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“Facebook Reader” Is Real, But It’s Not RSS Or A Google Reader Wannabe

Facebook continues the surge… Reader is up next!

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Facebook introduces #Hashtags

Following the lead of the other social media companies such as Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr and Pinterest, Facebook began rolling out hashtags on its site last Wednesday, June 12. With clickable hashtags, users will now be able to see a feed of what other people and pages are saying about a specific topic, thus enabling users a simple way of seeing the bigger picture of what’s happening today.

As Greg Lindley, FB’s Product Manager, writes, “Every day, hundreds of millions of people use Facebook to share their thoughts on big moments happening all around them. Whether it’s talking about a favorite television show, cheering on a hometown sports team or engaging with friends during a breaking news event—people on Facebook connect with their friends about what’s taking place all over the world.”

According to the company’s official press release, hashtags is just one of many features that will be surfacing on the social networking site that is aimed at harvesting some of the interesting discussions people are having about public events, people and topics.

With hashtags, Facebook users will now be able to do the following:

• Search for a specific hashtag from your search bar.
• Click on hashtags that originate on other services, such as Instagram.
• Compose posts directly from the hashtag feed and search results.

For more information, you may visit Facebook’s Help Center.

Source: Facebook

What is PRISM?

Quite recently, there have been news and rumors circulating all over the internet about PRISM. According to articles published by the Washington Post and the Guardian, PRISM is a covert collaboration between the NSA, FBI and the many tech companies we depend on daily. Fancy naming aside, it is actually a real US government program that is said to have started in 2007 to monitor potentially valuable foreign communications that could pass through US servers.

With the help of companies such as Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, AOL, Apple and the like, the US government is able to access tremendous wealth of data and communications that passes through the companies’ servers. These information are then cascaded to the FBI’s Data Intercept Technology Unit which in turn reports to the NSA.

Documents describing the previously undisclosed program, obtained by the Washington Post, show the breadth of U.S. electronic surveillance capabilities in the wake of a widely publicized controversy over warrantless wiretapping of U.S. domestic telephone communications in 2005. See a handful of these documents in the screenshots below:

A slide briefing analysts at the National Security Agency about the program touts its effectiveness and features the logos of the companies involved.

This diagram shows how the bulk of the world’s electronic communications move through companies based in the United States.

The PRISM program collects a wide range of data from the nine companies, although the details vary by provider.

This slide shows when each company joined the program, with Microsoft being the first, on Sept. 11, 2007, and Apple the most recent, in October 2012.

Which means, basically, PRISM has allowed the US government unprecedented access to each and everyone’s personal information for the last six years. That includes chats, emails, pictures, videos and calls. Everything that makes up our online identity.  Scary, isn’t it?

Well, according to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, there is nothing to worry about PRISM. He writes:

The Guardian and The Washington Post articles refer to collection of communications pursuant to Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. They contain numerous inaccuracies.

Section 702 is a provision of FISA that is designed to facilitate the acquisition of foreign intelligence information concerning non-U.S. persons located outside the United States. It cannot be used to intentionally target any U.S. citizen, any other U.S. person, or anyone located within the United States.

Activities authorized by Section 702 are subject to oversight by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the Executive Branch, and Congress. They involve extensive procedures, specifically approved by the court, to ensure that only non-U.S. persons outside the U.S. are targeted, and that minimize the acquisition, retention and dissemination of incidentally acquired information about U.S. persons.

Section 702 was recently reauthorized by Congress after extensive hearings and debate.

Information collected under this program is among the most important and valuable foreign intelligence information we collect, and is used to protect our nation from a wide variety of threats.

The unauthorized disclosure of information about this important and entirely legal program is reprehensible and risks important protections for the security of Americans.

From what he wrote above, Clapper basically assures everyone that the US government’s PRISM program is totally legal and very important to ensure protection of US citizens (and to some degree, the subscribers and users of all the tech companies they have been tapping the last 6 years) from a variety of threats.

Not contented? To further ease the tension caused by the news about PRISM, Apple, Google, Microsoft, and just recently, Facebook, have published their individual albeit seemingly rehearsed press releases regarding the matter. Says Mark Zuckerberg in his personal FB page:

I want to respond personally to the outrageous press reports about PRISM:

Facebook is not and has never been part of any program to give the US or any other government direct access to our servers. We have never received a blanket request or court order from any government agency asking for information or metadata in bulk, like the one Verizon reportedly received. And if we did, we would fight it aggressively. We hadn’t even heard of PRISM before yesterday.

When governments ask Facebook for data, we review each request carefully to make sure they always follow the correct processes and all applicable laws, and then only provide the information if is required by law. We will continue fighting aggressively to keep your information safe and secure.

We strongly encourage all governments to be much more transparent about all programs aimed at keeping the public safe. It’s the only way to protect everyone’s civil liberties and create the safe and free society we all want over the long term.

From all these recent developments, maybe there is just one thing we should take note: the world we live in today has become increasingly connected and social that privacy and security as concepts have evolved and taken a slightly different definition. With the continuous growth and development of computing, internet and telco technologies, it is naive of us to think that the government (and to some extent, other malicious or criminal organizations) cannot and will not access the “personal” and “private” information that we share amongst our friends and the community. Hence, we as citizens of the web should be more responsible and aware of the things that we do, say, hear and share. With the help of today’s technology, the world is more open than ever before, and it is simply up to us if we would not be vigilant and allow other groups or individuals to bypass our personal privacy.

Zynga lays off 520 employees in cost-cutting efforts

Online gaming company Zynga has announced that they will be laying off 520 staffers, or approximately 18% of its total workforce, in an attempt to trim costs and focus on its mobile strategy. According to the company’s press release, the move is expected to save around $80M in employee costs. Offices in New York, Los Angeles, and Dallas will also be closed. The reduction of 520 employess is said to occur across all job divisions and will be completed come August 2013.

In a memo circulated to Zynga employees, CEO and Founder Mark Pincus wrote “None of us ever expected to face a day like today, especially when so much of our culture has been about growth, but I think we all know this is necessary to move forward. The scale that served us so well in building and delivering the leading social gaming service on the Web is now making it hard to successfully lead across mobile and multi-platform, which is where social games are going to be played.”

Pincus further emphasized on the memo the importance of mobile for the company’s success in the future. According to him, “These moves, while hard to face today, represent a proactive commitment to our mission of connecting the world through games. Mobile and touch screens are revolutionizing gaming. Our opportunity is to make mobile gaming truly social by offering people new, fun ways to meet, play and connect. By reducing our cost structure today we will offer our teams the runway they need to take risks and develop these breakthrough new social experiences.”

Together with the massive layoff, Zynga updated its outlook for Q2 of 2013 to a net loss of $28.5M to $39M, with overall active and daily users down by 13% in the same quarter last year.

Bitcoin 101: everything you need to know about Bitcoin

bitcoin_logo_3d_perspective

What are Bitcoins? What’s up with the fuss about them? Will they be replacing real money in the future? Read on to find out.

Background

In 2008, pseudonymous developer Satoshi Nakamoto described Bitcoin (BTC) in a paper that he published as a cryptocurrency running on a peer-to-peer, electronic cash system. Based on an open-source cryptographic protocol, Bitcoin creation and transfer is decentralized and hence, is not managed by any central authority. Each Bitcoin is further subdivided up to eight decimal places, subsequently forming 100M smaller units called satoshis. Processing of transactions is done via servers called Bitcoin miners. These servers run on a peer-to-peer network and confirm transactions through a periodically maintained ledger. Services rendered by miners are compensated through the creation of new Bitcoins after every successful ledger maintenance. The number of new Bitcoins created is halved every 4 years until 2140, the year Bitcoin creation reduces to zero. By that time, the total number of Bitcoins in circulation is at 21M. Although accepted in trade by several merchants all over the world, the Bitcoin as a digital currency is still greatly criticized mainly because of its volatile exchange rate, relatively inflexible supply and minimal use for traditional transactions.

Bitcoin Usage

To start using or mining Bitcoins, you must first get a wallet. The original Bitcoin client is free and open-source, with the current version available in Windows, Mac and Linux. After downloading, simply install the client on your computer. It will then automatically create a wallet for you and start downloading the transaction history. An alternative way to get a wallet is via online services such as Coinbase and MyWallet. Although you wouldn’t need to install anything with this approach, you should be very careful about the password you use and the provider that you will be getting. Once done, you are all set up to receive Bitcoins through your Bitcoin address!

Bitcoin Mining

Bitcoin Mining, as mentioned above, is the process of confirming Bitcoin transactions and providing periodic maintenance of the network’s ledger. When mining, the computer runs a cryptographic hashing function on the block header. Basically, what this means is that the mining software uses a string of numbers to describe the block header depending on the current difficulty target. The difficulty target changes every 2016 blocks. The network tries to change it such that 2016 blocks at the current global network processing power take about 14 days. Different means could be leveraged in Bitcoin mining, starting from the common CPU (Central Processing Unit) and GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) down to the more serious hardware such as FPGAs (Field Programmable Gate Arrays) and ASICs (Application Specific Integrated Circuits). Mining could be done either on your own or as part of a pool. Although ultimately both means will generate you Bitcoins, solo mining will give you large, infrequent payouts while pooled mining gives you small, frequent payouts.

Source: Wikipedia, We Use Coins

Happy 10th birthday, WordPress!

WordPress_10th_Anniv

Ten years ago, WordPress launched its first public release as a spin-off from blogging platform b2/Cafelog. Since then, it has grown to power an astonishing 18% of the world wide web, easily making it the largest Content Management System (CMS) in the world. Today, nearly 70M websites use WordPress. Hundreds of big-name websites such as CNN and The New York Times rely on WordPress.

Started by Matt Mullenweg and Mike Little, WordPress and its parent company Automattic has grown to include thousands of contributors and developers. From being just an easy and free-to-use platform for publishing online content, WordPress now powers full web applications such as shopping cart systems. The large ecosystem built around the platform further provides WordPress the opportunity to cement its place as the platform or operating system for the web.

To celebrate, the WordPress community is conducting several meetup events all over the world. A microsite was also recently launched to commemorate this milestone.

Source: Mashable

Interesting Mobile Usage Facts about the Philippines

Last week, the people from Jana, a company centered on mobile marketing in emerging growth markets, ran a series of weekly surveys of over 3,000 mobile phone users in Bangladesh, India, Indoneisa, Pakistan, Philippines and Vietnam to better understand the countries’ mobile phone usage. The results they came up with are pretty interesting. Here is summary:

  1. In the Philippines, 37.86% have owned a web-enabled mobile phones for 6months or less, 15.87% for 12months, 6.69% for 18months, 17.97% for 2years or more, and 21.61% do not own one.
  2. Approximately 50% of Pinoys use apps on their smartphones multiple times a day, while 21.16% says they do not have apps on their devices. The remaining percentage uses apps on their smartphones sparingly.
  3. Of the 50% Pinoys with apps on their smartphones, games, social media and multimedia apps are the most common.
  4. 57.93% of Filipinos own more than one sim card.
  5. Majority, or 46.85% of Filipinos did not notice any significant improvements in internet speeds on their mobile devices, while 36.9% say speeds increased and 16.25% say speeds decreased.
  6. The primary reasons for choosing a mobile operator in the Philippines are: affordability and popularity.

Source: Jana

The Tumblr Architecture Behind the Yahoo! Acquisition

With the recent acquisition of Tumblr by search giant Yahoo!, we have stumbled upon an interesting article regarding the architecture the folks at Tumblr have put up to keep up with the demand of evolving from its startup roots in 2007 to being one of today’s most popular social networking sites and blogging platforms. What the engineers at Tumblr have to deal with in the past few years are simply amazing. Today, the site handles approximately 500M page views per day, a peak rate of 40k requests per second and 3TB of new data daily.

For more technical details on Tumblr’s architecture, see the summary below:

Stats

  • 500 million page views a day
  • 15B+ page views month
  • ~20 engineers
  • Peak rate of ~40k requests per second
  • 1+ TB/day into Hadoop cluster
  • Many TB/day into MySQL/HBase/Redis/Memcache
  • Growing at 30% a month
  • ~1000 hardware nodes in production
  • Billions of page visits per month per engineer
  • Posts are about 50GB a day. Follower list updates are about 2.7TB a day.
  • Dashboard runs at a million writes a second, 50K reads a second, and it is growing.

Software

  • OS X for development, Linux (CentOS, Scientific) in production
  • Apache
  • PHP, Scala, Ruby
  • Redis, HBase, MySQL
  • Varnish, HA-Proxy, nginx,
  • Memcache, Gearman, Kafka, Kestrel, Finagle
  • Thrift, HTTP
  • Func – a secure, scriptable remote control framework and API
  • Git, Capistrano, Puppet, Jenkins

Hardware

  • 500 web servers
  • 200 database servers (many of these are part of a spare pool we pulled from for failures)
    • 47 pools
    • 30 shards
  • 30 memcache servers
  • 22 redis servers
  • 15 varnish servers
  • 25 haproxy nodes
  • 8 nginx
  • 14 job queue servers (kestrel + gearman)

Source: highscalability.com

Yahoo! acquires Tumblr for $1.1B

Yahoo_Tumblr

After days of speculation, Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer and Tumblr CEO David Karp have officially released statements regarding the widely rumored $1.1B acquisition of Tumblr.

Oddly though, Yahoo! has promised not to screw up the hip social networking and blogging platform. David Karp is to remain CEO and Tumblr will be independently operated as a separate business entity.

Also, Yahoo! believes that the deal offers mutual and unique opportunities for both companies. On one hand, Yahoo! intends to deploy its personalization and search technologies to the Tumblr, and on the other hand, Tumblr brings with it the 50B blog posts, 300M monthly unique visitors and 120,000 daily signups it has been enjoying for quite some time now.

However, whether this decision is truly a great move or not is yet to be seen. Hopefully though, Yahoo! keeps to its promise and not screw this up.

Source: mashable.com

YouTube, happy 8th birthday!

Today, YouTube turns eight years old, with the company launching back in 2005 as an up and coming startup. Since then, a lot has changed not only on the video sharing platform but in the entire industry as well. However, what has not changed is the exceedingly aggressive strength and growth of YouTube.

Every minute, YouTube says that its community is uploading more than 100hours of video to the platform. Every minute. That’s simply staggering. To put things into perspective, it is the equivalent of four days worth of video uploaded every sixty seconds. Two years ago, this statistic is just around 48hours of video per minute. Last year it was up to 72hours. Indeed, in eight years, YouTube has grown into a web giant, claiming that more than 1B global users per month coming to access video content on the site.

In YouTube’s official blog, see what the company has to say on its eighth birthday:

And so, on our eighth birthday, we’d like to thank you for making YouTube the special place that it is. For showing us how video can create connections, transcend borders and make a difference. For clicking these links even if you aren’t sure what they’ll be, but you trust us. In short, thanks for making us better in big ways and small ones, too. We can’t wait to see what you come up with next.

Source: techcrunch.com

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