Venmo/PayPal Final Project

In order to understand the significant impacts of Paypal and Venmo on society, we must first understand some of the history in the creation of these apps. In the fall of 2008, Peter Thiel returned to his alma mater of Stanford to guest lecture about market globalization and political freedom. He was introduced to a brilliant young mind while visiting Stanford. This mind belonged to a young man named Max Levchin. Their ideals were of similar motive and they began working on what would be later known as the massive corporation of PayPal. Both Levchin and Thiel believed that making money easier to transfer between people while simultaneously keeping people’s money from depreciating due to inflation. Little did they know that their initial idea would grow and transform in ways they could not even begin to imagine.

Thiel and Levchin started with the security aspect of holding and transferring money digitally. They wanted to make carrying money on a PDA safer than carrying it in a wallet. Thus, the first idea of a digital wallet was born. After creating this idea, Thiel and Levchin launched Fieldlink, which focused on securely holding money on a palmpilot or PDA. With the security down, the next step was to be able to make transfers between individuals from their PDAs. Levchin and Thiel cleverly invented a new word to describe and name their new company. Combining infinity and confidence, the two minds created Confinity, and within that instant the first company was created that worked toward the digital transfer of money.

PayPal was later created as a service offered by Confinity after $4.5 million dollars of venture money was “beamed” to Thiel from Nokia Ventures and the Deutsche Bank in July of 1999 using a palm pilot. After engineers at PayPal created a demo of an online money transfer system using email, Confinity merged with X.com, a company owned by entrepreneur Elon Musk, who saw potential in the business of digitally transferring money. X.com later changed its name to PayPal, officially solidifying the two inevators’ idea of a digital wallet into a success.

PayPal took off, and made a name for itself in the world of online purchases. Users of many online markets used PayPal to make payments after purchasing a good. Ebay users would post the PayPal logo on their profiles to urge buyers to use the digital money transfer company to pay for their purchases. Ebay took note of this and bought PayPal when they went public in 2002 for $1.5 billion.

PayPal was the first company of its kind. A trailblazer for the digital transfer of money that did not go directly through banks. PayPal is still used today, but has spurred many other creative thinkers to create companies of the same clothe. One of those companies is now the fasting growing, most popular money transferring app on the market. It even has a catchy name; Venmo.

The idea started with two University of Pennsylvania roommates. Iqram Magdon-Ismail and Andrew Kortina. Both were confronting the idea of figuring out how an individual could payback a friend who had covered some expense without the hassle of writing a check or handing each other cash. PayPal came to mind, but they realized that no one was using PayPal for everyday money flow between friends.

The idea, and even the name, started with their music based sharing concept. People could send their email to a band and the name of a song they wanted and that song would be emailed in mp3 format to the individual. Kortina describes this as the grassrotts thinking for the money-sharing Venmo concept.

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The final piece that was missing from Kortina and Ismail’s plan was inspiration. Kortina describes in his blog about how Ismail came to visit him in New York, and left his wallet at home when they went out for the night. Kortina gladly covered Ismail, but both wondered if there was a better way for Ismail to pay back his friend other than writing a check.

Starting their scheme in a text-message format, the two programmers realized that each payment, along with a short note of what it was for, started to look more like a social network than a payment program. The two decided to make payments sharable to other friends on their website that kept track of payments. This idea grew into what the app is today

The advancements in the transfer and handling of money through apps like Paypal and Venmo have now rendered many of the old ways of doing so obsolete. One of the most common ways of transferring money to another person before the creation of these two applications was through wire transfers at the bank. A wire transfer is an electronic payment service for transferring funds by wire, for example through SWIFT, the Federal Reserve Wire Network or the Clearing House Interbank Payments System.

In the past, the only way to transfer money to another person’s bank account was by requesting a wire transfer at a bank. The bank clerks would usually do the wire transfer for you, and ask for a fee in order to complete the process. With the wire transfer, one could also send a telegram with the money that would go to the person on the receiving end. Now, wire transfers can be done electronically by any individual through companies like PayPal, but the telegram is no longer a part of the process. This not only makes individual’s lives easier, but the fee for completing a wire transfer is no longer necessary since we no longer need to pay a bank for the service. While this makes the process of money transfer more convenient for individuals, the advances in the process of money transfer are affecting communication.

PayPal also does charge a small percent for payments sent but they can usually be avoided if they are sent to an individual as a “gift.” No fee is charged to people using Venmo, or if purchasing items on websites that support payments through PayPal such as eBay. The convenience and lower cost of utilizing these apps over wire transfers has rendered the necessity of wire transfers obsolete.

Checkbooks have now also become a thing of the past. The factors that have contributed to the decline of the checkbook are speed, processing time, security, and the simplicity of other forms of payment. By speed, I mean the amount of time it actually takes to write out all the information necessary into a checkbook. Checkbooks require writing the name of the person or company receiving the amount of money, the amount of money in numbers, the amount of money in written words, the date, and a signature. This alone takes longer than any of the other forms of payment. The processing time for the check to go through also takes a long time. It can take anywhere from one to three days for a check to process and for funds to become available. This becomes a hassle since other forms of payment such as credit card, debit card, cash, or phone payments allow funds to appear almost immediately with exception to phone transfers taking, at most, a day to process. Also when it comes to checks, there is a lack of security. While checks are processed it is possible that a check may bounce if there is not enough balance in the person’s account. This becomes problematic to the person who is seeking payment for a product or service. Checks make it easier for people to get scammed and robbed. Sometimes a bank can cover the amount of money the person wished to transfer if their balance is too low, but then the bank can also charge an overdraft fee. Due to the many issues with checks, they are used less and less frequently since online and mobile banking with companies like Paypal is much more effective and secure.

Wire transfers through banks and checkbooks are not the only things that are appearing outdated, but cash itself is being considered obsolete. According to PayPal, they believe that within the next three years, cash will become redundant and a thing of the past. Paypal believes that cash is no longer necessary because they have made the process of payments much easier and the use of credit cards and phone payments will be used daily. Paypal recently launched a new payment app that will allow people to “Pay for everyday purchases via mobile phone apps and cards with the result people will no longer need to carry real money.” What this process entails is that people have the choice to pay by card or by phone, and the retailer would get a “transaction confirmed” message on their smartphone or tablet after the payment is complete. PayPal stated that most people do not carry more than 20 Euros in their wallets and purses, so by increasing the accessibility to money through the new application, cash should not be necessary. This would render cash useless once the application takes off.

The utility of physically carrying money is further discouraged through the Venmo app. Venmo is a money-transferring app that allows users to quickly send money to other users. The app makes paying a friend back for dinner or a cab simple, unlike trying to pay someone back with cash. Apps like Venmo, GoogleWallet, Paypal, and others have become increasingly popular, and is already becoming the main way of transferring money.  One of the greatest features of Venmo is its newsfeed. Venmo puts every transfer between any two users on a newsfeed that people who are friends with either one of the people can see. The post to the newsfeed puts the time of the transfer, the name of both people involved in the transfer, and the reason for the transfer as determined by the users. The newsfeed feature of Venmo has made it similar to other social media apps such as Twitter or Facebook, just without the ability to show trending news.

The Venmo newsfeed is similar to the old days of wire transfers where a telegram could be sent with the money as well. The only difference is the lack of privacy of Venmo. Venmo literally puts all of your business out there. However since the transfers are normally small in nature most people don’t worry about people seeing that they just paid their friend back ten or twenty dollars. In fact most people enjoy watching the Venmo newsfeed. The subject lines for explaining why people made the transfer are frequently used as a platform to make jokes. Some people have even gone as far as having a conversation on Venmo by just exchanging a dollar back and forth.

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Something about watching what people spend money on is fascinating. Normally on other, actual social media sites such as Twitter, it is either inappropriate, dumb, or often times both when it comes to talking about money. Nobody puts the amount of money, or even really talks about paying someone for something on social media sites because there is an inherent danger. If people know you are willing to spend money, they figure you must have money in the first place, which is enough of an excuse to steal your money for some. However on Venmo since every post revolves around the transfer of money, it makes it acceptable to talk freely about what you are doing with your money. People are even able to comment on posts on the Venmo newsfeed, or in other words literally say something regarding how or what a person spends money. The option to like a post is also available of course, so Venmo really does have an authentic social media app feel to it, even though its primary purpose is just to transfer money.

Wire transfers are old fashion, and Paypal was never really meant to be a money transfer app as we said earlier, which is why Venmo mainly attracts a younger audience. High school students to young adults just out of college are the probably the main users of Venmo right now. This small audience excludes young children, and older adults, which explains why people feel free to put just about anything as their subject line. This trust has caused some funny posts, but in the larger context this trust has destroyed any barriers that may have previously stopped hackers or stalkers on other social media sites. Venmo determines friends through Facebook, and we all know we have people who we haven’t talked to in years, or people we actively ignore in real life as friends on Facebook. If someone is your friend on Facebook, then they are entitled to see what you spend money on according to Venmo.

Privacy has always been an issue with social media because people have a hard time sometimes deciphering what they should put out in the world, and what they should keep to themselves. Venmo does not allow the choice of privacy because it puts every transfer on its newsfeed. Most people seem to find it hilarious, but its actually kind of frightening to think that an app that has access to your bank account would not allow some sort of privacy in the choice of posting about transfers. We talked about the lack of security when it came to transferring money via checks and cash, but Venmo has its own problems as well. Venmo seems to almost encourage people to try and stalk people through their transfers.  What if Venmo allowed for the option to let people put how much money was transferred, or the location of the transfer? Location is a common feature being added to a lot of apps, and Venmo would probably not be against adding it. The dangers of watching what people spend money on, and who they spend it with is frightening, and the fact that most people just get a quick laugh out of it is kind of frightening too.

Technology is slowly becoming more integrated in our daily lives, it is only natural that it becomes a major part of what a large majority of human endeavors seek to gain. Money has always been the biggest motivator for some of the greatest inventions of our time. This innovation has expanded itself to not only the endeavor for gaining money, but as a venue for spending it. As more and more people become exposed to Venmo and PayPal, it slowly and slowly becomes the norm. As we know of all things, as they stick around, they become more commonplace and soon enough, everyone has it. It becomes a staple in everyone’s daily life, and soon enough people forget how they got along without it. The cell phone being a great example, and things like Snapchat and group texting only strengthen this case. Venmo and PayPal are on the same fast track to normalcy.

As more and more people obtain smart phones that run various apps, so increases the number of people that have the means to access Venmo. Cell phones in themselves are not free, so these people that now have cell phones are going to want a way to spend all this money they didn’t use up on their brand new phone. Enter Venmo.

 

http://smallbiztrends.com/2014/12/new-venmo-app.html

 

With more consumers with access, to only makes sense for more people to use it. All it takes is one instance for it to be spread. One person who has it goes to dinner with a friend who does nott, and the friend forgets his wallet. The one with Venmo tells him to go download it and send him the money, and all of a sudden, this person can do things and spend money without even bringing his wallet, as long as someone is willing to cover him. He remembers this, and soon enough, he is sending money through Venmo weekly, and “Venmo’ing” enters his personal lexicon. The more he uses it, the more he becomes used to it, and doesn’t know how he got along without it. We have seen this with things like Google and Photoshop, and people already use the phrase “just Venmo me the money” on smaller scales. It is slowly becoming a giant, similar to PayPal and other money transfer services that we have before, such as wire transfers.

As with every giant, however, there are always competitors. Google has Bing and Yahoo search engines, Apple has Android, and Venmo has Square Cash and Google Wallet. Square Case was realeased only one year after Venmo, but has been much slower to pick up steam. Often times, the first one is the one that gains the notoriety and success, regardless of the benefits that later brands or products provide. Sqaure Cash, however, has paired themselves with the social giant of Snapchat to create SnapCash.

With this, it questions how powerful Venmo has become, and if it is powerful enough to withstand the newest opponent in the digital finance arena. SnapCash as a joint entity poses a major threat for the very reason Snapchat itself became a giant in its own field.

 

http://blogs.wsj.com/digits/2014/08/26/snapchat-said-to-have-more-than-100-million-monthly-active-users/

 

Snapchat has the attention of the entire youth, and even some of the older generation. Most everyone with a smartphone that has Venmo will likely have Snapchat already, so there is nothing else for the consumer to go get other than a typical update. For a giant this big to topple and an opponent in the same arena to be truly competitive, it has to build off of something that’s already in front of the people instead of the ground up. From a competitive standpoint, the next question is where does each group go next to improve themselves over the other?

The answer may already be present in both. In Venmo, we’ve already discussed the social aspect, involving the news feed. This is an easy way for Venmo to continue, because as a society that has become engrossed in social media and watching what everyone is doing, there is never enough of everyone else’s business to be consumed. Venmo already has access to what many other social services do not: people’s wallets. The other social media superstars like Facebook and Twitter tell the rest of the world what someone is doing, but not what they’re spending. In a world already proven to revolve around money, Venmo’s social feed has an inherent hold on what the people look for when trying to delve into everyone else’s lives. With this hold, they can expand into nearly anything from hosting the finances for professional gambling circuits to under the table paychecks for teenagers.

Written by: Mike Moore

Cam Marshall

Chris Powell

Josh Attias

Sources:

https://www.paypal-media.com/history

http://kortina.net/essays/origins-of-venmo/

http://thetartan.org/2010/11/15/scitech/wiretransfers

http://www.mybanktracker.com/news/how-long-until-check-funds-are-available 

http://www.thewire.com/culture/2014/04/why-the-venmo-newsfeed-is-the-best-social-network-nobodys-talking-about/361342/

 

 

Passing New LaWS

Today, there was a major breakthrough in the advancement of naval warfare, and warfare technology as a whole. In the Arabian Gulf, there is a new weapons system that is set to change the way the United States performs naval engagements. The Laser Weapons System was first tested today, and the idea of lasers brings about the image of aliens and all kinds of futuristic technology that we expect to see more in video games than we do in real life. Now with a fully operational one, albeit large, unwieldy and somewhat clunky, it’s not so far-fetched anymore. This then raises the question, how far away are we from that?

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Many times we have seen an iteration of the future from many different venues, and it fascinates the public. There are countless movies that depict scenarios of the future, each more extravagant and outlandish than the last. Now we finally have pinpoint accuracy lasers of our own, and in my personal opinion, it should be cause for concern. Often times, when something is first created, the person in control of it is allowed to momentarily run around with it without regard for rules or regulations to its use. In this case, the ones running around with it is the American government, which has never been one to be trigger shy. With a laser that has such destructive force and accuracy, this major advancement in modern warfare can be used to lengths that surpass missiles and rail guns that are becoming more and more common. The idea that arms should be regulated is one that is hotly debated among Americans, with some promoting stricter gun laws and some nearly demanding that there be none at all. Gun control at least to some degree, is necessary, and the same goes for the military and its regulation by the UN and other international governing bodies. Were similar technology gained by other, possibly hostile forces, it could be used in manners that put millions in harm’s way, without consequences or penalties.

http://www.navy.mil/submit/display.asp?story_id=84805

A Sunken Ship

Within the last week, it was announced that the infamous torrenting website, The Pirate Bay, went down. This is cause for alarm, because finally, after the many different attempts by governments to stifle the company. The Pirate Bay in itself is an illegal enterprise, but one that spearheads a movement that many feel cannot be stopped.

Piratebay

The Pirate Bay sank through a raid carried out by the Swedish government. Many raids like this have occurred across the world as the co-founders and operators of the Pirate Bay bounced from country to country trying to keep their forever expanding file sharing site afloat after being convicted for copyright infringement in 2009. Their adventure has ended with the two of them in prison, and all servers that the operated on shut down. The raid also managed to tackle other Swedish file sharing websites, so the Swedes are very happy with their accomplishment. This accomplishment, however, may be short lived. The Pirate Bay in itself is simply a venue. A black market of sorts for people to connect to various torrents being hosted by hundreds of thousands of computers across the globe. The network of torrenting and peer-to-peer file sharing is vast, and even the combined efforts of every nation in the UN could only dream to stop the leaks (no pun intended) that have been sprung by the Pirate Bay. Millions of computer users have used the pirate bay to download movies, games, and almost any sort of copyrighted bit of information that one could imagine.

The problem that everyone who makes these things saw when the Pirate Bay first became a major problem is that there’s no stopping it once it gets the ball rolling. Its span is just far too wide. They may imprison the founders, but soon other will rise to take their place. There will always be those who feel that information and data that is available by any means on the internet is theirs for the taking. They just need a venue to do so. The people are willing to give these things to each other, and the Pirate Bay was simply a middle man. No network is secure, no firewall is impenetrable, and everything always has a backdoor. its only a matter of time before someone duplicates the Pirate Bay and the governments of the world are back to square one. They are simply cutting off the head of the hydra, where 2 more will grow back in its place.

http://gizmodo.com/swedish-police-raid-the-pirate-bay-1668902014

Comcast: Internet Partners or Pirates?

 

To start off, I’d like to say that I do not consider myself more for/against major companies that essentially have a monopoly on a particular market any more than the average person. The stories that come out involving Comcast and other major providers of services are slowly becoming more and more ridiculous. In the included article, it discusses a lawsuit stemming from a pair of households that experience egregious displays of lack of customer care from the forever evil entity that is Comcast. These people are paying for an internet services to be provided for their house, and for their house, specifically to be used by them. Comcast, however, had other plans.

The company, without warning or permission being granted from the owners of the router, extended the capabilities of the router to act as a public wi-fi hotspot to be used by their Xfinity hotspot network. Yes, Comcast is providing them the internet in the first place, but the exposure of their router is blatant disregard for these people’s privacy and rights as consumers. they paid money, and signed a contract that their internet would be a private network that they controlled access to, and Comcast simply went on a whim and decided to add their routers to the national network. This exposure leads to a major security risk for these homes. Often times, people feel most comfortable using their home network for more sensitive work, such as online transactions that involve credit card, social security, or personal information. It is given that nowhere is 100% secure, but when their home network becomes one that is connected to the hundreds of others as part of the Xfinity network, it immediately becomes an easy target for those attempting to break into networks to steal information.

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Along with this security risk, there is also the incurred electricity charges and other various consequenses that befall the families. The electricity bill can be increased under heavy use by 30-40% a month, putting even more financial strain on the consumers than Comcast already does on its own. There is also the slowed rates for the family’s own internet access. While not a major factor, it just shows how actions by a corporate giant can affect the people it steps all over in many different way.

http://www.sfgate.com/business/article/Comcast-sued-for-turning-home-Wi-Fi-routers-into-5943750.php

Block Party

Right now, there are plans being made by many French publishers, along with tech giants such as Microsoft and Google, to sue the creators of in internet apps that are made to block ads. These ads blockers are used by hundreds of thousands of internet goers, and often times make for easier internet browsing and interactions. Nobody in particular is fond of ads. They are often relentless, annoying and seem like the only purpose they serve is to annoy you. These ads however, are important to many other people. Without them the websites whose services are otherwise free don’t gain nearly as much revenue as they would otherwise. Some of them use ads as their only source of revenue. Because of this, it is understandable that they are unhappy with the ad block services, but there is next to nothing else they can do besides the very course of action they have taken.

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These companies, after all, have to defend their money and revenue. At the moment, this is the only way the can. These ad blockers are nothing more than a convenience for the many people that use them, and think nothing of what other implications they have, myself included. Microsoft and Google don’t need the ads in particular, but gain a great deal out of their presence. Both major companies are have programs, sites, or other ventures that have a good bit of ad space, Google being the most well-known. These ads are omnipresent without ad blocks, lurking at the side of your searches, logging what you’re looking for, only to bring up coupons for your favorite food when you’re busy trying to write a paper for your digital studies class. However annoying they may be, they’re necessary for us to be able to have so much free reign on many of our favorite websites. The presence of these ads is a lesser of two evils that I would much rather accept than to have to start paying for dictionary.com and other basic essential sites.

http://news.softpedia.com/news/Microsoft-Google-Others-Threaten-to-Sue-Adblock-Plus-Creator-467035.shtml

BitTorrent, Project Maelstrom, and Open source coding

Recently, BitTorrent has announced the release of an invite-only alpha of their own new browser dubbed project Maelstrom. Project Maelstrom is a browser that is made to function like BitTorrent. To understand what this means, first BitTorrent itself must be explained. BitTorrent was a protocol and a way of certain processes functioning first before it was a specific program. Essentially, it is a way of file sharing that forms a network of computers that all host said file in a swarm. This swarm can consist of as many computers that decide to access and continue to host it. When hosting it, at any time can a computer decide to access this particular file. Based off of this, the same group that championed this method to create the BitTorrent Program used this same reasoning to create Project Maelstrom.

This Browser is created with the idea of peer to peer file sharing being the norm, and the expected. Its goal is to lower barriers between individuals and make the internet as a whole more open and neutral. It also seeks to prevent large companies from having the immense power over the information available in the internet by taking the things that these corporations keep private and making them readily available the same way many files that are otherwise copyrighted now are made available through current peer to peer file sharing and BitTorrent access. One question that is raised with this, however, is the hypocrisy that the browser exists within. The browser claims to support openness for all people and ideas that are already available on the internet. How then, can the very thing that seeks to make everything private be private itself? The browser is not being released by BitTorrent as open source, which, in the community it is most relevant, is a very big deal. Open source coding allows for an individual to take the program from what they already have and make it to something that is customized for themselves. This minor (or major) snag seems to be an already red flag as to what the creators of BitTorrent really desire. As a group of individuals, they cannot want complete openness and sharing of ideas, because in the modern world, there are too many opportunities to make money with these things. We all know when there’s money to be made there are very few things people won’t do, and stealing another person’s open code and calling it your own after making a few minor changes is an all too real possibility.

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http://blog.bittorrent.com/2014/12/10/project-maelstrom-the-internet-we-build-next/

SoundCloud

Any frequent SoundCloud user knows about the luxury being offered to them, an abundance of free music and other audio files, on an extremely easy, and user-friendly platform. SoundCloud is like YouTube, except better. SoundCloud users do not need to worry about slow loading music, and working a platform meant for viewing videos, in order to listen to their music. Listening to music is made simple and efficient. SoundCloud is about the expression of culture through sounds and music. Look up any popular song on SoundCloud, and you will find it at the top of the search results. Scroll down a bit more and it will become evident that SoundCloud cannot be in the same category as iTunes, or YouTube. In order to get a full perspective, this essay will be written from four different points of view.  Theses perspectives are founders of SoundCloud, the users of SoundCloud, homegrown musicians, and mainstream artists.


“SoundCloud, launched in 2008 by Alexander Ljung and Eric Wahlforss, is a social sound platform that lets anyone create, record, promote and share their sounds on the web in a simple, accessible and feature-rich way.”

-SoundCloud Main Website, 2014

Throughout the years, the only consistency in co-founder and CEO Alexander Ljung’s vision for SoundCloud is that is has always been changing. In order to see Ljung’s brainchild through his own eyes, one must give at the very least a quick glance over his professional background. Prior to founding SoundCloud, Ljung had experience as a post-production sound designer and motion film music producer. However, it is evident that he is not simply a musician, as he graduated from the Royal Institute of Technology with a MS in Media Technology. He also studied marketing and business strategy at the Stockholm School of Economics (BusinessWeek, 2014). Clearly Ljung knows how at the very least how to drive a successful business model.

An early interview with Ljung reveals that SoundCloud was originally borne of his continued annoyance with the inconveniences involving sharing music with other professionals (Hansen 2011). However, due to its explosive success among industry professionals and amateur, at-home composers alike, SoundCloud quickly evolved into a much more widely encompassing tool for audiophiles.

When SoundCloud announced the registration of its 10 millionth user in January 2012, Ljung cites his vision: “enabling people to create and share sound more easily and collaboratively” (SoundCloud, 2012)—the difference is subtle yet changes the original vision significantly. In the early years of SoundCloud, and indeed in its inception, it was intended to be a tool for industry professionals. An analogous example that comes to mind is that of any sophisticated computer program capable of performing specific tasks—imagine software capable of crunching mining data to predict the locations of oil deposits, or those used in meteorology to generate complex models of weather. The recurring theme is that all such examples were requested for by, made by, and made for experts in their respective fields. In a similar way, Ljung originally meant for Soundcloud to be a tool of music professionals, bypassing the tedious process of sharing and critiquing music in the professional music industry—he cites lack of functionality, such as pointing out specific parts of a track, or isolating a specific layered track in a composition without employing cumbersome, optimized software, or by increasingly frustrating analog methods (Van Buskirk, 2009). However, the 2012 statement is explicit in making no such distinction—SoundCloud is for everyone.

soundcloud
One method to measure SoundCloud’s astonishing (and to Ljung, probably unexpected) growth.

However, in order to maximize its exponential growth, it was necessary to widen its availability and demographic. There are many factors that reveal Ljung’s design direction. For one: SoundCloud’s presence on the internet as a web-browser application. In most cases, professionals enjoy their industry-specific tools to be available as a separate application from their web-browser. This offers several advantages: more powerful computing, greater memory storage, the absence of distractions such as other tabs, and generally better performance. However, Ljung and his company opted for web-browser functionality. Why? Simply because it is more convenient. Those who wish to register with SoundCloud and become a user do not have to undergo the tedious and sometimes confusing process of downloading and installing it. SoundCloud can be opened from a bookmark at a moment’s whim, and supremely accessible.

One of SoundCloud’s defining features is its ability to be embedded in other pages (Van Buskirk, 2009). In this way, the userbase itself is used in order to spread the website’s reputation. This completely trumps MySpace’s audio functionality, which served as SoundCloud’s main competitor until it gradually but almost completely sank into disuse. MySpace required its users to go to the main website in order to access whatever audio files the artist had uploaded. (Van Buskirk) By allowing the sound clips to be embedded anywhere on the internet, SoundCloud was able to go to the users, instead of cajoling users to come to it.

The product is something quite different from what Ljung originally intended, but it is a unique creation in its own right. To Ljung, SoundCloud is a convenient and extremely effective way of bypassing the irritating process of sharing and collaborating on music over the internet. Today, SoundCloud has more than 40 million users, and a global Alexa ranking of 173 (Alexa, 2014) Its function is now to allow both professional and amateur musicians to publish music to an immensely wide audience at minimal cost, with several functions that allow for effective critique and collaboration. In order to increase SoundCloud’s mass appeal, it was necessary to make some adjustments to the original idea, but the even today, SoundCloud’s most basic skeleton is that of one wanted, designed, and created by musicians, for musicians.


From a simple user and listener’s perspective Soundcloud is a place to explore. It is an open internet forum full of an incredible variety of audio genres including podcasts to music and everything in between. The “YouTube of audio” is how Soundcloud CEO Alexander Ljung refers to his company. Just like YouTube, on Soundcloud it is free to listen to unlimited audio for as long as desired. It offers an unbelievable amount of audio for any user to listen to that can fulfill any interest. President Obama has all of his speeches uploaded to Soundcloud and the same with New York mayor Michael Bloomberg. On a website widely seen as for music only, it is important to realize how versatile it is. Ljung talks about how audio can be such a powerful tool and gives one reason, every person loves listening to a good song or a good speech. In a video dominated society with camera phones, vines, YouTube, etc. audio seemed to get lost in the shuffle. The truth about video though is that it can’t always be watched. While going for a run, working out, or driving a video can’t be watched it’s just impractical. Soundcloud provides the variety for a simple user to listen to anything they might desire.

A growing trend on Soundcloud is the comeback of podcasts, a dying form of media not too long ago. You might say what about radio, but for the radio you have to be listening at the right time to hear the desired talk. On Soundcloud all of the desired podcasts that have been added are found in one convenient location. The hassle of finding the website is all cut out by the convenience. WBEZ, a Chicago Radio Station, said it attracted average viewership over the 19 years it has been on air. Last year they put their shows on Soundcloud and have been averaging 50,000 plays a day. This must be due to the ease of access that Soundcloud provides. Without Soundcloud only Chicagoans would even know about the show but Soundcloud gives it a national foothold. As mentioned earlier President Obama and Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York, both have all of their speeches uploaded to Soundcloud. This gives everyone a chance to catch up on any speech they may have missed or go back and listen to great points. While stored on Soundcloud there isn’t a chance the speeches will be lost or forgotten as they can be easily accessed at any point. More politicians will be joining in the future to help market and campaign themselves. No longer do they have to be worried that people can’t hear their speeches because they are simply a click away at any time.

Music however is the gas that fuels the engine that is Soundcloud. Music is the pride and joy and for good reason. As a user that accesses the entire database at zero charge the music is what truly makes it worth it. Easily downloadable onto a smartphone or tablet through the Soundcloud app, all music is available while internet connection is in good condition. Users can make playlists selecting their favorite songs that other users can also listen as well and also for personal use. The access to free music is incredible and many artists have started uploading their songs straight to Soundcloud. It is easy to track the rise of a young star while on Soundcloud as every song of their young career will be available. Also, the ability to share media from Soundcloud is a great tool. The simple website set-up allows users to share their favorite mixes, artists, playlists, etc. and reach the masses within an instant. In today’s world this is a huge bonus to Soundcloud.

There is talk that due to SoundCloud’s recent deal with Warner Music Group that the free music may go away. Certain artists and songs may never be available on Soundcloud or a paid subscription may be needed to access them. Also, advertisements may start to appear on certain tracks interrupting the currently endless stream of audio available. As a user it has been easy to choose Soundcloud over a competitor such as Spotify because of the identical services provided.


In the eyes of big, mainstream artists, SoundCloud is an innovative and wonderful idea but is also an inferior way in which music can be shared (rather than the traditional buying and selling of music). SoundCloud is significant because the public is obsessed with music. Every which way one turns there is music playing whether it is in one’s home, in a store, on the street, etc. The entity that is SoundCloud exists as a result of this crave for music combined with the resentment of paying for that crave. Therefore, SoundCloud was created for two types of people:  those who hate to pay for music and those who enjoy making music but do not have a big time record deal.

For those who use it solely because they do not want to spend their money to listen, and own, music, SoundCloud is unfair to the mainstream artists. They use the beats, songs, and ideas of these artists for their own personal enjoyment without compensation. The users of SoundCloud who use it for this purpose are not listening to the music of the aspiring artists who are uploading tracks from their home studios. They are listening to the big time song created but the mainstream artists. The use of this site in this manner is unfair to the professional singer-songwriters as well as the record companies who they produce music for.

However for those who use SoundCloud as a distribution site for their homemade music, it is a great thing.  Before SoundCloud and other sites that are similar, hopeful artists had to go out on the streets and pass out copies of their music, get a radio station to play their music, or somehow get in front of a big record company to even have the slightest chance of becoming well-known. With the integration of SoundCloud as a means of music distribution, the likelihood of an underground artist being noticed is increased tremendously. As of October of 2013, SoundCloud had reached an astounding 250 million listeners, and even more astounding is the rate at which it has increased (Dillet).  The number of SoundCloud listeners spiked from 200 million in July of 2013 up to the 250 million in only 3 months (Dillet).  With the impressive increase in listeners, an artist’s music can be spread to an even wider population and their popularity can increase with greater ease.

The creation of SoundCloud by founders Alexander Ljung and Eric Wahlforss was originally supposed to be for the sharing of music between musicians.  This would have been a great thing for mainstream artists.  Ideas about songs could have been shared between the minds of great musicians to collaboratively develop works of masterpiece.  However, the transformation of the site from a means of communication and sharing of music between musicians to a public marketplace for free music made it a much less efficient site. The precedent to SoundCloud that it has now taken a similar form as is the infamous LimeWire. There is not actual file sharing on SoundCloud like there was on LimeWire, but the ideas of the two are otherwise rather similar.  With the complete shutdown of LimeWire, the advertisements on YouTube, and the cost of music in places elsewhere, the emergence of a free music site like SoundCloud was bound to be a hit with the public.

The ethical issues regarding SoundCloud are quite obvious, in that the big mainstream singer-songwriters and record labels are not receiving proper payment for their products that are being used. At this point in time, there are few advertisements being employed on the website and for those that are, the money is being filtered to SoundCloud as a company and not the artists. This is a completely different set up than other music listening websites like Pandora and YouTube. However at some point in the near future, the free for all of free music will come to an end and the record labels and their artists will receive their proper compensation.  SoundCloud has recently signed contract with Warner Music Group that will, with time, bring about more advertisements to the site (Sisario).

The Story of SoundCloud: The Home-Grown Artist Perspective

SoundCloud is a creative oasis for bedroom musicians and producers. Why is SoundCloud better than YouTube at music? Because SoundCloud is the YouTube of music. Despite being a platform for all audio uploads, SoundCloud has become widely used as a means for listening to all different kinds of music, spanning all genres, be it obscure or popularity. As the best audio platform for creative musical expression, SoundCloud is the place where rising and unknown DJs, rappers, singers, and musicians take to the internet and let their creative masterpieces be known. 

EDM producers have been especially active on SoundCloud, where one can find millions of different electronic and dance music mixes and playlists, all by home-grown, low-budget producers looking to test the waters of their creative and artistic expression. Remixing has become a staple of SoundCloud’s large EDM community. While EDM producers like to make their own sounds and mixes, many also dabble with remixing popular tracks. This remixing culture has created a sort of conflict between home-grown artists, and major record labels, who claim that the uploaded remixes are copyright infringements (Hermann).
SoundCloud finds itself in the middle of the debacle, being the entity responsible for monitoring all uploaded material and making sure that none of it infringes on any copyrights. SoundCloud initially developed a reputation for letting its users post audio tracks that infringed upon copyrighted material. In 2011, SoundCloud introduced Audible Magic’s digital fingerprinting technology to monitor and pinpoint any content that violated any copyrights. Since then, SoundCloud has been better able to identify audio uploads that infringe upon copyrights (Hermann).
Due to the stricter standards that SoundCloud has attempted to enforce over the past couple years, artists have felt as though their rights to creativity and artistic expression have become more limited and narrow. Despite corporate efforts against infringed material, SoundCloud still has a thriving remix, and mashup culture among home-grown artists. Lil Jon and DJ Snake’s hit song “Turn Down For What” was remixed over 500 times in many genres including trap, reggae, hardstyle, and bhangra. Regarding remixes on popular tracks, “They’re not hard to find or identify; many proudly declare their unlicensed status with a ‘#bootleg’ hashtag (Hermann).” At worst, artists who have committed copyright violations are asked to take their material down. While no harsh legal ramifications come with committing copyright infringement, “a widespread perception persists among remixers that their work is the online equivalent of driving 5 miles per hour over the speed limit (Hermann)…”

Audio Recording of a SoundCloud Remix to Turn Down For What:

It is still a major bummer for artists when their music is asked to get taken down. Ethan Hein a professor of music technology at NYU and Montclair State University, who occasionally makes his own mashups and remixes, believes that reforming the copyright laws are the only solution to the tension between SounndCloud and its remixers (Hermann). Hein believes copyright reform is the best answer because as he puts it, “the right to comment on culture via remixing far outweighs the rights of copyright holders to control transformative issues (Hermann).” It is evident that the home-grown artists who take part in SoundCloud’s remixing culture see themselves as creators of art and aesthetic expression, while their opposition sees them as breakers of the law.
For everyday people who see musical creativity as their driving force, SoundCloud is the ideal platform for their own artistic expression. While many different popular tunes are available on SoundCloud, one of SoundCloud’s biggest accomplishments is the fact that it is a platform for local, unknown artists to publish their own work on a space that can be accessed by millions of users worldwide. Listeners can comment on any point in a song, or mix, sharing their thoughts with the artist, and giving their compliments to a good drop in the base, or change in rhythm. Home-grown artists use SoundCloud as a mechanism for improvement. Anyone can have their own profile, and gain a following with some good music. Once an artist has taken this first step, there is no looking back. Positive feedback and suggestions are nothing short of helpful for artists who are looking to either take their musical talents to the next level or simply create art for the sake of others. With the reality of SoundCloud, all home-grown artists have an opportunity for self-expression and exposure.

 

 

Home-grown EDM artist Groundislava makes it big on SoundCloud
Home-grown EDM artist Groundislava makes it big on SoundCloud

 

 

 


SoundCloud has opened up an opportunity from the masses to deliver their message through audio.  Whether this be the White House uploading President Obama’s most recent speech or a teenage girl uploading a cover of a Taylor Swift song. The overall ease in accessibility that it provides at the listening side and the artist side makes SoundCloud as popular as it has become today.  On the other hand, this accessibility can cause issues for mainstream artists and record labels that do not get to collect on royalties.  A lot was put in to producing these songs, and the fact that listeners can have access for free is not necessarily fair. Thus, it is evident that SoundCloud has semi-revolutioned a new free listening experience.


Bibliography

Dillet, Romain. “SoundCloud Now Reaches 250 Million Visitors In Its Quest To Become The Audio Platform Of The Web.” TechCrunch. AOL Inc., 29 Oct. 2013. Web. 8 Dec. 2014.

Graham, Jefferson. “Who’s Listening to SoundCloud? 200 Million.” USA Today. Gannett, 17 July 2013. Web. 6 Dec. 2014.

Sisario, Ben. “SoundCloud Signs Licensing Deal With Warner Music.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 04 Nov. 2014. Web. 10 Dec. 2014.

Hansen, Drew. “How Alex Ljung Conceived SoundCloud and Made Plans to Make it Rain.” Forbes Magazine. December 19, 2011. Web.  December 10, 2014.

“Executive Profile: Alexander Ljung.” BusinessWeek. December 10, 2014Web. December 10, 2014.

Lee, Jaeyoung. “Google Trend: ‘kw: SoundCloud’ Screenshot”. Google Trends. December 10, 2014. Web. December 10, 2014.

“Alexa Traffic Ranks: SoundCloud.” Alex.com. December 10, 2014. Web. December 10, 2014.

SoundCloud. “SoundCloud Celebrates Reaching Reaching 10 Million Milestone.” SoundCloud.com January 23, 2012. Web. December 10, 2014

 

Hermann, Andy. “How Remix Culture Lives and Dies on SoundCloud.” The Daily Dot. The Daily Dot, 28 Aug. 2014. Web. 8 Dec. 2014. <http://www.dailydot.com/entertainment/soundcloud-remix-problem/>

 

Pledged,

Hub Cirame, as the author of the portion regarding the userbase.

Elan Kainen, as the author of the portion regarding the small local and home-grown artists.

Jaeyoung Lee, as the author of the portion regarding the founder of SoundCloud, Alex Ljung.

Brayden Sims, as the author of the portion regarding well-known mainstream musicians.

Venmo and Paypal kind of sort of care about their customers

Money is a valuable thing that most people are not particularly fond of losing unnecessarily. Apps whose sole main purpose deals with money are thus always suspicious in my own and many other minds. I do not personally have either Paypal or Venmo, but they are both apps that deal with purchasing items or money transfer, and thus I am suspicious of both of them. Paypal has existed for a while, and its main purpose was to act as a “digital wallet” that allowed users to make online purchases easier. Money can be added to a Paypal account, which can then be spent on anything as long as there is enough money in the account to pay for it. Paypal’s purpose was to eliminate the hassle of sharing personal bank information with multiple sites that may not be entirely secure. Paypal only requied a user to share their personal bank information with them, which is where my spidey senses start kicking in.

Paypal does not charge users for certain things such as buying. According to the Paypal website, buying anything through Paypal does not incur an additional fee. Selling on the other hand has some additional fees that change based on where the item is being sold. Transferring money is where things get really interesting. Transferring money using your actual bank account, or in other words, giving Paypal your bank information is free. Transferring money using just a debit card cost money. My spidey senses are usually right. Paypal is essentially a useful middleman, but a dangerous one too.

Venmo is a little bit trickier. Venmo accesses your bank account, but when you make a transfer it doesn’t go directly to the other person’s account, it goes to their Venmo account. A user has to actually move the money from their Venmo account to their actual bank account to get the money for real. A person cannot buy anything with a Venmo account, unlike a Paypal account. The part about Venmo that sets off the spidey senses though is the Venmo account. Money can sit in the Venmo account for as long as the user allows. Though the cost of transferring money is free, Venmo has access to the money while it is a Venmo account. They probably bank on the idea that users won’t cashout their Venmo accounts until there is a sizeable amount of money in it. This allows Venmo to act as a bank, and invest the money in Venmo accounts. I see Venmo almost as a free bank, that hasn’t told its users it’s actually bank.

These two apps are great for the functions they perform, but people need to understand there is a lot of baggage that comes with these apps. I am not opposed to people using these kinds of apps, but I do think they add a step that is unnecessary for people when it comes to buying items online. The money transfer function of Venmo is a step forward for society, I just wish their was a way the app could send money from one bank account to another without having that stop in the middle. People just have to realize that nothing in this world is free and a free app has to make money somehow, and a lot of times its through means that the user has no clue about.

Paypal website: https://www.paypal.com/webapps/mpp/paypal-fees

https://www.paypal-media.com/about

Venmo website: https://venmo.com/about/fees/

paypal pic 1 venmo pic 1

 

photos courtesy of google images

Everyday the Same Dream

Everyday the same dream

All of the games we have been playing in class have certainly been… eccentric. They’re not games in the traditional sense, and I get the feeling that my sensing a mix of both bewilderment and frustration was exactly what the authors of these games were aiming for.

Take, for example, Everyday the Same Dream. Sadly, I missed the entire “point of the game”, after I promptly refused to put clothes on to work and was fired, I found myself back in my room with the alarm clock once again blaring its klaxon. My immediate thought “Oh. I guess I finished it…?

I had gotten the impression that I had finished the game and “respawned”, for a replay experience. At this point, I was furiously trying to figure out what the game was trying to tell me. “Even the slightest mistake can end a thread.” “White-collar work usually requires a shirt and tie… and a white-collar.” “You should probably listen to your wife when she tells you to hurry up.”It was then that I turned around and noticed people becoming frustrated, exclaiming “How do I catch the leaf?” or “how did you guys pet the cow?” I snapped back to my game, and realized, I had only completed a fifth of the game.

samedream
I’m done, right?

 

samedream2
“Thank god leaf! Can you tell me what’s going on?”

After making sure that I had thoroughly completed the game, I spent a second period of time trying to figure out the game. To my amusement/disappointment, my original impressions didn’t change much. Yes, cubicle work is tedious. Depression is a serious condition too. But these weren’t things that I couldn’t have come up with by myself, or a concisely written article.

Now let’s consider the a couple other games: Tracking Transcience and Unmanned. Despite the stylistic differences between the two, the three games are surprisingly similar. They all seek to drive home a message by forcing the player to painstakingly piece the clues together.

Honestly, I’m not a fan of these games. I think concise prose is the one of the most efficient methods of conveying a message. Not to say that games cannot be used for artistic means. If anyone, I’m the one who enjoys a good game. But I don’t think that we have to pretend like these little Flash games are anything more than just that, to say that Everyday the Same Dream is a “masterpiece” is almost insulting to games that in my opinion are truly thought evoking (I’m into going to list them because a video game debate on a DIG101 blog is not on my list of things to do)

 

Bibliography

Everyday the Same Dream: http://www.molleindustria.org/everydaythesamedream/everydaythesamedream.html

Screenshots: myself, playing the game.

Drone Warfare: Is it fair to those who use them, and to those who are on the receiving end?

To write the individual drone mission report, I found it necessary to go through all of the articles and links provided in the “Drone Dossier”. “A Day Job Waiting for a Kill Shot a World Away” by Elizabeth Bumiller, was definitely one that stuck with me, especially after playing “Unmanned”.

Here are some quotes from drone pilots themselves:

“No one in my immediate environment is aware of anything that occurred.”

“At some point, some of the stuff might remind you of stuff you did yourself. You might gain a level of familiarity that makes it a little difficult to pull the trigger.”

“There was good reason for killing the people that I did, and I go through it in my head over and over and over,”

“But you never forget about it. It never just fades away, I don’t think — not for me.”

“I feel no emotional attachment to the enemy,” he said. “I have a duty, and I execute the duty.”

It seemed to me that there were some differences in the way each pilot reacted to their missions and how much they affected them. Most of the quotes show some sort of sentiment or compassion. However,

“I go through it in my head over and over and over”
“I feel no emotional attachment to the enemy,I have a duty, and I execute the duty.”

I found these two quotes to be very disturbing. The first one seems to reflect some sort of suppression of emotion, or even self-indoctrination. The drone pilot receives the order and executes it, and then spends time off the job tackling the trauma that he has just taken a life. It must be a terrible feeling, having to constantly suppress the guilt brought upon by war, in every-day scenarios – especially considering the fact that drone pilots are surrounded by people oblivious to the happenings of drone warfare.The second quote is cold and almost robotic, with the lack of compassion and value for human life.

But what is troubling about this is the nature of drone warfare, and the fact that drone pilots are fully integrated in society in which they have to pretend and go about their own work.

The final point that is controversial yet rarely addressed about the nature of drone warfare, is that, yes it reduces casualties on one end of the war, but is it really fair to keep civilians of other countries in constant fear for their lives – that in the off-chance, they die to the mistake of a drone pilot a world away? One must stop to think about the psychological effects of drone warfare, and whether it’s a humane thing to keep civilians in constant peril, at least in their minds – which is arguably enough to say its inhumane.

Google Classroom: Whose Interest is It, Anyway?

Google Classroom Student View <http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-4ofVgEmwJmk/U2kBJ9Zc4-I/AAAAAAAAOeg/qhWVCzlataA/s1600/01_Student+-+Class+Cards+(1).png>

As I finished the final project with my two dear teammates, I was surprised by the wide array of Google products, from the classic Google search engine to the unmanned car to the nanoparticles that detect cancerous tissues. Google has extended itself beyond the web browser and transform itself to many clever applications that are not even search-based. Google does not only provide internet service, it pervades other areas such as education, health, and politics. From my experience with Ada Jenkins tutoring center, I want to discuss whether Google Classroom, a product that links Gmail, Drive, and other office products, actually provides the fast, easy, and free service for education. If so, which group of education does it benefit more: teachers, students, or both?

Google Classroom exactly represents what Google is good at – recycles and integrates available products into a faster, simpler service. By giving the combination of Gmail, Drive, and Docs a name, Google has attached its brand name to the education sector of society, showing its ambition to influence all aspects of people’s lives. It sounds great when teachers and students can go paperless and communicate quickly. However, I think that these features do not facilitate the process of learning but only boost up the process of preparing for class or reduce the need for school supplies. It helps teachers in assigning and collecting homework, but it cannot help students understand the subject more. If teachers do not put much effort in teaching at traditional school, they can post videos on Google Classroom and expect their students to know the materials. It also reduces the human connection between teachers and students, as students might not ask questions in class since they can do so at home through instant messages. The virtual space might hinder discussion if all students are not present at the same time.
During my time at Ada Jenkins, I have seen many students struggle to understand how Google Classroom works. Because of their low-income background, many do not possess a laptop and cannot work on their assignments at home. Also, they barely practice typing, so they type very slowly, which could affect their focus on the assignment, because they get bored and impatient when it takes a longer time to do work on computers than on paper.
Everything, even classroom, has become online, but students who do not have access to Internet due to lower socioeconomic background can be left behind since they cannot finish their assignments. Although Google products are often praised for their practical approach, Google Classroom does not necessarily promote learning, which is the most important goal of education. Therefore, teachers should not use Google Classroom as their main ways of teaching because humans are just not ready yet to learn in such environment.

 

Post 10

Big Data

Big data terrifies me. The very idea that even the smallest interactions on the web can be recorded and analyzed in an omniscient computer algorithm gives me an uneasy feeling worse than the ones i get from video surveillance or militarized drones.

To clarify, I truly think that data can be beautiful. It really is something else to see data portrayed in a meaningful way to offer insight into an issue or phenomena. For example, I can easily go onto Google Trends and enter a request for the term “weightlifting”. There are three distinct peaks in the plot: 2004, 2008, and 2012. it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that these search spikes correspond to the Summer Olympics, which takes place every four years. Things like this are very interesting to see, and I could easily spend hours on Google Trends looking up various search queries. However this is one of the most innocuous forms that big data can take, and it is very easy for data to make a threatening pose.

weightlifting
“what could this mean??!”

Take, for example, the Facebook iOS app. This seemingly harmless application is actually currently doing what many would call a gross violation of privacy: it constantly logs location, data regardless of your privacy settings. In fact, once installed, the app records data about the user’s location regardless of the app’s actual usage. And of course, this is all outlined in the new privacy terms and agreements. I’ve never deleted anything so quickly before.

Why has this become such a huge problem for us so recently? it’s because of the advent of computer-assisted data-crunching. Complex algorithms make sifting through massive amounts of raw data nearly effortless, and thus a select few who know their ways with computers can suddenly collect extremely sophisticated and nuanced bits of data with merely a few pages of code. And while data collection has happened in the past (and even been celebrated in some ways: see the american Census), what scares me, along with many others I’m sure, is the anonymity and relatively ease with which this can happen. With our lives becoming increasingly digitized, we see less and less of the source code, and become more and more inebriated with hidden functions and sneaky widgets. it’s one thing to knowingly send in your contact information to a phone agency. it’s entirely different to wake up one day and read an article that my data had been being collected by a freaking app for weeks.

So how do we make sure we aren’t completely consumed by big data’s overwhelming crush of privacy? the userbase has to carefully read terms and conditions and analyze every but of source. in a way, i’m advocating procedural literacy. It is up to the user to define the boundaries.

 

Bibliography

Google Trend Screenshot–myself

https://www.facebook.com/about/privacy/your-info

Technology in Our Daily Life

For the last blog post, I talked about Google Driverless Car and the pros and cons of it. Something I did not touch upon that much is that Google Driverless Car posts a serious question for human beings: if the machine can do everything, what our society will be like? Some one may argue that driving cars is far from representing everything; there are still a lot of things that only human beings can do but machines cannot. But can you imagine a self-driving car 10 years ago? We definitely once believed that skillful and complicated jobs like driving can only be done by human beings, but now it can be done by machine. There are certainly problems and concerns with it.

 

Narrowly speaking, the self-driving cars will take up taxi drivers’ jobs. To a boarder extent, machines have the capability of replacing human beings in all service-related job market with a higher efficiency. We now have machine drivers, and then how about machine waiters? Machine shopping assistant? Many people make their livings by serving others, and with the extensive use of machines, they will be forced to find other jobs that they might not be good at. Some one may argue that if machines help people do these easy but rather tiring and annoying jobs, and most people will be able to pursue their careers in technological developments to better improve our society. However, but if one day people think that basic technological developments are too boring and they should be done by robots, what will happen? Artificial intelligence will become too intelligent and finally replace human beings and live on this planet, like it depicted in many sci-fi movies.

 

Technology should help our living, but not replacing it. A good example of using technology is in sports. For instance, the debate about whether or not soccer should apply goal-line technology to help referees make decisions since the eyes of human are not always trustworthy. And now FIFA apply this technology to many soccer games, and it helps referees make less mistakes. The most famous case about goal mistake is the goal from 2010 South Africa World Cup, and this “goal” triggered all the following discussion about the introduction of goal-line technology. According to the video, the ball definitely passed the goal line and it should be a goal, while without the help of goal-line technology, the referee denied that and somewhat caused the big loss of England. However, with the technology now, people don’t have to worry about this mistake happening again. That’s how technology can help people’s life.

Yik, Yak

The first rule listed on YikYak’s information page is “You do not bully or specifically target other yakkers.” The second rule is, “You DO NOT bully or specifically target other yakkers.” So why then, has Yik Yak turned into what some experts have called, “the most dangerous app ever seen?” The answer to this question is complicated and multifaceted, and we hope to answer it throughout this paper. In short, those rules are nothing more than a charade, a shallow attempt to protect YikYak’s public image as the app continues to become less and less like what it was intended to. But, before we can get into the more philosophical and social side of the app, we first must examine its background, and how it has become such a dominant and destructive part of college life nationwide.

Yik Yak was first launched by Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington, at Furman University in November 2013. Six months later, according to the iTunes App Store, Yik Yak was the 9th most downloaded social media app in the United States. Yik Yak is, as Droll put it, is “the virtual version of bathroom graffiti,” or the online version of “a city’s central plaza or a campus bulletin board.” More specifically, Yik Yak is an anonymous application, in which people in a certain, predetermined radius (most often 10 miles), can see posts by other people in their radius, but can not see who posted them. Then, after reading a given post, the user has an opportunity to “upvote” or “downvote” the post. Posts with the most “upvotes” are then moved higher in the Yik Yak feed, so more people can see them. On the other hand, if a post reaches negative 5 “votes,” it is automatically removed from the feed.

(Yik Yak founders Brooks Buffington and Tyler Droll. Image from http://www.wired.com/2014/05/yik-yak/)

Now that we know what it is, we can turn our attention to how it is supposed to work. I italicize “supposed,” as to highlight the fact that Yik Yak, in the vast majority of situations, doesn’t operate the way it is supposed to. But back to how it should work: According to its information page, the App asks you to “post your jokes, thoughts, observations, questions, etc.” They then go on to write a metaphor that is supposed to epitomize the ideal Yik Yak community: “Herds of yaks are strongest when they work together and watch each other’s backs. Yaks should not join a herd until they are mature enough, so no one under college age should be on Yik Yak.” What this is saying is that Yik Yak, as a digital medium, has the potential to be very powerful, if used correctly. That is to say that Yik Yak reaches an optimum when people work together to make the page a forum, where dynamic dialogues that spur social changes can occur. In some communities, this has turned out to be the case. I’ve talked to friends at other schools across the country who tell me that Yaks have helped start student body movements, helped police hone in on criminals, and help raise awareness for philanthropic events.

But it would be naïve, and irresponsible to write only about the ways that Yik Yak has been used for good, as the negative aspects of the app have drawn much more attention from the general population (especially parents and administrators). For example, a few weeks ago a Massachusetts school experienced a 24-hour onslaught of scary rumors and comments about students and administrators that nearly shut the school down, and the perpetrators of the Yaks were never discovered.  In response to this, school psychiatrist Dr. Keith Ablow responded by saying the creators of Yik Yak have “disseminated the technological equivalent of crack cocaine in America.”

(Image from: http://www.newslocker.com/en-us/region/connecticut/students-take-stand-against-yik-yak-social-media-app/)

So now that we have a little background about what the app is, and potential for both good and bad, we can now bring our discussion to some of the actual design of the app, more on how it has worked out in reality, and some of its social implications.

At first glance the Yik Yak app can appear harmless. And this is the intended purpose. The soothing green background coupled with the cartoonish spinning buffalo head has an almost humorous effect, as if to say, “this app should not be taken seriously.” This is perhaps a product of the intended uses of Yik Yak, mentioned earlier. And the comic sans like font only adds to this notion. 

Yik Yak Front

A number of the app’s features have varying uses and implications in regards to how the app is intended to work and how it works in reality. One such feature is the ability to “up” or “down” a post. Posts that receive more ups are moved high up on the feed and are added to the “hot” section of the app. The hot section is another such feature, where all the top posts can be viewed. It is somewhat comparable with the “top tweets” function on Twitter. A user also accumulates a “Yakarma” score, a measure of their performance of the app. A higher score means the user’s posts have been upped more and that they are more active on the app – upping and downing posts and posting more themselves. Although Yakarma scores are not public, they have the ability to influence someone’s use of the app. A person, noticing that negative posts are getting more ups, may be more inclined to post negative comments to up their score, while also perpetuating a cycle of negativity. People’s competitive desire manifests itself in the “imaginary” score, much like trying to get a Gamerscore in online videogames.

Yakarma

(Image from: http://wojdylosocialmedia.com/get-yakarma-yik-yak/)

The up/down feature allows users some control of the content in their area. Any post with five downs is permanently deleted from that feed. One friend noted that when he sees a post with four downs, he often adds the fifth – basking in the power to remove a post from the feed. Schools and colleges have actively employed this feature to combat cyber bullying, with students and administration making pacts to down vote any negative comments. This becomes important as anonymity on social media often leads to increased cyber bullying. One recent study found that aggressive comments directed at peers are perceived more negatively than similar comments directed toward random people on the internet. For example, the Davidson community perceives a hateful comment directed at a student group on Davidson’s campus more negatively than a general harsh comment directed at a group or someone outside of the community. Although this may seem apparent, it has significant ramifications on the community, which will be discussed later on. 

(Students at Skidmore College responded to Yik Yak with this campaign. Image from: http://www.skidmorenews.com/?p=6312)

Yik Yak has proactively tried to combat bullying with the addition of geofences surrounding Middle and High Schools. This function restricts the use of the app in locations that have a geofence around them. Yik Yak automatically added a geofence to many Middle and High Schools, through a partnership with Maponicss, a company with GPS locations of many schools; but if a school was left out, it can apply to have a geofence added.

Highschool, middle school

(Image from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/diana-graber/yik-yak-app-makers-do-the_b_5029679.html)

This move, however, does not stop middle and high school students from posting on the app when they get home or leave the geofence. A particular issue that has made recent headlines is threats against schools made by students on the app.

Watch this video for an example of what can go wrong when students misuse YikYak on high school campuses. http://abc7.com/education/2-manhattan-beach-schools-close-after-social-media-threat/399998/

These issues shed light on the privacy of the app. Many Yakkers have a misconceived perception that they can hide behind the anonymity and privacy of the app. When I asked friends if they were worried their posts would be exposed, they replied, “No, it is private.” In the cases of threats against schools, Yik Yak worked with administrators and law enforcement to trace the source of the posts. A recent study found that attacks against users’ privacy, even with anonymous apps, are also feasible. An article on the The Verge reported earlier this week that hackers where able post as different users, if they were on the same Wi-Fi network as the users, by hacking their UserID. The hackers found “a way to take complete control over a target’s Yik Yak account.” Such issues highlight that the words privacy and anonymity should be taken loosely.

Tags

(Image from: http://wojdylosocialmedia.com/can-view-colleges-universities-yik-yak/)

In an attempt to become more like Twitter, Yik Yak has added some analogous features. These include the ability to “peek” into other locations and view “topical peeks,” where a user can find posts on similar featured content – much like hashtag trends on Twitter. Both these functions remove some of the community aspect of Yik Yak, while also allowing others a view into our own community – for better or worse. The importance of such features are key for Yik Yak to grow in the future and near its stated goal of replacing other news outlets.

As we’ve discussed, the theoretical framework behind Yik Yak suggests that is meant to act as an anonymous social bulletin board. For users, the concept was to allow for real-time, anonymous, social interactions that were intended to better the community. For the brains behind YikYak, the goal was an eventual monopolization of the real-time news industry. Sources close to YikYak claim that their goal was to beat out better-known competitors such as Twitter and CNN iReport (formerly known as Eyewitness news). For this to happen, however, Yik Yak has a long way to go. While the app is extremely popular (Yik Yak is valued at between 300 and 400 million dollars and has raised 62 million dollars in venture capital to date), the disparity between what Yik Yak strives to be and what is has become is preventing the legitimacy that the application’s creators crave. There also seems to be a gap between the societal impact that YikYak claims it wants to have, and its financial motivations. An anonymous billboard, while potentially helpful, doesn’t seem like the type of app that would supplant powerful competitors like Twitter. To even stand a chance at doing that, it seems that YikYak would have to provide some sort of secondary value, in this case entertainment. In this section, we wanted to examine how this shift from a helpful news site, to entertainment wasteland is significant and what it means for YikYak and its users. 

There are several facets of Yik Yak that prevent it from achieving credibility as a source of news. One such component is an integral part of the app: the anonymity. In her 2011 article in Wired, Sheril Kirshenbaum evaluates the relationship between anonymity and accountability. In her article, Kirshenbaum claims that anonymous posts do have major benefits: she cites the ability for people to share their ideas in oppressive regimes as one. However, she comments more extensively on the downfalls of anonymous posting: namely the ability to be completely unaccountable for one’s actions. This drawback is at the center of the Yik Yak controversy. When people realize that Yik Yak provides a rare opportunity to act without consequence, the results can be detrimental.

Nowhere have these consequences been more visible than on college campuses, including our own. While Yaks criticizing people of specific races, religions, or ethnicities are often reported quickly, they still require multiple ‘Reports’ (a system by which a user can notify Yik Yak administration of a malicious yak) or 5 down votes before they are taken off of the feed, raising questions about Yik Yak’s commitment to keeping a positive, inclusive environment within the app. The founders of YikYak and those who stand to make money off of it, may not be the first to admit it; but hurtful and incentive yaks are often the most popular. The create traffic and bring more and more people to download the app on their phone. It’s good for business.

Anonymity is not the only feature of Yik Yak that prevents it from becoming the credible source of news it strives to be. Another example is ‘Yakarma’, the feature (discussed in more detail in the use/purpose section), which gives users a score based on how well their Yaks are received. This feature inherently pushes users to strive for up votes. As top feeds from around the country show, the Yaks that are upped the most frequently are those that are relatable or make people laugh, and not yaks that are informative. Recent experiences at Davidson have indeed confirmed this. Once again we see YikYak’s popularity found more in entertainment rather than real, helpful news. Recently, there was a lot of YikYak activity discussing Davidson students’ ‘die-in’, the social action movement which involved students lying down to raise awareness for recent police brutality against African-Americans. While there have been many Yaks about this, the highest rated one at the time of this paper being written had 12 up-votes, compared to the top yak, a complaint about exam stress, which had 203.

In fairness, recent developments and updates in the app have shown a desire to take steps towards credibility. The primary example of this is the update to the ‘peek’ feature (again explored further in the use/purpose section). In the new update, users can drop a pin and peek at any location in the world, while formerly only college campuses were available to peek at. While Yik Yak is a long way from being commonly used by any demographic other than college students, the updated peek feature shows a desire to branch out, a necessary step towards credibility. Still, the question remains- Does YikYak have an honest desire to rid itself of trolls who use the medium to bully others, or are their strives for news legitimacy and a bully-free zone nothing more than a PR guise. 

Until Yik Yak can successfully branch out from college campuses, users turn to it primarily as a study break, a source of entertainment and comedy during a stressful time. Because of this, students tend to respond negatively (or not at all) to Yaks that break the trend of complaints and jokes. If Yik Yak cannot successfully break into the mainstream, past colleges, and rid itself of a reputation that endears it to few who value social justice and awareness,  it will be unable to attain real legitimacy. Yik Yak may have originally had the goal of becoming a credible source of eyewitness news, but the way it has worked out reality has made that goal a secondary one. If they want their theoretical goal to match real world social realities, they would be smart to expand outside of college campuses and move away from the hurtful, bully culture that is often perpetrated on their app. Otherwise, users must come to the conclusion that YikYak is only masquerading as a real news source, and that it’s primary goal is to cheaply entertain.

Over the past few weeks, in the wake of the Michael Brown and Eric Gardner deaths, my Facebook timeline has been flooded with countless posts about the incidents. These posts are usually extended political ramblings from my more opinionated “friends” or links to articles and videos that almost always seem to have an agenda. Recently however, a different type of post has found its way onto my timeline. Multiple friends of mine have posted screenshots of their local YikYak feed, usually showing yaks related to the shootings and/or the subsequent protests that have taken place in many major cities and college campuses. In each of these posts, the screenshots are coupled with a caption that usually describes how disappointed the individual is with what his/her peers are saying. Very often the words “disgusted”, “offended” and “ignorant” come up. These sentiments towards what people post on YikYak aren’t new either. 

Tanner Alice

Anyone who has ever used YikYak, especially at a time where something significant and controversial has happened, knows that the app can become downright offensive. In theory, the site itself isn’t inherently negative but in reality it harbors an environment of hostility and unpleasantness. Allowing people to hide behind the guise of anonymity removes individuals from the responsibility and consequence that should accompany one’s words. What’s become painfully obvious however is that YikYak’s effect on an individual’s perception of his/her own environment goes far beyond just being offended. At its worse, it can entirely change the way a person looks at those around his/herself.

I was talking to a close friend earlier this semester who became soundly opposed to YikYak after he’d downloaded the app on his phone. Prior to having the app he had been a Davidson student for an entire semester. He said that having the app for only one week, completely changed his impression of Davidson students and the type of culture that the school strived to create. He described his prior sentiments towards Davidson as “naive” and said it was depressing to read some of the things his classmates had to say. Ultimately, this type of experience with YikYak isn’t unique. Many people find that YikYak makes them entirely rethink their outlook on their school and the people they go to school with. With the way that YikYak works out on college campuses, it makes people more skeptical of their surroundings. Racially insensitive and oppressive yaks make minorities more suspicious of their white peers. Sexist yaks make women more suspicious of their male peers. Homophobic yaks make LGBTQ students suspicious of their heterosexual peers. The list goes on and on. The difference between a Yak and a tweet lies in the anonymity. When you see an offensive tweet, you know exactly who to be offended by and who to be suspicious of. When there is an offensive Yak, it could be from any one of the thousands of people an individual goes to school with. In many cases, that Yak will make a person skeptical of everyone around them.

(BC students respond to offensive Yaks; students read Yaks.)

A key to the material we’ve learned and discussed this semester has been evaluating how new technological advances effect the way human beings interact with each other. By our estimation, every piece of technology that we have studied – from telephones to drones – has had a unique impact on the way people communicate. Often, these technologies have two pronged, or competing effects. In some ways they help improve communication and discussion, and in others, they inhibit the discussion. What makes YikYak unique, in a not so good way, is that it has no real positive influence in this area. With the exception of the very limited bulletin board example stated earlier, this application, in no way improves upon anything or creates anything that isn’t already readily available on other sites. It does not provoke thought, encourage honest dialogue or act as a medium for people to help others, the way Twitter and Facebook can. In fact, YikYak’s few notable unique features (anonymity, short range feed) work against these goals. Anonymity usually leads to name calling, and shameful hate speech rather than anything productive. The short range feed prohibits people from connecting to those around the world, which in itself seems counterproductive to the objective of social media. That’s not to say that sites like Facebook or Twitter are all or even mostly good- only that they have the potential to be productive, YikYak does not.

It seems that in today’s ever-evolving, digitally constructed world, most noteworthy technologies have their own competing narratives. There are supporters and advocates who highlight the technology’s benefits, purposes and its best case scenario end result. And then there are the detractors who focus on it’s limitations, flaws and worst case scenario end result. It doesn’t seem however, that this type of dichotomy exists with YikYak. It’s inherently negative. We talked to some YikYak “supporters” in preparation for this paper. Not one of them was willing or able to construct a defense for the app. Rather their interest in the app was pure entertainment value. My roommate, an avid “yakker”, acknowledged its destructive capability but says he keeps it downloaded on his phone because it’s “funny”. And I guess “funny” isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I think though, that when discussing new technologies, there must be an ongoing discussion in which we evaluate it’s merits against it’s faults. We must ask ourselves if its benefit to society is enough to justify the damage it potentially causes. It’s the type of discussion that dominates our talk of drones on a daily basis. Our group decided that for YikYak, the answer to these questions is a resounding no. Not only because it fosters an environment of hostility and tension, but because that is exactly what it is designed to do.

About

For this project, our group split the writing into 4 parts. Part one was written by Michael Sterenberg. His objective was to explore the background, origins and theory behind YikYak. We thought that this was an absolutely necessary cornerstone to establish before delving into our larger discussion about how the specifics of YikYak. Will Mahler was responsible for part two which looked at YikYak works out in reality on college campuses and elsewhere. He briefly touched on the differences between the theoretical framework of YikYak and it’s actual use. We realized early on that social media sites, YikYak specifically, often operate differently from how their creators initially intended to. We wanted to focus on this. For part 3, Gabe Dorit-Kendall wrote about the significance of these differences. It wasn’t enough just to say how the theoretical framework and actual use was different, we needed to discuss how this difference was important, especially at Davidson College. Jacob Newton wrote part 4 and his job was to discuss the social implications of YikYak’s widespread use on campus. We agreed that, unlike any other social media site/app that we know of, YikYak has a unique ability to change and shape the way peers look at one another. We wanted to contextualize this phenomenon on Davidson’s campus and explore exactly what effect had on its users. In this section, we also wanted to illustrate how this technology changes communication and establish our overall group argument.

Works Cited

 

Russell Brandom, “Security Intern Uncovers Major Vulnerability in Yik Yak Messaging App,” The Verge, http://www.theverge.com/2014/12/9/7359807/security-intern-uncovers-major-vulnerability-in-yik-yak-messaging-app

 

Gang Wang et al., “Whispers in the Dark: Analysis of an Anonymous Social Network,” IMC ’14 (2014): 135-150.

 

Stephen Ceasar, “Police Question Girl About School Threats Made on Yik Yak,” Los Angeles Times, November 19, 2014.

 

Kirsten Winkler, “Yik Yak, Geofencing and the Future of BYOD,” Getting Smart, http://gettingsmart.com/2014/03/yik-yak-geofencing-future-byod/

 

“Yik Yak Shuts Off Access to U.S. Middle and High School Students After Cyberbullying Reports,” http://www.endcyberbullying.org/yik-yak-shuts-off-access-to-u-s-middle-and-high-school-students-after-cyberbullying-reports/.

 

http://dailycollegian.com/2014/10/29/104868/

 

Elizabeth Whittaker and Robin M. Kowalski, “Cyberbullying Via Social Media,” Journal of School Violence 14, iss. 1 (Fall 2014): 11 -29.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TrcpgCPeNoM

 

http://abc7.com/education/2-manhattan-beach-schools-close-after-social-media-threat/399998/

 

http://host.madison.com/daily-cardinal/opinion/social-media-app-yik-yak-continues-to-draw-controversy-and/article_f017efce-42e3-11e4-8467-d76bf82627e2.html

 

Jozwiak, M. Social Medie App Yik Yak Continues to Draw Controversy and Praise. http://host.madison.com/daily-cardinal/opinion/social-media-app-yik-yak-continues-to-draw-controversy-and/article_f017efce-42e3-11e4-8467-d76bf82627e2.html, September, 2014.

Drawing the line between brains

I see now why Neuromancer is a bestselling novel. Despite the fact that we covered it thoroughly in the first third of the semester, it’s still very relevant in every brainstorming session I do regarding technology. Reading about people managing to create the brain of a worm, an interesting idea came up. We all remember how in Neuromancer there was the extensive body augmentation and implant technology, and hence the question, when do we stop being human, was brought up in class on many occasions. It’s an ongoing philosophy that has troubled minds far back into history, as seen by the ship of Theseus. But couple all of that, and virtual reality, and we get something very interesting.

To explain this more thoroughly, imagine this scenario first. You put on the Oculus Rift, and you assume the role of your avatar. You take a stroll through the virtual land and on your way you see a worm (assume that a feature of the game you are playing is to fully interact with the environment). Some innate need to stomp the worm wakes up and so you do. Little did you know you killed a real worm.

So what am I getting at? Say that the code for the AI used for worms in the Oculus Rift is actually the code for the brain of a real worm – the one we downloaded it. That worm was alive, in a virtual reality. It’s senses were a part of the virtual environment. Now, worms don’t think nearly on the level that we do. So say, in a hundred years, an all-powerful computer downloads the brain of a human, and then we upload that brain into virtual reality, and plug it into an NPC (non-playable character). To that NPC, the world is real.

Imagine this scenario, you enter the virtual world, through the latest technology, and you meet this NPC, with a real human brain. I don’t have any answers, and this is more of an interesting question to think about for the while, or at least take note of. But try and imagine a conversation with this being. Would you be able to explain to it that there is a world outside its world? How would the NPC react? Would it be far too much to comprehend? What would you talk about?

It’s hard to know, but if we manage to reach a technological level in which we can create brains of human complexity, the world would become a very different place – and it’s hard to tell if it’s for the better or for worse.
Drawing upon the way history unfolded, I would take an educated guess and say it’s the latter.

Edit:
Image Courtesy of Google.

I just had a chance to see this picture today, a day after my post. It puts into perspective the kind of technological growth that has happened over the years, especially given the claims that technology is growing at an exponential rate. Maybe the ability to copy more advanced brains isn’t even a hundred years in the future. Just a thought.