• Microsoft Tells Google To Face The Antitrust Music

    Earlier this week, news broke that the EU was opening an antitrust investigation into Google — and Microsoft’s fingerprints were all over it. One of the three companies filing complaints about Google is owned by Microsoft, while another is a member of a group that’s partially funded by them. Google promptly responded to the inquiry with a blog post called “Committed to competing fairly” that gave a brief overview of how its search rankings work.

    Today, Microsoft has written a blog post that admits that it played a part in instigating the inquiry, stating that “complaints in competition law cases usually come from competitors.” And it’s also accusing Google of “telling reporters that antitrust concerns about search are not real because some of the complaints come from one of its last remaining search competitors.”

    Microsoft’s post, which was written by VP and Deputy General Counsel Dave Heiner, details some of the company’s recent discussions with the European Commission and US DOJ, which have revolved around the Microsoft/Yahoo search deal (which, in turn, led to talk about Google’s allegedly anticompetitive practices). Heiner also notes that Microsoft has been directing other “concerned companies” to competition law agencies.

    Here are some of the more interesting passages:

    As Google’s power has grown in recent years, we’ve increasingly heard complaints from a range of firms—large and small—about a wide variety of Google business practices. Some of the complaints just reflect aggressive business stances taken by Google. Some reflect the secrecy with which Google operates in many areas. Some appear to raise serious antitrust issues. As you might expect, many concerned companies have come to us and asked us for our reaction and even for advice. When their antitrust concerns appear to be substantial, we suggest that firms talk to the competition law agencies. (Complaining to Microsoft won’t do much good.)

    Both search and online advertising are increasingly controlled by a single firm, Google. That can be a problem because Google’s business is helped along by significant network effects (just like the PC operating system business). Search engine algorithms “learn” by observing how users interact with search results. Google’s algorithms learn less common search terms better than others because many more people are conducting searches on these terms on Google.

    These and other network effects make it hard for competing search engines to catch up. Microsoft’s well-received Bing search engine is addressing this challenge by offering innovations in areas that are less dependent on volume. But Bing needs to gain volume too, in order to increase the relevance of search results for less common search terms. That is why Microsoft and Yahoo! are combining their search volumes. And that is why we are concerned about Google business practices that tend to lock in publishers and advertisers and make it harder for Microsoft to gain search volume.

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  • MagicJack's Defamation Case Against Boing Boing Dismissed [Legal]

    Doing the right thing by exposing a company's shoddy product, customer service, or iffy privacy policy can have consequences. Our friends at Boing Boing just finished dealing with MagicJack and a groundless defamation suit because they were brutally honest.

    You can read a full account of the events along with the post that started it all over at Boing Boing, but the ordeal boils down to this:

    Boing Boing posted about MagicJack's "terms of service-which include the right to analyze customers' calls-and various iffy characteristics of its website" in April of 2008. According to Robert Beschizza:

    The post was titled "MagicJack's EULA says it will spy on you and force you into arbitration." This EULA, or End-User Licensing Agreement, concerns what subscribers must agree to in order to use the service. I wrote that MagicJack's allows it to target ads at users based on their calls, was not linked to from its homepage or at sign-up, and has its users waive the right to sue in court. I also wrote that that MagicJack's website contained a visitor counter that incremented automatically; and that the website claimed to be able to detect MagicJacks, reporting that "Your MagicJack is functioning properly" even when none are present.

    He also notes that "the post didn't criticize the service or the gadget itself, which works very well."

    In March 2009, Boing Boing was notified that MagicJack was filing suit because "these statements were false, misleading, and had irreparably harmed MagicJack's reputation by exposing it to 'hate, ridicule and obloquy.'"

    A great deal of back-and-forth followed until the suit was finally dismissed and MagicJack was ordered to pay Boing Boing "more than $50,000 in legal costs."

    We may think that all's well that ends well and that the truth prevailed, but it took a great deal of time and legal costs. Perhaps a site smaller than Boing Boing could not have handled the effects of a defamation suit like this—justified or not—and would've given in to a company's demands. And that's more terrifying than some wonky EULA. [Boing Boing]


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  • How to Book a Cheap Flight with the Best Tools for the Job [Travel]

    When it's time to book a plane ticket, you've got an overwhelming number of online destinations to check—which really complicates things. NYT writer Matt Gross details his simple booking workflow, which combines his favorite travel sites for great deals.

    Photo by lrargerich.

    You've probably heard of most of the services he uses (we've mentioned most of them here, in fact), but his process of moving from one site to the next—and his reasons for doing so—are what makes his guide interesting. Like most of us he starts at the Lifehacker favorite, Kayak, to get a baseline for prices. Next, he continues down the booking rabbit hole into more interesting and esoteric sites to verify ticket prices, see if he can find anything cheaper, and determine if he might save some money if he waits a little longer. For example:

    So, I check out another site: cFares.com, which has a twist. For a $50 annual membership, you'll get small rebates if you book through them. Each rebate may be only $8 or $20, but if you fly several times a year, that can add up quickly. And last spring, cFares found me a flight from New York to Paris for $543.17, or about $200 less than any other search engine found.

    His article covers his varying methods for domestic and international flights, and it's got some great tips for finding good deals without spending every waking minute searching every travel site you can find. Got your own tried-and-true methods for finding a great deal on a ticket? Let's hear it in the comments.


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  • Parts Unknown

    Any of you guys in the San Diego area?

    Taking some recharge time. It’s going to be a hard weird run to summer, and I need a bit more in the tank than I’ve got. I feel almost like I should write a BERG-style Weeknote, since I’m engaged on Sekrit Missionz as well as sleeping half of every day. BERG do this lovely thing where they attach codenames to projects and work sequences — they were in Escalante condition, but are now in Scenario 4 condition, and it really gives you an insight into their eccentric science-fiction-reality work culture. (By “eccentric,” I do of course mean “quite mad” but the difference between eccentrics and lunatics is that eccentrics get paid.)

    (Scenario 4 always makes me think of Alternative 3.)

    I dunno. How would I describe the space from here to early summer? The world is more interesting than ever. I mean, every new day is intrinsically more interesting than the last, but I’m really feeling the spin of the planet lately.

    Pretty picture by Cassandra:

    There’s a degree of spin-up happening all over. Eric Rodenbeck;

    I’ve been feeling for some time now that the data visualization space is about to go completely bananas

    Talking about this, a live visualisation of Olympic-related Twitter chatter. Coincidental for me, because I just started following The Economist’s data-viz vodcast. And one of BERG’s current projects is all about data-viz. There’s some rattle and hum in a dozen weird little spaces like that right now. Last year felt like a holding pattern to me in many ways (not least in my work, after the disaster that the last half of 2008 turned into). This year might be good. Striking out for parts unknown.

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  • Report from TED 2010
    201002101109

    I'm at the TED conference this week, held in Long Beach, California. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design and it is an annual gathering of amazing ideas and stories. Here's a list of TED 2010 speakers.

    In past years, I've posted summaries of all the presentations, but this year I'm going to write a daily wrap-up instead. I'll post my first this evening.

    The highlight of TED each year is the TED prize. The winner of this year's prize is celebrity chef and international nutrition advocate Jamie Oliver, who gets $100,000 and "the opportunity to present his wish to change the world." CNN is live streaming Oliver’s talk, "in which he will reveal his one wish to change the world." You'll be able to watch it here at 8:50 p.m. (ET).

    I was happy to learn that Intelligentsia Coffee is making espresso drinks for everyone at TED, and our pal Kyle Glanville, Intelligentsia's director of espresso research and development and first place winner of the National Barista Championship, is pulling shots. Kyle just made me a mind bending double espresso!

    Ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro is about to perform, so I'm signing off to enjoy his performance of "Bohemian Rhapsody."

    Above, a multiscreen, ultrafast Google Earth station, called Liquid Galaxy. I shot a video that I'll upload later. Photo by Marla Aufmuth, an old Wired colleague of mine.


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  • The Future Journalist: Thoughts from Two Generations

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    Another day, another "journalism is dead, long-live journalism" article... >>>

    Sree Sreenivasan is a professor and Dean of Student Affairs at Columbia Journalism School and contributing editor at DNAinfo.com.

    Ask a journalist about the state of the media and the answer you get may range from dire predictions about  journalism’s imminent demise to cautious optimism. The doomsayers point to falling newspaper circulation, fragmenting TV audiences and the 18,000+ jobs lost in 2009. Sites like PaperCuts, which painstakingly tracked those job losses (and has already noted 815 losses for January of 2010), and Twitter feeds like TheMediaIsDying, help reinforce the notion that the American media is, well, dying.

    For the optimists, this is an exciting time of great opportunities, with more media being created and consumed than ever before. Here’s part of what Joshua Micah Marshall, creator of Talking Points Memo, told the graduating class at Columbia Journalism School last year:

    It’s the people who are entering the profession right now that are going to create the editorial models, the publishing models, the business models, that define journalism in the 21st century.

    And that is something that’s exciting, it’s a challenge, which, in my mind, totally outweighs the bumps in the road, the instabilities, and the lack of security that journalists face today that maybe they didn’t 20 years ago.

    Of course, no one knows for sure exactly where we are headed, but this seems like a time when preparing to deal with the changes ahead would be a good idea.

    And that’s what Mashable did earlier this week with its fourth Mashable NextUp NYC, as part of Social Media Week. Held at the 92YTribeca — the hip, downtown version of the venerable 92nd Street Y of the Upper East Side (“free Wi-Fi” announces a chalkboard at the door) — the event attempted to look at the changing media landscape and the evolving role of journalists in it. When Mashable’s Adam Hirsch asked former contributor (and my student at Columbia J-school) Vadim Lavrusik to do a public conversation with me on the topic, we decided to bill it as “The Future Journalist: Thoughts from Two Generations.”


    The Tra-digital Journalist


    Once upon a time, I used to be a young, fresh-faced journalist of the future, so it horrifies me that I’ve turned into the voice of an older generation. But Vadim is an example of what it will take to succeed in the future: a balance between the traditional values and skills of journalism, and the digital skills and mindset that are so critical these days. My colleague, Sig Gissler, administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes, coined the term “tra-digital journalist” and it describes Vadim and so many other young journalists today (be sure to read his Mashable post on 8 Must-Have Traits for Tomorrow’s Journalist, which served as a backbone for our discussion).

    The concept of the tra-digital journalist is among the many ideas we discussed and we’ve put together our slides below and also have a Twitcam live-streamed video of the conversation.

    Here are some of the other key concepts that we discussed:


    The Fundamentals Are Critical


    Despite the importance of technology, it’s the fundamentals of journalism that are still critical. The fundamentals include: great reporting and writing, journalistic ethics, specialization by topic or beat, investigative skills, news judgment. Also invaluable, critical thinking and critical reading — too many journalists don’t pay attention to either.


    The Future Journalist Is…


    We identified specific digitally-oriented skills and traits a future journalist would need. These include being:

    • a multimedia storyteller: using the right digital skills and tools for the right story at the right time.
    • a community builder: facilitating conversation among various audiences, being a community manager.
    • a trusted pointer: finding and sharing great content, within a beat(s) or topic area(s); being trusted by others to filter out the noise.
    • a blogger and curator: has a personal voice, is curator of quality web content and participant in the link economy.
    • able to work collaboratively: knowing how to harness the work of a range of people around him/her — colleagues in the newsroom; experts in the field; trusted citizen journalists; segments of the audience, and more.


    Business Items


    We discussed some business-ish skills and traits that are going to be useful.

    • an entrepreneurial spirit: having an experimental open-mindedness, being an innovator.
    • being entrepreneurial within an existing company: you don’t have to be at a startup to be entrepreneurial; there might be a lot you can do within some large corporations.
    • business savvy: understands the business of his/her industry; understand value of content; understand new media business models
    • knows & embraces metrics: understands the value and danger of metrics; studies today’s major metrics tools, Google Analytics, Omniture, Nielsen, Bit.ly, etc
    • thinks “Career Management,” Not “Next Job”: understands value of thinking long-term; thinks strategically about career choices; keeps re-tooling

    Be a Permanent Learner


    Most journalists don’t appreciate how much better they’d be at their jobs if they were constantly learning new ideas and skills. Such a learner’s media diet may include:

    Being on deadline or in crisis mode is not the time to try and figure out new technology. When the plane lands in the Hudson, it’s too late to figure out Twitter. When your company starts layoffs, it’s too late to figure out LinkedIn. Start carving out time to learn new concepts and tools.


    Social Media


    Wouldn’t be Mashable if we didn’t talk about social media. Using the syllabus of my Social Media Skills for Journalists course (developed with adjunct professor Adam Glenn), we outlined what social media can do for journalists:

    • find new story ideas, trends and sources
    • connect with audience(s)
    • bring attention and traffic
    • help them create, craft and enhance their personal brands — this point is absolutely essential for journalists to grasp. Once upon a time your work spoke for itself. Nowadays, there’s too much competing for everyone’s attention and you have to make sure you get your work out there and get it noticed.

    Smart journalists understand that social media is for listening, not just broadcasting or sharing what’s on your mind.


    Mashable’s Convening Power


    As with most events these days, I learned much from the audience Q&A and the networking sessions before and after the talk. My boss, Nicholas Lemann, Columbia J-school Dean and New Yorker contributor, often talks about the convening power of a place like our school: the ability to bring together influential people to have important conversations. I saw up close for the first time Mashable’s in-person convening power, having experienced its online convening power for a long time now. Attendees included a cross-section of folks doing some of the most interesting work in media today. And, as you will hear in the video, many people in the room knew more about the topic that I did, including Edelman’s Steve Rubel and members of the Mashable editorial team (who, in some ways, are living prototypes of tomorrow’s journalists).


    The Folly of Predicting the Future


    As we say in the slides, the social media scene today is where radio was in 1912, where TV was in 1950, where the web was in 1996. A lot of wonderful opportunities and terrible mistakes lie ahead of us. Predicting the future of journalism at any of those points would have resulted in a lot of wrong predictions back then. While we are sure many of our predictions are going to be wrong in specifics, we have the chutzpah to presume they are right directionally. We welcome your feedback and input.

    Connect with Vadim Lavrusik on Twitter (@lavrusik) and via his blog, Lavrusik.com and his new project covering startups in New York City, NYC3.0.

    Connect with Sree Sreenivasan on Twitter (@sreenet) and via his Facebook tech tips page, Facebook.com/SreeTips. His columns about the media and technology run in DNAinfo.com, a Manhattan news site he helped put together with Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts (whose family just bought the Cubs and Wrigley Field). The syllabus and notes for his Social Media Skills for Journalists course is at bit.ly/socmediaskills and his workshops collection is at bit.ly/workshops. On Friday, Feb. 5, 2010, he is hosting two free webcasts, Basic Twitter for Journalists and  Advanced Twitter for Journalists, one of them featuring Mashable founder Peter Cashmore. Details and archive at bit.ly/columbiajtw2.

    Image courtesy of 92YTribeca in New York City


    Reviews: Facebook, Google Analytics, Lifehacker, LinkedIn, Mashable, Twitcam, Twitter

    Tags: journalism, Journalist, media, nextup-nyc, social media week

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  • An Apology To Our Readers

    On Monday evening I received a phone call from someone I trust who told me that one of our interns had asked for compensation in exchange for a blog post. Specifically, this intern had allegedly asked for a Macbook Air in exchange for a post about a startup.

    After an investigation we determined that the allegation was true. In fact, on at least one other occasion this intern was almost certainly given a computer in exchange for a post.

    The intern in question has admitted to some of the allegations, and has denied others. We suspended this person while we were sorting through exactly what happened. When it became clear yesterday that there was no question that this person had requested, and in one case taken, compensation for a post, the intern was terminated.

    This was not one of our full time writers, and so the frequency of posts was light. Nevertheless, we’ve also deleted all content created by this person on our blogs. We are fairly certain that most of the posts weren’t tainted in any way, but to be sure we’ve removed every word written by this person on the TechCrunch network.

    Our attorneys have advised us not to disclose the name of the individual because the person is not a legal adult. We also think that, given the intern’s age, it may not be appropriate to make their identity public.

    We are all shaken here at TechCrunch – this is someone who was our friend and who we trusted to be honest with our readers. Our hope is that the intern learns something from this experience and grows into the kind of person that will be more welcome in this community.

    I apologize to each one of you. I promise that we will always maintain complete transparency with you on how we operate, even when it isn’t such an easy thing to do.

    Update: Daniel, the intern in question, has decided to talk about this situation publicly on his blog. I’m glad that he has. You can read his thoughts here.

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  • Best Connected Are Not The Most Influential Spreaders
    The study of social networks has thrown up more than a few surprises over the years. In a social network, most nodes are not linked to each other but can easily be reached by a small number of steps. This is the so-called small worlds network.

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  • Don’t Think Chrome OS Will Compete With iPad? Watch This Video.

    Late last week, I wrote a post about how netbooks running Chrome OS and the iPad were on a collision course. Some people took exception to that, noting the iPad was only a touchscreen device while Chrome OS was created to be used with more traditional computing form factors, like netbooks and laptops. But there’s a new concept video that has surfaced on a Chromium Project page that very much shows how the two could and should compete head-on in the touch tablet space.

    Again, this is just a concept video at this point, but it clearly shows what the people building Chrome OS are thinking about for future products. Oh, and in case you’re worried that since Chromium OS is an open source project, this is just some random person making these videos that Google is unlikely to use for Chrome OS, they were made by Glen Murphy, a Googler working on Chrome (with a sense of humor).

    Clearly, the tablet in this video is bigger than the iPad, but don’t rule out Apple making a larger tablet as well. It’s worth noting that Google’s tablet concept video was uploaded January 25, two days before the iPad unveiling.

    For more of a taste of what Google has in mind with these tablets, check out the concept pictures as well. Watch the video below.

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  • How To Ease the Pressure of Blogging

    A Guest Post by David Turnbull of Adventures of a Barefoot Geek

    After the initial excitement of launching a new blog fades most bloggers are a few steps away from being overwhelmed with the pressure of blogging to the point that they quit, losing the momentum they were building up and all the progress they’d made. This is an unfortunately common occurence.

    Writing. Guest posting. Commenting. Responding to emails. Continuous learning. It’s a lot to take in and if you’re not adequately prepared to face challenges as they appear there’s a likelihood that one day you’ll choose not to publish another post and then you’re back to square one.

    Recently, just a fornight ago in fact I became conscious of these feelings as my most recent blog was reaching the 6 month mark. I’d surpassed all the goals I’d set for myself but there was stilll that worry of being locked into my work instead of having control over it. I have no problem with hard work, but when it hits the point of dominating my life I prefer to step back and ask myself “How can I make this easier on myself?”

    And that’s what I really want to share in this article. This is not about escaping the work of blogging (because I do honestly enjoy it, just not when it causes imbalance in my life) but to relieve yourself of the constant worry and uncertainty that blogging entails.

    Set smaller goals

    I’m an advocate of thinking big in most areas of life. If you’re dedicated and disciplined then ambition can often fuel creativity and drive. But blogging is different. There are so many interwoven components to blogging that a big goal often becomes an aimless goal, and an aimless goal is as bad as no goal.

    Writing is the most important task for a blogger, so let’s use that as an example. One common belief held by many writers is that you should sit down in the morning at 9am and then not move until 5pm. The idea is that this forces you to write. Do this for 3 days in a row and you’ll lose whatever passion for blogging you ever had. The alternative is much more attractive.

    When you sit down to write tell yourself this magical phrase: I’ll be satisified when I’ve written X words. Replace X with the smallest amount of words you can be realistically satisfied with. Once you’ve made this decision and are no longer constricted by outrageous word counts or time frames there’s no anxiety as you work and I expect you’ll find yourself greatly surpassing the “satisfactory metrics” you set for yourself.

    Clarify and simplify

    What do you want to get out of blogging? Answer that question at least once a month for as long as you own or write for a blog. I imagine most people will respond “to make money” and that’s fine, but there has to be a motivation higher than that, because blogging isn’t exactly the most effective approach to generating an income.

    Once you understand with crystal clear clarity why you’re blogging you can eliminate a ton of the garbage that leads to blogging-based stress.

    When I first started blogging I had the “make money” goal lodged in my brain, but over the past few weeks I’ve had a shift in my thinking, in that what I truly love is writing and making exciting (and sometimes weird) changes in my life. After I had clarified this I realized that my actions were inconsistent with what I wanted. Instead of writing I was spending most of my time leaving comments on blogs, posting in forums, and using other standard blog promotion tactics. Most of this was unfullfilling.

    Now my approach to writing and building a readership is far simpler. These days I do 2 things:

    • Write (for my own blog and guest posts such as this).
    • Care (responding to tweets, emails, blog comments etc).

    This has been enormous, so don’t underestimate it. Clarify exactly what you want out of blogging and shape your actions to accomodate for that. Sure, if I were to leave 20+ comments on blogs per day, or become an active member in lots of communities my readership would probably climb faster. But at the same time the very essence of what I love about blogging would be lost, and that’d be setting myself up for eventual failure. Classic example of short term sacrifice (a small boost in traffic) for long term gain (endless fulfillment).

    Become a “what matters” blogger

    Conventional blogging advice indicates that you should write 3-5 times per week without fail. Yes, in the early days of blogging (at least the first 5-6 months) consistency is crucial. You need to prove that you’ve got the chops and that you’re not going to abandon your readership. But, aside from news blogs and blogs that have multiple contributors, I’d suggest you lower the frequency significantly.

    This is something I lifted from Tina of ThinkSimpleNow.com who is well known for taking multiple months away from her blog. I doubt everyone could be met with success using that approach, but the lesson still holds true: to ease the pressure of writing and heighten the respect from your readership only write and publish content that truly matters.

    What “matters” is a subjective gauge of course, but at its core it’s your own highest inner standard that you must hold yourself too. Through this approach you will end up spending more time writing individual posts, but:

    • Each post will provide you and your readers with lasting fulfillment.
    • There’ll be less of a frantic rush to publish content.
    • Freeing yourself from a strict deadline and schedule is incredibly liberating.

    As a poll here on Problogger indicated, lowering your frequency is not what causes people to unsubscribe from your blog, it’s posting too much that readers dislike. Here’s a quote from Darren himself:

    I’ve lost count of the number of bloggers who tell me that scaling back their posting frequency a little brings a new life to their blog…scaling back a little means that they are able to develop better quality posts, that they get more comments per post (the posts remain on the front page of the blog longer) and readers say that they appreciate it.

    People don’t unsubscribe from blogs when every piece of content provides them with genuine value.

    Successful blogging requires sustained effort over a long period of time. I don’t want to make it seem like you can eliminate hard work and the anxiety that comes with the process. But you can make it easier on yourself. Take action to ease the pressure of blogging and refocus on what you truly care about.

    What strategies do you use to ease the pressure of blogging?

    David Turnbull is a life-long geek who loves to write about life hacking, simplicity and technology at his blog Adventures of a Barefoot Geek.

    Post from: Blog Tips at ProBlogger.

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