Fresh from The Intercept (that fearless vanguard of journalism helmed by Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras): disturbing documents exposing the unfathomable reach of the United Kingdom's GCHQ in its quest for total awareness of global internet traffic. A hundred billion user actions logged per day. A "Black Hole" database of 1.1 trillion logs. Frightening programs like KARMA POLICE, MEMORY HOLE, and MUTANT BROTH that correlate the kilo-crore corpus -- IP addresses, cookies, forum posts, search histories, emails, and passwords all compiled and cross-referenced into a real-time "diary" that gives penetrating insight into the relationships, beliefs, and desires of every web user on the planet. Internal documents suggest only widespread encryption can threaten the regime -- a movement the UK is determined to subdue (previously). [more inside]
While it used to be the leading alternative to Internet Explorer (and others), Firefox has seen its market share erode steadily since the 2008 debut of Google Chrome. The Mozilla Foundation has made several oft-controversial bids at relevancy, including native video chat, Pocket integration, a mobile browser (and OS), a UI overhaul, and a rapid release schedule that's reached version 40 (and counting). But the latest proposal -- part of a reboot of the stalled Electrolysis multiprocessing project -- will prove the most daunting. Although it will modernize the browser's architecture, it also deprecates the longtime XUL framework in favor of more limited and Chrome-like "web extensions" -- requiring Firefox's vast catalog of powerful add-ons to be rewritten from scratch or cease functioning. While developers will have until 2017 to fully adapt, opinion is divided -- NoScript's Giorgio Maone reassures doubters, while the DownThemAll! team says "it feels like I just learned my dear old friend Firefox is going to die." [more inside]
After last month's vow to curb targeted harassment and make the site a safer platform for all users, the admins of Reddit began making good on that promise yesterday by banning five offensive subreddits deemed guilty of doxxing, brigading, and otherwise tormenting others, including /r/fatpeoplehate -- a militantly anti-HAES forum whose attacks had recently extended to the admins of popular image host Imgur. In reaction, the 150K subscribers of FPH and their sympathizers in other fringe subreddits went on a rampage, creating countless clones (all banned), filling the front page with hate posts, and disregarding the veneer of free-speech activism to viciously slander Reddit CEO Ellen Pao personally. The dissenters advocate a mass exodus of the hate subs to Voat.co [obligatory_wonka.gif], a moderation-free clone of Reddit that has already crashed under the traffic. Ongoing coverage by the enlightened popcorn-munchers of SubredditDrama. [more inside]
When President Obama appointed Tom Wheeler (a former top telecom lobbyist) as chairman of the FCC, he got a lot of grief for selling out his '07 pledge to protect Net Neutrality -- the founding principle long prized by open web activists that ISPs cannot privilege certain data over others, without which dire visions of a tiered and pay-for-play internet loomed. Earlier, weaker attempts at net neutrality had failed in court, and the new chairman looked set to fold. But after an unprecedented outcry following last year's trial balloon for ISP "fast lanes" -- including a viral appeal by John Oliver, a public urging by the president, and perhaps Wheeler's own history with the pre-web NABU Network -- the FCC yesterday voted along party lines to enact the toughest net neutrality rules in history, classifying ISPs as common carriers and clearing the way for municipal broadband. ISPs reacted with (Morse) venom, while congressional Republicans are divided over what they called "Obamacare for the internet."
"Advertising is not well. Though companies supported by advertising still dominate the landscape and capture the popular imagination, cracks are beginning to show in the very financial foundations of the web. Despite the best efforts of an industry, advertising is becoming less and less effective online. The once reliable fuel that powered a generation of innovations on the web is slowly, but perceptibly beginning to falter. Consider the long-term trend: when the first banner advertisement emerged online in 1994, it reported a (now) staggering clickthrough rate of 78%. By 2011, the average Facebook advertisement clickthrough rate sat dramatically lower at 0.05%. Even if only a rough proxy, something underlies such a dramatic change in the ability for an advertisement to pique the interest of users online. What underlies this decline, and what does it mean for the Internet at large? This short [PDF] paper puts forth the argument for peak advertising—the argument that an overall slowing in online advertising will eventually force a significant (and potentially painful) shift in the structure of business online. Like the theory of Peak Oil that it references, the goal is not to look to the immediate upcoming quarter, but to think on the decade-long scale about the business models that sustain the Internet." [more inside]
Start a home business, get rich quick, win financial freedom! If you watch late-night TV, you've heard it all before. But what's the story behind these slick pitchmen and their dubious schemes? Enter The Salty Droid, your ornery metal guide to the corrupt underworld of scam-marketing scum. This charmingly acerbic bot (owned and operated by mild-mannered Chicago dog-lover Jason Michael Jones [inter-view, long talk + transcript]) is a valiant crusader against the vile con-men who bankrupt the elderly and the desperate with beautiful lies. Exposed so far: A shadowy "Syndicate" of frauduct-pushing personality cults polluting the media with blogspam and woo-woo talking points. Boiler rooms in the Utah desert where telemarketers farm credit from easy targets with cunning, probing scripts [PDF]. Powerful politicians bought wholesale. Believers left to die in fraudulent new-age vision quests. It's a soul-crushing beat, enough to make one feel like a regular catcher-bot in the digital rye. But somebody's got to do it -- preferably someone with plasma nunchucks and titanium skin.
Founded in 2004 as a place to catalog LiveJournal drama rejected from Wikipedia, Encyclopedia Dramatica rapidly became the premier site on the web for all manner of lulz. Intended "in the spirit of Ambrose Bierce's The Devil's Dictionary," ED grew into a sprawling crowdsourced compendium of memes, subcultures, communities, personalities, and the endless feuds and controversies spawned by 4chan and other anonymous imageboards. While comprehensive, the site developed a reputation for nastiness -- full of "ironic" (?) racism, gratuitous porn, organized attacks on other sites, and disturbingly thorough dossiers on perceived enemies, all dripping with vicious snark (just check out their entry on MetaFilter). But now, after more than six years, it appears the troll has become the trolled. Founder Sherrod "Girlvinyl" DeGrippo, allegedly disillusioned by the site's legal woes and nihilistic trajectory, has permanently shuttered the site and replaced it with OhInternet, a slicker, cleaner, Web 2.0 effort modeled after more respectable internet guides like Know Your Meme (which recently sold to Cheezburger Networks for a cool $N million, discussed here). Backups and mirrors abound, but as for the source? Pool's closed... forever.
Social news site Reddit recently held their "Best of Reddit 2010" awards honoring key players in the site over the last year, including the progenitor of the Rally to Restore Sanity, the clever drive-by cartoonist Sure_Ill_Draw_That, unofficial image host Imgur, and feel-good story of the year "Today you, tomorrow me." But perhaps most interesting was the winner for Best Big Community: FFFFFFFUUUUUUUUUUUU! Originally inspired by 4chan's popular Rage Guy meme, F7U12 (for short) is a clearinghouse for user-made web comics, slice-of-life affairs that tell a story or share a common frustration using a small collection of crudely drawn yet highly evocative facial expressions. Several have become small memes in their own right -- the wily Trolldad, the doormat Okay, the prideful Fuck Yea, the melodramatic Gasp. And one comic, inspired by the warped text randomly generated by reCAPTCHAs (previously), has given us Lord Inglip -- god of a dark religion now rivaling FSM whose cryptic commands marshal loyal armies of gropagas, falcows, Sellicks, and... canary into exploits both monstrous and inconvenient (timeline, wiki). Obey him -- or else! More fun with F7U12: rage face origins, rage faces in real life, Twitter feed, search comics, create your own (alternate).
Fifteen years ago this week, programmer Ron Britvich launched version 1.0 of Active Worlds. Started as an autonomous project of Worlds, Inc. (a spinoff of educational gamesmaker Knowledge Adventure), Active Worlds was one of the first and most ambitious attempts to create a 3D virtual community on the web. Built on the architecture of Britvich's Worlds Chat beta, Active Worlds debuted in the form of Alphaworld, a sunny green infinite plane open to public building. In its opening years Alphaworld experienced a land rush of construction, resulting in an anarchic starfish sprawl larger than the state of California. A sister company, Circle of Fire, was soon founded to craft additional themed hubs, and once individual ownership of worlds became possible the AW community spawned a veritable universe of hundreds of worlds. Although the company has seen its ups and downs since those heady times and its fortunes have slowly dwindled, the Active Worlds platform survives to this day. Look inside for a simple guide on how to log in to the (free) service, rundowns of the best worlds, links to essays analyzing the program's legacy, and other content summing up its venerable community. [more inside]