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Archive for February 10th, 2008

Intel looks for “the next Google” with Web 2.0

By Jon Stokes | Published: October 08, 2007 – 11:30PM CT

Today Intel publicly unveiled its first foray into the world of Web 2.0—a bookmarking site where users can submit and vote on all kinds of software, from desktop applications to Web-based services. The idea behind the new Cool Software site, which Intel operated internally before opening it to the public today, is that it will provide Intel—both its research arm and its investing arm, Intel Capital—with an early glimpse of The Next Big Thing.

In a briefing, Intel’s Innovation Acceleration manager, Dave McKinney, told me that “we want to find the next Google, before it becomes Google.” But the problem that the company has in guiding its research and investing efforts is that the pool of potential future Googles is just too big. So Intel decided to “crowd-source” the task of identifying hot new ideas and companies by building an internal bookmarking site where the Intel folks responsible for keeping their fingers on the pulse of the software industry could collectively work to spot future Google (or future VMware) contenders.

The bookmarking site grew internally, as other Intel employees from different parts of the company began using it to mark their favorite software finds, and eventually the decision was made to open it to the public. Intel isn’t quite sure what the public will do with the new site, which is based on the open-source Pligg project but has some proprietary modifications, but it’s anxious to find out. Because the site already has a solid internal user base that has been using it successfully, the company can afford to just open it up and see what happens without too much in the way of concrete expectations. McKinney told me that it’s possible that competitors could even use the site and mine it for trends.

Finding a way

One of the most fascinating and important stories that I’ve watched develop over the past four years is Intel’s transition from hardware company that could pretty much dictate the pace and direction of technological advancement on the PC platform to a sort of hardware/software hybrid entity that, like the rest of the industry in the post-clockspeed era, is left to wonder about what kinds of things people will do with the ever more ubiquitous transistors that it makes. In short, the answer to “What’s next?” in the PC space used to be, “Whatever Intel’s labs are working on.” But in the post-PC, post-clockspeed era, the answer to “What’s next?” is, “Whatever some programmer in India or in China or in a dorm room is working on that’s about to catch the world by surprise as the Next Big Thing.”

Intel’s Terascale research program, its open benchmarking consortium, its hiring of a horde of anthropologists who go out and profile how ordinary people in a variety of cultures use technologies—all of these efforts represent attempts by Intel to peer just a little further into the increasingly crowded and chaotic future of applications so that the company can build the hardware that will fit those applications. This new bookmarking site is just one more effort by another part of the company to look into this blooming software ecosystem and zero in on the species that are having the most success.

Because this software ecosystem expands dramatically every time a new process generation drives networked general-purpose processors into a new niche, Intel’s success with making transistors and wireless networking cheaper and more ubiquitous has the direct effect of making its forward-looking efforts that much harder.

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Job Candidates Gone Wild: be careful what you post online

By Jacqui Cheng | Published: March 28, 2007 – 02:43PM CT

Be careful what you post online if you want to be able to get a job in the future. Your blog, web site, Facebook, MySpace, online dating profile, or even forum postings might “out” your salacious activities to a potential employer. According to a survey conducted by business social networking site Viadeo, one-fifth of hiring managers have used the Internet to find personal information about potential job candidates, and a quarter of those have rejected candidates based on what they found.

The survey was conducted in March, and covered nearly 600 employers and over 2,000 average adults online, revealing that employers are becoming more and more Google-happy when interviewing new candidates. 25 percent said that they had rejected a candidate outright based on what was found online, while 59 percent of employers who used the Internet to find personal information said that their discoveries play a role in their decision making. Some examples provided in the survey results included one employer being put off by a candidate’s seemingly excessive drinking, another being dismayed by a candidate’s postings about company information, and another mentioning that a candidate’s topless modeling left them with the impression that she wasn’t a good fit with the organization’s ethics.

Examples of this phenomenon are everywhere, and many young professionals know of someone who has had information posted online bite them in the behind. A friend of mine was once all the way into the second round of interviews with a new company when he posted some frustrations with the hiring process on his personal blog. The company looked him up soon thereafter, read what he had written, and decided to cancel his next interview.

But there are cases where information found online works to the candidate’s benefit. The report pointed out that 13 percent of employers had decided to actually recruit someone based on what they had found online, such as various personal achievements or skills demonstrated through a web site. I have another friend who maintains a very professionally-oriented blog which he regularly updates with industry news and personal projects; said friend simply gets a constant flow of e-mails from hiring managers asking whether he is looking for a job. And never mind what happens when he actually writes that he’s looking for a job.

The report showed that, especially among younger candidates in the 18-24 age group, people are much more comfortable posting personal information online than perhaps they should be. MySpace and Facebook took the number one spots among this group, with 45 percent having posted personal info to MySpace and 44 percent to Facebook. Other sites in the list that people had posted to included Flickr, YouTube, Wikipedia, and “other” social networking sites. Further, over half of the 18-24 age group said that they primarily post “party pictures” online (hey, I’m guilty of this myself), with another 30 percent posting on personal blogs. 54 percent of 18-24 year olds responded that they had even had personal information posted about them online by someone else, with or without their consent.

Viadeo manager Peter Cunningham told Ars that the social networking phenomenon is still very new, and people are posting things online without thinking about the future consequences to their careers. “Information, pictures, forum comments, jokes, and outdated CVs are now in the public domain and available for anyone,” he said.

“We all have a personal brand the same way that a company has a brand for its products and services,” Cunningham added. “We invest in developing our brand—education, training, work experience—and we develop our brand equity, that is to say our network of trusted personal contacts, so why don’t we look after this the same way a company does?”

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Social web sites often easy pickings for phishers, malware writers

By Jeremy Reimer | Published: September 17, 2007 – 11:34PM CT

Social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook have become a regular part of many people’s daily Internet usage. Malware authors, who are always on the lookout for new and undefended avenues of attack, have noticed this and increased their attacks on social networking sites accordingly, since many of these sites are vulnerable to these attacks. According to the latest Symantec Internet Security Threat Report (PDF), a total of 1,501 vulnerabilities—61 percent of all security weaknesses studied—were found in web-based applications from January 1 to June 30 of this year. This is, however, a drop from 66 percent in the July to December 2006 period, which may indicate that social networking sites are improving—albeit slowly—their security procedures.

Prior to this decrease, Symantec had reported a rise in the proportion of Web application vulnerabilities, starting in the first half of 2004 and ending in the first half of 2006. This period roughly corresponds to the surge in popularity of social networking sites and “Web 2.0” in general. The exuberance over these then-new technologies left security considerations little more than an afterthought, not only for web site designers but for their users as well. Security attacks such as the WMF exploit on MySpace brought the issue to the public attention, and so did third-party security audits such as the Month of MySpace bugs.

Social networking sites are attractive to hackers not only because of potential security holes in the applications themselves, but the fact that the very nature of the site works as a way to spread attacks to more people. “In such a scenario, the attacker may use the legitimacy of the Web site to attract victims of subsequent attacks,” the Symantec report said. “Sites with large user bases, such as MySpace, have already been abused in this manner.”

Because the site is known and trusted, users are more likely to fall victim to unsolicited e-mails or invites and be tempted to download unknown attachments. Once compromised by a trojan, attackers gain access to personal information about the victim, including passwords to other sites, and can easily find other victims to attack via the user’s own friend lists.

The malware problem in general continues to grow. According to the latest report from security firm PandaLabs, there has been more malware detected in the most recent quarter than was found in all of 2000-2004, putting a strain on traditional key signature methods of malware identification. The number of virus-laden e-mails and phishing attacks are trending slightly downwards according to the latest data from MessageLabs, but this is more a function of increased targeting of attacks to specific people rather than a decrease in the number of attacks in general—the bad guys have had a busy harvest season collecting e-mail addresses and are trying to reap what they sowed as quickly as possible.

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Britannica versus Wikipedia heads to the WSJ

By Ken Fisher | Published: September 12, 2006 – 06:45PM CT

The Wall Street Journal is fond of hosting minidebates, and we’re fond of reading them. This week they pit Dale Hoiberg, editor-in-chief of Britannica, against Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales. Rather than summarize the debate, I’ll offer some observations on what’s really at stake in this debate and what both sides are presupposing in their arguments. I recommend checking out the debate, though. It’s nothing if not funny in a feisty way.

Jimmy Wales, as usual, is confident and unapologetic. He’s also arguing that quality, neutrality, and balance are most achievable when large numbers of contributors are involved. The argument, pieced together, is something like this: “with a population as large as the Internet, an open encyclopedia has the greatest potential for quality and quantity over and against a closed, proprietary encyclopedia.”

In many ways this view is opposite of the academic approach, which takes a dim view of mass participation when it comes to the production and codification of knowledge. The academic world, for better or for worse, is very tiered. It would be wrong to describe it as a pyramid because it’s far more dynamic than that, but generally speaking, there are fewer experts at the top producing and reviewing knowledge than there are at the lower rungs of the educational system. This is not to say that there is not a positive flow from bottom to top. There is indeed, and when academics are honest, they celebrate and praise this as opposed to pretending as if their views come from On High. The point here is that the so-called knowledge producers are not in complete isolation, but they are powerful gatekeepers. This is true in general throughout the academic world, but Britannica represents a microcosm of that, even if all of its contributors are not strict academics.

For Wales, “openness” at all levels is the sine qua non of the highest levels of quality, and the openness he has in mind is one wherein anonymity is both cherished and respected. Part and parcel with this, Wales argues that the open nature of Wikipedia means that it can draw better contributors than can Britannica. Wales’ arguments, at their core, rest upon the age-old idea that two heads are better than one. Alongside this, there’s a notion that convenience and ideology both draw people to contribute to Wikipedia. With regards to the latter, there can be little debate. The rest is open season.

Hoiberg is certainly more traditional in his views, clearly suggesting that accuracy is more important than anything else. He is also not ready to surrender anything to Wikipedia, reminding everyone that the jury is still out on the question of whether or not an open system like Wikipedia truly delivers better content than a closed one like Britannica. He speaks as though the issue is unresolved, while Wales speaks about potentialities. Neither are calling the game just yet, to be sure.

Hoiberg’s arguments regarding community are perhaps the most indicative of academic arguments in this circle. Surprising though it might seem, Hoiberg, too, believes that his encyclopedia is produced by a community. The academic community that directly contributes is 4,000 strong and, according to him, they can revise their work online any time they need to. From the viewpoint of many academics, Britannica is a community product, but it is controlled by a small number of elites who essentially call the shots. In this way, the project is much like everything else in academia: there are clear lines of authority not just for administration, but also for knowledge.

Furthermore, the academic mindset is firmly represented in Hoiberg’s constant focus on getting things right the first time. He says that the system is designed to produce strong final products, and he seems to sparkle at the idea that Wikipedia publishes works in progress and rough drafts.

There’s not much more to say about the debate other than the fact that I think it mostly turned into a negativity fest with jabs flying both directions. In the broader discussion, however, I think there’s a core bit of difference that can be gainfully considered, but the biggest question I have after reading it is this: what metric can be used to decide which is better? Is doing so even worth the effort? Is there even an objective standard that applies to both encyclopedias? It’s not like Britannica is going anywhere, and Wikipedia is definitively here to stay.

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Analysis: Microsoft could, but shouldn’t buy Yahoo

By Anders Bylund | Published: January 13, 2008 – 08:05PM CT

The Greek chorus calling for Microsoft to buy Yahoo is mumbling louder than ever. Journalists, analysts, and other assorted pundits are saying that Mr. Softy needs to pull the trigger soon or lose a golden opportunity forever. Some of the singers are personal friends of mine, but I still can’t help but think that the speculation is dead wrong.

The potential upside 

Let’s play devil’s advocate for a second and explain why this deal would make sense at all. Yahoo and Microsoft Live combined can hardly shine Google’s shoes in terms of search market share. Google is at 65 percent according to comScore, and a combined Microsoft/Yahoo would still only rate a 28 percent share. That’s arguably still better than 21 percent (Yahoo) and 7 percent (Microsoft) alone, but how much better is hard to say. 

The same goes for online advertising share: combined, Microsoft and Yahoo can’t touch Google, but despite its recent struggles, Yahoo is a profitable business. A merger would see Yahoo give Redmond instant firepower in the online business wars, with a more developed ads business as well as the most popular “front page” on the Internet. Microsoft could rather easily afford to buy the yodeling veteran, though it would have to do at least partly a stock-swap deal or take on some debt to get ‘er done.

The potential downside 

Now come the factors weighing against a Seattle/Sunnyvale hookup. Combining two companies that are losing market share on their own won’t automagically reverse that trend, and Microsoft won’t be able to buy a Yahoo every time the tank runs low. Unless Steve Ballmer and his gang have some hands-on ideas on how to shake out synergies that can’t be made through a more standard business-to-business partnership, there’s no reason to gamble upwards of $40 billion on a stopgap fix.

And Yahoo might not even want to be bought. I happen to believe that things are looking up now that co-founder Jerry Yang is acting CEO for a while. Yang seems to understand that Yahoo’s greatest strength lies in the community it has built around a massive user base, and Terry Semel never looked like he got that.

If Yang can hook the world’s biggest traffic generator up to some new revenue-generating machinery, all will be well. Microsoft buying the company at this juncture would put a crimp in Yang’s authority and autonomy, and would rob shareholders of potentially massive gains if Yahoo becomes all that it can be.

Shareholders and board members get a serious say in any takeover offer here. Yahoo has an active poison pill provision that would let the board issue tons of additional preferred stock in case of an unapproved buyout proposal. That makes a hostile takeover of a company Yahoo’s size very expensive, pretty much pricing the company out of any reasonable bid. So it would have to be a mutually agreed kind of deal, and I just don’t see that being in Yahoo’s best interest right now.

So on the one hand, Microsoft risks not getting what it wants out of a very expensive deal, and on the other, Yahoo appears to have a good thing going on as a standalone business right now—good enough that shareholders would likely balk at any buyout.

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Google implies Microsoft/Yahoo hookup will ruin the Internet

By Ken Fisher | Published: February 03, 2008 – 02:31PM CT

Over the next several weeks, we’re sure to hear plenty about Microsoft’s attempt to buy Yahoo. Yahoo released a statement on Friday indicating that its board would indeed evaluate the deal seriously, saying that it would evaluate Microsoft’s and any additional offers closely.

How does Google feel about all this? Moments ago, Google’s top counsel, senior vice president David Drummond posted Google’s first official response to the proposed deal, and it has some bite. Drummond asks some questions that are clearly meant to sketch out a dark future should a deal go through:

“Could Microsoft now attempt to exert the same sort of inappropriate and illegal influence over the Internet that it did with the PC? While the Internet rewards competitive innovation, Microsoft has frequently sought to establish proprietary monopolies—and then leverage its dominance into new, adjacent markets,” he writes.

It isn’t an understatement to say that Google apparently opposes this deal. Going for the jugular, Google’s Drummond instantly suggests that the Redmond giant could (would?) use unsavory tactics for unfair advantage, ultimately harming the Internet and the very open and innovative environment that’s driving it.

Yet Drummond doesn’t explain just how Microsoft could accomplish this. While we all know that Microsoft utilized special OEM pricing deals for Windows to influence those very same OEMs, for instance, it remains unclear on what basis Google sees this threat taking shape online. Where is their new leverage stemming from in this deal?

Drummond goes on to worry about specific threats, asking if a Microsoft-Yahoo marriage could result in Microsoft extending “unfair practices from browsers and operating systems to the Internet” or if the combination of two webmail and IM giants is unhealthy.

“Could a combination of the two take advantage of a PC software monopoly to unfairly limit the ability of consumers to freely access competitors’ e-mail, IM, and web-based services?,” Drummond asks. “Policymakers around the world need to ask these questions—and consumers deserve satisfying answers.”

Google is right to raise these issues, but beginning the discussion with a veiled accusation that Microsoft could unfairly limit the abilities of users to use competing services is a bit strong in the absence of any illustration as to how Microsoft could accomplish this. It’s no small feat to hijack the Internet, e-mail and IM, yet Google’s Drummond seems to be suggesting that when we think about Microsoft-Yahoo, that’s what we ought to be thinking about.

Is this a reasonable response, or fear mongering? It strikes me as more of the latter, to be honest.

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Microsoft lands ad deal for financial sites

By John McBride | Published: January 30, 2008 – 08:07AM CT

Another month, another deal. Microsoft announced Tuesday it will become the exclusive provider of contextual and paid search advertising for the Wall Street Journal Digital Network, a month after announcing advertising deals with CNBC and Viacom. “Microsoft’s state-of-the-art advertising platform will enable us to dramatically improve our revenues,” said Gordon McLeod, president of the network.

Redmond isn’t saying how much cash the deal will bring, but being a part of high-profile financial sites like the Wall Street Journal Online, Barrons.com and MarketWatch.com as well as Walt Mossberg’s AllThingsD.com, has got to be a coup, even if display ads aren’t part of the package.

“This deal is a significant win for Microsoft for two key reasons,” said Brian McAndrews, Microsoft’s senior vice president for Advertiser and Publisher Solutions. “First, it makes the extended Microsoft advertising network the premier destination for advertisers interested in reaching financially minded users, as it complements our offering in this vertical through MSN Money and other syndication partners. Second, this deal is a strong indicator that we’re gaining significant traction with our advertising platform.”

McAndrews left out a third bit of significance: Microsoft is taking the battle against Google to Google’s doorstep. Recall that MySpace, which like the WSJ is part of Rupert Murdoch’s giant News Corp., signed a $900 million advertising deal with Google in 2006. And the display ads on the WSJ sites are handled by Google’s DoubleClick. Bringing Microsoft aboard gives News Corp. a chance to evaluate both competitors in real time. If Microsoft plays its cards right—not to mention its adCenters and aQuantives—perhaps it can squeeze its rival out.

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