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TechCrunch is reporting that Facebook may be launching an instant-messaging service as early as next week. Arrington says that, as far as he knows, there isn't a desktop client to go along with it, meaning you'll have to be online and logged into your Facebook account to use it.

Now, what will happen to Facebook's third-party IM app, Social IM? Is this an example of Facebook muscling in and pushing out a developer (which is always a worry with a platform like this)? I just got off the phone with Social IM founder Yanda Erlich, and he seemed very zen about the whole thing, saying Facebook's move is not unexpected and could actually be a good thing for his company.

"It was a strategic assumption that they would eventually compete," he said. "From our perspective, depending on the solution, it could end up benefitting us instead of hurting us."

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If at first you don't succeed, goes the saying, try and try again. Rockstar Games has now successfully used the do-over approach to protest the rating for its violent videogame Manhunt 2. The game, which was banned last year in the U.K., has now been granted an 18-rated age certificate, as the Telegraph reports. While anti-censorship supporters may call this a victory, the real loser could be the idea of even having a rating system.

Ironically, the 18-rated age certificate in the U.K. is similar to the American ESRB's "Adults Only" rating, the very rating Manhunt 2 first earned here. Of course, Rockstar Games protested that rating, took out the most controversial content, and subsequently earned an M-rating. The fact remains that it is hard to rate or judge content, and ratings should be only a guide and not the final word on whether folks buy games. But do the ratings have any meaning at all if companies can just protest until they get their way or the rating they want?

Post by Peter Suciu

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Don't ever let it be said that we don't give the people what they want. In response to recent eBay boycott shenanigans, we ran a story titled Boycott Fever: eBay Alternatives. While we weren't necessarily recommending that users jump ship from eBay, some may wish to reexamine the online auction world--to take a look at the competition for a company that traditionally has seen very little.

While we included Amazon, Audiogon, Craigslist, Etsy, iOffer, Onlineauction.com, Overstock Auction, Trocadero, and Powersellers Unite--all sites that had been recommended to us by disillusioned sellers--the overwhelming consensus among readers was that not including Wagglepop was an oversight. We amended that by tacking the site onto the list, and later posting an extensive hands-on review. The latter demonstrated that the site has just as many vocal detractors as enthusiastic users.

After reviewing subsequent feedback from both stories, we've compiled this list of yet more eBay alternatives. If you think we're still missing an important site or two, let us know in the comments.

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Blind quote from a conversation I just had with a PR guy: "It's a relatively new site; it was started in 2003."
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oldloureed.jpgI'm a Lou Reed fan--really, I am. In fact, I think I'm one of only a small handful of people since Lester Bangs to actually sit through Metal Machine Music in its entirety more than once (which, incidentally, I just discovered the other day is available for streaming--thanks Real!). That said, it's hard to see his staunchly anti-MP3 stance at this year's South By Southwest as anything more than a bid for relevancy on par with 2003's near-tragic The Raven.

Reed (who is now the spitting image of Sydney Pollack, as evidenced by the Dallas News photo at left) delivered a 55-minute speech to the audience, stating, "Here's our song reduced to a pin drop--what, what, what?! It's like if no one knows any better or doesn't care, it's gonna stay on a really, really low level and people who like good sound are gonna be thought of as some kind of strange zoo animal."

Perhaps not an unfamiliar sentiment from a man who once sang, "I live with thirteen dead cats / a purple dog that wears spats." But even for the guy who wrote Berlin, this seems like pretty gloom and doom assessment on par with the record industry's now infamous "home recording is killing music" statement.




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Q: Is there an easy way to disable the Caps Lock key in XP? I know there are a lot of expensive keyboard remapping programs out there but all I want to do is disable that one irritating key. - Anthony Baune.

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Roxio's train wreckIt's always the same. Those who know him say "He seemed like such a nice guy." I never thought I'd hear myself utter the words, though. And yet, here I am. I've known our expert evaluator of all things tech, Edward Mendelson, for a long time, and I swear he wouldn't hurt a fly. He wouldn't even mildly reprimand one.

At the same time, there's just no way around it—he's a deadly killer. A really, really nice one, but deadly all the same.

With the stroke of a pen (okay, a lot of strokes, and it was a word processor—work with me here) he killed a product. In Ed's defense, I do have to point out that Roxio BackOnTrack 3—a file-backup app that had so much potential—murdered his new machine first.

Specifically, the software's disaster recovery utility dealt the fatal blow—take that, ye who say irony is dead. I won't go into the brutal details, since Ed already did here and here. But being the curious type, our seasoned reviewer discussed this with Roxio reps who, apparently, did not react with unalloyed joy. Actually, they pulled the product—at least temporarily. An undoubtedly painful step for them, but certainly the right one.

So that's the sad story. You just never know about people. Or products.

Post by Gary Berline

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Microsoft today announced their acquisition of media monetization company, Rapt. As part of the deal, Rapt's technology will become an official component of Microsoft's Atlas Publisher Suite--itself a part of Microsoft's Advertiser and Publisher Solutions Group.

"The opportunity to join forces with Microsoft and to see our technology flourish inside a much larger platform was too compelling to pass up," Rapt's CEO and founder, Tom Chavez, said of the acquisition. "We're confident that, with Microsoft, we can continually improve publisher results and aggressively grow our combined client base that already includes over half of the top 25 U.S. publishers."

According to a release issued today, the key product from the acquisition will be an "integrated publisher sales workflow solution."

"Online publishers have a complex array of needs, and they require more attentive and sophisticated partners to help them solve these challenges," added Microsoft's senior vice president of the Advertiser and Publisher Solutions Group, Brian McAndrews. "With this acquisition, we are uniquely positioned to help publishers succeed on all fronts. Our end-to-end solution will include workflow tools, ad package and delivery, turnkey distribution, content partnerships, and yield management and optimization."

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Not content with mere global domination, Google launched Sky last year--a downloadable companion app to Google Earth that let users explore explore planets and stars in the night sky. Today they've introduced a Web version of the app, which gives non-downloadable access to tens of thousands of named objects in the sky.

As in Earth, users can zoom and scan the sky and enter the names or coordinates of objects for instant access. The app also offers infrared, microwave, ultraviolet, and x-ray views of objects, as well as selectable highlights from Hubble and other telescopes.

Google is offering the app in 26 localized languages and is featuring a gallery of "Earth & Sky" podcasts designed to improve the app's reach as an education tool. More info is available on Google's LatLong Blog.

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News of former New York Governor Spitzer's pay-for-play activities have reached our neighbors to the north--and their marketing departments.

A new Virgin Mobile Canada ad campaign is using an image of Spitzer with an attached thought bubble that says, "I'm tired of being treated like a number."

"When you call us we'll treat you like a person, not a client," the ad reads. "Whether you're #9 or #900, you'll get hooked up with somebody who'll finally treat you just how you want to be treated."

The ad is part of a Virgin Mobile campaign dubbed "You Call the Shots." Yes, seriously.

Meanwhile, the lady of the night who serviced the former governor will apparently not be hurting for cash. Naturally, Penthouse and Hustler are panting to have "Kristen" show off the goods, but she might actually be able to cash in while remaining fully clothed via online sales of her music.




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toktumi.jpgFounded by a VoIP guru Peter Sisson, Toktumi is a PC-based phone service that has been in private beta since 2006. That is until now. Following a successful run, the company has just announced that the service is now open to the public.

The hosted Peer-to-Peer Private Branch Exchange (P2PBX) application, geared primarily toward small businesses, will be available for download at no cost and will include network-based features like conferencing, assigned phone IDs, inbound calling, voicemail, and auto-attendant forwarding. The company says that installation takes only 5 minutes and amounts to a system that can be used as a softphone or a PC-integrated set.

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Metric Wrenches and Microsoft Excel

Q: In the article "Halves, Quarters, Eighths, Sixteenths in Excel" you showed how to get better-looking fractional results using the MROUND function. I'm trying to use this function to match metric nut sizes to the nearest 64th of an inch wrench that will fit. Much to my surprise, many of the sizes returned by my function are a fraction too small. See any way to fix this? - Bill Romano.

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Biographicon - Logo

The saying goes, "If you wrote your life's story, would anyone want to read it?" Biographicon will let you find out. The site accepts any and all biographies, whether you're writing about yourself, someone you know, or a historical figure that you've studied. The site is a wiki, so you can search for other people's bios and edit them if you notice errors. But you can also create your own biography and share it with others.

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We get some colorful comments on the PC Mag blogs, and while it might be interesting to know exactly who is behind the 500-word missive on why Ron Paul should rule the world, we're basically content to let our readers sound off anonymously.

Kentucky state representative Tim Couch disagrees. The Republican lawmaker has introduced a bill that would require Internet users to register their real names, address and e-mail addresses with a site before making a comment, though full names would not be displayed with that comment. Why? To cut down on Internet bullying.

Sites that did not collect information on commenters would face fines of up to $1,000 per anonymous comment.

While many of us might be tempted to pat the state representative on his head and send him on his merry way, a number of tech issues taken up by the U.S. Congress originated at the state level. Nevada passed the first state spam law in 1997, six years before Congress passed a federal law. Meanwhile, Utah passed the nation's first spyware bill in 2004, though members of Congress are still struggling to agree on a federal version.

Of course, there's not much disagreement over the fact that spam and spyware are harmful and need to be addressed by lawmakers. Anonymous comments on the Web? Not so much.

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Many desktop apps and Web services promise to download Web video for you from your favorite video-sharing sites, or at least give you links to where you can download them. Most of them stop there; if you want to send the video to your friends or keep it for offline viewing, you're on your own. Mux can help. It's a new service that downloads videos, lets you share them with the world or with your friends, converts them to a format of your choice, pushes them to your mobile device, and more.

AppScout is brought to you by the editors and analysts of PC Magazine, who scour the world in search of the best software, sites, and Web apps. We’re reporting on it all: the killer apps, the crazy startups, the useful (or just gimmicky) Web sites, and the beta software that crashes our machines. And we love to give advice, so ask away!

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