Weekend news roundup

4 Apr 2011

A roundup of some of the top tech stories in the weekend’s newspapers, including how you can never erase your past on the internet, Larry Page’s return to the CEO role at Google and how cats are the kings of comedy online.

You can’t hide your past on the internet

The internet never forgets, according to an interesting article in The New York Times. Just ask the New York City teacher who recently divorced his wife of five years. Drop his name into Google, and his ex-wife appears in pictures of vacations and Christmas parties. “It’s difficult when you’re trying to date and your ex is still in the picture, so to speak,” said the teacher, who didn’t want to make matters worse by having his name in a newspaper.

The same goes for Bryan, an advertising executive in New York City. He is an accomplished online marketer and New York University professor, but search his name, and one of the first web results is a press release from the United States attorney’s office. Eight years earlier, he was charged with wrongfully receiving 9/11 grant money. “Even after all these years,” those links remained, said Bryan, who paid a $2,000 fine.

And then there is the Philadelphia physiologist who became unwittingly linked to a consumer advocacy site, when it listed him as a graduate of a distance learning school that was shut down. “I felt totally victimised because there was nothing I could do,” said the physiologist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he did not want added attention. “My case load started to dry up.”

At first, some tried manipulating the web results on their own, by doing things like manually deleting photos from Flickr, revising Facebook pages and asking bloggers to remove offending posts. But like a metastasised cancer, the incriminating data had embedded itself into the nether reaches of cyber space, etched into archives, algorithms and a web of hyperlinks.

Amazon’s cloud service rains on everyone’s parade

The Guardian reports that Amazon’s new Cloud Drive rains on everyone’s parade. The internet giant’s online storage service leaves Google, Sony and the rest in a desperate race to catch up.

“Impetuosity and audacity,” wrote Machiavelli, “often achieve what ordinary means fail to achieve.” If you doubt that, may I propose a visit to the upper echelons of Apple, Google and Sony, where steam might be observed venting from every orifice of senior executives? If you do undertake such a visit, do not under any circumstances mention the word ‘Amazon’.

The proximate cause of all this corporate spleen is the launch last week of Amazon’s Cloud Drive service. At first sight, it seems straightforward: it looks like a digital locker in which one may (for a fee) securely store one’s digital assets in the internet ‘cloud’. “Anything digital, securely stored,” runs the blurb, “available anywhere.” The first 5GB of storage is free, with more available at an annual cost of a dollar per gigabyte. Upload files to your Cloud Drive, where they are stored online and from where they can be accessed by any device that you own.

So far, so innocuous. It’s not the online storage business that has Apple, Google and Co spitting feathers, but the Amazon CloudPlayer which goes along with the digital locker.

New Google CEO starts today

The San Jose Mercury News believes that when Google co-founder Larry Page reclaims the role of CEO today, it will be business as usual at the Googleplex. No formal ceremonies are planned. There will be no speeches.

The absence of pomp underscores Page’s intense focus on the job ahead – spurring Google to innovate faster as it battles Facebook and other competitors, to react more like a nimble start-up even as it zooms past 25,000 employees.

As he takes the reins, Page’s aim appears to be to hone Google’s sense of discipline, to keep the company’s management structure as flat as possible despite its growth, and particularly to urge Googlers to continue to think big. But there are also questions about whether Page’s personality, including his detachment and his past unwillingness to be the public face of Google, will well serve a company facing a host of regulatory challenges.

“To a large extent, the culture of Google is what Larry wants it to be,” said Craig Silverstein, who joined Page and co-founder Sergey Brin as the start-up’s first employee in 1998.

The kings of comedy online

In an interesting look at what the internet has done to comedy, The Guardian points out that if you can get past the omnipresent cats you’ll find humour is more streamlined online. “The internet is made of cats,” Huffington Post co-founder Jonah Peretti once said. He was, of course, referring to the frankly obscene number of pictures and videos of cats in ridiculous situations, wearing silly outfits, doing hilarious things that are littering every corner of the web.

If the hype is to be believed, cats are the epitome of modern web humour. They are the eternal subject of silly, one-click laugh fodder, from Maru, the Japanese YouTube kitty superstar most famous for jumping in and out of cardboard boxes (91m views) to the cast of thousands photographed in compromising positions and labelled with poorly spelled captions on the internationally lauded icanhascheezburger.com. But these moggies are more than memes. They explain why we are able to relate to one another online.