The Web Began Dying in 2014, Here’s How

The Web Began Dying in 2014, Here’s How
By Andre Staltz
Oct 30 2017

Before the year 2014, there were many people using Google, Facebook, and Amazon. Today, there are still many people using services from those three tech giants (respectively, GOOG, FB, AMZN). Not much has changed, and quite literally the user interface and features on those sites has remained mostly untouched. However, the underlying dynamics of power on the Web have drastically changed, and those three companies are at the center of a fundamental transformation of the Web.

It looks like nothing changed since 2014, but GOOG and FB now have direct influence over 70%+ of internet traffic.

Internet activity itself hasn’t slowed down. It maintains a steady growth, both in amount of users and amount of websites:

What has changed over the last 4 years is market share of traffic on the Web. It looks like nothing has changed, but GOOG and FB now have direct influence over 70%+ of internet traffic. Mobile internet traffic is now the majority of traffic worldwide and in Latin America alone, GOOG and FB services have had 60% of mobile traffic in 2015, growing to 70% by the end of 2016. The remaining 30% of traffic is shared among all other mobile apps and websites. Mobile devices are primarily used for accessing GOOG and FB networks.

The press, unlike before, depends on GOOG-FB to stay in business.

Another demonstration of GOOG and FB dominance can be seen among media websites. The most popular web properties that don’t belong to GOOG nor FB are usually from the press. For instance, in the USA there are 6 media sites in the top 10 websites; in Brazil there are 6 media sites in the top 10; in UK it is 5 out 10.

From where do media sites get their traffic? Prior to 2014, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) was a common practice among Web Developers to improve their site for Google searches, since it accounted for approximately 35% of traffic, while more than 50% of traffic came from various other places on the Web. SEO was important, while Facebook presence was nice-to-have. Over the next 3 years, traffic from Facebook grew to be approximately 45%, surpassing the status that Search traffic had. In 2017, the Media depends on both Google and Facebook for page views, since it’s the majority of their traffic.

The relationship between media sites and the two tech giants is difficult. In 2014, FB built Facebook Paper as an attempt to have a larger control over news consumption. Their tactic failed, but their strategy persisted through different means such as Facebook Instant Articles. The media, being dependent on social traffic and threatened by the social behemoth, reacted. They pulled out support for Instant Articles.

Meanwhile, GOOG notices how its Search traffic hadn’t improved, while Facebook had picked up steam, so GOOG launches their Instant Articles alternative called Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) and proactively starts serving articles from GOOG servers instead of directing traffic to media sites. The press reacts similarly to how they did for FB: reported bold stories about the Search behemoth’s thirst for control over news consumption.

GOOG and FB ceased competing directly, focusing on what they do best instead.

Data shows FB has dramatically improved its dominance on the Web, while Google Search hasn’t significantly changed. How exactly did FB achieve that, and what events were key to that development? Prior to 2014, both companies had a portfolio of multiple web services. GOOG hadn’t yet become Alphabet, so it’s focus was difused. GOOG was trying to enter the social market, first with Google Wave, then Google Buzz, Orkut, and Google+. In total, GOOG has acquired 18 companies from the social media category, of which only 1 acquisition happened post-2014, while 5 of those happened in 2010 alone. FB was competing in the search market, through Bing, in partnership with MSFT.

During 2014, FB apparently reorganized itself to focus on social only. In February, it bought WhatsApp, for 11 times the price GOOG bought YouTube. In December, it canceled its Bing partnership with MSFT. User retention on grew steadily (see chart below). Through its four simple products, Facebook, WhatsApp, Messenger, and Instagram, FB had become the social superpower.


I looked for a state that’s taken the opioid epidemic seriously. I found Vermont.

I looked for a state that’s taken the opioid epidemic seriously. I found Vermont.
Vermont declared an emergency over the opioid crisis — and actually did something about it.
By German Lopez
Oct 30 2017

BURLINGTON, Vermont — A group of more than a dozen addiction care providers gathered at a community health center one morning in September for their monthly meeting, where they chatted about their latest thorny problem. 

One of their patients had vanished. Again.

The missing man, a 28-year-old whom I’ll call Tyler, was never an easy patient. On and off, he had used two to eight bags of heroin each day for the past seven years. He was strongly resistant to medication-assisted treatment (MAT), in which patients use medications such as methadone or buprenorphine to stave off withdrawals and reduce cravings — widely considered the gold standard for opioid addiction care. 

He also declined medications to treat the anxiety that had haunted him for much of his adult life, apparently due to concerns about sexual side effects. “It’s a big problem among the men,” one woman said. The others nodded in agreement.

This was the fifth time Tyler had come into treatment, and it was the fifth time he had abruptly dropped out. This time, he reported problems getting stable housing and employment. He was put on buprenorphine to treat his addiction and sertraline for his anxiety. But on his own volition, he tapered to a lower dose of buprenorphine and stopped taking the sertraline entirely. Then he relapsed — as is common among people struggling with addiction, especially when they get off medication. Although he scheduled follow-up appointments, he never showed and didn’t respond to calls.

As America’s opioid epidemic has spread and worsened, this kind of case has become increasingly common — but not one with easy solutions.

“What can we do?” the woman who brought the case study asked the group. 

The discussion was lively. But there was no judgment; the group’s members were here not to criticize, but to figure out a way to help their patient should he reconnect with them. The big question was figuring out how to overcome the physical and mental hurdles in front of Tyler.

“It really is a dance,” one person remarked on figuring this all out.

Should they use evidence-based motivational interviewing techniques to retain Tyler? Should they help him set new goals for his recovery? Would art therapy speak more to his interests? Is there a way to overcome the stigma that led him to push away MAT? Could they find other ways to treat his anxiety? Are programs available to connect him to housing and jobs? Or how about suggesting that if he keeps dropping off, they’ll have to start recommending him to more intensive treatment settings?

It’s all about reaching the patients who, as one attendee put it, “are sick and tired of being sick and tired, but not sick and tired of being high.”

These professionals are at ground zero for Vermont’s relatively new addiction treatment program, which is unique in its comprehensiveness. Their holistic approach to Tyler’s case is emblematic of Vermont’s strategy as a whole: a focus on the science and research, with a desire to get everyone — even patients who can prove to be very difficult — in treatment to save their lives.


The Little Black Box That Took Over Piracy

The Little Black Box That Took Over Piracy
By Brian Barrett
Oct 27 2017

The Kodi box pitch is hard to resist. A little black plastic square, in look not much different from a Roku or Apple TV, and similar in function as well. This streamer, though, offers something those others never will: Free access to practically any show or movie you can dream of. No rental fees. No subscriptions. Just type in the name of a blockbuster, and start watching a high-definition stream in seconds.

For years, piracy persisted mainly in the realm of torrents, with sites like The Pirate Bay and Demonoid connecting internet denizens to premium content gratis. But a confluence of factors have sent torrent usage plummeting from 23 percent of all North American daily internet traffic in 2011 to under 5 percent last year. Legal crackdowns shuttered prominent torrent sites. Paid alternatives like Netflix and Hulu made it easier just to pay up. And then there were the “fully loaded” Kodi boxes—otherwise vanilla streaming devices that come with, or make easily accessible, so-called addons that seek out unlicensed content—that deliver pirated movies and TV shows with push-button ease.

“Kodi and the plugin system and the people who made these plugins have just dumbed down the process,” says Dan Deeth, spokesperson for network-equipment company Sandvine. “It’s easy for anyone to use. It’s kind of set it and forget it. Like the Ron Popeil turkey roaster.”

Kodi itself is just a media player; the majority of addons aren’t piracy focused, and lots of Kodi devices without illicit software plug-ins are utterly uncontroversial. Still, that Kodi has swallowed piracy may not surprise some of you; a full six percent of North American households have a Kodi device configured to access unlicensed content, according to a recent Sandvine study. But the story of how a popular, open-source media player called XBMC became a pirate’s paradise might. And with a legal crackdown looming, the Kodi ecosystem’s present may matter less than its uncertain future.

In the beginning, there was Xbox Media Center, and it was great. Despite the name, XBMC wasn’t born out of a Microsoft development team. It began as a homebrew project (for the first year, called Xbox Media Player), an open-source attempt at building a better media client for Xbox consoles.

XBMC acquired a loyal fan base, its development guided by the nonprofit XBMC Foundation. The tent wasn’t quite big enough, though, to accommodate all of the competing visions for what XBMC could become. Fissures inevitably appeared. (Popular media player Plex, for instance, is an XBMC fork.)

It wasn’t until 2012, though, that the conflict over addons splintered XBMC for good.

“We saw these piracy addons starting to take off, and we realized they were very simple to use,” says Nathan Betzen, XBMC/Kodi Foundation President. “It looks so easy to use these things that we wanted no part of it. We’re a nonprofit software development group. We’re pretty happy not getting sued. So we banned them from our forum.”

Rather than give up their work, or submit to what they saw as XBMC’s onerous guidelines, a group of XBMC developers instead formed XBMC Hub, a place where people were free to tinker on whatever addons they liked without worry of restrictions or reprisal. And for all the focus on piracy, the majority of addons facilitate perfectly legal features, from interface tweaks to Dropbox integration to music streaming.


What Canada taught Bernie Sanders about health care

What Canada taught Bernie Sanders about health care
A trip to Toronto reveals a hard truth about bringing single-payer to America.
By Sarah Kliff
Oct 31 2017

TORONTO — In late October, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) took a flight from Washington, DC, to Toronto. He sat in a cramped seat in the 21st row of the small plane. 

“I’m here to learn about your health care system,” Sanders told a woman behind him who asked for a selfie, shortly after the plane touched down in Canada. The woman informed Sanders that she was American but was still pleased to grab a photo.

Sanders was flying to Toronto for an event his staff dubbed “The Cross-Border Learning Tour: Single Payer Healthcare in Canada.” Sanders recently introduced a bill in the Senate that would create a system much like Canada’s in the United States, with one government plan that covers all citizens. 

It was time, the senator decided, to see what the Canadian system looked like in action. So he shuttled from conference rooms to exam rooms, meeting with doctors, patients, and hospital executives. He brought four reporters and many more photographers and videographers in tow.

Sanders went into the visit an avid support of the Canadian health care system. The trip only deepened his ardor. Many of his questions were those he already knew the answer to, like when Sanders asked if it was true that Canadians can’t choose their own doctors. 

An audience of doctors murmured back, no, that was not true.

“Not true!” the senator exclaimed in mock surprise. “I’m shocked!” 

But there was one observation — at the very end of the learning tour, in a big hospital atrium — that seemed to inadvertently point to the biggest challenge of importing Canada’s system to the United States. 

It was after a reporter asked Sanders what he found most interesting about the visit. 

“It was interesting to talk to patients who said, ‘We believe health care is a right,’” Sanders responded. “I think if you walked out in the street and you talked to people, they would find it inconceivable that somebody would not be able to get the health care they need because they don’t have that money.”

Sanders is pointing toward a genuine chasm in the values that separates America from Canada. Recent Gallup polling finds that 52 percent of Americans believe the government should guarantee access to health care and 45 percent disagree. 

There are massive policy obstacles to bringing a single-payer system to the United States. But there is also a more fundamentally philosophical obstacle: Americans haven’t decided whether health insurance is a right. We haven’t made up our minds that the government ought to guarantee coverage for all citizens to begin with. 

The Canadian system is all about equity

“We looked all over the world and we asked the hard question: What can we do to make our health care system better?” Sanders says. “Our job in the US is to learn from Canada and learn from other countries in the world.”

As he suggests, a survey of international systems reveals a plethora of possible models. Britain, for example, not only runs a national insurance plan but also employs its doctors as public workers. In Germany, dozens of private “sickness plans” compete with one another in a tightly regulated market. In Australia, there is one big, public plan — but wealthier citizens can buy a private plan that may guarantee faster access or nicer facilities.


Bitcoin is making banks nervous. Here’s why

Bitcoin is making banks nervous. Here’s why
By Marc-David L. Seidel
Oct 6 2017

Technology blogs and financial news networks are buzzing about blockchain, a cryptographic, distributed trust technology. The key innovation is how it reduces the need for central third-party institutions to serve as central authorities of trust — banks, courts, large corporations, stock markets and even governments, for example.

Distributed trust enables co-operative forms of organization without a centre. It can distribute power away from centralized institutions to those that traditionally have less power. Such powerful institutions do not let go of their influence easily.

The ongoing debate about how to regulate distributed trust technologies assumesthat the advocates of the technologies will seek both legal status and enforceability. Scholars proposethat such developments in distributed trust are a competitive threat to nation-state paper currencies.

Much of the current, popular focus is on cryptographic currency — or cryptocurrency — applications such as Bitcoin.

Regulators are struggling to deal with a fundamental shift in market structure. National central banks are implementing policies to keep control and regulate distributed trust technology.

For example, the Chinese government has banned several types of distributed trust activities, and is launching its own non-distributed, centralized digital currency.

The Japanese government has made Bitcoin a legal payment method, and major Japanese banks are planning to launch a J-Coin digital currency pegged to the Yen which may be built on a blockchain.

Russia initially treated non-approved currency trades as illegal, but is now determining how to regulate them.

In fact, traditional centralized, powerful organizations like banks, governments, regulators and technology behemoths are all spending billions figuring out how to use and control distributed trust technologies.

But distributed trust technologies have many uses beyond cryptocurrency.

Volunteer-driven communities

Organizational theory has a lot to say about this transition. Distributed trust technologies are organized in what we call a Community Form (C-Form) of organization.

C-Forms are not new. They have been around since the 1800s when the Oxford English Dictionary was created by a distributed community of volunteers.

The growth of C-Forms was accelerated by technological developments enabling inexpensive peer-to-peer communication. C-Forms came into focus with the last internet-enabled major organizational shift to distributed information-creation platforms.


Government Standing In Way of Internet for Rural US

Government Standing In Way of Internet for Rural US
By Dan Perkins
Oct 17 2017

I spent 18 years with the youth group in my parish working in Appalachia. We provided for people who could not afford repairs to their homes. We worked in one of the poorest counties in the nation, Preston County, West Virginia. The unemployment rate was 25 percent and husbands, fathers, and other family members sometimes had to travel over 100 miles one way to find work to support their families.
The Connectivity Problem Is Real

My specialty was roofing; I replaced a lot of roofs so people could be dry in the winter. Over the years I found one common thing at many of the homes: most had a satellite dish, and we had to ask permission to take it off the old roof and reinstall it on the new roof. Most of the time we were told, “Take it down.”

Part of the time on every trip, we would sit down with members of the families and talk. Most of the time it was the young children at first, and then by the end of the week, the adults would speak with us. In my early trips, I would ask why was the satellite dish was turned off, and I always got the same answer, “We had to make a choice between food for the kids or the dish television.”

We spent most of our time in the hills, so the network TV signals didn’t reach into the valleys. I remember my aunt, who lived in a log cabin. She had a tower antenna for her TV, along with a motor that could turn the antenna to try and get the best reception – which was always terrible. Even today, there is no cable or internet available to the residence.

The problem extends far beyond this one case study. Every year, I was in West Virginia in August. When asking children, “Does your school have internet?” the smaller children would always have said no, while the occasional high schooler would reply, “In some classes, but not all.” I did some research on this subject and found a report from the USDA that found rising income inequality is the primary driver of increasing rural child poverty.

Microsoft’s Solution

What can be done to improve the accessibility of information for about 24 million people, as reported by CNN? Well, Microsoft has had nothing but positive results so far from something they have been trying. In the United States, it would involve reserving 3 unused TV “white spaces” for private companies to provide broadband connection.

I read the report and the term “white spaces” struck me as surely politically incorrect, until I read on. Before you get upset, let me tell you what “white spaces” are and you’ll understand the real problem. As the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) reported, “Currently, the broadband internet industry in the U.S. is regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC.) The regulation, updated most recently in 2015, prohibits and limits private access to specific frequencies labeled as low power television providers. In simple terms, the FCC has carved out a list of wave lengths designated for non-commercial use, but it hasn’t yet released them for public use.”


Carbon Pollution Touched 800,000 Year Record in 2016, WMO Says

Carbon Pollution Touched 800,000 Year Record in 2016, WMO Says
By Jess Shankleman
Oct 30 2017

Carbon dioxide levels surged to their highest level in at least 800,000 years because of pollution caused by humans and a strong El Nino event, according to the World Meteorological Organization.

Concentrations of the greenhouse gas increased at a record speed in 2016 to reach an average of 403.3 parts per million, up from 400 parts per million a year earlier, the WMO said in a statement on Monday warning of “severe ecological and economic disruptions.”

The WMO said the last time the Earth had a comparable concentration of CO2s, the temperature of the planet was 2 degrees to 3 degrees Celsius warmer and sea levels were 10 meters to 20 meters higher than now.

“Without rapid cuts in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions, we will be heading for dangerous temperature increases by the end of this century,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in the statement.

The record increase of 3.3 parts per million of CO2 was due partly to the strong El Nino in 2015 and 2016, which triggered droughts in tropical regions and curbed the ability of forests to absorb the gas, according to WMO. CO2 also comes from burning of fossil fuels for energy and from deforestation for farming and building.

CO2 concentrations were lower than 280 parts per million for the last 800,000 years and have risen since the industrial revolution, according to the geological data that’s gathered from ice cores in Greenland and Antarctica. The report will feed discussion at the annual United Nations-sponsored global warming conference starting in Bonn on Nov. 6.