Submitted by acohill on Mon, 07/28/2008 - 08:27
The new search engine Cuil (pronounced 'cool') aims to take on Google, like a bunch of other search engines that have tried and failed to dislodge Google. But Cuil is designed and owned by a former Google staffer and her husband who just may pull it off if they have the financial staying power to slug it out over the next couple of years.
Cuil promises better search results by not just counting inbound links but by actually trying to parse whether or not the contents of a Web page are a good fit for the search terms. Cuil also promises a more usable format for results, which wouldn't take much, given that Google has not bothered to give itself a face-lift since the company started. Finally, the Cuil founders promise not to snoop around and store everyone's search results, a refreshing change from Google's policy of developing dossiers on everything you have ever searched for.
Submitted by acohill on Wed, 07/23/2008 - 07:58
This analysis of the current state of Internet ads suggests that some of the big ad brokers on the Internet (e.g. Google, among others) may be near an inflection point with respect to ad demand. Lookery, a firm that sells ads on sites like FaceBook and MySpace, just lowered the cost of its ads by 40%, suggesting very soft demand. And Google's AdWord system, according to the article, seems to be propped up financially by Google's practice of setting very high minimum cost per click fees.
I have always maintained that Google is making a lot of money from businesses that are willing to pay modest amounts month after month for a few ads. When times are good, it does not look like a lot of money. But when the cost of other business necessities like fuel and shipping go up, unproductive ads producing few results may be the first to go.
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 06/24/2008 - 08:30
According to The Register, the airlines are planning to use mobile phones to cut costs and to sell ad revenue. As you book a flight, you will give your mobile phone number to the airline. They will use this to push information on the flight to you (not so bad), and once you get to the airport, they may even check you in electronically via your phone, which is already underway in Japan. What could get ugly is the the notion that they could also push ads to your phone once you get in the airport, so the idea is that you'll pay a fortune for a a cramped seat and then get spammed at the same time. If you have flown recently, you may have noticed some airlines have put ads on the seat back trays, so as you "enjoy" your free beverage (snacks seem to be out completely now on some airlines) you get to read the ad on the surface of the tray.
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 05/20/2008 - 07:47
Comcast, which has been criticized of late for apparently trying to throttle peer to peer (P2P) file sharing traffic, seems to be shifting focus by investing in a P2P business start up. This is a good sign. As I and others have argued for a long time, we need to shift away from the "bucket of bits" model of broadband and move toward a service-oriented business and network model. P2P file sharing is just another service. It is not inherently bad, and in fact, can be used very efficiently to move large files (like TV programs and movies) around various parts of the Internet.
While some of the content providers simply want to outlaw P2P software because it is sometimes mis-used, that's also silly. It would be equivalent to outlawing cars because they are sometimes used to commit bank robberies. P2P, as a service, has real value, and if used to deliver licensed and legitimate content, it can be a service that people are willing to pay for. But the key is to have networks designed to deliver services, not just a bucket of bits. And that means changing not just the technology that manages network (relatively straightforward), but also changing the business models of broadband companies--that is also straightforward, if the company culture is willing to change--that is the tougher challenge.
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 04/29/2008 - 10:57
At the Broadband Properties Summit, there was a case study on IP TV (TV delivered via broadband). DirecTV and an apartment owner in Alexandria, Virginia teamed up to provide competitive TV services in a large, 350 unit apartment building. Some of the highlights of the experiment:
Prior to the introduction of the new service, the biggest tenant complaint was about the incumbent TV provider service. The number one tenant demand was for more choice in selecting a TV provider.
After introducing the competitive DirecTV service, complaints are down and compliments are up.
The case study confirmed my longstanding bandwidth calculations about future network planning. A single channel of HD TV on the system requires 10+ megabits of bandwidth on the system, and live HD events (e.g. sports, racing, etc.) requires 15+ megabits of capacity per channel. This demonstrates the inadequacy of DSL, wireless, cable, and even FiOS to deliver next generation services.
Cat5e or Cat6 cable is needed from a distribution closet to each apartment, where a set top box converts the signal and sends it to the TV. The system performed so well that most residents did not realize it was IP TV. There have been claims that "IP TV doesn't work well compared to satellite and cable." We can put those to rest.
The take away for the talk was really about making sure that new homes and apartments are broadband ready. Most communities still do nothing to encourage builders and developers to build "broadband ready" homes and commercial buildings, which is a missed economic development opportunity, especially given the ease and low cost of doing this.
Submitted by acohill on Fri, 04/18/2008 - 10:25
The use of BitTorrent, a peer to peer file sharing service, is up 24% in the past four months. Like the big jump in YouTube traffic in December, some it may be related to the writer's strike. The lack of anything new on that old-fashioned TV thingy in the rec room apparently had people headed in droves to the Internet for some mindless entertainment. And of course, the Internet has plenty of mindless entertainment. Sadly, almost any random 2 minute video clip on YouTube is funnier than most half hour TV comedies.
What's coming? I think it is now safe to say that TV is over. It will be a long slow decline, but the writer's strike created the tipping point that economists always look for. The Internet access providers can monkey around with traffic management to try to discourage the use of services like BitTorrent, but that's just silly over the long term. Imagine any other business saying, in effect, "We're glad you love our product. Please stop using it." That's what the Internet providers and the entertainment industry are doing with their lawsuits, "Internet toll booths," and traffic manipulation.
The solution is to start building networks that are focused on delivering services--any services, including things like BitTorrent--rather than just blindly delivering bandwidth by the bucket. That model doesn't work. If it did, we'd all have a fiber connection by now.
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 04/01/2008 - 10:01
Recently, when we have had people over to house for dinner or when at someone else's home, I notice that a common topic of discussion is what is showing on YouTube. Everyone has a story about some usually goofy thing they saw recently on the video site. Anecdotally, several people have shared that they often just spend a little time in the evening goofing off on YouTube. This is usually followed by the admission they don't turn on the TV much anymore.
Communities who think that DSL and wireless services are adequate with respect to bandwidth are going to be very disappointed, as neither technology is capable of delivering large amounts of video to thousands or ten of thousands of residential customers, no matter what you read about the amazing abilities of WiMax to bring world peace, solve human aging, and deliver massive bandwidth to everyone at the same time. WiMax is a terrific technology that is much better than WiFi, but the amount of actual bandwidth that WiMax will actually be able to deliver to residential and business users is not going to support heavy IP-TV use (i.e. YouTube, movies on demand, TV show downloads, etc.). WiMax has the capability of reaching more premises by virtue of being able to get a signal over longer distances than WiFi. But as you extend the reach of a wireless signal, you also spread the amount of usable bandwidth over a larger number of subscribers, in most cases. This means the amount of per subscriber bandwidth may not increase significantly.
Wireless is part of a complete solution, but fiber is needed alongside it to meet the fast-growing video demands of residences and businesses.
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 03/24/2008 - 08:29
Google has announced a new "search within a search" option that has online retailers worried that the search behemoth will steal customers. The new option lets you use Google to search only pages that are part of a single site. So if you want to buy a digital camera and go to Google to start the search, you get the usual search results page. If you click on a Best Buy site, as an example, Google will now do an extended search only on the Best Buy site.
Sounds handy, right? Except that the search results are likely to include ads from Best Buy competitors. So the pages that Google returns from the customized search may be larded with ads from Circuit City.
For Google, this is a good thing, as it will likely increase ad revenue from click-throughs. And you could argue it is good for the person trying to buy something, as Google gives you more information about prices and competition.
But there is a certain "goose and the golden egg" situation here. While in my example it appears that Circuit City may be the winner, it could just as easily go the other way on the next search, where Circuit City came up first, and subsequent search results are plastered with Best Buy ads. Circuit City and Best Buy both end up paying Google while Google tries to push potential customers somewhere else. This is also known as "wanting your cake and trying to eat it too."
At some point, some big Google advertisers are going to say, "Enough is enough," and take their ad dollars elsewhere.
Submitted by acohill on Wed, 02/27/2008 - 09:17
According to this report, the merger of XM and Sirius has stalled, a year after the deal was first announced. It is a perfect storm because you have a combination of FCC confusion, Congressional confusion, silly prices paid for on-air talent, and a bad business model.
It is a lesson for terrestrial broadband and communities as well, because most of the same problems and lessons apply in community telecom, where we also have the wrong business models, lack of clarity at the Federal level about what to do, and prices for services that are out of whack.
In the satellite market, it is hard to understand how Sirius would ink a $500 million dollar five year deal for foul-mouthed Howard Stern when the company is only getting about $35 million a year in ad revenue, along with anemic subscription sales.
What would make sense, as part of the merger, would be for XM and Sirius to go to an open content model, in which they become just the carrier, and let anyone with the money buy channel space on their satellites. Right now, the two companies are flogging the same old, tired business model used by the cable companies, which is to bundle hundreds of channels together, most of which no one listens to.
It would make more sense to charge $1 a month per channel and let subscribers pick which channels they want to listen to, with something like a ten or fifteen channel minimum.
The FCC and Congress could help out by promoting this as an option, just as they could help out communities by promoting open, multi-service networks like nDanville, which is the country's first municipal open, multi-service network. Service providers from all over the country are starting to call the City to find out how to put their services on the network.
Satellite radio has a bright future, but only if the old business models are tossed and a new, "open" model is adopted.
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 02/18/2008 - 08:41
There are reports that Toshiba has decided to cut its losses and discontinue manufacturing HD-DVD equipment. Microsoft is the other loser in this battle, as the company had been a backer of the HD-DVD format. Christmas 2008 will be a good time to invest in the high def players and recorders, as by that time there will be plenty of competition and lower prices.
Submitted by acohill on Sun, 02/10/2008 - 05:44
Video continues to drive bandwidth needs, and the habits of the American public are changing rapidly. According to this report, December 2007 broke a lot of records, as people sat down in front of their computers 10 billion times to watch "TV."
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 02/04/2008 - 08:27
Now rumors are circulating that Yahoo! may partner with Google to avoid the likely ignominious end of the company via a Microsoft acquisition.
Google has already started preparing for an anti-trust challenge if Microsoft is successful, so it is hard to see how Google could argue that hitching Yahoo! to behemoth Microsoft is bad but hitching Yahoo! to gargantuan Google is good.
Whatever the outcome may be, it sounds like users of free services are in for less choice and more ads. The alternative is to simply stop using "free" services and pay for things like personal email accounts, which cost a pittance these days. It is easy to find email accounts for under $100 per year, and those accounts come with a wide range of features and services that are not always available with the free services, and are ad-free--well worth the money to some.
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 01/21/2008 - 08:50
I had been hearing favorable reviews of the new "Terminator" TV series, but am usually busy with other things in the evening, so I have not been able to catch it at its broadcast time. So I downloaded the pilot from iTunes--the first episode is free.
It took about thirty minutes to download the forty minute episode. We watched it on a widescreen 15" laptop set about four feet away, which gave us a larger apparent screen size than the 27" television on the other side of the room. Did I mention there were no commercials? Nothing like watching a one hour program in forty minutes. It was a good show, and I'm ready to pay two bucks to watch the next episode. In fact, for what I am now paying for cable TV, I could download and watch 25 hours of paid TV, at two dollars per hour--commercial free.
There were some shouts of horror from certain parts of the household when I mentioned discontinuing cable service, but it is getting harder and harder to find a reason to turn the TV on.
However, watching video over the Internet comes at a steep price for the DSL and cable providers, who lack the capacity to handle this if everyone starts doing it. This article is very technical, but the bottom line is that the current copper infrastructure lacks the capacity handle the switch to getting what we call "TV" over the Internet.
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 01/07/2008 - 08:58
You read the headline correctly: "Music sales plunge amid rising sales." Only the music industry, clinging desperately to Mr. Edison's gramaphone technology, could make a 14% growth spurt sound like doom and gloom.
The lead on a widely circulated story about music sales in 2007 is full of hand-wringing about the precipitous 9% decline for the "fast fading" music business.
The article disingenously mixes up declining sales on albums, illegal music sharing, and sales of single tracks, and news writers and editors should be ashamed for reprinting this stuff without actually reading it, because it is completely nonsensical.
If you read the entire article critically, what is very clear is that consumers are buying many more single songs and somewhat fewer albums. But overall, music sales are still increasing year to year--14% in 2007. Most businesses would kill to have a 14% per year annual growth rate. But the music industry stubbornly continues to blame their customers for simply buying only the good songs and ignoring the bad ones, which the real dynamic.
In the old days, the physical format needed to distribute music (vinyl records, CDs) made it efficient to sell a bunch of songs at one time. But most of us know that you often bought an entire album of nine or ten songs just to get the one or two good ones. Today, we don't have to buy the dreck just to get the good song. That's good for music lovers, and in fact, that option of buying only good music is producing double digit growth in the music business.
But the music industry is "fading fast."
Submitted by acohill on Fri, 12/28/2007 - 17:50
Walmart has killed its movie download business, which is not even a year old. There were many problems with it:
A more general problem with movie downloads is that they are still very slow, compared to things like songs, which download pretty quickly even over a DSL line. The movie download services, including the movies offered on iTunes, have to reduce the quality to speed up the download or force buyers to wait hours to download a high quality version.
DVDs still are very competitive because we do not have fast broadband connections and because the studios are still attaching too much DRM to movies.
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 12/17/2007 - 09:20
Microsoft and Google are each prepping for a fight to the death over ownership of users. This SlashDot article discusses the approach each is taking and what the consequences may be for both users and the two firms.
Google has a more clearly defined strategy; the company thinks most applications like email, word processing, spreadsheets, and graphics will be hosted by Google computers, and users will access the applications over an ever fast broadband network.
Microsoft still makes most of its money from software like Windows and Office, which run on the desktop, not from the network. To counter Google, Microsoft has been experimenting with network-based services and applications, but has not had the same success as Google.
The business models are different as well. If you look at Microsoft's net-based services, many of them rely on subscription fees. Google prefers to offer its services for free, although you can upgrade some of them for a fee, which unlocks more features.
For users, the real issue is not where the service resides, but whether or not you can trust a third party with your data. The end user license agreements for free services usually give the firm supplying the services the right to change the terms whenever they want, along with the right to rummage through your files. Google wants to read all your mail and files so it can find out what you buy. They then use that data to deliver targeted ads to you. If Google notices your email includes lots of references to camping, you may see more L.L. Bean ads popping up alongside your "free" word processor.
Hosted services offer many benefits, including access away from the home or office. But I am more inclined to pay for those services. If you want hosted email, why not buy it from a firm like Webmail, which simply provides you with email and is not trying to make a buck reading your mail at the same time?
Submitted by acohill on Sun, 11/25/2007 - 15:34
The somewhat elderly Eagles rock band has given record companies the boot with the band's latest album. The Eagles simply skipped working with a record company at all, and went straight to Wal-mart to sell their new CD. The two CD set is priced at a very reasonable twelve bucks. The artists get a bigger share of the sales, and music lovers spend less and get more.
Even more interesting, the two CD set is priced low enough that some music stores are simply going to Wal-mart, buying a bunch of the CDs, and then marking them up and selling them in their own stores.
This kind of deal probably frightens the music industry more than iTunes. Music publishers managed to retain much control over artists and their music despite the much lower distribution costs (virtually zero) of iTunes. But the Eagles have simply ignored the music publishers entirely.
Submitted by acohill on Wed, 11/14/2007 - 07:20
This article suggests that the iPod may be the new TV and radio. The writer talks about how she is regularly downloading radio and TV programs to her iPod and watching them on her train ride home every afternoon from the office.
In Apple's last round of largely unnoticed iPod upgrades, one of the things it did was change the size of the iPod nano display to a widescreen format and added the ability of the tiny music player to play back video. This change makes the tiny nano much more versatile, and gives it the ability to behave much like a portable DVR (digital video recorder). While it can't record directly from a TV, it is quick and easy to grab free and fee-based TV and video programs from the iTunes Store and watch them later.
Unlike other content strategies that require either a single purpose device (like the Slacker Portable) or a never-ending subscription fee, the combination of the iPod and the iTunes store puts the user in complete control.
Submitted by acohill on Wed, 11/14/2007 - 07:10
Internet radio dropped off the radar years ago because of royalty issues. Start up Internet radio stations streaming music were not always paying royalties, and the record companies responded by imposing absurdly expensive royalties that put most Internet radio stations out of business.
But the grudging acceptance of digital music by the record companies has led to more reasonable royalty rates, and a radio start-up called Slacker is trying to make a go of it by introducing yet another portable music player that is half iPod and half radio. The Slacker Portable, when connected to your computer, downloads an ever changing selection of tunes, based on your own preferences. You can listen to them anytime, in the same way you would listen to your own music on an iPod or other MP3 player.
Slacker's niche is that you are not stuck with your own, unchanging playlists; Slacker updates and changes the playlists automatically when you plug your Slacker Portable in to your computer.
It is a neat idea, and is likely to be popular if they can break the link between the service and the requirement for yet another specialized device. There are only so many gadgets people want to carry around.
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 10/29/2007 - 08:03
Newsweek reports that Google search may be slipping. I have complained for a long time that Google searches tend to have too many results, and many of those results are not relevant. It turns out lots of other people have noticed that as well. More and more Internet searches are being performed by other search engines like Ask, Dogpile, Yahoo, and Microsoft.
One of Google's weaknesses is that a primary criteria it uses for search results is the number of other links that point to a site. This worked very well when Google was starting up, but it is easy to create links, and this has led to link farming, which is setting up sites with nothing but links to other sites. Link farm sites improve the Google rating score, but also typically carry Google ads, so link farmers get ad revenue and can artificially force their own sites to the top of Google searches.
Google search has proved more resistant to competition than I expected, but as other search engines get better, Google could lose ground quickly if the tide turns. Just ask former giants like AOL.
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