February 28, 2021

Should Reddit Be Blamed for the Spreading of a Smear?

At 5 p.m. on April 18, three days after the bombs went off at the marathon finish line, the F.B.I. released grainy photographs of two suspects. For the past month, the Tripathis had been renting a house and spending their days working with F.B.I. agents, Brown administrators and an organization dedicated to finding missing persons. Early on in the search, the family created a Facebook page called “Help Us Find Sunil Tripathi,” which included video messages from family and friends and recent images of Sunil — walking the beach with his older brother, Ravi; attending his sister’s graduation ceremony; posing with his mother at a Phillies game.

Minutes after the world first saw the suspects’ photos, a user on Reddit, the online community that is also one of the largest Web sites in the world, posted side-by-side pictures comparing Sunil’s facial features with the face that would later be identified as Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. The pictures were accompanied by speculation about the circumstances surrounding Sunil’s disappearance and the F.B.I.’s involvement in his search. By 8 p.m., three hours after the F.B.I. released the suspects’ photos, angry messages began to appear on the Tripathi’s Facebook page, and at 8:15 Ravi received a phone call from a reporter at ABC News in New York, who asked if Sunil had been spotted in Boston and if Ravi had seen the F.B.I. photos of Suspect No. 2. Ravi, unclear at what she was getting at, told her there had been no word from Sunil. As the minutes passed and the volume of threatening Facebook messages increased, the Tripathis finally called their F.B.I. contact in Providence, who assured them that nobody within his office believed that Sunil was Suspect No. 2.

The family had been told that missing people sometimes go to libraries or other places with free Internet service, where they type their own names into search engines to track their cases. The Facebook page was created with the hope that if Sunil searched for himself, he would find loving messages from his family and friends. Now they worried that he would see what was being written about him and take drastic measures to harm himself. Around 11 p.m., at roughly the same time that the news came out that Sean Collier, a 27-year-old police officer at M.I.T., had been shot and killed, the Tripathis closed the page so that no more messages could come in.

The removal of “Help Us Find Sunil Tripathi” was noted by several people in the media, including Sasha Stone, who runs an inside-Hollywood Web site called Awards Daily. At 10:56 p.m., Stone tweeted: “I’m sure by now the @fbipressoffice is looking into this dude” and included a link to the Facebook page. Seven minutes later, she tweeted: “Seconds after I sent that tweet the page is gone off of Facebook. If you can cache it . . .” For Erik Malinowski, a senior sportswriter at the Web site BuzzFeed, the takedown of “Help Us Find Sunil Tripathi” was noteworthy enough to pass along. At midnight, Malinowski, whose Twitter following includes a number of journalists, tweeted: “FYI: A Facebook group dedicated to finding Sunil Tripathi, the missing Brown student, was deleted this evening.” Roughly 300 Twitter users retweeted Malinowski’s post, including the pop-culture blogger Perez Hilton, who sent Sunil Tripathi’s name out to more than six million followers. From there, the small, contained world of speculation exploded on every social-media platform. Several journalists began tweeting out guarded thoughts about Sunil’s involvement. If the family had taken down the Facebook page, the reasoning went, it must mean that the Tripathis had seen their missing son in the grainy photos of Suspect No. 2.

Jay Caspian Kang is the author of ‘‘The Dead Do Not Improve’’ and an editor at Grantland. He last wrote for the magazine about the shootings at Oikos University.

Editor: Joel Lovell


Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/28/magazine/should-reddit-be-blamed-for-the-spreading-of-a-smear.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Travel Sites Merge, Which Some See as Boon for Consumers

The online travel search business is consolidating, as two of the biggest online travel agencies, Priceline.com and Expedia.com, buy smaller search engines.

But most travel industry analysts said they did not expect either Priceline, which is buying the airline and hotel search engine Kayak, or Expedia, which last month acquired the German hotel search site Trivago, to tamper with the basic model of search engines: to show the consumer as many options as possible.

Search results in favor of Priceline, for example, would diminish the value of Kayak, said Bjorn Hanson, divisional dean of the Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management at New York University.

He said that market conditions — including hotel occupancy rates, which are much improved over their low levels in 2009 — and not consolidation, would have more of an effect on prices. In addition, he said, after consolidation, Kayak is likely to become better known. This would bring more consumers to the site, enabling them to make better price comparisons.

The hotel industry has emerged from two dark periods, Mr. Hanson said, one that followed 9/11 and the other in the midst of the most recent recession. “The hotel industry is doing better,” he said. In 2002, on a typical night, 41 percent of hotel rooms were unoccupied, and in 2009, 45 percent of rooms were vacant. That number has now dropped to 38 percent, “a dramatic change,” Mr. Hanson said.

“The change is so dramatic,” he said, that hotels do not consider it as necessary to list their unsold rooms on the sites of online travel agencies like Priceline and Expedia.

That can be an advantage for consumers because they now deal directly with hotel companies, which have worked to draw travelers back to their Web sites and apps with loyalty programs, knowledge of guest history and price guarantees. A hotel, for instance, may promise to match the price or beat it if the traveler finds a lower price for the same room through an online travel agency or metasearch site.

Mr. Hanson said online travel agencies typically used four models for the hotel rooms they displayed: in one model, they act like a traditional brick-and-mortar travel agency, and the hotel pays the online travel agency a 5 percent commission; the second is the auction model like the one used by Priceline.com. The third is the opaque model, as on Hotwire.com, where consumers do not know what brand they are buying. The fourth is the merchant model, in which the online travel agency buys the room inventory from the hotel company, which then pays a commission ranging from 18 to as much as 38 percent to the online travel agency. The hotels aim to use the online travel agencies as little as possible, he said.

Hoteliers view the search sites as a way to bring more consumers to their sites, said Michelle Woodley, senior vice president of distribution and revenue management for the Preferred Hotel Group. “It’s two streams of booking,” Ms. Woodley said.

“Hotel companies are not going to give every channel the same price now — parity deals — that were written into the conditions of the agreement” in the past, Ms. Woodley added. There can be five different prices for the same room, she said. “So for consumers, it’s a better environment.”

The days of the rapid growth of the online travel agencies are gone. “Online travel in the U.S. is mature,” said Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst at Hudson Crossing. “Growth is flattening out. There isn’t double-digit growth like in the late 1990s and early 2000s,” he said. “Online travel agencies are exploring new ways to reach more people — acquisition and investments. Kayak and Trivago will refer more business to the respective purchasers.”

In March, Expedia ranked second after TripAdvisor, with Priceline third among the top 10 online travel agencies and search sites, for the “number of unique visitors,” according to comScore, which tracks visitors to travel and other types of Web sites. In March, TripAdvisor had nearly 20.95 million visitors, followed closely by Expedia with 20.92 million, and Priceline had 17.45 million. Kayak.com Network ranked eighth with 8.94 million visitors, with Trivago Sites ranking 248th with 142,000. Online travel agencies make money through online advertising more than through transactions, Mr. Harteveldt said.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/30/business/travel-sites-merge-which-some-see-as-boon-for-consumers.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Another Try by Google to Take On Facebook

Google has tried several times, without much success, to take on Facebook and master social networking. Now it is making its biggest effort yet.

On Tuesday, Google introduced a social networking service called the Google+ project — which happens to look a lot like Facebook. The service, which is initially available to a select group of Google users who will soon be able to invite others, will let people share and discuss status updates, photos and links, much as they do on Facebook.

But the Google+ project will be different in one significant way, which Google hopes will be enough to convince people to use yet another social network.

It is meant for sharing with groups — like colleagues, roommates or hiking friends — not with all of one’s friends or the entire Web. It also offers group text messaging and video chat.

“In real life, we have walls and windows and I can speak to you knowing who’s in the room, but in the online world, you get to a ‘Share’ box and you share with the whole world,” said Bradley Horowitz, a vice president for product management at Google, who is leading the company’s social efforts with Vic Gundotra, a senior vice president for engineering. “We have a different model.”

When it comes to social networking, Google finds itself in an unusual position, one that its competitors in Web search know all too well: playing catch-up with a service that dominates the market.

The debut of Google+ will test whether Google can overcome its past stumbles in this area and deal with one of the most pressing challenges facing the company. At stake is Google’s status as the most popular entry point to the Web. When people post on Facebook, which is mostly off-limits to search engines, Google loses valuable information that could benefit its Web search, advertising and other products.

But Google+ may already be too late. In May, 180 million people visited Google sites, including YouTube, compared with 157.2 million on Facebook, according to comScore. But Facebook users looked at 103 billion pages and spent an average of 375 minutes on the site, while Google users viewed 46.3 billion pages and spent 231 minutes.

Advertisers pay close attention to those numbers — and to the fact that people increasingly turn to Facebook and other social sites like Twitter to ask questions they used to ask Google, like a recommendation for a restaurant or doctor.

Analysts say that Facebook users are unlikely to duplicate their network of friends on Google+ and post to both sites, but that they could use them for different types of communication. Google+ could also attract Facebook holdouts who have been uncomfortable sharing too publicly.

“Can someone eclipse Facebook in terms of its hold? It is a fantastic broadcast mechanism,” said Charlene Li, a social media analyst and founder of Altimeter Group, a technology research firm. “But if Google becomes the owner of your private groups, it’s going to be a splintering of our social lives.”

Mr. Gundotra and Mr. Horowitz said that knowing more about individual Google users would improve all Google products, including ads, search, YouTube and maps, because Google will learn what people like and eventually personalize those products.

“To think we could achieve Google’s stated mission of organizing the world’s information absent people would be ludicrous,” Mr. Horowitz said.

But Google has been criticized for failing to understand the importance of social information on the Web until competitors like Facebook and Twitter had already leapt ahead.

Larry Page, Google’s co-founder, regrets Google’s failure to lead in this market and has spent time working with the team since he became chief executive in April, people at the company say. He promoted Mr. Gundotra to senior vice president this year, placing him on an equal level with the heads of Google’s core products like search and ads.

Part of the blame, analysts say, falls on Google’s engineering-heavy culture, which values quantitative data and algorithms over more abstract pursuits like socializing.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=09ea86e539292425244824f3dc243937

Media Decoder: Support for Antipiracy Bill

The entertainment industry threw its weight behind a proposed law that would give law enforcement officials and others new authority to move against Internet sites that traffic without permission in copyrighted material.

The bill was introduced last Thursday in the Senate, with bipartisan support from a group of sponsors that included Senator
Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, and Senator
Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah.

Called the Protect IP Act, for intellectual property, the bill would take aim at foreign-owned sites that trade in pirated material by allowing American authorities to seek court orders directing domestic Internet service providers, search engines and others to stop doing business with them. It would give rights holders new power to act in court against pirates by using streamlined procedures to eliminate sites that have reappeared with different domain names or new owners after a violation.

The Motion Picture Association of America, which represents the major film companies, joined the National Association of Theater Owners and the Independent Film and Television Alliance last Thursday in supporting the proposed law.

“Movie theater operators are acutely aware of the increasingly harmful effects” of piracy, John Fithian, the president of the theater owners association, said in a statement. The statement was a signal that a generally strong alliance between the theater owners and the film studios remained intact, despite strains created by a recent move by some studios to release a handful of films through on-demand services only two months after their theatrical debut. Theater owners have criticized that plan as a threat to their business.

A number of entertainment unions, including the Directors Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild, also expressed support for the bill.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=392dc3ebe9e912a96f4539c08df966de

Trying to Game Google on ‘Mother’s Day Flowers’

Those words have been typed into search engines by countless Americans in the lead-up to Sunday. What few realize is that an online war over this endearing phrase is being waged by the country’s largest flower sellers, and some of them, apparently, are not fighting fair.

Internet marketing experts say Teleflora, FTD, 1800Flowers.com and ProFlowers are trying to elevate their Web sites in search results with a strategy that violates Google’s guidelines.

The flower companies deny it. But all four have links on Web sites that are riddled with paid links, many of which include phrases like “mothers day flowers,” “mothers day arrangements” and “cheap mothers day flowers.” Anyone who clicks on those backlinks, as they are known, gets sent to the floral retailer who paid for them.

The real goal is to elevate the flower sellers’ sites in the eyes of Google. Or rather, Google’s algorithm, which uses links as a proxy for popularity — the more links attached to a Web site, the higher a site rises in Google searches.

“This is a pretty typical link-buying campaign,” says Byrne Hobart of Digital Due Diligence, a Manhattan Internet consulting firm. “These companies are paying for links to pages on their site that relate to seasonal terms, like ‘Mother’s Day Flowers’ or ‘Mother’s Day Gifts.’ It’s a high-risk strategy, but in some cases it pays off well for the link-buyer in the short term.”

Google wants Web sites to earn links because the sites are relevant; paying for links is against its rules. When caught in link-buying schemes, companies are often penalized by Google, which sends the sites plunging in its search results, sometimes for months.

On Wednesday, The New York Times sent Google representatives a list of roughly 6,000 links to the flower companies that were built in the last month. After Google’s spam team studied the list, a company spokesman, Jake Hubert, sent this statement:

“None of the links shared by The New York Times had a significant impact on our rankings, due to automated systems we have in place to assess the relevance of links. As always, we investigate spam reports and take corrective action where appropriate.”

In essence, Google said that these companies tried to game its algorithm, but for the most part, their efforts failed. So what we are talking about here is not Internet subterfuge — it is attempted Internet subterfuge.

Google is not saying whether it plans to demote any of the companies, but as of late Friday, it had not. A search of “mothers day flowers” had Proflowers at No. 1, 1800Flowers at No. 2, Teleflora at No. 3 and FTD at No. 4.

ProFlowers did not respond to requests for comment. A spokeswoman for 1800Flowers.com said the company would not discuss the links. An FTD representative said that the vast majority of its links were on Web sites owned by FTD, adding, “If any of our practices appear to have moved outside of Google’s guidelines, we will certainly address them.”

Teleflora released a statement saying that its “corporate policy is to not pay for any links that would violate Google’s guidelines. After closely reviewing the Teleflora links you provided, we believe we are in compliance with Google.”

There are, however, Teleflora links on some ad-crammed Web sites. Several appear on RickeyPearce.com, which until Friday featured a stock photo of a goateed man in a blue shirt — it is an image found all over the Internet — and a bunch of blandly written entries on topics like mortgages, car leasing and insurance, all of which contain links to corporate sponsors. An entry in March titled “Finding the Best Mothers Day Gifts Online” contained three links to Teleflora’s web site.

FTD’s campaign includes a lot of mom-related Web sites, some of which post links in exchange for money. The publisher of one Web site with an FTD link — who asked that neither she nor her site be named because she did not want to anger the company — said she received $30 a month to post a “mothers day flowers” link on her home page.

“I haven’t updated that site in a couple years,” she said. “There’s not a lot of traffic there.”

1800Flowers posted links on MyIndianRecipes.net, NapaValleyInterfaithCouncil.org and Jonathanduffy.net, which has a header that says the site is all about “Florida real estate — helping you find your dream home.”

A company buying links is risking a trip to the Internet’s answer to Siberia. That was demonstrated in February when Google demoted J. C. Penney in search results after concluding that the retailer had bought links for dozens of valuable terms during the holiday season.

Not every company gets caught, though, and because research shows that most shoppers click on the first two or three results, turning up at or near the top of a Google search presents a financial temptation.

The four flower sellers appear to have taken a calculated gamble: if they bought links and were demoted, they would suffer, but not as much as they would if they missed the chance to rank highly before Mother’s Day, when Americans are expected to spend $1.9 billion on flowers, according to the National Retail Federation.

The links put Google in an uncomfortable spot. Were the company to drag any of the country’s largest flower sellers into virtual oblivion right before Mother’s Day, users would be unable to find a retailer that they might well be looking for — and that rival search engines, like Bing, would feature.

It is impossible to double-check Google’s conclusion that few of the links of the florist companies helped in search results. The particulars of Google’s algorithm are shrouded in secrecy for the same reason that a bank does not publicize the route to its vault.

But Searchmetrics, a seller of search analytics software, found that Teleflora’s ranking had risen from No. 7 in Google searches for “mothers day flowers” to No. 4 not long after the company started its first major foray into link buying, in February of this year. Last year at this time, the company had an estimated 20,000 to 25,000 visitors per day, the company also found. This week, it has an estimated 35,000 visitors per day.

“There is a possible correlation between the backlinks and the increased visibility of the site,” said Horst Joepen, the chief executive of Searchmetrics. But without more research, he added, there is no way to be sure.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/07/business/07flowers.html?partner=rss&emc=rss