Fair Use Legalized, Says EFF

New exemptions have been added to the the Digital Millenimum Copyright Act (DMCA), a U.S. copyright law that criminalized attempts to bypass copyright, access control technologies or digital rights management (DRM) measures. The exemptions now provide protections for "fair use" in several different circumstances, the most notable of which is the (now legalized!) process of jailbreaking a phone, a popular activity among iPhone owners in particular.

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The term jailbreaking refers to hacking a smartphone in order to gain access to additional features or install unapproved applications. However, it is only one of the many new protections announced today. Also included are protections that would allow owners to use their mobile devices on different wireless networks - a practice known as "unlocking" a phone - plus exemptions that allow breaking of copyright protection mechanisms on both videos and games, exemptions that make e-books more accessible, and finally, exemptions that allow bypassing external security measures on computers in specific circumstances involving dongles.

The advocacy group EFF has been lobbying for these changes for some time due to the overly broad language used previously in the DMCA legislation, which seemingly requires an ongoing list of "exceptions" for so-called fair use activities in order to stay current with the rapidly-changing technology of the Internet era.

"The Copyright Office and Librarian of Congress have taken three important steps today to mitigate some of the harms caused by the DMCA," said Jennifer Granick, EFF's civil liberties director, in regard to today's changes. "We are thrilled to have helped free jailbreakers, unlockers and vidders from this law's overbroad reach." (We believe she means "video creators" there - "vidders" is a new one for us, too.)

Specifically, today's exemptions include the following:

  • Permission for cell phone owners to break access controls on their phones in order to switch wireless carriers or "jailbreak" their device
  • Permission to break technical protections on video games to investigate or correct security flaws
  • Permission for college professors, film students and documentary filmmakers to break copy-protection measures on DVDs so they can embed clips for educational purposes, criticism, commentary and noncommercial videos
  • Permission to enable an e-book's read-aloud function or use a screen reader with the e-book, even when built-in access controls prevent this
  • Permission for computer owners to bypass the need for external security devices called dongles if the dongle no longer works and cannot be replaced

This is Bigger than iPhone

Apple claimed that jailbreaking an iPhone allowed people to install unapproved (and often pirated) applications and therefore should not be permitted. The Copyright Office rejected this claim saying that jailbreaking is actually fair use.

Although the EFF reports that over 1 million iPhone owners are suspected of having jailbroken their devices, the bigger (though initially less glamorous) news may be the new permissions for creative types to break copyright in order to include clips of other works into their videos and films. By previously not permitting this activity (legally), the law has stifled the ability for artists to tell their stories and for educators to simply do their jobs without fear of repercussions. Although at first this may mean a lot more "fan-made" videos don't get yanked down from YouTube as quickly as before, we expect to see in the near future, as the EFF does, some "amazing works" of art resulting from this change.

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Majority of Consumers Use Social Networks to Inform Buying Decisions, Says Study

Marketers take note: a new study from research firm Gartner has discovered that a majority of today's consumers rely to some extent on social networks to help guide them in purchase decisions. Despite this fact, social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and others, while critical, are currently an underutilized aspect to the marketing process, the report says.

But not everyone using social networks is worth targeting equally, as it turns out. Instead, there are three types of online personalities that make up just one-fifth of the consumer population but are the key influencers in the purchasing activities of 74% of the population. Gartner calls them Salesmen, Connectors and Mavens.

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Key Influencers: Salesmen, Connectors, Mavens

The Salesmen, Connectors and Mavens are the three key influencer roles in today's social networks, just as they are offline. Salesmen, as you may guess, are defined by their ability to persuade people to purchase or act in certain ways. Salesmen aren't commercial entities, though; they just have the ability to encourage others to action.

Connectors can be split into two sub-groups - "Heavy" and "Light," and are defined by their status as a bridging function between disparate groups of people. Connectors have contacts in a multitude of different social groups and enjoy introducing people to one another.

Mavens are essentially information brokers. They are experts in a particular area and typically field questions from friends and family in need of advice. Often this advice influences purchasing decisions. Mavens, however, aren't necessarily trying to persuade people to purchase; they're just informing them.

Targeting the Key Influencers is Critical

These three roles play part in the purchasing activities of 74% of the population, says Gartner. The survey, taking place in the fourth quarter of 2009, studied nearly 4,000 consumers in 10 key markets and identified six different roles of user behavior. In addition to those mentioned above, there are also Seekers, who are the ones asking others for information, the Self-sufficient, who prefer to find the answers themselves and the Unclassified, who didn't fit into any defined role.

Gartner said it expected that some wouldn't easily fit into these prescribed roles because they may take on different roles when in different social contexts. You may be heralded as the IT expert (aka Maven) among your family, for example, but among your IT colleagues you're more of a Seeker of information. Two-thirds of the population ended up as Unclassified, however, which makes this report's findings and the staggering percentages regarding influence somewhat moot .

What marketers can take away from the study is that there are specific personality types that can be (and should be) targeted when using social networks to promote a brand, company, product or service. Salesmen, Seekers and Connectors are the most effective social network segments to target. This can be done by focusing on both the shopping experience and making information easily available to them. Mavens aren't as useful, because they don't do anything with the information they know unless specifically asked. For these folks (as well as the Self-sufficients), the focus should be primarily on improving the shopping experience.

At the end of the day, none of this is really new information - it just reinforces the fact that when online, consumers behave pretty much as they did prior to the Internet age. Word-of-mouth is still the best way to attract new business, and businesses should target those who like to influence others.

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Who Needs "Cloud iTunes?" AudioBox Delivers Today

AudioBox.fm, an online streaming service which lets you access your music collection via the cloud, has today released its highly anticipated native iPhone application. With the new app, you can organize your files by playlist, artist, genre or album and stream them directly to your mobile device. You can also scrobble your played tracks over to Last.fm and, on devices running iOS 4.0, you can listen to music in the background while multitasking.

Oh, and it's free.

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AudioBox: A "Cloud iTunes" (for Android, Too)

AudioBox.fm, founded in 2009, started making the rounds in the blogosphere back in February of this year. The free, cloud-based service lets you upload your files to the company's secure servers for access from any device that has an Internet connection and a Web browser.

Included with the service is AudioBox's online music player, which looks strikingly like Apple's iTunes software. Here, you can create and manage playlists, search for songs by artist, title or genre, shuffle songs and more.

Previously, the company had only offered a native Android application and its HTML 5-enabled website, the latter being the only way iPhone and iPod Touch users could take advantage of this service. But now, with the new native iPhone application, users can upload up to 1 GB of music to the cloud for free. If upgrading, it's only $3.99 per month for 11 GB, $7.99 for 26 GB or $9.99 for 151 GB. The subscription service is commitment-free as well, allowing you to unsubscribe at any time.

Also notable is AudioBox's integration with other cloud-based and social services, something it called "AudioMashes." In addition to the support for Last.fm scrobbling as noted above, it also allows you post what you're listening to via Twitter and Facebook, and, for those with paid levels of service, it lets you browse and add YouTube videos to your Playlists and access files stored on Dropbox. (Support for Amazon Web Services is coming soon.)

Music Heads to the Cloud... Where's Apple?

The trend of Web-based music services is gathering momentum, thanks to a number applications now growing in popularity, including Spotify (still awaiting its official U.S. launch), MP3tunes, and MOG, to name a few of our favorites.

The elephant in the room, of course, is Lala.com, a popular cloud-based streaming service acquired by Apple in December 2009. Rumor (or perhaps hope?) has it that Apple will re-launch Lala as its own cloud-based offering in order to compete with the scores of up-and-comers now available in its own iTunes App Store. How well any of these startups will fare once (if?) Apple enters the room is anybody's guess, but AudioBox's rallying cry of "one platform to rule them all" - referring to its ability to integrate other cloud services - not to mention its cross-platform support for devices like Android makes it a compelling alternative to whatever Apple may or may not launch in some unknown future.

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Starbucks Expanding Mobile Payment Program to More Stores

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz announced this week that the Seattle-based coffee chain would soon be expanding its mobile payment program to more stores over the coming months. Launched in September of last year, Starbucks users with iPhones could pay for their purchases via their mobile device using a special Starbucks Card mobile application. The app was initially accepted at just 16 Seattle and Bay Area stores which were taking part in the pilot program. In March 2010, the company expanded the mobile program to include 1,000 Target stores across the U.S.

Now, Starbucks plans to expand it yet again. "We know believe that offering mobile payment and mobile gifting capabilities will result in a more efficient in-store experience," said Schultz.

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After entering in a Starbucks card number in the application, the Starbucks Card app displays a barcode which can then be shown at checkout in lieu of handing over a physical card to be swiped. The app also allows customers to check their card's balance, view transactions and reload the card with new funds.

Currently, the mobile payment aspect to the application works at 16 select stores in Cupertino, Mountain View, Sunnyvale, San Jose and Seattle where the feature has been in testing in addition to all Target locations in the U.S.

Based on the program's "early success" and user feedback which Schultz describes as "positive," the company is now committed to expanding the program in the months ahead. According to Schultz, not only does the mobile app make for a more efficient in-store experience for Starbucks customers, it will also provide the company with a significant competitive advantage and help further differentiate it from its competitors.

While we at ReadWriteWeb are certainly fans of mobile technology, it will be interesting to watch as this sort of mobile payment system takes hold outside of the very tech-savvy enclaves where it has been initially tested. Will mainstream users adopt this system in large numbers? Will it really be more efficient or will you be stuck in line behind folks fiddling with their phones? And where, by golly, is the Android version?

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iPhone 4 Antenna Issues? There’s a Free Bumper App for That

Apple has just released a new mobile application for owners of iPhone 4 devices who are affected by the widely-reported antenna issues with the newly redesigned handsets. The app, called the iPhone 4 Case Program, will allow qualified customers to apply for a free rubber bumper case directly from their phone.

In a press conference last week, Apple CEO Steve Jobs admitted to the problems with the iPhone 4, which now sports an antenna wrapped around the outside of the handset itself. The exec said Apple knew that such a design would cause the bars to drop a bit when the phone was gripped in a certain way, but didn't think it would be a big problem because all smartphones have this issue.

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iPhone 4 is Not Perfect!

Although Jobs' mea culpa involved demonstrating how other smartphones are also affected by so-called "death grip" issues (special ways of holding a device that reduce its signal strength), it's clear that consumers - and perhaps Apple itself - hold Apple to a higher standard. After Consumer Reports boldly stated it could not recommend the iPhone 4 to customers, the "antennagate" problem crossed the chasm from being fodder for technology blogs to an issue mainstream consumers began to care about in earnest.

During the press conference, Jobs promised that unhappy iPhone 4 owners would be provided with free bumpers - rubber outer casings that are being sold by Apple (for the first time ever) at $30 apiece. If Apple thought that the antenna issues would work in its favor as a way to earn additional revenue by marking up rubber cases that couldn't be more than a couple dollars at most to manufacture, it was sorely mistaken. The cases will now have to be written off as a loss.

Free Bumpers for Everyone (for a Limited Time)

Yesterday, Apple began processing refunds for customers who purchased their iPhone 4 bumpers via the online Apple store website, where cases were on backorder due to high demand.

Today, the company has released its own application (iTunes link) to address the remaining lot of unhappy iPhone 4 customers who do not wish to return their phone, but need a bumper case in order to avoid the antenna issues. With the new Case Program app, the software will automatically check various identifiers contained within the iPhone itself, including the IMEI and serial number, to verify that the end user is actually the owner of an iPhone 4.

When eligibility is confirmed, the customer can select an iPhone 4 bumper case, which will then be shipped at no charge.

Interestingly enough, Apple isn't just providing its own cases via the program, but has also listed cases from third party companies, including Incase, Belkin, Griffin and Speck.

Cases will only be available free of charge until September 30, which makes one wonder whether there's any merit to the reports stating that the antenna issues have already been addressed within the supply chain. According to Ashok Kumar, managing director and senior technology analyst at Rodman & Renshaw, "Supply chain checks reveal that Apple has instituted a design fix for the iPhone 4 that more adequately insulates the transceiver module."

Whether or not that's true, Apple made no mention of it or any other planned hardware fixes during its press conference. Hopefully a better solution beyond free rubber cases is on the horizon, however, for those who decide to purchase an iPhone after the free case deadline is up.

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Android Phones Go to War

Reports this week revealed that U.S. defense contractor Raytheon, maker of the Patriot missile defense system, is developing software for soldiers that runs on Google's Android operating system. The software, called the Raytheon Android Tactical System, or RATS, has already been tested by some members of the U.S. Special Forces. It involves a social-networking type of display where soldiers interact as "buddies" and track each others' movements on the battlefield.

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There's an App for That! Social Networking for Soldiers, Military-Grade Satellite Images

If RATS takes off, soldiers would carry smartphones with them into battle, says this Reuters report released on Wednesday. However, the phones would run identity recognition software so that enemy forces would not be able to unlock the device if they ever got their hands on one of them.

In addition to the soldier buddy tracking system described above, the Android OS could also support applications that deliver satellite images to the phone's large color touchscreen. Military satellites can focus in on minute features you can't see when using consumer-grade technology like Google Earth, so the software installed on RATS could potentially zero in on facial features or be used to read license plates.

The phones running these military-level Android apps wouldn't be standard Nexus Ones or Droids, of course, but specially designed handsets, each costing around $500 - the same price as unlocked consumer smartphones. So far, Raytheon has tested the software on handsets made by Motorola and HTC.

Raytheon would also design and install GPS tracking and encryption onto the phones, as well as communication software to provide coverage where signals don't exist.

Google was a Big Help, Says Raytheon

Raytheon credits Google for its help in the software's development. Says Mark Bigham, VP for defense and civil mission solutions at Raytheon, "We're trying to take advantage of smartphone technology to tailor for what soldiers may need in the field. Google has helped us push the limits of the phone."

Bigham also notes that Google would benefit financially if and when RATS became available to the defense market - a market that isn't just limited to the U.S. Besides the U.S. Army, Bigham says the Indian military is another potential customer for this Android-based technology.

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Researchers Warn of Geotagging Dangers – Are You Concerned?

The International Computer Science Institute (ICSI), a non-profit research organization in Berkeley, California, is due to present new findings next month regarding "cybercasing," a word researchers coined to refer to how geotagged text, photos and videos (those that include location information) can be used by criminals and other dangerous parties to mount real-world attacks.

Using sites like Craigslist, Twitter and YouTube, the researchers were able to cross-reference information contained within publicly available online content to determine the exact home addresses of potential victims, even those who had posted the content anonymously. The experiments didn't take weeks, days or even hours of research either - the addresses were pinpointed with GPS-level accuracy within minutes.

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Consumers Don't Know How Easily They Can be Found

The original report, "Cybercasing the Joint: On the Privacy Implications of Geotagging," by researchers Gerald Friedland and Robin Sommer, was published in May and is due to be presented at the upcoming USENIX Workshop on Hot Topics in Security next month, reports trend-tracking site PSFK..

The report's authors examined in detail the rapid spread of location-based services, in large part due to the growing smartphone market. Today's mobile devices and their accompanying applications tap into the phone's GPS or use Wi-Fi triangulation to append geotags, or locational information, to the items recorded with the phone, whether that's an update posted to Twitter, a photo uploaded to Flickr or a video sent to YouTube.

A major concern with these types of applications, say the researchers, is that many consumers don't know such information is being shared, especially on a such a large, public scale. For example, Apple's iPhone by default embeds high-precision geo-coordinates within all photos and videos taken with the internal camera unless explicitly switched off in the phone's settings. The accuracy of these geo-coordinates "even exceeds that of GPS," warn the researchers, regularly reaching "resolutions of +/- 1 m in good conditions and postal-address accuracy indoors."

But publishing these precise geo-coordinates embedded into the shared texts, photos and videos to the Web is only part of the problem. Also troubling is the fact that the large amount of multimedia now available online combined with easy-to-use search tools for sifting through geo-tagged data makes it possible for anyone to easily launch systematic privacy attacks. In addition, services like Google's Street View and other "annotated maps" help simplify the process of correlating findings across several independent resources.

In other words, it's not just that the geo-tagged information is online, it's that there are a plethora of tools with which to analyze it.

Cybercasing via Craigslist, Twitter, YouTube

To demonstrate the ease involved in determining a stranger's precise location, Friedland and Sommer first "cybercased" Craigslist, a classified ads website often used to post items for sale. Here they found geo-tagged photos which they compared with Google Street View, allowing them to determine the postal addresses belonging to the item's sellers. Even more helpful (if the researchers were, in fact, thieves), was that several ads included a "best time to call" - implying the hours the sellers were not at home.

In further tests, the researchers cybercased Twitter, which allows mobile users to geo-tag their updates. Third-party applications - like TwitPic, for example, used for posting images to Twitter - also include locational data. Using a Firefox Web browser plugin called Exif Viewer, it was only a matter of right-clicking on an image to reveal location of the Twitter post, plotted on a map.

A third experiment, and perhaps the most devious yet, showed the ease with which this form of cyberstalking could be automated. While the above examples revealed users' location within minutes, manual effort was still involved. For YouTube, however, the researchers wrote a simple script that automatically recognized when videos were recorded a certain distance away from a primary location, that being the potential victims' home addresses. When the "vacation distance," as it was called, was set to 100 KM, the script returned 106 hits revealing who was out-of-town in the test location of Berkeley, CA. After briefly perusing the results, the researchers came across a video from someone who was clearly on a Caribbean vacation and would have made an ideal victim.

Solutions?

The paper's goal was not to provide solutions, necessarily, for this digital era problem, but to raise awareness. Although the researchers did suggest a couple of interesting ideas, including a mockup of a mobile-phone dialog that would provide more control over geotagged photos and thoughts about privacy controls within APIs themselves, there aren't any real-world fixes yet. For now, only user education and research into better systems for privacy protection is suggested.

But may we offer, perhaps, a simple fix to address some of these concerns: don't post your vacation photos until after you return home and don't Twitter about it while there. Simple steps like these could go a long way into protecting your home and valuables from being "cybercased" by any tech-savvy thieves. 

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More Touchscreen Innovation: ABC News for iPad Launches

Launched this week, ABC News for iPad is a notable free application which continues the trend of companies developing innovative and creative interfaces designed specifically for tablet-sized touch screens. The new app, which includes photos, videos and various news stories, presents the content in a 3D spinning globe which users can shake, spin and tap with their fingers.

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The content featured within the app is pulled from ABC News properties like "Good Morning America," "World News with Diane Sawyer," "20/20," "This Week," "Nightline" and others. Users can also tap a "browse" button to filter content by top stories, most popular, video only, U.S., International, and several other categories. An archives section includes articles, photos and videos from "this day in history" (although it actually goes back a couple of days) and there, iPad visitors have access to exclusive content not found on the ABC News website itself.

Upon first launch, iPad users see a spinning globe-like animation that contains the 25 freshest stories from ABCNews.com. The news in the globe is automatically fed into the app, but unlike similar continually updated news-focused mobile applications, there isn't a lengthy "downloading new content" delay. Instead, after a brief splash screen, the app just displays the spinning globe, waiting for users' tapping fingers.

Media Companies Embracing the iPad

In a way, it's somewhat off-putting to access serious news content discussing politics, war, crime, death and other sobering material in such a game-like - and yes, downright fun - manner. Shouldn't these articles be presented in a more grown-up format like a virtual newspaper?

Perhaps not.

As other news companies and media publishers clamor to make the digital transition, those embracing the possibilities of the new tablet form factor are seeing the most success. Take the Wired iPad app, for example, a digital magazine that sold 24,000 copies within its first 24 hours of sale and then 95,000 by the end of its first run. Inside of simply duplicating the page-turning experience of reading a paper mag via the iPad's screen, the magazine incorporated interactive elements, including video features and animated infographics. Reading Wired on the iPad enhanced the media consumption experience, as opposed to simply replicating it.

The same may be true for the ABC News app. It doesn't merely duplicate the same content using the same layout found on ABCNews.com, but rather engages users with its "touchability." ABC News on the iPad isn't about just reading the news, it's about interacting with it. Users can touch, shake and spin the app and also take advantage of built-in sharing features that let them Twitter, email or post news items to Facebook. Stories can also be saved to the "Favorites" section for later reading, too.

Given yesterday's launch of the "social," personalized magazine called Flipboard for iPad, not to mention the interactive and engaging interfaces of other news and media applications like those from NPR, Reuters, Entertainment Weekly, Reeder, Pulse and more, it's clear that tablet-enabled touchscreen innovation is only beginning.

You can download ABC News for iPad from iTunes here.

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View Complete Contact and Conversation History with Silentale for iPhone

Silentale, the searchable archive of all your email and Web-based communication, is now available as a mobile app for the iPhone and iPod Touch. Like the desktop version of the service, the new app provides a "360 degree view of your contacts," explains the company, including conversation history with email recipients, Facebook friends, Twitter, Google and Highrise contacts and LinkedIn connections.

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Silentale for iPhone

When you view a contact in Silentale for iPhone, you see their contact details as you would within any Address Book type application, but you also see their social profiles and a complete history of your conversations - whether that included emails, Facebook messages or Twitter posts.

You can then email, reply or forward messages to a contact directly from within the app. You can send an SMS text message or call them, too. And you can view, download and forward the attachments in the messages Silentale finds. Essentially, it's a "CRM-lite" type application for the iPhone.

Silentale: Easy, Great...When it Works

In the past, we were surprised that Silentale didn't get more media coverage - the online service it offers is fairly robust... and free, at least to start. The basic version of the online service lets you import up to 3 accounts, is updated every 3 hours and imports 4 weeks of conversation history. For $49/year, you get 6 accounts, 2 years of history and hourly updates. For $99, you get 12 accounts, unlimited import and half-hour updates.

As to why Silentale seems to be somewhat ignored, our first guess was its name - "Silentale" doesn't really roll off the tongue nor does it give you an idea of what this service offers. Its competitor, "Gist," is branded better, in our opinion. Gist does a bit more, too - it provides dashboards for viewing people and companies, for example, and it incorporates RSS feeds, Web mentions, Google image results and more. It's not "CRM-lite," by any means, but its complexity may also be more than what some people have need of. For those that just want a searchable conversation archive, there's Silentale.

However, it's now starting to become clearer as to why Silentale isn't making waves the way Gist is - the service often seems to suffer from stability issues. During testing, we encountered errors and timeouts more than a few times, both with the iPhone app and when previously testing the online service. The iPhone application wouldn't allow us to authenticate upon first launch, for example. Although today's issues and the prior ones could just be chalked up to launch day jitters (and the problems were soon corrected), it's still a concern. We don't know if the company needs to throw more servers at the problem, acquire more bandwidth or just hire better network engineers, but they can't expect busy people to rely on an app that doesn't consistently work.

No matter, we suppose: it works now and works as advertised, albeit after a lengthy "import" process (and one that required closing, then relaunching the app). But given the prior issues and time-consuming set up, we can't 100% recommend this app until the company gets things straightened out. (And we do hope it does - Silentale is incredibly useful when functional!) All that being said, the app is free, so if you want to brave it, you can download a copy for yourself here on iTunes. Just don't say we didn't warn you if you hit bugs.

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Flipboard, New "Social" iPad Magazine will be Powered by Semantic Data

The stealthy Kleiner Perkins-backed startup called Flipboard has now been revealed to be, as some suspected, a social application for the iPad. The new Flipboard iPad app bills itself as a "social magazine" - that is, one which aggregates status updates, tweets, photos and articles from those you're connected to on social networking sites, like Twitter and Facebook. These updates are beautifully laid out into an easily digestible view which you can flip through with your fingers.

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But Flipboard isn't just another "Twitter magazine," - it also just acquired semantic technology startup Ellerdale, whose intelligent data-parsing algorithms have previously been used to create a real-time search engine and trends tracker (still available here, at least for the moment). Now that same powerful technology will be used to design a more personalized real-time experience: determining what social updates are important to you and presenting them in an attractive, magazine-like format.

Flipboard Revealed: Social Networking Updates Become a Magazine

In May, rumors of an under-the-radar startup called Flipboard surfaced, when sources reported it had raised funding from the well-known firm, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Now the company is confirming these rumors, with news of a $10.5 million Series A venture capital round. It also has other key backers like Twitter's Jack Dorsey and Facebook's Dustin Moskovitz. Oh, and Ashton Kutcher's interested, so there you go.

If the investors' confidence doesn't convince you of the app's potential, though, perhaps its back-end will. Although not available in this initial version, Flipboard will soon integrate the semantic data-analysis technology from the startup Ellerdale into its application in order to app better determine the relevance of the information and updates from your various social networking connections. Ellerdale is already an expert at this, after practicing the art of semantic analysis on Twitter's "firehose" of data.

Flipboard: This Magazine was Built for You

So many people are overwhelmed by the fast-flowing information on the real-time Web, not to mention the massive amounts of raw data which include everything from 140-character tweets to new photo uploads from family and friends on Facebook. Take a day or two off from the Web, and it seems like you've missed everything.

Catching up on all these updates is difficult, too, given the ephemeral nature of Twitter's stream and Facebook's constantly updated News Feed. Flipboard proposes a better way to follow your friends: turn social networking updates into a personalized magazine.

How the Mag Works

Within the new Flipboard app, there's a homepage of sorts created using photos from your social networking friends, a content page and then personalized sections which you create. For now, you can have up to nine different sections, which can focus on any topic - whether that's fashion or motorcycles - or even Twitter lists, if that's your desire.

Within the "magazine's" pages are status updates, photos and even articles based on the links your friends have been sharing. The articles are presented in clean, clutter-free views without surrounding ads and other design flourishes implemented by the publisher. However, for copyright reasons, the articles won't be full-text - only abstracts. You'll have to click through (or rather, tap through) to read the full article using the included in-app Web browser.

Although Flipboard isn't meant to function as a full Facebook or Twitter client, the basic interactions are supported - liking, replying, re-tweeting, etc.

Best of all, perhaps, is the app's cost: FREE. Unlike the Twitter mag competitor Tabloids (iTunes link), for example, a $2.99 iPad app, Flipboard will remain free, generating revenue through in-app ads - full page ones, no less - where revenues are split with the publisher. Future iterations may even include full article text, not abstracts, for those publishers which ink deals with the company. So yes, in the future, you could launch Flipboard to read your daily newspaper thanks to a syndication of NYT's Twitter feed, for example.

Future Plans

Also in the future, additional networks will be supported, like Flickr, Tumblr, Posterous and others, although there are no plans for direct RSS support. You can follow most sites on Twitter and Facebook, Ellerdale's Arthur van Hoff tells us. (Incidentally, his LinkedIn resume reveals his title to be Level III Grand Master of Alphabetical Order at Ellerdale, which we think is fabulous).

Although Ellerdale's influence isn't present in the launch edition of Flipboard, its inclusion is forthcoming. And given our previous review of Ellerdale's prospects, a service we once called "tantalizing" for the data-hounds out there, we can't wait to see it put to a more practical purpose: discovering the trends and relevance within our own content.

You can download the Flipboard iPad app here from iTunes.

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Miio: If Twitter were FriendFeed, Facebook and an RSS Reader. Wait, What?

Miio is a new microblogging service which is a bit like a mashup between Twitter, FriendFeed, Facebook and an RSS reader. Now typically, we don't like describing services as a "it's like a this plus a that," but Miio is precisely the kind of service that needs a little help in the "what this is" department.

Don't get us wrong, the concept itself isn't bad: a discussion board built around interests as opposed to popularity. It's just that the execution makes the service seem a little confusing.

So what is miio? That's what we're trying to figure out today.

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Miio Members: Find New Friends

When you first sign up for miio, you can search for friends across your social networks and email accounts or you can skip that step and just search for other miio users who share your interests. This is perhaps the key feature in miio that differentiates it from many other social networks: it's not yet another site where you have to (either manually or automatically) re-create your social graph. It's a place to meet new people who share your interests.

Now whether you're supposed to chat them up or hit on them when you meet them is something I wasn't too clear about, given that miio asks for your "relationship status" and what you're "looking for" (friends, dating, chatting, "whatever") via your profile page. Those seem like features borrowed from Facebook, and frankly, if miio just wants to be discussion site, it could do without them.

Miio's Twitter-Like Dashboard

The miio Dashboard is reminiscent of Twitter, with its "replies" and "messages to me," the latter very much like Twitter's own DMs (direct messages). But unlike Twitter, you don't just follow tweets, err...posts, limited to 140 characters or less. Users can write as much as they want. And like Facebook, those status updates can be links, photos, videos, etc. as well. They can also be questions, which then puts miio up against Q&A sites like Quora, for example.

Miio RSS

In fact, updates can even be RSS feeds thanks to a profile setting which lets you publish RSS to miio. Already a number of "members" have created miio accounts with RSS feeds - as you can see here by searching for *rss*. However, given the high profile nature of some of these accounts (ABC, AP, BBC, CBS, Huffington Post, etc.), it looks like miio created these accounts itself for others to follow, which is actually a handy feature.

From the Public Timeline or Search page, you can filter out whether or not you want to see RSS updates or whether you want to see just text updates, just photos, just videos, just questions and so on. If you switch the setting to "RSS only," miio could effectively function as a lightweight RSS reader for those who don't really do RSS.

Miio Groups

There are also groups within miio, where you can discuss items of interest to you whether that's sports or iPads. But given miio's "early adopter" mindshare, the biggest groups seem to be tech-focused ones like those discussing iOS, startups or even miio competitor Google Buzz.

Final Thoughts: Too Much of a Good Thing, miio Needs to Diet

Although miio gets some things right, simplicity is not one of them. It's not clear yet what exactly miio wants to be when it grows up, why there's a need for this service and who should use it.

Our advice to miio, ditch the advanced feature set (it's overwhelming!) and focus on doing just one thing and doing it well. Groups, perhaps. Google Buzz lacks a "groups" feature and although FriendFeed has them, that service lost quite a few members after its Facebook acquisition. Do discussion groups and do them better than anyone else. And don't allow top followed members to dominate discussions like on Buzz, FriendFeed, Twitter and every other "social" service out there today. Make it more democratic.

And simplify, simplify, simplify. Twitter worked because it was basic and easy. That's how miio should start too. It can add in advanced filtering, location-based services, metadata and all the rest later on, if necessary. (Or perhaps not at all).

With a redirected singular goal like this, miio could have a chance at attracting not just the tech geeks who sign up for anything shiny and new but those who just like to go online and chat about things they're into, no matter what those may be. Obviously, the folks behind miio have the technical know-how to build a great service, now they just need to establish a sharper focus. Good luck, miio!

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25 Billion Mobile App Downloads by 2015

Consumers will have downloaded 25 billion mobile applications to their smartphones by the year 2015, claims market research firm Juniper Research in a report released today. That's an increase from less than 2.6 billion applications in 2009.

Part of this projected increase is due to the launch of additional "app stores" worldwide, including those in large markets like China and India. However, cautions the report, just mimicking Apple's model alone may not be enough. "Customers are buying the iPhone for the apps," says report author Dr. Windsor Holden. "That's not been the case with other handsets."

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Big Markets, Lots of Downloads

The report specifically makes mention of app store efforts from China Unicom, India's Bharti and the Vodafone 360 app and games shop, the latter available on 247 mobile networks in more than 60 countries. Also mentioned is GetJar, a cross-platform mobile application store which just exceeded 1 billion downloads last month.

Although perhaps not a household name yet, GetJar offers around 65,000 applications (compared to Apple's 225,000, for example). The company aims to triple its revenue over the course of the next year, double its workforce and make its online store more reliable and user-friendly, GetJar CMO Patrick Mork told the Wall St. Journal in June.

25 Billion by 2015...or 50 Billion by 2012? Conflicting Reports Confuse

In that same article, Mork said consumers would download 7 billion applications to their handsets in 2009, a number much higher than that reported by Juniper today. He also said that 50 billion apps would be downloaded in 2012, a number twice as large as the one being reported for 2015 by Juniper's report.

Mork didn't pull those numbers out of thin air, however. They come from a report GetJar commissioned, released in March. Consulting firm Chetan Sharma Consulting performed an independent study which predicted a year-over-year growth rate of 92% for mobile app downloads, with an economy that would generate $17.5 billion in sales by 2012.

Whether or not you want to believe those numbers or the more conservative predictions from Juniper, however, is up to you. We feel more comfortable with Juniper's numbers, though, over those from a commissioned study financed by an app store company.

Don't Just Copy Apple

Juniper's report also warns that simply copying the Apple "iTunes App Store" model may not be enough to encourage developers to build apps for a particular platform. (Case in point: Palm's webOS or Nokia's OVI store, perhaps?) Instead, an app store would need to demonstrate sufficient scale in order for developers to get involved.

After noting that people are buying the iPhone specifically for the apps, Holden said the same may not be true for other mobile manufacturers. "Even if you have a subscriber base of tens of millions," says Holden, "your addressable market is a fraction of that - and spread across a variety of operating systems and handsets."

Also according to Holden, "freemium" is now becoming the prevalent business model for mobile applications, with in-app purchases, subscription services, micropayments for virtual items and upgrades to premium content as the method for monetizing a developer's efforts.

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Web-Based Jolicloud OS Reaches 1.0

Jolicloud, makers of a cloud-based computer operating system that pre-dates Google's forthcoming "Chrome OS" by well over a year, has finally reached version 1.0. In this release, the OS is now completely built on HTML 5, forgoing its previous dependence on Mozilla's Prism for its back-end in favor of Chromium, the same open-source project that will also become Google Chrome OS.

According to Jolicloud's CEO Tariq Krim, his company isn't trying to compete with Google for the same users; it wants to attract those who have a netbook now, are running Windows XP or a Linux-based OS and are itching for a chance to upgrade their install to something more modern and current.

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Transition from Desktop to Cloud

One of the big benefits that Jolicloud has over the still-yet-to-launch Google Chrome OS is its ability to run both Web-based applications alongside traditional desktop apps such as Skype. In Google's OS, apps are Web-only. In this way, Jolicloud is more of transitional step from desktop to cloud for users not ready - or able - to make the full leap.

It even provides access to files previously stored on the computer's hard drive prior to the Jolicloud upgrade, so you don't have to worry with backing up your files and photos before making the switch. (Although you should, just to be safe). In the future, Jolicloud plans to offer tools to move these files from the computer's hard drive to the cloud prior to the upgrade, during the setup process, Krim told us recently.

700+ Apps and Counting

At present, users can access an included App Center (an app store where desktop and Web-based apps are housed) containing over 700 programs to choose from. The center is updated weekly, making it easy to find the latest and greatest applications without having to search across the Web. The App Center offers the same kind of "curated" collection that Google plans to introduce, but with the added benefit of social features that let you share and recommend apps to other Jolicloud-using friends.

Also new in version 1.0 is a "Social Stream" that details what apps are popular among the community as a whole, which have recently been updated and notifications from Jolicloud itself.

Thanks to the OS's Web-based nature, if you choose to install Jolicloud on multiple machines, your settings will remained synchronized between the devices as to how your apps are organized, which you've installed and which you've deleted.

How to Get It

Jolicloud 1.0 is in the process of rolling out to all users this week, but priority is being given to those who have been using the system the longest. You'll be notified in your "Update" page when you're able to take advantage of the new version. If you've never installed Jolicloud before, keep checking the company home page for news as to when you can try the latest version. (At present, the "pre-final" version is still listed here - that is not version 1.0.)

We've enjoyed Jolicloud ourselves thus far as a simple Web-based OS for our netbook, which is primarily used for light Web-surfing, Facebook and Twitter. However, much of what our netbook is used for these days can be done via a Web browser alone, which makes Jolicloud's key selling points its App Center and its user interface. Are those items worth upgrading the netbook's OS for? As early adopters, we have to say "yes," but whether mainstream users will soon install Jolicloud on their own netbooks is another question entirely.

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Checking In… With Your Face?

Technology entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has just invested in a video company that can identify how many people are in a specific location at a particular time. While currently the technology is used for analyzing "traffic patterns" and "security," writes Cuban on a blog post announcing the deal, the next step is adding facial recognition software for the purpose of check-ins using location-based software, he says.

"Rather than someone checking into a specific application, we would already know you are there," Cuban explains. That prospect is either incredible or downright scary, depending on how you feel about privacy.

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Checking In: Still a Manual Process

For users of location-based services, particularly the so-called check-in applications like Foursquare, Gowalla, Brightkite, Loopt, MyTown, Latitude and others, the process of registering yourself as present at a given location is still very much a manual one. A user has to pull out their smartphone, launch an app, wait for it to load, then tap a button to check in. Hardly a social activity for what are branded "social networking services."

Those who go through this process are often rewarded for doing so, with tips about the establishment from their friends, like the best entrée to order at a restaurant or which bartender makes the best martini. Sometimes location-based services users even get access to special discounts or coupons. For example, those who become "mayor" of their local Starbucks on Foursquare (a honorary title given to those who check in the most) get discounts on Frappuccinos. Those who check in to clothing store Ann Taylor get discounts on purchases, too. And those who check in using IZEA's WeReward can actually earn cash back.

But for the mainstream user, the idea of checking in hasn't caught on just yet, in part due to privacy concerns and also perhaps because they don't realize the value of doing so. Only a handful of major chains and other big-name businesses are offering tangible rewards, so checking in because of a coupon or special is a decidedly hit-or-miss endeavor at this point.

Despite these potential pitfalls, location-based services are steadily growing. Loopt has 4 million users, Google's Latitude 3 million, Booyah's MyTown and Foursquare over 2 million and Gowalla 340,000. And those user counts are growing fast for some - Foursquare, for example, is adding on average 12,900 new users per day.

Background Check-ins Encourage "Serendipity"

mobile face.pngOne problem all the location-based companies are trying to address is a way to overcome the manual process involved with performing a check-in. For services like Loopt, the idea has been to take advantage of a smartphone's ability to run processes in the background, a feature just added to the latest iPhone OS software, iOS 4. "The ability to run location-based apps in the background makes serendipity happen... Users will be able to share their location and receive alerts on the phone in their pocket when they're near a friend," said Sam Altman, CEO of Loopt, when the feature went live.

Although that makes the process easier, there are still questions to be answered: How long does background sharing remain on? Do you need to remind people on a regular basis that they're sharing their movements? How often do you do so? Should this be switched on by default?

Passive Check-ins with your Face?

Now it seems check-ins may become even more passive than apps that run in the background if Cuban has his way. All you would have to do is walk into an establishment and your check-in would be registered - yes, via facial recognition software.

Hints of "Minority Report," anyone? Indeed, such software could "see" you, check you in and then offer you personalized advertisements, much like those presented to Tom Cruise's character in the futuristic movie where billboards and holograms knew who you were and what you purchased.

Will that be horrible or helpful, though? After all, recommendation systems on sites like Amazon.com and Netflix already help improve upon your shopping experiences, so why not location-based software?

However, even though such systems are likely to be opt-in, some will find this automated Big Brother type process far too invasive. And others think that it misses the point entirely. Dennis Mink, CEO of location-based aggregator FootFeed, says, "By sharing where you are, what you are doing and thoughts about the experience, it gives you a sense of being connected to the world. This is what motivates people to [use] Twitter, post a status on Facebook or check in at their current location... To think that a video system with facial recognition software can fill the emotional needs of millions of people is quite simply misguided."

On the other hand, Aaron Strout, CMO of Powered, a dedicated social media agency, thinks the approach sounds "quite innovative," but cautions that facial recognition technology may not be able to perform on this level for at least of couple of years.

The biggest question, though, is whether the mainstream will eventually come to accept such automated and personalized (albeit somewhat creepy) technology - or does it go one step too far in asking users to exchange privacy for rewards?

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Weekend Project: Install Web Apps in Chrome or Chromium

At this year's Google I/O developer conference, the Internet search giant made a surprising announcement: not only was the company releasing a Web-connected "cloud" operating system called "Chrome OS," it would also include an app store called the "Chrome Web Store" which would help users discover, purchase and install Web applications from a central location.

However, you don't have to wait until Chrome OS debuts to install Chrome Web apps - you can test a few of them now by using a Chrome developer build or Chromium, the open-source browser behind Google Chrome.

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There are three official Google Web apps already available for testing - Gmail, Calendar and Google Docs. Plus, there are a handful of third-party apps available now, including music apps, Twitter apps, Facebook, games and more. A few of the popular ones are conveniently listed here, for example.

Before you get started, you'll need to install a developer build of Google Chrome or its open-source counterpart, Chromium. I prefer using Chromium for this sort of project because it allows me to play around while still keeping my default Chrome install a separate, stable version.

Step 1: Grab a Developer Build or Chromium Build

To use a developer build of Google Chrome, go to this page and scroll down to the section called "Subscribing to a channel." From here, pick the "Dev Channel" for your current OS: Windows, Mac or Linux. Just click the appropriate link to run the installer and launch the browser.

Google says: "When Google Chrome users 'install' a Web application from the store, a convenient shortcut is added for quickly accessing the app. Installed Web apps can also request advanced HTML5 permissions." Those HTML5 features can include things like local data storage for faster and offline use of apps and running apps in full-screen mode.

If you would prefer to use Chromium, you'll need to head over to this site instead: build.chromium.org/buildbot/snapshots. On this page, you'll find folders instead of direct links, each labeled by OS. Click the link for your OS (Linux, Linux-64, Mac or XP -that's for all Windows users, by the way). Within each folder, you'll notice a list of build numbers accompanied by a "last modified" date. To get the most recent one, scroll to the bottom of the page and click through to the files listed. Here, grab the installer for your OS; for example, Windows users would download "mini_installer.exe". Run the installer and launch the browser.

Step 2: Edit the Shortcut

Next, you'll need to edit the desktop shortcut for the newly installed browser in order to add the command line flag that enables Web apps. In Windows, right-click on the desktop shortcut, click "Properties," then place your cursor at the end of the line in the "Target" field. Add a space then type --enable-apps in this field. Click the "OK" button and restart the browser.

In Mac, it's $ open /Applications/Google\ Chrome.app --args -enable-apps.

Note: for more help with startup switches, check out LifeHacker's guide.

Step 3: Install the Extensions

Now, in Chrome/Chromium go to chrome://extensions, click "Developer Mode" then click "Load Unpacked Extension."

In the window that appears, you'll need to browse to Chrome's resources folder. (In Windows, you'll find it at:

  • For current versions of Windows (Vista/7): %userprofile%\AppData\Local\Google\Chrome\Application\[Version]\resources
  • For Windows XP users: %userprofile%\Local Settings\Application Data\Google\Chrome\Application\[Version]\resources
(If you're using Chromium, just look for the "Chromium" folder, not "Chrome.")

Once you've navigated to the appropriate folder, you'll notice there are three subfolders: gmail_app, calendar_app and docs_app. Click the folder for the app you want to install and it will now appear in the extensions list in Chrome/Chromium.

Step 4: Load the Web Apps!

OK, here comes the fun part: loading the Web apps themselves. Click the "New Tab" button in Chrome/Chromium like you were about to launch a new Web page and you'll now see the available Web apps listed. Click the app's icon to load it into the browser.

Once the app is installed, it appears with a large icon that hovers a bit above the tab.

To load other Web apps, like those featured here, you have to first download the .crx file to your computer then open it using Chrome/Chromium.

You can find more apps to try by browsing through the discussion group for Chromium apps here. Plus, there are even more apps posted here and here, too.

Have fun!

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Flickr Fixes Facebook Integration With Batch Uploads

Last month, social photo-sharing site Flickr finally added some long-awaited Facebook integration to its service, allowing users to simultaneously post photos on both Flickr and Facebook with one upload. But there was a small problem with the way that the new feature was set up: it basically spammed your Facebook Wall with post after post about your new photos.

Today, that problem has been fixed, reports Flickr.

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For those users who uploaded more than one photo at a time (and that's most of us!), using the new Facebook integration feature made each and every new Flickr photo uploaded its own individual post on your Facebook Wall and friends' News Feed. After processing a big set of photos, your Facebook page would end up covered in nothing but Flickr posts.

That issue has been fixed so that it now identities these multi-picture posts as batches.

Over on the Flickr blog, Consumer Marketing Manager Larissa Zimberoff writes, "When we first launched we sent updates for every upload but have recently made a change so that we only send an update for each batch of uploads."

It's a line to make any Flickr and Facebook user rejoice.

Other Reminders: Getagging and Twitter Integration

Zimberoff also took the time to highlight a couple of other Flickr features which users may not be aware of, including geotagging and Twitter integration. Users can geotag their photos (add location information to them) by using Flickr's Organizr - just drag and drop the photos on the map where they were taken. Note that some smartphones automatically geotag photos for you, without any additional configuration.

Twitter integration can be achieved via an app called Flickr2Twitter, which tweets the subject line of your photo along with a link.

How to Turn it (Back) On

But really, today's blog post could read "We fixed the Facebook integration," and that would have been enough for us.

To turn this feature back on, head over here and then click "Sharing and Extending" (far right). Then click the "edit" button next to Facebook to switch activity updates back on. Or if you've never added Facebook integration to begin with, click the "Connect" button to get started.

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Deal Site Groupon Launches G-Team, Campaigns for Local Causes

Popular group-buying daily deal site Groupon has gone back to its roots with the launch of an initiative called "G-Team," which harnesses the collective consumer power that has made Groupon such a success, in order to connect users to local fundraisers, campaigns and other charitable causes. The causes will be tied to the deals posted to Groupon so as to attract like-minded shoppers with community organizations whose campaigns they may be interested in.

For example, a deal on canoe rentals might be tied to a campaign to clean up a river, a deal on bike tuneups might be linked to a campaign to donate bicycles to disadvantaged youth and so on.

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G-Team: Campaigns for Charity or Just for Fun

But G-Team campaigns don't necessarily have to be focused on charity: they can be used for fun too, like organizing a flash mob or rounding up Groupon shoppers to use their coupon together on the same night at a particular venue.

Although the G-Team initiative was announced over a month ago, there has been little media coverage so far, likely due to its staged rollout. Initially, G-Team is only available as a pilot program in Chicago, but Groupon says it plans on bringing the program to more cities in the future.

The first campaign, just announced via Twitter and now available here, is raising money to support a local theater organization.

Groupon's Roots are in Community Organization

Many of Groupon's users may not realize that initiatives like these actually served as the roots of what became the discount shopping experience that's now practically a household name. According to the Groupon website, the organization grew out of a website called The Point, launched in 2007, which lets anyone start a campaign, but delays action until enough people have committed to the project. That same philosophy of collective power was later applied to what became Groupon, a site that offers a daily deal that's only available once enough people join that day.

With the G-Team campaigns, now hosted on The Point's site, there will be a "tipping point" that will need to be reached before action is taken. And anyone can apply for one of these Groupon campaign sponsorships, either as an individual or a representative from a non-profit or other local grassroots organization.

Explains Patty Huber, community manager for both The Point and Groupon, "First, we'll help you create a campaign page on The Point. Next, we'll develop a partnership with a Groupon merchant who will help support your campaign. Then, we'll promote your campaign along with the merchant's daily deal to our huge subscriber base."

G-Team campaigns, says Huber, are designed to benefit local communities, run for a limited period of time (usually a day), support causes that resonate with subscribers, aid specific projects and are organized around a "compelling story."

If you or your organization wants to be considered for sponsorship, the online application is available here.

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MasterCard Launches Woot-Like iPhone App for Daily Deals

MasterCard recently launched a new mobile application called "MasterCard Marketplace Overwhelming Offers," which delivers daily deals to iPhone users. Despite its mouthful of a name, savvy shoppers planning on purchasing a big-ticket item in the near future may want to keep an eye on this one.

Like the popular Internet retailer Woot (just bought by Amazon), the app provides deeply discounted items, available in limited quantities for a limited time. At 12 p.m. Eastern (GMT - 4:00) every day, a new deal is posted to the mobile app, offering "door-buster" type savings of 50% or more on brand-name products from a network of over 28,000 merchants.

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The offers are made available thanks to MasterCard's partnership with e-commerce company Next Jump, which already powers the desktop version of the MasterCard Marketplace website, launched in April.

Some of the past "OO's" (overwhelming offers), as they're called, have included deals like $100 off flights booked via Priceline.com, $50 off anything at TigerDirect.com, $25 off Target merchandise, $100 off Wal-Mart merchandise, $75 off the Barnes & Noble eBook Reader, $50 off digital cameras at Staples, $100 off a Nintendo Wii from Kmart and much more.

How to Play... err... Shop

There's a game-like element to scoring these deals, too. They launch at a given time and sell out fast - sometimes even in seconds, so you have to be quick to win the chance to purchase these items. To get a heads up about what deal is launching when, shoppers can sign up for email alerts that are sent out several hours prior to the OO start time and detail pricing, quantities available and other descriptive info about the product.

And if you're worried that you still might find a better deal by shopping around online, the app has you covered here, too. Instead of purchasing the item immediately from your mobile, you simply "reserve" the item. Of course, to do so, you have to link a MasterCard credit, debit or prepaid card to your account first. You then have up to three days to redeem your reservation.

One important item to note, and a big difference between Woot and this app, is that the discounts you receive are not immediate. Instead, they're provided to you as rebates posted to your MasterCard account. You will actually have to buy the item at full price then wait, usually around two weeks, before the credit is posted. At most, according to the FAQ, this process may take up to 21 days.

MasterCard and M-Commerce

MasterCard seems intent on tapping into the growing m-commerce trend, potentially a $2.2 billion dollar industry by the end of this year according to ABI Research. The Marketplace app is just one of many the company has launched for the device in recent months. It also has MoneySend, a person-to-person mobile payments application, Easy Savings Program, an app that locates nearby discounts from participating merchants, Priceless Picks, an app that lets shoppers share great deals with each other anywhere around the world and an ATM finder application. Unfortunately for Android users, the only app MasterCard has ported to that platform is its one-off app, "Flavours of Shanghai 2010," designed specifically for EXPO 2010.

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Twitter "Fail Whale" Artist Now Selling Stickers and Wall Art

Do you know about the Twitter "fail whale?" Of course you do - it's the iconic image that displays whenever the microblogging social network takes a nose dive. What many do not know, however, is that the so-called "Fail Whale" wasn't a creation from Twitter itself to decorate their startup's "uh-oh" page, but actually the work of an unknown artist, Yiying Lu, whose image was posted for use at a stock photo site. Of course, Lu isn't all that unknown anymore, as her fail whale was soon embraced by the community and turned into a social object.

And now that object can decorate your computer or even your walls, thanks to new Twitter art from Lu herself.

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The "fail whale" is just one of many new wall graphics now available at LTLprints.com. There are also images of an owl, an elephant, trees and even a very Twitter-like bird, among others, all of which are offered in sizes that range from laptop-sized to wall-to-ceiling prints up to 7-feet tall. (What better way for a blogger to decorate their home office, we ask?)

Prices start at $14.95 for the laptop-sized graphics and go up to $149.95 for the giant wall art.

In a recent interview with the artist on the LTLprints blog, it's mentioned that Shanghai-born Lu has also done creative work for Anna Sui New York, Maybelline, GettyImages, Glam Media, JWT, the Surfrider Foundation, the University of Technology Sydney, McCann World Group and LTLPrints itself. However, for many of us tech geeks, none is more memorable than that of the Fail Whale.

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Survey: Over Half of Location-Based Services Users Fear Loss of Privacy

Remember PleaseRobMe? The social experiment (now shuttered) formerly displayed real-time updates from Foursquare users who publicly broadcasted their current location via Twitter. In aggregate, the site's founders said, this data could be used by burglars looking to find empty houses to rob.

Although many in the tech community dismissed the experiment as engaging in fear-mongering and scare tactics to make its point about the potential dangers of location-based services, it may have actually hit a nerve among mainstream users. According to a new survey of over 1,500 social networking users who own geolocation-ready mobile devices, over half (55%) are worried about the loss of privacy that comes with the use of mobile applications which broadcast your location.

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The survey, commissioned by security company Webroot, asked online participants in the U.S. and U.K. to share their thoughts via an online survey in June of this year. Out of the 1,645 respondents, 55% said they feared loss of privacy, and 45% feared letting burglars know when they were away from home.

Women were more worried about the risks than their male counterparts, the survey found, with 49% reporting they were "highly concerned" about letting a stalker know their whereabouts, while only 32% of men expressed a similar concern.

Older mobile users (ages 40+) were more also more generally concerned about the risks of location-based services (LBS) than those aged 18 to 29.

Love/Hate Relationship with Geolocation?

What's interesting about this data is that even though there were concerns among many of those surveyed, 39% said they did use geolocation services on their mobile devices, and 29% even shared their location with people other than their friends. 1 in 9 used a location-based tool to meet a stranger either digitally or in real-life, presumably with applications like Skout, the location-based dating app that just hit 1 million users.

Are people simultaneously embracing and fearing this new technology? It appears so.

On the one hand, using new services like the location-based social networking apps Foursquare, Gowalla, Brightkite, Loopt and others can be fun - even rewarding to some extent, thanks to partnerships with businesses that result in mobile coupons and discounts, for example. Plus, users of these services can trade online tips with friends, suggesting things like the best entrée to order at a local restaurant, the bartender to ask for at local hotspot, the best time of day to visit a local attraction and so on. In fact, 67% of the users of location-based services said they did so in order to "get informed." Other top uses including meeting up with friends (43%), meeting new people (13.9%) and playing games (8.7%).

But even though there are many benefits to using an LBS-type application, clearly there are fears as well. These concerns may rise from people's lack of understanding about how accessible their data is or how it's being used.

Protecting Your Privacy: The Same Old List of Do's and Don'ts

To protect yourself from the "dangers" of using location-based mobile apps, Webroot provided some common sense advice: Be aware of your smartphone's settings (Is it OK for this app to access your location? Are your photos being geotagged?); never post anything you wouldn't want the world to see; restrict access to personal data by using privacy settings provided within an app; only friend your real friends; read the app's privacy policy before using and don't blindly click links.

Does any of that sound familiar? This advice isn't any different, really, from what security professionals have advised users to do for years, most recently regarding the proper use of Facebook (especially given that network's new agenda to discard user privacy in order to be a more public network).

Despite these recommendations - which, at this point, sound like a broken record - many people continue to use social networks in what some would consider "risky" ways. 76% of users reported they clicked links posted by friends and 31% said they accepted strangers' friend requests.

At the end of the day, it seems that putting the onus on the user to mind their behavior isn't going to be the best solution for maintaining privacy and security while using social networking sites, be them online or geo-targeted. And frankly, it never is.

Instead, the location-based services themselves should be careful to have appropriate security polices and procedures in place so their users' private data - most importantly, their physical location - isn't shared with anyone but specifically those who have been given access.

For more about why and how people use location-based social networking services, please read "Why We Check In: The Reasons People Use Location-Based Social Networks."

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