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Illustration by Krieg Barrie

Private eyes

Technology | Social media sites challenge Google's dominance of internet searching

Issue: "A second chance," Nov. 20, 2010

Google's place as the leading technology for finding information on the web is so entrenched that its name is synonymous with "search." But social media sites-such as Facebook and Twitter-may be ushering in a new era of internet searching. Google's problem is that it can only index the "visible web"-websites that are publicly visible to anyone. But sites like Facebook make it increasingly possible to keep information more secure. While a person may have once blogged about his day on a site that anyone could read, now he might post a Facebook update and only choose to allow friends to see it, effectively barring Google from seeing the exchange.

In this way, it's becoming increasingly difficult for Google to maintain its place as the definitive source of information on the web. Whereas we once might have "Googled" to decide which film to see Friday night, we may now choose to ask our Twitter followers for recommendations instead-and depending on privacy settings, their responses may not be visible to Google. To keep its position of dominance in the market, the search giant is working on a social network of its own-but will it be too little, too late?

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Bites of the Apple

In the United States, Apple's iPhone has been available exclusively on the AT&T network since its release to the market. The original contract between the technology giant and the mobile phone carrier expired this year, prompting rumors that Apple would switch carriers or even make the phone available on various networks, as it has elsewhere in the world.

But although the iPhone is still only available from AT&T-for now-Verizon began carrying the iPad in its stores in late October. Instead of offering the 3G version of the device, which operates over AT&T's 3G cellular data networks, Verizon sells the version that only works over a wireless internet signal, but bundles it with a MiFi, a small device that makes it possible to access the internet over Verizon's networks. The cost for the iPad with the MiFi is roughly equivalent to the cost of the AT&T version, but whereas AT&T's data plan costs between $15 and $25 per month, Verizon's data plan will cost a flat $20 per month.

Buyer's app

No more wondering which toaster to buy-popular magazine Consumer Reports recently released its first iPhone app (priced at $9.99 until January, when it will increase to $14.99). The app provides detailed information, including the magazine's ratings and reviews, on more than 3,000 products, as well as basic information (such as price and user reviews) on 17,000 more. But what's most interesting about the app is its scanner: Customers can scan in the barcode of a product, and if it's in the Consumer Reports database, the app will bring up a report card with an overview of the product's strengths, weaknesses, and performance.

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