Watch Out Trolls, Your Menacing Comments Could Lead to Big Fines

Image Credit - flickr user tandemracerIn what may be a precedent-setting case, two former Yale University law students have settled their suit brought against some 30-plus anonymous commenters who posted derogatory remarks about them on an internet forum called AutoAdmit. The comments, which ranged from standard insults to those of a more sexually explicit nature, were so vile they prompted the women to sue in order to out the identities of those doing the commenting. According to the plaintiffs, the suit was necessary because the discussion board, a site designed for law school graduates, was often monitored by firms looking to hire. Because the comments were associated with their names, the women claimed that it would hurt their chances of being offered a job.

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The Case

This case had been in litigation for years, having been originally filed back in 2007. The problem stemmed from the fact that internet sites such as AutoAdmit are essentially able to operate under different rules than those that apply to TV and newspapers when it comes to libel. This is due to a law called "Section 230," which immunizes internet publishers from legal harm. At the time of its establishment in the 90's, however, those "publishers" were the ISPs themselves - the AOLs and CompuServes that delivered Internet access to consumers. The idea of bloggers, social media publishers, and anonymous blog and forum commenters didn't really exist yet and therefore wasn't taken into consideration. That meant the women weren't able to sue the operators of the discussion board website itself, but had to go after the anonymous posters instead. That, of course, was quite the challenge.

In the end, the women's attorneys were able to identify some eight or nine of the anonymous posters, according to the Hartford Courant and they settled with some of them.

Because the terms of the settlement were confidential, the lawyers representing the former students, Heide Iravani and Brittan Heller, would not discuss them. However, San Francisco attorney Ashok Ramani, whose firm, Keker & Van Nest took the case pro-bono said that the their clients were "very pleased with how the case went." The women had sued for monetary damages so a settlement means they were likely awarded at least some of the amount they had hoped for.

Was the Settlement a Win or a Loss? Depends on Who You Ask

Marc Randazza, the attorney for one of the defendants scoffed that if the women's intention were to have the negative comments removed, their interests were very poorly served. "Now there's even an Encyclopedia Dramatica page for them," he told the Yale Daily News.

However, David Rosen, one of the women's attorneys and a Yale Law professor, countered that unmasking some of these anonymous posters who were hiding behind pseudonyms and then holding them accountable for what they said had accomplished "the fundamental goals of the case." He thinks the suit may even have some internet commenters thinking twice before posting. The possibility of a lawsuit "may make some people pause before posting comments that are malicious and completely indefensible," Rosen was quoted as saying.

Will This Really Change Things?

While obviously a major case, this suit isn't the first time a defamation case like this has been brought to court. In fact, only months ago, an anonymous blogger using Google's Blogger.com service was sued for rants she made about a fellow model, one Liskula Cohen, on her site "Skanks in NYC." The victim sued to reveal the identity of the malicious blogger. Thanks to a judge's ruling that Google must hand over to Cohen any identifying information they had on the site's creator, the blogger in question was revealed to be Rosemary Port. (She's now suing Google for not protecting her).

Although a slightly different case, the womens' suit involving the forum commenters also succeeded - at least in part - in revealing the identities of those posting the defamatory messages. Combined with the prior example, it will be interesting to see what impact these cases have on the online world. Will this lead to more lawsuits where alleged victims seek to out the identities of their internet foes? Will it lead to more self-policing among the commenting community? Will internet trolls actually think before they type?

It's too soon to say, but it's possible that a kinder, gentler - and possibly more boring - internet may be in our future.

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Netflix to Launch Streaming-Only Service…but Not in the U.S.

During yesterday's Q3 earnings call, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings revealed the company's plans to launch a streaming-only service which will allow users to watch movies via their PCs without having to sign up for the DVD-by-mail portion of the Netflix service. Unfortunately, this new streaming-only option won't be available to any Netflix subscribers in the U.S. Instead, it's a part of the company's new international efforts which will launch in the second half of 2010, starting off small in one market then expanding into other countries one-by-one.

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Hastings wouldn't reveal which overseas market would be first to get the new service "for competitive reasons," but he did say that their initial approach is to prove their model before the expansion into other countries. By "proving their model," what he probably means is figuring out how to turn a profit off a streaming-only option. The company has never attempted anything of the sort and will probably need some time to tweak it in order to make it work. It's likely that Netflix wouldn't even go this route if they had their way, but apparently, DVDs-by-mail isn't isn't an option for them overseas. When questioned about this, Hastings cited the "tricky" postal systems in other countries as making it too difficult to mail physical disks.

Although Netflix will try to make a streaming-only service work abroad, the company really doesn't think there's a demand for this type of offering within the U.S. In fact, when responding to a reporter's question regarding Netflix's plans for an a la carte option (there isn't one), Hastings said that while they're "open-minded to" an a la carte service that came without the DVD option, the company hasn't seen much interest in something of that nature in the States. "Everybody also wants to get DVDs," said Hastings. "All the new releases are on DVD, the vast catalog is on DVD. When there is demand, it will make sense for us to meet that demand for streaming only."

...But There is Demand for Streaming-Only

While that may be true - people do want the new releases - the demand for the physical media is arguably an artificial one created by the entertainment industry. Studios simply refuse to offer their movies and TV shows via Netflix's on-demand streaming library until they've been able to pull in a nice profit from disk sales first. This, in turn, forces consumers to not only purchase but also desire the DVD-by-mail part of the Netflix service as opposed to a separate, unbundled option of on-demand content only.

In other words, to say that the demand for streaming-only doesn't exist isn't exactly accurate. After all, Netflix reported that their streaming stats are now at an all-time high with 42% of subscribers having streamed at least 15 minutes of one TV show or movie during the last quarter. This number is up from 22% during the same period last year. Considering that Netflix's subscriber base itself has grown 28% over the past year, this figure means that the raw count of subscribers actively engaged in streaming has now more than doubled over last year. Hastings even said himself that the numbers were "a good marker of increasing streaming adoption."

Although the demand for new releases would probably have many subscribers sticking with the hybrid DVD/streaming service, by forgoing a streaming-only option it seems that the company is overlooking an opportunity to pick up a sizable group of more casual users. There are likely a number of people who would appreciate the option to pay a little less in order to to gain access to the on-demand content only - content which includes a much smaller catalog than what's available by mail. Given the company's integrations into game consoles, set-top boxes, and even some TVs, there's actually no need to even own a DVD player anymore to watch Netflix movies. The content is on-demand.

Streaming media is the future, not physical disks. Hollywood knows this too, but as with the music industry, they're fighting tooth-and-nail to keep the old business model afloat for as long as possible. So far, it's working. As long as they control the method of distribution and keep it limited to physical media it will look like DVDs are what the people want. But the people really want streams. From music (Pandora, Spotify) to TV (Hulu, iPlayer) and yes, to movies via Netflix, streaming media is rapidly becoming the method of choice for many of today's consumers. The future is an on-demand world and Hollywood would do better to figure that out now than try to delay the inevitable.

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Gmail Users are Young, Female; AOL Users are Older

Social media data company Rapleaf has just completed a comprehensive study involving the demographics and behavior of webmail users. In the first part of their study, they looked specifically at age and gender data and revealed some interesting findings. For example, did you know that Gmail has more female users than male? And that Hotmail is the other way around? Meanwhile, AOL users are older...but maybe not as old as you think.

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For the Rapleaf study, the company sampled 120,000 webmail accounts from users with @aol.com, @gmail.com, @hotmail.com, and @yahoo.com email addresses. They then looked into the users' age and gender after having collected the data from social media profiles where people have publicly disclosed this information. Obviously, in doing so, they've skewed their findings a bit, as the company notes in their blog post. Users of social media sites already tend to be younger, so it's not surprising that they found that the majority of the webmail users studied were young with 75% under the age of 35.

Rapleaf says that despite their collection methods, their findings can offer insight into these different userbases. To some extent, that may be true, but we're left wondering how different these findings would be if they hadn't relied on public social media data and rather went with a true random sample.

Gmail Skews Young, AOL Older

That being said, here's what Rapleaf came up with. In terms of age:

  • Nearly 50% of Gmail users are under 25 years of age
  • AOL users tend to be older, with 31% of users being at least 36 years old
  • Yahoo and Hotmail email users have similar age distributions

It's not all that surprising that Gmail users tend to be young. After all, the service was established years after AOL, Hotmail, and Yahoo. Some of those who already had webmail accounts on other services were hesitant to switch at first (and some still are) since the process of changing email accounts is never entirely painless and often leads to months of checking dual inboxes for emails that may have been missed. Instead, Google's growth likely came from more webmail first-timers looking to set up their brand-new online accounts in addition to the braver "email switchers," a group that also probably skews younger...especially since an effective switchover often requires a bit of technical savvy involving setting up forwarding, auto-responders, etc.

As for AOL being comprised of older users, that too, is relatively unsurprising. Where Google is the newest service, AOL is one of the oldest. Its core user base has aged with it over the years and those who haven't jumped shipped yet are bound to be the older members who don't stay as current with changing technology trends. Still, setting the bar for "old" at 36 is a little humbling - especially for those of us getting up in our years. (That's not old, is it?) It would be interesting to see further breakdowns of this demographic into age segments including 40+, 50+, and so on, but that data was not available.

Gmail Has More Females, Hotmail Has More Males

Perhaps more interesting is the gender variations between the services. Gmail, for instance, includes more females (53%) than males (47%). If those were election poll results, we would call it "too close to call," but in terms of tens of thousands of users, these percentage point differences have meaning.

Why would Gmail attract more females? And conversely, why does Hotmail have more males? (It's 57% male.) Is there something about the aesthetics, workflow or features in those services that appeal to more to women than men or vice versa? And if so, what? Unfortunately, raw data can't provide these sorts of answers, but they're definitely intriguing to us. We would imagine they are intriguing to the user interface designers and engineers behind the products, too.

Do women like Gmail's drag-and-drop features or its themes? Do men prefer Hotmail's efficient "quick adds" which allow for one-click additions of Bing content to messages? We doubt those are the reasons for the discrepancy, but it makes us wonder what are. Try as we might, we can't come up with an easy theory to explain this. (If you can, please share in the comments.)

Future details about the study will focus on other data including online activity, friend counts, and social network memberships. Stay tuned to Rapleaf's site for more information.

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Can Music Save MySpace?

Yesterday, amid all the news of Twitter's arrival into both Microsoft's Bing and the Google search engine, another major announcement was being made. MySpace is giving up on trying to be a major social network. According to MySpace CEO, Owen Van Natta, Facebook is no longer their competition. "We're focused on a different space," he says.

That "different space," as it turns out, is music...and it really isn't all that different, especially considering MySpace's roots. If anything, this major overhaul of the social network is an attempt to return the site to becoming the popular entertainment hub it once was.

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MySpace: Remember When it Was "A Place for Music?"

When MySpace hit the scene back in 2003, local bands - especially indie rock bands - were among the first to create profiles on the social network. Their presence immediately began to attract a young, hip crowd of users who were interested in following pop culture, and, in particular, the up-and-coming artists they discovered while browsing through the network. Only eight months after its launch, MySpace began to experience exponential growth, as its users created profiles and friended others who would then, in turn, invite more users to join the social network. Thanks to the "network effect," MySpace soon became the place to be online. Everyone was there.

But at the same time that MySpace was having its heyday, another social networking site was being created. Although still in its infancy in 2004, a Harvard student named Mark Zuckerberg began writing the code for what would eventually become Facebook, now the world's largest social network.

Over recent months, we've seen the mass exodus from MySpace to the more popular - and more populated - Facebook. Studies have shown that those left actively engaging on MySpace now tend to be younger, lower-income users. Researcher Danah Boyd pointed out, somewhat controversially, that the differences between the two networks, MySpace and Facebook, went further than age and income - they involved your "social class," too.

Tired of being compared to Facebook in this way and certainly tired of hemorrhaging its users, MySpace CEO Van Natta has plans to turn the sinking ship around. After taking over the company six months ago, he's been busy arranging new partnerships for the one-time king of social networks. These partnerships aim to bring the focus back to music, and less on socializing.

New Music Initiatives: iLike, Videos, Artist Dashboards

One of the most notable new initiatives involves MySpace's iLike integration. After being acquired by MySpace in August, many wondered why iLike wasn't becoming a part of the MySpace network. Actually it was, but Van Natta didn't want to disclose that information at the time.

But now, the iLike acquisition is beginning to make sense. Through iLike music video widgets, now popular installations on other social networks like Facebook and Orkut, the videos - and, most importantly, their ads - can be streamed on other sites while the revenue generated returns to MySpace. Even though many of the users watching these videos now may be lost forever to MySpace, they're helping the company regain its footing through their streams.

MySpace's entire music video vault, one of the most popular features on the social network, has also been integrated with iLike. In August, comScore reported 45 million people watched 340 million videos during the course of the month. It only makes sense for MySpace to capitalize on that activity, which is why the company has now launched MySpace Music Videos, an online video archive where users can not only watch videos from their favorite artists, but with a click, purchase the song or ringtone from Amazon or iTunes. Meanwhile, pre-roll, post-roll, and overlay ads help to monetize the content.

In addition, to cater to the musicians, bands, and labels who make MySpace their home, the network has also launched "Artist Dashboards." These online analytical tools track the fans' demographics by age and location, the total number of plays per song, profile views and more. Every artist with a MySpace profile is given free access to these tools.

Is it Enough?

The question that remains, of course, is whether or not MySpace's re-branding efforts will be enough to keep the site from going under. Although MySpace still had a healthy 64 million users in August of this year, that number is 12 million fewer than it did at the same time last year. Meanwhile, Facebook climbed to 300 million worldwide that same month.

Can MySpace entice people to come back to the network through its new music-based initiatives? It's too soon to tell at the moment whether the strategy will work or not, but it's definitely the network's best shot. By capitalizing on what remains the most popular activity on MySpace to date (music and video), the company hopes to become more of a niche site for socializing around music instead of a site for just socializing. The newly launched features are just a part of the company's overall efforts in this direction, too. Still to come are concert ticket and merchandise sales, although no details or launch dates have been given for those features as of yet.

While these efforts may not ever allow MySpace to reclaim its status as the number one social network - that ship seems to have sailed - they could definitely help the network maintain profitability. And at the end of the day, that's all that's really needed. It's not about how many users you have, it's about how much money you can make off of those that you do.

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Gen Y Says: You Can Take Facebook, but Please Don’t Take our Email!

A recent study by industry group the Participatory Marketing Network has unearthed some surprising data on Gen Y behavior. Apparently, the members of this young demographic (ages 18-24) would rather give up their social networking accounts before they would abandon their email. Given that this generation is typically viewed as "plugged in" digital natives who don't have any use for email, the study raises many questions. Have the previous reports about Generation Y's disdain for email simply been wrong? Or has Gen Y grown up a bit now and has learned the necessity of the medium?

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Gen Y Chooses to Keep Email, Text Messaging over Social Networks

PMN asked 203 panel members about their day-to-day behavior including the time they spent visiting social networks, reading and writing email, texting, talking on the phone, watching TV, reading magazines and surfing the web (visiting non-social networking sites).

When asked what activity they would be least willing to give up for an entire week, only 9% responded with "social networks." However, 26% responded "email." Another 26% said they wouldn't give up texting, although that finding is less surprising and fits in with other known behavioral traits of this particular demographic.

The report also notes that the time spent on social networks is now nearly the same as the time spent emailing. Panelists reported spending 33 hours per month on social networks and 31 hours per month on email. The difference of 2 hours per month is somewhat negligible. What's unexpected is how close those two numbers are to each other.

Questionable Findings?

According to Michael Della Penna, PMN co-founder and Executive Chairman, Gen Y finds email more critical because it remains the central hub for "social networking updates, including alerts around new followers, discussion updates and friend requests." While that may be true to a point, if the only reason Gen Y desired email access was for the social networking updates, it seems they would just go to the source instead: the social networks themselves. Given a choice between the two, it would be likely that they would have chosen to give up email and not their Facebook accounts. Something else must be going on here.

These findings also somewhat contradict a wider study done by Pew Internet and American Life earlier this year which more deeply examined how the different generations use the Internet. At that time, the study showed that email was still "for old people," so to speak, and email usage among teens had dropped from 89% in 2004 to 73% in 2009. Meanwhile, Pew also found that out of all the demographic groups surveyed, Gen Y was the most likely to use social networks.

Then last month, the Online Publishers Association revealed that web surfers' use of social networking sites like Facebook had become so rampant that it was actually causing a decline in email use.

While neither study specifically compares Gen Y's use of email against that of social networking sites, both seem to imply that email use is trending down thanks to the impact of social networking. That's why it's odd to find that one of the more "connected" generations would be quicker to abandon those social sites in favor of the more antiquated medium.

So Why Would Gen Y Give Up Facebook, but Not Email?

The answer to that question could be something as simple as how the survey question was worded. After all, the survey asked which activity they would give up for a week. Ask them again which one they could give up permanently and you may get a different answer.

Another theory is that all the hype about how Generation Y doesn't care for email is just an overblown stereotype about a demographic that, in reality, isn't all that different from the rest of us...at least when it comes to our inbox addiction.

Or perhaps Gen Y is starting to grow up a bit. Now that a large majority of them have exited their "teen" years and have entered the job market, they have begun to learn the importance of email communications. And no, they aren't just for receiving Facebook updates and friend requests. Email may now involve business-critical messages which jobs depend upon.

Finally, it could be that Gen Y has just a touch of Facebook ennui. The network, which used to be an exclusive hang out, has now been overrun by Baby Boomers and other "old folks" including bosses, parents, and sometimes even grandparents. Meanwhile, many have "aged out" of MySpace, finding themselves no longer as interested in the glittery profiles and loud music that seemed much more attractive in their high school days.

In addition, although we don't have any hard data yet, there are reports that Gen Y users are finding solace in alternative, niche social media sites like FML, Failblog, TextsFromLastNight, and Sporcle. Though not typical "social networks," these timewaster sites skew heavily towards young, college-aged adults says Carol Phillips, president of Brand Amplitude, a marketing firm that focuses heavily on the millennial demographic.

In any event, there's no need to take the PMN's study as gospel, especially given its relatively small sample set. Still, it raises the question whether this purported change in behavior deserves further study. Has Gen Y succumbed to email addiction like the rest of us? Or have they always felt this way? We hope some more in-depth research will reveal those answers in the future.

Image credit: Mac guy via Apple

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Office Web Apps Expands, More Invited to Join Technical Preview

Office Web Applications, the browser-based versions of Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote, are now being made available to more users according to a post on the Windows Live Team blog. The online office suite, which began its initial alpha testing (in Microsoft terms, it's called a "Technical Preview") in mid-September, was originally made available to only a limited number of users. Today, the Technical Preview is opening up, allowing more people to try the Web Apps, Microsoft's first attempt at porting their desktop Office software to the cloud.

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About the Web Apps and the Technical Preview

Although still limited to users in the U.S. and Japan, participants in the Technical Preview are able to access the web versions of the Office programs through Windows Live SkyDrive, Microsoft's online cloud storage service and a part of their Windows Live suite of tools and services.

SkyDrive, which provides each user with 25 GB of online storage, is used to host the documents created using the Office Web Applications. For now, the service is entirely free. However, during our earlier interview with Takeshi Numoto, the corporate vice president of the Microsoft Office Product Management Group, we questioned him about future monetization plans for the online suite. He wouldn't confirm any details, only saying that Microsoft was "experimenting" with several options. To date, nothing has changed on that front.

At the moment, the Technical Preview is not offering full access to all the Office programs - only Word, Excel and PowerPoint are currently available. There is a placeholder for OneNote, but it displays a message reading "Still to come..." when clicked. We're told that OneNote support is due later this fall. That should be relatively soon, considering that it's already October.

The web version of Microsoft Word is also incomplete at this time, allowing you to view files but not create or edit them. Only Excel and PowerPoint allow for both read and write access at the moment.

According to Microsoft, the Technical Preview program is designed solely for the purpose of collecting user feedback prior to the broader beta release of the service. No date has been given for the beta launch as of yet but the online suite is due to ship next year alongside Office 2010, the next version of the company's desktop software suite.

How to Join

If you're interested in signing up for the Technical Preview, you'll need to establish a Windows Live ID if you have yet to do so. Hotmail and Windows Live Mail users should already have one - it's your @hotmail.com or @live.com email address. You can then sign up for the Technical Preview program via this link. As noted above, you will need to select either the United States or Japan during signup, as those are the only two countries supported at this time. After completing the sign up process and accepting the license agreement, your Windows Live ID will have access to the Web Applications by way of SkyDrive.

Disclosure: Sarah Perez also freelances for Microsoft's Channel 10. She is not a Microsoft employee.

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Consumers Find Mobile Web Disappointing, Slow to Load

An independent study by Equation Research found that today's consumers are disappointed with the performance of the mobile web. Despite the proliferation of smartphones with their full-featured web browsers, the majority of mobile web surfers have encountered issues with accessing websites via their handsets over the past year. The number one issue reported involves websites that are too slow to load, frustrating users to the point that over half said they would never return to the site in question.

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Mobile Web Disappoints

The research study was commissioned by Gomez, Inc., a company that helps organizations optimize the performance of their web and mobile applications. Obviously, that means you have to take these findings with a grain of salt as the company clearly has a vested interest in making the mobile web sound worse off than actually is.

That being said, in reading through the findings, you'll probably find yourself agreeing with much of what's being said. For example, the study found that the majority of mobile phone users said they expected sites to load as quickly, nearly as quickly, or even faster on their mobile phones as compared to their PC. While intellectually, most of us know that's not going to be the case - broadband connections at home or work are generally much faster than accessing the web via a mobile handset - there's still a feeling of wanting the phone to perform the way we've become accustomed to...that is to say, FAST. Waiting for a non-mobilized site to load up in the phone's browser reminds us too much of the painful days of dial-up connections. It feels like we've regressed to an earlier time...like there's something wrong with the site.

When encountering these slow loading sites, half of consumers reported that they were only willing to wait 6-10 seconds or less for the site to load. Longer than that, and they'll give up, move on, and probably won't ever return. Sixty-one percent said it's unlikely that they would ever visit that site again from their mobile device while another forty percent said they would seek out a competitor's site that provided a similar service.

While slow speeds were the number one complaint, with 73% reporting having issues in the past year, other complaints pointed to a lack of well-designed and stable mobile-ready sites. 51% percent complained of sites that crashed, froze, or received an error and another 48% reported the formatting of the site made it difficult to read. Clearly, there is overlap in these numbers as the survey respondents reported multiple complaints. Overall, though, 60% of mobile users reported having one or more issues accessing a site from their mobile phones.

No Mobile Web Presence is Bad for Business

For businesses who maintain a web presence, the survey's findings highlight the potential consequences of ignoring the mobile web. There are more people surfing mobile sites than ever before - 56.9 million as of July, according to Nielsen. Companies who haven't given consideration to their mobile websites aren't just losing customers for that initial attempted transaction that goes bad - they're possibly losing those customers for good seeing as how many of those frustrated users claim they won't ever return to the site in question.   

Although the survey sample size was relatively small (just 1001 total respondents) and the company behind this wants to sell web optimization services, the findings seem to be believable. Anyone who's spent a good amount of time on the mobile web can assure you that it truly is in its infancy. So many sites are slow, aren't optimized for viewing from mobile handsets, and it is frustrating when you encounter them. Hopefully, businesses will begin to realize that if they want to compete with the next generation of web surfers, a "web presence" alone isn't enough. Today, you need a "mobile web presence" too.

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BookServer: A Plan to Build an Open Web of Books

The Internet Archive has just unveiled their ambitious project called BookServer, which will allow users to find, buy, or borrow digital books from sources all across the web. The system, built on an open architecture and using open book formats, promises that the books housed there will work on any device whether that's a laptop, PC, smartphone, game console, or one of the myriad of e-Readers like Amazon's Kindle.

The project's lofty goal is to essentially create an open web of books where anyone can publish their books and make their content available via search.

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Any Book, Open Formats

Although still in the early days of development and potentially taking years to complete, the BookServer project will allow search engines to index books from all over the web. What that means for an end user is that you could type a title into a search engine and the engine would return results listing everywhere you could get that book in digital format including online bookstores, libraries, or a direct method from the publisher itself. Depending on your needs, you could borrow the book or purchase it and then download it to your digital device.

While the project isn't exactly a direct effort to take down Amazon's online bookstore or Google's upcoming online eBook store called Google Editions, it will provider book publishers and online libraries with the means to more effectively compete with those companies. By allowing publishers to set their own pricing and manage the distribution of their books, they will be able to take back control from Amazon and Google who would rather dictate those terms for them.

An Open Marketplace for eBooks

A secondary goal of BookServer's open system is to fight back against the proprietary marketplaces, such as Amazon's Kindle Store, where books are only sold in a copyright-protected format (.AZW) that only works on the company's eReader device, the Kindle. Elsewhere, some book sellers use other proprietary formats, others use the open ePub format, and still others distribute books as Adobe PDFs. For consumers, this multitude of choices only leads to confusion. People don't know what formats their particular device can read or where to get them. It brings to mind the similar issues consumers have had with digitally distributed music. To this day, many are still confused about whether their iTunes purchased music can play on other devices or whether tunes purchased from other online MP3 stores will play on their iPods.

While Google promises its Google Editions store will allow anyone to access digital books as long as they have a web browser and internet access, it's still unknown at this time how the company plans to make the digital content available offline. Will it require the use of special web browser plugins to do so? Until Google reveals more about the technical details, it is not possible to know how truly open their online store will be. And even if their store is 100% open, they are still a company whose ultimate goal is to profit from their work of digitizing books. BookServer's goal, on the other hand, is to provide universal access to book data made available in open formats.

Today, a few booksellers have partnered with the BookServer system including Feedbooks, O'Reilly, Adobe, and the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) project.

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Loopt Launches “Loopt Mix”: Less about Networking, More about Dating

Loopt, the makers of a popular mobile social networking application by the same name, is introducing a new iPhone application today called Loopt Mix. Where their original app focuses on connecting you with your friends while you're out-and-about, Loopt Mix is more about introducing you to "the people you wish you knew." In other words, "people" like that attractive person giving you eyes from the other end of the bar.

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The new application is actually a spinoff of Loopt's "Mix" feature which lets you browse the Loopt profiles of those around you within its original mobile social networking application. Now Mix is its very own app - a change that could attract a whole new user base looking to do a little more than just basic "networking."

Although the company is not specifically marketing Mix as a dating application, it's clearly designed for mobile singles because - let's face it - who else wants to browse the photos and profiles of nearby folks and strike up IM-based conversations with those who look interesting? If that's not about dating, then it's just borderline creepy.

While Loopt Mix is not the first iPhone-based dating application - others like DatingDNA and Skout have beaten them to the punch - the company may have a leg up on their competition already thanks to brand recognition alone. That's because Loopt was featured in one of the many iPhone TV commercials last year as a great way to stay in touch with friends. Given widespread exposure like that, Loopt is already well-known outside of the early adopter set.

Loopt Mix Features

Like its competitors, Loopt Mix lets you tap into the iPhone's location-based features to see what other Loopt Mix members are nearby. You can browse their profiles, view and post photos and status messages, and start chat sessions - all of which are par for the course in mobile dating apps these days. In fact, there's nothing all that revolutionary about Mix's feature set except for perhaps its ability to send you real-time push notifications - something which a few other social networking apps, Facebook included, have yet to adopt.

In Loopt Mix, the push notifications work with the app's built-in chat functionality so you're notified when and if someone responds to you without you having to sit there looking uncool while constantly reloading the page or staring at the still-blank chat window.

It's also worth mentioning that you don't have to be out on the town to take advantage of Loopt Mix. Since it simply locates people near you, you could use this anytime - even from your own home - to find and connect to other interesting people. However, should you ever want to go offline, you and the other person would have to make arrangements to meet somewhere...just like you would on a "real" dating website like Match.com or eHarmony. The only difference with Loopt Mix is that, unlike traditional dating sites, the app is completely free.That, too, could help Mix grow - especially in this tough economy where finding love for a fee is a luxury many can no longer afford.

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Sweb Apps 2.0: Build Your Own Mobile Storefront for the iPhone

New from Sweb Apps, the company whose online service lets anyone create their own iPhone application - no coding required - is Sweb Apps 2.0, the next generation of the company's app builder product. Among a handful of new features, including a real-time WYSIWYG style landing page builder and YouTube integration, is the ability to create an iPhone-based store where you can sell inventory within your app and take payments via PayPal.

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Sweb Apps is an interesting company to watch because it's one of the first to democratize the iPhone app-building business by taking the complexity of coding out of the equation. With their service, anyone can create their own application in as little as five minutes. Of course, you aren't necessarily designing any masterpieces with this sort of click-to-build process, but it provides an easy - if a bit simplistic - way for small to medium-sized businesses to establish a presence in the iTunes App Store.

Real-Time View of App Creation

With the next generation of the product, Sweb Apps 2.0, some of the original concerns about the - well, let's say it - rather boring user interface of the Sweb-built apps - have begun to be addressed. Whereas before you could only customize your own background color and upload your own buttons, today you can customize the background to be an image instead. And if you don't have one of your own, Sweb Apps is providing an online library of images to choose from. That's a step in the right direction even if some of the backgrounds are reminiscent of early GeoCities webpages or Windows 98 wallpapers....after all, you have crawl first before you can run.

As you build your app's landing page, you're provided with a real-time view of your app in progress which makes it much easier to tell whether your images, buttons and colors look good together or not. That's a handy feature for SMB owners who may be doing app creation on their own without the aid of a professional designer. The app builder also uses drag-and-drop functionality to make the process even more painless for the inexperienced end user.

Mobile Storefronts

However, one of the most interesting developments in the 2.0 version of Sweb Apps' online service is the new "store" functionality. Now, as easy as it is to build an app, you can essentially build a mobile storefront for your business. This feature, still in beta, allows you to categorize, subcategorize, itemize, and write descriptions for your products. You can manage and maintain your inventory through Sweb's CMS and your mobile customers can "check out" via the included PayPal integration.

Sweb Apps tells us that they envision this sort of feature being used by restaurants, boutiques, and small retailers. It's easy to imagine. For example: wish you had picked up a t-shirt from that seafood place where you dined on vacation? In theory, you could now even if you were halfway home thanks to these new mobile storefronts. In a way, these sorts of mobile storefronts are an even better choice than having the same functionality on via an online store on the "real" web mainly because not everyone ports their laptops around with them 24/7. But their iPhones? People don't leave home without them.

And More...

Other features being introduced today include podcasts, audio streams, and YouTube integrations, all of which stream the audio or video within the app itself as opposed to launching an external program such as the iPhone's own built-in YouTube app. Also news is the ability for users to manage multiple applications from one account.

Sweb Apps says they've seen good results since their August 2009 launch with a 400% increase in sales, but won't share any actual numbers. That doesn't really tell us much about the service's adoption by the SMB market. Since the company isn't touting any high-profile clients or case studies in their PR though, we have to imagine that they're flying a bit under the radar on the business front at this point. Still, it's very early in the game and services like this can take a while to catch on and gain popularity.

The pricing for Sweb Apps remains the same despite the new features. The company offers four, six, and eight button packages which all include a one time set-up fee of $50 per button. Then there is a $25 monthly hosting fee applied to every application going forward.

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How Safe are Facebook Applications?

Recently, Roger Thompson, chief research officer at security firm AVG, discovered over half a dozen Facebook applications that had been compromised by malicious hackers. Although the apps' reach was small with relatively few users being affected, Thompson was concerned because it was the first time he had seen apps themselves hacked as opposed to something like Facebook profile pages, a common target for the still-spreading Koobface worm.

While this incident alone wouldn't generate much excitement given the low-profile nature of the applications affected, it's not the only example of unsafe applications on Facebook. Another researcher just spent an entire month scouring Facebook apps for security vulnerabilities and what he found is disturbing: six of the hacked apps were in the top ten, 9700 applications were affected, and the potential victims totaled 218 million users.

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Hacked Apps Found Forcing Malicious Software on Users

In the case of the hacked Facebook apps found by AVG, the apps had been compromised by the use of "iframes," which are bits of code embedded in the applications themselves. The iframes were able to load content from malicious websites into the applications' pages on Facebook.com, directing app users to install software on their computers by purporting to be an update for an out-of-date Adobe Reader product.

Image Credit: AVG (thompson.blog.avg.com)

At first, Thompson thought the apps had been hacked by the developers, but as it turned out, it was the developers who were the victims. After looking at the source code for the apps in question, Thompson found that the iframes had been injected into the apps' code due to infected software on the developers' PCs.

Facebook quickly reacted to the situation and took down the compromised apps while also contacted the developers to warn them of the issue.

Thousands of Apps Vulnerable to Attacks

While hacked Facebook apps may still be a bit of a rarity today on the popular social network, security vulnerabilities that could lead to malicious attacks are not. After spending a month on Facebook looking for application bugs, another security researcher made some disturbing findings.

Specifically, the researcher, who goes only by the handle "theharmonyguy" online, was looking for a specific vulnerability he referred to as a "FAXX Hack." FAXX stands for "Facebook Application + XSS + XSRF" or, in other words, a cross-site scripting vulnerability - a certain type of security hole that could allow a hacker to access profile information, including personal details, status updates, and photos of a victimized user and their friends.

The findings showed that many Facebook applications, even those that were widely used and considered trustworthy, lacked basic security precautions. There were some 9700 Facebook applications which were affected by vulnerabilities and over half of the applications in question had passed through Facebook's "Verified Application" program, a sort of "stamp of approval" designed to assure Facebook users of an app's general trustworthiness. Among the apps, six were ranked in the top ten by monthly active users and the collective monthly active users counts for the hacked apps totaled 218 million. However, that previous figure does include overlaps. Also, seven of the top ten application developers on Facebook were found to host at least one vulnerable app.

While discovering the bugs, the researcher contacted each application developer to make him or her aware of the hole. For the most part, developers responded quickly and took the situation seriously. However, several developers took a while longer to respond. Nine took over a week to patch their application and one even took two weeks. And those delays were not due to the complexity of the required patches - these were, in terms of coding, simple fixes.

What's most concerning about these findings is how widespread the problem was. Unlike the apps AVG discovered, this wasn't a minor, isolated incident affecting a small handful of users. Although the apps in question here were just vulnerable to attacks as opposed to being comprised themselves, it shows how risky it is to use any application, Facebook Verified or not.

Is Any App Safe?

On top of all these security issues, in August many Facebook users were surprised to discover the vast amounts of personal information they were revealing by their use of Facebook quizzes. Even if you limit access to your profile through privacy settings, Facebook quiz applications can see everything on your profile page when you take a quiz...or even when your friend takes one. To make matters worse, Facebook does not screen developers for trustworthiness nor do they require developers to comply with a privacy policy.

With hacked apps, security vulnerabilities, lack of privacy policies, and apps that can read your private profile information, one has to wonder if using any Facebook application is appropriate and safe these days.

Discuss


Who’s Ignoring Those iPhone Ads? Women.

According to mobile marketing firm Brand in Hand, female iPhone users are the worst demographic in terms of interacting with mobile ads on the iPhone. The company, whose high-profile clients include Procter & Gamble, General Mills and American Express, has run 60+ mobile ad campaigns over the past two years. During that time, they've had the opportunity to study the engagement of iPhone users with their ads. So why are women ignoring the ads? Apparently, they're too busy actually using the apps.

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Women Use the Apps, Ignore the Ads

From an article on AdAge, which reported on Brand in Hand's news in detail, the reason that the women were not engaging with the mobile advertisements came down to how they actually used their phones. The research showed that women, "especially so-called super-moms, are task-oriented and tend to use their smartphones to help them get things done."

In other words, these busy iPhone users didn't have time to goof off by clicking (or rather, tapping) through on a mobile ad. Ads were seen only as distractions that would take them away from the particular task at hand.

For advertisers trying to market to this particular demographic, the new findings will have an impact on what type of mobile campaigns will be run in the future. And given that only 18% of women age 18-49 have a smartphone today, according to Nielsen, smartphone advertisements just won't deliver the numbers that advertisers need. At least for now.

A Better Alternative to Mobile Ads?

Although the AdAge article didn't go into any detail about how marketers could engage smartphone-owning women in different ways, we think that there's at least one company that may have figured it out. Instead of offering distracting mobile banner ads that get in the way of the task that needs to be done, food and beverage giant Kraft introduced their own iPhone app instead.

This branded effort, dubbed "iFood Assistant" (iTunes link), is a recipe app that helps users plan meals. This fits in perfectly with how Brand in Hand claim women use their smartphones - they launch apps designed for a particular purpose. Yet this time, while doing so, the women (and men, too, we suppose) are also engaging with the brand itself because the recipes featured in the iFood Assistant app include Kraft food products of course.

This app is so successful that Kraft is even able to successfully charge for it, something that rarely works for branded apps. But Kraft's app sells - and sells well - priced at 99 cents in the iTunes App Store. They even hit their 3-year download goal in a matter of weeks, said Ed Kaczmarek, Kraft Foods director of innovation. 

While at the moment, Kraft's iPhone application appears to be the exception and not the rule when it comes to creative marketing efforts, it's a great example of how mobile marketing could and perhaps should be done, especially if you want to engage busy, task-oriented women.

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Google Wave More Secure than Traditional Email

Google Wave, the company's new real-time collaboration platform currently in private beta, is more secure than traditional email, claims the company. According to Greg D'alesandre, Google Wave product manager, that's because Google has focused on addressing privacy and security issues as the product was built from the ground up instead of waiting to deal with them later. Speaking to media in Sydney today, he detailed several of Wave's security features which are meant to stop criminals from exploiting the new technology and harming Wave users.

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Built In Features to Prevent Spoofing

As reported by Australian news outlet ITNews, Wave has multiple levels of security which are designed to prevent email spoofing. Spoofing, meaning when you receive an email that claims to be from either a person or company you know but is actually from someone else - a hacker in most cases.

D'alesandre says the Wave protocol is more secure because it includes something he jokingly refers to as "crypto fairy dust." That's obviously meant to be a simple and fun way to explain the security complexities built into Wave which involve detailed authentication mechanisms to keep users safe from malicious attacks. In Wave, every bit of info you receive from another Wave user has already been authenticated as to its origin so you can be assured that they are who they say they are.

"You know you are getting the Wave from the person that is sending it to you and it has not changed mid-stream. This is a very big problem in current communication technologies - data can be changed mid stream and you will never know," said D'alesandre.

HTTPS Enabled by Default

For an additional layer of security, all Wave traffic is by default encrypted via HTTPS, a protocol for secure communications. That represents a big change in Google's standard policy regarding use of this protocol. It wasn't until July of 2008 that Gmail users were even given the option to encrypt messages using SSL and to enable it, you had to go into your settings and make a change - something that most mainstream users would never have bothered with. By the end of 2008, Google was only offering SSL as a feature in its other Google Apps programs if users were on either the Premier or Education editions. That meant that for non-paying consumer users, Google Docs, Calendar, and other online offerings were only available via unencrypted HTTP sessions.

Today, little has changed. Still, only users of Premier and Education Editions have access to SSL and it's not switched on by default. The protocol is now available for Gmail, Chat, Calendar, Docs, and Sites but not the Start page, Google Video, or the Google Talk desktop client. Consumers using free Google apps like Docs still don't have SSL unless they type it in the address bar manually.

D'alesandre admitted that switching on encryption in Wave slows down the service a little (which probably explains the company's hesitance to switch it on in other products, too), but they ultimately decided that the security it provides was worth it.

Whitelisting Kills the Noise

A third security feature of sorts coming to Wave in the future is the ability to do "whitelisting." Wave users will be able to select which people they want to collaborate with and place them on a whitelist of approved persons. Only those who are on the list will be able to contact you via Wave and everyone else will be ignored.

That feature should certainly help to address the concerns certain folks have about Wave's "noise level," to some, an overwhelming amount of activity that led them to call out Wave as a distraction and a time-waster instead of the futuristic productivity product it intends to be. By allowing those who can't seem to embrace Wave's cacophony the ability to limit their collaborators, Wave could transfer from noisy attention killer to useful tool in an instant.

Of the three features, the first two are already in place. No date was given on the whitelisting feature, only that it will be "coming soon."

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More Details Emerge on “Google Editions,” Google’s eBook Store

At the Frankfurt Book Fair, Google announced more details about their upcoming online ebook service known as "Google Editions." Originally revealed earlier this year, Editions will be a hosted electronic bookstore for a selection of in-print books which would be provided by Google's publishing partners. And unlike some other ebook formats, like those designed for Amazon's Kindle for instance, the so-called "Google editions" will be readable on any device whether that's a laptop, phone, or dedicated eReader.

According to news coming out of the Book Fair event, the new digital books program will launch in the first half of 2010 and will offer 400,000 to 600,000 ebooks at that time.

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Access Anywhere

Although we already knew that the online store would host books in the cloud, we didn't know just how that would work. Tom Turvey, Google's director of strategic partnerships, now explains that the device does not need to be connected to Internet to read the book after it was accessed once. He also clarified that the company is "not focused on a dedicated eReader or device of any kind." Instead, consumers would go online one time from their device of choice and afterwards, a cached version of that book would be stored so that it could be read offline at anytime. "As long as you can get onto the library, you can access it," says Amanda Edmonds, Google's director of strategic partnerships, who was speaking at O'Reilly's Tools of Change conference, also being held in Frankfurt at a venue near the Book Fair event.

Although not specified, it seems probable that the offline caching done by Google Editions will be made possible via Google Gears, a browser extension that allows website content to be taken offline and then re-synced when an Internet connection returns.

Business Models

As noted on The Bookseller, a site covering the Tools of Change conference, Google Editions will offer three business models. The first will allow a consumer to purchase the ebook from Google Books, Google's online collection of digitized books. The second will allow consumers to purchase from a partner retailer and the third would direct consumers to a publisher's website. In the first route, payments are split 63/37 in the publisher's favor. If purchasing from a retailer, that split would be 45/55 with the 45% going to the publisher and the retailer splitting the remaining 55% with Google. No decision has been made on the split for the third option, purchases made via a publisher's own website. Edmonds also noted that these splits are not set in stone just yet - discussions were "just beginning." In addition, Google may discount books from their list price where permitted, but the discount would be taken from Google's profits and not anyone else's.

Other news from the O'Reilly event pinned down the launch date of the Google Editions store. It will launch simultaneously in the U.S., U.K., and Europe in June 2010.

Google would not give the names of the device manufacturers they intend on partnering with, but Edmonds says she doubts Kindle will be one of them.

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New iPhone App Piracy Statistics Reveal “Try Before You Buy” Mentality is a Myth

Jailbreaking, the act of hacking your iPhone or iPod Touch so that it allows for the installation of unapproved third-party applications, is a popular activity among the tech community. But in addition to allowing you greater control over your mobile device, there's another - ahem - benefit, if you will. Jailbreakers can install free versions of paid applications. These pirated, or "cracked" apps as they're called, are distributed through online repositories for easy download to your device. The whole process is as simple as snagging the latest box office release or popular album from the file-sharing site, The Pirate Bay.

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But many jailbreakers claim that they're only pirating apps so they can try them out before purchase - a necessary evil since Apple doesn't offer trial periods for their applications, forcing developers to release "Lite" versions instead. While some do so, many others apps exist only as premium versions. Considering there are now some 85,000 apps to choose from, people want to know if their app purchase is worth the money. Or so they say. However, recent statistics about application piracy prove otherwise.

Piracy a Global Phenomenon

At the recent 360iDev conference, mobile analytics company Pinch Media shared some findings about piracy in the iTunes App Store. They've been tracking jailbroken devices for several months now and have started to get a handle on this previously unexamined ecosystem. According to their data, which includes 4 million jailbroken devices, 38% have at least one pirated application installed. Pinch Media says this estimate is low since pirates often take extra steps to avoid detection. Still, it's worth noting that this percentage is nowhere near being the majority of jailbreaking users. There are more people who just want extra control over their device and not an opportunity to steal apps.

They also discovered that the piracy phenomenon is not limited to any one particular market. Although piracy rates are relatively low in the U.S., the U.K. and Japan, where perhaps Apple iPhone users have more money at their disposal to spend on premium applications, piracy is a global problem. However, it does appear to be much more rampant in markets like China, Russia, Brazil and Mexico, where it's negatively correlated with per capita national GDP, notes Pinch Media.

"Try Before you Buy" - Just an Excuse to Steal?

However, the most interesting finding was the one where the "try before you buy" mentality was exposed as being a myth. Despite jailbreakers' claims that the need to "demo" an app is among their top reasons for pirating, Pinch Media found that this simply wasn't the case. To test this, they set a baseline for typical conversion rates of legitimate "lite" to paid applications and found that the conversion rate there is 7.4%. That means about 1 in 14 who try the "lite" version go on to purchase the paid version. However, among the pirate community, pirated-to-legitimate conversions are 0.43%. That's only 1 in about 233 installations. In other words, few users of pirated apps are truly "trying before they buy," they're just trying.

That being said, the pirates aren't necessarily using the pirated apps all that much. Pinch Media found that pirated apps are used less frequently than paid applications and for a shorter amount of time. They theorize that this is due to a few reasons: pirates are less attached to apps considering that they didn't pay for them, pirates often install more applications in bulk and therefore don't have much time to spend with each one and jailbroken iPhones tend to crash, leading to more frequent app uninstalls.

Although these findings may initially disappoint application developers who see piracy as contributing to lost revenue, the argument could be made - as it often is among other content-producing industries - that the people doing the pirating weren't actually going to pay for those apps anyway. They're simply sampling them because they can. While it's still a stretch to say that piracy helps developers, it's hard to really quantify how much it hurts them.

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Recent Cloud Outages May Give Opera Unite a Second Chance

Back in June of this year, Opera revealed their ambitious plan to "reinvent the web" with the release of Opera Unite, a new feature of their desktop web browser that effectively turns your computer into a server. With tools like a chat application, a photo sharing app, a file sharing app, a media player, and more, the idea behind Unite was to forgo the "cloud" and share your files with others directly from your PC instead. Using peer-to-peer technology that operates through the browser interface, Opera Unite seemed to be going against the current trend that is cloud computing and that didn't win them much love from the tech community.

Despite its ho-hum reception, the company is moving forward with its plans to make Unite a full-fledged feature of the Opera browser. Today, the Opera Unite beta is launching and will be made available in Opera 10.10. Given the recent cloud outages, one has to wonder if Unite will be given a second look by the crowd of naysayers who so recently belittled it.

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Opera Unite Beta Released

Not much about Unite has changed since its initial launch except that it initially spent several months as a standalone product before being integrated into the Opera web browser. Now, with the release of Opera 10.10, it's clear that the company intends for Unite to be one of the browser's core features.

Included in Unite are six applications, the photo and file sharing app, messenger, and media player mentioned above as well as a "fridge" app that lets you post notes on your friends' virtual refrigerators and a web server that lets you host web sites directly from your computer.

Cloud Outages Leave Users Wary; Unite Gets a Second Look?

Although the technology itself remains, for the most part, the same, what may have changed in the time that passed since Unite's June reveal is the sentiment among Unite's potential users. Since the original launch, there have been numerous cloud computing outages which included yet another long-lasting Gmail outage, a DDOS attack that took down social services like Facebook, Twitter, and LiveJournal simultaneously, a Facebook database maintenance issue which locked 150,000 users out of their accounts for a week, multiple Twitter outages (although these are nothing new), and, of course, the granddaddy of them all: a cloud computing disaster at Danger that erased all personal data from the hansdets of thousands of T-Mobile Sidekick users.

All these above incidents occurred in the span of only a few months, too, leaving people to question the stability of the cloud. Perhaps the cloud, often thought of as much safer and more stable than our own personal hard drives, isn't all that it's cracked up to be after all? Instead of just uploading everything to the web and then assuming that it will be there forever, the rash of outages have many tech geeks returning to the old-fashioned computer backup in addition to hosting content out on the web.

This hybrid approach to cloud computing (local + cloud) could mean that some of Unite's former naysayers will give it a second look. Since it's designed for sharing locally stored files on the web using Opera's servers as a proxy, it taps into that whole "forgo the cloud" mentality. While Opera's man-in-the-middle server infrastructure may crash one day, your data would still be accessible assuming your computer itself doesn't die. To some, that may seem like a safer approach than a 100% reliance on cloud providers.

Others Say: Don't Blame the Cloud, It's Still the Future

However, not everyone thinks that outages, even those as severe as the Danger disaster, spell failure for the cloud computing model - they're only growing pains. Sure, "cloud computing isn't perfect," writes PC Mag's Lance Ulanoff, but Danger's failure is "a failure of, more than likely, a few over-worked IT guys who incorrectly set up data redundancy." Ulanoff contends, and many others will certainly agree, that despite failures such as this, the cloud overall remains safer and more trustworthy than anyone's own home or office computers.

Still, the outages may have some worried. Those who are worried enough to begin storing data back on their own computers, using the cloud only as backup and no longer as primary storage, may now be interested in trying out Opera Unite. That may give Unite a little boost for the time being. But ultimately, the technology that was supposed to change the web seems like backward progress. Cloud computing may have its ups and downs, but it's the future of computing, not Unite's peer-to-peer.

Discuss


Social Networking Sites Dominate Mobile Web

"I didn't really use Facebook that much until I got my iPhone." Sound familiar? That sentiment and variations of it has provided powerful anecdotal evidence over the past several months about the impact smartphones are having on the way people are using the mobile web to connect with others. Through the mobile phone, today's more mainstream users - those folks who don't count sitting behind a glowing screen among their favorite pastimes - have begun to interact on the mobile web, specifically the social web, in greater numbers than ever before.

A new report by Openwave provides more evidence of this trend. Their findings show that four of the top ten domains accessed via mobile devices are social networking sites. Facebook and MySpace, of course, featured prominently on that list.

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Four of Ten Top Mobile Destinations are Social Networks, Says Openwave

The company's Fall 2009 report highlights mobile Internet use trends in North America and uses data from an unnamed tier-one mobile operator who offers services to both consumers and business. The data sampled represents a five-day period in September of this year.

Among the top ten domains by page impressions are four social networking sites: Facebook, MySpace, Myxer, and Plenty-of-Fish, the last two being a ringtone creation and sharing site and a dating network, respectively. The inclusion of those two under the banner "social networking" is a little iffy, at best. Dating sites could be considered a category of social networking, we suppose, but Myxer seems more like an entertainment destination than a social network.

The other top domains making the list included about.com, accuweather.com, craigslist.org, imdb.com, wap.aol.com, and calltunes.operator.com. While we have no reason to doubt the accuracy of this study, we find it odd that google.com didn't make an appearance. It seems like we google something on our mobile phones on a daily basis - don't you?

Still, despite these questions, it's clear from the findings that social networks are a popular destination for mobile users, even if you only count MySpace and Facebook. Those two sites alone racked up the impressions as both the number one and number three sites visited.

MySpace Beats Facebook? Really?

Oddly, the chart shows that MySpace beat out Facebook, another questionable finding given that once popular site's rapid decline in traffic as of late. Recent numbers from the U.S.-centric analytics firm Compete, for example, showed MySpace traffic dropping from 55.6 million unique visitors in August to 50.2 million in September. Given such a sharp decline, you would expect to see a similar drop in mobile visits as well. 

Meanwhile, Facebook announced that they saw 65 million visits from mobile phones in the month of August, a huge rise from what was only 20 million back in December of 2007. Could they really be beaten out by that much on the mobile web according to this particular carrier? According to Openwave's report, they are.

While this recent report left us wondering, we have no doubt that social network use via mobile phones is trending upward these days. As the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) reported last month, there has been a one-year increase of 179% in subscribers accessing social networking sites from their mobile devices while those same sites only saw a 10% increase on the PC versions of the sites. And they're just just one of many other outlets reporting similar trends. Social networking via the mobile phone is obviously a hot trend these days and one that hasn't peaked yet.

Discuss


Google Accounts for 6% of All Internet Traffic

Five years ago, Internet traffic was, for the most part, managed by tier 1 providers like AT&T, Verizon, Level 3 Communications, and Global Crossing, all of which connected to thousands of tier 2 networks and regional providers. Today, that has changed. Now, instead of traffic being distributed among tens of thousands of networks, only 150 networks control some 50% of all online traffic. Among these new Internet superpowers, it's no surprise to find Google listed. In fact, the search giant accounts for the largest source (6%) of all Internet traffic worldwide.

This data comes from a new report put out by Arbor Networks, who has just completed a two-year study of 256 exabytes of Internet traffic data, the largest study of global traffic since the start of the commercial Internet in the mid-1990's.

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"Hyper Giants" Rule Today's Internet

The biggest trend to come out of Arbor Networks' report is clearly that of the Internet's consolidation. Today's Internet is "flatter" and "more densely connected" than ever before, reveals Arbor Networks' Chief Research Officer Danny McPherson. Not only is Google the largest traffic source, there are only 30 large companies in addition to Google and including sites like Facebook, Microsoft and YouTube which now account for a disproportionate 30% of all Internet traffic.

According to Craig Labovitz, chief scientist at Arbor Networks, this shift represents the Internet's move into a second phase where it's no longer "all about contacting websites." Rather, "over the past two years larger organizations have been buying up the smaller websites and by July 2009, 30 per cent of the internet was owned by a few large sites." The acquisitions, the result of billions of dollars spent by large companies snapping up smaller ones, has created a new Internet core of "hyper giants," a coin termed by the report.

The other companies making the list of Internet giants include names like Akamai, Limelight, BitGravity, Highwinds, and Gravity - hardly household names, and certainly not big telco providers. Instead, these content delivery networks (CDNs), are the new Internet backbone that help move large amounts of data across the web.

So Long P2P, Hello Streaming Media

Consolidation is not the only trend revealed by the new findings, however. The report also discovered a sharp decline in peer-to-peer traffic, which only two years prior peaked at 40% of all traffic worldwide. Today, while still a hefty number, P2P traffic has dropped down to 18%. Why the change? For the most part, the file-sharing that took place on networks like Limewire and Napster back in the late 90's and early 2000's, has now been largely replaced by streaming video thanks to to sites like YouTube, Hulu, and Netflix. Given easier and less technical ways of accessing media, consumers have begun to shift away from the headache of P2P to these new and often free or ad-supported sites. Today, as much as 20% of web traffic is video, Labovitz estimates.

As far as Internet traffic in general, more than half (52%) is web-based, up from 42% in 2007. The remaining traffic comes from email and private networks.

A "Dramatic" Shift?

"Saying the Internet has changed dramatically over the last five years is cliché - the Internet is always changing dramatically," notes Labovitz. "However, over the course of the last five years, we've witnessed the start of an equally dramatic shift in the fundamental business of the Internet." He adds, "as content is getting faster and better quality it will change the face of the internet." Discuss


How to Jailbreak the iPhone to Firmware 3.1.2

The iPhone hacker George Hotz, (aka geohot on Twitter) has done it again. Earlier this year, he made a name for himself in the hacking community as being the first to provide a usable iPhone 3GS jailbreak, which he then followed up by releasing a "better" unlock tool for the same device. Now he's again beaten the iPhone Dev Team to the punch with his release of blackra1n, a jailbreak tool for the Apple's latest iPhone firmware, 3.1.2.

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Unlocking vs Jailbreaking

Jailbreaking and unlocking the iPhone are two different hacks which allow you to take control over your mobile device in different ways. Jailbreaking is a type of hack that lets you install unapproved third-party applications on your iPhone or iPod Touch from searchable repositories provided by apps like Cydia and Icy. Unlocking, on the other hand, is a hack that lets you use your iPhone on another cellular network. Here in the U.S., that means you can use the iPhone on T-Mobile instead of AT&T. You have to first jailbreak your phone before you can unlock it, but you don't have to unlock a phone in order to jailbreak it.

Unfortunately, what once was a relatively simple process has gotten more complex over time as new iPhone models were introduced and new hacking tools were being put out by multiple parties, often with confusing names like the Pwnage Tool, Purplesn0w, redsn0w and the like. With each release of iPhone firmware, it seems as if there's a whole new lexicon of terms to master and new procedures to follow. The 3.1.2 jailbreak is no exception.

How To Jailbreak the 3.1.2 Firmware (Windows Instructions)

Before beginning this jailbreak, keep in mind that this is for jailbreakers only - not unlockers. That means if you're currently using your phone on a non-standard carrier (for example, in the U.S. you're using T-Mobile instead of AT&T), then you do NOT want to use this tool as it will disable the unlock.

However, if you're just interested in jailbreaking, read on:

  1. Update to 3.1.2: If you haven't done so already, download the latest version of iTunes. Next, update your iPhone to the latest firmware when you're prompted to do so (click "Download and Install" on the pop-up message). Allow the new firmware to install as you would normally. This will un-jailbreak your phone for the time being.

  2. Get the jailbreak tool: To get started with the newest jailbreak, Windows users should head to http://blackra1n.com. and click on the window icon at the bottom of the page to download the executable.
  3. Run blackra1n: After the download is complete, connect your iPhone to your PC and run the executable. Click the "make it ra1n" button and the message will display "entering recovery..." (Note: Vista and Windows 7 users should run it in compatibility mode and as "Administrator.' Right-click on the file, go to Properties, then click the "Compatibility" tab. Check the "run this program in compatibility mode for:" checkbox and choose Windows XP Service Pack 2 from the list provided. Click "OK" to close the window. Right-click to run as the Administrator.)

  4. Device reboots: Continue letting the program run, the message now reads "running..." and the device will reboot. A pop-up message will display prompting you to donate if you can. Click "OK" to close this message.
  5. Launch blackra1n on the iPhone: On your iPhone, look for the blackra1n icon and tap it to launch the program.
  6. Pick your favorite installer program: On the screen that appears, you have a choice between installer programs (repositories of jailbreak apps). Tap the one you prefer - Cydia, Rock, or Icy - any will do. Blackra1n will install your chosen program on your phone and will relaunch the iPhone springboard when complete. Your phone is now jailbroken and you can use Cydia, Rock, or Icy to browse, search for, and install jailbreak apps.

Tips: If the upgrade is stuck at "running," try the following:

  • Set airplane mode on
  • Move blackra1n to the C:\ drive and run it from there
  • Kill any iTunes related services prior to running

However, be aware that the blackra1n jailbreak is still a little iffy for some users. Several people have reported that they're unable to jailbreak, despite following instructions. If you're not feeling adventurous, you may want to wait for the Dev Team's jailbreak instead.

Mac Users Have to Wait

Sorry Mac users, there is no jailbreak yet available for 3.1.2 just yet. However, you can use the Pwnage Tool to jailbreak older 3.1 versions of the iPhone firmware. More details are here.

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Back Up Your Facebook Wall with SocialSafe

SocialSafe, the Facebook backup tool that launched earlier this summer, has now added a new feature that allows you to back up your Facebook Wall Posts using the company's desktop application. The $2.99 program runs using Adobe AIR and accesses your account via Facebook Connect functionality. Once logged in, you can download nearly everything posted to Facebook, from photos to your profile and more.

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According to the company, Facebook is like the "personal diary of the 21st century," and because it's now such a huge part of our daily lives, the invaluable data it contains needs to be backed up for safe-keeping. No web service is infallible and no one is immune from having their Facebook account hijacked by a malicious hacker, either. If you've ever been a victim of a Facebook attack, you know that's absolutely true. There's a certain feeling of helplessness and fear when you realize that you've been locked out of your Facebook account and some unknown person now has access to all the data it contains. Will they delete your photos? Remove your friends? Clear your wall posts? Destroy your profile? Usually, that's not the case - the hackers generally just chat up your friends and ask them for money - but the fact is, they could. They could do anything they want because they now have control over your data.

But with SocialSafe, no matter what an evil hacker does, you would never actually lose your data. It's all safely stored on your own computer. (Those people who are currently affected by the ongoing "site maintenance" issue that has locked an unknown number of people out of their accounts could probably have used a program like this too.)

The new addition of Facebook Wall Backup adds another component to SocialSafe's Time Capsule feature which lets you see how your Facebook account has changed over time - that is, from your first backup onward. It provides an overview of your Facebook account where you can see the friends and photos you've added, those you've removed, and so on. It's also an easy way to scan your "digital diary" for any time period. Now with your Wall Posts backed up too, you can quickly navigate to any old post and its associated comments instead of having to manually click the "Older Posts" button at the bottom of your Facebook Wall time and time again.

The new version of the SocialSafe application will be made available for download from the company's home page here.

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