Friday, July 06, 2007

MyThings Tracks Your Things

from TechCrunch by Duncan Riley

mythings.gif MyThings is a service that allows users to create an online portfolio of valued belongings.

We reviewed iTaggit earlier this week; MyThings operates in the same space. Both provide personal asset management although MyThings is the more extensive offering of the two; MyThings took $8million from Carmel Ventures and Accel Partners in May 2006 and the funding shows.

MyThings offers a integrated one stop shop for collectibles. Items can be included in the database, with tags and pictures. Once listed users are able to obtain a valuation for the item, buy (or extend) the items warranty, purchase insurance, sell the item on eBay and even donate am item to a worthy cause. MyThings also includes an extensive database of items reported lost and stolen from the world of art, antiques and collectibles; MyThings users are able to add stolen items to the database at any time and likewise the service is able to screen new submissions for items that may have been stolen.

The company has offices in Menlo Park, London and Tel Aviv, delivering a global product with a lot of appeal. Perhaps my earlier assessment of the space (in the iTaggit review) as being niche was unwarranted; the extensive user collections listed on MyThings would indicate that listing collections online may actually be a hot vertical.



iTaggit: Personal Asset Management

itaggit.png iTaggit aims to change the way people collect, organize, and enjoy their personal items and collections by providing a service to catalog collections online.

iTaggit provides an online environment for cataloguing, managing, and sharing collections of items, while preserving user and data privacy. The site features community resources, where users can connect and interact with friends, like-minded collectors, and experts. Recent upgrades include an Add Item Wizard, a Flickr-like picture uploader, an Amazon import tool, and Item Publisher.

The best way of describing iTaggit is as a personal asset management service. If you’re a hobbyist or someone who likes cataloguing collections then iTaggit will appeal; although notably this would likely be a relatively small vertical.

iTaggit took $1.04 million Series A financing round in August 2006 and makes revenue from eBay and similar affiliate advertising programs.


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Belgium Says ISPs Must Protect Copyright

mp3communism.pngA court in Belgium has ruled that an Internet Service Provider bears the responsibility for stopping illegal file-sharing on its network. Although the ruling was made in Belgium, it relies on the E.U. copyright directive and may set precedent for the entire Union according to IFPI, an organization that represents the recording industry world wide.

Belgian courts have sided strongly with copyright holder in the past as well. In February, they ordered Google to stop copying Belgian newspaper headlines into their news and search indexes.

The suit was brought by a group representing Belgian authors an composers (SABAM) against ISP Scarlet, formerly Tiscali. In 2004, the SABAM received an injuction against the ISP, which assigned an expert whose investigation provided 11 ways to prevent infringement across the network. The judge agreed and Scarlet has 6 months to enact anti-piracy measure or face fines of up to $4,300 per day.

However, although the ruling means Scarlet must prevent piracy, it doesn’t require monitoring all network traffic. The Register quotes a SABAM statement saying, “The solutions identified by the expert are ‘technical instruments’ that limit themselves to blocking or filtering certain information transmitted on the network of TISCALI (SCARLET). They do not constitute a general obligation to monitor the network.”

Similar suits have traditionally not proven successful in the US, because ISPs have been seen simply as “common carriers“, not responsible for the contents of the packages they deliver. This has lead to a game of cat and mouse between pirates and copyright holders, epitomized by companies like MediaDefender allegedly trying to track down and catch copyright violators. As a side note, MediaDefender says the alleged honey pot,, was an R&D experiment and the scandal surrounding it was a “libelously fabricated story”.

Now copyright holders are again trying to go after the bottleneck for piracy, the networks themselves. Because filtering technologies no longer place as harsh a burden on content providers, the industry is in transition and expectations are changing. After a lawsuit by Viacom, YouTube has begun scrubbing their own network for copyrighted content. Recently, AT&T announced they are making plans to track copyright infringement on their network.

Copyright protection company Media Rights Technologies has tried to push companies into implementing anti-piracy measures on their networks. They recently requested a cease and desist order against Microsoft, Apple, Adobe and Real Networks alleging the companies are in violation of the DMCA because they are not implementing copyright protection on their systems, namely their own product. They’re also cheer leading their own bill, the “Perform Act”, through congress with the help of senators Feinstein (D), Graham (R), Biden (D) and Alexander.


How To: Create an RSS embedded desktop

RSSDesktop.png Looking to make better use of the desktop? Instead of mindlessly staring at the wallpaper, a user at Instructables embedded a bunch of RSS feeds right into the desktop. The Instructable helps you build an HTML file with your favorite RSS feeds and size it appropriately for your desktop. The final product is a lightweight desktop background chocked-full of RSS feeds that automatically updates itself every 10 minutes. If you're looking for a quicker approach, you can get a similar effect using widgets/gadgets, or by embedding Netvibes content into your wallpaper.

RSS Desktop [Instructables]


Linux Tip: Run Windows and Linux apps side-by-side

WinLinSideBySide.png Adam's guide to running Windows and Mac apps side-by-side left me craving a similar process for Windows apps in Linux. The Venture Cake weblog shows how you can get an effect similar to Coherence for Parallels in Mac using VMware Server and rdesktop in Linux. You need to install Windows as a virtual machine, make a registry hack to remove the Windows desktop, and then connect to the virtual machine using rdesktop. VC touts that the entire process (not including the time it takes to install Windows) takes less than 10 minutes.


Here come the FemtoCells

It’s been a long wait, but it seems that Femtocells - miniature cellular base station that sit inside our homes and offices and amplify cellular signals - are making it to the market. Over past few days, an increasing number of companies have started to announce availability of femtocell devices.

2Wire, which makes DSL residential gateways, and is part owned by AT&T, recently announced that it will include femtocell functionality in its devices. The voice calls can be carried over the DSL connections, without needing a WiFi connection.

This makes the technology more acceptable for folks who don’t have WiFi-functionality in their phones. Netgear, recently teamed up with Ubiquisys and will develop a new residential gateway that will have integrated DSL modem, Wi-Fi, VoIP and 3G femtocell technology, and will be available in 2008. NokiaSiemens Networks and Thomson are also working together on similar devices, the two companies announced today. Nokia Siemens will provide the femto cell for Thomson’s DSL gateways.

ABI Research predicts that the femtocell unit shipments for 2008 will increase to a million units from 50,000 in 2007. By 2012 there will be 152 million users of femtocell products on 36 million access points worldwide, they predict.

While those predictions may seem to be too optimistic, one does have to admit that the carriers are going to do their best to push femtocells. Mobile carriers are obviously worried by the impact of WiFi and VoWiFi on their voice revenues. Vodafone, world’s cellular operator has issued an RFP for femtocells, much like France Telecom, the parent company of Orange.


Thursday, July 05, 2007

Fixed Mobile Networks Converge, TMobile launches HotSpot@Home

64311.jpgTime to get rid of that landline, and say hello to Cellular-WiFi convergence. The much-talked-about dual mode T-Mobile USA wireless service, called HotSpot@Home, that uses both the cellular and WiFi networks for seamless phone calling is now available at a T-Mobile store near you. The service, is an attempt by the smallest of the big four US wireless carriers to overcome its lack of fixed line infrastructure. This is the second US telecom to launch a UMA service. Cincinnati Bell launched its UMA-based service called “Home Run” last week.

T-Mobile has launched the service with two basic handsets - the Samsung T409 and the Nokia 6086 – for $50 a pop if you sign-up for a two-year contract. If you get one of these two phones, you can add an unlimited nationwide calling (over WiFi) option for $10 a month. The wireless company is also offering especially configured routers with the phone, though your existing WiFi routers should suffice. It also works with 8,500 T-Mobile Hot Spots in the US including Starbucks locations, and doesn’t require extra payments.

64308.jpgWhile many of you might be wondering what’s the big deal: you can actually do that with a VoIP plan from one of the mobile start-ups like Truphone over a WiFi enabled handset. T-Mobile describes its technology as GSM-over-IP, and uses the UMA technology. (See 5 Things To Know about UMA) The phone companies have promised this type of convergence for a long time, but this is the first time such technology is being offered for mass consumption.

We have been using this service for last week or so, and it works as advertised. You turn on the phone, and it automatically scans for networks, and allows you to connect to your home network, and can handle all types of security options.

We did have trouble with Apple Airport network that had WPA2 protection turned on, but when we switched to our new ADSL2plus connection from Covad and a generic (T-mobile provided) WiFi router, things went smoothly. When we took the phone to our office, it found our work WiFi network, connected and stored that information. It is hard to tell which network the call is being routed over, and if there was any quality difference, we couldn’t tell.

The service isn’t exactly cheap – but it does offer convenience of one single number. It also allows you to get the most out of your minute plan. Given that nearly 27% of mobile wireless minutes are used from home, it is not such a bad option.

It also is a good way to over come weak signals in your home. Web workers who spend a lot of time in Starbucks can also cut their wireless minute usage quite a bit, without even paying for the Starbucks Wi-Fi access plan.

The big beneficiaries of this service will be International travelers. You can carry the phone with you, say to Rome. The phone will connect to a WiFi network, and allow you to call home as if you were calling locally. The bad news is that if you have to call someone in Rome, then it becomes an international call.


Top Five Virtual World Business News Items

Coke in SLTaxes, trademarks, advertising, malware, and more taxes. For every story I report on for GigaOM, there’s a bunch I save, to see how they develop. Here’s a handful of online world/MMO news items I’ll be keeping an eye on for future stories in the realm of metaverse business:

  • South Korea to tax virtual world wealth: Starting in July, if you earn more than 6 million won (about USD$6500) from the buying and selling of gold coins and other MMO valuables, you’ll have to pay a value added tax. Make more than $13,000 from that trade, and you’ll have to get a business license. (Hat tip: Raph Koster.)

  • Coke frees up its trademark in Second Life? According to Reuters’ Second Life correspondent, the most recognized corporate brand in the world is letting SL users “hack” their logo into virtual products, as long as the Coke-infused items don’t contain anything overtly sexual or violent. SL blogger Csven Concord has a very interesting interview with a Coke executive involved in this project. (Disclosure: the Coke presence was co-developed by an advertiser on my SL blog.)

  • Virtual world advertising forecast to reach $150 million by 2012: That according to Parks Associates, and that’s just the money spent in currently existing worlds. In related news, another analyst expects overall advertising in games to reach $2 billion by 2011.

  • Hackers more interested in stealing World of Warcraft gold than real cash: Phish for someone’s bank account information? That’s so old school– plus, that’ll get you put in jail. McAffee reports that there is now more malware created to steal WoW account gold, than financial passwords. Logic being, if the cyber thieves get caught trying to hack WoW, the penalties are a lot less steep– plus, they can always sell the gold for cash on the gray market.

  • Uncle Sam sets virtual world tax policy next month: Speaking of taxes, the US Congress will issue its first report on the issue in August. No one knows what it’ll say, but if they make an income through real money trading or content creation in Second Life, Americans might want to start collecting receipts now.

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Second Life Avatar Sued for Copyright Infringement

stroker-serpentine.jpgRight in time for the July 4th holiday week (after all, what’s more American than demanding your day in court?), businessman Kevin Alderman and his lawyer have just filed suit against someone who goes by the name Volkov Catteneo, for copyright infringement.

This would be just one IP dispute in thousands handled by US courts every day, except for two unique features: the contention is over a virtual sex bed which doesn’t exist, and the named defendant also doesn’t exist. As such, the suit will establish an enormous precedent in the new realm of virtual world law, however it shakes out.

I should back up and explain those last three sentences.

Linden Lab, the company which provides Second Life’s virtual land (i.e. server grid) and means to explore it (i.e. interface software and currency) has since late 2003 allowed its users to retain the underlying intellectual property rights to all objects and programs created in the world with its internal building and scripting tools.

This policy unleashed enormous user-created innovation, and enabled thousands of users to make a living with their virtual content creation. Alderman, known in Second Life as Stroker Serpentine (pictured) is one of SL’s leading entrepreneurs; his SL-based adult entertainment industry has become so successful, he recently sold his X-rated Amsterdam island in Second Life to a real world Dutch media firm for $50,000 very real dollars.

For the last fours years, this IP rights policy has been working more less as designed, but those who follow the virtual world business have been waiting for the other shoe to drop: what happens when one avatar tries to sue another avatar for copyright infringement in an actual court?

It finally has: Alderman/Serpentine believes Catteno is selling unauthorized copies of his SexGen bed, a piece of furniture with special embedded animations that enable players to more or less recreate an adult film with their avatars. Alderman sells his version for the L$ equivalent of USD$45, and they’ve helped make his fortune. Catteno is selling his alleged knockoff for a third that price, undercutting him.

But who does Kevin Alderman sue? Since SL users have no obligation to reveal their real life identity to other players, all the relevant data exists only on Linden’s servers and files. This is why Alderman is threatening to subpoena Linden Lab for this data, so he can bring the real person behind Catteno to trial.

I contacted Stroker Serpentine in Second Life and asked why he chose going to trial. Volkov Catteneo’s account was created in February 2007, while Stroker is a longtime and well-loved player. Why not just voice his complaint about Catteno to the SL community, so they can ostracize him and his allegedly infringing beds?

Stroker tells me he did try that method in another case, but ironically, it backfired. “[T]he last time this happened I confronted the individual about it and requested that they cease and desist…,” he says, “I was made out to be a bully and dragged through the [SL community] forums.” Linden Lab has a system for letting users file DMCA suits against each other; Stroker tried that twice, but wasn’t happy with how Linden responded. So he found a law firm specializing in copyright/trademark disputes. “We weighed all alternatives and listened to a lot of advice. So here we are.”

Trouble is, Catteno tells Reuters he doesn’t have any real world data on file with Linden Lab. (A plausible claim; since ‘06, it’s no longer necessary to register a credit card or other identifying data with Linden Lab.) I imagine the company could supply Alderman and his lawyer’s with Catteno’s IP address, and let them deal with it from there. Or if it goes forward in court, perhaps the judge will review the case, decide it’s fundamentally nuts, and toss it. Then again, the court might let it go to trial, as it did with another user lawsuit against Linden Lab, and what happens then is anyone’s guess. Numerous companies which depend on user-created content are waiting to see. In any case, may the best avatar win.

Update, 9:00am: For the legally minded, Reuters’ SL reporters (who broke this story) have put the actual legal form in .pdf at this link.

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