The Internet, from The Economist

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Minority languages: Cookies, caches and cows

25 September 2014 - 11:03am
UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Mission relaunched Fly Title:  Minority languages Rubric:  Translating technological terms throws up some peculiar challenges Location:  BAMAKO, MALI Main image:  Speaking the customer’s language Speaking the customer’s language OUSMANE sweats under a tin roof as he thumbs through a Chinese smartphone that he is selling at the technology market in Bamako, Mali. Words in French, Mali’s official language, scroll down the screen. “A ka nyi?” (Is it good?) a customer asks him in Bambara, Mali’s most widely used tongue. Mozilla, the foundation behind Firefox, an open-source web browser, wants Ousmane’s customers to have the option of a device that speaks their language. Smartphones with its operating system (OS) are already on sale in 24 countries, including Bangladesh, India and Mexico, for as little as $33. Other countries will be added as it makes more deals with handset manufacturers. And ...

Internet IPOs: How Alibaba measures up

19 September 2014 - 10:49am
UK Only Article:  standard article Fly Title:  Internet IPOs Rubric:  China's big e-commerce site dominates its American peers ALIBABA'S shares were priced at $68 on September 18th, giving China's e-commerce behemoth a market capitalisation of $168 billion as it started trading on New York's Stock Exchange. The flotation will raise $21.8 billion, narrowly missing the record for the world’s biggest stock offering, held by Agricultural Bank of China with its $22.1 billion listing in 2010. But if some of the remaining options are exercised by their owners, Alibaba’s could yet be the largest. Outside of the stockmarket, Alibaba's dominance is less ambiguous. Transactions last year over its websites totalled nearly $250 billion, compared with $116 billion for Amazon, the American "e-taling" giant. Data from this year suggest that with every second that passes, Alibaba handles almost 500 orders, altogether worth more than $9,000 on average. Amazon’s equivalent transaction value in 2013 would be less than $3,700 per second. An average buyer on Alibaba's websites spends over $1,000 a year, whereas the figure is less than half ...

Nigeria’s online retailers: E-bola

18 September 2014 - 11:01am
UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Xi who must be obeyed Fly Title:  Nigeria’s online retailers Rubric:  Fear of the virus boosts e-commerce in Africa’s most-populous nation WHAT if Ebola spread beyond the smaller west African states, where the outbreak is concentrated, and took hold in Nigeria, Africa’s most-populous country? International epidemiologists tremble at the thought. Ordinary Nigerians worry, too—so much so that the country has seen a boom in online shopping, as some people avoid going out into crowded markets and shopping malls. Access to the internet and e-services is growing fast in Nigeria, a country of 173m people, more than 10m in Lagos alone. Online retailers must contend with poor roads, especially in rural areas, and suspicion of online payments (they accept cash on delivery). Ebola is giving an unexpected push to nascent e-commerce, after the country suffered its first case in July, when Patrick Sawyer, a Liberian civil servant, died in Lagos. At least six others have perished since. Jumia, the biggest e-commerce site, says orders have ...

Digital advertising: Tracking the trackers: Every click you make

11 September 2014 - 5:32pm
THE data we generate online has spawned a complex new ecosystem of firms tracking, interpreting and selling our data to advertisers. This raises privacy concerns for consumers  Comment Expiry Date:  Fri, 2014-09-26

Online video: Cracking the screen

11 September 2014 - 10:54am
UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Little Brother Fly Title:  Online video Rubric:  Online video is flourishing, but it is not about to kill television ONLINE VIDEO IS following in the path of broadcast television and cable, radically changing how and what people watch. Around 195m Americans, or 77% of American internet users, already watch videos online. In China, where people are suspicious of government-censored television, the figure is nearly 500m, or 70% of those who use the web. This year digital-video advertising in America is forecast to grow by 43%, against a mere 3% for TV advertising. Yet they start from such different bases that television will still rise by $2.2 billion, against $1.8 billion for online video. The battle lines are somewhat blurred. Probably more than half of all premium online-video advertising minutes are screened on the websites of big television companies, such as CBS and ABC. Increasingly it will make more sense to talk about “video” as a single category rather than “television” and “online video” separately. Online-video ads ...

Netflix expands in Europe: An American in Paris

11 September 2014 - 10:54am
UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  UK RIP? Fly Title:  Netflix expands in Europe Rubric:  The video-streaming firm enters some crowded new markets Location:  PARIS Main image:  A transatlantic tryst with a happy ending A transatlantic tryst with a happy ending AMERICAN internet giants such as Google and Amazon are the target of much criticism in Europe these days, accused of avoiding taxes, invading privacy and competing unfairly with local firms. The latest transatlantic tech firm to ruffle feathers is Netflix, a fast-growing company that offers streaming video on demand (SVOD) over the internet and which has already got conventional broadcasters and pay-TV companies worried back home in America. Netflix has been signing up viewers in Britain, Ireland, the Netherlands and the Nordic countries; and next week it starts invading the continental heartland, beginning with France. Television companies, telecoms firms and other ...

Social media in Saudi Arabia: A virtual revolution

11 September 2014 - 10:54am
UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  UK RIP? Fly Title:  Social media in Saudi Arabia Rubric:  Why social media have a greater impact in the kingdom than elsewhere Location:  JEDDAH AND RIYADH Main image:  People of the Facebook People of the Facebook TUNE into one of Saudi Arabia’s television channels and you are likely to find a stuffy report praising the government or a sheikh spinning a dreary sermon. Little wonder that so many Saudis turn to YouTube and other online broadcasters for light relief. That has led to the emergence of new media companies, mainly in the more liberal coastal city of Jeddah, dedicated to amusing the kingdom’s growing population. In the glassy offices of UTURN Entertainment, one such firm, men and abaya-clad women play table-football and squeeze putty between commissioning and recording videos for their YouTube channel. It airs a variety of shows, from cookery and religious programmes to talk shows ...

The future of Apple: Watched

10 September 2014 - 9:23am
UK Only Article:  standard article Fly Title:  The future of Apple Rubric:  Apple is becoming a very different company, and not just because of its newly unveiled products Byline:  A.S. Location:  CUPERTINO Main image:  20140913_WBP504_473.jpg AS A technology firm, Apple spends much of its time reimagining the future, but it also likes to pay tribute to its past. Back in 1984 Steve Jobs, with a luminous mane of black hair, double-breasted suit and green bowtie, commanded the stage at Flint Performing Arts Centre near Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino to show off the new Macintosh computer. On September 9th Mr Jobs’ successor, Tim Cook, balding and in blue jeans, held his own performance in the same location. It was the most significant showcase of Apple’s determination to wow the world since 1984. To thunderous applause, Mr Cook showed off two new iPhones, a clever payments system and a wearable device, which it calls the ...

Net neutrality: Faux go-slow

10 September 2014 - 7:12am
DEAR reader, what kept you? Perhaps you were visiting film-streaming service Netflix, discussion forum Reddit, blogging site WordPress or any of dozens of other popular websites where users are halted at an endlessly spinning "loading" icon. If your first thought was to send an angry missive about your internet provision, the stunt has worked.September 10th marks Internet Slowdown Day, an effort by activists and web-based firms to suggest how the web might look if rules proposed by the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) are adopted. At issue is net neutrality, the idea that all data on the internet should be treated equitably, regardless of content or provenance. One of the options mooted by the FCC earlier this year would permit broadband providers—in America, primarily cable companies—to charge certain internet firms for guaranteed levels of service. The cable companies have their eyes on Netflix in particular, whose streamed entertainment sometimes accounts for over a third of all wired download traffic in America, often in competition with their own on-demand offerings.In Silicon Valley, where a level playing field is seen as a founding principle of the internet and start-ups consider connectivity an inexhaustible resource, this did not go down well. An open market of internet fast and slow lanes would chill innovation, opponents (and The Economist) have ...

Alibaba’s IPO: The journey of 102 years begins

6 September 2014 - 6:33am
UK Only Article:  standard article Fly Title:  Alibaba’s IPO Rubric:  At long last, Alibaba reveals details of its massive public flotation Byline:  V.V.V. Location:  SHANGHAI Main image:  20140913_WBP501_473.jpg “DEAR investors,” begins the letter from Jack Ma, a remarkable Chinese entrepreneur who has risen from an obscure life as a teacher to become one of the world’s richest businessmen. “If you invest with us, you will be embarking on a journey with Alibaba.” The missive from Mr Ma (pictured), the founder and chairman of China’s largest internet firm, is part of an amendment to the firm’s prospectus filed on September 5th with America’s Securities and Exchange Commission. This long-awaited update reveals the most anticipated bit of financial news in a long while: how much Alibaba’s shares will cost during its forthcoming initial public offering (IPO) in New York. The answer surprised many. Alibaba is pricing its offering at ...

Daily chart: The Great IPO of China

5 September 2014 - 8:26am
Alibaba’s growth from acquisitions THE potentially biggest public share offering in history may happen as soon as next week, when Alibaba, a Chinese e-commerce site, lists on the New York Stock Exchange. It is expected to fetch as much as $20 billion, valuing the firm at $150 billion or more. That would make it one of the largest companies in China by market capitalisation, ahead of massive banks and oil firms and three times the value of proud China Telecom. Alibaba’s growth has been impressive. But it has been partly fuelled by hasty acquisitions—more than a dozen big ones this year alone, to the tune of around $5 billion. They are meant to plug gaps where rivals lurk, such as mapping, social media and logistics. Yet several of the larger ones are only minority stakes. Still, for investors wanting a piece of the country’s e-commerce market, this is the great platform of China. Comment Expiry Date:  Thu, 2014-09-18

Alibaba: After the float

4 September 2014 - 11:08am
UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  The long game Fly Title:  Alibaba Rubric:  The Chinese e-commerce firm faces growing competition Location:  SHANGHAI THE initial public offering of shares in Alibaba, due shortly on the New York Stock Exchange, may raise more than $20 billion, making it one of the biggest IPOs on record, and value the Chinese e-commerce firm at $150 billion or more. But is it worth it? There are certainly reasons to believe so. The firm dominates online shopping in China, which has passed America to become the world’s biggest e-commerce market. In terms of gross sales, Alibaba is bigger than eBay and Amazon combined. And unlike Amazon, Alibaba makes significant profits. Bolstering the case for optimism is the firm’s recent performance. Revenues shot up 46% in the second quarter, year-on-year, to top $2.5 billion; and profits almost trebled to $2 billion. There were worries, as there had been about Facebook, that Alibaba might stumble in the transition from desktop ...

Technology: Will the internet eat your brain?

28 August 2014 - 10:55am
UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  That sinking feeling (again) Fly Title:  Technology Rubric:  A neuroscientist warns Mind Change: How Digital Technologies are Leaving their Mark on our Brains. By Susan Greenfield. Rider; 368 pages; £20. Buy from, A PICTURE doing the rounds on social media a few months ago showed two Hong Kong lovers hugging on a train. Resting their heads on each other’s shoulders gave the girl and her boyfriend an ideal vantage point to gaze lovingly at the smartphone that each was fiddling with behind the other’s back. It was meant to be funny. But for Susan Greenfield, a British neuroscientist, this is no joke. For several years Lady Greenfield has been warning of what she sees as the dangers of computers and the internet, as they move out of the office and into people’s living rooms, pockets and personal lives. She has written newspaper articles and given lectures about the dangers of the digital world. She frets, worrying that smartphones and social networks are sucking users into an unsatisfying digital ...

Online gaming: Streaming down the Amazon

28 August 2014 - 10:55am
UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  That sinking feeling (again) Fly Title:  Online gaming Rubric:  Why Amazon is buying a video-game streaming site ON OCTOBER 4th 2013, tens of thousands of gamers packed the Staples Centre in Los Angeles to watch SK Telecom T1 triumph over Royal Club in the annual finals of “League of Legends”, a team-based video game; 32m people watched the games live at some point, about 50% more than watch “Sunday Night Football”. But they did not watch on television. They used, a website founded in 2011 that streams live video directly to users’ computers. On August 25th Amazon announced that it would buy Twitch for $970m, an indication of the growing importance of video-streaming websites. Amazon was not the only one interested: a few months ago Google had been rumoured to be on the verge of offering $1 billion for the firm as well. Video-streaming websites are not new. was spun out of, a site set up in 2007 to allow Justin Kan, one of its founders, to broadcast his life to anyone who was interested. ...

Computer security: Hacking the banks

28 August 2014 - 5:41am
UK Only Article:  standard article Fly Title:  Computer security Rubric:  Who lies behind the latest cyber attacks on JPMorgan Chase? Location:  SAN FRANCISCO Main image:  20140830_FNP503_473.jpg ROBBING a bank used to require a gun and a getaway car. Now hackers can attack financial institutions with a few clicks of a computer mouse. According to reports on August 27th from Bloomberg, America’s Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is now investigating a series of cyber-intrusions at several American banks, including JPMorgan Chase, one of the biggest. The attackers are said to have siphoned off large amounts of data, including customers' bank-account details. Quite what their motive is remains a mystery. One theory is that the attacks are the work of Russian hackers retaliating against international sanctions imposed as a result of Russia’s involvement in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. Another suggests that they are the work of criminals trying to profit from the data they pilfer. The ...

Video-game streaming: A new media monolith

27 August 2014 - 6:45am
UK Only Article:  standard article Fly Title:  Video-game streaming Rubric:  Why is Amazon paying $970m for Twitch, a video-game streaming startup? VIDEO GAMES were once thought to be the preserve of certain types of people, playing alone in dimly-lit rooms. But for the players of "Dota 2", a multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) video game, who gathered in Seattle, Washington in mid-July, the experience was altogether different. They were there for “The International”, an annual tournament with a prize pot of nearly $11m. In addition to the 10,000 daily visitors who watched the games in person, up to 20m viewers watched the competition on Twitch, a video-games streaming website. Surprising as it may seem to those not part of this select world, Amazon said on August 25th that it would pay around $970m in cash for this Twitch, whose main purpose is to let youngsters watch each other playing games. The reason for the internet-retailing giant's interest is that the big audiences Twitch is gathering are turning it into a significant force in online media. The premise of Twitch is simple: viewers go to the website and are presented ...

Music and shopping: Beware of Beethoven

21 August 2014 - 11:15am
UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  What China wants Fly Title:  Music and shopping Rubric:  What you hear affects what you buy online Main image:  20140823_WBD001_0.jpg EVER since Muzak started serenading patrons of hotels and restaurants in the 1930s, piped-in music has been part of the consumer experience. Without the throb of a synthesiser or a guitar’s twang, shoppers would sense something missing as they tried on jeans or filled up trolleys. Specialists like Mood Media, which bought Muzak in 2011, devise audio programmes to influence the feel of shops and cater to customers’ tastes. The idea is to entertain, and thereby prolong the time shoppers spend in stores, says Claude Nahon, the firm’s international chief. Music by famous artists works better than the generic stuff that people associate with Muzak. The embarrassing brand name was dropped in 2013. Online shopping is an under-explored area of merchandising musicology. A new study commissioned by eBay, a shopping website, aims to ...

LinkedIn: Workers of the world, log in

14 August 2014 - 10:59am
UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Back to Iraq Fly Title:  LinkedIn Rubric:  The social network has already shaken up the way professionals are hired. Its ambitions go far beyond that Location:  MOUNTAIN VIEW, CALIFORNIA Main image:  20140816_WBD001_0.jpg A LOT of room in an office is a sign either of a blossoming company or a shrivelling one. Happily for Frank Han, the empty space at Kenandy, a cloud-computing company in Redwood City, a few miles south of San Francisco, indicates the former. As manager of “talent acquisition”, he is busy filling it. Since he joined Kenandy last October, Mr Han has recruited 32 of the nearly 80 staff. At some point when hiring half of them, he used LinkedIn. LinkedIn, based a bit farther south in Mountain View, had its origins in 2002 as a “network of people”, says Allen Blue, one of its founders. “We had in mind a tool for ourselves,” he explains, “and we were entrepreneurs.” People ...

Babbage: August 12th 2014: Probing questions

12 August 2014 - 2:28pm
THIS week our correspondents discuss the Rosetta space probe's triangular "orbit", and the reality of net neutrality Comment Expiry Date:  Wed, 2014-08-27

Daily chart: Comparing conflicts

12 August 2014 - 9:57am
The disparity of attention and casualties among global conflicts LARGE demonstrations in support of Gaza are taking place across Europe. Unease about the situation in Ukraine consumes people's minds. Though it has long been known that there is little correlation between the attention paid to conflicts and their level of casualties, the disparity is depressing. Since the start of the year, an estimated 30,000 people have died in Syria, about 20 times the number in Ukraine—though the latter gets far more attention in terms of Google searches. Likewise, the war in Iraq resulted in thousands of deaths so far this year. Yet it was largely out of mind until June, when the Islamic State offensive intensified, and again last week, as America announced air strikes. Searches for Gaza and Israel have waned over the past fortnight, as searches for Iraq and Syria picked up. And some conflicts get almost no attention at all. At least 2,500 have died in the Central African Republic this year, but Google searches for the African country (not shown) have been basically non-existent.   Comment Expiry Date:  Wed, 2014-08-27