Opinion

John C. Abell

ICANN haz .youridentityhere

Jun 21, 2011 16:04 UTC

Manhattan Skyline, by Mario Carvajal. Used with gratitude via a Creative Commons license.

Brother, can you spare $185,000?

It’s web name land rush time again, and this time the stakes are pretty high. Also, unlike most previous attempts by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers to expand the nameable Internet universe — and repeat the smashing success of .com — ICANN may be onto something this time.

The global agency which decides these things has tried a couple of times since the web’s Big Bang to create new, desirable web property. ICANN changed the world with the original six top level domains — .com, .edu, .gov, .mil, .net, .org and .arpa. Of these, the only top-level domain (TLD), which was meant for the private sector, still accounts for the overwhelming majority of the web names out there — they don’t call it the dot com revolution for nothing.

The web is just like real estate. There are only three things that matter: Location, location, and location. So the world shrugged when, in 2000, ICANN OK’d .aero, .biz, .coop, .info, .museum, .name and .pro. The .xxx top level domain got a lot of attention last year, but its time has pretty much passed. Really only .co, barely a year old, has shown any real oomph.

But ICANN has a huge advantage over your friendly neighborhood realtor. It can actually create new beachfront property.

The real Twitter tragedy about Weiner

Jun 14, 2011 18:58 UTC

Reaching out,
To touch a stranger
Electric eyes are everywhere

– ‘Human Nature,’ recorded by Michael Jackson

It seems the final act of Rep. Anthony Weiner’s public life, at least for now, is upon us. Weiner’s spectacularly rapid, self-inflicted crash and burn crested Saturday when House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said that while she felt the New York representative’s pain, he ought to work things out “without the pressures of being a Member of Congress.” Then, Sunday, more pictures

(Update: Weiner announced his resignation on June 16.)

Even without the week of his media lying tour Weiner might not have survived the basic sexting scandal — and how could he? As a married public official who created and distributed damning evidence of, at best, flirtatious impulses, his behavior toes the line of predatory behavior.

Tech envy: It’s a jungle out there

Jun 6, 2011 18:17 UTC
When the iPad 2 came out, thousands of original iPad owners sold their barely-year-old devices on the secondary market to finance their upgrade. We replace computers every couple of years or so, but seldom because they stop working. You’re probably locked in a two-year phone contract — and itching to upgrade before your exposure to an early termination fee expires.

This isn’t the sort of planned obsolescence perfected by Detroit so that your brand new sedan, perfectly fine under the hood, looks a tad tired in a couple of years.

No. This is tech’s brutal law of the jungle. Call it Sudden Obsolescence Syndrome.

There is one exception to the rule, though: The iCloud. Like Moore’s Law in semi-reverse, “The Cloud” will get bigger and cheaper every 18 months — even though Apple has set the bar quite high (or low, as the case may be) by making iCloud free.

The digital wallet soon to be in every pocket

Jun 1, 2011 13:39 UTC

Will the smartphone do for retailing what it did for photography?

Like a recession, we never quite see a tipping point when it happens. Tech seems to alter behavior in unpredictable ways. But, in fact, tech makes it possible to form the habits we unknowingly crave. We love TV, but we’re walking away from the TV set. We still make calls at home, but have abandoned land lines. You used to carry a point-and-shoot camera, and you still do — but now it’s in your smartphone.

Google’s full-throttled entry into the mobile payments space last week removed any doubt that this is the make-or-break year for the digital wallet. Google is backing a technology called Near Field Communication (NFC), which will require a new chip in smartphones. This tech has been around for a while, deployed in payment dongles and proximity credit cards, but there now seems to be critical mass for handset makers to include it in the next generation of phones. Google’s Android mobile phone software powers about 1/3 of the world’s smartphones, and it’s growing fast. Another quarter comes form Apple, which has been mum on NFC but is expected to get on board. (Apple controls both the hardware and software for the iPhone.)

The reason the credit card hasn’t changed one bit since Diner’s Club invented it 60 years ago (from the consumer’s perspective) is because it hasn’t had to. It does exactly what we want, with minimal friction.

A cloudy forecast for digital music

May 25, 2011 20:15 UTC

Just in time for data caps, your music is going into the cloud.

It’s been a long, strange trip for the mp3 player. Born into relative obscurity, it only became a first class digital citizen when Apple got into the game with the iPod — the first portable music player with an unforgettable name.

From the introduction of this breakthrough device in 1998 as a clunky handheld hard disk, to its reinvention as a sleek, video-enabled flash-drive to its elegant evolution as an app, the ability to carry around your music has been a major driving force in the design and adoption of mobile devices.

The habit of never leaving home without music made it possible to imagine toting around TV shows, movies, books, magazines and newspapers on the pocket computer that also makes phone calls. It provided a major reason for increasingly capacious — and pricey — smartphones and tablets.

Rent-a-Google

May 17, 2011 15:32 UTC

Google, in a new bid to diversify its way out of an overwhelming dependence on search ad revenue, has once again taken aim at a giant in another industry. Having disrupted the disruptor that is Apple in the smartphone arena, Google is now challenging Microsoft’s 800-pound-gorilla status in the enterprise market.

Chromebooks for Business, unveiled at the Google I/O developer’s conference in San Francisco, ties together a number of threads the company has been dangling — not the least of which its seemingly Quixotic venture into the computer hardware game. But with hardware partners Samsung and Acer, Google is doing what Google does best: create a mechanism (inexpensive netbooks) that increases dependency on its cloud ecosystem — just like its advocacy of high-speed Internet connections that support its core business.

But this time there is potential revenue attached to that other agenda, and a genuinely viable business model. For $28 a month (less for schools) you get everything you need in hardware, software and service — including machine upgrades. Those machines boot up in seconds, connect to WiFi hotspots effortlessly, can tap into Verizon’s 3G data network if necessary (at an extra cost) and are elegantly tied in with (what else?) Gmail, Google Voice, Google Docs.

RenRen and the new tech IPO mania

May 9, 2011 17:06 UTC

Last week another social network went looking to raise money. These days, that’s barely news. But the company in question was Renren, China’s “answer” to Facebook, and the investors who threw money at the company weren’t raw-meat-eating venture capitalists; they were your neighbors.

Renren’s Wall Street debut got a lot of attention: A Chinese company doesn’t IPO on the New York Stock Exchange every day, and the social network space is red hot — just today, LinkedIn,  a professional social newtork, set its IPO striking price range to value the company at $3 billion.

Renren means “everyone” and with serious competition sidelined in the world’s most populous country this social network might just live up to its name. Most favored network treatment may in turn deliver profitability, a little metric which eludes Renren, but which didn’t deter the Street’s fascination with the company: It raised $740 million in its first-day.

In the Playstation debacle, Sony plays a serious game

May 2, 2011 18:57 UTC

There is a truism in business, and politics: it’s never the offense that gets you into trouble, it’s how you handle the aftermath. “Watergate” would not have become shorthand for corruption if the massive criminal cover up of political dirty tricks hadn’t unraveled. “Tylenol” might just have been a trivia answer had Johnson & Johnson not rebounded from the seven tragic deaths of people who took their tainted pain killers into a case study of pitch-perfect crisis management.

Apple and Google both had some explaining to do in recent days about how they collect, store and use tracking information on the smartphones which, combined, account for nearly two thirds of the market. But Sony might have an even bigger challenge on its hands.

Sometime between April 16 and 19 hackers gained access to private information about some 77 million Playstation customers, including logins, passwords, e-mail addresses, home addresses, and possibly account history and credit card information. It took Sony nearly a week to disclose this, even though it shaped up to be one of the biggest data breaches in history.

Shellacking Apple

Apr 25, 2011 22:24 UTC

Apple was outed last week for doing something either sinister or stupid (or both): Researchers revealed that the iPhone remembers where you’ve been pretty much all the time and saves that information in a way that almost anyone can access.

The revelation whipped up a media frenzy, and why not? Internet privacy is a hot topic — rightly so — as more of our computing goes mobile. The biggest subsidy for access to free and cheap content remain targeted ads. The more relevant the ad, the more valuable they are to advertisers and publishers — and the less annoying to the consumer. Google alone makes about $5 billion every three months mainly on ads that are more likely to pique your interest because they are determined by what you are searching for, or key words in your e-mails.

This iPhone dossier should not exist, at least in its current form. It lives, zombie-like, without any form or protection of encryption, not only on your iPhone but also on the computer you use to sync and back it up. Even if Apple isn’t hand-feeding your bread trail into the salivating mouths of sleazy marketers (and there is no evidence it is) the mere existence of this database is very problematic for very practical reasons: It could, for example, give a jealous spouse new leverage to demand you produce actual evidence to back your word about working late last week, and your employer a means to verify that you really did have that expensive lunch you expensed.

The water’s fine, but maybe don’t come in

Apr 18, 2011 19:18 UTC

southshore

Is the Internet turning us into hopeless narcissists, spurring us on to produce a constant flow of image-burnishing tidbits but all the while sapping our ability to create anything meaningful?

No, I haven’t just had a near-death experience, or been tagged by a total stranger in a picture I didn’t know was taken, or had my latest book proposal rejected. The trigger for this heretical notion comes from an e-mail from a friend, a writer, whose own relationship with the Internet is, admittedly, a love/hate one. The email contained a lament that tapped into a thought I’ve sort of had but haven’t, um, had the time to think through.

After recounting a lovely domesticated evening of no particular consequence, my friend opined:

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