SiliconFilter

The 10 Most Popular Stories on SiliconFilter this Year

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The first year for SiliconFilter is quickly coming to an end and I would like to say thanks to all of you who stuck with me throughout the last twelve months since I left ReadWriteWeb and decided to go solo.

As with any startup, there have been ups and downs, but to end the year on a high note, I thought I would compile a list of the most read stories on the site since the beginning of the year (and, if warranted, the stories behind them).

The list is ordered according to the number of pageviews each of these stories received.

10.) Kevin Rose at LeWeb: “I Made a Lot of Mistakes at Digg”

Talking to TWiT‘s Leo Laporte and Sarah Lane at LeWeb, Digg‘s founder Kevin Rose noted that he made lots of mistakes while he was still in charge of the popular social bookmarking site. According to Rose, “the first three years were insane.” Rose, however, acknowledged, that he learned a lot on the job by making plenty of mistakes, most importantly with regard to hiring and feature development.

(Background: This was my third year at LeWeb in Paris and this was the most popular story I wrote during the three-day conference.)

9.) Google’s JPEG Alternative WebP Gets Smarter, Takes on PNG

Last year, Google introduced a new image format for the web called WebP. WebP is meant to be a modern alternative to the popular but patent-encumbered JPEG standard. It produces significantly smaller files without sacrificing image quality. Today, Google announced some new features for WebP that may help bring wider adoption to the format, which is currently only natively supported by Opera and Google’s own Chrome browser. With today’s updates, WebP now offers a lossless mode as as well as support for transparency. Both of these features are currently the domain of the lossless PNG format which is currently the JPEG alternative of choice for designers who need either transparency or lossless encoding on their sites.

(Background: I was surprised how well this story did. It’s a relatively technical topic, but people are clearly interested in finding better image formats…)

8.) Think Quarterly: Google Launches Its Own Online Magazine (Updated)

We hear a lot about Google’s relationship with publishers, but this week the search giant also quietly launched its own online publication based in the UK. Think Quarterly, which calls itself a “a breathing space in a busy world” is, as the name implies, a quarterly online magazine. The design feels somewhat reminiscent of Wired, with a strong focus on infographics and large photos (but without ads). The articles come both from writers inside of Google and freelancers and the publication is designed and edited by creative agency The Church of London.

7.) The Internet Explorer IQ Hoax and the State of Tech Blogging

Last Friday, the tech blogosphere was enamored by a study that claimed that Internet Explorer users had a lower IQ than users of other browsers. The study by AptiQuant found that the average IE6 user only scored just over 80 on its IQ test – a test score that is, in terms of real-life accomplishments, generally associated with elementary school dropouts and unskilled workers. The study was a hoax.

(Background: I wrote quite a few posts about how many tech blogs were running stories about statistics that were clearly wrong this year. This one was the most popular, likely because the original hoax also played really well in the mainstream press. It probably also helped that the post provides a bit of background about how the tech blogosphere works.)

6.) Bing: What’s More Evil Than Satan Himself? 10^100

Not too long ago, hiybbprqag wasn’t much of a word, but as Google employee Andy Arnt noticed today, if you search Bing for it these days, you will find that it is an “orcish” word meaning “whiner.” Unless you’ve been closely following the search engine competition between Microsoft and Google, this probably doesn’t make much sense to you, but this little Easter egg is actually quite funny.

(Background: this was just a funny little story I wrote on a Friday afternoon after I read about these search results on Google+. People obviously love the Google/Microsoft rivalry in search. It did really well on Hacker News.)

5.) Why Twitter Should be Very Worried About Google+

When Google unexpectedly launched its new social network Google+ earlier this week, many pundits were skeptical about the company’s latest attempt to enter the social arena. Given Google’s dismal track record when it comes to these kinds of products, that kind of skepticism made sense, but after using it extensively for the last few days, I can’t help but think that it is the single biggest threat Twitter has had to face yet.

(Background: this was my original analysis of how the arrival Google+ would change the social networking  space. I think I still agree with most of what I wrote here, though it’s still a bit early in the game. By next year, we will likely have a better idea, but I think the recent changes to Twitter show that the company is taking this threat seriously.)

4.) Germany vs. Facebook: Like Button Declared Illegal, Sites Threatened With Fine

German websites based in the state of Schleswig-Holstein have until the end of September to remove Facebook‘s ‘like’ button or face a fine of up to 50,000 Euro.

Germany has a long tradition of using laws to protect its citizen’s privacy. Home owners, for example, can ask Google to pixelate their houses in Street View (maybe so that their garden gnomes can stay incognito?). Facebook’s facial recognition feature has also come under fire in recent weeks. The latest target of Germany’s privacy advocates is Facebook’s ‘like’ button („Gefällt mir,“ in German). Thilo Weichert, the head of the Independent Centre for Privacy Protection of the northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein, argues that Internet sites based in his state that use the ‘like’ button are illegally sending this data to Facebook, which in turn uses it to illegally create a profile of its users web habits.

3.) How a Fake MLK Jr. Quote Took the Internet by Storm

“I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy.” Chances are, you’ve seen this quote, attributed to Martin Luther King Jr., at least once on Twitter or Facebook. Perfectly capturing the feelings of many who felt somewhat conflicted about the images of Americans celebrating the death of Osama bin Laden, this quote sadly doesn’t appear anywhere in the works of Martin Luther King Jr. – it did, however, quickly make the rounds on virtually every social media service, starting, it seems, on Facebook and quickly spreading to Twitter, Tumblr and other sites.

(Background: this story went viral on Facebook. Sadly, the social buttons on the site don’t reflect this, as I had to change my domain name early in the year and those counts simply don’t transfer. I don’t generally do a lot of “explainer”-style posts, but there is clearly some value in these.)

2.) Hacker Shows It Doesn’t Take $8 Million to Clone Qwiki – Just 321 Lines of HTML Will do the Trick

Qwiki is an app that creates pretty slideshows based on Wikipedia entries. The service won the top award at the last Techcrunch Disrupt conference and just received $8 million in new funding from a group led by Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin.

Personally, I never understood why putting together a text-to-speech engine with a Ken Burns effect was disruptive. The VCs on the Disrupt jury thought different, though, and chose this pretty but ultimately utterly useless service over really disruptive ones like CloudFlare. Apparently I’m not the only one who thinks so. Now, just to show how Qwiki didn’t merit the large new round of funding and how it doesn’t deserve the constant hype on tech blogs like Techcrunch, an intrepid hacker who goes by the name of “Banksy the Lucky Stiff” put together Fqwiki, a workable Qwiki clone in just 321 Lines of HTML.

(Background: When I first saw this project, I just knew I had to write about it. I never got the point of Qwiki and this clearly showed I wasn’t the only one.)

1.) Google Engineer: “Google+ is a Prime Example of Our Complete Failure to Understand Platforms”

Google engineer Steve Yegge mistakenly posted a long rant about working at Amazon and Google’s own issues with creating platforms on Google+. Apparently, he only wanted to share it internally with everybody at Google, but mistaken shared it publicly. For the most part, Yegge’s post focusses on the horrors of working at Amazon, a company that is notorious for its political infighting. The most interesting part to me, though, is Yegge’s blunt assessment of what he perceives to be Google’s inability to understand platforms and how this could endanger the company in the long run.

(Background: this was, by far, the most read post on this site in the last 12 months. I read it in the middle of the night, sometime around 3am, because I had just come back from Japan and was severely jetlagged. I think others probably also read Yegge’s post, but never got to the point where he talks about Google+ (it really just looks like a post about Amazon at the start). I was so bored and wide awake that I read all the way through it and immediately got up and wrote this story in 30 minutes after I got to the Google+ part.)

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5:32 pm


The Internet Explorer IQ Hoax and the State of Tech Blogging

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Last Friday, the tech blogosphere was enamored by a study that claimed that Internet Explorer users had a lower IQ than users of other browsers. The study by AptiQuant found that the average IE6 user only scored just over 80 on its IQ test – a test score that is, in terms of real-life accomplishments, generally associated with elementary school dropouts and unskilled workers. The study was a hoax.

The Hoax

A hoax like this one obviously capitalizes on the inherent anxiety we all feel about our own intelligence and the prejudice that nobody in their right mind would ever use Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. It also allowed those who use fringe browsers like Opera and Camino to feel especially smug, as the average score of their cohort was supposedly around 125 (that’s close to the level of most neurosurgeons). Safari users (who are most likely to use Apple products) were also supposedly among the most “intelligent.”

Overall then, this was a well thought out hoax, though there were tons of red flags, as Wired’s Tim Carmody points out. The huge difference in scores, for example, doesn’t really make sense and the average Opera user – while making a fine browser choice – isn’t likely to be a genius either. A quick Google search would have shown that AptiQuant never really existed before it released this report (even though it claimed to have data from 2006). The data itself also isn’t exactly trustworthy, as it relies on online IQ test – likely delivered through spammy pop-ups – and carries little to no scientific relevance.

Why?

If this was so obviously a hoax then, why did virtually everybody in the tech world run with this story?

Here are a few reasons why I think this story was able to get so much play:

Pressure to be fast, write more stories and get more pageviews: This “report” was published on a Friday and while most people associate that day with fun, fun, fun, fun, writers still have to pump out a few stories and news is generally slow on that day (and that Friday was indeed a very slow news day). (That pressure, by the way, is even stronger for writers who are paid by story.)

Stories about statistics can be written quickly and get pageviews: Indeed, the constant pressure to write more stories that get as many pageviews as possible is one of the reasons why we writers love stories about statistics: they are easy and fast to write, generally come with some pretty graphics we can use and do well in terms of pageviews. I’ve written my fair share of those and there is a legitimate role for those stories that boil down lots of data into an interesting story. What often happens, though, is that writers will just believe anything they see in these studies and run with it, without ever questioning the study’s methodology.

Indeed, there is very little reward for those writers who spend a lot of time going through the methodology section of a report and then find that their time was wasted because the report turned out to be untrustworthy. Writing a story about how IE users are dumb makes for a good headline and lots of pageviewsafter all. A subtler story just wouldn’t get the kind of pageviews and rewards that “IE users are dumb as a bag of hammers” can get.

Microsoft sucks, doesn’t it?: There is also a general undercurrent of anti-Microsoft sentiment on most blogs that makes it even easier for a story like this to get through without even an ounce of fact checking (something most blogs don’t do anyway: you publish first, edit later and then update the story as necessary). If the story had claimed that Safari users were significantly dumber than Chrome users, chances are we would have seen a bit more pushback and less glee.

It’s worth noting that quite a few of the companies that create these studies also face a lot of pressure to get publicity and acquire new customers. Why they often risk their credibility by putting out statistics that are obviously wrong is beyond me, though. It’s up to the press, though, to examine this data and decide whether to trust it or not.



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