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Verizon Killing Successful WiFi Program
Wireless Contributed by Mike on Wednesday, April 27th, 2005 @ 08:58PM
from the that's-odd... dept.
Mixed in with various announcements from Verizon today was the little noticed news that they're going to phase out their WiFi offering in New York City in favor of increasing the 3G EV-DO wireless broadband offering from Verizon Wireless. This doesn't make very much sense at all. The two services don't really compete. The WiFi was offered free to subscribers of Verizon DSL as a way to take that connection around the city with them -- and it had been described as a success in that it reduced churn more than enough to pay for the program. EV-DO is a useful offering, but it still costs quite a bit, and isn't suitable as a DSL replacement. It sounds like the decision to do this was done from the incorrect belief that WiFi somehow competes with EV-DO when it really doesn't in most cases.

Disney Does A Double-Take With Video-On-Demand
Failures Contributed by Brett on Wednesday, April 27th, 2005 @ 07:55PM
from the not-much-demand dept.
Disney's ill-conceived "MovieBeam" video-on-demand project is going on hiatus -- as they say in the entertainment biz -- perhaps permanently. The company is shutting down its three test programs later this week, throwing out lots of euphemisms to spin the news (it's officially a system upgrade to prepare for the next phase, but they're giving no other information on when or how the project might be relaunched). We won't be surprised if it never resurfaces. In fact, it would merely confirm our skepticism about the idea when it was hatched (to the public) two years ago. Think about it: a video-on-demand service that requires an extra set-top box, rental fees for the equipment and the movies, and limited flexibility in viewing the movies. About the only thing it did have going for it was that it circumvented cable and satellite providers. Oh yeah, that benefits Disney, not the consumer ... guess it's back to the drawing board.

Mobile TV Defender Explains Reasons: Just 'Cause
Say That Again Contributed by Mike on Wednesday, April 27th, 2005 @ 04:48PM
from the seems-a-bit-weak dept.
We've been saying for a while that there are limited opportunities for typical broadcast television on mobile phones, but one big supporter is ABI Research. So, when confronted with those who suggest broadcast TV isn't mobile's killer app, we're told that we're just "naysayers." Given a chance to expound on why it will take off, the best he could come up with is: "Consumers can watch TV when sitting in a taxi or train, or in any waiting room." Of course, they could do that a few decades ago with portable TVs... and that was a pretty big failure. Also, not everyone travels by taxi or train -- especially in the US (and in some places where people do travel by train, you probably don't want to take out expensive looking electronics). There are definitely some people who will want to watch broadcast TV on their mobile phones, but (especially in an age of TiVo), it's hard to see how it could possibly be considered a "killer app."

Is Technology Outpacing Usefulness?
Overhype Contributed by Dennis on Wednesday, April 27th, 2005 @ 03:54PM
from the second-hand-second-rate-technology dept.
Microsoft's top researcher Richard F. Rashid speculates that "technology in some ways is outpacing people's ability to use it meaningfully." Citing the accelerating creation of digital detritus that our increasingly tech-centric lives create, Rashid claims that the data created is well ahead of any meaningful use for it. Is this really a problem? Don't the uses for technology usually follow its availability? True, there will always be futurists that try and predict what will be, but practical applications of technologies usually lag technical feasibility.

Wal-Mart's New Online Music Service Targets Rapidly Shrinking Audience
(Mis)Uses of Technology Contributed by Mike on Wednesday, April 27th, 2005 @ 03:16PM
from the is-there-any-demand? dept.
Wal-Mart is making some news today for launching a new online music service. They already had an old iTunes wannabe store that hasn't really gotten that much attention, despite being cheaper than iTunes. The difference in this service, though, is that it's for people who don't want to download or burn music to a CD. Instead, you pick the songs you want and they'll send you a CD. In other words, they're targeting a rapidly shrinking market: those without broadband and those without CD burners -- and doing so with a product that isn't particularly price competitive. Other companies have tried similar offerings and they failed pretty quickly, so you have to wonder if Wal-Mart can make this one work. It's sort of like their recent decision to offer CD burning kiosks in stores. Even if it's been done (and failed) many times before, that doesn't mean Wal-Mart can't jump into the space as well -- but it also doesn't mean it will be successful.

EA Wants Girls To Spend Summer Playing Video Games
Culture Contributed by Dennis on Wednesday, April 27th, 2005 @ 03:08PM
from the it's-in-the-game dept.
EA wants to send a lucky high school female to a video game camp at USC this summer. Apparently, last year's summer camp attracted ZERO girls. So, in an effort to give the male campers some girls to act awkward around, EA is trying the scholarship route. Since ZERO girls went to the camp, something tells me that it's not that the girls didn't have enough money to go to summer camp. Maybe they're just not that into EA video games. Hey EA, here's an idea: if you want more girls to be interested in games, how about making more games that girls actually like?

Gates Says Open The Doors To Foreign Workers
Miscellaneous Contributed by Brett on Wednesday, April 27th, 2005 @ 02:37PM
from the changing-world dept.
Tech companies have complained mightily about restrictions on H-1Bs, the visa program that lets them bring foreign workers to the U.S. temporarily for jobs. The government caps the number of H1-Bs that can be issued each year -- last year it was 65,000 -- severely limiting the talent that high-tech companies can recruit and employ. Efforts by the industry to raise those limits have largely fallen on deaf ears, especially since 9/11 when everything foreign was deemed a potential threat. Bill Gates is now reiterating the industry's stance, and even went a step further, when he argued in a panel discussion that the government should get rid of the caps altogether. The argument makes sense: hire the best workers you can find, regardless of nationality, and improve the competitiveness of the company, industry, and economy. Opponents claim that more foreign workers equals fewer jobs for Americans. But it looks like Americans are contributing to this trend pretty well on their own with a declining interest in high tech. Keeping skilled labor in their home countries, away from jobs they want and Americans don't, only exacerbates the difficulty companies are facing with retaining tech talent.

The Spam Filter Ate My Homework
Overhype Contributed by Dennis on Wednesday, April 27th, 2005 @ 02:32PM
from the excuses-excuses-excuses dept.
According to a recent study, spam filters have caused four in ten workers to miss a deadline due to "false positives" where wanted messages are marked as spam. Sure, it may be true that a missed message occurs once in awhile, but "my spam filter ate it" is also an incredibly convenient excuse for not getting an email. It's believable and ultimately difficult to really ascertain whether or not it really happened or not. Granted, you can only really use it once, since after finding a wanted email blocked by spam, you do add that email address to the whitelist, right? Well, I suppose you wouldn't do that if you wanted the possibility of using the "spam filter" excuse at some point again in the future.

RFID In Cars Update: Texas Senate Approves Bill
Legal Issues Contributed by Mike on Wednesday, April 27th, 2005 @ 01:14PM
from the how stuff works dept.
Bob Dole writes "Apparently, after news of the plan to mandate RFID chips in all Texas cars hit the net, the state representative who introduced the bill was so swamped with complaints that he decided to drop the RFID provision. Ah, we can relax now, right? Wrong. On Tuesday, the state Senate actually passed the bill that creates an auto insurance verification database unanimously. The Senate version leaves the details of how to enforce it up to the state police and transportation department, as long as the program is 'cost-effective.' I'm sure it's just a coincidence that the House sponsor has one of the biggest RFID chip makers, Texas Instruments, located right next to his district. "

DirecTV Launches HDTV Satellite, Broadband Still Ignored
(Mis)Uses of Technology Contributed by Brett on Wednesday, April 27th, 2005 @ 10:55AM
from the needs assessment dept.
HDTV may be puttering along with very little going for it, but that isn't stopping DirecTV from dedicating its next-generation Spaceway F1 satellite to the cause. Broadband Reports notes that the much-anticipated launch of DirecTV's Ka-band satellite will be used for HDTV, not broadband, despite previous statements and denials implying the contrary. A curious decision, considering the potential for improved broadband services amid the need for more competitive offerings. The move is doubly curious, considering the state of HDTV, which boasts satellite ventures like Cablevision's Voom that couldn't really get off the ground.

One-Third Of All Companies Wasting Money On Email Monitoring
Email Contributed by Mike on Wednesday, April 27th, 2005 @ 05:49AM
from the pointless dept.
While studies have shown that spying on workers tends to make them less productive, that hasn't stopped approximately 1/3 of all US companies from employing email monitoring tools. 43% of those companies employ staff to check outgoing emails. This seems like quite a waste. While there are some times when it makes sense to monitor emails (or it's required by law), most of the time, this seems like a complete waste of money. Not only are you upsetting workers and decreasing productivity, the benefits are pretty hard to spot. The number of "problem" emails tends to be incredibly low. If someone really wants to send out inappropriate emails, they're going to figure out some other way to do so, such as via a free webmail account somewhere. Yet, the companies are buying up expensive tools and hiring staff to watch just in case they catch the one or two problematic emails that go over the corporate network.

Lumping All Open Source Companies Together
Venture Capital Contributed by Mike on Wednesday, April 27th, 2005 @ 05:29AM
from the lemming-think dept.
Not all venture capitalists are like this, obviously, but some VCs do earn their reputation as being lemmings. They won't invest in something until they see other VCs are investing in the same "space" and then quickly jump into to find their own version of whatever others are investing in. Remember a year ago, when every VC firm had to find their "social networking play" to invest in? This year, it's apparently "open source companies" that are all the rage, which makes the NY Times wonder if investors are being stupid. Of course, it's completely pointless to simply lump all open source companies together into one bundle and assume that investing in them is either good or bad. These are different companies, after all, with different offerings, different strategies and different staff. Some of them may work out great, some of them will obviously fail. Looking at the space as a whole doesn't seem all that useful from a VC perspective -- when looking at the individual opportunities and their prospects does. VCs shouldn't be looking to invest in a "space" but in the individual company.

Broadband Situation In The US Not Bad, Could Be Better
Studies Contributed by Mike on Wednesday, April 27th, 2005 @ 05:04AM
from the things-can-be-done dept.
There's been a lot of fretting and worrying about the US broadband situation for some time, which may get worse, as new reports show the US falling to sixteenth in the broadband penetration rankings. Of course, there are many ways to interpret these findings, and just looking at broadband penetration may not be enough on its own. In fact, the latest Economist study on "e-readiness" which looks at a number of factors including (but not limited to) broadband penetration puts the US in second place, up four spots from last year. This jump apparently came due to increased broadband penetration thanks to cheaper prices from DSL and cable competition. Apparently, the two different studies don't use the same exact data. However, a more interesting point may be to ask about the nature of that broadband competition in the US. Some have pulled out the "free market" excuse for why the US lags, saying that if we lag, it's because there's just no demand. However, it's easy to shoot holes in that argument by noting that there isn't real competition right now, as most people have only one or two choices for broadband -- and those incumbents have done everything they can to block out any form of competition. If there were real competition, then it would be easier to see just what the real demand is for broadband services in the US. At the same time, as service providers deny network neutrality and block off certain useful applications, they're damaging their own prospects by cutting off the applications that make their services attractive.

Internet Continues To Grow As A News Source
Predictions Contributed by Dennis on Tuesday, April 26th, 2005 @ 10:58PM
from the the-trees-are-happy dept.
Upwards of 26 percent of adults now prefer the Internet as their primary news source, which is up 35 percent since 2001. These gains are at the expense of newspapers and magazines. Forming a viable online strategy is clearly becoming more critical for the newspapers and magazines. As we've discussed before, while it's still unclear if newsprint will go away completely, the ones putting their content in walled gardens are accelerating their demise. Prohibit users from finding their content will serve only to turn them off of your content and look elsewhere. True, they might cannibalize offline sales, but it sounds like users are leaving anyway; might as well give them a place to go.

How Verizon Accidentally Made Muni-WiFi Viable
Say That Again Contributed by Mike on Tuesday, April 26th, 2005 @ 06:44PM
from the unintended-consequences... dept.
Whoops. The battle over muni-broadband has received plenty of attention over the past couple of months, but what really set it off was the big debate over muni-WiFi in Philadelphia. Before that, the battle over muni-broadband was a much more focused topic that not many people paid attention to. One of the biggest haters of muni-broadband is Verizon, but as WiFi Net News points out, it appears that Verizon's vehement attacks against muni-broadband (in particular in Philadelphia) have only served to generate much more interest in the idea. Municipal IT staff are suddenly interested in an offering that they had never considered before Verizon worked so hard to make it front page news. Someone involved with the Philadelphia plan claims: "We get calls from municipal IT managers, saying 'our mayor has decided he wants to jump on the bandwagon.' It wasn't a bandwagon till Verizon made it one."

Radio Promoters Sue Universal Over Payola Scam
Scams Contributed by Mike on Tuesday, April 26th, 2005 @ 06:29PM
from the this-again? dept.
For the past fifty years, the way things get done in the recording industry often involves under the table payments. This isn't new, and the fact is that, despite it being "banned," payola scams are still about the only way to get a song on the radio. The only difference these days is that the scam goes through "independent promoters" who often are little more than middlemen to give the record labels a "plausible deniability" excuse to say they weren't involved in payola scams. However, two such independent promoters are now suing Universal Music Group for forcing them to pad their invoices pretending they'd done promotions for popular artists they'd never come close to promoting. This way, Universal could bill the artists and take the money (which wasn't actually used to promote them) out of whatever earnings came in. Of course, as some are pointing out, it's kind of hard to feel sorry for the promoters. They were heavily involved in the payola scam, and only backed out once they were told to pad the invoices -- rather than just "honestly" paying off radio stations to play certain artists. Meanwhile, the entertainment industry says that it should be the ones educating our youth on morality.

Apple Throws Tantrum Over Jobs Bio
Overhype Contributed by Mike on Tuesday, April 26th, 2005 @ 05:34PM
from the unintended-consequences... dept.
theodp writes "John Wiley & Sons, a leading publisher of technology books, said Apple Computer has removed all Wiley titles from the shelves of Apple stores in apparent retaliation for the upcoming publication of a biography of Apple CEO Steve Jobs from the publisher." Of course, this pretty much guarantees that the "unflinching" bio of Mr. Jobs will get that much more attention.

Hackers Find Way To Hit Hushmail
Email Contributed by Brett on Tuesday, April 26th, 2005 @ 05:19PM
from the back-door dept.
Hushmail, the web-based email service that boasts "total security," just got a dose of insecurity. Apparently someone hacked into Hushmail's domain name registrar, Network Solutions, and redirected the website to a staged site with graffiti. The company says no data was compromised, but even a minor security breach looks pretty bad when security is your raison d'etre. Just goes to show that maybe you can never be too paranoid when it comes to securing your computing experience, as Mark Burnett writes in his column. He admits that his precautions might be extreme (50-character passwords, anyone?), but that they can't hurt either. Sometimes, they even deter new, unanticipated threats. In other words, even super-secure email services are susceptible to attack and might benefit from other means of protection.

Enterprise Mobile Data Heads To The Factory
Wireless Contributed by Mike on Tuesday, April 26th, 2005 @ 03:53PM
from the changing-times dept.
When people talk about enterprise mobile data systems, they usually are talking about office workers using mobile devices to access email or various corporate information systems. However, a new study shows that (at least in the UK), more blue collar workers are using mobile data on the job, suggesting that some of the various mobile data systems may need different capabilities than what's being designed today. Of course, it's a bit strange that mobile data offerings didn't originally take off outside of the office -- as it would seem more appropriate there. Blue collar jobs (pretty much by definition) don't involve sitting at a desk all day, so a mobile terminal of some sorts makes a lot more sense than for the office worker who has easy access to data from his or her desk. The problem, probably, was that those white collar workers didn't quite understand the benefits for blue collar workers until they had some experience with mobile data themselves.

Xybernaut In Trouble
Failures Contributed by Mike on Tuesday, April 26th, 2005 @ 03:37PM
from the doesn't-look-good dept.
Xybernaut has been around for ages, without ever getting very much traction. The company always seems to get hype for their wearable computing offerings because the press seems to love wearable computers -- but they've never been able to build that much success in the consumer space (the government, military space is a different story, apparently). However, now it's coming out that the company appears to be in serious trouble and federal investigators are starting to look into allegations that the senior execs used "substantial" company funds for personal expenses. Last week the company's CEO and his brother (who happened to be the President and COO) both resigned -- and already the guy who took their place has resigned after one week, suggesting that things are even more troubling than they originally appeared. Meanwhile, the company admits that it probably doesn't have much money left to deal with the various investigations and charges, so this may be the end of having to read plenty of stories every year about consumer focused wearable computers that never seem to reach the market.

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