Archive for March, 2011

Access, Aggregation, and Other Big Data Challenges for Startups

March 31st, 2011 03:37 admin View Comments

In some ways, the term “big data” belies the challenges that startups face in tackling the subject. That adjective “big” tends to get a lot of the attention, often at the expense of the noun “data.” In other words, we spend a lot of time talking about issues of the quantity of data and less time addressing issues of quality.

Some of those issues were addressed today at Web 2.0 Expo when Factual CEO and founder Gil Elbaz gave a talk on the challenges of big data. The subtitle of his talk is key here: “Getting Some.” It isn’t simply a matter of storing data, but rather how companies, particularly startups, can access data.

Elbaz identified several major hurdles that companies face around data:

  • Findability
  • Access
  • Rights and Ownership
  • Economics and Business Models
  • Standards
  • Integration and Aggregation
  • Trust

These are challenges for any company, arguably, but for startups, they can be particularly daunting. Elbaz gave the example of building a company based around book data as an example. There are a number of places where data around books can be found – Google Books, Amazon, LibraryThing, for example. But despite the amount of data about books – authors, descriptions, cover arts, reviews and the like – and despite a lot of these data sources having APIs, it’s not easy for a startup to access, utilize, or monetize. And “starting from scratch” to build out a new database would take a lot of resources, something a startup isn’t likely to have.

Elbaz argues that it’s important to “grease the wheels” of data, something he sees as part of the mission of his startup Factual, an open data source for location data.

This open data model, he argues will move the web towards “information singularity,” as will other efforts like data marketplaces, data search engines, semantic web mark-up, and better standards.

Elbaz contends that ownership and control of data will eventually be viewed as a cost and that companies will move towards common schemasand towards sharing foundational data. A new data economy may emerge, he says – an iTunes for data – with novel access methods so that startups can more easily build value-added services on top of big data, rather than having to worry themselves about gathering and storing the data themselves.

Source: Access, Aggregation, and Other Big Data Challenges for Startups

‘Zodiac Island’ Makers Say ISP Worker Wiped an Entire Season

March 31st, 2011 03:37 admin View Comments

Data Storage

itwbennett writes “The creators of ‘Zodiac Island’ say they lost an entire season of their syndicated children’s television show after a former employee at their Internet service provider wiped out more than 300GB of video files. eR1 World Network, the show’s creator, is suing the ISP, CyberLynk of Franklin, Wisconsin, and its former employee, Michael Jewson, for damages, saying CyberLynk should have done a better job of protecting its data.”

Source: ‘Zodiac Island’ Makers Say ISP Worker Wiped an Entire Season

The iPad Turns One: My Top 10 iPad Apps Over the Past Year

March 31st, 2011 03:05 admin View Comments

On April 3, 2010, Apple officially launched its much anticipated tablet: the iPad. It was the most hyped tech product of the year, but for many of us the hype turned out to be justified. My own Web browsing habits were immediately changed by the iPad. Indeed, I’m writing a whole series currently about how the iPad and other non-PC devices are changing the way we consume media. For some people the smartphone has had the biggest impact so far on their Web browsing habits, but for me it’s been the iPad.

To celebrate the iPad’s one year anniversary, I’m listing out my favorite 10 iPad apps over the past year. I’ve attempted to put them in some kind of order too. Some apps have had a bigger impact on the way I interact with the Web than others, notably apps that have changed my reading and media consumption habits. Read on to find out how!

1. Flipboard

I’ve raved about Flipboard many times, but it really has changed the way I consume RSS feeds. Prior to the iPad, I mostly used Google Reader on my computer (and Bloglines before that) to consume RSS. Over time though, my usage of Google Reader and RSS Readers in general had slipped. I still valued all of the feeds I’d saved in Google Reader and I often searched them to research topics. But as a daily browsing activity, Twitter and Facebook had begun to replace my time spent in Google Reader – as has been the case for many of you, I’m sure.

Flipboard changed that. Now I regularly browse my RSS feeds – and some of Twitter and Facebook – through Flipboard on my iPad. Funnily enough, Flipboard has actually increased my usage of Google Reader again. I have a number of my topical folders from Google Reader in my Flipboard. So Google Reader has in essence become my feed platform, but the user interface has changed. I explored that trend as it relates to smartphone RSS Readers yesterday. Personally though, the iPad has become the main device where I consume feeds.

2. Kindle

Just as Flipboard changed my feed reading habits, Kindle changed my book reading. I’ve read a number of books in the Kindle iPad app over the past year, including novels and biographies. I still read more paper books than eBooks, but the Kindle app has been my first long-term relationship (if I may put it like that) with an eReader.

3. Zinio

A third metamorphosis in my reading habits occurred thanks largely to Zinio, the digital magazine service. I subscribe to a number of magazines in Zinio, mostly art and music related. While the reading experience is often not optimal – most of my subscriptions are simply PDF files of the magazines, so there’s limited interactivity – the cost savings alone make this very worthwhile to me. Also it’s handy to carry around a back catalog of magazines on my iPad.

4. Instapaper

Instapaper has been yet another driver of change in my reading habits (yes, there’s a theme here!). In the ‘old days’ of RSS Readers, people were obsessed with their Unread count – that is, how many items in the RSS Reader were as yet unread. People would get uptight if their Unread count got too high and an urge to purge would well up. Nowadays most people don’t worry themselves with the Unread count, because interesting information comes from too many different places now: Twitter, Facebook, content aggregators like Techmeme, iPhone apps, iPad apps, and so on. This is where Instapaper came into its own, because from most of those places you can click a ‘Read Later’ button and an item is saved to Instapaper’s servers. When you have Internet connectivity, the Instapaper app downloads all of those stories so you can read them offline if need be.

Instapaper has an iPhone app too – no official Android one so far, although there are unofficial apps. However I’ve mostly used Instapaper on my iPad, because – you guessed it – the iPad has become the device where I now do the bulk of my reading.

5. Evernote

Finally, a non-reading app! Evernote is a note-taking app, that eventually wants to be your online brain. It’s been around for much longer than the iPad, but I began to use it more when the iPad came onto the scene. I particularly like the offline feature, because it allows me to update and add to my notes when I’m out and about (I have the WiFi only version of iPad and wireless connectivity is far from a given where I live).

6. Newsy

I wrote about Newsy earlier this week, as an example of a media app that has created a new form of media delivery on the iPad. I enjoy watching a selection of 2-3 minute video news clips over my lunch, or when I need a break from my computer. Read my interview with the founder, Jim Spencer, to discover more about this innovative news service.

7. Art Authority

I love exploring art works and Art Authority is the best and most comprehensive archive of art available for the iPad. It features high quality images of most of the great artists in our history.

I’ve spent a lot of time with my nose buried in this app.

8. Brushes

Unless you count Evernote, this is the first iPad app on my list that has more emphasis on ‘write’ than ‘read.’ That emphasizes that, for me anyway, the iPad has been mostly about consuming content. The iPad is not a great writing tool (although I have been using it more lately for things like real-time note taking from conferences). The first generation iPad didn’t even have a camera, so it has always been marketed as a consumer tool more so than a creative one.

An app which does foster creativity though is Brushes, the finger painting app. In all honesty I prefer to do my amateurish painting on paper using acrylic paints, as I spend way too much time on electronic devices as it is. However Brushes is a sophisticated finger painting app and I’ve (ahem) dipped my finger into it from time to time.

9. YouTube

We’re back to consumption now. I have to mention YouTube, as it hosts many of the videos I end up watching – whether they be presentations from tech events, videos of live music, or random videos found via Twitter or Facebook. I don’t watch that much online video, but if I do there’s a good chance I’ll fire up YouTube on my iPad to watch it. The only issue has been that Instapaper doesn’t save videos and I’ve yet to find a good app that does – suggestions anyone?

10. TweetDeck

Like most of you, my usage of Twitter and Facebook has increased over the past couple of years. However I don’t tend to interact on either service using the iPad. There are adequate iPad apps for both, but social networking hasn’t turned out to be one of my main activities on the iPad.

Friendly is a good app for Facebook and I’ve largely stuck to TweetDeck for Twitter. I sometimes use the official Twitter iPad app, which is slick too. Of those apps, TweetDeck is probably the one I access the most on my iPad. Although I use my Mac desktop app for TweetDeck much more, followed by the iPhone app.

Conclusion: iPad Really is About Consumption!

There you have it, my favorite 10 iPad apps since the iPad launched one year ago. I’m a little surprised at just how dominant media consumption apps have been for me; and in particular reading apps. It goes to show how much of an impact the iPad has had on my online media consumption habits.

I should add that I still do the bulk of my creation activities on the computer – mostly writing, also curation on my personal site and online social networking on various web services. But the iPad has literally caused a paradigm shift in how I explore and consume content.

Did you get an iPad when it first launched? If so, I’d love to hear about if and how it changed your consumption patterns. Tell me your favorite iPad apps, too!

Source: The iPad Turns One: My Top 10 iPad Apps Over the Past Year

Facebook Terminated Corporate Development Employee Over Insider Trading Scandal

March 31st, 2011 03:18 admin View Comments

Facebook corporate development manager Michael Brown (pictured left in happier days) recently and abruptly left Facebook, and the company then hired a senior Google employee to replace him. It was a curious departure and the chatter around Silicon Valley was that there was a lot more to the story.

And in fact there is. Via a scandal that could have far reaching consequences by bringing even more SEC scrutiny onto rampant secondary trading in non-public startups like Facebook and Twitter.

Brown, multiple sources have confirmed, purchased Facebook stock on secondary markets (like those occurring weekly on SecondMarket) immediately before the announcement of the Goldman Sachs investment that valued the company at $50 billion earlier this year. Effectively, he engaged in insider trading, say sources, by purchasing stock that he knew would soon increase sharply in value based on insider information unknown to the seller.

In a public company this would almost certainly violate a number of federal laws. However, say sources, the fact that Facebook is not (technically) a publicly traded company means those laws don’t apply. His actions did violate Facebook’s own insider trading policies, say sources, and he was terminated by Facebook for those violations.

Facebook would not comment on this story, other than to say “we don’t comment on personnel matters.” We also spoke with Michael Brown’s attorney, Edward Swanson, who confirmed that he was representing Brown but wouldn’t comment further.

The size of the trades was relatively small, we’ve heard. But the consequences to Silicon Valley’s newfound love of free-wheeling unregulated secondary market trades may be much larger.

Source: Facebook Terminated Corporate Development Employee Over Insider Trading Scandal

PhantomJS: The Power of WebKit but Without the Broswer

March 31st, 2011 03:18 admin View Comments

PhantomJS logoPhantomJS gives you command-line access to the features of WebKit. According to its website: “Literally it acts like any other WebKit-based web browser, except that nothing gets displayed to the screen (thus, the term headless).” It has native support for DOM handling, CSS selector, JSON, Canvas, SVG, and JavaScript.

You can use to test JavaScript, render Web pages as PDFs or perform more complex Web-based actions such as finding recent tweets by a particular Twitter user.

Here’s a list of example uses from the project’s Google Code page:

  • running regression tests from command line
  • getting driving direction
  • showing weather forecast conditions
  • finding pizza in New York
  • looking up approximate location based on IP address
  • pulling the list of seasonal food
  • producing PDF version of a Wikipedia article
  • rasterizing SVG to image

Here’s an example of producing a PDF from a particular URL, from the PhantomJS QuickStart:

phantomjs rasterize.js '' jakarta.pdf

PhantomJS was created by Ariya Hidayat.

Other “headless” Web stacks include Celerity, HTMLUnit and Zombie.js.

Source: PhantomJS: The Power of WebKit but Without the Broswer

NYC Announces BigApps Winners Roadify, Sportaneous, And

March 31st, 2011 03:17 admin View Comments

New York City announced the winners of its second BiggApps competition tonight. BiggApps is a way to get developers to use city and government data to create useful apps for citizens and visitors to New York City. The prize money was doubled to $40,000 split up among 14 winning apps.

The first prize went to Roadify, an iPhone app that crowdsources information about public transport and parking spots. Users can give or get parking spots, realtime updates about buses and subways, or transit schedules. The parking finder is genius. It shows the spot using GPS on a map. I think everyone who has ever tried to park in New York City has dreamt of an app like this. Now someone actually built it.

Sportaneous is a geo-location app (iTunes link) for pick-up games that is tied into a database of parks, basketball courts, and other sports facilities throughout the city. You can see proposed games near you, sign up for one, and then get notified when the minimum number of players have been reached. And, of course, there are game mechanics rewarding people who play at certain courts or soccer fields the most.

Third place went to Parking Finder, another parking app that maps out parking garages and metered parking spots throughout the city. One of my favorites, however, which won an honorable mention, is, a simple mashup of Foursquare and the city’s Health Department inspection results. Anytime you check into a restaurant that scores above a certain threshold for “serious and persistent violations,” you will get a text message warning you, “Don’t Eat at” that restaurant. Another clever one is Who Is My Landlord?

Source: NYC Announces BigApps Winners Roadify, Sportaneous, And

Mark Cuban Teams With Qualcomm To Bring Augmented Reality To Mavericks Tickets

March 31st, 2011 03:10 admin View Comments

Thanks to the influence of owner and tech entrepreneur Mark Cuban, Dallas Mavericks season ticket holders will be able to enjoy a touch of the technological when claiming their 2011 playoff tickets. The Mavericks have teamed with Qualcomm to add augmented reality to this year’s playoff tickets.

Augmented Reality — or “AR” for those “in the know” — refers to a display in which simulated imagery or graphics are superimposed onto a view of the real world. In the case of these basketball tickets from the future, viewing on your Android will allow you to play an interactive game.

Single-game tickets for the first two Mavericks home games of the first round of the 2011 NBA Playoffs will go on sale April 2nd. Fans that purchase single-game tickets will receive a futuristic, commemorative 2011 Mavs Playoff ticket, and game-day tickets and commemorative tickets will go live when the playoffs begin on April 16th.

How does it work? Get your ticket and take out your Android phone. (This season the tickets will only work with Android, but Cuban said that he hopes to expand in future seasons.) Go to the Android Marketplace and download the “Mavs AR” app. Launch the app, point your phone at the front of the ticket, and voila! You’ll be able to play an interactive mobile game, featuring Mavs’ stars Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd and Jason Terry. You can learn more about the tickets out here.

We’re glad to see Cuban bringing AR to the sports arena, but when the Mavericks launch AR-capable tickets that offer some sort of practical application, like, say, Google Goggles or Word Lens, then we’ll really be clamoring for a Nowitzki jersey.

Source: Mark Cuban Teams With Qualcomm To Bring Augmented Reality To Mavericks Tickets

‘Know Your Meme’ On What It’s Like To Be An Internet Folklorist

March 31st, 2011 03:06 admin View Comments
The website and show “Know Your Meme” were swallowed up this week by ICanHasCheezburger networks in a seven figure deal, proving once again that Internet memes are serious business. In light of this news, the Know Your Meme crew, Internet folklorists Elspeth Rountree, Kenyatta Cheese, Jamie Wilkinson, Patrick Davison and Mike Rugnetta actually performed an episode of their heralded show live on stage today at Web 2.0 Expo.

The group spoke in turns and seemed to have rehearsed (just like on their show) when describing the process of creating and documenting what many people consider to be “worthless” Internet culture. They likened themselves to music ethnographer Alan Lomax, who according to them was once told as a boy to burn a transcription of cowboy songs by a teacher because they were useless. Lomax later ended up chronicling the songs and lives of artists Woody GuthrieLead Belly and Muddy Waters.

Key takeaways:

“In digital spaces the tool for communication and the tool for documentation are the same thing, the computer.”

“We are in a constant state of lightweight pervasive self-documentation and media creation.”

“The problem of too little data is nothing compared a slightly newer one, too much data.”

“Good internet culture leaves digital detritus, tweets, likes, comments, retweets, reblogs, news articles, and even the occasional appearance on national television (THE HOLY GRAIL).”

“Culture isn’t just valuable when you can stuff it full of DRM and sell it.”

“Throughout history humanity has struggled to be the first to do meaningless activities.”

Those interested in learning more can support the Know Your Meme Kickstarter book project here.

Source: ‘Know Your Meme’ On What It’s Like To Be An Internet Folklorist

Play Him Off, Flugelhorn Feline: YouTube Time Travels To 1911

March 31st, 2011 03:00 admin View Comments

Head to YouTube after 4AM local time and you’ll notice that it looks a little old fashioned — and not in a 1999 blinking construction sign sort of way.

YouTube is reverting back to what it would have looked like had it been around in 1911, complete with grainy, sepia video footage, no audio tracks (save for piano accompaniment), and title cards in place of the site’s normal comments. Yes, it’s time for April Fools, and the world’s largest video portal is ringing it in once with some video player trickery — a tradition it started in 2008 after RickRolling all of its users.

YouTube has accompanied the gag with a blog post from President Taft, and it’s also put together some 1911-ified memes, featuring the ancestors of Annoying Orange and a certain musically-inclined feline. Even some of the ads are old fashioned.

Earlier today YouTube invited me down to their headquarters in San Bruno to talk to some of the team members who put this year’s trick together so that we could get some of the backstory.

YouTube says that, as with last year’s gag, the 1911 idea was submitted to a system called Monitor and then voted upon by other YouTubers. Once the idea was chosen, it took a whopping 14 employees to put it together (alright, to be fair, YouTube says the large team size can be attributed to the fact that a ton of people just wanted to participate).

The video effects, which include a grain filter and sepia coloring, are being done client-side using the same technology as YouTube uses for its 3D video player (interesting sidenote: last year’s ASCII video trick relied on an older version of the 3D video player — this one uses the new one).

The team ran into few interesting hurdles during the project. Initially, they wanted to have all of the 1911-ified videos play at double speed by adjusting the timestamp in video frame headers. Unfortunately this didn’t make the final cut because the effect was too taxing on CPUs (Macs, in particular, had difficulty with it because of Flash’s poor performance on OS X).

The team also wanted to change the thumbnails presented alongside each video to sepia, but this also proved challenging because there isn’t an easy way to do it crossplatform with CSS3. However, it does work for one browser: Internet Explorer 6, 7, 8, and 9 all have a special CSS property that allow YouTube to introduce this effect on thumbnails. As one YouTube team member put it, this is one of the first times a YouTube feature has actually worked better in IE.

There’s also some neat technology related to the meme videos. YouTube is experimenting with a new system that can identify “interesting frames” for its thumbnails — these typically consist of frames without any blur, and may contain faces or other interesting content. The technology is still a work in progress, but YouTube used it to generate the thumbnails for each meme video (it didn’t work well for one of them — the team hand selected the thumb for the buggy video).

Oh, and the YouTube team dropped one other hint: if you look at the 1911 videos, you’ll notice that they include the parameter &vintage=1911. Turns out there are a few other years that also work, so try experimenting.

Source: Play Him Off, Flugelhorn Feline: YouTube Time Travels To 1911

Internet Explorer Antitrust Case Set To Expire

March 31st, 2011 03:50 admin View Comments


jbrodkin writes “The judgment in United States vs. Microsoft is on the verge of expiring, nearly a decade after antitrust officials ruled Microsoft unfairly limited competition against its Internet Explorer browser. Microsoft has two more weeks to fulfill the final requirements in the antitrust case, which is scheduled to expire on May 12. Although Netscape ultimately didn’t benefit, the settlement seems to have done its job. From a peak of 95% market share, by some estimates Internet Explorer now has less than half of the browser market. Microsoft, of course, filed its own antitrust action against Google this week, and even commented publicly on the irony of its doing so, noting that Microsoft has ‘spent more than a decade wearing the shoe on the other foot.’”

Source: Internet Explorer Antitrust Case Set To Expire