Monthly Archives: July 2007

Chris Nuttall

Bill_watkins Could all the fuss about solid-state drives for laptops be a flash in the pan?

Bill Watkins, chief executive of Seagate Technology, the world’s biggest hard drive maker, thinks it is, but then he has every reason to want flash drives in notebook PCs to flop. 

Mure Dickie

We recently noted that this blog was no longer accessible in China, and wondered aloud why Beijing’s shadowy censors had seen fit to target ft.com. Well, we should probably have looked a little more closely at our blog setup. FT Tech Blog actually resides on servers run by blog host company Typepad, and it is access to Typepad that is being blocked by the Great Firewall see here

So there’s no reason to believe it was something we said that got us blocked – and rather than the target of some of China’s increasingly sophisticated and targetted censorship, we are merely among the many victims of a rather blunt instrument of internet control. Not that that is much comfort, of course.

Chris Nuttall

Mygame Casual gamers received their share of the limelight at last week’s E3 video games convention in Santa Monica and this booming segment of the industry got its own conference this week in Seattle.

Attendees at the Casual Connect convention were well up on last year and the Casual Games Association reported that investors had put $200m into the industry in the past year, with more than $35m invested in massively-multiplayer online casual games. 

Facebook’s acquisition of Parakey is interesting for several reasons. Not only is it Mark Zuckerberg’s first acquisition on the road to becoming an internet mogul, it may also be an engineering coup. Before they founded Parakey, Blake Ross and Joe Hewitt were better known as the founders of Mozilla Firefox, the company behind the popular Firefox web browser. They are known as some of the best developers around, and adding their formidable talent to Facebook’s growing team should be good for all involved.

Another interesting aspect of this is Parakey itself. In its press release, Facebook says Parakey’s software, which is still in the development phase, is a "platform for bridging the gap between information on the web and the desktop." If Facebook folds this software into its platform, it will join Google, Adobe, and others who are all working on ways to break down the barriers between the online and offline worlds. What role an offline capability might play in Facebook’s platform strategy remains to be seen – but it’s an interesting step. For further reading, see Valleywag’s take here.  

Checkers It was fun while it lasted, but no one need pick up a game of draughts again. Researchers at the University of Alberta say they have solved the game of checkers, as it is known in the US and Canada, using brute force computing.

Since 1989, a dozen or more computers have been working simultanteously to calculate all possible moves arising from the game’s traditional starting position. The result? A perfectly played game of daughts will result in a draw every time, just like tic-tac-toe. 

Chris Nuttall

Voicetoscreen SpinVox, the leading UK speech-to-text voicemail service, is setting up shop here in San Francisco as it expands into converting the social conversations of the Web 2.0 crowd into the written word.

SpinVox started out using its speech-recognition technology to offer a time-saving conversion of voicemails into text transcripts, which are emailed to its users. 

Chalk one up for the Google PR team. The search engine scored a public relations coup earlier this week when it announced that it would begin deleting ‘cookies’ – the little bits of data that help web sites identify their users and track their browsing habits – after two years.

The immediate conclusion of most journalists seems to have been that Google’s new policy will help allay privacy conerns. Understandable, since that’s how Google sold the story. From the Google press release:

After listening to feedback from our users and from privacy advocates, we’ve concluded that it would be a good thing for privacy to significantly shorten the lifetime of our cookies — as long as we could find a way to do so without artificially forcing users to re-enter their basic preferences at arbitrary points in time. And this is why we’re announcing a new cookie policy.

But hold on. A CEO I spoke to yesterday, who is following the privacy issue closely, says Google’s new policy will have almost no effect on privacy. That’s because Google will reset its two-year cookie countdown each time you visit the Google site. The only way the policy would have any effect at all is if people didn’t return to the site for two years. Fat chance.

A few reporters have caught on to Google’s little PR hoodwink, including Ryan Singel at Wired:

People who go two years between Google searches on a given browser will have their old queries de-linked from their new ones.  Google users who do not occasionally destroy their cookies will continue to have their entire search history recorded for posterity and potential subpoenas.  Google users who sign up for an account and don’t know to UNCLICK the Web History box will have almost all of their Web usage recorded by Google.

To be fair, Google is quite upfront about all this in its press release. It also says that users who return to the Google site will continue to be able to control their cookies through their browsers. Still, for Google, or anyone else, to suggest that Google’s decision to delete cookies after two years is a big step forward to privacy is an exaggeration, at best.

 

Richard Waters

Facebook_logo Guessing the value of Facebook has become Silicon Valley’s favourite pastime. According to one of its biggest investors, however, it really isn’t for sale – at least, not at anything like the price anyone would be willing to pay for it.

Peter Thiel, who says he’s the second-biggest shareholder in the hottest private company du jour, is pretty direct. "We believe it’s worth $8-10bn," he said at a meeting last week. (The "we" includes his fellow directors at the social networking company, founder Mark Zuckerberg and venture capitalist Jim Breyer.) He adds:

We could probably get $2-3bn at the moment, but there’s noone who thinks it’s worth what we do.

How do Thiel and co justify their price tag? With 30m users, growing at 3 per cent a week, Facebook could have 100m users by the end of this year, he says. As a former boss of PayPal, he also says he’s seen before just how significant companies with built-in network effects can become:

The big lesson I learnt from the PayPal experience was, people tend to underestimate how far it can go.

He makes two other claims for Facebook’s lasting competitive advantage. One is its new platform strategy. Quoting Bill Joy ("Most of the smart people in the world don’t work for you") he says that opening up to other developers gives Facebook a degree of future-proofing. The company may not itself anticipate the killer app of online behaviour five or ten years from now, but if the smartest developers are drawn to its platform there’s a fair chance it will play host to the next big thing.

The other is that Facebook is collecting valuable information about all those new users. At some stage, that will prove very valuable – even if, for now, it has its eyes fixed on growth rather than monetisation.

Can the question of business model be dismissed so easily? A partner in one of the Valley’s most prominent VC firms (while confessing to deep envy at not having been able to invest in Facebook himself) points out that simply plastering display ads over Facebook pages will not do. That is simply a recipe for degrading the user experience. Where is the killer app for commercialising the site – the AdWords of the social networking world, something which fits naturally into the experience in the same way that search marketing complemented Google? Short of such a breakthrough, it seems purely speculative to try to put a value on Facebook.

If Thiel’s price tag represents his (and Zuckerberg’s) true opinion, and isn’t some elaborate attempt to stoke up a bidding war, then it seems Facebook will stay an independent company for a good while yet. That’s what Fred Wilson believes (or rather, hopes) – he’s counting on an IPO next year.

 

Chris Nuttall

Harrypotter While pirates are readying their photocopiers in India and China for the publication of the final Harry Potter book this weekend, a digital camera has already been used as a crude photocopier here in the West to publish the book illegally online.

Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows is available on file-sharing sites and has already been downloaded thousands of times. 

Chris Nuttall

Ncomputingxseries It’s nice to hear One Laptop Per Child and Intel have patched up their differences, but will two heads be better than one in solving the problem of providing schoolkids with computers in the developing world?

Stephen Dukker, chief executive of Silicon Valley’s nComputing, thinks not and has a seven-computers-for-the-price-of-one solution of his own.