Mecedes-Benz Actros used as a taxicab

Here in the U.S., we’re familiar with the semi-trucks we share the highways with during our commutes and rely on to deliver our goods...but seeing a semi as a taxicab, that’s something unheard of. Europe’s semi truck manufactures take pride in their products, and one brand in particular is out to prove they’re the best. That brand is Mercedes-Benz. It's have won Truck of the Year for its newly redesigned Actros. However, that wasn’t enough for the Mercedes. So someone got the bright idea of using an Actros as a taxicab. However, the Actros was set to pick up customers from competing manufactures such as Volvo and Man. Watch a video of their reactions after the jump!

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Mecedes-Benz Actros used as a taxicab originally appeared on Gear Live on Fri, February 03, 2012 - 9:51:06

Pirate Bay considers European courts after Swedish ruling

One of Pirate Bay founders convicted of aiding copyright infringement said the group is considering taking its case to the European court, after Sweden’s top judges refused to hear their appeal against a guilty verdict handed down in 2009.

In a ruling on Wednesday, the court said it would not grant the right to appeal to Peter Sunde, Fredrik Neij and Carl Lundström, three of those convicted in 2009 — effectively cementing their jail sentences and a SEK 47 million ($7 million) fine. Another one of the site’s founders, Gottfrid Svartholm Warg, had already lost the right to appeal after missing a hearing due to illness. All four have since moved abroad.

But Sunde, who now runs the online payments service Flattr but faces an eight month jail sentence and multimillion dollar fine, told me that the group would “probably” take their case to Europe — although other options were still available.

In addition, in a post on his blog, he said that the Pirate Bay had broken “the monopoly of information”, accused the Swedish legal system of corruption, railed against the entertainment industry, SOPA, PIPA, ACTA, and drew parallels with Wikileaks.

TPB has been one of the most important movements in Sweden for freedom of speech, working against corruption and censorship. All of the people involved in TPB at some time have been involved in everything from famous leaks projects to aiding people in the arab spring. We’ve fought corruption all over the world. We’ve promoted equal opportunities to poor nations around the globe.

The ethical argument will rage on, particularly in the wake of controversial legislation such as SOPA and ACTA.

But in the meantime, the organization appears to be taking defensive measures and the main Pirate Bay site appears to have been taken down. It is currently redirecting to a Swedish mirror,, in what Torrentfreak reports is an attempt to prevent domain seizure by US authorities — as was seen recently with the shutdown of Megaupload

A lawyer for Lundström, a pharmaceuticals millionaire with ties to extremist groups who had helped fund the Pirate Bay in its early days, told Sweden’s Dagens Nyheter that the decision was “absurd” and that the technical legality of torrent services still had to be examined closely.

“I am disappointed that the court is so uninterested to dissect and analyze the legal twists and turns of one of the world’s most high-profile legal cases of all time,” Per Samuelsson told DG.

However the case proceeds, it seems that the Swedish court’s decision could spark further action against other sites, according to the country’s Anti-Piracy Bureau.Stockholm’s Aftonbladet newspaper said the APB is preparing “a new offensive against filesharers”.

The highest court has made it clear that anyone who takes any part in these crimes, even those who supply the internet connection, will have to face up to their responsibility,” said Henrik Pontén, legal counsel for Sweden’s Anti-Piracy Bureau

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Britain unleashes, its Google for government

More often than not, government internet projects are synonymous with low ambitions and high spending: vast, sweeping schemes that make only minor tweaks to the status quo, cost the earth and end up leaving citizens drowning in a quagmire of bureaucracy.

What’s the best way of challenging that stereotype? Step forward Britain’s brand new, a service intended to smash those perceptions, help get citizens the information they need — and save money for tax payers.

The site, which went live overnight, is simple in the extreme: instead of a complicated nest of subject areas and atoms of information — the approach that typiied the previous one-stop shop, Directgov — it is a Google-like search bar that takes you directly to the information you need. Canny autosuggest options mean that keywords can be useful, while larger subjects of interests are clearly pushed without.

It is, effectively, the difference between the Yahoo and Google of old — one is a contents page for information that forces you to interpret somebody else’s filing system, the other is an index that allows you to find what you’re looking for more directly.

If you want to get an idea of this change, here’s a comparison between Directgov’s homepage (on the left) and’s (on the right).

It’s probably the biggest concrete example so far of the British government’s commitment to using technology to make the nation a better place.

So far Prime Minister David Cameron has been keen to court technology businesses and use the rhetoric of a high-tech future as part of his campaigning, with only minimal real impact or action.There have stunts aimed at projecting a futuristic — such as the development of a custom iPad app for Cameron to monitor national performance — and the creation of a pseudo-public body to promote London as a technology hub.

In reality, though, that commitment has wavered, not least when the Prime Minister decided to close down a proposed open data research organization to be led by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, before starting it up again amid a huge PR push.

This is not unusual in and of itself. As The Guardian put it recently, a sequence of leaders from the U.K. have used “rhetorical flourishes to disguise the fact that for the past century Britain has gone steadily backwards as an industrial power.”

But — which is still in beta, for now — seems like a good step in the right direction. I just used it to find and fill out some forms that I needed to send, a task that would have taken a few minutes in the past: now it took just a single click to get to the right place. And it’s all been done on a budget of £1.7 million, a far cry from the British government’s most infamous technology white elephant, when it famously spent years preparing a new IT system for the National Health Service that saw its costs balloon from £2 billion to more than £12 billion ($19 billion) — before the financial crisis loomed and the project was duly cancelled.

The team, led by Mike Bracken (disclosure: a former colleague and friend of mine) is actually trying to cut costs and help reinvent government to focus on users. As the Financial Times reports, the project aims to save almost £50 million ($78 million):

“Instead of a government with an IT department, we need to be a digital government,” Francis Maude, minister for the Cabinet Office, told the FT. “Our approach to the way the public sector should be doing its digital offering is very different. We want sensible platforms with common standards and a move away from the big overarching IT projects which had a terrible reputation for running over budgets and over time.”

This change is only just beginning, and it hasn’t come without some friction. Jobs have gone in the civil service as the organization effectively used smart technology to replace humans in charge of huge libraries of media materials that were rarely seen by the public. And it may be too much of a stretch to imagine ministers used to the privileged, dusty corridors of Westminster talking about Hadoop clusters and agile operations.

But ultimately it’s a smart, sharp product, and the focus on getting users what they need, faster has got to be good news. An example for other countries to follow?

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Who is Apple’s new retail boss, and what will he do?

Tim Cook has made his first major appointment since taking the reins at Apple, bringing in the head of British technology retailer Dixons, John Browett. He comes in to fill the gap left by the departure of Ron Johnson, the man who spent a decade building the Apple Store into a force to be reckoned with.

To say that Browett inherits a big job is an understatement. Apple’s retail strategy has been phenomenally successful over the past decade — responsible for $14 billion in sales in 2011, according to the company’s most recent results — and the company scoured the globe and waited several months to find somebody.

Immediate reaction to the news was intriguing, because it was split down the middle. On one side were those who read Browett’s credentials and the PR puffs. To them, it looks as if Apple has just hired a man who has succeeded at most things he’s tried, and spent the last five years steering a large retail business with more than 1,200 stores through a difficult period for the economy.

On the other hand, for those who know Dixons as it exists in the real world, the reaction was somewhat different: the most common refrain I saw was “Has Tim Cook ever been in a Dixons store?”.


Dixons operates two major store brands — Currys and PC World — and a number of online outlets, and their approach probably puts them somewhere in the region of Radio Shack and Best Buy. They are not widely loved by the public. And while it’s fair to say that Browett inherited a troubled company and improved its offerings to ordinary shoppers, he has also presided over a calamitous 90 percent fall in its share price over the last five years.

But Apple is standing by its choice, with Cook suggesting that “our retail stores are all about customer service” and Browett “shares that commitment like no one else we’ve met.”

So perhaps it’s worth asking who Browett actually is.

Let’s take a look at the evidence to try and understand what he might do at Apple.

First, he comes with serious academic chops, with degrees from Cambridge University (albeit in zoology) and an MBA from Wharton. In this Retail Week profile from 2009, he is called “affable and intellectual”, and a fierce advocate of good customer service who prides himself in knowing the ins and outs of every product on sale:

A tour of a PC World or Currys store with him reveals a schoolboy enthusiasm for talking at length about the technology behind flatscreen TVs.
On another occasion, he revealed his hands-on nature when a disgruntled customer barged into a back room after realising who Browett was. He leapt to his feet and attended to the customer.

It’s not quite on a par with the late night email habits of Steve Jobs, but this is the sort of detail that Apple will love. They will also like his reputation for driving very, very hard deals with suppliers: Browett is known for trying to extract every last ounce of value from a deal.

Meanwhile, in a Guardian profile published in 2007, just as he was about to take over at Dixons, a friend is quoted as saying that Browett is not the sort to rant and rave.

“He’s more measured, and more democratic – but not too much of a democrat.” The new DSG boss was “full of enthusiasm in a low-key, measured way” when they spoke last night, according to Mr Hyman. But the group could be in for a shake-up, Mr Hyman believes, saying: “You don’t hire John Browett if you’re not looking for some quite important strategic changes.”

This suggests his personal style is likely to fit with Cook’s own approach — but it is the last part that interested me the most: he is the sort of man who wants to have a strategic impact, wherever he goes.

Why is this particularly interesting? Because of the other businesses he’s linked to.

Browett cut his teeth with Tesco, the world’s third-largest retailer and a dominant force in British supermarket retailing. He was the man responsible for building Tesco’s online presence, creating a leading web-based grocery outlet and delivery service, and he also expanded the company’s ranges way beyond food.

He’s also been on the board of EasyJet, the low-cost airline that became famous for its cheap and cheerful approach to flying, for the past five years. Things have been pretty good at the company recently, but it is locked in a battle with the founder, Stelios Haji-Ioannou, who has publicly attacked the company’s directors for what he sees as greed. The board is trying to push through a pay deal that would grant directors substantially more cash than they currently receive.

Both Tesco and EasyJet are companies that seem to come from a very different place than Apple. They both built their reputations through being cheap, aggressive and expansionist. Of course, they pay attention to customer service — but they also achieve highly variable results.

Customer service review site Trustpilot ranks both companies as “acceptable” — Tesco with 6.6 out of 10 and EasyJet with 6.4. Dixons, meanwhile, gets just 4 out of 10: by comparison, Apple scores an 8.

At this stage it’s hard to know what this all means for Apple’s retail strategy. But take a look inside a PC World store and you see that it’s much closer to a pile-em-high approach of Tesco than the pared back approach that Apple prides itself on. The question is whether Browett’s smarts will simply be subsumed into Apple’s existing approach, or whether his instincts for squeezing value out of the lower end of the market will start to dribble into the company.

Photograph used under Creative Commons license courtesy of Flickr user cpchannel

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What is ACTA and why are thousands of Europeans protesting it?

members of parliament in Poland don Guy Fawkes masks to protest ACTAHas Europe gone mad? A trade agreement most Americans have never heard of has sparked outrage and protests across the pond.

Twenty-two of the European Union’s 27 member states signed the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) in Tokyo on January 26. In response, thousands of Poles marched in the streets, members of Poland’s parliament donned Guy Fawkes masks, and a member of the European Parliament quit in protest.

By contrast, when U.S. President Barack Obama signed the ACTA treaty on behalf of the U.S. on October 1, 2011, few in this country noticed. But when a somewhat similar bill, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), entered Congress the following month, it spurred massive opposition that culminated in a worldwide internet protest on January 18. SOPA is now all but dead, while ACTA lives on.

So what is ACTA and why are some people so upset about it? Let’s take a look.

What is ACTA?

The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement is an international treaty aimed at giving countries the ability to stop copyright infringement and other forms of intellectual property theft. It’s meant to create an international legal framework so that different countries can work with one another more cooperatively. You can read the full text of ACTA (.pdf).

Why are Europeans upset?

One major reason is that the countries that have signed ACTA conducted negotiations largely in secret. The European Parliament was not fully involved and citizens of the signing countries were not consulted. The French member of the European Parliament who quit, Kader Arif, issued a furious statement objecting to ACTA, according to ZDNet UK:

I want to denounce as the greatest of all the process that led to the signing of this agreement: no association of civil society, lack of transparency from the beginning of negotiations, successive postponements of the signing of the text without any explanation being given, setting aside the claims of the European Parliament [despite those views being] expressed in several resolutions of our Assembly. … This agreement may [have a] major impact on the lives of our citizens, and yet everything is done [so that] the European Parliament has no say. I will not participate in this charade.

What about the U.S.?

Senator Ron Wyden objected to Obama’s signing of ACTA on the grounds that it’s unconstitutional for a President to sign a treaty without the consent of two-thirds of the Senate. Obama did not consult the Senate, so there are some grounds for thinking that ACTA is not a legitimately-signed treaty.

What powers does ACTA give copyright holders?

The governments signing on to ACTA have pledged

  • to give copyright holders a way to request personal information about suspected infringers from ISPs (with a warrant),
  • to give copyright holders legal means to pursue people suspected of circumventing copyright protection or DRM technologies,
  • to seize goods at their borders if they’re suspected of containing infringing content.

In addition, ACTA gives rights holders the ability to collect damages equal to the market value of the infringing content. In other words, if you copy an album that sells for $15 or a game that goes for $50, that’s how much you owe.

What else has got people upset?

Unlike U.S. copyright law or the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, ACTA includes no fair use provisions. For instance, the DMCA lets people subvert copy-protection technologies in order to make personal backups, and copyright law in general allows exceptions for copies made for educational or scholarly use. ACTA has no such provisions. As an international treaty, it’s meant to supersede national law — which brings us back to the question, in the U.S., of whether this is a legitimately ratified treaty.

If I’m not pirating music, I don’t have to worry, right?

Not really. ACTA also applies to patents, and might criminalize possession of otherwise legal generic “grey market” drugs, if you happen to be passing through a country where those drugs are still  under patent. It could also impose obligations on customs and border patrol agents to determine whether material infringes intellectual property: Imagine how that might work when you’re flying into a new country or driving across the border from Canada.

To learn more, read Mike Masnick on TechDirt and M. Scott Fulton on ReadWriteWeb.


Filed under: VentureBeat

How the Daily Mail became the web’s biggest newspaper

It’s official. According to figures from comScore, Britain’s Daily Mail has become the biggest newspaper on the web, hauling its way past everybody else… even the grand old New York Times.

And although the Gray Lady both disputes the figures and looks down its nose at the Mail (it “is not in our competitive set,” a Times spokeswoman snooted to Buzzfeed), it’s fair to say the British tabloid’s rise to prominence online has been quite incredible. After all, just a few years ago, the site hardly existed at all.

So how did a provincial outlet whose editor once described the idea of online newspapers as “bullshit dot com” manage to get more traffic than its rivals? And what can other media businesses learn from its rise to power?

There is no secret formula, just a lot of hustle and plenty of shamelessness. Anyone who thinks the Mail can show them how to succeed in online news must understand its increasing prominence has been the result of editorial choices that not everybody will be prepared to emulate.

However, if you do want to understand how to emulate its success, here are five crucial tactics it has used to reach the No. 1 spot:

Be relentless

The core of the Mail’s success is down to its planet-sized ambition and incredibly aggressive approach to the news. The Mail’s journalists are notorious for stopping at nothing to tell a dramatic story, sometimes regardless of the facts. But though breaking ethical boundaries, ignoring copyright or trampling over sources are bound to be controversial, the paper is entirely unashamed by its desire to win at all costs. That tone is set right from the top with rapacious editor-in-chief Paul Dacre, who retains an iron grip over the paper’s output and is regarded as one of the shrewdest — and most vindictive — editors around.

Be broad

Over time, the Mail’s web operation has gone from being a local concern to being deliberately built to appeal to foreign readers, in particular, Americans. This was a decision taken by the site’s boss, MailOnline editor Martin Clarke, a Fleet Street veteran who now splits his time between New York City and London. Headlines and stories are often written in such a way that the stories transcend location, class and gender.

Love linkbait

The site now has a well-developed editorial outlook that can appeal on both sides of the Atlantic, and to most levels of reader. Its trademarks are straightforward: jaw-dropping, salacious headlines (“Swinging couple in drug-fuelled orgy with sex partner sprayed him with bear repellent after he refused to let them take explicit photos”); paparazzi shots of attractive women and fame-hungry celebrities, often in various states of undress (“Snooki poses in tiny black skirt”); and a constant stream of stories about personal health (“Eating chocolate can stave off bowel cancer”). Sure, it’s not exactly high-end — more TMZ than Times — but it brings in traffic and drives engagement. And even though it does little to pander to SEO with its long, sensational headlines, they have served it particularly well in terms of visibility through social media and sharing online.

Stay free

Although the Mail does operate some paid-for services, such as an iPad app and Kindle delivery, it has regularly said it doesn’t intend to hide its website behind a paywall. In fact, quite the opposite: A little more than a year ago, Clarke said he didn’t believe offering its stories for free on the web harms print sales at all. Instead, he told the New York Observer, he has focused on scale: “The way the web works is that it only makes sense to be free if you’re big.” Competitors may snark that the site doesn’t link out, or that it rips off stories without attribution. And it’s true; they are shameless about it… but hardly alone.

Financial muscle

Perhaps most important to the Mail’s success, however, has been the ongoing financial support from its corporate parents. Although print boss Paul Dacre has little appetite for the web, the broader company has backed the online team and invested millions in their ideas over the years — and it has let them just get on with their job, instead of interfering constantly or switching strategies mid-stream. In particular, the teams who operate the Mail’s website remain largely separate from those who produce the printed product: something which challenges the cost-saving approach of many competitors but allows the teams to focus.

Ultimately, anyone who wants to copy the Mail’s success is in for a tough time. The reasons for its rise are many, but they are either things that are hard to replicate (corporate backing) or rely on editorial choices that many large media companies find distasteful (a fiery mix of right-wing politics, celebrity gossip and prurience).

Still, success is success — whatever you think about its brand of journalism, it is certainly not high church — yet while upmarket audiences and rivals sniff at it, the rest of the world, it seems, couldn’t care less. and in a media industry that is struggling, it is not hard to imagine some who are looking at what the Daily Mail has achieved and thinking they can do the same. Whether anyone has the stomach for it remains to be seen.

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Rhapsody buys Napster’s Euro assets, targets Spotify

Streaming music subscription service Rhapsody is expanding internationally by buying Napster’s assets in Germany and the U.K., the company announced early Thursday morning. Financial details of the transaction were not revealed.

Rhapsody had previously bought Napster’s U.S. business and subsequently laid off pretty much everyone, but its plans for Europe are looking a little different. All employees will keep their job, according to a press release, and they won’t even have to get new business cards: The service will continue to be called Napster in both countries, but subscribers will be migrated to Rhapsody’s infrastructure (and presumably will have to download the company’s client) in March. The pricing of the service will stay the same in both countries as well.

The question is: Will the Napster brand help Rhapsody to take on Spotify, which has been dominating the music subscription business in Europe? Spotify is already the biggest subscription service in the U.K., where Napster is currently holding the number two spot. Spotify hasn’t launched in Germany yet, even though there are rumors that such a launch is imminent. Napster is believed to have a 70 percent market share in that country, and is competing with smaller players like the Cologne-based streaming service Simfy.

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