Friday, August 31, 2007

Slim new Creative ZEN shows up on Amazon

While Creative still seems to be holding out until IFA to get official with its latest ZEN PMP, Amazon appears to be under no such restrictions, with it already accepting pre-orders for the slim new player. Looking a fair bit more enticing than many of Creative's recent players, this one is available in 4GB, 8GB, and 16GB varieties, and boasts a 2.5-inch display, along with a built-in FM tuner and voice recorder, and a standard SD slot for expansion. As far as format support goes, you'll be able to load the device up with your choice of MP3, WMA (w/ DRM), AAC, or Audible audio, along with WMV, DivX, Xvid, MJPEG, or TiVo to Go video files. If that's enough to sway you into the Creative camp, you can look for the 4GB, 8GB, and 16GB players to set you back $149, $199, and $299, respectively, with them each apparently set to ship sometime next month. Click on through for a few more pics.



22-inch iZ3D LCDs are now available just under a grand

Your boring old desktop, now in 3D! Or at least if iZ3D has anything to say about it. The new 22-inch iZ3D widescreen 3D gaming monitor just hit iZ3D's online store for an almost-palatable $999. The displays run off of included S-3D drivers, which are supported by the NVIDIA GeForce 8 Series, and ATI's FireGL V3600 workstation graphics card. There are also DirectX 8 and 9 drivers for XP and Vista, so you should be able to score some sort of 3D content without having to run out and buy new rig. The 3D tech uses passive polarized glasses to create the 3D effect, and feeds off of dual output video cards. The display itself boasts of a 1680 x 1050 resolution, 5ms response time and 600:1 contrast ratio.


Google is working on a mobile OS, and it's due out shortly

Can it be true? Is the Googlephone nigh at hand? Not that we haven't been hearing this time after time (after time after time, etc.), but we've actually got some hot news from a number of very trustworthy sources about Google's plans for the mobile space. Namely, Google's mobile device platform is well on its way, and will be announced in the very near future. We understand that the "Gphone OS" (our name for it, not theirs) began development after Google's very quiet 2005 acquisition of mobile software company Android, started by Danger cofounder and former-prez / CEO Andy Rubin. At Google, Andy's team has developed a Linux-based mobile device OS (no surprise) which they're currently shopping around to handset makers and carriers on the premise of providing a flexible, customizable system -- with really great Google integration, of course. As for the timeframe on this thing, we keep hearing Google will announce its mobile plans some time post-Labor Day (September 3rd); from what we've heard Google isn't necessarily working on hardware of its own, but is definitely working with OEMs and ODMs to get them to put the Gphone OS on upcoming devices. Think of it more in terms of Windows Mobile or Palm OS (in the early days) -- Google wants to supply the platform, but we don't think they want to sell hardware. Still, don't entirely rule out the idea. Andy Rubin knows how to make a device and put it in peoples' hands, so nothing is impossible on the hardware side. Either way, we're totally stoked to peep the software, we've been waiting for the Googlephone for years on years. Still, we can't help wondering what El Jobso thinks about all this. Apple has been so buddy-buddy with Google lately, especially on the iPhone -- and now Apple's mobile team is on the verge of outright competition with one of its closest partners. We know that's how the industry works, but it's got to sting a little, you know?

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Purdue researchers "perfecting" new hydrogen-generating technology

Those mad scientists at Purdue University seem to think they have something big on their hands, with them now claiming that they're "perfecting" a new hydrogen-generating technology that they first announced earlier this year. According to the researchers, the technology could represent a "pollution-free energy source" for a whole range of applications, with it effectively generating "hydrogen on demand." To do that, the researchers added water to an alloy of aluminum and gallium, which attracts oxygen from the water, letting hydrogen loose in the process. This latest development centers on a new and improved form of the alloy that boasts a higher concentration of aluminum, which apparently allows it to react more rapidly with water to form hydrogen. While the technology is still under " intense investigation," the researchers are planning to detail their findings at the 2nd Energy Nanotechnology International Conference that goes down in Santa Clara, California on September 7th. [Via TG Daily]


iPhone's tilt sensor hacked

Considering how much amusement can be had by using the MacBook Pro's accelerometers for completely unintended purposes, it stands to reason that hacking into the iPhone's sensors would be a virtually endless font of entertainment. It also stood to reason that it was just a matter of time before the ever-persistent hacking community broke its determined way into said sensors, and sure enough, here we have it. Like the successful coder says, the power of the iPhone's 3-axis accelerometer is largely untapped in the OS itself, so it'll be great fun to see what sorts of crazy business the homebrew folks can dream up. Get to work, everyone! Check the full video after the break.

[Thanks, bharvey]

Continue reading iPhone's tilt sensor hacked


LG's KS20 ready for the suits with WinMo 6 and HSDPA

Oi, say 'ello to 12.8-mm thin LG KS20, the 3.2Mbps HSDPA cuz to their KU990 touchscreen hottie. Although the KS20 shares much of the looks of the KU990, they've actually trimmed back the display to 2.8-inches (compared to 3-inches on the KU990) while acing that 5.1 megapixel shooter for a skimpy, business-minded 2 megapixeler all riding atop a Windows Mobile 6.0 OS. Expected Q4 in Europe running on some of that Vodafone carrier action, at least. We'll be sure to get up close and personal with it at IFA later in the week if that's ok with you. Though so.


Sanyo's Xacti DMX-HD1000: the world's smallest 1080p camcorder

We like giving Sanyo heaps of grief over their boxy gear from time to time. But make no mistake, they've nailed it with their Xacti series of solid state camcorders. Meet the DMX-HD1000, their first to record full 1080p, 1,920 x 1,080 resolution video using the HD/MPEG-4 AVC codec. It features the ability to shoot 8 megapixel stills via its 1/2.5-inch CMOS sensor, a 10x optical zoom, 2.7-inch LCD, HDMI-out, and the ability to record direct to SD/SDHC cards for up to 2 hours at a charge. That's plenty of juice since an 8GB SDHC card will only hold about 1 hour and 25 minutes of Full HD recordings. All this in an itty-bitty pistol grip shooter which Sanyo claims is the world's smallest at this resolution. Available in Japan starting mid September for about ¥120,000 or about $1,000. [Via Impress]


Philips announces WOWzone 3D wall, has nothing to do with Vista

Just when we were starting to think Vista had complete ownership of the term "wow" in the tech industry, along comes Philips with its WOWzone 3D wall, a 132-inch multi-panel glasses-free system designed for promotional display of high def 2D and 3D content. It'll be out in Q1 of next year, so don't worry, you've got a few more months left before your mind is like, totally blown, man.

[Via TFOT]


Nissan's Mixim all-electric concept car

We've seen a lot of all-electric cars come and go, but scant few from the major automotive manufacturers -- aside from the EV1, of course -- so Nissan's Mixim concept caught our eye with more than just its swoopy lines . The baby hatchback weighs just 2100 pounds and clocks in at a tiny 145 inches end-to-end -- but inside that diminutive shell you'll find seats for three, a lithium-ion battery pack and two Nissan "Super Motors" that provide the Mixim with all-wheel-drive. Since it's a concept, it's got to have a crazy interior, and and the central driving position and video game-influenced controls don't disappoint -- welcome to Blade Runner, kids. The Mixim is just a concept, but here's hoping the next all-electric car from a major manufacturer we hear about will be ready for the street.

[Via GizMag]


The 2008 iPhone display? Sharp's next gen multi-touch LCD revealed

Want to see the glass behind the iPhone's multi-touch panel? Well this ain't it, it's better. Sharp -- one of Apple's iPhone panel providers -- just unveiled their newest 3.5-inch, 320 x 480 pixel resolution multi-touch panel which does what its predecessor did in just half the thickness. The new 1-mm depth was achieved by integrating the optical sensor into each pixel while incorporating scanning functionality for fingerprint authentication or barcode and business card scanning. Right, with the appropriate underlying software of course. Sharp expects to adapt the new technology to multi-touch, glass panels as large as 12.1-inches. Sample LCDs will be made available in September before mass production beings in the Spring of 2008. Update: Whoa, reader Tony C just reminded us of this Apple patent application. Sure, the jump from scanning business cards to having your screen become the webcam is pretty big. Still, it's not as crazy as it once sounded, eh? [Via Impress]


Hands-off with the impossibly thin Sharp LCD prototypes

The ultrathin Sharp LCD prototype we saw yesterday at the company's press conference has made an appearance on the showroom floor (though out of our reach for fiddling with, provided it had any buttons), and boy is this thing... uh, thin. As you can see by the photos, the display practically disappears when you get around the side of it, and for those of you wondering about cabling, there's nothing to see when you peek at the back, though we suspect that those tubes / bars holding the things up may have something to do with getting an image on these behemoths. Check the gallery for a full view of your television-watching future.


Tenori-On: Tenori-On Set for September Launch

tenorion_440.jpgThe Tenori-On is a musical sequencer from Yamaha—basically a grid of LED-lit rubber buttons that lets you create musical loops and melodies. It may look like a prop from a 1970s sci-fi series, but it's actually a really intuitive and capable instrument that looks simply amazing. Have a look at it in action after the jump.


Sequencers are used all the time by bands and producers, but this is a really impressive design. There are also all sorts of other possibilities for this hardware, and I can't wait to see what hacks come out for it. It's being released in the UK next month, and if sales go well, then Yamaha will consider launching it elsewhere too. No word yet on pricing, but it won't be cheap. [Yamaha]


IFA2007: Casio Exilim, First 360 View

IMG_0041%201WTMK.JPGWe just stopped by Casio's booth to get our eyes on the new Exilim we told you about earlier today. Shooting a drool-worthy 60fps bursts and 300fps of VGA video, it's a beefy camera—definitely heftier than my Rebel XTi (from what we could see through the glass).

Something you won't see in the press release: this isn't a real SLR since no mirror is used. So internally it resembles a point-and-click more than its dSLR competition. Prototype spec dump after the jump.

Effective pixels: 6.0 million Imaging element: 1/1.8 inch high speed CMOS sensor High speed burst: 60 images per second at 6 million pixels (JPEG) High speed movie: 300fps, Motion JPEG, AVI format, VGA Lens/focal distance: 12 lenses in 9 groups, F2.7-4.6, approx 35mm to 420mm Zoom: 12X optical Image stabilization: CMOS-shift Screen: 2.8-inch widescreen TFT color LCD, approx 230,000 pixels Viewfinder: Color LCD, approx 200,000 pixels Dimension: 127.5mm x 79.5mm x 130m (650g minus battery, etc)


Thursday, August 30, 2007

MusicSamplr, FlickrCash, PictureSandbox


Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Casio's EX-Z1080 and EX-V8 compact YouTube shooters

Casio just hit us with pair of new face detecting, YouTube-ready Exilim cameras. The EX-Z1080 is little more than their 10 megapixel EX-Z1050 with a bit of their new H.264, YouTube Capture Mode sprinkled in. The EX-V8 then, bumps the ho humly reviewed EX-V7 into 8.1 megapixel territory while maintaining the 7x zoom and CCD-shift image stabilization while slapping some YouTube branding and trickery atop its existing H.264 video capabilities. Both cams will pop in September with the V8 hitting for $330 and the Z1080 demanding a cool $280. Click on through for a picture of the Z1080 in a lovely shade of purple-nurple. Read -- EX-V8 Read -- EX-Z1080


Daewoo's portable DVD and iPod dock rocks DivX on 8-inch LCD

Daewoo is set to show their new DPC-8099PD-I portable DVD and iPod player at IFA on Friday. Should you care? Well, you might if you're in the market for a portable DVD player with full iPod integration and 8-inch LCD. You know, if Philips' gear just won't cut it. Specs include integrated stereo speakers and headphone jack; DVD/VCD/CD and CD-R/RW media support; MP3, JPG and DivX formats; and USB and multi-format memory card reader for slotting in additional media. No pricing or release information but we'll be sure to give her a spin while taking in the show later this week.



Finding DRM-Free Music Online

Over the past half year we have seen arguably the most significant change in the online music industry since Apple launched their iTunes store in 2003. Following Steve Jobs’ open letter clarifying Apple’s position on digital rights management (DRM) in Februrary, major record companies have begun providing their music online free of piracy protection mechanisms.

The first major label to take the plunge was EMI Music, which teamed up with Apple in May to release its entire online catalog through a DRM-free area of the Apple music store called iTunes Plus. Also in May, Amazon announced that it would launch an MP3-only online music store with songs from major labels by the end of the year.

Just this week, Wal-Mart began selling unprotected MP3s of many Universal Music Group and EMI songs through its website. RealNetworks, MTV, and Verizon have also teamed up to launch Rhapsody America, a music service catered toward mobile phone users that will provide DRM-free downloads, in the near future. Even LimeWare, a P2P software maker, has recently announced that it plans to be part of the DRM-free movement (this time legitimately).

Some of the major music companies have been more tentative than others. EMI has thrown the most weight into the DRM-free movement by unlocking all of its online music. While Universal has agreed to release thousands of unprotected albums and tracks through several online retailers - RealNetworks, Google, Best Buy, Wal-Mart, Amazon, and gBox - it has done so on a trial basis that will extend only until January 2008, at which point the company will decide whether it thinks DRM-free music boosts or hurts sales. Sony BMG Music Entertainment and Warner Music Group are still standing on the sidelines of the DRM-free movement and appear to be waiting to see how EMI and Universal fare by opening up.

While the progression of things suggests that all online music will eventually be DRM-free, there’s no need to wait to get in on the DRM-free action. Check out the DRM-free online music retailers below to get better quality music that plays on virtually any handheld music device, on any computer, and with any music program. The retailers covered provide music from both major and minor labels.

iTunes Plus

Apple is the eight hundred pound gorilla, controlling something like 70 to 80% of the online music retail market. CEO Steve Jobs predicted in May that over half of the songs provided through the iTunes Store would be DRM-free by the end of this year.

While most of us are familiar with the iTunes Store, you may not have noticed the discreet link to the iTunes Plus sub-store under “Quick Links” on the store’s homepage. iTunes Plus provides 256kbps DRM-free AAC files for $1.29 per song or $9.99+ per album. That’s a 30 cent per-song premium over DRM-protected songs sold through the iTunes Store.

Already bought a ton of music from Apple? You can upgrade your DRM-protected collection to DRM-free for 30 cents per song, 30% of the current album price per album, and 60 cents per music video. Of course, you’ll only be able to upgrade those songs and videos in your collection that are offered through iTunes Plus.

Artists available on iTunes Plus include Coldplay, The Rolling Stones, Frank Sinatra, Gorillaz, and The Beastie Boys.


Wal-Mart may not be as sexy as Apple but the retail giant does provide DRM-free music from both Universal and EMI. On Tuesday, Wal-Mart began offering 256kbps MP3 versions of much of its music for 94 cents per track or $9.22 per album. These DRM-free offerings are in addition to Wal-Mart’s previous 128kbps DRM-protected WMA files for 88 cents per song or $9.44 per album.

One big downside to Wal-Mart’s online store: you can only download music using a Windows machine. This limitation alone will make it very difficult for Wal-Mart to compete with Apple for mind share.

Artists include Amy Winehouse, Maroon 5, Pink Floyd, Nelly, and Bon Jovi.


Feeling generous? gBox, which we covered recently, lets you buy DRM-free music not just for yourself but for others as well. gBox users can create music wishlists that can be embedded in other websites and used by friends, family, and lovers to buy music for the list creator.

Universal is the one major label that has agreed to sell music DRM-free through gBox. Songs are 99 cents each and albums are $9.99 each.

Unfortunately, as with Wal-Mart, Mac users who would like to download from gBox are out of luck. This will put a damper on gBox’s otherwise highly viral business strategy of allowing wishlists to be embedded in social networks.


You may not have heard of eMusic but the service, with over 2.5 million songs available, is second only to iTunes when it comes to online music sales. Founded in 1998, eMusic was the first company to sell MP3s, which it continues to do on a subscription, rather than per-unit, basis.

Subscriptions come in two flavors: $9.99 per month for up to 30 downloads per month, or $19.99 per month for up to 75 downloads per month. The coolest thing about their subscriptions: once they end, you still get to keep your music, unlike with other subscription services such as Napster. New users also get 25 songs for free.

While eMusic has a long tradition of selling DRM-free music, they still have yet to get in on any major label action. You won’t find any music from Universal, EMI, Sony BMG, or Warner here. But if you eschew popular music anyway, eMusic could be perfect for you.

Audio Lunchbox

If you like eMusic, you’ll probably like Audio Lunchbox as well. The company’s more than 2 million songs are DRM-free and completely indie.

Customers can choose to pay for their music on a subscription or per-unit basis.

Subscriptions range from $9.99 per month to $250 per year. On a per-unit basis, songs are 99 cents each and albums are $9.99 each.

All downloads are 192kbps VBR MP3 files.


AmieStreet, which we have covered many times, like eMusic and Audio Lunchbox provides DRM-free songs from artists without major label contracts (although, AmieStreet has teamed up with Nettwerk Productions to provide music from big names like Barenaked Ladies and Sarah McLachlan).

The most interesting thing about AmieStreet is its pricing scheme. Tracks individually cost anywhere between 0 and 98 cents. Music offered on the website starts off free but goes up in price as more people download it. Therefore, the price reflects the actual popularity of the track in a similar spirit to an auction.

The tracks sold on AmieStreet are always in MP3 format, but the bit rate can vary as artists contribute songs directly to the website.


Monday, August 27, 2007

Incredible Image Manipulation algorithms

I Want This In Photoshop Immediately


This image resizing and manipulation demonstration is sort of jaw dropping, particularly as the video goes on. The related paper, written by Dr. Ariel Shamir and Dr. Shai Avidan is available here.


Heavy Metal: MareNostrum, the World's Most Gorgeous Super-Computer

368.jpgThis is the 9th biggest supercomputer in the world, MareNostrum. It also happens to be the most gorgeous supercomputer in the world, installed in a former chapel with acres of glass and steel. It belongs to the Barcelona Supercomputing Center and is polished daily by hundreds of groveling grad students. Probably.

It has 10,240 CPUs, 20TB of RAM, 280TB of disk storage and runs on SUSE Linux. It can compute at 62.63 teraflops, with a peak performance of 94.21 teraflops, making it the most powerful computer in Europe. [Navel of Narcissus]


Many-Faceted Speaks: 360-Degree Speakers Pump Out Sweet Sounds from Anywhere in the Room

12-sided_speakers.jpgHere's a wild idea for a design concept: put together a speaker with 12 sides, otherwise known as a dodecahedron, and you'll get a 360-degree blast of music. These spacey-looking Quasar speakers send their sound all over the place, so no matter where you are in the room, their sweet audio will be spilling out from within their crystalline confines, heading right for your ears.

Designers Emanuele Patton & Michele Menescardi dreamed up these delectable dozen-sided baubles, where the idea is you can place these non-directional speakers wherever you want, and you won't be able to tell where the sound is coming from.
We're not sure how this will affect what audiophiles like to call the "soundstage," but if these babies sound anywhere near as good as they look, they'll probably kick some serious ass. If JVC or whoever else actually decides to build them, that is. [Yanko Design]


Copyright Protection To Move From Cable To In-Home Networks

An arcane little agreement between Hollywood studios, consumer electronics companies and CableLabs — the industry group that helps set the technology standards for the cable operators — could have long-term ramifications for how we (the people) consume digital content inside our homes.

The agreement centers on Digital Transmission Copy Protection over IP technology (DTCP-IP), which is meant to protect content that comes over digital cable and is then pushed around over in-home IP networks.

The approval permits CableLabs licensees under DFAST, CHILA, and DCAS to protect pay-per-view and video-on-demand transmissions against unauthorized copying and unauthorized Internet retransmission, while assuring consumers’ ability to record broadcast and subscription programming, in digital formats, for personal use.

DTCP is the creation of DTLA, also known as “5C,” after the five companies that got together in 1998 and proposed the standard. Hitachi, Intel (INTC), Matsushita (MC), Sony (SNE) and Toshiba came to together to jointly develop the DTCP technology for the protection of audiovisual and audio content against unauthorized interception or retransmission in the digital home environment. (More on their Wikipedia page.)

All the parties involved are spinning it like this is a great thing for the consumer, but whenever incumbents and Hollywood are involved in something, there is a good chance the consumer is getting shafted. If you have any additional insights, please let us know via the comments section. Of course, you can always email us.


Boston’s Uncommon Angels

A few weeks ago I was invited to attend a CommonAngels breakfast. CommonAngels is a Boston based group of angel investors and these breakfasts take place every six weeks to hear presentations from entrepreneurs looking to have their ideas funded. Members of CommonAngels are allowed to bring a guest along and I was lucky to be invited.

CommonAngels is composed of 70 private investors and several dozen limited partners in two co-investment funds. This group is fairly unique in that they have a small permanent staff of three people who manage the group, taking care of the putting the breakfasts together, managing the deal-flow, due diligence, board memberships, and so on.

This group is self selected. To join, you need to fulfill certain criteria and go through an approval process. Since its inception in 1998, CommonAngels has funded 33 companies with over $37 million from CommonAngels and over $100 million from co-investors. Rounds are typically in the half to one million dollar range, but can go higher.

They take a very hands on approach to the funding process, and will only fund companies in their areas of expertise. Entrepreneurs present their plans at these breakfasts where the group asks questions and critique the plan.

If a company was funded by CommonAngels and needs bridge or continuation funding, they can present again and the board member will take part in the presentation. If there is interest in funding the company, the group puts together a due diligence committee to dig deeper into the company and the plan. If the company is funded, the group is present on the board.

What is interesting here is that this group is very hands on and involves itself very intimately in the company and its development, rather than just “throwing money over the wall.”


Pano Logic's Pano: virtual XP or Vista in a box

Check it CIOs, Pano Logic just announced their new Pano virtualization device which brings XP and Vista to your users without the need of a PC. According to the feisty startup, their new virtualization solution can cut your Total Cost of Ownership by 70% for a promised savings of $3,200 per desktop over three years. While you can ace the desktop PC, you'll still have to make the initial investment of $20 per month per device (one per user) with perpetual licenses available. The Pano device has no CPU, memory, operating system or drivers -- at least not in the way those items are typically perceived by your IT staff. A "Pano Logic chip" manages the virtualization. In other words: no client-side malware or hiccups for fewer deskside visits -- everything is managed centrally from your VMWare Server installation. The device does pack the required jacks for a VGA display (up to 1600 x 1200 pixels supported), USB keyboard and Mouse (3x total USB), 10/100Mbps Ethernet, and a pair of mini-jacks for audio in/out. Of course, the system is entirely dependent upon lickity quick, uncongested pipes so if you're sporting a latency above 5-ms, you can forget about Pano's virtualization. Check out the business minded, ass-end of the Pano after the break. [Via PCMag]

Continue reading Pano Logic's Pano: virtual XP or Vista in a box


Chinese Solar Cos. Post Mixed Quarterly Results

Speaking of solar buzz, this week a couple of the big solar players from China released their second-quarter financials, with mixed results.

Shares of China Sunergy (CSUN) tumbled more than 20% Friday after the solar cell manufacturer, which went public in May, said it swung to net loss of $3.54 million in the latest quarter. In the same period a year earlier, the company posted a profit of $1.84 million. China Sunergy blamed tight polysilicon supply, which it expects to continue throughout 2008, for the loss. Despite higher revenues, the cost of goods sold more than doubled to $53.5 million, compared with $24.6 million in the year-ago quarter. Separately, China Sunergy said CFO James Shaofeng Qi has resigned from the company for "personal reasons."

But Trina Solar (TSL), a Chinese solar panel maker, did well this quarter. The company took in $7.2 million in net income compared with $1.13 million in the prior year, thanks in part to strong sales in Europe. When it comes to polysilicon supply, Trina says they've entered into contracts covering some 90 percent and 60 percent of their 2007 and 2008 feedstock requirements, respectively.

Earlier this month, Suntech Power (STP), another Chinese solar cell manufacturer, reported second-quarter net income of $41.3 million, up from $26.5 million a year ago. JA Solar (JASO) of Hebei, China, reported second-quarter net earnings of $9.99 million vs. $2.33 million in the comparable period in 2006.

Meanwhile, we're still waiting on Solar EnerTech (SOENE) to release its latest results. The Shanghai-based company, whose shares are Bulletin Board traded, said today that it's going to be late filing its financial report with the Securities and Exchange Commission.


Google Image Search Now Has Contextual Adsense Ads

Google now has contextual advertising embedded in Google Image Search results - each page has two horizontal sponsored link sections. See screen capture below.

The other popular Google properties that are yet to be monetized include Google News and Google Blog Search.

google image search

Related: Batch Download Pictures from Google Images


In Online World, Pocket Change Is Not Easily Spent


Published: August 27, 2007

SAN FRANCISCO, Aug. 26 — The idea of micropayments — charging Web users tiny amounts of money for single pieces of online content — was essentially put to sleep toward the end of the dot-com boom. In December 2000, Clay Shirky, an adjunct professor in New York University's interactive telecommunications program, wrote a manifesto that people still cite whenever someone suggests resurrecting the idea. Micropayments will never work, he wrote, mainly because "users hate them."

But wait. Amid the disdain, and without many people noticing, micropayments have arrived — just not in the way they were originally envisioned. The 99 cents you pay for a song on iTunes is a micropayment. So are the tiny amounts that some operators of small Web sites earn whenever someone clicks on the ads on their pages. Some stock-photography companies sell pictures for as little as $1 each.

"Micropayments are here," said Benjamin M. Compaine, a consultant and lecturer at Northeastern University who specializes in media economics, "they just have not evolved in the way that everybody expected."

From the earliest days of the Web until around the time of Mr. Shirky's manifesto, the expectation was that a handful of companies would provide platforms — or perhaps a single ubiquitous platform — that would enable Web users to pay a penny, a dime or a dollar for a bit of content such as a newspaper article, a comic strip or a research report. Simply clicking a link would complete the transaction.

Sellers of content — at the time, newspaper companies — were among the most interested in the idea as they looked for revenue that did not depend on advertising. And the Web, rather than being a threat to their business, would allow them to expand their audience vastly.

But the problems proved insurmountable. Many micropayments companies have shut down, been acquired or changed their business models over the years. Among them: DigiCash, CyberCash, First Virtual Holdings and Peppercoin.

They used various systems, but in general users paid into accounts with their credit cards and then drew from those accounts. In the mid- to late '90s, electronic cash had become such a popular concept that some politicians worried that it might threaten the stability of the nation's currency.

But the economic and technical challenges were enormous. Consumers were reluctant to pay even a tenth of a cent for something they believed should be free. "There is a certain amount of anxiety involved in any decision to buy, no matter how small," Mr. Shirky wrote in 2000.

It turns out, however, that consumers are more than willing to pay for certain types of content in certain situations. Consumers "expect to pay for music and movies, but not so much for the printed word," said George Peabody, an analyst with Mercator Advisory Group, which serves the payments industry.

"Closed loop" systems like iTunes are the most successful, Mr. Peabody said. That's where consumers have a continuing relationship with the merchant and usually pay with their credit cards. "Open loop" systems, where the consumer pays many merchants through a single payments processor — the way micropayments were originally envisioned — are much less successful. "To date, the market has said there is insufficient demand for these services," concluded a research report Mercator published in April.

There is another problem with closed-loop systems: cost. The fees for every transaction are too high to make tiny payments worthwhile for many online content sellers — sometimes those fees exceed the price of the content being sold. For most merchants, according to the report, purchases of less than $1.50 aren't worth it.

One solution is to aggregate purchases, or group purchases over a period of time, and then process the payments in a single transaction. That's how iTunes works. But credit card networks like Visa and MasterCard, which charge fees for transactions, "aren't really happy with that idea," said Mr. Peabody, because it means less money for them.

Visa and MasterCard prohibit most merchants from aggregating payments directly. The networks have recently promoted their efforts to serve the "small payments" market — encouraging consumers to use cards for parking meters, for example.

But so far, they have stopped short of widely supporting aggregated-payment systems. There are "operational challenges," said Pam Zuercher, Visa's vice president for product innovation. Visa is evaluating such systems, she added, because "there is an undeniable trend — users want to use their cards for very small purchases."

Merchants can aggregate payments through another company, but that adds to costs and "implementation has been tough," Mr. Peabody said. For sellers of the lowest-priced content — anything under 75 cents — micropayments have been made irrelevant by the easy availability of online advertising, Mr. Peabody said. Programs like AdSense from Google, which allows even the smallest Web publishers to have relevant ads placed on their sites, make micropayments unnecessary. The program pays Web publishers what are often very small amounts each time a reader clicks on an ad.

Looked at another way, though, AdSense is based on micropayments. "All the criteria are there," said Mr. Compaine, the Northeastern University lecturer, "but the money isn't coming from the end user; it's coming from the advertisers."

Bill Densmore, a founder of the payments firm Clickshare, a former newspaper publisher and now a consultant and a director of a citizens' media project at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, has been promoting micropayments from the beginning.

He envisions Web publishers joining with one another and with producers of other content to create huge networks, sharing users and, in effect, revenue.

For example, he said, a large newspaper could sell subscriptions that would allow its readers to download music from iTunes or Rhapsody, read articles from regional papers, and watch movies and TV shows from YouTube or Comedy Central.

Some material would be sold for a fee — with the payments managed internally by the network. Mr. Densmore acknowledged that this is all pie-in-the-sky at this point. But, he said, for newspapers in particular, the status quo is not good enough. In that business, he said, there are "enough people feeling enough pain that they need to be open to asking what models might work."


Sunday, August 26, 2007

Australian $84 Million Porn Filter Thwarted By 16-Year-Old

Post22508PornKingTom.jpgAfter investing a cool $84 million in devising a porn filter the Federal Government in the land down under are now reeling, thanks to a 16-year-old schoolboy. Tom Wood, (who could actually be a porn star with that name), managed to hack the security measure within 30 minutes of it going live, last Tuesday (21/08/07).

Not only did our hormone raging hacker get round the filter, he managed to preserve the status bar, indicating a functional security system. Not only is it possible for him to look at porn, he is able to deceive his parents into thinking he only ever uses the Internet to check New Scientist—the sneaky devil!

The Australian government, understandably embarrassed by the situation, attempted a remedy. A new filter called Intergrad was uploaded to central servers for domestic distribution. A whopping 40 minutes later, Tom rescued puberty-infested individuals across Australia once again.

Senator Coonan, a government official did the best she could to salvage the sorry situation with, "Unfortunately, no single measure can protect children from online harm and ... traditional parenting skills have never been more important." Basically what I interpret that to mean is; "Tom is really getting on our tits; if you don't want your kids looking at porn don't have them in the first place."

The flawed Internet filter is available as a free download here. As for Tom, he is no doubt quickly being escalated to national treasure status. Add him as a friend to your Facebook account, tell him he rocks and ladies, get him laid; if his cyber security cracking skills do not impress you, what ever will? [Herald Sun].

10:30 AM ON SAT AUG 25 2007