According to Nelson D. Schwartz, writing for the New York Times, “... industry experts estimate that nearly a trillion dollars worth of mortgage debt is ‘underwater,’” where the homeowner owes more on the mortgage than the home is worth. All 50 state attorneys general are pressuring the mortgage servicers to make good on foreclosure abuses to the tune of US$20 billion or more, with most of that money going to reduce loan principal for underwater homeowners. It’s a slippery problem because it would be unfair to those homeowners who are underwater but have continued to pay their mortgages, as well as the rest of us who, while not underwater, have continued to pay our mortgages. Schwartz quotes Terry Laughlin, the Bank of America executive in charge of the business unit that handles problem mortgages, as saying that writing down billions of principal for underwater homeowners would encourage other borrowers to default on their loans and that “it’s a moral hazard issue.” Imagine that; a Bank of America executive with the audacity to talk about somebody else’s moral hazard.
Is Charlie Sheen the tired face of the American dream? That’s Umair Haque’s take in an absolutely stunning article for the Harvard Business Review. Haque says it’s time for us to collectively dream bigger and aim higher than “WINNING the nakedly aggressive, hypermaterialistically myopic, tigerblood-drunk economic game we’re stuck in now.” Highest recommendation.
VeriFone, one of the globe’s largest payment processing corporations, has undertaken a full-on fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) attack on one of its newest competitors, Square. Douglas G. Bergeron, VeriFone’s chief executive, published an open letter beating the FUD drum loud and hard. “In less than an hour, any reasonably skilled programmer can write an application that will ‘skim’—or steal—a consumer’s financial and personal information right off the card utilizing an easily obtained Square card reader,” writes Bergeron. Bergeron called for a recall of Square’s products and asked the major banks and credit card companies to review the skimming app created by VeriFone. This is unadulterated bullshit. First of all, skimmers aren’t limited to Square’s dongle for smartphones. They can even be made to look like legitimate VeriFone terminals. Secondly, the magnetic stripe on the back of your US credit card (what gets read when a US credit card is swiped) contains the information contained on the face of the card (which can be “stolen” by looking at it or taking a picture of it) and a CVV1 number (the CVV2 number is printed on the card for online transactions). As a bonus, consider all those times you hand over your card to a complete stranger and they toddle off to somewhere in the back to process the transaction. If you own a small business, do yourself a favor and check out Square—it’s the best game going for accepting credit cards, especially outside of your office or store. The only fees are processing fees of 2.75 percent for swiped transactions and 3.5 percent plus US$0.15 for keyed-in transactions. Imagine that: Level fees that are stated up-front and in plain English. While it’s true that Square’s hardware doesn’t encrypt card data, neither do many point-of-sale terminals and its software does, and data is stored and transmitted in encrypted form. Oh, and Square captures the GPS coordinates of every transaction. VeriFone is not interested in protecting anything or anyone other than its business model. Least of all anything that looks like a customer.
While the partially struck down Communications Decency Act (CDA) broadly protects bloggers who host comments, there’s not a lot of case law that defines the nuances of the law. Hennepin District Judge Denise Reilly ruled in a Minneapolis case that second-party comments on a website cannot be used against the primary author of the website. A former University of Minnesota contractor sued a Minneapolis blogger for defamation and tortuous interference with a contract when the contractor lost his job after the blogger wrote that the contractor was “involved in mortgage fraud.” The contractor’s lawyer argued that an anonymous comment suggesting readers contact the University’s board of regents made the blogger liable. Reilly ruled that the blogger could not be held liable for anything he didn’t write, citing Section 230 of the CDA. David Brauer, writing for MinnPost.com, has an excellent analysis of Reilly’s ruling and the events surrounding the trial. Unfortunately Reilly went on to rule that even though what the blogger wrote was truthful he was still liable for damages for the tortuous interference with a contract. One step forward; one step back.
A study examining medical bankruptcy in Massachusetts by Physicians for a National Health Program co-founders David Himmelstein and Steffie Woolhandler was published in the American Journal of Medicine. The study finds that the Massachusetts healthcare reforms implemented in 2006 have failed to significantly reduce the rate of medical bankruptcy in the state. Medical bankruptcies went from 59.3 percent in 2007 to 52.9 percent in mid-2009. In fact, the absolute number of Massachusetts medical bankruptcies has actually increased from 7,504 in 2007 to 10,093 in 2009. The US federal healthcare reform law is modeled after the Massachusetts reforms. “Health costs in the state have risen sharply since reform was enacted,” write Himmelstein and Woolhandler. “Even before the changes in health care laws, most medical bankruptcies in Massachusetts –- as in other states –- afflicted middle-class families with health insurance. High premium costs and gaps in coverage –- co-payments, deductibles, and uncovered services –- often left insured families liable for substantial out-of-pocket costs. None of that changed. For example, under Massachusetts’ reform, the least expensive individual coverage available to a 56-year-old Bostonian carries a premium of $5,616, a deductible of $2,000, and covers only 80 percent of the next $15,000 in costs for covered services.”
Bill Peckham, writing for Dialysis from the sharp end of the needle, provides an excellent analysis of precisely how large Medicare’s ESRD entitlement is. Hint: Not nearly as large as you probably think. Bottom line: “... fewer than 25,000 Medicare beneficiaries have access to Medicare solely due to severe kidney disease, that’s out of 417,000 total (it includes people living with a transplant.”
Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist, is back with a new venture—Craigconnects—hoping to connect nonprofits with people wanting to help. Jacqui Cheng, writing for Ars Technica, reports, “According to Newmark, the goal of the site is twofold: To draw attention to good, effective nonprofits; and to draw attention away from ‘fake organizations that have a good story, but actually end up hurting the people they profess to serve.’”
Fifteen customers have filed a lawsuit (.pdf; 566KB) against wireless operator Clearwire, alleging the service of throttling bandwidth available to customers (sometimes to as slow as 256Kbps), failing to deliver the high-speed internet services promised, and charging hefty termination fees when frustrated customers leave. The customers further allege that Clearwire is operating a Ponzi scheme in which it sells service it can’t deliver hoping to use that revenue to build out its network. In November 2010, Clearwire acknowledged that it would run out of cash by mid-2011. Clearwire has been less than transparent in its network operations, with a spokesperson acknowledging that the company uses non-application-specific throttling to relieve network congestion. Clearwire advertises minimum speeds of 1Mbps and no data limits.
Jeff Jarvis, writing for BuzzMachine, makes a call for a witness tag in Twitter. Witnesses would tag their remarks with an exclamation point (!) while discussions would continue to use the familiar hashtag (#). This would differentiate tweets from people talking about the event and those talking from the event, according to Jarvis. It’s a great idea.
Google is rumored to be rolling out a new social networking service, called Circles, at SXSWi. The new service is reported to offer status message, photo, and video sharing among appropriate social circles instead of a user’s entire contact list. Marshall Kirkpatrick, writing for ReadWriteWeb, has the details. Circles appears to be attempting to align our online communication with our offline social boundaries. We communicate different things differently depending on the context of the communication. Things we communicate at work (and how we communicate them) are distinctly different than how and what we communicate with friends and family. Best of all it will almost certainly be built upon open standards.
Update: Monday 14 March 2011 10:03AM CDT: Google has announced no release of Circles or anything like it is pending.
Mahendra Palsule, in a guest article for TechCrunch, asks the question that’s been on everyone’s mind for the past few years. “What the Next Big Thing after social networking?” For Palsule the answer is “a move away from simple social sharing towards personalized, relevant content.” Relevance—not necessarily personalization—is the key.
Of all the websites in the world to debunk the NPR sting, the last suspect on the planet would have to be Glen Beck’s The Blaze. But that’s just what happened. Beck’s publication took the time to look for the raw, unedited video of the material used to produce the initial reports in order to evaluate accuracy. David Weigel, writing for Slate, has the best analysis.
The St. Petersburg Times’ PolitiFact.com has a scorecard on President Obama’s broken promises. There’s a slew of them, ranging from increasing the capital gains and dividends taxes on the rich, repealing the Bush tax cuts on the rich, and ending income tax for seniors making less than US$50,000 to ending no-bid contracts for more than US$25,000, allowing imported prescription drugs, allowing small businesses owned by the disabled to get preferential treatment for federal contracts, and the closing of the Guantanamo Bay detention center.
Judge Theresa Buchanan in the Eastern District of Virginia has ruled (.pdf; 94KB) that the US government should be able to identify individuals associated with WikiLeaks because the government was not seeking the actual content of the Twitter accounts, merely identification information including IP addresses (originating and destination), connection records, data-transfer information, phone numbers, and addresses. Buchanan ruled that the individuals who had requested that the government’s request for identifying data be denied had no standing to challenge the request. Kim Zetter, writing for Wired, quotes Aden Fine of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) as saying, “Case law from the Supreme Court makes it clear that individuals have a right to challenge government requests for information about them. This decision permits the government to obtain court orders requiring the disclosure of private information in secret. That’s not how our system works.” Both the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) plan to appeal Buchanan’s decision.
Zite is a personalized news reader app for iOS devices that promises to change the way you read news. By paying attention to the articles in your RSS feed that you actually read, Zite learns what kind of articles you want. Additionally, Zite pays attention to what you tweet about, who you follow, and anything else in which you express interest. The more you use it, the better it gets, according to the software’s developers. I’ve been using it regularly now for about a week and I can’t really tell that it’s pulling in anything that wouldn’t have found its way to me either via RSS or my Twitter feed. But it’s only been a week. When first launched, Zite asks you for your Twitter and Google Reader account information and then presents a selection of pre-defined categories for you and an empty field for specifying your own. Based on your selections, Zite renders a magazine-style layout containing the information you’ve specified.
Flipboard, Zite’s predecessor and biggest competitor, announced an upgrade offering better performance and layout, support for Instagram, and cross-social-platform searching for Flickr, Twitter, and Facebook.
Matthew Ingram, writing for GigaOm, makes the argument that AOL had to buy Huffington Post because the former’s web traffic has been declining precipitously. Advertising Age cites comScore in its reporting that AOL’s unique visitors in February 2010 were down more than 40 percent from January 2010. Ingram reports that AOL’s dismal traffic metrics help explain why AOL laid off more than 200 of its editorial staff this week, in a round of layoffs of more than 900.
His High Holiness the Dalai Lama has announced—on the anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule—that he’s resigning as the Tibetan government’s political leader. “As early as the 1960s, I have repeatedly stressed that Tibetans need a leader, elected freely by the Tibetan people, to whom I can devolve power,” he said. “My desire to devolve authority has nothing to do with a wish to shirk responsibility. It is to benefit Tibetans in the long run. It is not because I feel disheartened.” The transition will begin when the Tibetan Parliament in exile session opens next week in Dharamsala, India. Tibetans will democratically elect a new prime minister next month.
Mark Bittman, in a New York Times op-ed, writes that “agricultural practices pretty close to organic—perhaps best called ‘sustainable’—can feed more poor people sooner, begin to repair the damage caused by industrial production and, in the long term, become the norm.” The answer appears to be agro-ecology and the US probably won’t be at the forefront, where we use only 10 percent of the corn crop to feed ourselves (40 percent is used for ethanol; 50 percent is used for animal feed).
Apple released iOS 4.3 early with new features including Wi-Fi personal hotspot on iPhones, improved iTunes home sharing and AirPlay, and a faster Safari web browser. Rene Ritchie, writing for TiPb, has a really good overview of what’s new.
Instapaper is one of the most useful apps in my iOS toolbox. Simply click on a bookmarklet for any article on the web you want to read later. Launch Instapaper whenever you get around to it, and there are your articles. Developer Marco Arment has updated Instapaper and the new version replaces the “star” button with a “like” button that’s actually useful: Others (from your contacts list, Evernote, Facebook, Pinboard, Tumblr, and Twitter) can read articles you’ve tagged with the “like” button.
Joshua Topolsky, writing for Engadget, has penned one of the most important recent technology analyses. Apple’s introduction of the iPad 2 was an important iteration in the company’s newly formed “post-PC” strategy. As Topolsky writes, in the “post-PC” era, “... Apple no longer has to compete on specs and features, nor does it want to. There is no Mac vs. PC here—only ‘the future’ versus ‘the past.’ It won’t be a debate about displays, memory, wireless options—it will be a debate about the quality of the experience. Apple is not just eschewing the spec conversation in favor of a different conversation—it’s rendering those former conversations useless.”
A Book Apart has published its third title, The Elements of Content Strategy by Erin Kissane. Jeffrey Zeldman, A Book Apart publisher, reminisces about first meeting Kissane. An excerpt of the book, “A Checklist for Content Work,” was published as an article in A List Apart. “There’s really only one central principle of good content: It should be appropriate for your business, for your users, and for its context. Appropriate in its method of delivery, in its style and structure, and above all in its substance,” writes Kissane.
Noah Stokes has written a really good overview of the float CSS property, “CSS Floats 101,” for A List Apart. Just about every web worker I know has been bit by the float property at one time or another.
Brain Traffic has published something it’s calling the content strategy quad, an infographic depicting the critical components of content strategy.
Richard Ingram has yet another nifty content strategy infographic. His approach to content strategy is certainly appropriate: “I believe that when every facet, subset, and silo is boiled down all that remains is the single task of understanding how an organization can be effective with their content –- everything else, that’s fuelled and measured by it, I regard as external.” Ingram maintains that working with changing how an organization works with content requires “the status and potential of the content itself, the platform that supports its delivery, and the people involved in its creation.” His “Partners for the Content Strategist” neatly lays out how all the aspects of content strategy come together in the seven phases: Audit, discover, outline, organize, create, evaluate, and refine.
Simon J. Hill has started an important conversation on LinkedIn’s User Experience Group under the attention-grabbing headline, “Why User Experience Doesn’t Matter.” The user’s purpose, not the user’s experience is what matters according to Hill, arguing that user experience should be seen as an aspect of communication quality, which itself is based on communication theory, general systems theory, cybernetics, information theory, and others. Hill ends his argument by citing Gregory Bateson‘s extensions of Claude Shannon‘s work: “Information is encoded news of a difference that makes a difference to the sender relative to some purpose, with feedback loop from the recipient to the sender.”