Russia’s VKontakte is one of the few native social networking systems to have outlasted Facebook in its home territory. That’s one reason why news that it and its founder are facing any number of troubles, as described by Ilya Krennikov at Bloomberg News, is of interest to me.
Pavel Durov is Russia’s Mark Zuckerberg. Just five months younger than the Facebook founder, the programmer formed VKontakte in 2006, giving the Russian-language social network two years to build a following before Facebook arrived. Today, VKontakte has 43 million users in its home country, dwarfing Facebook’s Russian presence.
Durov’s defiance defined him as much as Zuckerberg’s geekiness. He’s fought music labels claiming VKontakte breaches copyright laws, and when KGB-successor Federal Security Service pushed him to shut down pages by anti-Putin groups last year, he tweeted a hoodie-wearing German shepherd with its tongue sticking out.
When billionaire Alisher Usmanov’s Mail.ru tried to take control, Durov took to Twitter again, flipping the bird and dubbing it “an official answer to trash holding Mail.ru.”
But Durov’s self-assurance may be slipping. He founded the site with money from two rich schoolmates, who got a combined 48 percent stake. They backed him when he wouldn’t sell shares to Usmanov, but last week, money won out. They sold to United Capital Partners, a fund known for doing deals for state-run energy giants Gazprom and Rosneft.
Durov’s 12 percent stake means Mail.ru (40 percent) and UCP (48 percent) need his backing to control VKontakte, though he doesn’t seem to be feeling like the belle of the ball. After prosecutors suspected him of being involved in an April 5 incident in St. Petersburg, when a policeman was struck down by a Mercedes-Benz, TV Rain says he’s fled the country.
Yahoo, as any number of news media (like the Financial Post, has bought Tumblr.
Yahoo! Inc. is buying blogging network Tumblr Inc. for about $1.1 billion as Chief Executive Officer Marissa Mayer seeks to lure users and advertisers with her priciest acquisition to date.
Tumblr, headquartered in New York, will continue to host its more than 108 million blogs. Yahoo also says that “per the agreement and our promise not to screw it up, Tumblr will be independently operated as a separate business” with David Karp staying on as CEO.
Mayer, CEO of the biggest U.S. Web portal since July, is betting that Tumblr will help transform Yahoo into a hip destination in the era of social networking as she challenges Google Inc. and Facebook Inc. in the US$17.7-billion display ad market. The price she’s paying — about a fifth of Yahoo’s US$5.4-billion in cash — underscores the deal’s importance to Mayer’s turnaround effort, according to Zachary Reiss-Davis, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc.
“It’s an aggressive move,” Reiss-Davis said in an interview. “They are saying, ‘where is our next group of people who are going to spend many hours per week on Yahoo properties?’ It’s big bet that the answer is going to be Tumblr users.”
The transaction is expected to close in the second half of 2013, Yahoo said in the statement.
Founded by Karp in 2007, Tumblr grew to log more than 13 billion global page views in the past month. The site offers a free service for publishing blogs on the Web and mobile devices, and tools for sharing photos and other content across social networks.
[T]he big news is the free space — “we want all of your images,” said Cahan. He said it was 70 times bigger than what other sites offer, and said it could store 537,731 photos in “full quality.” Yahoo directly mentioned the 15GB of storage space “other” companies offer, and it was a pretty direct shot at Google — a company that has made no secret recently about making photos a key part of its services.
Yahoo also announced a new Android Flickr app, which matches the capabilities of the recently-updated iOS app. “Upload once, send to any device, any screen, any friend, any follower, on any service, and make it absolutely beautiful,” said Cahan. Along with this new service, Flickr is revamping its Flickr Pro service. Previously, free Flickr users could only display 200 photos at a time, while paid users had unlimited storage and display capabilities as well as analytical data about your photos. However, Yahoo introduced a few new paid options — for $49.99 a year, all ads on the site will be removed, and you’ll get access to the standard set of Flickr analytics. For $499.99, you can double your storage space to 2TB. All in all, it looks like a long overdue and hugely-needed update — but now Flickr has an arsenal of new tools to take on sites like Facebook and Google.
As a long-time Flickr user, I’m excited by the upgrade. As a novice Tumblr user, I only hope Yahoo doesn’t screw it up (the fact that Marissa Mayer has had to promise not to do that worries me). I do find it worth noting that, between Flickr and Tumblr and my Yahoo Mail account, I make more use of my Yahoo account than I do my Google account, and that with the impending demise of Google Reader my usage of Google will diminish accordingly. I just use Google to search; I do my business on Yahoo.
Toronto Star technology journalist Radu Mudhar notes the surprising success of Toronto-made app MavenSay in Indonesia, aided by social networks in that country (specifically, prominent Instagram users based in Jakarta).
“Here we are just a group of guys sitting at a startup in Toronto and we woke up one morning realizing that we had this massive spike in Asia,” said Bryan Friedman, one of three of MavenSay’s founders. “We rose to become the No. 1 free iPhone app across all categories in Indonesia. And we sort of sat at the top of the charts for five days, beating out Angry Birds, the Iron Man app, Facebook, Twitter, everyone.”
Friedman, who started the company with his former University of Toronto classmates Mike Wagman and Jesse Dallal, said they were floored when they saw the 15,000 downloads that first day, which continued the following week as well.
MavenSay, built by a seven-person team, had initially focused garnering its users from cities like New York, L.A. and San Francisco. Celebrities, including Samantha and Charlotte Ronson, are sharing their likes. Maple Leaf Joffrey Lupul has recommended the Harbour Sixty Steakhouse, among other things.
Things were going well, said Friedman, but nothing could have prepared them for breakout success half way around the world. Looking back at the data, he chalks it up to some early adopters in Jakarta who had massive Instagram followings. Indonesia is home to an extremely tech savvy culture with high usage of social media platforms. At the end of 2012, Jakarta was the city with the most posted tweets in the world, and was the No. 5 country in the world for Twitter usage.
“We’ve tried to retrace the steps and find the exact person or group of people who started it,” he said. “The night this all started happening we noticed that a couple of these big Instagram users, who had about 16,000 followers each, and one of things you can do is publish your MavenSay profile on Instagram. So they cross-posted their profiles and it just went from there.”
BlackBerry was busy Tuesday, offering a smorgasbord of news. There was the device announcement in the form of the budget-friendly BlackBerry Q5. There was the updated BlackBerry Enterprise Server 10.1 for the business-minded. There was the milestone of 120,000 apps available in BlackBerry World. Most surprising was the company’s decision to open up BlackBerry Messenger to multiple platforms, starting with iOS and Android.
All of those announcements are meant to convey a sense of building momentum at BlackBerry. Indeed, over the last several months, the company has launched a brand new platform, worked to repair its wounded reputation, and fleshed out its product portfolio to three products.
“I remember being right here one year ago on this stage,” [CEO Thorsten Heins] said. “This year feels very, very different.”
At the last show — Heins’ first as CEO — critics predicted that he wouldn’t be back on stage this year. The company’s sales were eroding and it began losing money. Its market share almost entirely evaporated, particularly in the U.S., and it didn’t have any new products to show off, aside from a developer test unit. Shareholders were already shell-shocked, having seen most of the value of their investment vanish.
[. . .]
Not everyone is as comfortable with BlackBerry’s prospects. Shares of the company fell 4 percent after its announcements. There’s still little indication of just how well its BlackBerry 10 devices have fared, and the company was conspicuously silent on the matter. There remain questions about whether its injured brands can actually be rehabilitated.
Peter Rakobowchuk’s Canadian Press article, carried in the Calgary Herald, goes into interesting background about Chris Hadfield’s media fame. It turns out that his sons pushed him into it, or at least into the social media that made him a celebrity.
[Hadfield's] conversion began several years ago — long before Hadfield’s mission to the International Space Station, which ended with great fanfare this week.
He initially balked when his sons began preaching the merits of Twitter and Facebook more than three years ago.
During a family Christmas get-together in 2009 his son Evan, who now lives in Germany, and Kyle, who’s in China, pointed out that they relied on the Internet to find out what’s going on.
They got on his case again when his five-month mission was announced in early September 2010. It was then that they decided to set up his two social-media sites.
A few months later, in January 2011, Hadfield only had about 1,000 followers on Twitter and about 600 Facebook friends — a drop in the bucket compared to now.
[. . .]
He had only 20,000 Twitter followers when he blasted off with Russian space colleague Roman Romanenko and NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn on Dec. 19, 2012.
Upon his return to Earth this week, Hadfield was hovering around one million Twitter followers and more than 325,000 “Likes” on Facebook. His photography and music, distributed mainly through social media, eventually earned him mainstream news coverage around the world.
On the one-day anniversary of Chris Hadfield’s triumphant return to Earth, Megan Garber’s essay at The Atlantic does a great job analyzing just why Hadfield has become such a celebrity: he has managed to leverage social networking technologies with remarkable success.
Chris Hadfield — nom de tweet: @cmdr_hadfield — has been doing more than inspiring people, though. He has also been entertaining them. And delighting them. He has chatted with Captain Kirk. He has covered Bowie. He has written his own music, and performed it. He has publicly celebrated Valentine’s Day, and Easter, and St. Patrick’s Day, and April Fool’s. He has done a mind-boggling number of live chats and Q&As and video explainers. He has led Canada in a national sing-along. And all of these things have shared a remarkable predicate: They have been done, you know, from space. Hadfield has kept a running dialogue with Earth, documenting not just the numinous — those amazing views! — but also the mundane: the food. The fun. The exercise. The sleep. The tears. The bathroom situation.
Over the course of 144 days spent on the International Space Station (encompassing 2,336 orbits of the Earth and covering nearly 62 million miles), Hadfield didn’t merely do his day job — conducting more than 130 scientific experiments testing the effects of microgravity on masses of various types. He also helped to change our concept of what it means to be an astronaut in the first place. Hadfield is a space explorer in the Gagarin/Glenn/Armstrong model, but he is something else, too: just a guy. A guy who happens to be in space. Hadfield, availing himself of new technologies that are just beginning to be widely adopted, made space travel seem accessible. He made it seem normal (or, in astronaut-speak, “nominal”). He took it out of the realm of the awe-inspiring and placed it squarely in the realm of the awesome.
[. . .]
What Hadfield used to his advantage, [. . .] was the copious combination of social media tools that are just now coming into their prime, tools that transform documentation into conversation: Hadfield had Twitter and Tumblr and Facebook and Reddit, not to mention a public excited, especially after the successful landing the Curiosity rover last year, about space again. Not to mention a 20-person social media team eager to remind the world about Canada’s role in the space program. Not to mention a doppelgänger son, Evan, who handled Hadfield’s accounts when he couldn’t. Not to mention a good deal of luck. (William Shatner’s casual tweet to Hadfield back in January won him a flood of followers, Quartz notes, after which his popularity “became self-sustaining.”)
Hadfield also had … Chris Hadfield. He was the right guy at the right time — and in, wow, the right place: He’s a natural performer who seemed truly excited to share his sublime stage with the rest of us. But his performances were intimate rather than epic: He subtly rejected the aura of distant heroism we normally associate with space flyers. Instead, he was nerdy. He was excited. He was delightfully, winkily mustachioed. He was your dad, or your uncle, or your mentor, the kind of guy who probably gets a little choked up when he makes toasts at weddings. Which is to say: He is quirky and real, and he made a point of putting those facts to use. He took all the corporate logic of social media — the ethos of the “personal brand,” the edict of “conversation rather than presentation” — and applied it, seamlessly, to his life in space.
Also, I quite like her McLuhanesque conclusion.
“Communications tools don’t get socially interesting,” Clay Shirky has argued, “until they get technologically boring.” The same may be said of space. As a destination — as a place, as a dream — space may be, ever so slightly, losing its former mantle of foreignness, its old patina of awe. The final frontier may now be experiencing the fate that befalls any frontier: It ceases to be a frontier. Its settlers come to think of it, more and more, as an extension of what they know … until it becomes, simply, all that they know. Until it becomes the most basic thing in the world: home.
Daniel Drezner is unimpressed with Niall Ferguson’s claims that he’s being unfairly criticized when the blogosphere, when the strongest online critiques have come from news services like The Atlantic and professors of various disciplines.
The Dragon’s Tales notes that astronomers looking at white dwarfs in the Hyades star cluster 150 light-years away have found their atmospheres polluted by dust from asteroids which have crashed onto their surfaces.
At the Everyday Sociology Blog, sociologist and new homeowners Karen Sternheimer notes that investment firms have been buying up real estate. What of regular homeowners?
Language Log’s Victor Mair notes a new site seeking to document all of the various dialects and language forms of Chinese.
Progressive Download’s John Farrell notes the Catholic Church’s qualified support for evolution.
Savage Minds’ Carole McGranahan argues that a properly curated Twitter account can produce numerous benefits for the academic.
Torontoist wonders if maps of Toronto showing walking routes and times might be worthwhile.
At Window on Eurasia, Paul Goble quotes a Russian blogger who argues that the Soviet annexation of territories in Europe after the Second World War, including the Baltic States and Moldova as well as western Ukraine and Belarus, ultimately destabilized the Soviet state.
At Centauri Dreams, Paul Gilster considers the finer details of the possible habitability of extrasolar worlds, not only the recently discovered ones of Kepler-62.
Crooked Timber’s Niamh Hardiman writes about how illegal immigration in Greece is becoming a major problem for that country and for the illegal immigrants, mainly because Greece is a cul-de-sac in the middle of an economic meltdown.
Geocurrents notes that Uighur-majority districts in Xinjiang are among the poorest in China.
Joe. My. God. notes that Folsom Street East, New York City’s leather festival of note, has been cancelled.
Language Hat notes another’s ongoing blog series that criticizes the idea that all human language descends from a single ancestral language, Proto-World.
At Lawyers, Guns and Money, Erik Loomis wonders why the explosions in Texas, product of industrial-strength negligence, got so much less press than the Boston Marathon bombings. (The commenters suggest that the ongoing intentional threat in Boston was key.)
The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer notes that although Spain’s population is dropping via emigration, but that the emigration isn’t that much and is concentrated among recent immigrants.
MacLean’s‘ Charlie Gillis considers the question of why Rehtaeh Parsons, the Nova Scotian teenager who recently killed herself after pictures of her sexual assault circulated around her school, was apparently abandoned by her peers. Where were the witnesses? I wonder how durable Gillis’ argument about the current generation’s callousness is. The 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese introduced the concept of bystanders not intervening if something appeared to be wrong occurred a long time ago, after all.
The break, though too late for Rehtaeh Parsons, was nevertheless welcome. What police described as a “credible source” had offered information on the origin of pictures allegedly showing Parsons, then 15, being raped at a party—photos her schoolmates in Cole Harbour, N.S., shared widely via text messages, to the girl’s humiliation and despair. An RCMP investigation into the incident led nowhere, and on April 4, after months of online bullying linked to the still-circulating pictures, Parsons hanged herself in the bathroom of her family home. Mounties held out hope this week that their new lead would help them crack the case. “We’re back in business,” declared spokesman Cpl. Scott MacCrae. But no investigation seems likely to answer another, far-reaching question arising from Parsons’s death: when the pictures first emerged, why did none of her peers speak up?
Social media experts refer to them as “bystanders.” For every bully gleefully mini-casting embarrassing images, or mean girl tapping out snarky comments, they say, there are recipients in Canadian high schools too scared or complacent to voice their disgust at what they’re seeing. In the case of Rehtaeh Parsons, there might have been dozens. Photos of her alleged rape at the hands of four boys spread for days around Cole Harbour High School with nary a peep to authorities from those who received it, according to those close to the 17-year-old. “[The image] quickly went viral,” wrote Parsons’s mother, Leah, in a wrenching online message posted days after her daughter’s death. “Rehtaeh was suddenly shunned by almost everyone she knew.”
This syndrome—familiar from past cases of so-called “cyberbullying”—has renewed concerns about the moral state of a generation that experiences much of life through pixellated screens. Members of the smartphone generation increasingly treat themselves and their peers as entertainment, explains Jesse Miller, a B.C.-based consultant who advises schools and companies on social media. Boys, in particular, can gain social cachet by being “first reporter on the scene” to deliver sensational imagery to their peers, he says. “If there’s a photo of someone in your class and you’re the one who can show it to your buddies, you’re going to be the kid who gets that much more attention through the course of a day.”
Budding Sociology Dan Hirschman describes income inequality in the United States in the post-Second World War era in multiple charts, coming to the conclusion that since the 1980s income growth has been stagnant for all but the superrich.
The Burgh Diaspora’s Jim Russell warns Toronto that education won’t necessarily translate into economic growth, looking at the Oregon city of Portland’s high level of education but equally high level of under-employment.
Eastern Approaches deals with the impact of Pope Francis on the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.
Geocurrents’ Asya Pereltsvaig examines another split group of Judaism, the Karaites, taking particular interest in the Turkic-speaking Crimean Karaim.
Joe. My. God takes another look at the same-sex marriage situation in Vietnam. Apparently there will no longer be fines levied for unauthorized marriage ceremonies, and a same-sex marriage law will come up in the country’s parliament next year.
At Lawyers, Guns and Money, Erik Loomis criticizes gun fetishism among the left.
Science fiction writer Peter Watts points out that claims a sort of mechanical telepathy was demonstrated in a pair of widely-separated rats were overstated.
The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer describes how, as Mexican wages are surpassed by Chinese wages, Mexico is starting to accumulate more manufacturing jobs but not better-paid manufacturing jobs.
Registan’s Joshua Foust speculates as to why Kazakhstan has a good reputation internationally despite its domestic autocracy.
The Search’s David Riecks notes how social networking systems like Facebook can strip useful metadata from photos posted online.
Torontoist’s Carly Maga describes how Toronto has become a destination of choice for American poker players after a crackdown two years ago.