Mark Wilson

Facebook to fire news at you faster than ever

Facebook to fire news at you faster than ever

Part of the point of Facebook, in addition to making it easier to keep in touch with people, is to keep abreast of news. The social network's algorithms are such that you don’t just see a chronological stream of updates from the people, companies, and pages you follow -- stories can 'surface' in a seemingly random order, and may appear some time after they were actually relevant. Facebook is aware that it can deliver posts in something of an untimely fashion, and it's now going to do something about it. It makes a change from forcing users to display their real names...

The social network is rolling out a couple of updates that will help to ensure that stories that appear in your News Feeds are more relevant. There have been complaints that Facebook is slow to start pushing trending topics -- be it sports events or big news stories -- and this is being addressed. Should friends of yours link to, or interact with, a story that is currently trending, it is "more likely to appear higher up in News Feed, so you can see it sooner". You may well have thought that this is how things worked before, but apparently this is not the case.

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Panic over! Twitpic is given a stay of execution after a buyer is found

Panic over! Twitpic is given a stay of execution after a buyer is found

Twitpic will no longer close on 25 September as the photo sharing service has found a buyer. There's not yet any word on who is behind the acquisition, but the takeaway news is that photos should be safe as Twitpic will live to fight another day.

Just a couple of weeks ago, founder Noah Everett posted the news that Twitpic was to close following something of a legal tussle with Twitter. But things have taken a turn for the better. After users scrabbled to download their images to ensure they were safe, it now transpires that the service is not going anywhere.

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Microsoft drops Windows Dev Center fee -- expect a crap app avalanche

Microsoft drops Windows Dev Center fee -- expect a crap app avalanche

Free's good, right? Who doesn’t like something gratis? Microsoft has -- sort of -- cottoned onto this idea and dropped the annual fee associated with the Windows Dev Center. The 'sort of' caveat remains because signing up for a Dev Center account is not completely free; there's still a registration fee of $19 to pay, but this is for a lifetime account -- no more annual charges. Announcing the move on the Windows blog, Todd Brix explains that "each of our 600,000+ registered developers will no longer need to pay any additional fees to maintain their account. It’s also a very good time for developers new to the platform to get a Dev Center account and start submitting apps".

Having paid the fee, developers are then free to submit apps to both the Windows Phone Store and the Windows Store. But this is not the only change that's coming to the Dev Center. In what is becoming something of a trend, Microsoft clearly pinned back its ears and made it easier to promote apps and provide offers to users. Improvements to in-app advertising means that campaigns can be more easily run on a global scale and pay outs are made faster.

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News Corp: Google is a 'platform for piracy' with 'cynical management'

Google is a 'platform for piracy' with 'cynical management' -- News Corp

News Corp, Rupert Murdoch's media behemoth, is the latest source of criticism of Google. Robert Thomson, the chief executive of the company -- responsible for the Times and the Sun in the UK as well the book publisher HarperCollins -- has written to the European Commission to complain that the search giant is "a platform for piracy". Thomson pulls no punches as he lays into Google, saying that the company was in the hands of a "cynical management" and was "willing to exploit its dominant market position to stifle competition".

The letter, addressed to Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia, is bitter in tone as Thomson complains of Google's "egregious" practices. It is Google's dominance of the search market that is seen as particularly problematic. News Corps feels that Google's power "increases with each passing day" -- a claim that many have leveled at Murdoch's corporation in the past -- and fears that this "will lead to a less informed, more vexatious level of dialog in our society". But this is far from being the only accusation that Thomson fires at Google.

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HooToo TripMate Elite -- the "electronic Swiss army knife" for tech travellers [Review]

HooToo TripMate Elite -- the "electronic Swiss army knife" for tech travellers [Review]

When I first learned about the HooToo it sounded, frankly, a bit nuts. Pitched as an "all-in-one device charger, AC adapter, personal cloud, travel router, Wi-Fi hotspot, and wireless bridge" I was instantly intrigued, but fearful that this was going to be a device that promised the world and delivered little. Was I setting my expectations too low? Before we look at things any further, it's probably worth spending a moment or two decoding what it actually is. One of its more basic functions is a rechargeable USB battery pack complete with two outputs. But there's more to the TripMate Elite. Much, much more.

The 3.2 x 3.2 x 1.0 inch (82 x 82 x 28mm) black box is home to a 6000mAH battery that's perfect for powering up a dead mobile or tablet on the move, but the 7oz (200g) package has plenty more tricks up its sleeve. As it's a portable battery pack, it's hardly surprising to find a couple of USB outputs, one kicking out 1A, the other 1/2.1A. Equally unsurprising -- but no less useful -- is the battery level checker on the adjacent side; tap the button and four blue LEDs let you know the charge level. But what's that next to the charge lights? Internet and LAN indicators? Curiouser and curiouser, said Alice.

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Microsoft OneNote gains Android Wear support plus new iOS 8 and Windows Phone apps

Microsoft OneNote gains Android Wear support plus new iOS 8 and Windows Phone apps

Microsoft continues its recent trend of bringing exciting new features to rival platforms by adding Android Wear support to OneNote. The most recent version of Microsoft's note-taking tool -- suitably named OneNote for Android Wear -- and a new iOS 8-friendly version of the app is also due to launch today. If you've invested in an Android smartwatch (you'll have to wait a little longer for an Apple Watch version), taking a note is as simple as uttering "OK Google, take a note" -- but be prepared for a few weird looks when you try this out in a store for the first time.

To take advantage of the voice-activated features of the app, you will also need to have the main OneNote app installed on your Android phone or tablet. Forget the fact that your smartwatch doesn't have a keyboard -- notes can now be dictated to your wrist in a way that will not in any way make people who may be nearby think you're a little, er, strange. Or, as the Office Blog puts it, "we hope you enjoy using OneNote in a manner even Dick Tracy would envy!"

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UK web users are the most likely targets for phishing scams in the world

UK web users are the most likely targets for phishing scams in the world

Phishing scams are a problem around the world -- and it's likely that one or more was at least partly responsible for the Fappening -- but it seems that it is more of a problem in some places than others.

Just about all of us have received emails that contain malicious links, but analysis by Proofpoint found that web users in the UK are more than two and a half times as likely to receive phishing mail as those in the US. Germany fairs much better, receiving just a fifth of the number of scam emails as the UK. But these numbers are not the whole story -- phishing emails account for just a portion of unwanted emails.

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Cheap handsets in India and China fuel huge global surge in smartphone shipments

Cheap handsets in India and China fuel huge global surge in smartphone shipments

New figures show that global smartphone shipments for 2014 are set to be 19 percent higher than the previous year. Juniper Research reports that handset shipments are forecast to jump from 985 million in 2013 to 1.2 billion this year.

Smartphone popularity continues to rise, and this has been driven -- at least in part -- by the appearance of handsets with bargain basement prices. While the likes of Apple push premium-priced smartphones, emerging markets are lapping up handsets priced at $150 and under.

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Comcast could cut off customers who use the Tor browser

Comcast could cut off customers who use the Tor browser

Last week there were net neutrality protests from a number of big names in the online world. This week there is controversy courtesy of Comcast -- described by DeepDotWeb as "the most hated company in America" -- as the firm apparently declares war on Tor.

The web browser -- one favored by those concerned about their privacy -- has been branded "illegal" by Comcast according to DeepDotWeb and customer reports appearing on the /r/darknetmarkets subreddit (reddit itself having banned subreddits associated with the Fappening). Customers are reporting having been warned that use of Tor is against Comcast's term of use and could result in a termination of service.

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Many UK iPhone 6 pre-orders cancelled after Phones 4u enters administration

Many UK iPhone 6 pre-orders cancelled after Phones 4u enters administration

Would-be iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus owners are currently wondering whether or not they will receive the handsets they pre-ordered after Phones 4u went into administration.

On Sunday, the beleaguered retailer threw in the towel after EE decided not to renew contracts. While Phones 4u has said that it will honor orders that have been placed and dispatched, but indicated that orders that are yet to be sent out -- which will include many iPhone 6 orders -- will be canceled, and refunds issued.

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Facebook is going to start taking notice of why you hate certain ads

Facebook is going to start taking notice of why you hate certain ads

Adverts are pretty much universally hated online. Sites can try to justify their presence as much as they like but visitors will still view them with loathing. Among the many complaints levelled at Facebook, the irrelevance of many of the advertisements that appear on users' pages is a major cause of complaints. For quite some time now Facebook has given users the chance to voice a dislike of individual ads -- opt to hide an ad via the official Facebook method and you can indicate that you find it irrelevant, offensive, repetitive, spammy, and so on -- but it has been hard to know just how much notice has been taken of these complaints. Now Facebook wants to assure users that it is listening and that more relevant ads will be displayed.

Hopefully this can be taken to mean "ads that are more relevant" rather than "there will be more ads and they will be relevant", but the point is that Facebook wants to ensure that you see ads that might actually be of interest. Two new updates will help to tailor your ad experience. The first seems like a fairly obvious one:

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Facebook's 'real name' policy is wrong, discriminatory, and potentially dangerous

Facebook's "real name" policy is wrong, discriminatory, and potentially dangerous

Facebook's policy requiring the use of real names on the social network is not all that new, but it remains controversial. Many users would like to be able to use a nickname (other than the "variation of your real first or last name" permitted by the site), but Facebook continues to insist that forcing the revelation of birth name "helps keep our community safe". Or does it? There's certainly an argument that suggests it makes sense to know who you are dealing with, but this cannot be a one-size-fits-all policy. There will always be exceptions, and this is something highlighted by ReadWrite.

As Selena Larson points out, there are many people who choose to use "pseudonyms online for both safety and personal reasons". And yet the site is trying to force Sister Roma -- a drag artist and member of Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a "leading-edge Order of queer nuns" -- to use her birth name rather than what is being regarded as her stage name. Who is Facebook to try to interfere with this? This is the site that only recently was encouraging its users to boost their privacy by checking the settings they had in place. It smacks of giving with one hand and taking with the other.

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T-Mobile brings free Wi-Fi calling to its customers, and it's terrible news

T-Mobile brings free wifi calling to its customers, and it's terrible news

At its seventh Uncarrier event in San Francisco, T-Mobile unveiled plans to clutter up the internet for everyone -- T-Mobile customers and non-T-Mobile customers alike. On the face of it, things sound great. The T-Mobile Personal CellSpot offers free Wi-Fi calling and "fast data". The Cellspot is essentially a router which can be yours for a deposit of $25 but the difference is that it has been tweaked so that it prioritizes HD Wi-Fi calls over other traffic on the network. If you live in an area with poor mobile reception -- which can be just as frustrating as having to put up with a terrible internet connection -- this might sound like wonderful news, but when you look at the bigger picture, it is really such good news?

Let's try to ignore the fact that in order to get hold of one of the Personal CellSpots, you need to stump up a refundable deposit -- whoever heard of renting their router? -- and ask the first question: who actually needs "HD" phone calls? Pictures are HD, and there really have been very few complaints about the overall quality of voice calls on mobiles over the years. This is just gimmicky and inefficient. T-Mobile CMO Mike Sievert indicated that customers would enjoy the portability of the device -- easy to take on the road and set up anywhere. But how many people take a router away with them? Is this really going to become the norm?

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Yahoo resisted NSA Prism requests -- US government threatened $250,000 daily fines

Yahoo resisted NSA Prism requests and US government threated $250,000 daily fines

It's transparency time once again! After Edward Snowden opened the can of NSA surveillance worms, internet users' collected attention has been focused on online privacy. We still don’t know the full extent of the monitoring that took place, but more information continues to leak out. All of the big names -- Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, and the rest -- have slowly trickled out little snippets about government data requests. A new blog post from Yahoo's general counsel Ron Bell sheds further light on the resistance the company put up against requests for data.

Just like Google and Microsoft, Yahoo is keen to let it be known that it tried to stick up for the privacy rights of its customers. A new cache of documents -- stretching to War And Peace baiting 1,500 pages -- from seven years ago shows just how much of a fight Yahoo tried to put on its users' behalves. Way back in 2007, the US government started to request information about users from a number of online companies. Yahoo was one of the companies who -- initially, at least -- refused to comply, and tried to fight the government in court.

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Google Drive and Docs gain accessibility options for visually-impaired users

Google Drive and Docs gain accessibility options for visually-impaired users

With a visual impairment, using any software or service can be anything from tricky to impossible. Windows and other operating systems have long included features that make them easier for blind and partially sighted people to use, and now Google is adding similar playing-field-levelling features to Google Drives and Docs. While traditional desktop software has been quick to adopt new methods of opening up to as many people as possible, the same cannot be said of online tools -- Google is looking to change that.

Starting today, Docs, Sheets, Slides, Drawings and Forms all feature support for Alt tags for images, as well as better text-to-voice conversions. Tweaks include support for vocalized spelling correction suggestions, as well as the ability to listen to comments that have been added to shared documents. The arrival and departure of collaborators something else that's now spoken aloud. Changes are also to be found in the many keyboard shortcuts -- additional shortcuts are now available to provide access to a wider range of tools and option than before, including the editing of charts and pivot tables.

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