May 10th, 2012
04:01 PM ET

Instagram: My addiction and affliction

Nicol Nicolson's Instagram page

I made an exhibition of myself on CNN last night.

My dear friend and colleague Ramy Inocencio was proficiently analyzing Toyota’s latest earnings when, 35 seconds into his hit, a pair of arms rose up over his left shoulder. They belonged to me. And they proceeded to run the gamut of soccer-style celebrations: the fist pump, the airplane, the Saturday Night Fever 45° point…  The spectacle lasted 15 seconds but, watching it back, it’s an agonizingly long 15 seconds. And the thing is, as shamelessly scene-stealing as this episode appeared to be, it wasn’t my fault. It was Instagram’s.

While the wider world obsesses over the imminent opportunity to purchase shares in Facebook, I am instead obsessing over Facebook’s latest purchase. Don’t get me wrong. I was "gramin" long before Mark Zuckerberg got his prosperous paws on the photo-sharing site. But as with any addiction, Instagram crept up on me, posing as a harmless hobby before eventually enveloping me in its allure.


April 10th, 2012
10:09 PM ET

Facebook snaps up Instagram

Last week, when Instagram was valued at $500 million, people scoffed.

It's just a simple photo sharing app with only 30 million users and no real business model. How can that be worth $500 million?

Turns out that they were right. It's worth $1 billion instead.

February 14th, 2012
05:09 AM ET

Star Wars, Segmented

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away... or rather in 2009 on the internet, the "Star Wars: Uncut" project was created. More than two years later, it has become a movie. It is a crowd-sourced remake of the original Star Wars film, "A New Hope".  FULL POST

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Filed under: Cult classics • General • Movies • Social networking
February 9th, 2012
10:59 PM ET

Syria's Cyberwar

Since media are strictly controlled by the Syrian government, the internet has played a key role in allowing opposition activists share images of alleged atrocities carried out by security forces. You can argue that a high-stakes war of information is being waged in Syrian cyberspace, and in one battle at least the hacking group Anonymous is claiming victory.

The purported emails of Syrian officials were released by the group on Sunday. (You can read and watch more about that here.) According to the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, the documents were easy for Anonymous to access: they were protected only by the simple password "1-2-3-4-5".

Before Bashar al-Assad was Syria's president he headed the Syrian Computer Society and pushed the country's youth to become more web-savvy. While anti-government activists seeking to oust him are using the internet as a weapon against him, he's also using that experience to his advantage.  FULL POST

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Filed under: Arab Unrest • General • Social networking • Technology
Chongqing's hero cop drama
February 9th, 2012
02:35 AM ET

Chongqing's hero cop drama

The drama many people in China are talking about is not a TV show. It is the real-life mystery surrounding Chongqing's famous police chief and deputy mayor. Wang Lijun was suddenly stripped of his security post late last week. On Wednesday, the government announced on its official microblog that he is on leave for "stress."

A bit of background is needed to understand why this is getting so much attention. Chongqing is the world's largest megacity. It is well known for its crackdown on corruption. Police arrested thousands of suspected gangsters and crooked local officials on 2009.

Wang led efforts to clean up Chongqing. Many city residents hail him as a hero. So his abrupt departure has netizens buzzing. Some say he sought asylum at the U.S. consulate in Chengdu, more than 300 kilometers from Chongqing.


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Filed under: China • General • Social networking
November 17th, 2011
08:56 AM ET

Ai Weiwei: Every sentence I say is monitored

Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei has posted images of himself holding tax documents online, to attest to his innocence of charges of tax evasion. Ai has published the pictures on his Google + page, despite the fact that the Google site is blocked in China.

Chinese authorities say Ai's company Fake Cultural Development Ltd. owes $2.3 million in back taxes, and have threatened to jail his wife – as the legal representative of the company – if the amount is not settled.

The artist paid $1.3 million towards the disputed bill into a tax bureau account this week. The payment allows him to continue to fight accusations of 'economic crimes' that have been leveled at him by the Chinese government.

Ai's tax bill caused outrage among some Chinese netizens and inspired an online movement to raise the cash. Some 30,000 contributors donated money to the artist.

Ai Weiwei told News Stream he plans to challenge the rest of the charges against him, but is not optimistic about winning his legal appeal.

He spoke to us from a park near to his house in Beijing, and admitted his movements are under constant scrutiny.

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Filed under: China • General • Social networking
September 14th, 2011
05:02 PM ET

Li Yang’s love-hate relationship with Sina

Just days after being exposed as having abused his wife on Sina’s microblogging portal, Mr. Li Yang has granted them an exclusive interview.

“As soon as I saw [the photograph she posted online], I thought my personal image has been completely ruined. I was in a state of extreme fury,” Li said on Monday.

As China’s top celebrity English teacher and the flamboyant founder of "Crazy English" which employs non-traditional methods of language learning, Li admitted to beating his American wife and apologized via a Weibo post last Saturday (Sep 10).

In both Chinese and English on his Weibo account, Li apologized to his wife, Kim Lee, and three daughters for causing them "serious physical and mental damage." He later added that they are seeking professional counseling.

This rather overdue apology from Li came more than a week after Lee posted photographs of her bruised face on her Weibo account, instigating widespread online reactions as outraged netizens flooded Li's Weibo with criticisms.


September 14th, 2011
11:41 AM ET

Deadly ax assault in China spurs online buzz

The death of six people, including two pre-schoolers, at the hands of an ax-wielding man in central China early Wednesday, has provoked a heated debate online about mental health.

The attack took place in Gongyi city in Henan province when a 30-year-old man, Wang Hongbin, allegedly began hacking people on the street, according to the International Information Office. He is now in police custody.

The incident is the latest in a series of violent assaults involving children in China. In most cases the attackers were suspected of having mental health problems. In a brazen attack last March, a community doctor in Fujian province stabbed eight children to death out of rage after he was jilted by his girlfriend, shocking the entire nation.

Similarly, the Henan incident struck a chord on China’s social networks, as netizens debated the reasons behind such attacks.


August 8th, 2011
07:56 AM ET

iReport turns 5!

These days social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and Tumblr are integral to most news organizations' news-gathering processes. CNN launched its own user-generated content initiative – iReport – back in 2006, allowing viewers to contribute to breaking news and share their personal stories on CNN.com.
iReport officially turned five on Aug. 2nd. In that half-decade, iReporters have sent us some of the most moving and meaningful footage and images from tsunami zones from India to Japan, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the London bombings and more.  The hardships, the bravery and the skill of our iReporters has only heightened the value of their contributions, enabling CNN's coverage of breaking news stories to be not only more immediate but more emotive.
August 3rd, 2011
12:25 PM ET

Sina Weibo CEO speaks out on China Net freedom... and censorship

Charles Chao

Charles Chao is one of the most powerful men in China.

His Internet empire, Sina.com, hosts hundreds of millions of Net users and online expression that is unprecedented in both scale and intensity.

The mind-boggling statistic is well known - China is home to nearly half a billion Internet users. And Sina's Weibo, or microblog, rules the roost. It's the country's biggest social media site, with sleek functionality compared to both Twitter and Facebook.

Unlike other high-profile China dotcom CEOs, Chao is not a technocrat with an engineering degree. He's a former TV reporter from Shanghai who pursued further studies in the United States. (It's safe to say he's probably the most influential alumnus of the University of Oklahoma School of Journalism.)

I interviewed Chao at Sina.com headquarters in Beijing in mid-June, before the July 23rd Wenzhou train tragedy which has been called a "watershed moment" for the site.

The high-speed train collision killed 39 people and sparked a massive outpouring of anger directed at officials for their handling of the crash. Much of that outrage played out on Sina Weibo. But even before then, Weibo actively played host to fierce online debates about corruption and social injustice in China.

Chao is well aware of the power his Website has in advancing freedom of expression in China. He says: "China has become much more open and much more transparent. People have a lot of freedom to express themselves and Weibo can bring that freedom to a next level. Not only can they express, they can distribute that content and opinions with their Weibo account."

But the Sina chief is also acutely aware of the delicate balancing act he must strike - in growing the Sina Weibo user base in a hyper-competitive environment, meeting the expectations of a Web audience accustomed to speaking their minds, and not offending the Chinese government to the point of a shut-down.


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