Personally and professionally, this past week has been challenging to say the least. I've been virtually AWOL from the web and tried to catch up on a weeks worth of reading this Sunday afternoon.

Here are 10 interesting articles that caught my attention and what I learned:

What you don't know about Facebook: Don Peat of the Toronto Sun reveals some fascinating information about the social media giant including the country with the highest per-capita number of users, average age, number of friends and daily visits of each user and the fact that the Toronto Facebook ( 1+ million and counting) network is made up mostly of women who keep their political views and relationship status private.

Winning substitutes for Super Bowl commercials: With the Super Bowl less than a week away, Tom Hespos of Underscore Marketing gives us three ways to reach broad audiences in other media without having to drop almost $3 million on a single Super Bowl spot. His great suggestions include buying homepages of large portals, dominating online video and creating staying power through widgets. He also includes some hard numbers to put it all in perspective.

Google Generation is a myth: Resource Shelf offers a link to a University College of London research paper that looks at young peoples online behavior and what the information environment will look like in 2017. What is ominous is that although young people demonstrate an ease and familiarity with computers, they rely on the most basic search tools and do not possess the critical and analytical skills to asses the information that they find on the web.

Google feeling lucky in D.C.: According to the LA Times, Google has gone from wide-eyed Washington rookie to making a major statement about its intention to be a player in the nation's capital. They've christened a new 27,000 square feet space in one of Washington's trendiest buildings and kicked off their lobbying efforts by hiring some savvy, well-connected politicos. I don't want to open up a political can of worms here, but I just don't understand the lobby game in the US. Is it really necessary?

Local Online Ad Spend Surge: Local online advertising spending will increase 82 percent in the next five years, according to a study just released by JupiterResearch. Advertisers will spend $8.9 billion on local online ads by 2012. Display, search and classified ads will lead the way. That's up from $4.9 billion in 2007. Not surprisingly, the gains are coming at the expense of local newspapers and yellow pages.

Your Google reputation could cost you your job:
According to research carried out by ExecuNet, 77 per cent of executive recruiters use search engines to help screen candidates. This Globe and Mail article profiles one anonymous individual who's having a difficult time tough finding a job and ominously warns how everyone, whether in the midst of a job search or contemplating one, should take a good look at how their name/brand is appearing in online searches or social networking sites. Prospective employers are and some firms are charging anywhere between $3,000 and $10,000 to clean up their search results!

google me

Google CEO bullish on Mobile Web Advertising: Eric Schmidt was speaking at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland last week. Google's CEO went against the predictions that mobile ads wouldnt hit $1 billion in revenue until 2012. Its the recreation of the Internet, its the recreation of the PC story, and it is before us " and it is very likely it will happen in the next year. I'm not exactly certain the tipping point is withing sight as the technology needs to improve, but hey, who am I to argue with Mr Schmidt?

How Fast is Social Media Growing?: Content delivery network provider Akamai Technologies released some very interesting data relating to the traffic they carry across their network. Akamai handles 7 of the top 10 social media sites and say that, in the last year, traffic to these sites increased more than 5 times over the past year, delivering more than one million requests per second! Another area showing tremendous growth is widget and application development traffic one client had more than 180 million daily widget views. This in fact gives them reach that is comparable to traditional online networks!

AT&T Advertising Announces New Research Strategy for 2008: Those that know me understand my fundamental support of the directories business. Having spent over 10 years with the Yellow Pages Group in Canada may lead some to believe that I'm biased but I'm not. I'm metrics driven and I know that there's plenty of life in the model. I know they're evolving and this weeks announcement from AT&T speak to it. "Broad-based, objective measurement of directory usage is an important part of our strategy to offer proof of the value of our advertising products and to help businesses make smart ad-buying decisions," Moving forward, they've been driven to become among the most accountable forms of media. This new strategy will take into account key metrics that will give a more complete picture of how consumers are using the print Yellow Pages in their buying decisions. I'm sure even critics will be pleasantly surprised. I'll be looking forward to their findings.

Social Media - Are we all just a bunch of sheep?: OK, I may be breaking blogging rules here but I must give props to my colleague Jenn Osbourne's outstanding piece on the behaviour of social media users. It truly is one of the most original and thought provoking posts i've read in a very long while. In it, Jenn speaks to 'GroupThink' which is "a type of thought exhibited by group members who try to minimize conflict and reach consensus without critically testing, analyzing, and evaluating ideas" and how much we should strive to be different.