Tag Archives: Business Partnership

Cabin Fever

Flight International reports (sorry, can’t find a link, but here are some similar stories from Thisislondon and New Electronics) that “BAE Systems and its research partners have completed initial tests with an in-cabin computer vision system intended to identify suspect behaviour by potential terrorists.” Seems the system involves cameras in the cabin with software that analyses the image “for movement or other actions that indicate an unruly or potentially dangerous individual, whether seated or standing.” Some of this, says BAE Systems Advanced Technology Centre human factors specialist Katherine Neary, involves face recognition. Given most people behave badly on airlines, I think they’re going to have to tweak their algorithms if they don’t want to subdue everyone on the flight.

I think I’d prefer an airline like Thailand’s Nok Air, which takes a friendlier attitude to passengers. According to Flight, the low-cost carrier “is expanding its fleet Boeing 737-400s and its fleet of scantily-dressed “PDA girls”” who help check-in passengers that only have carry-on bags. Chief executive Patee Sarasin tries not to sound surprised when he says “It’s been fantastically well received”. Of course he then spoils it by adding: “It is very efficient and costs you less than $4.00 a day to have these girls walking around in Thailand.”

Nok
Khun Patee’s walking check-in counters

 

Teaching Kids to Get into Interactive Debt

Next mealtime, expect your kids to pester you to take out a loan on a new Scion. They’ll probably have filled in the forms for you.

A month ago the NYT wrote about how a kids’ virtual world website, Whyville, was cutting a deal with Toyota to promote the Scion, allowing the youngsters to buy a virtual car in exchange for clams, the Whyville currency they earn by solving puzzles (read Heather Green’s piece over at BusinessWeek for a good overview of Whyville). If you’re having trouble following this, join the club: Think product placement in a kids’ version of Second Life. The idea here is that the 8–15 year olds who inhabit this virtual world would get all excited about the “small, boxy” Scion, buy it to zip around the virtual island and then start pestering their parents to buy a real one.

The idea worked. The NYT says that visitors to the site mentioned the word Scion more than 78,000 times. A month later, the term “Scion” has been used another 120,000 times and Whyvillians — the kids playing the online game — have purchased more than 1,200 Scions and gone on 140,000 rides in their cars.  As NYT quoted the chief operating officer for Whyville, Jay Goss: “By definition, this is a sponsor of Whyville that can’t have as its customers the kids who visit the site. But they know that kids influence parents, and kids grow up.”

Now apart from the general creepiness of how much the folks who run Whyville know about what their citizens are up to, and the extension of the old Pester Factor from kids urging parents to buy them toys to urging them to buy new whole cars, get this: As of today, they can buy a virtual Toyota Scion xB on credit, “learning in the process about interest rates, down payments, credit and leasing and their applications in real life”. This from a press release:

“Whyville Scion Solutions is a perfect example of motivated, engaged learning,” explains Dr. Jen Sun, President of Numedeon, Inc., Whyville’s parent company. “The Scions are a huge hit with our kids. They want cars! But most citizens just don’t have enough clams.  We’ve set up the motivation for them to learn what it means to take out a loan.  They’ll learn about interest rates, down payment, credit history, and, perhaps most important of all, being responsible.  If you default on your loan, you’ll lose your car, and your credit history will be ruined so that you can’t take out another loan.  Educators and researchers know that students learn best when they really care about the topic.  That’s exactly what we try to do in Whyville.”

This is all done via more product placement, this time by a virtual Toyota Financial Services advisor “who walks them through the loan process and helps them learn about their “WhyCO” scores.  The WhyCO is designed to emulate the FICO® in real life.  A Whyvillian’s WhyCO score depends on a number of factors including his virtual income, ownership of a Whyville house or business, number of log-in days in Whyville, and leadership roles in the community.  Based on these factors, a loan application is approved or rejected. Citizens who do not qualify for a loan by themselves can get loans if they are co-signed by wealthier friends. The Toyota Financial Services advisor will also point applicants to on-line resources to help applicants understand the details of financing, leasing, interest rates and credit.”

On one hand I applaud the idea. Why shouldn’t kids learn about buying on the Never Never, plunging into debt, meeting the Repo Man, getting thrown out of their house and generally living beyond their means? But is the idea of buying things you can’t actually pay for the sort of lesson one should be teaching kids? My grandad would be turning in his grave. But not for Whyville — in only a few days since opening, the Scion Solutions office has already approved several thousand loans — and not for Toyota Financial Services, which whose “interactive marketing manager”, Maria Tirado, says

“We’d like to have educated customers down the road, and this program is a terrific opportunity to help tweens understand the process of financing a vehicle, everything from interest rates to FICO scores to repaying the loan.”

Does this mean kids, now thoroughly familiar with the credit process, will now pester their parents to buy a new car with a loan? Is this the world we’ve been working towards?

When Firewalls Move

Here’s the details on the Zone Alarm deal I promised a couple of days back:

Effective immediately, Sygate and Kerio users switching to ZoneAlarm Pro will receive a $20 instant rebate, over 40% off the retail price of $49.95. “A firewall is the most essential, fundamental element of protection against hackers,” said Laura Yecies, general manager of Zone Labs and vice president at Check Point. “Innovation in firewall development is critical, because threats are dynamic and ever-changing. Consumers must seek a solution that is not only vendor-supported but has new features added regularly to protect against novel attack strategies.”

Of course, there’s still the free version.

And here’s details of the purchase by Sunbelt Software of Kerio:

Sunbelt Software and Kerio Technologies Inc. today announced that the parties have signed an agreement for Sunbelt to acquire the Kerio Personal Firewall. The acquisition is expected to be finalized by the end of the month.

The Kerio Personal Firewall will be re-branded on an interim basis as the “Sunbelt Kerio Personal Firewall”. All existing customers of the Kerio Personal Firewall will be able to receive support through Sunbelt once the acquisition is completed.

Upon the close of the deal, Sunbelt will also announce new reduced pricing for the full version of the product and a variety of special offers for both Kerio and Sunbelt customers. Additionally, Sunbelt will continue Kerio’s tradition of providing a basic free version for home users.

The Secret Behind Google’s Success: The Instant Massage

Google’s profits are indeed impressive, and if my local newspaper (no link available, I’m afraid) is right, it’s clear clear why: the company is offering a service no right-minded person could refuse:

But the introduction of new products, such as instant massaging, and upgrades to existing services, such as mapping, helped Google attract more summer traffic than anticipated, executives said during a conference call yesterday.

This seems to have emanated from an AP story, carried by The Seattle Times and Canoe Money, both of which either fixed the typo or else didn’t create the error (no way of easily telling whether the error was in the original copy, or whether my local paper ran an ageing spellchecker over the word to create the fluff.)

Instant massaging is actually not that uncommon.  3G UK’s JustYak Chat “brings the popular Internet Instant Massaging to the mobile world” (a press release that hasn’t been fixed in two and a half years. Does no one proofread these things?) In fact Google offers “about 535” entries for instant massaging, only one or two of which seem to deliver what they promise. (IWantOneOfThose.com points to the USB Massager, which I’ve long touted as a serious peripheral.)

In fact instant massaging has a pedigree. It throws up 27 matches on Factiva, including this comment from Charles Gibson on ABC Good Morning America on June 20 (sorry, no links for these as Factiva is a subscription only service. You’ll just have to take my word for it):

Are cell phones, instant massaging, and multi-tasking giving us all Attention Deficit Disorder? Yes, is the answer.

I can well imagine. Instant gratification always was the enemy of concentration. Or this from the UK’s Birmingham Post on Nov 17 2004 in its Anniversaries section, which goes some way to explain why British workers are using more paper, but still leaves us wanting to know more:

2001: A study showed that paper consumption in British offices had increased by 40 per cent with the advent of emails, faxes and instant massaging.

Then there was the report of a local man exactly a year earlier in the Providence Journal arrested for online harrassment, or “cyberstalking”. The paper explains:

Cyberstalking is a misdemeanor charge that involves harassment via e-mail or instant massaging, according to the state police.

Indeed. People leaping upon strangers in public and on the Internet, delivering instant backrubs should definitely be stopped before it gets out of hand. (Sorry.) But then again, maybe this explains AOL’s difficult times. Back in August 1999, according to CNNfn’s Moneyline, AOL was doing its bit to make online a more pleasurable place to be, as a transcript of the show has host Stuart Varney explaining:

America Online is pushing to make its popular instant massaging feature an Internet standard. And in the process, out-muscle Microsoft. For the first time, AOL will let other Internet service providers use the massaging systems: EarthLink and MindSpring. The deal lifted shares of Earthlink 4 1/2. Mindspring rallied nearly three. And AOL edged up nearly a dollar.

Only a dollar? Microsoft clearly lacked the technique and strength necessary to make backrubs an Internet standard. EarthLink and MindSpring (the names carry different connotations now, knowing they were more focusing as much on massages as messages) clearly were 100% behind this initiative.

One can’t help but wonder, though, what the transcribers and stenographers made of what they were writing when they wrote ‘massaging’ rather than ‘messaging’; take, for example, this transcript from September 1998 Congressional Testimony by John Bastian, Chief Executive Officer of Security Software Systems, a company offering “computer software solutions designed to protect children on-line”. His testimony on the dangers of life online was otherwise impeccably recorded by the Congressional stenographer, except this bit:

Thousands of explicit web sites exist with millions of pages of pornographic material. Most are easily accessed by a few clicks of a mouse. But sites are only a portion of the sexually explicit areas. E-mail, chat rooms, news-groups and Instant massaging can be virtual playground for the sexual predators and pedophiles.

Makes the Internet sound an even scarier place than it already is. Maybe we’re better off that AOL failed in its vision, and that Google may not, after all, be reaping huge profits from instant physical therapy.

Microsoft and Claria: It May Never Have Been On, But Now It’s Off

It’s hard to know how serious this ever was but whatever, it’s now over, according to ClickZ News, who reports the Microsoft/Claria Deal Dead:

Microsoft has ended its acquisition talks with behavioral targeting firm Claria, ClickZ News has learned from a source close to the discussions. Another Microsoft source later confirmed that report.

A Microsoft staffer, who asked not to be identified, characterized the end of the talks as driven by concerns about a PR fallout that could follow a Claria purchase. That company has, in the past, been associated with spyware.

The source says Microsoft will likely consider buying other companies with behavioral targeting technology, but no one is “officially in scope at this time.”

Certainly Microsoft was losing some major PR ground with the rumour bouncing around, and it didn’t help that folk were noticing some (possibly coincidental) tweaking of its own Antispyware assessments of Claria/Gator threats.

UK WiFi Users Get Free Skype Calls

Skype is moved into wireless telephony by announceing that a deal with UK wireless provider Broadreach, the BBC reports.

People using wireless net hotspots will soon be able to make free phone calls as well as surf the net.

Wireless provider Broadreach and net telephony firm Skype are rolling out a service at 350 hotspots around the UK this week.

Users will need a Skype account – downloadable for free – and they will then be able to make net calls via wi-fi without paying for net access.

 

X1 and NewsGator Get Together

X1 Technologies, Inc., the hard disk indexing guys, have teamed up with NewsGator Technologies, the RSS-in-your-Outlook guys, to allow fast searches through your subscribed RSS feeds and Usenet newsgroups.

This basically involves an extra element in X1, which “lets a user sort through the aggregated messages and find the content they want, narrowing and displaying results as they type the search terms.  Results are displayed in the X1 preview pane for a quick read or, with a double-click, can be
opened in Outlook.” For now, folk buying X1 Search get NewsGator, which normally sells for $29, free. NewsGator users can buy X1 at a 30% discount.

So how good is this? Robert Scoble, the Microsoft blogger, adds his seal of approval in the X1 press release, calling it “a little bit of Longhorn for you before it ships”. I’m a bit more cautious: Although I’ve written glowingly of both products before, I’ll air a confession: I don’t use either on a regular basis. Why? First off, I’m not a big Outlook fan. It’s big, slow to load, and doesn’t do things I want it to. I use it for contacts, but not for email, so having RSS run through Outlook doesn’t really make sense for me.

And X1? I think X1 is an excellent product, and the guys behind it have raised the bar in terms of listening to users and making something that really works well. Are they there yet? I don’t think so. A couple of things holding me back: It’s not powerful enough to launch or store complex searches and its file viewer is nice but doesn’t remember changes to the way you view data. Don’t get me wrong: For ordinary daily use it’s perfect, but if you’re a power searcher, I don’t think it’s the one. Yet.

More On Google’s Masterplan

BusinessWeek pick up the theme of Google taking on the world. With the ability to track shipments and airplanes in real time via Google, the search engine keeps eyeballs on its website longer. But “Google is providing this new shipment tracking service even though it doesn’t have a partnership with FedEx. Rather, Google engineers have reprogrammed it to query FedEx directly with the information a user enters and provide the hyperlink direct to the customer’s information.”

But, BusinessWeek point out, “with every new service, Google takes a slice of someone else’s pie. Its ability to find pizza places within any given Zip code ultimately eliminates the use of YellowPages. Using it to find word definitions diminishes the business proposition of online dictionaries.”

The argument goes that “Google becomes the omnipresent middleman and a clear and present danger to just about any company that relies on the Internet for commerce.” But where is the revenue? I think BusinessWeek is right in saying the money will be in providing the gateway to those sites. Most folk I know go to Google first, indeed have it as their homepage. The more you can access from that fast-loading, uncluttered page, the more you’ll use it as your homepage. Who cares where you go next?

It has nothing to do with stickiness in the way we used to think of it. Google doesn’t need people to stay at Google. But folk like UPS and FedEx need to have the link with Google — especially if their competitors have it. For them Google becomes their customers’ first stop. Whether it’s cinema tickets, airline tickets, packages or whatever, Google will act as a kind of fast-searching gatekeeper for other sites. Those other sites may not have much choice — they don’t already, with the site: hack on Google working as a better search engine for individual sites than the site’s search page — but they’ll all draw benefit. And presumably Google will collect a toll, in advertising or something else.

It’s the New Portal: Empty , except for what you need, and fast.

News: Netscape Is Dead, Er, Long Live Mozilla

 AOL has effectively killed off Netscape, the browser that started the whole WWW thing, laying off 50 developers and moving what is left of the project — an open source version of the browser called Mozilla — to a non-profit basis, Paul Thurrott of WinInfo writes in its latest newsletter. 
 
AOL purchased Netscape in November 1998 for a $4.2 billion (no, really) but last month signed a 7-year contract with Microsoft to use its Internet Explorer as the underlying technology in its AOL software, which pretty much signalled the depth of faith it had in its own browser. It really is the end of an era, or else the end of a very long funeral. IE now controls 95% of the browser market, pretty much reversing the situation about seven years ago.
 
Wired puts a more positive spin on the development, quoting Mozilla folk as saying this is the beginning of a new chapter, and saying that the Mozilla browser has “surpassed IE in terms of features and standards compliance. For example, the latest versions of Mozilla support tabbed browsing, pop-up blocking and junk-mail filtering — none of which is provided by IE.” This is Mozilla’s own version of the event.