Real-Time Activism: What the Heck is an E-Alert?

lead_activism_oct09.jpgIf you've ever worked with an advocacy group, you understand how important it is to stretch your scarce resources. In the face of dwindling government grants, a looming recession, and the fear of losing your volunteers, the real-time web can be a boon in getting legislation passed. Today's ReadWriteWeb Real-Time Summit attendees took time to discuss some of the cause-based tools that can help in this bubbling river of data.


activism_rww_oct09b.jpgConsumers Union employees Tim Marvin and Gregory Foster work hard to ensure that consumers have access to a fair and safe marketplace. The organization lobbies government groups around issues of health care reform, product safety and ethical advertising. Nevertheless, a number of today's available advocacy tools fall flat. While organizations communicate with phone calls, videos, static sites, brochures, face-to-face lobbying and a spam-like email service called an "e-alert", only a few are utilizing the real-time web. Rather than insisting upon these traditional methods, the group discussed new ways to hack the law-making process. Below are some of our ideas:
1.Real-Time Story Uploading: Voters can upload their stories via a microblogging service, tag it with a cause-related hashtag and geo-tag it to a specific constituency. From here the relevant representatives could be provided with a constituency feed and can search via the issues that affect them most. In this case, trending topics would indicate the most popular issues.
2. Legislator Meet and Greet: Similar to celebrity sightings on Twitter, users could Tweet when meeting their legislator and encourage nearby voters to come by and express their opinions. We call this "legis-stalking".
3. Legislative Activity Stream: While legislation is already being tracked via sites like, there's no reason your friends shouldn't get your legislation-related activity stream and real-time commentary. From here machine-powered sentiment analysis could be used to show a politician's popularity and overall happiness amongst voters.
4.Tracker: Similar to Pivotal Labs' Tracker, consumer groups could collaborate on an issues-based project management tool. When representatives reveal their plans, each issue can be broken down into a smaller project with associated goals. If goals are verified by a specific percentage of voters, then the project is considered a success and reflects this percentage in real-time. If goals are left unfulfilled, then the project is considered a failure. From here a politician's overall success rate can also be calculated as a real-time reflection of effectiveness.

We know these are just some of the ideas available with real-time activism. If you've got ideas on how organizations can better utilize the real-time web add your ideas in the comments below or in the event wiki. If you'd like to help Consumers Union build the tools we've discussed above email


What Do You Hate About the Real-Time Web?

summitlogo_150wide.pngWe just spent a whole day talking about the real-time web a the RWW Real-Time Web Summit. While the general mood was obviously extremely upbeat, a few sessions at the conference also focused on some of the questions that still remain to be answered. Brizzly's Jason Shellen, for example, asked us what we hated about the real-time web, while Stinky Teddy's David Hardtke focused on how we can make sure that information on the real-time web is credible.


Questions That Still Need to be Answered?

Here is a small selection of the issues that were raised about the current state of the real-time web:

How do we know a user is credible? On the real-time web, we are obviously looking for speed, but that speed obviously comes at a cost. While traditional search engines can rely on PageRank-type algorithms that can give us an idea that a source is credibly and trusted, the real-time web's focus on speed makes this highly impractical. Once we start filtering data, we automatically lose some of the real-time aspects.

Are we trading in freshness for quality? Is quicker really always better and is less really more? After all, how often is the instant timeliness of the real-time web actually really useful?

How can we filter the real-time web? How, for example, can we filter out the most boring people (even though there is social pressure to follow all your friends)? How can we find the most interesting stories? And how can we weed out spam?

Even though many questions were asked about the real-time web and even though many questions remain to be answered, it doesn't come as a surprise that the overall feeling was that the real-time web will soon be a normal part of everybody's experience of the Internet. Now, all we need to figure out how we can extract the most value out of it without being completely overwhelmed by information overload, getting spammed by scammers, or bored to death by those of our friends who feel the need to tweet about what they had for breakfast.

What Do You Hate About the Real-Time Web?

What questions around the real-time web do you think still need to be answered? What is it that bothers you about the real-time web?


Nuclear power: Wave of the past or future?

nuclearreactorThe U.S. may soon get its first nuclear reactor in more than 30 years. UniStar Nuclear Energy — a joint venture between Baltimore-based Constellation Energy and the EDF Group — has proposed a new reactor for southern Maryland capable of generating 1,600 megawatts and powering 1.3 million homes twenty-four hours a day.

To put this in context, the largest wind power installation in the world, the Horse Hollow Wind Energy Center in Texas, generates 735 megawatts — but only when it’s windy. Nuclear, by comparison, is massive.

Having cleared the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the New York Public Service Commission, the project is in the final phase of due diligence for a cut of the $18.5 billion in federal dollars earmarked for advanced nuclear development. There seems to be only one remaining roadblock: the Maryland Public Service Commission.

Even though the MPSC approved the reactor itself in late June after an 18-month study, there has been a great deal of protest around the hearings for the deal between Constellation Energy and the EDF Group. With a price tag of $7 billion, the reactor will require not only federal loan guarantees, but also substantial investment from EDF, requiring them to purchase a 50 percent stake in Constellation.

This seems straightforward enough. But the snag — apparently large enough to re-open MPSC hearings several times — lies in whether the investment would give French EDF too much influence over an American power company, Constellation’s subsidiary Baltimore Power & Light.

Those opposing the reactor and the deal between EDF and Constellation have called attention to potential energy rate hikes that could be levied to offset the cost of the plant’s construction. Despite what EDF calls “overwhelming public support” for the reactor voiced during the hearings, it seems there is a small but significant group opposed to it on financial terms. This group has issued construction estimates of up to $15 billion.

To counter these arguments, Constellation says the deal’s approval would create 4,000 construction jobs as well as 400 permanent positions at the reactor, while ultimately benefiting the area with cheaper electricity as well.

A hot topic of debate in the region, the reactor is emblematic of the U.S. nuclear industry as a whole. If one of the first realistic proposals in 30 years is stopped, how much hope will there be for the next?

MTV’s Valemont Doesn’t Pander to the Vampire Craze [NewTeeVee]

Vampires, as anyone who hasn’t been sleeping under a rock can tell you, are the hottest thing going these days. But what’s interesting when you consider the MTV-produced, Verizon-sponsored Valemont is that MTV, whose target audience is the most consumed by this phenomenon, has waited this long to tap into the recent vampire craze — barring, of course, debuting Twilight footage whenever possible.

Produced by NewTeeVee Next Big Thing Electric Farm Entertainment, Valemont is a moody mystery set at a college campus for the young, beautiful and elite. New freshman Sophie (Kristin Hager) is in fact young and beautiful, but she’s not elite — she’s a foster kid using a false identity to try and discover who murdered her brother Eric (Eric Balfour, recognizable from 24 and Six Feet Under).

Six episodes in, which air as Hills interstitials on MTV Tuesday nights, and can also be found at, Valemont the series has remained coy about the dark secret at the heart of the university, which is appropriate to the mystery genre. However, given the fact that press coverage has not been shy about using the word “vampire,” watching the narrative unfold is reminiscent of going to see The Sixth Sense after a friend of yours has already told you the ending — “He’s been dead the WHOLE TIME,” you long to shout. Or, in this case: “Vampires! They’re all VAMPIRES!”

Who, exactly, is a vampire, and what kind of vampire isn’t yet clear, however — all the students at Valemont certainly seem capable of going out into the sun, and none of them sparkle. But the mystery is moving along quickly, with the first hints of supernatural activity popping up in episodes five and six, and the writing by Six Feet Under’s Christian Taylor is particularly sharp; some strong characters have already emerged.

But what’s most notable about the show is the ARG component, taking the form of two interactive community sites — and — which have created an online student body for the fictional university. Visitors are encouraged to apply as a Valemont student (no matter what their age, one presumes) and participate in Rush Week and other events; the material is dense, fun to explore and well-developed.

Most of the characters also have Twitter accounts being updated as the show progresses, interacting with each other and fans; one secondary character from the show, Sophie’s roommate Poppy, even has her own Blogspot blog. This is the sort of transformative experience that separates TV shows you can watch on the Internet from truly new media.

Product placement is much along the same lines as Electric Farm Entertainment’s other big web series of the month, Woke Up Dead — the sponsor’s product is integrated into the narrative, with relatively minimal brand-name mentions. In Valemont’s case, the cell phone is a central component, as Eric’s abandoned cell phone is the best tool Sophie has for discovering who murdered him. Verizon definitely gets in its on-screen branding during close-ups on the phone, but in the first six episodes I can’t recall one mention of Verizon by the characters; the cell phone is simply present.

Valemont is a solid example of a web series that knows its audience but doesn’t patronize them, and gives them plenty to play with. So much so that it barely even needs the vampire stuff — though that certainly doesn’t hurt its chances.

The In-App Purchase Shakeup Begins: Boxcar Goes Free!

Screen shot 2009-10-15 at 5.57.51 PMBoxcar is easily my favorite Push Notification app on the iPhone. It’s 1.0 version was great, and it’s recently approved 2.0 version is even better. Unfortunately, some users complained because it was $2.99 to buy, but used Apple in-app purchasing system to extend its features, charging $0.99 for additional ones. So developer Jonathan George is trying something new.

Following the announcement today that Apple would not allow in-app purchases for free apps (the feature was previously only available for paid apps), George has decided to make Boxcar completely free. With this free version, you will still get 1 free service (Twitter Stream Push Notifications, Twitter Search Push Notifications, Facebook Notifications, etc), and you will be saving the $3 that you can then use towards buying other services, which will now be $1.99 per service.

George has already made the change in iTunes, and the new free price just rolled live. It will be very interesting to see how this new pricing dynamic helps or hurts developers. From a piracy perspective, this seems like a good move. And certainly, there were no shortage of developers that wished they could charge nothing for the app up front, but then charge for features or upgrades later.

Of course, there’s always the fear of “bait & switch” scams when that happens, but I would bet Apple will be watching for those closely — as if the App Store approvers needed more to worry about.

Find Boxcar in the App Store here. Yes, for free.

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Skimble Now Lets You Get Physical On Twitter [GigaOM]

skimbleSkimble, a web site that helps you plan and track your outdoor activities and workouts, hopped on the Twitter train today with the release of a feature that lets you tweet your activity to its site. It joins a growing group of exercise-focused applications and web sites that are integrating the micro-messaging service into their offerings. For example, Kevin over at jkOnTheRun has reviewed RunKeeper, an iPhone application that lets you post your workouts and run times to Twitter, and he currently logs his pushups workout to the onehundredpushups web site, which tweets his results.

The data that’s kept about our workouts on mobile phones is “personally useful and actionable,” according to CNET’s Matt Asay. He found that apps like RunKeeper “track my progress against personal goals and, in so doing, have facilitated that progress.” And since your tweets are broadcasted across the Twitter network, your friends will notice when you’ve been slacking off.

Skimble awards users points for each activity, which is intended to both reward them and create friendly competition, according to Skimble’s co-founder Maria Ly. While the point system isn’t fully fleshed out yet (the site just launched last month), users currently receive an award icon on their site profile and a congratulatory email if they achieve an activity goal they set for themselves. With its new Twitter integration feature, Skimble logs activity to its site via users’ tweets; users simply type either “@skmbl” or “#skimble” somewhere within the tweet or send a direct message to Skimble’s Twitter account.

Skimble is a two-person team made up of Ly and co-founder Gabriel Vanrenen, who together self-funded the site, and is based in San Francisco.

skimble twitter

Big Changes at Twitterfeed; Real-Time Publishing Rolling Out Now

What does your blog have in common with CNN, the Wall St. Journal and the White House? You probably publish your updates to Twitter using Twitterfeed, just like those organizations do. Starting today if you publish on Blogger, Typepad or another publishing system that offers PubSubHubbub feeds Twitterfeed will subscribe and push your new posts to Twitter in a matter of moments.

That's not the only change going live, either. Publishing to Facebook? Check. An improved que management system for greater reliability? Check. Integration with Google Analytics? Check!


Earlier this afternoon Twitterfeed launched a new version of the service used by nearly 350,000 publishers. We caught up with the company at today's ReadWrite Real-Time Web Summit and got the low-down on the changes rolling out to all users over the next few days.

Twitterfeed believes it will now be the biggest subscriber to PubSubHubbub feeds and aims to test the system's latency performance. No more 20 to 30 minute delays in publishing to Twitter if you're on a Pubsubhubbub-enabled publishing system.

Publishing to Facebook will be a huge win for many of those publishers and integration with both and Google Analytics through the integration of UTM tags will allow publishers to compare audience response in Facebook and Twitter (among other things).

Real-time, cross-network publishing and analytics as a service? That's pretty hot. With almost 350,000 publishers, Twitterfeed is approaching the number of publishers that FeedBurner had (430,000) when it was acquired by Google for a rumored $100 million. Like FeedBurner for the real-time web? That and more is what Twitterfeed could become if these kinds of technical developements could succeed.


Best Software Update Tools? [Hive Five Call For Contenders]

Lots of applications alert you when an update is available—but what about those apps that don't, or the ones you just don't run all the time? This week we want to find the best software update tools available.

For this week's Hive Five, we want you to tell us all there is to know about the tool you use to make sure your system is up and running with the latest updates for all your important (and not so important) software.

Hive Five nominations take place in the comments, where you post your favorite tool for the job. We get hundreds of comments, so to make your nomination clear, please include it at the top of your comment like so: VOTE: Software Update Tool. Please don't include your vote in a reply to another commenter. Instead, make your vote and reply separate comments. If you don't follow this format, we may not count your vote. To prevent tampering with the results, votes from first-time commenters may not be counted. After you've made your nomination, let us know what makes it stand out from the competition.

About the Hive Five: The Hive Five feature series asks readers to answer the most frequently asked question we get: "Which tool is the best?" Once a week we'll put out a call for contenders looking for the best solution to a certain problem, then YOU tell us your favorite tools to get the job done. Every weekend, we'll report back with the top five recommendations and give you a chance to vote on which is best. For an example, check out last week's Hive Five Best Windows Task Manager Alternatives.

Meme-Ahoy for Balloon Boy! [NewTeeVee]

While we, like most people connected to the Internet, were gripped with Balloon Boy fever this afternoon, we thought writing about it until we learned of his fate would be in poor taste. But now that we know 6-year old Falcon Heene was always safely hanging out in a box in the attic, let the internet meme-ing begin in earnest.

While I could type up a bunch of “words” about Twitter’s role in the whole thing, and you could “read” about all the online video news coverage, you should just watch a video those talented folks at CollegeHumor whipped up imagining what kind of scolding balloon boy got (best line refers to the last-minute Halloween costume idea the situation will spawn).

A dummy’s guide to California’s new energy policies

save-money-halogen-1California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has been busy this week. Between getting laughs during his Oracle OpenWorld keynote and signing off on a flurry of legislation, he’s quickly redefined the state’s energy policies in bold and complex ways.

In an effort to catch up, here’s a roundup of the top changes he’s made and the ambitious new goals he’s throwing his considerable weight behind going forward. The laws can be sort of arcane for the uninitiated, so here’s a clear explanation of what these new laws are all about.

Governator says ‘hasta la vista’ to renewable power standards

The governor made good on his promise last month to veto legislation requiring that 33 percent of California’s power come from renewable sources of energy by 2020 (S.B. 14). He chose instead to issue an executive order mandating the same percentage, but not requiring all of this power to come from inside the state (unlike the bill, supposedly). Schwarzenegger and his supporters argued that California doesn’t have the money to build the new powerplants, power lines and other infrastructure needed to generate that much renewable energy.

The bill’s sponsor, Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), intended for the legislation to create more jobs in California. In response to the veto, he said the executive order will be harder to enforce than a law coming out of the legislature. He also pointed out that his bill would have allowed for the import of out-of-state energy if it could be transmitted from source to consumer within 24 hours. Those opposing the bill — scaring taxpayers about hiked electricity prices — overlooked these exceptions, Simitian said. He went as far as to say that the next governor could and should easily overturn Schwarzenegger’s decision on the bill.

Allowing consumers to give back … to the grid

As more California residents choose to install roof-top solar panels, and even residential wind turbines, laws dictating how this energy should be channeled back to the grid are becoming increasingly important. To tackle this issue, at least in part, Schwarzenegger signed off on A.B. 920, an amendment to the Public Utility Code that requires electric utilities to pay for power their customers may be generating in their homes. That’s better for consumers: Until now, some utilities gave out credits instead of cash in exchange for this power, which customers could use to offset periods of high energy use in the future — but they lost the credits if they didn’t use them by a certain time.

539wThe new law will probably give a nice boost to the residential solar industry, which has been bound up in red tape so far. The power created by rooftop panels will also count toward the 33 percent renewable energy targets the governor has laid out. As a result, a new report issued by Deutsche bank predicts solar companies in California (and those that supply the state) to hit a phase of sustained profitability — at least for the top several companies.

The most vocal opponent of this bill was Pacific Gas & Electric — somewhat of a surprise considering how progressive it has been in other conservation and Smart Grid efforts. The Northern California utility claimed that if it is forced to pay for excess energy generated by consumers, electric bills for those who don’t contribute power back to the grid will go up. But to no avail, starting Jan. 1, 2011, PG&E and its California cohort will have to defer to the state’s Public Utilities Commission, which will set the rate they will need to pay for consumer-generated wind and solar energy.

A new “feed-in” tariff: Taking a page from Europe’s playbook

California may be the most ambitious state when it comes to reforming energy policy, but it still trails Europe in subsidies and incentives. Schwarzenegger did, however, close this gap a bit by signing S.B. 32, one of several bills that will establish a so-called “feed-in” tariff requiring utilities to buy commercial-scale solar power at fixed, higher rates than they buy traditionally generated power (coal and natural gas, for example) for the next 20 years. In other words, the state is helping solar generators defray the costs of producing power by guaranteeing more revenue. And utilities may not necessarily mind because they’re eligible for subsidies for their investments in renewable energy. This type of solar-support measure already exists in Europe where certain countries have taken a long lead on solar development. Why is it called a “feed-in”? Beats us! That’s just what it’s called in Europe, and we’ve borrowed the clunky name.

This move should be a big win for smaller photovoltaic plants (producing under 3 megawatts) in California. That said, both Spain and Germany have both had to roll back their feed-in tariff policies after they led to saturation in the solar market. The countries say they will cut rates or selectively apply regulations for solar energy just enough to fix the situation without harming the industry’s growth. This is something for California to watch out for — the U.S. is already seeing prices for solar equipment drop because there is too much supply. Artificially supporting more small solar players could actually work against the industry’s progress.

Making it easier for renewables to use public land

In addition to all the legislative action, Schwarzenegger signed a first-of-its-kind “memorandum of understanding” between California and the federal government, shortening the process renewable energy companies must undergo to build on publicly-owned land. U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar also signed the document, expediting development of 30 solar, wind and geothermal projects that have been in California’s hopper for a while. All of them are looking to break ground as soon as possible in order to be eligible for federal stimulus dollars (preference is being given to shovel-ready candidates).

This is a power play for Schwarzenegger, who has expressed much frustration about how long it takes for renewable energy developments to move from planning to construction phases. Speeding up the 30 projects, amounting to as much as 700 megawatts of energy, will also go a long way toward hitting the new 33 percent renewable energy source target.

The Department of the Interior will now be intimately involved in reviewing and approving applications for renewable projects on public land. It will also team with California’s Natural Resources Agency to designate which zones are ripe for energy facilities, and which zones must be conserved — also helping to sort applications much more quickly. Interestingly, immediate preference will be given to solar applicants.

Schwarzenegger turns off big-screen TV sales

Shifting gears from sweeping policy changes to a more niche issues, Schwarzenegger took on large “energy-guzzling” televisions, today,throwing his support behind a ban on big-screen plasma TV sets measuring more than 40-inches wide. These entertainment systems are said to use as much as three times the energy consumed by the average-sized television.

It might sound bizarre, but some energy analysts say stopping sales of thes TVs could cut California’s energy expenditures by $8.1 billion dollars over the next 10 years. About 10 percent of the energy used in California residential areas goes to powering its 35 million televisions.

bigscreen_samsung_plasma_50_lgThe measure, introduced by the California Energy Commission, obviously rubs electronics makers and the lobbying Consumer Electronics Association the wrong way. Their argument: Consumers that already own supersized sets will be penalized during already difficult economic times. But this doesn’t seem to be a reasonable rebuttal, considering that the commission is only proposing to yank 25 percent of the sets currently being sold out of stores. Other replacement efforts will be voluntary, it says, without regulators truly cracking down until 2013. The issue will likely come to a vote on Nov. 4

One group stands to benefit greatly from the new restrictions: makers of light emitting-diode television makers. These models are said to cut energy use by two-thirds in some cases, making even those screens larger than 50 inches across, more efficient to run than their much smaller plasma and liquid-crystal-based peers.

There you have it. It keeps California on the leading edge of Green. Now the spotlight turns back to Washington!

greenbeat_logo7VentureBeat is hosting GreenBeat, the seminal executive conference on the Smart Grid, on Nov. 18-19, featuring keynotes from Nobel Prize winner Al Gore and Kleiner Perkins’ John Doerr. Get your early-bird tickets for $625 before Oct. 31 at

Random Hacks of Kindness: Disaster Relief Codejam

random hacks of kindness

Google, Microsoft, Yahoo! and the World Bank are getting together to support disaster relief projects. The first Codejam will be Nov 12-14 i the Bay Area. You can sign-up now. The list of proposed projects is online.

What is Random Hacks of Kindness?
It is an initiative that brings together disaster relief experts and software engineers to work on identifying key challenges to disaster relief, and developing solutions to these critical issues. This Codejam is the first of a series of Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK) events that will bring the best and brightest together for a "give camp" to solve real world-problems related to Crisis/Disaster Relief.

This event is the first step in building a global community dedicated to solving disaster relief challenges through technology.
At the RHoK Codejam, programmers will partner with subject matter experts to tackle “real world "problems. These challenges have begun to be defined (see preparation), and will continue to be refined during the event.
The software created at this first event will continue to be developed at subsequent RHoK events, and openly shared with the international community. Our hope is that this software will address some of the serious challenges facing the disaster response community, and evolve in response to their needs.

In May 2009, the first ever Crisis Camp barcamp was held in Washington, DC. During one of the opening sessions an industry panel including representatives from Microsoft, Google and Yahoo! agreed that some matters supersede competitive concerns. We agreed to cooperate to mobilize our developer communities to create interoperable solutions/code that will have real impact in the field. We have partnered with NASA and The World Bank to make this happen.

Microsoft, Google, Yahoo and The World Bank are founding sponsors
NASA-Ames is a co-sponsor

We want our hacks to make an impact. To that end we need the problem definitions as tight as possible before we begin coding on the 12th. The following is a link (see here) to the preliminary project definitions. Please contribute by adding new ideas and/or refining ones that are already there.

In-App Purchase In Free Apps: A Shot Across The Bow of iPhone Piracy?


Just hours ago, Apple made an announcement that has developers everywhere dancing down their collective, metaphorical street: In-App Purchase is now good to go in free applications. This, of course, comes just months after Apple essentially told a room full of journalists that such ideas were nonsense – that free apps should always remain absolutely free.

Still – hindsight is always 50/50, or whatever that saying is. There were really just too many advantages to allowing it to let it pass by any longer. Freemium applications! Upselling! It made In-App Purchases seem less tacky to the user! Hurray. But there’s one major factor that isn’t quite so obvious; one issue that this, to some limited extent, solves: piracy.

Read the rest of this entry at MobileCrunch >>

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Web Aggregation: What Works, What Doesn’t

summitlogo_150wide.pngNo one is getting Web aggregation quite right. That's one of the big take-aways from "Web Aggregation: What Works, What Doesn't," one of the breakout sessions at the ReadWrite Real-Time Web Summit.

We first heard about the fire hose meme several years ago in discussions about RSS. It was often used as a way to describe how information comes to you in a feed. The context has changed as real-time data becomes pervasive, and the questions about its volume persists.


The fire hose conversation is often centered on Twitter these days, but it's an issue across the social Web. Perhaps most of all, we should be thinking about what are the subsets of the fire hose and, in particular, how we use data streams in our lives.

The real-time Web ebbs and flows. Most people find the real-time information well after it has been published in an activity stream. Thus, a proliferation of new search engines are coming to market, looking to capture this real-time data and making it relevant to users.

Another distinction made in the discussion centered on how we consume real-time information and the persistence with which we need to get it.

For instance, some information you do not need to be pinged on every 30 seconds. Instead, it may make more sense for it to be pushed to you when you need it. You may only get this information on rare occasions, such as an emergency. So when you do get that information, it is very relevant.

The real-time Web may be instant, but our lives do not work that way. One participant said that he may be interested in a photo of his son that appears in his stream but perhaps not the photo of his son's buddy, who happens to like Scandinavian death metal music.

So, the question becomes, how will the real-time Web fully develop. For Joseph Smarr of Plaxo, that's where open standards come into play. Interestingly, open standards are emerging as an oft-discussed issue at the Summit.

Smarr made the point that RSS and Atom were designed to share the titles and bodies of blog posts. What we are actually sharing in an activity stream is far richer. What we need is language that embodies the far richer meta data that comes in a real-time activity stream. Pubsubhubbub and RSSCloud are starts, but there is still a lot of work to do to put the pieces together.


Will the Smart Grid Really Be Made of Dumb Pipes? [GigaOM]

When it comes to the smart grid, utility executives seem willing to embrace the dumb pipe status that their cousins in the telecommunications world are so leery of. That’s because the history of heavy regulation — and near-monopoly — has created an environment where competition and innovation aren’t commonly baked into the utility business model. At a panel discussion held at the Clean Energy Venture Summit in Austin, Texas today, utility executives debated the idea of whether utilities should focus on adding value-added services on top of the power network (like phone companies have rushed to do on their data networks) or if utilities should remain content to provide the basic energy pipes. Earth2Tech has more on the panel, notably the similarities between the electricity and the telecommunications industries — and the lessons each can learn from one another.

Netflix Gets Splattered (Shadoobeh — Splattered, Splattered) [NewTeeVee]

SplatterWe gave you a heads up last week about a new horror web series called Splatter that will be streamed on Netflix, is produced by schlock legend Roger Corman and stars Corey Feldman. Today Netflix doled out a few more details about the show.

First, a synopsis from the press announcement:

“Splatter” is the haunting tale of rock-and-roll legend Johnny Splatter, a musical genius who accumulated as many hit records as he did enemies on his climb up the fame ladder. His sudden death, ruled a suicide, brings a small circle of professional parasites and hangers-on to his Hollywood Hills mansion for the reading of his last will and testament. But as his “frenemies” come to pick the bones clean, Johnny has returned for a deadly encore long after what they thought was his final curtain.

In an oh-so-very Internetty, interactive twist, viewers will be able to determine the fate of characters by deciding who lives and who dies (presumably by sitting through a Corey Feldman movie marathon).

The first episode of Splatter will be streamed on and through Netflix-enabled devices on Oct. 29, with episode two following on Nov. 6 and episode three on Friday, Nov. 13 (dunh-dunh-DUNH!).

Will the Smart Grid Be Made of Dumb Pipes? [Earth2Tech]

When it comes to the smart grid, utility executives seem willing to embrace the dumb pipe status that their cousins in the telecommunications world are so leery of. That’s because the history of heavy regulation — and near-monopoly — has created an environment where competition and innovation aren’t commonly baked into the utility business model. At a panel discussion held at the Clean Energy Venture Summit in Austin, Texas today, utility executives debated the idea of whether utilities should focus on adding value-added services on top of the power network (like phone companies have rushed to do on their data networks) or if utilities should remain content to provide the basic energy pipes.

Mark Rose, general manager and CEO of Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative, was perhaps the most vocal on the subject, saying that he believes a utility’s role was to provide a service, and an open platform upon which consumers and businesses can track their energy from end to end in whatever way they want. But when it came to providing new applications and services that could be built on top of that service, he questioned if the utility was the right entity to provide that.

However, others on the panel clearly disagreed with that vision. Carl Richie, vice president of government affairs at TXU Energy, said that applications and services built on top of the smart grid will be what differentiates providers in a competitive market. The Texas market is a little different than other states, however, and there is some level of competition in the Texas power provider market. TXU Energy has based its business model on reselling energy and offering customers innovative and interesting products, like some of its broadband-based tools.

As a wireless reporter for GigaOM, the utility market reminded me of the telecom world some three years ago, which required developers to go through the phone companies in order to deliver an application on a cell phone to a consumer. That’s since changed, and open operating systems like Google’s Android have made it possible for an application developer to build to a specification and let consumers pick it up if they want, without the phone companies’ involvement.

In the earlier days of telecom, carriers hoped to make money and differentiate themselves by acting as a gatekeeper to products and services that the consumer would get on their network. But let’s face it: The phone companies were never that good at developing consumer-focused value-added services that run on top of the network. Thus cell phone-based data applications never really hit the big time until Apple forced the market open with the introduction of the iPhone. Now, applications are a big business, and carriers are running to embrace them — all while still trying to escape being a service provider that offers an open voice and data platforms.

So if the telecom world is any indicator of how the utility sector will pan out, it appears that if utilities try to tightly manage consumer-facing smart grid applications (like home energy dashboards and online services), they could run the risk of stifling innovation and stunting that market. While that might mean they have to be the dumb pipe of energy, they need to create an open platform so that these tools and technologies can flourish.

There’s another similarity between the two industries: their business models are under threat. Wireless companies, for example, are seeing a huge influx in data use that requires expensive network buildouts, but are still figuring out how to get people to pay more per megabyte to support those network buildouts and existing profit margins.

The utilities on the panel were worried that the creation of a smart grid, which encourages folks to conserve energy and contribute their own renewable power to the grid, would result in utilities selling less power, yielding lower sales and profits. As a result, some of the utilities said they were looking at charging differently for their products and unbundling some of the services they offer.

Something’s gotta change for the utility industry. Both John Baker, the chief strategy officer at Austin Energy, and Steve Hauser, with the National Renewable Energy Lab, talked about there being different types of power (presumably based on the time of day and the power source) in the future, with each type having different pricing. Baker also noted the idea of unbundling electricity service, which would add more risk to a customer’s bill, but would help utilities recoup costs. Consider how wireless carriers charge different rates for texts vs. data plans on a per-megabyte basis, and clearly the two industries have a lot to learn from one another.