Tag Archives: real estate

Everyone Wants To Be a Player

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Still the big players don’t get it. Still they drive people like me nuts, and confuse ordinary users, with their sly tactics that confound and bewilder.

Above, for example, Microsoft’s Windows Media Player provides a list of files that it will play by default. All are checked automatically, including DVD video, midi files, WAV files and MP3 files. Nowhere is there a button for deselecting all of them. Weirdly, at the top is a message that says

Window Media Player 9 Series will be the default player for the file types that are selected in the following list. You must be logged on as administrator or a member of the Administrators group to change these settings.

Microsoft’s way of confusing users who think this is something that they can’t control, and intimidating them into not trying. Nowhere does it say “You can uncheck these boxes if you like; of course you’ll have to do it one by one, which we’re hoping you won’t have time to do.” (I timed it; it took about 10 seconds. That’s ten seconds of my life I’m not going to get back.)

RealPlayer is notorious for this kind of thing. I installed it the other day. The Media Types window, steers the unsuspecting user to signing away all their rights with a big obvious option and one lesser option:

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If you are stupid enough to ignore that, you can try figuring out which files you want RealPlayer to deal with, which of course, has everything checked by default:

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There is, however, an “Deselect all” button. And alongside each format is a helpful note about what software that file type is currently assigned to. Their sneaky trick, however, is to hide the important one, the reason you presumably installed the player, so that you have to scroll down below the visible list to find the Real file types. There’s no button marked “Just let the Player handle the things it’s supposed to handle, and leave me alone, OK?”

Actually, this whole thing is a kind of battle, a bit like the default browser battle. Everybody seems to play the same game, with varying degrees of sneakiness/sleaziness. Back in the Preferences window of RealPlayer is a checkbox that lets RealPlayer fight back, in case you’ve decided against allowing it to play everything. Although in its defence, the first time it notices you’ve left the reservation, you get a warning, which says “RealPlayer is no longer the default player for some audio and video files:

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Still, the wording is sufficiently cheeky to confuse the more casual user: “Do you want to keep RealPlayer,” it asks, as the default player for these file types?”

I like the word “keep” instead of “revert” or “return”. Most users are conservative. They don’t want to change things. RealPlayer execs probably sat in an office all afternoon thinking about the wording to that little message. This message will keep popping up, by the way, each time you change one of these file types until you tell it to stop.

Window Media Player, meanwhile, is a bit weirder. Windows’ file system will acknowledge that control of the file type has passed hands, but WMP won’t. Instead, in the file types options window, the checkbox will be ticked but “dimmed”:

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The help file helpfully says:

If a selected check box is dimmed, Windows Media Player has only partial ownership of the file type. Multiple file extensions are assigned to the file type, but the Player only plays some of those extensions by default. To give the Player full ownership of a file type, double-click the dimmed check box.

I’ve read that second sentence a couple of times, and still don’t know what it means. But to me the implication is clear: It’s virtually impossible for Windows Media Player to surrender all rights to a file type unless you actually uncheck the right box in the options window. And you may notice that the only way into the options window is through a menu that can only be accessed on the default Windows Media Player skin by a little arrow in the left hand corner:

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The bottom line: I can understand that control of media is valuable real estate for these guys, but I really feel for the poor folk who are trying to just play music, or videos or whatever. There must be a better way of doing this.

Escape to Streetlevel

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Next up: cities you can drive through, and not from above, or fake worlds where everyone has big chests. Real cities, from all angles. It’s called EveryScape.

The company calls it “the world’s first interactive eye-level search that offers Web users a totally immersive world on the Internet.” A “virtual experience of all metropolitan, suburban and rural areas in which visitors can share their stories and opinions about real-life daily experiences against a photo-realistic backdrop ranging from streets and cities, communities, restaurants, schools, real estate and the like.” Yes, I’m not crazy about the lingo, but the idea is a cool one: Just try the preview of San Francisco’s Union Square.

Using a Flash-enabled browser you move through the terrain and ground level (in the middle of the street), and then can tilt your view through all angles. You can click on certain markers for more information, or enter certain buildings. You “window shop storefronts as well as tour the inside of those stores, see their offerings, and access published reviews and other information.” You can add content such as “relevant links, personal reviews, rankings” and things like “a “For Rent” sign and an apartment tour.”

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Putting the stuff together doesn’t sound as hard as you would expect. EveryScape’s HyperMedia Technology Platform means anyone with an SLR camera can take pictures and upload them; EveryScape hopes to tap “into local communities and users to assist in building out a visual library of content that will cover the entire world.” A sort of Google Earth at ground level.

Great idea, though of course you can imagine there’ll be a lot of commercial elements to all this. It’s hard to imagine ordinary Joes allowed to plaster streets with their virtual graffiti or anything else that gets in the way of advertising opportunities. The only other concern I have off the top of my head is that Google Earth made some of us wonder whether, after seeing every corner of the globe from a bird’s wing, we’d feel the same urge to travel. Now, after wandering the virtual streets of San Francisco, would we lose our wanderlust?

EveryScape plans to launch 10 U.S. metropolitan areas this year.

How to Split Your Screen Down the Middle

Here’s something for the directory of monitor extenders — stuff that increases the size, scope or general bendiness of your screen — SplitView , from the guys who brought you DiskView:

SplitView increases productivity by making it easy to work with two applications side by side. It helps make full use of your high resolution monitor and gives the benefit of dual-monitors without their associated cost.

Given it costs $19, that statement is indeed true. The problem is simple. Having two monitors is great — if you haven’t done it yet, you haven’t lived — but it’s also neat because you can pretty much keep them separate, a bit like having two desks to play with. That’s because Windows treats the two screens as one for some functions – moving windows and whatnot — but as two for functions like maximising programs etc. Very useful if you’re moving between two documents, or dragging and dropping text using the mouse.

But what happens if you have one supersized monitor, with high resolution? You have all that real estate, but not the same duality, if you get my drift. This is where SplitView jumps in. A small program that incorporates itself into the pull-down resize menu on the left-hand top corner (right clicking on its icon in the toolbar at the bottom of the screen has the same effect), SplitView lets you make the program take up half the screen on either the left or right in one move (or via keyboard shortcuts).  So now you have two monitors in one:

I can imagine this would also be useful for those of us used to dual monitors but forced into single screendom when on the road. Now your laptop can be split in two, making it easy to drag and drop and stuff. Its author, Rohan, says he wrote it “as a ‘me-ware’ – something i needed myself, and then productized it.” Good productizing, Rohan.

The Anger of the Blogger Spammed

There’s something just so lame about comment spam dressed up as a legitimate comment that it gets me angrier than I do with ordinary spam, blog or otherwise, for some reason. (Comment spam/blogspam/linkspam is when individuals automate posting of comments on blogs to build traffic and Google rankings by having links to their sites on other sites. Some comment spam is just gibberish, but would still boost Google rankings because of the links contained somewhere in the comment, while others pretend to be legitimate comments.)

I think it’s because I’m as much a sucker as the next guy for anyone saying anything nice about me or my blog, and the anger of realising I’ve just been spammed by some dork who wants to promote their website on your real estate is of a deep, visceral kind.

This I just got on a posting about the weirdness of online auctions in Singapore:

Excellent Blog. Very informative. And very well organized.

Online Auctions are really looking up with more and more people interested in buying and selling product online.

Keep it up. We need more such blogs which provide quality information.

No sign in there the writer has actually read the blog. Clearly just a blast at all blogs mentioning the word ‘auction’. In the name and URL field of the comment the sender gives his name and his website. I would publish both here but it would just drive traffic, and I’m guessing if the guy is already stooping to comment spam he’s not going to be shamable. Still, if you were to block all comments from 202.65.144.5 you might be doing yourself a favor. And let’s just say the spammer in question is quite prominent in Indian circles as “an Internet Entrepreneur, Online Biz Consultant, Hypnosis & NLP “Guru” and a Prolific writer.” Prolific as in prolific spammer?

Bottom line: Please don’t comment spam me. All comments have to be approved first so you’re just wasting my time and yours, not the reader’s.  And shouldn’t we be treating comment spammers like ordinary spammers, and making all efforts to shame them and inform their ISPs?

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Skype, PayPal and eBay

There’s quite a bit that’s interesting in all this Skype/eBay business. I know others have raked over all this before, but now it’s official I’ll weigh in too.

The release is quite informative. It says “Skype, eBay and PayPal will create an unparalleled ecommerce and communications engine for buyers and sellers around the world.” How, exactly?

Well, “Skype will streamline and improve communications between buyers and sellers as it is integrated into the eBay marketplace. Buyers will gain an easy way to talk to sellers quickly and get the information they need to buy, and sellers can more easily build relationships with customers and close sales. As a result, Skype can increase the velocity of trade on eBay, especially in categories that require more involved communications such as used cars, business and industrial equipment, and high-end collectibles.”

That’s straightforward enough. Buyers and sellers can hook up via a SkypeMe button which lets them instant message, or talk to one another, presumably for free. Or does it?

“The acquisition also enables eBay and Skype to pursue entirely new lines of business. For example, in addition to eBay’s current transaction-based fees, ecommerce communications could be monetized on a pay-per-call basis through Skype. Pay-per-call communications opens up new categories of ecommerce, especially for those sectors that depend on a lead-generation model such as personal and business services, travel, new cars, and real estate.” This, I take it, means that beyond merely providing a market-place of sellers and buyers of goods, eBay hopes to become a market-place of services, whether they’re pure consulting, travel agencies, or selling things that require a degree of expertise (cars and real estate are mentioned, but they could as easily be careers.

Then there’s paying for Skype’s services. “PayPal and Skype also make a powerful combination. For example, a PayPal wallet associated with each Skype account could make it much easier for users to pay for Skype fee-based services, adding to the number of PayPal accounts and increasing payment volume.” True: Skype’s payment system is awkward, if not disastrous for many folk living off the beaten track. But PayPal’s isn’t much better. Both services need to get with the program on that, or face the growing wrath of people in the world’s more interesting regions.

I won’t get into the extraordinary cost of buying a company that made only $7 million last year. There’s no question there’s wonderful synergy to be had here. But there’s also the caveat that eBay should not underestimate the other lesson that the Skype revolution has taught us. People were willing to overcome all sorts of technophobia when they realised the enormous cost and social benefits of installing Skype. Now they’ve done so, they will more easily than ever before switch elsewhere if the appeal of Skype diminishes, either because of sneaky advertising, sneaky fees or if the remaining drawbacks of Skype — most particularly, but not exclusively, its payments system — are not tackled quickly.

Ebay to buy Skype: It’s Official

eBay Inc. has agreed to acquire Luxembourg-based Skype Technologies SA, the global Internet communications company, for approximately $2.6 billion in up-front cash and eBay stock, plus potential performance-based consideration.

Here’s the rest of the release:

The acquisition will strengthen eBay’s global marketplace and payments platform, while opening several new lines of business and creating significant new monetization opportunities for the company. The deal also represents a major opportunity for Skype to advance its leadership in Internet voice communications and offer people worldwide new ways to communicate in a global online era. Skype, eBay and PayPal will create an unparalleled ecommerce and communications engine for buyers and sellers around the world.

“Communications is at the heart of ecommerce and community,” said Meg Whitman, President and Chief Executive Officer of eBay. “By combining the two leading ecommerce franchises, eBay and PayPal, with the leader in Internet voice communications, we will create an extraordinarily powerful environment for business on the Net.”

“Our vision for Skype has always been to build the world’s largest communications business and revolutionize the ease with which people can communicate through the Internet,” said Niklas Zennström, Skype CEO and co-founder. “We can’t think of any better platform to fulfill this vision to become the voice of the Internet than with eBay and PayPal.”

“We’re great admirers of how eBay and PayPal have simplified global ecommerce and payments,” said Janus Friis, Skype co-founder and senior vice president, strategy. “Together we feel we can really change the way that people communicate, shop and do business online.”

Zennström and Friis will remain in their current positions. Zennström will report to eBay CEO Whitman and join eBay’s senior executive team.

Online shopping depends on a number of factors to function well. Communications, like payments and shipping, is a critical part of this process. Skype will streamline and improve communications between buyers and sellers as it is integrated into the eBay marketplace. Buyers will gain an easy way to talk to sellers quickly and get the information they need to buy, and sellers can more easily build relationships with customers and close sales. As a result, Skype can increase the velocity of trade on eBay, especially in categories that require more involved communications such as used cars, business and industrial equipment, and high-end collectibles.

The acquisition also enables eBay and Skype to pursue entirely new lines of business. For example, in addition to eBay’s current transaction-based fees, ecommerce communications could be monetized on a pay-per-call basis through Skype. Pay-per-call communications opens up new categories of ecommerce, especially for those sectors that depend on a lead-generation model such as personal and business services, travel, new cars, and real estate. eBay’s other shopping websites – Shopping.com, Rent.com, Marktplaats.nl and Kijiji – can also benefit from the integration of Skype.

PayPal and Skype also make a powerful combination. For example, a PayPal wallet associated with each Skype account could make it much easier for users to pay for Skype fee-based services, adding to the number of PayPal accounts and increasing payment volume.

In addition, Skype can help expand the eBay and PayPal global footprint by providing buyers and sellers in emerging ecommerce markets, such as China, India, and Russia, with a more personal way to communicate online. And consumers in markets where eBay currently has a limited presence, such as Japan and Scandinavia, can learn about eBay and PayPal through Skype. Skype can also help streamline cross-border trading and communications.

With its rapidly expanding network of users, the Skype business complements the eBay and PayPal platforms. Each business is self-reinforcing, organically bringing greater returns with each new user or transaction. The three services can also reinforce and accelerate the growth of one another, thereby increasing the value of the combined businesses. Working together, they can create an unparalleled engine for ecommerce and communications around the world.

Transaction and Financial Information

eBay will acquire all of the outstanding shares of privately-held Skype for a total up-front consideration of approximately €2.1 billion, or approximately $2.6 billion, which is comprised of $1.3 billion in cash and the value of 32.4 million shares of eBay stock, which are subject to certain restrictions on resale.

The maximum amount potentially payable under the performance-based earn-out is approximately €1.2 billion, or approximately $1.5 billion, and would be payable in cash or eBay stock, at eBay’s discretion, with an expected payment date in 2008 or 2009. Skype shareholders were offered the choice between several consideration options for their shares. Shareholders representing approximately 40% of the Skype shares chose to receive a single payment in cash and eBay stock at the close of the transaction. Shareholders representing the remaining 60% of the Skype shares chose to receive a reduced up-front payment in cash and eBay stock at the close plus potential future earn-out payments which are based on performance-based goals for active users, gross profit and revenue.

The above-mentioned dollar and eBay share amounts are approximate, based on the Euro-Dollar exchange rate and eBay’s stock price as of September 9, 2005. The final value of the stock component of the consideration may vary significantly from this estimate based on the value of eBay stock at closing.

Skype generated approximately $7 million in revenues in 2004, and the company anticipates that it will generate an estimated $60 million in revenues in 2005 and more than $200 million in 2006. For Q4-05, eBay expects the acquisition to be dilutive to pro forma and GAAP earnings per share by $0.01 and $0.04 respectively. For the full year 2006, eBay expects the transaction to be dilutive to pro forma and GAAP earnings per share by $0.04 and $0.12 respectively, with breakeven on a pro forma basis expected in the fourth quarter of 2006. On a long-term basis, eBay expects Skype operating margins could be in the range of 20% to 25%.

The acquisition is subject to various closing conditions and is expected to close in the fourth quarter of 2005.

Another Spamming Record

You’re probably getting bored of spam statistics by now, and I wouldn’t blame you. But here’s another milestone, courtesy of MessageLabs, who monitor this kind of thing: December was a new record, they say, for the ratio of spam to ordinary email. In that month, MessageLabs scanned some 463 million emails and found that 1 in every 1.6, or 62.7% of them, was spam. They don’t give a comparative figure, but their PR says that’s a new record.

Of course, it may just have been the holiday season, although spam this month shows no sign of easing up, either for that reason or for new laws. MessageLabs also do a breakdown by industry, to show which are most vulnerable to getting spam (useful, I guess, if you’re in those industries and you need to measure how big a problem it is for your staff). It turns out the public sector has the smallest problem — only 1 in every 3.65 emails your average civil servant gets is spam — whereas if you’re a healthcare worker, chances are that every 1 in 1.21 emails you get is junk. Go figure.

Here’s another weird statistic. MessageLabs also monitor viruses, and their figures seem to show that, depending on what country and sector you’re in, your chances of a getting an email vary wildly. In U.S. real estate? Relax, only 1 in 439 emails is going to be a virus. In the UK leisure and recreation industry? The likelihood rises to 1 in less than 50. Why would that be?

The Virtual World Gets Surprisingly Lifelike

The Sims Online – an Internet-only world where ordinary folk can take on another persona and interact with other folk virtually — seems to be exhibiting all the signs of the real world, with a twist. Salon carries an article about a Sims community called Alphaville, and some of its citizens, including an academic called Urizenus (in real life, Michigan philosophy professor Peter Ludlow), a young man (or, possibly, a boy) called Evangeline, allegations of extortion, and the possible existence of a virtual brothel.

The story is well worth a read (subscription or day pass only), if only for the moral responsibilities a corporation running a community may have. If someone opens a virtual brothel for online folk to indulge in a little cyber-sex, is the company managing that world — in this case Electronic Arts — guilty of prostitution? And what happens if there’s evidence the ‘madam’ of that brothel, and some of its employees, are underage? And then, exploring the matter further, is Electronic Arts guilty of censorship by terminating the account of the academic who chronicled such allegations in his online newspaper, Alphaville Herald? And if there’s (ultimately) real money involved, should the police be called in to this virtual world?

I’m not surprised a philosophy professor is interested in these kind of issues. Going back to the early days of the Internet, the virtual world has a habit of impinging on the real. In that sense there’s nothing different between real estate and virtual estate. If humans interact on it, it’s turf and it needs to be policed. It will be interesting to see how EA handle this case, and whether they start patrolling their creation more thoroughly. And if they do, will it cease to be economically viable?

More discussion on this on Slashdot. Here’s an ‘interview’ by Ludlow with Evangeline (parental discretion advised, via Boing Boing Blog)