Saturday, 31 January 2009

Firms back data protection pledge

USB drive, PA
Many firms and government bodies have admitted to losing personal data

Firms are being encouraged to back a pledge to safeguard the data they hold about citizens and customers.

Drafted by the Information Commissioner, the Personal Information Promise tries to improve respect for the data companies have gathered.

Firms and organisations who use data that people surrender do not always take enough care with it, said Richard Thomas, Information Commissioner.

"Protecting people's personal details should not be left to chance," he said.

"Organisations are waking up to the fact that privacy is now so significant that lapses risk reputations and bottom lines."

Safe store

2008 saw a series of data breaches and losses that left the personal details of millions of people at risk from ID thieves.

By signing up to the promise firms say they will go beyond the strictures laid down by law which govern what they can do with the personal data they hold on their customers or clients.

Data protection laws say organisations should hold the minimum possible amount of data about people and ensure that what they do hold is accurate and up to date.

"They have to make sure that safeguarding the personal information of the customers and staff is embedded in their organisational culture," said Mr Thomas in a statement.

Those backing the promise will be exhorted to consider privacy risks when they start work on new information systems that draw on databases of personal data.

They must also put in place safeguards to ensure data is securely stored and does not fall into the hands of ID thieves.

"It would be really good to see signatories agree to having spot checks made by the ICO," said Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group. "That's what happens other European countries, where their data protection watchdogs have real teeth.

"Given recent government data leaks, it would give us all a lot more confidence if the ICO could walk in and check that our personal information is being kept safely," he said.

On the day the promise was launched 20 organisations pledged to back it. Those signing up included BT, Vodafone, Royal Mail, British Gas, Experian, Equifax, AstraZeneca and T-Mobile.
From BBC news

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

What's with Google's new mini icon?

Google favicon

What's the most recognised logo in the world? It would probably be Google's if only they could stick to one. Yet as the world's most popular search engine tries out a new favicon, Craig Smith says the old branding rulebook is being rewritten.

It's not the size that matters, it's how often you use it. So the thinking goes at Google, which has just revealed the design of its latest favicon - the tiny logo that shows any web user, on any web browser, anywhere in the world, precisely whose internet "real estate" they are currently residing upon.

An example of a favicon can be seen at the top of this page (so long as you are using an up-to-date enough web browser). Just in front of the URL there is a small BBC logo. That 16x16 pixel square is the size of the favicon in question, if not the scope.

Google masthead
Google's changing masthead 1998 (top) and now

Now consider that, at the website owner's discretion, the logo appears on every single one of its pages that the world's web population loads. For Google that amounts to upward of 1, 200 million individual searches. Every day.

Add to that its Google News, Google Images, mobile search and multitude of other online services. Suddenly the favicon takes on an importance that belies its fingernail-sized dimensions, and the motivation for Google to roll out its third design in less than a year, as it attempts to get its favicon right, becomes clear.

Google's journey to this latest multi-coloured graphic identity charts a course through some of the unique challenges of favicon design, and through those of logo design in general. The world's leading search engine, whose very name has been adopted as the generic term for finding pages on the web, has achieved web domination without ever having had an actual logo.

Magic Eye style

Think of Google visually and you will probably picture the letters that make up the word Google, picked out in bright primary colours. In the designer's lexicon, rather than being a logo, Google has a logotype - albeit a very successful one around which it is famed for creating ever-changing topical "doodle" themes.

What makes a good favicon? Here, BBC designer Mick Ruddy suggests four key points
1. Keep it simple ­- use basic shapes
2. Use a limited colour palette
3. Avoid fine detail or lots of gradients
4. Keep it sharp ­- keep an eye on blurring

What Google has so far lacked is the sort of universally recognised icon that identifies a Mercedes-Benz car at distance or, in technology terms, the Apple computer or Yahoo web page - all logos that these brands use as their own favicon, not least because they fit the diminutive dimensions. The word Google, by contrast, would not reduce and still be legible.

Cue the new Google favicon - a rainbow of differently shaped blocks. A bit like one of those "hidden" Magic Eye pictures popular in the 1990s, not everyone will immediately see that the Google favicon blocks interlock to form a "g" shape.

That hardly matters. The design makes best use of favicon limitations and is a marked evolution of Google's previous iterations - a small blue "g" on a white background since June of last year, and a capital "G" before that.

While the old branding rulebook would discourage such regular, radical overhauls, reeking as it does of indecisiveness and inconsistency, in the digital world such rules are temporary, at best.

Steve Plimsoll, of brand consultancy FutureBrand, says the traditional rules on corporate identity are starting to look a little tired.

Mighty morphin logos

"Logos are set to become fluid, ever-changing, customisable, even personalised entities and Google is the first global brand that understands this," says Mr Plimsoll, who is head of digital.

"We are going to have to get used to the idea of our brands changing frequently, and when we do, every three months will seem like the dark ages."

Simon memory game
Remind you of anything?

If you don't like the new look, then, you can wait or, more proactively, send the company your own design. When Google unveiled the small 'g' last year, the company's head of search products & user experience, Marissa Mayer, hinted at a transitory solution, saying "by no means is the one you're seeing our favicon final; it was a first step to a more unified set of icons" and inviting users to contribute ideas.

The new favicon is based on a design sent in by André Resende, a computer science undergraduate student at the University of Campinas in Brazil.

It may sound indecisive, even amateurish, but the fast-changing nature of Google's digital world dictates it. While the billions of pages of Google's branded "real estate" is the headline figure, its real focus is to keep pace with users' mobile phones, computer task bars and web bookmarks in such a way as to keep directing them effortlessly back to Google - using the favicon as their guide.

For the world's biggest search engine, the world's smallest signpost is one of its most valuable assets.

Craig Smith is a marketing author and editorial director at publishing agency Velo

You've read about Google's new favicon - now design one yourself - either a personal favicon or one to represent the Magazine, and send it to us.

It's easy to do. You can either use one of the many online favicon generators such as, DynamicDrive, Favicon Generator and Galleryor Antifavicon, or just shrink an image down to 16x16 pixels.

Don't forget to think about what makes a good icon at such a small size - see Mick Ruddy's tips in the factbox near the top of this story

Once you've got your favicon - e-mail it to us at with the subject line "favicon"

Include some personal details - your name, where you are from etc. And a brief sentence about your favicon. We'll publish some of them on this page later.

Some of your Magazine favicon designs, so far:

Tried to incorporate the BBC reddish news colour. It's supposed to show a "magazine" with the covers forming the letters N (for news!) and M (for...oh you can figure it out!). The background is transparent, so would show white on a browser bar.
Michael Fordyce, Sheffield

Keeping in line with the existing BBC favicon design this version will keep users content that they are looking at the same site. It also uses a simple design for easy recognition.
James Battersby, West Moslesey, Surrey

You said "keep it simple" so here's the standard BBC favicon with 'MAG' written underneath on the Magazine's masthead colour.
Karl Johnson, Thetford, Norfolk

Favicon - Thomas Kennedy
I've opted for a colourful reworking of the BBC initials against a black background - vaguely inspired by the BBC test card.
Tom Kennedy

Favicon - Carl Dersley
Tried to incorporate your masthead colours and used the same font as the BBC logo. I think it's rather fetching!
Carl Dersley, Ipswich

Favicon - Steve Brown
Grabbed the banner colours and replicated their structure from the page. Added an 'M'.
Steve, Woking

Favicon - leo
This uses the design of the site and the site's main colours (black, dark red, teal, white).
Leo, Milton Keynes

Stephen Daniels
Although it chops off some of the BBC logo, it is much clearer I think, and has your corporate news colours. It also makes better use of the footprint. I use it to replace the BBC one in my Firefox browser.
Stephen Daniels, Edinburgh

Just a few minutes "doodling" after reading the article - does it fit the bill?
Gill Jennings, London

Quite simple but effective, I guess...
Guilherme Silva, Porto, Portugal

Favicon - Stephen Eaborn
Wow, there's not much room to work with. I tried to incorporate a folded corner (to represent a magazine leaf), but it didn't work.
Steve, Birmingham

Favicon - Diane Bay
I used the page graphics and layout to design this simple icon, and added the BBC favicon to the black space.
Diane Bay, Wheaton, IL

Favicon - Mark Sellings
Here is my take on a favicon for the Magazine section. It seemed pretty obvious to me as to what elements you have in your brand - white text on blue, rotated M in another blue - so used these to make something very simple but hopefully encapsulating all your branding.
Mark, Exeter

Favicon - Steven
I wanted to show someone using their hands to open the BBC and see inside.
Steven, Coventry

Clock ticking on worm attack code

USB drives, BBC
The worm can also spread via USB flash drives.

Experts are warning that hackers have yet to activate the payload of the Conficker virus.

The worm is spreading through low security networks, memory sticks, and PCs without current security updates.

The malicious program - also known as Downadup or Kido - was first discovered in October 2008.

Although the spread of the worm appears to be levelling off, there are fears someone could easily take control of any and all of the 9.5m infected PCs.

Speaking to the BBC, F-Secure's chief research officer, Mikko Hypponen, said there was still a real risk to users.

"Total infections appear to be peaking. That said, a full count is hard, because we also don't know how many machines are being cleaned. But we estimate there are still more than 9m infected PCs world wide.

"It is scary thinking about how much control they [a hacker] could have over all these computers. They would have access to millions of machines with full administrator rights.

"But they haven't done that yet, maybe they're scared. That's good news. But there is also the scenario that someone else figures out how to activate this worm. That is a worrying prospect."

Experts say users should have up-to-date anti-virus software and install Microsoft's MS08-067 patch. The patch is known as KB958644.

Even having the Windows patch won't keep you safe
Graham Cluley

Speaking to the BBC, Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant with anti-virus firm Sophos, said the outbreak was of a scale they had not seen for some time.

"Microsoft did a good job of updating people's home computers, but the virus continues to infect business who have ignored the patch update.

"A shortage of IT staff during the holiday break didn't help and rolling out a patch over a large number of computers isn't easy.

"What's more, if your users are using weak passwords - 12345, QWERTY, etc - then the virus can crack them in short order," he added.

"But as the virus can be spread with USB memory sticks, even having the Windows patch won't keep you safe. You need anti-virus software for that."


According to Microsoft, the worm works by searching for a Windows executable file called "services.exe" and then becomes part of that code.

It then copies itself into the Windows system folder as a random file of a type known as a "dll". It gives itself a 5-8 character name, such as piftoc.dll, and then modifies the Registry, which lists key Windows settings, to run the infected dll file as a service.

Once the worm is up and running, it creates an HTTP server, resets a machine's System Restore point (making it far harder to recover the infected system) and then downloads files from the hacker's web site.

Most malware uses one of a handful of sites to download files from, making them fairly easy to locate, target, and shut down.

But Conficker does things differently.

Right now, we're seeing hundreds of thousands of [infected] unique IP addresses
Toni Koivunen, F-Secure

Anti-virus firm F-Secure says that the worm uses a complicated algorithm to generate hundreds of different domain names every day, such as,, and Only one of these will actually be the site used to download the hackers' files. On the face of it, tracing this one site is almost impossible.


Speaking to the BBC, Kaspersky Lab's security analyst Eddy Willems said that a new strain of the worm was complicating matters.

"There was a new variant released less than two weeks ago and that's the one causing most of the problems," said Mr Willems

"The replication methods are quite good. It's using multiple mechanisms, including USB sticks, so if someone got an infection from one company and then takes his USB stick to another firm, it could infect that network too. It also downloads lots of content and creating new variants though this mechanism.

"Of course, the real problem is that people haven't patched their software," he added.

Microsoft says that the malware has infected computers in many different parts of the world, with machines in China, Brazil, Russia, and India having the highest number of victims.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Predictions 2009

Like every year "John Battell's Predictions." Let's Read...

In each of the past five years I've written a predictions post - usually at year's end or by the first of January. This one is late, and I'll admit it's because I found it hard to write. The world is showing itself to be predictable in only one way: bad news begets bad news. I've spent a lot of the past two weeks, where I was ostensibly "not working," thinking about what this year will bring. And I'm not much further from where I started: this is going to be a very difficult year, for a lot of people. But I do have a fair amount of hope. I think times like this force all of us to make honest choices about what we do with our energy, our resources, and our lives. And in the end, that brings long term health to markets.

Last year I wrote my predictions as something of a narrative, and when I looked back to check how I did, I found it somewhat difficult to mark the scorecard. So this year, I'm going to try to be focused, brief, and calculable. Keep me honest, will you?

1. Macro economy: We'll see an end to the recession, taken literally, by Q4 09. In other words, the economy will begin to grow again by the end of the year, but it won't feel like we're out of the woods till next year at the earliest. That's because Q4 08 was so damn bad, Q4 09, rife as it will be with government stimulus, will look much better. But until we have another year or two to really find our footing, it's going to feel like we're treading water.

2. The online media space will be hit hard by the economic downturn in the first half, but by year's end, will have chalked up moderate gains over last year in terms of gross spend. I think it's possible that Q1 09 will be lower than Q1 08, marking the first time that has happened since 01, if I recall correctly. This will cause all sorts of consternation and hand wringing, but in the end, it won't matter. The web is where people are spending their time, the web will be where marketers spend their money.

3. Google will see search share decline significantly for the first time ever. It will also struggle to find an answer to the question of how it diversifies its revenue in 2009. Search is the ultimate harvester of demand, and Google has become search's Archer Daniels Midland - wherever a seed of demand might pop its head through the web's soil, Google is there to harvest it. The media business is more than a demand fulfillment business, and Google must learn to create demand if it's going to diversify. That means playing the brand game - a game that has long been owned by what we call "traditional media companies." With these companies in a paralyzing economic death spiral (and their new media brethren, Microsoft, AOL, and Yahoo, in continued strategic sclerosis), Google has a unique opportunity to become a new kind of branded media company. It will fail to do so, mainly for cultural reasons.

4. Despite #3 above, Google stock will soar in by Q3-4 of 2009, mainly because demand will pick up, and when demand picks up, it's like rain on a field of newly sown wheat. This after the stock tanks when the first half of #3, above, becomes apparent.

5. Tied to #3 above, Microsoft will gain at least five points of search share in 2009, perhaps as much as 10. This is a rather radical prediction, I know, but hear me out. I think Redmond is tired of losing in this game, and after trying nearly every trick in the book, Microsoft will start to spend real money to grow share (IE, buying distribution), while at the same time listening to the advice of thoughtful folks who want to help the company improve the product. However, search share is half the game, as we know. The second half is monetization, and Microsoft will continue to struggle here, unless it manages to buy Yahoo's search business. Which it won't, because....

6. Yahoo and AOL will merge.

7. However, in the second half of the year, Microsoft will buy its search monetization from the combined company.

8. Apple will see a significant reversal of recent fortunes. I sense this will happen for a number of reasons (yeah yeah), but I think the main one will be brand related - a brand based on being cooler than the other guy simply does not scale past a certain point. I sense Apple has hit that point.

9. Major brands will continue to struggle with the best way to interact with "social media." They will take budget reserved for media spending (IE buying banners and building out branding campaigns) and start to become publishers in their own right. This is not a new tactic (many marketers, in particular technology companies, have published magazines, for example, and many consumer brands create or co-create television series), but given the plastic and social nature of online media, many marketers will see these efforts fail, in particular when the efforts are executed in partnership with major media companies. The reason has to do with putting the cart before the horse: in order to truly succeed in conversational media, the company must itself be fluent in that conversation. A partner with tons of traffic, but who is not fluent, will not be the "translator" major brands need.

10. Agencies will increasingly see their role as that of publishers. Publishers will increasingly see their role as that of agencies. Both can win at this, but only by understanding how to truly add value to real communities - not flash crowds driven by one time events. I don't see a conflict here, long term. As opposed to simply being creators of media, media companies have realized (or will soon) that their job is to create platforms for communities to make media. Publishers are agents for communities, agencies are agents for brands. They need each other. It takes both agents to get good media made.

11. Twitter will continue its meteoric rise. This is a very hard prediction to make, because so much depends on the company's ability to execute two crucial - and exceedingly difficult - new features: The integration of search into the service, and the monetization of that integration. I think Twitter's management team (and its backers) will want to keep the service independent through 2009, both because prices are down but also because I think they want to prove something (this will not keep nearly every major web media company from trying to buy Twitter). The company has a tiger by the tail, and two really defensible assets: a passionate, committed, and growing community, on the one hand, and a valuable, growing, and meaningful database of realtime conversations on the other. Note I did *not* say they have algorithms. That will come. But the key is the community and the conversation that community is having. By the middle of 2009, the integration of Twitter's community and content will become commonplace in well-executed marketing on third party sites.

12. Facebook will do something entirely shocking and unpredictable. I am not certain what, but it won't have a "status quo" year. It might be a merger with a traditional media company, a major alliance with Google, hiring a head scratcher as CEO, or something else at that level of "WTF!?" As I think about it, it might be as simple as making Facebook Connect truly open, and changing its policies to make it drop dead easy to get data out of the service. Also, Facebook will build a Twitter competitor, but it will never leave beta and will ultimately be abandoned as not worth the time. Instead, Facebook will "friend" Twitter and the two companies will become strong partners.

13. Lucky #13 is reserved for my eternal mobile prediction: 2009 will see the year mobility becomes presumptive in every aspect of the web. By that I mean what I wrote back in 2007: "Mobile will finally be plugged into the web in a way that makes sense for the average user and a major mobile innovation - the kind that makes us all say - Jeez that was obvious - will occur. At the core of this innovation will be the concept of search"

14. Lastly, I promise, I will have sold my book and will be hard at work on it. And yes, still running FM too. I think I have a way to do both, given I wrote 15K words last year without even knowing it....

Happy New Year, Searchblog readers, and thanks for caring enough to read my musings. Here's to hard work, smart choices, and learning from our mistakes....

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

The Year in Social Media: 2008

The Meat and Potatoes
By Chris Crum - Tue, 01/06/2009 - 6:20am.

In what will likely be my final year-end list of 2008, I have compiled one more taking a look at the year in social media. This follows my articles looking at the year in online video and the year in online music. Like with those, I dug through our archives and picked out a number of highlights from the social media industry. It was a huge year for social media and not every single story is covered here, but you should find most of the meat and potatoes.


Facebook joined the Data Portability Group along with along with Plaxo and Google. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg appeared on 60 Minutes, he found more investors, and Facebook's news feed would start treating apps differently.

MySpace got a little more Facebook-like with Friend updates and announced safety principles. Google was testing a new AdWords feature to target ads toward specific MySpace demographics.

Pownce left beta, Reddit was testing a personalized version of its service, and Automattic launched a way to create your own blog version of Twitter with Prologue.


Facebook partnered with the Wall Street Journal on "SeenThis?" and also made its account deletion process fully functional. MySpace opened the doors on its developer platform and began to talk about launching a free music service, which wouldn't come to fruition until much later in the year.

Google and Twitter teamed up for the U.S. Presidential Primaries, while PR Newswire and CSSRWire teamed up on a social network. Pakistan ended its YouTube ban, and LinkedIn launched a new homepage and features.

Social Networks for Grownups


Facebook added some new privacy tools and began courting major record labels. LinkedIn launched company profiles, and Yahoo was welcomed into OpenSocial.

AOL bought Bebo, GyPSii brought a social networking service to the iPhone, Healia entered the Healthcare community mix, and YouTube Insight was launched as a way to track video analytics.


Facebook and Careerbuilder collaborated on ads, and Facebook launched its chat feature and faced a trademark challenge from USPTO. YouTube rolled out some new policy changes, and Project Playlist was sued by nine different record labels while we heard more rumblings about MySpace Music.


MySpace launched a data portability effort, and Facebook agreed to a child safety plan. Facebook also borrowed $100 million for growth purposes.

The Twitter Blacklist emerged, and Google began previewing Friend Connect. Reddit launched video show YourWeek and StumbleUpon made some video deals of its own. YouTube became the focus of some negative attention from Viacom again, but they also rolled out some new features.

We also learned about YouTomb, the place that tracks videos that have been pulled from YouTube. Meanwhile, the MySpace Suicide Mom was indicted.


WebProNews launched Twellow, a yellow pages-type directory for finding Twitterers with common interests, a service that would continue to be expanded upon throughout the year.

Facebook began letting users rate ads, partnered with Visa on a Business Network, opened mini-feed comments, and started requesting gender information. LinkedIn received $53 million in funding, and Google started testing a social iGoogle.



Facebook launched a redesign, and hooked up Facebook Connect with some sites. They also formed a search and ad deal with Microsoft, while Oodle formed a classifieds deal with MySpace, and LinkedIn formed a deal with over targeted articles and ads.

YouTube became available on TiVo and CNN took Twitter mainstream. Google launched Lively virtual rooms and Qik kicked off its public beta. Hugley popular app Scrabulous was removed from Facebook.

A bill came up that would deny kids access to social networks in libraries, while the SEC opened up to social media.


ConnectU was told to obey a Facebook settlement, while Facebook altered its app measurement system, and blocked a woman named Yoda from its site. Talk of a Facebook movie began to circulate with a West Wing writer rumored to be involved.

Friendster got a new CEO and $20 million in funding. Dell experimented with a press conference through Twitter. Katie Couric turned to the Digg crowd, and Disney looked to score with social media.

Yahoo closed down its social network Mash before many ever even knew what it was. Amazon started getting more social, and Twitter addressed the need to crack down on spam. Meanwhile, AMC got upset at people Tweeting under the names of characters from their show Madmen.

Mad Men on Twitter


MySpace launched MySpace Music and, and announced its display advertising platform MyAds. They also started allowing users to record video directly from MySpace. Facebook was found to be using Beacon again, and decided that it didn't want people making new friends on the site.

Amazon launched its own social music site, and more Twitter services emerged. Bebo partnered with ESPN and in a separate story began altering user profiles.

Digg expanded internationally, MTV purchased a social project, and IBM got more social than ever. A Mac social network came to the iPhone, and it was found that Americans favor businesses with a social media presence.


Yahoo decided to try social media from a different angle and AOL launched its own social homepage. LinkedIn launched its applications platform and began a market survey business.

Facebook found an international home and got friendly with Friendster, while YouTube launched an ecommerce platform and an audio preview to fight comment idiocy. Digg dropped Digg Podcasts and Digg Spy, photobucket added a couple features, and Twitter dropped instant messaging.

Big Spy

Microsoft began to play with social search personalization, CBS introduced social viewing rooms, and MySpace redefined Karaoke amusement by adding video. GoDaddy got smart and social and Ning got in on OpenSocial.


We launched Twellow Pulse, a feature for Twellow that looks at the buzz in any given category. Shortly after that, we launched Twellow maps.

Twellow Maps

MySpace found a leader for MySpace Music, Facebook showed off its flexibility, and a Facebook phone surfaced. MySpace partnered with MTV, and YouTube made a deal with MGM. MySpace also launched a new profile editor as well as a PrimeTime application. Facebook revised its alcohol app policy.

LinkedIn improved its search engine, expanded into more languages, and integrated address books into profiles. Windows Live made a big social leap. Google of course launched SearchWIki.


This month saw the public launches of both Facebook Connect and Google Friend Connect, not to mention MySpace's Open platform. Facebook added the ability to embed and upload high quality videos, Delicious went mobile, and FriendFeed expanded into more languages.

Google Friend Connect

We launched TwellowHood in the U.S. and Canada, allowing users to find Twitterers in their own cities. We also made it easier to refine your Twellow searches.

Bebo opened Social Inbox, Six Apart launched Motion, and Facebook rolled out a navigation bar for use while viewing third-party sites. Talk of a Facebook movie has resurfaced, as well as that of a book.

That just about brings us up to speed in the world of social media. As always, please feel free to add more in the comments. If you feel like there was something I didn't mention but should have, please indulge the rest of us.