Friday, January 24, 2014

TechSeven - trying something new...

I'm going to try something a little different this week. As you may know, I do a weekly segment on CJAD Radio 800 in Montreal. Every Friday afternoon at 2:00 p.m. Eastern, I chat with host Barry Morgan about some of the week's biggest and most notable stories from the world of tech.

In preparation for the segment, I write what I like to call a research agenda. It's a rough rundown of the key topics we cover, with some related links, background and perspective to round it out. I thought it would be worth sharing the package, rough as it is, as a great backdrop to the online discussion. Since I often hear from listeners afterward asking for more info on the stuff we had just discussed, I figured this would be a great resource to share post-air.

To keep things easy to find, I'm going to give it a title: TechSeven. Why seven? Because it summarizes what I think are the most notable tech topics over the course of a week. Let me know if that sounds workable to you.

Here goes...

ONE - The Mac Turns 30
On January 24, 1984, Steve Jobs pulled a Macintosh computer out of a bag and introduced it to the world. Do you remember the Super Bowl ad where the athlete threw a hammer at the Big Brother-like being? You'd be forgiven for assuming something changed then. The Mac was that seminal. 
For all the hype, however, the Mac has never been a #1 seller - the latest figures give it 7.5% global market share - and it's always been kind of expensive for what you get. You can easily buy a faster Windows computer for less 
But here's the thing: the Mac revolutionized technology by making it accessible to you, me and mom. It turned computers from hard-to-use work devices to easy-to-use appliances that anyone could figure out without reading the manual or getting a doctorate in programming. It opened up entirely new ways of working - desktop publishing, working from home - and influenced every computer and consumer electronic device that came after. Even if you've never touched or owned a Mac, it's managed to touch your life. 
I wrote this article for Yahoo! Canada Finance: The meaning of the Mac at 30
TWO - Will Facebook really lose most of its users by 2017?
There was a big brouhaha this week in the social media space after researchers at Princeton - yes, that Princeton - released a study that said Facebook will lose 80% of its users within three years. 
The Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering study used a combination of epidemiological models that are used to track the spread of infectious diseases, as well as Google search query data, to explain how we first sign on to - and eventually abandon - social networks like Facebook. They say using services like Facebook is like a disease that spreads, infects a lot of people, and then eventually declines. They say the same thing happened to MySpace, which topped out at 76 million unique visits in 2008 before fading into irrelevance. 
My $0.02: They're completely off-base. First off, MySpace died because it didn't change. Period. Its then-owners - Rupert Murdoch/News Corp. - invested nothing in the platform, and let it get eaten alive by younger and more agile competitors like, you guessed it, Facebook. Sure, if Facebook stands completely still and does nothing, it will be irrelevant in 3 years - or possibly sooner. But since going public last year it's invested big in new technologies and tools to stay one step ahead of the pack. There's no guarantee it'll prevail - teens are already leaving the service in favour of other platforms like Snapchat, Tumblr and Pinterest - but the Princeton conclusion is preposterous on a number of levels. 
Of all the "research" I've seen, this one takes the cake for ridiculousness and overt headline-grabbing intent at the expense of anything substantive to back it up. For the record, it has NOT been peer-reviewed, which means they published it simply because they knew it would cause a firestorm. Mission accomplished. But the journalist in me continues to see it for what it is: idiotic. 
For funsies, Facebook published its own response to the Princeton report. The company's data science team used a similar methodology to explain how Princeton itself could be headed for extinction. Do not drink milk before reading it, though. I speak from experience.
THREE - Watch that ATM - it could be obsolete real soon
Canadians have always been ATM early adopters, but news out of the U.S. last week outlines a critical weakness in ATM technology. The problem is that of the 420,000 ATMs in use in the U.S., 95% of them run Windows XP, which is now 12 years old and somewhat obsolete given how radically the computing world has evolved since then. 
Microsoft is pulling some support for XP in April, and all of it by July 2015, but that leaves the industry scrambling to update ancient software. No numbers for Canada, but we typically follow the U.S. fairly closely, so their problem is our problem. 
Old ATMs are more susceptible to being hacked or otherwise compromised, and the industry has been cruising along for a while because it was following an if-it-ain't-broke-don't-fix-it mentality. Well, it's about to break, and we may want to keep an eye on that ATM the next time we use it. 
I wrote this article for Yahoo! Canada Finance on Monday that digs a bit deeper into the topic: Windows XP deadline puts bank ATMs at risk
FOUR - Pope Francis shares some wise tech advice
I've got to give the big guy credit: he gets social media, and he's realistic about the limitations of technology. In a statement released yesterday, he praised the Internet as a "gift from God," but warned we may be missing out on its true benefits because we aren't taking the time to reflect on how it impacts our lives. 
He echoes my sentiment that we may be connected, but in many respects we aren't connecting. A little pause may not be such a bad thing. And that it comes from the Pope, no less, is an interesting signal that things may finally be changing for the better within the Vatican.
There, I'm done. Now over to you: Is this something I should do each week?

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