the #needsoftheoccupiers tag made it possible for supporters to identify and respond to requests from protesters for everything from books to pizza. Organizers were able to move protests fluidly around the city by posting new locations to the #OWS tag.
Twitter has attracted an enthusiastic audience but not a very diverse one. The service is particularly popular with professional communicators, journalists, marketers, technology professionals and social media enthusiasts. Celebrities have embraced it as a way to connect directly with their fans (for example, more than 1,700 NFL players are on Twitter, according to Tweeting-Athletes.com) and media organizations have adopted it en masse to get bonus visibility for their coverage before it hits the newswires.
Acceptance by such visible people has perhaps made Twitter’s influence disproportionate to its actual numbers. In fact, most Twitter members use the service very little. A 2009 study by Sysomos reported that 85% of Twitter users post less than one update per day, 21% have never posted anything and only 5% of Twitter users produce 75% of the content.
However, even that small number can unleash a breathtaking amount of information. Dell Computer, for example, monitors about 25,000 messages per day in social media, most of them from Twitter, says Richard Binhammer of Dell’s social media group. Dave Evans, author of Social Media Marketing: An Hour a Day and Vice President of Social Strategy at Social Dynamx sums it up: “When you really stare down the Twitter firehouse and see what’s coming at you, it’s scary.”
Bottom line: While Twitter may be the small compared to Facebook, its vocal and influential member base can create trigger a storm of controversy with amazing speed.
Twitter has played an amplification role in nearly every social media attack of the last four years. Journalists monitor trending hash tags to detect stories bubbling up through social media. Many create filtered tweet streams of the companies, government agencies and celebrities they cover. You should do the same for your own company and brands.
Although major attacks rarely begin on Twitter, the service is a good way to identify problems before they get out of hand. One reason airlines watch Twitter so closely, for example, is that frustrated customers take first to their smart phones when delayed on the tarmac or frustrated at the ticket counter.
Twitter was the vehicle director Kevin Smith used in February, 2010 to express outrage about being denied seating on a Southwest Airlines flight because airline personnel claimed the 300-plus-pound Smith wouldn’t fit in a single seat. Smith tweeted his attacks for days and continued the criticism on his podcast. Southwest stuck to its guns and arguably suffered little from the incident, but media attention kicked off a bigger debate about America’s obesity epidemic and the responsibility of businesses to accommodate oversized customers.
One unique form of Twitter attack is “brandjacking,” or false accounts that appear to be real. The critic may use an account name that’s substantially similar to a visible person or brand to post satirical or embarrassing messages.
The most notable example of Twitter brandjacking was @BPGlobalPR, which popped up during the 2010 Gulf oil and began skewering BP as the oil company desperately struggled to stop the Deepwater Horizon spill. The account attracted 160,000 followers – more than four times the following of BP’s real North American Twitter account – and generated huge amounts of media coverage. The fact that the author remained anonymous until months after the crisis ended contributed to public curiosity.
A rogue employee at publisher Condé Nast created an account that relayed bizarre comments overheard in the elevator. @CondeElevator was quickly shut down, but not before its follower account exceeded 80,000. A similar account about elevator gossip at Goldman Sachs was still active and being followed by more than 260,000 people as of this writing. It’s doubtful the investment banker would want its customers to hear comments like “Retail investors should be circumspect of any offering they’re able to get their hands on. If you can get it, you don’t want it,” but private conversations like that are now public record.
Twitter has cracked down on parody accounts that deliberately misrepresent a brand, but the policy doesn’t apply to individuals, and variations of brand names are still allowed. Celebrities like Hosni Mubarak, Roger Clemens and William Shatner have been portrayed by fake Twitter accounts and brand variations like @ATT_Fake_PR and @FakePewResearch provide satirical and often very funny sendups of their targets. If you’ve been brandjacked you can appeal to Twitter directly, but be prepared to wait. If the satirist is working within Twitter’s guidelines, you have to take a more conventional crisis management approach.
The best defense against a Twitter attack is to listen. Free Twitter clients like TweetDeck and HootSuite do a good job of catching mentions of your brand or products. If the volume of mentions is large, or if you want to filter for sentiment to detect a surgeon negativity, you’ll need a paid listing tool like Radian6, Lithium or Sysomos. Listening is easy and low-risk, but think twice before you let your branded Twitter account wade into a conversation. The precedent you set may come back to haunt you when people begin to expect response. Unless you’re prepared to devote resources to engaging on Twitter every day, the safest course is just to keep your ear to the ground.
We can’t think of a good reason why every company today shouldn’t have a branded Twitter account. Even if you only use it to disseminate press releases, it at least plants a flag in this increasingly critical community. If you do need to engage in a discussion, at least be familiar with the culture and style of the participants. Know who’s influential so that in a crisis you can get messages to people with the broadest reach.
If an attack appears to be forming, look for the following:
- Trending hash tags that include your company name (most Twitter clients display the top trending tags by default; Whatthetrend.com can give you more detail);
- Keywords that indicate high levels of emotion or that refer to serious problems that are unique to your product category;
- Complaints directed specifically at your company (denoted by messages that begin with your company’s Twitter handle)
- Retweets of negative messages by people who are influential in your market
Standard crisis communications rules apply to your response, with some twists that are unique to Twitter:
- Use a consistent Twitter account to avoid confusion. It’s fine to retweet via other accounts that you own or influence.
- Address affected parties, not spectators.
- If the problem affects just a few people, ask them to follow you, then send a direct message with an e-mail address or phone number to resolve the issue out of public view.
- If you know nothing about the issue being discussed, send a tweet stating that you’re looking into the problem. Then tweet follow-up information as you receive it.
- Show empathy, but stick to the facts. Don’t debate hecklers.
- If the problem is systemic (such as an outage or recall), create a Web page or blog post with details about the situation. Post updates there and tweet them under your account(s).
- If there are people with large followings involved, consider tweeting updates directly to them. It’s OK to ask for a retweet.
- For a problem affecting multiple customers, consider creating a unique hash tag for updates.
- When the problem is resolved, tweet that.
Many consumer-focused companies are now using Twitter for front-line customer support. Twitter can be a great tool for such purposes, but be aware of what you’re getting into. When you set the precedent of addressing complaints within hours or minutes, customers will come to expect the same service all the time. Failing to deliver it can actually create a problem.
Consider this case: In 2009, Paul tweeted a complaint about his credit card provider and was pleasantly surprised to get a nearly instantaneous response from a representative of the company. The rep asked Paul to contact him privately via direct message, which Paul did. He never heard from the rep again.
Several months later, Paul was attending a reception at the South by Southwest conference when he ran into the very same credit card rep. The man told him that at the time of their original Twitter exchange, he was the only employee of the company – which is one of the largest financial firms in the world – authorized to communicate on Twitter. Swamped by the thousands of messages customers were tweeting every day, he had simply stopped responding. Do not let that happen to you.
 “ShareThis and Starcom MediaVest Group Collaborate to Release First Comprehensive Study on Sharing,” ShareThis press release, June 6, 2011, http://blog.sharethis.com/2011/06/06/sharethis-and-starcom-mediavest-group-collaborate-to-release-first-comprehensive-study-on-sharing (accessed July 18, 2012)
 Occupying Wall Street: The Inside Story of an Action that Changed America (New York and London: OR Books, 2011) p. 156.
 Alex Cheng and Mark Evans, “An In-Depth Look Inside the Twitter World,” Sysomos Resource Library, June, 2009, http://www.sysomos.com/insidetwitter. (accessed July 21, 2012).
 The author turned out to be Josh Simpson, a 26-year-old aspiring comedian from Los Angeles whose career has no doubt been boosted at BP’s expense.
 There are scores of these tools on the market but few comprehensive ratings guides. Two places to look are Bulldog Reporter’s PR Monitoring & Measurement Software Buyer’s Guide (http://www.bulldogreporter.com/2012-pr-monitoring-buyers-buyers-guide-comparison-chart) and the Social Media Monitoring Category of TopTen Reviews (http://social-media-monitoring-review.toptenreviews.com/). Be careful when relying on Google search for evaluations because the market changes rapidly and many top Google results are three or more years old.
Globally, the speed for broadband connections is steadily on the rise: according to Akamai’s Q1 2012 State of the Internet report, it’s now at 2.6Mbps, compared to 2.3Mbps in the last quarter, and a rise of 25% on a year ago and a reversal of the 14% decline of last quarter. South Korea continues to remain the connection king, with an average connection speed of 15.7Mbps. The U.S., meanwhile, doesn’t make it into the top-10 countries (it’s ranked 12th) but at least it’s speeding up: it is now at 6.7Mbps, up by 29% on last year and 17% from the previous quarter.
But as broadband continues to improve, so do attacks. Akamai notes in its study that attack traffic is on the rise, concentrating in particular regions and ports, with Asia Pacific, led by China, accounting for 42 percent of attack traffic originating from Asia Pacific; and the top 10 ports for attack traffic accounting for 77% of all attacks (up from 62% last quarter).
After Asia Pacific, Europe accounted for 35% of all attack traffic originations, while North and South America accounted for 21%. Africa represented less than 1.5% of attacks. However, although the Americas appear to account for less attack traffic, in fact the U.S. ranked second to China on an individual country basis, with 11% of all attacks; China accounted for 16%.
Other notable figures:
The Internet continues to grow: Akamai notes that it registered 666 million unique IP addresses from 238 countries and regions connecting to the Akamai Intelligent Platform in Q1 2012, a six percent increase over Q4 2011 and 14 percent increase compared to Q1 last year. More growth is happening in smaller countries than in larger ones. In the wake of the global launch of IPv6, Akamai says that the number of unique IP addresses from the top 10 connecting countries was at 66%, but that this is down by about one percent on the quarter before. China, Brazil, Italy and Russia are all growing at rates of 20%.
Broadband high and low: Akamai’s seeing enough growth at higher broadband speeds that it’s now breaking out progress in this area. It notes the number of countries where people are using broadband at speeds of 10Mbps or higher is now at 10%, a rise of 19% on last quarter. South Korea, being the world’s broadband leader, has high-speed broadband penetration of 53%. Japan is at 37%, Hong Kong is at 28%, Latvia is at 26% and the Netherlands is at 24% penetration for high-speed broadband. Overall, 125 countries are seeing increases in speed over last year, Akamai notes, with only 10 countries seeing declines. Given the speeds below, you can see why Google’s fiber project is so compelling and has so many people excited at what it might bring next.
Mobile broadband: Germany takes the crown for fastest mobile broadband at 6Mbps. Worldwide some 65 carriers had speeds greater than 1Mbps. Interestingly, only three carriers analysed had connection speeds below 500kbps, meaning those carriers that are upgrading to mobile broadband seem to be doing it in a largely unified mass, with less speed fragmentation than we’re seeing in the area of fixed broadband. Akamai doesn’t name and shame the slowest providers — or say who the best ones are.
As for how we are using mobile broadband, this graphic that Akamai presents of the last five years shows just how much data is growing with respect to voice usage:
Attack traffic by ports points to Conficker Worm rising again: Akamai notes that Port 445, used for Microsoft-DS, accounted for a disproportionate 42% of all attack traffic, up from 25% in the previous quarter. It notes that Port 445 is associated with the Conficker worm.
It appears that this increase was largely attributable to significant growth in the percentage of attacks targeting Port 445 (42 percent of observed attack traffic), after seeing declines over the prior several quarters. As has been noted in past reports, Port 445 is associated with the Conficker worm. It was the most attacked port in seven of the top 10 countries generating attack traffic, Akamai notes. Attacks on web-based applications, represented by Port 80, actually decreased by three percentage points globally, but that was the second-most targeted port in the U.S., Germany and Brazil, Akamai notes.
Amit Singhal and I have something in common. He heads up Google’s web search technology, and I am a lowly blogger, but we are united in our deep love for Star Trek.
Specifically, we both want to bring the fascinating technologies of science fiction (and Star Trek in particular) to reality. I’m still trying to get seed money for my replicator, but Singhal is much closer to his own goal: making search an experience as fluid and as powerful as Captain Kirk issuing a verbal query to the Enterprise computer and receiving a flood of relevant information in return.
The Enterprise computer operated on a deep understanding of human meaning, not a human understanding of machine-friendly keywords.
“To build the search engine I dream of, we need to make it truly universal,” Singhal says, “so you can do things that are not possible today.”
To that end, Google is starting to roll out its new Knowledge Graph engineering and design globally. Part of this is a new feature: Google web search can now include your Gmail messages and multimedia in search results. You can sign up now to get early access. If you like Google Search Plus Your World, you’ll likely find this new feature quite useful as well.
The company is also announcing voice-based search for iOS devices. Your searches are verbal and use natural language, and the app talks back to you, giving you verbal results in (more or less) natural language.
Also, the latest Google search field trial will include personalized, enhanced flight-tracking features, so you can see you’re going to be stuck in Newark for a few hours faster than ever before.
What Google is showing off today are a few baby steps, but they’re steps toward previously impossible goals like speech recognition, natural language processing, and true artificial intelligence.
Singhal says we’re not there yet, but just before his talk started, he, Google search guru Matt Cutts, and I were reminiscing about the “good” old days of AltaVista, Lycos, InfoSeek, and HotBot. My first real job involved doing search work at a startup in early 1999; Google wasn’t really a thing at that point, certainly not in sleepy central Virginia. And the search process pre-Google was excruciating, slow, and wildly unrepresentative of the web that existed at the time.
Those reminiscences stand in sharp contrast both to the future Singhal is envisioning and to the present state of web search. Over the past 13 years, we’ve come a lot closer Singhal’s goal of intelligent, human-friendly search, and we’re all excited about where search will go next.
Jack Menzel is one of the Googlers working on making the search engine smarter.
“We can use our understanding of the world to help you with more complicated tasks,” he says. He tells an anecdote about a road trip from the San Francisco Bay Area to Cedar Point, an amusement park in Ohio. Menzel needed some convincing to get in the car for such a long trip, and he puled up a Google search for “Cedar Point” to illustrate his point. In old-school web search, you’d see a list of links for the amusement park; you’d have to click through and copy/paste the names of rides into new searches to get more information on each one. But with Google’s new Knowledge Graph, the search engine’s newest “brain” rolled out a couple months ago, Google returns a map, contact information, specific rides in the park, images and videos, and a lot more — all on the first page of results, all arranged in pretty carousels, scannable boxes, and other information design elements infinitely better for humans than a list of links.
It’s not quite the Enterprise computer, but it’s getting closer. As Menzel told me during the Knowledge Graph launch, “Computers don’t really understand what people are talking about. To a computer, it’s just a string of letters.” Knowledge Graph treats queries as objects rather than strings, and it’s one of Google’s attempts to get closer to human-friendly, artificially intelligent search.
The other big part of Google’s web search evolution is speed. “Do you remember how slow it used to be?” Cutts muses. The Internet was slower, and our connections were slower 13 years ago. We’ve all been accelerating on every front, but Google has an institutional preference for lightning speed. It’s pushing and shoving the web to speed-focused standards, superspeedy Internet, speed-tweaked programming languages. Google is like a stupid teenager with his first car, with only one question on his mind: “How fast can this thing go?”
The bigger the dataset gets and the more we turn to Google for web search, the more urgent the need for speed becomes. Right now, the web has around 30 trillion unique URLs. Google crawls 20 billion pages every day, and we humans use Google to conduct 100 billion searches every month.
That kind of activity requires speed on every level of hardware, software, and even design. Today’s announcements, from the Gmail addition to search to the vocal search app, are all engineered to avoid wasting a millisecond more of your time, to get your head out of your devices, to make partaking in life simpler, to free up your brain for solving bigger problems than finding a movie tonight or finding an email you got last week.
“I dreamt all those dreams as a child,” Singhal says. “Thanks to all the wonderful research and the engineers at Google, we are so much closer to my dream of building the Star Trek computer.”
We know that Google’s still a business, and its primary goal is getting more users, selling more advertising, and making more money. But if it can move us a few more inches closer to Star Trek in that process, that’s okay with me.
Image courtesy of alpahspirit, Shutterstock
Filed under: VentureBeat
My car informs me that I’ve been averaging 26 mph over the last month. Much lower than I would have guessed.
It’s low not because we don’t drive on the highway, it’s low because there’s also a lot of time spent sitting still in traffic and at lights.
When we remember our journey and our work, the highlights are the fast parts, the thrilling moments, the peaks (and the valleys). It seems, though, that we spend most of our time in preparation, or circling, or considering. Probably worth investing some effort into our performance there, and enjoying those parts as well.
The Asus RT-N66a "Dark Knight" Router Delivers Stellar Network Performance and Features [Stuff We Like]
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Israeli drivers are insane.
This isn’t a scientific fact, but rather a commonly held belief with the rest of the world (and, by some Israelis). This small strip of land in the Middle East is notorious for edgy drivers who will honk you to get moving long before the light even turns green. On a recent trip, I found myself late at night heading from Caesarea to Tel Aviv. Giving my family member the address for the apartment where I was staying, I just figured he would pump the directions into his GPS. Instead, he pulled out his Android device, launched the app Waze (also available for iPhone), entered the address and off we went. Knowing that the price of GPS apps from companies like Garmin and TomTom run in the $40 to $70 dollar range, I was shocked to hear that Waze was completely free (much like Google Maps) and offers turn-by-turn GPS functionality with a fascinating twist.
GPS only works if we’re all actively updating it.
It would be enough if the GPS was simply free and worked. It would be enough if Waze just had the beautiful and simple interface that it has (which includes alternate routing, estimated time of arrival, touch scrolling to get a feel for the area, and much more). What makes Waze unique is the gamification and social aspect of it. The company tagline is "outsmarting traffic, together," and that is – exactly – what this Israeli startup has in mind. As soon as you enter your coordinates, you suddenly see other Waze users all over the map, and these people are actively updating everyone with information about traffic, where police are located (and you can identify them as visible or hidden), accident reports, road hazards, locations of cameras, map issues and even gas prices. Within each category is a limited selection to add a layer of detail. So, for example, if you’re interested in notifying everyone of traffic, you can choose moderate, heavy or standstill. If you’re a passenger, you can type in a message (typing is blocked for safety reasons) and you can even notify others if it’s just in your lane. You can also take a picture (only useful if your smartphone is secured through a holder that is attached to your window). Lastly, Waze – like many new and up coming apps – leverages some for the newer smartphone technology to add depth. In this instance, the smartphone and Waze is also able to let you know how fast you’re travelling, so when you select traffic, the app automatically attaches your average speed at that point to the social data.
Context adds major layers of depth to content.
Waze is also able to learn and add context – which makes the app a powerful utility. After driving to work and home a couple of times, I fired up the app after work the other day, and it asked me if I was heading home because it was tracking and learning my habits. It was also able to learn my own, special route home – which was impressive. On top of that, Waze has layers of gamification awarding points and status for how often (and correct) a driver is with their reporting, and for how much distance they travel using Waze. From a commercial standpoint, Waze offers "in the moment" deals in certain geographic regions that include drop-in specials and the like. While the app has yet to have major adoption in North America, watching it work with a near-critical mass in Israel made me stop and wonder why everyone, everywhere doesn’t help make the frustration of car travel that much easier by getting on the Waze bandwagon?
Creating greener roads.
As if Waze wasn’t interesting enough, Technology Review recently published an article titled, An App That Could Stop Traffic, that looked at Greenway app. Developed by Christian Bruggemaan and two of his friends at University, the 25-year-old is taking the concept of Waze and Google Maps that much further by testing an app that will prevent traffic from occurring in the first place. According to the article: "The app offers users two routes to their destination: a standard shortest one and a traffic-optimized Greenway one, along with the approximate amount of time and fuel it would take to get there using each. If you choose the Greenway path, the app will ping Greenway’s server every 30 seconds with your GPS location to determine if the current route is still the best–a decision made based on knowledge about your location and speed and information about other Greenway users on the road. Greenway assumes each street has a certain capacity based on its length, number of lanes, and speed limit, Brüggemann says, and reserves slots for participating drivers, directing cars so a road never reaches maximum capacity. If a jam does occur–which Greenway would detect by looking at your average speed–the app will react by rerouting drivers." Currently, the app is being used and tested in Munich, Germany.
These apps are not about outsmarting a speeding ticket or getting somewhere faster. Technology is a tool best suited to help us become better global citizens. The implications of this technology stretches far beyond our ability to get to work on time, and into the realm of sustainability and livability. With more and more people moving to cities (or being born there), we are quickly in need of more resources in much smaller and more compact areas. Waze and Greenway demonstrate that by helping one another through information sharing and leveraging that information through technology, it can make all of us smarter, more effective and better global citizens. That being said, please keep both hands on the wheel at all times and your eyes on the road. None of this works effectively if we’re all suddenly not paying attention to the road in front of us and causing more accidents and problems.
What’s your take: do you think apps like this are smart or a dangerous distraction?
The above posting is my twice-monthly column for The Huffington Post called, Media Hacker. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original version online here:
It didn’t take long for Internet users to transform the successful Mars rover landing into its own meme — with funny images popping up maybe 5 to 10 minutes after the Curiosity mission’s first steps went off without a hitch last night.
Mere moments after the Mars rover’s first image of the planet’s surface went online, Matthew Inman (aka The Oatmeal) had superimposed a vicious Alien within it and shared on Facebook. There were so many Curiosity-related posts (including memes) on community news site Reddit that they actually overpowered the number of cat pictures, which is not an easy task.
Then, this morning, VentureBeat’s Jolie O’Dell informed me that there’s a Tumblr page dedicated to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) mission activity lead Bobak Ferdowsi, who most people know as that dude with the gnarly Mohawk from last night’s Curiosity mission broadcast. The Tumblr page, appropriately named “NASA needs more Mohawks,” already has eight pages of meme-based content dedicated to Ferdowsi and others from the JPL crew.
The rapid meme creation shouldn’t come as that much of a surprise, especially since meme-maker 4Chan recently announced its billionth post. That said, I was a little surprised at the number of image that were actually funny. We’ve taken the liberty of collecting a handful of the good ones in the gallery embedded below. (And since our Disqus-powered comment section allows for image-based replies, feel free to point out any good memes we missed.)
h/t to Chris “Crispy” Lloyd for the headline