Archives for April 2012

Pressing pause on the WebWise blog

Zoe E Breen Zoe E Breen | 13:31 UK time, Friday, 27 April 2012

To help provide an enhanced experience for learners of all abilities, we are currently working on a new BBC Learning website. We'll be concentrating our resources on the new site so we will not be updating the WebWise blog for the next few months. We'll keep you in the picture and let you know when we'll be back.

Thanks,

The WebWise Team

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Brave new networks

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Guy Clapperton Guy Clapperton | 14:00 UK time, Thursday, 19 April 2012

It's been a couple of years since Google launched its first attempt at a social network. Called Google Buzz, its launch was hampered by the decision to automatically join everyone with a Gmail account, whether they wanted to be part of it or not. Google hasn't formally scrapped Buzz but it's not looking in rude health with last year's launch of Google+.

Another network to launch recently is the picture-based Pinterest. So is this going to be the next Facebook or is it more likely to finish like last year's launch of the specialist 'question and answer' service Quora - a whole load of fuss followed by, well, not much?

This article isn't an attempt to say who the winners will be in the social media race (if indeed there is an end point). Rather it will explain some of these new networks and offer tips on what to look for when you evaluate a new network and decide whether it's going to be useful to you.

Why is it special?

Obviously the first thing to check is whether a new network fulfils an actual need. Take Quora for instance, in which members ask questions and other people answer them. There was a lot of interest initially and indeed it's still going - but you have to ask, what does it do that Twitter doesn't? You can already ask a question in plenty of other places.

This doesn't always hold true. YouTube is widely known as a place that offers the chance to share videos. So was MySpace, which got there first - but its grip on the market was softening as YouTube launched. The quieter design also appealed to a wider audience.

This is where Pinterest, which enables people to highlight interesting images they've seen - with a link straight back to where they found them, comes in. This isn't, therefore, just a photo site but a links site as well. Yes, you can share visual links on Facebook in the same way but it's not as exclusively visual. Whether the market will take hold of this longer-term is uncertain but at least the market has something to accept or reject.

Search engine optimisation

Another important element of social links, at least from the point of view of commercial companies linking their goods and services, is that external links coming into your site push you further up the search engines. This is part of a process known as 'search engine optimisation' (SEO), which does what it says on the tin - it makes a website search engine friendly.

An extension of this happens on Google+, Google's new(ish) network. Businesses can add a 'Plus One' button to their sites or to individual products or services they are offering, and people with a Google+ account can tap this in the same way as they would a Facebook 'Like' button.

So far this all looks like a bit of fun - except it's owned by Google, which also owns the biggest search engine on the internet. Google takes the 'Plus One' buttons quite seriously: the more +1s your service gets, the better the placing when people search on Google. For this reason Google+ is likely to be around for a while, although a lot of research shows people aren't conversing on it a great deal.

Which is right for you?

Deciding whether to join a particular network is an individual decision. There are a few questions you can usefully ask yourself before joining one, though:

  • Does it do anything new? Earlier in this article I asked whether Pinterest was going to be the new Facebook - it's not, there is currently no vacancy for someone wanting to be a new Facebook. New networks really need to offer something different.
  • If it does something different, does it appeal to you? If you don't have a particularly visual sensibility and don't take many pictures, do you really need a channel on Flickr, for example?
  • Is anyone else about to do the same thing better?
  • Do you actually have the time to do anything with yet another social network..?

 

Learn how to use Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites with the WebWise online guides.

 

Guy Clapperton is a journalist specialising in writing about technology as well as small business for several major broadsheets. He broadcasts occasionally on BBC Radio stations and reviews the newspapers on the BBC News Channel.

What is a mashup?

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Rhodri Marsden Rhodri Marsden | 13:00 UK time, Friday, 13 April 2012

What is a mashup?

At the SXSW festival a few weeks ago, rock legend Bruce Springsteen gave a keynote speech in which he admitted to "getting inspiration", shall we say, from the work of other artists. He demonstrated by segueing neatly from The Animals' version of 'Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood' into his own song, 'Badlands'. "It's the same riff, man!" he said. "Listen up, youngsters, this is how successful theft is accomplished."

It's rare for musicians to be so brazen about it, but Springsteen was acknowledging an undeniable fact: that new creative ideas generally evolve from old ones. Borrowing, refining and rehashing have been rife for centuries, a magpie-like swiping of melodies, pictures, chords and textures. It grew more noticeably in the 1970s and 1980s; twin record decks allowed early hip hop DJs to mix tracks together and create their own sound collages, bands like the Art Of Noise started using digital audio in legally questionable ways, and when samplers became affordable the Beastie Boys cut-up techniques inspired a generation.

The copyright position

Copyright owners fought back hard in the 1990s, and those early records probably couldn't be made today; licensing the samples would be too expensive. But computers and more latterly the internet have heralded a new era of creative expression, where an almost limitless supply of pictures and sound can be easily appropriated and changed.

Mashups have become endemic, practiced openly by millions, seemingly in violation of copyright law. But are we wilfully engaging in criminal activity by modifying and then sharing other people's work? Or has the law simply failed to catch up with the way we use technology?

In the USA the constitution enshrines the concept of "fair use" - the right to use someone's work for the purposes of satire or parody. The vast majority of mashup culture could be considered parody; from the Photoshop contests on websites such as B3TA, to videos by Cassetteboy or Swede Mason, to songs like 'Newport State Of Mind' that satirised the Jay-Z and Alicia Keys hit 'Empire State of Mind' a couple of years ago.

But while the law is, at least in theory, on the side of the mashup in America, that's not the case in Britain. Copyright holders can still scare the wits out of people doing the satirising; 'Newport State Of Mind', for example, was ordered to be taken down shortly after it became a viral hit. Two reviews into copyright law in the past few years have recommended that "fair use" be introduced, and politicians such as Vince Cable have backed the measure. But it's still currently illegal. As is ripping a CD to your computer - and the majority of us see nothing wrong in doing that.

The future of mashups

The impossibility of fighting mashup culture seems to be leading to a shift in attitudes. Many people are choosing to make their work available under one of several "Creative Commons" licenses, which may permit downloading and tampering. Corporate attitudes are changing, too; last month saw Getty launch a competition called Mishmash that offered free access to the film libraries of Universal and Warner and Getty's own picture library, with a $5,000 prize given to the best creation.

Those being lampooned are also realising that the publicity resulting from successful mashups may not be such a bad thing. The famous Cassetteboy video of 'The Apprentice' won the approval of Lord Sugar, while the creator of Garfield, Jim Davis, gave permission for the book 'Garfield Minus Garfield', which features Garfield cartoons that have had Garfield removed.

Mashup culture is, by and large, a bedroom hobby, a labour of love, where no-one is really seeking to make money. Millions of people are engaged in it, so copyright owners have to pick their battles – and, unsurprisingly, it's the people who find themselves with a viral hit on their hands who are most likely to hear the knock of the legal profession. It's a strange irony. One day the law may change, but for now, perhaps the best advice to mashup artists is: "Make sure you're not any good at it".

Follow the WebWise guides and make the most of your music.

Read more from Rhodri about music and the internet.

 

Rhodri Marsden is a writer and musician who regularly details his fascination and exasperation with modern technology and the internet for both The Independent and BBC 6Music.

Unlock the secrets of online security with Bang Goes the Theory

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Brett Tremble Brett Tremble | 16:00 UK time, Thursday, 12 April 2012

Ever wondered how data is kept safe when we send it over the internet?

In this film, as part of a series of web exclusives, Bang Goes the Theory's resident chin scratcher, Dr Yan Wong explores how 'Public Key Encryption' changed the way we share sensitive information online.

 

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash Installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions. If you're reading via RSS, you'll need to visit the blog to access this content.

 

If this whets your appetite and you want to get 'hands on' with science, why not join the team at a Bang LIVE roadshow? Watch the presenters as they test, stretch and explode science in the action packed live stage show, and take part in experiments and pick up science tricks in the Bang interactive area.

For more details and to find out where Bang are going to be in 2012 go to the Bang site.

Learn more about internet security and how you can protect yourself online with our WebWise guides.

 

Brett is a Content Producer for BBC WebWise, and has been creating web content for the BBC for ten years. He loves fine ale and vintage wine, cathedrals, music of all genres and classic British comedy, and has a huge collection of rare vinyl records

In the news - Facebook buys Instagram

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Alex Duin Alex Duin | 11:55 UK time, Thursday, 12 April 2012

Plenty of us enjoy taking pictures, and looking at our beautiful snaps. The problem comes when we want to spread them around - luring friends and relatives to our homes to look at photo albums is awfully inefficient.

For this reason, photo sharing on the internet is increasingly big business - a fact demonstrated this week when social media giant Facebook snapped up picture sharing outfit Instagram.

Instagram produces an 'app' (or application) for smartphones that lets users take pictures with their phone's camera, apply a series of arty 'filters' on the image that can change the tone and colours of the picture - often mimicking old Polaroid pictures - and then lets the user send their picture to a variety of social networking services, including Instagram's own.

What's really got tongues wagging though is the price of this acquisition: a cool $1 billion. Rather a lot for a company with only 13 employees, and which has yet to make a single dollar of profit (the app is given away for free). It seems that Facebook was attracted by Instagram's quick accumulation of 30 million users in just two years, and the notoriously fashionable makeup of those users.

And it's not just Facebook trying to snap up the photo-sharing market. In 2005 the struggling search-engine company Yahoo! bought the popular service Flickr just a year after it had started.

Of course, even now, Instagram isn't the hottest photo-sharing service around. Pinterest started in 2010, and is already the third biggest social network in the world. How long until someone cracks open the chequebook for them?

Find out how to use a digital camera and share your photos online with our WebWise guides.
Read more from the WebWise blog about photography.

 

Alex Duin has spent his whole life wading through technology and the media, and in the process has worked and written all over the place, including for Channel 4, and Digital Unite. He divides his time between London and Manchester.

4G or not 4G, that is the question

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Guy Clapperton Guy Clapperton | 17:40 UK time, Thursday, 5 April 2012

One of the biggest and most exciting things about the launch of Apple's revamped iPad in March 2012 wasn't the high resolution video, or any of the other features so many people in the UK are using probably even as I type. No, the big thing about the 'not-called-the-iPad-3' was the inclusion of 4G networking.

This will almost certainly be a massive selling point for any new phone or tablet that emerges this year. The clever bit is that in the UK at least, it won't work - we have no widely-available 4G network yet.

What is 4G?

Currently the fastest commonly-available form of mobile internet is of course Wi-Fi. You connect your tablet, laptop or smartphone to a Wi-Fi network and you have 'proper' broadband. The difficulty is that when people are on the move they may not have access to a Wi-Fi network. This is where you may have to take pot luck and see what your device can find. There are various symbols you'll find when it's detecting a mobile signal; E, O, GPRS and 3G. Of these, 3G is the fastest - third generation internet, replacing 2G as it did. If you're out of range of 3G then it defaults to one of the slower ones.

You don't have to be a great detective, then, to work out that 4G is the next iteration of mobile internet. You may also see it referred to as LTE, which stands for 'Long Term Evolution' (although what they'll call 5G having already called 4G long term is anybody's guess).

The advantages of 4G, when they arrive properly in the UK, will be many. Instant email and a mobile service as quick as your home or office internet is one of them. In practical terms this will mean things like watching video streamed from the internet rather than stored on your device - so you'll be able to 'hire' a movie and watch it instantly when you're on the road; catch-up TV services in high definition with no picture judder or dropout, and if you're in business it will be easier to send and receive very large files without snarling up your email or that of your recipient.

Where we are now

The UK is slightly behind the curve when it comes to adopting 4G as you might gather from the fact that products are already supporting it in the US, as well as in some Far Eastern countries. Part of the reason is that the UK was already using some of the frequencies needed for 4G for analogue television signals, which are in the process of being phased out.

Ofcom have confirmed proposals that it would be authorizing a minimum of four companies to provide 4G services and that it hoped this would cover 95% of the UK's population, which will do something to help some of the remote areas still currently not covered by broadband. The government has put in £150m to help the process, so hopefully the auction process that pushed the price of 3G services up when they launched will not be repeated and cause another hike in costs.

Caveats

Two things are worth bearing in mind if you're considering being among the first to go for 4G when it is formally offered. The first is that a number of companies are offering what they're calling 4G, but which isn't actually the version of 4G ratified by Ofcom. This may matter to you for the second reason. In Australia there have been a number of complaints about the aforementioned iPad because it doesn't appear to work with 'their' version of 4G. These are among the reasons I won't be rushing to be the first to use 4G, and will only take it up once it's affordable and once the technology has settled. Meanwhile I, and many others, are finding 3G and Wi-Fi just fine when we need them.

Get regular technology updates with the WebWise weekly newsletter

 

Guy Clapperton is a journalist specialising in writing about technology as well as small business for several major broadsheets. He broadcasts occasionally on BBC Radio stations and reviews the newspapers on the BBC News Channel.

In the news - government snooping?

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Alex Duin Alex Duin | 18:50 UK time, Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Most of us value our privacy very highly. We'd feel rather violated if we found out that our partners were secretly listening in on our phone calls or opening personal letters. But now, critics are saying that the government is planning to do exactly this with our internet use - so is that any different?

BBC News has reported that the coalition government are proposing that existing laws requiring internet service providers to log communications be extended and that GCHQ (the UK listening intelligence agency) should be able to monitor internet use in 'real-time',  ie at the same time it's being used and without a warrant.

The new law's supporters say that this expansion is necessary to catch up with rogue elements who increasingly turn to digital technology to organise themselves. In The Sun, Home Secretary Theresa May said that "there are no plans for any big government database. No one is going to be looking through ordinary people's emails or Facebook posts. Only suspected terrorists, paedophiles or serious criminals will be investigated."

The law is receiving heavy criticism however, even from within the government's own Conservative members. In that same Sun article, former candidate for the Tory leadership David Davis retorted that "whenever a government announces plans to snoop on British citizens, the argument is always the same - it needs the new law to stop terrorists. But we already have a law that lets the secret services eavesdrop on suspected criminals and terrorists."

If it goes ahead, the new law is expected to be announced at this year's Queen's Speech.

To find out more about some of these issues, why not check out the WebWise guide to the UK's internet laws?

Alex Duin has spent his whole life wading through technology and the media, and in the process has worked and written all over the place, including for Channel 4, and Digital Unite. He divides his time between London and Manchester.

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