December 12, 2008
Is the Economic Downturn Affecting Facebook?
This story in Fortune suggests that Facebook is in short supply of cash. Hard to believe the site isn't overtly squeezing as many dollars as it can from its 130 million or so users. [MG]
Google Chrome Goes Into General Release
Google removed the "Beta" designation from Chrome, the new browser from Google. That must have been one of the shortest betas for Google. Gmail has been out for, what, years now and still has the beta tag. The announcement on the Official Google blog has links for the download of version 1.0
For the record, I like the browser but I miss a drop down menu for previously typed addresses. The omnibox is no substitute. Opening a new tab is a sort of work around. Some sites haven't worked well with Chrome. Some features in Typepad (like spellcheck) seem to disappear in the Chrome beta. Time to see if this has changed in the release product. Chrome is still the fastest browser I've encountered for page renders. My thumbnail impression of the browser is that it is a viable alternative to IE and Firefox, just not all of the time. [MG]
December 11, 2008
A Used MP3 Store?
As ham fisted as the RIAA and labels can be about dealing with piracy issues, there are times when someone comes up with an idea to sell music that is so bad, it makes the labels' position look good. Enter Bopaboo, a used online MP3 store. They're banking (literally) on the concept that the first sale doctrine applies to music files. Here's how it works: A seller uploads unprotected mp3 files to Bopaboo for sale. The user agreement requires the uploader to delete any copies on the hard drive. Bopaboo keeps 20% of the sale price and license holders get compensated. A tracking system prevents a seller from uploading the same file even if it has been altered.
OK, what's wrong with this picture? Though the labels have been forced by economics and customer demand to sell versions of songs in an unprotected format, their fear of files being copies infinitely is still valid. Bopaboo merely legitimizes it as valid files may have come from CDs, pirate networks, anywhere. There is nothing that enforces the service terms that the source files be deleted. And copied. Again and again. Sure that can happen anyway. But for someone to think they can make money off a market of duplicated files as a legitimate business is nuts. Certainly when someone sells a used CD under the first sale doctrine they lose possession of the disc. Technology (if not the law) allows the seller to create a copy of that disc. So what's the difference? Well, no respectable used CD outlet will traffic in CD-Rs. It's virtually certain death by lawsuit. That constraint doesn't exist online in a used file market. It's naive to base a business model on user honesty given the level of piracy that exists. I agree that labels have to swallow hard and allow user freedom when they sell music. Bopaboo, however, is not going to cut it.
December 10, 2008
Google Adds Magazines to the Mix
I was commenting to a friend and fellow staff member at the DePaul Law Library about Google's announcement that it would include magazine articles in its book search results. Some of the magazine titles highlighted on the Google Official Blog include Ebony, Popular Science, New York Magazine, and the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. It is a given that Google will add to the archive and create a rich mixture of older and formerly inaccessible material as part of its presentation. Google is obviously working out arrangements with the copyright holders so this can happen. They did that with book publishers and (allegedly) everyone is happy with the arrangement.
In my conversation with my colleague I suggested that Google was doing to libraries what file sharing is doing to the music industry. It's not that libraries charge for access to books the way major labels charge customers for music. Libraries, however, have borne the cost of collecting vast quantities of information on behalf of the public, or the scholars, or any audience unique to a library. It sounds ennobling in a way when library systems such as the Universities of Texas, Michigan, California and others open the shelves to scanning resulting in easily available PDF versions of their collection. It does serve the common good.
But the question I have is whether Google extends these libraries or becomes a competitor to them? And with their blessing. If I can get a copy of a book online, I certainly don't need to travel to Ann Arbor or burden an interlibrary loan librarian in an attempt to acquire a title. Some individuals will always comment about the feeling of having a book in hand. They are quite useful information delivery vehicles. But that's another part of the question. If the information is the end result, won't the PDF be just as or more viable given the ease of download?
Google is different from other search engines in that it doesn't merely point someone to information on the web. It hosts content. That's different from others even though they host entertainment and multimedia. Microsoft decided it didn't want to be a library when it stopped its competing book scanning project. Yahoo never really got in the game. Google, apparently, wants to be a library, albeit one that serves ads along side of scholarship and pop culture. Even odder, it seems to want to be a library without coming out of the library profession.
The debate rages in professional circles whether the Internet will make libraries (or more urgently, librarians) obsolete. I don't think it will affect librarians the way it will affect libraries. As always, academic libraries will make collection development decisions with an eye as to what is available online. The growing "free through Google" collections will have an effect on those decisions. Librarians will stay in business as information agents. Sure you can get the information for free via the web, but finding it in a focused and efficient way will be the domain of librarians and the intellectually curious. I think libraries, though, may transition into something else once information transcends the delivery mechanism. Out of all the places on the Internet to push this transformation, Google will likely have the greatest impact. [MG]
December 8, 2008
SF Street Cams Raise Eyebrows, Entertain
high crime areas. Commercial properties routinely place cameras on loading docks and in parking lots. Government monitors federal and state buildings to keep them safe. All of this seems uneasily normal to a population accounting for terrorism and other mayhem, though there are those who use the metaphor of 1984 to argue against these intrusions.
The United States government faced fierce resistance from advocacy groups and some members of Congress over the Total Information Awareness project. That program intended to examine the population's terrorist capabilities by conducting extensive data mining of private citizen information collected in government databases. No warrants or other Fourth Amendment safeguards would be involved. Congress closed out funding on this in September, 2003. Rather than stopping, however, the government took the data surveillance program a bit underground by diffusing elements of it to various security agencies. So the march of Big Brother continues, albeit a little less visible.
If we are to fear Big Brother, what about Little Brother? That's where the Internet comes in. The San Francisco Chronicle featured the story of Adam Jackson, a resident of the Tenderloin District of that city. Jackson moved to San Francisco from Florida and decided that he didn't like the crime and noise going on outside of his window. He reacted by putting up a web cam and broadcasting the street view over the Internet. Now he has two high definition cameras and microphones on the street running 24 hours a day. The site gets about 80,000 views over three days. Jackson's cameras and site are popular enough to support ads (by Google, of course...need laser surgery?).
Part of the backdrop that makes this interesting (at least according to the article) is that the San Francisco city government is conflicted about the use of the "official" cameras. SF Police apparently rely less on them than private surveillance tapes in timely solving crimes. Reader comments to the story indicate that Jackson's cameras have caught assaults, drug deals, public urination and worse, and people acting generally goofy. They've also caught a lot of normal boring every day activity.
San Francisco has a reputation of being a more politically "sensitive" environment. As such, comments also include questions about the legality of Jackson's setup, and whether it's racially insensitive given the higher concentration of minorities in the Tenderloin. A majority of commentators, however, approve of the site. Jackson says he will help others set up web cameras and sites in high crime areas in return for a cut of the ad revenues.
So it's come to this. Public surveillance for crime has transcended government scrutiny and turned into popular entertainment that generates cash over the Internet. Chicago, where I work, just leased the rights to all parking meters to a private group. Rates will be going up and the meters will be active 24/7. Maybe the police cameras should be next. There appears to be a market for that sort of thing. [MG]