Google To Spread Holiday Cheer With Free Inflight WiFi

Free Inflight WifiIf you are planning on a travel heavy holiday season, Google might have just added some cheer to your holiday plans. Google announced today that it is partnering with Airtran, Delta and Virgin America to bring free inflight wifi service. The service, typically provided by GoGo Inflight Internet, costs $11 for a 24 hour pass.

The giveaway will last from November 20, 2010 to January 2, 2011, and is being sponsored by Chrome, Google’s increasingly popular browser. 

This is the second year in a row that Google is providing free wifi during the holiday season. However, unlike last year, airports will not be covered in this year’s giveaway.

There’s another compelling reason to wish for shorter layovers!

Image: Flickr.com/Marc_Smith

Venturing into the Stock Markets? Check the Twitter Mood First!

stock marketTwitter Mood can predict stock markets. That’s the conclusion arrived at by a group of researchers after analyzing 9.7 million tweets sent out by 2.7 million twitter users, between March and December of 2008.

The Indian University research team comprising of Johan Bollen, Huina Mao, and Xiao-Jun Zeng described the discovery as accidental. Bollen and team were actually looking to build a better emotional barometer for tweets. Once the system was developed, they were experimenting with it to see if the emotional state of the twitterverse had any correlation to other events. That’s when they stumbled on the connection.

How do you gauge the Twitter Mood at any given time, anyway? Turns out, it is done by looking for the presence of any of a set of words which are strong emotional indicators. The research team initially came up with 72 adjectives. Subsequently, they leveraged a Google (Google is always in the mix somewhere!) Open Source project called Profile of Mood States (GPOMS). The GPOMS algorithm uses a much larger database of mood indicator words to determine the levels of six states – happiness, kindness, alertness, sureness, vitality and calmness. The eureka moment occurred when Bollen and team noticed a correlation between the levels of calmness in the twitter stream on a particular day and the performance of the Dow Jones Industrial Average over the next two to six days.

The significance of the discovery can be gauged by the fact that when solely using stock market data from the past, the accuracy of predictions is around 73.3%. However, when the data associated with the levels of calmness is added, the accuracy jumps to 86.7%. A more sophisticated prediction algorithm could perhaps better leverage the mood data and get to an even better level of accuracy.

There are however a few holes to be addressed in the theory. First and foremost, there is currently no explanation as to why the calmness in the twitterverse affects the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Secondly, the research used tweets sent out by users around the world. Again, there is no plausible explanation for how tweeters outside the U.S. can alter the course of an American stock index. Yet, the model was able to predict the stock market during the depths of the 2008 recession, arguably one of the most challenging times from an economic perspective. Not bad for any model, let alone for one from outside the economic world.

Sources: Wired, Technology Review

Image Credit: Katrina Tuliao (Flickr)

Farmville Could Land You in Trouble, Literally

The extremely popular Facebook game, Farmville, along with several other apps have been found transmitting users’ Facebook IDs to advertising and Internet tracking companies, a Wall Street Journal investigation has found. Breaking theFarmville news, the WSJ article states

The issue affects tens of millions of Facebook app users, including people who set their profiles to Facebook’s strictest privacy settings. The practice breaks Facebook’s rules, and renews questions about its ability to keep identifiable information about its users’ activities secure.

The id allows anybody to look up the user’s Facebook profile and grab the list of his friends, irrespective of the user’s privacy settings. It can also allow access to the user’s photos and other information, if they have been set to be shared with “everyone”. The advertising companies are prohibited from accessing these pieces of information directly. However, the breaching apps and sometimes, even the user’s browser, transmit the ids to the programs from the ad companies.

The article cites the example of RapLeaf Inc., a data gathering firm, which has linked the Facebook Ids it obtained from apps with its own database of Internet users. RapLeaf also transmitted the ids to dozen other firms, the article states. Reacting to the news, Joel Jewitt, the VP of Business Development at RapLeaf is quoted to have said “We didn’t do it on purpose”.

The list of apps includes the top ten popular games on Facebook . Farmville alone, for example boasts 59 million users worldwide. Facebook has started taking steps to plug the security hole. To begin with, Facebook has shutdown a number of apps that were found transmitting the ids, the article said.

Source:Wall Street Journal

The Social Network: Not the Geek Fix It Sounds Like

The Social Network is a great movie. It provides a view into the birth of one the most exciting companies of our times. It has the relentless pace and the trademark dialogue of an Aaron Sorkin production. Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Timberlake and Andrew Garfield have delivered fine performances, and the writers have done an admirable job of building a feature length story out of the amalgamation of facts and hearsay, while managing to stay out of legal trouble.

But a fix of geekiness, it is not. If you go in expecting to watch long coding sessions unfold, or watch the team get down and dirty in scaling technical hurdles, or even talk about these things for more than a few sentences, you are likely to be disappointed. The closest the movie gets to any of this is a few references to Linux servers, indexing and password cracking. Incidentally, a Bill Gates’ speech that Zuckerberg attends while he is still at Harvard has more technical content, even though it has nothing to do with the main theme of the movie.

The movie does not fully engage with the challenges – technical or entrepreneurial – of building something that is as big and complex as Facebook. Instead the passing references to technology only serve as a backdrop to an evolving legal drama.

Incidentally, Facebook has had so many challenging moments in its short journey. Coming from behind to trump MySpace and take over as the premier social network was one such moment. Overcoming the countless privacy issues and managing to regain people’s trust was another. How about the social networking aspect itself? Wasn’t it Facebook that actually gave the nascent concept form and shape, and turn it into the next big thing? So many things a geek could feast on, that the movie didn’t even mention.

Then again, there’s nothing to say there will not be a version 2.0 of the movie!

Never Miss an Important Email Again with GMail Priority Inbox

Close on the heels of the Multiple Account Sign-In feature that it released recently, Gmail has announced yet another great piece of functionality. An overflowing inbox is perhaps an everyday reality for many email users. However, things can quickly get out of hand if the really important emails tend to get lost among the constant flood of incoming messages. The capability to “star” a message, which has been available since the early days of gmail, only comes in handy once you have seen or skimmed the message once. But, what if you never notice the message coming in? To handle such scary what-ifs, gmail has introduced the “Priority Inbox”, a feature that ensures that your most important emails bubble up to the top of the inbox, so that you never loose them among the general milleu of everyday bargains and subscription newsletters.

Gmail will look at a variety of factors to determine which messages are important. These factors include looking at who you email the most , or whose emails you read or reply to regularly. You are also provided with controls to increase or decrease the importance of a conversation or a category of conversations. If this sounds a bit like the spam filter, it is because this is indeed a very similar technology, only applied in exactly the opposite way. A step that nevertheless took google several years to perfect.  

Priority Inbox splits your inbox into three sections: “Important and Unread” at the top, followed by “Starred”, followed by “Everything else”.  The idea being that over time you should see all your important messages in the top section. You then “star” selected messages to retain them in the second section for later processing. The bottom section will of course contain everything else including new messages that didn’t make it to the important list.

gmail priority inbox sections

The feature is expected to be rolled out to all gmail users over the next week or so.

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