Amazon’s EC2: Bringing cloud computing down to Earth

amazon web servicesCloud computing is becoming the next hot item in a changing tide that is replacing the well entrenched product model, with a new, on the fly, pay as you go, service model.

The new Virtual servers, are to the classic server, what the SAAS models, where software is being sold as a service, are to the traditional boxed software.

amazon cloud computingLeading the latest virtual server charge, is Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2). The basic idea is that a developer can set up a virtual server (the actual servers are hosted by Amazon) in minutes, and have none of the maintenance headaches of buying and installing server hardware and software, which can take weeks to get up and running.

The pay as you go model is cheap and flexible . If your computing demands increase, there is no need to buy any more hardware. The “resizable cloud” provides a scalable computing environment.

The whole idea of Utility computing or Grid computing, is not entirely new. It was pioneered by IBM, and was offered to consumers by Sun in 2000 as part of the Sun grid service.

Amazon’s Elastic Computer Cloud (EC2), released in a limited Beta, is the latest offering from Amazon Web Services, AWS. It follows Amazon’s earlier cloud storage service Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3).

Amazon’s on-demand web service platform is creating a host of opportunities for start-ups. A company called RightScale based in Santa Barbara, CA, is providing a platform on top of AWS virtual servers, that enables companies to create scalable web applications within the new paradigm created by Amazon’s EC2, S3 and SQS. RightScale is currently in beta.

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Interview: Sean Malatesta of India Games

Interview with Sean Malatesta, VP Americas, India Games Ltd.
Contributed by Barbara Bickham, CEO, Techgenii

indiagames logoBarbara Bickham spoke with Sean Malatesta of India Games, regading the company, its global plans, the games they are developing and the challenges of the mobile gaming market. The company has offices in India and Los Angeles.

1. What is your role at India Games?

indiagames chessSean Malatesta is the Vice President for the Americas of India Games. He is in charge of the entire business for the Americas. This includes Licensing, Carrier Relations, Game Creation, Marketing and Sales, and Production. He is also now CEO of IG FUN LLC, the new publishing unit of Indiagames in Europe and The Americas.

2. What are some of the barriers to entry or challenges for your company?

For mobile gaming there is not always a clear marketing path. It is clear, however, that “The Carriers are our retailers.” says Malatesta. The company feels that they need to work with carriers on consumer education. We’re still dealing with discovery issues: Consumers need to know that such product exists and how to get the product from the carrier. This education should be all encompassing; explaining to consumers how to do it every step of the way.

3. Was NBC’s The Office Games widely adopted by consumers?

“Yes. We did Co-marketing with Circuit City, NBC Home Video and In Cinema Advertisements. In the future sales may come easier as customers will understand how to get product.” says Malatesta.

4. Could you tell me more about India Games? Is it a Global Company?

India Games has just gone through a change of ownership; now with UTV an Indian media company. American companies, Adobe and Cisco own roughly 10% each of the company. There are Offices in India, Los Angeles, Beijing and London.

5. What types of Games does the company develop?

indiagames spiderman gameIndia Games has creates many branded and unbranded titles; Hollywood, Action and Casual. Some examples are: Bruce Lee - Iron Fist, NBC’s The Office Games, Predator, Godzilla and the upcoming Rush Hour 3.

6. What about Mobile Video Game Rating?

According to Malatesta, “Not a major concern now. The carriers are our big box retailers and they are doing a good job; carriers are selective about the games that go onto their decks.” The industry is already “self policing”.

7. Any challenges with the handsets and porting games to the different handsets?

India Games believes that it is a part of doing business. As an analogy “It’s like making shoes. One size does not fit all. There are many different shoe types and many different shoe sizes.” states Malatesta.

8. What is the future of Mobile Gaming?

Recognize the medium we are in. This isn’t console gaming; this is mobile phone gaming; it’s got to be simple to understand. Multi-Player games will work well if they play easily, fast and are designed elegantly. 3D games may work best if they are simple and fun. The user needs to be able to easily understand the game, navigate within the game and for have fun playing the game.” says Malatesta.

9. What are the plans for India Games?

India games will continue to market and promote games to enlarge exposure and revenues. Most people think that once the game is placed on deck, that’s the end; It’s just the beginning for marketing and proper retail merchandising. They are working with their retail partners to help consumers understand how to buy the titles that they want.

India Games is working to import and export titles to and from the United States. They have global, regional and local titles. Some of the titles will not import or export well. They work with their partners to co-market or do cutting-edge marketing to get the message out about the new title. “This is not easy and can be expensive; Hollywood does it every week for its movies; it can be an expensive line item.” says Malatesta.

“Again, Carriers are our retailers. Carriers are willing to work more with their partners to promote games content. Innovative creatives, titles and marketing will succeed. The feeling that I get from carriers is that they are very helpful and want to help companies with content on their decks succeed.” states Malatesta.

With their wealth of titles and success of The Office, India Games is positioned to make mobile games easier for consumers to buy and enjoy.

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One Laptop Per Child ‘goes public’

LogoolpcNo, they aren’t launching an IPO, but the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) non-profit group has just announced that they will be selling their rugged cost-effective “$100 laptops,” named ‘XO,’ to the public. The program is called G1G1, give-one-get-one: for $399, customers will be able to purchase two of the laptops, one to keep and one to be given to a child in a developing country. Starting November 12th they will be sold online (at xogiving.org) for an initial two week period, which may be extended if the program proves successful. Previously, the laptops were only being sold to governments in batches of 250,000 units.

While they haven’t been able to hit that $100 price point yet, what OLPC has managed to accomplish in terms of the hardware alone is extremely impressive: a pivoting reversible hi-res monitor, 433 mhz processor, 256 mb DRAM, USB ports, and WiFi support all housed inside of a dirt and moisture-resistant enclosure. And that stuff isn’t even the really cool part; the laptop can be powered by its rechargable NiMH battery, an alternate power source like a car battery, or… this is it…. by hand. Using innovative techniques to shut off the processor when not in use, OLPC managed to get the XO’s power usage to under 2 watts. This allows the laptop to be powered by a hand crank, a pedal or a pull-cord… a necessity, seeing as how many of the XO’s intended owners live in areas without electricity.

OLPC was created in 2005 by faculty from the MIT Media Lab with one goal: to create a fully functional laptop can be produced cheaply enough to be put in the hands of children in developing nations. Out of these two-billion children, some receive very little education with others receiving none at all (one in three completes third grade).

From OLPC’s website:

Using the XO as both their window on the world, as well as a highly programmable tool for exploring it, children in emerging nations will be opened to both illimitable knowledge and to their own creative and problem-solving potential … [OLPC is] providing a means to an end—an end that sees children in even the most remote regions of the globe being given the opportunity to tap into their own potential, to be exposed to a whole world of ideas, and to contribute to a more productive and saner world community.

What a great example of a way to utilize information technology.

view - XOGiving

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Palo Alto Research Center creates program to foster startups

Startup-LogoThe Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), located in Silicon Valley, has recently launched a program called Startup@PARC that’s focused on incubating promising tech startups. Founded by Xerox in 1970 for the initial purpose of conducting internal research, PARC was incorporated in 2002 as an independent research business. The center is credited for being the birthplace of a variety of significant computing inventions: the mouse, the graphical user interface, laser printing and Ethernet all got their major start at PARC. Not to mention their first commercial GUI product was the Apple Macintosh.

According to PARC, the startup program is “a novel initiative to join forces with entrepreneurs and investors to bring transformative technologies to the marketplace. The Program will help selected entrepreneurs: crystallize opportunities; accelerate time-to-market; enhance competencies; provide facilities resources; and create unique, competitive advantages that leverage our track record in applying scientific insight to real-world opportunities.

According to Mark Berstein, PARC’s president, they aren’t looking for startups based on run-of-the-mill “me-too” ideas, most likely referring to the recent flood of flimsy “Web 2.0″ companies searching for VC money. “We’re looking for people who really have unique ideas [that] match the competencies that we have here,” Bernstein said. “It’s actually looking at bringing entrepreneurs in at a fairly pre-investment stage to develop their ideas.”

The press release mentions PARC’s recent partnership with SolFocus Inc., a solar energy company that they helped transform from a 2 man R&D team to a 50 employee company. The greentech company has raised $84 million in funding to date.

It will be interesting to see what comes next from PARC. Based on past experience, I think its safe to say these guys are good. Although most of the innovations this group is famous for were created 20+ years ago, many of them still play an integral part in the computing landscape to this day… a rare feat in the tech world. I think this proactive invitation to entrepreneurs is a great decision on their part and should really help foster some creative ideas and companies.

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BrightQube launched

BrightQube, the site for finding and selling images, has launched in a limited beta.

CEO Lee Cochran tells us that the official roll-out is next month aimed at the photo industry with key events such as PhotoPlus, Picturehouse and PACA agency conferences.

The BrightQube dynamic photo mosaic provides a very efficient visual means of finding the perfect picture. Future enhancements will allow for sales of micro stock as well as macro stock photography on the site. (Microstock refers to images that are royalty free and sell for under a dollar to about ten dollars, and are produced by amateurs and generally sold via the internet only).

brightqube photomosaic

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TechCrunch40 top company award: Everything Mint is Yodlee again!

ImageWe have all been following the excitement over Tech Crunch 40, and then the top company award was announced, and I had to do a double take!! Mint won the $50,000 award - for “an impressive personal finance application”.

Anyone remember Yodlee?

ImageYodlee has had a patented personal finance application since August of ‘99. It allows secure one-stop access of all financial (bank) accounts, mortgage accounts, brokerage accounts and airlines mileage accounts. The dashboard adds up all balances in the asset and liability accounts, and provides a quick net worth summary. The program has tons of other knick-knacks such as tracking spending month by month.

I have used Yodlee Moneycenter for a couple of years now, and it is one of the best web based apps that I have ever used.

Mint seems to have fewer features than Yodlee, and Yodlee has a commanding head-start (they launched back in ‘99) with several thousand financial institutions that they are compatible with.

The funny thing is that a couple of years ago, I was approached by someone promising “to find funding” for exactly this idea, if I would come up with a business plan for the latest and greatest “personal finance application”. I did some research that showed that financial aggregators, as they are called, are nothing new. 10’s of companies have been built around this same idea, all touting very similar features.

Country Provider / Service name
AUG 99′ US VerticalOne launched
SEP 99′ US Yodlee launched
JUN 00′ US AOL “AOL Personal Finance” is announced.
JUL 00′ US CitiBank “My Citi” launched
AUG 00′ US Yahoo “Yahoo Finance” launched.
SEP 00′ AUSTRALIA eWise launched & AMP “Account Minder” launched.
OCT 00′ US Chase Manhattan Bank “Chase Online Plus” launched.
FEB 01′ US Merrill Lynch “My financial picture” launched.
US American Express “Account Profile” launched
MAR 01′ US Wells Fargo “Wells Outlook” launched.
US Fleet Boston “smallbizfleet” launched
JUN 01′ AUSTRALIA Macquarie Bank “Enrichment” launched
KOREA Hanvit Bank “e-Clips” launched
JUL 01′ AUSTRALIA nineMSN “Account Master” launched
SEP 01′ JAPAN Monex securities ” Money Station” is announced.
OCT 01′ JAPAN Nomura Security is announced
JAN 02′ JAPAN E*trade “Money Look” launched

* From E-aggregation: The present and future of aggregation services in Asia Pacific, Fujii et al.

The technology for building a financial aggregation software has been around (all over the world) for a while.

What really needs to be understood was why so many companies have come into the market and exited, and have not been able to make a go in the personal financial landscape. (Needless to say, when I told the “VC representative” that this kind of software had been done many times over, and not worth doing again, he was not very thrilled!).

CashEdge provides a similar service and has relationships with about 500 financial institutions. MSN Money also has personal financial management software.

 

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BrightQube: A new way to find photos

BrightQube is a site for selling photos - but with a twist. The website features an innovative layout that displays a large number of pictures in a photo mosaic. An Ajax interface allows you to zoom in and out of the mosaic, and pick out the picture you need without having to go through page after page of photos to find the one that you are looking for (such as at Istockphoto).

BrightQube helps sellers get their images found and sold . Individual photographers will be able to upload their photos to the site. BrightQube also lists inventory from several large partners.

BrightQube is about the way you find photos . Photographers are used to looking at large numbers of photos or slides laid out on table tops. The eye has an uncanny ability to pick out the best or most appropriate picture in a parallel fashion, which is much quicker than scanning pictures one by one.

brightqube photo mosaic

BrigthQube focuses on replicating this ability of the brain, in its image viewer, which can very quickly and interactively zoom in and out of the dynamic photo mosaic, rather like google maps. Although there is also a picture search engine, it is used secondarily to narrow down the field of pictures.

The BrightQube web site is not operational currently. The company is expected to present at Tech Crunch 20 (now Tech Crunch 40) on September 17th.

BrightQube has previously received series A funding.

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Remember the conference call? ShoePhone doesn’t.

ShoeMost probably read that title and said, “What’s he talking about? Conference calling is a frequent part of my business.” What if there was something better?

That’s where TalkShoe comes in. The Pittsburgh-based company, which was founded in 2005, recently came out with a new piece of software named ShoePhone. Although its branded as a VoIP service, you only use VoIP to create the connection; your actual calls take place over a “telco-grade conferencing system.” In fact, ShoePhone is able to facilitate calls between virtually any device out there: participants can connect using land lines, mobile phones, Skype, or other 3rd party VoIP clients like Gizmo.

The beauty of ShoePhone is in how it both simplifies conference calling while also adding new features to make calls more useful and efficient. First, when someone is speaking their name is clearly displayed on the screen, immediately clearing up confusion as to who is talking. Also, If the request-to-talk queing feature is turned and you wish to say something, you press a button to insert yourself in the speaking que which is ran through on a first-come-first-serve basis. Another feature that reduces cross-chatter is private messaging: you are able to initiate a secret IM chat with anyone else on the call that takes place completely in the background. To top it off, ShoePhone records the call and puts it online for anyone with a PIN number to replay the call in its entirety or download it to their hard drive.

ShoePhone supports up to 250 participants in one conference call, in addition to thousands more that are able to listen to the call live (but can’t speak).

While we’ve been focusing on the private conference call capabilities of ShoePhone, a lot of the emphasis the company places on the software focuses on its more public podcasting capability. Any recorded call automatically becomes a “Talkcast” which can then be distributed and played as an MP3 or embedded into a website/blog/Facebook page using a player widget. The embeddable widget lets people listen to your latest call as well as any previous recordings, in addition to listing scheduled upcoming calls. TalkShoe offers monetization options to anyone who can draw 20 live participants and average 1,000 downloads per week.

The software is currently free to download (you have to register first). Whether its used for conference calling or podcasting, this is another great software addition to the Web 2.0 sphere.

In March, a podcast host utilized TalkShoe’s infrastructure to put on a live 24 hour “Kiva Talkathon” designed to bring the microlending site to the attention of podcast listeners everywhere. TalkShoe agreed to transfer any revenue generated by the internationally-broadcast show to Kiva itself, helping entrepreneurs in developing countries. Our recent post about Kiva can be found here.
ShoePhone site

ShoePhone announcement

Shoebig

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IMMI creates a cell phone that really listens

ImiThe NYT published an article yesterday profiling Integrated Media Measurement (IMMI), a start-up based in San Mateo, Calif. that has taken the concept of measuring advertising effectiveness a step further.
Although companies can accurately track how effective their online ads are thanks to click-thru percentages and a variety of other metrics, someone has yet to come up with a reliable system to determine the success rate of ads for television and radio media. IMMI is prepared to tackle this problem with a creative, if not invasive, solution.

Once you agree to participate, IMMI provides you with a cell phone. Not only do they give you a phone for free, but they pick up the bill for all the calls you make on it. Here’s where it gets interesting: every 30 seconds, the phone records a 10 second sound clip from your surroundings. When you’re carrying the phone, a third of everything you hear is captured. That data is then uploaded to IMMI, at which point it is analyzed to determine exactly what advertisements you heard through out the day. That information is that cross-referenced with purchases you make; the company can install “Bluetooth beacons” in the stores of their clients, recording exactly when you enter and leave, in addition to what you buy.

The company launched in 2003 and so far has taken on 10 clients, among them ESPN and NBC. They currently have over 3,000 participants enrolled in the program (they recruit teenagers up to adults at 54 years old), each under an agreement to carry the phone for 2 years.

Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Advanced Technology Ventures funded the firm for a combined $14 million.

This technology brings us one step closer to the imagined future of the Tom Cruise flick “Minority Report,” in which stores scan your retina and identify you as soon as you walk in. Thanks to the wonders of Bluetooth, IMMI is already doing this. We’re still waiting on a company to come out with free designer sunglasses that record what ads you look at. This type of tech is surely coming. If IMMI is any indicator, we may not have to wait long.

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AMD and INTEL: The battle of the Quad Core CPUs

amd quad core barcelona

Continuing in their battle for supremacy, both Intel and AMD announced their new Quad CPU processors this month. A quantum jump from the dual processors, the new chips place 4 x86 cores on to a single die.

AMD’s Opteron 8000 series named “Barcelona”, hailed by AMD as the “world’s most advanced x86 processor ever designed and manufactured” is aimed towards the server market, and is positioned as having superior “performance per watt”. AMD also points out the fact it is a true native quad processor, which might be a bit of a dig at Intel’s “Tigertron” Xeon 7300 processor which is is a packaged combo of two dual processors.

intel opteron quad core cpu

Intel has released its quad core Xeon 7300 (”Clovertown”) series. Intel also claims better energy efficiency as well as enhanced virtualization capabilities.

So how do these two CPUs stack up?

The battle lines in the CPU market are generally drawn around the speed of the processors in handling computations, and in the power efficiency of the chips (power consumptions is not as much as an issue, as is the waste heat which limits the performance of the chips).

AMD claims that Barcelona will exceed the performance of Clovertown, by 40% at any clock speed. AMD has not released the clock speed of Barcelona but Intel’s Xeon clocks in at 2.66 GHz, although the company is also releasing 3.0 GHz processors.

Both companies claim lower power consumption, although no figures have been released.

Barcelona and Clovertown will both be aimed towards the high end commercial servers with an emphasis towards the speed gains in database applications.

While side by side comparisons of the two CPUs have not been published yet, there are some leaked reports of tests done by IBM (pdf here), for the two processors. According to some analysis by George Ou, a blogger at ZDnet, AMD’s Barcelona might indeed be behind at this point, and might not be able to catch up in performance to the Intel Opteron until they get to the 3.0 GHz clock speed (Intel already has a 3.0 GHz quad processor).

As with the dual processor race between AMD and Intel, this one promises to get pretty exciting!

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Facebook: A model for Web 2.0

Logo FacebookWired posted an article yesterday titled “How Mark Zuckerberg Turned Facebook Into the Web’s Hottest Platform.” Author Fred Vogelstein does a great job pointing out some of the key factors that turned Facebook into the Web 2.0 superstar it is today. And it’s still growing. These principles can be applied to any web startup that’s aimed at virtually any flavor of social interaction. Here are the elements that made it happen.

  • Real-world identity. At the start of the web, it was the companies you heard about. The AOLs, the Compuserves, the Netscapes. As the web has evolved, its no longer the companies that are the stars; now its the people: Robert Scoble, Michael Arrington, Mark Cuban, even Zuckerberg himself. With AOL, you were a screen name. Everyone was anonymous. Now, everyone wants to be themselves. Web 2.0 has people publicizing their thoughts on blogs, their photo albums on Flickr, and their bookmarks on del.icio.us. Facebook has capitalized and taken this a step further; now even your relationships between friends and significant others have their public place online. With people putting so much of their personal life onto the internet, its no wonder they want credit for it. Zuckerberg recognized that the value of internet socializing is not restricted to exchanges between faceless screen names in foreign chat rooms, but that people actually want to assume their own identity. Vogelstein writes, “Sites like MySpace practically encouraged users to create new identities and meet and link to people they barely knew. Zuckerberg didn’t care about using the Internet to make new friends. ‘People already have their friends, acquaintances, and business connections,” he explains. “So rather than building new connections, what we are doing is just mapping them out.‘”
  • The beauty of broadcasting. Although the web has always been a collection of information that perpetually updates itself, the way those updates are distributed to users is one of the major changes that Web 2.0 has brought about. Applications like Twitter allow you to notify your network of friends of exactly what you’re doing, thinking or feeling at the press of a button. RSS feeds mean you no longer have to tediously go down your list of bookmarks one by one to see what new information has been posted on your favorite sites; simply sit back and let it all come to you in one easily-managable stream. Facebook adopted this principle the day that they unveiled the “news feed”: now, every time you login to Facebook the first screen you are greeted with tells you all about what your friends have been up to. If they post new photo albums, send each other public comments or join a new group, the news feed will let you know about it by way of an easy to read list that comes off as surprisingly uncluttered. The feed is the key feature that allows anything interesting put on Facebook to do what interesting things in Web 2.0 do best: go viral. So, what’s the most interesting thing on Facebook right now? Actually, there are 3,200 of them with 180 being added per week. Which takes us to…
  • Unlimited functionality. On May 24th, Facebook unveiled their open development system to the rest of the world. This allows anyone to develop applications, or widgets, that can run right out of peoples’ profile. Best of all, as soon as a member adds an application to their page, it gets broadcast to all of their friends via the news feed. Its no wonder that developers have jumped at this opportunity; everyone from independent one man teams to companies with established revenue like LastFM are writing for Zuckerberg’s platform. Basically, if you can think of something you’d like to be able to do on Facebook, it can probably be done… if it isn’t already. Vogelstein writes, “more than 3,200 new applications have sprung up on the site, a number that is growing by about 180 a week. Those offerings have made Facebook a fully functioning social hub, where users can keep track of one another’s favorite music and videos, share and compare movie reviews, and hit one another up for contributions to pet causes.” This doesn’t even include the professional side of Facebook that is growing at a rapid pace: before the app platform, businesses were already sifting through Facebook’s broad member base to find potential applicants and recruit employees (both Microsoft and the CIA have a Facebook presence). Now, companies can use applications to actually generate cash flow from ads or otherwise, with Zuckerberg letting them keep 100% of the revenue (for the moment). With such a flexible platform, literally almost anything is possible.

Regardless of where Facebook and Zuckerberg’s future lead, right now Facebook is a living example of what it means to be at the edge of Web 2.0. And I wouldn’t expect that to change anytime soon.

    But hey, if it does, I’m sure my news feed will let me know.

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    Clupedia releases innovative social bookmarking tool Clucast

    ImageClupedia has just released its beta product, Clucast.

    Clucast is crowdcasting, meets social bookmarking, meets Sphereit .

    Clucast lets you visit any web page and leave a clue - a clue can be anything, a comment, a review, a bookmark, or a link. Any user who now visits the page can read the clue, if they have Clucast installed.

    But this is the really revolutionary part. When you write a clue on any piece of content, such as a product, your clue is immediately broadcast to thousands of websites which mention that product. So any Clucaster can now read your comment on any of those web sites as well.

    clupedia clucastThis is the only social book marking product that we know of which has this feature.

    The Clupedia Clucast plugin is now available as a download from their website. The product currently works on the Firefox browser, and requires Java to be installed. David Saad, CEO of Clupedia, spent several months in Bangalore, India, developing the software.

    The Clucast download is pretty fast and painless. Furthermore, they offer several incentives for installing Clucast, including revenue share with authors on ads which are viewed alongside the clues.

    I can see this tool becoming huge with bloggers, and publishers. Also advertisers, who have so far had to rely on third party review websites such as Epinion, or to set up their own dedicated review websites, should get very excited about Clucast.

    clucast

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    AdBlock Plus could change web advertising landscape

    NoadsEveryone hates pop-ups. Its gotten to the point where browsers now come with built-in pop-up blockers to combat those annoying ads that interrupt your web experience. Pop-ups, however, account for only a portion of the billions of ads sprawled across web pages all over cyberspace. From a business standpoint its these online ads that allow otherwise free content to be monetized, essentially fueling the internet. But what if there was a way to get rid of those, too? What if there was a way you could potentially never see another ad on a web page ever again?

    The New York Times published an article this morning, written by Noam Cohen, profiling a free open-source plugin for Mozilla’s Firefox web browser that allows users to seamlessly erase advertisements from any page on the internet. Cohen writes:

    Adblock Plus — while still a niche product for a niche browser — is potentially a huge development in the online world, and not because it simplifies Web sites cluttered with advertisements. The larger importance of Adblock is its potential for extreme menace to the online-advertising business model. After an installation that takes but a minute or two, Adblock usually makes all commercial communication disappear. No flashing whack-a-mole banners. No Google ads based on the search terms you have entered.


    A quick look reveals that the Firefox web browser is used by 34% of internet users. With Firefox being used by one-third of the internet population, it has moved beyond just being a “niche browser” to becoming a major player in the browsing world. The reason for Firefox’s popularity has a lot to do with its open programming structure that allows for really cool plugins such as this one. If AdBlock Plus were to go viral, marketing companies would be forced to completely re-think the web advertising model.

    GoogleuseSo far, this hasn’t happened; Wladimir Palant, the programmer responsible for the plugin, estimates there are about 2.5 million users of AdBlock, with 300,000 to 400,000 new users each month. No doubt that the buzz generated by the NY Times article and all the blogs responding to it, such as this one, will cause Palant to see a notable spike in those numbers. This could lead to a snowball effect that the large online advertisers couldn’t ignore, but for now, the biggest player has remained silent: Google refused to respond to Cohen’s request for comment. Palant says that AdBlock isn’t popular enough yet, and that attacking it would be a waste of time for a company like Google.
    Not only would it be a waste, but it would draw tons of attention to a plugin that Google surely prefers no one ever hears about. Author Nicholas Carr comments on the delicacy of Google’s situation on his blog:

    The company is in a particularly dicey position. The broad adoption of ad-blocking software could devastate its business, yet an outright attempt to block the use of such programs would run counter to its often-expressed commitment to give users what they want. If web users decide they don’t want to see ads, Google would face an extremely unpleasant dilemma. Either its business or its credibility would end up in tatters.


    While Google remained silent, Microsoft, which is still the leading giant in the browser world with Internet Explorer, was not so shy. From the NY Times article:

    In a statement, Microsoft spoke of its success in permitting third-party developers to “add value to the browser experience through the creation of add-ons.” The statement continues: “The range of add-ons available does include ad blocking software. It would not be appropriate for Microsoft to comment on the merits or demerits of a specific add-on, or group of add-ons. Provided they have not been designed with malicious intent and do not compromise a user’s privacy or security, Microsoft is pleased to see new add-ons that add to the range of options that users have for customizing their browsing experience.”


    If you had to rub your eyes and re-read that a few times, we don’t blame you. Microsoft… standing up for the user? Not quite. As Carr notes, “Microsoft knows that ad blockers pose a far greater threat to Google than to itself.” What better way to take down the Google behemoth than to erase its very foundation: ad revenue. A commenter on Carr’s post by the name of Leigh Hunt goes one step further, referring to an article he wrote that suggests if Microsoft continues to lose to Google in the market share battle, they “should simply add an ad blocker to Internet Explorer and enable it by default.”

    While we don’t see this type of drastic action being taken by Microsoft anytime soon, one thing is certain: if AdBlock reaches the tipping point and goes viral, it will be very interesting to watch what happens.

    Comparison screenshots of TechCrunch’s front page with and without using AdBlocker. Click to enlarge.

    Without AdBlocker: (note the ironic Google banner)
    Techwithads

    With AdBlocker turned on:
    Techadblocker

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    CloneInteractive : You are the star!

    Looks like Clone Interactive is getting ready to make a big splash under the name BigStage.com.

    Clone Interactive has some real cool technology to produce photorealistic 3D models from 2D pictures taken with a digital camera. When we say photo realistic, we mean it. 3D renditions of human faces are so startlingly like the original, including the skin texture, that it is hard to remember that they are not really photos but numbers spewed out by a mathematical model.

    The advantage of CloneInteractive (BigStage) photorealistic models are that they are not based upon the traditional wire meshes for modeling human forms. What this means is that the Photo-Realistic models can be rendered very quickly. They are certainly fast enough to be used for animated avatars. The avatars can be inserted into online games. Users can also make short animated movies.

    The technology was developed over 9 years at USC and was funded by CIA money. BigStage is based in Pasadena CA.


    This strip shows the photo-realistic model of Clone Interactive CEO Jonathan Strietzel’s face. All of the pictures are rendered 3D models (none are actual photos)

    Fix8, whom we reviewed earlier, creates a 3D animated avatar, but with a different take. You can superpose standard avatars on top of your video clip and create an animated movie that captures all your movements and expressions, but with the look of a cartoon character. Clone interactive is the other way around. It can create a realistic face and superpose it on a cartoon avatar in a movie, so you get a short film starring an animated character which looks just like you!

    The possibilities for a fast, animated photo-realistic avatar of the sort created by CloneInteractive are virtually endless. Embed your avatar along with those of all your friends, into an MMO game, and go to war in a different reality! Personalize your web page, create animated movies, see personalize ads, the list goes on and on.

    CloneInteractive has received $2.75 million in funding from the Tech Coast Angels, Mission Ventures and Selby Ventures.


    3D photorealistic models of Tech Coast Angel members Frank Peters, John Harbison, Richard Sudek and Atticus Wagner created by Clone Interactive

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    Trilogy Studios receives funding

    TrilogyuseTrilogy Studios, a videogame company based out of Santa Monica, received $3.2 million in funding during a series B round last week from unnamed investors. Trilogy Studios, which bills itself as a “Next Gen and Virtual World development studio,” is currently being lead by CEO Michael Pole. From 2003 to 2005, Michael held an Executive Vice President position at Vivendi Universal Games, heading up their worldwide development. During this time he headed up development of popular game titles such as The Hulk, Chronicles of Riddick, and Scarface, among others.
    In July of this year, Trilogy Studios announced a partnership with MTV to develop a virtual world title based on the television network’s popular show “Pimp My Ride.” From the announcement:

    Trilogy Studios is utilizing its skill set in making world-class console games and elevating the experiences found in today’s online virtual worlds. The company is focusing its new virtual worlds around people’s passions, from specific entertainment properties to genres such as music, film, television and sports. Trilogy’s virtual worlds combine game play attributes from next generation console games with the broadcasting, social networking and e-commerce capabilities found in some of today’s most successful online business entities.

    Michael Pole: “Trilogy takes virtual worlds beyond basic 3D chat rooms, turning them into living, breathing worlds where people come together to share their entertainment passions . . . We’ve developed a business model that enables media companies to successfully monetize their franchises through virtual world networks including micro-transactions, in-game advertising and sponsorships, premium subscriptions and e-commerce.”

    In the virtual world, which has yet to be released, fans of the show can create customized avatars, trick out cars with a variety of different upgradable parts, and then take them for a spin on a race track.

    Virtual World News covered the partnership announcement, including additional commentary from Trilogy’s CEO:

    “With this business model, since we’re working with just extraordinary content, there’s four rivers of revenue,” Pole said. Trilogy is focused on building out the process for microtransactions, advertising, premium subscriptions, and ecommerce with real-world products.

    “We allow you to do things and try them in the virtual world and then experience them in the real world. And we’re looking at any number of items, from shoes and hats and tennis shoes. A guy sees a pair of shoes, say some Vans or maybe an Adidas sweat suit, and he likes it, he can order them and have them delivered.

    One of the most interesting parts of the interview is where Pole weighs in on the difference between the closed-off virtual worlds he is creating versus a wide-open world such as Second Life, which got a lot of buzz due to the in-game ads it had attracted from big name sponsors such as IBM and Coca-Cola:

    Pole sees the private worlds as a necessary alternative to more open platforms like Second Life.

    “What we’ve found is that content providers like MTV and others are not as comfortable handing over their intellectual property to create a world within a world,” he said. “Everyone’s afraid about the protection of intellectual property and the gray market and black market and distribution online. What we’re presenting is the opportunity to take advantage of the new frontier.”

    With the majority of in-game advertising done by companies inside Second Life failing, privately branded worlds such as “Pimp My Ride” just may be the key to turning interactive 3D environments into profits for businesses. I think Michael Pole is on to something here, and I expect more good things to come from Trilogy Studios in the future.

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