Ahh, TechCrunch50 time. For those outside of the Valley, otherwise known as "The Know," this is the time of year when legions of startups (47) descend onto a common stage under the TechCrunch banner, all eager to pitch their next, greatest idea to a field of hungry judges and enthusiastic audience members.
Every time this happens--or every time any show similar to the TechCrunch50 goes down--I always look forward to the new batch of oddly named Web applications that I'll probably never hear about again, let alone actually use. For this, I have but one source to blame: open data. Just because there's an API or the free-flow of information outward from a single popular source doesn't mean that one always has to make a spin-off project. But if you build it, they will indeed come. The developers, that is, and they're always looking to cash in on the next big variation to an already successful idea.
I'm not exactly sure why this is the case with Web applications and why it's not always mirrored in open-source or freeware software development. What is it about a Web platform that makes it such an intriguing breeding ground for rip-offery? Is it really that easy to create a Web mashup of two social networks instead of pouring the same amount of effort into, say, a new instant messaging application?
Earlier this week Yahoo announced that it would be tweaking its mail and messenger services to be more social by letting users update their status, share photos easily and partake in video calls.
Along with the new and improved mail and messenger programs, Yahoo plans to overhaul its search engine with a new results page that will let users retrieve the content they’re looking for, without leaving the safety of the results page.
The idea behind these upgrades comes in two flavors: firstly Yahoo hopes to bring in more people who are not already familiar with the inner workings of their products, as well as to entice those that are already using Yahoo products to spend more time on their site. “Our user base grows when things are simpler and more delightful,” said Elisa Steele, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at Yahoo.
There was also an acknowledgement that Yahoo’s new hope page was being worked on, but wasn’t done just yet.
Food and beverage manufacturers have for long employed blind taste tests as a marketing gimmick. A Microsoft employee, Michael Kordahi, appears to have taken a leaf out of their marketing handbook. He has developed a website called Blind Search that lets the user query three different search engines simultaneously.
It presents the search results from the three search engines in as many unmarked columns. The user has to vote for the search engine that “best matches your search query.” The choice is between Google, Bing and Yahoo.
Google is the most popular browser with 41% votes, according to the data Kordahi has compiled hitherto. Bing is currently placed second with 31%, with Yahoo enduring the ignominy of the last spot with 28%. Given that Microsoft and Yahoo have inked a search engine partnership, it is interesting to note that the majority of the visitors actually dislike Google. Kordahi asserts that Blind Search is his personal initiative, independent from Microsoft’s influence.
Last month, Facebook users were for the first time given the opportunity to reserve custom usernames in a move aimed at simplifying account URLs. Facebook had advised its users to approach the christening process very seriously as the usernames chosen by them would become inextricably tied to their profiles.
Those of you who are still ruing your questionable choice of username can now stop. Facebook has spread its arms wide open for all those still drenched in a cocktail of desolation and regret. In an act that manifests its magnanimity, Facebook is now giving users the opportunity to change their usernames, but they only have one final shot at getting it right.
According to a survey conducted by the Internet and American Life Project of the Pew Research Center, the stereotype of a middle-aged white guy hammering out Internet addresses on his smartphone might not be accurate. Of the 2,253 Americans interviewed, African Americans represented the largest increase of those who access the Internet via a mobile phone.
"The typical early adopter of a dozen years ago was a white guy in his mid- to late thirties," said John Horrigan, associate director of the Pew Internet Project and principal author on the report. "Now you see the cutting edge in mobile Internet being populated by younger people of color."
Almost half of all African-American and English-speaking Hispanics reported using mobile phones or other hand-held devices to hop around the web or fire off emails, whereas just 28 percent of white Americans reported accessing the Internet with a mobile gadget.
According to Horrigan, the shift could lead to a new wave of mobile development "to serve a population that is much more diverse than a dozen years ago in wire-line access."
The process begins when a message encrypted using Vanish is sent. The message can only be read until a pre-specified time is reached, after which the message can not be decrypted, as the encryption key is permanently “lost due to a set of both natural and programmed processes.”
Vanish works by shattering the encryption key and distributing the various fragments among computers on a peer-to-peer network – both parties holding the online conversation don’t possess the key. The pieces of the key begin to vanish due to the fact that “machines constantly join and leave the P2P network.” A prototype of the tool is now available. It supports timeouts of 8-9 hours, which simply means your messages will vanish without a trace after that time.
Facebook dragged social aggregator Power.com to court about six months ago. Though the news was soon followed by whispers of an out-of-court settlement being near, there has been none. Power.com has now decided to take the fight to the opposition by countersuing it.
Power.com allows users to manage their accounts on some of the major social networks on the internet – it removed Facebook after it got sued - through its website. Users don’t even need to register to use the website; instead, they can log in using the id/password combination they use to access any one of their accounts on MySpace, Hi5, Orkut, LinkedIn or Twitter.
Facebook had accused Power.com of using its data without securing prior consent. The former was mainly rankled by the fact that Power.com was storing user credentials.
Power.com has accused Facebook of obstructing users from transferring their data in the fashion they see fit. The social aggregator has requested the court to order Facebook to cease such unlawful, anticompetitive practices and to award monetary damages to the plaintiffs (defendants in the original suit filed by Facebook). Why don’t you be the judge, jury and executioner in the comments section? Give us your take on Data Portability.
You probably pay your cell phone, cable TV, Internet, and several other bills online, and even so, you probably also receive a stack of mail in your mailbox every day. Enter the Swiss postal service which, starting in June, will offer subscribers a digital delivery option.
The service, called Swiss Post Box, will send subscribers scanned images of their unopened envelopes to their email address. Subscribers can then decide which ones they want opened and have the contents scanned so that it can be read online. In addition, the Swiss Post Box will offer to archive contents, send unopened letters to another address, or shred and recycle unwanted mail, The New York Times reports.
"There are very few things you get that you actually have to have in your hand," said Michael Laprade, a two year subscriber to Earth Class Mail, a Seattle-based company licensing its technology to the Swiss postal service.
The new service will start at about $18.35 per month. In the U.S., Earth Class Mail subscribers pay anywhere from $10 to $60 per month depending on how much mail is scanned.
Back when our great-grandparents used to walk barefoot to school in scorching hot snow uphill both ways, folks stay connected to world events through newspapers, word of mouth, or via the Pony Express. A lot has changed since then, and in between taking online correspondence courses and sipping on lattes while wearing a robe and slippers to avoid being chilled from the central air conditioning, today's generation consumes the news online.
So it was only a matter of time before someone studied the modern news cycle, and that's exactly what researchers at Cornell have done. Using what The New York Times describes as "powerful computers and clever algorithms," the research team scoured 90 million articles and blog posts on 1.6 million mainstream media sites and blogs looking for repeated phrases.
The end result? In most cases, traditional news outlets led the way with blogs following behind, usually by 2.5 hours. However, that wasn't always the case; 3.5 percent of story lines originated from blogs and then made their way to traditional media.
"This is a landmark piece of work on the flow of news through the world," said Eric Horvitz, a researcher at Microsoft and president of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence. "And the study shows how Web-scale analytics can serve as powerful sociological laboratories."
"Be careful of investing here," he told Reuters when prodded about the possibility of News Corp acquiring Twitter. He was speaking upon his arrival at the Sun Valley media and technology conference. “Hell no,” was his terse, emphatic reply when asked about his willingness to sell MySpace. He even took a dig at Facebook by likening it to a humdrum “directory.”