Monthly Archives: July 2010


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Explicitly Specifying ‘args’ Property with Groovy CliBuilder

As I have blogged on previously, Groovy’s CliBuilder makes parsing with Apache Commons CLI very straightforward.  However, there are a few minor things to be aware of when using CliBuilder.  One of these observations is the importance of expl… Continue reading

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Debunking The Logic In Favor Of Paywalls

This is a guest post from regular commenter, Ima Fish, and is cross posted from his own blog:

Marion Maneker over at the Big Money website wrote a piece entitled “The Weird Logic of Paywall Challengers.”  He attempts to show that the arguments used by those against paywalls are illogical.  He also attempts to show that paywalls are not only a good idea but a necessity for news websites.

First, a little background.  Some internet news sites are making people pay to view content.  That’s called a paywall.  You can’t view the content without paying.  So far the attempts to implement paywalls have been complete failures.  For example, when Newsday set up a paywall, only 35 people paid.  After the Times instituted a paywall, its readership dropped by 2/3rds.  And because those articles are not being indexed by Google (or Bing or Yahoo), they’re essentially invisible to people on the web.

So what’s Maneker arguments in favor of paywalls? What errors in logic have those against paywalls made? Let’s go through his points.

His first point is that even if ad revenues are back, news outlets should diversify by charging anyway.  He doesn’t seem to get this, but as I explained above, paywalls kill off advertising by driving viewers and readers away.  So Maneker’s argument that news outlets should diversify by relying on both advertising and paywalls fails as it is self contradictory. 

His second point is that news outlets charging “for content has always been part of its long-term strategy.”  He’s absolutely right that newspapers have tended to charge for content. However, that was never done for profit. Profits always came from advertising, classifieds, and obituaries. 

There were two reasons newspapers did charge.  The first was to cover the costs of publishing.  However, those costs no longer exist in the digital realm. 

The second reason newspapers charged was to show advertisers how many actual readers they had.  If a newspaper publisher simply gave away its papers, it could claim that millions of people are reading when in fact no one is reading.  People paying for newspapers is a pretty good indication to advertisers that people are in fact reading.  But in the digital realm news outlets do not need paying customers to tell advertisers how many unique people are reading.  All that information can be tracked automatically in real time.  Heck, in the digital realm news outlets can give specific information about page views and what ads are working and what ads are not.

His third point is that “central to any media strategy should be the idea of charging for some content.”  Has he never listened to broadcast radio?  Has he never watched broadcast TV?  Has he never used Google, Facebook, or Twitter?  And despite being contradicted by legitimate business models, his third argument is circular.  He’s essentially arguing that news outlets should charge for content because they should charge for content.  It only concludes its premise without telling us why.

Along with his third point he pulls the following assertion out of his ass, “Digital distribution should make content much cheaper–but it shouldn’t make it free.”  Why shouldn’t it be free?  He never explains.

Hundreds of years ago the most efficient means to distribute news was to print it on paper and deliver it locally.  Times changed.  Radio came along and made delivering news in real time more efficient.  But it still lacked the newspaper’s depth.  TV news had the same problem.  But the internet does not.  It has the efficiency, the immediacy, and the depth.  Because the distribution costs are essentially zero, economically speaking, there is no reason why the cost of the content should not also be free.

If Maneker’s piece is any indication, the pro-paywallers’ dream of making us pay for news is a lost cause.

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Kristin Hersh Turns An Album Into A Book

Back in 2007, musician Kristin Hersh was one of the first musicians we wrote about who had put in place a “tiered” support offering, which these days are becoming quite common. It looks like she’s continuing to break new ground with experimental business models as well. Her latest album is actually going to be released as a book via Harper Collins’ The Friday Project. The book/album, called Crooked, will basically be a really nice book, including full color artwork, lyrics, essays by Kristin about each song on the album and (of course) download codes to get all sorts of additional content, including stems for remixing and track-by-track audio commentary. This seems like a good way to give her fans an actual reason to buy the scarce good (the book), rather than just demanding they pick up a piece of obsolete plastic, like some artists.

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Jury Dumps Patent Used To Sue Facebook

Nearly two years ago, we wrote about a company, called Leader Technologies with an incredibly broad patent (7,139,761) that covered associating a piece of data with multiple categories, that was suing Facebook for infringement. Our usual group of patent system defenders rushed to the comments to quickly declare that I was an idiot for daring to question this patent. The case took a weird turn when the court actually ordered Facebook to hand over its source code. We were confused as to how this made sense. Since the lawsuit was about patents, not copyright, the specific source code shouldn’t really matter.

Either way, it looks like the jury in the case seemed to agree with me about the quality of the patent. The jury has declared the patent invalid. Clearly, the only explanation is that the jury was also made up of idiots. Next time, Leader Technologies should file the lawsuit in East Texas where they know how to make juries, rather than Delaware.

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Don’t Read Too Much Into The Claims That Intellectual Ventures Returns Are Negative

A bunch of folks have sent over the story from TechCrunch, based on a tweet from Chris Dixon that patent hoarding giant Intellectual Ventures isn’t doing so hot for those who invested in it. Now, it’s no secret that I’m no fan of Intellectual Ventures. I believe the company represents a huge tax on innovation and has a variety of very questionable business practices. I would be very happy to hear that it was doing poorly. But, unfortunately, the numbers being revealed are mostly meaningless.

To understand why this information is even out there, you have to go back to 2002. Historically, the internal rate of return (IRR) for venture capital funds was kept secret from the outside world. However, many big public universities invest in such funds and get the usual reports about those funds’ performance. Back in 2002 (I believe, due to a reporter’s request), the University of Texas was the first of a few public institutions to realize that, being public, they probably should publish that information. Venture capitalists freaked out that people would misinterpret the results.

That’s because the IRR for a venture fund, especially in the early years, is pretty meaningless. A typical venture fund lasts ten years, and the first few years is when all that money is being invested, and there’s no real returns. On top of that (and, more importantly), the IRR is usually reported based on a totally made up number, which is what the VCs believe their portfolio is valued at, since it doesn’t involve a liquid market. VCs were afraid that publishing such numbers would freak people out, and lead VCs to focus on more short-term investments. I don’t think that’s really happened, but it does appear that the Intellectual Ventures funds represented here (showing IRRs of -73% and -10%) might not really mean anything.

Without knowing the details of what those funds represent, or how long the timeframe is for those funds, it’s difficult to assess what’s really going on. It does look like IV isn’t valuing its first fund very highly any more, and considering it’s Intellectual Ventures I, perhaps you can assume it’s further along in the process. But, in a game where a sudden “home run” can change things quickly (even if we’re talking about patent infringement lawsuits or licensing demands, rather than true venture investments), it’s difficult to make any serious call on the performance just yet.

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Do unto others–Jasmine’s Tech Dos & Don’ts

Get schooled by CNET editor Jasmine France. This week she gives tips on how you can use technology to do good things for fellow humans.

Originally posted at MP3 Insider

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Firefox Home for iPhone, Firefox Sync see fixes

Updates to the Firefox cloud-based syncing tools for iPhone and for the Firefox browser correct three of users’ top complaints, according to Mozilla.

Originally posted at iPhone Atlas

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Google services reported down in China

Some of those reports, which said nearly all of the Internet giant’s services were blocked Thursday, turned out to be erroneous.

Originally posted at Web Crawler

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White House Seeks Easier FBI Access To Internet Records, Blocks Oversight Attempt… Just As FBI Caught Cheating On Exam To Stop Abuse

We’re still at a loss to explain why there’s been so little outrage over the fact that the FBI got a total free pass for its massive abuse in getting phone records. As you may recall, reports came out about how the FBI regularly abused the official process for obtaining phone records, avoiding any of the required oversight, but right before that info came out the White House issued a ruling saying that it was okay for the FBI to break the law. That’s not how things are supposed to work.

And, it appears that since there was no outrage over all of this, the White House keeps pushing further. Three new articles highlight what a travesty this has become. First, the White House wants to quietly make it easier for the FBI to demand internet log file information without a judge’s approval.” Just as I finished reading that, I saw Julian Sanchez’s new writeup about how the White House blocked and killed a proposal to give the GAO power to review US intelligence agencies. The GAO is the one government operation that seems to actually focus on doing what’s right, rather than what’s politically expedient. Sanchez notes that, beyond the sterling reputation of the GAO, it’s also ready, willing and able to handle this kind of oversight:

The GAO has the capacity Congress lacks: as of last year, the office had 199 staffers cleared at the top-secret level, with 96 holding still more rarefied “sensitive compartmented information” clearances. And those cleared staff have a proven record of working to oversee highly classified Defense Department programs without generating leaks. Gen. Clapper, the prospective DNI, has testified that the GAO “held our feet to the fire” at the Pentagon with thorough analysis and constructive criticism.

Unlike the inspectors general at the various agencies–which also do vital oversight work–the GAO is directly answerable to Congress, not to the executive branch. And while it’s in a position to take a broad, pangovernmental view, the GAO also hosts analysts with highly specialized economic and management expertise the IG offices lack. Unleashing GAO would be the first step in discovering what the Post couldn’t: whether the billions we’re pouring into building a surveillance and national security state are really making us safer.

Oh, and just to make this all more comically depressing, just as I finished reading both of these stories, I saw a story about a new investigation into reports that FBI agents were caught cheating on an exam, which was designed to get them to stop abusing surveillance tools. Yes, you read that right. After all the reports of abuse of surveillance tools, the FBI set up a series of tests to train FBI agents how to properly go about surveillance without breaking the law… and a bunch of FBI agents allegedly cheated on the test that’s supposed to stop them from “cheating” on the law. And, not just a few. From the quotes, it sounds like this cheating was “widespread.” But, of course, it might not matter, since the requirements for surveillance are being lowered, oversight is being blocked, and apparently the White House is willing to retroactively “legalize” any illegal surveillance anyway.

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UK Gov’t Review Says Google WiFi Sniffing Didn’t Sniff Anything Significant

It’s been funny watching the usual anti-Google forces try to make something bigger out of Google’s accidental WiFi sniffing via its Street View vehicles. As has been explained in detail, it’s not hard to understand how the data was collected accidentally. Even though it is bad that Google didn’t realize this, there is no indication that Google ever did anything with the data, or that any sensitive data was collected. After all, if you’re doing something sensitive online, it’s hopefully via an encrypted channel — and most email and all banking sites would be.

But, of course, lots of governments are “investigating.” I fully expect some less-technically savvy government groups to get confused about this and still condemn Google, but the UK’s investigation has found that Google did not collect sensitive data:

The ICO said in a statement: “On the basis of the samples we saw, we are satisfied so far that it is unlikely that Google will have captured significant amounts of personal data.”

It added: “There is also no evidence – as yet – that the data captured by Google has caused or could cause any individual detriment.”

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