Would Apple really buy Sun?
The news that Google CEO Eric Schmidt is joining Apple's board of directors has Silicon Valley afroth with rumors. Schmidt used to work at Sun Microsystems -- so could he be helping to broker an acquisition of Sun by Apple, as tech pundit John Dvorak suggests?
ZDNet's Dan Farber dismisses the idea as "pretzel logic": Google did a distribution deal with Sun recently, its CEO joins Apple's board -- Sun + Google, Google + Apple, therefore Sun + Apple? The math hardly stands up.
It helps to remember that rumors of an Apple-Sun deal are almost as old as the companies themselves. According to Sun co-founder Bill Joy, Ars Technica reported back in January, Sun and Apple almost joined forces six times. The iconoclastic proto-blog Suck.com mused on such a scenario ten years ago -- though at that point, Sun, with a Java-inflated market cap, would have been the acquirer.
Image courtesy of Suck.com
Woman sues Google for removing ads
We thought we'd seen all kinds of click-fraud lawsuits, but this one takes the cake: Management consultant Theresa Bradley has sued Google for, among other things, wasting her time, eWeek's Google Watch blog reports. Bradley's $250,000 lawsuit alleges that her staff spent 100 hours placing Google AdSense ads on Bradley's Brava Corporation website, only to have Google remove them, alleging that Bradley clicked on her own ads in violation of the AdSense user agreement. (For a website's publisher to click on one's own ads is widely considered "click fraud," which is why online-advertising distributors like Google and Yahoo forbid it.)
But Bradley contends that she only clicked on the ads to verify that they weren't for competing products. Google promises to remove such competitive ads on request. And it might seem she has a point there: Without clicking on them, how else would she know whether they're for competing products? Except for one thing... AdSense has a preview tool that lets you see ads' destination websites without actually clicking them on your live site. Nice try, Bradley.
Another thing that seems curious about Bradley's lawsuit, notes Jennifer Slegg on JenSense, is that Bradley's website only has 27 pages. So Bradley's suing Google for her staff having spent roughly four hours per page to put AdSense on her site. The Browser has implemented AdSense before, and it takes all of a minute per page, tops. We have to wonder: Can Google countersue Bradley for being a complete dolt?
Real prez hopeful Warner stumps in virtual game
Mark Warner, the popular former governor of Virginia and oft-mentioned 2008 Democratic presidential candidate, is about to become the "first American political figure to hold an event in the virtual world," according to the website of his PAC,, Forward Together. Warner will be interviewed at 3:30 p.m. EST today in Second Life, the wildly popular online role playing game, by Wagner James Au, a Second Life blogger who has seen just about everything the virtual world can offer.
"But it's still a bit vertiginous," writes Au, "to be in-world standing there in front of the avatar of a man that leading Democratic Party financier Chris Korge ... pronounced 'the one to watch as an outsider in [the 2008] race.'" And Au is even awed by Warner's online physique: "Mark Warner's avatar seems presidential, too--tall, stern, and statesman-like."
Pols going virtual obviously brings new meaning to Tip O'Neill's famous maxim about all politics being local, not to mention taking the message to the "streets." It also would seem to open up a whole new lucrative domain for political consultants: Someone has to design those avatars and sort out where and when candidates should appear, virtually. None of this, however, will surprise the private sector, which, as usual, got there long before Washington. A quick consult of Second Life's Wikipedia page reveals that at least ten businesses have already "operated inside" Second Life, including Adidas, MTV, and, yes, the American Cancer Society.
Photo courtesy of New World Notes
Techies skeptical of FBI's massive antiterror database
The FBI showed off their Investigative Data Warehouse, a massive antiterror database, to reporters yesterday in Washington. They were hoping, says the Washington Post, "to address criticism that its technology was failing and outdated as the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks nears." But some techies were quick to raise concerns, according to the Post. The system apparently has 659 million records, "culled from more than 50 FBI and other government agency sources," and can do what used to take over 32 thousand hours in less than 30 minutes.
Those numbers are impressive, but they make David Sobel, senior council for the Electronic Freedom Foundation, nervous. Sobel told the Post that "the Federal Register has no record of the creation of such a system, a basic requirement of the Privacy Act," and also expressed concern that "the system includes 250 million airline passenger records, stored permanently."
Techdirt, for its part, noted that big databases are inherently unmanageable, recalling a recent story of British workers hacking into government databases to check out friends' data. "With any of these big databases, it's only a matter of time before that data is abused in some manner -- no matter how carefully government officials claim that the data is only used for legitimate reasons."
Absolutely right, say Techdirt's readers. "Even small databases that refer to personal 'soft' data require huge amounts of continual tidying up to correct inaccuracies, out-of-date or subsequently disproved hypotheses and need strong editorial control," comments one. "Who exerts editorial control in a national mutli-agency setting, when the provenenace and quality of the data is unsure? Answer: No one."
What do you think? Is the FBI's antiterror database a risk to our privacy?
To download or not to download books on Google?
Google has taken the next step in its grand plan to bring the world's books online: Web users can now download the full text of "public domain" works as a PDF to their desktops. "Until now," notes The Guardian, "the search engine giant only allowed people to read the...books online." Now, however, Shakespeare's Macbeth, for example, in the form of a 4.2 megabyte PDF, is just one click away. And it comes with this helpful explanation from Google: "This is a digital copy of a book that was preserved for generations on library shelves before it was carefully scanned by Google as part of a project to make the world’s books discoverable online. It has survived long enough for the copyright to expire and the book to enter the public domain."
That may be true for out-of-copyright books, but that hasn't calmed the nerves of certain publishers who are still suing the search engine. The issues are subtle, but chief among them is Google's related effort to allow full text searching of all books, including those that are still under copyright. While Google is not actually allowing downloads - or even revealing the full text - of copyrighted books, they are creating and using a searchable index of the material, which some publishers feel is unacceptable. "This is a battle over "a legal doctrine known as 'fair use,'" CNNMoney reported months ago, "which allows the use of copyrighted material for certain purposes, including teaching, research and news reporting."
Very likely this one will spend years in the courts. In the meantime, as one character says to the King in All's Well That Ends Well, "There's honour in the theft."
Crime-fighting cell-phone cameras
Here's a new twist on high-tech crime. When Web designer Ben Clemens' phone was stolen, he cancelled the service and thought that was the end of it. But software that he'd installed on the phone kept uploading photos taken by a stranger -- presumably the thief, or someone else who'd obtained the phone after it was stolen -- to Clemens' Flickr account. At first, Clemens thought about disabling the uploading software, but concluded that the photos were so cool that he'd let the uploading continue -- which it did for a while until it abruptly stopped. On Digg, posters went into full-on CSI mode, using clues from the photos to help discern where the phone might be located.
While Clemens seems to enjoy the serendipity of the incident, this strikes the Browser as a startup business plan waiting to happen: software that automatically starts taking pictures as soon as you report that your camera's been stolen. In Manteca, Calif., cameraphones are already being used to fight vandalism, but using cell phones to prevent cell-phone theft seems like a more logical move.
Indian state to ditch Microsoft software
The New York Times reports that the Indian state of Kerala has announced it will attempt to migrate all public offices away from Microsoft software: "Naturally, being a democratic and progressive government, we want to encourage the spread of free software," said Kerala's education minister to the Times. Kerala thus becomes the latest government to go activist on the software front, incongruously following the lead of Massachussets. The news has provoked heated debate on Slashdot. Anticipating the pro-Microsoft response, one open-source advocate comments, tongue-in-cheek: "Remember, when downloading free software, you're downloading communism." To which another -- clearly in the minority -- responds with even more sarcasm: "Let's encourage all schools to not teach with Microsoft products... That way, when you graduate - you won't be prepared for the workforce, where most companies do use Microsoft."
Slashdot wars aside, the trend is obviously a concern for Redmond. But commenting in PC Magazine, John Dvorak is quick to dismiss the notion that Microsoft is in for an early death: "I suspect that in five years I'll be hearing once more how Microsoft Office is doomed! Hah!"
Comcast accuses famed Internet site of spamming
Way back when, the Well was known as the "world's most influential online community," with futurists, journalists, and Internet types hanging out in its virtual halls. But these days, the Well seems to have trouble getting its phone calls returned. When Comcast started filtering out e-mail from Well members, according to the San Jose Mercury News, Well communities director Gail Williams wasn't able to get through to a technician to explain why the site was blocked until she contacted Comcast PR.
Comcast later said it had detected spam coming from Well.com e-mail addresses, so it shut down the e-mails. By Tuesday afternoon, Well e-mails were still being blocked, and on Wednesday morning, Well's status page didn't offer any updates on the situation. Yahoo employee and Well customer Jeffrey McManus says that this incident shows Comcast is "not the sharpest tool in the shed" and suggests Comcast broadband customers switch to another Internet service provider.
What do you think? Was Comcast in its rights to block Well e-mail?
eBay plays investment banker
When Google launched Google Calendar in April, the founders of Kiko, a Cambridge-based web calendar startup, knew the handwriting was on the wall. A week ago, Kiko put itself up for sale on eBay. Soon enough, a deal was struck.
"What a deal," writes Caroline McCarthy on the CNET blog. "An eBay user known as 'powerjoe1998' has scooped up Web 2.0 calendar site Kiko for $258,100 in an auction that ended Saturday." Digital Micro-Markets describes the cash as a "consolation prize" for the Kiko execs, who came out of Paul Graham's startup incubator "YCombinator." But at least one seemed relatively pleased by the outcome. On the Kiko blog, co-founder Emmet Shear writes, "I think this venture has proven that auctioning off intellectual property assets is a legitimate revenue route for a company to take. Hopefully others will follow us in this, because so many valuable pieces of software wind up simply abandoned instead."
Well, Shear wasn't the only one to have the idea -- or even the only one this month. In fact, this approach seems to be the newest twist on exit strategies for flailing Internet companies. "A little known, very early-stage Pasadena-based startup, Yoosi.com, has turned to the internet marketplace eBay to try to raise money for the firm's founding team," reported SocalTech on August 9. Yoosi eventually went for a mere five grand, but The Browser senses a trend -- and one that can only be good for eBay. Playing small-scale investment banker could be lucrative for the auction giant, which is always in search of new revenue streams. Who needs Google ads when you've got fee income from brokering M&A deals?
RSS stands for 'Rarely Seen Sites'
You can't buy a latte in San Francisco or Mountain View without overhearing some tedious conversation about RSS, or Really Simple Syndication, and how the technology for distributing blog posts and news headlines is going to change the world.
Well, here's a reality check: Dead2.0 points to recent research that shows that only 1 in 10 people have even heard of RSS, and a mere 2 percent actually use it. That's a pretty lousy adoption rate for a technology which dates back to 1999. (A wag on Wikipedia notes in RSS's entry that even older "push" technology, similar to RSS in concept, introduced in the mid-'90s by once-hot startups like Backweb and PointCast "probably had a comparable marketshare to RSS today.")
Communications consultant Ian Joyce puts the best possible spin on the numbers on his blog: "Digital technologies are an important way to reach influencers." That's marketingspeak, we think, for telling your clients to overspend on unproven media in an attempt to get buzz.
Amazon.com reveals price of Microsoft Vista
How did Amazon.com get its hands on pricing for Windows Vista, Microsoft's long-awaited new operating system? The online retailer is based in Seattle, not far from Microsoft's Redmond headquarters, so perhaps Amazon.com employees picked up word at a local coffee shop. According to Amazon, which is now taking Vista preorders, the OS will be released January 30, 2007.
However Amazon may have gotten its hands on Vista's price tag, the revelation is causing a ruckus online. A new copy of Windows Vista starts at $199, and goes up to $399 for an enhanced edition with TiVo-like digital video recorder features, notes JupiterResearch analyst Joe Wilcox on his Microsoft Monitor blog, where he pulled together prices for all of Microsoft's multiple Vista versions.
The price to purchase a new copy of Vista are pretty close to what Microsoft charged for its last version of Windows. But it's the add-on prices that have people scandalized. As more and more families have multiple PCs, Windows developer Robert McLaws observes that a family of four, each with its own PC, would have to pay $588 to upgrade to Vista. "I'm not even going to mince words here," writes McLaws. "Microsoft, you REALLY boned this one up."
Are you willing to pay the price to upgrade to Vista?
Minneapolis picks local firm to build citywide WiFi network
Minneapolis has spurned national heavyweight Earthlink and given the nod to a small local firm, U.S. Internet, to build out its planned municipal WiFi network. While urban WiFi has been much-discussed for more than a year - notably San Francisco's partnership with Google -- the clear move forward in Minneapolis signals that business model and technology challenges are being being worked out, and city-managed Internet access may yet become as common in American cities as municipal water and electrical services. It's also a reminder that some business, like all politics, is local. According to the Star Tribune report, "U.S. Internet would build and operate the roughly $20 million Minneapolis Wi-Fi network and would offer consumers high-speed Internet service for $20 a month," a monthly fee that would be capped for ten years.
TechNewsWorld has a round up of the municipal WiFi movement, noting that "Anaheim, Calif.; Cleveland, Ohio; Corpus Christi, Tex.; Grand Rapids, Mich.; Minneapolis, Portland, Ore.; Philadelphia; and Temecula, Calif. are working on citywide networks that residents will access at various rates." Despite much talk of bridging the "digital divide," a driving factor in the move to municpal WiFi, notes dailywireless.org, is the need for cities to upgrade their aging emergency communications networks: "the city also wants to replace its expensive cellular radio communications used by police cars with a cheaper and faster wireless data network."
Will Google Apps crush Web-software startups?
When Google announced Google Apps today, a package of Web-based communications and office-productivity software, most of the coverage portrayed it as a straight-up Microsoft vs. Google fight, with Microsoft's lucrative Office suite locked in Google's sights. But in this battle between giants, there may be collateral damage to a host of startups trying to tackle the same business-software market, says venture capitalist and former Business 2.0 Magazine columnist Paul Kedrosky. For all those startups thinking of taking on Microsoft Office -- Red Herring counts 17 of them -- Kedrosky asks a simple question: "Why? What makes you think that you can do it so much better than Google can that the inevitable free Google Apps product doesn't kick your ass out of the office market?"
Well, here's a simple answer: Google's magic touch in search and advertising hasn't translated to hits in any other product category. While it's released dozens of neat little features, none of them is a runaway hit. And Web 2.0 blogger Richard McManus, who's reviewed a number of competing Web-based office-software products from Zoho, ThinkFree, Zimbra, and others, likes the startups' chances.
Will it be Microsoft, Google, or a startup that prevails in the fight to create a Web-based alternative to Microsoft Office?
Ex-Rocketboom star pops up at Popurls
Amanda Congdon, the former anchor of videoblog Rocketboom, has reappeared at Popurls, a website which automatically displays up-to-the-minute listings of the most popular news headlines, videos, photos, and podcasts on the Web. Congdon won't be back on video, though -- she's just posting her own list of favorite links. Robert Scoble broke the news, but declared it "lame" that Congdon was just posting links, not doing an Internet video broadcast.
It appears that Scoble, like many Rocketboom fans, is more than a bit obsessed with catching a glimpse of Congdon. Not only is he downcast that she won't broadcast, but he confesses that he signed up to get an alert whenever her name's mentioned anywhere in the blogosphere: "Oh, Amanda, you think I didn’t build an RSS feed for your name on Technorati?"
Now that's devotion. Or something. Well, buck up, Scoble: Congdon promises to post a proper video announcement about her new gig soon. You'll get to gaze into Congdon's disturbingly doe-like eyes again soon.
Wikipedia turns into a news site
Wikimedia, the parent organization of Wikipedia, has launched a new page which maintains a running count of the most popular search queries on the online encyclopedia. Though only up for two days, the page has caught the attention of Digg readers, one of whom summarizes the list neatly: "Sex, terrorists, and anime.... Well, and some celebs." That's not far off, but the top ten also includes items currently in the news, such as the former planet Pluto and Wii, the new video gaming platform from Nintendo.
Sex aside, the use of Wikipedia as a real-time news monitoring mechanism may be the most interesting aspect of the new page. As another Digg reader remarks: "What gets me the most is that people use Wikipedia like a search engine rather than an [encyclo]pedia." Indeed, the convergence of the open-source encyclopedia and news is just another example of the trend of readers taking control of the news online.
It also reminds us of the famous words of Phil Graham, onetime publisher of the Washington Post: "So let us drudge on about our inescapably impossible task of providing every week a first rough draft of a history that will never be completed about a world we can never understand." Nowadays, though, thanks to sites like Wikipedia, everyone's writing the rough draft.
Chumby, the next step in clock radios, revealed
An Internet-era successor to your bedside clock-radio was unveiled this weekend at Foo Camp, an exclusive geek conference north of San Francisco, and is getting lots of love on the blogs this morning. And perhaps with good reason. The device is called Chumby, and it looks a bit like the name suggests: unassuming and squeezable.
At its most basic, the gizmo, which will be priced around $150 when it hits the market next March, will wake you up in the morning. But instead of FM or AM radio, it can play MP3 files streamed off the Internet, or fire up a podcast, or deliver headlines from your favorite news site. As the Chumby creators explain on their web site, "What we decided to build was a really low-cost, wireless (Wi-Fi), Internet-connected device that will sit on your bedside table (or in your bathroom, or kitchen, or living room, or maybe even plug into your car somehow...) that could do a lot more than this old clock-radio (or your cell phone, if that’s what you use to wake yourself up.)"
What's capturing the collective geek imagination is that Chumby is entirely open to modifications -- not just in its software, but also in its hardware. Michael Arrington at TechCrunch got his hands on an early Chumby and explains it this way: "Don’t like something about your Chumby? Hack it. The founders not only allow it but are actively encouraging modifications... The hardware can easily be ripped out of the shell and put inside something else. The hardware itself can be hacked... Use the USB port to take a thumb drive with MP3s and build a music player widget, for example. Or a DivX player. Or use Chumby to control the air conditioning in your house. Or as a remote control for your television. Etc."
All that hacking sounds interesting, but the damn thing better work when we just need to get up in time for our flight. And one other question. We can't help but notice that the gadget's name rhymes with a certain plasticine figure from our youth. What's with the geek love affair with Gumby?
D.C. police tackle the PSP terror threat
Could a terrorist use a Sony PlayStation Portable to hack into government networks? In theory, yes, writes Robert A. on PSP3D.com, a videogame-news discussion site. "The PSP has all the prerequisites" for penetrating government networks," says Robert: Wi-Fi and a decently powerful computer chip. "What's stopping terrorists and malicious individuals from sending a child, armed with a PSP ... to walk by the FBI ... building in Washington, D.C. (whose wireless networks reach the public sidewalk alongside the building), and gather data which could be used to thwart the government which protects us?"
That's the theory that Robert A. came up with after he innocently parked his car on Constitution Avenue and decided to play a round of Tekken. Sitting there with the car's lights off, he attracted an officer's attention, and soon found himself sitting on the curb, handcuffed, and interrogated by a crowd of policemen. It seemed absurd at the time, and the police eventually let him go, but reviewing the incident later, Robert concluded that the threat was real: "A portable device equipped with wireless capabilities ... is capable of anything," including hacking into government computer networks. The good -- if discomfiting -- news is that if Robert's theory is accurate, the D.C. police are aware of the threat.
What do you think? Were the police right to question someone who was just playing games?
Microsoft bungles Vista HD-movie news
Will Microsoft's new operating system play high-definition movies -- or won't it? The tech world has been buzzing over the news, reported by APC, among others, that some versions of Vista won't play HD-DVDs or Blu-ray discs. At the root of the issue is Hollywood's fear of high-definition movie piracy. The details get geeky, but it amounts to this: While Vista will have built-in piracy protections when it runs on new, 64-bit processors like the Intel Core Duo, older 32-bit machines are not as secure. As APC notes, "by far the majority of PCs use 32-bit processors," so this is not a minor problem.
Yesterday, Microsoft spokesman Steve Riley announced that ÂAny next-generation high definition content will not play [on 32-bit computers] at all.Â Today, however, Microsoft said Riley had misspoken. It seems the content can be played, but only if the studios "certify" the media-player software. That doesn't take away the underlying insecurity, of course, it just shifts the liability from Microsoft to the studios.
Boing Boing has picked up the story quoting an anonymous Microsoft employee who says: "[Windows] Media Player won't play HD-DVD and Blu-ray, but you'll still be able to play them (on XP, even) with third-party programs like WinDVD and PowerDVD, in full HD.... The screwball thing about all this is that essentially the same risks of hacked drivers and whatnot exist with PowerDVD and WinDVD." (PowerDVD and WinDVD are two popular Windows software programs, which aren't made by Microsoft, for playing DVDs.)
So, why the inconsistency? The employee casts doubt on the possibility of a Hollywood vendetta against Redmond, and concludes, simply enough, "The studios all have tech consultants, and many of them are not fools, so... it's probably the usual: Human stupidity rolled up in a big ball."
Ahh, can't we all just agree not to steal? Piracy restrictions just make for endless heachaches.
Internet addiction surfaces in China and New Jersey
The specter of Internet "addiction" is suddenly everywhere: The Guardian reports that Shanghai "has opened mainland China's first shelter for Internet addicts," and Ars Technica picks up a Rutgers University study that suggests "employers who encourage workers to remain connected all the time... may be legally liable for creating an environment in which workers may become addicted to technology."
OK, it may seem a bit farfetched, but then not long ago so too did the notion that cigarette manufacturers could be sued for the health risks associated with smoking. Certainly, it's way too early to sell short those companies with the fastest Web connections and the most generous BlackBerry policies, but the dangerously habit-forming nature of Web access isn't entirely laughable either.
It seems a study by the Chinese Academy of Sciences "blamed Internet addiction for 80% of the failure rate among students." The Browser is sympathetic, knowing how hard it is to pry oneself away from the glowing screen, the compulsive email checking, the tingling of carpal-tunnel-wracked digits.
We ask you: Is the threat of on-the-job Internet addiction bunk, or a legitimate concern for corporate America?
Amazon.com takes on ... Sun?
Almost five years ago, Amazon.com made an announcement that dealt a heavy blow to Sun Microsystems: The online retailer had switched from Sun's Unix servers to vastly cheaper servers running Linux. Amazon cut its technology expenses by $17 million in one quarter -- money that presumably came out of Sun's hide.
Now Amazon.com is looking to take money away from Sun again. This time, Amazon's not just a former customer -- it's an outright competitor. It has launched a new service, the Elastic Compute Cloud, which rents out time on Amazon's servers. Amazon is undercutting Sun's similar Sun Grid service by 90 percent, charging 10 cents per server per hour versus Sun's $1 charge. (Amazon also charges for the volume of data transferred back and forth over the Internet, a charge Sun doesn't have, but all but the most bandwidth-greedy customers are still likely to come out way ahead.)
Initially, Amazon's hoping to target the same startups that are already using its S3 Web-storage service. S3, launched earlier this year, rents out storage space on Amazon's servers to companies like photo-sharing website SmugMug, which stores customers' photos on S3 when SmugMug's own servers fill up unexpectedly. Those startups still had to keep their own servers to run the software behind their websites, however. What EC2 means is that Web 2.0 companies won't have to build their own server data centers at all, says software consultant Sergey Schetinin at his Maluke & Co. blog.
That's good news for Amazon, which is hoping not just to rent servers to startups but persuade them to build in links to its online store through its Amazon.com Associates affiliate-marketing program. Here's Amazon's value proposition: Save money by renting our servers, and make money by funneling customers to our store, where we'll split revenues with you. That's a perk that Sun can't offer at any price.
Apple fans diss .Mac
You know you're in trouble when even your biggest fans say your products don't rate. The Unofficial Apple Weblog has stacked up Apple's .Mac service against Google's Web-based applications, and found .Mac comes up dangerously short. Sure, Apple's Mail software is prettier than Google's Gmail, but its spam-filtering and email categorization features lag far behind Google's, says TUAW. Down the list, from Web storage space to online calendars, Apple comes up wanting. And worst of all, .Mac users are paying $99 a year for the service, while Google users get all their online goodies for free.
The post has mostly sparked sad agreement. On his Surfbits blog for users who have switched from Windows PCs to Macs, Jeff Powell writes that he'd "love to see Apple revamp the service and wow us all over again." If Steve Jobs is serious about declaring war on bad software, he might want to start doing battle with his company's own Web-based applications.
Ex-Comverse exec traced via VOIP call
Kobi Alexander, the former CEO of scandal-ridden tech firm Comverse, fled the United States earlier in the month in the face of an options-backdating investigation. But now he's been tracked down in Sri Lanka, apparently by a private eye working for unidentified hedge funds and/or venture capital firms.
Oh, the wrath of hedgies and VCs scorned. For those new to the story, Alexander, once known as the "Larry Ellison of Israel", built Comverse from startup to a tech powerhouse with over $1 billion in sales. Though worth well over a hundred million dollars himself, Alexander was apparently unwilling to face up to charges related to $6.4 million in improperly backdated options -- so he wired $57 million to a bank account in Israel and disappeared from the U.S. But, perhaps uneasy over Israel's extradition treaty with the U.S., Alexander decided to take up residence in the small Sri Lankan town of Negombo. (Isn't there a civil war raging in that country? Alexander seems to be leaping from the frying pan into the fire.)
But here's the real moral of the story for would-be fugitives: Think twice before you place a VOIP call while on the lam. It seems the VC's private eye had no trouble tracing Alexander's furtive VOIP communications to Negombo. Sounds like using Skype, despite its encryption features, was a bad call.
"The Office" meets Microsoft Office
If you're a fan of the original U.K. version of "The Office," here's a treat for you: A 2003 Microsoft U.K. training video, "The Office Values," has surfaced on the Web, with actor Ricky Gervais reprising his role as the world's worst boss, David Brent. The video is hilarious: Gervais, as Brent, issues cunning management bromides like "Trust no one" and "Keep your good ideas to yourself" -- this, of course, in an effort to reinforce Microsoft's core values of integrity and openness.
Upon watching it, one's first reaction is to think that Microsoft intentionally circulated this video to show that the software giant has a sense of humor about itself. But Microsoft and Gervais didn't approve the release, it turns out, and aren't that happy about the leak. Silicon.com reported that Microsoft's U.K. office, which commissioned the video for internal use, was "red-faced" over the incident. And Gervais for his part, was concerned that the videos' appearance now might lead fans to think he had revived the Brent character, which he has no plans to do, a spokeswoman for the comedian told ZDNet UK.
But what must be especially galling for Microsoft is that rather than popping up on MSN, the videos have surfaced on archrival Google's video website. Click below to watch "The Office Values."
Germans try revamping Wikipedia
Wikipedia, the free-for-all encyclopedia to which anyone can contribute, will begin experimenting with a more hierarchical approach. Jimmy Wales, the site's founder, has told News.com that the German version of the online encyclopedia will soon test a system wherein veteran users approve the content submissions of relative newcomers. Per News.com: "As always, anyone will be able to make article edits. But it would take someone who has been around Wikipedia for some yet-to-be-determined period of time -- and who, therefore, has passed a threshold of trustworthiness -- to make the edits live on the public site."
Though limited to Germany for now, if successful, the move could migrate to the main, English-language site which has struggled with problems of accuracy and vandalism. Ars Technica notes that "the move comes in response to a German court decision early this year that ruled against Wikipedia for publishing the name of a deceased hacker whose family was involved in a court case over his death." Apparently, in Germany, "simply claiming that 'but anyone can edit, your honor!' isn't going to cut it anymore."
What Wikipedia is trying may be new to the site, but it's not new to the Web. eBay members rate each other, of course, and Slashdot readers rate posts, among many other examples. But such rating systems can bring their own problems. Lee Gomes of the Wall Street Journal summarizes the problems neatly (paid subscription required) in an article on the troubles that Yahoo Answers has had with just such a "points economy."
Weird Al lashes out against copyright scofflaws
Unrepentant MP3 pirates beware: Weird Al Yankovic, the original melody rip-off artist, has released a song about copyright infringers. Among the more amusing lyrics of "Don't Download This Song," are the following: "Cuz you start out stealing songs, then you're robbing liquor stores, and selling crack, and running over school kids with your cars."
The irony of Weird Al poking fun at overly strict copyright enforcement is not lost on Slashdotters, who are all over the song: ""Weird Al is distributed under a faux independent label, Volcano Records, which is owned by Sony BMG, who brought us intrusive DRM and is a proud part of the RIAA intellectual 'property' lawsuit cartel. Now I have to get a new goddamned movement for my irony meter!"
How the iPod could leave rivals in the dust
All the buzz this week is about SanDisk's new Sansa MP3 player, which offers twice the storage for the same price as Apple's iPod Nano. It's not surprising SanDisk can offer such a good price, since unlike Apple, it makes its own flash memory and can pass the savings on directly to gadget buyers. News.com is even asking whether Apple has lost its touch, since it hasn't brought out a new iPod model since February.
But Apple's secret with the iPod has always been to jump on the latest technology and package it into a gorgeous device. Back in 2001, with the first iPod, that was a high-capacity, compact hard drive. With last year's introduction of the Nano, Apple adopted flash memory. Now, writes Sean Alexander in his Addicted to Digital Media blog, Apple could be set to take another technological leap, thanks to a $500 million investment it made last November in an Intel-Micron flash-memory joint venture.
Later this year, the joint venture, IM Flash Technology, is set to start making memory chips with unprecedently small circuits, which means more flash memory bang for Apple's buck. (In his blog post, Alexander errs in saying that SanDisk is making chips ten times the size of IM Flash's, but IM's will still be smaller than SanDisk's current line.) So Apple may just be waiting until it can counter SanDisk with even more powerful chips to put inside its iPods. This battle is far from over -- but it will all come down to the chips.
TiVo's newest DVR spotted in living room
Somewhere in the suburbs of New York City, a TiVo Series 3 DVR sits, quietly recording dual streams of quality high-def Cablevision programming. Or so we can gather from photos posted by HDBeat, a high-definition gadget blog, which shows a Series 3 underneath a Cablevision-branded set-top box. Last month, Zatz Not Funny reported that TiVo was notifying retailers and cable companies that its Series 3 boxes were hitting some retail markets.
What's so great about the Series 3? For starters, it can record high-definition TV. It also takes a fancy new CableCard, which obviates the need for a cable set-top box to decrypt digital cable programming. (You still need a set-top box for interactive features, like video on demand, however.) CableCards have proved controversial, however -- Time Warner Cable in Raleigh, North Carolina, first told a user that it wouldn't support CableCards, and then rapidly backpedaled, according to TiVoBlog.
Even if you can get the cable company to support CableCards, you're still going to face an arduous installation process. HDBeat's tipster told the blog it took three visits by a cable technician and four different cards before they got it to work.
Is a dual-tuner HD TiVo worth the bother? Post a comment and let us know what you think.
Grouper makes YouTube a $2 billion buy
Sony's $65 million purchase of video-sharing site Grouper tops the blogs this morning. Most are caught up in the arcane nuances of Web traffic measurement. Why? Now that the Grouper deal has given online video a market valuation -- in dollars per viewer, mostly -- Grouper's larger rivals like YouTube have, at least in theory, price tags on their heads.
TechCrunch crunches the numbers, noting that ComScore says Grouper had 542,000 unique visitors in July, which would imply a value per viewer of $70. The implication? All caveats aside, Marshall Kirkpatrick writes, "... the $65 million valuation on Grouper suggests a YouTube valuation of around $2 billion." Astounding: YouTube's co-founders Chad Hurley and Steve Chen have seen their imputed valuation jump from $1 billion to $2 billion in less than a month.
Rafat Ali at PaidContent.org casts a more jaundiced eye on the news, however, pointing out that "the valuation is not really based on traffic." According to Ali, Sony is paying for "a solid management and technical team," as well as an online video-editing tool called "Groovie." Groovy.
And, lest you thought this market wasn't entertaining enough, Ali thinks there's more action to come: "This probably signifies the start of a shakeup in the video-sharing space," he writes. No doubt.
Is YouTube worth $2 billion? Tell us what you think by leaving a comment below.
New Paris Hilton video hits YouTube
How will YouTube go from time-waster to money-maker? The strategy became a bit more clear as the site launched a branded "channel" featuring Paris Hilton today. The Paris channel, which is paid for by the Hilton label, Warner Bros. Records, a division of Warner Music Group, is the first of many planned pay-for-placement channels on the site, according to TechCrunch. Fox is advertising its television show "Prison Break" on the Paris pages.
It would be tempting to say that YouTube has sold out, but the site has always been a unapologetically pop phenomenon. And, of course, if anyone knows how to turn the -- ahem -- exposure gained through viral video into a business, it's Hilton, who parlayed her online sex-tape infamy into lucrative advertising deals, like those seamy Carl's Jr. commercials.
But will the new channels pay YouTube's million-dollar bandwidth bills? Mashable says yes: "Despite all the anti-hype around YouTube and the recurring question of 'Where's the business model?', I think it's pretty clear that YouTube is a powerful branding platform -- and not just for stars like Paris Hilton." Though the early returns are barely in, Mashable's instincts appear on target. The Paris Channel as already been viewed over 44,000 times and gotten hundreds of adoring comments.
Has Google topped out?
When Web-search market-share figures come out, the story has become familiar: Google's numbers go up, while everyone else's fall. But the story changed this month when the newest figures came out from ComScore Networks. Something unthinkable happened in July: Google's share of Web searches dropped a percentage point to 43.7%.
What does this mean? Barry Schwartz at SearchEngineRoundtable picks up the debate, in which some say that the change in Google's market share is statistically insignificant, while others say it's evidence that Google has "topped out." Garrett Rogers of Googling Google is in the latter camp: "When it comes to innovation in search technology, Google has been relatively static for a long time — maybe users are getting bored?"
Rogers points out that Google hasn't introduced many visible innovations into its core Web search engine. Meanwhile, Ask.com has become newly aggressive under Barry Diller's ownership, rolling out "Smart Answers" that help users refine their search until they get the results they're looking for.
And sure enough, the latest numbers show that Ask has been gaining market share at Google's expense. No wonder Google co-founder Larry Page is going nuts about Google engineers who refuse to work on search results projects that they deem "boring."
Microsoft: Desperate for innovation?
How much for those startups in the window? For Microsoft, the answer is a cool $649 million.
That's how much the software giant spent on startups through its 2006 fiscal year -- more than three times the amount it spent in 2005, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. How are those big bucks paying off? One recent acquisition, Onfolio, has already seen its blogging software released as Windows Live Writer, a product which has gained some positive Web buzz. Other deals are as much about attracting talent as acquiring products. Last year's acquisition of Groove Networks brought Groove founder Ray Ozzie on board, paving the way for Bill Gates to step down last month and give the chief software architect title to Ozzie.
But it's hard to calculate whether individual deals are paying off for Microsoft, since the company generally only discloses aggregate numbers for its startup spending. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is exercising some caution, according to the P-I: It turned down a $500 million deal to acquire a company with less than $20 million in revenues.
But the fact that Redmond even thought about it tells you something about Microsoft's desperation for innovation -- despite its multibillion-dollar R&D budget.
Aussie firm launches VOIP payphone
In a satisfying bit of retro futurism, an Aussie company with the excellent name Pie Networks has launched a coin-operated, Internet-enabled payphone. Who says the old workhorses are on their way out? Australian newspaper The Age writes that the new "WebPhones," which connect to the Web via wireless broadband, will let users "check Web-based email applications, perform online transactions, download music from online retailers, and transfer and email their photographs from digital cameras."
And, naturally, they'll also let you place a call -- using voice-over-Internet-protocol technology. Finally, as an added bonus for those still planning to tote around their laptops, the payphones may also "double as Wi-Fi hotspots."
Surprisingly, Pie Networks aren't the first to think of VOIP payphones. The do-it-yourself crew over at Make built themselves a Skype payphone last year, though that was hardly a commercial venture. It remains to be seen if, in a world of massively widespread cell phones, there will be much demand for Pie's WebPhones beyond its home turf of Perth in western Australia, but it's worth noting that the margins on charging for email may well be better than those on local calling. And it's nice sometimes to travel light. Got a dime? I need to place an instant message.
Photo by junku-newcleus
Google chases the $74 billion TV-ad market
Online advertising is set to reach $26 billion by 2011, according to one projection. But that will still only add up to 9 percent of the U.S. ad market. That's why Google is going after the $74 billion TV advertising market, according to Donna Bogatin at the Digital Micro-Markets blog.
"When you watch the television you see ads that are clearly not targeted for you," said Google CEO Eric Schmidt at the recent Search Engine Strategies conference.
Schmidt isn't just grousing about this -- he aims to change it. Already, the company has started to apply its targeting techniques to the $20 billion radio market it entered through the acquisition of dMarc broadcasting. Now, as the Browser noted back in March, Google is hiring engineers to build similar technology for television, allowing Google to place ads on behalf of advertisers just as it does on Web pages today.
Is the world ready for such a grandiose expansion of the Google empire? Yes, according to at least one netizen. "This sounds great to me," writes blogger Thor. "I absolutely HATE TV commercials, especially how they become up to 50 percent louder than the TV show you were just watching, to 'get your attention,' and I would absolutely LOVE to see what my boys at Google can do with it."
E-passports successfully hacked
Munich-based chipmaker Infineon announced today that it won a contract from the U.S. government to supply chips for a next-generation electronic passport. The Inquirer summarizes the news, noting that Infineon plans to supply chips for "several million passports" -- and that Washington's goal is that, by the end of the year, all newly issued passports will be electronic. Infineon's passport chips, which function using an RFID signal, contain "an encrypted version of a human's name, date of birth, photo and the validity period of the passport."
The Ministry of Tech blog, which has been following e-passport developments closely, says that "countries such as Germany, Hong Kong, Norway and Sweden are also using Infineon's security chip for their electronic passport systems." That might seem reassuring, but the blog reported earlier in the month that German security consultant Luke Grunwald has successfully hacked the new system.
Says Grunwald: "The whole passport design is totally brain damaged. From my point of view all of these RFID passports are a huge waste of money. They're not increasing security at all."
Famster wants to be a MySpace for families
After all the scary headlines about sexual predators on MySpace, it was inevitable that someone would come up with a family-friendly social-networking website. So here's Famster: A certifiably Web 2.0 site designed as a private social network for your family. It even has an online-predator finder -- a feature that Marshall Kirkpatrick at TechCrunch finds a bit distasteful for playing on people's fears. There are other family-centric features built into the site, like a database of 23,000 recipes and an online shopping list.
One small problem with Famster's premise: After spending hours every day in the real world together, why would siblings have any interest in networking with each other, let alone their parents? Sure, moms could lay down the law and enforce the use of Famster for putting events on the family calendar, but that's just bound to make using the site seem even more uncool. The Browser's take: Famster's a cute idea, but it won't work in practice.
Others agree: "I just don’t see people checking in as much as email," writes educational technology consultant Kevin Lim at the Theory.isthereason blog. And Craig Burton asks, "How many social networking sites do we need? I guess you could say 'The bubble is baaaack!'"
Startup launches nationwide "ripoff detector" for airfare
Farecast, a Seattle-based "airfare prediction" website that caught the attention of prominent bloggers when it launched earlier this year, has expanded its service to 55 U.S. cities. The Seattle Times reports on the move, noting that the company has thus far raised $8.5 million in venture capital and that CEO Hugh Crean "hopes to capitalize on the frustration of finding multiple fares for the same destination one week, only to have them change without warning and seemingly without reason the next."
Now that fuel prices are sending airfares skyrocketing, it would seem the market is ready for Crean's innovation. In June, when the site had first launched but was limited to flights to and from Seattle and Boston, John Battelle wrote: "The basic premise is neat -- Farecast pays attention to the market price of all airline fares out of particular cities.... It then uses this data to help forecast when the right time might be for you to buy your ticket (and get the best price). In short, it's a ripoff detector for flights."
Sounds like an innovation that's more timely than ever.
Apple comes clean on iPod manufacturing
After reports surfaced in June of unseemly labor conditions at Foxconn, one of Apple's major contract manufacturers, Apple launched its own investigation. Now, the Mac and iPod maker has published the results. Mostly, Apple gave its suppliers a clean bill of health. The report notes that their pay levels do meet China's minimum wage laws, in response to concerns about the factory workers' low pay. But it also noted problems with a lack of privacy in some off-campus dormitories and a lack of transparency in workers' paychecks due to a complex scheme of bonuses for skills and attendance, as well as deductions for meals and housing. The workers' single biggest complaint? There's not enough overtime available during nonpeak periods.
"Good job, Apple," says The Unofficial Apple Weblog. "Here's hoping that some people's lives will improve just a little bit because of all this." TUAW notes that Apple has hired Verité, a nonprofit which monitors offshore manufacturing sites, to keep an eye on Foxconn and its other suppliers.
But none of this clears up The Browser's original question: Do Apple's iPod workers make enough money to afford even a measly iPod Shuffle?
Dell's big AMD order
Dell has long resisted ordering chips from AMD, saying it preferred to stick with longtime supplier Intel. But now that AMD has succeeded in getting Dell to purchase some of its server chips, analysts believe a lot more orders are on the way. According to News.com, Bank of America's Sumit Dhanda believes Dell will order 2 million AMD chips for the rest of the year -- 1.2 million desktop and server chips and 800,000 notebook chips. By those numbers, Dell is giving AMD 15 to 20 percent of its business. That adds up to a big blow for an already embattled Intel. Is AMD poised to trounce Intel? Leave a comment below.
Fox shamelessly flogs MySpace
The Browser rises early to blog for you lot, but we found ourselves staying up late for the season finale of the "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" comedy series featuring Danny DeVito on FX. And there we saw the Fox cross-promotional machine in fine fettle. "Sunny," of course, has a profile on MySpace, as do pretty much all Fox movies and TV shows since Fox parent News Corp. acquired MySpace last year.
But in a breakthrough for corporate product placement, the episode had an entire subplot tied to MySpace, which included the horror of finding that your parent has a profile on the site, and the frustration of waiting for someone to add you as a friend. For anyone who hadn't heard of MySpace, the breezy banter of the episode's opening scene amounted to a MySpace 101 tutorial. It wasn't subtle, but since when has Fox been known for subtlety?
Will YouTube kill the video star?
Don't count YouTube out yet. After an unplanned outage and discouraging traffic numbers that were released earlier this week, cofounder Steve Chen punched back by announcing boldly that, within 18 months, he expected "to have every music video ever created up on YouTube."
Is that just big talk from a cocky startup guy? Nope: Warner Music and EMI confirmed they have been in talks with YouTube cofounders Chen and Chad Hurley. Finally, to cap off an eventful week, the boys took the site down briefly yesterday evening -- this time, the outage was planned -- and brought it back online with a few new nifty features, notably the ability for users to customize their own MySpace URLs (no more dopey strings of random characters), and the addition of a whole new section devoted to music videos. Watch out, MTV.
Google Talk upgrades, but still lags the competition
One year after it launched, Google has finally upgraded its instant messaging client, Google Talk, with some slick file-sharing functionality and voicemail capabilities, which could help increase Google's market share.
The instant messaging wars have gotten hot again, now that the software includes the ability to make VOIP calls to regular phone lines. As Om Malik notes in his comments on the news, this upgrade is "part of the trend of some demographics turning to IM to manage their online communications instead of email." But Google's young service has lagged far behind the competition in signing up users. That's a rare misstep for the search giant, which is usually good at getting the young crowd to try out its products.
Today's upgrade, however, could give Google a boost. An effusive in-house bloggger at Google describes how the file-sharing works: "You can drag and drop one or more files directly onto a chat window. As soon as your friend clicks 'Accept', the bits will start flowing." And it works even better for photos: "When you drop up to 10 photos on Google Talk, smaller previews automatically appear right inside the chat window, so you can chat about them right away."
While file-sharing has long been a feature in AIM and other IM software, Google's version is easeir to use and, importantly, well-integrated with its popular Gmail email service which should drive adoption.
Cutting citywide Wi-Fi costs
Wi-Fi is beginning to seem less like a coffee-shop frill and more like a civic right, with cities from Philadelphia to New Orleans and San Francisco planning wireless networks that cover the entire city. The problem has been the cost of deploying enough routers to provide adequate coverage, especially in busy areas with lots of potential Wi-Fi users.
Tropos Networks, a maker of wireless routers, thinks it's solved that problem with its new line of routers, News.com reports. The new routers have two radios instead of just one -- one for providing Wi-Fi service, and the other for transmitting the resulting traffic up to the Internet. That means Tropos can provide 50 percent more coverage for an area with the same number of routers, explains Wi-Fi Networking News. As a result, overall network costs could drop about 30 percent -- and that's good news for any city trying to come up with a budget for a wireless network.
That's a nice change of pace. After all, how often do municipal infrastructure costs drop instead of spiraling out of control?
Silicon Valley's blue-shirt army is doomed
Back in the bubble days, a small army of men in blue shirts and khakis acquired their MBAs from Harvard or Stanford, got hired by dotcoms, printed up business cards that said "business development," and then marched from offices to bars and parties, trying to strike deals with other Internet companies. These deals would, in theory, attract more users, advertisers, partners and maybe even revenues. Then the bubble burst, and the biz-dev soldiers scattered to the four winds.
Lately, by the looks of things, the blue-shirt troops seem to be making a comeback on the streets of San Francisco and in the office parks of Silicon Valley. But the Web 2.0 crowd is wondering what the point is. Flickr co-founder Caterina Fake points out that she doesn't have time to return all the biz-dev guys' plaintive e-mails begging for a meeting.
She's glad, however, to let programmers tinker with Flickr's software using an API -- a standard coding interface -- to build something that works with Flickr's photo-sharing service. That's exactly what photo-printing startup Qoop did, and now the company is Flickr's official printing partner -- no biz-dev guys required.
Venture capitalist Fred Wilson weighs in with a half-dozen other examples of deals brokered without any help from biz-dev, like how Technorati uses Del.icio.us's tags to make searching blogs easier. He also points out that when people do strike a biz-dev deal, like Simply Hired did to put job listings on MySpace, customers often ignore it, meaning all of that blue-shirt dealmaking energy went to waste.
The simple alternative? Hire smart engineers, build a great website, and let partners and users discover it. Easier said than done, but it seems more productive than sending MBAs to parties.
YouTube ranks 3rd in Web video
If you thought YouTube was the hottest thing in Web video, think again. ComScore Media Metrix, in its latest study of Web traffic, says that Yahoo Video ranked No. 1 in July, with a 28 percent increase in unique visitors from June. MySpace Videos is close behind Yahoo, and saw its traffic double in July. Meanwhile, YouTube showed up in third place, with only a 20 percent increase in traffic for July.
So, not only is the richly hyped YouTube not the biggest Web video site, it's not even growing as fast as the competition. To top it off, YouTube's website was down for six hours yesterday due to an unplanned outage. Is that the sound of a balloon popping?
Lenovo preloads Linux
It's been one of the great frustrations of Linux fans: The inability to buy a laptop off the shelf with the Linux operating system installed on it. Instead, Linux lovers have to buy a Windows machine -- and pay money indirectly to Microsoft for the operating system that's preloaded on it -- and then install Linux over it.
But now Lenovo, which bought IBM's PC business in 2004, is rolling out a Linux version of its famed ThinkPad notebook. They're not cheap, however: A model with a 14-inch screen goes for $3,099. With that kind of money you could buy almost three of Apple's MacBooks -- which, we should point out, runs Mac OS X, a Unix-based operating system that's similar in many ways to Linux.
Facebook hawking credit cards
Facebook, the social network site popular with college kids, is now offering Chase credit cards, Pete Cashmore notes on the Mashable blog. Users will be able to join a Chase group on Facebook and earn rewards points for activities like paying their bills on time. Cashmore notes that creating groups that social-network users can join is a big trend in online marketing.
But we at The Browser think Chase and Facebook are going about this all wrong. Instead of offering a single credit card and hoping to entice Facebook users to join its group, Chase should have offered cobranded credit cards targeted to the groups that Facebook users already belong to.
It's an effective strategy that credit-card rival MBNA has exploited in the real world by marketing college-branded credit cards to alumni, and it would be a good match for Facebook's college-centric groups.
Startup challenges Microsoft Office
These days, we constantly hear from Microsoft about how it's competing with Google. But could it be focusing on the wrong competitor? Sure, Google bought an online word-processing startup and launched a Web-based spreadsheet tool -- but the search giant's efforts are so scattered, it seems unlikely it will put much energy behind those products.
But Zimbra, an online-collaboration startup, is working on nothing but Web-based productivity applications, starting with an e-mail program that many say is a convincing clone of Microsoft Outlook. Now Zimbra has come out with Web-based word processing and spreadsheet tools, the Web 2.0 Explorer blog reports. Zimbra charges $28 per user per year, which, last we checked, is less than a tenth the cost of buying a copy of Office.
iPod hard drive storage may double
If you're the type who just has to have the biggest iPod on the block, get ready to open up your wallet: Seagate is promising a 1.8-inch, 120-gigabyte hard drive by the end of this year. While Seagate didn't name names of potential customers, that size of drive is small enough to fit in an iPod, notes Engadget -- which could be good news for storage-hungry iPod users.
Apple's top-of-the-line iPod has been stuck at a 60-gigabyte capacity for almost two years, so it's overdue for an upgrade, especially with Microsoft's Zune on the way. Seagate has previously supplied drives for Apple's iPod Mini, so it's not a stretch to imagine seeing its 120-gigabyte drive in new iPods.
But what we really want to know is when we'll be able to buy a terabyte iPod -- that's one thousand gigabytes, or enough room for a hundred full-length, uncompressed movies. The original iPod promised you the ability to take your music library with you in your pocket. Why not a video player that can do the same for your movie library?
Terabyte drives are in fact coming onto the market very soon, reports News.com. These drives are too large to put in an iPod, but hard-drive makers have a history of doubling capacity in a given size every two years. If Seagate is making a 120-gigabyte drive suitable for iPods this year, that means that a one-terabyte iPod could be as little as six years away.
What would you do with all of that space?
Google upgrades Blogger -- finally!
For months, The Browser has been grousing behind the scenes about Blogger, the Web-based software we use to publish this blog. "It doesn't do tags!" we cried. "It republishes the entire blog every time you update it!" we sniped. "It keeps breaking!" we groaned.
Well, it seems like we weren't alone -- and Google has finally heard the chorus of complaints. Today it's rolling out a significant new upgrade to Blogger -- the first since Google acquired Blogger back in 2003, -- according to TechCrunch.
Everyone's so agog about the new features like tagging, customizable layouts, a smoother routine for publishing posts, and improved RSS feeds -- features that have long been available in rival blogging software -- that no one's asking the obvious question: Isn't the timing of this rollout a bit curious?
Google may claim it doesn't pay close attention to Microsoft's moves, but this Blogger upgrade, coming so close on the heels of Microsoft's introduction of its own blogging software can hardly be coincidence.
Can it be that Google is actually playing catch-up to Microsoft for a change?
Welcome to the future of laundry
Tired of washing and drying your clothes the 1.0 way? The American Inventor Spot blog has a fascinating roundup of new concepts in laundry. First there's the Whirlpool Bodybox, a design concept that puts a washer, dryer, and walk-in shower side by side in a single unit -- oh, and they throw in a sink, too. Then there's the WashDryIron, a device which dries clothes on hangers, saving the need for ironing. Inventor Oliver Blackwell estimates that it will save 10 days worth of ironing a year. (Wait a second -- do our dear readers really spend 40 minutes a day, every day, ironing clothes?) And then there's a joint research product by Whirlpool, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, Panasonic and Procter & Gamble to hook washers and dryers up to home networks so that you can get alerts on your PC, cell phone, or TV when the latest load of laundry is done.
A reader is quick to point out that on college campuses, the future of laundry is already here. Laundry-machine distributor Mac-Gray's LaundryView service, which shows the availability of washers and dryers in a dorm's laundry room over the Web, has already been installed at several colleges.
YouTube's newest star is 79 years old
On the Internet, everyone is famous for 15 minutes -- and now it's the turn of Peter, a k a geriatric1927, a 79-year-old, widowed British retiree who has taken to YouTube to air his softspoken gripes about life.
The YouTube community, seen by many as a strictly teen scene, has welcomed its new old member with open arms, the Guardian reports, with users leaving over 6,000 comments on his first clip. The subject matter seems wholly unremarkable -- Peter discusses his love for blues music and motorcycles and reminisces about raising his children -- but in the less than two weeks since he posted the clip on August 5, it's been viewed more than 850,000 times, according to Vnunet.com. "This YouTube experience has been one of the major changes and breakthroughs in my life and given me a whole new world to experience," Peter told Vnunet.
Microsoft woos bloggers with new software
On Sunday, Microsoft released new weblog editing software called Windows Live Writer. The blogosphere is abuzz, but your immediate reaction should be: Who cares?
Besides bloggers, though, the news has potentially broader implications for the software industry. In what has to be a first for a Microsoft Web product, most of the many early reviews for Live Writer are positive. Simply put, Microsoft's ability to design likeable Web tools shows that it may yet be able to extend its pre-Internet software dominance to a Web-centric world. "I think this really demonstrates that Microsoft gets the Web," writes Supr.c.ilio.us. "Even though they’re still building desktop applications, at least these applications allow them to publish stuff to the web. The way that they bridge the two really seems like magic."
Om Malik agrees. "It is not often I say good things about Microsoft products," he writes, "but with this free-blogging tool, I have to say: write on!"
Still, there are some detractors. Many complained that the new product was not Mac-compatible, while other critics felt it wasn't industrial strength: "Pleasant to look at," writes Paul Kedrosky at Infectious Greed, "but seemingly designed by people who have only seen photographs of real bloggers."
Segway rolls out more overpriced scooters
Remember the Segway? Inventor Dean Kamen's two-wheeled electric scooter was roundly mocked when, amidst heavy hype, it was revealed in late 2001. Segway riders look more than faintly ridiculous standing on the scooter -- and they look downright foolish once you realize they paid $5,000 for a device that doesn't do much more than a $100 bicycle.
But the company has persisted despite the giggles. Now news comes that the company has rolled out two new models, the i2 and the x2. Engadget reports that the i2's price tag still starts at a hefty $5,000, but the battery now lasts for 24 miles, and riders can turn by leaning left or right, rather than using an awkward grip control. The $5,495 x2 model has heavy-duty tires for going offroad, and the Inquirer, a sardonic British tech news website, envisions "wacky" races. Call us Californian, but wouldn't a mountain bike do the trick here, too?
Segway plans to introduce six new models. Here's an idea, guys: Instead of trying to lure scooter shoppers by offering endless variations of the Segway, how about putting some of that innovative energy into figuring out how to drop the price?
Are big cities doomed in the broadband age?
As they race to upgrade their crumbling infrastructure for broadband, big cities are facing an unexpected source of competition for startups -- rural America.
Verizon is rewiring New York City block by block at the cost of $3 billion, the New York Times reports. San Francisco, meanwhile, is considering installing fiber-optic lines in its sewers, according to Om Malik on GigaOm, though he's not sanguine about the city's political abilities to get big projects done. By contrast, the Seattle Times reports on how the tiny burg of Winthrop, Wash. -- population 351 -- already has blindingly fast broadband, which is enabling startups like HomeMovie.com to set up shop far away from any big cities. It's a trend Business 2.0 first noted two years ago: Cheap broadband and even cheaper real estate are allowing entrepreneurs to set up shop just about anywhere they can connect to the Internet.
That makes New York and San Francisco's fiber upgrade projects even more urgent. Sure, the cities will always have their charms, especially for those who like nightlife. But in the all-work-and-no-play life of a person starting a company, he'll be at the office when others are out on the town anyway. So why not set up shop where there's nothing to do but log on?
What do you think? Will big cities keep their edge for attracting entrepreneurs?
Google: Don't "google"
When a company's product name is used as a verb -- think "Xerox" or "Tivo" -- it's the ultimate compliment, proof of wide acceptance and big time popularity. But, in a move that would make the Academie Francaise smile, the non-conformists at Google are fighting the misappropriation of their name.
According to Stephen Foley of The Independent, Google lawyers have "fired off a series of legal letters to media organisations, warning them against using its name as a verb." Google's concern appears to be trademark violation. Said a company spokesman to Foley: "We think it's important to make the distinction between using the word Google to describe using Google to search the Internet, and using the word Google to describe searching the Internet."
Safe to say the blogosphere doesn't feel the distinction is so important. Raving Lunacy promptly awarded Google its "Internet Idiot of the Week" award, and Steve Rubel at Micro Persuasion says "this has to go down as one of the worst PR moves in history."
Others, however, are more forgiving. "You peeps got to relax," Steve Bryant at eWeek tells bloggers. It's not that Google is really concerned about trademark violation, but rather it needs to set a legal precedent in the case of future, more serious, litigation: "By sending the letters," writes Bryant, "they can subsequently say 'see your honor, we've heretofore taken all necessary steps to protect the brand.'"
Want to read more on the story? Whatever you do, don't google it on Yahoo.
Microsoft cuts iPod killer's price -- and features
There are extremely faint signs of intelligent life in Redmond, Wash. Last month, The Browser pointed out that a rumored $399 pricetag for its portable music player was way too expensive. Now Microsoft is telling retailers that the Zune will sell for $299, the same price as a comparable iPod model, according to technology news website Twice.com.
But in addition to cutting the price, Twice says, Microsoft is also cutting back on the Zune's Wi-Fi capabilities. Apparently, Zune users won't be able to buy songs on the go. Instead, they'll have to dock their players and buy songs at their PCs -- just like iPod users do with Apple's iTunes Music Store.
By slashing the price and cutting out key differentiating features, it sounds like Microsoft's just rolling out a me-too music player -- a strategy that sure isn't paying off for Apple rivals like Creative and iRiver. Our advice? If you're sick of iPods, try SanDisk's Lil' Monsta. It may not have Wi-Fi, but it's cheaper, more expandable, and works with a variety of online music stores.
The IBM PC turns 25 -- and no one cares
These days, we're all but married to our PCs. And if they were our spouses, on Saturday, we'd have to cough up something silver, since that day marks the PC's 25th anniversary. Unlike the PC's 20th anniversary five years ago, however, no one seems to be in a celebratory mood.
Intel and Microsoft, which hosted an event at the time to mark that occasion, are so totally over the PC. Intel is now supplying chips for Apple's Mac. Microsoft's new chief software architect, Ray Ozzie, has declared the beginning of the post-PC era. And IBM? IBM doesn't even make PCs anymore, having sold off the business to Lenovo last year.
PC World manages a limp tribute to the computer that gave the magazine its name, but that's about all you'll find. Now, a Google PC? That would be interesting.
TiVo rolls over for Hollywood
Once upon a time, TiVo positioned its DVR devices as the salvation of Joe Couch Potato, - it even aired TV ads that showed network execs getting tossed out a window. But now, with former NBC executive Tom Rogers as CEO and president, TiVo seems to be obeying Hollywood's every whim.
The latest surrender: TiVo has adopted copy-protection software from Macrovision that limits how long a recording can be kept on a Tivo hard drive before it's deleted. The copy restrictions were only supposed to apply to pay-per-view movies and video-on-demand programming -- but they seem to be spreading. On Zatz Not Funny, Dave Zatz reports that a 37-year-old Fox movie got tagged for deletion after one viewing. Boing Boing says that Fox's tagging of an old movie was either "sloppy or malicious," and suggests that TiVo is welching on its promise to let viewers watch shows at their leisure.
What do you think? Should TiVo have stood up to Hollywood?
Go Daddy's yanked IPO doesn't register
Why did domain-name registrar Go Daddy Group pull its $200 million IPO? Most media outlets parroted the company line that "market conditions" were unfavorable. The New York Post got a little closer, saying it's because CEO Bob Parsons is a relentless publicity hound who missed doing his weekly Internet radio show and blogging about the company's finances -- activities he had to give up during the SEC-mandated IPO quiet period.
But we've got another theory: Parsons doesn't have much appetite for the niceties of GAAP accounting. In a blog post about the pulled IPO, Parsons complains about SEC accounting rules that force Go Daddy to count domain-name revenues over the length of the registration, rather than upfront. That adds up to a pretty big difference in the numbers Parsons used to throw around and the ones his lawyers filed with the SEC. Last year, for example, Parsons told Business 2.0 that the company made $24 million on $102 millon in sales back in 2004. The actual figures? A $3.7 million net loss on $73 million in revenues. (A Go Daddy spokesman pointed The Browser back to Parsons's blog post when we asked for a clarification of the discrepancy and said the company wouldn't comment on past financial figures.)
Following strict accounting also dented Parsons's optimistic forecasts: 2005 revenues hit $139 million, about 30 percent short of the $200 million projection he shared in the same 2005 Business 2.0 interview. Even in his most recent blog post, Parsons still highlights -- in bold, no less -- the company's positive operating cash flow rather than its net loss.
No doubt some other companies wish they could just pick the accounting rules that make them look the best, bold the numbers they want people to pay attention to, and hope investors will ignore the fine print, but that's not how Wall Street (usually) works. Some people just aren't ready to run a public company -- and it looks like Parsons is one of them.
Viacom's digital surprise
Looking for a hot new-media startup? You'd be hard-pressed to find one that's doing better than Viacom's digital operations. Most media outlets missed the news in the company's second-quarter earnings, but as PaidContent.org notes, Viacom's digital revenues rose 58 percent year-over-year to $51 million. Despite all the buzz about News Corp.'s MySpace, Viacom's online properties like Nick.com, Neopets and Xfire look set to make about as much money as Rupert's much-hyped social-networking site. Seems like people want their MTV.com.
And Viacom's digital empire is set to expand. In the earnings call, CFO Michael Dolan said that yesterday's $200 million purchase of online-video website Atom Entertainment should pay off quickly as Viacom's sales force starts to sell ads for the site. There's also Viacom's rumored interest in Bebo, a MySpace rival. The Lost Remote blog notes that CEO Tom Freston believes that digital operations could make up 5 percent of revenues by the end of the year. Not too shabby for an old-media outfit.
A big miss for the Sony Mylo
Alas, poor Sony. Will it ever rediscover the secret to making hit products like the Walkman and the PlayStation? The electronics giant's latest "communication and entertainment device," the Sony Mylo, was supposed to ride the Skype hype by including the popular VOIP service as well as instant messaging software from Google, all on a Linux software base. But instead, the Mylo's getting roundly bashed all over the Web.
The complaints start with the price tag -- $350 -- and just escalate from there. For all that money, critics point out, you don't even get a cell phone or a built-in camera. And since the Mylo uses Wi-Fi, not a cellular connection, if you're not near an open hotspot, you're out of luck. There aren't any games available for it -- not even the most basic ones you'd find included on a cheap cell phone. And the built-in IM software doesn't include AIM or MSN Messenger, two of the most popular services.
But the biggest problem is the device's lack of a compelling purpose. The Walkman put audiocassettes in an incredibly compact package; the PlayStation let you play compelling videogames. What, exactly, is the Mylo -- a really expensive communication device that doesn't let you make cell-phone calls?
If this is what Sony CEO Howard Stringer meant by "champion products," then Sony needs even more help than we thought.
Give us your take on the Mylo by leaving a comment below.
Dell at retail: Stores that don't sell anything
Dell's first full-blown retail stores opened late last month in Dallas and West Nyack, New York, and they've started to draw curious shoppers -- and critical bloggers. When Dell first announced plans for retail stores, the company had plenty of skeptics. Sure, Dell already had hundreds of kiosks in malls across the country where customers could learn about its PCs and place orders, and the company claimed that the stores were just an extension of that strategy.
But although the new stores showcase products, they don't actually conduct sales; customers still have to call or order online to get anything they see. Renting actual retail space at considerable expense, without stocking inventory to fulfill shoppers' desires for instant gratification, struck many as just plain foolish.
When the online peanut gallery got a gander at an actual Dell store, thanks to some photos snapped by Gadgetell, a chorus of snarky posts popped up. Consumerist calls Dell's computer shop "a mix between Minority Report and a jewelry store." Gizmodo sniped that "this photo shoot lacks any kind of beautiful models, unless you consider overweight Dell salesmen beautiful." (To each his own.) And at Real Tech News, Alice Hill raises an excellent question: Since the Dell store doesn't actually sell anything, why does it have so many blue-shirt-and-khakis-wearing salespeople standing around?
VOIP startup gets VC cash
VOIP could be headed to your office phone, thanks to a pile of VC money that just landed in the lap of Digium. Digium makes Asterisk, an open-source software package that can turn any PC into a telephone switch, substituting VOIP-powered service for a conventional office-phone PBX setup. Because Asterisk is open-source, it's increasingly popular with VOIP software and hardware makers, turning into "a rebel yell for telecom hackers," writes Om Malik on GigaOm. Indeed, Asterisk has become the Linux of VOIP -- a software platform that provides the basic infrastructure code for VOIP products, letting developers focus on more creative features.
But the infusion of $13.8 million from Matrix Partners could seriously dent the open-source community's enthusiasm for building VOIP products on top of Asterisk. Digium founder Mark Spencer tells Malik he wants to use the money to move up from just selling and supporting the basic Asterisk software to selling its own Asterisk-based products to large corporations. That would put Digium in competition with other Asterisk supporters like Fonality, Malik notes.
Preston Gralla at the Networking Pipeline blog seems just fine with the prospect of Digium becoming a supplier of more than just basic VOIP infrastructure software. Inertia, he writes is the only thing keeping companies from dumping their PBX machines for VOIP gear: "In time, Asterisk or software like it will ultimately run most [office phones], and this round of VC funding just brings that day closer."
Google says click fraud claims don't click
Not that long ago, a blogger on ZDNet kicked up a fuss over CEO Eric Schmidt's supposedly laissez-faire attitude towards click fraud. Just as Google has quieted that kerfuffle down, claiming Schmidt's comments were taken out of context, there is more evidence that Google isn't taking the problem of click fraud as seriously as it could. (Click fraud occurs when publishers who carry Google's ads find ways to generate clicks on those ads that don't come from actual readers; since Google's advertisers pay per click, the money from those fraudulent clicks comes out of advertisers' pockets and goes into Google's.)
Here's the latest evidence that Google would rather argue about click fraud than tackle it. The company has come out with a study, PC Pro reports, that takes apart independent researchers' click-fraud analyses and concludes that they overstate the problem, counting some legitimate clicks as fraudulent.
Fair enough. But if I were a Google advertiser, I'd want to know what Google is doing about the remaining click fraud, not about problems with third-party research. By touting this study, Google is continuing to create the impression that it would rather win an academic argument than please its advertisers.
Why Microsoft can't blog
Microsoft has lost another blogging voice. Niall Kennedy, who joined the company in April, is leaving after less than four months. Why? Kennedy, who was working on incorporating blog-friendly RSS technology into Microsoft's Windows Live online tools, blames the company's "general paralysis." Wall Street's harsh reaction to Microsoft's increased spending on the Web prompted a rethink of the company's strategy, according to Kennedy, and he was unable to hire anyone for his team.
"I could have stayed at Microsoft, waited for the other 85% of the company to ship their products, and then hoped that support for my group might be back on track again, but I didn't want to sit around doing little to nothing until Vista, Office, and Exchange ship," writes Kennedy. "It's easier to get funding outside Microsoft than inside at the moment, so I am stepping out and doing my own thing."
A harsh indictment of his former employer, perhaps. But assuming this isn't the first time such a scenario has taken place -- Wall Street hiccups and Microsoft management panics, reorganizes, and puts a freeze on new initiatives -- it's also a telling explanation as to why Microsoft has been so slow to embrace the Internet's opportunities.
Levi's iPod jeans pop up in the Netherlands
Bright Techlifestyle, a Dutch website, has found photos of Levi's new iPod-compatible jeans. Levi's first announced the RedWired DLX iPod jeans in January, but it's taken until now for samples of the jeans, which have a built-in iPod connector and retractable headphones, to make an appearance.
Gizmodo instantly declared them "ridiculous". One big problem, according to the snarky gadget blog: The red ribbon of cable that connects your iPod to the jeans' built-in headphones is easy to snag, and once that rips, all you've got is an ordinary pair of jeans with a lot of pockets.
The MySpace killer from across the pond
MySpace may seem invulnerable in the U.S. But overseas, there are pockets of resistance to Rupert Murdoch's social-networking empire. Google's Orkut, for example, inexplicably reigns in Brazil. Old-school Friendster is big in the Philippines and Singapore. And Bebo has just overtaken MySpace in the U.K. That has gotten big companies like BT and Viacom interested in buying out Bebo. According to TechCrunch, Viacom's especially hungry to get into the social networking business, having previously made offers that were rejected for both MySpace and Facebook.
People have long speculated that Murdoch's News Corp. bought MySpace to create an online rival to Viacom's MTV. If so, Bebo could be a smart buy, since its Bebo Bands feature, which lets bands post music and sign up fans as online friends, is a big reason for its newfound popularity.
What do you think? Would you be interested in giving Bebo a try?
Apple's big show flops
After a big buildup to Steve Jobs's opening keynote yesterday at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco, even die-hard Mac fans came away disappointed. Leander Kahney, who writes the Cult of Mac blog for Wired News, groused that the speech "was the most uninspiring he's given in recent memory."
Part of the problem was the fact that Jobs uncharacteristically shared the podium with three other Apple executives who lacked Jobs's charisma. There's a reason why his keynotes are usually a solo act: Jobs is uniquely talented at presenting new technology in a compelling way. But the other problem was the pacing and the content of the speech. The big news -- new Mac Pro desktops -- came right away, and the rest of the time was spent plodding through minor new features in Apple's latest version of Mac OS X. Thousands of "Mac nerds ... paid a pretty penny to be here this week, and Jobs' talk is the highlight of the show," Kahney writes. "I don't think they got their money's worth."
Ars Technica's Infinite Loop agreed that this keynote was no "Stevenote." Enduring a dog-and-pony-show about Mac OS X is only worth it because of the surprise that Jobs inevitably saves for the end of a speech -- his famous "One more thing" ending. But this keynote went out with a whimper, not a bang. If the goal was to get software developers charged up about Apple, it looks like this conference will be a bust.
Do you feel like Steve et al. let you down yesterday? Tell us what you think by leaving a comment below.
Verizon cuts energy costs with fuel cells
You might have heard about fuel cells for cars. But what about for phones? That's the unlikely but surprisingly successful experiment Verizon has been conducting for the last year in Garden City, New York, News.com reports. A 292,000-sq. ft. telephone and data switching center that provides service to 35,000 customers on Long Island is powered on fuel cells, using the electrical grid only as a backup. As a result, the company has cut energy costs by $680,000 a year -- almost triple the savings it expected. As a bonus, it's eliminated 11.1 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions.
The fuel cell installation's a great idea -- cutting pollution is laudable, and saving money is better yet. But those savings must be coming at the expense of the local electric utility, the Long Island Power Authority.
Our suggestion to LIPA: Install VOIP lines in your local office, and maybe keep a Verizon land line or two around just as a backup. Turnabout is entirely fair play.
Duran Duran to throw virtual concerts
What's the best way for an aging rock group to appeal to the digital-generation? Throw a virtual concert, of course. That's Duran Duran's comeback plan, BBC News reports. The popular '80s band is building a virtual presence at Second Life, an online world which has drawn 370,000 registered users so far. The BBC itself already put on a virtual concert featuring Pink, Sugababes, and other artists at Second Life in May.
Oldtime Duran Duran fans are having none of this '80s flashback, however. "You would think they made enough money off of album sales, especially since there wasn't Napster back then," writes the Biztechie Chronicles.
Can TripHub organize group travel?
People already share photos, videos, and even website bookmarks -- so why not add travel plans to the list? TripHub is the latest venture-capital-backed startup to make a bet on adding social features to an established form of e-commerce, reports TechCrunch. Unlike online travel agents which just book flights, cars, and hotels for travelers, TripHub aims to manage group travel. The site hopes to replace mass emails with blogs, online itineraries, and other tools meant to simplify the logistics of getting a large number of people to arrive at the same place at the same time.
Alaska Airlines has already signed up to create an Alaska-branded version of TripHub, which suggests that the startup could end up making its money by providing travel-planning tools to other businesses rather than building a travel-destination website for consumers, which could require expensive marketing.
At GigaOm, Katie Fehrenbacher says that a recent 120-person family reunion she attended "sorely needed TripHub's help." But she's not as sanguine about TripHub's chances for success. Yahoo Travel, she points out, is already adding social features like trip blogs. And it would be a simple matter to integrate Yahoo Travel with Yahoo Groups to duplicate most of what TripHub does.
Rumors abound as Apple developer bash opens
With Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference just hours away, Mac fans and curious tech enthusiasts are gearing up to dissect Steve Jobs's every last word. Engadget and MacRumors are planning live, minute-by-minute coverage.
We'll know the truth soon enough about new iPods, an iTunes movie store, and other hoped-for products, but the Mac rumor mill is still spinning to separate fact from fiction. Think Secret offers a handy recap.
The site now believes that a new iPod Nano and the movie store will be announced in September, not at today's conference. Instead, today's show will focus on Mac hardware and software -- new, high-end Mac Pro desktops with Intel chips inside, and the latest "Leopard" version of Apple's Mac OS X. The Browser will update this post as more news becomes available.
AOL gives away users' Web searches
When Findory.com CEO Greg Linden, an expert in search and personalization technologies, stumbled across a massive cache of AOL user search data on Friday, offered for free by the company's labs, he didn't think of the privacy implications -- he just thought of the great fun he and other researchers could have using the data.
But Caltech student Adam D'Angelo raised the alarm, pointing out that the data, even with user names stripped out, still contained very personal information about what AOL users were looking for on the Web. "This was not a leak -- this was intentional," writes D'Angelo. "In their desperation to gain recognition from the research community, AOL decided they would compromise their integrity." AOL Research rapidly took the data set off its website as the news spread.
"This was a screw up, and we're angry and upset about it," says AOL spokesman Andrew Weinstein. "It was an innocent enough attempt to reach out to the academic community with new research tools, but it was obviously not appropriately vetted, and if it had been, it would have been stopped in an instant. We're absolutely not defending this."
It turns out that the disclosure of the research didn't break AOL's latest privacy rules. AOL tells users that it may disclose such information, stripped of user names, for research purposes -- but who knew that "research purposes" included offering that information up for anyone on the Internet to download? As blogger Greg Yardley notes, "Expectations of privacy online are utterly unrealistic and delusional anyway."
Was AOL in its rights to release this data? Leave a comment and tell us what you think.
Wi-Fi coming to a train near you
Google and Yahoo have duelling Wi-Fi buses to shuttle their workers in productive comfort to their Silicon Valley campuses. But soon, Bay Area train commuters will enjoy the same privilege of en-route Internet access, DailyWireless reports.
CalTrain, the San Francisco-to-San Jose train operator, has tested Wi-Fi on its trains, making it the first commuter-rail operator in the United States to offer Wi-Fi. Abroad, train operators in the UK and Japan are also planning to add wireless Internet access. A more productive commute by train may well lure more people out of their cars -- and just in time, as a resurgent Valley economy is once again clogging Highway 101.
The hits keep on coming, despite The Long Tail
When bloggers aren't talking about themselves, they're slavering over the supposedly perilous state of the mainstream media. Wired editor Chris Anderson tossed them some red meat in a recent post offering detailed evidence of how TV, newspaper, and radio audiences are down as CD and DVD sales slip. For Anderson, this ought to be good news, since he's the author of The Long Tail, a book which predicts the decline of hits -- and the mass-media outlets that thrive on them -- as the Internet exponentially expands consumers' choices.
Anderson is careful to note, however, that hits aren't going away altogether. That's a wise caveat, given the latest news. For one thing, U2 singer Bono and his fellow investors in Elevation Partners just paid an estimated $250 million to $300 million for a stake in the publisher of Forbes -- a clear sign of confidence in the health of mass-market magazines. And for another, Anderson's book just made the top 10 in the New York Times bestseller list.
Apparently the decline of hits makes for one heck of a hit.
Is the Nasdaq leading startups into trouble?
New York-based venture capitalist Fred Wilson is worried: "The Nasdaq is down 9% for the year. Inflation is up. Growth is down. Stagflation is looming," he writes on his blog, A VC in NYC. He then ticks off several other signs of a fragile economy before noting that the venture-capital market is "white hot." Not only are startups getting valued more highly in venture deals, but more venture capital funds are being formed and raising larger amounts of money. Wilson's conclusion: "This can last for a while, but not forever."
His question has kicked off a debate among his readers over the true relationship between the Nasdaq and venture capital. The academic answer, according to a paper published in the Yale School of Management is that there has been a "significant correlation" between the two. Perhaps there's a reason for Wilson's observation that the two have become disconnected -- the study observed venture capital returns from 1987 to 1999, the period of tech's last big bubble. And most of Wilson's readers feel that today's profit-conscious Internet rally is different from the "greed bubble" of the late '90s. "The fact that investors this time 'round are maintaining a laser-sharp focus on monetization makes a burst less likely," writes one optimist. This calls out for fresh studies.
Is tech heading for trouble -- or are things really different this time? Leave a comment below.
iTunes under siege overseas
Apple's tight links between the iPod and its iTunes Music Store have helped it keep a lock on both the music-player and the digital-download markets here in the States. But abroad, the iPod-iTunes link is under fire. France recently passed into law a controversial bill that could unlock iTunes for other music players. The bill was watered down from an original version that would have required Apple to open up; now it just sets a commission to look into the issue.
Meanwhile, Norway, Denmark, and Sweden are continuing to challenge Apple's digital-rights-management software. A consumer-protection agency in Norway -- which coordinates actions with its counterparts in the other Scandinavian countries -- questioned Apple in June, and didn't think much of the 50-page response Apple sent back, which disputed the agency's authority over matters involving copyrights.
One thing's clear: Apple's trust-us-we-know-best attitude isn't playing well to foreign ears.
Digging up Kevin Rose's net worth
How much money has Digg cofounder Kevin Rose made? If you believe BusinessWeek's cover, he's made $60 million. But Techdirt ain't buying it. And BusinessWeek rapidly cops to the cover line being pure fiction: "So far, Digg is breaking even on an estimated $3 million annually in revenues."
In other words, Rose has made actually zip, zero, nada. To Techdirt's frustration, BW doesn't offer many more clues in the piece as to how it arrived at the $60 million figure, citing "people in the know." Techdirt guesses that BW must be referring to the notional value of Rose's shares in the business, which BW's sources estimate is valued at $200 million. But of course, those shares aren't worth anything until Rose sells -- and he's said time and again that he doesn't want to sell Digg.
The PDA deathwatch continues
It's a bittersweet deathwatch for the geek blogs: With the rise of the hybrid cell phone-PDA, each quarter brings fewer plain old handheld computers. Do kids today even remember the PalmPilot, let alone Apple's Newton?
Yesterday saw another nail hammered in the coffin, as TechWeb, among others, broke the news of the latest IDC report showing the 10th consecutive quarterly decline in PDA sales: "The number of handheld devices shipped in the second quarter ended June 30 dropped 26.3 percent from the same period a year ago to 1.4 million units."
Still, rumors of extinction may be overstated. Australian tech news site ARNnet.com digs up an expert (apparently the owner of something called the "Organizer King") who says that "although the phones offer a lot of functions, they still don't do all of it very well" -- a fact, he says, that assures an ongoing market for PDAs. Red Herring comes to the same conclusion, drawing from a recent In-Stat survey which shows that "in spite of the growing popularity of smart phones, consumers aren’t yet ready to trade in their laptops and PDAs for a single, do-it-all device."
Hey, some still swear by the Rolodex. Of course, perhaps the iPhone will change all that.
Photo by YGGG
The AOL CD is now a screaming buy
AOL's laying off 5,000 employees -- but we'll hardly shed a tear for those "customer-retention specialists" who made canceling AOL service such a hellish ordeal. Instead, we'll save our sympathies for those folks who designed and mailed countless millions of AOL CD-ROMs. Now that AOL's no longer marketing its dying dial-up service, we won't have the iconic AOL CD to toss into our trash anymore.
As maligned as it is, the AOL CD got millions of Americans onto the Internet for the first time, speeding the explosive growth of the Internet economy. But of course you didn't have to particularly like AOL to be an aficionado of the colorful disks; NoMoreAOLCDs.com has collected almost 400,000 in an effort to persuade AOL to stop mailing them. (You won, guys.) Other avid collectors just like the looks of the CDs, organizing their freebies by version, number of free hours, and the fictional character featured. (After AOL bought Time Warner, the publisher of CNNMoney.com, in 2001, Warner Bros. characters like Bugs Bunny and Harry Potter started showing up on CDs.) Another CD-obsessed individual built a throne out of 4,000 CDs.
If you want to start your collection now, it's not too late. Even the rarest CDs are going for $7 or less on eBay. That's a steal, since AOL won't be mailing out CDs much longer. As with any other discontinued collectible, prices can only go up.
Photo by compujeramey
Apple's new phone: iChat Mobile?
There's one small problem with all these rumors of an Apple iPhone -- the name is already taken by a VOIP company, the Cult of Mac blog notes. So Engadget has a new theory: Apple's iPod-phone hybrid will be called "iChat Mobile," after the Mac's built-in instant-messaging software.
Engadget is running maybe-it-is-maybe-it-isn't teaser photos of a supposed iChat Mobile advertisement, showing an elongated, remote control-like iPod-phone hybrid, but readers are skeptical. For one thing, the image appears to be Photoshopped, say some. Others take issue with the less-than-Apple-elegant slogan featured on the ad: "Everything you expect from a Mac, from a phone." "The tagline is way too long. This may be the hardware, but it's not an Apple ad."
For what it's worth, we think the iChat Mobile mockup on Engadget looks curiously similar to an iPhone rendering that ran in Business 2.0 last year.
Image courtesy of Pentagram Design
Why is Google's Schmidt so camera shy?
Apparently, Google CEO Eric Schmidt hates how he looks in photos. That's the only explanation we can come up with for his extremely camera-shy behavior. The Boston Herald reports that after Eric Schmidt attended a circus show on Nantucket with his wife Wendy, he issued a directive through the circus's PR person that no photos of the couple were to be published. This is the second time Schmidt has gotten in a snit when he and his wife landed in the public eye; last year, he blackballed News.com over a story that listed facts anyone could find about the couple using Google's search engine.
Here's a suggestion for Schmidt: Use some of your company's great photo-sharing tools to put up some pics of your own.
That will sate the public's hunger to see more of the man behind one of the great business success stories of our time -- and it will save you from the embarrassment of seeming like a vain, insecure man with a habit of bullying the press.
The people Netscape dig(g)s
When Weblogs Inc. cofounder and AOL executive Jason Calacanis relaunched Netscape.com as a copy of social-news website Digg, he avidly courted controversy. And some called his plan to woo Digg's most active users by offering to pay them to bookmark interesting news articles "desperate."
But now the names of Netscape's new "Navigators" -- Calacanis's word for the site's paid bookmarkers -- have been revealed, and it's surprisingly uncontroversial: Most of them aren't even from Digg. "We hired a bunch of folks from Weblogs, Inc. (since we know and love them)," writes Calacanis on his personal blog. That certainly makes cutting checks easier, since they're already on the payroll, but it raises the question of why Calacanis thought he had to raid other websites for talent in the first place. Why all the fuss, Jason, if you just ended up giving your own people the jobs anyway?
Oddly enough, people on Digg greeted the news more enthusiastically than those on Netscape, who felt that loyal Netscape users should have gotten the gigs. The Netscape folks, however, seemed a bit bitter: "Hmmm... these people are getting paid to do what the rest of us have been doing for free," writes Netscape user Scott-O-Rama, while rtay150 says that "Netscape needs to turn their attention to the already registered users."
Here's a suggestion, guys: Why don't you post some interesting stories rather than just grousing in the comments section?
Yahoo to arrange marriages in India
If online dating in the U.S. is big, just think of the potential for arranging marriages in India. Alarm:Clock reports this morning that 12% of all Internet users on the sub-continent look for a spouse online -- and it seems Yahoo wants a part of that action. A:C is picking up on news broken by Indian news website ContentSutra yesterday: "Canaan Partners has teamed up with Yahoo to invest $8.6 million in BharatMatrimony." BharatMatrimony, notes Alarm:Clock, is tied for second place in the Indian online-marriage market behind Shaadi.com.
Canaan, a veteran Valley VC operation, was apparently the first investor in Match.com in 1995. That makes sense: if the investment thesis ain't broke, don't fix it. Both blogs also make much of the fact that this is Yahoo's first venture investment in India.
What do you think? Will marriages arranged online work out better than Internet dates?
Colbert's Wikipedia prank backfires
It seemed like a subject born for satirist Stephen Colbert -- an online encyclopedia that lets anyone edit entries. The champion of "truthiness" couldn't resist making fun of a website where facts, it seems, are endlessly malleable. But after making fun of Wikipedia on Monday night's "Colbert Report," Colbert learned some hard truths about Wikipedia's strength in resisting vandalism. Here's how the segment started, according to Newsvine:
"In the segment, Colbert logs on to the Wikipedia article about his show to find out whether he usually refers to Oregon as 'California's Canada or Washington's Mexico.' Upon learning that he has referred to Oregon as both, he demonstrates how easy it is to disregard both references and put in a completely new one (Oregon is Idaho's Portugal), declaring it 'the opinion I've always held, you can look it up.'"
Colbert then called on users to go to the site and falsify the entry on elephants. But Wikipedia's volunteer administrators were among those watching Colbert, and they responded swiftly to correct the entry, block further mischievous editing, and ban user StephenColbert from the website.
In this battle of truth vs. truthiness, truth ended up with the upper hand.
AOL gives it all -- well, most -- away
You know things are bad if your stock jumps when you cut prices to zero. But that's just what's happening this morning for Time Warner (the browsers vast and benevolent corporate parent). As the media giant reported strong second-quarter earnings (shares are up 2.8% as of now), it also announced that it intends to give most of AOL's online services away for free -- presumably a historic event.
Historic, but overplayed. Victoria Shannon at the International Herald Tribune, for example, is among the reporters who got carried away by the news: "It is a huge move forward for the grass-roots notion that 'information needs to be free.'" Calm down, Victoria. Let's put this in perspective: AOL's not giving away Internet access, it's just giving away Web-based email which, for the record, you could get for free from Hotmail almost a decade ago. Moreover, AOL users will soon see as many ads next to their inboxes as users of Yahoo Mail or Gmail. Free, perhaps, but hardly noncommercial.
On the For Peter's Sake blog, the news was greeted more nonchalantly: "I think this is probably a good idea for AOL. They were yesterdayÂs Internet, and they needed a big change to stay relevant." Blogger Peter gives props to AOL for its In2TV service, and also praises the addition of VOIP to AOL Instant Messenger -- among AOL's new, free services is a local phone number that lets AIM users receive calls on their computers. Can AOL claw its way back to Net respectability? We hope so. We'd rather watch TWX shares rise than listen to yet another mea culpa from Steve Case.
You podcastin' to me?
Someone at New York City's MTA finally took note of the thousands of white earbuds filling their subway trains. And their conclusion? Instead of listening to Gnarls Barkley and the Ditty Bops on their iPods, what the MTA's patrons really wanted was to listen to safety advisories and descriptions of new transit projects. Yes, the New York subway has joined the podcasting revolution, with such thrilling episodes as "See Something, Say Something" and "Slips, Trips and Falls." On his Micro Persuasion blog, Steve Rubel recommends downloading some episodes, if only to "give the thief that steals your iPod something special to listen to."
We've got a better idea: Some creative musician needs to mash these tracks up and deliver us some killer remixes of "Stay Off the Tracks" and "Panic Bars." And if you've been looking for a name for your new band, may we recommend "Myrtle-Wyckoff Transit Hub"?
Is Vonage ready to sell?
After VOIP upstart Vonage reported dismal earnings on Tuesday, the blogosphere started crunching the numbers -- and universally concluded that it's time to hang up on the company. On GigaOm, Om Malik notes that revenue came in below expectations and that churn -- the percentage of customers who drop the service -- was up to 2.3% from 2.1% in the previous quarter -- even as marketing expenses soared.
On Networking Pipeline's blog, Preston Gralla called the company's claims that competition from cable companies would help it market its service "a whopper"of a lie, and dismissed management's projection that Vonage will be profitable by 2008: "That's not going to happen."
Gralla's conclusion: Vonage executives are just hoping to nab as many subscribers as they can and sell to the highest bidder long before their profit prediction is put to the test.
Does Vonage have a future as a stand-alone company? If not, which telco should snap it up?
Google shares on sale for 90% off
If the price is too good to be true, it probably is. On July 20, in after-hours trading on the Nasdaq market, Google shares briefly plummeted from $388 to $38 due to a trader's error, the New York Sun reports. One unlucky shareholder nearly had a heart attack after he checked the stock price and saw he had a paper loss of nearly $70,000 on the Google shares he'd just bought.
But that shareholder's despair was short-lived, as was the glee of those who bought Google at $38 during the brief 90% off sale. After an hour, Nasdaq declared the trades null and void. While some Wall Streeters criticized the market for taking that long to correct a seemingly obvious error, a Nasdaq spokesperson told the Sun that the delay was normal given the need to investigate the pricing glitch.
Apple's Web tools just aren't working
Apple's .Mac service -- a $99-a-year subscription package of email, Web storage, and other online services -- is struggling. "Over the past four days," reports News.com, ".Mac users have struggled to get its Web site publishing features, iWeb, and related file-share capabilities, iDisk, to work." It seems Apple is looking into the problems, but not soon enough to quell unrest in the active Apple forums. One unimpressed user is tech blogger Om Malik, who calls the service "dotLame": "My email has been delayed or has gone into the ether, prompting me to switch to a different email address for now." All this is giving lie to Apple's smug new "It Just Works" ad campaign.
And, worse, there's no longer anyone around to cool the flames, since Apple has reportedly fired its forum hosts, and is now questioning the value of forums where its customers can rant and rave altogether. Some forum participants fear the firings are a prelude to a complete shutdown of the forums. That certainly would be in character for a painfully tight-lipped Apple. Obviously, if you're going to overpromise and underdeliver, it's best to undercommunicate.
The dirty little secret behind music file-sharing suits
The music industry has found an amazing formula for making money from file-sharing, the Louisville Courier-Journal reports: Threaten parents with lawsuits over their children's music downloads. But is the practice legal? No one knows. A spokeswoman for the Recording Industry Association of America tells the newspaper that it has never actually gone to trial, because the targets of its lawsuits usually settle.
The RIAA would have a tough time making its charges stick in a court of law, says attorney Ray Beckerman on his blog, because of the process by which it identifies so-called downloaders. "No investigation is made to ascertain that the defendant is actually someone who engaged in peer to peer file sharing of copyrighted music without authorization," notes Beckerman, and "defendants have included people who have never even used a computer." That may sound kind of wild, but it's true: The record labels get traffic records from Internet service providers and attempt to match up people with Internet addresses, in a notoriously unreliable process. All the same, targets of the RIAA lawsuits readily pay thousands of dollars in damage because they feel they can't afford a lawyer to contest the charges.
Another reason the RIAA has never actually had to defend its practices at trial since it's so willing to drop a case at the first sign of a legal challenge. But for anyone worried about becoming an RIAA target, Techdirt notes an easy out: Since the lawsuits identify Internet connections, not people, a simple way to avoid charges is to create a Wi-Fi network that's open to anyone. The record labels won't be able to prove that it wasn't some perfect stranger using your wireless Internet connection who downloaded those files.
"MySpace for baby boomers" launches
Forget about birthday reminders -- get ready for death notices. Today marks the long-awaited launch of Eons.com, a social network for baby boomers created by Monster.com founder Jeff Taylor with help from actress Jane Seymour. Eons.com will remind you of your friends' birthdays, but, reports Reuters, it also comes "complete with an online obituary database that sends out alerts when someone you may know dies, and plans to set up a do-it-yourself funeral service." Talk about a killer app.
Getting old is the new hot thing, apparently. Just last week CNNMoney noted the launch of Utherverse, a somewhat racy social network for the AARP crowd. But it remains to be seen whether death and aging will appeal to advertisers. The Wall Street Journal, for one, is dubious, and recently ticked off a list of failed boomer-media ventures to support its skepticism. But, morbid or not, how can one resist registering on Eons.com to check out its new longevity calculator?
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