- Revolving Door: MPAA Hires Chief USTR Negotiator Behind ACTA And TPP’s IP Chapter
- Copyright Maximalists’ Incredible Sense Of Entitlement: If It Challenges The Biz Model We Chose, It Must Be Illegal
- Turkey’s Prime Minister Sues His Own Country Over Twitter
- Picturefill 2
- Police File On Student ‘Bullied Into Committing Suicide’ Strangely Lacking In Evidence Of Bullying
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Over the years I’ve heard of a few different companies that have done variations on what Spinvox appears to be doing: using a combination of both speech recognition and cheap offshore labor to convert audio voicemail messages into text. But, Mark alerts us that Spinvox is trying to patent the process of using humans to transcribe messages (you can see the patent application here). It seems pretty ridiculous that the concept of transcribing a voicemail message could get a patent — and one hopes that such a patent no longer has any chance under the current Bilski rules, but you never know. It’s quite telling, though, how the company responds when asked about the patent:
“Generic patents help us build different combinations — i.e.: Humans interacting with machines — to prevent any other companies doing similar things in the long term.”
In other words, they’re blatantly admitting it’s got nothing at all to do with actually innovating, but getting enough of a patent thicket to have different combinations that prevent anyone else from doing things.
Separately, it’s a bit odd, but mixed in at the end of the BBC article is a small highlight of one potential problem with using humans to transcribe voicemails: some of the Pakistani transcribers apparently haven’t been paid by Spinvox, and attached a message to one of the transcriptions, telling the recipient of their plight and asking for help.
I’ve often discussed the original constitutional reasoning behind patents and copyright law, specifically the phrase we all know in Article 1, Section 8:
The Congress shall have Power… To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;
From this, I still believe it’s quite clear that if copyright or patents are used in a way that does not “promote the progress” of those things, then it is unconstitutional to use copyright or patent law in that way. Not everyone agrees with me, of course. However, I’ve mostly focused on the “promote the progress” side of things, but haven’t delved as much into the details of “science and useful Arts.” I have read up extensively on what the founders meant by that, which can be simplified as “science” meaning scientific publishing/books and “useful Arts” meaning inventions. There’s also a fair bit of evidence that the real focus of the founders was on patents, rather than copyright. It wasn’t that they weren’t concerned at all about copyright (they were), but that the bigger issue was patents, and copyright was a sort of “throw in” at the behest of some vocal authors, along with some remembrance of states’ fights over local copyright policies. But, on the whole, it was patents that were considered of much more importance to progress than copyrights.
And, not only were copyrights initially for a “limited time” (14-years) but the first federal copyright law in the US limited copyright to books, maps and charts. Tom Bell points out that, based on this, and some other aspects of the early intentions of the founders, you can make an argument that copyright law, as per the constitution, was never intended for things like art and music. After all, what does art or music have to do with “science”? And if it really was intended to cover art and music, then why didn’t the founders have it cover music that was being composed at the time? Perhaps it was because they realized that music and paintings had nothing to do with science, and the Constitutional clause is only limited to promoting the progress of science and the useful arts (and, again, in the parlance of the day, “useful arts” was inventions). As Bell states:
Here as elsewhere, acquiescence to long-accepted practices has dulled us to the Constitution’s bracingly straightforward words. We should read them anew and reflect that the Founding generation did not evidently think that granting statutory privileges to such purely artistic creations as romantic operas or pretty pictures would promote the progress of both science and the useful arts. Furthermore, most citizens today would, if presented with the Constitution’s plain language rather than the convoluted arguments of professional jurisprudes, probably say the same thing about pop songs, blockbuster movies, and the like. That is certainly not to say that purely expressive works lack value. They may very well promote such important goals as beauty, truth, and simple amusement. The Constitution requires that copyright promote something else, however–“the Progress of Science and useful Arts”–and a great many works now covered by copyright cannot plausibly claim to do both.
Bell is interpreting the Constitutional clause in an even stricter manner — suggesting that any work covered by patents or copyright needs to promote both progress in science and in the useful arts, which is an even higher bar, though I’m not sure I’m convinced it was meant to be both. Also, many would retort that the Constitution grants the Congress the ability to determine if such monopolies promote the progress of science and the useful arts — and as long as Congress says they do, then we should consider that they do (no matter how wrong they might be). For a variety of reasons, that line of thinking is problematic, but it is the line that the Supreme Court has taken with copyright before (such as in the Eldred case). I’m not necessarily convinced of Bell’s thinking here, but it’s certainly a point worth pondering (and discussing).
Although Twitter is a tool that helps you connect with others around the world, what if you want to find some “tweeps” that live in your area? It’s easier than you might think.
Twitter itself provides location information on profile pages, but that’s not enough to help you find some locals. You’re not going to sift through every profile to look at the person’s location, after all.
That’s why you need to check out the following sites and iPhone apps that will help you find folks who live nearby.
Find some locals
Happn.in Instead of simply finding tweeters close to you, Happn.in has you choose your area and see what the “trending” topics are there. So, if nearby users are discussing taxes or a local baseball team, they will be displayed as some of the more popular topics where you live. Under each topic is a listing of the latest tweets from people discussing those items. It’s a neat idea, but beware that many towns are not included in the Happn.in listing, so it’s a better service for people living in big cities.
(Credit: Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET)
Localtweeps Localtweeps asks you to input your ZIP code to add yourself to the service. When you input your ZIP code, it populates (but does not update) your Twitter stream with a tweet that includes your location. Your profile is then added to the Localtweeps directory, allowing people to find you based on where you live.
Because of the way Localtweeps adds users to its directory, you’ll find that there aren’t as many users as those in other services in this roundup. That said, it tends to be more accurate, since the people who join want to be located. So, although it sacrifices quantity, Localtweeps actually does provide some real quality. It’s worth trying out.
(Credit: Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET)
Nearby Tweets Nearby Tweets asks you to input your location. It also asks that you choose a search radius to find other local Twitter users. The app uses both the Twitter API and the Google Maps API to ensure it’s finding people in the desired area.
Nearby Tweets allows you to input keywords to enhance your search. When you do so, it analyzes all the people in the area first and then finds if any of them are mentioning the term you’re searching for. It adds another level to the offering. And it makes it slightly more compelling than some of the other services in this roundup.
(Credit: Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET)
Tweetmondo Tweetmondo helps you find people in your area by inputting your location. From there, it finds others who signed up for the service and input the same location.
Although that function works well, I was upset to see that Tweetmondo automatically updated my Twitter stream with a message telling my followers that I signed up for the site (I deleted it from my stream in seconds after it was updated). I don’t mind it giving me the option of updating my stream with that information, but I don’t want it updated for me.
With that in mind, Tweetmondo did do a good job of finding people in a given location, but it should be noted that you won’t find nearly as many people on this site as on others I tested. And since Tweetmondo automatically updates your stream, consider it a last resort.
(Credit: Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET)
Twellowhood Twellowhood displays a map of the U.S. You can click on the state you live in and it will automatically list all the people living in different towns in the respective state.
I was really impressed by Twellowhood’s listings. The site listed several people in both small towns and big cities across New York state. The same was true for all the states I checked. When you click the town you want, Twellowhood lists the users by the number of followers they have. You can go to their Twitter profile or follow them from the page.
(Credit: Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET)
Twinkle Twinkle is an iPhone app that allows you to tweet with nearby Twinkle users. The app uses the iPhone’s GPS functionality to locate you and those in your area.
Twinkle is, theoretically, a self-contained social network allowing you to send messages to nearby users, but you can also update your Twitter and Facebook statuses in a flash, allowing you to tweet with others that are nearby. It’s a full-featured app that you don’t want to miss.
(Credit: Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET)
Twittelator Pro Twittelator Pro provides you with a variety of location-based features to help you find local tweeps. The app lets you post your location on a map for others to see. It also uses the iPhone’s GPS to find the location of Twitter users in your area. You can then send them tweets from the app. Twittelator Pro is extremely capable, but there’s one catch: it will cost you $4.99 to get it.
(Credit: Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET)
TwitterLocal When you start using TwitterLocal, you’ll find that it provides a single search box, asking you to input a location. TwitterLocal also asks you to choose the mile radius to search for people in the area. It then delivers the latest tweets written by those around a specific location. It’s not the best app in this roundup, but it did do a fine job of finding people close to home.
(Credit: Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET)
My top 3
1. Twellowhood: With a great interface, Twellowhood is worth trying out.
2. TwitterLocal: TwitterLocal gives you enough options to make it a useful service.
3. Twittelator Pro: Twittelator Pro is the most feature-packed iPhone app in this roundup. It’s the tool to use, if you can get over its hefty price tag.
digg_url = ‘http://digg.com/software/Firefox_1_billion_downloads_only_part_of_the_story_3’;
At about 8 a.m. PDT Friday, Firefox crossed the billion-download threshold–a notably large number for Mozilla’s open-source Web browser but one that doesn’t tell the whole story.
Firefox fans love their statistical milestones, and Mozilla enjoys fanning the flames by providing plenty of opportunities for self-congratulation. In 2008 was the Firefox Download Day, with more than 8 million downloads in 24 hours. Next came the Firefox 3.5 debut and its download tracker.
(Credit: Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET)
And now we have the billion-download figure on the Spread Firefox site. That includes updates people have fetched deliberately, not automatic updates, Mozilla said. To maximize the marketing potential, Mozilla also is touting the 1,000,000,000 + you site.
That site probably could be named better. Firefox director Mike Belztner said in June that Mozilla estimates there are 300 million Firefox users, up from 175 million a year earlier, so don’t go thinking there are a billion people using it. Indeed, I find the total user population a much more interesting statistic than downloads.
Firefox has truly achieved real success, eating steadily into Microsoft Internet Explorer’s dominant market share to become the second-most used browser. The newest version is downloaded between 40 and 60 times a second worldwide at present.
IE 8 downloads surpass 200 million
But lest Firefox fans get too carried away with their success, there’s another number that shows what Mozilla is up against. According to a source familiar with Microsoft’s statistics, IE 8 has been downloaded more than 200 million times in the last four months since its release.
That’s a fifth of the way to what Firefox achieved since Firefox 1.0 was released nearly five years ago. And Microsoft hasn’t even begun pushing IE 8 through update in earnest yet. Microsoft’s 200 million statistic doesn’t include updates such as bug patches and security fixes.
So let’s face it: being installed along with the world’s most widely used operating system remains a huge advantage for IE’s use, antitrust concerns notwithstanding. Microsoft declined to comment on its download statistics.
So what do all these numbers really show besides browser makers’ urges to thump their chests about their popularity? This: the world of browsers is in serious flux.
Next-gen Web en route
That’s because after years of near-dormancy after IE crushed Netscape in the 1990s, the browser wars are back in full swing. The growing migration of personal and professional activity to Web applications, the growing adoption of broadband Internet connections, and the growing adoption of truly Web-capable mobile phones are combining to make Web browsers a strategic asset in the computing industry. Apple, Microsoft, Mozilla, Google, Opera Software, and others all want to be the gateway to the world’s most vibrant medium, the Internet.
Even the fifth-ranked browser can claim notable success. Opera’s desktop browser has been downloaded more than 270 million times from the company’s own servers since 2003, and the daily download rate has jumped from 30,000 to 40,000 back then to about 200,000 today, the company said. Throwing Opera Mini for mobile phones into the mix increases the total to about 500 million.
The download rates show that there’s a powerful movement afoot to “upgrade the Web,” as Mozilla’s marketing catchphrase would have it.
It’s a gradual change, with plenty of laggards such as corporate users who can’t upgrade from IE 6 or cybercafes with locked-down PCs. And there’s plenty of turmoil about next-generation Web standards. But the herd is gradually moving to more sophisticated browsers that collectively enable a more sophisticated Web.
Originally posted at News – Business Tech
This week, 3jam announced an open beta of its new voice forwarding and transcription service that bears a striking resemblance to Google Voice (covered here).
There are differentiating factors, though. Google Voice for instance, gives you a single central number that all your other numbers forward to–cell phone, work line, home phone, and VoIP. It employs call screening and machine-facilitated visual voice mail transcription. Using it, you can block calls, record custom greetings, and interact with SMS. You can’t port your number yet, but Google hopes to offer this convenience in the future.
Google Voice is a free service that is only available in the U.S., and only then to those with invites. Previous GrandCentral users also got an automatic in, since they had joined the service before Google snatched it up.
Start-up 3jam, on the other hand, gives you the option of choosing one or more phone numbers. It, too, routes calls to VoIP, including Skype (Windows | Mac) and IM voice services such as Yahoo Messenger with Voice (Windows | Mac). Like Google’s product, you can manage texts and visual voice mail messages online. Unlike Google Voice, you can preserve your original phone number by porting it over to 3jam’s service. 3jam also supports voice-to-text machine transcription and SMS routing. It’s a premium service and is available internationally in an open beta.
3jam has arrived at its similar competing service from a background in group text messaging. As such, it has not yet incorporated some of Google Voice’s more advanced voice features, like call screening, call blocking, and listening in. It does, however, convert text messages to e-mail copy, allowing you to receive and respond to SMS messages via e-mail.
With its provision of multiple phone numbers, 3jam hopes to leverage its SMS strength by offering users the ability to text groups of people at one of those permanent group numbers–the intramural sports team, book club, fund-raising committee, and so on.
Pricing and carrier details
Whether you port your current mobile number to 3jam or get a brand-new number, 3jam is an after-market add-on service you purchase alongside your mobile and landline plan. When you port your number, your carrier will bestow a new one that you’ll keep on record, but won’t pass out to family or friends. Instead, they’ll dial the old number (now the 3jam number) to ring you simultaneously on all lines.
3jam beta costs $4.99 with a 12-month subscription, but price is indirectly proportional to commitment. A three-month bundle costs $5.99, and you’ll pay $8.99 for one month. The charge won’t include texting rates, which 3jam will tack on for $5 to $20 per month.
3jam does not replace your mobile data plan.
How does it all stack up? 3jam may find it difficult to compete against the free Google Voice when Google’s service opens up to all, especially if it’s lacking some of Google Voice’s more sophisticated screening and blocking tricks. However, its global availability, offer to keep your beloved cell phone number, and support for multiple lines will make it more attractive to some, at least until Google Voice begins operating on a global scale.
Originally posted at The Download Blog
In January of 2001, word began to leak that Dean Kamen was working on something amazing that would change the world. If you were paying attention to tech news, you may recall it was everywhere. There was some book deal about it, and we were told that it was going to change the way cities were laid out and would absolutely revolutionize transportation. It had the blessing of Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos and John Doerr and was amazing. But no one knew what it was. Hell, it didn’t even have a name. It was referred to either as IT or Ginger — and there were all sorts of rumors about what IT might be. Eventually, of course, IT was revealed as the Segway. And while it was sorta kinda maybe cool, it hardly came close to living up to its original billing. It was expensive and not really all that useful for most people. Segway, the company, has gone through a merry-go-round of new CEOs and new strategies, none of which have gotten it out of a niche market.
Recently, in talking about how the Netflix Prize helped demonstrate the value of openness and collaboration when it came to innovation, rather than hoarding and taking the “inventor-knows-best” attitude towards things, Mark Blafkin of the Association for Competitive Technology (a tech industry lobbying group who tends to be a patent system supporter) took exception to what we said about the value of openness and collaboration instead of focusing on patents, by noting that Dean Kamen has also put a lot of effort into collaboration and prizes to award innovation, but also is a strong believer in patents (and, actually, making them stronger).
In response, I pointed out that Kamen’s thinking on patents may actually explain part of the reason why Segway has struggled so much over the years. In believing so strongly in patents, it shows someone who tends to believe invention is more important than ongoing innovation, even as there’s a growing body of evidence to suggest the exact opposite is true. Invention is the original idea, but innovation is an ongoing process of taking a product and adjusting and adapting it to the market. And we’ve been seeing more and more studies that note the innovation part is so much more important in determining the success and the economic contribution of a product.
So it seems like perfect timing to see Paul Graham’s recent essay about why the Segway failed to change the world. He focuses mainly on the fact that the Segway basically makes people look dorky — and that a better design might have helped more people find it enticing. But at the end he notes:
Curiously enough, what got Segway into this problem was that the company was itself a kind of Segway. It was too easy for them; they were too successful raising money. If they’d had to grow the company gradually, by iterating through several versions they sold to real users, they’d have learned pretty quickly that people looked stupid riding them. Instead they had enough to work in secret. They had focus groups aplenty, I’m sure, but they didn’t have the people yelling insults out of cars. So they never realized they were zooming confidently down a blind alley.
Exactly. Again, this highlights the difference between invention (believing that you alone have come up with the perfect idea for a great product) and innovation (the ongoing iterative process of going back and forth with the market to test and understand what the market wants and how to make your product meet their needs). By focusing so much on the invention, Segway missed the real opportunity for innovation, and that’s caused all sorts of problems for the company.
A 17-year-old from Michigan has filed a lawsuit against e-commerce powerhouse Amazon after it deleted a book he had purchased for his Kindle device.
The high school student, Justin D. Gawronski, filed suit in a Seattle court along with California resident Antoine J. Bruguier, and they are seeking class action status.
Amazon forcibly (and ironically) recalled copies of George Orwell’s “1984” and “Animal Farm” earlier this month after it was revealed that they were unauthorized. Justin Gawronski’s complaint alleges that he was reading “1984” as summer reading for an advanced-placement class and had to turn in “reflections” on each hundred pages. With the loss of the digital book, Gawronski claims his page count was thrown off and his notes were “rendered useless because they no longer referenced the relevant parts of the book.”
Amazon has declined to comment on the lawsuit, which appears was first reported late Thursday by The Wall Street Journal’s Digits blog.
“The power to delete your books, movies, and music remotely is a power no one should have,” the lawsuit quoted Slate‘s Farhad Manjoo as saying in an opinion piece following the book deletions.
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos put out a public apology shortly after the fiasco unfolded, but it’s not clear how the company’s policies will (or won’t) change in the future.
Originally posted at The Social
Every time we post a story at Techdirt about the iPhone, we see the comments rapidly bifurcating into a religious battle between the "fanboy idiots who make excuses for the useless little iPhone like a beaten wife just because it’s trendy and shiny" and the guys who "whine because [the iPhone doesn’t do] everything and cost nothing" (this is what the two sides are saying, not us). It’s sad to see such an interesting, seminal device be reduced to "nyah, nyah" levels of discourse. Our position on the iPhone is hopefully more objective. No, it’s not perfect, lists of gripes are frequently made, but overall it’s the phone to beat.
Recently, we’ve decried Apple’s autocratic governance of their App Store. But don’t let that mislead you into thinking we’re down on the whole product. The iPhone is a turning-point device, which changed the usability level of the mobile Internet. All of a sudden, the mass market – who until then had no interest in muddling with clumsy mobile data services – was able to connect to the web on their phone, browse sites, download apps, and truly realize the promise of "anytime, anyplace, any info". The phone also revolutionized the mobile phone UI. While the other handset vendors developed each application and hardware in its own silo, Apple designed it all as a single whole experience, also sketching-in the content and application ecosystem. And it’s been no shock that good user experience matters a whole lot! Lastly, the iPhone shattered the iron grip carriers had on handset vendors, and the phones their customer’s eventually owned. Apple yanked some of that control away, and their more open (than carriers) approach has blown open the barn doors of developer creativity. The iPhone sales figures and data usage stats are in. Its a success. So if you are one of the people that says the iPhone is nothing more than a shiny toy, you need to come back to reality.
So why do so many criticize the iPhone, if it’s so great? I think it’s because they make the classic marketing mistake of thinking "It’s all about ME." It isn’t. The iPhone haters see the limitations (hard keys, cut/paste, tethering…) of the phone, and they focus on how the phone doesn’t have any tech breakthrough or meet THEIR specific needs. But the mass market is what really matters in business. Is the mass market even aware of the limitations of their iPhone? If you told one of them, would they care? They would tell you that, on the contrary, their iPhone has not limited them, it has empowered them to access the mobile services and networks that have been "available" since 2000, but were blocked by poor user experiences and walled gardens.
I liken the whole debate to the stick-shift versus automatic transmission debate decades ago (still in the EU). True motoring aficionados could not accept the dumbed-down, lazy automatic transmission. They insisted on doing the work themselves. It was harder, but it was "the only way to truly ‘drive’ the automobile". Tough luck if it put driving out of the reach of some. By now, the mass market has decided that "easier" trumps a religious argument about "real feel for the road". Good products take people to their destination as easily as possible. The market has spoken: Getting there is not half the fun.
Yesterday, we had the story of the incredibly popular viral wedding video, talking about how the music in that video, despite being over a year old and being sung by someone with massive reputation problems (Chris Brown, who assaulted his then girlfriend), was suddenly back in both the iTunes and Amazon top 5 downloads, almost entirely because of the video. Soon after the post went up, we saw that Google had just put up its own post highlighting it as a case study of a copyright holder monetizing an opportunity. Basically, Google allowed Sony Music to:
claim and monetize the song, as well as to start running Click-to-Buy links over the video, giving viewers the opportunity to purchase the music track on Amazon and iTunes. As a result, the rights holders were able to capitalize on the massive wave of popularity generated by “JK Wedding Entrance Dance” — in the last week, searches for “Chris Brown Forever” on YouTube have skyrocketed, making it one of the most popular queries on the site.
But… as some in our comments began to wonder, shouldn’t the folks in the video (or, perhaps the person who shot it) get some of that monetizing as well? After all, if we base our thinking on traditional RIAA-style thinking, the whole reason why there are suddenly so many new sales and renewed interest in Brown and this song is entirely due to this wedding party and whoever shot the video. Now, they might not want or care about the money, but just the fact that Google is hyping up the monetizing of the video… doesn’t something seem wrong that the actual copyright holder of the video in question isn’t getting any of that money? At the very least, shouldn’t there be some sort of “referral bonus” or some such?
Privacy advocates aren’t pleased with Google Web History, which records the sites you visit, searches you make, images and videos you view, and even sites you haven’t been to but may like. When you create a Google account, the option to use Web History is checked by default. Opting out doesn’t mean Google doesn’t collect the information, just that you don’t have such easy access to it.
It feels like I’ve been using Gmail for five or six years, but I found my Web history begins in January 2007, according to Google. The entries since that time are far from a complete log of all my searches and surfing; apparently, events are recorded only while you’re logged into your Google account.
To open your Web history, sign into your account, click My Account in the top-right corner of the main Google screen, and choose Web History under My products. The default view is All History. Your other view options include Web, Images, News, Videos, Maps, Blogs, and even the Sponsored Links you were served up, just in case you missed them the first time.
I was ready to find all sorts of embarrassing information about myself in the logs, but they were really kinda boring, which probably indicates their accuracy. I did find several entries that didn’t belong—obviously, someone borrowed my PC while I was logged into my Google account. To remove unwanted items in your history, click Remove items in the left pane, check the entry or entries you wish to excise, and click Remove.
To surf without being tracked, click the left pane’s Pause button. (Frankly, I’m inclined to sign off the account altogether.) When you’re ready to go back on the record, click Resume.
One of my favorite Web History features is Trends, which shows your top 10 queries, sites, and clicks over the past seven days, month, year, or all recorded. I had fun trying to figure out why I did almost three times more searching last April than I did the previous October, or why I’ve never searched at 2 a.m. A real shocker for me was that I search more often on Sundays than I do on Fridays. I would’ve never guessed that one.
Maybe I should have qualms about anybody keeping such close tabs on me, but the fact is, most or all of this information is tracked whether or not I sign up for the service, unless I use an anonymizing service or product. About a year ago, I described how to customize the history settings in Firefox and Internet Explorer, and all browsers let you wipe your Web history clean, but these settings don’t affect Google’s servers.
Originally posted at Workers’ Edge