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Did New Year’s Eve Well-Wishers Crash Twitter? [UPDATED]

Posted by eXactBot Hosting | News | Saturday 31 December 2011 4:58 pm

There were reports of widespread outages of Twitter’s main Web site Saturday, with speculation centering on the problems stemming from a flood of New Year’s greetings.

We asked Twitter for comment and will update as soon as we hear back. “Our engineers have identified the issue and Twitter is now almost fully recovered,” Twitter spokesperson Carolyn Penner said in an email at 4:30 p.m. ET Saturday.

By 2:50 p.m. ET, MSNBC was reporting that the site was “slowly coming back online” and there seemed to be few problems with accessing the site and posting messages by 4:15 p.m. ET. The only official indication from Twitter that something was amiss came Saturday morning, when the company posted “Users may currently be experiencing some site issues; our engineers are working on resolving this issue” on its status microblog.

If the site goes down again — particularly as you hope to send out your New Year’s tweets as the calendar turns in your part of the world — try using an app or the mobile site. Some users reported success posting messages using clients like HootSuite, TweetCaster and Twitter’s own TweetDeck during the earlier outage.

Facebook hands out White Hat debit cards to hackers

Posted by eXactBot Hosting | News | Saturday 31 December 2011 12:54 pm

This is the Visa debit card Facebook is giving to some security researchers for reporting bugs.

This is the Visa debit card Facebook is giving to some security researchers for reporting bugs.


A few companies pay money to bug hunters. But Facebook is giving out something more unique than just a check. Some security researchers are getting a customized “White Hat Bug Bounty Program” Visa debit card.

The researchers, who can make thousands of dollars for reporting just one security hole on the social-networking site, can use the card to make purchases, just like a credit card, or create a PIN and take money out of an ATM. As the researchers find more bugs, Facebook can add more money to the account.

Facebook wanted to do something special for the people who are helping the company shore up its software and keep hackers and malware out.

“Researchers who find bugs and security improvements are rare, and we value them and have to find ways to reward them,” Ryan McGeehan, manager of Facebook’s security response team, told CNET in a recent interview. “Having this exclusive black card is another way to recognize them. They can show up at a conference and show this card and say ‘I did special work for Facebook.'”

Besides holding cash value, the White Hat card may proffer other advantages. “We might make it a pass to get into a party,” for instance, McGeehan said. “We’re trying to be creative.”

Facebook launched its bug bounty program in July, following in the steps of Mozilla and Google. The minimum a researcher can make for reporting a bug that is eventually confirmed is $500, and there is no maximum. Researchers have to follow Facebook’s Responsible Disclosure Policy and not go public with the vulnerability information until the hole has been fixed.

The most Facebook has paid out for one bug report is $5,000, and it has done that several times, according to McGeehan. Payments have been made to 81 researchers, he said.

Recently, “someone came to us with a bounty-worthy ticket and they said they didn’t want the bounty,” he said. Instead, the researcher wanted the money–$2,500–to go to a charity and for Facebook to match it. Facebook agreed, McGeehan said.

Brian Krebs, who first wrote about the White Hat Visa, reports that recipients have included Szymon Gruszecki of Poland and Neal Poole, a junior at Brown University who will be an intern at Facebook next summer.

And Charlie Miller, a researcher at Accuvant better known for finding holes in iOS 5 and Safari than Facebook, also has received a White Hat card. “Facebook whitehat card not as prestigious as the SVC card, but very cool 😉 Fun way to implement no more free bugs,” he tweeted.

Facebook has plans to leverage the knowledge and skills of the researchers beyond just providing the bug bounty incentive.

“Whenever possible we’re going to try to load-in White Hat researchers into products early–as soon as (they are) in production,” McGeehan said. Thus Facebook “will get an early warning on anything they find.”

Chicago restaurants stop taking cell phone orders

Posted by eXactBot Hosting | News | Saturday 31 December 2011 4:54 am

You might think possession of a cell phone makes you more dynamic, more modern, more attractive to everyone around.

However, some restaurants in Chicago are now coming to believe that it merely signifies you’re a robber.

As CBS Chicago communicates it, so many delivery drivers have been robbed by cell phone orderers in certain parts of Chicago that some restaurants are reportedly now only prepared to deliver to landline possessors.

Chinatown and Hyde Park are the two areas where cell phone miscreants appear to have had their pizza and eaten it.

It seems to have become such a problem that the local police had to issue a warning to all business owners, complete with certain cell phone numbers that have already been involved in such incidents.

Michael Bjordal, owner of Leona’s restaurant in Hyde Park, told CBS, “I don’t want to retire from this business and have a dead delivery driver on my conscience.”

He is not one, though, who has exercised a total ban on cell phone orders, preferring to use his common sense.

It’s hard, though, to believe that common sense will be enough in every instance. Worse, in difficult recessionary times, can restaurants really turn away every cell phone order?

It’s not as if landlines are terribly common. Over the last 10 years, the landline business has seen a steady decline.

Still, one wonders whether those who order by cell phone offer specific home addresses or merely street corners. Perhaps it’s the location of the intended delivery that is more important that the telephonic method that’s used to make the order.

Perhaps, even if the location is a real address, restaurant owners will somehow need to have a sense of who lives there–if anyone lives there at all.

Automatic File Conversions and More with Dropbox Automator

Posted by eXactBot Hosting | News | Saturday 31 December 2011 12:44 am

dropbox150.jpgComputers keep getting closer and closer to making people obsolete. The latest step towards human obsolescence? Dropbox Automator, a Web-based tool for setting up actions that happen as soon as you put a file in a Dropbox folder. It’s not flawless just yet, but it might provide a useful service for many Dropbox users.

The service is powered by Wappwolf, an online “action store” that features a set of Web actions that can process files. For example, it has ready made actions to encrypt and decrypt files, extract text from PDFs, convert documents to PDF, generate QR codes and manipulate images.

How To Use Google+

Posted by eXactBot Hosting | News | Friday 30 December 2011 4:44 pm

Redux2011.pngEditor’s note: This story is part of a series we call Redux, where we’re re-publishing some of our best posts of 2011. As we look back at the year – and ahead to what next year holds – we think these are the stories that deserve a second glance. It’s not just a best-of list, it’s also a collection of posts that examine the fundamental issues that continue to shape the Web. We hope you enjoy reading them again and we look forward to bringing you more Web products and trends analysis in 2012. Happy holidays from Team ReadWriteWeb!

Create Your Circles

Imagine the ability to break down Facebook into its various constituent parts and keep them separate from each other as opposed to one giant feed. That is what Google has done with Plus. There is one main stream where all your friends’ updates show up, then you have the option to see updates from only certain groups like “Work,” “Friends” or “Family.” This is the essence of Circles.

From the initial interface, you will see four buttons – Home, Photos, Profile and Circles.


The first thing you are going to want to do is set up your circles. Click on the tab and it will bring you to a interface where all of your contacts in Gmail (not just Gmail addresses, but all of your contacts) are listed in a panel on top of the screen. Below is a panel that has your various circles. To add a contact to a circle, drag from the top of the list to the appropriate group. Contacts can be added to multiple circles.


One of the initial problems I had from the circles interface was that I added a couple of “Friends” into my “Work” circle and could not figure out how to get them out. You can do this from the user streams by hovering over the person’s name and hovering over “Add to circles” and clicking the appropriate boxes. Yet, from the circles interface, that was not readily apparent. To take people out of a circle, hover above the circle, grab their icon and drag it back into the people plane.

One of the great differentiators between Twitter and Facebook is the “unbalanced” or “balanced” follow. Facebook was initially a two-way follow paradigm – I friend you, you friend me and we see each other’s updates. This has been changed with the ability to “like” groups, brands and pages without them following you back. Twitter has always been a one-way follow – I follow you and you do not necessarily have to follow me back.

This line has been blurred in circles. If a person is in your contacts, they can be added to a circle and will get a notification that has happend (but not what circle they have actually been added to). There is also a “follow” circle. Just like Twitter, you can follow people and see their updates without them having to follow you back. As your circles evolve this could allow to track different interests, like Twitter lists.


The Stream and “Bumping”

Once you have set up your circles, go back to the Home screen to see the results. Below the profile picture you will see the choices of stream. You can view your entire stream at once (à la Facebook) or by particular circle.


There are two other options below your circles – Incoming and Notifications. Clicking incoming will bring you to messages that have been sent by people outside of your circles. Notifications will show you when people in your circles have commented on something you have posted, or something you have commented on.

Below the circles and notifications there is a tab dubbed “Sparks.” More on that below.

One of the killer features of Gmail, or any Google product, is Chat. It has made its way into Plus and sits in the familiar left-hand, bottom-right portion of the screen that it is found in Gmail. Users with a lot of Circle and Chat contacts will like the ability to enable chat for particular groups. Want to surface friends and family but not acquaintances? Plus will let you do that.

If you are using Plus in a Chrome browser, desktop notifications do not pop up when someone sends you a message like it would in Gmail.

Posting a status update in Plus is not like sending a Tweet or updating Facebook. The core functions of an update are present – photos, links, video and location – but when you hit “share” it doesn’t automatically post your message to everybody in your circles. You have the option to decide which circles your update is posted to, from individual groups to all circles, to extended circles, or just a single person.


An interesting feature in the user stream is that conversations will surface back to the top of the feed when subsequent comments are made on a thread. This, according to Google developer Jean-Baptiste Queru, is called “bumping.” Google Buzz has this same capability and it was also a feature of FriendFeed.


Photos in Plus are relatively self-explanatory. Users can update photos from their computers or from their phones, see photos that people in their circles have uploaded. With the Android app, there is a way to upload any photo that you take with your phone straight to Plus, an interesting if slightly disconcerting feature.

When you add a photo, it will prompt you to create an album. Once that album is created it will ask which of your circles you would like to share it with. This is a prime differentiator from Facebook where all of your photos are visible to all of your friends by default (you can change who can view certain photos in Facebook preferences). You can also pick an individual to share photos with instead of an entire circle.

Photo uploading is easy within Plus. Just like adding a picture or an attachment to a Gmail document, you can drag-and-drop from your desktop or click the on the upload button and browse your computer for pictures.


Users can also add photos by posting them in status updates or by uploading them through the Profile tab.


If you use any Google products and have a Google account, you have a Google Profile. Profiles are unknown to most of the Internet because, until now, it was relatively useless to anyone but Google.

Your Google Profile is now the hub of you Plus experience, the backbone that everything else is built upon. There are six tabs in your profile page – posts, about, photos, videos, +1s and Buzz.


A significant change to your profile page is that there is now a location where your +1s live. Until now, when you clicked +1 on content on the Web, nothing happened. The information was sent to Google and integrated into some type of esoteric search algorithm. Users can now see what people have +1ed through their Google Profile. Unlike the Facebook share/like/recommend buttons, it does not go straight into your stream but rather to the profile page.

Sparks and Hangouts

Hangouts is a new feature rolled out with Plus. Essentially it is an area where your circles or a select group of friends can video chat all on one screen. To start a Hangout, go to the “Welcome” button in the home tab. It will prompt you to start a hangout and invite individuals or entire circles. Up to 10 people can be in a hangout at once and it will be seen in that circle or users’ stream.


Sparks is the part of Plus where you can find content on the Web that you are interested in. In the “Field Trial” version of Plus, it looks like Sparks is a randomized version of content and news generated through Google News. Sparks can be a dashboard for things you are interested in on the Web. When you do a search in Sparks, it will predict what you are searching for with a drop down menu (like old Google search, not quite like Google Instant). You can pin particular topics you search for to the Sparks dashboard for quick access.

You can share articles found in Sparks with a share button on the bottom of every article that surfaces in a search. Like everything else in Plus, it can be shared with a specific person, circle, group of circles or the general public.

For more information, check the videos that Google made explaining Plus and all of its aspects — Circles, Hangouts and Sparks.

FCC to investigate Verizon’s $2 convenience fee

Posted by eXactBot Hosting | News | Friday 30 December 2011 12:40 pm

Verizon Wireless’s new $2 “convenience fee” for paying a bill online has outraged consumers, and today the Federal Communications Commissions said it will look into the fee.

“On behalf of American consumers, we’re concerned about Verizon’s actions and are looking into the matter,” the FCC said in its statement.

The FCC isn’t providing further information about its investigation. The New York Times was the first to report the FCC’s statement.

Verizon confirmed on Thursday that beginning January 15, it will charge customers $2 to pay their bills online using the one-time Web payment option on its Web site and in its mobile app. Customers will also be charged for making a payment by phone. The company said the fee will not be charged to customers who sign up for automatic bill payment using their credit cards, nor will it apply to customers who pay via electronic or physical checks.

The company did not offer much of an explanation for why it needs to charge this fee. In a statement sent to CNET on Friday, Verizon said that “the fee will help allow us to continue to support these single bill payment options in these channels and is designed to address costs incurred by us for only those customers who choose to make single bill payments in alternate payment channels (online, mobile, telephone).”

In other words, Verizon is being charged to clear payments via phone or online and it’s passing those fees onto customers.

Spokeswoman Brenda Raney also stressed that there are several ways for customers to pay their bills and avoid paying the fee.

Still, the news of the change has outraged many Verizon Wireless customers, many of whom feel they pay enough already for Verizon’s service. In the more than 240 comments left following CNET’s story reporting the news of this charge, one reader wrote:

“Yet another example of the 1 percent sticking it to the 99 percent.”

And on the social-networking site Twitter, there were many people expressing their annoyance at the new charge.

mpagey mpagey

@VerizonSupport @VZWnews $2.00 “convenience” fee for paying online?? No thanks, Verizon. Adios. I am switching to a different phone company.

Some people on Twitter suggested making payments to Verizon as inconvenient as possible for the company:

kistari Kathy Kozakiewicz

Instead of paying Verizon’s $2 convenience fee for credit card payment, walk into the store pay. Give them a little inconvenience.

So far, Verizon seems to be sticking to its guns regarding the fee despite the backlash. But it’s possible that as the January 15 date approaches and now as the FCC looks into the matter, that the company may retract this fee. That’s what happened to Bank of America earlier this year. The company was going to charge a $5 fee to customers who use their debit card to buy things. After outraged customers voiced their opinions loudly online, the company backtracked.

Still, other companies charge fees for processing online transactions. For example, the loan company Sallie Mae charges a fee for customers to pay their bill online. And several power utilities throughout the country also charge fees for processing online transactions.

For Verizon, the outcry comes at a time when the company has been experiencing frequent outages on its 4G LTE wireless network. Three times in the past month, the company has experienced nationwide outages of the data network.

What’s more Verizon is also one of the most expensive wireless service providers in the country, so the added fee to customers who already pay more for their wireless service than subscribers for other wireless carriers, almost seems offensive to some wireless customers.

“If you stop and think about it, it’s absurd that you have to pay ANYTHING to settle your account with a provider of anything,” said real_kieron, a CNET reader who posted a comment following the news of Verizon’s new fee. “I mean, really? I pay for the ‘service,’…I get an invoice monthly for the ‘service,’ then I have to pay the provider to zero my account balance…really, it’s ludicrous, absurd, totally whacked out, etc.”

Why we need Windows Phone 7

Posted by eXactBot Hosting | News | Friday 30 December 2011 4:40 am

Give us more, Microsoft, because we need it.

For a slow holiday news week, there’s been plenty of chatter over the last few days about
Windows Phone 7.

It all started Tuesday when several tech blogs posted editorials on why Microsoft’s operating system was failing, a fact that Mobile Burn’s Dan Seifert wryly pointed out on Twitter. And then, almost as if in response, a leaked memo on WMPoweruser spilled details on the next software update, the Windows Phone Marketplace hit the 50,000-app mark, and WinSupersite reported that ATT will be the first carrier to offer LTE-enabled Windows Phone 7 devices.

I’ll spare you another musing on why I think Microsoft’s operating system is failing (though I think “flailing” is better word), since I doubt that I’d have anything new to add to the discussion. By all means, stronger carrier support, more devices and apps, and faster software updates are crucial to Windows Phone 7’s success. That’s exactly why I hope the above rumors are true. And if you care about the future of smartphones, you should too.

Though I played with Windows Phone 7 quite a bit shortly after the first handsets were introduced in October, 2010, I used an HTC HD7 as my primary phone for a few months last autumn to really get to know the OS. To honestly see its merits and drawbacks, I couldn’t view it through
iPhone or
Android-tinted glasses. And, frankly, I quickly understood why it was winning a high user satisfaction rating.

To me, Windows Phone 7 offers the best elements of both iOS and Android. The hub-based interface is clean, customizable, and completely original (I really love the notifications); you can choose from more than one handset design; updates arrive directly from Microsoft (though some also consider that a liability); there’s real multi-tasking and great integration with apps (even if there aren’t many of them), and I never had to hard reset a phone. In many ways, it’s a great middle ground.

That’s why we need a third viable smartphone OS, despite what warring Android and iOS fanboys might argue. At the moment, RIM certainly isn’t it up to the task and HP’s sad decision to pull the plug on WebOS has left with one less viable player. So I really hope that Microsoft can step up its WP7 game and prod the iOS and Android teams to do better. Do you really think Apple and Google would continue to be as innovative if the other wasn’t around? Of course not, which is why we need strong competition to continue.

Like I’ve said before, we shouldn’t want to live in a world with no choice in smartphones. Having just one OS would abysmal, but even two isn’t enough. So in addition to actually trying to use the OS for once, I hope that knee-jerk Windows Phone 7 detractors–just wait for the comments on this blog to find them–think twice before denouncing the OS as dead and dancing on its grave. Choice is fun. No choice is boring.

Yeah, we’ve heard a few times now that Windows the glory days of Windows Phone 7’s success are just around corner. I pretty much said as much in my 2012 CES preview, and I said it a few times last year like when Nokia announced its Microsoft partnership. Maybe it won’t come at all, but with Nokia designs, LTE phones, more apps, and bigger updates coming down the road, anything is possible.

2011: The Year the Free Ride Died

Posted by eXactBot Hosting | News | Friday 30 December 2011 12:32 am

Don’t Be a Free User

Services and software that has no revenue model at all makes me nervous as a user. The problem isn’t unique to Web services. I’ve watched well-supported FOSS projects grow and prosper (Firefox, Linux, Hadoop, Apache, etc.) while hobby projects that I’ve taken a liking to eventually sputter and fail because the lead (usually only) developer or developers couldn’t swing development in addition to a full-time job.

For mature, well-supported and innovative services, you need money. What’s more, you need a direct correlation between satisfied users and income. Ad revenue doesn’t cut it.

I particularly liked the post by Maciej Ceglowski on the Pinboard blog asking users to join “the anti-free-software movement.” The idea? “If every additional user is putting money in the developers’ pockets, then you’re less likely to see the site disappear overnight.”

Ah, but what about sites that don’t have a business model or don’t provide paid accounts? Ceglowski says “Yell at the developers! Explain that you are tired of good projects folding and are willing to pay cash American dollar to prevent that from happening.”

I also like the Minimal Mac idea of just mailing money to a service to force services to allow users to pay directly.

Years ago, I was an enthusiastic user of Delicious (back when it was “del.icio.us”). If the developers had asked for a monthly or yearly fee, I’d have happily paid up. Instead, it went over to Yahoo and … well, very little happened. Despite all the noises Yahoo emitted after the announcement, very little actually happened with Delicious and eventually, Yahoo decided they really didn’t want it so badly after all.

As our own Marshall Kirkpatrick wrote on the relaunch under new management, “the best parts of the old site have been lost… maybe we should all just go grunt and Like things on Facebook after all.”

You’re the Product

Marshall was being facetious, of course. Facebook is the last site that users can depend on. Facebook has only one consistent feature that its customers can depend on, and that’s its users.

Oh, wait. You didn’t really think that you were Facebook’s customer base, right? When it comes to Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Tumblr and others you’re the product.

Over on Facebook’s “about” page for advertising the company says “the people who built Facebook wanted it to be free for everyone. It now costs over a billion dollars a year to run Facebook, and delivering ads is how Facebook pays for this.” That billion dollars a year isn’t coming from its users.

Facebook doesn’t exist to connect its users to one another, Facebook exists to connect users with advertisers. You’re not getting a free ride on Facebook, you’re paying for it by seeing a barrage of targeted ads. You’re paying for it by letting Facebook mine your personal information to sell data to marketers.

That may be OK, it’s certainly not a new concept. You don’t get TV shows for free, or radio programs or much else. The big difference between Web services like Facebook and other ad-supported media is that you’re making an investment in Web services that’s hard to move to another service.

I’m not the first person to make that observation, but this seems to be the year that users are finally starting to realize it en masse. Even my friends outside of the tech industry have started to remark on frustrations with Facebook, and taken note of why they have no control.

Taking Action

Realizing and acting are two different things, of course. One of the final straws, for me, was the gmail redesign this Fall. I switched to Gmail years ago because it was so much easier than managing my own mail server. Not to mention, the Webmail interface was better and more convenient than Thunderbird or Mutt.

Little by little, Gmail is less appealing to me. So I’ve resolved to make the switch in 2012 to hosting my own mail and setting up my own Webmail. And I’ll continue looking for and supporting services that I find useful, like Dropbox, Evernote and Instapaper. All of which I pay for now. If a service doesn’t have a way for me to support it directly, and isn’t depending on my support, I’m going to be very wary of depending on it. I’d recommend you do the same.

Linux Controversies of 2011: Does Richard Stallman Still Matter?

Posted by eXactBot Hosting | News | Thursday 29 December 2011 10:36 pm


From the ‘Free as in Freedom’ files:

One of controversies that re-emerged (if it in fact had ever actually sub-merged) in 2011, is the relevance of Richard Stallman (RMS), the Father of Free Software.

RMS was the key spark that ignited the fantastic world of FOSS that we enjoy today, he is the man behind the GPL and GNU. His contributions to the early days of Free and Open Source Software are well known and (hopefully) appreciated as well.

However there also has long been a contingent that doesn’t agree with RMS or his views. In 2011, they all rose to the surface lambasting him over his two sentence comment about the untimely passing of the late founder of Apple, Steve Jobs.

The relevancy of RMS and his ‘fanatical’ views was questioned in blogs and editorials big and small, anchored on his comments about Job’s demise.

From my own personal perspective, over the course of 2011 I tried at multiple points to see if some of the leaders of the Linux community would similarly say that RMS is no longer relevant.

I asked Jim Zemlin, Executive Director of the Linux Foundation and he wouldn’t say anything negative about RMS. I also asked Jim Whitehurst, CEO of Red Hat and got a similar response. Both men still see RMS as a relevant figure and respect the man.

For the record, so do I.

While RMS can seem abrasive at times, regardless of the year (or decade) he has held true to his beliefs. While some were offended at his Jobs comments, others simply noted that’s just the way RMS is.

RMS remains the pillar of Free Software and its philosophy. Certainly the popularity of BSD and Apache style licenses has somewhat eroded GPL as the be-all-and-end all for FOSS licenses. Yet, GPL still remains a powerful force and regardless of what some stats vendors might tell you, I suspect it will remain a powerful force for years to come – and with it RMS and his views.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist

What Technology Wants: Kevin Kelly’s Theory of Evolution for Technology

Posted by eXactBot Hosting | News | Thursday 29 December 2011 4:32 pm

Redux2011.pngEditor’s note: This story is part of a series we call Redux, where we’re re-publishing some of our best posts of 2011. As we look back at the year – and ahead to what next year holds – we think these are the stories that deserve a second glance. It’s not just a best-of list, it’s also a collection of posts that examine the fundamental issues that continue to shape the Web. We hope you enjoy reading them again and we look forward to bringing you more Web products and trends analysis in 2012. Happy holidays from Team ReadWriteWeb!

The book literally starts from The Big Bang, proceeds through 4 billion years of our planet’s evolution, and finally looks ahead to how technology will evolve.

The Technium: a Living System of Technology

Key to the book is a new term that Kelly invents: the technium. He spends about 6 pages explaining the term, but at it’s most basic it means a system of technologies. It includes not only what we ordinarily think of as specific technologies (such as cars, radar, computers), but the entire system around technology – culture, art, social institutions, “the extended human” and more.

A key to grokking the technium is that it’s a living system, which evolves in a similar way to humans. On page 45, Kelly explains that “the technium can really only be understood as a type of evolutionary life.” He goes on to suggest that technology evolves in a mix of inevitable and chance ways, just as humans have done. His point being that we can fairly accurately predict the macro evolution of the technium (that computers will eventually acquire a level of intelligence akin to a human, for example), but not the micro details of that evolution.

We’ve been writing about the Internet of Things, when real world objects become connected to the Internet, for the past couple of years on ReadWriteWeb. Kelly’s book reinforces what a profound change in the Web this is. As everyday objects get connected to the Internet, they almost become ‘alive’ to us. They might not be able to think for themselves, yet, but billions of ‘things’ in the world will be able to sense and compute information about the world.

Living With Technology’s Increasing Power

On page 254, Kelly writes that “technologies are nearly living things.” So we will need to adjust to this and figure out how best to utilize – and live with – technologies. Kelly lists five “proactions” that humanity should take to assess and engage with technologies:

  1. Anticipation
  2. Continual Assessment
  3. Prioritization of Risks, Including Natural Ones
  4. Rapid Correction of Harm
  5. Not Prohibition but Redirection

At one point he compares technologies to children. As parents we aim to guide our children to reach their potential and contribute something to the world. “We can’t really change the nature of our children,” Kelly writes on page 257, “but we can steer them to tasks and duties that match their talents.” Likewise, he suggests, we can guide and steer technology.

Was The Unibomber Right?

Kelly spends a significant part of the book exploring the moral and ethical issues around an ever more powerful technium. Is it wise for humanity to continue to let technologies evolve, until the technium is more intelligent than humanity?

A whole chapter is devoted to the theories of the infamous Unibomber, Ted Kaczynski. Kaczynski wrote a manifesto about destroying modern technology before it destroys us. He killed 3 people with mail bombs, while attempting to carry out his manifesto. Kelly at first defends Kaczynski’s theories, but he ends the chapter by attacking him on a moral level. Kelly writes (page 212-213):

“But despite the reality of technology’s faults, the Unibomber is wrong to want to exterminate it, for many reasons, not the least of which is that the machine of civilization offers us more actual freedoms than the alternative […] so far the gains from this ever-enlarging technium outweigh the alternative of no machine at all.”

The Optimistic View of Technology

Ultimately ‘What technology Wants’ is an uplifting and optimistic book about the future of technology. It contrasts in many ways to another thought-provoking technology book, which I read and reviewed a year ago: You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto; by Jaron Lanier. In that book, Lanier argued that technology reduces our humanity – for example by promoting the ‘hive mind’ over individual expression. Interestingly, Lanier is quoted on the jacket of Kelly’s book. He recommends you read this book, “even though I profoundly disagree with aspects of it.”

It’s always beneficial to have skeptics about technology, so there’s a place for Lanier’s arguments. Both of Lanier’s and Kelly’s books are stimulating and well worth reading. However, I find myself much more swayed by Kelly’s theories. Whereas Lanier dismisses the Internet as meaningless in and of itself, Kelly essentially argues that the technium (of which the Internet is a part) is a hugely important evolving system. It’s as much a living system as humanity is. That, I suspect, is one of the aspects that Lanier would disagree with. But I find Kelly’s theory to be compelling – and helpful as an approach to the increasing power of technology.

The book concludes that technology is ultimately good for humanity. Admittedly that was Kelly’s pre-destined outcome – back in November, 2004, when he began writing the book, he blogged: “I sense that overall, technology is a good thing.” However the end result of his 7 year quest, the book, compellingly makes that case. I think this line near the end of the book sums it up beautifully:

“How can technology make a person better? Only in this way: by providing each person with chances.”

(which incidentally echoes my own thoughts after I read Lanier’s book: “[…] Lanier glosses over the benefits of web 2.0 – that it gives everyone who has a computer (and nowadays a smart phone) a publishing platform with which to explore their creativity and have their say.”)

I gave Kelly’s book 5 out of 5 stars on Goodreads, because ultimately it provides useful advice on how to think about and deal with technology. Perhaps aspects of the book can be challenged on scientific or philosophical terms, as some have argued. But that seems beside the point. I think we’d all agree that technology is evolving incredibly fast. We need to try and understand the changes. We need strategies to get the best out of technology (and, by extension, ourselves). That’s what Kevin Kelly wants; and in my view the book achieves it.

Photo credit: Doc Searls

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