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Updated: 8 min 27 sec ago

Surprise! Blockchain Bitcoin Wallet Returns To Apple App Store

10 hours 59 min ago

More than six months after Apple’s controversial Bitcoin wallet ban, Blockchain is back in the App Store with a new wallet.

In February, Blockchain was the only Bitcoin wallet remaining in the App Store after Apple deleted Coinbase in November 2013 and BitPak back in 2012.

That is, until CEO Nicolas Cary got a message from Apple stating Blockchain had been “removed from the App Store due to an unresolved issue.”

See also: Apple Deletes Blockchain, The Last Remaining Bitcoin Wallet For iPhone

Apple never did elaborate further on that statement, but for reasons we can only speculate on, the tech giant relaxed its “purchasing and currency” policies this June immediately following its Worldwide Developer’s Conference 2014. The update states:

“Apps may facilitate transmission of approved virtual currencies provided that they do so in compliance with all state and federal laws for the territories in which the app functions.”

That shift was a signal to Cary to begin working on the next generation of the Blockchain wallet, he told Coindesk. Built from scratch, the new app not only allows users to exchange bitcoins from wallet to wallet like the former version, but also to make purchases from the growing list of merchants who now accept Bitcoin payments.

See also: Here Are All The New Ways To Spend Bitcoin While You Weren't Paying Attention

With 1.9 million users, Blockchain is the most popular Bitcoin wallet available. However, Apple’s newly relaxed policy may lure competitors into trying to create a better one.

(Apple has not yet returned ReadWrite's request for comment.)

Categories: Technology

Android's Most Popular Apps Are Lousy With Bugs, Researchers Find

14 hours 20 min ago

About half of the 50 most popular Android apps have vulnerabilities, and the reckless reuse of code libraries is the blame, according to the researchers who uncovered  the Heartbleed security bug.

Codenomicon, the IT research firm first to publish its findings about an OpenSSL vulnerability and dubbed it “Heartbleed,” reports that Android app developers often aren’t aware of the bugs they’re propagating when copying code from third party libraries.

See also: Post-Heartbleed, Open Source Gets A New Security Attitude

The company will reveal the details of its findings—including the compromised Android apps—at the Black Hat USA security conference Aug. 6-7 in Las Vegas. (Codenomicon did not return ReadWrite's request for comment.)

Why Recycled Code Makes Sense

The first rule of programming is to not reinvent the wheel. As a result, many developers recycle open source software solutions to perform their cryptosecurity for them. According to Chester Wisniewski, a Senior Security Advisor at Sophos, it makes less sense to do it themselves.

Most app builders intent on building a cool have don't have the remotest idea how to make a   cryptographic library, Wisniewski told ReadWrite. “App builders depend on shared code because every coder can’t be familiar with every type of code in the world.”

When app builders do try to create new code, they often create new holes, Wisniewski said, pointing to WhatsApp, the chat app Facebook is acquiring for $1 billion. When WhatsApp developers initially tried to create their own cryptocode, their lack of security knowledge left the chat app compromised in increasingly new and alarming ways.

“The flaw in OpenSSL, while scary, didn’t result in anything bad happening,” said Wisniewski. “The IT community came together quickly. The alternative [to open source software] is 25 different kinds of brokenness like with WhatsApp.”

Reaching A Compromise

Creating one’s own cryptographic library is much more work than using recycled code, with even less effective results. So that’s probably not what Cryptonomicon will suggest when it presents its findings at Black Hat.

Instead, Cryptonomicon’s chief security specialist, Olli Jarva, told ITnews that he advises developers not to see open source as a “free lunch.”

“We have to take care to test well enough the libraries we use so we can be confident they are safe enough to be used,” he said.

In other words, developers ought to not only be familiar with the libraries they’re implementing; they also should keep them up to date and continue to patch them. Which they have little incentive to do, bitterly writes programmer Marco Arment of the Apple App Store:

“Top lists reward apps that get people to download them, regardless of quality or long-term use, so that’s what most developers optimize for… Quality, sustainability, and updates are almost irrelevant to App Store success.”

Assuming the best of intentions on the part of developers, one solution might be to use smaller, lighter libraries. It’s inevitable that the more code you use, the more bugs you get. Wisniewski suggested that most app developers can opt out of OpenSSL in favor of lighter cryptography libraries like Google’s BoringSSL.

“OpenSSL is a jack of all trades that provides a lot of services,” he said. “When you only need one tiny secure connection to a website in your app, you don’t need that giant lump of code. All of a sudden you’re getting all these vulnerabilities for features you’re not even using. Choose slimmer, lighter libraries for only what you need; don’t throw in everything but the kitchen sink.”

Photo by Matt Waddell

Categories: Technology

Could You Work A Week Without Your Phone?

14 hours 56 min ago

Before I tell you what it was like to go a week without my smartphone, I have a confession to make: I cheated. 

Not much, mind you, but when ReadWrite editor-in-chief Owen Thomas asked one of his writers to take a week's vacation from my mobile devices and write about the experience, I volunteered. I thought it would be much easier than it was.

It was painful.

No Phone, No Fun

I expected to go through withdrawal pangs from my obsessive addiction to my iPhone and Kindle Paperwhite.

But I wasn't counting on how the world is increasingly designed for mobile. From mobile check-in at the airport to phone calls (remember those?) to taking selfies in exotic places (like, um, Atlanta), the world expects us to have a phone. 

There are workarounds, of course, but most aren't worth the bother.

My week without mobile was unpleasant, but oddly satisfying. It made me rethink when and why I used my devices.

Day 1 (Remember The Sabbath Day, To Keep It Less Mobile)

As a religious guy I take my Sundays seriously. "Thou shalt rest from thy mobile device" is not a harsh commandment. At least, it shouldn't have been. But by 6:30 am, I was already having problems detoxing. I had forgotten to turn off notifications and my phone was already buzzing with inbound text messages. 

Messages which—by the rules of my personal challenge—I was forced to pretend didn't exist.

After muttering some very un-Christian words, I solved the problem by turning to Apple’s Messages app and Skype on my Mac.

I'm a self-identified iSlave, and Apple makes it easy for people like me to trade iMessages with other people using Macs, iPads, and iPhones. But for my Android friends—maybe some Windows Phone users, too—I had to use Skype to send texts. The downside to this option is that the texts are only one-way—even if you pay for a Skype number, you can't receive texts. Anyone wanting to respond to me would only be able to reach me by SMS in a week. 

Telegram might be faster.

After all, I can’t really call them because, well, I don’t have a phone. Not this week. While there used to be pay phones around, they’re quickly fading from the Western world. Complicating matters, we currently don't have a home phone because, well, mobile phones. (Curse you, Owen Thomas!)

It turns out Google Voice would have been a better option here, as I could have sent and received texts using that service, but I didn't want to set up a whole new phone number.

The day went from mobile bad to mobile worse. At church, I couldn’t fill in the dull moments with surreptitious checking of news about Arsenal, my favorite soccer team. At night I gave up on reading Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons, which I was reading on my Kindle. Technically, I could have logged into Amazon's Kindle for Mac application, but the reading experience on a laptop is too unpleasant.

I ended up going to bed early because, well, what else was I going to do without my phone?

No smartphone? No Uber.

Day 2 (Mobile-Free Days And Mondays Always Get Me Down)

I have no idea why I decided to accept Owen’s challenge this week. Living without mobile seems manageable if you aren’t very mobile. But I travel extensively for work and this week was no different.

First thing, I had to fly to New York and, sure enough, this created problems. I always check in using Delta’s mobile app, which lets me change seats, view my upgrade status and more. Not today. Today I had to print out a paper boarding pass.

Or I would have, had I not also realized that I couldn’t hail an Uber without my phone, and getting a taxi this morning was simply too complicated (for a variety of reasons). Uber adultery committed, I decided to transgress with Delta, too. (Sorry, Owen! The spirit was willing but the flesh was weak.)

In the old days, I wouldn't have had a choice about putting my phone away when the plane took off. Now that the FAA has lifted its restrictions on in-flight usage of mobile devices, I was forced to think for an unbearable stretch of 30 minutes until we got to 10,000 feet and I could inhale the Internet through a Gogo Wi-Fi connection. 

At JFK, I saw the long taxi lines and I cheated again to use Uber to get to the MongoDB office in Midtown, with its glorious Internet connection. There, I felt capable of abandoning mobile forever ...

... or at least, until it came time to find my way to dinner with my daughter down in the West Village. I looked up the fastest way to get to Barbuto on my laptop and hurried out the door with this knowledge in mind. Almost immediately it was rendered moot by the arrival of a third person. I had to resort to Google Maps for updated directions. 

The score: Matt vs. mobile, 0–4.

Day 3 (Tuesdays With Mobile-Free)

My mobile-free nightmare started the moment I woke up: My phone is my alarm. Thanks to Owen Thomas, I had to relearn how to program an alarm clock last night and, worried that I messed up, I also asked the hotel to wake me. At 5:00 am both started blaring at me.

It was not pleasant.

Nor was exercising without my music. Or checking in for my flight from LaGuardia to Atlanta, or getting from ATL to my meeting in Buckhead. Or finding a way to notify my lunch appointment that I'd be late.

The only pleasant thing about the ordeal was not having a way to peep in on the fantastic vacations my friends were having on Instagram and Facebook. Both are technically available on my laptop, but without those icons and notifications nudging me, I found no urge to check them. 

But disconnecting from friends also meant disconnecting from family. Reading to my youngest daughters is a beloved routine that makes my weeks on the road bearable. Owen Thomas and the crappy hotel Wi-Fi (for which I blame him, too) ruined that. I normally read to them off my Kindle over FaceTime. Instead, I tried Amazon's Kindle Cloud Reader and Skype, but the sound quality was terrible. After enduring repeated Skype stutters, we gave up.

Days 4–7 (The Upside Of No Mobile)

The rest of the week got both worse and better as the week went on. Worse, because it became abundantly clear that the Western world is made for mobile. 

Even simple pleasures like going for a run or riding my bike require a mobile device if I want to track my times and record my miles (and I do, notwithstanding the "run/ride naked" movement). 

There are things that are both easier and better with my iPhone at my side.

But here's the other thing I discovered in my week (mostly) without mobile: I got to think again. I don't know if Google (or, in this case, mobile) is making us stupid, as Nick Carr famously argued, but I do know that my mobile devices have prompted me to be far more frenetic and less thoughtful than I used to be. A week without mobile helped me to rediscover a certain measure of serenity.

While the first flight without a mobile device to keep me company during taxi and takeoff was brutal, by my fourth flight of the week, I looked forward to the reprieve. 

And it reset my habits, at least for a time. Driving my car back home in Utah, I no longer needed to check my phone at every red light or stop sign.

In fact, I liked the "silence" so much that I took some great advice and turned off all notifications on my mobile devices, set email to "manually fetch" (which dramatically extends my battery life, too), and went a few places (like the gym) without my phone

Bizarre, but true.

I don't expect to go another week without mobile. Maybe on a vacation, but not in the middle of a work week that involves heavy travel. 

But even on vacation, there are practical reasons to turn to a mobile device: getting directions, keeping track of my kids, looking up information. 

The goal, then, isn't to completely eradicate mobile from my life, but to tame it. By understanding when I truly need my mobile devices, as opposed to just wanting them, I can return to a direct experience of the world around me. That's a trip.

Images by Madeleine Weiss for ReadWrite

Categories: Technology

Facebook Makes Messenger Mandatory

15 hours 12 min ago

Facebook’s plan to monetize Messenger through payments just got one step closer to reality. Now users who want to keep messaging their Facebook friends will be forced to download the standalone Messenger app.

In the next few days, Facebook will fade out the messaging option from its main iPhone and Android apps. Now users worldwide will experience what European Facebook users underwent in April, where Facebook first tested a standalone app for messaging.

The social network hasn’t exactly been subtle about its plans to monetize the messaging function. In June, the company snagged PayPal President David Marcus to oversee Messenger, and clearly expected Marcus to use his payments expertise.

See also: PayPal President David Marcus Is Taking His Talents To Facebook

Messenger hit 200 million active users and people now send 12 billion messages a day, Facebook said in a statement. It’s unclear so far how this would be monetized, but in the 2014 second quarter conference, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that “over time there will be some overlap between [Messenger] and payments.”

The move is similar to FourSquare’s corralling of some of its app’s functions into an exclusively check-in app Swarm. However, as tech companies continue to split up their apps into increasingly specific categories, the question that remains is whether users will be content to have multiple Facebook and Foursquare apps on their phones.

Categories: Technology

Facebook To Eliminate Gifts, Its Online Gift-Card Shop

15 hours 54 min ago
No gift for you.

Facebook will finally stop nudging you to buy your Facebook friends a Starbucks gift card on their birthdays.

The company is shutting down Facebook Gifts, the e-commerce service that lets users buy electronic gift cards from companies like iTunes, Starbucks and Sephora and send them to friends. Gifts will be gone on August 12. 

TechCrunch first reported the news earlier on Tuesday, and the company confirmed the move to ReadWrite.

"We’ll be using everything we learned from Gifts to explore new ways to help businesses and developers drive sales on the Web, on mobile, and directly on Facebook," a Facebook spokeswoman told ReadWrite.

This is not the first time Facebook has cut back on its gifting options. Facebook had previously offered physical gifts as an option, later limiting its selection to digitally delivered gifts.

The Gifts shutdown comes on the heels of Facebook introducing a "buy" button, a way for businesses and advertisers to encourage people to purchase things simply from a Facebook post. That tool is currently in a limited test.

Facebook is clearly ramping up its e-commerce and payments efforts. It recently hired former PayPal president David Marcus to oversee its messaging products. 

During Facebook's second-quarter earnings call on July 23, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said there will be "some overlap" between its Messenger application and payments. In other countries, particularly China, messaging apps often include features that allow users to send each other money.

And Facebook funnels payments from consumers to app developers in some transactions, like the purchase of digital goods. But it has struggled to link its prodigious traffic to real-world transactions.

Lead image courtesy of Petr Dosek on Flickr

Categories: Technology

Snapchat's New Celebrities: Now You See Them, Now You Don't

15 hours 58 min ago

Not all that long ago, the rise of the YouTube celebrity was weird and daunting. Then came the age of Vine, whose stars rose to prominence in videos so fleeting they raised what then seemed an existential question: “How could you possibly get famous on the basis of six-second clips?” Next up were Instagram personalities-as-photo-celebs.

Inevitably, it's now time for the most transient social media platform of them all—Snapchat, with its blink-and-you-missed-it "ephemeral" snaps—to take its turn in the spotlight. Because Snapchat is now spawning a rising group of "stars" who are gaining traction, working with brands, and (of course) making money.

Forbes reports that advertisers are paying up to $30,000 to Snapchat celebrities for promoted snaps. TV networks and brands like Disney, Major League Soccer, and Taco Bell are working with big Snapchat users to create snaps aimed at teens and young adults aged 13 to 25—their prized .

In the same way that advertisers partner with YouTube celebrities in order to access a fanbase of millions of young audiences, brands are now reaching out to Snapchat for a window into the ever-elusive world of the complicated teen mind. With over 4.6 million members and 350 million photos shared daily, it’s clear that brands will be seeking out Snapchat sooner rather than later.

How To Build Stardom On Quicksand

Snapchat, of course, is best known as the home of the disappearing "snap"—basically a captioned photo you could send to a friend, who'd then have between one and 10 seconds to view it before it vanished, seemingly forever.

But last October, Snapchat expanded into Vine-like territory with Snapchat Stories, a way to string together photos and videos in order to create longer narratives. Longer, that is, in a relative sense, as Snapchat Stories still disappear after 24 hours.

That's long enough for some entrepreneurs, who've strung together snaps and stories to build their own Snapchat followings. Some of these creators earn up to $100,000 a week on this ephemeral platform.

Shaun McBride, better known as Shonduras, to may be the first person on Snapchat make a business out of taking pictures and sketching quick, colorful cartoons onto them. McBride has amassed more than 140,000 followers, and has partnered with brands like Disney and Taco Bell to create Snap advertisements.

McBride’s picture-doodle mashups are fun and visually arresting. His subjects range from himself (ice-fishing for octopus, for instance) to a mournful-looking dog decked out as a Yoda-like Jedi (complete with lightsaber) to a towering unicorn vomiting a rainbow over a mountain range. 

Why do brands like snaps? Largely because they take up an entire mobile screen and force the viewer to absorb the information quickly. That makes them a perfect vehicle for a short, punchy advertising message designed to stick with the viewer long after the ad itself has disappeared.

Jerome Jarre, originally a Vine celebrity with 6 million followers, cultivated a following of 1.2 million on Snapchat. He's also the co-founder of Grapestory, an agency that signs Vine and Instagram celebrities (much like YouTube’s “multi-channel networks”) and connects these stars to branded deals.

Social media networks like Snapchat will always be crawling with their own homegrown stars. It'll often be difficult for outsiders to understand where their popularity is coming from—and it's not always clear that big brands themselves get it, either. Still, they're willing to fork over lots of money in hopes of associating themselves with the popularity of social-media users with big followings.

Images courtesy of Forbes

Categories: Technology

How Twitter Won The World Cup

17 hours 35 min ago

Twitter is growing, but it’s not just the monthly active users that matter.

On the company’s Tuesday earnings call, CEO Dick Costolo said that the size of Twitter’s audience is two to three times as big as the number of monthly active users—271 million—on Twitter. That means millions of users who aren’t on Twitter are seeing tweets, including those embedded in the media, or shared by friends.

“We will position ourselves to reach the largest audience in the world, and everyone on the planet,” Costolo said on the earnings call.

This quarter provided Twitter a perfect opportunity to showcase its prowess as a real-time platform on a global scale, thanks to the World Cup in Brazil. By my count, various Twitter execs used the phrase “World Cup” 13 times during the one-hour call.

Throughout the global soccer tournament, which ran from June 12 to July 13, Twitter displayed soccer information including game times and live scores, as well as notifications that encouraged people to take part in the conversation happening through hashtags and tweets. 

During the semi-final game between Brazil and Germany, Costolo said, “we had 2 billion Tweet impressions off Twitter in addition to our 4.4 billion Tweet impressions on Twitter.”

See Also: Why Twitter Needs Its Own Messaging App

But Costolo was quick to point out that the World Cup didn’t actually get more people to sign up for the service. It just increased “engagement,” or people interacting with the service.

So what drove user growth during the quarter? Costolo chalked it up to product updates like new profile pages that help new users understand the product better.

One product update that will likely get a much-needed makeover this year is the direct message feature. According to Costolo, the messaging platform—one that’s currently frustratingly buggy—will be a focus for the remainder of the year.

Another possible surprise in store for users might be a manipulated, algorithm-based Twitter feed. Currently users see tweets from the accounts they follow in real time—unlike Facebook, which filters your news feed based on what it thinks you care about the most. That sort of change would be an interesting—though controversial—shift for a company that wants to be the world's most important real-time platform for news and information. Costolo, however, said on the call that he isn't ruling out the idea.

The social network has 271 million monthly active users, an increase of 24% year-over-year. More than three-quarters of those users—78%, to be exact, or 211 million—use Twitter on a mobile device at least once a month.

Lead image courtesy of Flickr user paulisson miura

Categories: Technology

#AskCostolo Interview Highlights Twitter’s Harassment Problems

18 hours 20 min ago

CNBC interviewed Twitter CEO Dick Costolo on Tuesday, and the network invited Twitter users to ask him questions about the social network with the hashtag #AskCostolo. It could have been an opportunity for the company to address users' concerns over safety and harassment on Twitter, but the questions were never asked.

Over 30% of the questions sent via the hashtag #AskCostolo had to do with safety on Twitter, but Costolo didn’t address them. Instead CNBC asked softball questions the network chose, largely pertaining to the company’s earnings call Tuesday afternoon. 

Reporting harassment on Twitter can be a problem. As many users note, it can take months for the company to respond to someone’s complaints. The company’s privacy policy regarding blocking and harassment focuses on the victim’s behavior rather than that of the harasser.

See also: Twitter Reverts Blocking Policy After User Outrage

Twitter has had problems with these issues in the past. Last year, the company changed its blocking policy so that it effectively “muted” other users instead of preventing them from following someone. At the time, Twitter justified the move by noting that users can get antagonistic once they realize they've been blocked and suggesting that inconspicuously hiding their interactions with the blocking users—i.e., muting them—offered a better solution.

The move caused an uproar on Twitter from people who had suffered harassment, and Twitter reversed its decision a few hours later. (It has since implemented a mute function.)

Tuesday’s #AskCostolo questions show that dealing with harassment on Twitter is as bad as ever.

The discussion of safety and blocking on Twitter comes at a time when the tech industry is working to bring more diversity into the workforce. In fact, Twitter recently released workplace statistics, showing that 90% percent of its technical workforce is male.

Of course, Twitter is a public social network, so there's an argument that users should expect the trolls. But when tweeting turns into harassing or stalking, the company has a responsibility to enable safe and efficient means of reporting and ending the harassment—especially if, like Twitter, it has an entire team dedicated to the safety of its users

It's high time for Twitter to answer those questions.

Updated 4:27p.m.: Updated to clarify Twitter didn't pick the questions CNBC asked.

Lead image via TechCrunch on Flickr

Categories: Technology

Lightning Strike Taps Bitcoin ATM For Ultimate Withdrawal

18 hours 53 min ago

Just days before Apple welcomed the world's most popular bitcoin wallet, Blockchain, back into its App Store, a lightning strike took out Arizona's one and only Bitcoin ATM. 

Coincidence? 

Well, obviously. But that's no comfort to Brian Williams, founder of Javelin Investments LLC and the machine's owner and operator. "It's kind of like getting punched in the face," he told azcentral.com, after a power surge possibly caused by lightning blew through Bookmans Entertainment Exchange in Tucson, Ariz., where the ATM was housed. 

Before the unfortunate act of God that took out the state's first Bitcoin ATM, around 12 people took advantage of the newfangled money changer, Williams said. Since the machine's March installation, most of the dozen early adopters used it to purchase $5 or $20 in bitcoin, which was transferred to their digital wallets for easy cellphone purchases via QR code. 

See also: Why We'll Still Care About Bitcoin Even If It Fades

One customer attempted to buy an entire bitcoin for $600, but the purchase, much like the power surge, proved too much for the machine to handle. Williams had to finalize the exchange via laptop. 

There are currently 145 bitcoin ATMs worldwide and about 25 in the United States ... well, approximately 24 now. If the idea of Bitcoin ATMs seems silly to you, check out all the new ways to spend bitcoin that popped up while you weren't paying attention. 

Whether or not Williams' $1000 ATM, purchased from Skyhook, can be saved, remains to be seen. "I'm trying to pick up the pieces and trying to figure out where we are at," he said.

The same could be said for Bitcoin. 

Lead image created by Adriana Lee for ReadWrite, using images by Flickr users Jason Benjamin, Brian Tomlinson and onnola

Categories: Technology

The Google Nexus Line Is Alive And Well And (Maybe) About To Birth A Phablet

20 hours 37 min ago

Not only is Google not ending its Nexus line of "pure" Android devices, as Google exec David Burke told us last month, it may well be expanding it. Two reports indicate that the tech giant and ex-subsidiary Motorola have been cooking up an all-new Nexus phablet.

See also: No, Google Isn't Going To Kill Its Nexus Devices

Over the weekend, Android Police reported that, after trawling through the code base at the Android Open Source Project (AOSP), it found references to a mysterious 5.9-inch Nexus gadget codenamed “Shamu.” The Information (subscription required) checked with its sources, who confirmed it. 

In fact, "people familiar with the matter" said it was great timing: The companies may have started their work when Motorola was still under Google's wing, but now that it belongs to Lenovo, the two companies won't have to suffer accusations of preferential treatment. They can work on this massive device in peace. 

We’re Going To Need Bigger Pockets

The codename would be fitting for a giant Nexus phablet, so called because it's basically a smartphone the size of a compact tablet. If it exists, Shamu’s 5.9 inches would top the Galaxy Note 3—arguably the leading phablet on the market—and its 5.7-inch screen. 

Ars Technica notes that this whale of a device also follows the Nexus nomenclature of naming gadgets after fish. (Technically, it’s a mammal, but whatever. Let's just call them aquatic creatures.) “Hammerhead” stood in for the Nexus 5; the Nexus 7 was called ”Razor”; and “Flounder” references suggest a possible upcoming Nexus tablet from HTC.

Shamu, described as a Motorola phone with a fingerprint scanner, could launch as soon as November. (Most likely  alongside Android L, the next version of Google mobile software, which is expected to debut in the fall.) 

Google and the now Lenovo-owned Motorola can join hands without accusations of favoritism.

Where that leaves the Android Silver program is unclear. Silver, Google’s attempt to get manufacturers to make more “vanilla” (uncustomized) Android devices—was (again according to The Information) supposed to replace the Nexus line. The program was supposed to be headed up by Google Chief Business Officer Nikesh Arora. But, The Information notes, Arora announced his departure from the company earlier this month.

Lead image of the Nexus 5 by Dan Rowinski for ReadWrite

Categories: Technology

Zillow Kills Competition With $3.5 Billion Trulia Deal

Mon, 2014-07-28 18:19

It takes more than “Zestimates” and other zippy technology to make money in real-estate listings, as evidenced by the $3.5 billion in stock that Zillow agreed to drop in order to snap up its chief competitor, Trulia.

The impending Trulia acquisition could centralize listings and tools for home sellers. The joined company says it will provide “advertising and software solutions that help real estate professionals grow their business.” 

Real-estate sites cannot dominate the Internet with lookie-loos alone; they must have advertising dollars. Now Zillow's listing site can also attract home sellers—and their attendant advertising—with Trulia's tools for estimating a home's value.

Zestimates, Zillow’s zingy name for the proprietary algorithm it uses to estimate home value based on publicly available information, put the real estate site in the spotlight—but not always in a good way. Critics question the their true value, citing the algorithm’s inability to know, for instance, whether the neighbors mow the lawn.

A Real-Estate Squeeze Play 

Regardless, Zillow is protective of Zestimates, and sued Trulia for patent infringement in 2011, a claim Trulia disputed. Earlier this year, the rivalry between Zillow and Trulia was still going strong. In February, Zillow announced it would spend $65 million on national advertising. Two days later, Trulia announced it would spend $45 million on same.

Currently, Zillow has 83 million users, according to comScore. Trulia has 54 million. Once joined, the new real estate behemoth on the block will rule 61 percent of the market, making the most visible place for real estate to pay for premium ad placement.

In theory, Zillow's shelling out $3.5 billion in stock to swallow its former rival could save both companies some money in the short run, since real-estate agents will paying the difference in premium advertising on the biggest game in town. Knocking out the competition makes it a sellers market for ad space. Investors will be pleased.

According to the announcement, the deal—expected to close in 2015—will “maintain both the Zillow and Trulia consumer brands.” As the deal marches toward the regulatory process, specific details of how the merged company will operate and whether there will be layoffs, have not yet been shared.

Lead image by Flickr user John Morgan, CC 2.0

Categories: Technology

LinkedIn Updates Its App As Part Of Its Mobile Dis-Integration

Mon, 2014-07-28 16:00

LinkedIn’s new mobile redesign, called “Blue Steel” internally, aims to make it easier to find out information about people and make connections while on mobile.

The new update to the flagship LinkedIn application is the latest in a handful of updates and app launches as LinkedIn begins to fragment its services and create separate apps for separate services. There are now six different LinkedIn apps.

See also: LinkedIn's Latest App Aims To Reconnect You With Your Contacts

The flagship LinkedIn app has an updated look, but with the redesign also comes a better way of viewing someone’s profile. Now, when you want to know more about someone, the mobile LinkedIn profile shows you information that would be pertinent to an introduction—for instance, if you share an alma mater or work history in common. It also makes it easy to edit your profile, something that was hard to do previously on mobile.

On the left, my old LinkedIn profile. The new LinkedIn profile appears on the right. 

Additional information on the new mobile LinkedIn profile includes deeper analytics including who’s viewed your profile from where, and a section that details what you have in common. Like the desktop version, the revamped app will show you other profiles viewed by visitors to your own profile. It also makes it easy for people to see what you’ve posted on LinkedIn’s publishing platform.

Because there are so many apps for LinkedIn—including LinkedIn Connected, the app the company debuted earlier this month—the company made it easy to bounce back and forth. So if you’re using Connected and notice that someone got a new job, you can flip over to view their full profile in the LinkedIn flagship app. 

LinkedIn is following the lead of other social apps like Facebook and Foursquare—all these companies are breaking up their services into multiple apps, in the hopes of appealing to a broader mobile-driven audience. 

Lead image by Reyner Media on Flickr

Categories: Technology

CloudFlare’s Matthew Prince: Building A Better Internet

Mon, 2014-07-28 15:00

ReadWriteBuilders is a series of interviews with developers, designers and other architects of the programmable future.

For a 100-person company founded in 2009, the tech firm Cloudflare certainly seems to have an outsized impact on the Internet.

Shortly after the Heartbleed bug became public knowledge on April 9, Cloudflare decided to revoke all the digital-encryption SSL certificates it managed—a move that would prevent hackers from stealing digital identities from Web servers by exploiting  Heartbleed. When it did so, it caused a dramatic spike in such revocations

Similarly, when it switched its customers by default to a new Internet-address scheme called IPv6, Cloudflare says it expanded what co-founder Matthew Prince calls "the IPv6 Web" by a full five percent.

See also: Exterminating Heartbleed: How To Clear It Out Of Your Data Center

Cloudflare's primary business is to both speed up and act as a sort of digital bouncer for its client sites. It does this by helping them deliver their information more efficiently and by sheltering them from the Internet's bad guys—hackers, spammers and scammers who try to knock sites offline via distributed denial-of-service attacks.

In the process, it's also managed to bring advanced site-management tools—the kind of things that previously only companies like Google could afford—to the masses. 

Prince co-founded CloudFlare after bouncing through a number of startups and attending both law and business school. I spoke with him about how getting sued by the porn industry got him started, how he was a lawyer for a day and the role he sees Cloudflare playing as cloud computing continues its astronomical growth.

What follows is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation.

Back When The Web Was "A Fad"

ReadWrite: You describe yourself as the storyteller. How technical are you?

Matthew Prince: When I was seven, my grandmother gave me an Apple II Plus. I grew up in Park City, Utah, and my mom used to sneak me into computer science classes. When I got to college, I was pretty competent as a computer programmer, and got bored in the computer science program fairly quickly.

In 1992, I was technical enough that the school spotted that. Along with two other students, I became one of the campus network engineers. We were building out the network across the campus. Back then, I was installing the switches, running cabling, and learning how the underlying network worked.

The other thing that was fortuitous, in college, a couple of us had started an electronic magazine. There was no World Wide Web in 1992, so we used a programming language sold by Apple called Hypercard. It was object-oriented, one of the forgotten Apple technologies that was way ahead of its time. We made this interactive magazine with Hypercard stacks. We’d email it on campus. The school loved it. It showed how innovative they were.

The apps would get so large that they would actually crash the mail server. The school kept buying bigger and bigger mail servers to accommodate it, and we ended up making more and more complicated versions of the magazine.

They finally came to us and said, "This isn’t going to scale, but let us introduce you to some organizations." One was a printer company, which invented a technology called PDF, which was of course Adobe. The other organization was a bunch of students at the University of Illinois, PhD. students, who had this thing called a browser.

I remember we would write articles and we couldn’t get anyone on campus to read them, but we’d get these emails, in broken in English, from Japan. I remember saying to one of the other guys, why do we care if people in Japan are reading this? It was one of the most naive and stupid things I could have said. I wrote my college thesis on essentially why the Internet was a fad, which is incredibly embarrassing.

CloudFlare co-founders Michelle Zatlyn, Lee Holloway and Matthew Prince

I’m technical enough that I know how this stuff works. When we started CloudFlare, I was writing code. I think I have three lines of code left in the code base. We hired people many orders of magnitude better than I am. Lee Holloway [CloudFlare co-founder] is the technical genius, and Michelle [Zatlyn], who is incredible, is the chief operating officer of our organization. The three of us together create a pretty solid foundation.

Lawyer For A Day

RW: You went to law school, and then worked as a lawyer for just one day?

MP: When I got to the end of college, I had job offers at these companies that I thought had no future: Netscape, Yahoo, a company called BBN, [and] Microsoft, for their online service. I thought this wasn’t going anywhere, so instead I went to law school. My friends were building dot-com companies that were some degree of successful, and I went to Chicago to study law.

In 1999, between second and third year of law school, I moved to San Francisco for the summer and worked at a law firm called Latham and Watkins. Over the course of that summer, I helped take six companies public. I went back for the third year of law school, and that was when the bubble burst. Latham called and said, “Good news. You still have a job. We don’t have room for securities lawyers, but we have plenty of room in our bankruptcy practice.”

I had accepted the signing bonus and had started to do some work for them. One of my law professors said hey, my brother is starting a company, he’ll match your salary and give you some stock. I stayed in Chicago and worked for this startup [a company called GroupWorks in the insurance-benefits brokerage market]. 

RW: What inspired you to go back and get an MBA?

MP: The short answer is I went to business school because I got sued by the porn industry. After GroupWorks, I did well enough that I could mess around for a while. I came up with an idea for an anti-spam technology.

Unspam is like the “do not call” list, but for email. The business plan was absurd. We were going to help pass a bunch of [anti-spam] laws all around the country, and build a technology that enables these laws, and then sell it to state governments. But instead of them paying us directly, they'd charge a fee, and we’d take a share of that fee.

I remember pitching that to venture capitalists. They’re like, you’re insane. That’s exactly what we did. So we worked with state legislators around the country to pass these laws, and then we ended up winning technical services contracts. Lee Holloway was our first technical hire at Unspam.

The pornography industry guys argued it was a violation of their first amendment rights. They were arguing that they had the right to send adult material. They sued the the state of Utah, and we were a contractor to the state, so they sued us as well.

The lawyers said, "You have a good case, but it will take three years to resolve. During that time, lay low." I sent off applications to eight different business schools, and ended up getting rejected by seven of them, and got into Harvard.

Pahk The Stahtup In The Hahvahd Yahd

RW: And that’s where CloudFlare really got its start?

MP: I continued to run Unspam while I was in business school. Lee was continuing to work for Unspam. As a final project for our last semester, Michelle and I ended up entering a business plan competition, and the business plan was CloudFlare’s business plan. It’s remarkable to read it and see that we’ve basically done what we said we were going to do.

At the same time, Lee was running out of hard technical problems at Unspam. He was getting recruited by Facebook and Google. I always wanted him to be on my team. 

I called him a couple of weeks later and said, "What if we design a service that essentially sits in front of the entire Internet, and we will build something that can not only protect websites from attack, it will make things faster?"

I knew that in order to get Lee excited, the project had to be huge. Lee needed something that was really, really big. I spent 30 minutes on the phone pitching it to him. At the end he was silent for about a minute, then he said, okay, that will work. So Lee was on board. Michelle is the operations person, I’m sales and marketing and storytelling, and that ended up being the combination that allowed us to build what we built.

Services Only A Google Could Afford

Five percent of all Web traffic passes through our network. We add 5,000 new customers every day, ranging from teeny little blogs to Fortune 500 companies. International governments use us, the U.S. government uses us, commerce companies like Gilt use us. One out of 21 sites you go to online is a customer, and their traffic passes through our network. We have 25 facilities scattered across North and South America, Europe and Asia, and the plan is to open 50 more in the next year.

The network keeps growing bigger and bigger because we’re offering a compelling value proposition. It takes about five minutes to sign up. Once installed, you’re going to be at least twice as fast and protected against a whole range of attacks, and it decreases the load on your server substantially.

We’ll provide resources that previously only a company like Google could afford, with data centers scattered around the world. We ‘ll make that easy and affordable and scalable for anyone putting content online, whether it’s through traditional websites, modern web applications, or the back end of mobile apps. We make all that faster and better.

Begging And Building Frankenservers

RW: What was the first technical challenge that you wanted to address with CloudFlare?

MP: CloudFlare got born in part out of an open source project Lee and I had started called Project Honey Pot. It’s the largest online community tracking fraud and abuse. It has over 100,000 participants in 190 countries around the world.

When we were first starting CloudFlare, after we graduated from school and moved to California, we didn’t have any money, and we needed some way to build the first prototype. Amazon Web Services was just getting started at the time, and we were trying to figure out how we were going to get servers.

Michelle said, You talk about how loyal this Project Honey Pot community is. What if we just ask them if they have some spare servers lying around? It was an absurd thing, but we started to think, why not?

We had all the zip codes of members, and we emailed every Project Honey Pot member that was within 50 miles of San Francisco: “We’re looking for servers to be able to build a prototype on, do you happen to have any that are laying around?”

We got an astonishingly high response rate. So Michelle piled in her Volkswagen Jetta and drove around to all these different people, and did two things. She’d pick up the servers and load them in their car, and ask them what they wanted CloudFlare to be. It was our initial market research. Those Project Honey Pot members were the first CloudFlare.

None of [the servers] worked, but we were able to cobble parts together to create two functional servers, and built the first prototypes—two kinds of Frankenservers.

We needed to be building a demo to show the investors, and Lee didn’t want to build them. Instead he was focused on this little piece of code that would cache requests for one second. I said, "Seriously, that’s the most important thing you could be working on?"

He said, “Trust me, in three years, you are going to be happy I built this.” Lee is this technical genius who thinks about problems five years in advance. Almost three years from the day he said that, we got some of our first denial of service attacks, and the only way our infrastructure could stand up to that was thanks to layers of caching. That caching layer that he was building at the time turned out to be this piece of our foundation which has allowed us to continue to scale.

Expanding The Taxonomy Of The Cloud

RW: Do you build your own data centers, or rent space in others?

MP: We build our own equipment. We don’t pour foundations and build the buildings, but very few companies do. Even Facebook runs out of other facilities sometimes.

We’re not running on top of Amazon or Rackspace, though those are partners of ours. Instead, we are putting our own equipment in buildings scattered all around the world, and increasingly, putting them in the end-ISP facilities to ensure we have the most coverage and can be as fast as possible.

People talk about the cloud, the taxonomy of the cloud. At the base is what I call the store-and-compute layer. That used to be companies like HP, EMC, Dell and Sun—companies that made the big boxes that held your data and processed your data. Increasingly now it's AWS [Amazon Web Services], Rackspace, Google, Microsoft with Azure and VMware building out their own clouds. So when people talk about cloud services, often they’re talking about the store-and-compute layer, only where you can rent time on machines you don’t own.

We tend to be great partners with all those store-and-compute service providers. That’s not what we do.

The layer on top of store and compute is the application layer, which used to be run by these big bundled suites, from companies like Microsoft, SAP, Oracle. Now those bundles are getting unbundled into their component parts: Salesforce does CRM, Box does storage and collaboration, Google does email, Workday does ERP, Netsuite does financial accounting.

All of those used to be in the SAP bundle. Now, instead of buying software, you're buying those individual components.

Salesforce calls itself a cloud company. It’s not the same as Amazon; it’s a cloud services company living at that application layer.

[These companies also] tend to be partners of ours. Oftentimes a big financial institution wants to use Salesforce. The problem is, if it’s not software running in their own data center anymore, they need to have something like CloudFlare if they want a layer of protection in front of it, because they can’t call up Salesforce and ask them to put in a firewall.

That leads to the third tier, what I call the edge tier. Previously the edge used to be a whole bunch of boxes that would live at the top of your rack. Those boxes would be anything with the word firewall in it, companies like Checkpoint. Increasingly it’s Fireye, or Imperva, or Palo Alto Networks. These are all firewalls that sit at the edge of your network.

And it’s companies like F5 Networks that do load balancing, WAN optimization, anyone doing performance caching, DDOS mitigation—these are all boxes, that traditionally, yesterday, you’d have to buy and put in your server rack. But increasingly, there is no rack.

Customers, however, still need this same functionality. That’s what CloudFlare is doing. We're taking all the functionality—firewall, DDOS, web apps, load balancing, caching—and deploying it as a service, instead of it being a box, or a series of boxes, you have to buy.

So the way we work with Microsoft or Google or Amazon is that they’re providing the store-and-compute layer, or the application layer, and CloudFlare is providing the edge that sits in front of that. Instead of doing it as hardware, we’re doing it as a service.

RW: Isn’t that something Amazon and others would want to build into their cloud offerings over time?

Yeah, potentially. If they’re using all the Amazon services, people tend to use things like their Elastic Load Balancer, which is similar to the load balancing we have, or use their DNS services called Route 53.

We have those services, but we’re finding, in a lot of cases, that we’re a lot better. Our DNS services is faster and more performant than what Route 53 or Google DNS service has, so when you compare apples to apples, we do extremely well.

Second, we’re extremely focused on this. Amazon is a great company, but they're not entirely dedicated to making sure the publisher’s experience as good as possible. We also end up being significantly more cost-effective than they are over time. Most people put us on and cut their AWS bill often by as much as 50%.

GZip It—GZip It Real Good

RW: What kind of relationship do you have with open-source projects?

MP: There’s a piece of software called gzip. It’s the compression software built into your browser. It’s probably one of the most common code paths on the internet. Gzip takes a web page and reduces it in size by as much as half.

Because it’s running on every single request, it is one of the things that takes up the most CPU on our systems, so we have an engineer who left Apple to come work for us. One of the first things he did was rewrite gzip. I was skeptical, because it’s open source project—Google uses it, Facebook uses it—so how in the hell are we going to make gzip better?

He goes away and he comes back, and he has massively increased the performance of gzip, and we have started to roll that out now across our network, which saves us a huge amount of time, allows us to offer our customers significantly faster performance.

One of the things i’m proud of that we do is turn around and contribute them back to the open source community. In the next few months, we’ll roll out our new improved gzip. We’ve been running the calculations, and the power savings alone, how much power we'll cut if everyone in the world were to adopt this new version of gzip, it’s just astronomical.

We’re doing something that has extremely wide impact. It touches so many organizations around the world, and our mission is to build a better Internet. That sounds crazy at some level, but can do things at our scale that are pretty substantial.

About two months ago, we defaulted all our customers to IPv6 routing, so even if their backend is on IPv4 still, we can make sure the front end will support an IPv6 connection. In doing that, we increased the size of the IPv6 web in one day by something like 5%.

One of the things I’m most excited about, we have a team that’s very close, maybe by the end of this quarter, we’re going to be able to turn on SSL encrypted connections by default for even our free users. The amount of engineering work that goes into something like that is pretty substantial. There are only about two million SSL protected websites on the Internet, and the day we switch that one on, we will double the number of protected websites on the entire Internet.

RW: What other ways can the Internet be improved?

MP: There’s a Google protocol called SPDY (speedy), and SPDY makes transferring data over the internet just a ton faster, especially for mobile devices. It’s hard for individual server operators to install, so we just enabled SPDY by default.

If your server is in Texas, and you have a visitor who comes to your website from Sweden, what will happen, that visitor will first hit CloudFlare’s datacenter in Stockholm, they’ll connect via SPDY, and that dynamic content, we need to go fetch it from the server back in Texas, so we’ll open a connection back to Texas and hold that connection open.

We also have a differential compression technology called Railgun. If you’re on even a highly dynamic page like Facebook, it has some content that’s personalized to you, but there’s a whole bunch of that HTML that’s the same for you, me, and everyone else. Sending and resending all that content is just wasted bandwidth; what you really want to send is the stuff that changes.

So Railgun is differential compression for that long haul between Texas and Sweden. The performance is a lot better.

Post-Heartbleed, we’re rewriting the underlying [communication and security] protocols so the Internet runs faster. Because we are a larger and larger portion of the edge of the network, there are things that we can do, and these are things that Google has done for their own properties. If you are not Google, there’s no way to do that unless you use CloudFlare.You don’t have to be Google to be fast, safe and secure.

RW: Who do you consider your main competitor?

MP: Google doesn’t now, but will increasingly provide some services similar to us. Amazon already provides some services that overlap. And there’s Akamai, they are increasingly creating a bundle of services that compete with us.

We each have different strengths and weaknesses. My hunch is, there will be somewhere between two to six providers that provide these suite of services, and I think we have a good shot to be the leader.

Lead image by Flickr user TechCrunch, CC 2.0; CloudFlare co-founders image courtesy of CloudFlare; illustrations courtesy of Shutterstock

Categories: Technology

8 Soaring Videos That Reach The Edges Of Earth

Mon, 2014-07-28 14:00
Editor's note: This post was originally published by our partners at <a href="http://www.popsugar.com/tech/Space-Flight-Videos-27687922">PopSugar Tech</a>.

For a seventh-grade science project, 12-year-old Lauren Rojas reached for the stars—literally. Lauren sent a silver rocket bearing Hello Kitty and a pink breast cancer awareness ribbon high up into the Earth's atmosphere. After the mission's successful completion, she analyzed the effects of altitude on air pressure and temperature and will present her findings on Feb. 12 at her school's science fair.

In honor of Lauren's space-faring Hello Kitty, we found the most spectacular homemade stratosphere flights captured on film, featuring more toys that want to have high-altitude fun and stunning views of Earth from near space.

Want to send your own weather balloon into the atmosphere? See how these science-loving experimenters did it, put together your own high-altitude flight, and send us your videos.

A Space-Bound Hello Kitty Science Project

For her seventh-grade science project, 12-year-old Lauren Rojas of Antioch, CA, sent a Hello Kitty doll, which her father brought back from a business trip to Japan, in a silver rocket ship to the Earth's stratosphere.

The Little Tank Engine That Could

Wanting to give his son an unforgettable adventure, filmmaker Ron Fugelseth sent his favorite toy, the never-leaves-the-boy's-side Stanley train, to the edge of space and back. This sweet video has the best storytelling we've seen yet from a space video, capturing the spirit of a little silver tank engine that could.

An Upward-Bound Leg Lamp

The real star of A Christmas Story, despite its precarious and awkward size, reached 60,000 feet. We love the video's 30-second production time lapse before the flight begins.

Toy Robots Just Want to Have Fun

A toy robot took a two-and-a-half-hour trip to near space and captured some incredible video selfies along the way. The robot reached 95,000 feet and brought back smooth and stable footage from the flight.

A Spectacular Water Landing

As a part of the Geoforum GPS convention, the Brooklyn Space Program sent this device into the upper stratosphere, and it ascended for over 92 minutes before falling back to Earth. This is the first video we've seen with a successful splashdown (just like real space capsules!) and safe recovery.

Sunrise From the Stratosphere

Two cameras flew to 110,000 feet at the crack of dawn and caught a stunning sweeping sunrise as a full moon set on the horizon.

The California Coast From Up Above

Launched near Davenport, CA, this balloon took clear, beautiful footage of its ascent, offering spectacular views of the California coast. During its flight, the balloon also carried GPS, pressure, accelerometer, and temperature devices.

A Step-by-Step Guide to Homemade Spacecrafts

It took eight months of research and testing by a father-son team to successfully send this homemade spacecraft up into the atmosphere. The video details their journey, from building to testing to final execution, with text captions describing altitude and wind speeds along the way.

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Buy Target Items Immediately By Snapping A Photo

Alan Turing 101: The Man Behind The Imitation Game

How The Internet Helped A Boy With Cancer Get His Birthday Wish

Meet Your Favorite New Website: The Nostalgia Machine

Even After 75 Years, Batman Never Goes Out Of Style

Categories: Technology

The Battle Of The Block: How LinkedIn Finally Stopped The Stalkers

Mon, 2014-07-28 13:01

When a San Francisco-based tech recruiter—we'll call her "Sally," a pseudonym—filed a restraining order against an ex-boyfriend, the court documents listed Facebook, Pinterest, and even Etsy as no-go zones for him. But it was LinkedIn that Sally was worried about.

“He started following what I was doing on LinkedIn,” Sally told me. “Who I was connecting with. He was trying to track what I was doing professionally. Every day I was seeing his face on my profile."

LinkedIn's basic features for connecting people became ways for Sally's stalker to remind her of his presence. 

"He started referring people to me, and connecting to people I was connecting with," she said.

Sally had no way of stopping him, short of a court order. Neither did any of LinkedIn's 300 million members, until LinkedIn finally rolled out a block feature in February of this year.

Why did it take so long?

Blocked On Blocking

The notion of blocking users is far from new. Instant-messaging systems like AIM and Yahoo Messenger have long had blocking systems to prevent users from contacting each other or even seeing whether another user was online.

Facebook had blocking since its earliest days; while the company's press office couldn't pin down an official date, Ezra Callahan, an early employee, believes it was present in 2004 or 2005, when the site was a simpler college-only network.

Twitter implemented blocking back in 2007 when the service was just a year old.

LinkedIn is actually older than Twitter and Facebook. When it was founded in 2003, it "started off with a big value of public profile information,” said Madhu Gupta, LinkedIn's head of security, privacy and customer-service products. That was the big innovation of LinkedIn: It took something formerly viewed as private and personal, the professional resume, and turned it into something public. 

It seems that LinkedIn's founders, intending the service for professional networking, never anticipated that its members might use it for darker purposes. But as it added feature after feature, stalking became a reality.

In Sally’s case, her ex harassed her for two years on LinkedIn—sometimes in violation of the court order—before the new function allowed her to stop him for good.

Growing Pains

People had been asking LinkedIn to implement blocking for a long time. But LinkedIn had other problems to solve.

One was keeping up with the service's explosive growth. In the last year alone, it's added 100 million users. 

Another was updating LinkedIn's technical architecture, which was hobbling efforts to evolve the site.

After the company went public in 2011, the engineering team "struggled to hold the site together with the digital equivalent of chewing gum and duct tape," Bloomberg wrote. To get back on track, LinkedIn's engineering boss launched Project InVersion, an effort to rebuild the site from top to bottom. For months, the company froze development of new features. After InVersion was done, LinkedIn's engineers could move much more quickly—but they had a massive backlog of projects to work on.

LinkedIn's fast-growing member base meant more and more people on the site—and more problems, as the site became a must-visit for professionals who couldn't avoid stalkers if they wanted to keep up with colleagues and stay relevant in their careers.

According to LinkedIn, the company was aware that users occasionally requested a block function. One of those users was Anna R., a LinkedIn member from Columbus, Ohio, who launched a Change.org petition in April 2013. That summer, LinkedIn executives learned about the petition, in which Anna R. related how a man who she said had sexually assaulted her in her workplace used LinkedIn to view her profile, an action which LinkedIn's interface notified her of. The petition became a catalyst for change. 

The frustration over this gaping hole in the company's privacy settings was reasonable: Anna R. pointed out that every major social site allowed for blocking—even Pinterest.

But the expectations held by some users were not. 

"To allow members to block stalkers would take ONE of your developers about ONE man-hour to implement. So why haven't you done it?" one disgruntled member wrote.

In fact, it took six months, and hundreds of engineers across LinkedIn—a massive, companywide effort. Work began in earnest in August 2013.

Tackling Blocking

Blocking is far easier said than done. For one thing, what does it mean to "block" a user? Not everyone has the same answer.

Twitter faced its own blocking controversy last year when it announced it would change its blocking feature to “mute” a person. In the new version of blocking, the person could still follow the blocker. The idea was that it would reduce antagonism and the prospect of retaliation if people didn’t realize they’d been blocked.

It took outraged users less than a day to convince Twitter to reinstate the block function it just got rid of. (It has since introduced a mute function alongside the older block function.) Even so, Twitter's blocking is imperfect: Because Twitter is a mostly public social network, anyone can see public tweets. The only way to prevent people from seeing your posts is to keep your account private.

One of the biggest challenges for LinkedIn was figuring out what, exactly, happens when someone is blocked.

“There are a lot of nuances as you start thinking about," said Gupta, the LinkedIn security and privacy head who oversaw the project. "What happens when you block the member? What should that experience be when you come to my profile page?” 

LinkedIn ultimately decided that when you block someone, they should be unable to see your profile or any content you publish. That includes any comments in groups you both might be a part of, or blog posts you publish to the site. It removes them entirely from your LinkedIn experience.

That product decision set the stage for the technical challenge.

“Every one of our applications like search, messaging, recommendations, all needed to implement their own version of how to filter out and how to filter out blocked members and not showing their content,” Gupta said.

Virtually every team at LinkedIn—26 product and service groups—had to be involved to make sure it worked correctly.

Putting LinkedIn To The Test

When one member blocks another, the two form a "blocking pair." On nearly every page of the site, LinkedIn is looking at content from and relationships with dozens, maybe hundreds of other members. Looking through LinkedIn's database of 300 million members for every interaction would bring the site crashing to a halt.

And to live up to Gupta's vision of how blocking should work, every thing a member sees and does on LinkedIn has to respect any blocks other members had put in place.

"When we do a feature like member blocking, we have to touch more than 60 different front- and backend services—all the member-facing products you see," Vicente Silveira, Director of Engineering Security Infrastructure at LinkedIn, said in an interview. "Profile, search, inbox—all those things are different features powered by a set of services that have to be changed to honor member blocking."

The good news was that LinkedIn's growing complexity of functions, like its new tools for publishing, also required quick ways to look up relationships and evaluate how closely two members are connected. The system for looking up "blocking pairs" could rely on some of that architectural work.

Rather than pinging a centralized database of blocked members every time, LinkedIn stored the information close to each service.

"We found a space-efficient manner to pretty much keep all the blocking info and all the services that needed it so they could do a local lookup," Silveira said. "We provide the services these lists, so they can have a local copy they can check." That approach provides "low latency," Silveira said—meaning users don't have to wait a long time for pages to load.

There was one more technical challenge: LinkedIn normally rolls out new features gradually to a small set of users to test response and catch bugs. With blocking, the team decided it couldn't do that: Everyone should have blocking at the same time, and it needed to work across the service immediately.

The engineering team had to develop 50 new tests just to make sure member blocking worked across various versions of LinkedIn, including desktop and mobile websites and LinkedIn's various apps. The engineering team also ran 18,000 existing tests to make sure the introduction of blocking didn't break other functions.

The work LinkedIn did on blocking dovetailed into other development.  One example is LinkedIn's new publishing tools. The day before LinkedIn introduced blocking, the company opened up its publishing platform to a small set of LinkedIn users. (Previously, it had only be available to a few hundred famous business leaders like Richard Branson and Jack Welch.) These posts hit a customized audience, so LinkedIn needs to make sure it shows up for the right people in someone's network—and doesn't show up to someone who's blocked.

LinkedIn may have been late to the game, but it arguably built a block feature that's more sophisticated and sensitive than Twitter's.

(For people still concerned about privacy even after they've blocked a user, it's possible to tailor your public profile to prevent anyone outside of your network—including people who search for you online and don't have a LinkedIn account—to see your name or profile.)

When Getting A Job Leaves You Exposed

When you sign up for a social network, you’re making yourself visible to the world in a way that was rarely possible before the rise of social media. And while there are many benefits—in LinkedIn’s case, it can help you get a job—the downside is that visibility can mean vulnerability.

Harassment and bullying are problems many social networks have, and ones that law enforcement is ill-equipped to deal with. It’s especially bad for women.

As feminist writer Amanda Hess writes:

“Ignore the barrage of violent threats and harassing messages that confront you online every day.” That’s what women are told. But these relentless messages are an assault on women’s careers, their psychological bandwidth, and their freedom to live online.

Our online lives have become just as important as our offline ones—and social media companies need to take steps to prevent online harassment that can affect us in the real world.

LinkedIn faced a lot of criticism, deservedly, for being late to introduce blocking. But from what ReadWrite has learned, after the company decided to make the feature a priority, it moved swiftly to solve a complex technical problem in a way that made blocking a meaningful safety measure—not just a quickly implemented, face-saving gesture to appease critics.

For Sally, the block function provides some sense of security, though she doesn’t think her ex-boyfriend has stopped stalking her online.

“I think [blocking] has anonymized it," she said. "Do I think he’s still doing it? Absolutely. The good news is, I don’t have to see his face.”

Illustration by Bill Strain

Categories: Technology

The Coolest Objects For Sale In Amazon’s New 3D Printing Store

Mon, 2014-07-28 10:36

If 3D printing doesn't take off, it won’t be for Amazon’s lack of trying. Last year, it created a dedicated retail section to sell 3D printers and materials. Now it’s at it again, this time pushing actual 3D-printed goods—and feeding an ongoing debate about the role 3D printing should play in our lives. 

Amazon’s new 3D Printing Store launched Monday with a distinct focus on people who want to buy, not build, 3D-printed wares. Amazon already had a “3D Printers & Supplies” department which sells 3D printers, plastic filament, parts, accessories and software—stuff which will only be of interest to you if you want your own mini-factory in your house.

Shoppers can now browse through more than 200 3D-printed toys, jewelry, home goods, and other tchotchkes from vendors like Sculpteo, Mixee Labs and others—no printer required. 

Some items sold in Amazon's store are customizable—like Mixee Labs’ toy figurines—while others have set designs, but offer a range of colors or exceedingly intricate detail.

3D printers—desktop machines that can produce three-dimensional objects from digital plans—have a direct and obvious appeal for designers, inventors, hobbyists and other “makers.” They've been less successful with mainstream shoppers, however.

If there's one thing Amazon knows, it's shopping. The site makes it easy for customers to discover, search and preview products (even in 360 degrees), while letting vendors offer their own wares by enrolling as an Amazon Seller.

If Amazon does this right, it could capture profits on both sides of the 3D printing business, by helping equip would-be creators and by providing them a place to sell their wares.

3D printing has been a subject of fascination for the technology sector and maker communities, but it’s still a hard sell for your average consumer. That’s one reason 3D-printing marketplaces shifted focus from offering 3D-printer blueprints to stores with completed products. Early pioneers Shapeways, Thingiverse and 3DLT got in on that action, inspiring newer competitors such as Threeding, Layer by Layer and Cuboyo. Even online auction site eBay and Etsy, the sellers’ site for hand-made goods, sell 3D-printed items.

With Amazon plunging further into this niche, it could spark mainstream interest in 3D-printed goods. That may ultimately be good for all players.

Some of our favorites in the new store:

"Create Your Own" Mixee Me

Some people find hyperrealistic 3D-printed figurines kind of creepy (and expensive). But this adorable "Mixee Me" doesn't overdo it with the details, allowing it to ship quickly in just 6 to 10 days and at just $30. 

Fractal Leaves iPhone 5 Case

This fractal leaf could be your meditation on the fragility of life—or the fragility of your phone. Either way, this $28 bumper case is uniquely pretty and offers some protection for that handset without totally covering it up. 

HP Lovecraft-Inspired Cute Gameboard pieces

Put a little Cthulhu into your Chutes and Ladders. I can't wait to see these little Lovecraftian gamepieces trounce across my chess board, and every other game I own. 

Unisex Space Invader Ring

You can wear your gaming cred on your sleeve, but why not on your finger? This blocky little ode to Space Invaders can appeal to retro gaming geeks as well as modern-day Minecraft fans. 

Chaos Table Lamp

The most expensive product on this list, the Chaos Lamp will wreak havoc ... on your wallet. The $740 price point is steep for any kind of lamp, 3D-printed or no. But oh, if money was no object, having a sculpted art piece that's also functional would be really appealing. 

 Images via Amazon

Categories: Technology

Everyone's A Lab Rat In OkCupid's Labyrinth Of Love

Mon, 2014-07-28 08:25

OkCupid’s dating trends research blog is back, reminding us again just how shallow humans are, and that our time spent on the Internet can be modified to a company’s whims.

While unveiling the latest social dating data, the dating site also took a shot at critics of online research experiments, specifically Facebook’s mood study, and said that, “if you use the Internet, you’re the subject of hundreds of experiments at any given time, on every site.”

The blog post published on Monday titled “We Experiment On Human Beings!” takes a look at how people judge one another’s profile and personality by the type of photo they use, and that OkCupid intentionally matched people who were incompatible to see if suggesting people would like each other did, in fact, make them a good match.

OkCupid has never been shy about revealing data its members provide for tests of the human psyche. Between August 2010 and April 2011, OkCupid’s massively popular OkTrends blog used data provided by its members to discern hard-hitting questions like how likely it is someone will masturbate, and how men react to pictures of women online.

This time, though, OkCupid’s research explains how it changed data to see if users would notice.

We took pairs of bad matches (actual 30% match) and told them they were exceptionally good for each other (displaying a 90% match.) Not surprisingly, the users sent more first messages when we said they were compatible. After all, that’s what the site teaches you to do.

OkCupid likened its experiments to those that Facebook researchers published earlier this year that caused an uproar on the Internet. Facebook consciously tweaked news feeds of users to find out if seeing positive or negative posts changed peoples’ moods.

In OkCupid’s blog post, the company dismissed concerns for those type of tests. It even put “experimented” in quotes, as if it wasn’t that big of a deal.

“Data scientists are confusing what they do with social science,” Rey Junco, a social media scholar fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, told ReadWrite. “I see a major difference between what OkCupid did and what Facebook did.”

According to Junco, OkCupid’s “experiments,” were nothing more than A/B testing an algorithm, but the company didn’t present it in a neutral way. They compared their experiments to what Facebook did—the difference being OkCupid experiments didn't have the potential harm someone like Facebook's did.

“What could have happened with the Facebook manipulation was that there was a potential for harm,” Junco said. “The worst thing could have happened [with the OkCupid testing] is people send a few more messages, and maybe you went on a date you didn’t like.”

Is This A Problem?

OkCupid, like Facebook, states in its privacy policy that data the company collects can be used to “perform research and analysis about your use of, or interest in, our products, services, or content, or products, services or content offered by others.”

So, just like on Facebook, the only way to avoid being a subject for love tests on OkCupid is to not use the site at all.

The dating site has a point, however.

Any time someone uses the Internet, we open ourselves up to tests. Ads displayed next to our Google searches or Amazon purchases are carefully crafted advertisements designed by data scientists to serve up an ad for something we’re likely to click on and buy. Our movements are tracked across the Web to figure out how and why we visit certain sites, and how to make money off our personal data.

Companies are always A/B testing their products—meaning two different people can see two different versions of a website at any given time. When someone agrees to the terms of service, they’re agreeing to be part of the company’s tests to better their products.

But what happens when companies don’t just analyze the data, but actively manipulate it for science?

“When social scientists think about doing an experiment, they have to think about the worst thing that can happen because of your intervention,” Junco said. “Is what you get from the research worth doing the intervention, and if the answer is yes, what are you going to do to minimize the effects?”

In Facebook’s case, the company worked with researchers at leading universities and submitted the paper describing its findings to a publication. Apart from the frustration users felt about being used in an mood manipulation experiment without first being asked, the controversy also brought up concerns over university institutional review boards and the ethics companies must adhere to when performing educational research.

OkCupid didn’t submit this information as an academic paper, nor did it partner with any institutions to scientifically prove or disprove its matching algorithm. The studies it completed were done to see if its matching algorithm worked at all in the first place, or if people, when provided a match percentage, trusted the company’s data-backed technology.

“I think that the tech companies have been up in arms like, 'Oh we can’t do A/B testing,' and I don’t know anyone who is saying that,” Junco said. “But if you take it to that degree, then you can’t have the conversation as to what’s really happening and how to best protect the users if you want to do other research.”

There's a difference between a company secretly manipulating data in an attempt to effect user mood and a dating site testing whether its matching algorithm actually works. But these so-called "experiments" by Facebook and OkCupid are important reminders that we live a digital world where users are often test subjects in a company's effort to improve its product.

As such, we have several choices. We can read the site policies and have some idea what we're in for. We can abstain from the internet all together. Or we can remain blissfully ignorant, and in the case of OkCupid, message that person with whom we're potentially incompatible. It could be worse. And in the case of Facebook's mood tests, sometimes it is.

Lead image courtesy of Pablo on Flickr. Matching data image provided by OkCupid.

Categories: Technology

Interns Tell Us What They Would Change At Silicon Valley's Top Companies

Fri, 2014-07-25 17:56

I saw the massive line of interns long before I could see the venue. The young crowd waiting outside Broadway Studios in San Francisco on Tuesday chatted with friends and checked their phones, eagerly awaiting to get inside.

Interns line up outside of Internapalooza&nbsp;

Approximately 2,000 interns from around the Bay Area signed up to attend Internapalooza, an industry-sponsored event for Silicon Valley’s interns to meet each other, chat up potential employers, and hear some of the tech industry’s finest give advice and share experiences from their younger, soul-searching years.

Mike Krieger, co-founder of Instagram, Max Levchin, co-founder of PayPal, and top tech journalist Kara Swisher were among speakers. Overall, the lineup  included eight white men, one man of color, and two white women, which spoke volumes about the current state of tech’s not-so-diverse demographics.

Scanning the Internapalooza audience, I was pleasantly surprised at the variety of gender and ethnicity. Examining Silicon Valley’s young generation of interns can tell us a lot about the future of technology and about the new faces of leadership. 

While there is a lack of diversity among tech's current leaders, the Internapalooza attendees suggest just how multifaceted the future of Silicon Valley may be. 

The fresh faces of Internapalooza

Waiting in line to get into the sold-out event  felt worse than waiting in line to get into a club. 

Interns stood shoulder-to-shoulder inside the steamy venue. A few wore business casual, but many were decked out in the true tech wear of t-shirts, jeans and backpacks. The aroma of free hot dogs didn’t help the claustrophobia, nor with the nostalgic feeling of filing into college orientation.

Many of the interns in attendance were  college students or recent college graduates—50% of attendees were rising seniors at their universities. One hundred attendees were interns at Salesforce, 90 came from Google, 50 interned at Facebook and another 50 at Apple. Close to 200 interns hailed from UC Berkeley, and more than 150 attendees studied either at Harvard, Stanford or MIT.

Interns take their seats to hear from more than 10 leaders in tech

The Silicon Valley culture of interns is unlike the Devil Wears Prada, fetching-coffee type of industry jobs, or the kinds of cheap labor positions that are pervasive within Manhattan and Los Angeles’ media-based internships.

Here in San Francisco’s tech industry, companies actively seek interns as potential full-time employees, and not just semester-by-semester rotations of unpaid staff. It’s a competitive market and the statistics of the attendees at Internapalooza are proof. Over half of the interns in attendence major in computer science, and 80% have studied something related to engineering.

Re/code's Kara Swisher telling it like it is

Speakers hit the stage around 7 p.m, giving life advice in an almost believable, I was a kid once too! fashion. Quick words were said about the necessity of figuring out the rest of their lives. These pieces of advice must have seemed daunting and unreachable coming from the leaders who have already made achievements in technology.

For the many interns looking to break into Silicon Valley, their personal stories were a little more raw.

Cori Shearer, Intern at Pandora

Hearing about Internapalooza from a Bay Area interns group on Facebook, Cori Shearer attended, wanting to be inspired.

“I’m always on the hustle and grind, so sometimes I need events like this to reinvigorate my energy and to remind myself why I’m here in the first place,” says Shearer.

An intern at Pandora, Shearer works in sales technology and on building ad products.

She is also quick to discuss the need for more diversity in tech—noting that many startup’s lack of gender and racial variety occurs when founders look only towards their friends to build their company.

“You need to be in business with people who aren’t like you, and take risks to start your own company. As a female minority, I really want to do something innovative and helpful in the future,” says Shearer.

The Pandora intern hopes to see more people of color on stage at events like Internapalooza.

“Not seeing people on stage that looks like you has an effect because you want to be able to look up to someone,” says Shearer. “This affects future generations, but I am hopeful for change.”

Brian Clanton, Intern at Zynga

Developer Brian Clanton is a first-time intern at Zynga, and hopes one day to become a development lead.

Clanton says he finds it difficult to set himself apart from other interns in Silicon Valley’s ultra-competitive race towards tech employment. This feeling is made all too real while standing amongst the hundreds of interns gathered in the venue.

“In order to set myself apart I need to do well in school, gain lots of work experience, and just work on different projects,” says Clanton.

We awkwardly shuffle amongst groups of interns and gawk at the sheer number of people in attendance. I ask him about the fanaticism surrounding Silicon Valley. What makes the tech industry such an appealing place to work?

“Kids want to work in Silicon Valley because there’s an image projected out there that it’s a lot of fun, and that all of these companies have great working environments. They have hammocks! It appeals to a younger generation,” says Clanton.

Meron Foster, Intern at Captûre Wines

Meron Foster says that she wants to pursue technology because that’s where the future lies. An intern at Captûre Wines, Foster works in sales and events, but not being a technically-inclined person often leaves her feeling left out of the tech bubble.

“It’s tough to find jobs in Silicon Valley. It’s a tight-knit circle, and if you’re not ‘a techie’, it’s intimidating to break into that culture. But I’m good at sales and marketing. It’s just hard to portray that to the tech industry without any tech skills,” says Foster.

Like Shearer, Foster wants to see more people of color working in tech. Although the hundreds of interns at Internapalooza are diverse in gender and ethnicity, the leaders of tech companies often are not.

“Events like this have a lot of young people of color here. Tech has lots of folks of Asian descent, but that’s still a specific color that tech indulges in. This will change with time. There are so many different people, and tech is not closed off to us,” says Foster.

Bay Area interns gathered together

As I leave the venue, the doorman tells me more than 60 interns who could not initially enter waited throughout the night to get inside. With such overwhelming interest, the tech industry is clearly not hurting for qualified candidates. The draw of Silicon Valley for these interns may be as superficial as hammocks and nap pods, or perhaps it's the in desire for inclusion and for more diverse representation. 

The students at Internapalooza overall were intelligent, driven, and hopeful for positive change.  We are in good hands. 

Categories: Technology

Amazon Web Services: It's Big, Getting Bigger And Not Slowing Down

Fri, 2014-07-25 17:22

Amazon Web Services is already the 800-pound gorilla in cloud. It offers five times the utilized compute capacity of its next 14 competitors combined and is arguably the fastest-growing software business in history. According to Amazon CTO Werner Vogels, however, this isn't nearly ambitious enough. AWS aims to become an 800,000-pound gorilla. 

That's because Amazon isn't in the business of "infrastructure as a service," as the process of setting data services such as storage and computation is dubbed in a jargony way. According to Vogels, Amazon is in "the business of pain management for enterprises." And there's a whole lot of pain to manage these days.

Amazon's Dominance Problem

While not a bully, Amazon tends to dominate the markets it gets into. In retail this means that Amazon outsells its nine closest competitors, combined. While we like to fixate on the success of Apple stores, they move just a fraction of the product Amazon sells, according to data from Internet Retailer:

See also: Google's Secret Weapon Against Amazon: Blisteringly Fast Networks

Amazon's retail business generates roughly $70 billion in revenues. In an interview with Recode, Vogels insisted that Amazon has every intention of making AWS as big or bigger than its retail operations:

This is a business that will be as big as our retail businesses if not bigger.… It took us six years, or until 2012, to get to 1 trillion objects stored. Then it took us one more year to get to 2 trillion. So that’s an indication of the speed of growth. To my eyes, that it only took a year to get to 2 trillion, it looks like the onset of a hockey stick.

In other words, that huge delta between AWS and its cloud rivals? Amazon expects it to get even bigger.

Competitors? What Competitors?

When asked about competitors, Vogels was quick to assert that Amazon doesn't think about what other cloud providers are doing except "when we want to understand why someone might want to choose something other than AWS."

Let's assume he's telling the truth, and the company is completely customer-centric, and not too bothered by what Microsoft or Google might be up to (which might not be wise, as I've argued here and here). 

See also: What Microsoft's Fiercest Critics Forget: Azure

The reality, however, is that AWS is a bigger threat by far to established software companies than to cloudy new providers. As Credit Suisse IT executive Zohar Melamed states it:

In other words, Amazon's rise, as troubling as it may be to its cloud competitors, spells the end of an enterprise software era. That's got to keep the Oracles of the world up at night.

Lock-in Rising?

So competitors should be worried, but what about customers? With so much of modern workloads running on AWS, do enterprises risk locking themselves into the next Microsoft?

Definitely maybe.

Vogels, of course, says no way:

[Amazon has] worked really hard at not locking our customers in.... There’s no lock-in. Many of our services are really accessible from standard protocols. I’ve never gotten any feedback from our customers saying “please don’t build this.” They all say “please build more....” It’s the same story around standardization. I’ve yet to have a customer say they’re not going to use our stuff because it’s not standardized.

Yet according to one AWS partner, Eucalyptus CEO Marten Mickos, the only real way to avoid lock-in is through standardized open source software. As Mickos writes, "What to a customer first looked like an exciting new piece of software—easy to try, no strings attached—soon infests the organization and isn’t quite as easy to remove." So, he suggests, "By using industry-standard open source software products, you reduce your lock-in down to an absolute minimum."

AWS runs on a lot of open-source software, of course, but it's not open source itself. While I doubt AWS spends any time trying to find ways to lock its customers in, the reality is that many will be.

Not because the code is closed so much as because we keep wanting to build more and more within AWS, just as we used to want to build everything with the Microsoft stack. In sum, while one day we may regret our new Amazon overlord, it seems we're currently all too content to push as much of our IT onto Vogel's shoulders as possible.

Lead image of Amazon CTO Werner Vogels by Flickr user The Next Web Photos, CC 2.0

Categories: Technology

StackOverflow Readers Are Not Your Average Web Developers

Fri, 2014-07-25 15:31

We knew StackOverflow was different. Turns out it's, well, really different.

The technical Q&A site looks like your standard Web developer hangout. But according to new data from IEEE Spectrum, its community has some unusual technical tastes. For instance, its readers evince a serious interest in the niche-y area of embedded hardware development—that is, programmable systems that typically live inside other gadgets and don't expose a user interface to the average person.

On the other hand, this data doesn't necessarily mean researchers have uncovered unexpected pockets of embedded or enterprise popularity, Maybe StackOverflow's community preferences is simply telling us how poorly documented these technologies are—and how the right online forum can self-organize to meet the needs of developers who have to work with them.

Correlating Online Technical Communities

In response to IEEE Spectrum's new programming language popularity analysis tool, Redmonk analyst Donnie Berkholz set out to try to uncover "commonalities and communities across all of [different] sources" so as to glean "insight into what technologies developers care about and use, and which provide mainly reinforcement of others."

So, when comparing the popularity of programming languages as measured by jobs vs. which ones get discussed on social media and open-source code hubs, the top-10 programming languages look like this:

Source: IEEE Spectrum

Some correlations he found make intuitive sense.

For example, there is an exceptionally strong correlation between Twitter conversation and Google trends. As he puts it, "people talking about programming languages in real-time chat tend to also search for what they’re talking about."

Berkholz also uncovered very strong correlations (above 0.85) between Google Trends and search; programming language interest across different job sites like Dice and CareerBuilder; Reddit and Google Trends (developers look for information about current topics on different sites); and GitHub created and StackOverflow questions (a correlation of open-source usage and broader conversation among forward-leaning communities). 

Others correlate more weakly between sources—like HackerNews with most everything else.

But StackOverflow stands out.

StackOverflow Developers: A Breed Apart?

In fact, StackOverflow developers stand alone. Completely alone, it would seem from Berkholz's analysis. As he notes:

The weakest correlations were between StackOverflow views and almost everything else. It’s shocking how different the visitors to StackOverflow seem from every other data source.

Here are the top-10 programming languages on StackOverflow in terms of what readers actually read:

Source: IEEE Spectrum

These results differ markedly from all other sources. As Berkholz highlights:

Three of the top 5 are hardware (Arduino, VHDL, Verilog), supporting a strong audience of embedded developers. Outside of StackOverflow views, these languages are nonexistent in the top 10 with only two exceptions: Arduino is #7 on Reddit and VHDL is #8 in IEEE Xplor. That paints a very clear contrast between this group and everyone else, and perhaps a unique source of data about trends in embedded development. Enterprise stalwarts are also commonplace, such as Visual Basic, Cobol, Apex (Salesforce.com’s language), and ABAP (SAP’s language).

This could suggest that StackOverflow is a leading indicator of hot new technologies. For example, the hardware bent to its audience might point to rising interest in the Internet of Things, which is going to be built on top of a whole lot of, well, embedded hardware systems.

Or, frankly, it could just mean that StackOverflow does a particularly good job of providing a home to smaller communities of embedded and enterprise developers that can't get good documentation from Salesforce.com. 

I mean, really, who wants to hang out in IBM's Cobol Café?

But Who Are These People?

While we don't have data from 2013 or 2014, in December 2011 someone took a survey of 2,532 StackOverflow users. A significant chunk of StackOverflow users come from the U.S., with the largest percentage (12%) in California and the second largest (8.4%) in New York, with a majority (53%) aged 25-34 and 68% having at least 6 years of IT/programming experience.

Not particularly surprising.

What is surprising, given the IEEE Spectrum data, is that a whopping 40% describe themselves as web application developers while only 4.3% are embedded application developers. Most are building enterprise applications (32%) or web platforms (33%), but the languages they indicate they know differ from the languages they view on StackOverflow:

Source: StackOverflow Annual Survey, 2011.

This jibes with the enterprise developer finding in the IEEE Spectrum data. It's still hard to see the embedded hardware developer in these numbers—though not so hard to uncover the enterprise developer.

This becomes more pronounced if we only look at StackOverflow users who answer questions (and not necessarily those that read the answers):

Source: IEEE Spectrum

In short, there's a difference between those that answer questions and those that merely lurk. For example, the top 20 most active StackOverflow participants have little to do with embedded engineering, as this data visualization shows. (Click through to see what each works on.)

StackOverflow Is Unique

So while StackOverflow has its share of mainstream Java and JavaScript folks answering questions, what many people really find useful are its sub-communities for embedded programming and enterprise development that aren't really replicated anywhere else, as Berkholz posits. 

Such technologies don't have great documentation within their home communities (e.g., Salesforce.com's Apex language), but StackOverflow has become the go-to home-away-from-home community for these embedded and enterprise technologies.

There are far more questions tagged "Java" (625,000+), for example, than for Arduino (12,000+), but according to the IEEE Spectrum data there's way more reader interest in the latter than the former. The IEEE Spectrum approach measures both the number of questions posted mentioning each language in 2013 and the amount of attention paid to those questions. In StackOverflow's world, people pay far more interest to embedded and enterprise than general Web development, even though its user base has historically skewed web developer.

A different breed, indeed. Or, quite possibly, an indication of mainstream enterprise and web developers looking beyond "mainstream" to tap into the Internet of Things applications or other modern applications?

Lead image by Flickr user Alexandre Dulaunoy, CC 2.0

Categories: Technology