TIME technology

Happy Birthday, Facebook

st/facebook Message posted at an online college community called 'thefacebook.com.
Juana Arias—The Washington Post / Getty Images What a group page looked like on thefacebook.com in 2004

It's been 11 years since the site launched. Here's what TIME had to say about it back in 2004

Remember TheFacebook.com?

When TheFacebook launched on this day, Feb. 4, in 2004, it was for a limited audience and offered limited capabilities — and, the first time the site showed up in TIME, the writer had an appropriately limited amount to say about it.

The site’s first mention in TIME was later that year, in a story about online dating for the college set, in which Facebook’s founders insisted that their site didn’t belong in that group:

The operators of college dating sites sometimes don’t like to admit their sites are for dating, preferring to play up how they enhance student life in general. Chris Hughes, a rising junior at Harvard who helped start Thefacebook.com at his school earlier this year, says when his roommate Mark Zuckerberg came up with the idea, it was to be “a directory of information for college students.” Offering Friendsteresque features, it allows students to network through friends and connect with people in their classes they would like to meet. The site now boasts 58 member colleges, including all of the Ivy League.

Of course, that iteration of Facebook didn’t last long. The “the” went away; the college-only restrictions went away; the user figures expanded — to a whopping 864 million a day, as of September — and the website appeared nearly 800 times more in the pages of TIME, plus about 2,000 online mentions.

And counting.

TIME Social Networking

You Asked: What Is Yik Yak?

Yik Yak
Mandel Ngan—AFP/Getty Images Yik Yak in the Google Play store.

This anonymous social media network is taking over college campuses

If you’re an early Facebook user like me, you remember when the site required that you had a college-supplied email address. For many users, those were the site’s glory days, a time when parents weren’t airing embarrassing throwback Thursday photos, people could post (nearly) anything they wanted, and there weren’t updates about the mundane nature of cubicle life.

This is the magic that new social network Yik Yak is trying to emulate, and so far, it has largely been a success.

A mobile, anonymous social network with apps for Android and iOS, Yik Yak launched in November 2013 and has been as hot as happy hour on college campuses ever since. “You can think of it as a local, anonymous Twitter or a local virtual bulletin board,” says co-founder Tyler Droll, who started the site with friend and fellow 2013 Furman University graduate Brooks Buffington.

On Yik Yak, users make text posts, also called “yaks,” that can be up- or down-voted by other “yakkers.” These votes help rank each yak: the higher the score, the more popular the post. Yaks can also be commented on, turning the posts into conversation threads. Every post or comment on the network is anonymous — users don’t even get a photo or avatar to distinguish themselves.

Buffington and Droll originally launched the network on their alma mater’s Greenville, South Carolina campus before it quickly spread to other schools. “People started sharing it at various spring break locations,” says Droll of the network’s 2014 surge. “We probably ended the spring semester at around 200 or 300 campuses.” Over the following summer, Yik Yak got even more popular, with college students heading home and telling all their high school friends about it. At one point in the fall, says Buffington, Yik Yak was effectively tied with Facebook for the amount of downloads.

Today Yik Yak is available on around 1,500 college campuses. “We’re starting to get a pretty good foothold into other English-speaking countries like Canada, the U.K. and Australia,” says Buffington.

The bathroom wall

One problem for the service is that it’s being used where it’s not supposed to be — namely, at high schools. “I hate Yik Yak, but I can’t quit Yik Yak,” bemoans my 16-year-old niece. The site’s trash-talking nature is what she dislikes most, but she says she can’t quit it because she feels like she’ll be missing out on conversations her friends and classmates are having. In that way, Yaks can also be like a nasty note scrawled on the bathroom wall. One person wrote it, some people are talking about it, but everyone saw it.

Anonymous social networks can be especially perilous for younger users, because they can be a hive of cyberbullying, racist barbs and hate speech. For instance, in an online petition signed by more than 78,000 people calling for the app to be shut down, one former Yik Yak user outlined how she was encouraged to commit suicide by other anonymous people using the app.

Yik Yak has made efforts to keep younger users off the site by geofencing off grade school campuses in each country it operates, effectively blocking the service from being used in those locations. But once kids leave school grounds, they’re able to open the app — and that’s where parents need to step in and help their children make safe choices on the Internet.

“We try to keep anyone who’s not college age or older off the app, just because the way our app is set up it requires a certain level of maturity,” says Buffington. “Right now I’d say at least 95%, if not more, of our users are college-age kids.”

And while Yik Yak is artificially tethered to college campuses, the app gives anyone the ability to peek at the local buzz, especially if they use it in a dense, urban area where several colleges overlap. Or to check out what the conversation is on a particular campus, Yik Yak’s “peek” feature lets users browse yaks at schools worldwide. It’s a great way to reconnect with your old college. For instance, I wasn’t surprised to see Syracuse University students are still complaining about the epic staircase leading to the dorms on “The Mount.” Or you can use it to see the unfiltered reaction to news emanating from campuses worldwide. For example, someone from Dartmouth College recently posted, “If your [sic] going to ban hard liquor, have the decency to put a Chipotle in town.”

While a great many of its posts are about sex, booze, and syllabi, Yik Yak can also be a great tool for those looking to connect to their community, whether that’s through getting support for LGBTQ issues (yaks about coming out are generally met with encouragement, and the few disparaging comments are generally attacked themselves) or even addressing safety concerns.

“We’ve seen campus alert systems brake, and they used Yik Yak to get the word out about snow days and iced roads,” says Droll, who also points out that Florida State used Yik Yak to alert students of a recent shooting situation.

But don’t expect Yik Yak to stay in school forever. Though Huffington and Droll declined to provide details, they said they plan to take it off campus in the future.

“We’ve seen it work really well at airports and Disney World and just anywhere in the world there’s a collection of people,” says Droll. “Right now we’re focused on colleges and starting there much like Facebook did.”

So, mom and dad, when the time comes, please yak responsibly.

TIME apps

5 iPhone Apps You Just Can’t Miss This Week

Try MacID, which stops people from breaking into your desktop or laptop

It seems like hundreds of new iPhone apps pop up every week, but which ones should you bother trying? We explored the App Store and found five apps actually worth downloading.

 

  • Alfred Remote

    Alfred
    Alfred Alfred

    If this app’s adorable name doesn’t make you feel like Batman, then perhaps its utility will make you feel like Tony Stark. Alfred Remote creates a link between your mobile device and your Mac, allowing you to use your iPhone to access files or execute commands on your desktop or laptop. It can also lock your desktop or log you out of a profile, preventing someone from accessing it.

    Alfred Remote is available for $4.99 in the App Store

  • Marquee Movies

    Marquee Movies
    Marquee Movies Marquee Movies

    Apps like Fandango have made searching for movies much easier, but Marquee Movies carves a niche for itself by combining Box Office Mojo-type information with movie times, trailers, and cast info. In short, if you’re not necessarily looking to buy tickets or you don’t know exactly what you want to see, this app will give you vital information and let you know what’s playing.

    Marquee Movies is free in the App Store

  • MacID for iOS

    MacID
    MacID MacID

    MacID is a must-have for the security-minded. If somebody’s trying to unlock your desktop or laptop without your permission, the app will send an alert to your phone. You can then verify the login with a password or your fingerprint, giving you more control over your computer. Think of it as two-step verification for your iMac or MacBook.

    MacID for iOS is available for $3.99 in the App Store

  • FillApp

    FillApp
    FillApp FillApp

    Gas prices are close to the lowest they’ve been in years, but there’s always the chance that could change. If it does, turn to FillApp to help you save money. It predicts fuel price patterns, including drops and increases. FillApp’s most impressive feature by far? It can tell you how much you’ll save by filling up at the station at a particular time.

    Fill App is free in the App Store

  • Hydra

    Hydra
    Hydra Hydra

    Disappointingly, this app has nothing to do with Captain America. However, Hydra makes up for it by being one of the more powerful photography apps around, compensating for terrible lighting conditions to give you better snaps. Not only does this mean getting pictures in bad light, but it helps less-than-stellar photographers make the most of their iPhone’s cameras.

    Hydra is available for $2.99 in the App Store

TIME Social Networking

Soon You’ll See Twitter Ads in Places Other Than Twitter

US-INTERNET-COMPANY-TWITTER
Leon Neal—AFP/Getty Images The logo of the social networking website 'Twitter' is displayed on a computer screen in London on September 11, 2013.

Twitter is bringing its ads to other platforms

Twitter announced a partnership with two other websites Tuesday that will extend promotional tweets far beyond the Twittersphere.

Twitter’s advertisers, eager to reach audiences outside of the social network, can now pay a little extra to embed promotional tweets on the mobile news app Flipboard or next to an article on Yahoo! Japan. The two participating sites have agreed to share revenue from the ads with Twitter.

“For the thousands of brands already advertising on Twitter, these new partnerships open a significant opportunity to extend the reach of their message to a larger audience,” wrote Twitter’s Ameet Ranadive on the company’s official blog, which included an example of what the embedded promotional tweets might look like:

Nissan_Image 2

Twitter has faced relentless pressure from shareholders to expand its user base ever since the company went public in 2013, but Tuesday’s deal suggests that Twitter doesn’t necessarily have to bring users to its ads — it can just bring ads to non-users.

TIME Video Games

Is It Really Time to Abandon Sony’s PlayStation Network?

Sony, Microsoft Sony's PlayStation 4 (upper-left) and Microsoft's Xbox One (lower-right).

Is Sony's PlayStation Network as terrible as some seem to think?

It’s tempting to view online services as perennial. You probably paid money for the privilege of using them, whatever the fine print you didn’t read actually says about availability, and you expect the vast province of interlinked devices we call the Internet to operate with the continuity of running water or electricity (never mind the number of power outages I’ve endured living in southeast Michigan).

When things go south, you get mad, the friends you wanted to play with are nonplussed, grumpy cat gets even grumpier–who isn’t fuming?

Thus when something like Sony’s PlayStation Network goes kaplooey, as it did at some point on Sunday, is it any surprise we’re seeing angry, hyperbolic, message-board-like news headlines? Writers jotting off zingers like “Why trust Sony ever again?”

Why indeed. But before we aim our collective invective at Sony or its online gaming peers, it’s helpful to review the pathology. Have Sony’s PSN outages crossed the Rubicon? Is it really time to cancel your online subscription? Maybe take your business across the aisle?

When people think of the PlayStation Network as unreliable, they’re really thinking about April 2011, a monumental mess wherein PSN collapsed and stayed down for nearly a month (followed by further hacks of other Sony services and embarrassing data leaks). Hackers attempted to snatch sensitive personal data, succeeding in pilfering vast troves of essentially innocuous names and addresses. The outage length–a record 23 days–was because Sony had to rethink its entire online security apparatus.

In late August 2014, the PlayStation Network as well as Sony Online Entertainment were briefly disrupted by a denial of service attack (the group responsible reportedly tweeted a bomb threat at SOE President John Smedley as he was flying to San Diego–the plane was consequently diverted to Phoenix). Microsoft’s Xbox Live was also disrupted during this period.

In early December 2014, Sony’s PlayStation Network as well as Sony Online Entertainment were once again briefly disrupted by a denial of service attack. Microsoft’s Xbox Live was also disrupted during this period.

In late December 2014, Sony’s PlayStation Network was unavailable for several days (including Christmas), apparently the victim of a malicious traffic-related disruption. Microsoft’s Xbox Live was similarly impacted.

In early February 2015, Sony’s PlayStation Network was briefly disrupted by another denial of service attack. (Microsoft’s Xbox Live went down briefly in late January–it’s still not clear why.)

Setting aside planned maintenance outages, Sony’s PlayStation Network has thus been unavailable as a result of nefarious activity less than a dozen times. Furthermore, Microsoft’s Xbox Live, while spared the colossal (and importantly, lingering) public shaming Sony endured back in 2011, has been down nearly as often. Both companies have attempted, in various ways, to compensate users for these outages.

Cognitive distortion can make molehills into mountains. The question, given the volatility of a global network susceptible to sudden malicious traffic missiles, is whether companies like Sony and Microsoft are over-promising availability, or whether consumers–obliged, in my view, to see more shrewdly through corporate hyperbole–need to take a dimmer view of what the Internet in 2015 can deliver. Denial of service attacks in 2015 remain a problem to which no company or service is immune.

I’m not apologizing for incompetence (where indeed incompetence can be proven), I’m just suggesting we’ve been sold a bill of goods about online dependability (in our minds, anyway–the fine print says otherwise) that can’t live entirely up to its claims. Not in 2015, anyway.

Is 98 or 99% availability the end of the world? I’m not so sure, though I’d definitely like to see companies like Sony and Microsoft level with us rolling forward, perhaps implementing an if-this-then-that remuneration clause, e.g. this much outage time equals that much compensatory service. At least you’d know the parameters going in.

TIME Companies

This Brilliant 29-Year-Old Has the Hardest Job in Silicon Valley

Box, Inc. Chairman, CEO & co-founder Aaron Levie, second from right, gets a high-five during opening bell ceremonies to mark the company's IPO at the New York Stock Exchange on Jan. 23, 2015.
Richard Drew—AP Box, Inc. Chairman, CEO & co-founder Aaron Levie, second from right, gets a high-five during opening bell ceremonies to mark the company's IPO at the New York Stock Exchange on Jan. 23, 2015.

Well, one of the hardest. The CEO of recently IPO'ed Box faces tough competitors and a quickly changing market

Well, so much for that first-day pop. After pricing at $14 a share on Jan. 22, Box saw it stock rise as much as 77% on its first day of trading. In the six trading days since then, it’s lost more than a quarter of its peak value, closing just above $18 a share on Monday.

The first-day pop is both an honored Wall Street tradition and a sucker’s bet that individual investors keep falling for. Most tech IPOs that start out the gate overvalued yet with momentum behind them are as a rule trading significantly below those initial highs several months later. It only took Box a matter of days, not months.

The success of Box’s IPO isn’t important just for the company’s shareholders, buy for other tech companies – especially those in the enterprise market – planning on going public in coming months. The thing is, the outlook for Box is devilishly hard to predict because it’s a grab bag of challenges and opportunities, of promise and peril alike.

Box is a company growing revenue by 80% a year but it’s lost in aggregate nearly half a billion dollars, mostly on sales and marketing costs to win customers. It has one of the most respected young CEOs in Silicon Valley, influential partners and blue-chip customers but it’s toiling in a market that’s fragmented, changing quickly and growing more competitive by the week.

The bear case on Box is easier to articulate and so it may be gaining the upper hand among investors right now. First there are the losses, shrinking but still substantial. Net loss totaled $129 million in the nine months through October, down from $125 million in the year-ago period.

The hope is that as Box grows, losses will keep declining and eventually disappear as the company pushes into the black. But that may not happen as quickly as some expect. In the most recent quarter, net loss grew by 21% from the previous quarter, nearly double the 10% growth in revenue for the same period.

Then, there’s the valuation. Without profits, defenders point to the price-to-sales ratio but even here Box’s valuation is high. Box’s market value of $2.2 billion is equal to 11 times its revenue over the past 12 months. Even at its $14 a share offering price, Box was priced at 9 times its revenue.

Finally, in a stock market where the most coveted private tech companies are delaying IPOs, Box’s approach to the public market had more than its share of glitches. The company disclosed its IPO plans last March then delayed the offering until this year. Box initially planned to raise $250 million in the offering, then lowered the take to $175 million.

And yet there is reason to think that, if enough goes right for Box in the next year or so, Box could still have a bright future ahead of it. That’s because – unlike IBM, Oracle and other enterprise software giants – Box is well positioned to benefit from the inevitable shift from bloated, aging old business productivity software to an era where content is not just stored securely in the cloud but is created and collaborated there.

One unusual twist about Box’s long journey to its IPO is that, even while people disparaged the company’s worrisome financials, few if any had bad things to say about its CEO. Aaron Levie has a knack for seeing market shifts in advance. He founded Box in 2005 after seeing that online storage was finally ready to take off.

As Box competed with popular startups like Dropbox and, increasingly, with giants like Microsoft, Levie pushed Box away from simple online storage to areas of the enterprise cloud that will grow. Lower costs and stronger security are enticing companies in most industries to conduct more internal communications on the cloud as opposed to local networks that have been vulnerable to outside hackers.

Of course, Dropbox, Microsoft and others are also gunning toward this online-collaboration market. So rather than a generalized service like Office 365, Box is pushing to tailer its offerings to individual industries. In October, it bought MedXT, a startup working to allow sharing of radiology and medical imaging with doctors and patients. Box is also working on other industry-specific software for retail, advertising and entertainment.

To move quickly and reach out to customers in these industries, Box has had to spend more on sales and marketing than it was bringing in in revenue. That meant burning through about $23 million a quarter, which meant tapping public and private markets quickly to finance the sales push.

So Box, as ugly as the financials look now, is also an bet that the company is sitting on the edge of a big shift in the way companies communicate internally and externally -from desktops to mobile, from LANs to the cloud – and can provide a platform that helps them do it privately and securely. That bet is expensive and risky, but the payoff is possible.

That first-day pop was meaningless, as they so often are. Box will need time to prove its mettle, but it may well do so. For now, the uncertainty surrounding its prospects is likely to bring its stock price lower over the coming months. But for investors who are inclined to believe Box can execute on its vision, a cheaper stock may make taking the risk more worthwhile.

Read next: Amazon’s Plan to Buy Old RadioShacks Is a Brilliant Master Stroke—If It Happens

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Autos

How Driverless Cars Will Sneak Up on Us All

Gov. Brown Signs Legislation At Google HQ That Allows Testing Of Autonomous Vehicles
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images A Google self-driving car is displayed at the Google headquarters on September 25, 2012 in Mountain View, California.

Our cars will gradually start doing more of the driving themselves — until they do all of it

The news that car-hailing company Uber is opening up a research facility to work on driverless cars foretells one of many possible automotive futures: A world in which personal car ownership is made obsolete by city-roaming fleets of autonomous cars waiting for you to ask them to come pick you up.

That particular future might never arrive. While major automakers and tech companies like Audi, Google and now Uber are hard at work perfecting autonomous cars, they have well-documented challenges in the form of technology and policy. But there’s another speedbump ahead, too: Convincing people to let a computer take control when they’re screaming down the interstate at 70 miles per hour. In an early 2014 study by research firm Harris Interactive, only 12% of respondents said they were ready to say, “HAL, take the wheel!”

For driverless cars to go mainstream, the companies working on them will have to convince consumers they’re as safe (or safer) than human-driven vehicles. The trick here lies in a gradual rollout. Semi-autonomous features like park assist or collision avoidance are already popping up in cars on the road today, marketed as convenience- or safety-boosting tools. (Such technology also helps manufacturers drive prices up.) That’s already gotten drivers slightly more comfortable with the idea that cars can do some driving themselves. Once those features become more widely available, it’ll mean that when cars start asking to do a little more—say, take control in a highway carpool lane—drivers will be more likely to let their car become a chauffeur.

What’s unclear here is what happens to automakers when one of them (or someone else) finally starts selling driverless cars. Audi, BMW, Ford and the rest would presumably prefer a world where millions of people still buy their cars. They don’t care if the cars are being driven by a computer instead of a person so long as they’re selling lots of them.

But the hypothetical autonomous Uber future clashes with that: Why should people bother buying a car when they can hail a self-driving car to their doorstep whenever they need one? In that world, Uber would still need to buy lots of cars, but it would probably be nowhere near the number consumers are buying today.

That’s the fascinating irony of automated cars: There’s a chance that, in building them, automakers could be innovating themselves into obsolescence. That explains why car companies are doing things like building Silicon Valley research labs: Their best hope might be beating Uber at its own game by supplying both the driverless cars and the software platform on which they’ll run. Thankfully for the automakers, they have plenty of time to figure things out before we’re all zipping around in cars without steering wheels.

TIME Smartphones

This Could Be Our First Look at Samsung’s New Galaxy Phone

Samsung Teases Curved Screen Phone
Samsung

The next Samsung Galaxy might have a wraparound screen

Samsung might be bringing a wraparound screen design to its main line of smartphones.

In the smartphone maker’s invite to its next media event, Samsung teased an image that appears to be a new device with a wraparound screen, similar to its Galaxy Note Edge. The Edge’s secondary side screen lets users navigate app menus and control media.

The invite is for Samsung’s Galaxy Unpacked event on March 1 at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, where the company is widely expected to reveal its next flagship Galaxy phone.

Samsung is under pressure to deliver a popular new flagship phone. Samsung reported last week its first drop in quarterly profits in three years. The company had already teased in its earnings statement “innovative design and differentiated features” to boost flagging smartphone sales, which have come under threat by Apple’s record-breaking iPhone sales.

TIME Innovation

Watch This Amazing Volcano Footage Shot By a Drone

Explorer Sam Cossman used drones to produce a 3D rendering of a rare lava lake in the South Pacific

“The Volcano Diver” is at it again.

Sam Cossman, an entrepreneur and explorer, made waves last year with stunning YouTube footage of his descent into Marum crater, a volcanic cone on the South Pacific island of Vanuatu. Now, Cossman is at it again — and this time, he brought along some drones.

In his latest visit to Marum, Cossman and drone pilot Simon Jardine from Aerobot took several DJI Phantom 2 drones equipped with GoPro cameras to produce 3D renderings of the rare formation. Cossman says the renderings, made with software from modeling firm PIX4D, can help scientists better understand how to predict volcanic activity.

“For the first time, we were able to determine the exact dimensions of Marum’s lava lake, one of the world’s rarest volcanic features,” Cossman tells TIME. “Precise measurements, such as the crater’s volumetric mass, for instance, are useful in understanding the level of energy required for an eruption . . .and informs potential risk levels for the future.”

Cossman added the drones were helpful in finding lava collection sites. You can watch Cossman’s full video of his latest expedition above. Below, see the 3D renderings of Marum made with Cossman’s footage:

TIME apps

Uber Rolls Out Tougher Driver Background Checks After India Rape Case

Drivers will be subject to criminal database searches

Uber introduced the tougher background checks in India on Monday that the ride-hailing app had promised after the alleged rape of a customer by one of its drivers in December.

The company said it’s partnering with First Advantage, which performs background checks, to begin screening all of its India drivers in a more in-depth fashion. The new screening process will include requiring address verification, a local criminal court search and a national criminal database search, Uber said in a blog post.

“We have a deep, long-term commitment to set the highest standard for safety across the industry,” the company said. “Our efforts to this commitment in India and around the world will be tireless and absolute.”

Uber was banned in New Delhi after a 25-year-old woman accused the driver, Shiv Kumar Yadav, of assaulting her during a ride home in December. The woman is now suing Uber in its home state of San Francisco, while the driver has been charged with rape and kidnapping in a New Delhi court.

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