Archive for July, 2010

Microsoft Street Slide a more efficient way to view maps

July 30th, 2010

Online mapping is one of my favourite geeky obsessions. I use Google Street View to check out just about any place before I visit, as it’s a very helpful time-saver if you’re driving or walking somewhere and you don’t know what the meeting spot looks like.

Enter Microsoft Research to make the whole process more efficient: Microsoft is now showing off a new type of street-level view that makes it faster and easier to hop down a street.

Presenting the new view at the SIGGRAPH conference in LA, Microsoft’s Street Slide lets you zoom out of a street to see a panoramic view.

So if you’re looking for a restaurant, for example, and it’s on the left side of the street — traditionally, you’d have to keep clicking forward, forward, forward until you made it to the resto, or you’d have to zoom in. Zooming causes pixelation which makes the image impossible to comprehend.

Microsoft’s Street Slide lets you essentially take the whole left-hand side of the street and flatten it like a two-dimensional storybook. In this view you can see the whole side of the street easily and once you spot the restaurant you can easily slide back into the street view.

I won’t waste too many words describing this because the video does a much better visual job of explaining:

Millions of Americans use Twitter, just don’t ask them to pay for it

July 26th, 2010

According to a new study by the University of Southern California’s School for Communication and Journalism, half of all Americans have used a Web application such as Twitter, but none of them would be willing to pay to use them.

The study called “Surveying the Digital Future” found that Americans have a strong negative reaction when it comes to paying for online services.

The study, now in its tenth year, found 49 percent of Web users have used services such as Twitter but when asked if they would pay to continue doing so, zero percent said yes.

“Such an extreme finding that produced a zero response underscores the difficulty of getting Internet users to pay for anything that they already receive for free,” said Jeffrey I. Cole, director of the Center for the Digital Future at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism in a press release (opens in PDF). “Twitter has no plans to charge its users, but this result illustrates, beyond any doubt, the tremendous problem of transforming free users into paying users. Online providers face major challenges to get customers to pay for services they now receive for free.”

Twitter is just one example of a service respondents said they wouldn’t pay to continue using. In fact, the Digital Future Study found 55 percent would rather see advertising in front of them than pay for content. Furthermore, the study discovered half of all Web users never click on advertising and 70 percent called it “annoying.”

“Internet users can obtain content in three ways: They can steal it, or pay for it, or accept advertising on the Web pages they view,” said Cole. “Users express strong negative views about online advertising, but they still prefer seeing ads as an alternative to paying for content. Consumers really want free content without advertising, but ultimately they understand that content has to be paid for — one way or another.”

The paying-for-Web-services issue was one of 180 explored in the study. In addition to social media habits, the survey also looked at general Web browsing, e-commerce, politics and media consumption.

According to USC’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, nearly two-thirds of Americans now buy online; most households now use broadband; a majority of families own two or more computers; and large percentages of users say the Internet is important in political campaigns.

Despite increased online activity, many Americans also say they deeply distrust online information and many feel the Internet does not give them more political power. In addition, the number of people who believe technology makes the world a better place is on the decline.

The study also noted the following key findings:

• For the first time, the Internet is used by more than 80 percent of Americans (it’s now 82 percent).
• The average time online has reached 19 hours per week.
• Internet use is higher among younger people, with 100 percent of those under age 24 going online.
• 19 percent of respondents between the ages of 46 and 55 said they do not use the Internet and 15 percent of respondents between the ages of 36 to 45 are not online.
• New media is used by large percentages of younger demographics, but large percentages of Internet users never go online for instant messaging (50 percent), to work on a blog (79 percent), to participate in chat rooms (80 percent), or to make or receive phone calls (85 percent).
• 61 percent of Internet users said online purchasing has reduced their buying in traditional retail stores. The top 10 online purchases: 59 percent of Internet users said they purchase books or clothes online, followed by gifts (55 percent), travel (53 percent), electronics/appliances (47 percent), videos (46 percent), computers or peripherals (41 percent), software or games (40 percent), CDs (40 percent), and products for hobbies (38 percent).

Media consumption habits:

According to the study, newspapers rank below the Web and TV as a source of information. A total of 56 percent of Web users ranked newspapers as “important” or “very important” sources of info, representing a decrease from 60 percent in 2008.

Furthermore, 18 percent of Internet users stopped a subscription to a newspaper or magazine because they get the same or related content online. The study’s author concludes this represents a “…strong indication print newspapers can be sacrificed by a significant percentage of Internet users.”

In addition, 22 percent of Web users who read newspapers said they would not miss the print edition if it was no longer available.

“The downward spiral in print newspaper circulation no doubt will be accelerated by advances in online delivery of news content through e-readers or other handheld electronic devices,” said Cole. “After years of aborted attempts, these advances finally appear to be practical and affordable methods of providing electronic news content to readers. If so, what will that mean for the future of the traditional print newspaper?”

Facebook passes 500 million user milestone

July 21st, 2010

It’s official: Facebook has announced it has reached the half-billion member milestone. The news has been expected for some time now, but CEO Mark Zuckerberg made it official in a blog post today.

According to the post made on Facebook’s corporate blog today, Facebook now has 500 million people around the world who are actively using the site. “This is an important milestone for all of you who have helped spread Facebook around the world,” said Zuckerberg in the post. “Now a lot more people have the opportunity to stay connected with the people they care about.”

In February, Facebook announced it had about 400 million members. Since then it has added between 20 and 25 million users per month to reach today’s milestone. In the last 18 months, Facebook has tripled in size.

As a way to mark the milestone, Zuckerberg launched a site called Facebook Stories. Users can upload their thoughts on how the service has affected their lives. It also boasts a message of thanks from Facebook employees. Facebook Stories can be categorized by themes and locations around the world.

“Our mission at Facebook is to help make the world more open and connected,” Zuckerberg wrote. “Stories like these are examples of that mission and are both humbling and inspiring. I could have never imagined all of the ways people would use Facebook when we were getting started six years ago.”

Facebook’s rise to 500 million users has not been without ups and downs. The company has been repeatedly slammed for the way its handled privacy features; Zuckerberg was criticized for reportedly calling early users who trusted Facebook with their data “dumb f**cks”; its faced countless lawsuits (here’s the most recent); a few books have been written on the company (here’s an excerpt); the story of Facebook is being made into a movie to be released in the fall (here’s the trailer); and Facebook isn’t doing well as far as customer satisfaction goes, a new survey reports.

For all the bad press, Facebook has earned a lot of great publicity as well. It recently launched a slew of social features that will redefine the Web, and media organizations have flocked to facebook’s social and sharing features as a way to increase their exposure.

Ending his blog post announcement on the 500-million mark, Zuckerberg writes, “I want to thank you for being part of making Facebook what it is today and for spreading it around the world.”

To show its appreciation to users, Facebook put together this thank-you card.

Amazon now selling more Kindle books than hardcovers

July 20th, 2010

This is quite the announcement for the book world: Amazon says it’s selling more ebooks than hardcovers. According to a press release issued by Amazon, the company is selling more Kindles which is leading to an increase in ebook sales.

“We’ve reached a tipping point with the new price of Kindle–the growth rate of Kindle device unit sales has tripled since we lowered the price from $259 to $189,” said Jeff Bezos, Founder and CEO of in a press release. “Even while our hardcover sales continue to grow, the Kindle format has now overtaken the hardcover format. customers now purchase more Kindle books than hardcover books–astonishing when you consider that we’ve been selling hardcover books for 15 years, and Kindle books for 33 months.”

Among the company’s noted milestones:

  • Over the past month, for every 100 hardcover books has sold, it has sold 180 Kindle books. This is across’s entire U.S. book business and includes sales of hardcover books where there is no Kindle edition. Free Kindle books are excluded and if included would make the number even higher.
  • Amazon sold more than 3x as many Kindle books in the first half of 2010 as in the first half of 2009.
  • The Association of American Publishers’ latest data reports that e-book sales grew 163 percent in the month of May and 207 percent year-to-date through May. Kindle book sales in May and year-to-date through May exceeded those growth rates.
  • On July 6, Hachette announced that James Patterson had sold 1.14 million e-books to date. Of those, 867,881 were Kindle books.
  • Five authors–Charlaine Harris, Stieg Larsson, Stephenie Meyer, James Patterson, and Nora Roberts–have each sold more than 500,000 Kindle books.

The writing was on the wall a long time ago for book publishers, and we’re just now starting to see it actually happen in the marketplace.

Foursquare in talks with search engines over data partnership

July 19th, 2010
The company behind the social “check-in” application Foursquare says it’s now in talks with Google, Microsoft and Yahoo about a data partnership. Foursquare says check-in data could help search engines enhance results.

Foursquare is a location-based social network used on mobile devices. Members of the service launch an application or send a text message when they arrive at a venue or destination and click on a “check-in” button. The more a user checks-in to various locations, the more points he or she is awarded. The user also unlocks “badges” for special activities and can become the “mayor” of a venue if they check in there more often than others.

Speaking to the Telegraph, Foursquare co-founder Dennis Crowley says he has been speaking with “everyone” in the search space including big companies such as Yahoo, Microsoft and Google, about a possible data deal. “Our data generates hugely interesting trends which would enrich search,” Crowley said. “We can anonymize data and use it to show venues which are trending at that moment. Twitter helped the world and the search engines know what people are talking about. Foursquare would allow people to search for the types of place people are going to – and where is trending – not what.”

According to the Telegraph, big search engines deny they’re in talks with Foursquare, but also refused to provide statements to media inquiries.

Foursquare has not indicated when a deal may be inked with search partners, but Crowley said the company is excited about its ongoing discussions with “a lot of different potential partners” who could benefit from Foursquare data.

When asked to comment about the possibility of joining forces with competitor Gowalla, Crowley told the Telegraph, “We are more social than Gowalla and ultimately have different visions moving forward. They are excited about different things.”

Crowley created an earlier version of Foursquare called Dodgeball which was acquired by Google in 2005 and shut down in 2009. Crowley says he remains close with “the guys at Google” and he currently employs a few Google employees.

Foursqure boasts more than two million members and recently finished a $20 million investment round by Silicon Valley venture capital company, Andreessen Horowitz. Foursquare is now valued at $95 million.

Foursquare’s potential data deals are similar to Twitter’s first commercial agreements in which the company decided to sell data to help search engines keep track of the real-time Web.

As critics point out, it would be a big deal for Foursquare if it landed agreements with big search engines, but it may still be too early to pull out the bubbly to celebrate. “It’s an attractive idea in theory, though it’s difficult to see this data being widely useful just yet; Foursquare’s two million users are impressive, but not enough to shed much light on what places people in general are going to,” writes Nick Saint of Business Insider. If search companies throw much money Foursquare’s way, it will be a bet on the startup’s future.