In Version 2, eWeek says, Grokker has its own intelligence engine that analyzes content in order to categorize it on the fly. It also pulls search results from significantly more sources of information. Don't expect Grokker 2 to be cheap: Grokker 1 cost $100 for a single user license.
The new "Search by Number" feature also brings up information linked to other kinds of numbers, such as patent numbers, equipment identification numbers issued by the Federal Communications Commission, and airplane registration numbers from the Federal Aviation Administration (for checking flight delays).
As Gary Price of ResourceShelf points out, offering such specialized information is not new: Ask Jeeves has been working on something called Smart Answers, AltaVista on Shortcuts for even longer. It's intriguing that what folk a few years back thought would be popular -- lots of noisy graphics and titbits of news in an all-flashing, all-dancing big brand portal -- is being overtaken by something very, very simple: a quiet, white interface that lets you find what you want, whether it's a recipe or a patent, fast. I kinda like that.
Here's an example, courtesy of InfoSync World: the word 'mobile' on this page for example, has a link and pop-up box that says 'Windows Mobile--Your stuff, now available on the fly. Software for Smartphone, Pocket PC, or Pocket PC Phone Edition. Click here to see it for yourself!' which then takes you to a vibrantmedia page (which seems to be a broken link at time of writing).
The word Internet, meanwhile, offers you 'DIRECWAY - Internet Access -- Surf the Web via satellite. Available nationwide. Only $69.97 down and $99 a month. Includes the Direcway System and professional installation. Always on connection requires no phone line'. That link does, after a lot of waiting while the request goes through the Vibrant Media servers, take you to a Yahoo webpage where you can subscribe to Direcway, if the feeling so takes you.
This is cheeky, though perhaps not offensive. What's also cheeky is that you don't have any easy way of telling where the link might be taking you: Right-clicking on the link appears to be disabled. Neither can you view in the status bar of your browser the link in question: instead there lurks more text along the lines of the above.
This reminds me of something called RichLink from Sentius, which does pretty much the same thing (well, officially, 'software that automates the management of links and metadata to deliver point-of-interest content to end-users at the word, phrase, and metadata level for any Web application'). If I recall it used to provide medical definitions for the Reuters Health website.
Too early to make a judgement, but my first stab is that in a world increasingly annoyed by popups, the danger of alienating readers with links that aren't anything more than ads of questionable relevance seems to be quite high.
"On January 16th, 2004, Microsoft Windows 98 enters the non-support portion of its support lifecycle. Windows 98 is considered obsolete, and security-based hot fixes will not be generally available for users of Windows 98 or Windows 98-Second Edition," eWeek quoted Steve O'Halloran, managing director of AssetMetrix Research Labs, as saying.
This is daft. According to some reports, Microsoft doesn't need to do all this until next September, raising suspicions that it's just trying to make Sun -- owner of Java -- look like the evil wolf, and to force buying folk to migrate to XP. If any of this is true, I'd like to see Microsoft agree to provide security updates for at least Windows 98 users for as long as they can. I can't see Sun, or the courts, objecting to that.
Anyway, Alan asks, "Wouldn't you think that with all the money the handset vendors and cellular operators can spend on advertising and marketing, they would be able to come up with commercials that not only target the right demographics, but also wouldn't wave a red flag in front of people who want to ban phones?" I agree. The ads I've seen in this part of the world only convince me that marketing folk haven't got a clue about what users could do with these gadgets and so build their commercials around nonsensical scenarios involving butterflies, ocean-going yachts and beautiful people in tight sweaters. I think municipalities should ban the commercials, not the phones.
The product, ScanZoom, is made by US-based software company Scanbuy. The article points out that a similar technology is already available in Japan, where phones can recognize e-mail addresses, web site URLs and telephone numbers through their embedded cameras.
Meanwhile Logitech has announced that its own candidate, the Bluetooth Wireless Hub, now works with the latest Bluetooth phones from Sony Ericsson and Nokia; new PDAs from Toshiba, HP, and palmOne; as well as hands-free headsets from Sony Ericsson, Motorola and Nokia. It's worth checking out, although one word of warning: As far as I can work out, the hub will only work if you connect it directly to a USB port -- and not to an external hub. If your PC only has one or two USB ports, and you're using a lot of (non Bluetooth) USB gadgets, that can be a major no-no.
The file is a tad over a megabyte, and installs both into Internet Explorer and your taskbar (the bit at the bottom of the Windows 98/XP screen). Type a phrase in there and it will search nearly every search engine, and throw up a melange of results familiar to anyone who's used Copernic the program. It's elegant, configurable -- and free.
None of these issues seem any clearer with the announcement by the world's largest software and music companies, who on Wednesday, according to Reuters (via Techdirt), issued an initial set of technology specifications in a bid to create a system in which users would share customized Internet links, called "content references," instead of swapping song or film files directly.
From what I understand this would be like accessing a file on the Internet via hyperlinks -- basically how you use your browser now -- for which you would pay, either by subscription, or each time you listened to it, or whatever. I know it's a knee jerk reaction but to me this all sounds dumb.
A subscription approach may work for certain products -- movies, say, which folk may only want to watch once -- but music is a movable feast. We want to listen to it on the road, in the gym, in the bath, at the top of a mountain, on a long air/road/boat/train ride. Music, almost by definition, is not a static product. What's more, clearly this new approach is designed to squeeze more money out of the punter. For what? Do we actually end up owning the music, getting great sleeve notes, a product with lots of memories attached to it? Almost certainly not. It's a dripfeed revenue model, where we pay cents, thinking we're saving dollars, whereas all we're doing is paying a toll for something that once upon a time we could actually buy and keep. Or am I overreacting?
By 2006, over half of all mobile phones shipped will include cameras, Canalys reckons.
Wired reports that ATMs at two banks running Microsoft Windows software were infected by a computer virus in August, the maker of the machines said. The ATM infections, first reported by SecurityFocus.com, are believed to be the first of a computer virus wiggling directly onto cash machines. (The Register said in January that the Slammer worm brought down 13,000 Bank of America ATMs, but they weren't directly infected: the worm infected database servers on the same network, spewing so much traffic the cash machines couldn't process transactions.)
But how can an ATM get infected? SecurityFocus says that while "ATMs typically sit on private networks or VPNs, the most serious worms in the last year have demonstrated that supposedly-isolated networks often have undocumented connections to the Internet, or can fall to a piece of malicious code inadvertently carried beyond the firewall on a laptop computer." In other words: the folk who write worms are smarter than we are.
Recent MiMail variants collected and forwarded PayPal account details to the worms' creators. 'The business of the mafia is business, and there could be a lot of money to be made from malware and spamming. As they consolidate control, the business of hacking and virus writing they will squeeze out independents. Spam will be an early target,' he said.
What's the interest for the mafia? Stealing commercial valuable secrets, bringing down networks for extortion, grabbing money from PayPal accounts.
His argument: "Every user's inbox is a reflection of what Internet users are buying through spam. No spammer sends emails in the interests of the public good: they do it for profit, and that profit is only generated when Internet users open spam, read spam, and buy from spam. To stop spam, we have to stop buying from spam. That's why I have created the "Spam. Don't Buy It." campaign, to help educate Internet users on their role in the ongoing spam problem."
Actually, the website does have some interesting bits. I'm just not quite sure what a "Permission Email Pioneer" is.
The bill criminalises common spamming tactics, such as using false return address. But it overrides Californian laws which had allowed spam recipients to sue spammers. The bill requires online marketeers to act on requests to "opt out" of future emails, unlike European Union legislation which requires them to seek the permission of consumers first.
The Can-Spam Act is expected to be signed into law by President Bush before the start of next year.
The new version turns Aliencamel into a kind of email account in its own right, including the ability to preview email in a web browser before tagging it as spam or downloading via your normal email program, full webmail access to your mailbox, as well as disposable email addresses you can use to deal with suspect web sites and third parties you're not sure about. On top of that the service's Pending Email Advisory -- a sort of floating alert that lets you know of new email that is suspect without actually sending it to you -- changes to reduce frequency of advisory emails.
Most important, I think, is the fact that Aliencamel are going to embrace Bayesian filters -- the simple method of assigning a probability of spamminess to emails by looking at the innards of the email (content, header, HTML code) and comparing it to other emails it has looked at. I adore Bayesian filters (I still use POPFile) so I think it's great that Aliencamel are moving in that direction.
(Aliencamel, by the way, is an anagram of clean email. It took me months to get it.)
The interface will allow users to virtually transfer picture, music and text files so they can be viewed from computers outside the home or office. The handset is smaller than a cellular phone and uses IP (Internet Protocol) for conversations. It also has the ability to interact with a PC via a wireless or infrared connection. (Somehow I doubt we're going to be using infrared in the future, but there you go.)
I guess so. Most Wi-Fi spots are mere loss-leaders, ways to get people into your establishment and keep them there. Folk who charge may have provide other services to go with it: nice work environments, free coffee, printers -- or else be in places where there's no competition, like truckstops.
Here's the neat bit: In Boston, where the service is in place, the Trident bookstore is considered an affiliate of Amazon so if users of this service later buy one of the books they browsed for on Amazon, Trident earns a commission. Whether other bookstores are brave enough to do this I'm not sure, but it's a possible answer to the problem outlined in the earlier post. The beauty of it is that the bookstores play to their strengths: a great, comfortable place to browse and hang out, and the unmistakable allure of allowing customers to have that book in their hands, right now.
CNET quotes a study that "while nearly half of those surveyed use the Internet to look for products and then buy them either in a store or through a catalog, 45 percent are buying online after researching gifts in stores and catalogs". If everyone did that, there would be no stores to do your research in. For sure, folk are not going to buy something that's much more expensive, but they should consider the longer term impact of where they buy. As a former bookseller, I know customers don't think that hard about what life would be like without a bookshop until it's too late to stop buying their fare at the big mall at the end of the street.
I wonder how all this is going to pan out. All these sites use various kinds of Digital Rights Management -- DRM -- and formats -- MP3, WMA, etc -- which is going to make it hard for punters to use them on different gadgets (and even different desktop programs). Indeed, that's the point: As The Register rightly points out, these new players in the game aren't interested in getting into the music industry, they're interested in getting new customers to use their hardware, or, in the case of soft drink manufacturers, to buy their primary product.
There are privacy issues: who exactly gets to see your data? And then there's the money issue: how is Plaxo going to make money out of it? These sort of things worry folk: David Coursey, a columnist like myself but with more readers, trashes Plaxo, as does Mike in his excellent TechDirt blog. Plaxo was fine when people you knew added themselves and shared their info, but what happens, as Mike points out, when complete strangers do it?
I started to get peeved when I noticed that insurance salesmen started adding their contacts to my Plaxo setup. Surely that couldn't happen? I thought folk needed permission to do that? I asked Plaxo about this a few weeks back and was told: "If you are a Plaxo user and someone sends you a Plaxo card, there is a link in the notification to add them to your address book. They are only added if you explicitly click on this link." But I'm not sure that's true. I'm a journalist so I've got a lot of people in my address book I couldn't identify in a police line-up, but I'm pretty sure I didn't let some of this pondlife into my Outlook.
Bottom line: Plaxo need to address this and other issues before folk believe them. Sure, 800,000 people are using it in over 200 countries (how many countries are there? I thought it wasn't much more than that) but they'll leave in droves if they feel their privacy is being compromised.
Startup Inspector lists all these annoying programs, and will even try to tell you more about them than merely their name, via an online database of some 3,400 known programs. I have disabled about half of the programs that have loaded themselves uninvited and it definitely helps, even when you've got lots of memory to play with. They hog memory, but they also take time to load. Even sneaky little programs like RealNetworks' Tkbell.exe (a silly little reminder program) will try to reload itself automatically into your start-up queue whenever you use the RealPlayer (my advice: don't use it if you can possibly help it.)
Windows Startup Inspector is Freeware. If you like it you can make a donation to the author, through PayPal. Or you can buy his laptop, which he seems to be selling on eBay. Hard times for software authors?
Ratio of spam to email is 1 in 2.5 – up 77 per cent in 12 months
Ratio of virus to email now 1 in 33 – up 84 per cent
Basically, this means that virus writers are hijacking innocent computers and turning them into open proxies -- a sort of free sorting office for spam, churning it all and in the process hiding the original sender from anti-spammers.
Here's the link: Highlights of 2003 include Sobig.F breaking the world record in August to become the fastest spreading virus ever with one million copies stopped in a day by MessageLabs. MessageLabs also reckon that 66% of spam was coming from computers infected by viruses such as Sobig.F. At its peak, 1 in every 17 emails stopped by MessageLabs contained a copy of the SoBig.F. By December 1, more than 32 million emails containing the virus had been stopped by MessageLabs, putting Sobig.F at head of the Top 10 Viruses List for 2003.
The irony continues: Although the main download site is down, users can apparently still obtain copies via the Kazaa network: In other words, use the Kazaa program to find the 'illegal' version of Kazaa to download music (illegally).
What strikes me is on the discussion sites (here's Metafilter and Slashdot), you realise just how many other similar programs there are to Kazaa, or Kazaalite. I guess online music swapping in one form or another is going to continue as long as there are clever programmers out there.
Anyway, there are a lot of readers out there. A lot. Even since the last time I looked a few months back. I won't recommend one, but you should check out FeedDemon, NewzCrawler. But there are dozens more: Abilon looks cute, as does RSSNewsTicker, which is less of a reader and more of a ticker scrolling across your screen.
The creativity in the blogging and RSS field at the moment is extraordinary. Very impressive.
see below for subscription links -- sorry, but the columns are only available to subscribers.