The web takes on stock photos
Yet another media business being threatened by the Internet? Stock photography. Rumors are flying today that Getty Images (GYI), the top syndicator of photos to wires, newspapers, and other media, is considering buying Jupitermedia (JUPM), a major competitor. Why? A long post by Thomas Hawk, CEO of Zooomr, a photo-sharing site, over at Seeking Alpha brings up some pretty interesting ideas:
The stock photography market will be changing dramatically in the next few years - with or without the current market leaders. It's inevitable. The laws of economics require it. When I met with Getty CEO Jonathan Klein late last year he said that the biggest threat to their business was the [Canon EOS] 5D (figuratively) that I was holding in my hands when I asked him the question.
Example number one million of the democratization of newsphotography is the recent JetBlue runway mess story, where newspapers and websites were splashing photos taken onboard by a passenger with a cellphone cam.
Hawk notes that both Getty and Jupitermedia have acquired smaller microstock companies that buy photos off the web, from smaller professional photo agencies, amatuers, and hobbyists. Corbis (another big stock-photo provider) will start doing some microstock of his own.
But Hawk says his Zooomr will start helping its users, who can be anybody, sell their photos directly to the wire servies (like AP and Reuters) that distribute the photos widely to media. And that represents the real threat to the biz, because the photogs themselves will defect. Here's his case:
Photographers everywhere will find this a far more attractive model than the current one today where they might get 20% to 50% payouts on images that are sold for $1 to $20.
Can the Web predict Oscar winners?
Hey Oscars buffs. So you loved The Departed? You can put your money where your eyes are and buy a contract at intrade.com, the division of Tradesports.com that offers bets on entertainment events. You'll be in good company.
But... last year the market predicted the award to go for Brokeback. But then there was a Crash. It could've just been a fluke. Should you trust in the collective wisdom of the Web, as represented both by bettors and the blogger-predictors? After all, Tradesports was nearly dead-on in predicting the Democrats' seat margin in the midterm election.
If you don't have any other particular reason to watch this Sunday, the Oscars will be an interesting test of whether the Web is smart enough to read into the minds of the Academy voters. Keep in mind that general political elections are different than Academy voting: Anyone can vote in an election, whereas the Academy is a relatively small number of expert voters with very different interests in movies than the general public. Maybe the Web is powerful enough to understand the Academy and last year was a fluke. Or maybe Academy voters even like to just mess with everyone by reading Tradesports and voting the opposite way. In any case, it's reason to pay attention.
You want a piece of this, eh Cisco?
In some other tech news today, Apple (AAPL) and Cisco (CSCO) have put down their sticks. Both will use the iPhone name. This might result in a few confused grandmothers buying the wrong Christmas present, but it effectively ends this news story... or does it? After all, Cisco was just picking on Apple because it kinda had a crush. InfoWeek immediately spins the deal as an opportunity for Cisco to get its VoIP and Wi-Fi know-how into the iPhone. PC Magazine also reports the news as a win for Cisco CEO John Chambers, who has always wanted not to get rich from licensing or kill the Apple iPhone but just to make sure Cisco plays some key future role on the gravy-train that the iPhone is expected to be.
So what exactly was included in the deal? Apple, after all, rejected interoperability the last time the two companies negotiated. Did they agree to something this time around? The Mercury News says the companies aren't talking details yet. Will it even be something legally binding? Or just a promise by Apple? Maybe that was enough for Cisco. Can't wait to find out.
In any case, it's probably not VoIP. Anyone saying so is jumping the gun. Remember what CNET News was reporting last month:
Apple has not indicated that the Wi-Fi connection could be used to launch voice over IP calls, he added. In fact, Bajarin said that consumer VoIP clients such as Skype can't be downloaded onto Apple's iPhone.
Personally, the Browser doesn't think Apple really needs VoIP. After all, it's partnering with AT&T's Cingular (T) exclusively for service, and Cingular surely would not appreciate having that competition. It would also require Apple to either develop VoIP software or use someone else's, which is probably not healthy for the iPhone's smooth operation. One of its big benefits will be its integrated, nicely designed software -- the lack of which is a massive drawback to most other cellphones. If Cisco gets anything like that, it may be because they just had Apple pinned into a legal corner on the name thing. And that doesn't bode well for future cooperation.
Is Google falling apart?
February has not been kind to Google (GOOG). The fragile status of its YouTube unit was on display this week, as The Browser noted yesterday, when Viacom (VIA) announced that it would zap its videos over startup rival Joost. The National Hockey League, which had once embraced YouTube, is now apparently yanking videos from the site. And while it's a single-market hit, we noticed that Norwegian media giant Schibsted announced that it was starting a local competitor to YouTube. Now comes word in today's Wall Street Journal (subscription required) that the much vaunted deal between Google and CBS (CBS) seems to be falling apart.
And thus descend the vultures. Over at PaidContent, Rafat Ali was so eager to write the bad Google news that he let several typos go up on the site uncorrected.
Nobody's arguing that the company is going to go out of business; the stock is down a little this morning, but so's the rest of the market. The Browser thinks instead that certain realities about Google's business are beginning to sink in. YouTube is a tremendous first-mover in the promotion of online video but, to paraphrase something the wonderful James Fallows once wrote, if first-mover advantage were really absolute, I'd be writing this item on a Kaypro and you'd be reading it on a Wang. Adam Lashinsky's masterful Fortune cover story last fall on Google's embrace of chaos sounded cutting-edge, but it could just as easily fall into a form of neglect. Google may develop and buy fabulous products, like the Blogger publishing tool I'm writing on, but it is not always good at cultivating and growing them. The company needs focus, and until it finds it, February could turn out to be a very long month.
Hey, JetBlue still uses YouTube
Take a look. That's JetBlue founder and CEO David Neeleman apologizing to customers via YouTube after a very, very bad week for the airline: 1,100 flights canceled due to last week's snow storm and thousands more irate passengers. Neeleman's unpolished, earnest delivery makes this one mea culpa the Browser would consider accepting. But then again, we weren't stuck on a tarmac for eight hours.
Viacom and YouTube really, truly break up
Boy did negotiations for a licensing deal between Viacom (VIA) and YouTube fall apart. Earlier this month, Viacom asked YouTube to take down 100,000 clips of copyrighted programming. Today there's news that Viacom -- purveyor of 18-35 demo favorites like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report -- is taking all its content over to Joost.
Okay, so who and what is Joost? Brought to you by the same folks who created Skype and Kazaa, it's another online video service - although the major difference from YouTube is that the company aspires to be a real alternative to TV. And it does it with peer-sharing technology, not hunks of data streaming one way from the source. From the Wall Street Journal article: "Unlike YouTube, which carries mostly short video clips uploaded by users, Joost's strategy is to run full episodes with high-quality resolution. 'What we're trying to do is real TV online,' Mr. Friis said in an interview." So no home-brewed videos. Just the commercial stuff.
As far as the Browser can tell, the sticking point for Viacom with regards to YouTube /Google (GOOG) was that YouTube couldn't guarantee any kind of copyright protection for Viacom's shows. One reason, YouTube says, is that it simply doesn't have the technology yet to filter everything that goes up on the site.
But a lot of questions remain here: If it's true that Joost is giving Viacom two-thirds of related advertising revenue, was the problem copyright-protection technology -- or was Google unwilling to agree to those revenue terms? And let's not forget how ridiculously new Joost is. Until as recently as January, it was known only by its development name, The Venice Project. And it's still in Beta form.
An old-school, giant media company handing much of its online future to a nascent, barely-released internet service? That's how frustrated Viacom felt about YouTube.
Moving beyond Sudoku
In a comment posted to one of yesterday's items about quantum computing, a reader named Peter Hooper said:
Who cares about Sudoku?...maybe you should focus more on the practical applications of a quantum computer rather than 3 posts of Sudoku. What advantages do quantum computers have over traditional computers? Is it the beginning of a new wave of technologies? Will we finally calculate the meaning of life or just have better Sudoku and Chess tournaments?
Hooper's got a point. In The Browser's interview with Geordie Rose, the CTO of D-Wave, he held out the prospect that fully functioning quantum computing could do tasks "a million or a billion times faster" than today's computers. Speed, of course, has profound implications, and will allow computers to tackle tasks that today elude them. That could create havoc: security encryption, for example, is going to have to undergo a revolution in sophistication. Rose believes that the most dominant users of quantum computing will be in the life sciences, which is why one of the tests Tuesday (in addition to the Sudoku) involved matching molecules. The video of this portion is here:
One likely application of this technology would be in pharmaceuticals: with superprecise molecular mapping, scientists could determine the exact effects of a drug without ever having to do trials in living beings.
But let's not dismiss the Sudoku component altogether. The presumed ability of quantum computing to solve "NP complete" problems like a massive Sudoku puzzle could have tremendous applications for essentially all kinds of businesses. That's because modeling for things like resource allocation or efficient use of transportation will become far more robust and useful.
Will quantum computing, to use Hooper's phrase, "calculate the meaning of life"? Perhaps not, but it should deepen it.
Net neutrality debate goes wireless
The debate over Net Neutrality, which got so heated over the summer then faded as Washington turned to the mid-term elections, is back in the news. (Net Neutrality proponents would like to see rules prohibiting phone and cable companies from limiting or prioritizing Internet traffic on their networks.) Direct Democracy has a post (third item) on Net Neutrality legislation being introduced in states such as Maryland and Maine.
And earlier this month, Net Neutrality pin-up Tim Wu issued a new paper on the idea of wireless net neutrality, which the Washington Post sums up nicely.
Proponents of wireless net neutrality wonder why wireless service and devices have to be sold together in the U.S. With wired networks, you can buy any old phone from Radioshack (RSH) or Target (TGT) and plug it into your wall jack. Why can't you do the same with your wireless device?
Part of the reason has to do with networks - the U.S. operates on two different wireless standards, so a phone that works with T-Mobile service simply isn't compatible with the Verizon networks. But mostly it has to do with the wireless operators' desire to control what rides on their networks. This isn't entirely unreasonable: If your Motorola (MOT), Nokia or Blackberry phone breaks, chances are you don't call the device manufacturer for customer service; you call the wireless carrier. On the other hand, as one Nokia (NOK) executive is fond of saying: "You wouldn't buy your computer from Verizon (VZ) or Comcast (CMCSK). Why would you buy your wireless phone from the phone company?"
Quantum computing and Sudoko, part III
An interview with Geordie Rose, founder and Chief Technology Officer of D-Wave, has clarified some issues. First: The Sudoku demonstration was a last-minute addition. A D-Wave employee who is a Sudoku fan wrote the application "a couple of days before the event, and we thought, we'll show that, too," Rose told The Browser. Second, the Sudoku demonstration was NOT intended to show the best abilities of quantum computing. "The point was not to demonstrate superior performance [to conventional computing]," Rose said. "It was to show that it was possible at all."
In other words, this was a proof-of-concept event for quantum computing in general (you can read more about Rose and D-Wave in this Business 2.0 article from 2004). Rose says he anticipates that his system will "become better than conventional approaches" by the end of 2008.
So what might a genuine quantum computing approach to Sudoku look like? Here's how Noah Green, a programmer who is a VP with Lehman Brothers Fixed Income Research, describes the problem:
It's easy to write a [Sudoku] solver and most computers can do it in under a second. However, if you go out past 9 X 9 [squares in a Sudoku grid], believe it or not you enter into a whole different problem space. Why this is and what this implies is the subject of a huge research area of theoretical computer science. Basically the generalized (i.e. > 9x9) Sudoku problem is "NP complete," which means it's a problem that will take forever to solve computationally. Note the word "computationally" - this means a person can conceivably still solve it unsystematically in a much shorter time....
Green also recommends this article for those wanting to know more about the science of Sudoku.
All told, I'd say D-Wave's Sudoku demonstration created a classic public relations quandary: they succeeded in getting people's attention, but at the same time blurred slightly what exactly makes their approach distinctive--most of the coverage treated the Sudoku puzzle-solving as a gee-whiz achievement.
But at least we're now clear on the benchmark for '08--a 10 x 10 Sudoku grid solution or bust!
Stumping for the virtual vote
My Browser colleague Oliver Ryan jogged my memory this week by pointing out the role that MeetUp.com played in the early organizing days of Howard Dean's 2004 presidential bid. It's easy to forget that between mid-2003 and Janaury of 2004, Dean looked close to inevitable as the Democratic nominee, due in part to the fact that he was using state-of-the-art organizing techniques.
Now comes word, via ZDNet's Steve O'Hear, that John Edwards has set up camp in Second Life, apparently the first major party presidential candidate to do so. O'Hear quotes Jerimee Richir, Edwards' SL campaign manager who is affiliated with the real-world Edwards campaign, defending the effort as worthwhile:
I bet that half of Second Life users regularly contribute to multiple blogs. So it is a smaller community [than MySpace or Facebook], but I would argue it is a more influential community. So SL campaigns generate more buzz, not because, "the media is stupid" but because Second Life users do more talking.
The Browser has no idea whether Richir's estimate is accurate, but it hardly matters. As a general rule, beware the candidate or consultant who tells you that there is an advantage to this kind of high-tech canvassing; look at Dean's fate once the voting actually began. For one thing, if it's at all worth doing (and maybe even if it isn't), you can bet Clinton and Obama and everybody else will be on SL any day now.
But more importantly, there's a reductive stupidity in assuming that SL participants are going to base their political decisions on whether or not candidates have a presence there. Yes, this development might be one more stepping stone toward the mainstreaming of SL. But once it's mainstream, it loses it distinctiveness; the assumption is akin to saying that television viewers will prefer Edwards because he advertises on television. Real-world messages and real-world organizing still matter most. And as a guy who couldn't even deliver his home state of North Carolina for the Democrats in 2004, Edwards ought to be spending as much of his time in "First Life" as he possibly can.
Quantum computing and Sudoku, part II
Following up on yesterday's post, there is a video available on YouTube that does appear to show the D-Wave quantum computer solving a Sudoku puzzle more or less instantaneously.
This still doesn't tell us very much, though. As the AP reported this morning, no one can be certain if the computer in question is actually making quantum calculations. And as The Browser's excellent readers have pointed out in comments to the previous item, you don't need a quantum computer for this relatively simple task. (Kevin of Baltimore: thanks for the code! But I don't think we can publish it here.) So it's still unclear why Scientific American and other outlets are touting this as evidence of a breakthrough.
Did a computer really solve a Sudoku puzzle?
Those of us who write headlines for a living know that from time to time a really good pun or catchy phrase may win out over pure accuracy. The Browser suspects that something like this happened over at the august headquarters of Scientific American. An article posted yesterday on the SA site carried the headline "First 'Commercial' Quantum Computer Solves Sudoku Puzzles." It's a fascinating story about a Canadian company called D-Wave testing a "quantum" computer, which has digital bits that can apparently grasp something as 1 and 0 at the same time, and thus in theory take on more complex tasks than ordinary computers.
But if you read through the whole article, it doesn't actually say that the computer "solved" a Sudoku puzzle. What the writer said is this: "The quantum computer was given three problems to solve: searching for molecular structures that match a target molecule, creating a complicated seating plan, and filling in Sudoku puzzles." Nowhere does the article say that the computer actually FINISHED the puzzle, much less finished it with its unique correct solution. And the company's press release makes no mention of Sudoku at all. (The Browser is awaiting comment from D-Wave on this matter).
And besides: as complex as Sudoku puzzles may be (I interviewed Wayne Gould a couple of years back; he spent seven years writing proprietary software that can create a near-infinite number of Sudoku puzzles), since when is solving one meant to be a benchmark for artificial intelligence? (UPDATE: A number of readers have noted in comments below that there are programs available for download that solve Sudoku puzzles. This reinforces the point: why are SA and a number of bloggers focusing on this apparently mundane accomplishment?) After all, IBM's (IBM) Deep Blue beat chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov in a six-game match back in 1997. Maybe I'm wrong, but I think chess is significantly more complicated than Sudoku. Perhaps the distinction here is that D-Wave is talking about a commercially viable computer, which Deep Blue isn't. But even so, I think Scientific American is overhyping this development, even if unintentionally.
Google without the "L"
Very close web watchers are giddy today at the possibility Google might have misspelled itself. Can you see an "L" in their Valentine's Day-themed logo at right? Well, our friends at Gawker couldn't, and they were quick to pounce. But Gawker sibling Valleywag actually managed to make a call to Google's PR crew who claim that "the stalk on the strawberry is supposed to be the L." Emphasis on "supposed to be." OK, nothing more to see here. Keep moving.
A disconnect for online love connections
In honor of Valentine's Day it seemed fitting we delve into the world of online romance. Jupiter Research is hawking a new report on online dating that shows much of the growth in the U.S. market is coming from higher fees, rather than growth in the number of subscribers. "Over the last several years we've seen a steady drop in the percentage of US online users who report browsing online dating sites," says Nate Elliott, Senior Analyst at JupiterResearch and lead author of the report. Could all those users be finding love - or finding new ways to find love?
The report suggests that online dating in the U.S. has reached its natural limit, while European matchmaking sites, according to Jupiter, continue to see steady subscriber growth.
Fair enough, but we wondered what our Canadian friends are doing to find love online. Coincidentally, we recently met with a Vancouver-based entrepreneur who started telling us about a friend of his whose matchmaking site, plentyoffish.com, apparently is the top dating site in Canada, as measured by Alexa's traffic rankings for the country.
It turns out Plentyoffish CEO (and sole employee) Markus Frind is a blogger, and in his latest post he boasts that thousands of people have found love and marriage through Plentyoffish. (He also claims his site is the largest dating site in the world measured by "relationships created.") He writes, "it's getting hard not to find people in your group of friends that haven't found someone on plentyoffish at least in Canada."
For those hopeless romantics interested in reading the real-life stories of Canadians in love, click here. Warning: Some of these stories are pretty darn sappy.
MeetUp's sales spike
Remember MeetUp.com, the web tool that put Howard Dean on the map during the 2004 Presidential elections? Well, if you haven't been paying attention, you might be forgiven for thinking they were somewhat of a flash in the pan. Not so. In fact, guess who's revenues spiked 30% in January over December? Yup, the data point comes direct from CEO Scott Heiferman who shared it with the crowd at his monthly, eat-your-own-dogfood NYC Tech MeetUp last week.
In a follow up email to The Browser, Heiferman offered his explanation: "Seems related to New Year's resolutions; not just fitness related. People resolve to get involved in a cause, to connect with some passion/interest/hobby or whatnot." All this fresh resolve is clearly good news for the syndicate of blue chip VCs, including eBay (EBAY), Pierre Omidyar, and Draper Fisher Jurvetson, who collectively bought 10% of the company last spring.
Just to crunch the numbers a bit: MeetUp.com "facilitated" 33,848 meetings in January, and its primary revenue stream comes from meeting organizers, who pay a $12-$19 monthly fee for the service. Based on our very rough, unscientific estimate of total meetup groups and possible ad dollars, we figure the company might be grossing as much as $500,000 a month, which puts them at $6 million in annual sales. We welcome better estimates, but, regardless, this is not exactly Google (GOOG).
Still, with double digit month-over-month growth, a $6 million revenue run rate can quickly become a much more serious number. We're just saying. And Obama and Hillary have barely gotten started.
Why YouTube is nothing like Napster
Viewed from a distance, music labels, movie studios and TV networks have all been fighting the same battle ad nauseum against copyright interlopers. And there's never been any question who their lawyers should be calling. Once upon a time, it was Napster. These days, it's YouTube.
But there's something different about this particular fight. Earlier this month, Viacom (VIA) asked YouTube to remove 100,000 unauthorized videos from its site. YouTube complied, but Viacom's not so dense as to think that YouTube hasn't been a boon to its most popular shows. Surely all those Steven Colbert clips formerly on YouTube only encouraged more people to watch Comedy Central every night at 11:30.
The same argument has been made regarding music: All that MP3 swapping ultimately promotes individual songs and their artists, even if it doesn't line anyone's pockets in the near future. But in fact, unauthorized video clips are far less threatening than illegal MP3s. They offer all the promotional advantages with less of the cost to the copyright owners. As James McQuivey, an analyst with Forrester Research, explained to CNET.com:
Video is not like the music space, where access to or a download of a free track will satisfy a person's interest in a particular copyright material and cause the creator to directly lose money, said McQuivey.
While an MP3 provides access to a hit single in its entirety, reducing the likelihood that it will be purchased, a video clip of MTV's Laguna Beach may very well motivate viewers to tune into the commercial broadcast. Someone at Viacom gets this distinction, which is why, in the next few months Viacom will start posting its video clips on its own websites and let blogs link to them.
The corporate lawyers may be playing hardball with YouTube, but deep down the executives must know that YouTube is no Napster.
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