Farming On Facebook And Other Web Trends

Read the All Tech Considered blog, for more tech news.

Omar Gallaga, technology culture reporter for the Austin American-Statesman, runs through some of the week's best tech stories. This week, he discusses farming on Facebook, the recent renaissance of Internet browsers and a hilarious online musical, Web Site Story.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And from Boston to Austin, to walk us through a few of the other tech stories that are out there this week, I am joined by Omar Gallaga, who covers technology culture for the Austin American-Statesman. Welcome back.

OMAR GALLAGA: Hi Robert, thanks for having me.

SIEGEL: And let's start with Facebook. An increasingly popular Facebook diversion I gather is farming?

GALLAGA: Yes. Yes, farming as unlikely as it might seem. Some of the most popular games on Facebook right now involve virtual farming, as in crops and cattle. Games like Farm Town and FarmVille allow you to create an adorable virtual farmer, a little guy with overalls. And you can plough your fields, plant seeds, harvest your crops, sell them to your friends. It starts out simple, but as you earn money selling grapes or potatoes that you've grown over say 24 hours. But then you can buy animals and buildings and then create your own little agrarian empire.

SIEGEL: But watching potatoes grow just doesn't seem like that's a quick activity that we expect from the Internet.

GALLAGA: No, but what Facebook does really well with this and other games is creating that social element that's added to the game with all of your friends on Facebook. You can chat while you're playing the game. You can sell your goods to other friends of yours who are playing these games. Facebook is really good at taking a simple idea like that and making it kind of a virtual party. What's interesting is that some of the other more popular games before this were things like an online version of Scrabble and a crime game called Mafia Wars. But I'm not sure anyone expected farming…

SIEGEL: Farming…

GALLAGA: …to be the next big thing.

SIEGEL: Okay. Well, on to another item: Web browsers. There seems to be, Omar, a lot of activity involving new versions or improvements to existing Web browsers.

GALLAGA: Yes, all of the major Web browsers from Firefox to Safari to Google's Chrome and Microsoft's Internet Explorer, they've all had pretty recent updates to make them faster, smarter and richer in features. Internet Explorer is still definitely the dominant browser in terms of market share. But lots of speed improvements and interesting features in these. And one of them, Opera, actually has one big new feature that could change the way people surf. They have introduced Opera Unite which basically turns your Web browser into a file server.

You can share music, photos, create instant chats and what's different about this is that you're doing all this within your own personal Web browser. You're not going to a Web site to do it or using a third party piece of software. So that could definitely be a big game changer if a lot of people adopt and start using it.

SIEGEL: Okay. Also, a big anniversary in the tech world.

GALLAGA: Yes. The Sony Walkman just celebrated its 30th anniversary on July 1st. Much as the iPod did much later, it changed the way people listen to music. And that - even though Sony's fallen on hard times recently, their legendary products still makes new fans even now. Over on the BBC News, they got a 13 year old named Scott Campbell(ph) to give up his mp3 player for a week to review the original Sony Walkman. And he was surprised to learn that the tape inside can be flipped over for more music and that it won't shuffle your music for you like iPod.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: It changed the way people listen to music and the way they don't listen to what else is happening around. You shut off, stuff off…

GALLAGA: It seems like an alien artifact to 13 year olds now. It's like what is this, this, this big bulky thing? That plays this - these cassette things.

SIEGEL: Okay Omar, let's close with a bit of fun. An online musical called "Web Site Story."

GALLAGA: Yeah, it landed in my inbox last week. It's - and has been passed around quite a bit. It is from a Web site called CollegeHumor.com. And it's a very clever techie take on "West Side Story" with odes to eHarmony, Pandora, Google Earth and other sites not normally set to music. We've actually posted the entire video on the NPR All Tech Blog at npr.org/alltech.

SIEGEL: And we'll listen to an excerpt from it now. Omar Gallaga of the Austin American-Statesman, thanks once again.

GALLAGA: Thanks for having me.

(Soundbite of Web video, "Web Site Story")

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) Evite, Evite. Did you get the details? I had you down as not yet replied.

Unidentified Man: (Singing) I hate Evite. There's nothing in email. And you have to click through to the site.

Unidentified Man and Woman: (Singing) I was worried while I waited, your picture was updated, and you looked like a dog. Now I can't wait to read about me later on your blog.

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