SXSW: Microsoft’s danah boyd on Chatroulette, Google Buzz and the Future of Privacy

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Microsoft researcher danah boyd (she prefers no caps) presented a pretty bleak picture of how privacy and publicity is managed online today in her SXSW Interactive keynote. Targeting Chatroulette, FacebookGoogle Buzz as examples, boyd says consumers have no idea what they are sharing online–and that the business that build social networks don’t either.

Keep reading…


Why Chrome Will be Your Next Browser

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Google Chrome‘s market share numbers are skyrocketing, blowing past Safari and Opera to become the number three most-widely-used Web browser. That’s pretty impressive, and I don’t think it’s going to stop there. I fully expect it to overtake Firefox and challenge, if not beat, Microsoft Internet Explorer sometime in the next 5 years.

It took Firefox most of this decade to achieve its solid number two status, but the one-and-a-half-year-old Chrome is growing faster and, in some ways, developing more quickly than Firefox ever did. The question, though, is not whether or not Chrome will beat other browsers, but why it is rising while Firefox seems to have stalled or is falling.

Over the years, most tech-savvy users I’ve talked to have said they run Firefox. It’s faster—I agree—and it has amazing features, which is true. The Awesome bar, also known as Firefox’s address bar, works better than virtually any other address bar in the business. When I start to type in a URL, its best guesses are almost always on target. Those same tech-savvy users have always touted Firefox’s extensive add-on library. I use a handful of them, but I’m not an extension nut like some people I know. I find it fascinating how, say, a “27 Best Firefox Extensions” story can kill on Digg and drive thousands of page views. What, exactly, is the attraction to stuff you can add to your browser? Does everything we use need to be customized?

Firefox has also, traditionally, been faster than the competition. It usually loaded pages lickety split, and it did so with an admirable level of precision. The pages looked the way they should and everything worked—most of the time.

Here at PCMag, many of our developers use Firefox when coding updates for our Web sites. That was fine until I tried to look at the updates in Internet Explorer and wondered why they didn’t work. I’d march over to the developer and wag my finger in his face, “Why are you coding for Firefox? Don’t you know that 90 percent of the Web uses Internet Explorer?” This was years ago, of course. The developer would smile and shrug his shoulders. Eventually, he’d fix the code so it worked in Internet Explorer as well.

In essence, Firefox had the growing support of average consumers and the critical support of early adopters, the tech-heads who were building the Web.

When Google launched Chrome in 2008, it was almost laughably under-powered, but it was wicked fast. It let you search right inside the address bar (a feature I love to this day) and loaded pretty much every page (almost always with an odd HTML translation error or two). Wonkiness aside, it just worked. We were all impressed with Google’s first effort. Chrome beta was followed in a remarkably short time by a full-blown first version. Now, less than 2 years later, we’re testing Google Chrome 4.0. Firefox is still beta testing version 3.6!

As Chrome has risen, something disturbing has happened on the Firefox side. I’ve heard grumblings from people who previously supported Firefox, saying that it seemed slower, bloated, and, worse yet, that it’s a resource hog. This is the worst thing you can say about a Web browser.

Web browsers are the ultimate Internet utility and the one that we most need to get the heck out of the way. If using it is weighing your system down, then it’s no good. All modern browsers—Internet Explorer, Safari, Opera, Firefox, and Chrome—use tabbed browsing. This means they all have to manage multiple instances of themselves, with each one featuring full-blown Web pages that could be running everything from basic HTML to Flash video. I do not envy the developer’s task.

Microsoft has made some strides with Internet Explorer, a perennial resource hog. It’s a slightly better task citizen. Still, each tab is a separate process and all of them together can bring your system to a halt. Firefox lumps all the tasks into one, but the overall process number can get pretty big and, to be honest, it can get a bit slow at times. What’s worse is when it becomes unstable and crashes. Internet Explorer does this, too. Chrome spawns multiple processes when you launch new tabs as well, but it just seems to handle the whole thing better.

Every week I participate in a radio show where I have to answer listener’s questions. I can answer some questions off the top of my head, but with some, I need an assist. Usually, my Web site or a search engine can help me unlock at least the start of the answer. But once I find something, I don’t want to switch away from that Web page, so I open a new tab. I used to try this with IE and with Firefox. After a half dozen tabs, both made my system feel like it was swimming through molasses. Not Chrome. I open almost a dozen tabs and it still simply screams.

At its core, Google Chrome is a very good Web browser (I know it, like Safari, is based on Webkit, but I could never warm up to Safari.). It’s still not as full featured as competitors and there are, to this day, pages (even my own that it does not render 100 percent correctly. On the other hand, Google is updating the browser on an almost weekly basis. Recently, it added bookmark sync and now it has a growing list of extensions—just like Firefox.

As it grows more popular, Chrome will surely suffer from one of the growing pains common among popular Web browsers: Someone will exploit its vulnerabilities. Google automatically updates Chrome when you launch it, so I’m positive it’ll take care of these issues as soon as they crop up.

Microsoft and Mozilla may be glancing confidently in their side-view mirrors right now, pleased that Chrome is, at just 5 percent, a mere spec in the distance. However, they may want to pay closer attention to that little note printed faintly on the glass: “Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear.”

Originally posted to PCMag.

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