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Coming of Age at the Dawn of the Social Internet

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Coming of Age at the Dawn of the Social Internet

Like so many millennials, I entered the online world through AOL Instant Messenger. I created an account one unremarkable day in the late nineteen-nineties, sitting in the basement of my childhood home at our chunky white desktop computer, which connected to the Internet via a patchy dial-up modem. I picked a username, “Silk,” based on a character from my favorite series of fantasy novels, with asterisks and squiggles tacked on to differentiate my account from others who’d chosen to be Silks as well. The character in the books was a charismatic thief with a confidence that I, an awkward middle schooler, could only aspire to at the time. But the name was not intended as a cloak of anonymity, because most of the people I corresponded with on AIM were school friends whom I saw every day. Each evening, during my parentally allotted hour of screen time, I’d keep several different chats going simultaneously in separate windows, toggling among them when one person or another went AFK—“away from keyboard.” This was unavoidable in the age of dial-up, when the Internet connection would get disrupted any time a parent had to use the phone line. Being online wasn’t yet a default state of existence. You were either present on AIM, immersed in real time, or you weren’t.

There were strangers online, too, and kids venturing into AOL chat rooms could easily find themselves creeped on or misled. It would still be a few years before members of the boomer generation became fully aware of the risks of letting their children loose on the Internet. But for the moment, among my tween cohort, AOL Instant Messenger felt like a kind of alternative society to the one we inhabited in the physical world. Away messages, the brief customized notes that popped up when a user was idle, became a potent mode of self-expression. Quoting song lyrics was big—Blink-182’s “All the Small Things” seemed like the pinnacle of sophistication—but it was considered a faux pas to copy lyrics that a friend had already chosen. Spotting a copycat, one might make use of another classic AIM move, the passive-aggressive away-message update. “Are you going to be on AIM later?” was a common refrain at school. It meant something like “see you later”—on the Internet, where we were still ourselves but with a heady new sense of freedom.

My second home on the Internet was LiveJournal, an early online publishing platform. Rather than gossiping and dropping hints to one another in abstruse away messages, my friends and I wrote diary entries. Posts on L.J., as we called it, were visible to multiple people at once, so my writing there became a kind of public performance, a way of appearing more self-aware and eloquent than I was in person. Every evening, I trawled friends’ pages to see if they had posted and hoped that others were scoping mine in turn. One night, I stumbled upon the LiveJournal of a friend whom I hadn’t known kept an account on the site, and was mortified to discover that his most recent post criticized me by name. I had evidently complained about not being invited to a party, which the friend considered to be evidence of my jealous tendencies. I closed the Web browser before I could read any more, feeling foolish for not realizing that the kind of scrutiny I aimed outward in my online writings could be just as easily targeted at me.

A slightly older high-school friend named Parker, a budding graphic designer, had built a Web site for herself that included a section for blogging. L.J. allowed us to write about ourselves for an audience, but the nascent world of blogs seemed like something different—an adult pursuit, for those who presumably had something worth saying. (Little did we know. . . .) My friend’s site was personalized and elegant, with intricate HTML page structures and clickable art that she’d made herself in Photoshop, which was then easy to pirate online. She posted thoughts on the artists and bands that she liked. Her Web site seemed like a curated museum of the self, built up gradually and carefully. I was smitten with the site, but also, of course, with her.

I pestered Parker to make me a blog, too. She eventually agreed and hosted it as a subdomain on her own URL, which in retrospect was emblematic of the power dynamic between us. The site has been dead for years, but using the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine I was recently able to dredge it back up. Reading the blog (which I had aptly titled Verbal Diarrhea) was endearing and excruciating at once. I published angsty screeds about the boredom I felt growing up in the Connecticut suburbs, marooned in the woods without a driver’s license. “I don’t have any mystery in my personal life, so I make it up,” I wrote in one post. Parker and I carried out arguments in the comment threads, just the two of us sniping back and forth, cryptically, perhaps on the off chance that someone else was reading. “You killed me in public,” one comment reads, referencing some now-forgotten high-school incident. Parker and I were critical of each other’s narcissism, the way we thought every sign in the world pointed back to ourselves—which was a feature of adolescence, sure, but also a habit encouraged by the Internet, which had given every one of us our own audience, actual or imagined.

I didn’t understand yet in middle school, but in the years that followed I began to think of my online presence as a shadow self. Those aware of it could see it, and I could see theirs—the reflection of their avatars and icons and away messages, the tone of their instant-message chats or L.J. posts. But, for other people who were not so online, it was still invisible, insignificant. I’ve been thinking a lot about this early version of my online self lately as I’ve been writing about latter-day digital culture and taking stock of just how much the landscape has changed. The so-called open Internet has consolidated today around a handful of platforms that serve users content according to the numbing logic of algorithmic recommendations and feeds. Passive consumption is encouraged. Every interaction is surveilled and commodified through targeted advertising.

It’s easy to be nostalgic for the way things were when you were a teen-ager. I grew up online, but time inevitably moved on, and younger generations have become the prime demographic for a new wave of technology. As the writer Max Read recently posited in the Times, perhaps millennials have simply aged out of the Internet. Still, I think something more fundamental has been lost for all of us as social media has evolved. It’s harder to find the spark of discovery, or the sense that the Web offers an alternate world of possibilities. Instead of each forging our own idiosyncratic paths online, we are caught in the grooves that a few giant companies have carved for us all.

Gradually, I realized that the Internet was not just a localized community of people I knew in person but a vaster civilization, with virtual cities full of other people constructing and managing their own shadow selves. Early in high school, I began playing Ragnarok Online, a Korean multiplayer role-playing video game that allowed me to commune with thousands of other users playing at the same time. The game, a predecessor to ones like World of Warcraft, turned the Internet’s burgeoning interactivity into full color, motion, and sound, literalizing the idea of a “virtual world.” I was hooked; there are years of my life from which I have more memories of playing Ragnarok than I do of going to school. Still sitting in the basement of my childhood home, I was now hanging out with people from all over the world. The players from Thailand often wrote “555” in the in-game chat room, which I eventually gathered was phonetic in Thai for “hahaha.”

During study-hall periods at school, I headed to the library or the computer lab and covertly logged in to Ragnarok discussion forums. Any time I see a color combination of green and gold, the pixelated design of a forum called Merchant Guild still flashes in my mind. What we’d now call being “extremely online” was still a clandestine activity for nerds; there was no social capital to be gained from a facility with the customs of the Web. Talking in the forums, to players I knew only by their pseudonyms and avatars, was the first time in my life that I felt like other people were interested in my opinions. I had developed unmistakable expertise in such matters as which monsters to hunt to gain “experience” points, or why thief characters should always equip themselves with daggers. (I didn’t say it was useful knowledge.) My online shadow self possessed a sense of authority and agency that I lacked elsewhere.

The Ragnarok forums sent me on my first trips down the online rabbit hole. The people I chatted with there would name-drop other sites that they frequented; exploring one led me to yet another. There was a forum about playing guitar (Ultimate Guitar) which sent me to one about the Dave Matthews Band (Ants Marching) and, soon enough, to one for disaffected Dave Matthews fans (UFCK, legendary for its cranks). Perhaps other teen-agers got the same feeling playing on a sports team, running drills or training in the gym together, experiences that I scrupulously avoided. I was inept, undisciplined, and unprepared for those collective activities—except online, where I didn’t need to exist in a body.

By the time I was finishing high school, the digital world I’d grown accustomed to was starting to transform. The proliferation of home Wi-Fi was making it easier to go online. Cell phones, like the 2004 Motorola Razr, became trendy accessories and promulgated the language of text messages—like AIM chats that you could hold in your palm. Social networks as we know them today were emerging. MySpace, which launched in 2003, was the first Web site that my IRL friends introduced me to, having caught wind of it from their elder siblings. (Friendster, MySpace’s predecessor, seemed to be for an older crowd.) When I made an account, I was surprised to find that MySpace tethered my shadow self to my physical person. I was no longer just a pseudonym and a cartoon avatar; the site asked for my actual name and a photo of my face; it told me to list my interests for everyone to see. Before, going online had felt like being a solo hiker, exploring unknown territories. Now I felt like I was putting out a billboard for myself on the highway.

MySpace linked the digital geography of the Internet to the offscreen world in other ways. You connected your account to your friends’ accounts by “friending” them, building a map of your preëxisting IRL relationships, and the site prompted you to choose a “Top Friends” ranking of eight people whose names appeared first in the list. The feature became a source of drama—picking someone for your Top selection was no guarantee that they would pick you—but this wasn’t a problem for me, since I didn’t have more than eight friends in school anyway. Looking back at my long-defunct MySpace page, now populated by broken images and empty frames, I found that I had only fifteen “connections” on the site, including MySpace Tom, the site’s co-founder and president, who was friends by default with everyone who joined.

Compared with the fragmented, D.I.Y. Web I knew, social media felt strangely predictable. User profiles on new sites like LinkedIn or Flickr were templated and surrounded by ads. They offered preset options from categories and drop-down menus—age, location, institutional affiliation—and quantified influence through friend and follower counts. The networks were no longer an escape from the power structures of the physical world but a way of reinforcing them. When Mark Zuckerberg started TheFacebook, as he initially called it, he allowed only Harvard students, then the rest of the Ivy League, to join. In the spring of 2006, all college students were invited, and I eagerly awaited an official e-mail address from the university I would be attending.

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Daily Search Forum Recap: February 21, 2024

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Here is a recap of what happened in the search forums today, through the eyes of the Search Engine Roundtable and other search forums on the web.


Google again says they want to do better with ranking smaller sites in the search results, but do they? Gartner said search volume will drop 25% by 2026, what do SEOs think? Google Ads sitelinks has a weird eligibility bug. Gmail is pushing Google Ads in the interface. The Google App has a toggle between Search and Gemini.

Search Engine Roundtable Stories:


  • Google: We Want To Reward The Best Content No Matter Site Size


    For the past 20 years, probably even longer, the debate about Google giving preferential treatment to large sites over small sites has been a huge topic in the SEO world and that has not changed in 2024 from 2004. Danny Sullivan, the Google Search Liaison, recently said on X, “yes, we should be rewarding the best content, regardless of site size.”


  • Only 20% Of SEOs Think Search Volume Won’t Change By 2026


    The other day, Gartner, a respected research firm, predicted that “traditional search engine volume will drop 25%, with search marketing losing market share to AI chatbots and other virtual agents.” So I asked SEOs what they think and only 20% of SEOs think search volume won’t change by 2026.

  • Google Ads Sitelink Unknown Eligibility Bug


    Google Ads has an issue with some sitelink assets where it shows the sitelinks are eligible but “limited” and the reason says “unknown.” Google’s Ads Liaison said, “the team is aware of this issue and currently on it.”

  • Google Pushing Google Ads Consults In Gmail Accounts Pop Ups


    Google is pushing some businesses to sign up for a free Google Ads consult with a Google representative through their Gmail accounts. This is in the form of a pop up in the Gmail interface, it is not a normal spammy email solicitation but rather a pop up.


  • Google App Adds Toggle Between Search & Gemini


    The popular Google app, the Google Search app, now has a toggle at the top to quickly switch between Google Search and Gemini (formerly Google Bard). It shows up at the top and is defaulted to Google Search with the super G logo but you can see the Gemini logo that you can tap on to switch to Gemini.



  • Googlers Built & Donated Skateboards


    Here is a photo from the Google Palo Alto office of some members of the Google Cloud team building and then donating skateboards. They had some event where they made skateboards and helmets for an organization named Friends for Youth.

Other Great Search Threads:

Search Engine Land Stories:

Other Great Search Stories:

Industry & Business

Links & Content Marketing

Local & Maps

Mobile & Voice

SEO

PPC

Other Search

Feedback:


Have feedback on this daily recap; let me know on Twitter @rustybrick or @seroundtable, on Threads, Mastodon and Bluesky and you can follow us on Facebook and on Google News and make sure to subscribe to the YouTube channel, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts or just contact us the old fashion way.



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Empowered by AI and Automation in the Telecommunications Sector

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Empowered by AI and Automation in the Telecommunications Sector

The 5G Revolution is Empowered by AI and Automation in the Telecommunications Sector

The convergence of artificial Intelligence (AI) and automation has ushered a transformative era in the telecom sector.

In the telecoms industry, the sheer power and performance of 5G arguably takes us to that tipping point. The scope and scale of 5G is transformational but the resulting networks are too complex for people to operate cost-effectively without the use of AI, automation tools and cognitive technologies.

Yes, 5G affords endless opportunities for revenue, productivity and experience upsides and broader impact too, for example sustainability – but telecoms players will never make the very most out of 5G without automation, prediction, and orchestration tools. And especially so in a context of rising pressures and challenges, from rising data storage costs and the complexity of wireless/wireline convergence across multiple domains, to managing legacy systems and growing capital intensity needs, alongside addressing data quality, accessibility, literacy and data harmonization at individual and organisational levels.

Indeed, recent CSP research by Nokia available here finds that only 6% of respondents believe they are at the most-advanced level of automation, that reliant on AI and Machine Learning. No wonder then that research by SkyQuest finds that AI within telecoms is expected to attain a $10.4 billion valuation by 2030 and that collaborations are pivotal to underpin these advances, an excellent example being the recent partnership between MediaTek and NVIDIA – one poised to foster the next-generation of always-connected intelligent vehicles, embedded with the latest AI and computing capabilities.

Clearly, it is no longer a question of whether to adopt AI – but where and how to get started.

What Does AI Offer for 5G Networks?

The fifth generation of cellular networks (5G) is significantly more complex than its predecessors due to factors such as increased cell density, differentiated service requirements, and coexistence with legacy networks. Traditional operations and management solutions, which heavily rely on human intervention therefore become increasingly infeasible to support such complex networks at a reasonable and efficient operating expense.

AI can be applied at all stages of a telecom providers operations. AI simplifies deployment and network management by automating processes, improving network planning and forecasting, and optimizing resource allocation. It enhances service quality by prioritizing critical applications and services, ensuring ‘friction-free’ user experiences, especially in demanding contexts such as highly immersive and interactive metaverse scenarios. Further, AI contributes to higher network efficiency by analysing traffic patterns and device usage, enabling intelligent resource distribution based on real-time demand, whilst also helping to minimize the volume of data generated by client devices.

AI-driven analytics also improve network security by detecting and mitigating threats in real-time, while predictive maintenance reduces downtime and enhances reliability. Further still, AI can support more intelligent operations for sustainability benefits which can range from RAN energy reduction, optimised and reduced site expansions through AI driven capacity planning, and a significant reduction in CO2 via virtual drive testing approaches. It’s clearly a very broad set of benefits – let’s explore some key examples now in more detail.

AI and Automation to Boost 5G Profitability and Value

Of all the ‘tech pairings’ within today’s ‘Age of Convergence’, I believe the combination of AI and Automation is the leading catalyst for innovation, especially within telecoms. Automation improves customer service levels and enhances customer experience by executing and streamlining routine pre-defined tasks and reducing the need for manual intervention to improve network quality – and combined with AI – to offer increasingly personalized services too, further enhanced by superior insights into customer behaviours and preferences. This optimizes ‘Quality of Service’ by identifying and prioritizing critical applications and services, ensuring smooth user experiences even during high-demand scenarios. Compliance navigation is another growing use case.

Furthermore, AI algorithms can analyse and learn from massive amounts of multidimensional data, including cross domain in nature and in real-time to advance data-driven inference / prediction, decision-making and predictive analytics, for example automatically predicting traffic patterns and optimizing network resources. This dynamic adjustment of network parameters leads to improved network performance. Together, better customer service and improved network performance aids in both retaining and attracting customers. Given rising operational challenges such as tool sprawl, alert overload, burnout and talent shortages, I believe this improvement can equally support employee retention and onboarding too. Indeed, new research by Webex has shown the benefits of AI for both communication and wellbeing, more on this here.

AI can also help reduce capital expenditure by optimizing network performance including ensuring observability, coverage auto-optimizing and improving resource allocation. By analysing traffic patterns, device usage, engineering parameters and other factors, AI can automatically adjust network settings and reroute traffic in real-time, ensuring efficient utilization of network capacity – while pointing network planners to the best routes for upgrade and expansion.

Overall, AI supports more efficient management of network capacity leading to reduced infrastructure costs. When AI is applied to network management it also opens doors to new revenue streams by maximizing network capacity. This maximized capacity enables the provision of value-added services, such as personalized offerings to improve customer experience alongside advances such as zero-tech optimization and operations, with continual and real-time performance improvements, empowered by AI’s self-learning at scale.

How Does Performance and Optimization with AI Work? – Examples in Practice

AI is employed for intelligent beamforming in massive MIMO systems, improving signal quality and coverage, particularly in densely populated urban areas. AI can also increase the number of services operating concurrently whilst helping to prevent service disruption. When AI-powered predictive maintenance is applied to 5G infrastructure, operators can proactively identify potential issues before they cause network outages, thereby reducing downtime and mean-time-to-repair, enhancing service delivery and reliability, whilst all helping to ensure a frictionless user experience.

Additionally, Network Slicing in 5G technology enables the segmentation of the network into distinct, isolated portions, each tailored to specific needs. Artificial intelligence affords 5G ‘smart slicing’ – this by dynamically and automatically managing and optimizing these slices according to the specific applications and services they support. This close and adaptive management ensures optimal performance and resource allocation for each slice, and each with its own characteristics and service level agreements.

Finally, AI can also support discovery – beyond areas such as consumer behaviours, preferences, pain points and segmentation to broader use cases such as smart manufacturing, massive IoT and ultra-reliable low-latency communication, whilst also evaluating the feasibility and profitability of each!

AI to Boost 5G Network Security

Cybersecurity is afforded a huge boost with AI, as algorithms analyse network traffic patterns to identify anomalies and potential security threats, such as malware. This real-time analysis enables network operators to detect and respond to security threats quickly, reducing the risk of network breaches and protecting users’ data, something ever more critical given the rising diversification in threat approaches as cyberattacks continue to escalate in scope, scale and sophistication – and with the associated costs brought into sharp focus here (research by Secureworks).

AI and Machine Learning algorithms continuously detect and mitigate security threats in real-time, making 5G networks more secure against various forms of cyberattacks. That includes through behavioural analysis: AI-driven behavioural analysis helps detect unusual patterns in user activity or network behaviour, signalling potential security breaches.

By monitoring and analysing user behaviour, automated security can identify suspicious activities and alert network operators to take appropriate action. Indeed, AI-based analytics tools can detect more subtle nuanced patterns in network traffic, helping mobile network operators (MNOs) identify and respond to sophisticated cyber threats.

These advanced analytics tools go beyond traditional rules-based detection systems, providing a more robust and proactive defence against AI-based malware and other emerging threats.

360 Degrees of AI-Powered Automation Benefits… on the Edge

Network operations, known to be one of the most complex aspects of a MNOs business, are crucial for a network’s success. These operations demand coordination across large business units, but the sheer capabilities of 5G have made network operations tough for humans to run.

AI simplifies these tasks, removing the complexity, by enhancing functions everywhere – from in-store experiences to call centre efficiency to network management. Telcos are increasingly adopting AI to optimize these service operations, and much of the action is at the edge: out in the field.

Indeed, edge AI is a significant focus for MediaTek, a global leader in semiconductor technology, emphasizing local AI processing in devices rather than relying on cloud-connected support: just the right fit for 5G networks that are by definition highly distributed. Thinking about smartphones specifically, with some 5 billion in use already, I believe the rise of on-device AI is set to transform these most ubiquitous of devices.

And thanks to MediaTek chips, MNOs can achieve real-time processing all at low power consumption – at the extremes of the edge. Edge AI from MediaTek includes Deep Learning Accelerators, Visual Processing Units, Multicore Scheduler, and Software Development Kits. In addition, MediaTek has recently announced it’s leveraging of Meta ’s Llama 2 Large Language Model (LLM) alongside its advanced APUs and NeuroPilot AI Platform.

This paves the way for on-device processing of Generative AI applications with the intent to build a complete edge computing ecosystem with the acceleration of AI application development embedded by design – across smartphones, smart-home, IoT, automotive and other edge devices.  And in respect to vehicles specifically, you can also explore news of the partnership between MediaTek and NVIDIA here – a collaboration set to advance the next-generation of always-connected intelligent vehicles, and with the latest AI and computing capabilities.

Final Thoughts

The complexity of 5G networks necessitates the ‘power pairing’ of AI and automation for efficient, cost-effective and sustainable operations. By simplifying management, enhancing forecasting, optimizing resources, bolstering proactive security, minimizing downtime, and improving the customer and employee experience alike, AI unlocks the full promise of 5G for telecoms while boosting revenues — making its adoption imperative. In addition, the benefits of AI can exist across a continuum of compute: from on-device, to cloud, edge cloud, multi-access edge compute (MEC) or datacentre.

And with Edge-AI specifically, as exemplified by MediaTek’s continuing innovation at the edge, I believe this is raising the game in the augmentation of human intelligence and the enablement of hyper-personalization, privacy, security, and responsiveness – by design.

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Daily Search Forum Recap: February 20, 2024

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Here is a recap of what happened in the search forums today, through the eyes of the Search Engine Roundtable and other search forums on the web.


Google adds support for product variant structured data. Google local pack is testing showing prices. Google Merchant Center now requires you to tag images as AI generated. Google Merchant Center updated its estimate delivery time calculations. Sites using the Google Indexing API incorrectly are often low quality and spammy says Google. Google Search can wait on hold for you for customer service to answer.

Search Engine Roundtable Stories:




  • New Google Search Support For Product Variant Structured Data


    Google announced this morning support for Product variant structured data. This new structured data supports three new properties; hasVariant, variesBy and productGroupID in order to handle most of the way e-commerce sites list product variants.

  • Google Merchant Center Requires Meta Labels On AI Generated Images


    Google has posted a new policy for Google Merchant Center around using AI-generated images. In short, you need to make sure those images have meta data that labels the image as generated by using AI.

  • Google Local Pack Tests Restaurant Price Ranges


    Google has always shown how expensive restaurants are by placing either one, two, or three dollar signs by the restaurant’s name in the local pack listings. Now Google is testing showing actual price ranges.

  • Google Merchant Center Updates Estimated Delivery Times Calculation


    Google will change how it estimates its delivery times through Google Merchant Center. Starting on April 9, Google will look at minimum [min_handling_time]and maximum [max_handling_time] attributes for processing time in your product data for Shopping ads and free listings.

  • Google: Sites Wrongfully Using The Google Indexing API Often Are Spammy & Low Quality


    John Mueller from Google once again addressed the topic of sites using the Google Indexing API when Google does not officially support those use cases. He said it is not supported first, and he added that these sites are often spammy and low quality – but he stated, “it’s great to see passionate people try to do more with it.”

  • Google Search Can Wait On Customer Service Hold For You


    Google Search is experimenting with a Pixel phone feature that will let you call a customer service line at a company and wait on hold until a real person answers the phone. This is currently a Search labs feature that will let you click a button in search to “request a call” from a “live representative.”



  • Google Search Central Team At Google Switzerland (Webmasterplatz)


    Last week I shared a photo of Danny Sullivan in the Google Switzerland with some of the folks the Search Central team. Well, last week, Daniel Waisberg who was based in Israel with the Search Console team officially moved to Switzerland and is now based at the Webmasterplatz.

Other Great Search Threads:

Search Engine Land Stories:

Other Great Search Stories:

Analytics

Industry & Business

Links & Content Marketing

Local & Maps

Mobile & Voice

SEO

PPC

Search Features

Other Search

Feedback:


Have feedback on this daily recap; let me know on Twitter @rustybrick or @seroundtable, on Threads, Mastodon and Bluesky and you can follow us on Facebook and on Google News and make sure to subscribe to the YouTube channel, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts or just contact us the old fashion way.



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