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Alternatives to iTunes: how 5 rival music services match up | ZDNet May 19, 2010

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How well do the current crop of online music services stack up against the iTunes Store?

When I did my inaugural round-up of iTunes alternative last year, I was looking for ways to avoid the high price of iTunes, and I succeeded. I found six rivals that offered significant savings—at least 10% and potentially much more. My criteria included services aimed at music lovers who want the option to buy music by the track or by the album. Several of the alternative services included interesting differentiating features, with the biggest being the all-you-can-listen-to subscription model.

I looked at three main factors: price, selection, and ease of use. To make price comparisons, I created a basket of 10 rock, folk, country, and classical albums, six recent releases and four back catalog choices from the previous century.

On price, iTunes was once again the most expensive, with the highest price for the collection. See the chart at right for details; the asterisk in the Cost column indicates that two of the five alternative services didn’t offer the entire selection of albums—Zune Marketplace was missing two and eMusic had only six of the ten albums on my list. To figure the total price tag for those two services. I calculated the cost of the missing albums using the prices from the iTunes store. Amazon MP3 and Lala offered significant savings over iTunes, with total savings of 11% and 20%, respectively. Rhapsody offered only trivial savings over Apple’s store, and the Zune prices were all over the map, with three albums costing more than their iTunes rivals.

Read the rest of this article via Alternatives to iTunes: how 5 rival music services match up | ZDNet.

P.S.: I’ll be back. China is behind me 😉

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ZumoDrive Brings Cloud Storage And Syncing Application To Android And Palm Devices March 17, 2010

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File syncing and storage startup Zumodrive is expanding its mobile offerings today with free applications for Android and Palm phones. While there are a plethora of syncing and storage services available to users, ZumoDrive, which spawned from Y Combinator startup Zecter, has a different take on file syncing. Similar to other services, Zumodrive creates a drive on your device that is synced to the cloud. But service includes a slightly different twist-ZumoDrive tricks the file system into thinking those cloud-stored files are local, and streams them from the cloud when you open or access them.

The startup launched an iPhone app last year, which let users sync their content to their phone without having to deal with local storage capacity issues. The Android and Palm apps include much of the same functionality. The apps allows users to sync their entire iTunes library on their phones even though the songs are not locally saved. Plus, ZumoDrive allows you to import your files. photos albums and videos onto your Android and Palm phones.

Additional features include video streaming from ZumoDrive directly to devices in MP4, H.264 format, music organized by artist, albums, and even playlists created on other devices, the ability to stream music in the background and listen to music over both 3G or EDGE networks.
Additionally you can access and view Microsoft Office documents and PDF files.

ZumoDrive has been gaining traction over the past year. Fresh off of a $1.5 million funding round, the startup scored a deal with HP in January to to power the backend of the technology giant’s CloudDrive on all HP Mini netbooks.

Last year, ZumoDrive released a new version of its system that wirelessly syncs playlists between devices, auto-detects content, and lets users link file folders on their devices to ZumoDrive only once so that changes in that folder will always be linked to ZumoDrive. The service was also upgraded to integrate well with media applications, like iTunes, so users can play entire music libraries saved in ZumoDrive on multiple devices without manually syncing content. We initially reviewed Zumodrive here.

Zecter previously launched a product called Versionate, an office-wiki product, that we first covered in July 2007. We wrote about them again a year ago. ZumoDrive faces competition from Dropbox, SugarSync, and Box.net.

via ZumoDrive Brings Cloud Storage And Syncing Application To Android And Palm Devices.

PayPal to Introduce Cheaper Way to Process Small Transactions – BusinessWeek March 17, 2010

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March 15 (Bloomberg) — PayPal Inc., the payment processor owned by EBay Inc., plans to introduce a cheaper way for businesses to handle online transactions that are less than $10, a company executive said.

PayPal will let companies accumulate so-called micropayments until a certain volume is reached, at which point PayPal will charge merchants a single processing fee, Francesco Rovetta, director of the San Jose, California-based company’s mobile unit, said in an interview. The new plan will be rolled out later this year, he said.[…]

PayPal’s standard fee for processing a transaction is about 3 percent of the transaction plus a flat rate of 30 cents. For purchases less than $10, it charges 5 percent plus 5 cents.

That means when a consumer buys a 99-cent song online, the merchant would pay PayPal about 10 cents, or 10 percent of the transaction. Under the aggregation model, PayPal wouldn’t charge the merchant until consumers bought, say, 10 or 20 songs, thereby reducing the percentage of the transaction the merchant is charged.

$30 Billion Market

The company is still working out details on how many goods must be purchased before it charges the merchant and how long it will give the merchant to aggregate purchases before a fee is levied, Rovetta said.[…]

via PayPal to Introduce Cheaper Way to Process Small Transactions – BusinessWeek.

Amazon.com’s 1-Click patent confirmed following re-exam March 11, 2010

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The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is confirming Amazon.com’s controversial 1-Click patent following a re-examination that lasted more than four years.

Amazon’s 1-Click has come under a lot of fire over the years from critics who question whether such a broad technology should be patented at all. It refers to the process by which online shoppers make purchases with a single click, having previously entered their payment and shipping information.

The re-examination of Amazon’s 1-Click patent was triggered back in 2006 when a New Zealand actor raised questions about it. At one point in the re-examination process, the U.S. Patent Office rejected many of Amazon’s claims in the patent.

But according to a “notice of intent to issue a reexamination certificate” dated March 2 (pdf, 8 pages), the patent office is now satisfied with amendments that Amazon made back in 2007 that base many of the patent’s claims on a “shopping cart model.”

“The modified patent is still quite broad — especially since the leading retail ecommerce model still uses shopping carts,” said Dennis Crouch, an assistant professor at the University of Missouri Law School and editor of the patent law blog Patently-O.

Crouch said the 1-Click patent, after Amazon’s amendments, is “a slightly narrower version but essentially the same version.” He added: “This case may be a public relations boon for supporters of patent reform that have been calling for an overhaul of the reexamination system.”

The 1-Click patent, which lists Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos as one of its inventors, was filed in 1997 and refers to a “Method and system for placing a purchase order via a communications network.” Amazon in the past has used 1-Click to sue rival bookseller Barnes & Noble and licensed the technology to Apple.

The patent is scheduled to expire in 2017.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule in April on the Bilski case, which some believe could have implications for 1-Click.

The case revolves around two men who seek to patent a way of hedging risk in commodities trading. The Supreme Court could use the case to weigh in on “business method patents” — a category that includes 1-Click — that patent ways of doing business rather than specific inventions.

via Amazon.com’s 1-Click patent confirmed following re-exam.

Official Google Blog: Open for business: the Google Apps Marketplace March 11, 2010

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Every day, thousands of businesses choose the cloud. More than 2 million businesses have adopted Google Apps over the last three years, eliminating the hassles associated with purchasing, installing and maintaining hardware and software themselves.

We’ve found that when businesses begin to experience the benefits of cloud computing, they want more. We’re often asked when we’ll offer a wider variety of business applications — from accounting and project management to travel planning and human resources management. But we certainly can’t and won’t do it all, and there are hundreds of business applications for which we have no particular expertise.

In recent years, many talented software providers have embraced the cloud and delivered a diverse set of features capable of powering almost any business. But too often, customers who adopt applications from multiple vendors end up with a fractured experience, where each particular application exists in its own silo. Users are often forced to create and remember multiple passwords, cut and paste data between applications, and jump between multiple interfaces just to complete a simple task.

Today, we’re making it easier for these users and software providers to do business in the cloud with a new online store for integrated business applications. The Google Apps Marketplace allows Google Apps customers to easily discover, deploy and manage cloud applications that integrate with Google Apps. More than 50 companies are now selling applications across a range of businesses, including:

  • Intuit Online Payroll: A small business application that offers business owners a new way to efficiently run payroll, pay taxes and let employees check paystubs all within one integrated online office environment.
  • Manymoon: The company’s free work and project management application for Google Apps makes it simple for businesses and teams to organize and share information including tasks, projects, documents, status updates and links with co-workers, customers and partners.
  • Professional Services Connect (PS Connect): This new cloud-based offering coming soon from Appirio, pulls contextually relevant information on people, projects, customers and transactions from a user’s domain and surfaces it directly inside a Gmail message so services professionals can make more informed, real-time decisions.
  • JIRA Studio: A hosted software development suite from Atlassian enables software developers to flow naturally between Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Docs and other design and development tools in order to better track and manage project issues and workflow.

Once installed to a company’s domain, these third-party applications work like native Google applications. With administrator approval, they may interact with calendar, email, document and/or contact data to increase productivity. Administrators can manage the applications from the familiar Google Apps control panel, and employees can open them from within Google Apps. With OpenID integration, Google Apps users can access the other applications without signing in separately to each. The Google Apps Marketplace eliminates the worry about software updates, keeping track of different passwords and manual syncing and sharing of data, thereby increasing business productivity and lessening frustrations for users and IT administrators alike. That’s the power of the cloud.

For more information on the benefits of the Google Apps Marketplace to businesses, check out our Enterprise Blog post. Developers interested in learning how to integrate with Google Apps can check out our post on the Google Code Blog. Or, you can explore the Google Apps Marketplace directly at http://google.com/appsmarketplace.

Finally, we’ll be diving deeper into application development for the enterprise at Google I/O on May 19-20. We hope to see you there!

via Official Google Blog: Open for business: the Google Apps Marketplace.

AppleInsider | Flash, HTML5 comparison finds neither has performance advantage March 11, 2010

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A comparison of streaming video via the Adobe Flash and HTML5 formats with numerous different browsers on both Mac and Windows produced wildly different results based on the operating system and browser, making neither a clear winner.

The test, from Streaming Learning Center, was conducted in response to recent comments alleged to have been said by Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, in which he reportedly called Flash a “CPU hog.” While the test found that HTML5 is significantly more efficient than Flash on the Mac when running the Safari Web browser, those same advantages do not exist on other Mac browsers, or in Windows.

“It’s inaccurate to conclude that Flash is inherently inefficient,” author Jan Ozer wrote. “Rather, Flash is efficient on platforms where it can access hardware acceleration and less efficient where it can’t. With Flash Player 10.1, Flash has the opportunity for a true leap in video playback performance on all platforms that enable hardware acceleration.”

The report noted that Apple has not enabled the hooks to allow GPU-based acceleration for H.264 video decoding. Anand Lai Shimpi, founder of AnandTech, asserted “it’s up to Apple to expose the appropriate hooks to allow Adobe to (eventually) enable that functionality.”

Adobe’s update to Flash 10.1 on the Mac improved CPU efficiency within Safari by 5 percent, but the Web format still trails far behind HTML5 due to hardware acceleration. With Google Chrome, neither were particularly efficient, and Firefox saw slightly better performance than Chrome.

Flash test 1

On Windows, Apple’s Safari browser doesn’t play HTML 5 content. But the Google Chrome browser in Windows played Flash 10.1 content with 58 percent more efficiency than HTML5.

HTML5 is not natively supported in Firefox or Internet Explorer, but the update from Flash 10 to Flash 10.1 improved CPU performance for the browsers by 73 percent and 35 percent, respectively. Flash 10.1 in Windows offers added hardware acceleration.

“When it comes to efficient video playback, the ability to access hardware acceleration is the single most important factor in the overall CPU load,” Streaming Learning Center noted. “On Windows, where Flash can access hardware acceleration, the CPU requirements drop to negligible levels.

“It seems reasonable to assume that if the Flash Player could access GPU-based hardware acceleration on the Mac (or iPod/iPhone/iPad), the difference between the CPU required for HTML5 playback and Flash playback would be very much narrowed, if not eliminated.”

Flash test 2

Google added support for the most popular video destination on the Internet, YouTube, in January. The beta opt-in program is available only for browsers that support both HTML5 and H.264 video encoding.

Scrutiny over Flash has grown in recent months since Apple introduced its multimedia iPad device, which does not support the Web format from Adobe. Apple, instead, has placed its support behind HTML5.

For more on why Apple isn’t likely to add support for Flash in the iPhone OS, read AppleInsider’s three-part Flash Wars series.

via AppleInsider | Flash, HTML5 comparison finds neither has performance advantage.

Web Strategy Matrix: Google Buzz vs Facebook vs MySpace vs Twitter (Feb 2010) « Web Strategy by Jeremiah Owyang | Social Media, Web Marketing February 28, 2010

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Lack Of Signal In A Sea of Noise
There’s an incredible amount of media and blogger noise about social networks, yet most focus on “killer app” hype without an objective point of view.   My career mission?  To cut out the hype and help companies make sense of what to do. For those fraught with information overload, this definitive matrix distills what matters.

Situation:  New Contender Shakes Up Industry
Google has entered the social networking play with “Buzz”, and by the look of it, this time it’s for real.  There’s a lot of market confusion on how they could stack up, so here’s my take.  Let’s cut the noise and get to the heart of it with a comparison matrix based upon my insights talking to these companies in formal briefings, observations, as a user, my former research and dealing with the brands trying to reach them.

Executive Summary:  Brands Must Stay Focused On Where Customers Already Are
Google’s entrance causes media havoc but web strategists should stay focused.  Find out where customers already are through developing data around consumer behavior called socialgraphics.  Facebook continues to demonstrate a sophisticated marketplace for consumers and brands to mix about, however don’t discount MySpace’s active consumer base –but only if your customers are already there.  Continue to monitor Twitter and respond if customers are tweeting –but they’ve yet to indicate sophistication to help marketers, instead rely on third party tools and agencies to respond.  The feature set of newly spawned Google Buzz isn’t important, what matters is their ability to aggregate social content which will impact search strategy for businesses trying to reach consumers, read my first take analysis.

This scorecard has a limited shelf life, so I’ll likely create a new scorecard after future announcements from these players.

Web Strategy Matrix: Google Buzz vs Facebook vs MySpace vs Twitter (Feb 2010)

Google Buzz Facebook MySpace Twitter
One-Liner A dark horse that has big backing and access to existing platforms. A mainstay platform that needs to grow out of its shell. The MTV of this generation is at risk during an ugly transformation. Has opportunity to become utility-like infrastructure, but not a destination.
Vitals (see more stats) Estimated to sit on a user based of over 100mm active gmail users, they have access to the most popular webpage in the world, google.com.  Has access to mainstream users on Google.com and advanced email users on Gmail. Boasting over 400mm users in just a few short years, they’ve saturated Gen Y in US, and show global expansion at record rates. Recently reported at 57mm US unique users most of which are heavily engaged with site.  Has saturation of coveted youth, working class and small businesses within US. Although difficult to track, estimates indicate 75mm active users, but doubts are emerging about reduced rate of growth.  Usage by tech savvy, media, and celebs.
Strengths A large talent pool of engineers to pull from, Buzz stands on top of existing Gmail, mobile devices, and dominant search portal.  As Buzz grows, they can integrate with all Google apps –and aggregate the entire internet. Rapid US and international growth over last few years bodes well as quickly evolved feature set of platform and and FB Connect gain traction.  Attracts top talent from Google –which are quickly defecting. Big backing by a media giant, a super engaged audience, and rich history of reaching media starved young consumers. Has clinched adoption over media elite, celebrities, and tech influencers. Incredible media buzz, and easy-to-use features.
Weaknesses Late to the party, Google has had a series of social networking misfires from Wave, Dodgeball, Orkut their culture shows signs of becoming corporate –like Microsoft. Struggles with the conundrum of having promised users a ‘closed’ experience where to be successful requires them to be ‘open’. Historically poor track record in meeting privacy expectations of customers, and overall complex interface. Complacent: they really let themselves go. In the eyes of the tech world, they are becoming irrelevant or even worse, a niched media play –not even a lifestyle network.  This leaderless ship without a captain is undergoing radical internal turmoil and innovation has stalled. Although features are dead simple, they are now a commodity –status update features are ubiquitous. Mainstream users confused by how to get started. Overhyped, the infrastructure has shown strain.  Brands generally confused on how to interact.
Opportunity The more information users share, tag, or create, the more data is created on Google’s platform to organize, giving them opportunity to monetize. By integrating Facebook Connect everywhere, the service becomes ubiquitous, and therefore the default identity and default address book for consumer behavior. A few hours ago, the CEO Van Natta was let go. Now a new chief can step up, and lead the recently formed executive team, fostering innovation and solidarity. Must develop more features to increase the overall value of this utility of the this simple status messaging tool.
Threats Mainstay email companies like Microsoft, Yahoo, and AOL have already shown social features ‘bolted’ onto their email systems, and could pose threat, although success hasn’t been proven by any. Secondly, Facebook has made notions to develop an email web client “Project Titan” that will threaten tech savvy users competing for Gmail’s attention. Facebook is a conundrum as they must make experience open –yet this provides Google the opportunity to monetize as an intermediary. Social networks come and go, before MySpace was Friendster, they run the risk of becoming complacent, losing talent to Twitter and failing to innovate over the next few years. Self-implosion from internal instability causes stalls, forcing media brands to develop their own social networking on their own sites, rendering MySpace a duplicate. Worse yet? Cool kids jump ship, and establish a colony elsewhere, leaving MySpace a wasteland of clueless advertisers. Overhype from media leaves Twitter at risk for burn-out-syndrome like a Hollywood child star turned skid row.  Secondly, the more successful they are, the more strain it put on the already questionable infrastructure.
Marketing Platform Although not fully developed, expect advertising options to appear for brands who want to promote relevant ads wherever Buzz is located, especially on SERP pages Confusing and overly complicated, there are too many marketing options perplexing brands.  It’s not clear if brands should advertise, interact in pages, create widgets or do a combination of all. Strong and straight forward. Established team has cut deals with many media companies and has legacy culture of understanding media. Nascent. Although promises have been made for branded experiences, analytics, and other premium features, for most marketers it’s being treated like a chat room –not a marketing platform.
Future State Buzz will aggregate the voices of their users –and those of other social networks, aggregate and serve up monetization options. A communications platform for consumers and brands.  Expect Facebook experience to be in many public experiences and mobile devices. There are two paths: Integrate MySpace into TV and mobile devices or fade into pit of irrelevance like Friendster. Like gas, water, or power, Twitter is likely to fade into the background and become a utility that’s integrated into everything –someday, even your fridge will Tweet.
What They Don’t Want You To Know The collective already owns you –you just don’t know it yet. They’re trying so hard to shift from closed to open, and like a nasty divorce, it’s tearing them apart from users. Like an internal disease, the insiders are hurting, morale sunk, teams in disarray, yet they don’t want the public to know. Not sure what they want to be when they grow up.
What They Should Do Demonstrate success with Buzz, then quickly integrate into other tools like Search and Chrome. Kill off the confusing Wave, and consolidate teams and efforts.  Aggregate public content from Twitter and Facebook, intermediate them and monetize their own content. Get open now. Build a browser to quickly go transcend the web. Reward users to share more information in public like restaurant or media reviews in exchange for other values. Double down efforts on Project Titan email feature. Quickly establish a chain of command and execute based upon a single vision. Have regular talent turnover to avoid complacency. Develop a white label product that can compete with Cisco EOS, Kyte, Pluck, or Kickapps (Altimeter client). Develop a vision to become the dominant protocol over SMS, where teens and international cultures are already heavily texting. Continue to build out platform for developers to build on top of, becoming a data play, like a utility.

Everyone has a morning ritual, for me, I invest up to two hours reading, thinking, and blogging each morning. I hope this helps you cut through the noise –if it was helpful, please pass it on, email to colleagues, tweet it, and blog about it.

via Web Strategy Matrix: Google Buzz vs Facebook vs MySpace vs Twitter (Feb 2010) « Web Strategy by Jeremiah Owyang | Social Media, Web Marketing.

Google Docs gets a web clipboard | VentureBeat February 28, 2010

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Google has made life a bit better for hardcore Google Docs users. Today, the company unveiled a new web clipboard feature for the Docs suite. It allows users to copy items to a cloud-based clipboard from any Docs application, and then paste them into another Docs app with proper formatting.

Users can copy items to the web clipboard using the new clipboard menu shown below:

They can then use the same menu in another Docs document to paste in the copied content:

As you can see, there are several options available when pasting the web clipboard content. Since the example started out by copying content from spreadsheet, there is a “table” option, alongside the usual HTML and plain text.

After pasting the spreadsheet tables into a new presentation, we get a properly formatted result:

The new web clipboard won’t change the way copying and pasting already works in Google Docs via your operating system, but it is a useful alternative. You can copy multiple items to the web clipboard, and being cloud-based, the clipboard items are accessible across different browsers, platforms, and sessions. The items will remain in the clipboard for thirty days, or you can choose to clear them out manually.

Google says that this is just the first step for the web clipboard, so we can likely expect new features and functionality soon. Perhaps a way to send other content outside of Docs to the web clipboard as well?

via Google Docs gets a web clipboard | VentureBeat.

Half of Netflix ‘Watch Instantly’ Users Are Streaming to the TV February 28, 2010

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According to a newly published study from TDG – the nation’s leading new media research consultancy – almost two-thirds of Netflix users that subscribe to a home broadband service are now viewing the ‘Watch Instantly’ streaming video service. One-third of broadband-enabled Netflix subscribers view this streaming video exclusively only on their PCs, 8% view the content exclusively on their TVs, and 24% use both their PCs and TVs.

“Netflix is now the archetype for over-the-top (OTT) streaming video services,” notes Michael Greeson, TDG founding partner and director of research. “Not only has Netflix eclipsed its immediate competitors in terms of online DVD rental, but it has quickly become the ‘gold standard’ for new OTT streaming services.”

The implication of TDG’s research is significant: one-half of broadband-enabled ‘Watch Instantly’ users now view streaming video on their TVs, a phenomenon unimaginable just a few years ago. As Greeson points out, this speaks volumes about the maturation of streaming video technologies that, until recently, had delivered an inconsistent experience that left regular TV viewers wanting.

via Half of Netflix ‘Watch Instantly’ Users Are Streaming to the TV – Press Releases.

Google overhauls ad server technology to boost monetization | VentureBeat February 28, 2010

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Google revamped its ad server technology to help itself and small publishers monetize ads on their sites.

The upgrades include more detailed forecasting data to explain which ads are valuable and where revenue comes from to publishers. Google also released a new application programming interface allowing publishers to build their own apps to handle sales and workflow. Publishers can also open up ad space to bids from multiple networks.

Google bought DoubleClick for $3.1 billion two years ago to refine the way it shows relevant ads to users and to help advertisers optimize their spending across the web. The search giant has been pushing more aggressively into both display and mobile advertising, buying display advertising startup Teracent and agreeing to buy AdMob last fall.

This announcement also comes on the heels of a major change to the way Google targets ads on partner sites. Typically, when Google displays an ad on a partner site, it takes data from the search engine referral to help target the ad. So, for instance, if a user gets to a golf web site by searching for “golf shop Atlanta,” those keywords will be used to pick an ad. Google now factors in a few hours of search history to target ads, instead of a single query.

AdSense helped generate $2.04 billion, or 31 percent of Google’s total revenues, during the last quarter of 2009. That was up 21 percent from the same time a year before.

via Google overhauls ad server technology to boost monetization | VentureBeat.