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Microsoft Launches Social Search Network for Students

By | Free tools, Internet News, Social Media | No Comments

At the end of 2011 college students at the University of Washington, Syracuse University,
and New York University were invited to try out Now, just two days ago, Microsoft has
made its experimental search engine (pronounced “social”) available to the general
public. is a free experimental research project, developed by Microsoft’s FUSE Labs, focused
on exploring the possibilities of social search for the purpose of learning. can be used
by the general public, but the target group are learning communities.


The search experience is powered by Bing. As students work together, they often look
for the same content, and discover new shared interests by sharing results. These results
can be web pages, images, or videos found through Bing.


To encourage interaction and collaboration, provides rich media sharing, and real time
sharing of videos via “video parties.” Video parties let you search, and quickly assemble a list
of movies to view together with friends. You can view any existing party collection created
by any other user, or create your own, and easily chat with other users.


Unless you mark it as “private”, your search results, and any other data you post to are broadly available for use by other entities and individuals. uses Facebook
authentication, which means you use your Facebook account to log in, and your name and
profile picture from Facebook appear in That people don’t have to registrate for
makes them probably more likely use it.


How popular might become and will it have influence in the way people are searching
for information? First of all, is not meant to replace existing search and social
networking tools and it will probably be hard for it to get mainstream when everybody is
using Facebook already. Secondly, I don’t think Google has to be worried at all. Even if
is available to the general public it has been created for learning communities and probably
won’t get any traction outside the education sector.


The question we can’t answer at the moment is if we need if we have already
Facebook, Twitter & Co. What do you think?

Internet Censorship Around the World

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The Guardian has posted an interesting interactive map on their website, with information regarding internet censorship and freedoms in countries around the world.

Internet Censorship around the world

They divide internet ‘interference’ into a few categories;


Political  – regarding censorship of opinions, and freedom of speech

China, Syria, Burma – they are all mentioned here for having pervasive political interference.

No evidence countries included all Western countries, as well as (maybe surprisingly), Algeria, Tunisia and Afghanistan. Egypt was also ‘clean’ in this respect, even though in the Arab Spring of 2011, The Egyptian Government shut down all major internet linkages in the country.


Social – related to Government interference on certain topics, such as sexuality, gambling, drugs and other topics which could be conceived to be ‘offensive

China was slightly better on this one, but still had substantial interference. The most pervasive were Middle Eastern countries, including the UAE.

Italy was rated as having ‘selective’ censorship, due to a courtcase where Google was found guilty of violating privacy for not removing content from their Video site.

For now, Australia has a ‘no evidence’ rating, despite mentions of the Labor Governments filtering plans.


Tools – interference of websites which provide services, such as email, VOIP and hosting.

Again, Middle Eastern countries were shown to be the most pervasive. The Guardian report stated that in the UAE, websites are blocked, social media is monitored and technology which allows private browsing has been clamped down on.


Conflict and Security – Interference with content regarding disputes and borders

China was shown to have the most pervasive interference in this regard, in the world. Particularly regarding any Tibet issues.


Transparency – How open are they about their filtering methods?

Russia, China and many of the ‘Stans’ get bad marks here, with low transparency reported.  In 2010, in Russia, apparently a local court tried to ban YouTube because it had an ultra nationalist video on it. In 2009, several bloggers were arrested for anti-Putin remarks.


Consistency – How consistent are they with their policies on internet censorship?

Russia had the lowest marks for consistency, along with Indonesia and even Italy.


Apart from Italy, the Western World seemed to pass the Guardian’s test with flying colours – with No evidence of filtering and high transparency. With the idea of the Australian internet filter in the pipes, and Australia even having banned some Wikileaks pages, it seems strange to imagine that all the West is truly so ‘whiter than white’ as this report seems to insinuate.





Google Now Paying to Look Over Your Shoulder

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As one of the world’s biggest advertising company’s Goggle’s bread and butter is the collection on data about what users do when they are on the internet and how they can then use this data to help advertisers get their message to the right people. Till now the user data that Google collects (while there are numerous claims otherwise) is broad and unidentifiable stats gained from any Google product that you may use. This changed today with the announcement of Google Screenwise. Google Screenwise is a new program where in their own words Google would like you to;


add a browser extension that will share with Google the sites you visit and how you use them. What we learn from you, and others like you, will help us improve Google products and services and make a better online experience for everyone.


In exchange for this you will receive up to $25 in Amazon gift cards, $5 at sign up, and another $5 every three months for a year. In addition to this there is also a second level to this program involving a hardware instillation (see below) on your home network for which you will receive $100 at sign up, and $20 every month you stay in the program.


Image source:


So why is Google doing this? The answer is simple really, they want user data to help improve their various products, and people are willing to submit it for the right price.


Like many other web and media companies, we do panel research to help better serve our users by learning more about people’s media use, on the web and elsewhere. This panel is one such small project that started near the beginning of the year. Of course, this is completely optional to join. People can choose to participate if it’s of interest (or if the gift appeals) and everyone who does participate has complete transparency and control over what Internet use is being included in the panel. People can stay on the panel as long as they’d like, or leave at any time.


As with most subjects of this nature, there is already a large group of people outraged at Google both at why they need this information and where it will end up. While it would be unwise to jump into this program without first looking into it, the reality of the situation is that it is completely optional and the people involved will be receiving compensation. Looking at it in the most simple way, there is very little difference between this and what Nielsen has been doing with our TV’s for years.


Online Newspapers – Does Charging For Subscriptions Work?

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Well, I don’t have the revenue statistics from but check out the Google trends for the website, since they started charging for their online paper.

Ignore the “Daily Unique visitors” statistic – which I am wary of – it has never seemed very accurate to me – just check out the trend.

A sharp drop in visits from Google, since they made their site pay for subscription, in June. Note this is a drop only from visits from Google, not from overall visits. We can’t tell what the actual site traffic is, using Google Trends, and that information is very sensitive to them I am sure. Not only them, but all the newspapers online, who are desperately searching for a new, improved business model.

Anyway, the drop in visits from Google, as shown above, could be due to a number of things:

1. The site no longer being totally crawlable by Google, so less people finding them in search results for topics of interest. With a lot of your content behind a security firewall for subscribers only, it is not only being blocked from users reading it, but blocked from users even knowing it exists

2. People knowing that now they will have to pay, so no longer going to the site, even when they see in search results

3. They are no longer included in Google News search results.

The cost of the online subscription is 2GBP per week, or 1GBP per day, and was heralded as a way of maintaining the integrity of journalism;

“Paid content is the only way that we are going to see a sustainable
economic model for quality journalism.”

Now, I don’t 100% agree with this at all, and looking from the above graph, neither do a lot of people (unless they have a huge influx of people going straight to their site). People will want to pay for a service if they think it is unique, that is, they can’t get it free anywhere else. But hundreds of other online newspapers are providing news content for free, by funding with advertising, so unless you are very offended by adverts, you can get it free.

The only thing going against this theory is that the other main online newspapers I show above didn’t display an increase in traffic when experienced their decrease – but maybe the timesonline subscribers are against the DailyMail and The Guardian.

Unless the Timesonline is providing other excellent content or functionality, pay for subscription might not be as successful as Rupert Murdoch might think, no matter how mad it makes him.

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