August 11, 2008

Tethering Confirmation [10:14 am]

Jobs admits it: IPhone Software Sales Take Off: Apple’s Jobs (pdf)

Some developers, however, have run afoul of Apple’s limits on software it will distribute through the App Store. The company recently removed an application called I Am Rich that did nothing but display a glowing red gem, for the eye-popping sum of $999.99. The programmer who created it, Armin Heinrich, says he thought he was abiding by Apple’s rules for its developers. An Apple spokeswoman said Apple made a “judgment call” to remove I Am Rich.

Apple raised hackles in computer-privacy and security circles when an independent engineer discovered code inside the iPhone that suggested iPhones routinely check an Apple Web site that could, in theory trigger the removal of the undesirable software from the devices.

Mr. Jobs confirmed such a capability exists, but argued that Apple needs it in case it inadvertently allows a malicious program — one that stole users’ personal data, for example — to be distributed to iPhones through the App Store. “Hopefully we never have to pull that lever, but we would be irresponsible not to have a lever like that to pull,” he says.

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GMOs and IP [8:16 am]

The four barriers to the genetically modified–food revolution—and why no one is talking about them (pdf)

Yes, traditional crop science is struggling. And yes, rising food prices might help consumers and lawmakers overcome their fears about GM’s safety (especially as some of those concerns are overblown). But neither change will alter the fact that GM crop technology itself isn’t ready to save the world. Despite GM’s potential, the technology faces substantial technical and economic barriers before it will spark a second green revolution—barriers that aren’t being discussed in the newly energized debate over genetically modified food.

[...] In fact, many critics believe the GM industry’s objections to seed saving have less to do with lost profits in the developing world than with the industry’s long-term goal of owning, literally, the seed sector. When seeds are conventionally bred, breeders don’t own them—anyone can use or improve the seeds. But genetic modification allows a company to claim property rights over a particular DNA blueprint and to charge a licensing fee for each and every copy—much as Microsoft now claims an interest in each and every copy of Windows. By relaxing its proprietary zeal and allowing seeds in the developing world to be “open source,” the GM industry could do much to bolster claims that it is really trying to help poor farmers.

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Missed This Yahoo! Announcement [7:57 am]

Of course, maybe it wasn’t made? Yahoo to Make Targeted Ads Optional (pdf)

Internet giant Yahoo is set to announce today that it will allow users to shut off targeted advertising on its Web sites, a move that comes as a congressional committee continues to air concerns about consumer privacy.

Last week, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce asked Yahoo and 32 other Internet companies to provide more information about the surfing data they collect from Web users and how the data are used to customize advertising.

As many media companies struggle to make money from their Web sites, members of Congress and the industry appear to be in the early stages of a high-stakes negotiation over what kind of advertising ought to be allowed.

While Yahoo’s new policy may make it harder for the company to make money from ads — targeted pitches generally fetch higher prices — company officials said offering more privacy options could attract more users.

Perusing my MyYahoo! advertising preferences shows nothing new, but we’ll see

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Eyeing the 800 Lb Gorilla [7:48 am]

Is Google a Media Company?

While Knol is only three weeks old and still relatively obscure, it has already rekindled fears among some media companies that Google is increasingly becoming a competitor. They foresee Google’s becoming a powerful rival that not only owns a growing number of content properties, including YouTube, the top online video site, and Blogger, a leading blogging service, but also holds the keys to directing users around the Web.

“If in fact a Google property is taking money away from Google’s partners, that is a real problem,” said Wenda Harris Millard, the co-chief executive of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia.

Money, of course, is very much at issue. The lower a site ranks in search results, the less traffic it receives from search engines. With a smaller audience, the site earns less money from advertising.

Although Martha Stewart’s buttermilk pancake recipe appears lower than the Knol recipe in Google’s rankings, Ms. Millard does not believe that Google unfairly favors pages from Knol. But she said that Google’s dual role as search engine and content site raises an issue of perception. “The question in people’s minds is how unbiased can Google be as it grows and grows and grows,” Ms. Millard said.

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A Paean To Time-Warner [7:41 am]

This profile in Sunday’s NYTimes exclaims Holy Cash Cow, Batman! Content Is Back at Time Warner. I’m not really sure that anyone believes that content isn’t what it’s all about, but it’s also clear that the role of distribution remains problematic as firms try, on the one hand, to take advantage of the opportunities of new distribution avenues while, on the other hand, continue to assume that the rest of the game doesn’t have to change to accommodate the realities of these new channels:

What is clear is that Mr. Bewkes is tethering his fortunes to companies that are juggernauts in their respective industries and are sprawling, global brands. They also represent the antithesis of the notion that content for the masses is passé, and that popular culture has devolved into narrow niches and user-generated fare like video clips of bulldogs riding skateboards.

Get ready then, says Mr. Bewkes, for global fireworks.

“Around the world, the consumption of entertainment products is growing rapidly,” he says. “The question is how do you offer it, and how do you get paid for it?”

[...] For Mr. Bewkes and his team, the core of the strategy is a wager that the media pendulum will swing away from distribution and back toward content.

“The last number of years, all you have heard about is new and better ways to distribute content,” says Mr. Meyer, sitting in his office on Warner’s lot in Burbank, Calif. “At some point, I think distribution gets commoditized,” leaving, he says, content as the more valuable component.

He points at a television screen in his office. “At the end of it all,” he says, “it’s just a blank screen.”

[...] A few years ago, Mr. Bewkes, along with other media executives, attended a session at the Museum of Television and Radio in Los Angeles, during which a group of computer hackers demonstrated how easy it was to find first-run movies on the Internet.

When the assemblage went to lunch, Mr. Bewkes stayed behind to chat with the hackers.

“They said they didn’t feel bad about piracy because of all the money studios make,” Mr. Bewkes recalls. “I said, ‘Let me tell you what we make.’ And I said, ‘Here’s the percentage.’ They said, ‘We’ll pay for movies if you give it to us the right way.’ ”

In the future, the “right way” is likely to mean making movies available on every platform — theater, DVD, V.O.D. and on the Internet — either at the same time or with a smaller window following a theatrical release.

But until technology forces Hollywood’s hand — Mr. Bewkes suggested that it would take three to five more years before high-definition videos are delivered conveniently over the Internet — the industry will retain its grip on sequential windows of release.

See also All of Us, the Arbiters of News (a discussion of Tape Delay by NBC Faces End Run by Online Fans)

Emerging technologies that threaten to destroy the current paradigm can have precisely the opposite effect. Remember when VCRs and then DVDs were going to lay waste to the movie industry and ended up saving it instead? The Web leaks of entertainment that NBC bought and paid for served as a kind of trailer for the real thing.

There is a lesson there for rest of the media, most specifically The Philadelphia Inquirer, where the managing editor, Michael Leary, issued a memo last week suggesting that all of the paper’s good stuff — “signature investigative reporting, enterprise, trend stories, news features and reviews” — would not appear online until they first appear in print.

“For our bloggers, especially, this may require a bit of an adjustment,” Mr. Leary informed the staff. “Some of you like to try out ideas that end up as subjects of stories or columns in print first. If in doubt, consult your editor.”

Even to the eye of this reporter — to use a hack newspaper term — The Inquirer seems to be making a mistake. If the future of our business is online, then why set up a firewall, delaying the best content to protect a legacy product? And more adept reporters are beginning to realize that the Web is not just a way to broadcast news, it is a great way to assemble it as well.

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iAmRich Pulled [7:34 am]

Apple removes I Am Rich, a $1,000 featureless iPhone application pdf

Now that the phone is affordable enough for a wider audience, a new status symbol has emerged: a seemingly useless application called I Am Rich.

Its function is exactly what the name implies: to alert people that you have money in the bank. I Am Rich was available for purchase from the phone’s App Store for, get this, $999.99 — the highest amount a developer can charge through the digital retailer, said Armin Heinrich, the program’s developer.

Once downloaded, it doesn’t do much — a red icon sits on the iPhone home screen like any other application, with the subtext “I Am Rich.” Once activated, the user is treated to a large, glowing gem. That’s about it. For a thousand dollars.

Apple, which didn’t respond to requests for comment, apparently had some problems with I Am Rich. After initially approving it for distribution, the company has since removed it from the store.

See also Many Fail to See the Humor in ‘I Am Rich’ for the iPhone

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Another Profile on Congress’ Initial Looks Into Online Privacy [7:27 am]

Web Privacy on the Radar in Congress

“Like all privacy matters, it’s something that people need to be informed on,” Mr. Martinez said.

Those same questions of data collection and privacy policies are attracting the attention of Congress, too. There is no broad privacy legislation governing advertising on the Internet. And even some in the government admit that they do not have a clear grasp of what companies are able to do with the wealth of data now available to them.

“That is why Congress, at this point, is wanting to gather a lot more information, because no one knows,” said Steven A. Hetcher, a professor at Vanderbilt University Law School. “That information is incredibly valuable; it’s the new frontier of advertising.”

Beyond the data question, there are issues of how companies should tell browsers that their information is being tracked, which area of law covers this and what — if anything — proper regulation would look like.

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Peter Gabriel and His Digital Distribution Plays Profiled [7:26 am]

Although I’m not sure being called “old” is that gratifying: An Old Rocker Gets Digital

“When most labels were banging their heads, he got it and saw the liberating value of Internet distribution to artists, and that’s what excited him,” says Mr. Grimsdale, a partner at Eden Ventures, of Mr. Gabriel. “He has a very good sense technologically of what’s going to work.”

OD2’s success also catapulted Mr. Gabriel, after decades as a top-selling artist, into a second career as a powerful player in the emerging online music industry, a move that once seemed more outlandish than the costumes he wore in the early 1970s as a singer for the rock group Genesis.

But Mr. Gabriel, the son of an inventor, keeps devising new ways for musicians and record labels to use the Web to control their work and to make — not lose — money.

[...] “I don’t believe in the death of the major record companies,” Mr. Gabriel says. “But as an artist, I’d love to see them reinvented as service companies.”

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A Songwriter Confronting A Grim Reality [7:22 am]

Rip-Off Artist

Going through my music collection seeking songs for the mix tape I kept discovering examples I hadn’t considered;I was taken aback by just how much of a rip-off artist I really was. But there they were, plain as day, song after song I had copied in one way or another. Perhaps I wasn’t an original songwriter after all but a lousy cover act, hoping my Frankenstein’s Monster reassembled cover versions would not be noticeable.

It’s true that in my defense I can say that my most successful unconscious rip-off method seems to be to combine songs from various eras and genres, throwing people off the scent. An example of this: In retrospect I can see that “If You Shoot The Head You Kill The Ghoul,” my 1998 zombie tribute, and still one my my most requested live songs, is basically a mix of the horror-movie-meets-garage-rock lyric aesthetic of late-’70’s Roky Erikson set to a chord progression I’d gotten from a Leadbelly song — all wrapped up in the Clash’s “English Civil War.” Time and again I realized how uncreative my supposedly creative songs were.

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