TIME technology

Drones Can Be Used To Enforce Property Rights

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Drones have become a revolutionary tool in the defense of property rights of disenfranchised people

When most people imagine what a drone expert looks like, more than likely they see a scene from TV or a film of a drone strike: a man in front of a screen controlling a joystick and then, an explosion. They almost certainly do not imagine Gregor MacLennan.

Yet in the fall of 2014, he arrived in Guyana’s dense forest with a backpack full of motors, glue, and soldering irons in tow, intent upon building a drone that local communities in the Wapichana region could use to monitor and document how small-scale gold miners were rapidly destroying large sections of treasured rainforest. MacLennan—the program director for Digital Democracy, a non-profit focused on empowering marginalized communities through the use of technology— spent several months working with the people of Guyana to construct a drone that they could independently fly, repair, and use as a “tool of reflection” to start community discussions on land use and resource management.

In recent years, drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), have become a revolutionary tool in the defense of property rights of disenfranchised people such as the villagers in Wapichana. “These people find it difficult to find the information that they need to prove that they live on this land and that they have the right to it. UAVs help these people level the proverbial playing field,” explained Faine Greenwood, an avid drone hobbyist and field analyst for New America’s International Security Program. She and MacLennan, along with other experts, spoke at a recent daylong event at New America convened for discussion of critical issues around drones and aerial observation.

MacLennan and Greenwood both spoke on a panel devoted to the question of using drones to map property rights. In the Wapichana territory, MacLennan explained, villagers have been able to capture aerial images using a quadrocopter and then overlay them onto older images to demonstrate the deteriorating condition of the rainforests.

Empowerment from within, rather than involvement from outside actors, is Digital Democracy’s goal. “We want working with technology to be something that reduces inequality and makes them feel like they’re participating more in something that’s happening on their land,” he said. “This was not my technology that I was bringing in or the white man’s technology being brought in from the outside,” he reflected, “This was the Wapichana drone.”

MacLennan’s experience in Guyana crystallized a common belief expressed by other participants: UAV technology has clear benefits for community empowerment. Whether through strides in the realm of land use and management or through the advancement of mapping techniques, the conference participants demonstrated that drones undeniably have the potential to mold the future for the better for many people.

Another related theme that emerged was a need for increased local engagement with these new technologies—an ambition often foiled by negative public perceptions about drones.

For example, although MacLennan described positive reactions to the drone technology from the Wapichana villagers, other members of the same property rights panel, recalled facing apprehension about UAVs from the very communities they were trying to help with them. Dr. Janina Mera, who uses drones for a land-titling project in small regions of southern Peru, met resistance from local residents who feared this technology would replace their jobs on the ground by automating them. Convincing these villagers that they “were still needed to analyze, interpret, and contextualize the images collected by the drones” was imperative to the success of Dr. Mera’s work.

For Abi Weaver of the Red Cross, the future success of drones in disaster response will hinge on the success of these efforts to foster local engagement with dronesand to neutralize negative assumptions about them. In communities where these negative assumptions have been replaced by optimism and even excitement, residents have come up with applications of drone technologies that humanitarian workers, “never could have dreamed of,” says Weaver. Future progress depends on the ability of international organizations like hers to encourage this community leadership and to develop these technological capacities in regions affected by disaster.

According to Weaver, however, many efforts by the Red Cross to deploy UAVs for humanitarian purposes have also been met with suspicion and distrust. After facilitating extensive discussions with residents in disaster stricken areas, the Red Cross learned that people had an enhanced aversion to UAVs in post-conflict communities where drones had been weaponized to cause destruction and in areas with increased access to popular media because of the portrayal of drones in film and television. Weaver described one particular discussion in a slum in Nairobi, which found that many people thought “drones were taking over.”

“Communities don’t feel connected to the benefit that humanitarians are deriving from UAVs. They feel like there’s a flight that goes over the community and all the information is sent to a database or a headquarters elsewhere and they never see the results of that activity,” she noted. As part of an effort to bridge this gap between the “aspirations of helpers” and the “rights of victims,” the Red Cross has launched projects across the globe to experiment with what Weaver describes as “use cases,” collaborations between the Red Cross and local partners that are intended to experiment with new uses for UAV technology that can address local priorities and improve the perceptions around what drones can do.

Weaver described one such project, based in Peru, that linked the Red Cross with community partners to stitch plastic bags and trash together to create balloons that can assess weather data and in turn help with climate mitigation and adaptation. She also cited a Red Cross team launched drones in the Netherlands that monitor marathons and large sporting events to try to identify injuries sooner, dispatch medical responders faster, and transport critical first aid supplies more efficiently.

On this same panel on disaster response, Patrick Meier, a leader in humanitarian technology and innovation, cited the union of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), a Swiss non-profit called Drone Adventures, and local Haitians in 2012 as another successful example of this kind of collaboration in a real disaster scenario. In 2012, after Hurricane Sandy ravaged the Haitian slum of Cité Soleil, the IOM worked with Drone Adventures to train Haitian pilots to fly and maintain drones that could be deployed to conduct initial damage assessments in the region. Within 24 hours, the team had images that could be used to create point clouds and digital terrain models to determine what houses had been destroyed and to assess areas prone to flooding.

Without these kinds of collaborations, concluded Meier, Weaver, and MacLennan, people will continue to shy away from and resist the use of drones in their communities, losing out on the enormous benefits the technology could provide them. Meier and Greenwood, along with Konstantin Kakaes, Matthew Lippincott, Shannon Dosemagen, and Serge Wich, have co-authored a primer, Drones and Aerial Observation: New Technologies for Property Rights, Human Rights, and Global Development.

For many of the experts at the event, the future of drone technologies is an exciting and seemingly boundless prospect—with the proper strategies for community engagement in place. Aldo Watanave—whose work uses drone imagery to preserve archaeological sites in Peru—put it concisely. “As we say in Peru,” he explained, “you can’t love what you don’t understand.”

This piece was originally published in New America’s digital magazine, The Weekly Wonk. Sign up to get it delivered to your inbox each Thursday here, and follow @New America on Twitter

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME People

Uber Wants Your Parents to Be Drivers If They Can Use a Smartphone

senior woman hands on steering wheel
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The new economy is welcoming older Americans with open arms

“Companies don’t hire 50-year-olds. They just don’t.”

So says 50-year-old Sherry Singer. After decades of being a professional matchmaker, Singer wanted to change gears and start a non-profit, but still needed to pay the rent in L.A. Feeling she had few places to turn in the traditional job market, she looked to a more disruptive space: the booming on-demand economy led by Uber. Singer, who has now worked several of these freelancing jobs that didn’t exist a few years ago, found she could land a gig within a week.

Agism might be rampant in Silicon Valley, but some of the Bay Area’s leading companies are now actively trying to engage the senior crowd, recognizing the huge potential of experienced workers and responsible adults.

On Thursday, Uber announced a partnership with Life Reimagined, an organization under the AARP umbrella that exists to help older people figure out “what’s next?” after life transitions. The same day, Airbnb released data aimed at “celebrating” older hosts and guests, amid their executives attending summits on aging around the country.

“To overlook them participating in new activities would be really short-sighted,” says Airbnb’s Anita Roth, who attended a recent conference on aging hosted by the White House.

When these companies were startups that didn’t know how long they might survive, being short-sighted may have made sense. New tech companies have been started by young people who hire their young friends to help create solutions to problems they’re encountering in their own young lives. Their first customers are often their young, early-adopting friends who live in the Bay Area. But with valuations north of $25 billion, these “startups” are focusing on expansions into a more untapped demographic, which also happens to be huge and growing.

By 2032, Americans over the age of 65 will outnumber those under the age of 15. While bands of young companies are starting to pay more respect to the buying power of this demographic, Uber’s new effort is about recognizing their potential as workers. Life Reimagined bills itself as a helping hand for any adult in need of some direction—whether that person is a 42-year-old divorcee, 55-year-old empty nester or 66-year-old retiree bored nearly to death. Their mission isn’t just about helping people find new jobs or careers, but that’s often involved for participants who range from their late 30s to early 70s.

“The reality is there are far more adults looking for work than venues that are seeking to hire them,” says Emilio Pardo, Life Reimagined’s president. Their effort with Uber is explicitly targeting the “40-plus” crowd. The rideshare company said they don’t have a particular goal for how many drivers they hope to recruit.

Uber already has hundreds of thousands drivers coming onto their platform worldwide every month and expects perhaps another hundred thousand join their ranks in the U.S. over the next few years. Still, says Uber executive David Richter, they need to actively recruit. “We have the high-class problem of ever-increasing demand,” he says.

Uber previously engaged in targeted demographic outreach by trying to sell veterans on becoming drivers. The theory was that many veterans are task-oriented, disciplined and also looking for a healthy outlet “to bring those traits to bear,” says Richter. Those drivers turned out to get higher-than-average ratings; Uber hopes to repeat those results by capitalizing on older drivers who might provide a “more cautious, reliable ride.” According to a white paper released in January, Uber drivers are more likely to be young, female and highly educated than taxi drivers or chauffeurs. Still, about half of them are already over the age of 39.

What about the stereotype that grandma is a haphazard driver who goes everywhere with her blinker on and can operate a smartphone about as well as nuclear submarine? Ken Smith and Martha Deevy, experts from Stanford’s Center on Longevity, generally have a positive attitude about older people driving for Uber, saying that the flexibility those jobs provide will likely be attractive to retirees who need income but want flexible schedules. They also point out that if age 40 is the starting point, that means “there are 30 unambiguously safe years there.” If you look at fatal crash statistics, they point out, you could argue that getting into a car with a 65-year-old is safer than doing so with a driver who is less than 30.

Smartphones are required to do the job of being an Uber driver—as well as most new jobs in the on-demand economy—because it involves accepting and completing requests for rides through the Uber app. Just over half of 50- to 64-year-olds own smartphones, according to Pew, but those numbers are going up. In 2012, only 34% of them did. And, Richter says, new drivers can always lease a smartphone from Uber if needed.

The Center on Longevity is a leading organization dedicated to trying to figure out how Americans can all lead better, longer lives, a crucial mission given that our life expectancies have jumped 20 years since 1925. Airbnb worked with the group to develop a survey to learn more about their older users. Turns out, about one million of Airbnb’s guests and hosts are over 60. Considering 25 million people used Airbnb to find accommodations in the past year, that leaves a lot of room for growth, especially among a demographic that is more likely to own their own home. Like Uber’s veteran drivers, Airbnb’s older hosts also tend to get better reviews than the general population, Airbnb says. The majority of those hosts are either retirees or empty-nesters who start renting out rooms for the extra money; according to Airbnb’s survey, 49% of them are on a fixed income. But, Roth says, many people who come to the platform for the money end up staying for the social engagement and “renewed sense of purpose.” Isolation among older Americans, Life Reimagined’s Pardo says, “is fatal.”

Of course, the sharing and on-demand economies are not without their uncertainties and pitfalls. Lawsuits are alleging that companies like Uber are exploiting their workers, and cities like San Francisco are hotly debating how much home-sharing to allow. Though 50-year-old Singer continues to work for an on-demand ride company, she’s also a lead plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit against Postmates, an on-demand delivery service for which she used to be a courier. The business models of these companies may have to change, but the fact that companies can benefit from giving older Americans more opportunities and attention will remain. “People are in a moment in America where either they can’t retire, don’t want to retire or they’re retired but they’re not done yet,” says Pardo. “It’s all about using the latest technology to actually open up a new opportunity, to give you options.”

TIME policy

Obama Calls for the U.S. to Make the World’s Fastest Computer

And he wants it done by 2025

President Obama has issued an executive order calling for the United States to build the world’s fastest computer.

The order, announced on Wednesday, establishes the National Strategic Computing Initiative, which is “designed to advance core technologies to solve difficult computational problems and foster increased use of the new capabilities in the public and private sectors,” according to the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

One of the goals of the NSCI will be to build the world’s fastest supercomputer over the next ten years. The computer is planned to be capable of working at one exaflop, or one billion billion calculations per second. The office says a supercomputer able to work at this speed could more accurately measure galaxies, weather, molecular interactions or aircraft in flight, as well as help detect cancer from x-ray images.

“Over the past 60 years, the United States has been a leader in the development and deployment of cutting-edge computing systems,” the office notes. The purpose of the NSCI is “to ensure the United States continues leading in this field over the coming decades.”


TIME Culture

A Letter to Millennials: Give Yourself the Gift of Stillness

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Take one day a week to turn away from your screens

For my 68th birthday I gave myself the gift of stillness. Inspired by a little book by Pico Iyer, The Art of Stillness, I went for three days to a Benedictine Retreat in Big Sur, California. The New Camadoli Hermitage perches 2000 feet above the Pacific and is void of cellular service, wi-fi or any other electronic convenience. That of course is the point. Aside from the chanting of the monks in the chapel, no words are spoken at the Hermitage. You are alone with your thoughts and your books in a spartan room with a porch looking out over the Pacific.

I write all of this to you, my students, because I worry that you have no appreciation of the art of stillness.

And in a way, I am just as guilty as you trying to watch TV, check my email and talk on the phone at the same time. Now that I have finished teaching I can say a few things without fear that the Rate My Professor mob won’t mark me as a “Mean Teacher.” First, I don’t believe in multi-tasking in class. I remember when for one semester I demanded that everyone shut their laptops and put away their phones during lectures, I was generally dissed and attendance fell dramatically. And I know most of you were not using your open laptops to take notes on the lectures. You were using them to check your Facebook wall.

Second, when you come in for my office hours, you seem so time stressed. Now often this is because you are asking for an extra day to turn in an assignment, but it still feels to me as if you had scheduled your life down to the last waking minute. Not to get all nostalgic on you, but I remember countless hours spent at Princeton in the late 1960’s discussing the meaning of Antonioni’s Blow Up or Bob Dylan’s Blond on Blond. Of course the beer and the pot may have erased our sense of time or urgency, but isn’t that what college is for? Not everything you do in school has to go on your resume.

Finally, I think we all have to take vacations from our devices. I know when I ask in class how many of you feel you could go for a week without your smartphone or computer, not more than a couple of hands go up. The traumatic tales I have heard from you of being off the grid for just a few hours, lead me to believe that our collective screen addiction is worse than we think.

I learned from the monks that the Benedictines believe that life revolves around five practices.

Prayer-This can be any daily silent practice or meditation.

Work-This becomes part of a balanced life. It cannot be the whole focus.

Study-Reading the wisdom of those who came before us.

Hospitality-This just means treating those around you with kindness.

Renewal-Taking one day a week to turn away from the screens and appreciate the natural beauty around us.

I am not a Catholic and yet I find the monks prescriptions to be helpful to how I want to live in the world. In the same way that I find Pope Francis a rather courageous moral voice in a world full of politicians pontificating with poll tested sound bites. I know to talk about spiritual practice at a university makes some people uncomfortable. But when I was at the monastery I kept thinking of the events of the last few weeks that took place in Charleston, South Carolina. When you think of the ability of the families of the slain church goers to forgive the shooter Dylann Roof, you can only marvel at the power of faith. I’m not sure my faith would afford me that amount of grace in the face of such evil, but I am awed to see it exist in this hateful political climate we inhabit.

And what about Leroy Smith, the black State Trooper who helped the KKK member with the Nazi T-shirt as he was fainting in the hot sun protesting the removal of the confederate flag? “Asked why he thinks the photo has had such resonance, he gave a simple answer: Love.” Our willingness to look out for each other is our greatest strength.

The great biologist E.O. Wilson makes the argument in “The Social Conquest of Earth” that evolution favored those humans who learned how to cooperate.

Some went out to hunt, while others stayed and kept the fire going. If everyone went out to hunt for their own food, they were screwed if they came back and there was no fire. This of course is why I have no truck with the arguments of Peter Theil and his Ayn Rand acolytes. Rand said, “If any civilization is to survive, it is the morality of altruism that men have to reject.” You are inundated with Silicon Valley propaganda of “The Shark Tank” — the take no prisoners entrepreneur who will stop at nothing to build his company. Case Study: Uber. My Dean thinks we should teach empathy and cultural competence to these future masters of the universe.

This notion that we are alone in the world in a dog eat dog survival leads me to the final deep question I have for you as students. Why have 1000 of your brothers and sisters in college in America committed suicide this year? The New York Times reports the number of severe psychological problems reported on campus has risen 13% in the last two years. I wonder if the epidemic overuse of Adderall on campus, which we all observe, has any connection to the suicide epidemic? Needless to say, the constant consumption of speed is not going to help you slow down.

In my position running the USC Annenberg Innovation Lab I get to meet a lot of top corporate executives. I promise you they were not all straight A students in college. Some of them dropped out (Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg) but many of them, like our most recent four Presidents, were B students who spent more time on campus, then they would like to admit, just having fun.

In my first of these open letters to you I talked about four skills.

I know these four elements — courage, intelligence, vulnerability, and compassion — may seem like they are working at cross-purposes, but we will need all four qualities if we are to take on the two tasks before us.

I don’t worry about your intelligence or even your courage. But I want you to know that vulnerability and compassion are just as important. We live in a time when being snarky seems to be the default setting online. But try not to give in to that. Shun the put-down artists. Look out for the lonely ones around you. Believe in the power of love.

This article originally appeared on Medium.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME cybersecurity

Hackers Can Change This Sniper Rifle’s Target

Hackers can gain access when the gun's computer is connected to Wi-Fi.

Sniper rifles have gotten pretty fancy these days, but it’s those high-end gadgets that help expertly guide shots that could also be their biggest weakness.

TrackingPoint self-aiming rifles work by using a computer connected to wi-fi, which helps the shooter to more accurately aim and hit its target. However, two security researchers found that the $13,000 rifle can be compromised, allowing a hacker to recalibrate the scope’s calculation so the shots land away from the intended target. A cyber attacker could even disable the gun altogether.

The researchers, married couple Run Sandvik and Michael Auger, plan to present the results at the Black Hat hacker conference in two weeks, but gave Wired magazine a demonstration ahead of time. In the video, you can see the two dial in changes to the scope’s targeting system that sends a bullet straight to their own bullseye instead of the original target.

“You can make it lie constantly to the user so they’ll always miss their shot,” Sandvik told Wired.

TrackingPoint has sold more than a thousand of its rifles since it launched in 2011. Founder John McHale said the company would release a software update to patch the vulnerability.

Read more at Wired.com.

TIME technology

Robotic Sports Will One Day Rival the NFL

The thing that ultimately matters is that the sport looks incredible on video and fans have a connection to the players

When I was 13, I watched a season of Battle Bots on Comedy Central then attempted to build a killer robot in my parent’s basement. You might think, oh, you were probably a weird kid (and you’d be right) but I think eventually this is behavior that will become normal for people all around the world. It’s had some moments in the spotlight but a bunch of factors make it seem like robotic sports is destined for primetime ESPN in the next five years.

7 Reasons

1.) A drone flying through the forest looks incredible at 80mph.

A new class of bot (FPV Quadcopter) has emerged in the past few years and the footage they produce is nuts. Robots can do things we’re fascinated by but can’t generally achieve without risking our own lives. Drones the size of a dinner plate can zoom through a forest like a 3 pound insect. A bot that shoots flames can blow up a rival in a plexiglass cage.

You can make an argument that the *thrill* of these moments is lightened if a person isn’t risking their own life and limb and this is true to a certain extent. NASCAR crashes are inherently dramatic but you don’t need to burn drivers to make fans scream.

Just look at the rise of e-sports. This League of Legends team sits in an air conditioned bubble and sips Red Bull while a sold out arena screams their lungs out. They’re not in any physical danger but 31 million fans are watching online.

The thing that ultimately matters is that the sport looks incredible on video and fans have a connection to the players. And right now, the video, in raw form, is mesmerizing.

2.) Robot parts have gotten cheaper, better and easier to buy.

When I was a kid, I was limited to things available at the local Radio Shack or hardware store. Now I can go to Amazon, find parts with amazing reviews and have them delivered to my house in a day. The hobby community has had many years to develop its technology and increase quality. Brands like Fat Shark, Spektrum, and adafruit have lead the way.

3.) Top colleges fight over teenagers who win robotics competitions.

If you’re good at building a robot, chances are you have a knack for engineering, math, physics, and a litany of other skills top colleges drool over. This is exciting for anyone (at any age) but it’s especially relevant for students and parents deciding what is worth their investment.

There are already some schools that offer scholarships for e-sports. I wouldn’t be surprised if intercollegiate leagues were some of the first to pop up with traction.

4.) The military wants to get better at making robots for the battlefield.

This one is a little f***ed but it’s worth acknowledging. Drones (of all sizes) are the primary technology changing the battlefield today. DARPA has an overwhelming interest to stay current and they’re already sponsoring multimillion dollar (more academic) robotics competitions. It’s up to the community to figure out how (or how not) to involve them. Them, meaning the giant military apparatus of the United States but also military organizations around the world who want to develop and recruit the people who will power their 21st century defense (and offense).

5.) Rich people are amused by exceptional machines.

There is a reason that Rolex sponsors Le Mans. A relatively small number of people attend the race but it’s an elite mix of engineers and manufactures. Many of the people who became multimillionaires in the past 20 years got it from The Internet or some relation to the tech industry. They want to spend their money on what amuses them/their friends and robotics is a natural extension. Mark Zuckerberg recently gave one of the top drone racers in the world (Chapu) a shoutout on Facebook.

6.) The prize money is there for the taking.

This past week I went to a drone race in California with a 25k prize pool. 25k isn’t a bad start but, with the right event and legal issues addressed, its easy to imagine prize pools at many multiples of that. Brands love NASCAR because you have people staring at their logos going 200 mph. There are already a handful of FPV drone racers who are so good that a company sponsors them and its their full-time job. As prize money and production value of the events increases, its easy to imagine that you will have a much larger group who is able to commit full time. Something akin to the skaters who went pro in the 90s.

7.) Quidditch could become a real thing.

The most exciting aspect of this field is that we don’t know which robotic sport will ultimately drive the most attention and amusement. Battle Bots was the first one to get a legitimate shot at primetime on cable (and now on ABC) but it’s one of many. FPV Drone racing is incredibly popular at the moment and its easy to imagine that crazy ways it will develop. Then you have crazy things out of left field hitting the internet like the Japan Vs. USA mech fight happening early next year.

We have fantasies and robotics gives us a legitimate shot at turning them into reality.

This article originally appeared on Medium.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME technology

How Future Historians Might Use Your Tweets

Occupy Wall Street Camp In Zuccotti Park Cleared By NYPD
Allison Joyce—Getty Images A man uses a computer at Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan during Occupy Wall Street, Nov. 15, 2011.

Social media data will be key historical information about our age

This post is in collaboration with The John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress, which brings together scholars and researchers from around the world to use the Library’s rich collections. The article below was originally published on the Kluge Center blog with the title Preserving Social Media for Future Historians.

Information scientist Katrin Weller’s research investigates how future historians might use social media as primary source materials, and how such materials should be preserved. One of two inaugural Kluge Fellows in Digital Studies, Weller was in residence at the Library of Congress from January – June 2015. She sat down with Jason Steinhauer to discuss her research and the prospect of creating a guide to using social media as historical resources.

Hi, Katrin. Your research investigates whether social media data will be the primary source materials for future historians? Will it–and why or why not?

Social media data and other online communication data will surely be used by future historians to learn about our times. They won’t be the only source material, as current traditional sources will still remain. But social media are already being used as a new type of data source by contemporary scholars in various disciplines: political science, sociology, linguistics, communication science, geography, physics, computer science and many more. It is logical to assume that future historians will also look at these sources.

For what purpose will it be used and what might future scholars learn from this data?

Social media are used as a platform to discuss major events such as elections, political crises, natural disasters or cultural celebrations. For example, historians may want to discover the first people who reported live from what later became known as the Arab Spring. They will try to identify different locations of protest activities, such as during the Occupy Wall Street movement, based on communication in different social media channels. Social media is also used by numerous politicians and other public figures. Historians may want to retrace what Barack Obama said on Twitter during an election campaign and how people reacted to that in social media conversations.

Social media data can also be used to study aspects of everyday life, including popular culture, fashion, nutrition, health and well-being, or travel. Social media data open a window to everyday communication, little notes and observations, which remind us more of the spoken conversations that are typically ephemeral. It is fascinating to see thoughts on everyday life being shared on that large scale.

The only thing that would prevent this scenario is if the data are no longer accessible due to a lack of preservation efforts.

So what should we be thinking about now to ensure social media is preserved?

It’s a very good question and we still need a lot of work to answer it more comprehensively.

First of all, there is the more general topic of digital long-term preservation. We must ensure that storage devices remain intact and that we still have devices that allow us to run specific file formats. More technical challenges need to be solved for social media data, including how to handle their size and how to make them searchable.

Then there are legal and ethical challenges of archiving social media data. Usually data comes from social media platforms, which are operated by large companies–such as Facebook or Yahoo–who each has their own terms of services. Many social media data are not fully openly available and access often depends on agreements with the respective companies, who may or may not have an interest in sharing access to their data or discussing archival strategies.

Third, all preservation strategies have to happen within a framework that ensures that the social media users–the people who have actually created the content within a social media platform–and their interests are protected. Here we need usable approaches to protect privacy, for example.

Finally, we need to start working on how to preserve relevant contextual information. A lot of the context of social media data quickly gets lost, but is important when we want to interpret the data. For example, the look and feel of a social media platform changes over time and it is already very difficult to trace how a specific social media platform looked two years ago, which buttons were placed where and which interactions were possible. But the look and feel highly influences how people use social media data and interact with one another.

Much of your research in Germany focuses on Twitter, and its role in documenting how significant events unfold in real-time and how people respond to them. In your opinion, will Twitter be the barometer that future historians use to gauge what events and ideas were significant in our times, or will future historians decide that based on other sources, and then look to Twitter to gauge how we responded.

There currently are some connections between what is prominently discussed on Twitter and what makes it into the traditional news. Journalists have started to pick up trending topics from Twitter and are commenting on them on TV or news web sites–and of course Twitter users are commenting on events that make it into the news. The ability to connect users around topics rather than focusing on existing “friendship” connections distinguishes Twitter from other social networking sites such as Facebook and makes it special. Thus it will make sense to look at the relation of Twitter and traditional news in the future. In some cases it may be interesting to mine the whole collection of Twitter data for trends and interesting topics. But in most cases the decision about what is a significant event comes first–by looking at the broader picture of worldwide events and their connections–and social media sources like Twitter will subsequently be mined for reactions to those events.

Statista.com reports that, as of the first quarter of 2015, Twitter averaged 236 million monthly active users–impressive, but only about 3 percent of the world’s total population. How do we accurately gauge Twitter’s significance in being representative of contemporary thoughts and mores?

Exactly, that is what we have to constantly keep in mind. And it’s not even the fact that only 3 percent use Twitter which is the most critical argument here. It’s that we are aware that this is not a representative sample but indeed very biased. For example, we know very well that some countries are not represented through Twitter at all. There’s the general phenomenon of the digital divide and populations which are not online at all; of countries where other social networking sites are more frequently used or where Twitter may even be prohibited. When we look at tweets around Hurricane Sandy in 2012, they will tell us quite a lot about what was going on in New York City but nothing about what happened in Haiti around the same time. And even with Twitter users in the U.S., Twitter is not representative of the overall population. It is more frequently used by people of specific age groups and with specific backgrounds. That is why it is so important to generate information about user demographics, so that we can understand these biases.

Read the rest of this interview here, at the blog of the John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress

Katrin Weller is a senior researcher at GESIS Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences in Cologne and the author of “Knowledge Representation in the Social Semantic Web.”

TIME Smartphones

Miss Your Flip Phone? LG Has Released a New One

Snag: Right now, it's only available in South Korea

The flip phone is back. On Monday, LG unveiled the Gentle—an Android-powered flip phone that evokes the svelte simplicity of the Motorola Razr, which was all the rage back in 2005.

It’s not just a stylistic emulation, apparently: Mashable reports that the Gentle’s capabilities are “terribly outdated,” with just 4 gigabytes of storage (on par with the first iPhone model, circa 2007) and a camera operating with just three meager megapixels.

Still, it’s compact, probably user-friendly, and almost certain to go for longer between charges than its more advanced peers, whose innumerable capabilities come at the cost of battery life. It’s also super affordable. According to Mashable, the phone will sell in South Korea for the equivalent of $171. The iPhone 6 goes for about $730.



Now You Can Hire RVs With Views of Manhattan on Airbnb

A night of luxury—in a New York City van—can be yours for just over $20 a night

A night of luxury—in a New York City van—can be yours for just over $20 a night.

A local New Yorker is renting out parked vans and campers in Queens, directly across the East River from Manhattan, for rates as low as $22 a night on Airbnb, DNAinfo reports.

One van is advertised for $39 per night and sleeps two “comfortably if cuddling or laying like pencils.” The van is advertised as being “Super spacious!” with “All brand new furnishings” and an “AMAZING view of the sky line.” According to the listing, it’s parked near The Mill, a coffee shop near a public playground’s restrooms, and already has 4.5 stars and 11 reviews.

Another van, slightly less plush, comes for $22 a night, and there’s even a converted taxi cab for $69 a night.


TIME Social Media

Twitter is Deleting Stolen Jokes for Copyright Reasons

Five separate tweets at least have been deleted by Twitter for copying a joke

Twitter is beset by the all-too-common joke thief. You tweet a precious 140-character joke, labored over for minutes, then you find it posted elsewhere on Twitter. It’s often a bot that copies the witticism and tweets it to its followers without attribution.

Now, it appears Twitter has had enough.

Some tweets have been deleted on copyright grounds in recent weeks for joke-stealing, the Verge reports. Five separate tweets at least have been deleted by Twitter for copying a joke by a Los Angeles freelance writer, Olga Lexell, who tweeted this joke: “Saw someone spill their high end juice cleanse all over the sidewalk and now i know god is on my side”.

When other accounts tweeted the same joke, Lexell complained to Twitter, which then deleted the copy-tweets and replaced it with the text “This Tweet has been withheld in response to a report from the copyright holder.”

[The Verge]

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