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Archive | September, 2012

The Web is Not Making Users Mad

The latest edition of Newsweek provides a less-than-accurate insight about the claim that the Internet is causing ‘extreme forms of mental illnesses’ in its user population. The lack of scientific research and the sweeping generalizations clearly serve not to help but actually further muddle the current issues involving the Internet.

One of the generalizations in the article states:

“The current incarnation of the Internet – portable, social, accelerated and all pervasive – may be making us not just dumber or lonelier but more depressed or anxious, prone to obsessive-compulsive and attention-deficit disorders, even outright psychotic.”

This kind of stereotyping and hyperbolic language does not suit a respected magazine such as Newsweek. Psychosis is a condition determined by the World Health Organization as the third most disabling health condition. These include schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, conditions that can disable an individual even in their best health. To characterize the Internet as contributory to psychosis of this magnitude is without basis but surely is a kind of science fiction that sells magazines.

The following are also similar discussions found in the article which misleads not only the science seeking to cure psychosis and the effect of the Internet on an individual.

“But the research is now making it clear that the Internet is not ‘just’ another delivery system. It is creating a whole new mental environment, a digital state of nature where the human mind becomes a spinning instrument panel and few people leave unscathed.”

“’This is an issue as important and unprecedented as climate change,’ says Susan Greenfield, pharmacology professor at Oxford…”

There are also shared conclusions based on dodgy scientific research, such as:

“A 1998 Carnegie Mellon study found that Web use over a two-year period was linked to blue moods, loneliness and the loss of real world friends. But the subjects all lived in Pittsburgh, critics sneered.”

The writer made this conclusion without even mentioning that the same research team, after a three year follow up study on 208 of these respondents found that the identified effects in the 1998 study dissipated in the long run. Clearly there is an angle to the story, because the simple naked search on Google would yield the same study identified in the article followed closely by the follow up study. Without reading or brushing up on the other knowledge about the topic, one may lead to the conclusions that the Newsweek article writer stated.

There are also neuroscience misconceptions that create more confusion. According to the article, the Internet ‘rewrites the brain’ – a concept that clearly is unclear as the brain continues to re wire itself until one dies. The effect of the changes is the release of dopamine in the brain.

There are many other criticisms on the studies the article used but no appraisal as to their process and methodology. There was no assessment as to methodologies regarding internet addiction studies or the wide spectrum of prevalence of psychosis ranges between 1% and 66% of online users creates more issues that impact the public attitude and perception about mental illness. The only conclusion this article can lead its reader would be the Internet can lead to mental illness and psychosis when one relies in the perception of individuals that this is the effect of the Internet on the individual in the long run.

Facebook Polices Chats for Criminal Activities

Many social platforms, such as Facebook are now undertaking processes to monitor the chat activity of its user base to weed out criminality. Once they find such activity online or supect such activity is present, they can reach out to authorities.

This monitoring is done through software scanners that monitors chat exchanges for words or phrases that signal criminal activity, such as exchange of personal information or vulgarity. The focus would be those users that don’t have an established connection on the site together with some other personal information disparity between users, such as age difference. The scanning system also learns, using previous chat discussions of known felons and predators using the social media platform.

Once the software flags a dubious chat discussion, an email is sent to Facebook security employees who then determines if the police should step in. This may cause privacy advocates to turn on the purveyors of Facebook, as it must keep these scanned exchanges away from its other employees.

The new security measures from Facebook was mentioned in the interview of the company’s Chief Security Officer Joe Sullivan with Reuters News Wire. According to the report, at least one alleged child predator has been brought to court due to the efforts made by Facebook’s chat scanning software.

When asked for comment, Facebook gave a standard response, “We’ve never wanted to set up an environment where we have employees looking at private communications, so it’s really important that we use technology that has a very low false-positive rate.”

It further added, through a statement on the site, the company works with law enforcement where appropriate and to the extent required by law to ensure the safety of the people who use Facebook. It read:

“We may disclose information pursuant to subpoenas, court orders, or other requests (including criminal and civil matters) if we have a good faith belief that the response is required by law. This may include respecting requests from jurisdictions outside of the United States where we have a good faith belief that the response is required by law under the local laws in that jurisdiction, apply to users from that jurisdiction, and are consistent with generally accepted international standards.

“We may also share information when we have a good faith belief it is necessary to prevent fraud or other illegal activity, to prevent imminent bodily harm, or to protect ourselves and you from people violating our Statement of Rights and Responsibilities. This may include sharing information with other companies, lawyers, courts or other government entities.”

This has been done before, but is this a so-called public service?

Living with Panda: A Year of Complacency, Decisions and Recovery

In the past year, many website owners have been affected by Google’s roll out of its algorithm updates, codenamed Panda and Penguin. The new algorithms have affected how individual and company SEO strategies are implemented. Because of the confidential nature of the algorithm, it is hard to predict what should be done and what should not be done, but one thing is clear: the rules of the game has changed, and these updates are here to stay.

Even as some websites have been decimated because of the onslaught of Panda and Penguin, others have managed to recover their former rankings. The following are tips to consider when undertaking your own SEO plan on your website.

  1. Invest in valuable, fresh and original content. Rehashing content from competitor sites will not help your site overcome the new requisites set by Google. Google wants content that is interesting and unique, so the front page does not contain several paraphrased versions of the same content.
  2. Exercise restraint with SEO. It’s clear now that overly optimized sites will be penalized, which means keyword stuffing on pages or unnatural linking structures are things of the past. In fact, it’s probably safer to ignore what we think of as “SEO” altogether, and focus instead on writing your content and acquiring backlinks in a manner that’s consistent with what an average joe would think to do for his website. This means seeking out blogroll links from websites similar to your own, guest blogging, etc.
  3. Use social media for your own benefit. Google is now expanding into social media in determination of the popularity of a website as well as the links that work to provide benefits for SEO. Let’s face it: your users are on social media. If your website is not being liked, shared, and retweeted, this is a clear sign to Google that it isn’t relevent to your audience. Make your content shareable to many other individuals, and likely your search engine rankings will improve.
  4. Use tools for analysis, particularly Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools. Specifically, look at how users interact with your website. How long do they spend on your site on average? How many pages do they visit? Google is looking at these metrics to determine the quality of your site, and you should too. If your users aren’t taking the time to read your content, why would Google present it to them? Use these metrics to make your website more enjoyable to your users, and rankings will follow.
  5. Quality over quantity. Inbound links need to be quality driven and not quantity driven. You want links from authority websites with content that overlaps your own. Old tactics like buying bulk blog comment spam are now more likely to harm than help your website.

Although frustrating to many users, the recent Google updates have moved the search engine in the right direction. Whereas formerly we had to spend our time with SEO trying to improve our rankings, now all that needs to be done is concentrating on the delivering what your target audience wants. Produce great content and provide a good visitor experience, rather than using specific SEO techniques, and your site will not only rank better in Google — it will be generally more useful to your audience, and they’ll be more likely to share it in the first place.