Categories
Office

Location-based DRM

Reading news of the Loopt acquisition this morning got me thinking. What if someone were to build a service that would check your location and use it as a way to unlock content that would normally sit behind a paywall? Here are a couple of the use case.

Starbucks could do a deal with the Wall Street Journal or New York Times and sponsor free reading when you are within range of a Starbucks. If you check in to pass your location or attach to their wifi then all access will go direct instead of via the paywall. Or maybe the publisher asks for an email address for access and then Starbucks and the publisher can do a revenue share on new subscriber revenue.

Nintendo fans using free wifi outside a store in Tokyo. Stores sponsor free game characters that can only be downloaded from the store's wifi.

This location-based DRM could extend to any publisher:

  • Games that you can only play while you are within a store as a way to trial the experience or enhance existing games.
  • Music that you can sample via Spotify while you are shopping at Target.
  • Apps that can only be downloaded from specific stores.
eBay has some pieces of the puzzle with the combination of PayPal and Where. Match this with Where’s patent on geo-fencing and you have a nice suite of solutions that could build a platform that any publisher could plug into.

Microsoft has a specific patent for Location Based Licensing, I wonder if they’ll ever use it?

Categories
Office

People Discovery Apps, a Cautionary Tale

This was the weekend everyone signed up and joined Highlight or Glancee. TechCrunch has written about it and Robert Scoble has been going on about how viral these location-based services are. No doubt about it, these new apps which run in the background on your phone and let you know when someone you know (or might like to know) in in your proximity, are going to be all the rage at SouthbySouthwest.

Highlight

If you don’t know the details of how these services work, read Scoble’s review (The Two Hottest Apps You’ll “Run Into” at SXSW) where he goes into depth on both Highlight and Glancee. These “people discovery apps” (Scoble’s term) have been around before (Sonar and Loopt to name a few) but I would agree with Scoble that the timing is right this year for the early-adopter types descending on Austin next week to take these services to the next level.

I’ve been using both apps for a few weeks and can see how they could be useful while travelling and open to meeting new people. They are especially powerful when there is a compelling reason driving you to make new connections. Trade shows and conferences are a prime venue for this behavior. This was what was on my mind when I was with the MyBlogLog team and we developed our own version of the people discovery app to show off our API at an O’Reilly eTech conference in 2008.

You can read about “Meetspace” on TechCrunch or ReadWriteWeb. It was a small java app that ran on a Blackberry or laptop. It was tied to your YahooID and would pop-up a little notification that another MyBlogLog user was nearby. As Highlight does today, we added a feature that would compare your  profile interests with the other person’s and give you shared interests (“talking points“)  that you could use to strike up a conversation.

Glancee

Because Meetspace used bluetooth, not GPS, to detect proximity, the range was shorter compared to Highlight and Glancee. This worked to our advantage because, at the conference where we released the app, it allowed us to track when you were in the same room as someone as opposed to in the same general area. We kept a running log of the total time spend in the proximity of others and let users see who they spend the most time with over the course of the conference which usually meant they were the people attending the same tracks as you. Combined that with basic details of their company and interests and you had quite a powerful social networking tool.

Now for the cautionary tale. Meetspace was launched as an experiment. It was designed to show what you could do with the MyBlogLog API and while we didn’t plan on it being a new feature, we thought it might be an interesting way to bring the virtual social network into the physical world if it caught on.

It never had a chance.

Shortly after the eTech conference I received a call from the legal department at Yahoo. I forgot who was on the phone but he basically opened the call with, “You are going to shut Meetspace down, right?” as if it was beyond debate. I gave him my arguments for why we should let it run, (it was opt-in, it was innovative, it helped demonstrate our API) but all this fell on deaf ears.

The trump argument by legal was that if anyone were to be harmed in any way, and if the police were to require discovery to see if anyone else were around while harm was being done, the police could use the Meetspace app as reason to require Yahoo to turn over their user logs. Yahoo did not want to run the risk of having to turn over these logs to the police. End of story. Game over.

Hopefully it’ll be different for Hightlight and Glancee this time around.

Categories
Current Events

Broadcast Television is Broken

Through the eyes of a four year old child who grew up in the on-demand entertainment world of Netflix, traditional “appointment television” is a foreign concept. The interruption of commercials jarring and confusing. The following is from Patrick Rhone who is writing about his daughter and her utter disbelief in how things used to be when you turned on the television.

“I didn’t turn it off, honey. This is just a commercial. I was turning the volume down because it was so loud. Shrek will come back on in a few minutes” I say.

“Did it break?”, she asks. It does sometimes happen at home that Flash or Silverlight implode, interrupt her show, and I have to fix it.

“No. It’s just a commercial.”

“What’s a commercial?”, she asks.

”It is like little shows where they tell you about other shows and toys and snacks.”, I explain.

“Why?”

The movie comes back on for poor, confused Beatrice. She doesn’t understand why someone would program interruptions into the middle of a movie. Just as she gets back into enjoying the movie again, another commercial break descends.

“Why did they stop the movie again?” Beatrix, asks. Thus leading to essentially the same conversation as before. She just does not understand why one would want to watch anything this way. It’s boring and frustrating. She makes it through the end of the movie but has little interest in watching more. She’d rather play. The television is never turned on again during our stay.

And so it goes, the future is already here. If you don’t let them enjoy media without distraction, they’ll make their own.

Categories
Current Events

Fukushima MacGyver

I tuned into Frontline last night to watch Inside Japan’s Nuclear Meltdown which was quite topical after Martin Fackler’s New York Times front page story harrowing tale of how close the Japanese government had come to abandoning the stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant and evacuating Tokyo. Most of what happened I already knew but the one detail that amazed me was how some smart engineers (they are nuclear scientists after all) used car batteries to avert a nuclear meltdown.

The Frontline documentary tells the story of events as they unfolded after the earthquake. Workers at the plant calmly looked after the reactor which had already gone into automatic shutdown as it is designed to do after any major earthquake. As we all know, the tsunami (40 feet by the time it hit the sea wall outside the reactor) overwhelmed the plant’s defenses and flooded the backup generator cutting off power to the pumps which were vital to keeping the nuclear fuel cooled down.

And this is where it gets scary. Not having power meant there was no light in the reactor control room. There also was no power going to the gauges that measured the temperature in the reactor core, an all important measurement if you’re trying to keep the thing from overheating and melting down.

Someone (that person deserves a medal) had the brilliant idea to have everyone run out to their cars and pull the batteries so they could hook them up via jumper cables to the control room instruments and get enough of a current to power the gauges.

fukushima car batteries
Car batteries rigged together to power gauges

As the operators surveyed the damage, they quickly realized that the diesel generators couldn’t be salvaged and that external power wouldn’t be restored anytime soon. In the plant’s parking lots, workers raised car hoods, grabbed the batteries, and lugged them back to the control rooms. They found cables in storage rooms and studied diagrams. If they could connect the batteries to the instrument panels, they could at least determine the water levels in the pressure vessels.

– ieee spectrum, 24 hours at Fukushima cover story

What they found was that the reactor core was overheating and in danger of exploding which would have sent radioactive debris all over Tohoku. Using this data, they then made the very difficult decision to send personnel in to manually (remember they didn’t have power) turn the valves that would vent off steam to reduce pressure. This was a crucial action that, if not taken, would have made an already severe situation ten times worse.

Further Reading: Letter from Fukushima, The New Yorker

Categories
Current Events

Graffiti Zone in West Oakland

Ever since I picked up a copy of Subway Art, I’ve always been amazed at the semi-anonymous street art of graffiti artists. On the way back from IKEA in Emeryville I drive thru West Oakland to avoid the 880 freeway and today took a side street on a hunch that there might be some local art pieces to see.  The photo above is just one of several amazing pieces you can find around Willow and 24th street right off the Mandela Parkway.

More photos on flickr



Categories
Office

SOPA in Plain English

This post is for me to point folks to who are asking about why all those black “Stop SOPA” banners are popping up all over the internet. In a way, editing the DNS infrastructure of the internet in order to disappear sites suspected of pirating is the same as people who wash out their kid’s mouths after they swear. It ain’t gonna clean up their foul language.

Even better, Cory Doctorow posted a great rant on how this is just one part of a larger arc that he’s been following. In the post is a great paragraph that helped me explain SOPA to my 12 year old son.

If I turned up, pointed out that bank robbers always make their escape on wheeled vehicles, and asked, “Can’t we do something about this?”, the answer would be “No”. This is because we don’t know how to make a wheel that is still generally useful for legitimate wheel applications, but useless to bad guys. We can all see that the general benefits of wheels are so profound that we’d be foolish to risk changing them in a foolish errand to stop bank robberies. Even if there were an epidemic of bank robberies—even if society were on the verge of collapse thanks to bank robberies—no-one would think that wheels were the right place to start solving our problems.

It’s worth reading Cory’s whole post over on BoingBoing, Lockdown, the coming war on general purpose computing.

The time is getting short to let Congress and Senate know where you stand on this important issue. To contact your representatives, go to http://www.contactingthecongress.org

UPDATED:

Looks like the tide has turned and the discussion around SOPA and it’s sister bill PIPA has been postponed. For another excellent, plain English intro to these bills, check out Clay Shirky’s talk which brings some historical perspective to this conversation and how this is just the beginning. More to follow.