Friday, August 03, 2007

Second Life (finally) gets a direct competitor: Multiverse

multiverse.jpg The brainchild of several ex-Netscape execs, the Mountain View start-up Multiverse, as the name suggests, isn't a single online world, but a platform for creating games and other 3D experiences with the company's development tools, which are then run on its servers. (Like Dark Horizons, a sci-fi MMORPG pictured here.) Version 1.0 was just rolled out yesterday, and though it's too early to know how it'll fare, one thing is official: after 4 years of being the only user-created 3D online world on the commercial market, Second Life now has competition.

The system and revenue model is markedly different from SL, however: instead of fostering user-created content in a single world, Multiverse is a network of worlds accessible by the client software. It comes with e-commerce tools built into the system, so developer's can earn an income, while Multiverse makes money by taking a 10% cut of that revenue.

I haven't yet had a chance to check it out first hand (the client is cantankerous with my Vista machine), but I'll be keeping a close eye on its progress. Multiverse's advisory board includes Avatar director James Cameron and some other Hollywood heavyweights, so you have to think movie-to-MMO tie-ins are planned. (Indeed, a Multiverse version of the cult TV show Firefly was announced last year.) What's more, famed MMO academic Ed Castronova is already using Multiverse to develop the education-oriented MMO Arden.

My writing career has been tied up in Second Life on one level or another since 2003, so you might think I'd consider Multiverse a threat to my livelihood. Actually, I'm relieved. There are some truly impressive and popular mini-MMOs built within SL, like City of Lost Angels and Midgar, but they've largely succeeded in spite of Second Life, which is still far from ideal as a platform for game development. It's never healthy for any one company to dominate a space for so long, and an active competition to attract and retain new users and developers can only benefit us all.


Intel accelerates 45nm plans, hitting the market Q4 '07

from Engadget by Paul Miller Echoes of "take that, haters!" could be heard on Intel corporate Facebook accounts this morning as the company steals some thunder from AMD's recently announced roadmap and fancy fresh antitrust lawsuit. Intel will be launching new four core 45nm Intel Core Extreme "Penryn" processors in Q4 2007, a few months ahead of schedule. The top of the line proc is likely to hit 3.33GHz, run a 1333MHz system bus and hold 12MB of L2 cache. Only about 2-3% of Intel's chips will go 45nm in 2007, but that number should double by around Q2 2008, and it seems Intel needed to accelerate things to head off competition from AMD's upcoming Phenom processors. Prices and other precise launch dates are still a mystery at this point. [Via Silicon Investor]

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Meizu M8 gets unwelcome price hike, dodgy release details

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Sure hope you weren't counting on getting your palms around Meizu's oh-so-familiar M8 anytime soon, as it now looks like the handset may not even be available to purchase until mid-next year. Granted, the 667MHz CPU, 128MB of RAM, GSM connectivity, 3.4-inch VGA touchscreen, video output, and built-in Bluetooth 2.0 / WiFi sure are appealing, but those still willing to wait this one out will apparently be paying even more than previously expected. The latest on the street pegs the forthcoming 8GB iteration at around $400, but if money ain't a thang, you may as well continue on pinching those pennies for the 16GB (and potentially 3G-enabled) flavor. [Via MeizuMe]


BUSINESSWEEK: Identity Theft: The 'Business Bust-Out'

Policy July 23, 2007, 11:24AM EST

The "bust-out" is just one of the schemes fraudsters use to steal your business identity, a crime that has gone largely unnoticed in a legal system focused on consumer ID theft

A criminal rents space in the same building as your company. Then he applies for corporate credit cards using your firm's name. The application passes a credit check because the company name and address match, but the cards are delivered to the criminal's mailbox. He sells them on the street and vanishes before you discover your firm's credit is wrecked.

The so-called "business bust-out" scam is one way sophisticated criminals steal business identities across the country (see, 4/17/06, "Would I Lie to You? Five Cons Still Kicking"). Identity thieves increasingly target businesses instead of individuals, experts and law enforcement officials say, but federal law and many state statutes don't consider business identity theft a crime. That's because the raft of identity theft laws passed in the last decade apply mostly to individual consumers—not business entities.

A Gap in Statutes

While business identity theft can often be prosecuted under other statutes, like mail fraud or wire fraud, businesses victimized lose many of the protections afforded to consumers under identity theft laws, like access to information about their credit. Before California last year amended its 1997 identity theft law explicitly to include crimes targeting business entities, a business whose identity had been co-opted could not even get a police report. "We were having businesses being taken over and their names being used and I could not prosecute them, at least under ID theft statutes," California Deputy Attorney General Robert Morgester says.

It's difficult to say how many businesses have been victims of identity theft because most of the research focuses on complaints by consumers. Some studies say there were as many as 8.9 million individual victims nationwide last year, and estimated annual losses approach $50 billion. But the most sophisticated identity thieves increasingly are targeting businesses because the payoffs are bigger, Morgester says. Business accounts generally have higher credit limits and make larger purchases than consumers, so hefty charges by scammers are less likely to raise red flags. While most consumer frauds won't net a criminal more than $5,000, targeting a business can bring in 10 times that or more, he says—so "From a criminal's viewpoint, it's far more cost-effective to target a business rather than a consumer."

In a July 19 proposal, the Justice Dept. asked Congress explicitly to include businesses and organizations in the federal identity theft statute. "This is a real gap," says Betsy Broader, assistant director of the Federal Trade Commission's identity theft division. "The current federal law looks at ID theft as a crime against individuals."

Small Businesses at Risk

Small businesses in particular make ripe targets because they may be less savvy about protecting sensitive information than big companies that can afford to hire dedicated privacy officers. Often, small-business owners are just too busy to worry about identity theft—until it happens to their firm. "The worst thing a small business can do is think of themselves as a small business," says Linda Foley, co-founder of the nonprofit Identity Theft Resource Center. "You have to be a small business with a Big Business mentality."

Foley says business owners can protect themselves by keeping sensitive files under lock and key (electronic or otherwise), by restricting access only to employees who need it, and by closely watching their books. But sometimes there is little a business can do to keep from becoming a victim, as in the "business bust-out" scheme described above.

The new laws in California and the proposed federal change may give law enforcement the tools it needs to go after business identity theft. But because perpetrators can be elusive and investigators have limited resources, often the crime isn't prosecuted at all. According to a 2002 study by the Government Accountability Office, local prosecutors reported only being able to pursue a "small fraction" of reported identity thefts. Morgester says some detectives have 50 identity theft cases on their desk at once, and they must focus on the handful where they think they can make an arrest and get a conviction. If the loss is relatively small—under $10,000, he suggests—police may be reluctant to take it on. At the federal level, some U.S. attorneys have thresholds of $1 million.

Victims Must Investigate

But the best solution for businesses that have been victims of identity theft can be to do the legwork of an investigation themselves, says Morgester. Often business owners must do so anyway to recover their credit and reputation. If victims follow the paper trail and bring investigators a lead, police and prosecutors will be more willing to pursue it, he says.

"There's a lot of cases where the corporation or an individual by themselves can put together 90% of the evidence," Morgester says. "We've had a number of cases where, based on the material we had brought to us by the victims, the only last step we had to do was write a search warrant and kick down a door."

John Tozzi is an intern for


Thursday, August 02, 2007

LG Philips develops oil and water based flexible display

LG Philips, known for its nearly constant pursuit of new flexible display solutions, has recently applied for a patent on a bendable OLED screen technology which would use oil and water to produce images. Apparently, current flexible OLED displays are hampered by the fact that the OLEDs get hotter than the plastic substrate, making manufacture difficult and expensive. The new process that the company is developing would circumvent those problems by making pixels out of oil and water connected to plastic electrodes. The opaque oil would float on the water and obscure a colored surface beneath -- when an electric charge was applied to the field it would reveal the surface and change the color of the pixel. The process is cheap and simple, which hopefully means a future of reading a completely digital morning paper for all of us. [Via NewScientist, thanks Alan]


Man-made 'tethered tornadoes' touted as a viable power source

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With all the wacky unconventional proposals we've seen people come up with for generating electricity in an environmentally friendly manner, is it really so outrageous to think that giant, man-made tornadoes could be harnessed to power a small city? Well that's exactly the idea being floated around the University of Western Ontario these days, which is currently testing a scale model of retired refinery engineer Louis Michaud's patented vortex engine -- a machine fueled by excess power plant heat that uses the physics of convection inherent in rising air to drive electricity-producing turbines. In its most grandiose realization, the engine (inventor's rendition pictured above) would be 200 meters in diameter and generate a 'clean' (debris-free) tornado stretching 20 kilometers into the sky able to coax 20 megawatts each out of ten independent turbines. Obviously the main concern about the anticipated $60 million project -- which would reportedly operate at just a quarter of the cost of a coal-based facility, even before taking into account the $20 million saved on a cooling tower by the participating power plant -- is that the tornado could somehow escape its confines and wreak havoc on nearby communities. Still, with all the advantages this scheme seems to offer, we're certainly willing to give it a chance -- after all, a 'malfunctioning vortex engine' is a lot less scary than a potential disaster at one of the many nuke plants dotting our landscape. [Via UberReview]


Judges fighting litigation with Supreme Court's "obvious" patent ruling

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You might recall that the Supreme Court recently handed down a decision which loosened the definition of "obvious" as applied to patent interpretation, saying that if a person of ordinary skill could "fit the teaching of multiple patents together like pieces of a puzzle," the patent is obvious and unenforceable. That decision, which has been called the most important patent ruling in decades, is starting to affect several longstanding patent disputes, most notably a case brought against Real Networks in 2003 by a company called Friskit. In the first instance of a judge applying the new rule, Friskit's patents have been deemed unenforceable as obvious, a change from an earlier ruling allowing the case to go forward. Friskit is of course considering an appeal, but we wouldn't be surprised to see a lot more of these suits decided early on the basis of obviousness. [Via TechDirt]


A Wall Projector for your iPod, Mobile phone or Digital Cameras

oio explay mobile projector [Picture of a couple watching video clips from their mobile phone projected on the wall]

explay oio wall projectorImagine projecting pictures or video clips from your iPod or mobile phone on to the nearest wall. Or playing the PowerPoint presentation directly from your smartphone or PDA on the wall of the conference room without the bulky projector.

Explay, a company based in Israel, has developed a battery-operated projector called "oio" that looks like a USB thumb drive and can be used to display content from any mobile device including cell phones, digital camera, media player, video camcorders, etc.

Oio mobile projector is no vaporware, the device was recently demonstrated at a conference in California and Explay plans a commercial launch in 2008. No word on pricing yet.

So you are not limited to viewing those high resolution pictures on the tiny LCD screen of the mobile device, Oio will help you watch content on any surface like a wall, coffee table or even your bed.

Explay Oio | Product Brochure (PDF) Thanks Ilya.


Prevent Visitors from Downloading Images from Your Website

Technically it is impossible to protect web pictures from leeching since most browsers will first download a copy of the entire image from the internet to the local cache before rendering.

Some webmasters try to disable right click on their webpages so that visitors cannot access the "Save Image As.." command in the menu but that trick can be easily defeated by disabling Javascript or using Firefox. Image Maps are another option but the sliced images can be saved as a whole using any screen capture program.

So what's a good alternative if you are very eager to protect you images on the internet ? One option is is convert your images to SWF Flash objects before uploading them to the web but if that sounds too impractical, try swfIR (SWF Image Replacement tool).

prevent download pictures

swfIR is a very simple technique to prevent image download from your website - instead of adding the standard tag for embedding pictures, you define the image location in Javascript and the image will then wrap inside a Flash movie on your webpage.

What's so nice about swfIR is that it lets apply nice visual effects to your images including borders, rounded corners, small rotations and shadows without actually modifying the original image.

Tech savvy users can easily download the image by looking at the HTML source code of your web page but for the not-so-geeky crowd and image leech software, all they'll see is a blank Flash movie. | swfIR Examples


Casio Adds A 5.1 MP Cameraphone To Its Exilim Line

While Casio's Exilim line has become synonymous for quality cameras, they took a different route this time and hit us with the W53CA Cameraphone. The device features a 5.1 Megapixel camera with 9 point auto focus, image stabilization and a clamshell swivel screen. To top it off, Casio added MicroSD, MP3 support, and one hell of a sleek design. Unfortunately, it's a Korea exclusive.


$1150, Quad-Driver, Ultimate Ears UE-11 Pro Headphones

ue-11-pro.jpg Ultimate Ears makes some of the best earphones I've ever heard, with the high end UE line made of custom molded pieces with multiple drivers inside. The UE-11 Pro raises the bar to having 4 in each ear, broken down into dual subs, a mid and tweeter. Audio sensitivity is 110dB at 1mW, which is very efficient. Available in a variety of colors and designs (including monograms) for $1150. I believe that's in a custom metal case. [iLounge]


Three Concept Video Projectors for Gaming More than All White

08.07_userdesigned_07.jpg These three objects are all video projectors that go by the name of Trisha, Dane and Trey. They are the fruits of a collaboration between Texas Instruments, Ignition, DLP and a trio of students on a Masters program in video game development at Southern Methodist University.


"Made In China" Gets Expensive

The last anyone heard, US companies manufactured goods in China because labor costs were low and the out-sourcing saved money.

Yesterday, Mattel's (MAT) Fisher division recalled about one milion toys. They had high levels of lead in the paint used on them. Mattel had not inspected them as carefully as it might have because the company knew the manufacturer well. Target (TGT) and other firms have recently announced that they had problems with the quality of products brought in from China. These issues now cover a range of goods from toothpaste to dog food to toys.

What has become obvious very quickly is that US companies importing Chinese products are going to have to audit manufacturing in that country and significantly increase the inspection of items as they come to the United states. And, that could be very expensive given the tens of millions of units that come from the Asian country to American each month.

While labor costs may be China's biggest ally in terms of getting US business, low quality and poor inspection standards are its greatest enemies.

If US companies have to increase costs to monitor Chinese products, the country may cease being the low cost provider. And, public opinion is showing the US consumers are already worried.

Douglas A. McIntyre for 24/7 Wall St.


Google Pushes Tailored Phones


August 2, 2007; Page A1

Google Inc. is searching for growth in cellphones.

The company, which has made billions of dollars in Web advertising on computers, is courting wireless operators to carry handsets customized to Google products, including its search engine, email and a new mobile Web browser, say people familiar with the plans. It wants to capture a big chunk of the fast-growing market for ads on cellphones.

Google has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the cellphone project, say people who have been briefed on it. It has developed prototype handsets, made overtures to operators such as T-Mobile USA and Verizon Wireless, and talked over technical specifications with phone manufacturers. It hopes multiple manufacturers will make devices based on its specs and multiple carriers will offer them.

For wireless operators, the plans are a double-edged sword. Google's powerful brand and its popular Web services could help operators sign up more subscribers to data packages, on which they increasingly rely as voice revenue declines. However, operators have been wary about losing control over the mobile-ad market.

The long-rumored Google phones are still in the planning stages, and wouldn't be available to consumers until next year at the earliest, say people familiar with the idea. Some details are likely to shift as the plans develop.

The Mountain View, Calif., company has made clear it is serious about developing advanced software and services for cellphones. "What's interesting about the ads in the mobile phone is that they are twice as profitable or more than the nonmobile phone ads because they're more personal," said Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt at the D: All Things Digital conference in May.

A Google spokesman yesterday declined to comment on a Google phone project, but noted: "We are partnering with almost all of the carriers and manufacturers to get Google search and other Google applications onto their devices and networks."

The Google phone project goes far beyond Google's existing deals to include its search engine or applications such as Maps on select handsets, say the people familiar with the matter.

The company's past efforts to get its software on cellphones have raised some concerns in the industry. Verizon Wireless Chief Executive Lowell McAdam said the carrier has chosen not to integrate Google's Web search engine tightly into its phones because of Google's demands to get a large share of search-based ad revenue.

"What this really boils down to is a battle for the mobile ad dollar," Mr. McAdam said in a recent interview. "They want a disproportionate share of the revenue." Mr. McAdam declined to comment specifically on any Google phones.

Google has announced that it may bid for wireless-spectrum licenses at a coming government auction. The Federal Communications Commission on Tuesday approved rules addressing some of Google's concerns about the sale.

If it owned spectrum, Google might turn into a phone operator itself. However, such a project would take years to come to fruition and cost billions of dollars. For now, Google has to work with existing cellphone operators to get its mobile products to consumers.

In recent months Google has rolled out mobile versions of products such as the YouTube video-sharing site. It has made deals to include its search engine or applications such as Google Maps and Gmail on select handsets. But the company has sometimes been frustrated at the limited distribution it has achieved. In some cases, Google has managed to get around operators. Its 411 location search service can be accessed by dialing an 800 number from any handset.

Now it is drafting specifications for phones that can display all of Google's mobile applications at their best, and it is developing new software to run on them. The company is conducting much of the development work at a facility in Boston, and is working on a sophisticated new Web browser for cellphones, people familiar with the plans say.

The prize for Google: the potential to broker ads on the mobile phones, complementing the huge ad business it has built online. Google even envisions a phone service one day that is free of monthly subscription charges and supported entirely through ad revenue, people familiar with the matter say.

Last year, global spending on mobile-phone advertising, including placement of ads in text messages, Web pages, video and all other content, was only $1.5 billion, according to eMarketer. But that figure is projected to grow to nearly $14 billion by 2011, the market research firm says.

The proposed Google phone, Apple Inc.'s iPhone and efforts by other technology companies are aimed at making Web and computer functions easier for consumers to use on cellphones. Today, surfing the Web, listening to music and watching video on cellphones are often clunky experiences.

Unlike Apple, whose cellphone is available exclusively through AT&T, Google is hoping that multiple operators will offer its phone. And Google is ready to relinquish some control over design, allowing manufacturers to create devices based on a common set of specifications.

Google has approached several wireless operators in the U.S. and Europe in recent months, including AT&T, T-Mobile USA and Verizon Wireless, a joint venture of Verizon Communications Inc. and Vodafone Group PLC, people familiar with the situation say. T-Mobile USA, a unit of Deutsche Telekom AG, appears to be the furthest along in considering it, these people say. Andy Rubin, who helped design T-Mobile's popular Sidekick phone, now works at Google and is involved in its handset project.

Google recently struck a deal with Sprint Nextel Corp. to have a wide array of its services bundled into devices for that carrier's high-speed wireless network based on the nascent WiMax technology. Both companies declined to comment on whether that relationship would extend to offering Google-customized phones on Sprint's existing cellular network.

The specifications Google has laid out for devices suggest that manufacturers include cameras for photo and video, and built-in Wi-Fi technology to access the Web at hot spots such as airports, coffee shops and hotels. It also is recommending that the phones be designed to work on carriers' fastest networks, known as 3G, to ensure that Web pages can be downloaded quickly. Google suggests the phones could include Global Positioning System technology that identifies where people are.

People who have seen Google's prototype devices say they aren't as revolutionary as the iPhone. One was likened to a slim Nokia Corp. phone with a keyboard that slides out. Another phone format presented by Google looked more like a Treo or a BlackBerry. It's not clear which manufacturers might build Google wireless devices, though people familiar with the project say LG Electronics Co. of South Korea is one company that has held talks with Google. Google has already lined up a series of hardware component and software partners and signaled to carriers that it's open to various degrees of cooperation on their part, the people say.

Google doesn't plan to charge a licensing fee to hardware makers or operators, people familiar with the matter say. The company has suggested the phones could carry the Google brand alongside the brand of the operator, or they could be distributed without the Google name. The Google brand has yet to appear on a significant piece of consumer hardware.

Some executives at cellphone operators were skeptical about Google's efforts. They noted the case of Walt Disney Co.'s ESPN, which introduced a sports-centric handset but was forced to shut down the venture last year amid soft demand.

Apple's iPhone could be a formidable competitor among consumers -- and also present strategic complications. Four of Apple's eight directors also serve as directors or advisers to Google. Mr. Schmidt, the Google CEO, is on Apple's board. Those with ties to both companies might find it difficult to avoid conflicts of interest.

Google has generally had better luck in Europe than in the U.S. in getting its software on cellphones. It has forged a relationship with the United Kingdom's Vodafone Group PLC to provide the search bar on the carrier's branded Internet homepage, with results customized for cellphone users. T-Mobile in Europe integrates Google's search bar into its welcome screen for users who have a data plan designed for heavy Web browsing. It's unclear which carriers in Europe Google is working with on its handset plans.

--Cassell Bryan-Low, Jane Spencer and Evan Ramstad contributed to this article.

Write to Amol Sharma at and Kevin J. Delaney at


Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Eco-trend Designers At Treehugger Cash In W/ $15M Buyout By Discovery

treehugger.png's founder Graham Hill and his CTO Nick Aster are both web designers by trade who took their discerning eyes to the subject of alternative energy and eco-friendly living with Treehugger. The site gained a following thanks to its sharp look, the eco movement trendlines and some help from board member Nick Denton who runs ads frequently for Treehugger on his Gawker Media network.

Today Discovery Communications announced that it is buying Treehugger for a reported $15M, four years after Treehugger was launched. The company says it has about 1.4M unique monthly visitors but this number should rise sharply now that Discovery will be promoting it to the masses. Treehugger will become part of Discovery's PlanetGreen network.

Read - announcement


Keyspan intros USB 2.0 Server

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They certainly took their time doing it, but the folks at Keyspan have finally churned out a follow-up to their original USB Server, offering much of the same and one notable improvement with their new USB 2.0 Server. The big advantage here, as the name suggests, is the server's new USB 2.0 interface, as opposed to the sluggish USB 1.1 interface of the original. Otherwise, you'll get a pair of USB ports that you can use to share printers, scanners, and other USB devices over either a wired or wireless network, with full compatibility with both Macs and PCs. If that'll do, you can grab one now for $129.


Grockit Raises Cash, Prepares “Massive Multiplayer Online Learning” Product.r

Grockitlogo.jpgWhen we last wrote about San Francisco based Grockit, in late 2006, they were unfunded. Their business idea of holding low-cost GMAT prep courses over Webex was just getting off the ground.

Now they are funded - $2.7 million total ($2.3 million from Benchmark, $400k from angel investors Mark Pincus, Rob Lord, Reid Hoffman Thomas Ryan and others) in a Series A round was closed last month. And they are changing their model completely.

Instead of holding one-to-many classes via Webex, the company is building a new product from the ground up. Founder Farbood Nivi calls it MMOL, for Massive Multiplayer Online Learning (a play on the term MMOG). He says studies show that people learn best from eachother, not in a teacher-students situation. He, along with technical co-founder Michael Buffington (, MeasureMap, Stikkit), are going to try to prove this works. Beyond that, they aren't divulging any details at all.


Entropia Universe Licenses CryENGINE

entropia.pngSecond Life competitor Entropia Universe has signed an agreement to use the game engine CryENGINE 2.

According to Entropia Universe, the CryENGINE 2 platform will deliver the “closest-to-reality looking massively multiplayer online game ever seen.”

The move towards realistic 3D rendering in virtual worlds continues to gain pace. Second Life acquired Windward Mark Technology in May, delivering realistic wind and clouds to their platform.

Entropia Universe has been on a role lately, having passed 500,000 users and expanding into China. The new version of Entropia Universe is expected to be available by mid-2008.

Sample pictures below. Previous TechCrunch coverage here.


Crunch Network: CrunchGear drool over the sexiest new gadgets and hardware.


Trusted Opinion Adds Netflix Queuing

Social networking startup Trusted Opinion has added Netflix Queuing to their recommendations focused offering.

The feature allows Trusted Opinion members to read a review of a movie then instantly add it to their Netflix queue without leaving the page.

Although it sounds simple, Netflix does not offer a public API and hence the feature had to be created the old fashioned way, by creative programming.

NetFlix does not currently offer a social networking service; Trusted Opinion sees the feature as being a draw card for Netflix members seeking new movies.

We last wrote about Trusted Opinion in February. The site has had mixed results in terms of traffic since then in what is a hyper-competitive social networking market. Marrying an all you can eat movie hire service like Netflix to a service such as Trusted Opinion provides something that creates a point of differentiation. The feature will appeal to movie fans looking to find then hire great movies from a sea of Hollywood mediocrity. to.jpg

Crunch Network: CrunchBoard because it’s time for you to find a new Job2.0


eSwarm: Group Buying Online

eswarm.jpgBoulder, Colorado based eSwarm aims to bring buyers and sellers together with a model that is similar to bulk buying clubs.

Buyers register for a free account then join current swarms (groups of buyers) or create new ones. Swarms can be focused on any consumer good, debt refinancing, pre-paid gift and debit cards and even insurance products. Sellers then bid for the business.

The theory is that the larger the swarm, the more attractive it will be to sellers. Once a seller lodges a first bid, membership to the swarm is frozen and other businesses have 48 hours to counter bid.

eSwarm also provides charities and organizations with a fundraising tool; creators of swarms can stipulate that a percentage of the total sale is donated to their charity of choice.

There is not a lot of activity on the site as yet, but it is growing. CEO Tim Newcomb says that eSwarm is a “global economic revolution;” it’s not, but it does have potential.



NowPublic Gets $10.6 Million For Crowd Sourced News

NowPublic“Crowd sourced” news network has closed a $10.6 milion series A round of financing led by Rho Ventures with seed investors Brightspark and the Working Opportunity Fund participating.

Crowd sourcing is part of the widely expanding “citizen journalism” category, which encompasses all the new ways non-professionals can participate in the news reporting process. Examples range from commenting, voting on stories, to full out blogging. News commentator Jeff Jarvis has written extensively on the subject. NowPublic is a website that provides these tools to the public so they can report on what is going on around them. Many other news startups also incorporate these tools in different ways, such as NewsVine, OutsideIn, Digg, CitizenBay, recently Topix, and the now defunct Backfence.

On the spectrum of citizen journalism, NowPublic is considered a “crowd sourced” news network since stories rely on many bits of contributed content instead of a small group of users.

nowpublicscreen.pngOn NowPublic, anyone can sign up for the site and start contributing to stories in the usual categories (politics, culture, entertainment, …) or even local news. Users can write their own stories and upload their own photos (mobile), or simply submit a story from somewhere else on the web. Each of the submissions ranked in the category based on the number of votes they get. Editors can also come in and adjust the rankings based on breaking news and spamming.

Traction is one of the hardest things to build in community based startups. Citizen journalism startup Bayosphere was shut down after it couldn’t attract enough contributors. However, NowPublic reports to have over 118,000 members from over 140 countries and 3,800 cities. The site does over 1 million uniques per month. They have a hardcore audience of about 15 - 20,000 exceptionally active contributors that put up anywhere from 2 to 5 stories each month.

NowPublic seems to work best in times of crisis where it can serve as a hub for reports from people on the ground. During Hurricane Katrina, the site received over 2,000 people writing and posting about what was going on. NowPublic also reportedly broke news in the Virginia Tech shooting, the grounding of an Alaskan ferry, a bombing drill gone wrong in New Jersey and a murder in Vancouver.

The ability to be places where news media aren’t always present has led to a partnership with the Associated Press. AP has started purchasing stories and photos from the site based on the submitters asking price. NowPublic can cover areas AP’s 4,000 staff members aren’t and will be particularly focused on hurricane prone parts of the country as hurricane season approaches. While they are currently not taking any portion of the proceeds, in the future NowPublic plans on taking 25% cut. They have 7 to 10 other major partnerships lined up as well.

The Vancouver-based company was originally started in 2005.


Amazon To Launch Payments Services; Will Compete With PayPal and Google Checkout

from TechCrunch by Michael Arrington

Look for a launch announcement by Amazon this week or next of a new web service around payments, adding to their S3 (storage), EC2 (virtual server) and other services. They've been quietly testing the service, which will compete with PayPal and Google Checkout, for a few weeks. It is an extension of the existing Amazon Payments, which allows third parties selling items on Amazon's extended network to receive payments from buyers.

We hear that for now at least this is a redirect service only, like Google Checkout. Users will be redirected to Amazon's servers to complete the payment and then returned to the original site. PayPal also offers an integrated solution that allows users to remain on the original ecommerce site, an attractive feature for larger partners. The service will also allow sites to use Amazon to manage payments between users, and receive confirmation of transactions. This will be particularly useful for the new crop of online money management services.

PayPal, owned by eBay, still dominates this space, and the spats between them and Google are becoming legendary.


Can privacy be a premium service?

Time and privacy are two aspects of our modern lives that are in short supply. The constant distractions of modern communications have placed increased demands on our time. And similarly, as we do more things on the web, we leave our footprints in the sand, sacrificing our privacy in micro-chunks: be it surfing on the web, or simply conducting searches on Google.

Time and its management are highly personal issues, but when it comes to privacy, the chinks outweigh the average person's capabilities. And that prompted me to as the question: can privacy be offered as a value-added (premium) service by carriers and web service operators such as Google.

There are those who fret about the Government snooping into our lives. Yet, at the same time, we are all happily sacrificing a little but of our privacy every day in the name of cool or convenience. Take, the new friend-finding service on Sprint Nextel (powered by Loopt) as an example. The Wall Street Journal reports that such location-based services now account for one third of US carriers' application-related revenues, ahead of sports and music.

And that's not all. The hot new trend of personal broadcasting (or neo-modern narcissism) only exacerbates the problem. From photos uploaded to Flickr, location-based services announcing our presence, alert services like Twitter and Pownce acting as nano-thought transmitters, videocasting via Kyte, or just plain old Facebook - it seems in this post-broadband world, everyone is happy to share everything.

This might seem as the final deliverance on the promise of the two-way web, but this upload-and-share philosophy comes with some baggage. While in the past it was your emails that could get you into trouble (Bill Gates would agree), now there are many more ways to get busted.

Only last week we had the quirky WholeFoods CEO whose "anonymous" self promotion has gotten him into trouble, lately with SEC. There was the whole fracas about Plazes CEO who skipped a conference, making an excuse, only to broadcast his location from another city. And now, The Times of London is reporting how Oxford University proctors got hold of photos of wild celebrations from the Facebook, and fined the rowdy students.

The tragicomic-sensationalist headlines not withstanding, as the shift to online interactions gathers momentum , we might find our lives more exposed than ever before. If not today, but soon enough, we might be willing to pay to protect the privacy, and erase the digital footprints we are leaving behind.

The search engine giants - Ask, Yahoo, Microsoft and to some extent Google - have started to put privacy protection procedures in place, but they are meaningless. At least three of them will be keeping our search data for a year - which is too long. For a nominal fee of say a $1 a month, they should offer us ability to erase our search behavior every week.

Similarly, web services could use better privacy as a distinguishing factor. After all if all social networks are going to be platforms, I should ideally opt for one that protects and respects my privacy. Other web services could follow - turn privacy into an opportunity for making money.


10 Questions for Nanosolar CEO Martin Roscheisen

Written by Katie Fehrenbacher

Martin Roscheisen, CEO of thin film solar company Nanosolar, founded the startup five years ago when solar was nowhere near the hot topic it is today. He managed to fund the company with at least $100 million from venture firms like Benchmark Capital and Mohr Davidow and individual investors like Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and entrepreneur Jeff Skoll.

The Austrian citizen born in Munich is also a long time Internet entrepreneur who already founded three startups with a combined value of more than $1.2 billion. In an email interview he answers 10 questions for us:

Q). You were one of the first Valley entrepreneurs to focus seriously on green tech - If you had to start a clean tech company in 2007, and not 2002, what would you do differently?

A). I know very little about anything in greentech other than solar. If I had to start a solar company in 2007, I would take a pass. This industry is in a very different stage now. This is going to be like the DRAM business much more quickly than many may realize. I have a hard time seeing how anyone can be successful in solar who isn’t truly in volume in 2008 with a very mature, very cost-efficient technology.

Q). Before Nanosolar you were an Internet entrepreneur - what are the lessons that you’ve learned in that industry that have helped you most when you moved into clean tech?

A). Hiring for “raw talent” (and sense of urgency and drive to win) over “experience”. Being disciplined about not overhiring. Focusing on business not busyness. Quickly ignoring all sorts of miscreants. Accelerating momentum without spending a dollar on marketing. A few other things.

Q). In the thin film industry there are several players like Miasole or SoloPower that are looking to build the next CIGS thin film technology. What will make the difference in which technologies win the deals?

A).An IEC-certified panel product available in near-term 100MW volume at a fully-loaded cost point in the sixties [cents/Watt] or less so that one can profitably sell at a $.99/Watt wholesale price point. There’s no chance a process technology based on a high-vacuum deposition technique is going to make this. The window of opportunity for that more conventional approach to CIGS existed perhaps two years ago in the form of the chance of getting to market earlier with such more incremental technology.

But by now, the industry has moved on generally and Nanosolar is there with far better third-generation process technology that took a $150-million deep-dive into very science-intense research and development to develop, and that momentum gap that will continue to broaden fast.

Q). The thin film industry has seemed to undergo delays in general - has the time to production taken longer than you expected, or are critics being unreasonable?

A). It is correct that there’s at least one journalist/blogger running the danger of being remembered in history as the one who scolded Carl Benz for being a month late with the first automobile. Thin film solar cells are an amazingly advanced and complex technology that even the brightest groups of people in the world can find unusually challenging. Furthermore, developing materials processes and building manufacturing tooling and operations simply does not happen on software or consumer electronics development cycles.

Especially not for a profoundly transformative new technology such as Nanosolar’s. So not even our own investors care really all that much about whether we’re a bit late or not; it’s more all about getting there safely. That said, it turns out that we have executed very well and are very close within our internal timeline originally proposed to our investors in 2005.

Q). A report from the Information Network said that delays in thin film have “soured venture capital firms and other equity investors who had hoped for faster returns on investments.” Thoughts?

A). I don’t know about “souring” but if anyone expected a materials based business to deliver YouTube type investment IRRs, they might have put their hopes in the wrong place. On the other hand, a company like Nanosolar has a credible path towards shipping $10 billion worth of high-ops-margin product to strong commercial customers with a sales model that could not be simpler and more predictable; and at that point the company would perhaps still only have a one-digit market penetration percentage. So there will be attractive returns for long-term investors of all sizes. But no overnight killing. We have turned down a ton of interested investors who we did not feel had the right outlook.

Q). Will Nanosolar begin production this year?

A). Yes, we’re on track with this. Do not expect an Apple style product launch though. Our first 100,000 panels are already set to go into closed, private, utility-scale deployments, with a tall fence around them and not much accessibility to the general public.

Q). Does the company need to raise any more money?

A). We are fully funded for reaching profitability. We may choose to raise additional capital for accelerating our capacity expansion.

Q). An analyst told me that thin film solar companies in the U.S. are worried about price competition with Chinese solar firms. . . .is that true and something Nanosolar thinks about competitively?

A). If I ran a company based on solar thin films deposited in high-vacuum chambers, I’d worry too. Because [Chinese market leader] Suntech achieves better capital efficiency today with conventional silicon-wafer based solar factories than a typical thin-film vacuum line. That’s a problem right there. At Nanosolar though, we have a nanoparticle-based printing process that is 5-10x more capital efficient on the total line. So we have a good delta.

All things being equal, given the $/kg economics of solar panels, I don’t think the competitive end game is to be shipping them from China. The end-game winners will be optimized for net working capital days and proximity to customers. (Btw, shipping from China costs ten times as much as shipping to China these days…) The middle game will be dominated by quality issues; this is a product that people expect to last for decades.

Quality is quite hard to do with the kinds of manual factories that are behind the capital efficiency of Chinese production lines. I see a lot of big customers in Europe quite unhappy with Chinese panels. That all said, my general rule on China is that one has to recheck all of one’s assumptions about China about once every three months.

Q). The company’s chief scientist Chris Eberspacher joined Applied Materials and some bloggers were wondering if the company is losing its core startup talent. Thoughts?

A). I don’t think that’s the case. There may have been a bit too much blue-sky blogging on that by some. Perhaps the following background helps to clarify all of this a bit:

Chris Eberspacher is a 20-year PV industry veteran who joined us 2.5 years ago as an R&D group manager at a time when our technology was already in full development and the technical roadmap established. His initial review of the many things we had started doing concluded that this all makes a tremendous amount of sense, has a lot of distinct advantages, and that we should proceed with exactly these plans without incorporating any of the work pioneered by Chris himself.

It turns out that things continued like this. Many of our most significant advances and breakthroughs came from intensely trying new things often diametrically counter to any beliefs. So our core engineering culture got reinforced very much around questioning the past, not assuming anything, and fundamentally not at all that much valuing the past 20 years of solar research. Chris still managed to be part of this for a good amount of time, with him in particular representing us externally very well.

But the internal leadership issue ultimately boiled over late last year after our pilot line team started producing product-quality cells that were more efficient than those produced in the lab by the research team managed by Chris. Lab cells are supposed to be steps ahead not behind the pilot-line cells. So our key engineers, our board, etc. ended up concluding that Chris, for all his experience and industry stature, had to be replaced with one of our younger guys who was the de facto research group leader anyway already.

We did a reorg and moved Chris into a non-operational role. We accepted that he most likely may have larger ambitions that the scope of that. Sure enough, he decided to resign the next month and started looking for a new job. Two more months later he landed at Applied. I actually helped him with getting the job at Applied. He’s going to do very well there among other 20-year solar-industry veterans and presumably a culture that values that kind of experience more than we ever did.

Our own lab team is styling now. And our pilot line running even better. For our first product, the pilot line matters foremost of course. So none of all of the above really affects our product introduction all that much. But we also want to continue to be a powerhouse of lab innovation in the style that’s proven to work best for us: Mostly driven by smart kids straight out of school who we give all the tools and toys to try crazy new things; plus just a thin dose of managers who know how to earn their respect.

Q). Do you have customers lined up to purchase the product, and if so which companies?

A). We are lined up with the industry’s top system integrators as our partners, and it is clear we are going to be manufacturing capacity limited for about as far out as we can see. There’s presently really only two truly scalable solar markets in the world — Germany and Spain — and we do a lot there. Being a scalable market is today as much about feed-in-tariffs as about the administrative framework; tomorrow, with grid-parity PV systems, it is primarily about the latter.

For the United States to also become a truly scalable market, some ingrained bureaucracy stands in the way for that still — everything from 1920s-era conduit-around-cables and grounding requirements to insanely complicated town-by-town permitting processes. It’s hard to believe that California is more bureaucratic than Germany — but it is so in solar power. Fortunately, people are beginning to realize this and so change is possible even if it affects electric code rules designed around 1920s electric technology.


AllCapture - Screen Recording Software Inspired by Adobe Flash

Balesio, developers of Turbodemo, have introduced a new screencasting software called AllCapture 2.0 that provides a pretty solid post-production environment for editing your screencast recordings.

If you have ever worked with Adobe Flash (the authoring environment, not the Flash player), you know that Flash uses the concept of a visual timeline to show the content of a movie over time in layers and frames.

You can turn-off layers to hide some object (like an image or sound clip) from stage, group similar layers in folders, extend the display length by adding new keyframes, tweak animation and more.

screencast-frame-recording [Screen capture of AllCapture Screencast Software - Notice the TimeLine]

AllCapture frame-by-frame screencast editor is something like Adobe Flash tailored for screencasting. Objects (sounds, images, text captions) are arranged as layers which can be further grouped into folders. Even the Timeline layout in AllCapture 2.0 is remarkably similar to that of Flash authoring tool.

When you record a new desktop movie in AllCapture, it's added as to the Film layer while the mouse or cursor movements go in a separate layer. This is such an excellent feature because you can visually select and disable the mouse cursor in frames. Every single frame that has motion or animation is shown with a black solid dot making it extremely easy for educators and trainers to polish their screencasts and trim the boring parts.

And like Windows Movie maker or other video editing software, you may add transitions and video effects between individual frames to make your screencasts look more professional.

A 30 second 640x480 video recording of a web browsing session resulted in a 7 MB MPG file. Not bad. The software costs around $129. [Don't have the budget, try Jing from TechSmith.]


Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Add Up to 2TB of Storage to Your Apple TV

apple-tv-hacked.jpg Apple TV can now be "user configured" with up to 2 terabytes of external storage via a hack waking up its USB 2.0 port. At last someone has developed a patch to expand the Apple TV's storage through its USB 2.0 port, using the internal hard drive to boot and one fat external 2TB drive to stockpile as many TV series, photos and porn movies as you want. Yes, Cupertino, resistance to hackers is futile, I'm afraid. The process is not difficult, as you will see after the jump.

For this recipe you will need one ssh-enabled Apple TV, one sightly battered Intel Mac or Intel-based Linux/Unix system, one installed version of Mac OS X 10.4 Intel, one clean, "original, unmodified copy of the 'mach_kernel.prelink' file from the Apple TV," one external USB drive, generous amounts of sightly peppered raw courage and a liberal quantity of chilled sherry.

For cooking, first format the external USB drive as Journaled HFS+ in Mac OS X and leave it aside. You won't need it until the end.

Run the script and back up your Apple TV using the included instructions. Now drink some sherry. After five minutes the Apple TV will reboot. Turn it on again without connecting the USB drive until the flying-TV-screens introduction sequence finishes. When you connect the USB the contents from the internal drive will be copied to the external one. That's why the chefs for this recipe, Patrick Walton of University of Chicago and Tom Anthony from Apple TV Hacks, recommend you to "erase the content of your internal hard drive first so that there is no need to copy the content." Finish the sherry or pour yourself another glass.

The Apple TV will restart automatically after the content is copied and from that point on the USB disk will be used as content storage. Unfortunately this will leave the internal drive empty save for the operating system - but, quite frankly, who cares when you are going to end up with a 2TB Apple TV, specially after all that chilled sherry?

If you think the process to enable what should have been a feature since the beginning is not for the faint-hearted, hopefully someone will release a graphic patcher soon. Otherwise, go for it carefully and enjoy. [Apple TV Hacks]


Monday, July 30, 2007

We're all irrational

Well, most of us anyway.

This terrific article about a study of eBay buyers and sellers proves it. In some categories, more than 40% of the auctions went for more than the Buy it Now price. Hmmmm. Two tips from the end:

  • Set low opening prices. When choosing between identical items, buyers seem to favor whichever auction has the most bids. The best way to grab early bids: Start with a cheap price. By the time a $1 DVD auction reaches $10, it will probably attract more newcomers than a DVD that started at $10.
  • Don't use secret reserves. A study of online auctions with and without hidden minimum prices showed that many buyers steer clear of items with a secret opening price. It’s like that old shopping joke, "If you have to ask how much it costs, you can’t afford it."