We Own the Internet!

December 21, 2010

…but only by one vote, and only for now.

Today, the FCC passed new net neutrality rules by a 3-2 vote. In one of the bigger judgments that no one will ever know about, the people that use the internet just won ownership of it rather than the companies that allow us to access it.

If it had gone the other way, it would have generated an uproar, and we all would have heard about it. Why? What are the rules that were passed?

Well, at the most basic level, Comcast and other large internet service providers want control over the internet so that they can restrict user’s access to certain sites, and charge more for “preferred” internet users who want the fastest possible connection.  While defenders of net neutrality, Google standing at the forefront, demand that no one have control over the internet.  Users should be free to see it all, without jumping through hoops, or paying more than anyone else.

In my opinion, net neutrality is a no brainer.  The fact that the vote was 3-2 surprises me.  The fact that the 2 no votes were Republicans does not surprise me.  Calling the new rules “unnecessary regulation” is one of the more ridiculous things I’ve ever heard.  I wonder if either of them has ties to Big Internet.  I wonder if there are any registered republicans who use the internet out there who would not be happy if all of the sudden they could not use the internet at peak hours unless they paid more for it.

But none of that matters now, because the rules passed, and no one will ever hear about this one way or the other.

Either way, we the people won the day.  Congrats to us!

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123People Scares the Innovation Out of Me

March 25, 2010

As a proponent of new technologies that make it simple and convenient to find information online, I am struggling with this one.  And as I question the people around me, it seems that they are struggling with it as well.  Most people are a bit put off by the service, yet others think it’s an innovative step forward in connecting people.

I am talking of course about 123People.com.  The two year old “person search service” has people questioning the now age old principle of identity and privacy in the digital age.

123people is basically an aggregator of sorts, which locates and collects information on people.  Anything online appears to be fair game in their algorithm.  It looks at everything from Google images to LinkedIn profiles, blog posts and articles to social networks, and everything that falls in between.

A simple search of my name brings up images, blog posts, an old address, and my old company and work number.  And I have to say that when I first found it, I was stuck in between feelings of disgust that all that information was out there, and feelings of amazement at how easy they made the process.  For those people with little to no online presence of their own, 123people has found a way to scrape together anything that exists, and land one of the top results in a Google search for their names.

Of course we all know that in this day and age, privacy is a hot button issue, and will be for some time.  Our lives on the internet are public, whether we want them to be or not.  But whereas without 123people, someone looking up information on me would have to put in a little extra effort, perform several search queries, look at a couple of different sites, and put it all together; 123people has put it all in one place for you.  It’s more than a little scary.

If you take a look at the 123people blog, they’ll have you believe that people search is incredible, and can only mean good things for the world.  I have to think that more of us believe this type of service is more trouble than they’ve let on.  I’d like to hear your thoughts on the matter.  If you haven’t done a search for yourself, check it out and then post your comments below.


Intuit Acquires Mint.com

September 15, 2009

It’s been awhile since I last posted and I apologize for the absence.  In part it was because I was busy looking for a new job, and in part it was because I became slightly detached from what was going on in my area of interest.

Alas, I am back among the employed after landing a great new job in NYC.  I am the new Marketing Manager over Distance Education Company, responsible for schools like the New York Institute of Photography and the Sheffield School of Design.

And during my absence, a lot has happened in the world.  One thing that I just found out about today that is worth commenting on is the acquisition of Mint.com by Intuit.

Intuit, the company responsible for Quicken, clearly sees the value in adding this highly popular personal finance tool.

Mint, for those of you that don’t know, is a web-based tool that allows you to track all of your personal finances from one place.  You can add all of your various accounts, take care of bill paying and budgeting, and even use tools to help you better prepare for the future.  Since it’s founding in 2006, the service has grown rapidly, with new services and features added almost monthly.

In the email I received this morning as a Mint member, I was informed that the acquisition will not directly affect the service I receive as much as it will help to grow Mint’s coverage and popularity more quickly and efficiently.  Sounds like a strong play for both companies to me.  As more and more people shift their daily tasks to the web for ease, companies like this will flourish.


Say Hello to BING Today

June 1, 2009

bingMicrosoft’s brand new attempt at building a search engine to compete with Google went live today, it’s BingTry it out.

Clearly there will be much to come on the subject, but initial reports are positive.  The search engine, which was announced last week, did not get the hype that recent search engine “Cuil” got before its release, but it’s already better.

There is nothing that will really blow you away initially, but it is a solid effort all around by Microsoft to get back into the search game.  The results are good for most every search that I tried this morning.  And comparing the results for the same searches in Google varies, sometimes Bing was actually better (more accurate).

Some features that stood out to me include the recent searches tool, a video playback for all video searches, and an enhanced local search with one click map and directions.  In addition, I think the best feature is within specific categories, the sidebar becomes a tool to narrow down your search. For example, if you search local bars in New York City, you can narrow down searches based on price, neighborhood, ratings, style, etc.

Bing is currently a trending topic on Twitter, and most of the comments seem to be pretty positive.  Here is an initial review from TechCrunch, which also discusses how positive the early feedback from users has been.

All of this is before Microsoft has spent a reported $100 Million to advertise the search engine.  We will see what the campaign is all about soon enough, but the word out of the Microsoft camp is that they are going straight at Google.  Time will tell if that is a smart strategy or not, but Microsoft has to be happy by what they have seen already this morning.

Having said all that, Bing is by no means the answer to the question of where is online search headed.  It’s strange that Microsoft would invest so much in what many consider to be the end of the current search era. With companies like Google, Yahoo, and Twitter investing in the future of search (real-time solutions), Microsoft almost seems to be jumping into a game in the 4th quarter.

Nonetheless, give the new service a try.  If you have used it already, let me know what you think in the comments below.

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.TV – Major League Baseball Gets It

April 6, 2009

single-game-jpgThe MLB is the first major sport to truly see the light as far as online video is concerned.  And though most sports are starting to invest time and money into real time streaming games online, Major League Baseball is already at the top of their game.

This article from Fortune.com explains how MLB Advanced Media has been able to capture a huge market for its MLB.TV project to stream almost every single game for the entire season.

“With it, the league is setting new limits on how live television is distributed over the Web. While TV networks are still figuring out the best way to put last night’s sitcom online, MLB is about to stream a season of more than 2,000 live games in hi-definition with more features than any cable box.”

If you listen to (or read) Mark Cuban over at his blog, BlogMaverick.com, you’ve no doubt heard him discuss the many limits of online television.  And it may be true that web based programming will never fully replace cable.  But there are many advantages that the web offers, and companies that can see those advantages and work with them will be in a position to capitalize in a big way.

The MLB is taking advantage of two things that web programming offers.  First, when you use the Web, location does not matter.  MLB.TV can offer games to anyone in any region, so if you can;t watch you’re favorite team because you don’t live in the area, the web is the best way to watch.  The second is portability.  You don’t have to be in front of a TV to watch the games that you want to watch.  This means people can watch games at work, while they travel, or in any room of the house.

How has MLB Advanced Media taken advantage of this growing market?  By making a product that is worth using.  The technology exists to make a state of the art media center for live streaming video, and they simply invested the resources necessary to make one that is as good as it gets.

As the new season kicks off this week, we will see many people turning to the web to view games from all over the world.  Now let’s see if other companies can learn from the example they set, and take advantage of the growing popularity of streaming video online.

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Madness? A New Spin on Sports Betting

March 20, 2009

centsportsA longstanding controversy, the art of sports betting has been around as long as people have been playing sports.  And as the internet made gambling from anywhere in the world at any time an effortless, habit forming task, the controversy spread.  What is legal?

The sheer legality of gambling makes it appealing.  As I have said in the past, even negative publicity gets people’s attention.  And if you get their attention, you’re winning the battle.

Now, imagine you can take the concept of sports betting, and make it legal in some way.  Then, say you manage to do that and offer it online, where anyone with a computer and internet access can get to it, anytime.  Sounds like a pretty innovative way to start a business.

Well there are two websites of mention that are doing this, and seem to be doing it well.

First, there’s ESPN.com.  Their website has undergone a massive transformation over the past couple of months, with a clear focus on driving advertising dollars and boosting web traffic.  One very interesting way they have done this is by creating a “Streak for the Cash” contest.

Basically, Streak for the Cash offers up various sporting events that users can “bet” on by selecting the winners.  The first person to collect 25 wins in a row, wins $1 Million.  And it’s free to play.  What this does is brings people to the site over and over again throughout the course of the day/week/month that this contest is active.  The more hits they get, the more ads they can serve, the more money they’ll bring in.

Second, there’s a site most people are not as familiar with, CentSports.com.  I was introduced to CentSports through a friend who had gotten involved and was enjoying the experience.  Immediately I was intrigued.

CentSports operates like a traditional sports betting site, except that you cannot gamble with your own money, making it completely legal.  You open an account, and you get $0.10.  That 10 cents is yours to bet with on whatever you want.  You can build up a large bankroll over time, and whenever you go broke, they’ll put 10 cents back into your account.

Here’s the catch, even though the money you are using is completely free, you can cash out for real money once you get to a certain value.  They have tricky cash out rules, and you have to play for awhile to build up enough money to cash out, but its all very real.

How do they do this? Ads.  Companies have been quick to buy ads on the site, which get displayed with the user’s permission, and often.  The money from these ads supports the weekly payouts to “betters”, and keep the site going.  As the site gets more popular, the ads will definitely continue to get more valuable.

Both of these are examples of websites that are looking to capitalize on the popularity of gambling in a new way.  Make it free (which also means legal) and support yourself with ads.  We’ve seen this model work in many industries, and it looks to be a winning formula here as well.

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What “Minority Report” Taught the Advertising Industry

March 18, 2009

minority-reportMovies can teach us a thing or two about ourselves, our world, our past, and our dreams.  And sometimes, a movie can even teach us a thing or two about our future.

Truthfully, most movies that portray the future try to show the unimaginable, and make us think that its a possibility.  Sometimes they will get it right, other times they will get it wrong, but most times the creator just wants it to look like “the future”.

In the movie, Minority Report, with Tom Cruise, we saw the future of advertising; a future that is approaching very quickly.  Throughout the movie we see that all citizens of this futuristic world are tracked and followed by eye scanners.  In essence, we know where everyone is at all times as long as they have eyes.  Using this technology, ads are served to each person individually as they walk by a “billboard” like computer screen (which are everywhere).

Essentially, the advertisement know not only who is looking at an ad, but who is close enough and could see it if attracted in that direction.  It can use this information to “call out” your name and change or customize the ad to you.  Sounds like a winner to me.

Back to reality. There are a few trends in advertising that suggest we may be headed in the “Minority Report” direction.

First, late last week Google announced their new interest based advertising model for their Adsense programs.  The gist of this new idea is to monitor a person’s online behavior to discover the types of things they are interested in, then serve them ads for those things when visiting a site that uses Adsense.  In addition, anyone with a Google account can customize their interests in order to filter the ads that they will inevitably see.  This is where online advertising was always headed.

But what about “offline” or “traditional” advertising.  Well that is the second thing.  A company by the name of Tru-Media Solutions is just one of a few technology companies that have started putting small cameras in billboard advertisements.  These cameras are used to “monitor” and “recognize” who is looking at the ad.  This technology, combined with billboard screens that can change from one ad to another, could be used exactly the same way that we see the ads in the movie.

The technology in the cameras is still a long way from perfect, but it can monitor things like gender, height, and weight already.  Soon, we will see these cameras with even more capabilities, and ads that are ever more customizable.

This is the future of advertising, an industry that needs to become personalized to become sustainable. There are no more mass markets, where a basic commercial can make you profitable, or where a market analyst can tell you which three magazines to advertise in to reach your “target”.  Now, a successful advertiser needs to reach the potential customer on a personal level to get their attention.  And these are just a few ways that technology is crossing over into the advertising sector and leading us to the future that Minority Report so brilliantly laid out for us.

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hank you.