domingo, 30 de junio de 2013

The Rise and Fall of

In a well-documented haze of online search engine manipulation it became apparent that the competitive nature of the 'car insurance' organic search results was simply too much for one company to ignore after it came to light that one site had mysteriously appeared on the first page of Google search results in an alarming period of time.

Thanks to Screaming Frog being alert to their own data tracking, the company were able to reveal that had seen a huge improvement in their search engine visibility for one of the most competitive online markets in the world and on taking a look at their backlink profile, it soon became apparent that something surrounding the site was not as it should have been.

Obviously working in the search engine field ourselves, we were interested in taking a look at what the site had managed to achieve in such a short period of time, so we took the chance to be able to take a look at what they were doing in order to warrant such a quick appearance organically.


One thing that we should maybe point out is that we do not believe that this domain is associated with Citadel Insurance in any way as the information that we are able to obtain seems to show that is not the case, as you can see from the two whois records:


With that cleared up, we decided that the reason for the unwarranted appearance within the search engine results can only have been down to the vast number of links that the site had seen forced into it as per the comments made by Screaming Frog on social networking site Twitter, so we took a look at what they had been up to.

Using as the backlink analysis tool, we could immediately see that the spike in the number of links began in the middle of June, with the number of total links coming to a peak on June 22nd, at which point Ahrefs reported that they had seen 205,513 links obtained from 6,763 referring domains.


This number has since started to decline and on trying to how the links were placed into the linking sites, we can see that the links are being removed already.

At the point of being found out, the site's backlink profile was boasting a huge number of referring domains with a variety of anchor text being used, although the highest percentage of those being 'car insurance' which made up 52% of the total number of anchor text being used on these backlinks.

Here is what the top 10 anchor texts were within the profile, with percentages that they made up of the whole backlink profile as well as the number of referring domains that the links came from:


Going back to the whois information that we pulled, there is a tell-tale sign that the owner of the domain operates in a completely different market, one that we already know is an industry that is prone to things such as these being done in order to manipulate the search engine results, payday loans.


Thanks to the notification of the site and the antics that it displayed, Google took action against the site and reduced their rankings drastically, as can be seen in the rankings that are tracked by

It would have been interesting to see how long the site (which is now no longer rendering any form of website) would have remained within the rankings should this have not been pointed out to Google but we would have presumed that they would have seen the site during their installation of their very own car insurance quotes box within the results…


But that's a whole new post for another day!

Thanks to Malcolm Slade for his thoughts and contribution too!

Samsung And Nokia Could Be Gearing Up For A Smartphone Camera War

So Samsung's Galaxy S4 Mini and Galaxy S4 Active have officially made the leap from unimaginative rumors to unimaginative reality, which leaves only one oft-rumored version of the popular smartphone left unaccounted for — the curious S4 Zoom.

As the name sort of implies, this Galaxy variant is said to blur the line between smartphone and camera, and we may now be getting our first look at the thing. A set of images from both SamMobile and TechTastic purportedly show off the photo-centric S4 Zoom ahead of a big Samsung press event in London later this month.

It's hard to judge from the unflattering angles, but these images depict a device seems to be more camera than phone. The thickish frame, protruding lens obscuring a 16-megapixel sensor, and rounded butt are all design choices that are more reminiscent of point-and-shoots than they are of any standard smartphone. Too bad then that the supposed spec sheet that's been attached to the S4 Zoom seems wimpy in comparison — that hefty sensor will supposedly be accompanied by a 4.3-inch qHD AMOLED display and a 1.6GHz dual-core processor.

If the S4 Zoom is indeed the real deal — and at this point it just about seems like a lock — Samsung may find that it's not alone in using smartphones as a platform to show off their camera prowess. Persistent rumors of a Nokia Windows Phone sporting one of the company's mind-boggling PureView sensors have been floating around for over a year now, and a handful of spurious "leaked" images of one such device (codenamed "EOS ")have been circulating these past days. Hell, just earlier this morning we were treated to what may be the smoking gun — a purported recording of the EOS' gigantic rear camera pod blinking at us.

In case you missed the PureView hullabaloo from last year, Nokia's EOS isn't expected to feature the comparatively puny sensors seen in the company's recent Windows Phones. No no, rumor has it that it will instead sport the same 41-megapixel camera sensor that first graced the chubby 808 PureView back in 2012.

But I think there's a bigger question here that hasn't been adequately answered yet — who do these companies think we'll buy these things? I suspect I may be in the minority on this one, but I've always though that the camera-first approach that some OEMs fiddle around with is just sort of silly. Yes, there's definite value in being able to capture compelling shots on the run, but really: do people really care how good their photos look once quality inches past a certain threshold?

After all, the way we visually memorialize things has changed since the dawn of smartphone epoch — most images don't wind up printed and tucked away in photo albums any more. They get hastily MMSed to friends. They get marred by fugly filters and splayed up on Instagram. And in some cases (I'm looking at you Snapchat), the real value of these photos is knowing that they'll quickly be lost to the ages, a pointed rejection of the archaic permanence of images chemically etched on dead tree material. Camera quality ranks pretty low on my list of criteria when it comes time to buy a new phone, and leaning too heavily on one aspect of a device could be… problematic to say the least.

The closest thing Samsung has had to the S4 Zoom to date is the Galaxy Camera, and the company has never broken out Galaxy Camera sales for we hardware business dorks to dig into. Still, the device was hamstrung by carriers requiring customers to buy a data plan along with the thing (a Wi-Fi version was announced just two months ago). And while Nokia has kept its PureView numbers a closely guarded secret, enthusiasts have estimated that the Finnish phone company managed to sell over half a million as of Fall 2012.

That's a very solid number considering all the 808?s potential sticking points, and Nokia's moving a solid number of Lumia phones these days so Nokia must be hoping that PureView and Lumia are two great tastes that really do taste great together. Thankfully, we probably won't have to wait much longer to see these two duke it out — while the S4 Zoom is expected to be outed this month, the EOS could see the light of day as early as July 9.

17% of searches for flights are mobile, but are the travel sites?

Flight searches mobile

Consumers made a total of 3.2m online searches for flights last month, and more than 17% of these were made on mobiles, which highlights the need for travel firms to optimise their sites. 

According to stats from Greenlight, 'Cheap flights' was the most popular term searched for on Google UK, accounting for 17% of all flight searches, and 20% of all searches made on mobile. 

So are the travel sites ranking for these terms optimising for mobile? Using the term 'cheap flights', I've been checking the top ten results...

First, some quick stats from the report...

  • Queries for flights to short haul destinations were most popular on laptops/desktops, accounting for a 31% share of overall flight-related searches.
  • Those for long haul destinations dominated on mobile, accounting for 28%.
  • The ten most queried flight-related terms on desktop and mobile were similar, with two exceptions, 'flights to thailand' and 'flights to florida'. The former featured among the top ten searches made on computers but not mobile devices, whilst the latter featured in those via mobile devices but not computers.
  • Skyscanner was the most visible site in the organic listings on mobile and desktop. 

So which sites have optimised for mobile? 

Here is the top ten for 'cheap flights':

Perhaps thanks to the exact match domain, Cheapflights wins here. And it has optimised for mobile: 

Nice simple page too, with auto-complete to ease the way for mobile users. 


No marks for Skyscanner, though it does have an app. And it doesn't promote it with an annoying pop-up


Did you really think Ryanair would have a mobile site? Of course not...

It's pretty horrendous to use on mobile, with errors galore, and that post-flight search captcha... 

A good, well-designed mobile site: 


I didn't know Tripadvisor did flight search, but it seems it does...


There is a site at, but it would not load on my mobile. 


No mobile site here, and the desktop version doesn't look promising for mobile users. 


Like Travelsupermarket, MSE just isn't making the most of its high search position. 


UX fail from ebookers, which thrusts its app in front of new visitors rather than just letting them browse the mobile site: 

This is a mistake, but also unnecessary, as the mobile site is perfectly usable: 


Fly is number ten for a very popular term, but no mobile site. 

In summary

So, five out of ten have not optimised for mobile users, though Skyscanner perhaps gets half a mark for at least having a mobile app. 

Based on Greenlight's figures, the term 'cheap flights' accounted for 110,000 searches from mobiles in May alone, so there is clearly an opportunity here for these sites. 

The Rise Of E-Smoke

Puff, puff, pass the e-cigarette. To the tune of about $2 billion in retails sales this year. That's a lot of smokeless vapor for an industry that only a few years ago looked like a fad. Now with substantial consumer adoption and brands and techies on the bandwagon, e-smoke might be the next big thing to blow.

Napster cofounder Sean Parker is part of a group that invested $75 million in NJOY, an electronic cigarette manufacturer. Also part of that deal is Founders Fund, a venture capital group started by PayPal cofounder Peter Thiel, who ironically helped finance the anti-tobacco film "Thank You for Smoking."

SEE ALSO: Courtney Love Drops the F-Bomb in Ad for E-Cigarettes

So what is an e-cig? Mouthpiece, battery, filament-heater and nicotine filled cartridge. Some resemble a ballpoint pen, cigarette, cigar or pipe. Replaceable cartridges make most reusable. Others are for one-time use. Some have glowing LED tips.


Taking a drag triggers the heating element, warming inhaled air traveling through the tube and vaporizing nicotine inside. When users exhale, they're blowing a vapor, not smoke. Because there's no fire, there's no tar or carbon monoxide inhaled. But that doesn't mean there aren't any risks.

The FDA has been investigating whether or not there are carcinogens present in e-cigs, and has warned of safety risks since 2009.

Studies of the nicotine solution and resulting vapor showed trace amounts of carcinogens typically found in tobacco smoke. Another study revealed "vaping" for just 5 minutes made breathing more difficult; chemicals in the nicotine can cause increased asthma risk and respiratory inflammation. Worse, tests of nicotine refills showed some toxicity to human cells, and due to contamination by heating, some vapor contained small metal particles.

In June, Mitch Zeller, the FDA's tobacco czar described the e-cigarette market's spotty regulation as "the wild, wild west."

E-cigs may not be as bad as the alternative, but inhaling anything but air is unhealthy.

Past, Present, Future

The first e-cigarettes were made by Golden Dragon Holdings, a Chinese company that started exporting the devices in 2005.

Eight years later, of the 45 million smokers in the U.S., 2.5 million are e-smokers. Sales and use have been rising steadily. Wells Fargo Securities analysts say vapor products will generate $1-2 billion in retail sales this year, exceeding $10 billion by 2017.

It's no longer socially acceptable, or legal, to light up in most public spaces in the U.S. — unless it's an e-cigarette.

Philip Morris plans to launch what it calls a healthier version of its cigarettes under the Marlboro brand. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, the company behind Kool, Camel and Winston, is prepping its own e-cigarette, called Vuse.

This week, Playboy announced its e-vapor products, launching in fall of this year. The bunny-branded e-cigs and hookahs seems to be the first licensing deal by a major global brand.


Michelle LaBarbera, marketing manager of International Vapor, a Florida company which since 2009 has produced e-cigs promoting everything from nutrition to sleep aid and energy, told Mashable consumers are voting with their dollars. And brands are listening.

"That's why you have Playboy coming into the e-cig market. Because they see there's growth."

Photos via iStockphoto/Mauro Grigollo, Playboy and

Gillmor Gang: Interdependence Day

The Gillmor Gang — John Borthwick, Robert Scoble, Kevin Marks, Keith Teare, and Steve Gillmor — marvel at the mutually assured creation of a partnership between Larry Ellison's Oracle and Marc Benioff's Few would have predicted such a stunning partnership just a few years ago, but the crescendoing intersection of cloud, social, and mobile has borne sudden fruit.

The only constant is change. Google Reader's demise gives way to @borthwick's Digg Reader, seeds @scobleizer's Flipboard magazines, and tracks the proliferation of a shiny new red Glass to replace Robert's original accessory. Managing the tweet notifications can quickly overrun the Twitter for Glass app, but we're living in a material world where the innovation surge of the last few years is now ripe for absorbing. Gentle men and women, start your engines.

@stevegillmor, @borthwick, @scobleizer, @kteare, @kevinmarks

Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor

Live chat stream

Steve Gillmor is a technology commentator, editor, and producer in the enterprise technology space. He is Head of Technical Media Strategy at and a TechCrunch contributing editor. Gillmor previously worked with leading musical artists including Paul Butterfield, David Sanborn, and members of The Band after an early career as a record producer and filmmaker with Columbia Records' Firesign Theatre. As personal computers emerged in video and music production tools, Gillmor started contributing to various publications, most notably Byte Magazine,...

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Robert Scoble is an American blogger, technical evangelist, and author. He is best known for his popular blog, Scobleizer, which came to prominence during his tenure as a technical evangelist at Microsoft. Scoble joined Microsoft in 2003, and although he often promoted Microsoft products like Tablet PCs and Windows Vista, he also frequently criticized his own employer and praised its competitors like Apple and Google. Scoble is the author of Naked Conversations, a book on how blogs are changing...

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John Borthwick is CEO of betaworks. betaworks is a technology company that operates as a studio. betaworks builds new products, runs companies and seed invests. Prior to betaworks John was Senior Vice President of Alliances and Technology Strategy for Time Warner Inc. John's company, WP-Studio, founded in 1994, was one of the first content studios in New York's Silicon Alley. John holds an MBA from Wharton (1994) and an undergraduate degree BA...

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Kevin Marks is a software engineer. Kevin served as an evangelist for OpenSocial and as a software engineer at Google. In June 2009 he announced his resignation. From September 2003 to January 2007 he was Principal Engineer at Technorati responsible for the spiders that make sense of the web and track millions of blogs daily. He has been inventing and innovating for over 17 years in emerging technologies where people, media and computers meet. Before joining Technorati,...

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Keith Teare is the CEO and founder of Inc and a Founder at the Palo Alto incubator, Archimedes Labs. Teare has a track record as a serial entrepreneur with big ideas and has achieved significant returns for investors. History (a) The EasyNet Group: Founded in 1994 as one of the first ISP's in Europe, Teare was CTO and co-founder. It went public on the AIM exchange in London in 1996 and was trading at a valuation of more than $1...

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Startups Compete To Win The Mobile App CRM Battle

Editor's note: Ankur Jain is an investor at Nexus Venture Partners. Nexus invests in early stage companies across sectors in India and US, and manages $600 million in assets. Follow him on Twitter @Ankur_Jain_VC.

The rapid growth of mobile device use has created major gaps in CRM capability. As smartphone adoption has exploded, companies have scrambled to launch mobile apps, many of which are disconnected from an organization's broader CRM capabilities.

Many organizations have little knowledge about the people using their mobile apps, how and why they are using them, how to effectively communicate with them, and how to support them — all of which are critical to providing a tailored mobile customer experience. Indeed, failing any one of these things can lead to users abandoning an app at a time when the competition among apps is increasingly fierce:

  • The average phone in 2013 has 41 apps, up from 28 apps the year before (Nielsen, 2012).
  • Average user retention rate for a mobile app is 54 percent after 30 days and 35 percent after 90 days (Flurry, 2012).

In order to drive a differentiated experience and service level for every mobile customer, mobile businesses should strive to segment their user bases on a variety of metrics and then leverage the data to drive user acquisition, retention, engagement, transactions and upsell, as well as cross-sell opportunities.

If a frustrated or confused user leaves an app, they're far less likely to return.

Often overlooked but equally important is enabling users to communicate with businesses via the mobile app. Rather than a one-way channel, users should feel empowered to provide feedback or instantly and easily get help without needing to leave the app, send and email or make a phone call. Remember the user retention rate: If a frustrated or confused user leaves an app, they're far less likely to return.

In addition, it is incredibly important for the business to measure the customer experience: Is the app delivering the right service levels to the right customers? What is the level of customer satisfaction and how does it compare to user retention, user engagement and app reviews?

The Mobile App CRM Players

Many businesses are leveraging CRM for their web and retail businesses, but have yet to apply their CRM strategy to mobile customers. Indeed, mobile-app CRM is a continuation of traditional CRM that sits inside the mobile app, enabling the same capabilities — but for mobile customers. Here are some of the startups that are helping businesses bridge the CRM gap on mobile.

  • Flurry helps answer the first question that organizations have: "Who are my mobile app users and how are they using my app?" Though an ad network by business model, Flurry is used by mobile apps to provide CRM metrics, such as number of active users, user retention rates, and more. Flurry helps segment users into categories and measures ROI on user-acquisition spend compared with user-retention and engagement rates.
  • Urban Airship provides a simple way for apps to communicate with their audience via push notifications and supports context-aware notifications. It's among the most popular third-party notification platforms used by mobile apps today.
  • Crittercism initially focused on providing mobile developers with a platform to identify and analyze crashes and bugs in their mobile apps similar to Crashlytics (acquired by Twitter) and BugSense. More New Relic than Salesforce, Crittercism now also offers broader application performance management with system logs and tracing.
  • AppBoy offers analytics, segmentation and communication from one dashboard and has the ability to manage rich marketing profiles at an individual user level. It also allows messaging via multiple channels: push notifications, in-app messages, and email.
  • Helpshift recently launched the world's first native customer service and support solution for mobile applications. Helpshift enables businesses to provide a contextualized mobile customer experience by unlocking customer information and device diagnostics for in-app service, support, and marketing. Helpshift also integrates with enterprise CRM systems like Oracle and Salesforce for a seamless CRM solution across business units.

Forward-thinking businesses are realizing the need for integrated CRM capability across all revenue streams, the value of a multi-channel view of their users, and the ability to interact effectively with these users across their lifecycle. Any organization that has deployed CRM software would be wise to integrate it with its mobile app, just as it would integrate it with web and call centers.

And that raises the question: Why should mobile app CRM be different from traditional CRM? The answer is that it shouldn't be. And traditional CRM vendors who have been slow to move have provided a unique opportunity for these fast-moving startups to capture this market.

While it would not be surprising to see enterprise CRM vendors like Salesforce, Oracle or SAP acquire any of these startups to fill the glaring gap in their offerings, a more interesting question is whether these startups can be the enterprise CRM behemoths of tomorrow. In other words – can the next big enterprise CRM be mobile first? We may be a few years away but it's possible. One thing is clear: We've only seen the tip of the iceberg.

Note: Nexus Venture Partners is an investor in Helpshift

[Image via Shutterstock]

How Fashion Brands Are Using Vine

The fashion industry immediately embraced Vine, Twitter's 6-second video app, after it launched in February. It was no surprise Vine was suddenly so popular: The app was released just two weeks before New York Fashion Week kicked off, a time when behind-the-scenes runway shots were readily available to capture and share in 6-second loops.

But Vine is much more difficult to make look beautiful and polished than Instagram photos, and brands quickly discovered that to participate, they needed to relax their typically stringent production quality requirements. Perhaps that's why, following the shows, most fashion houses dropped the platform altogether, only returning to it, in some cases, for the menswear shows in London and Milan earlier this month.

That's not to say that Vine's fashion future is dead — it's merely getting a slow start. Early data indicates that Vine videos are shared four times as often as other kinds of Internet video, and the launch of video for Instagram, which many brands have already enthusiastically adopted, is creating further incentive for fashion firms to ramp up their capabilities and resources in this area.

Let's take a look at a few fashion brands using Vine to exceptional effect.

Stop Motion Art

Stop-motion artists are among Vine's most popular users. Eyeing this trend, French Connection collaborated with photographer Meagan Cignoli to create a series of highly shareable, summer-themed stop-motion videos. In one video, the brand's latest collection packs itself into a suitcase for a holiday. In another, various outfits are laid out and rolled up on the beach.

Cignoli tells me that each video typically has between 100 and 120 separately recorded clips. The result is incredibly fluid and eye-catching, instantly negating any notion that Vine can't be a platform for quality creative work. Online retailer Nasty Gal is another standout for stop-motion inspiration, weaving playful, wiggling pieces of candy in and around products like handbags, shoes and makeup. Burberry, too, has used stop-motion video to showcase product prints and patterns, as well as celebrities present at its last menswear show.

Showcasing Product Details

The beauty of the French Connection work by Cignoli is that it places products front and center, but it's so creative it doesn't feel like marketing. Marc Jacobs is another example of a designer who is doing this, releasing some nice stop-motion work that features handbags on what looks like a rotating conveyor belt.

For others, Vine presents an opportunity to demonstrate the work that goes into making products. Matthew Williamson did this during London Fashion Week in February with his #matthewmagnified campaign, and Oscar de la Renta, through the handle OscarPRGirl, used Vine to detail the craftsmanship that goes into its bridalwear pieces.

Gap is also using Vine to highlight key pieces in-store, but takes a more editorial approach, employing models for its videos. In one, a woman spins around in an assortment of dresses. In another, a young girl plays in the latest DVF GapKids collection in the park. These are much more developed than the clips that debuted during fashion week season: a haphazard amalgamation of garments on hangers and poorly lit models on runways.

Injecting Personality

Some brands' Vine videos manage to be both beautifully produced and full of personality.

Urban Outfitters released short videos that are playful yet stylish at the same time. In one clip, a bunch of balloons float into an office. In another, the contents of a purse are being prepared ahead of a festival trip. In another stop-motion video, makeup carries itself into a bag. It's worth noting that with more than 40,000 followers, Urban Outfitters is one of the most popular brands on Vine, proving that volume and frequency of posts can be a more successful formula than fewer, higher quality videos — as showcased by French Connection, which has just a fraction of Urban Outfitters' followers.

Behind The Scenes

As mentioned, fashion brands released a great deal of behind-the-scenes content on Vine during fashion week season. This is a trend that's continued since the shows, with brands and retailers providing windows into their corporate headquarters, design studios and individual stores.

Marc Jacobs has used Vine to take followers on many journeys at its headquarters and stores, from the creation of its latest Resort collection campaign to celebrity interviews during in-store book signings. Using the hashtag #staffstyles, Marc Jacobs frequently showcases the prints and patterns worn by its employees. In another example, Bergdorf Goodman features staffers as they try on different pairs of sunglasses. The video is tied to a message about sun protection.

Puma recently released a series of Vine videos featuring Olympic champion Usain Bolt on the set of his latest campaign for the brand. The quick all-access videos, shot again by Cignoli, frequently allow Bolt's own personality to come through. Meanwhile, Nordstrom has shown what it's like at its stores after hours, with shoes whimsically moving about on shelves when customers aren't there. In another video, a flying shirt leads followers on a magical tour through merchandise.

Beyond The Obvious

One thing fashion and retail brands haven't taken advantage of is the how-to video, which is a popular hashtag on Vine. Bergdorfs has done a beauty tutorial and Nordstrom has used Vine to show how to tie a tie, but there are plenty more opportunities here.

As autumn's busy event calendar gets rolling and the fall collections hit stores, expect to see more behind-the-scenes footage as well as more close-up product shots. Though some brands' participation has been impeded by corporate approval processes, there's no doubt — especially with the recent launch of video on Instagram — that short-form video will become a more central part of the fashion industry's output.

As Cignoli advises: "Fashion brands just need to let go a little and enjoy Vine for what it is, the quickness and easiness of it. If they can find a way to do that, it's going to be much more beneficial even if what's going out isn't always the most amazing piece of content."

Do you have any favorite fashion brands you follow on Vine?

Image by Mashable

Vine Withers as New Instagram Video Shares Take Lead on Twitter

It has been only about 10 days since video on Instagram debuted, and Twitter-owned competitor Vine is already losing ground.

Marketing Land used analytics tool Topsy to compare Instagram versus Vine link shares on Twitter. It found that Vine shares on Twitter dropped almost 40 percent between June 19 and June 20 — the day Instagram video launched.

In the week that followed, the Topsy data shows Vine shares on Twitter continued to fall. Marketing Land reports that on June 26, less than 900,000 Vine links were shared on Twitter, compared with nearly 3 million shared on June 15.

Instagram's video share takeover on Twitter is ironic, considering Vine is owned by Twitter itself. Instagram is owned by rival social network Facebook. Both platforms empower mobile users with short video sharing. But while Vine limits users to 6 second clips, Instagram videos can be 15 seconds. Within the first 24 hours of Instagram video availability on June 20, users uploaded more than 5 million videos. Vine may have foreseen the impending competition, since it had publicly thanked its users on Twitter just two days before, calling them "awesome."

Further adding fuel to the competition are brands. Data provided to Mashable by Simply Measured showed twice as many top 100 brands recently used Instagram Video as Vine. To be fair, Instagram had the advantage of a solid user base before its video debut, while Vine was a completely new platform.

The competition wasn't friendly even before video on Instagram existed. In January, Facebook blocked the then-new Vine app from being able to find Facebook friends on the platform.

Vine could be fighting the competition's momentum with further releases: As of Friday, Vine is now available for Kindle Fire users on Amazon. This release comes just weeks after Vine finally arrived for Android. On Thursday, Vine updated its Android app to include support for front-facing cameras, ideal for those selfies.

Vine vs Instagram: which do you prefer using for short mobile video? Let us know in the comments.

Mashable composite thumbnail: Ivy vine image via iStockphoto, aleroy4; blue bird graphic via iStockphoto, julos.

If You Must Wear Your Tech, Try Not To Look Like An Idiot

Like Dance Moms or protein-only diets, wearable tech is one of those things that simultaneously incites excitement, bandwagonning, distrust and disgust. Gut instinct tells us we're turning into cyborgs, which is either terrifying or great, depending on how you see it. Maybe we will become more efficient, fit versions of ourselves, or maybe we are simply setting ourselves up for the government to steal a new wealth of personal information. As Sarah wrote, the future of wearable tech is nearly impossible to predict, even for those most involved in its development.

These are big concerns. But I have another one: that your wearable tech is making you look like a tool.

An unofficial poll of five TechCrunch writers and editors revealed little faith in finding decent-looking wearables. The most popular suggestion was this followed by this.

But the thing is, sometimes you love what you love, and it's awesome, so you're just going to wear it anyway, goddammit! Even those TC eds admitted that they have an affection for dumb-looking wearables. Like USB belts. Wristbands. Cyber pants.

And so we embark on the search for wearable tech pieces that are both functionally great and aesthetically not the worst. Note that a lot of these guys are only available for pre-order at the moment, so you have some time to consider your fate.

simple.b-dis-png.hfd07257e701060276893e0df06779eb8Fitbit Flex: Fitness bands are the easiest entry point into wearables, because everyone knows that if you want to be cool, go where the jocks go. All of my athlete friends in college wore plastic stopwatches around to clock their pace on runs, and they worked out smarter and harder than the rest of us who tooled around on the elliptical for half an hour. Fitness bands are a useful extension of that, tracking diet and sleep in addition to exercise. There are a number of fitness trackers out there now, but the Fitbit Flex seems like a winner. Jawbone UP has been prone to malfunctioning, while Nike Fuelband dropped its Android companion app. Minimalist and sporty, the Fitbit Flex also nails the aesthetics of fitness tracking. It's respectable while still telling the world, "Yeah, I work out."

540x350q80Nike Hyperdunk+: Kicking things up a notch, Nike's Hyperdunk basketball shoes are embedded with sensors synced to the Nike+Basketball app that measure your air, speed and intensity. I would like to know (1) what Lebron, who has a line named after him, actually thinks of these, and (2) how well they work. Depending on their functionality, these shoes could be an awesome piece of undercover sports tech, especially in an industry that values and capitalizes on over-the-top, attention-grabbing design.

EF-TrioFilip: These bands look like cute oversize watches, but they appeal to every parent's darkest fear of losing a child. Let's suspend debate of the various pitfalls of our helicopter parenting culture, and focus on the good here: Filip has GPS, Wi-Fi, and cellular capability, so you can locate your child, see if they've moved out of designated safe zones, and call and send them short messages, among other things. It's targeted at 5- to 12-year-olds, an age group that maker Filip Technologies recognizes probably shouldn't have cell phones because of cyber-bullying and that horrible sexting business. (This is, of course, hoping kids don't get bullied for wearing an umbilical cord/watch.) As a device it's quite good looking, so it's not a bad option if you don't mind being implicated as a helicopter parent for those who know what it is. But you know what? We all have priorities. According to a PR rep, Filip goes on pre-order this summer and will ship in the fall, with pricing as of yet undetermined.

Last TechCrunch reported, Thalmic Labs had passed the $4 million mark on pre-orders for its $149 MYO armband, so if popularity is your benchmark for acceptability, it's not a bad bet. Worn around the forearm, MYO translates electrical impulses and muscle motion into gesture control for Bluetooth-connected devices. The potential applications of this are pretty exciting, the most mundane being that PowerPoint
presentations just got a whole lot sexier. It's okay aesthetically, if a little awkward because of how the band's links space out as they're slid onto the arm (Counter point: you could look like this guy.)

specs-bb927581d8e5d81fd5626ea34960c6bbMisfit Shine: Hazy silver and the size of a quarter, Misfit's wearable activity tracker makes the best show of the lot in striving for elegance. Their website suggests that it's meant to "complement any fashion statement," a welcome change from tech that strives to be your fashion statement, or at least sit awkwardly next to it. Plus, it can be easily hidden on a sock or bra strap. Shine can be worn in the pool, but it really wins in business or formal occasions. Although Livestrong made it okay to wear a rubber wristband with a suit, it's nice to not have to be that guy.

So what, are we trying to tell you to not wear something at the risk of not fitting in? To not be disruptive? What is this, high school? Of course not. We need brave souls like the Google Glass lady models to pioneer wearable technology in the mainstream — if, that is, we even want it in the mainstream. And that's a question worth asking.

It's more a matter of asking tech companies to really consider product from a style standpoint. If they want us to serve as their ambassador 24/7, they have to return the favor in good taste. At the moment, the most wearable pieces are those that emulate common clothing and jewelry items, because they have the most established benchmarks for design success and because we identify them most readily as something that is, in fact, meant to be worn on the body. The products I listed are good, but they can do more.

If wearable tech companies are going to proliferate and incorporate themselves into our daily lives, they should start hiring fashion directors. Heckled as it is, Google Glass has reportedly made the smart move of talking with Warby Parker about infusing its kickass design aesthetic (and name) into future glasses. What I want to see is wearable tech that accommodates my taste, rather than making me redefine what I would be willing to wear. Unless I'm going for a swim, I don't want plastic around my wrist.

Mainstream wearable tech is in its early stages. If it's going to catch on, it needs to step up its design game now.

[Images from, Fitbit, Nike, Evado Filip, Thalmic Labs, Misfit.]

Why Oracle And Salesforce, Once Bitter Rivals, Are Now On Cloud Nine

Marc Benioff and Larry Ellison, the CEOs of two of the more powerful enterprise companies in the world — and Oracle — are not known to be the chummiest of pals. Before this week's sudden peaceful truce, which will see the two companies integrate their cloud services, the only clouds that connected the two were dark and frowny ones. For years, the two have pitted themselves and their companies against each other in brinkmanship-style competition, while chasing similar acquisitions and similar strategies just to stay within sight of each other.

It was popcorn-munching fodder, as their sparring often took on a decidedly personal, catfight-style spin. To wit: Just two years ago, Oracle cancelled Benioff's high-priced keynote talk at its OpenWorld Conference in San Francisco at the last minute, precipitating a back and forth between the two CEOs. Benioff wasn't invited back in 2012.

While the personality-led public spats often seemed more like desperate grabs for publicity and attention than anything else, the Oracle-Salesforce feud can be boiled down to a much more interesting (and fundamental) conflict: Which company or model (if either) represents the "true cloud" — present and future. In reality, that comes down to not only who has been able to win over enterprises with their respective service suites in the sky in the past — but who's got the best shot at doing that tomorrow … or in 2025?

False clouds and true love

Leading up to this denouement, Benioff rarely missed an opportunity to criticize Oracle's philosophy, focusing on its Exadata system, which the Salesforce CEO called "the false cloud" (a term he used consistently over the years). His opinion: Oracle's direction failed to show a critical understanding of what enterprise customers really want (and need) in the modern world of cloud computing. Benioff has long been outspoken about the fact that IT companies must embrace consumerization and the "social revolution" if they hope to survive. That manifested, in part, in Salesforce's integration with Facebook and acquisitions of a number of social-marketing and social-productivity services, like Buddy Media, Radian6 and Rypple, among others.

In turn, Ellison has said that, in fact, "isn't a real cloud company," because it was "applications-only, rather than apps backed by that all-important cloud infrastructure," as we wrote at the time. Of course, Oracle has worked hard to become much more than a partial cloud, with the virtualization tech and an end-to-end stack that one traditionally associates with a "true" cloud-computing company. Salesforce, in reality, Ellison had said, was actually just an "itty bitty application" running on Oracle's infrastructure.

Sure, Ellison and Benioff sparring over "whose cloud is bigger" doesn't quite have the same pugilistic feel of a real war, but, for good reason, the two companies have long been referred to as enemies. That's why the news this week that Oracle and Salesforce are putting aside their differences to embrace in a nine-year partnership, covering applications, platform and infrastructure over the next nine years, came as somewhat of a shock.

Besties or frenemies?

The truth is that Benioff and Ellison have known each other for a long time. Larry Ellison was Marc Benioff's mentor when he was an eager executive at Oracle — for 13 years, mind you, in which he became Oracle's youngest VP — before he took off to found Salesforce. Back in the day, InformationWeek described Benioff's presence onstage at an Oracle conference a decade ago as Ellison-esque.

In fact, the Oracle CEO went on to help get off the ground as an early investor, and Salesforce has been a big customer of Oracle's over the years.

When did it go wrong? Some have said that the feud that broke out officially in 2011 could be attributed to Benioff's drive to be taken seriously by his former boss, mentor and investor — in short, he had something to prove.

While sensitive, city-sized egos have no doubt been partly to blame; on the other hand, as Arik Hesseldahl pointed out last year, again, the real issue at hand has been the very definition of cloud computing. On this issue, the two CEOs routinely went their separate ways.

For Benioff, the cloud has been something that can't be owned or packaged, because it is a fundamental part of the web itself, which consumers never really interact with or touch on a daily basis. was designed to bring massive data centers and cloud computing to users through the familiar window of their browsers — they just need an Internet connection or a web-connected device to use it. Benioff's "cloud" is defined by services like Facebook, or AWS, or Google Apps, where customers have a wide range of tools at their fingertips without having to worry about what's going on behind the scenes. They don't have to install anything, manage a ton of moving parts, worry about upgrades (and so on), and they pay for what they use.

But for the Oracle CEO, the cloud has been more of a hybrid, one that caters in part to enterprise organizations that don't want third parties handling their data or operations or physical assets. Really, it's the old world of enterprise software, with a mess of modern tech — a world where Oracle, traditionally, has hardly been alone.

Of course, Benioff has been a broken record on this point, believing that this kind of cloud is going the way of the dinosaur, that Oracle-style hardware will be replaced by the distributed, omniscient Internet-powered cloud.

So why the change of heart? It seems that at least part of it has to do with growing up: The two companies share a long list of mutual customers. "Salesforce is a big company now," Ellison said proudly in front of his former pupil and new bestie. "Companies expect us to work together professionally toward their mutual benefit."

And Ellison noted on a conference call around the news, "We don't want each and every one of those customers having to hire a third party or having to spend a lot of money to wire up the Salesforce applications to the Oracle applications."

Benioff added that it was "an easy commitment" for both companies to make and that there was "no company" he'd rather "partner with to be the heart of Salesforce's database infrastructure." Not only that, but he gushed that the potential opportunities that could result from the partnership were "endless," and that they would be hosting more joint conference calls in the future.

Rivals waiting in the wings

The reality of it, however, is that on some level the two companies need each other. While Salesforce has nailed the idea of cloud services, its bread and butter remain as its name says — focused on sales teams and mobilizing them. On top of that, Salesforce's cloud mantra, even if it is the way everything seems to be moving, is still far from ubiquitous, particularly for large enterprises. By contrast, Oracle, has the larger remit with the verticals it targets, and it also has the credibility for premise-based software solutions, but perhaps has not managed to pin down that cloud element in quite as strong a way as Salesforce has.

That speaks to a sort of symbiosis: Salesforce will become an official internal user of Oracle's financial and HR apps; Oracle will begin integrating Salesforce into its infrastructure, using its newly acquired companies using Salesforce to help it find the best ways to integrate. Down the road, the idea is to allow customers to just flip a switch to enable usage of either company's apps. And as Read Write alluded to yesterday, this alliance will also help Oracle crack further into big data technologies like Hadoop and NoSQL, which may compete, but more likely complement the relational databases upon which Oracle's business is built.

This also points to another way that a partnership between these two giants makes sense: if it's the new wave of enterprise startups that are creating the most disruptive effects in the industry, with large enterprises increasingly opting for hybrid solutions from a selection of these emerging companies, Ellison and Benioff coming together to present an even more formidable OracleForce will make it difficult for would-be rivals to compete.

To that end, it will be interesting to see if this does indeed usher in a "third wave of computing" as Benioff terms it, in which big companies and rivals like Oracle and Salesforce (and Microsoft, who had Oracle news of its own this week) are forced to come together if they hope to produce the kind of value and flexibility of choice that customers have begun to demand from their infrastructure — the kind of value that smaller competitors may be more agile and able to achieve. This argument is made most persuasively by Aaron Levie, co-founder of Box (yes, one of those nipping at the big guys' toes), who writes about the rise of the cloud stack.

Herein also lies the challenge for the two: whether they can really get their big arses in sync to work together to meet those new enterprise demands.

Some are very cynical that this latest move demonstrates that they can. Carter Lusher, chief IT analyst at Ovum, believes that "nothing in the announcement amounted to a significant change in either company's strategy."

"This is a very minor announcement, just above 'press releaseware' because of the lack of detail provided," he writes in a research note, citing the lack of detail on how and when platform migrations will take place, or what companies will get displaced in the process, or when they will hit the market with these new solutions. "It is Ovum's opinion that this announcement neither shifts the dynamics of the IT industry nor should it change any IT organization's IT strategy or procurement plans," he concludes.

Still, there's time to see how the practicalities play out. In the interim, let's see whether regulators have anything to say on this deal.

Cheap HP Slate 7 Tablet Reaffirms: You Get What You Pay For

You know how you fall off a bicycle or a horse and you're sort of hesitant to remount? It's been nearly two years since HP fell off its tablet bicycle/horse with the wreck that was the HP TouchPad.

HP has gotten back on the bicycle/horse (and, I promise, that's the last of this metaphor) with the pedantic HP Slate 7, a bargain $140 (after a $30 instant rebate) 7-inch Android 4.1 "Jelly Bean" tablet that should be a much stronger entry, given HP's tablet history. While it contains some bonuses, most prominently Beats Audio sound, HP ought not to have scrimped in such a literally in-your-face place — the Slate's screen.

Its basic 1,024 x 600-pixel resolution has the same resolution as the 7-inch Samsung Tab 2, to which I'll be comparing the HP Slate 7. However, that's far less granular than the two book-centric 7-inch tablets, the Amazon Kindle Fire HD and Barnes & Noble's Nook HD. The HP Slate 7 display seems as if it's covered with a fine layer of silver dust, a common trait of older-generation LCD panels.

The flawed screen mars the Slate 7's watchability, and especially its readability. Smaller, middle-of-the-page headlines on the CNN and The New York Times websites, for instance, are practically unreadable, and subheads and story summaries are transformed into gibberish. Even if you boost font sizes, you still get a distracting shimmer effect; it feels as if you're trying to read through a dirty screen cover.

This effect is muted, although evident in comparison with other tablets, such as the Samsung Tab 2 7.0, whose screen is crystal-clear despite the exact same resolution. Of course the fact that Samsung makes its own displays and HP has to source its screen probably plays a huge role here.

Downloading Drag

Comparing more specs with the Samsung Tab 2 7.0, both tablets run Jelly Bean Android 4.1.1 (although the older Tab 2s are loaded with 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and require an hour-long update) and both include 1GB of RAM. Each has a 3-megapixel rear camera and a VGA front camera that's more like a webcam.

The Slate's brain is an dual-core 1.6GHz processor; Tab 2's reportedly a mere 1GHz Texas Instrument OMAP 4430 engine (Samsung doesn't list the processor brand on its Tab 2 spec page). Samsung is loaded with a 4,000 mAh battery; Slate 7 has a 3,500 mAh cell — another critical difference.

Keep in mind the 8GB Slate 7 is priced at $139.99, and the 8GB Tab 2 is discounted to $179.99, down from its original $249.99.

Slate's processing power advantage, however, is not evident in actual usage. Apps download faster on the Tab 2 — five seconds faster for the 9.9-megabyte WatchESPN, for instance, and a Kindle book (ironically, Walter Isaacson's bio of Steve Jobs — hey, it was the first one to pop into the Kindle app and I knew it was a hefty tome) downloaded 8 seconds faster on the Tab 2.

Plus, even though both run Jelly Bean 4.1.1, I got mysterious "Device isn't compatible with this version" messages when trying to download apps on the Slate — including Wikipedia, USA Today and the Weather Channel. The New York Daily News app didn't even show up in Google Play on the Slate. Mashable's own app seemed fine, thank goodness.

Beyond the pure speed and power differences, Samsung has added some niceties to the Tab 2 that are missing on the Slate. Although both feature five home screens, you can circle around to all of them on the Samsung; on the Slate, you come to the end and then have to slide back. On Samsung's onscreen keypad you get a top number line and, at the bottom, a separate ".com" key, all handier than the Slate's keyboard for inputting user emails and passwords.

I also preferred Samsung's black-on-white QWERTY keys to Slate's white-on-gray design, but I admit this is purely an aesthetic opinion.

Getting Physical

Physically, Slate 7 is 4.57 inches wide compared to the 4.8-inch Tab 2, which means you won't have to spread your hands as wide to get a grip; Slate is a slight 0.16 inch taller, which makes no difference in any usage case scenario I encountered.

While Tab 2 is just a silly 0.01 of an inch thinner, it feels much thinner thanks to its tapered edges, and it weighs about an ounce less. I suspect smaller hands will prefer the tighter grip enabled by the hair-heavier but less-wide Slate.

I also prefer Slate's design, even if it is a bit thicker around the edges. The on-off switch is located at on the top, together with the headphone jack and microSD card slot, rather than on the side next to the volume toggle as it is on the Tab 2, where I kept hitting it accidentally.

And while Slate's front-facing Web cam is centered, Tab 2's is off on the right, which means you'll be looking slightly off-camera, Michelle Bachmann-like, when video chatting.

But Slate's most striking physical feature is its bright red rubberized rear, which makes it easier to spot in a bag and provides a less slippery surface.

Camera, Battery and Sound

As noted, both the Slate and the Tab include a 3MP rear camera — and both suck big-time. Indoor photos are colorless, washed out, grainy and lacking in any detail — that is, if you manage to get any shots that aren't blurred by the minutest of motions.

Tab 2's battery with an extra 500 mAh may provide the difference between making it through a day and your commute home with the last bits of remaining juice — or not.

HP claims the Slate could play video for five hours, but after the 2:18-hour Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, I subsequently made it through only 1:40 of The Dark Knight Rises before it puttered out. That's not even four hours, if my math is right. Samsung claims it'll play video for nine hours.

The Slate 7 does enjoy one power advantage: It uses an industry-standard microUSB cable for charging, as opposed to the larger proprietary connector on the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2.

Slate's claim to differentiation is the inclusion of Beats Audio, and it does subtly enhance the listening experience, especially while watching movies. In The Dark Knight Rises, nearly every Bane appearance is accompanied by a low ominous musical cue. On Tab 2, this effect is muted, but on the Slate you really feel the rumbling hum of approaching doom, which ties you far more emotionally into the action.

The Real 7-inch Tablet Choice?

Even though we've spent the last 1,100 words or so comparing the Slate 7 with the Samsung Tab 2, Slate's real competition may be that suddenly fabulous bargain, the Barnes & Noble Nook HD.

Originally priced at $229, the Nook HD, with its 7-inch screen and 1,440 x 900 (243 pixel per inch) resolution, 16GB of memory, 1.3GHz dual-core processor and 4,000-mAh battery, is now just $149. (Nook lacks a camera, but given the substandard imagers on the Slate 7 and the Tab 2, it's not a feature you'll miss.)

I haven't played extensively with the Nook HD. But you probably should if you're considering the purchase of a 7-inch tablet, especially compared to the underwhelming HP Slate 7, which will only save you ten bucks.

The Lowdown

What's Good

  • universal microUSB connector

  • bright-red rubberized back is easy to grip and spot

  • Beats Audio provides good bass

What's Bad

  • lousy screen

  • unusable camera

  • slow downloading speed

Images by Mashable, Stewart Wolpin

Tomorrow's Surveillance: Everyone, Everywhere, All The Time

Everyone is worried about the wrong things. Since Edward Snowden exposed the incipient NSA panopticon, the civil libertarians are worried that their Internet conversations and phone metadata are being tracked; the national-security conservatives claim to be worried that terrorists will start hiding their tracks; but both sides should really be worried about different things entirely.

Online surveillance is the one kind that can actually be stopped. One interesting thing we learned from Snowden: "Encryption works." Right now almost all Internet traffic is completely unencrypted, or badly encrypted, or only encrypted until it reaches the first set of servers, or your host encrypts all data with the same key. But these are all, in theory, solvable problems.

If we don't want governments (or anyone else) spying on our Internet traffic and our phone conversations, then we can stop them from doing so. Tools that seem to successfully ward off the full might of the NSA already exist: PGP for email, OTR for instant messaging, RedPhone for voice calls.

Now, these tools are all, to varying degrees, a huge pain to use. This is partly because security is hard and partly because the world could really use an anti-surveillance Jony Ive. But as time goes on, they and their ilk will become more user-friendly, and it's only a matter of time before tools which can withstand (most of) the full might of the NSA become simple enough that their use is fairly widespread.

As long as a critical mass of techies and civil libertarians make a point of using end-to-end encryption, its mere presence won't be enough to trigger extreme suspicion. One day quantum decryption will crack today's codes, but the smart money is still on quantum encryption beating it into widespread use.

As for metadata — well, you can already hide your Internet metadata by using Tor. I expect similar "metadata muddying" networks to spring up for voice calls; maybe they'll onion-route calls a la Tor, maybe they'll just be apps that cause your phone to make encrypted calls with no actual content to other phones in the network at sporadic intervals, so that large quantities of fake metadata gets mixed in with the real stuff. Either way, the data gathered by governments can be corrupted.

To an extent, this may help explain the disproportionate and vindictive persecution of hackers like Andrew Auernheimer, Aaron Swartz, and Jacob Appelbaum. (Disclosure/disclaimer: I haven't seen Jake for years, but I count him as a friend.) These are exactly the kind of people who are capable of throwing monkey wrenches into the gears of the online surveillance machine.

What civil libertarians should be worried about isn't online snooping and wiretapping. It's the surveillance that's already becoming pervasive, if not ubiquitous, throughout the real, physical world.

Wired reports: "A Silicon Valley startup is launching a fleet of imaging satellites that are cheap, small, and ultra-efficient," giving us "up-to-the-minute snapshots of the planet." DARPA already boasts "a 1.8-gigapixel camera that will be attached to unmanned drones to spot targets as small as six inches at an altitude of 20,000 feet." The Supreme Court just made it easier for the police to collect DNA samples without a warrant. The FBI is building a biometric database which includes facial and voice recognition, and using drones for surveillance on U.S. soil; the Border Guard, which effectively claims jurisdiction over two-thirds of the US population, is rapidly scaling up its own drone fleet; and cameras on police cars are already busily vacuuming up data en masse for local law enforcement.

Meanwhile, even if you're wearing an anti-facial-recognition visor to protect yourself against software that can identify you in real time, that won't help; gait recognition is amazingly effective these days. Oh, and by the way, you're carrying a uniquely identifiable, always-on, remotely controllable tracking device with a microphone and a camera wherever you go; it's called your phone. I realize that phrasing sounds a bit tinfoil-hat…but at the same time, it is an inarguable technical fact. That's why Snowden had his Hong Kong visitors leave their phones in his fridge.

So. Connect the dots. Put all the above together, add in the gargantuan data centers the government is building to analyze and cross-reference all that Big Data, and then imagine the next generation of all these technologies — and what do you get? Something a whole lot like a panopticon.

Sure, the NSA isn't allowed to spy on Americans (well, mostly, sort of, kind of, maybe, some of the time) but other government agencies can. Since most Americans actually want more surveillance, and phone metadata (from which your location can often be deduced) isn't considered private … we can conclude that in relatively short order the U.S. government will be maintaining near-real-time tabs on the location–and to some extent the activity–of almost every single person in the country. Other countries will soon follow. And there's no way to encrypt our way around that.

That's what the civil libertarians should be worried about: A government that knows where you are at all times, and has an indelible record of everywhere you've ever been, and everything you've ever done in any public space. It's claimed that most Americans commit "three felonies a day" thanks to overbroad statutes. Even if that's not true, there's little doubt that with so much on record, there will always be a way to persecute if not prosecute anyone who isn't a saint. Everyone will be guilty of something, so the powers that be can simply selectively enforce the laws against the people they don't like.

The national-security conservatives who claim to be worried about terrorism should really be worried that their attempts to protect their nation are in fact damaging it; that their quest for security, and their war on leaks, have begun to slowly corrupt their democracies into police states.

I know, I know, tinfoil hat. And yet: "unfortunately in the past decade the United States has moved toward police-stateness in small but key ways." It's crucially important to realize that today's technologies make it much easier to build the infrastructure of a police state, and tomorrow's will make it easier yet — and once those tools are in place, whatever their original intent may have been, someone will seize them and abuse them.

(Of course, many people who claim they're worried about crime and terrorism are being disingenuous and actually do want much less in the way of freedoms and liberties, and much more in the way of authoritarian control and draconian laws. Not surprisingly the police often fail to see what the problem with a police state is exactly. What, don't we trust them?)

The problem isn't that our governments have surveillance programs. The problem is that they lie about them and keep them so secret that it's all but impossible to determine whether they have gone beyond any reasonable remit, or, indeed, whether they are in fact illegal.

Their defense of this secrecy consists entirely of: "There are some benefits somewhere! Of course, we cannot tell you exactly what they are." There appears to be no consideration whatsoever of whether these alleged benefits exceed the costs.

It's essentially an engineering problem: government initiatives need feedback mechanisms to check their excesses and keep them on course, but the NSA's current so-called feedback mechanism, the FISA Court, is so ridiculously inadequate that it would be laughable if the ramifications weren't so serious. Only one side gets to bring cases, show evidence, argue before the court, and then interpret its decisions, which are zealously protected from any public scrutiny. And what's more:

The national-security conservatives claim that this secrecy is required to track down terrorists, but first of all, that doesn't even pass the laugh test:

And second, even if it were true, it still wouldn't be worth it, because this kind of secrecy damages the feedback mechanism that ultimately makes it possible for democracies to work. Tomorrow's vastly more powerful surveillance technologies, combined with today's level of secrecy, may well put the very existence of that feedback mechanism at risk. That's something we all need to be worried about.