In/Flux: Facebook secrets now searchable. Also: What does the Microsoft shakeup mean?

Also, can big data make Seattle greener? How to avoid unexpected Facebook graph search embarrassment and how Washingtonians can benefit from Apple's price-fixing debacle.
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Steve Ballmer

Also, can big data make Seattle greener? How to avoid unexpected Facebook graph search embarrassment and how Washingtonians can benefit from Apple's price-fixing debacle.

Your embarrassing Facebook secrets now searchable

For months Facebook has been testing Graph Search, a function that itemizes user data into an easily searchable form. Search “People in Seattle who like the Republican Party” and voila, over a hundred local contrarians pop up. Last Monday the company started rolling it out globally, and already people are getting creative with it.

For those who haven't yet gotten around to strengthening their Facebook security settings, this is a public service announcement: It’s time to get on that. To illustrate, we point out that several locals are public fans of Ashley Madison, a service that helps people cheat on their spouse. At press time, companies that hire Seattleites who like “stealing” include Microsoft and GameStop. And for some professionals, publicly liking “weed” or “getting high” may not be a boon for their careers, recent ballot initiatives notwithstanding.

There’s an expression that “If you’re not paying for it, you’re the product.” With Facebook attempting to convince disappointed investors that the company’s finding new revenue streams, they’ve been pulling out all the stops to organize their data in a way that’s useable to marketers, and moderately compelling to others. Users should be prepared for more of this sort of thing.

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Apple fixing prices? 

Even by the litigious standards of the tech world, it was a banner week for Apple and Amazon. And one that could yield cash for thousands of consumers.

Back in 2009, Apple decided to enter the e-book market, on which Amazon had a firm stranglehold. The problem was Amazon sold e-books at a loss in order to drive sales of the Kindle, something book publishers and Apple weren’t keen on. Flash forward a few months, and the e-book prices from nearly every major publisher spiked, coincidentally at the same time Apple launched their iBookstore.

Last week a federal court ruled that Apple engaged in an illegal price fixing conspiracy with publishers, in a case brought against them by the federal government and 33 states. This verdict opens Amazon up to reassert itself as the 800 pound gorilla of the e-publishing world, discounting books at will and driving out competitors like Apple and Barnes & Noble.

What this could mean for local consumers is murkier. While Apple says they will appeal the decision, they’re likely going to pay damages, and those who bought an e-book in the past few years are potentially looking at some compensation. Washington wasn’t one of the states participating in the case, but a private class action has already been filed to represent WA’s digital book buyers. According to Janelle Guthrie, spokeswoman for the WA Attorney General's office, “Washington consumers will still benefit from this action.”

Seattle turns Big Data into energy savings

A lot of hype has been spun around “Big Data,” a term vaguely referring to – you guessed it – analyzing vast troves of information. Touted as the key to the utopian social engineering of tomorrow (or at least better marketing), more examples appear of its potential every year. Last week Microsoft and partners moved to prove its worth further.

Microsoft, working with the City of Seattle and City Light, has launched a pilot named “High Performance Buildings” project, aimed at using data to reduce energy consumption in Seattle’s commercial buildings. The project is a joint venture between Microsoft, management consulting firm Accenture and Seattle 2030, a collaborative group of downtown property owners out to slash Seattle’s energy consumption in half.

Brian Geller, Executive Director of Seattle 2030, tells Crosscut these savings will be created through the intensive analysis of building energy use, on such areas as heating and cooling systems, and will allow building managers to dictate where modifications and process changes are needed. According to Geller, if this system is adopted by enough additional buildings beyond the pilot, it “could help us reach our collective 50 percent energy reduction goal well before 2030.”

Microsoft shake-up

Microsoft’s long-rumored “reorganization” is underway. On Thursday, CEO Steve Ballmer sent a public memo to employees, announcing a complete restructuring of the company. The transition is in its early stages, however, and beyond the who’s-in-who’s-out management shuffle and department streamlining, it’s tough to make heads or tails of it quite yet.

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Ballmer claims the changes would help create “One Microsoft.” That's in contrast to the current system, in which separate departments are known to be fiercely independent. Microsoft has been touting a more integrated company for years now, and reshuffles have become an annual event. That said, this is one of the company's most significant shake-ups, streamlining its product buckets down to four areas: operating systems, apps, the cloud and devices. This could conceivably curb the infighting that has slowed the company's progress at times.

Furthermore, Ballmer has made some serious management changes. Some, such as putting Windows Phone OS lead Terry Myerson in charge of all operating systems and Bing chief Qi Lu in charge of apps, make sense. Others are less intuitive, such as making Julie Larson-Green – a company veteran who’s focused on software before now – the head of hardware engineering for the Surface, Xbox and other future devices.

Proponents are claiming this could lead to a leaner, more collaborative Microsoft. On the other hand, this reorg assimilates some of their most successful projects – such as Xbox and MS Office – into the overall company, potentially leading to reduced flexibility in some areas. There are also rumors that lower performing products, such as the Bing search engine, could be left in the cold over time.

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Tech Bytes from Elsewhere

  • Where the Wild Things Are: WalkScore creates a “heat map” of crime in Seattle. One takeaway: Ballard is surprisingly serene.

  • The Truth Hurts: Facebook announces that “We will make our product worse, you will be upset, and then you will live with it.” Sure it’s an Onion parody, but let’s be real: at some point this has been said in Facebook HQ.

  • Go Go Gadget Prophesy: The 1980s cartoon Inspector Gadget was spookily ahead of its time.

  • Minor Mind Melds: This summer’s best monster movie, Pacific Rim, features mammoth robots controlled by psychic-linked pilots. Could it happen? Maybe?
  

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About the Authors & Contributors

Drew Atkins

Drew Atkins

Drew Atkins is a journalist and writer in Seattle, and the recipient of numerous national and regional awards. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Seattle Times, The Oregonian, InvestigateWest, Geekwire, Seattle Magazine, and others. He also previously served as the managing editor of Crosscut. He can be contacted at drew.atkins@crosscut.com.