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A Failing Upgrade for the FBI

A follow-up article today explains what the FBI planned for the software. "The FBI wanted the Virtual Case File software to be built from scratch to maximize the safety and security of information. But the custom design proved extraordinarily expensive, and over the years software companies have been able to develop comparable off-the-shelf software for a fraction of the cost," the paper said. "A preliminary report from Aerospace Corp., a federally funded nonprofit research firm in El Segundo hired by the FBI to assess its options, has identified commercially available programs that could meet the FBI's requirements, sources familiar with the study said. Using such programs would also enable the FBI to integrate its software with that of other agencies doing similar work a far more complicated task if it chose to stick with a custom product."
FBI Draws Heat Over Pricey Software Trouble (Registration required)

This New Year, an Internet Diet

Some PC users are so fed up with the threat of computer worms, viruses, spyware and spam that they are unhooking their machines from the Internet altogether or trying to spend less time on the Web. The Los Angeles Times reports on the trend today in a front-page article: "Instead of making life easier -- the essential promise of technologies since the steam engine -- the home PC of late has made some users feel stupid, endangered or just hassled beyond reason. ... The aggravation level has reached the point that some in the computer industry believe it threatens to undermine advances of the last decade, during which the Internet has grown from a virtually empty domain to a global community of 800 million souls. They say they need to act before the same early adopters who led mainstream Americans online lead them off. 'If, as an industry, we're not able to provide a safe, reliable computing environment, we do think consumers will get increasingly frustrated,' said Michael George, general manager of Dell's U.S. consumer business. 'We're concerned, and we want to get to a position where we play an instrumental role in fixing the problem.'"
The Los Angeles Times: No More Internet for Them (Registration required)

_____Filter Archive_____
EA's Sports Networking (washingtonpost.com, Jan 18, 2005)
New Year's Hacks (washingtonpost.com, Jan 13, 2005)
Apple Goes Budget Friendly (washingtonpost.com, Jan 12, 2005)
Big Blue Opens the Patent Vault (washingtonpost.com, Jan 11, 2005)
An Apple a Day (washingtonpost.com, Jan 10, 2005)
More Past Issues

An end note: Here's a remote tie-in to yesterday's column about fresh hacker attacks in the New Year, namely at Virginia's George Mason University. It's interesting that such a serious breach -- the theft of personal data for 30,000 students -- would occur at a school known as a hub for cyber-security and other IT studies. Washington Post tech columnist Shannon Henry wrote yesterday about an effort underway to boost GMU's tech prowess or find a new alternative altogether. The hacker breach doesn't help the university's fight against those who are trying to find an alternative to the school. "The area lacks a research campus on par with Stanford University or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and critics have said the omission hinders the region's growth. A top-ranked research university can create technologies that spawn corporations nearby, and it can serve as a magnet for top technologists," Henry wrote.

Filter in Review: A Look Back at Blogging

In case you missed my closing note in Tuesday's column, Filter is ending its two-and-a-half year run next Friday, Jan. 21. The column has been near and dear to me, and I will miss writing it and receiving great feedback from readers around the world.

In the final week, I plan to take a look at key trends and issues in the technology sector that were covered in this space. Today's installment will focus on blogs.

Blogs weren't exactly new when I first started writing about them in Filter, but they were new enough that I always felt obligated to define them -- especially when I continued to receive reader e-mails wondering what exactly a blog is. Now blogging has become just another part of pop culture, not to mention the No. 1 looked-up word on one online dictionary last year. There's simply no longer any need to explain them as "online Web logs of news and views."

I ranked blogs second in my 2004 top tech trends column in December. Two years ago, I pulled out my crystal ball on Jan. 2, 2003 and tagged blogs as a top item to watch for the year, writing: "Blogs and blogging ... will continue to grow. .... Look for more corporate blogs and mainstream outlets using the free-for –all, online tools to spread information." The next day, I posted readers' picks of their favorite blogs, prompting several Filter readers to write in praise of a mainstream outlet giving blogs more street credibility.

Perhaps the most interesting development in the world of blogging is the rise of "citizen journalists" -- a great step forward for providing more news and information online. But there are some kinks. In April 2003, I explored some of the ethical issues surrounding blogging. The "post now-ask questions later" mentality I discussed in that piece continues today. If bloggers take their role seriously and realize that fact gathering and accuracy are Golden Rules --- even if you are posting something to your personal Web site in your pajamas -- then the medium is going to be make even bigger strides toward being taken seriously. Cyberjournalist.net, a proponent of blogging, has a Bloggers' Code of Ethics that's a good starting point.

Traditional media has certainly taken note of the power of blogs in the past year, but back in 2002 the major outlets were just beginning to experiment with blogging, as I noted in my Dec. 20, 2002, column. News sites that don't have blog features online now are going to be a minority in the future, I believe. The hitch, however, will be getting corporate lawyers and old-school media types to be comfortable enough to allow for free-wheeling posting of news and events. I expect blogging at news organizations to be done with an asterisk -- there will be editors and controls, essentially blog hybrids that aren't called blogs. This difference means grassroots blogging will still flourish.

News organizations, more and more, are taking a page from bloggers in covering breaking news. The popularity of blogs shows that readers want real-time updates and a way to interact through public message boards and other features. The recent tsunami disaster in South Asia was a case were bloggers played a key role in covering a crisis -- often making posts before media scribes. Special tsunami blogs were created and helped spur massive online donations for aid groups. More news organizations are covering breaking news by posting reporter notebook feeds and blog-like online dispatches. We will see more of this in 2005.

In 2004, politicians took note of blogging. And in what may have been a trendy end-run around the mainstream press, both political parties granted press credentials to bloggers covering their presidential nominating conventions. But as interest in blogging increased during the election season, bloggers had to face the music more than ever from wary critics. This was most apparent during Election Day, when a slew of popular bloggers published exit poll data -- following through on what they see as their mission to provide information that traditional media may be sitting on. It will be interesting to see how the exit polls are handled in the 2008 presidential race.

Meanwhile, Internet heavyweights are diving into the blogging realm. Last month, Microsoft announced an expanded commitment to blogging, and just this week its MSN portal revealed new additions to its test blog service (spaces.msn.com), including new search tools and a way to offer feeds of blogs and other news. The announcement came on MSN Search's own blog, and the site noted the new features were still in test phase and had been reported by ... bloggers, of course.

It's safe to say blogs aren't a passing fad. The question is how this medium will continue to evolve and whether its adoption by the news media and corporate heavyweights will co-opt blogging's original, free-form nature -- or the other way around.

With the MLK holiday on Monday, look for the next Filter on Tuesday, Jan. 18.

Filter launched in Aug. 2002. The column is ending its run on Jan. 21. Send feedback, praise and darts alike to cindyDOTwebbATwashingtonpost.com. (Spammers still love to blast my e-mail address.)

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