2010 Word of The Year: Privacy

I recently attended a marketing conference that discussed emerging technology trends.  When the panel was asked what was the single-word topic of 2010 they almost all said, “mobile”.  I didn’t think of it at the time but I’d argue that the word of the year is “privacy”.  That thought, coupled with a current email-based discussion I’m having with a luddite friend (he’s not on Facebook or LinkedIn), got me thinking about some of the privacy issues that we — as a global population of netizens — will face in 2011 and beyond.

Concern about privacy is hardly a new topic.  Back in 1999 Scott McNealy, then the CEO of Sun Microsystems notoriously said, “you have zero privacy.  Get over it.”  I love the brevity, Scott, but that is not going to get you on a Hallmark card anytime soon.  Yes, the web brought on a change in the level of privacy that users may expect, but the role of marketing has always been to predict the intent of potential customers by tracking user behavior.  Computers and the internet, however, have yielded a seismic shift in the cost, speed, availability and sheer amount of data – perhaps changing at a rate faster than humans can conceptually deal with, and thus creating debates about how to strike a balance in this brave new world.

In 2010, however, we’ve seen more information about the reconciliation of online and offline data. From cars, to finances, to the recent announcements about the TSA’s new full-body scanners, it’s no longer just our web browsing history that’s available to evil marketers like myself.  Here’s a quick rundown of a few privacy issues, how they can be exploited, and what you should know about protecting yourself:

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Five Server Load Tips

Last week, a company called Skyfire launched an app that made it possible to watch Flash movies on an iPhone or iPad. Their app uses servers hosted in the cloud to convert Flash videos to HTML5, making them viewable on iOS devices where Flash is not available.

Now we’ve heard before that nobody wants Flash on their phones, so you would understand that Skyfire had a slow first day after their launch. And by slow first day I mean their servers were so overloaded by the demand that they couldn’t provision them fast enough. Eventually they had to pull their app from the app store and declare it “sold out.”

We here at uTest think that among the things in this world that could be called “problems,” having so much demand that your servers can’t keep up is definitely a good problem to have.  Skyfire did, after all, make over $1 million in their first weekend on the app store.

On the other hand, nobody wants their servers to crash because of excessive load. The trouble is that properly planning for heavy load is often something that can vary from one application to another. (The load planning for Skyfire is probably very different from Facebook.) Still, there are some very simple load planning tips that almost everyone should know:

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New Pics From Google’s Test Automation Conference! #GTAC

As uTest’s October Tour finally winds down, we wanted to share a few more pics with you from abroad. As you know, uTest exec John Montgomery was selected to attend the invite-only Google Test Automation Conference (GTAC) in Hyderabad this week (uTest’s second year in a row!). A few little Twitter birds (Pradeep Soundararajan and Joel Hynoski) also announced that uTest was mentioned several times from the stage during talks of crowdsourced testing and Mozilla’s crowd strategy. A fantastic event overall! Click here for all Day One and Day Two pics.

Here are a few of our faves (click to expand)…

GTAC begins!

John networks with GTAC attendees

Pradeep Soundararajan presenting

GTAC crew huddles together for a quick pic

Can you find John? Click for hint.

Doc James Whittaker presenting

Check out the spread!

Delicious authentic Indian food

Your Emails Not Working? It’s Not Just You – #sorbs

Update: Michelle Sullivan from SORBS comments below.

Update 2: Michelle comments again with an explanation of what went wrong.

Update 3: Check out our full interview with Michelle Sullivan about SORBS, blacklisting, the tech running behind the scenes, and their recent database problem.

Did you send an email today that got bounced because of something called SORBS? You’re not alone. Last night, the SORBS anti-spam blacklist (their site is slammed right now) accidentally updated their databases to include an enormous number of the Internet’s mail servers and networks. (The complaining on Twitter is intense.) Large portions of IP addresses owned by Amazon, Google, Rackspace, and others were included in this blacklist and marked as unacceptable for email.

If your mail server happens to live within those IP ranges, then you can’t send emails today to anyone else using the SORBS blacklist. Since tons of companies and people use those ISPs for hosting mail servers, you can imagine the pain and suffering this is causing.

So how does this all work? Anti-spam networks like SORBS were created as a way to reduce the amount of spam sent and received around the world. Spammers, like most email users, tend to send their emails from one or two mail servers. If you can locate the originating mail server for a piece of spam, then it can be put into a “blacklist” of known spammers. Those blacklists are compiled and shared by independent groups, like SORBS.

When an ISP receives a piece of email, it will check with the blacklist to see if that email came from a known spam server. If it did, then the ISP will simply reject the email entirely. It works pretty well – unless the blacklist becomes corrupted.

And that’s the problem with an “off or on” system like this that everyone uses. One corrupted database, accidental data entry, or misconfiguration is all it takes to create mayhem around the world for millions of innocent users.

By the way, if you run an email server that uses SORBS for blacklisting, you might want to disable the SORBS checking until this gets resolved.

Updated: More details from SANS ISC.

uTest On Tour – San Fran to London to Hyderabad and Back

October is bursting at the seams in terms of uTest speaking engagements! The exec team will be presenting at leading events all over the world this month — from San Fran to London to Hyderabad and back.

We start in San Francisco next week at CrowdConf, the world’s first conference dedicated to the world of crowdsourcing and the future of work. CrowdConf will be held at the St. Regis Hotel on October 4th.

Crowdsourcing veterans CEO of oDesk, Gary Swart, and CEO of Elance, Fabio Rosati, will join Doron on a panel to discuss the ways crowdsourcing models are used to maximize a company’s potential and manage costs. More details here!

By the way, we will also be at CTIA in San Fran October 5th – October 7th at both the Mobile Web & Apps Forum (10/5) and the iPad & Tablet Publishing/Entertainment Apps (10/6) event. CTIA will be held at Moscone Center West. Let us know if you’ll be there!

LONDON 10/13 & 10/19
Next stop – the UK! On October 13th, Co-Founder of uTest Roy Solomon will be speaking at TCL’s Star Testing event in London. Other speakers include our friends James Whittaker (two-time Testing The Limits veteran!) and Tom Lounibos, CEO of SOASTA. This event will be held at One Alfred Place.

On October 19th, uTest exec Matt Johnston will be among the outstanding line-up of more than 40 speakers at Mobile App World, which includes Google, Microsoft, Ericsson, Orange Global and the BBC, who will be discussing the future of mobile apps.

Next stop – India! uTest was selected to attend the invite-only Google Test Automation Conference (GTAC) in Hyderabad on October 28 for the second year in a row! uTest exec John Montgomery will be there.

Last but not least, Matt will be speaking at TiE CON 2010 in Dearborn, Michigan on October 28 at 1pm in the Crowdsourcing track.

And that’s it! (Where’s an exhausted emoticon when you need one?) If you want to meet up with us at any of these events, please shoot us a note. We’d love to share a coffee break with you.

And The Winners Of The Best #KickAssApps Are…

In hot tech news today, Google releases its goo.gl URL shortener (cool!), Facebook upgrades its photos (cooler!), Foursquare 2.0 for Android arrives (nice!), Twitter’s Promoted Trends appear at the top of the trends (meh) AND… the winners of the “Where’s The App For That?” Twitter contest are announced (woooo!!!).


-1st place: @rodydio, the geo-party app, wins an iPod Touch
-2nd place: @Ed_Wing, the thoughtful alarm clock app, wins a Nano
-3rd place: @OrenTodoros, the swear-in-any-language app, wins a Shuffle

Thank you again to everyone who participated, including the incredible voter turn out! 621 people turned up to support their favorite apps. Special thanks to our honorable mentions @linzlovesyou, @statelessSH, @Omeriko21, @the_qa_guy and @eurekalopes.

There were so many good ideas – let’s hope someone out there is listening and creates them for us. We’d be happy to test them! :)

Mobile Web: “I Ain’t Dead Yet #*%$#@!!”

Rumors of the mobile web’s death have been greatly exaggerated. Despite some compelling arguments in Wired’s latest series –  where experts assert that native apps have (or will soon) totally displace the web as a medium of choice – we’re not quite ready to pull the plug. Apparently, neither is the general public. Not just yet.

More on that in a second, but first, let’s examine why some are making this claim. It’s true that there’s been a meaningful shift towards native apps over the last few years, thanks mostly to the iPhone and its offspring (i.e. smartphones). What was once the Great Wide Open, the Internet has been parceled into what Wired calls “semiclosed platforms that use the Internet for transport but not the browser for display.”

In other words:

You wake up and check your email on your bedside iPad — that’s one app. During breakfast you browse Facebook, Twitter, and The New York Times — three more apps. On the way to the office, you listen to a podcast on your smartphone. Another app. At work, you scroll through RSS feeds in a reader and have Skype and IM conversations. More apps. At the end of the day, you come home, make dinner while listening to Pandora, play some games on Xbox Live, and watch a movie on Netflix’s streaming service….

You’ve spent the day on the Internet — but not on the Web. And you are not alone…

Quite true. But you are also NOT alone if you’re still using the mobile web. As part of our weekly “What Do uThink” poll question, we asked our community whether they prefer to get information via native apps or the mobile web. Here were the results:

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What’s Your Favorite Next-Gen Browser?

As long as we’ve had the World Wide Web, we’ve needed software to browse it. Originally, that meant using a tool like Mosaic or Lynx. Today, we have a wide variety of browsers from which to choose, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.

So it was in this spirit that we polled our community of testers to find out which of the next-generation browsers they were most excited about as part of our weekly What Do uThink polls in our forums. The outcome was tight, with Firefox 4 and Chrome 6 together taking 86% of the votes (Firefox 4 had 46% of the votes and Chrome 6 had 40%). Internet Explorer 9 came in third and garnered the bulk of the remainder.

We posed the same question to users on Facebook, and the results were nearly the same. Firefox won with 50% of the votes, but Chrome was right behind with 33%.

So which do you prefer? Are you excited by Chrome’s astonishing performance improvements and built-in PDF reader? Or are you looking forward to Firefox’s Tab Candy interface? Of course, you don’t have to agree with our community. Internet Explorer 9 features some rocking speed improvements and support for HTML5, while Opera 10.60 now features some killer geolocation features. And don’t forget about Safari 5, which now supports extensions for easy modification.

The browser wars are hardly over, and I couldn’t be more excited. That’s probably why I use all of them! What do you think?

You Have Questions – Google Has Answers

What’s the square root of Pi? Who led the NBA in rebounding in 1988? Are there really rattlesnakes in Vermont? Is Silly Putty edible?*

Here’s another question for you: Where do you go for answers online? If you’re not sure, we suggest that you ask Google, because that’s where almost everyone submits their online inquiries these days.

To make it a bit more scientific, we decided to make this question the topic of our weekly “What Do uThink?” poll. Here are the results from the uTest Forums:

  • Google (search) – 91%
  • Wikipedia – 4%
  • Bing (search) – 2%
  • Other – 2%

Clearly, Google pretty much owns the online answers space, which came as no surprise. However, when we posed the exact same question to our Facebook users the results were slightly different. Google still came in first place, but with “only” 53% of the total vote. Rounding out the totals were Wikipedia (18%); YahooAnswers (12%); Bing (6%) and WikiAnswers (6%).

So what makes Google the go-to place for answers? uTest Forums member “scornik” explains:

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