Freaky Friday – What it Takes to Censor the Chinese Twitter

It’s no secret that the Chinese government is not a fan of free and unencumbered access to the Web. But unlike North Korea, which restricts Internet access to all but a privileged handful of citizens, China recognizes that you can’t maintain your status as a rising power without you know, email.

So you can actually get on a computer and surf the Web in China, albeit one that is heavily censored. In fact, unlike repressive regimes in say, Syria or Egypt, China has done a fairly good job keeping the conversation under control – i.e. no criticism of the government – even using the Web to boost its legitimacy.

But while it’s well known that the Chinese Internet is heavily policed, we actually don’t know much about how it’s done. Rice University professor Dan Wallach and several colleagues recently set out to measure how censors keep non-approved content from appearing on Weibo – essentially the Chinese version of Twitter.

You can and should check out the entire story here at MIT’s Technology Review. The results are equally fascinating and freaky. Wallach and his team measured the volume of messages as well as the time and frequency of deletions to make conclusions about how Weibo is censored.

To keep tabs on Weibo’s 300 million users, who send 100 million messages per day and 70,000 per minute, Wallach figured that it takes 1,400 censors at any given moment and likely 4,200 each day to scan and delete messages. And roughly 12 percent of all messages are deleted.

I try not to get too political on this copywriting blog. But at least to me, this is very important work if for no other reason than it highlights the fact that a free and open Internet isn’t a given.

And it can’t be taken for granted.

FreakyFriday: Weird of the Day – Battletoads as Business Metaphor

Struggling daily deal site Groupon fired CEO Andrew Mason on Thursday. It wasn’t exactly a surprise. The company posted a terrible fourth quarter and the conventional wisdom has taken a dim view of Groupon’s business model for a while now.

Instead, the chatter focused on Mason’s epic farewell message. In it was found one of the surest signs yet that the Nintendo Generation has truly come of age: a reference to the ‘90s video game Battletoads.

Specifically, Mason compared his journey to the heights of entrepreneurial success – and subsequent fall – to making it to the infamous Terra Tubes level without dying. Wired unpacks the semiotics of Battletoads – and just what Mason meant – pretty well in this article. You can also check out Terra Tubes in their unedited glory on YouTube.

I never imagined I’d think about Terra Tubes again. Actually, that’s not true, because I’ve never even thought to think that I’d never think of Terra Tubes again.

But now that the memories are rushing back to me, I can’t come up with a better example of struggling against impossible odds in a ruthless digital world. My seven-year-old self aspired to defeat Battletoads above all other games. I even cleared Terra Tubes (although not without losing many, many lives first). But hey, the next level is called Rat Race (another great metaphor) and I never did beat Battletoads.inflatable air dancer

If the self-esteem movement brought us participation trophies and scoreless soccer, ‘90s video games were still there to teach children what it’s like to strive in the face of perpetual failure.

Not a bad lesson for budding entrepreneurs.

FreakyFriday: Weird of the Day – The Web Predicts the Future

The sum total of digital links, text, data, images and everything else you touch online everyday may just be the closest thing we ever get to a crystal ball.

Yes, there is a serious move afoot – led by very serious people – to mine the Web in order to predict future events. Don’t believe me? Just check out this paper by Microsoft Research and the Israel Institute of Technology.

Their idea: Software can recognize undetectable patterns in the mass of real-time and archived news and other information online – and analyze it in an unbiased way – to forecast future events. H/T to tech blog GigaOM for the link, as well as a great post about how the paper’s authors will be digging into two decades of New York Times articles and seeing what kind of forecasts they can extrapolate.

This idea isn’t so crazy – witness last week’s post about Google’s uneven efforts to predict the spread of the flu – and there are a number of startups in this area, including Recorded Future, which is already being marketed to the defense and financial sectors. You can even try a very limited version of Recorded Future for yourself – although the corporate plans and are going to cost you, big time.

But I encourage anybody to give the demo a spin to get a taste of predictive analytics. The focus of the research is on large, worldwide events, but we’re already seeing plenty of predictive analytics in the business world, including behavioral targeting and even algorithms that attempt to predict what will trend on Twitter.

Just imagine how hard it’s going to be to stay ahead of the curve when everyone knows where the curve is going.

Freaky Friday: Weird of the Day – Tri-Freakta – The Hermit Kingdom Revisited, Smart Silverware and Digital Parenthood

By: iCopywriter Blogger Alex Dalenberg

Man, 2013 is off to a weird start. So weird, in fact, that we’re bringing you a triple dose of FreakyFriday, all crammed into one freakishly compact post.

1. Google chief searches North Korea

First, the seriously freaky: In our last episode we touched on Google Chairman Eric Schmidt’s visit to North Korea. As an update, Schmidt did right by Google’s “Don’t Be Evil” credo and called on the Hermit Kingdom and its leaders to embrace the Web.

I don’t know if anyone is hopeful that the world’s most authoritarian regime will find much use in supplying its people with a massive, open source of information that encourages personal expression. But, hey, somebody had to say it to Kim Jong-un’s face, because I don’t think the guy has a Facebook. Either way, Eric Schmidt walked around North Korea looking at things, which is apparently what you do in North Korea if you’re important, at least according to Tumblr.

2. The age of smart cutlery is here

The gadget powwow 2013 International CES was held in Las Vegas this week. In the last couple years it has actually been just as popular to write about why CES isirrelevant – and there is a strong case when Apple and Microsoft don’t even bother to attend – but, all the same, it’s usually good for at least a few interesting tech curios.

Our favorite this year: the smart fork. Yes, the HAPIfork is a utensil designed to help you lose weight by letting you know when you’re eating too fast. The HAPIfork is making at least some people sad. The news and culture site Salon declared that the smart fork is a sign that civilization is doomed. We’re not prepared to go that far, but hey, the fork goes back to at least the eighth or ninth century, and it’s been working pretty well ever since.

You should probably stick a fork in this idea, and into some healthy food, if you want to really lose weight.

3. Parenting 2.0

This is destined to become a question on Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me. A Chinese father, tired of his son playing video games instead of looking for a job, hired virtual hitmen to assassinate the kid’s character in online video games – the idea being that eventually he would get tired of constantly losing and quit playing.

It’s an ingenious example of crowdsourcing, but, alas, it didn’t work.

FreakyFriday: Weird of the Day – It’s the iCopywriter End of the World Roundup – and We Feel Fine

By: iCopywriter Blogger Alex Dalenberg

In case you’ve been living under a rock – or maybe an ancient stone tablet – it’s the end of the world as we know it. Do you feel fine? Yes, the ballyhooed Mayan Apocalypse is finally here. Or, as a Facebook friend of mine put it, the most annoying day on social media. Ever.

We initially held off on writing this week’s Freaky Friday, you know, just in case. But the world hasn’t ended in Australia or New Zealand, so let’s do this. Um, what are the SEO or copywriting lessons here? Well, my professional takeaway is that, because it looks like reality is going to continue as scheduled, both those things will continue to be important to any Web presence!

You can still cash in on the last drops of viral goodness here – #EndoftheWorldConfession is trending on Twitter – but it’s probably too late for any apocalypse-themed sales. And all the good parties were last night. But hey, it’s not the end of the world, right?

So let’s just cut to the chase here with iCopywriter’s ultimate guide to our favorite end-of-the-world links.

1. The Onion suggests that the apocalypse is already here. So funny it hurts. A lot.

2. Slate has been a reliable source of end-of-the-world coverage. Here’s the effect on the markets, a report on past apocalypse scares and the ultimate end-of-the-world mashup. And yes, a few are even using the old last night on Earth line.

3. Still not convinced? Here’s a good debunking of apocalypse myths from National Geographic. Plus, what the Mayans actually meant with that whole calendar thing.

Photo Credit: Kim-bodia

 

FreakyFriday: Weird of the Day – When Obamadon Ruled the Earth…

By: iCopy Head Paleontologist Research Blogger Alex Dalenberg

It’s a bit too late to win over the crucial paleontologist vote, but scientists at Yale and Harvard have named a newly discovered prehistoric lizard after our newly re-elected 44th president.

Enter the Obamadon, which, according to the Yale news service, was a slender, toothy lizard roughly one foot long. Unlike the president – who has shown a predilection for Spam, of both the email and canned variety – Obamadon probably ate insects.

The scientists said no one should impart any political significance to the name. Paleontologist Nicholas R. Longrich told Yale News, “We’re just having fun with taxonomy.”

If only we all had such fun with taxonomy.

Actually, whether intentional or not, the buzzy name was a rather clever coup for these scientists, if for no other reason then the fact that their upcoming journal findings received nationwide press thanks to the Obamadon. Of course, they’re not the first scientists to name their findings after notable politicos. Reuters reports that ancient sloths and slime mold beetles have also been named after presidents and various cabinet members.

In general, it’s best to tread carefully when it comes to politics, but I’d categorize this is as being a win on both sides of the aisle. For example, conservatives can snicker that the Obamadon was a cold-blooded bug-eater with fangs. As for the liberals, well, the chances of there ever being a Romneydon are, shall we say, extinct.

Photo credit: shvmoz

 

 

FreakyFriday – Weird of the Day: Long Live the Royal Molecatcher

By iCopy blogger Alex Dalenberg

We live in an age of disruption. Trends come and go. Companies rise and fall. Groupon surged out of the gate to be hailed as the next big thing, but it now seems to be declining just as quickly, with its shares tumbling. The New York Times, the closest thing there is to a bastion of old media, announced this week that it will be offering buyouts for 30 newsroom positions.

But there are some jobs and industries that stubbornly endure. Enter the royal molecatcher of Versailles.

Yes, according to the Associated Press, an official molecatcher has been gainfully employed at the French court since the 1600s, surviving the monarchy itself, multiple revolutions and two world wars. Today the job is held by Frenchman Jerome Dormion, who even signs his text messages, molecatcher to the king.

Versailles it seems, isn’t just a pleasure garden for the human set, but also moles. The population has been booming since its natural predators – wildcats and weasels – have declined in the wild. The job is still much the same. Even the tools haven’t changed. Dormion is charged with keeping the roughly 2,000 acres of grounds – an iconic symbol of France – mole free.

Not to uh, make mountains out of molehills, but I actually see a few smart business lessons buried here.

1. Dormion fills an important niche: a single mole can make up to 30 molehills per day, so even a handful of moles can completely deface a country estate.

2. He’s unlikely to be replaced until engineers invent an efficient mole-catching robot, probably not a major concern for robotics experts.

3. He’s an expert. Most amateur gardeners struggle to capture wily moles, which are exceptionally intelligent.

What does your business do that will stand the test of time? Do you have a “royal molecatcher” position?

Photo credit: AP Photo/Thibault Camus

FreakyFriday: Weird of the Day – Black Friday Gets Freaky

By: iCopywriter blogger Alex Dalenberg

Is there a freakier Friday than Black Friday? This blogger is tucking into the leftover sweet potatoes and apple pie and skipping out on the Super Bowl of shopping. So far, it’s looking more and more like I made a good decision.

ABC News has a good rundown of the chaos thus far. Some of the lowlights:

  • 71-year-old man arrested in a Walmart parking lot in Covington, Wash., for vehicular assault. He ran over two people with his SUV.
  • In San Antonio, a shopper pulled a gun on a man who cut in line outside a Sears.
  • Five men assaulted and robbed a 14-year-old boy outside of a Bed Bath and Beyond early this morning in Baltimore.
  • And, in Massachusetts, a man scored a big-screen TV, but left his two-year-old son at a Kmart.

Also, the Los Angeles Times reports that there was a small earthquake in New Jersey, but thankfully no injuries.

Of course, the funny part is that Black Friday may not even offer best deals of the year outside of a few limited doorbusters that the big-box stores use as loss leaders. Fox Business reports that, at least in 2011, Black Friday was actually one of the worst days of the year for a snagging good deal. And Decide.com, a Seattle-based price tracking website that also attempts to predict whether an item will go up or down in price, says that the best deals of the holiday season are actually yet to come.

As consumers are armed with more and more information, it’s worth asking how long traditions like Black Friday can hold up. Sure, there’s a certain sport to Black Friday that has its own unique appeal, but for today I’m perfectly content typing away here at home over some cold turkey.

But as an alternative, I’d like to suggest events like Small Business Saturday as well as other local shopping events being promoted by smaller retailers and businesses. It’s a good way to keep a few dollars in the community and find some great new stores outside the usual mega-retailers.

And, of course, a belated Happy Thanksgiving from the team here at iCopywriter. Whether you’re a Black Friday warrior or spent the day sleeping in, have a happy and safe holiday season!

Did you hit the stores today? We’d love to hear from you…

Photo Credit: Robert Banh

FreakyFriday: Weird of the Day – 10 Totally Freaky Things We (yes, us) Do on Facebook

By: iCopywriter Senior Editor, Heather Price-Wright

Lately, our FreakyFriday blogs have been focused on the weird ways other people use technology and social media. But look, we’re fair people, and we’re totally willing to admit that we’re right there with them. After all, when even the folks at Facebook are worried that people misuse Facebook and develop unhealthy relationships with social media, we know it’s a big, big problem.

So today, in the interest of fairness and hilarity (and the fact that we’re actually allowed to waste time on Social Media while we’re at work), we turn the microscope on ourselves and give you:

10 Freaky Ways We Use Facebook (and Other Social Media)

10. Posting funny status updates, and then immediately and repeatedly refreshing out notifications to see how many likes we can get.

9. Following things like “Taco Bell” and “Lady Gaga” and pretending these things are actually our friends, inviting us over for tacos or letting us know they love us “little monsters.”

8. Getting deliberately furious with the status updates, articles and pictures shared by our “friends” whose political opinions differ from our own.

7. Engaging in pointless debates with said “friends” that always devolve into 70-comment-long trolling matches.

6. Looking at pictures of the children of people we dated in high school.

5. Looking at pictures of everyone’s pets. Seriously, friends: I can has more cat pictures? Throw in a video of a pug in a Star Wars costume and we’re good to go!

4. Stalking our really successful friends’ Klout scores, and then crying because no one at The Huffington Post ever retweets us.

3. Signing on through other people’s Facebook accounts to stalk the weirdos (they’re the weirdos, not us – trust us) who have defriended and/or blocked us.

2. Laughing hysterically at stupid memes we have seen roughly 1,000,000 times.

1. Two words: Wedding pictures. Our friends’, our friends of friends’, random strangers’ … if you’ve posted pictures of your special day anywhere on Facebook, we’ve probably looked at Every. Single. One. It’s a problem.

What about you? What creepy behaviors do you engage in on social media, and what totally freaks you out when other people do it? Let your social media freak flag fly in the comments!

Have you checked out iCopywriter.com lately? We’re here for all your SEO copywriting needs!

Freaky-errrr-FunFriday: Faves of the Day – Dig Into Our 4 Favorite Tech and Social Media TED Talks

By: iCopywriter Senior Editor, Heather Price-Wright

FreakyFunFriday: Faves of the Day

It’s Friday, and it’s hot, and frankly, we’re not in the mood for anything freaky today. What we’re really in the mood for is lying by the pool eating popsicles, but barring that, today is a day to be entertained and to learn something. And what better way to do that than by watching our favorite TED Talks?

In case you haven’t heard of TED Talks (really? You haven’t heard of TED Talks?), the gist is that the nonprofit organization TED, which stands for “Technology, Entertainment, Design,” gets crazy-smart, top-of-their-field experts in those three realms to give talks on their work, in the name of spreading what TED calls “Ideas Worth Sharing.” The talks can be long or short, deliciously simple or wonderfully high-tech, but they all are meant to teach and inspire everyday people to learn, share ideas and innovate together.

There have been a host of TED talks on the subjects we geek out about, from SEO to social media to anything techy. But a few stand head and shoulders above the rest as our favorites. So, without further ado, we present for your edification and enjoyment:

  1. How to Be a Social Media Power Player and Also Make Awesome Tacos http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pgj2K6_Iym0
  2. He May Have Creepy Hair, but Man do We Need What He Does http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HNOnvp5t7Do
  3. Goofy Sketches and Flash Mobs Make People Love Each Other http://www.ted.com/talks/charlie_todd_the_shared_experience_of_absurdity.html
  4. The Only Time I’ve Ever Though Algorithms Were Cool (and Also a Little Scary) http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/kevin_slavin_how_algorithms_shape_our_world.html
  5. (A Bonus) This Isn’t About Tech but It’s Too Beautiful Not to Watch http://www.ted.com/talks/sarah_kay_if_i_should_have_a_daughter.html
  6. OK, One More, Because Who Can Resist Billy Collins http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/billy_collins_everyday_moments_caught_in_time.html