Tech + Gadgets
Molly Wood, CNET's Executive Editor, and the host of a daily web show covering technology, posted to her blog last week under the headline: "Welcome to the age of data. Watch your back!"
In a conversation with 7x7, she said that the current "information boom" sweeping through the Bay Area can be summed up by one word -- data.
"The startups have this in common. They harvest data, use it to make connections, to advertise to you, or to use the web as a giant recommendation engine. Essentially, they are forming a kind of supercomputer made of users and their data."
She notes the "dark side" of all this. "The level of information out there about you and me is staggering. They can sell this data. So the cost of 'free' has never been higher."
After the recent controversy caused by revelations that Apple has been using its customers' iPods, iPhones, and iPads to collect location data about nearby cell towers and Wi-Fi hot spots, the Cupertino-based company moved quickly to claim that a bug was responsible and that it soon will be fixed.
Invariably, the way this story was perceived by much of the population was as another example of sinister, surreptitious data collection by modern technology in ways that could further compromise our dwindling sense of privacy.
Therefore, it triggered new calls for restrictive legislation in Congress and overseas.
What tends to get lost in the news cycles that originate with revelations like these is that virtually every tool or service we have grown to depend on in modern communications technology is storing data about how we use them 24-7.
Yesterday, Mozilla, the developer of the popular Firefox browser, became the latest tech sector star to announce that it will soon be opening an office in San Francisco.
So it's probably time to state the obvious, and that is that around here, the rush is on. Yep, we've got another full-fledged tech boom on our hands.
Over at CNET headquarters in Soma yesterday, I was marveling at the array of top-notch correspondents and bloggers they employ, which easily rivals Bloomberg TV's growing team down on The Embarcadero, which I profiled here recently.
The journalists at CNET, Bloomberg, and elsewhere I've spoken with all say that the pace of innovation occurring here in the city easily matches what they witnessed in the mid-90s during the original Internet boom, and that it may well soon surpass it.
David Sacks likes to call them "Dilbert problems."
You know, all those excess emails, unproductive meetings, and other awkward aspects of daily life in the typical office that make you wish you were anywhere else than -- in the office.
As the CEO of Soma-based Yammer, which positions itself as the "Facebook for inside the company," Sacks has a pretty good story to tell.
Since launching in September 2008, Yammer has attracted enough B2B customers that it now appears to be able to stake its claim as the social media platform of choice for the Fortune 500.
Quick. Of the thousands of web-based content companies headquartered in San Francisco, which one has the highest traffic?
The numbers for this website are mind-boggling:
- 414 million unique visitors monthly
- 12 billion page views monthly
Here's a few more hints: This site contains roughly 18 million original articles, which is five million more than the entire 160-year archive of The New York Times. Plus all of those articles have been created in only the past ten years.
Everywhere you look these days, people are playing games on their mobile devices. Business travelers at the airport, kids on the bus, restaurant patrons waiting for meals –– they all seem to be gaming in 5-10 minute spurts.
Meanwhile, as is the case with all types of original content, creating all those cool (free) games is an expensive proposition, so the same problem plaguing all types of digital media hangs over the gaming industry –– how to pay for it all?
Brian Wong thinks he may have found an answer. The 19-year-old founder of the advertising startup Kiip (pronounced Keep), unveiled his unique approach earlier this week.
It can be summarized in Kiip's tagline: "Real Rewards for virtual achievements."
This week the city's board of supervisors is slated to finalize its decision to grant a tax break to Twitter and other startup companies in return for their agreement to stay in the city rather than fleeing to the suburbs.
What's at stake is San Francisco's future as a center of innovation.
Granted, it is a tough time for city government. Ongoing state and federal budget cuts have created relentless pressure on the city's ability to provide many essential services.
Furthermore, recent news out of Sacramento and Washington, D.C., indicates that this funding problem won't be going away any time soon.
But, it's also never easy being a startup company. It's strictly a high-risk business, where the overwhelming majority fail, and only a tiny number survive. They all have to keep costs down and attract the best talent for any hope of future success.
The key employees of startups earn far less than they would in an established company. In return, they often are granted stock options, essentially a promise of a future return on their present "sweat equity."
Did you know that for $50, you can turn your iPhone into a mobile microscope with 60x zoom and LED light display?
Or that a bug in Apple's FaceTime video chat feature suggests that it can take and store pictures without you even knowing it?
The place to find stories like these is San Francisco's Ubergizmo, where geeks explain technology in language that non-geeks can easily understand.
The perfect antidote to the gibberish typically found in user manuals.
Ubergizmo was was co-founded by designer Eliane Fiolet and software engineer Hubert Nguyen, both native French speakers, as a small blog in September 2004.
"We never thought it would be successful," says Fiolet. "Back then we both had day jobs."
When a federal judge threw out the class-action settlement in the Google Books case last week, he brought an end, at least for now, to one of the boldest initiatives the search giant has ever undertaken.
Back when he was still a grad student at Stanford in the late '90s, co-founder Larry Page began planning a "library to last forever," filled with digital versions of virtually every book ever published.
By 2005, when he and Sergey Brin had built Google up into the most successful company on the planet, Page began to put his plan into motion. Google made deals with leading academic libraries to begin scanning books, including many rare and out of print books, at a rapid pace -- to the point that today they have scanned a total of some 15 million books.
Next Monday, The New York Times will finally do what for over a year it has been promising to do -- erect a paywall around its content on the web. But as details of the plan have emerged this past week, it looks to be one of the strangest, and leakiest, paywalls in the history of online content.
In fact, you might call this a voluntary paywall, because it will apparently be so easy to circumvent there is no reason any moderately tech-savvy consumer should ever have to pay anything at all.