Bookmark Away: Instapaper Comes Up With A New Way To Work With The Kindle

Screen shot 2009-11-15 at 4.50.36 PMOne of the reasons I broke down and bought a Kindle earlier this year was a favorite service of mine, Instapaper, the simple bookmarking tool, rolled out Kindle support. Despite my belief that the Kindle is a) way too expensive and b) a fleeting technology that will be replaced by all-in-one devices, my job requires that I read a lot of online content, and Instapaper + Kindle support allows me to do so without having to spend all my time at the computer. That said, Instapaper’s Kindle support has always been less than ideal. Today, developer Marco Arment (also the lead developer for the micro-blogging site Tumblr) has done something about that.

There were a number of problems with the Kindle/Instapaper support. The biggest is that the system was completely unreliable. The way Instapaper works on the Kindle is that you have to set up the service to email your Kindle either daily or weekly wrap-ups of the articles you bookmark on the web. In my experience, about half the time this would work, the other half, these summaries simply would not get sent. Arment says he’s tried talking to Amazon about the issue, but has never received a response. Considering that Kindle users are paying $0.15 for each of these emails sent (an unfortunate side effect of the Kindle’s free built-in network), and it still is completely unreliable, this is totally unacceptable. So Arment has come up with a new way of doing Instapaper + Kindle: USB transfers.

To be clear, this isn’t the most ideal solution, since at least the over-the-air sync required you to do nothing and now you’ll have to attach your Kindle to your computer. But USB transfer will be infinitely more reliable and 100% cheaper (as in, free). This new process (which Arment stresses is still very much “beta”) allows you to download a Kindle-compatible .mobi file. These files are populated with your 20 more recent Instapaper saved articles. This also isn’t ideal if you want to see older articles you have saved, but I suppose you could always re-save them if you really wanted them on your Kindle.

On the upside, Instapaper will now work with non-U.S. Kindles (the email service was previously U.S.-only). Also nice is that many articles will now contain images, which previously were not transfered via the email route.

Along with Kindle-ready .mobi files, Instapaper now also allows for ePub downloads, the format that many other popular e-readers use (like Sony Readers). The idea is the same with the Kindle support, you get your 20 most recent articles converted into .epub files which you can then read on these devices. There is also now print support for all Instapaper folders.

Arment notes that because the over-the-air Kindle solution is completely unreliable with no support from Amazon, he plans to completely discontinue it next week in favor of the USB method. And if you’re wondering why you can’t simply use the Kindle’s built-in web browser to visit Instapaper, the answer is because the Kindle’s built-in web browser is awful and Instapaper currently doesn’t work on it (though Arment seems to suggest he is still trying to fix that).

While it’s the Kindle that is the dedicated reading device, it’s interesting to note that Instapaper’s iPhone app is at least a billion times better for consuming Instapaper content away from your computer. Not only does it seamlessly sync over the air, but you can mark items as read from it, visit the actual content on the web, and do about a dozen other more useful things. Of course, the downside is that the iPhone has a backlit screen (harder on your eyes) and is much, much smaller than the Kindle. An Apple Tablet + Instapaper app might be the perfect remedy for the latter.

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Twitter And Facebook Turn Everyone Into An Affiliate Marketer

This guest post was written by Steve Poland, a former TechCrunch writer working on his soon-to-launch start-up InSeconds that allows sites to easily customize each visitor’s experience, resulting in optimized revenue for each visit.

Affiliate marketing is 15 years old this month—CyberErotica is said to have launched the first program in 1994. The adult industry has always been ahead of the curve, but I digress. Despite 15 years of existence, which is essentially an eternity in “online years”, the performance based marketing method is still in its infancy. Sure, there are lots of affiliate programs that exist for many online etailers (and other sites that seek sales, leads and visitors) and $2.1b was paid out last year from affiliate programs, but affiliate marketing is still not as easy as it should be for website/blog Publishers to implement and get compensated for their referrals.

For those that don’t know, affiliate marketing works like this—a company with a product or service for sale pays a referral fee to Publishers (marketing companies) that can drive sales, leads, or visitors to them. The Publisher is taking on the risk here—they might be outlaying their own cash on advertising to promote the product/service, or they are linking to that company’s product/service in the content of their site’s own webpages (when they could be linking to another company instead). The Publisher signs up for an account with the affiliate program and is then given “trackable links” to use in their content, which track referrals back to them. Most etailers have an affiliate marketing program in place—for example, Amazon.com’s Associates program will pay 4%-15% referral fees to you when a visitor of your website clicks a link on your site and makes a purchase at Amazon.com.

Twitter & Facebook Turn Everyone Into An Affiliate Marketer

Most recently, it’s not just websites/blogs that are referring sales, but rather individuals themselves, who are using realtime sites like Twitter and Facebook to influence their friends and followers by recommending products to buy, music to listen to, and movies to watch. These realtime discussions are becoming important sources of referral sales and leads for websites—if someone is asking on Twitter what digital camera they should buy, you bet your ass that Amazon.com wants anyone on the Internet responding to that user’s question to be linking to a camera for sale on Amazon.com (and not Walmart.com or BestBuy.com). Amazon.com wants to make sure that those influencers are compensated for referring people to buy from their website, which thus positively reinforces them to continue linking to Amazon.com product pages in the future.

Everyone with access to the Internet today is a Publisher. They are a voice. This has always been the case, but not the way it is now with Microblogging. Individuals were Publishers on a smaller scale via email forwards, email replies, IM, or most recently blog posts. Blogging broadened individual’s view points (influence) up to a global scale—no longer would they only influence just a few friends in a closed-circuit email, but they could influence the masses online. But blogging wasn’t realtime discussions. Instant messaging and chat rooms were always realtime discussions—but primarily on a one-on-one or small-group basis. Twitter and Facebook status updates, aka microblogging, has mashed the realtime nature of instant messaging with the global scale and voice of blogging.

Amazon.com Pioneers Affiliate Marketing, Again

As an early pioneer of affiliate marketing for site/blog Publishers (holding the patent on all the components of an online affiliate marketing program), it only makes sense that Amazon.com would now become an early pioneer of affiliate marketing for individual publishers—those who simply tweet and comment on their friend’s Facebook updates. Last week, Amazon.com announced they would start compensating individuals with referral fees for using Amazon.com links in their Twitter messages and in their Facebook status updates/comments. Although it will likely lead to more noise (and spam), I think we’re going to see many companies follow Amazon.com’s lead. I also think this has the potential of being a game changer, if some other pieces fall into place—more on this in a bit.

What has shocked me over the years is the number of links in webpages that aren’t trackable links. Most links in content are just regular links out to other webpages, which means that they don’t contain a tracking code that corresponds to them as the referring website—which means that when a sale is referred and occurs on a site that has an affiliate program in place, that affiliate program site doesn’t know who to pay the referral fee to (even though they honestly would like to, because it encourages future linking to them by that referring Publisher). In a perfect world, all the links on all the webpages on the Internet that link to Amazon.com product pages would be trackable links which would earn those websites referral fees for whenever their visitors click over and purchase products from Amazon.com. Ditto for all the links that have affiliate programs in place.

Affiliate Marketing for Publishers Still Not Quick and Easy, Yet

I would go out on a limb and estimate that 99.99% of all links on the web are not trackable links. Why? Because it’s been a bit of a pain in the ass, quite frankly. If you’re a publisher and you’re writing a content piece, you would need to go away from your writing, login to the affiliate program for the website you want to link to (i.e. Amazon.com Associates), and then generate the trackable link for the webpage you want to link to—ensuring that when your visitors click that link, that you’ll earn referral fees from Amazon.com when purchases occur. Not to mention that you have to signup for all of these affiliate programs; some of these programs are handled by third-party companies and become discontinued (making your links dead). And then there’s the money—if you don’t get very many visitors each month to your site, you may only earn a few dollars a month from affiliate programs, which then discourages you from putting forth the time to place trackable links into your content in the first place.

The lack of ease that sites/blogs have had to endure to use affiliate marketing over the years is the same for Individuals now. Amazon.com has said they endorse trackable links by users in social media, but it’s still not easy enough. Sure, you can go over to Amazon.com, login to your Associates account, and a button appears at the top of every product page saying “Share on Twitter”, which then creates a tweet with your trackable link in it, but that’s still one too many steps. People are lazy. More than half of Twitter users are using a Twitter application to do their tweeting. Until the affiliate programs are integrated into the social networking platforms (Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, forums) or the applications used on these platforms (Tweetdeck, Seesmic, Tweetie, bit.ly), this affiliate marketing by individuals won’t take off.

It’s in the interest of the platform (Twitter) to make this easier because it will ultimately allow their users to earn money. It’s in the interest of the users, because it earns them money and reinforces their usage of the platform (Twitter). It’s in the interest of the affiliate program (Amazon.com), because it positively reinforces users to share links to their site. (On the flip side, Twitter might not want to encourage this for fear of making teh spam problem even worse than it is).

“Facebook Credits” could become de facto Virtual Currency with a Facebook integration of Amazon.com

But if you really think about it, Facebook should really be integrating these affiliate program partners into its platform first. Facebook has the most to gain by integrating. You may have heard of the virtual currency system that Facebook has been working on—Facebook Credits. It will allow users to purchase Facebook Credits with cash and then use them in third-party Facebook applications, such as leveling up your character in a game or buying a virtual rose for a friend. To get people using this system, Facebook will likely give away some initial credits to every user, to get them to see how simple they are to use, then get the user to pull out their credit card and refill.

What about a constant refill of Facebook Credits every month to help spur more in-app activity/purchases? That could happen. Even if users were merely earning $0.44 or $1.32 monthly from their link sharing habits, if these referral fees were automatically turned into Facebook Credits, Facebook could really jump-start this in-app currency of theirs (and if they operate anything like Apple, they’ll nab 30% of all in-app money spent). This will work for Amazon.com and other affiliate program participants, as long as the user knows that the 1000 Facebook Credits they earned this month were from their sharing of Amazon.com links. Facebook would love it because these affiliate links would be an income generator for their users, encouraging their users to spend more time on Facebook, and of course there is revenue associated with users spending their credits. Finally, Facebook application developers would love it because they’ll be seeing a steady stream of revenue as well. Meanwhile, app developers and Facebook can steer clear of Scamville-type offers. With affiliate links, you only get paid if someone actually clicks through and buys something. Good referrals get rewarded,while bad referrals get nothing.

Plus, imagine the publicity for a Facebook or Twitter. I can see the headlines now, “Facebook now ‘employs’ 300 million people” or “Facebook lets 300 million people to start earning money just by sharing links”.

This is Now, Get Ready for the Effects

One effect of affiliate programs becoming integrated easily into these realtime platforms (and/or client apps) is that referral fees will go down. Amazon.com currently pays out 4%-15% on referral sales, but that’s because they know only a small percentage of their sales occur now from referrals (because of the lack of ease—and because of the laziness of sites linking to Amazon.com). But with a vast usage of trackable links, then for example, if sales remained flat and 5% of all purchases were referrals previously and now that number becomes 25%, then Amazon.com can’t be paying out 8% referral commissions (unless sales went up 5x too), so Amazon.com would reduce that to 1.6% referral commissions (8%/5).

Yes, this movement is going to turn up the volume of spam noise to us all via our use and searches on Twitter, Facebook, and elsewhere. Those people who you follow may get spammy, but their influence over you will go down (just like those people that send you too many nonsense email forwards). Everyone has a personal brand and if you spam your audience with tons of links, they won’t be listening to you as much.

But what I’m talking about isn’t the future—it’s here now, with Amazon.com leading the way. Those companies that don’t embrace affiliate marketing for Individual Publishers, will lose. If someone is tweeting about the new iPod, that someone is going to link to the webpages that will earn them money.

Crunch Network: CrunchBoard because it’s time for you to find a new Job2.0

Kindle for PC Beta Brings E-Books to Bigger Screens [Downloads]

Windows: Amazon has released a Windows application, Kindle for PC, that tells you everything in its name. It syncs with other Kindle devices, offers color pictures, font size control, and other controls for reading on your computer.

Amazon seems to be pitching Kindle for PC as a supplement to, not a substitute for, a standard Kindle experience. Kindle for PC doesn't offer blogs, newspaper, or magazine subscriptions, and the interface doesn't offer much over the Kindle device it sprung from. That said, those without iPhone/ipod Touch or Kindle devices might be eager to try out the instant-on e-book experience, along with the joys of reading through free sample chapters for any and every book.

Kindle for PC is a free download for Windows XP, Vista, and 7 systems only. A Mac version is "coming soon," according to Amazon.




Four short links: 5 November 2009

  1. Heat Maps in R -- We used financial data here because it's easier to access than the airline data, but it's actually a pretty interesting way of looking at a financial time series. Weekend and holiday effects are a bit more obvious, and it's a bit like being able to see the daily, weekly, monthly and yearly closes all at once (by scanning your eye over the calendar in different directions). Includes source code. (via migurski on Delicious)
  2. BlackHat and EC2 -- Theft of resources is the red-headed step-child of attack classes and doesn't get much attention, but on cloud platforms where resources are shared amongst many users these attacks can have a very real impact. With this in mind, we wanted to show how EC2 was vulnerable to a number of resource theft attacks and the videos below demonstrate three separate attacks against EC2 that permit an attacker to boot up massive numbers of machines, steal computing time/bandwidth from other users and steal paid-for AMIs. (via straup on Delicious)
  3. Funny Characters in Unicode -- I never get tired of the wacky stuff in Unicode. I love the thought of a Unicode committee somewhere arguing passionately about the number of buttons on the snowman .... (via Hacker News)
  4. Statistics to English Translation -- The terms sensitivity and specificity generally refer to diagnostic or screening procedures, such as an HIV or allergy tests. The sensitivity of a test is its true positive rate; the specificity is its true negative rate, although it can be more intuitive to think of specificity as the complement of the false positive rate. This matters. Bandying around numbers with misleading labels, or misinterpreting numbers that have a precise and defined meaning, does not further understanding. (Said 78.4% of statisticians, with a 20% confidence factor probability of false positives)

Amazon Turns Twitter into a Marketplace – Are You Concerned?

Last night, Amazon sent out emails to their Amazon Associates members touting the latest addition to the company's affiliate program: a new feature called "Share with Twitter." According to the email, participants can generate "tweetable" links to any Amazon product after first logging into their Associates account. By clicking on the "Share with Twitter" button from any Amazon product details page, members are delivered to the Twitter.com website. Here, a shortened link and a bit of auto-populated text are automatically filled in Twitter's "What are you doing?" text box. The included text can be edited to say whatever they want before posting or they can choose to just post as is. After updating Twitter, any person who clicks through on the link and makes a purchase will earn the participant referral fees payable through the Associates program.

Sponsor

Amazon Associates is Amazon's affiliate program whose original purpose was to help website owners generate links and banner advertisements which they could embed on their sites in order to generate additional income. The links could be text, images, or combinations of both while the banners were always full-color ads branded with Amazon.com's logo. For the most part, these sorts of advertisements are relatively easy to spot on participating blogs and websites. Save for the image links, which are just a picture of a product, everything else is clearly some sort of standard ad referring you to a particular product or service provided by Amazon.

The new Twitter links, however, are a whole new story. If an Amazon Associates member takes the time to re-write the text into their own words, there's virtually no way to know by looking at the post that the Twitter update is actually an ad.

Is Amazon Spamming Twitter?

In the past, several legitimate companies have diluted the Twitter stream with promotions and contests encouraging Twitter users to "tweet to win" so to speak, by pasting in some sort of marketing message into the "What are you doing?" box or by appending a promotional hashtag to their everyday messages. But unlike these company-run Twitter promotions, there's not a hashtag to use or any specific wording that has to be tweeted in order to participate in the Amazon Affiliate program. All anyone has to do is tweet links along with the message of their choosing.

Because Amazon's marketplace is extensive in terms of the products it sells, there's a wide variety of things which can be promoted. No matter what a Twitterer's particular interest is: music, politics, technology, etc., there's bound to be hundreds of things that could be mentioned in their Twitter stream without the posts appearing to be an ad. In fact, there's a good possibility that they would have been talking about these products anyway throughout the course of the day...they just couldn't have made any money off of them until now.

Hidden Advertisements

The problem with this sort of "hidden" advertising, though, is exactly that: it's hidden. This is the internet's version of "product placement" - subtle advertising in plain sight yet never clearly identified as such. Was your favorite TV star using a Macbook? Was he drinking a Coke? Already commonplace in Hollywood, these almost subliminal advertising messages permeate our consciousness every time we turn on the TV. Now that same sort of hidden ad will soon show up in the Twitter streams of your favorite tweeters.

Soon they'll start promoting a great book they just read, a DVD they liked, or one of a million other things pulled out of Amazon's vast inventory. None of it will sound out of place given the types of informal conversations that take place on Twitter every day. You won't even know that they're advertising to you until you click through on the link and find yourself on an Amazon.com webpage - and even then, you may not be sure. Was that a referral or were they genuinely just linking to the Amazon website to be helpful?

Will the FTC Step In?

Another question this raises, at least here in the U.S., is whether or not the FTC will get involved. Having recently taken steps to make sure that bloggers were properly disclosing freebies or payments received by companies whose products were being reviewed on their sites, one has to wonder if they'll now be tempted to monitor the undisclosed advertising that's about to explode on Twitter.

Amazon could have avoided the potential threat of government involvement (not to mention the accusations that they're "spamming Twitter") by generating their links using their own proprietary URL-shortening system, something like amzn.com or amz.com for example. That would clearly identify the tweets' purpose. But instead, they opted to make their links with the URL shortener bit.ly, the one that Twitter itself uses by default. This makes the Amazon links indistinguishable at a glance from any other shortened link posted to Twitter. There's no way to tell if a tweet is an ad unless the Twitter user left Amazon's auto-generated text in place. Of course, no one is going to use that text except the laziest of Twitter spammers - people you're probably already avoiding.

Tell Amazon What You Think with #AMZNSOT

Today, many Twitter users are coming out against this new type of Twitter-fueled advertising, registering their complaints via tweets marked with the #AMZNSOT hashtag, the official tag used to give Amazon feedback about the system. These users are already branding this new effort "spam," saying things like: "Amazon now gives you cash for spamming on Twitter? Oh, swell," as Twitter user TwitBin says. "Does this just mean more Twitter spam as people try to make money?" asks NickHerbert. But there are just as many Twitter users saying nice things about the new system too, calling it "cool," "awesome," "sweet," and even claiming it "rocks."

You can give Amazon your two cents as well by updating Twitter with your thoughts and including the #AMZNSOT hashtag along with your message.

Whether you think the new Amazon Twitter integration is good or bad, there's no doubt that it will be a major game changer for Twitter. As it blurs the lines between conversation and ads, people seem to think that Amazon has either created something of genius or has ruined Twitter as we know it. Few seem to be undecided when it comes their feelings about this issue. The question is now: which side will end up being in the majority?

Discuss


Amazon Turns On The Twitter Pump To Fuel Referral Fees

1556102054_1c98b8986dTonight, Amazon sent an email to members of Amazon Associates letting them know about a new feature: Twitter integration. Basically, when you’re logged into your Associate account, you’ll see a new “Share on Twitter” button on your Site Stripe (a management toolbar along the top of the page). As you’d expect, clicking this button will prepare a tweet complete with a shortened URL to send out of all of your Twitter followers.

Here’s why this is interesting: As Amazon clearly notes at the end of its email (copied below), you will earn referral money for anyone that clicks on these links and buys a product. Obviously, links that bring in referral fees are nothing new, this has been going on with blogs for a long time. But Twitter users do love to click on links, so this feature could actually mean some real money for popular Twitter users with a massive following. And it’s yet another way that companies — and now even Twitter’s users — are making money off of Twitter, which Twitter won’t see a dime of (presumably, anyway).

Something else to think about: A lot of blogs disclose when they’re supplying you with a referral link that they will make money from (though certainly not all of them). But on Twitter, that’s going to be hard for people to do even if they wanted to because of the 140 character limit. Other social sites, like MySpace, for example, do not allow you to post affiliate links. Twitter, it would seem, has no problem with this. In fact, at least one employee tweeted that he was excited for the launch.

You can find out more about Amazon’s rules for this type of stuff on its FAQ page. Below, find the text of the email that was sent out to Associates members.

From: Amazon.com Associates Program
Date: Wed, Nov 4, 2009 at 12:05 AM
Subject: Amazon Associates Now Integrates Directly with Twitter

Dear Associate,

Today we are excited to announce the launch of a new feature called Share on Twitter. You can access Share on Twitter from the Site Stripe and post to your Twitter account from Amazon detail pages in just two clicks.

The Share on Twitter feature is easy to use. Simply log in to your Amazon Associates account and then visit any detail page on Amazon.com. By clicking on the Share on Twitter button in the Site Stripe, a new window will open and an Amazon-generated message is pre populated in the ‘What are you doing?’ text area of your Twitter account (you may be asked to log in to your Twitter account). That message will include a shortened URL that already includes your Associates ID. You’ll have the option to edit this message or simply hit the ‘Update’ button to post to your Twitter account. When Twitter users click on the link in your post and make a qualifying sale, you’ll earn referral fees. That’s it.

For more information about how you can use social networks in connection with your Associates account, please visit our Social Media FAQ.

Also, did you know that you can stay connected with Amazon Associates by following us on Twitter, becoming a fan on Facebook and joining our group on Linkedin? We’ll post program announcements as well as top deals and promotions.

Please tell us what you think of our new Share on Twitter feature using hashtag ‘#AMZNSOT’ on Twitter or contact us via the contact form. We want to hear from you!

Sincerely,

The Amazon Associates Program

site-stripe-tweet._V226668837_

[photo: flickr/177]

Crunch Network: CrunchBase the free database of technology companies, people, and investors

Amazon Closes Zappos Deal, Ends Up Paying $1.2 Billion

Amazon earlier this morning announced the official closing of the acquisition of Zappos, a deal which we broke the news about back in July. Turns out the valuation of the online retailer went up a bit over the past few months too – thank you, stock market – and Zappos turns out to have been deemed worth $1.2 billion by Jeff Bezos & co.

Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh writes:

We’ve been spending the past few months obtaining all the proper government approvals, and I’m happy to say that we officially closed the deal at the split second between Halloween (10/31/09) and All Saints’ Day (11/1/09). From a practical point of view, we’ve switched out our previous board of directors with a new management committee that is composed of people from Zappos as well as Amazon.

Our investors and other shareholders exchanged their Zappos.com shares for approximately 10 million Amazon.com shares. Given the closing price on Friday, 10/30/09, for Amazon stock, those shares were valued at approximately $1.2 billion at the time of close.

(More coming)

Crunch Network: CrunchBoard because it’s time for you to find a new Job2.0

Amazon Speeds Checkout with New PayPhrase Technology

Online retailer Amazon.com has just announced a new checkout system called "PayPhrase" which speeds up the process of making online purchases by allowing shoppers to enter a unique phrase and 4-digit PIN number to complete their transaction. Both the phrase and PIN are created in advance and are linked to a shipping address and preferred method of payment. After the initial set up, PayPhrase users are no longer required to sign in or fill out credit card information when shopping online.

Sponsor

Why PayPhrase Beats 1-Click

Amazon already has a similar speedy checkout system known as "1-Click." When activated, customers can associate payment methods with a frequently used shipping address, such as a home address, to quickly complete purchases without having to fill out their name, address, and credit card details.

Although not designed to replace 1-Click, the new PayPhrase system is even easier to use and more flexible. Using this system, shoppers don't have to be signed in to the site with an Amazon account as is necessary with 1-Click. That saves an extra step and could lead to more impulse buys as there's no "cooling down" time, however brief, between seeing something you want to purchase and then finalizing the transaction.

The PayPhrase system also allows for the creation of multiple PayPhrases and PINs so you can associate different addresses and methods of payment with each other. For example, you could additionally have a corporate credit card tied to your office address or a pre-paid credit card your children use tied to your home address. 1-Click checkout, on the other hand, only allows for the combination of one address and one method of payment.

The PayPhrase technology will go live across all of Amazon.com as well as on several third-party sites that use "Checkout by Amazon," a service that lets other retailers checkout customers by using their personal and payment information saved on Amazon's servers. At this time, DKNY, Jockey, Patagonia, Buy.com, J&R, and Car-Toys have announced they will add the PayPhrase system on their sites, too.

Is PayPhrase the Future of Mobile Transactions?

Clearly, the new PayPhrase technology has been designed to make online checkout easier, but could there be more to it than that? Earlier this month, the company launched a mobile payments service which allows mobile application developers to integrate Amazon's checkout system into their mobile software and mobile websites. The mobile payments system also allows for the integration of the 1-Click checkout process, so there's no reason to doubt that the PayPhrase technology will now also be added to the payments platform as well.

With PayPhrase, the process of making an online purchase takes far less steps than any other checkout system today. Even PayPal forces you to sign in, choose payment methods, and complete your transaction before being redirected back to the retailer's website. While a few extra steps aren't a big deal on the web, when you're on a mobile phone, every delay makes it that much harder thanks to slower internet connection speeds, tiny keyboards, and, more often than not, a lack of time to get involved in any long process. If you can't checkout in a minute or so, it's generally not even worth bothering until you're back at home on your broadband-connected PC. But with PayPhrase, you can checkout incredibly fast - only two steps are required: one to enter your special phrase and another to enter your PIN. Although Amazon hasn't made any formal announcements about integrating PayPhrase into their mobile platform just yet, they must have had it in mind when they designed this technology.

Discuss


Amazon Launches PayPhrase — Will It Be Easy To Game?

Amazon is launching “PayPhrase” a simple way to verify your account to speed up purchasing – a great move ahead of the holiday season when even more people than ever will be shopping online.

It’s simple stuff. You set up a unique phrase like “Axe Murderer” or “Car Lover” or “Honey I shrunk the kids” and tie it to a 4-digit PIN. This is linked to your Amazon account which, of course, is pre-loaded with your credit card and shipping address.

I do have to wonder what was so hard about entering an email address and password, but clearly Amazon’s psychological research unit thought “Fluffy Bunnies”, or some such, was going to be easier for the average Jane or Joe to remember.

It’s also positioned as a parent/teen solution competing (kind of) with PayPal Student Accounts, because, like the latter, you could give your student son or daughter a PayPhrase which access your account which doesn’t actually access your account controls. PayPhrase lets parents track spending and set account permissions/alerts/etc.

There are other participating websites which will be implementing PayPhrase, including DKNY.com, Jockey.com, and Buy.com that already accept by Amazon’s Checkout service. Of course, earlier this month, eBay came up with its Bill Me Later deferred payment option for both eBay and PayPal which will be carried by Toys R Us, Zappos.com, Petco and Wal-Mart among others.

However, how many people are not going to have a cutesy phrase and default instead to something like “Dad’s Birthday”. All you then need do is type in a plausible month and day like “0820″ for the PIN and… voila! And how many people will just use “1234″ for their PIN? Plenty.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Crunch Network: CrunchGear drool over the sexiest new gadgets and hardware.

Download a Free Philip Glass MP3 Album from Amazon [Dealhacker]

When we asked you to share what music helps you get things done, more than a few of you answered Philip Glass. Today on Amazon, you can boost your Glass catalog for the low-low price of zilch.

If minimalist compositions and repeating structures put your brain in let's-do-this mode, this free download from Amazon offers a sampling of some of Glass's well-known scores. Looks like we've got our afternoon listening ready to go.

If you're looking for more whistle-while-you-work inspiration, check out our guide to the best sounds for getting work done.




Kindle for PC. I Bet You Look Good On a Touchscreen

Amazon has just made their new Kindle for PC available for pre-order online, a move that turns almost any PC in the entire world into a fully-fledged ereader. The software comes on the heels of all of the big Win7 announcements today evens up the playing fields when it comes to PC-based ereaders. Amazon has long had the Kindle but Barnes & Noble launched a PC ereader long before Amazon, putting them at a disadvantage. B&N also has versions of their reader for OS X, BlackBerry smartphones, and the iPhone/Touch.

BookServer: A Plan to Build an Open Web of Books

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

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

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Any Book, Open Formats

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

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

An Open Marketplace for eBooks

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

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

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

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IMDb Turns 19. Yes, 19. Older Than The Web Browser.

imdb19If you load up the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) today, you’ll see a new logo commemorating its 19th birthday. Yes, that’s really old for the Internet. Google, by comparison, is 11. Meanwhile, Yahoo is 14. IMDb is so old in fact, that is pre-dates the first web browsers. How?

Founder Col Needham explains the history a bit in a birthday message today. IMDb was born on October 17, 1990 as a series of Unix shell scripts to let users search the USENET group, rec.arts.movies. It wasn’t called IMDb yet (that came four years later), but it was the beginning of being able to search for movie information on the Internet.

Once the web as we now know it sprung up around the IMDb, the site became hugely popular — it’s probably the first website that I remember being addicted to when I was young. The site became so popular that its founders realized they would have to start charging visitors if they wanted to keep it up (remember, this was the mid 1990s, Internet advertising was much, much smaller than it is today). But in 1998, Amazon came along to buy the site, enabling it to stay free for users. Though they would later add IMDb Pro, a subscription-based section with more data on movies.

They’ve also added new functionality to the site over the years. This includes the ability to play video content (which is ho-hum), and the addition of the excellent movie box office tracking site, Box Office Mojo.

IMDb says it now gets 57 million people coming to its site each month. I still can’t believe that it’s nearly as old as I am.

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Amazon Offering Same-Day Delivery in Select Cities [Shopping]

Amazon announced yesterday that "thousands of items" are now available for same-day deliver in select cities—namely New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Washington, Baltimore, Las Vegas, and Seattle (and "some surrounding areas"), with more to come.

All you've got to do to get same-day deliver on a qualifying order is make your purchase before the cutoff, which varies by city (cutoff is 10am in New York, 1pm in Seattle). The cost: $6 per item for Amazon Prime customers, $15+ for non-Prime buyers. CNET reports that the service will make its way to Chicago, Indianapolis, and Phoenix "in coming months."



The Google Book Store, Coming Soon To A Browser Near You

Google offered some more details on its upcoming digital book store earlier today at the Frankfurt Book Fair. Google plans on selling downloadable electronic books called Google Editions to any device with a browser.

Today, Google Books gives you the option to buy books you find there from other online retailers. But Google Editions will come directly from Google’s own yet-to-be-launched store. It will make 400,000 to 600,000 books available through agreements with publishers, who will get a cut of each book sold (about 63 percent if it is sold directly through Google, 45 percent if it is sold through an affiliate retailer, which would split the rest with Google similar to the AdSense model).

No wonder Jeff Bezos is trying to block Google’s book settlement. Google wants to loosen his grip on the digital book industry through his Amazon-only Kindle. At the same time that it is fighting those efforts to curtail its book settlement and access to millions of orphan works, it is also making making its own thrusts into other areas.

Already, Google makes it possible to download or print over one million public domain books in a partnership with Sony. Those books are all available in the open ePub format. It would make sense if Google Editions were also available in ePub, but the plan to turn regular browsers into eReaders probably needs something else like Google Gears (which has offline capabilities) to make it work.

If Google can turn any browser into a digital book reader and it can offer as good a catalog as Amazon can on the Kindle, then that is one less reason to buy a Kindle. Whether or not Google will be offering all of the latest bestsellers or the types of tomes it highlights on its homepage today, such as Gangs and Delinquency in Developmental Perspective, will determine how much of a threat it becomes to Amazon. But if I had to choose between the Kindle or the browser ultimately winning this battle, I’d bet on the browser any day.

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Google to Launch E-Book Store in Early 2010 [Ebooks]

Perhaps because there isn't enough news about the Google Books deal already, Google announced that it would offer up more than half a million books to "any device with a browser" in early 2010. Google will offer e-books both directly, and with links to other online stores like Amazon, but the main feature will be searchable text from publishers with whom Google has reached an agreement. Google also states that it's not focused on selling to any particular e-reader or device, so it might be interesting to see how various parties line up on the Google/Amazon/Other divide. [Reuters/Yahoo News]



Is DoubleTwist a Real iTunes Alternative? [Screenshot Tour]

iTunes has managed to become the de facto standard for desktop music organizers, leaving those with non-Apple devices in the cold. DoubleTwist syncs, shares, converts your media quite handily, and has a built-in Amazon MP3 store, but can it really replace iTunes.

DoubleTwist (technically capitalized as doubleTwist, as is the fashion at this time) does a lot of neat things that iTunes will never do:

  • It recognizes and synchronizes with a ton of devices, and otherwise works with any device that your computer recognizes as a storage space.
  • Converts music and videos back and forth from device-specific formats, with quick upload links to Flickr and YouTube.
  • Makes it super-easy to send music, video, or pictures from your desktop to anyone, whether or not they're using doubleTwist.
  • Downloads videos from YouTube for local viewing or listening, or converting to your phone or player.
  • With the latest Windows update, due today, both versions of doubleTwist have a slick-looking Amazon MP3 Store integration.

Does that make it a free, and DRM-free, iTunes replacement? Not exactly—at least when it comes to playing and organizing your music on your computer. In fact, doubleTwist seems to have been built as a complement to the libraries and playlists set up in iTunes or Windows Media Player, and doesn't currently have much in the way of playback functionality beyond, well, "Play." But if you're not a hyper-organized music fan and just want a simple, no-nonsense tool to transfer some great tunes, pictures, or video to your phone, PSP, or other device, doubleTwist is a great option.

Let's take a look at what doubleTwist can do. These screenshots are from the Windows 2.3 Beta—as soon as the Amazon-toting update drops, we'll update and post screens. Click on an image below for a bigger pop-up view.

Device syncing


DoubleTwist recognizes a lot of popular devices—Android phones, most BlackBerry and Windows Mobile models, PSPs, Creative and Sony MP3 players, iPods you didn't just buy at the Apple store (though iPhone/touch functionality comes and goes, it seems), and just about anything that has storage space and a USB plug. It's doubleTwist's greatest strength, and it's hard to believe it took so long for someone to make it possible. Want to manage what's kept on an external hard drive? Go ahead. Plug in any device, and when doubleTwist picks it up, you tell it which music playlists, pictures, and video you want it to sync up with. If doubleTwist knows the device, it automatically converts files to the format needed to play on it. Best of all, doubleTwist can either automatically pop up and synchronize with your device whenever you plug it in, or leave you to manually push the Sync button, if you prefer.

Library setup and iTunes importing


On Windows and Macs alike, doubleTwist doesn't make you import libraries or create playlists if you've already got it all set up in iTunes. That's a strength for those jumping away from Apple's music manager, but for those without a loaded iTunes library, it means either a fairly simple drag-and-drop library addition (on Macs) or having to properly set up and occasionally tweak Windows Media Player (on Windows). Depending on where you're coming from, that's either a time saver or an annoying time suck; with the latest Windows update, at least, Windows users should get the manual import option. Once you're set up, at least, doubleTwist does a decent job of watching for new additions and playlist changes.

Sending and sharing files

As with device synchronizing, doubleTwist makes sending and sharing files seem ridiculously simple and open. Choose your music file, hit "Send," fill out an email address (or choose it from your Gmail or Yahoo contact books), and the recipient gets a download link and full stream of the file to check out. The link expires after a few weeks, but there doesn't seem to be a limit to the number of files you can send, even if we're pretty sure there must be a size limit. If your friends eventually get down with doubleTwist, this gets even easier—send them the file, and they'll see it in their "stream" that loads at startup and notifies on new items.

YouTube importing


Lots of great music lives on YouTube, in rare live performances, early-release music videos, or catchy independent productions. doubleTwist can't search out the links itself (hint, hint, developers), but feed it a YouTube video link and it grabs the file as an FLV video and saves it to your library location, available for your viewing or listening pleasure whenever you'd like. Even easier, drop it onto your phone device, and doubleTwist converts it to the necessary format for small-screen viewing.

Music playing

Music playback is not the shining point for doubleTwist. On Windows, at least, you manage your current playlist from a small mini-player window that you can't close or dock to the side, and adding to it requires a clumsy manual drag and drop. There's no visualization tools, album art pick-up is hit and miss, and there's really just back, forward, and a play/pause button—no shuffling or rating for you, though that latter aspect might be something you leave in iTunes, anyways. On Windows, doubleTwist was very finicky with my MP3 collection—some tracks just wouldn't play, while unprotected AAC files usually fared just fine. Not that all my collection comes from fine-toothed ripping of physical CDs I purchased (ahem), but it's still disappointing to see. Worst of all, when doubleTwist decides not to play something, it does it with a pop-up window that halts the music until you acknowledge it with an "OK" push.

The overall look and interface has a really rough feel to it on Windows, and while the Mac app looks better, it similarly lacks much of the functionality that music lovers live for. Let's hope the actual enjoyment of music gets a good looking-to in the next version.

Amazon MP3 Store

Already running on Macs and soon to drop on Windows, it's exactly what you might imagine: A (generally) cheaper music store that downloads DRM-free MP3s you can play just about anywhere these days, making it a perfect fit for the device-friendly doubleTwist. Search out artists, browse what's popular, and buy tracks and albums with your Amazon credentials—when we get a chance to peek around on Windows, we'll post a bit more information.


Have you happily fled iTunes for doubleTwist, or maybe an alternative music manager? What would you want doubleTwist to incorporate next (besides total iPhone compatibility) to lure you in? Tell us your take in the comments.

Gilt, eBay And Amazon Circle Vente Privee With Chatter Of $1.5 Billion On The Table

On stage at last year’s Le Web an argument broke out between co-founder Loic Le Meur and TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington over whether Europe was capable of producing a ‘big win’ Web company or whether Skype was, perhaps, just a one-hit wonder. Like heavyweight fighters, they traded some heavy blows in subsequent blog posts. But during the live on-stage Gilmour Gang, one company was mentioned by Le Meur which left the rest of the assembled staring blankly: Vente Privee.

Probably the reason it prompted such sideways looks, however, is that this is not a classic ‘web app’ startup, but an e-commerce hub. Vente Privee began in France in 2001, but has only recently become a powerhouse of the new wave in Europe: an online private sales club involving designer fashion brands, otherwise known in the fashion retail industry as the “overstock market”. Its success has lead to a bunch of clone sites, while Vente Privee itself is on target to hit €650m in turnonver globally this year. In other words Europe is not out to lunch – as Arrington put it – it is out to shop.

But Vente Privee’s success has now lead to a number of U.S. companies becoming very interested in either entering this world or expanding their operations. TechCrunch Europe thus understands, from some very well placed sources, that Gilt, Amazon and eBay are all actively looking at acquisitions in the European private shopping club space. The price for Vente Privee alone is being talked about in terms of a $1.5 billion sale. Some sources even put the figure at between $2 billion and $4 billion.

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