Archive for May 2007

It’s Official: eBay Plans to Ruin StumbleUpon

StumbleUpon The rumors are over: eBay bought StumbleUpon for $75 million. Seeing as the two companies don’t exactly scream “similar” to me, I scoured the press release to find this explanation:

StumbleUpon is a great fit within our goal of pioneering new communities based on commerce and sustained by trust,” said Michael Buhr, senior director, eBay. “StumbleUpon’s downloadable toolbar provides an engaging and unique experience to its users, but it is the similarities in our approaches to the concept of community that make it such a compelling addition to eBay.”

No mention of its incredible quality-sorted index. No mention of its new video stumbling service. Only the toolbar and its “community.” Wow.

eBay doesn’t get StumbleUpon. They just see eyeballs and a toolbar. This purchase is going to ruin an otherwise great product.

So in other words, while you and I might see StumbleUpon as a vehicle for wasting time at work, eBay sees it as a “community based on commerce.” Furthermore, eBay’s eyes are locked squarely on StumbleUpon’s toolbar, making for certain the rumors that it plans to add its own stuff into it.

StumbleUpon’s toolbar is already pretty cluttered in its default installation. I certainly don’t look forward to eBay’s backwards mentality when it comes to UI design (try visiting their website and count how many inches down the content starts). This is a hot company about to get doused by eBay’s lame understanding of Web 1.0.

Digg Learned Its Lesson: Puts Censored Story Back

Some of you may recall the huge scandal over at Digg a few weeks ago. Well, history nearly repeated itself today when a story on the same topic broke today: hackers cracked a new AACS processing key (used to encrypt DRM). One can only assume the people behind AACS became angry and sent cease and desist orders to Digg.

Nevertheless, the story hit the front page of Digg and people were anxiously watching what would happen. Last time, Kevin Rose (founder of Digg) publicly declared Digg would no longer bow to external forces on censoring that topic. Well, the story disappeared from the front page without explanation despite having a large number of Diggs.

People noticed.

Users began talking about spamming the site about the news again, and duplicate stories were submitted for a short period of time. Searching for the processing key yielded no results, and people were getting a little upset. But in a surprising turn of events (and possibly the first time in Digg’s history), the story re-appeared on the front page within minutes.

Perhaps Digg management are evaluating the C&D letter and realizing that they have no merit (i.e., you can’t claim copyright on a number?). If I had to guess, an admin censored the post upon seeing a C&D letter, only to be corrected by someone higher up in management that realized that wasn’t a good idea. Either way, it seems Digg learned its lesson.

Microsoft Surface – Microsoft Steals Apple’s Business Model

Microsoft announced a new product today: Surface. The concept is simple: a giant touch screen that can accept input from multiple fingers as well as regular objects. This product has real potential for Microsoft’s future.

What’s interesting is that this is essentially a new operating system. Gone is the Start Bar, Outlook, MSN messenger, IE, and other familiar Windows components. It doesn’t even matter if it is running Windows or Linux because software for Surface is clearly unique to it alone. Granted, Surface may use Windows, but their approach makes them resemble Apple. Microsoft just developed a stealth OS built specifically on hardware they designed — by going the integrated route, Microsoft just pulled an Apple.

It starts off tame: managing photos and videos through a drag and drop interface. Rotating, scaling, and emailing the photos with one finger. Then they show you how browsing music and building a play list is easier than ever. Yawn. But keep reading.

organizing photos

It gets real interesting when they place a Zune on it and start dragging music into it. They put a camera on it and all of the pictures “fall out” for managing. Brushes are used to draw. Files are dragged and copied from one camera to another.

It takes a bolder step when they show it recognizes phones placed on it, allowing for instant price comparisons. Any product with an RFID tag could probably use this interface. Displaying additional information such as videos and reviews would be a natural next step. 

comparing phones at a retailer

Suddenly this product has a real benefit to retailers nationwide – the ability to use dynamic media to convert curiosity into a sale.

They continue with demos showing a man use Live Maps to chart out a day plan and then drag it into a cell phone. They show how restaurants might use it to let people digitally order. They even thought of splitting a bill using multiple credit cards by simply dragging items to your card.

paying for dinner

It has uses in education, entertainment, retail, dining, and the home. In short, its a new personal computer with an interface that makes sense to people of all ages. Anywhere a computer is used now, this has the potential to replace it.

Most of the time, when Microsoft releases new products, I think to myself that they are just marketing something old in a new way. But Surface is different. Granted, the technology behind it is not new, but the “stuff on the table” idea (probably patented like crazy) makes this technology good to great.

The product is due out in Winter 2007. If they do this right, it could be their next “big thing.”

How to Get on Techcrunch – Step 1, Steal a Trademark, Step 2: Spam…

Techcrunch is a major IT news blog. It is increasingly difficult to get your startup covered in it because of its popularity. But a funny thing happened today. The owner of Techcrunch wrote an article about the most bogus stealth start up I’ve read about all year:

The only word that describes what happened to our inbox tonight was “spammed” – no less than eleven links were sent to this Australian article which talks about new stealth startup MyLiveSearch.

 

MyLiveSearch? It’ll be fun times when Microsoft sues for trademark infringement over MSN’s own Live Search. That alone should be reason for concern, but apparently not today.

We’ve heard of countless Google killing startups over the past five years, and none have come even close. In fact, its two biggest competitors in the market – Yahoo and Microsoft – are losing market share every day. And yet Arrington, a veteran in the industry, took the bait.

He wrote up an article about this start up, eating up the press release “news article” as if it were a juicy steak:

and goes on to quote founder Rob Gabriel as saying his startup “gives better, more relevant results” than Google and “this technology could be snapped onto any of the major search engines and improve them.

If they are so great, why are they already talking about being bought out? Nevermind the trademark issues! This is exactly the mentality of companies in the dot-bomb era: make a company that someone else will buy out — who cares about a product! If I discovered a technology that could unseat the current reigning 100 billion dollar champion, the last thing I’d do is sell out for a few million dollars. I mean, if my technology could be 1/100th of Google, that’s still 1.27 billion dollars.

And the claims they make are completely unsubstantiated. Faster than Google? More relevant? Supposedly it will be indexing 4/5 of the web that Google currently misses (so Google is only indexing 20% of the web, supposedly), which when I hear that, I think “spam blogs” or “banned from Google for a reason.” And the whole “live” thing is bogus now that Google does smart indexing, where it indexes dynamic content – such as news sites – more frequently.

Clearly, this company is full of crap and Techcrunch didn’t smell it. Why didn’t Arrington ask critical questions in his post? Why did he simply regurgitate the article without further research? Why did he just tip his hat to this obvious PR ploy? I don’t know, but it’s a shame he did.

So when you want your start up covered by a high-traffic blog, just get ten of your friends to send an email with a link to an article about your vaporware. It worked for MyLiveSearch.

Google Buys GreenBorder – Maybe for Google Pack?

Google made a strange acquisition today. Google bought GreenBorder, a security application that sand boxes browsers. Basically, it ensures that when you close your browser, you destroy any potentially malicious viruses and trojans along with your session. It is a “sand box” as in stuff that happens in your browser stays in your browser, keeping the rest of your system safe.

This is weird on multiple levels:

  • It has nothing to do with their core business
  • Computer security is a highly competitive and saturated market, leaving little room for massive unchecked growth
  • Browser security is a tiny niche of computer security and leaves other major Internet based attack vectors open, especially through Outlook (ugh, huh?).

One potential use for this application is the ability to keep competing search engines from changing a user’s default home page. This normally might exist to fight off spyware, but one can see the additional competitive edge.

Google’s aim may be to make the Internet experience much safer. But I can’t see this gaining wide adoption unless they give it away. Google Pack currently has Norton and an anti-spyware scanner, and this would make a cozy fit for a browser-centric solution. It would keep the computer clean where the scanners may have failed. Thus, in my eyes, this is all about bolstering the software offering of Google Pack.

Google Pack is a free software suite given away by Google (click on link below to try it out). It is a collection of free tools such as Firefox, Skype, and Picasa.

Google Pack is an important pawn in Google’s strategy. In giving away the software suite, they are also increasing the market shares of:

  • Firefox
  • Google Desktop
  • GTalk
  • Google Toolbar

These are all very important components in keeping Microsoft at bay. So my prediction is that we should see this (or a re-branded version of it) in Google Pack within six to eight months.

Update: Techcrunch has their own theory that this purchase is for enhancing Google Desktop.

Facebook’s Future Just Took a Turn

Facebook’s CEO announced yesterday that his site was going to become the Internet’s Social Operating System. His vision is much grander than Myspace, which is the current #1 social networking site.

Myspace is content with simply being a social network, and its strategy – so far – has paid off. But Facebook wants to become a hub of all Internet-based social applications. This puts it at direct odds with Myspace, which has been doing whatever it could in its power to smash third party companies from piggy backing on its success (like when they tried to disable YouTube links).

Facebook has a dedicated section (http://www.Facebook.com/apps/) that shows a admirably large list of third party applications built on the Facebook API. There are widgets for Hot or Not, stocks, music players, web based chat, games, Firefox toolbars, and even web widgets that sit on your site.

Over all, if this plan succeeds, Facebook cements itself as a web standard. This is a much more stable (and thus, lucrative) position than Myspace’s, which is constantly threatened every day by all of the other me-too startups. On the other hand, any site that builds its entire existence on Facebook can’t and won’t stop relying on or promoting Facebook.

Zuckerberg admits that with just some 85 engineers, they can’t possibly compete with thousands of developers creating social applications. The problem with little startups is that they don’t have the distribution that Facebook does. That’s why Facebook’s opening its doors to let coders work within its platform. Zuckerberg admits it’s a similar concept Microsoft did with is operating system.

What’s most interesting is what we should expect to see next: now that this is announced, we should start seeing competing social networks (not Myspace) open up as well. This is the begriming of a great era in social networking. In the long term, all social network API’s would be the same, making third party plugging development easier. That would then be the start of a unified social networking experience, which I hope one day leads to a more consolidated online identity management experience (updating one site updates them all).

Overall, I am impressed with Zuckerberg’s vision. He may be on to something here and he’s clearly thinking outside of the current “box.”

Maybe if I wasn’t so busy with work, I’d be creating a bunch of Facebook applications right now. I have a cool idea for one, and maybe I’ll write it when I have some time. :)

Google Buys Feedburner ($100M)

Google just bought FeedBurner for 100 million dollars. This is a 10x return on investment for the venture firms that funded that startup. I use FeedBurner for my RSS feeds on this site.

FeedBurner lets web masters setup RSS feeds for their sites that are compatible with a maximum number of RSS reading clients. It also tracks usage statistics, viewership, and where your RSS feed is being displayed.

The synergy with Google is clear: FeedBurner already duplicates a lot of work done by Google Analytics. For example, this site uses both Google Analytics to track usage stats as well as FeedBurner. A unified script will be a godsend. Also, it is commonly known that Google Personalize Homepage is one of the top RSS readers, according to FeedBurner. In other words, Google was sending a ton of traffic to FeedBurner, but wasn’t capitalizing on it.

FeedBurner supports embedded RSS ads. This is a crucial piece for Google Adsense for Content since RSS feeds often skip ad impressions from remote audiences that don’t actually visit your site but read your content in RSS readers. This was a market that Google had no foothold in, and FeedBurner basically owned it. Now, Google owns this potentially lucrative emerging market (FeedBurner is pretty much the only real player in this market segment).

DRM Free Music Here to Stay? EMI Getting Bought Out.

In the last 24 hours, EMI Group has become the center of a bidding war. As some of you may recall, EMI is the company that broke headlines when it announced it would begin selling DRM-free music on iTunes. The other backwards thinking music companies have yet to join in.

If they were bought out, it could have adverse effects on the anti-DRM movement. One bidder plans to sell off artists to competing labels in pieces. The other bidder is Warner Music, a competing music publisher.

While the whole thing is still in the air, this looks like the final stages in a deal. No matter who buys EMI, a DRM-free future would come with yet another hurdle.

UCLA Considering Google Application Services?

Maybe this is public news already, but I recently found out that many schools, including UCLA, are considering the use of Google Apps. A friend of mine forwarded me a survey he was asked to take by the UCLA administration. The survey was taken by students at schools other than UCLA, so this raises a secondary question about just how many schools are actively looking into the Google hosted solution. 

For those of you unaware, Google offers their chat, calendar, and mail services for your domain. Schools, in theory, could provide their students with these Google’s services that would work from within their domain (ex mail.ucla.edu would point to Google’s servers). Google charges for this service, but in reality, they make a killing from the advertising dollars.

The most interesting points in the survey:

  • Google Calendar and chat are specifically mentioned
  • 97% of student Gmail users reported being satisfied (wow!)
  • People hate their school-provided email services

Below are the questions and responses in the survey (only the most relevant answers shown):

  • How satisfied are you with your school’s current email system, compared to other systems you’ve used (like your personal mail)?
    • 69% – Dissatisfied or very dissatisfied (25% very dissatisfied, 44% dissatisfied)
  • What would you like to change about your school’s current email system? (choose 3)
    • 27% – Not enough storage space, so I need to delete mail or files that I want to keep.
    • 20% – Complicated interface
    • 16% – No IM or calendar functionality
  • I would prefer to use Gmail, Google Talk and Google Calendar instead of my school’s current systems?
    • 86% – Agree or strongly agree (64% Strongly agree, 22% Agree)
  • What’s the primary way that Gmail, Google Talk and Google Calendar could be better than your school’s current systems?
    • 44% – User interface
  • Do you have a Gmail account?
    • 85% – Yes
  • How satisfied are you with Gmail?
    • 97% – Satisfied or very satisfied (75% Very Satisfied, 22% Satisfied)
  • How likely are you to recommend Gmail to your friends or classmates? (scale 1-10)
    • 9.136 average

I would link to the actual survey, but I hate linking to something that might disappear later.

The survey was taken by 5934 students, of which 301 were from UCLA.

It’s Official: Starcraft2!

Blizzard has officially launched starcraft2.com, and with it, the official announcement that Starcraft 2 is well under development. There is already game play footage all over YouTube. I was a big fan of Starcraft when it came out a decade ago. The game looks amazing. No release date has been revealed. The game is introducing tons of new units and is definitely not just an expansion set to the original Starcraft. See footage below for proof.

Update: more videos added:

The following is part 3, but I couldn’t find one with the audio commentary. :( Make sure to watch this one to the end.

Part four: