Category Archives: Twitter

Are we really still amazed by the miracle of flight?

Louis CK jokes about flying: funny. Pilot's snark: not funny.

Louis CK jokes about flying: funny. Pilot’s snark: not funny.

Further to my post the other day about Air Canada’s crack-down on check-in times, I wanted to chime in on a story about tweeting passengers that recently made the rounds. In case you missed it, a pilot for the airline took to Twitter to tell off a complaining passenger and, according to newspaper reports, the internet cheered.

The passenger/tweeter in question was named Raff, and he wrote: “yvr to yyz – stuck on tarmac no updates for 20 mins. What the hell hurry up.” Pilot Yannick Charland was having none of that, so he replied: “It’s a red alert. Ground staff not allowed to work due to lightning in the area. You just flew across the country in four hours. Shut it.”

A bunch of commenters agreed with the pilot, throwing all the usual insults Raff’s way: he was spoiled, entitled, bratty and so on. (Reading his subsequent tweets, however, revealed him to be none of those things - he looked to be respectful and just simply wanted to know what was up.)

I had a few issues with the whole escapade. For one, a few story commenters does not “the internet” make, as the stories proclaimed, which is something that anyone who has been writing newspaper articles for any amount of time should know. More importantly, Raff did have a point - there was a legitimate and perfectly safe reason for the delay, so why weren’t passengers informed? Clearly the pilot was goofing around on Twitter - could he not have been bothered to make a quick explanatory announcement?

I’ve been on plenty of flights where that in fact did happen; it’s common courtesy and, in my books at least, a sign of a good crew and captain.

The biggest issue, however, was with the captain’s comment about flying across the country in four hours, a bit he clearly stole from comedian Louis CK.

The bit, about how passengers shouldn’t complain because they’re miraculously sitting on a chair in the sky, is actually hilarious, but that’s because Louis CK is in fact a comedian. It’s not as funny coming from a pilot, or from equally snarky internet commenters.

Come on, it’s 2013 - are we really not over the “miracle” of flight yet, despite more than a century of doing it? What exactly is the statute of limitations in regards to complaining about this particular technology? Should we similarly not complain about sitting in traffic because of the wondrous invention of the automobile, which also lets us traverse great distances at fast speeds?

It’s also worth remembering that the magical seat in the sky doesn’t come cheap. It actually costs a small fortune. Is the courtesy of a quick explanation really so much to ask in light of that?

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Posted by on August 9, 2013 in airline, Twitter


Why are we paying for internet access again?

Imagine paying a hefty cover charge just to get into a shopping mall.

Imagine paying a hefty cover charge just to get into a shopping mall. Hey, that’s the internet!

Several years ago, I remember having a conversation with someone very smart who worked at an internet service provider. He told me that his company was walking a very fine line in terms of how the internet is paid for and monetized. The companies that provide access to it were in a state of perpetual balance with the individuals and companies that provide services over it. If the internet wasn’t full of so much awesome stuff, there might not be a point to paying for it, this person said.

The internet has since become thoroughly commercialized, so I can’t help but wonder whether that balance is now completely out of whack. With virtually nothing online coming for free anymore, exactly why are we paying to access it?

Just for kicks, I thought about how I personally use the internet and broke it down into four categories: ongoing pay services, pay-per-use services, seemingly free services and actually free services. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on July 5, 2013 in Facebook, Google, internet, skype, Twitter


10 Canadian tech stories that mattered in 2012

It’s the end of the year, which means it’s end-of-the-year list time. Sure, some people write these lists off as journalists getting lazy and trying to fill some space in an otherwise slow news period. That’s true, but it’s also worthwhile reflecting on some of the things that happened over the past year so that we can perhaps learn from them. As the cliche goes, those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it.

With that in mind, here are the 10 most important Canadian technology-related stories of the past year.

10. UBB: The Saga Continues


Most of the drama over usage-based billing happened in 2011, but the after-effects were still being felt throughout 2012. Independent internet providers such as TekSavvy are still arguing with network owners such as Bell over the price of bits, while other big network owners such as Telus are moving their monthly caps downward. The past year was supposed to see an improvement in how much Canadians can use their internet services, but caps - especially in wireless - went the wrong way instead. The internet access situation is just as bad, if not worse, than it was a year ago. Read the rest of this entry »


NBC’s Olympics coverage a tempest in a Twitcup

I don’t have any hard data to back this up, but I’m increasingly getting the feeling that if you were to inform yourself of what’s going on in the world solely by using Twitter, you’d probably go through life as a very angry individual. As much as I love the social networking service, it’s often guilty of the same crime that so many of its users ironically accuse the so-called mainstream media of perpetrating: sensationalism. And by its very nature, sensationalism is subconsciously designed to make people angry over whatever the current cause celebre is. Twitter… grrr!

The latest outrage-of-the-day - a “Twitrage?” - was over NBC’s coverage of the Olympics. The U.S. network has taken much heat on Twitter (“Twheat?” Okay, I’ll stop now) this week for its decision to air the games on a time delay rather than live as they happen.

NBC’s thinking is driven by the $1-billion plus it paid for the rights to broadcast the games. The network wants to air events during prime-time evening hours, when most people watch TV, so it can maximize advertising revenue. Many Twitter users, however, think this is a stupid idea, given that we’re in an era of instantaneous information. Ultimately, they say, what’s the point of watching competitions when the results are all over the internet as soon as they conclude?

The point is, most people don’t care. According to the TV Newser blog, “every single night so far of NBC Olympics coverage has broken previous Olympics ratings records, this despite the controversy over tape delay.” What this proves is that the games are just like any other TV show. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on August 1, 2012 in Twitter


There’s nothing wrong with Twitter selling tweets

“Twitter is selling your data,” “Is Twitter selling your data to the highest bidder?” and “Twitter to sell your old tweets” - just a few of the headlines that made the rounds on Thursday on a Reuters story about the social-networking site’s deal with marketing companies.

Nothing like a good dose of alarmist headlines to get peoples’ adrenaline levels up, huh?

The story outlines Twitter’s deal with Gnip and DataSift, which will allow the two marketing companies to mine and analyze users’ old tweets for useful information. The companies will then be able to sell the analysis to other companies. According to Reuters: “Coca-Cola Co could look at what people in Massachusetts are saying about its Coke Zero, or Starbucks Corp could find out what people in Florida are saying about caramel lattes. Companies can also look at how they have responded to consumer complaints.”

Many of the headlines seemed designed to provoke the same knee-jerk reaction people have whenever they hear that Facebook or Google is “selling their data,” and indeed that seems to have happened. A number of people complained about Twitter’s move following the news, ironically, on Twitter.

But really, what’s to complain about? Twitter is a free and public service that people use voluntarily. Taking exception to this is like going into the street and shouting your opinion, then getting upset because someone actually listened and thought about what you said.

There’s also a big difference between that and “your data,” which people generally take to mean their personal and private information. As far as has been reported, Twitter is not selling users’ protected tweets or private direct messages. Again, there’s a difference between Twitter selling publicly shared tweets and, say, Facebook selling users’ personal photos.

Moreover, the deal appears to include only aggregated tweets and bio information, which means the marketers aren’t interested in what people are individually saying, but rather their common opinions, traits and geographies. That’s not very different from what Google does with its ads.

As The Globe and Mail’s technology editor Shane Dingman tweeted on Thursday, the headline to the story could also have read “How you know Twitter is growing into a real internet company,” which rings all kinds of true. Twitter reportedly has more than 100 million active users with hundreds of employees, so it obviously has some very big bills to pay. The company simply has to make money somehow.

Selling tweets in aggregate seems to be a good, non-intrusive way of doing so. It’s better than filling users’ streams with ads, or worse, forcing people to pay to use the service. It’s also worth noting that Twitter has evidently been considering this as a revenue option since at least November, 2009, when it updated its privacy policy to read: “We may share or disclose your non-private, aggregated or otherwise non-personal information, such as your public Tweets or the number of users who clicked on a particular link (even if only one did).”

Some users complained about marketers getting access to their older tweets when they themselves can’t (Twitter generally limits viewing old tweets to about 10 days). That’s a fair comment, although some third-party options such as SnapBird and TwimeMachine get around the limit somewhat. Still, the limitation seems like a small trade-off for what millions of people clearly have found to be an invaluable communications tool.

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Posted by on March 2, 2012 in Twitter


SOPA and the Twitter echo chamber

To mark last Wednesday’s internet protest against the Stop Online Privacy Act, I got on a plane to Cuba. I thought it would be a fitting way to get a sneak preview of the proposed law, which would have given a small group of U.S. legislators the power to censor the whole web, since it’s something the country practices every day.

Of course, I’m kidding. My trip wasn’t politically motivated at all. I just simply needed a quick vacation after the madness of the preceding Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Some convalescing on a beach was just what the doctor ordered to get over the nasty chest cold I’d incurred. And truth be told, Cuba is perversely a great place to get away from it all, since internet access is virtually non-existent.

Just as I was getting on the plane, I got into a mini-debate on Twitter with Alex Howard, a correspondent for O’Reilly Media, a book and web publisher in California. Howard took exception to my tweet that “Twitter is one big SOPA echo chamber today. Over on Facebook, nobody cares.”

I was referring to the fact that Wikipedia and a number of well-known websites had chosen to go dark to protest SOPA, and that Twitter was buzzing about it. If the social media service was to be believed, nothing else of importance was going on in the world that day (except for maybe Johnny Depp’s new single status). Over on Facebook, meanwhile, SOPA was noticeably absent from my news feed. It was the same old baby photos, celebrity gossip and meal updates. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on January 25, 2012 in Facebook, SOPA, Twitter


Banning social media will only pour gas on the riot fires

So, in the wake of the London riots, UK Prime Minister David Cameron is looking into shutting down social media access for people suspected of using it to engage in criminal activity. Such a bone-headed idea provokes two reactions: yeah, good luck with that, and talk about pouring gasoline on the fire.

First, here’s a video of Cameron’s comments in Parliament on Thursday morning:

To follow up, the government will apparently be meeting with representatives from Facebook, Twitter and BlackBerry to discuss their “responsibilities” during such riots.

As several journalists and bloggers including my friend Mathew Ingram have already pointed out, taking aim at social media is a textbook case of trying to shoot the messenger. It’s not yet clear whether the likes of Twitter or Facebook could be shut down in a specific locale, or whether the companies themselves would be willing to play ball (Twitter has said it is generally opposed to doing so, although when push comes to shove we’ve seen numerous other companies acquiesce to government demands). But cutting off access won’t do much to solve the real problem, which is that a bunch of people are intent on causing mayhem.

Shut down Twitter and BBM and they’ll turn to text messages or calling each other on their cellphones. Shut those down and they’ll find other ways, maybe carrier pigeons or smoke signals. Maybe they’ll even use good old-fashioned landlines. Britain is already a “surveillance society” with London having cameras virtually everywhere - if that didn’t prevent the riots, how will cutting off Twitter?

Clamping down on any communications options will slide the UK even further down the freedom-of-speech slope. How will “criminal intent” on social networks be proven? Aren’t people innocent until proven guilty - and more to the point, aren’t they innocent until they’ve actually committed a crime? Is talking about doing something bad nine-tenths of the law? Maybe, maybe not. Lawyers will doubtlessly spend years arguing about it in courts.

Most importantly, further eroding civil liberties is likely to fuel what I believe to be the underlying cause of the unrest that’s popping up around the globe: a deep frustration with a system that is seeing the world’s growing wealth increasingly controlled by fewer and fewer people. Like I mentioned the other day, that system may have worked in the past but since the wide-scale rise of the internet over the past 20 years, the masses are more aware of what they don’t have than ever before. And they’re not happy about it. Taking away more of their rights is only going to make them madder.

People are rioting in London, Vancouver, Toronto, Tunisia, Egypt, Iran and other places for different reasons. That awareness, though, is universal wherever people are using the internet. The music, movie and other entertainment industries have already faced their internet-driven reckonings; it’s now governments’ turns. We could consider this rash of riots the Napster of human governance.

Rather than cracking down on rioters, governments should be listening to them. That may sound bleeding-heart, but it’s the only way to stop them. Kicking them off Twitter is not going to do it.


Posted by on August 12, 2011 in Facebook, Twitter, uk


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