October 8, 2007

Moving Beyond Portal Business Models [2:11 pm]

The race to advertising and the reshaping of online business models: Major Internet hubs see lesser influencepdf

The recent rush by major Internet portals to buy advertising companies and extend their sales networks is a sign that the business of being a one-stop shop for information and entertainment isn’t what it used to be.

Gone are the days of emphasizing ways to attract and keep visitors — the way television networks long have operated — by creating destinations with anything people might need for work, leisure or companionship.

Instead, those companies are now more aggressively trying to follow Web surfers elsewhere — and bring lucrative advertising to them.

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Vonage/Sprint Make Up For $$$ [2:06 pm]

Vonage settles patent suit with Sprintpdf

Internet phone company Vonage Holdings Corp. took a step back from the brink Monday, saying it has settled for $80 million a patent suit filed by Sprint Nextel Corp.

On Sept. 25, a jury in the U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kan., found that Vonage infringed on six Sprint patents, and ordered Vonage to pay $69.5 million in damages.

Monday’s settlement resolves all claims in the dispute, the companies said.

Sprint agreed to license Vonage its portfolio of more than 100 patents on connecting calls between a regular telephone network and a packet-switched network such as the Internet.

Later: A Settlement by Vonage Over Patents

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Too Close [1:36 pm]

While Prickly City is a little too weird for me most days (it’s a relatively recent addition to the Boston Globe’s comics lineup), today’s strip is a real gem, looking at ad-driven VoIP services. The punchline is especially great!

Later: not exactly what Google appears to have in mind, but it’s clearly in the offing — For Google, Advertising and Phones Go Together

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Whatever It Takes, Apparently [11:45 am]

Microsoft’s Halo 3 and getting teenagers into a church: Thou Shalt Not Kill, Except in a Popular Video Game at Church

Once they come for the games, Gregg Barbour, the youth minister of the church said, they will stay for his Christian message. “We want to make it hard for teenagers to go to hell,” Mr. Barbour wrote in a letter to parents at the church.

But the question arises: What price to appear relevant? Some parents, religious ethicists and pastors say that Halo may succeed at attracting youths, but that it could have a corroding influence. In providing Halo, churches are permitting access to adult-themed material that young people cannot buy on their own.

“If you want to connect with young teenage boys and drag them into church, free alcohol and pornographic movies would do it,” said James Tonkowich, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, a nonprofit group that assesses denominational policies. “My own take is you can do better than that.”

Daniel R. Heimbach, a professor of Christian ethics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, believes that churches should reject Halo, in part because it associates thrill and arousal with killing.“To justify whatever killing is involved by saying that it’s just pixels involved is an illusion,” he said.

[...] David Drexler, youth director at the 200-member nondenominational Country Bible Church in Ashby, Minn., said using Halo to recruit was “the most effective thing we’ve done.”

In rural Minnesota, Mr. Drexler said, the church needs something powerful to compete against the lure of less healthy behaviors. “We have to find something that these kids are interested in doing that doesn’t involve drugs or alcohol or premarital sex.” His congregation plans to double to eight its number of TVs, which would allow 32 players to compete at one time.

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Living with “Arbitrary and Capricious” (updated) [11:39 am]

A Muse Unplugged

It is with a queasy feeling of history in retreat that poetry lovers discover that WBAI, long the radio flagship of cocky resistance to government excess, decided last week that it couldn’t risk a 50th anniversary broadcast of the late poet’s recording of “Howl.” The station retreated out of fear that the Federal Communications Commission would levy large obscenity fines that might bankrupt the small-budget station.

The retreat was hardly an exercise of the sort of rhetorical paranoia that listeners rate as part of the charm of WBAI, an outlet with a brave history in broadcasting such free speech as George Carlin’s comedic “seven dirty words.” No, this time the broadcaster had to be mindful that the F.C.C. had already fined CBS $550,000 for its absurd nanosecond telecast of Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction.” Stations are rightly worried these days that airing “fleeting expletives” can cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars a pop.

The result is a growing tendency toward self-censorship. [...]

[...] If Ginsberg were still with us, he would undoubtedly pen a mocking line or two about his poem being banned from the airwaves 50 years after it was ruled not to be obscene. Congress, of course, could redress the F.C.C.’s bullying powers if it wanted to. But lately, the Capitol’s most energetic broadcast agenda has been conservative members’ organizing against any attempt to restore the fairness doctrine to political broadcast, which could crimp the 24/7 rants of right-wing talk radio. The poet would understand, having once noted: “Whoever controls the media, the images, controls the culture.”

Also note that the FCC wants to protect me from hearing bad words or seeing naked bodies, but there are limits to their protection: FCC won’t probe disclosure of phone records

The head of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission declined to investigate reports that phone companies turned over customer records to the National Security Agency, citing national security concerns, according to documents released on Friday.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin turned down a congressional request for an investigation as a top intelligence official concluded it would “pose an unnecessary risk of damage to the national security,” according to a letter National Intelligence Director Michael McConnell sent to Martin on Tuesday.

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OT: Important Questions for Columbus Day [10:53 am]

A troubling turn in American historypdf

IF COLUMBUS is the beginning of the story, and, say, Lincoln is the middle, what is the end? Each episode of the American narrative surfaced a problem, which prompted attempts to resolve it, which led in turn to a new problem. This movement from problem to resolution to new problem and ever new efforts to fix things is what makes the American story great.

[...] These developments would be disturbing enough, but what they point to is an interruption in this nation’s most important public tradition - the movement from recognition of a problem to its attempted resolution. From ill treatment of native peoples, to enslavement of Africans, to temptations to empire, to a religious embrace of violence, to Red Scare paranoia, to an insane arms race - we Americans have had our failings. But we have faced them. The capacity for self-criticism and change has defined our history. But that is not happening today. We are in an arms race with ourselves, and will not stop. Our unjust war is just unending. Our politics and media, meanwhile, form a feedback loop of banality. “Freedom” has become our prison.

Does all of this reveal a deeper flaw in our moral narrative itself? After all, we say today that our story began with Columbus. But what about the ones who welcomed him?

For example, ask yourself why this: Democrats Seem Ready to Extend Wiretap Powers

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The WaPo Weighs In On Patent Reform [10:39 am]

In this editorial: Patent Fight — pdf

Though strong patent protection is a good thing, lately the problem has been too much of it. The technological revolution of the past quarter-century has swamped the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office with hundreds of thousands of patent applications, each claiming to be original and each more arcane than the last. The result has been a proliferation of “low-quality” patents and expensive lawsuits over who invented what. Some inventors use dubious patents to extract large payments from high-tech companies, which usually find it cheaper to buy off purported inventors than to battle them in court. This is not a pro-innovation patent system; it’s an anti-competitive one.

[...] A key feature of the pending legislation is “post-grant review”: the right of third parties to challenge an already-granted patent without going to court. This would provide a needed opportunity to weed out low-quality patents. Both the House and Senate bills would wisely open a one-year window for post-grant reviews. Far more contentious is the issue of how much an inventor should get when patent infringement has been proved. Current law provides for a “reasonable royalty,” but that has been pretty much up to courts and juries to define. Technology companies have insisted that Congress restrict damages to the value directly attributable to the patented part: a disk drive, say, rather than a whole computer. After much resistance to that idea from the drug companies, the Senate version of the bill now merely ensures that courts properly instruct juries to adopt a more limited damages formula in cases where it clearly applies. This would be a modest but eminently justifiable change.

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The US, Leading By Example [10:32 am]

Increasing the relevance and desirability GPG/PGP mail: West takes war on terrorism onlinepdf

In the name of counterterrorism, Western countries are moving to erect online security borders with aggressive proposals to block websites and to unleash Trojan e-mails containing spyware that would monitor jihadists.

Critics warn that the security measures could lead to censorship and privacy invasion, but governments are pressing for legislation aimed at thwarting attacks and walling off websites that espouse illegal activities or are “likely to have the effect of facilitating” crime.

[...] Citing the threat of terrorism, the Swedish defense minister has also sought broad powers to monitor e-mail traffic without court orders, while in Australia the government introduced legislation this month to enable the federal police to block and ban websites through orders to Internet service providers.

“One way of viewing these trends is that the terrorists have won,” said Richard Clayton, a computer security researcher at the University of Cambridge who is part of the OpenNet Initiative, which tracks Internet surveillance and filtering practices. “They’re making us change our society to counteract, not what terrorists are doing, but what they’re threatening to do,” he said.

*sigh*

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