Sunday, June 17, 2007

How to Make the Mobile Web Not Suck

Back when the Internet was primarily controlled by AOL, it sucked. (Yes, I know AOL didn't "own" the Internet, they were simply the biggest ISP). There was limited consumer choice and the playing field was tilted towards AOL's services.

Nowadays, AOL is barely still in business and the Internet is much more powerful than it used to be. It is an open playing field, which is why Net Neutrality is so important to keep that level playing field open.

The exact same thing is happening with the Internet on mobile devices (mainly cell phones), with the mobile carriers becoming the new AOL. An article over at Read/Write Web takes a look at the current situation.

The mobile carriers claim that they have invested billions in their networks and shouldn't be forced to "open them up", but their assertions entirely miss the mark.

They conveniently ignore the fact that both consumers and Internet companies are paying for bandwidth, which makes Ed Whitacre's comments about Internet companies using "his pipes for free" downright silly.

The carriers' claims that they need to recoup their investment in their networks is simply a diversion from the fact that they want to exert their dominance over the mobile web to extract extortion payments for Internet companies that wish to provide service to their customers on-the-go. They want to "double-dip" and charge for the same bandwidth twice, by forcing both the consumer and the Internet company to pay for the same bandwidth whilst the Internet company is already paying for bandwidth on their end.

The prices for mobile bandwidth are already so absurd that claiming they need more money to recoup their investments is downright silly. Perhaps if they can't make back their money by charging $30 for a measly 4MB of bandwidth per month (some of my emails are bigger than that!) they shouldn't be in the mobile Internet business?

Skype has filed a complaint with the FCC. Some excerpts from the linked article:

"Carriers are using their considerable influence over handset design and usage to maintain control over and limit subscribers' right to run software communications applications of their choosing," Skype told the FCC.

In its filing, Skype said carriers go to great lengths to keep cellphone users boxed in. "In an effort to prefer their own affiliated services and exclude rivals, carriers have disabled or crippled consumer-friendly features of mobile devices." Carriers deny Skype's charges.

Skype says these practices violate longstanding FCC rules that allow consumers to use any device to connect to the U.S. phone network. The only caveat: The device can't cause damage to the phone system.


"As soon as you launch [Skype], you immediately violate the terms of your (cellphone) service contract," says Chris Libertelli, Skype's senior director of government and regulatory affairs.
Verizon responded with a straw-man argument about the conflicting wireless standards (CDMA and GSM) that prevent the implementation of Skype's proposal. While that may prevent providing unlocked cell phones for multiple carriers, Verizon doesn't explain how these conflicting standards (which are also a pain for customers) prevent the implementation of fair consumer access to the mobile web. Working for a telecom myself, I know of absolutely no way the wireless standard a cellular network uses affects wireless network neutrality.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Yahoo Aids Torture and then Condemns It

Yahoo has now decided to valiantly take on 2 roles, both an enabler of torture through their voluntary participation with the Chinese government in conducting a surveillance operation, and also being a vocal critic of the Chinese government's practices. Now I may be no expert in aiding the imprisonment and torture of Chinese dissidents, but to me these 2 roles seem somewhat contradictory.

Of course, once you realize that this condemnation of Chinese policies that Yahoo happily takes part in due to their selfish business interests (that take precedent over basic humanity) is merely PR speak to shift blame from one culpable party to another, it doesn't seem all that contradictory.

I wish Terry Semel and his crew would step off it at Yahoo. This press release is obvious BS to anyone with half a brain.

My Thoughts on Edwards@Google

I recently posted a video about Senator John Edwards speaking at Google. I'm just finally getting around to watching the video, and I'll admit that John Edwards is the candidate who's views are most closely aligned with mine.

He agrees with me that America should become more involved in the situation in Sudan. He agrees that the Internet needs to be protected so that it can continue to be used to level the political playing field and open up the government (the same thing is true in Canada as well).

You can tell he is left-wing but not a radical. Considering the damage Bush has done, perhaps it is time for a liberal?

Watching Eyes Search Being...Weird

The custom search engine I've integrated into this blog is acting up. It is pulling most of the content from my sidebars instead of the articles, which makes it practically useless. I'll try seeing if there is any way I can fix it, but for now, you may just want to avoid using it.

Stats Are Not Creative and Should Not Be Copyrightable or Protectable

It all started last year, when sued Major League Baseball because MLB had threatened for violating players' right-of-publicity by exploiting stats that belong to MLB. They argued that a players stats received more publicity than their faces, so their stats were protectable.

Of course, this position sports (pardon the pun) lots of First Amendment issues. argued that newspapers regularly republished this information, and MLB (whom, like, runs a fantasy-sports-league) was merely targeting a competitor. won the lawsuit, with Judge Mary Ann Medler ruling that the First Amendment trumps right-of-publicity laws. Predictably, MLB appealed the ruling, arguing that reprinting stats is the same as taking someone's picture and putting it on posters and coffee mugs.

There is a major problem with that argument. Everyone who would want to participate in a Fantasy Sports League already knows the names of the players, as Judge Morris Arnold points out. CDM has built their business not on using players as publicity, but on providing a valuable service based on public information.

FTC Begins Investigation Into Online Consolidation

The FTC has begun an investigation not only just into Google now, but into online consolidation as a whole. This is an excellent development, because it means that this is not merely the FTC deciding to regulate a single company, but taking a look at the industry as a whole.

 While the FTC investigation into Google is more extensive than the investigations into Microsoft and Yahoo, primarily due to privacy issues as well as antitrust ones, it is good to see that someone is seeing whether all this consolidation that is occurring is actually a good thing for the consumer.

Microsoft sure did get more than it bargained for when it complained about the Google deal to the government though!

Lawyer Hates Free Speech and Doesn't Know the Law

One of the great things about the Internet is the rise of the "prosumer", as pointed out in this video.

Information about products and services flows freely online. In the space of 10 minutes, you can post your thoughts on a product and it can be read by 10 thousand people. I think of this as word of mouth on steroids.

There has been a big backlash against this new form of information sharing. The latest is a lawsuit filed against a lawyer-ratings service. Essentially, some (most?) lawyers don't want to follow the path the rest of the world's industries have been taking (mostly by force of course), one of consumer empowerment.

The suit claims that Avvo's methods of ranking lawyers are deceptive, however, the suit is still an attack on Avvo's right of free speech. Avvo is not publishing false statements, and it explicitly states how it ranks lawyers. There has been no allegation of Avvo manually altering rankings to slander or defame lawyers.

Essentially, these lawyers want to shut down a data aggregation service because ignorant consumers work better in conjunction with their business model.

2 Monopolies Duke It Out

I generally root for the little guy in antitrust complaints (assuming their claims are valid of course), but I also enjoy watching two massive monopolies or near-monopolies duke it out over antitrust issues.

Google is now complaining because Microsoft is bundling Windows Search with their Windows product. Of course, Google fails to mention that Microsoft has been shipping a poorer, but still present version of Windows Search for years.

Antitrust law is intended to protect competition, not individual competitors! Microsoft is not bundling disparate products together here like they did with Internet Explorer and Windows in the late 90's. Windows has always had desktop search, they've merely improved it. Unlike web browsers, searching for files has always been an integral function of a desktop operating system and placing false limitations on the improvement of that function merely because Google decided to enter a market based almost entirely on the weakness of a core Windows function is absurd. This is about as stupid as Anti-virus vendors getting mad because Microsoft is adding anti-virus functionality to Windows (something that is definitely much needed, not anti-competitive). Apple's Mac OS X has for over 2 years now included similar search functionality. And last but not least, Microsoft announced that search would be part of Vista before Google ever announced or released Google Desktop.

I run a Mac primarily, so this complaint seems exceptionally odd considering that the Mac version of Google Desktop not only runs side-by-side with Apple's Spotlight desktop search technology, but also utilizes it and adds value to it. Why can the Windows version of Google Desktop not do the same? Many people would still find value in the product if it added Gmail and Google Docs support over normal searching for instance, which is what it does on the Mac.

While I often root for the victims of monopoly abuse, I don't think this is the case here. It looks to me more like sour grapes and a diversion over the much more serious antitrust concern over Google's purchase of Doubleclick.

While that complaint is also being pursued by 2 massive corporations, both of which have colorful antitrust histories, the complaint seems much more valid to me than Google's concerns with Windows Desktop Search.

Unlike Desktop Search, ad networks are products that are paid for and serve a purpose. Google Desktop Search was merely produced to exploit a weakness in Windows XP, one that was fixed (not added) in Windows Vista. Google also has a massive footprint in the online advertising market, one that it expanded greatly when it acquired Doubleclick.

Personally, I think the government should continue keeping a close eye on Microsoft and begin to do so on Google. Both companies are big enough and powerful enough that they both warrant antitrust monitoring. Google trying to paint Microsoft with an antitrust brush, and vice versa, is laughable at best.

Hilarious Yet Insightful Article on Sicko and Movie Piracy

Link here

I note with some amusement that the reporters who are supposed to be bringing us the latest news are often desperately behind the times. I find it surprising that the old media still has so much trouble figuring out why there is a steady trickle of people switching from old media to new collaborative media.

Neat Futuristic Video on the New Media

Some of the predictions are pretty out there, but otherwise a very cool and well-done video.

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