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Archive for November, 2007

Has Digg Been ‘Hacked’ by Phrama SPAM?

SEVERAL days ago I noticed that Digg’s archives, particularly where prominent (popular) pages are involved, had all their comments invisible and inaccessible. There was no way to get to the comments, even if there were hundreds of them. I lacked an explanation, so after a bit of exploration I believe I may have identified the cause. Watch the following screenshot. It shows you a submission that was made popular 3 months ago and inherited a PageRank of 5. As you can see (mind the scroll bar), none of the original comments appear. Instead, only 4 spammy comments appear, along with links to Asian sites and drug Web sites.

Digg SPAM

Has Digg been compromised? Has Digg been hiding old comments deliberately, due to SPAM that targets the archives? Perhaps this is just a baseless speculation, but it does not look good. In this one example, Digg is being turned into a link farm. Growing pains?

Life with a Mixture of KDE 3 and KDE 4 Applications

“It’s all about the apps”

THIS is by no means a review, but just a quick mind dump that reflects on my impressions of KDE 4 applications in isolation (other factors aside). Think of it as a ramble which I’m unlikely to proofread properly (a bad habit of mine, I know). It has become tiring to find rants about KDE 4.0. Yes, some people have decided to put to shame a product that is not yet finalised and they also evaluate what appears to be the wrong things.

Several months ago, in KDE’s news site (the Dot), someone started a whole big flame when he insinuated that KDE 4 was all about clocks, and widgets, and plasmoids. This is simply not true and it is the form of superficial perspective which has had recent proprietary platform releases assessed in the wrong way (e.g. Leopard, Vista, both of which suffer from other real issues). To many of us, it’s all about function, not visuals. The internal structures of KDE have been overhauled and the promise of a better system will be delivered as time goes by.

For me, using KDE 4.0 should primarily be a question of applications; general usability (advanced functions in particular) is probably second. So, here’s just a quick comparison that convinced me to gradually move to KDE 4.0 once it’s made final. It’s truly something to look forward to.

KNode in KDE 4.0 beta still indicates that it’s version 3.5.6, assuming the About windows is anything to go by. The same goes for KOrganizer.

Kalendar/Korganizer KDE 4
Korganizer (KDE 4 on the left, KDE 3 on the right), click image for full size

KWriter is a different story because 3.8 is said to be in use. There’s no apparent visual difference, but it’s likely that new functionality is hidden away in the menus somewhere.

KWrite KDE 4
KWrite (KDE 4 on the left, KDE 3 on the right), click image for full size

Dolphin is an impressive addition that will probably convince many beginners to hope on the KDE bandwagon. I haven’t had a chance to experiment with it all that much, but in all these screenshots that are here (be sure to view them in full scale), the subtle differences can be seen. I’m combining KDE 3.5.6 and 4 in the same session, just in order to do a quick comparison.

Dolphin and Konqueror KDE 4
File managers (Dolphin on the left, Konqueror on the right), click image for full size

If you’re left curious about a proper 4.0 session, here’s a demo video

Remember that KDE 4.0 is still work in progress and if you need to get your work done properly, KDE 4.0 is probably ready for you. I’ve had no crashes and encountered no issues or quirks while tinkering. That indicates that stability is almost there, even at a stage of prematurity.

Microsoft Engages in Marketing Crimes, Caught Astroturfing

Due to recent (and suspicious) trolling activity I’ve promised to post some new examples of Microsoft astroturfing.

Let it be clear that the following are not speculations. Most of them are clear examples that are well recorded, confirmed, and they are also quite recent (there are far more known examples if one goes further into the past). The issue has become so serious that the EU has decided to crack down on fake blogger astroturfing.

But back to the web, and with sneaky marketing campaigns likely to be more effective than upfront marketing campaigns, what is stopping companies from simply risking it and continuing existing practices?

First, you are encouraged to have a look at this comprehensive ‘smoking gun’ court exhibit. Therein, Microsoft actually provides an admission that it intends to pay supposedly ‘independent’ professionals to praise Microsoft in public. But let’s consider some more recent evidence and examples, shall we?

Here is a case that got exposed a few months ago. Microsoft secretly paid influential bloggers to recite Microsoft slogans.

The stodgy old media industry has a rule that newspaper reporters, and TV news hosts, shouldn’t trade on their public trust to endorse products.

They got exposed and harshly criticised (only by a single site). Where was the press? No coverage of Microsoft astroturfing? Is the story not important enough? Were journalists scared of Microsoft’s wrath? Regardless:

What would possess a collection of online publishers and venture capitalists to pimp a Microsoft advertising slogan?

Valleywag today reported about a site tied to a Microsoft ad campaign where the likes of Michael Arrington, Om Malik and others seemingly lend their support to the “people-ready” catchphrase.

I sent e-mails both to Arrington and Malik and–surprise, surprise–heard nothing back. (Obviously, they are not yet sufficiently “Coop-ready.”) Microsoft was still checking for me into whether money exchanged hands. But even if not a single shekel exchanged hands, I must wonder about the absence of common sense. Why would ostensibly independent voices come across as Microsoft shills? If they were hoping for a free dinner with Bill Gates, there are smarter ways to go about it.

Here’s more from the marketing person who is responsible for this scam.

“The main thing I’m pissed off about right now is that they pulled all the ads, which mean we’re taking a revenue hit. We’re running a business here, and have payroll to make. We run ads to make that payroll. Those ads have now been pulled.”

Microsoft once again corrupts confidence in the blogsphere. They turn ‘citizen journalists’ to marketing people in disguise.

Microsoft uses proxies to hire its shills, but you can always follow the money (if you try hard enough) and find Microsoft.

The sad fact is that Microsoft needn’t even hire many shills when it can keep its own employees very busy.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates emphasized the importance of blogging in a May 2004 speech during the company’s annual CEO summit. But Gates doesn’t blog; same for Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.

[...]

Many Microsoft employees do blog, reportedly more than 4,000 of them. The number of employee bloggers was comparatively quite small, about 300, before the launch of Channel 9 and the success of Scoble’s blog.

Last year could be called year of the blog at Microsoft. Employee blogrolls swelled and Microsoft bloggers disseminated lots of vital information about the company. Increasingly, employee bloggers are becoming Microsoft’s primary evangelists. They are certainly a group over which the company can exact some control and which can spin information to Microsoft’s advantage.

I’ve personally seen cases where Microsoft employees in disguise attacked the authors of open source blogs. It was only IP address lookups that revealed this.

The following two reports lack confirmation, but they are noteworthy nonetheless.

1. Example from October 2007:

Unleash the Astro-Turfers!

Already on Apple oriented developer mailing lists one can see the astro-turfing has begun. A really amateurish attempt by ‘Mac Developer’ (no one uses a stupid handle like that) turned up today.

2. Just shortly beforehand:

It’s unfortunate that paid blogging is becoming all the more prevalent in communities like 1UP. And it’s not just the blogs or reviews, it’s also the message boards. Microsoft, for instance, also has a person (or people?) who is paid to post on some of the popular gaming boards (and no, Jeff Bell wasn’t part of that plan). But it’s not just Microsoft — I know of a few other game publishers who pay users to blog. They don’t necessarily require bloggers to say positive things about their products, but it’s certainly implied with the paychecks.

What bums me out about all this viral stuff is that, to some extent, you don’t know who to trust anymore. There was a time when, if you no longer believed in what the professional editors where saying, you could at least count on your fellow gamers for honest opinions. Not anymore. In a sense, perhaps that helps elevate the importance of the professional word once again, which I suppose is a good thing for us. But I’m still not happy about it.

What do you think about this one?

Microsoft regularly flies customers and industry experts to its campus in Washington to listen to the feedback given by those people.The company invites dozens of key customers and partners to the event,where they spend brainstorming as a group.But as of late, Microsoft has changed it’s strategy and the company is making extensive use of blogs to get direct customer feedback.

Within a year,more than 1000 Microsoft employee blogs featured developers and product managers talking directly to customers every day, instead of once a year.Microsoft employees read dozens of blogs every day to see how customers react to Microsoft products and services. In fact,Microsoft employees have taken a bigger leap and even contribute to other’s blogs in the expanding space of Blogosphere.

How about this one?

Microsoft has announced the “Microsoft BlogStars” contest, to Hunts for Developer Bloggers in India. After feeling the power and increase of the Bloggers community in India, Microsoft tries to trap and hunt Bloggers in India to buildup the blogging community, for writing blog posts supporting towards Microsoft Technologies.

Remember the Ferrari laptops fiasco?

A former Microsoft manager said it was a case of bribing bloggers.

This is the most frustrating thing about the practice of giving bloggers free stuff: it pisses in the well, reducing the credibility of all blogs. I’m upset that people trust me less because of the behavior of other bloggers. Don’t even get me started about PayPerPost.

Another article: Microsoft’s Laptop Giveaway Becoming PR Disaster?

This thing is starting to feel like a PR disaster. Bloggers are starting to smell blood and this thing very well may begin to turn into yet another episode of bloggers gone wild.

And another one from eWeek: Bribing Bloggers

It’s a bribe. Period. You say nice things about us, you get nice things from us. Heck, just say neutral things about us-we’ll give you a killer new laptop and we know that you’ll be inclined to say better things about us.

You must have gotten the impression that Microsoft had learned its lesson and stopped that sort of laptop giveaway. But no! 4 months later I found evidence that Microsoft carried on with this malpractice.

Microsoft Belgium rang me yesterday (I don?t think they realised it was a public holiday here!).

[...]

The phone call yesterday was to confirm my address – the laptop (a Sony Vaio – dunno which model or spec yet) is en route with Vista Ultimate and Office Ultimate pre-installed.

Let’s not get started with the issue of brainwashing and pressuring journalists because that could make another very extensive post. To give just a couple of examples, consider these:

1. The Inquirer, renowned for its anti-Microsoft biases, got invited for some Microsoft ‘treatment’.

The Vole (Microsoft) supposedly invited The INQ over for tea because we are notorious “Microsoft doubters” – and we were accompanied by other supposed Vole doubters such as the folk from lifehacker and a very nice man from Slashdot, as well as some Microsoft MvPs.

As you can see, the Inquirer was not alone. There was a party, and there was plenty of Kool-Aid for everyone!

2. Linux.com (yes, a Linux site) is no exception.

I spent December seventh, eighth, and ninth in Seattle as Microsoft’s guest. Microsoft flew me there from Florida at its expense, put me up in a nice hotel, provided decent food, and comped me and four other invitees to this “special conference” with presentations about the marvels of Vista and other recent or upcoming Microsoft products. They didn’t quite play the old Beatles song “Love Me Do” in the background, but it was the event’s unstated theme.

What do you reckon? Would that journalist think twice about criticising Microsoft after a jolly good time and freebies from Microsoft?

Going further into the past, there are far more examples, but in order to keep the length of this post moderate, we’ll provide just two examples:

1. The Los Angeles Times ‘dared’ to expose the sort of manipulation we are still seeing today (even amidst the ISO/OOXML fiasco).

In 2001, the Los Angeles Times accused Microsoft of astroturfing when hundreds of similar letters were sent to newspapers voicing disagreement with the United States Department of Justice and its antitrust suit against Microsoft. The letters, prepared by Americans for Technology Leadership, had in some cases been mailed from deceased citizens or nonexistent addresses.

Notice the fact that once again, as usual, Microsoft uses one of its proxies to do the ‘dirty work’. One need only follow the money though.

2. Going further into the past, remember OS/2?

Some years back, Microsoft practiced a lot of dirty tricks using online mavens to go into forums and create Web sites extolling the virtues of Windows over OS/2. They were dubbed the Microsoft Munchkins, and it was obvious who they were and what they were up to. But their numbers and energy (and they way they joined forces with nonaligned dummies who liked to pile on) proved too much for IBM marketers, and Windows won the operating-system war through fifth-column tactics

Should honest guys finish last? â–ˆ [originally published in Boycott Novell]

Corrupt Governments Silence Their Critics

Here is another ugly story which reminds us that suppressive regimes are far from gone.

The Russian authorities have charged opposition leader and former chess champion Garry Kasparov following clashes with police in Moscow.

All the man did was criticise the government (and rightly so).

Alternative Energy Sources or Reduced Consumption?

Alternative source of energy are clearly required and there’s a short mention of this in the following video.

The Scary Face of Free Software?

ONE pet peeve of mine has a lot to do with stereotypes. To give an example, consider an old FUD phrase which says that open source programs are not user friendly. Well, open source is a development method (Free software has more to do with the licences and distribution as well). Buy why on earth does a development method affect user interfaces? It does not. Just because you close your code and take it away from users (who can otherwise bring valuable feedback in the form of patches) won’t necessarily (and magically) fix a broken GUI.

There is no correlation between level of openness and user experience. It is a myth.

The type of FUD mentioned above is just one among many. FUD changes perception. it scares people. Here is a message sent to me by a friend (Harvey) about the fear of leaving Microsoft Windows.

Have you ever written an article about the fear of change?

I think people like myself who have finally become adept at using the Microsoft OS, hesitate to switch. It’s analogous to birthing your second baby, especially if delivering the first was a painful experience.

Apprehension and fear are normal mind blockers. However, I would guess that the younger generation with years of computer expertise is more daring, and therefore more willing to experiment and acquiring something new and better than what they now use. That’s probably why I-pods, Blackberries, games and other devices are still selling like hot cakes.

You might want to expand, correct and add to this gibberish, and to make an article out of it.

Well, many articles have been written about the barriers to GNU/Linux adoption on the desktop. They address the issue of fear as well. It is always important to ask oneself, “am I being told the truth, or is someone trying to manipulate me using scare tactics?” In many cases, it’s the latter. Vested interest is to blame.

Electronic Recycling an Excuse for Relocating Trash

This extremely important issue was mentioned here before. Please do all that you can to pass on that information.

America Ships Electronic Waste Overseas

[...]

While there are no precise figures, activists estimate that 50 to 80 percent of the 300,000 to 400,000 tons of electronics collected for recycling in the U.S. each year ends up overseas. Workers in countries such as China, India and Nigeria then use hammers, gas burners and their bare hands to extract metals, glass and other recyclables, exposing themselves and the environment to a cocktail of toxic chemicals.

Obsolescence and forced upgrade cycles are among the things to blame here. Surely there is a better, more responsible way. Put this hazard right next to global warming, which most people turn a blind eye to. The planet is still being ruined by apathy and greed.

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