5 o’clock round-up: Genachowski spams, Google blogs, Wikipedia rounds up donations

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Here’s the last action of this decade:

Julius_GenachowskiThe FCC chairman spams his Facebook friends. Julius Genachowski, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, sent a cryptic Facebook message to all of his friends this morning, saying “Adam got me started making money with this.” It contained a broken link. Facebook suspended the account and said Genachowski will have to go through a “remediation process” and “learn security best practices” to reactivate his account.

MySpace replaces Imeem’s embedded playlists with advertising. The Imeem acquisition fiasco continues. After MySpace pulled the plug on developer access to Imeem song streams without warning, it gives users another unpleasant surprise. Ads now show up in place of embedded Imeem playlists, according to Wired. MySpace tells the magazine that they’re looking into this “asap”. Uh huh.

Google celebrates its fifth year of corporate blogging. The company’s official blog attracted north of 14 million visitors this year, with top billing going to the posts on Chrome OS, Wave and Google Voice. Twitter becomes the top non-Google referrer of traffic to the site, signaling the networks growing power in pushing traffic around the web.

Chrome OS also topped Techmeme as the biggest tech story of the year: Second place went to the death of Michael Arrington’s much anticipated tablet computer, the Crunchpad, amid legal disputes. Third went to Steve Jobs’ letter, outlining his health problems. But as we learned out later, he was not all that forthcoming, blaming a “hormone imbalance” when he actually received a liver transplant later in the year.

Wikipedia reached its fundraising goal of $7.5 million Because the online encyclopedia isn’t a commercial operation, founder Jimmy Wales asked the public for donations to sustain it. On the first day alone, 13,000 people donated $430,000.

Peering into MySpace’s collective consciousness with real-time search

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Picture 18One of the most provocative essays on Internet culture I’ve read in the last couple years is Danah Boyd’s take on viewing class divisions through social networks. She controversially argued that “white flight” was playing out on the Internet, with MySpace becoming a digital ghetto as wealthier, more educated users fled for Facebook. As an anthropologist, her work is more qualitative and based largely on interviews, experiences and anecdotes, paired with data from external research institutes like the Pew Research Center.

But now that social networks like Twitter and MySpace are opening up their public data for indexing and mashups, more hard numbers can be put toward comparing and contrasting the kinds of conversations that take place in different online communities. (That said, quantitative data can have its faults too when looking at social issues that are hard to pin down like class divisions.)

Collecta launched its own variation on MySpace real-time search this week after the News Corp.-owned social network released a brand-new set of application programming interfaces this month for publicly shared content. Obviously you’d want to look at Facebook too, but the company’s not there — yet. Facebook gave Microsoft access to its public status updates, but whatever incarnation that stream of data will assume is not yet available. Plus, up until the big privacy change this month, Facebook’s public real-time content was also limited to mainly commercial messages on Pages and updates from those who were willing to bare parts of their lives to the world.

So using real-time search, I just wanted to compare real-time conversations on both networks. It’s very unscientific. I’m basically dipping my toes into the stream, so to speak, and capturing a few updates of what’s being said now. You can try it yourself here with Twitter and here with MySpace.

Hopefully, someone out there — an academic or developer — will come up with a more rigorous way of doing this for Facebook, MySpace or Twitter through real-time search. (Or even better, for specific Twitter lists.) I’d be interested to see stats on what people talk about, the style of language, foreign languages, replies, how far content gets shared or propagated through each network.

It’s not comfortable to admit, but I do think looking at Twitter and MySpace searches underscore some of Boyd’s points about class divisions playing themselves out in online communities. Of course, Facebook has become much more mainstream than it was when she originally wrote that post in 2007. But we don’t have access to all their real-time conversations. (Facebook did its own analysis on racial composition this month using peoples’ surnames and found that the site’s user base is coming closer to mirroring the U.S. population’s makeup.)

Anyway, here are a few Twitter-vs.-Myspace searches. Let us know how you think anthropologists and sociologists should make use of real-time data.

1) “Decade” — (Because it’s the end of the decade).

Here’s Myspace –

Picture 8

And Twitter –

Picture 7

2) “New Years”

Here’s MySpace –

Picture 5

And here’s Twitter –

Picture 6

3) “Avatar” Both sites actually look pretty much the same here.

Here’s MySpace –

Picture 2

And here’s Twitter –

Picture 3

4) “2010″ Numbers bring more non-English language updates.

Here’s MySpace –

Picture 11

And Twitter –

Picture 13

5) “Google” Twitter has the leg-up here with a lot of the tech community present. There are more shared links to interesting blog posts.

Picture 14

Picture 15

6) “Lady Gaga” A single MySpace search for a music artist is actually not really all that useful. People are changing their profile songs, which doesn’t make it that interesting. But this data could be used to create all sorts of music charts.

Picture 17Picture 16

2010 New Year’s Resolutions from the RWW Geeks & Friends

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Forget losing weight or finding the perfect life partner: All we want to do is make 2010 the biggest geek-out year ever.

The ReadWriteWeb crew have collectively planned to take over the world next year by honing our nerd super-powers. From programming in Python to building AI houses, we’ve resolved to be smarter, more curious, more technical and way geekier than we were last year. Read our resolutions, and definitely let us know what you plan to do to be the best geek you can be in 2010.


The editor-in-chief himself, Mr. Richard MacManus, is known for his fascination with machine-to-machine communication via the Internet of Things. This year promises to be an interesting one at the MacManus residence if Richard’s resolutions hold true.

“One of my goals for 2010,” he said, “is to experiment with Internet of Things in my own house and life, using tools like Pachube and sensors. We’ll see how that goes…”

We wish you lots of luck, boss! If all goes well, you’ll be a prime candidate for the first episode of Geek Cribs, and we’ll all be very, very jealous.

Our own ReadWriteStart warrior, Dana Oshiro, is going to be a busy bee this year.

“I’m finding that the coolest ideas come out of academic institutions and enthusiast groups before they’re ever thought of as business-related products. In 2010 I plan on attending more hackathons, dev camps and emerging tech conferences like SIGGRAPH.”

In addition to all that conference-hopping, Dana’s going to be doing some web work of her own. “Honestly, I need to revamp my personal website Villagers With Pitchforks. I haven’t changed the design in years.”

Alex Williams, our resident enterprise expert, is also known in certain circles as an experienced podcasting pro. His resolution is something the ReadWriteWeb team would all love to see happen.

He told us that he wants to use 2010 to “make an informative and entertaining podcast for ReadWriteWeb Enterprise that is lively, smart and fun.”

What do our friendly readers think? Would you like to listen to awesome news about what companies and people are moving and shaking in the world of enterprise technology? What folks do you most want Alex to talk to, and what topics would you find most interesting? And where would you be most likely to listen to a RWW podcast? At your laptop, in your car, while walking your dogs? Let us know in the comments!

Our newest startup blogger, Chris Cameron, said he wants to use 2010 to press the flesh and put faces with names, so to speak.

“Since I’m the new kid on the block and fresh out of J-school with my M.M.C., my new year’s resolution is to get acquainted with as many people as possible in the web/tech/startup industry and develop a healthy amount of sources.”

As seasoned journos, it’s our sworn duty to protect cub reporters from no-account rabble rousers, so we asked Chris who he specifically wanted to meet this year. He replied, “I’d love to develop some contacts from the bastions of the Web (Twitter, Facebook, Google, Digg, etc.).”

You’re in good company, kid. We’d like to meet those guys, too. Just kidding! As a RWW blogger, you’re sure to have Kevin Rose and Biz Stone on speed dial in no time. We wish you luck.

Another ReadWriteNoob is Abraham Hyatt, our intrepid Production Editor. He’s got a full slate of resolutions this year.

He told us he wants to have more one-on-one time with “the bloggers I read every day, the people whose tweets I look forward to, the friends who surprise me with what they post.”

He also said he’s going to start paying attention to things outside the tech sphere and his geographical scene. “I want to change the fact that I have no idea what’s changing in journalism in China.”

And finally, Abraham let us in on how he’s keeping his finger on the pulse of technology. “I want to learn from my 5-year-old niece as she begins using the Web. I just hooked her up with her first kids browser and the way she interacts with the Web will be a hint of what’s to come for all of us online in the next decade.”

Add in learning how to code and blogging more, two of his other resolutions, and Abraham’s got a full dance card for the rest of the year!

As for me, I plan to learn Python this year. I’ve realized in 2009 that it’s harder to be a tech writer when you don’t have a hacker-esque depth of understanding about APIs and web apps. After talking to Leah Culver, Mark Jeffrey and a bunch of other really smart programmers, I think Python is a great place to start learning about programming languages. So this year, I’m tackling a 900-page O’Reilly book, and I’m not giving up until I have a working web app of my own! Next up, Haskell.

Via Twitter, we heard from a few of our friends, including entrepreneur Renato Valdés Olmos, who pointed us to this pretty web app for those without resolutions who yearn to start small. And everyone’s favorite O.G (that’s “original geek” in these parts), Chris Pirillo, just couldn’t resist the opportunity to get sassy. “My geekiest new year’s resolution,” he said, “is 2560×1600.”

So, what great and glorious plans have you got for 2010? Will you be hacking your way to entrepreneurial greatness by starting your own web company? Will you be building hardware? Are you resolving to start a new career path, go to a new conference or meet a lifelong tech hero?

Let us know your resolutions in the comments!


2009’s top 9 forward-looking cleantech investments

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world in the eyeIt was a big year for cleantech. After a dismal start in the first quarter, things picked up, leaving it in prime position to be one of the largest areas of investment in 2010. Overall, 2009 saw 356 deals totaling $4.85 billion, according to a new report released by Greentech Media. That’s six more deals than in 2008, but almost $3 billion less. Last year was a banner year for the sector, but this is also telling that investors leaned toward more smaller deals, mitigating risk while still placing their bets.

Solar took the cake this year, taking in more than $1.4 billion across 84 deals. Biofuels came in second with $976 million across 44. But it’s not as interesting to look at the biggest and most publicized venture deals, as it is to look at the ones that may say something about future trends. So here, based on the full gamut of deals this year, is a list of the top 10 deals that seem to be prescient about the cleantech industry of tomorrow.

novomer_logo1. Novomer — In April, Novomer, a company that sequesters carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired plants and other sources in biodegradable plastic consumer products, brought in $14 million from OVP Venture Partners, Physic Ventures, Flagship Ventures, and DSM Venturing. Relying on an extensive collection of patents, Novomer’s technology has the opportunity to capture a vast amount of carbon that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere while cheaply making plastic products that don’t require as much petroleum. It’s basically greening two businesses at once.

As carbon capture becomes more popular, whether a cap-and-trade system is established in the U.S. or not, and emissions become too costly, companies like Novomer are prepared to reap the benefits. Most of the top-tier sequestration companies plan to bury the emissions underground, or dispose of it some other way. One company, CalStar Products, wants to funnel them into cheaper, greener bricks. But Novomer has one of the most innovative approaches in the mix. And now it has much of the money it needs to scale.

Silver_springs2. Silver Spring Networks — This month, Silver Spring Networks landed $100 million in equity from existing investors Google Ventures, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Northgate Capital and Foundation Capital, giving it the boost it needs to probably go public in 2010. The company, which makes networking equipment for utilities and smart meters, is leading the Smart Grid market as the most likely candidate for an IPO. The investment also indicates renewed investor faith in the smart metering segment of the business.

But now that almost every major utility in the U.S. has plans to roll out millions of meters to their coverage bases, firms are scrambling to get on board companies that these meters will depend on, like the networking and backend service providers. Now that Silver Spring has partnered with AT&T to use its wireless networks for data transfer, there is little standing in the way of it going public. The recent equity providers could be in for a big payday.

ClearEdgePowerHorzBlue3. ClearEdge Power — In August, home fuel-cell maker ClearEdge, brought in $15 million in a fifth round of funding from Applied Ventures, Big Basin Ventures and the Kohlberg family. Powered by propane or natural gas, its lead product, a fuel cell a little larger than a standard refrigerator, can provide extremely clean power for households and small businesses.

Based in Hillsboro, Ore., the company’s fuel cell has a capacity of 5-kilowatts. Even though it does release carbon dioxide, it releases far fewer emissions than power plants that burn natural gas do. It recycles the heat that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere, making it 90 percent efficient. This makes it a viable source of clean energy for home where solar panels simply wouldn’t work. The only hurdle it faces to wide adoption is its price — at $37,500 after rebate, its still slightly more expensive than solar. Further investment in the company could make it price competitive.

Picture 14. Hara — This environmental footprint tracker raised $14 million in a second round of funding led by Kleiner Perkins and including Jafco Ventures and Nth power. It’s certainly impressed the right people. Kleiner brought it into the limelight last year with a $6 million first round. With so many carbon accounting companies in the mix, what makes it unique? Hara claims to track water, gas, energy and emissions for companies looking to improve their eco-profiles.

Even though things are looking bleak for the legislation that would create a carbon cap-and-trade system in the U.S., many companies are still interested in containing waste to save money and improve their public images. Just look at Wal-Mart making efforts to catalog their  products’ footprints throughout their supply chains. If any policies are passed, even on the state level, to enforce emissions reporting, companies like Hara will benefit tremendously — and it looks like its the best funded, most PR savvy one of the bunch.

Picture 25. Aquamarine Power — This deal didn’t get much attention here in the U.S. because the wave energy company is based in Scotland. Its lead product, called the Oyster, harvests wave energy and transmits it to efficient on-shore devices for easier use. It landed $16.3 million in a first round of funding earlier this year from Scottish Enterprise, Scottish and Southern Energy and Sigma Capital.

Ocean power hasn’t really caught on yet. It’s faced a bout of technical difficulties and lackluster investor interest, but Aquamarine might have figured out how to make it work, rising to the forefront of the industry. Most of its competitors have tried to derive energy from devices that float on the top of deep water. Aquamarine’s Oyster sits underwater in shallower water. This could redefine tidal power, which the Electric Power Research Institute says could provide up to 10 gigawatts to the U.S. — enough to power about 1 million homes.

sunrun-logo6. SunRun — Also recently, home solar panel installer SunRun received $90 million in equity from Bancorp, pushing its total raised into the “serious money” category ($120 million now total). This could be enough for the company to trounce pesky competitors like Solar City, which also installs panels for a small fee in order to sell the power generated.

With SunRun leading the way, this investment could jumpstart the rooftop solar market in the U.S. Already, prices for solar equipment and materials is on the decline. And new innovations are coming out of the woodwork to make residential solar even more price competitive with traditional natural gas and coal sources of energy. If solar can become more affordable, and renewable energy policies like California’s 33 percent mandate speed things along, SunRun could become a massive business with the potential to go public.

SolyndraLogoSml7. Solyndra — This one is somewhat of a no-brainer. In September, Argonaut Ventures sunk a huge $198 million in capital into Solyndra, maker of cylindrical thin-film solar modules with high efficiencies at a relatively low cost. Certainly Argonaut wasn’t taking on that much risk, considering that its investment came six months after the U.S. Department of Energy infused the company with $535 million in low-interest loans via the federal stimulus package. It must have seemed like a pretty safe bet.

But the move was obviously forward-thinking on the firm’s part, as just three months later, Solyndra has filed to go public, with the odds looking incredibly good. The company is racing to get its new manufacturing facility in Fremont, Calif. up and running in order to meet demand and begin racking up revenue. But the blessing of the DOE has suddenly propelled it into the same ranks as public giant First Solar.

Picture 38. Soane Energy — Taking a step away from the industries that usually fall under the cleantech banner, Soane Energy, a company that offers technology that makes oil extraction cleaner, and more efficient, got $10 million in a first round of institutional funding from Chevron and oilfield investor Intervale this year. It plans to use the money to further refine its techniques. Eventually Soane says it will help substantially reduce waste of water, energy and heat in addition to carbon emissions.

So why is this investment prescient? A lot of people object to money being funneled into greening fossil fuels. There’s always a certain measure of pushback with a clean coal technology gets funding, or when supposedly green leaning venture firms spring to make natural gas technologies more efficient. But the fact of the matter is that fossil fuels — coal, natural gas, etc. — are still the cheapest, most prevalent forms of energy available, and will continue to be regardless of what policies are adopted or projects launched. Making them as eco-friendly as possible is going to be a multi-billion dollar business before they are fully replaced, and Soane is on the right track.

tendril_logo9. Tendril — In June, home energy management provider Tendril raised $30 million in a third round funding, pushing its total capital to $43.5 million. Backed by VantagePoint Venture Partners, Good Energies, Vista Ventures and RRE Ventures, the company provides a platform for regular consumers to view how much energy they are using in real time, and even how much it is costing them — encouraging them to both conserve and save on their electricity bills. This sounds pretty cool, but Tendril faces a bevy of competitors. Home energy management may just be the next cleantech bubble with players like OpenPeak, Silver Spring Networks, AlertMe, Gridpoint, EnergyHub, Control4 and more all reaching for a share of the market.

But Tendril is different. Not only does it have some of the best designed products — sleek like Apple, yet still data intensive — its stellar public relations team has given it enough momentum and brand recognition to clobber the smaller players. Its position has only been strengthened by its partnership with General Electric to interact with its appliances. Sure, Itron may be partnering with OpenPeak, and Silver Spring Networks has acquired similar service GreenBox, but neither of them have made consumer-facing home energy monitoring their core concern. Tendril has, and this focus on what regular people understand and want when it comes to their understanding of energy could make it the strongest man standing following a wave of consolidation, buyouts and the like.

From A Geek’s Geek: Daniel Raffel’s Favorite New Projects, Products and Features of 2009

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When Daniel Raffel emailed and asked if we’d be interested in publishing his list of favorite stuff from 2009 we quickly agreed. He has worked on some of the more interesting projects in Silicon Valley over the last couple of years, and has his finger on the pulse of new technology. His post is below.

As the year winds down, I thought it would be fun to take a look back at my favorite tech launches this year. As I started assembling my list and bouncing them off friends I started to group them into the following categories: New Projects, New Products and Services, Feature Updates, and iPhone Apps. This list is an admittedly subjective batch. For instance, you’ll notice I am clearly interested in these trends: games, geo services, HTML5, identity, mobile, music, social updates, and web development. I’d love to hear what you think were exciting developments this year!

New Projects

Dive into HTML5
There are so many reasons to be excited about HTML5. Mark Pilgrim’s book illuminates many of them. When it’s finally published on paper in early 2010 it is likely going to be one of the most beautiful computer text books ever.

Music Hack Day
Get a bunch of passionate, competent technologists in a room and inspire them to hack on music projects all day, cool! While I didn’t get to personally attend the Boston event I was inspired by my friend Brian’s wrapup and Anthony’s too. Both posts contain great tips for anyone running a good, hackfest. Hope to see these events continue and look forward to attending one myself.

OAuth WRAP (Web Resource Authorization Protocol)
For a variety of situations where a developer simply wants to integrate with an API via POST the OAuth dance can a bit of a headache. OAuth WRAP is not much different than OAuth except that a client only has to pass the Access Token in the HTTP Authorization header, so it completely eliminates the need for signatures. All server-to-server WRAP calls happen via SSL. An additional benefit of eliminating signatures is that one can curl OAuth-WRAP requests without requiring any special libraries. There is an active working group fleshing out a spec and I expect to see widespread adoption of this in 2010 coming via products from the major service providers (specifically Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo!).

Started by Richard Jones, Playdar is “designed to solve one problem: given the name of a track, find me a way to listen to it right now.” While it’s definitely not ready for the general public I am very excited by the progress it has been making. And, I am looking very forward to the types of projects it is likely to enable in 2010. In the meantime, if you’re super curious checkout a few demos to see where things are starting to head.

PubSubHubbub and Simple Update Protocol
Polling feeds is no fun, it’s costly and too slow. These protocols are exciting to me because they offer novel solutions so that products depending on realtime updates can more efficiently, and quickly, aggregate update notifications.

Webfinger is an emerging standard that is being designed to return metadata for a given email address over HTTP. It could be used to publish metadata about an email address such as a URL to the user’s Profile, a link to a user’s Calendar, etc. This is strategically important for OpenID because it can be used to determine if an email address is OpenID-enabled and if so kick off the OpenID authentication flow.

New Products and Services

With more businesses moving their infrastructure to the cloud there will be a need for new tools that help businesses manage their ops. Cloudkick provides a hosted service for managing infrastructure on multiple cloud platforms. They are already managing over a hundred thousand servers. As they build in support for more and more platforms it’s a natural assumption that they will attempt to support functionality that will allow users to migrate from service to service. As an early user I have been impressed with the teams response time to issues I have encountered. While Cloudkick isn’t ready to compete head to head with Ganglia, Nagios and other popular ops projects I’m looking forward to continuing to use the service.

Technically, not launched yet, but I’ve been playing with it for a little bit. Think of it as a simple vanity site for people with either no web development chops or little interest in investing time building/hosting their own website. The default templates are very aesthetic and can be easily customized. Since there is little functionality on the site other than creating a simple, web based, business card, it’s a bit unclear how much juice they have. That said, I like how easy it is to create a public profile and share your identity with the public.

There’s a competitive aspect to Foursquare that makes it both satisfying and addictive. After using it for a few months earlier in the year I decided to abandon it because I didn’t see the point of using the service. A compulsive urge sucked me back in and I have to admit that it has led to some wonderful, serendipitous moments. I’ve taken a look at a few other competitors and frankly there isn’t a huge difference (for instance, Gowalla is prettier but I have far fewer friends on it, and it has terribly obnoxious Facebook integration). The LBS space is getting crowded with FSQ wannabe’s so I’m eager to see how they continue to evolve and add user value. It will also be interesting to see if any of these apps can build a sustainable business around them, at the moment FSQ seems best positioned with their Mayor deals/etc.

Google Chrome Browser
Ever since the beta launched for OS X I’ve been spending more and more time in this browser. It’s elegant and very fast. There are definitely missing features but honestly 85% of the time its current feature set suffices. If Firefox and Safari mated this would definitely be its more evolved offspring. I’ve had mixed luck with Chromium and installing extensions but then I have no business running nightly builds. In fact, I’m impressed with how hard they make it to find the link to nightlies, smart. I’m looking forward to bookmark syncing and non-buggy extension support in 2010. In the meantime, I’m happy with the beta – it’s great to see so much attention to detail, you don’t get there packing on every single feature you can think up.

C|Net has to be a bit worried because GDGT feels like the new place where folks are talking about tech products and figuring out what they wanna buy. There are significantly more reviews, I can quickly qualify the reputation of the contributor(s), there’s a community to ping for advice and suggestions, and there are significantly more useful stats to help me make a purchasing decision. For someone interested in making informed decisions about the gadgets they buy this is a great new resource. For those who are passionate about the gadgets they already own this is a great place to evangelize and discuss hacks/etc.

I have a tendency to enjoy making well-researched, informed decisions. So it seems natural to share what I’ve learned once I’ve invested the time and found the perfect water bottle or picked out a portable digital audio recorder. Hunch provides simple tools that make it easy to roleplay through scenarios that have already been explored by others. One might choose to think of it as a wikipedia for decisions.

It’s exciting to see a platform that enables makers to raise the funding they need to do their thing. It’s also inspiring to see so many successful projects that have already launched. There are all sorts of ways to pursue the things you’re most passionate about and Kickstarter is one more toolkit in your arsenal. BTW it also feels great to fund someone with a creative idea.

New Super Mario Bros. Wii
I probably hadn’t turned on my Wii in over a year until this game came out. The gameplay is essentially a 2D scroller that’s very similar to the original Super Mario Bros for the NES. The characters have a few new moves and the levels are significantly more creative than earlier franchises in the series. I never got tired of the original game and this version feels like it has a lot to keep me coming back for more. The multiplayer version is also very entertaining.

It’s hard to remember the last time I paid for something and had a delightful point of sale purchasing experience, but that’s exactly how I feel everytime I pay by credit card at Sightglass Coffee. The software that a customer interacts with at a Square vendor is just lovely. But, it’s the business plan (and hardware approach) that’s brilliant – Square is reducing the barrier for small businesses to setup a merchant account and providing inexpensive hardware that enables them to offer credit card services for next to nothing. I’m sold as a consumer and a small business owner. I’m very excited to see this running on more devices and in more types of sales environments in the near future. I also hope to see them explore premium readers with more advanced industrial designs, such as the Incase reader that Apple stores are already using.

Feature Updates

Android 2.0
While Android is still a bit too rough for me to consider ditching my iPhone (and 3rd party apps) for the 2.0 software update demonstrates that it’s quickly catching up to the iPhone OS. If you use multiple Google services the integration is all the more compelling. At this continued pace, 2010 is going to be a massive year for the Android ecosystem.

Apple iPhone OS 3.0
It’s rare to get excited again about a phone that you’ve had for years but the Apple iPhone OS 3.0 update included many great new features that brought my 1st gen iPhone back to life . It also rubbed in how much faster my new iPhone 3GS really was. The features I most appreciated were: cut/copy/paste, ability to create meetings via Exchange using ActiveSync, and wider use of landscape mode in a variety of apps. I’ll spare you the internet tethering gripe.

Apple Snow Leopard
I’m a big fan of doing less stuff better so I was very supportive of seeing Apple focus the majority of this release on under the hood performance enhancements. Their investments show too, I have a few older Macs around the house and upgrading to Snow Leopard freed up on average around 10gb of disk space, required less operating RAM during most common tasks, and caused all of my macs to feel a lot more responsive (fewer spinning wheels of death.) While there were basically no new features that got me excited the speed enhancements were well worth the minor upgrade costs.

Boxee Beta
While I haven’t logged significant time playing with the latest beta of Boxee the user interface changes are very promising. This is on my list of things to further investigate. It’s exciting to see innovation in both the 10-foot experience and internet TV space.

Facebook launched a number of impressive new things this year, the things that stand out the most to me are: an awesome new iPhone app, the Facebook Connect for iPhone SDK, a live streaming box for 3rd party sites, the Facebook Desktop Notifications app, and what felt like a few re-designs. It’s inspiring to see a company stay true to its original objectives and still manage to innovate.

Flickr Photo People Tagging
One of the most compelling Facebook features is the ability to tag a friend in a photo, doing so creates a viral thread that triggers a lot of clickthru’s and engagement. It was safe to assume that Flickr would eventually add similar functionality and this year they did. I was pleased to discover that people tagging on Flickr was designed with additional sensitivity around a users privacy. You can explicitly define which contacts of yours can people tag you in a photo. And, Flickr explicitly spells out what happens if you remove a photo tagged with your identity (nobody else can add it back). There’s nothing wrong with borrowing a feature a competitor has but this is an excellent example of how to add your own flavor to it.

Google Voice
GrandCentral was shutdown this year and logically rebranded as Google Voice. After being ported to the Google platform and re-launched users were given a slew of awesome new features. While I’ll admit I’m still holding out for a number portability feature I’m a fan of how disruptive they are attempting to be. And, I’m a fan of numerous enhancements they’ve shipped this year alone, some of my favorite include: voicemail to text transcription (needs more tuning), free web based text messaging, the ability to change your number, and easy steps to allow you to forward your mobile voicemail to Google.

Kindle Software Update 2.3
There’s nothing like a little competition in the ebook market to cause Amazon to add basic features to the Kindle 2 that it could (and should) have supported all along. Regardless, thanks to this software update it’s nice that my Kindle 2 now natively supports PDFs.

Firefox and Webkit Support for Geolocation APIs in HTML5
It’s very satisfying to see my browser starting to have a clue regarding where I am. While very few services are actively using this functionality today the fact that browsers now support it is wonderful!

Firefox Support for the HTML5 File API
It’s unfortunate that most webservices have to use Flash to support decent file uploading experiences. Now that Javascript can read the contents of local files web developers will have the opportunity to create more refined file sharing experiences for both online and offline applications. I’m not sure if this is currently available in Webkit but beta’s of Firefox 3.6 support it.

For the past 2 years I’ve been using Spotify as my default streaming music player and it just keeps getting better. This year I was impressed by two specific features: their massive increase in library size and their approach to the mobile experience. If you depend on the cloud for your tunes the size of the library matters. Spotify has spent the past year aggressively growing their library by tens of thousands of tracks per week. That’s much easier said than done, particularly when you’re trying to add compelling media that people actually want to listen to. I am consistently impressed when I search for something random and find they have it. While Spotify will never have absolutely everything under the sun their library consistently satisfies my very demanding appetite for both the latest releases and older classics. This year Spotify also released mobile applications that allow you to locally cache media on your phone so that you can listen to your favorite music whether or not you have a internet connection. In the year ahead I look forward to seeing how they innovate around discovery, sharing and library resolution (ie building up a list of stuff they know I already have in my local iTunes Library.)

Twitter Lists
Twitter has long had a discovery problem. Finding and surfacing what you want to follow isn’t easy. The lists feature still requires you to invest time if you want to make one but it also gives you the opportunity to track things that others have put the time into assembling (such as food carts in San Francisco or Great Chefs.) For me, the nicest part is your main feed isn’t polluted so you can casually and passively track things without adding a lot of noise.

YQL is a developer tool that treats the internet as a giant source of data. The team was on a tear this year, amongst other things they launched the execute element to enable arbitrary server-side code to run inside tables, open data tables to enable anyone to create their own API bindings for YQL, hosted storage tables to build on top of Yahoos cloud store (sherpa), and “query aliases” that let developers name their YQL queries using meaningful short names.

iPhone Apps

My data, backed up, and now available on my iPhone too. Brilliant.

A very creative puzzle game that will quickly get you addicted.

An addictive game that sets the bar very high: creative use of multitouch capabilities, beautiful graphics, innovative gameplay, and great music. Overall, an inspiring piece of work on multiple levels.

The Evernote iPhone app got a series of major updates this year that makes it an even more useful productivity tool for note taking and backup/sync.

I particularly enjoy games that you can drop into for a few minutes. This game has great graphics and a simple concept that turns out to be rather complex to master.

Tweetie 2
Super attractive Twitter client for the iPhone, lots of nice little touches.

Ever checked out a new neighborhood and wondered what property there might cost? This application is extremely interesting to launch and drive/walk around with.

Crunch Network: MobileCrunch Mobile Gadgets and Applications, Delivered Daily.

CNET co-founder’s Whiskey Media raises $2.5M

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whiskey_media logo

Whiskey Media, a company that has built websites around topics like comic books and computer games, has raised $2.5 million in funding.

The Sausalito, Calif. company was created by Shelby Bonnie, who previously co-founded online news network CNET. Whiskey Media sites are a mix of directories and online communities, and include ComicVine, AnimeVice, and GiantBomb (the topics of the first two sites should be self-evident, the third focuses on computer games).

When Bonnie launched Whiskey Media last year, he told The New York Times that he wanted to use a small staff to build popular sites: “If it is a place that people are passionate around, and you make it easy to be passionate, you find a very small group of people can make something extraordinary and make it comprehensive.

The funding was first reported on peHUB based on a regulatory filing, and the company has since confirmed the news on its blog, saying the money comes from “true family and close friends.”

And what can we expect as the subject Whiskey’s next site? Perhaps science fiction.

The Top 15 Stories on LouisGray.com in 2009

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Ever since I stopped doing my monthly summaries on blog statistics, as some had judged them as internal navel gazing and self-gratification, I haven’t talked much about statistics and numbers, hits, page views or visitors. But in the interest of sharing, and wrapping up the year 2009, I thought I would expand on my yearly summary post from last week and show just what visitors were looking for that drove traffic. In aggregate, I should mention that total traffic in the year was not dramatically higher than 2008, which I take to mean more people read the content via RSS or in aggregators. In addition, there were fewer posts on the site in 2009 than in 2008, thanks to reduced guest posts.

The Top 15 stories authored in 2009, in order of highest traffic to least:

1. Google Wave Hits Shore. Flash Flood Warning In Effect.
October 1, 2009

The summary of my initial reactions to Google Wave was surprisingly visible. Although I felt as if my thoughts were actually late to the game, the post ended up being far and away the highest trafficked article of the year. The spike was led by Robert Scoble posting how much he thought Wave was overhyped. Subsequently, someone posted our pair of posts to Slashdot, and Der Spiegel of Germany also highlighted the summary. Although I was not overly negative of Wave, I did say it was very busy, and my reaction often got lumped in with Robert’s much more critical response.

2. 40 Key Elements to Getting Started In Social Media
January 5, 2009

At the beginning of the year, Mike Fruchter wrote an extremely detailed guide on the necessary tools required to be engaged in social media. His effort was rewarded through the post being among the most bookmarked on Delicious, and being highlighted by Darren Rowse of ProBlogger. Mike is one of those talents that I hope to be working alongside someday, should I ever get the chance.

3. The Story of Google’s Closure: Advanced JavaScript Tools
November 8, 2009

When Google released Closure tools to the Web, response to this was fairly neutral. Most folks tended to just repeat the news. But I thought it made more sense to ask Google developers how they had benefited from the tool while in house. Mihai Parparita of Google Reader gave a wonderful first person account of his use, and other geeks appreciated it. It was featured on Hacker News.

4. FTC Disclosures Made Simple For Bloggers With Conflicts
December 4, 2009

Among my most fun posts of the year was a collaboration with Jeannine Schaeffer earlier this month on some icons to help bloggers disclose relationships to the FTC. It was a fun idea, and Jeannine came through in a big way. Mashable and others highlighted the story, and I’ve enjoyed seeing the humorous icons make their way around the Web in the weeks since.

5. Facebook Drops the Walled Garden, Opens Up Possibility for Track
March 16, 2009

Jesse Stay, a preeminent expert on both Twitter and Facebook, highlighted Facebook’s increased openness and the ability to let updates leak into Google and the wider Web at large. He is the author of multiple books on Facebook worth checking out if you ever want to write Facebook apps or just learn more about the largest social network in the world.

6. Twitter’s Search Engine Is Very, Very, Broken
May 21, 2009

As Twitter has grown well beyond initial expectations, the service’s fragility has shown in a number of ways. Among the most visible has been the disappointing index from the company’s search engine. It’s now widely known that the engine only goes back a few days, and it doesn’t index some of the most visible accounts, making data discovery and retention difficult. It would be wonderful if this were to be solved in 2010.

7. Could A Real Apple Fan Completely “Go Google”?
October 29, 2009

At risk of having to throw away my Apple fanboy card, I became more entranced by Google in 2009, thanks to the company releasing solid product after solid product, many of which competed head to head for my attention with Apple’s well-known suite of offerings, including iLife and the iPhone. The more I thought about it, the more realistic I thought about switching, and I am definitely watching this space closely.

8. What FriendFeed Needs to Do To Grow and Keep New Users
January 2, 2009

At the beginning of the year, seeing a lack of growth on FriendFeed’s part that met my own aggressive expectations, I gave some unsolicited feedback as to how I thought the company could improve. They had other ideas, and launched many great tools, but didn’t go the way I had thought. Months later, they were absorbed into Facebook.

9. The Newest Annoyance on Twitter: Follow and Refollow Spam
March 7, 2009

Twitter’s problems weren’t limited to their own back-end infrastructure. Users often got tired of being bombarded by different types of spam, either on the service itself, through direct messages, or through what I found as refollow spam. Some automated accounts were following my account every few hours to get in front of me and my connections. This annoyance was thwarted in time.

10. iPhone Call Recording: It Makes Too Much Sense Not to Do
August 9, 2009

While BlogTalkRadio’s CinchCast product has largely filled this need, it seems to me that Apple could easily enable us to record phone call conversations for interviews and podcasts. So far, my understanding is that applications posted to the iTunes Store that accomplish this very thing have been slowed or stopped outright.

11. How To Cleanly Separate Personal and Work Social Media Personalities
March 22, 2009

Many people are looking for a way to act in social media on behalf of their company, while maintaining their own personality. Having accomplished this myself, I thought I would share how. It seems many others were curious and this post remained popular and shared through the second half of the year.

12. Blogger Quietly Turns Ten, Plans Slew of Feature Upgrades
August 23, 2009

As one Blogger holdout who hasn’t moved to WordPress, I watch the platform closely, and Blogger turned ten years old this fall, without fanfare. Following my quick summary, this surprisingly hit the front page of Digg (only my second time ever), which was appreciated, but befuddling, as it was not a huge story, in my opinion.

13. Hi Facebook, It’s Me, FriendFeed. This Relationship? It’s Complicated.
August 10, 2009

The announcement that Facebook acquired FriendFeed struck the many people who like FriendFeed in a very personal way. I have talked to many top users of the site who felt as if the announcement had hit them emotionally, as no other simple merger or acquisition had before. Much of the concern lies in the fact that Facebook has a reputation that runs contrary to what some hoped FriendFeed would become. My amusing tongue in cheek response tried to explain just how we were feeling, rather than encapsulating the news like many other sites already had.

14. Feedly Explore Highlights Recommended Blogs, Reader Activity
September 26, 2009

Feedly, a 2008 debut here, has been among the most popular ways to get RSS updates. The service’s Explore feature enhanced feed discovery. After posting this piece it was highlighted within Feedly and many users came to the blog to see what was new.

15. Twitter Caps Following Limits, Denting Auto-Follow Services
April 20, 2009

In a year I wrote many good things about Twitter, it’s no surprise the more negative stories gained traction. Among them was a move that blocked some Twitter developers from using advanced auto-follow tools, reducing the option for some accounts to be automated.

In a year with more than 500 posts (the fourth straight above 500), these 15 top ones showed me that people are always eager to learn more about Google and Twitter, and how to best use these social media tools. While I don’t let traffic define what I intend to cover, it’s always worth making sure I keep on topic for what the readers want to see.

Could Apple sell 10 million tablets in a year?

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apple tabletAnother day, another Apple rumor. Today, we’re told that Apple expects to build 10 million of its as-yet-unannounced  tablet computers in its first year of release.

But this one comes from Kai-fu Lee, the former Google executive, who made the prediction on his blog and said that a friend familiar with the project told him that.

Apple has reportedly scheduled an announcement about the device for Jan. 26. The device will sell for less than $1,000 and feature a 10.1-inch multitouch screen with 3-D graphics. Lee said it would look like a large iPhone. Lee is now the head of Innovation Works, a Beijing-based technology fund.

Selling ten million of anything in the first year is a tall order for any company. Lee said that the information didn’t come from Apple or its manufacturer, Foxconn. It’s amazing how the hype cycle favors Apple. As we think about the end of the decade, it’s funny to recall that most everyone, except for the die-hard Apple fans, thought that Apple couldn’t do anything right 10 years ago.

2009 In Social Media: A Cartoon Review

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2009cartoonreview_1209.pngIt was the okay-est of times, it was the meh-est of times.

From the election of the first American social media president… to a nod to social media from the mainstreamiest of mainstream media (Oxford Dictionary, for god’s sake!)… it’s been a big, tumultuous sprawling toddler of a year, prone to tantrums and potty accidents but adorable nonetheless.

Here, then, is 2009 the way it was meant to be remembered… in doodles.


More Noise to Signal.


Mint’s Aaron Patzer: Quicken’s future is online

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aaron patzerThree months after finance software maker Intuit bought online finance startup Mint.com, Aaron Patzer, founder of Mint and now Intuit’s general manager of personal finance, is still giving a lot of thought to how Mint and Intuit fit together.

Right after Intuit bought his startup, Patzer told me that the online version of Intuit’s personal finance software Quicken would eventually become “powered by Mint.” A couple of months later, he said Quicken Online would be shut down while its customer data was migrated to an improved version of Mint that incorporates “the best of both” and was integrated with Intuit’s other software. And when I talked to Patzer earlier this month, he outlined a long-term vision that’s even more web-centric and Mint-y — not just for Quicken Online, but also for the more established, traditional version of Quicken.

“What I’d like to is combine them all into one codebase,” Patzer said.

In other words, there will no longer be a distinction between Mint the website and Quicken the software you install on your computer. Instead, there will be one website where all Intuit users manage their personal finances.

For more traditional customers who don’t want to go online every time they need to manage their finances, there will be an offline version, but it won’t take the form of boxed software — it will just be a desktop extension of the website, built using technology like Microsoft Silverlight or Adobe AIR. So users can view their accounts while offline, then “anytime they want, they can flip it up to the cloud,” he said.

To be clear, Patzer wasn’t talking about Intuit’s product plans, just his thoughts on where things are going. I’m guessing there will be plenty of resistance to these ideas from within Intuit, and from longtime customers. On the other hand, it’s a vision that makes sense, especially as more people become more comfortable with storing this information online, and as Intuit’s desktop products add online components like app stores.

More concretely, Patzer said Mint will be switching from Yodlee to Intuit technology to handle its bank transactions, and it’ll be adding support for many more banks. The Mint iPhone app will add Quicken Online’s ability to find nearby ATMs and track cash transactions. And while Patzer is currently splitting his time between the Mint and Intuit offices, the two campuses will merge at the end of January, he said.

Attracting Foreign Startups: Access To U.S. Could Get Easier

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Jared PolisIt may soon be easier for foreign startup entrepreneurs to set up shop in the United States thanks to immigration reform which would create a specialized startup visa program.

The proposed program would make more visas available to entrepreneurs who have at least $250,000 in funding from a U.S.-based venture capital firm, or $100,000 in angel funding. The startup must also have plans to either create five new jobs every two years, raise at least $1 million every two years, or generate at least $1 million in revenue.


The current system grants 10,000 visas each year primarily to investors that have financed over $1 million with plans to create at least 10 full-time positions. It also allows lower benchmarks for investors in less wealthy countries.

However, the new requirements – which are part of a bill proposed by Colorado Congressman Jared Polis (above) – would fall far beneath the current benchmarks, making it easier for smaller companies and those from underprivileged countries to create jobs in America.

Paul Graham The idea is the brainchild of programmer, essayist and Y Combinator partner Paul Graham who first wrote of what he called “the founder visa” in April of 2009.

In some cases, inspired entrepreneurs enter the U.S., but after their ideas flourish and their visas run out they are in danger of being forced to go home to start their businesses. Investor, entrepreneur and co-founder of Foundry Group, Brad Feld experienced this first-hand at the TechStars program in Boulder, Colorado this summer as two of the ten groups had foreign founders.

“Over the summer we struggled to figure out ways to get them Visas – all of the proposed approaches were expensive, risky, and tiresome,” Feld says. “Both companies are still trying, but each are now seriously considering returning to their home countries to build their businesses.”


Along with other entrepreneurs, start-up advisors and venture capital investors, Feld has co-founded StartupVisa.com, a homepage Feld says has been a resource for the movement inspired by Paul Graham’s vision. “In the next few months, we’ll be expanding it aggressively to incorporate grass roots support and feedback,” he told ReadWriteWeb.

One of StartupVisa’s contributors, Manu Kumar, helps spread the word about visa reform by recounting his own struggles. “There were multiple points at which I came very close to having to leave the United States because of the visa issues,” says Kumar.

As the country attempts to pull itself out of one of the largest recessions in history, it only seems logical to make it as easy as possible for foreign entrepreneurs to enter the country and create jobs for Americans.

“I think this would have such a visible effect on the economy that it would make the legislator who introduced the bill famous,” says Graham. “The only way to know for sure would be to try it, and that would cost practically nothing.


Top 100 most blogged about iPhone apps of 2010

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doodlejumpiPhone app-tracking blog AppStoreHQ has counted the posts on 68 blogs to determine not what apps we download, but what one hundred apps we talk about the most. You can skip to the list, or read the blog post describing their methodology.

No surprise that Facebook and Navigon’s MobileNavigator made the Top 10, but the list is also topped by a few quirky entries:

  1. pocketgodFlight Control
  2. Beejive IM 3.0 with Push
  3. Pocket God
  4. Real Racing
  5. Facebook
  6. IM+
  7. Tweetie 2
  8. Quickoffice Mobile Office Suite
  9. MobileNavigator
  10. Doodle Jump

flightcontrolPocket God and Doodle Jump are two lighthearted — OK, two silly iPhone games that chart in Apple’s Top 10 most downloaded paid apps. The two games’ developers have even worked together to incorporate each others’ characters into both games.

What I want to know is: What is there to blog about Flight Control? Even positive reviews in the App Store admit it’s kind of boring. A Google blog search shows it making lots of “best app” lists, though. That’s probably what sent it to the top of AppStoreHQ’s chart.

The other notable thing about the list is that Apple’s current #1 download didn’t make the list at all, even though it’s been out for three months. For some unknown reason, it seems no one blogs about Skee-Ball.

The most anticipated video games of 2010

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It’s that time of year again, when people look ahead to the new year and salivate over tomorrow’s videogames. 2010 is shaping up to be a stellar year for hardcore gamers. And with so many games coming out, narrowing down the list to just 10 wasn’t an easy task. But we’ve eliminated games that haven’t officially been announced yet and focused on big games for each console, as well as the PC. We’ve also arranged these games in alphabetical order.

Although there are dozens of big games across every genre, this list includes samples from the key game types across platforms and PC. Any way you look at 2010, it’s going to be a very good year for gaming. And with the recession finally becoming a thing of the past, these big games – and many others – should account for an upswing in software sales come Jan. 1, 2011. Here’s a peek at last year’s list. And vote for your favorite at the bottom.

dc universe onlineDC Universe Online (PlayStation 3, PC). Sony Online Entertainment/Sony Online Entertainment Austin Studio. Despite the recent success of J.J. Abrams Star Trek film reboot and Atari’s upcoming release of Cryptic Studio’s Star Trek Online, the standout massively multiplayer online game experience of 2010 should be DC Universe Online. As the first licensed comic book MMO game to market, DC Universe Online has the potential to attract fans of The Dark Knight, Wonder Woman and Superman to a huge new world filled with superheroes and master villains. With an emphasis on PlayStation 3-style arcade controls, DC Universe Online is the first MMO designed for the console audience. SOE Austin has used Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 3 to create third-person action filled with customizable superpowers and completely destructible environments. The ability to join forces (for good or evil) and battle together adds a multiplayer experience not possible in stand-alone games like Electronic Arts’ Superman Returns or Eidos’ recent masterpiece, Batman: Arkham Asylum. Cryptic Studios already showed the potential of comics with its City of Heroes/Villains franchise for NcSoft. Now SOE, which has 10 years of experience with EverQuest, hopes 75 years of DC Comics mythology will be the next big thing in MMO gaming.

epic mickey 2Disney Epic Mickey (Wii). Disney Interactive Studios/Junction Point. At first glance, Warren Spector, the man behind such revered games as Ultima, Deus Ex, and Thief doesn’t seem like the first choice to reboot Mickey Mouse for Disney. But it turns out that Spector was a fan of Walt Disney’s second creation from way back. The new game pits Mickey against his brother, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, who happens to be Walt’s first animated creation and the star of 26 silent cartoons for Universal back in 1927. The new game takes place in the Cartoon Wasteland where old characters go to live. Oswald rules over this world, which Mickey stumbles upon. The player will use the Wii Remote to literally paint or erase the many areas within this world, changing the very playing field before their eyes. Designed for a broad audience, Disney is banking on the ubiquitous Wii, which itself has lost steam recently, to entice families to see Mickey’s first game adventure in years. From a bigger picture perspective, this game could be a launching point for a new, more mischievous mouse across other media moving forward.

god of war iiiGod of War III (PlayStation 3). Sony Computer Entertainment America/Santa Monica Studios. Gamers have been waiting what seems like an eternity since March 2007 when Kratos’ exploits last appeared on a console. Sony had success with God of War: Chains of Olympus in 2008 and more recently with the God of War Collection, a remastered high-definition version of the first two games on Blu-ray Disc for PS3. And fans have been buying up Sony Pictures Home Entertainment’s District 9 Blu-ray to play the God of War 3 demo. The ex-Spartan warrior is out for revenge in this third game, which features towering giants and lethal creatures. The leap from PS2 to PS3 is truly mesmerizing when playing the new game, which should help Sony sell more hardware throughout the year. This is a killer app and it’s exactly the kind of game that showcases what’s possible on PS3, a console that has been gaining steam since 2009’s price drops.

halo reachHalo Reach (Xbox 360). Microsoft Game Studios/Bungie. Given the recent success of Halo: ODST, gamers have not grown tired of the Halo franchise. Next year, Halo Reach takes fans to the beginning of the conflict between the humans and the Covenant. This prequel to Halo is set in the colony world of Reach, one of the United Nations Space Command’s most important military centers (and training center for the Orbital Drop Shock Troopers). Players step into the role of the Lieutenant, a member of the SPARTAN supersoldiers Noble Team. When it comes to shooters, Bungie knows what its fans want – and they have a lot of fans. This fall 2010 release is a guaranteed blockbuster. The big question is whether Microsoft will release both a new Halo and Gears of War game in the same quarter. Microsoft and Epic have been mum on Gears of War 3, but given the past development timetable, 2010 would be the next release year for that shooter franchise.

lost planet 2Lost Planet 2 (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC). Capcom. Capcom hit one out of the park when it released Lost Planet: Extreme Condition in North America in January 2007. This sequel takes place 10 years later and replaces the snowy landscapes of the original with a variety of locales, including dense jungles. Up to four players will be able to take part in the new co-op mode, which also supports fully customizable characters and RPG-style experience points. Gamers can also engage in online multiplayer action for up to 16 players. Capcom, which recently delayed the release of this game to an undisclosed time, has been busy improving gameplay elements. Players will be able to control the mech-style Vital Suits while teammates hang on to the sides and take out enemies. Hollywood has taken notice, as well, with a Warner Bros. Pictures movie in development. This franchise is poised to deliver across media in 2010 and beyond.

mass effect 2Mass Effect 2 (Xbox 360, PC). Electronic Arts/BioWare. When BioWare releases a role-playing game, it’s like printing money. The acclaimed studio consistently lives up to the hype that surrounds each new game. Mass Effect took the gaming world by storm in November 2007 introducing a sci-fi universe that was rich in story, characters and action. One of the key tenants of BioWare has been to create emotional connections with virtual characters. Mass Effect 2 promises to push this envelope further. This sequel once again focuses on Commander Shepard, who must put together a crew and embark on a suicide mission to save the universe. The second part of a planned trilogy, Mass Effect 2 will ride the wave of accolades and the huge sales of the original to further expand its gaming audience in late January.

modnation racersModNation Racers (PlayStation 3). Sony Computer Entertainment America/United Front Games. At the end of 2010, this game might not sit atop sales leaders like Sony’s Gran Turismo 5, but like Media Molecule’s LittleBigPlanet, ModNation Racers should usher in even more user-generated games across genres. While the idea behind LittleBigPlanet was in the right place, that game was far too difficult for mainstream players to create content for. United Front Games has focused on simplicity as well as creativity, allowing even novice players to build a complex racetrack in just minutes. For those who want to dig deeper, there’s plenty more under the hood and time invested in creating tracks will be enjoyed by everyone online. Gamers have seen customizable vehicles and characters before, and even track editors; but there’s never been such an intuitive package that allows one’s mind to race as fast as the kart racers they create. Nintendo has made a killing over the years with Mario Kart, and now Sony has ModNation Racers. It’s also worth noting that developer United Front Games is also building Activision’s True Crime reboot, which makes this independent studio one to watch for 2010 and beyond.

splinter cell convictionTom Clancy’s  Splinter Cell: Conviction (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC). Ubisoft/Ubisoft Montreal. Originally slated to ship back in Fall 2007, Ubisoft’s acclaimed Montreal studio literally went back to the drawing board to ensure that the fifth installment of the best-selling spy franchise remained a blockbuster. The extra development time has resulted in one of the most mainstream-friendly games in the franchise. There’s even a new prequel cooperative story mode that introduces two new characters, Archer and Kestrel. In the single-player game, Sam Fisher’s out to avenge the death of his daughter and he’s gone rogue, which means Third Echelon is on his trail, along with an assortment of bad guys. The game borrows from Hollywood to let the environments and interactions propel the story forward. Fisher can blend into these open worlds more seamlessly (taking a page from Assassin’s Creed) and he has a new arsenal of weapons and gadgets at his disposal. Ubisoft made the right decision to invest more time and money into one of its key franchises, and gamers will buy this one up as a result.

starcraft iiStarCraft II: Wings of Liberty (PC and Mac). Activision Blizzard/Blizzard Entertainment. The PC games business has very much become a franchise-driven business. Blizzard Entertainment, which dominates the PC gaming market with its World of Warcraft franchise, is finally ready to release its sequel to the 1998 real-time strategy (RTS) game. This long-awaited game is so big that it’s already encompassing three parts. Wings of Liberty will focus on the Terrans, human exiles from Earth, while two expansion packs will explore the insectoid Zerg (Heart of the Swarm) and the psionic alien Protoss (Legacy of the Void). While the focus of this game has always been multiplayer strategy, each of these three experiences offers a rich single-player game that spans about 30 missions. With new non-linear gameplay, players will be able to explore this hostile 26th Century universe as they please, or jump into the fray as one of the three factions and engage in combat on Battle.net. Once unleashed, look for StarCraft II to rule the PC charts for quite some time.

tron evolutionTRON Evolution (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC). Disney Interactive Studios/Propaganda Games. This time next year TRON Legacy should be doing the kind of 3D box office that Avatar is achieving now. While the final word on whether Ubisoft’s Avatar game has lived up to the hype is still out (critics booed it), the potential audience for both the TRON movie and game is much bigger. After all, the movie is set in a videogame universe. And there has been a solid track record of successes from the TRON arcade game to Tron 2.0 PC, Xbox and GameBoy titles of 2003. The new game will bridge the gap between the 1982 film (which launched the computer-generated imagery revolution in Hollywood) and the December 2010 3D movie (which was filmed with Avatar’s camera system). Actress Olivia Wilde will reprise her role as Quorra from TRON Legacy in the new Evolution game, which should further fuel the fanboy fire to make both the movie and the game a success next Christmas.

TenYears: The Biggest Product Flops of the Decade

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It’s almost January 1st, 2010 and we’ve been mulling over our favorites of 2009 – and the previous decade. Here we present another installment of our “TenYears” list.

We already did the biggest losers in the tech industry but why not talk about the biggest product flops? Here are a few of the biggest failures of the decade, starting with one monster release from a fairly well-known company.

Commerce and the Wealth of Nations

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I was struck the other day by an article in the New York Times that describes the different approaches of the US and China to Afghanistan, in which the US shoulders the burden of war, while China reaps the benefits of commerce. Quoting from the article, I tweeted: “American troops help make Afghanistan safe for Chinese commerce.”

In response, @kamalram wrote: “During WW1 and the early days of WW2, the United States focused on commerce when much of Europe was at war. History gets repeatd”

Pundits have long proclaimed the 21st century “the Chinese century”, and @kamalram may well be right that America’s wars against terrorism are a turning point. But the lesson is broader than that China is securing rights to rare-earth minerals in Afghanistan while the US gets mired in a messy war. The question is who creates the industries of the 21st century, which system of government is best at encouraging innovation, and which citizens have the drive to tackle hard problems and turn them into great opportunities.

This line of thought in turn put me in mind of Thomas Friedman’s recent column, Off to the races, in which he argued:

I’ve long believed there are two basic strategies for dealing with climate change — the “Earth Day” strategy and the “Earth Race” strategy. This Copenhagen climate summit was based on the Earth Day strategy. It was not very impressive. This conference produced a series of limited, conditional, messy compromises, which it is not at all clear will get us any closer to mitigating climate change at the speed and scale we need….

I am an Earth Race guy. I believe that averting catastrophic climate change is a huge scale issue. The only engine big enough to impact Mother Nature is Father Greed: the Market. Only a market, shaped by regulations and incentives to stimulate massive innovation in clean, emission-free power sources can make a dent in global warming. And no market can do that better than America’s….

In the cold war, we had the space race: who could be the first to put a man on the moon. Only two countries competed, and there could be only one winner. Today, we need the Earth Race….

Whether you’re a “warmist” or a “denier,” you should have no doubt that green technology is going to be one of the biggest business opportunities of the 21st century. As Friedman continues:

Even if the world never warms another degree, population is projected to rise from 6.7 billion to 9 billion between now and 2050, and more and more of those people will want to live like Americans. In this world, demand for clean power and energy efficient cars and buildings will go through the roof.

Harnessing the market is also key to my thinking about “government as a platform” (aka “Government 2.0). As I wrote in an as-yet-unpublished chapter for the upcoming O’Reilly book, Open Government: Collaboration, Transparency, and Participation in Practice:

If you look at the history of the computer industry, the innovations that define each era are frameworks that enabled a whole ecosystem of participation from companies large and small. The personal computer was such a platform. So was the World Wide Web. This same platform dynamic is playing out right now in the recent success of the Apple iPhone. Where other phones had a limited menu of applications developed by the phone vendor and a few carefully chosen partners, Apple built a framework that allowed virtually anyone to build applications for the phone, leading to an explosion of creativity, with more than 100,000 applications appearing for the phone in little more than eighteen months, and more than 3000 new ones now appearing every week.

This is the right way to frame the question of “Government 2.0.” How does government become an open platform that allows people inside and outside government to innovate? How do you design a system in which all of the outcomes aren’t specified beforehand, but instead evolve through interactions between government and its citizens, as a service provider enabling its user community?

It’s worth noting that the idea of government as a platform applies to every aspect of the government’s role in society. For example, the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, which committed the United States to building an interstate highway system, was a triumph of platform thinking, a key investment in facilities that had a huge economic and social multiplier effect. Though government builds the network of roads that tie our cities together, it does not operate the factories and farms and businesses that use that network: that opportunity is afforded to “we the people.” Government does set policies for the use of those roads, however, regulating interstate commerce, levying gasoline taxes as well as fees on heavy vehicles that damage the roads, setting and policing speed limits, specifying criteria for the safety of bridges and tunnels, and even for vehicles that travel on the roads, and performing many other responsibilities appropriate to a “platform provider.”

While it has become common to ridicule the 1990s description of the Internet as the “information superhighway,” the analogy is actually quite apt. Like the internet, the road system is a “network of networks,” in which national, state, local, and private roads all interconnect, for the most part without restrictive fees. We have the same rules of the road everywhere in the country, yet anyone, down to a local landowner adding a driveway to an unimproved lot, can connect to the nation’s system of roads.

The launch of weather, communications, and positioning satellites is a similar exercise of platform strategy. When you use a car navigation system to guide you to your destination, you are using an application built on the government platform, extended and enriched by massive private sector investment. When you check the weather – in the newspaper, on TV, or on the internet, you are using applications built using the National Weather Service (or equivalent services in other countries) as a platform. Until recently, the private sector had neither the resources nor the incentives to create space-based infrastructure. Government as a platform provider created capabilities that enrich the possibilities for subsequent private sector investment.

There are other areas where the appropriate role of the platform provider and the marketplace of application providers is less clear. Health care is a contentious example. Should the government be providing health care, or leaving it to the private sector? The answer is in the outcomes. If the private sector is doing a good job of providing necessary services that lead to the overall increase in the vitality of the country, government should stay out. But just as the interstate highway system increased the vitality of our transportation infrastructure, it is certainly possible that greater government involvement in health care could do the same. But it should do so, if the lesson is correctly learned, not by competing with the private sector to deliver health services, but by investing in infrastructure (and “rules of the road”) that will lead to a more robust private sector ecosystem.

…platforms always require choices, and those choices must periodically be revisited. Platforms lose their power when they fail to adapt. The US investment in the highway system helped to vitiate our railroads, shaping a society of automobiles and suburbs. Today, we need to rethink the culture of sprawl and fossil fuel use that platform choice encouraged. A platform that once seemed so generative of positive outcomes can become a dead weight over time.

As we head into the second decade of the 21st century, we as a nation, we as a world need to make good choices about where we invest our time, our resources, and our ingenuity. It’s the job of our leaders to make choices that give us leverage, that is, that create multiplier effects on our efforts.

The choice isn’t between climate change alarmism and climate change denial, or between big government and small government. The choice is between dynamism and stagnation, between leadership that creates opportunity and leadership that protects the status quo, and, at bottom, between effective and ineffective strategies for increasing the total wealth of our society.

And of course, that wealth is more than material. Quality of life means more than quantity of stuff, and a single well designed device (or immaterial service delivered through said device) can deliver more value than a mountain of schlock. We all want to consume less and enjoy more, and it’s certainly possible that there will be revolutions in which the next great innovation is itself a technology platform, a substrate of possibility on which immaterial economies grow and prosper.

I’d love to see, in this New Year, this new decade, deeper thinking about the society we want to build, and what kind of policies will encourage the market to make the right choices.

And I’d love to hear your thoughts about policy choices that might encourage 21st century industries here in America and around the world.

Could a Twitter-Amazon partnership be on the horizon?

This post is by from VentureBeat

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TwitterBirdA couple of days ago, Twitter announced some improvements to its API and Terms of Service (TOS). Effectively, it’s raising the limit on the number of calls per hour that each application can make and opening up its Firehose API (already available to Google and Microsoft) to other developers as a paid service.

This certainly opens the door to even more innovation within the Twitter ecosystem (currently 50,000 apps strong). Nevertheless, I can’t help wondering if the additonal operational demands of handling the increased traffic might not best be placed in the hands of a company with that type of focus so that Twitter itself can focus on “higher layer” innovation.

Though Twitter has made some strides over the last several months in improving the performance of its infrastructure, changes to its TOS and API limits will increase traffic substantially. I’ve always been impressed by the number of things Twitter needs to get right day in and day out. It not only provides search and other functions to give users insight, just as Google does, but unlike Google, it also has to host all the data it draws from (tweets). That’s no trivial challenge for such a small company, as is evidenced by the multiple instances of traffic overflow messages over the last years.

Leaked documents earlier this year showed us that several big players — Google, Microsoft and Facebook — have shown an interest in taking this problem off Twitter’s hands by acquiring the company and integrating its information into Google Search, Bing or Facebook Search. But the Twitter executive team clearly hasn’t been interested in an acquisition.

Still, I’d posit there’s a good chance Twitter execs might be willing to form a tight infrastructure alliance in 2010 with one of the industry heavyweights. And while Google, Microsoft and Facebook would all be good bets, I’d actually wager on someone like Amazon and, more specifically, Amazon Web Services (more on that in a minute).

Twitter’s founders have expressed their desire to invest the time required to build out an independent company. To do this and maintain its momentum, the company needs to execute on a number of different levels as it continues to look for ways to offer users added value (e.g., search, etc.) from its platform. All of this is a tall order for any management team and becomes even more daunting when one adds to the mix the operational demands associated with this vertically integrated strategy.

Probably the scarcest resource Twitter has right now is its management’s time and bandwidth. So help with operations would free some of that to focus on higher-level value.

From Twitter’s perspective a deal with Amazon Web Services would offer a number of opportunities. One possibility would be to use Amazon Web Services as a hosting environment for part or all tweets as well as a partner for managing a large portion of the thousands of developers in the Twitter ecosystem. Twitter would require the same kind of substantial operations prowess that Google has developed to cull insight from a growing ocean of data. Nevertheless, hosting tweets and reliably making them available to a user population that increasingly depends on them in realtime, might be better left to another.

From Amazon’s perspective, integrating the Twitter API into one or more Amazon Web Services offerings would further strengthen the company’s position in the nascent Cloud Computing space. Applications that integrate insight from personal tweets and, possibly, leverage Amazon’s recommendation engine technology, could provide more relevant information and advertising to users. More importantly for Amazon, the power of aligning the Twitter brand with its own might be enough to recruit a good portion of future Cloud Computing developers who might have sat on the fence for a while longer.

Whichever way you cut it, 2010 will certainly be a year of critical strategic decisions for Twitter. It might choose to tackle all fronts alone. Or it could look for options to reach its objectives more rapidly and change the industry’s competitive dynamics in the process.

Wibiya’s Powerful Web-Based Toolbar Adds Twitter, Facebook, And Video Chat To Any Site

This post is by from TechCrunch

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There’s no shortage of web-based interactive toolbars to choose from. This week, a new Israeli startup, Wibiya, is publicly launching its compelling web-based, customizable toolbar to publishers.

Wibiya’s toolbar for blogs and publishers integrated services, social media sites, applications and widgets. Everything is customizable, giving publishers the ability to add Facebook Connect, enabling Twitter alerts, and more fairly easily. The toolbar has a fairly in-depth integration with Twitter, Search, latest tweets, Tweets about each page and more. Publishers can also bring their Facebook Fan Page stream to the toolbar. Interestingly, Wibiya has an “app store” of sorts, where publishers can customize their bars with a variety of apps, including Google Translate, YouTube, games and more. Unfortunately the app store is limited with only 25 apps at the moment.

Wibiya also has deep integration with TinyChat, which lets publishers have their own video/text chat feature on their sites. As users login to chat, they can Tweet out the URL to the page they are in, helping publishers build traffic. Of course, Wibiya is still not as feature-rich as some of the other toolbars but it’s certainly off to a good start. But it’s a competitive space with Conduit, Meebo, MySpace, Yahoo, Digg and many others in the game.

Crunch Network: MobileCrunch Mobile Gadgets and Applications, Delivered Daily.

ReadWriteWeb’s Top 5 Web Trends of 2009

This post is by from ReadWriteWeb

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Over the last week we ran a series of posts outlining the five biggest Internet trends of this year: Structured Data, Real-Time Web, Personalization, Mobile Web / Augmented Reality, Internet of Things. Effectively this was ReadWriteWeb’s State of the Web 2009.

We’ve now compiled the main points into a single presentation, available on Slideshare and embedded below. You can view the presentation in full screen by clicking the "full" button at the bottom of the presentation. You can also download the presentation as a Powerpoint file. All of the links in the presentation are clickable, should you wish to explore a certain topic more.



Editor’s note: This story is part of a series we call Redux, where we’ll re-publish some of our best posts of 2009. As we look back at the year – and ahead to what next year holds – we think these are the stories that deserve a second glance. It’s not just a best-of list, it’s also a collection of posts that examine the fundamental issues that continue to shape the Web. We hope you enjoy reading them again and we look forward to bringing you more Web products and trends analysis in 2010. Happy holidays from Team ReadWriteWeb!

  1. Structured Data
  2. The Real-Time Web
  3. Personalization
  4. Mobile Web & Augmented Reality
  5. Internet of Things


10 Predictions for 2010 In the World of Tech

This post is by from louisgray.com

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Following on to predictions for 2009 and for 2008, as well as their results. (2009 | 2008)

Keep in mind I would rather not predict the obvious.

1. Twitter Manages to Complete 2010 With No Major Hacking or Security Incidents

Despite a strong 2009 that saw the microblogging service graduate from the geeks to more mainstream appeal, Twitter remained plagued by a number of uptime issues and some extremely visible hacking and security incidents that led to slowness and downtime. As part of the company’s maturation process, Twitter will build the personnel and infrastructure necessary to withstand such future attacks, and 2010 will go major incident free. There may be some slowness, but no outages via the dark corners of the Web.

2. Seeing Android and iPhone, Windows Mobile Will Aim for Parity, and Fail

Microsoft, jealous at all the consumer and media attention around the iPhone, and now Android, will try to remain relevant, launching a new version of Windows Mobile, and hyping its own apps, just like they did when they launched the Palm PC line (later Pocket PC) following the PDA’s rise to power. Their approach will not be seen as comparable to Android or iPhone and will not change their market share in a positive way.

3. Apple Will End Exclusivity With AT&T, Adding T-Mobile and Verizon

With AT&T being a massive black eye for Apple’s iPhone in the US, the company will finally end exclusivity with the telecommunications carrier, and strike deals with both T-Mobile and Verizon. Consumers will be able to switch carriers and keep their numbers. Unsurprisingly, users may find that those networks aren’t perfect either.

4. Facebook Will Announce a Migration Plan for FriendFeed Users

The mystery around Facebook’s plan for FriendFeed will become clear in the first half of 2009, as not only does the company improve its network with FriendFeed-like elements, but existing users of FriendFeed will be given guidance on how the two networks can converge, while protecting their existing content and contacts.

5. Google Wave Will Exit 2010 Still In Beta

While Google Wave will continue to improve and may open up to all visitors, without requiring invites, the product will still be seen as experimental, and will not shed its beta tag, keeping it through the end of the year, much like GMail and other products from Mountain View before it.

6. Facebook, Zynga, LinkedIn Will All Go Public

After a dearth of IPO activity in the last two years, 2010 will see a resurgence, especially from Silicon Valley VCs, who are eager to make profits to help assuage the wounds of losses from the last few years. Facebook and LinkedIn will be among the larger IPOs, with Zynga also filing, and other smaller companies following suit.

Twitter may file, but will not be public by the end of 2010.

7. Chrome OS Netbooks Will Be Available from Major Retailers

Google’s Chrome OS will reach a maturity level that it will be sold on netbooks alongside more traditional offerings from major retailers including Best Buy.

8. Many Social Media Experts Will Launch Mediocre Agencies

Many of the self-proclaimed social media experts will leave their corporate day jobs and strike it out on their own, looking to convert the world to Twitter and Facebook fan pages. A good number of them will find that the world of business relies a lot more on revenue than it does on retweets and @replies, and may walk away disappointed.

9. Google, Facebook and Apple Will All Make $1B+ Acquisitions

In addition to the new public market activity, acquisitions will again become trendy. Google and Apple will make full use of their growing cash hordes, and will make at least one ten-figure transaction in the year. Facebook, fresh off its cash raised from the IPO, will do the same, largely in stock.

10. The Real-Time Search Market Will Consolidate

One or more of the active dedicated real-time search companies will find differentiation difficult, especially with Google, Bing, Twitter Search and others participating. The trailing market share participant will either merge with an existing site, will close down, or look for a low-budget buyer.