Facebook - do we need to worry?

image Facebook, which continues to amaze with its impressive growth in users, is getting a bit of a bad boy reputation.

First there was the snafu with Beacon. Beacon is an ad serving application that tracks purchases made by Facebook users on partner sites (this data is sent back to Facebook from the partner sites such as Sony Online, Zappos and 44 other sites). If you bought a ring for your wife on Overstock.com, it would show up in your profile on Facebook , and be visible to all your friends (this happened to an FB user). The privacy concerns had users in an uproar, particularly as Facebook elected to make the Beacon notifications opt-out, rather than opt-in.

Facebook has since changed the system so that users now need to give permission for their purchases to be visible to their friends. And Mark Zukerberg, CEO of Facebook, has apologized on his blog.

While for now, the controversy seems to have blown over for Facebook, it still leaves the one big question. Should merchants even be supplying private information regarding their customers purchases to third parties - Facebook or anyone else? It seems to me that the companies providing the data should be shouldering a whole lot more of the blame than Facebook. For now, the Beacon partner sites are still passing the data back to Facebook. Facebook’s assertion that they will delete the data unless a user chooses to make the information public, does not give a very warm and fuzzy feeling.

image Recently, Facebook has also gotten in hot water for luring away employees at other companies. The company is growing with a vengeance and plans to double its battalion of 700 employees by next year. Even in Silicon Valley, it is no mean feat to find that many techhies in such short order. Google has felt the pinch of losing a few key workers. And then one employee left Techcrunch, causing them to get on the war path with Facebook (there is a funny post Hey Facebook, WTF? Stay Away From TechCrunchers from Michael Arrington regarding one of his recent hires, Ben Meyers, jumping ship for Facebook stock options).

But like they say, fame is a short hop away from notoriety. Facebook seems to be benefiting from continuously being in the buzz, both good and bad, given the astronomical valuations the company seems to be commanding these days!

Technorati Tags: facebook, beacon, techcrunch

Language translators - not for tattoos

image Language Weaver, a southern California company, has developed an automated machine translation system in 7 languages. Instead of using the one to one rule based mapping that is common of traditional text translators, the Language Weaver system uses a statistical approach to provide a more true to life, contextual translation.

The automated machine translator is an enterprise solution. The product is clearly well timed with the growing interest in communicating with other countries in both the business and political play fields. The translation algorithms were developed as part of a DARPA funded project at the University of Southern California.

The Language Weaver statistical machine translator can be “trained” to optimize its performance in specific business or political contexts.

Is there any situation when one would not want to use a machine translator? The company gets inquiries from tatoo artists who want to translate English words into other languages and scripts. Not a good idea to use an automated system like Language Weaver for this purpose - the company warns on their blog. They recommend relying on a native speaker of the language for an accurate translation.

image David Beckham would have done well to heed that advice! A proud tattoo sprawled across his left forearm declares his never dying love for Victoria. Except the tattoo is in Hindi and “Victoria” is misspelled!

Language Weaver has received series A and B rounds of funding from the Tech Coast Angles, Sulphur Creek Ventures, Palisades Ventures, Athenaeum Fund and from In-Q-Tel, which is fund that supports the CIA’s technology needs.

Technorati Tags: language weaver, automatic machine translation, translators, tech coast angels, in-q-tel, Sulphur Creek Ventures, Palisades Ventures, Athenaeum Fund

Web 2.0 Companies Throw Contests for the Holidays

Christmas is finally rolling around, and we’ve noticed Web 2.0 companies are getting in on the holiday spirit. Remember though folks, even though America is the land of opportunity, in good American fashion you gotta work for it. Here are three contests you can enter to take a shot at having a little extra under the tree this year. After reading these, you won’t find it strange if a guy who looks like a reject from the Blue Man Group comes up to you in the mall and asks you to take his picture. If you’ve heard of any other holiday giveaways or contests being put on by companies in the Web 2.0 sphere, leave them in the comments!


What you can win:
$50 Amazon gift cards (yes, plural)
What you gotta do: Upload some good docs.
Web 2.0 Company:
Contest description (from company):
We want you to upload your professional documents and share them with the world. So, we’re giving away $50 holiday gift certificates to Amazon.com until December 23rd. The contest starts Wednesday, December 5th, 2007, and goes through Sunday December 23rd. Winners will be notified daily by email and announced each week on the Docstoc Blog. Winning users and documents will also be featured on docstoc.
Where to enter:
Click here.


What you can win:
A Playstation 3
What you gotta do:
Paint yourself blue(!)
Web 2.0 Company: Gizmodo
Contest description (from company):
This is going to be a photo contest, so here’s what you do. First step: paint yourself blue. Second step: go to a public place and take a picture of yourself. Points will be awarded both for being more blue and being more embarrassing in public than other contestants. The more blue/embarrassing you are, the more likely you are to win. It’s up to you to decide how blue and how embarrassing you want to be. Dressing up like a Smurf may or may not get you more points (it probably will).
Where to enter:
Click here.


What you can win:
Cash/trip to Google’s Mountain View HQ
What you gotta do:
Create kick ass open source code*
Web 2.0 Company: Google
Contest description (from company):
Google is holding a contest for pre-university students (e.g., high school and secondary school students) with the aim of encouraging young people to participate in open source. We will work with ten open source organizations for this pilot effort, each of whom will provide a list of tasks to be completed by student contestants. Tasks can be anything a project needs help with, from bug fixes to writing documentation to user experience research.
Where to enter: Click here.

* Oh, and be in high school.

Voki begins to Twitter

 imageNow Voki has a new trick up its sleeve - the next version of the Voki avatar will link to Twitter and lip synch to your Twitter messages.

Voki is the site that came up with the slightly doleful looking avatars that you can pattern after your own likeness and embed on your web page. When visitors arrive at a web page, the Voki’s moppet like eyes follow the mouse around the page, and mouth snippets of wisdom.

Fred Wilson of A VC reports that the Voki avatar service from Oddcast, one of his portfolio companies, will let you link Voki to other services such as Twitter, in its next release.

Could be an attention grabber for a web page, but it still remains to be seen if an animated avatar can have real commercial value.

Earlier we reviewed Fix8, where you can impose an avatar image on your video, to make your own animated action movie strip. Great technology but again, it will be interesting to see how this category of eye candy can be monetized.

Technorati Tags: voki, twitter, fix8

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