Wonkblog: Tech

Microsoft might be beating Google at retail. No, really.

Microsoft might be beating Google at retail. No, really.

The Internet was supposed to have killed physical retail. It's a persistent narrative: Malls are hollowing out, restaurants are taking over shopping strips, and Cyber Monday will soon make Black Friday obsolete. In the age of Amazon, when purchases are just one click away, why does anyone need a store?

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Why Silicon Valley has been silent on the shutdown

Why Silicon Valley has been silent on the shutdown

Over the past couple years, Silicon Valley has sought to reverse its longstanding aversion to politics. Lobby shops for companies like Google and Facebook have ballooned, campaign contributions have started to flow, new organizations have formed, and high-profile advocacy campaigns have made headlines across the country.

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Google Reader dies today. Here's why I'm not replacing it.

Google Reader dies today. Here's why I'm not replacing it.

Google Reader will die tonight. And I'm going to miss it terribly. But I'm not going to replace it. I'm going back to plain old bookmarks.

I subscribe to 157 Web sites on Google Reader. Over the last 30 days, I've read 510 posts from those sites. Since Sept. 14, 2009 -- the date I joined -- I've read 84,137 posts. That's a lot of blog posts.

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Is Silicon Valley only interested in the problems of twentysomethings?

Is Silicon Valley only interested in the problems of twentysomethings?

In his fascinating New Yorker piece on the political culture of Silicon Valley, George Packer relays an irksome conversation with Dave Morin, founder of Path, that underscores the yawning distance between the concerns of the tech elite and the concerns of pretty much everyone else on earth.

[Morin] described San Francisco as a place where people already live in the future. They can hang out with their friends even when they're alone. They inhabit a "sharing economy": they can book a weeklong stay in a cool apartment through Airbnb, which has disrupted the hotel industry, or hire a luxury car anywhere in the city through the mobile app Uber, which has disrupted the taxi industry. "SanFrancisco is a place where we can go downstairs and get in an Uber and go to dinner at a place that I got a restaurant reservation for halfway there," Morin said. "And, if not, we could go to my place, and on the way there I could order takeout food from my favorite restaurants on Postmates, and a bike messenger will go and pick it up for me. We'll watch it happen on the phone. These things are crazy ideas."

It suddenly occurred to me that the hottest tech start-ups are solving all the problems of being twenty years old, with cash on hand, because that's who thinks them up.

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WonkTalk: Ezra vs. Twitter

On Monday, I wrote a post about the problems I have in keeping up with Twitter. Twitter was not happy. In Tuesday's WonkTalk, Brad Plumer and I talk through my unprovoked, inexplicable war on Twitter, and some possible peace agreements.

And remember: WonkTalk is now a podcast! You can subscribe at iTunes.

The problem with Twitter

In an act that could fuel 100 "how we live now" thumbsuckers, Nick Beaudrot gave up Twitter for Lent. But now Lent's over. So is he excited to fire up the old Tweetdeck? Nope:

I'm not going back to Twitter. Or rather, I'm not going back to Twitter until I find a way to separate the wheat from the chaff. And on twitter there is alot of chaff. This extremely accurate chart* suggests that up to 90% of a typical twitter feed is basically a waste of everyone's time. If I could write a filter that only showed me tweets that contained links, that might improve the signal-to-noise ratio to the point where twitter were useful.

After two days without Twitter, I barely missed it; by the second week, I was downright happy not to be thinking about "staying on top" of my feed. I've uninstalled Tweetdeck from my phone, and going forward will only use Twitter to post links to my own blog posts. So my first piece of advice is that you should just stop using Twitter altogether, or find a way to show only those tweets that contain links.

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Google's trust problem

Google's trust problem

James Fallows likes software meant to help him organize and simplify his life. So, naturally, he moved immediately to download Google Keep, the search giant's "new app for collecting notes, photos, and info."

The problem, Fallows quickly realized, is that he wasn't sure he could trust it.

Google now has a clear enough track record of trying out, and then canceling, "interesting" new software that I have no idea how long Keep will be around. When Google launched its Google Health service five years ago, it had an allure like Keep's: here is the one place you could store your prescription info, test readings, immunizations, and so on and know that you could get at them. That's how I used it -- until Google cancelled this "experiment" last year. Same with Google Reader, and all the other products in the Google Graveyard that Slate produced last week.

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Derek Khanna wants you to be able to unlock your cellphone

Derek Khanna wants you to be able to unlock your cellphone

It was November 2012 and Derek Khanna was working as a staffer in the Republican Study Committee, which acts as a kind of think tank for the conservative wing of the House Republican Conference. Khanna, whose job was to follow issues pertaining to technology, homeland security and government oversight, was asked to draw up a short brief on copyright law -- something the group could hand out to House Republicans in the hopes of getting some legislation moving. "The memo wasn't my idea," he says.

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How to punish robots when they inevitably turn against us

How to punish robots when they inevitably turn against us



Gabriel Hallevy is a professor at Ono Academic College's Faculty of Law in Kiryat Ono, Israel. He specializes in criminal law and in particular the interface between criminal law and new technologies, such as robots and other machines equipped with artificial intelligence. His work was recently featured in a Boston Globe article by Leon Neyfakh on the ability of the legal system to handle robots.

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Aaron Swartz, American hero

Aaron Swartz, American hero

Paul Graham, the founder of angel investing firm Y Combinator, has mentored generations of SIlicon Valley whiz kids. In an essay about hackers and the role they've played driving technology forward, he wrote that "Hackers are unruly. That is the essence of hacking. And it is also the essence of Americanness." Those three sentences are a perfect description of one of Graham's mentees in particular: Aaron Swartz.

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There will someday no longer be a great stagnation

There will someday no longer be a great stagnation

Farhad Manjoo has me convinced: Square is a really exciting company.

There are one of two ways to look at the digital revolution of the last few years. The first way is that it hasn’t done much for the real economy. The major players like Apple and Google and Twitter and Facebook simply don’t employ that many people. They’ve made a smaller number of people very, very, very rich. But the Internet hasn’t been like the automobile, where the new industries meant jobs for millions upon millions of American workers.

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One surefire way to enlist organ donors (that doesn’t involve Facebook)

One surefire way to enlist organ donors (that doesn’t involve Facebook)

Facebook is turning heads Tuesday morning with news that it will encourage users to post their organ donor status. The hope is that, by making this information public, more users will feel pressured to become donors.

Will it work? That’s hard to tell: There’s not much in the way of academic research on how social networking can influence organ donation decisions. But if we wanted to significantly increase the number of American organ donors, the health economics literature does suggest one nearly-surefire strategy: Presumed consent.

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Repost: Did social networking need Facebook?

Repost: Did social networking need Facebook?

Facebook took its first steps toward going public this week, and observers think its valuation might be as much as $100 billion. Mark Zuckerberg, its founder, owns 28 percent of the company, so that would instantly making him one of the 10 or 15 richest individuals in America. In this essay from October, 2010, I considered how much credit Zuckerberg deserves for social networking phenomenon that has led to his incredible success.

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The five best anti-SOPA protests

The five best anti-SOPA protests

It’s INTERNETAGEDDON!

Or, at the least, it’s the day of the SOPA protests. As an example of political mobilization —and a new form of political mobilization at that — the anti-SOPA campaign is likely to enter the organizing textbooks. Saul Alinsky could never have seen this coming. As an example of the power and prevalence that these Web sites have in our lives, the anti-SOPA blackouts are a bit unsettling. SOPA might be a particularly noxious piece of legislation, but the future will bring bills that Internet giants don’t like, yet might actually be good for consumers. Will they be able to resist mobilizing against those, too? Still, as an example of the creativity that shines across the Internet, the anti-SOPA protests are, well, sort of awesome. Here are five of the best:

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Interview: Sen. Ron Wyden’s fight to stop SOPA and save the Internet


The online encyclopedia Wikipedia is viewed on Jan. 17, 2012. (KAREN BLEIER - AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Perhaps no single member of Congress deserves as much credit for slowing the advance of the aggressive online-piracy bills SOPA and PIPA as Sen. Ron Wyden, who for much of last year fought a one-man battle to keep the Senate version of the legislation from moving through on a unanimous vote. Now, on the eve of a major online mobilization against the proposed laws, I spoke with Wyden about why he opposes the bills, where the process stands, and what his alternative is. A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.

Ezra Klein: Let’s go back to the beginning of your involvement in this. The Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect IP Act are well known at this point, but your involvement began earlier, with the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA).

Ron Wyden: I have been fighting this for almost a year-and-a-half. The COICA bill, which was the predecessor in the Senate to the Protect IP Act, came out in September. It was by Chairman Pat Leahy, just as Protect IP is. And since then, our side has been fighting above our weight. We’re up against one of the most powerful, savvy, and active of the traditional Washington lobbies. Their bill has cleared the committee unanimously twice. And we said from the very beginning that there’s a lot on the Senate calender, these are complicated issues, and when this is front-and-center, there will be a tidal wave of opposition. And we’ve been proven right on that.

EK: And how exactly did you slow the bill?

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Behind Tim Cook’s giant, unnecessary payday

Behind Tim Cook’s giant, unnecessary payday

So did Tim Cook really just get awarded $378 million by Apple’s board? Well, no. He got awarded much more than that. Or perhaps much less. At this point, it’s hard to tell.

Cook got a salary of $900,000 and a grant of Apple stock worth $376 million. But he can’t go out and spend it right now. He gets control of the first half if he remains as CEO for five years. He gets control of the second half if he remains CEO for 10 years. And whether his stock is worth more than $376 million in 2022 or less depends on how Apple performs over the next 10 years. This is supposed to incentivize Cook to do a good job. But Cook has, presumably, been doing a good job over the last few years, too. That’s why he got promoted to CEO. And he was doing that good job without $376 million in stock options as an incentive.

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Two ways to foil hackers

On April 13th, Deborah Fallows’ Google Mail account was hacked. The intruders sent a panicked note under her name to everyone in her contacts and asked them to wire money to help her leave Spain. That’s annoying. Then they deleted everything in her account. For many of us, that would be devastating.

After the hacking, her husband, the journalist James Fallows, spent months looking into online security. The resulting article, which appeared in last month’s Atlantic, contains a couple of tips that everyone who stores important information online should know: passwords you think are strong are not necessarily strong, and even if they are strong, they’re only as strong as the weakest account they’re linked to.

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Facebook is drinking Silicon Valley’s milkshake, in one graphic

If you believe talent is destiny, then Facebook’s future looks quite bright:

That’s via Top Prospect, which comments: “For every 15 people who left Google for Facebook, the GOOG was only able to steal one from Zuck. Microsoft was hit even harder, losing 30:1 vs Facebook. But the most painful of all was the Yahoo! exodus to LinkedIn: 43 Yahoo employees joined the newly IPO’d professional network for every one swimming the other direction.”