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?

$335k For Virtual Property, What Bubble?

Club Neverdie

Yes we all may laugh at people spending real money on virtual goods but for some it makes economic sense. Club Neverdie in Entropia is a “turnkey” business that runs itself. Set up as a place of entertainment, it generates cash that more that covers the initial cost of investment and has now attracted investors, one who paid $335,000 for a portion of the club.

Yan Panasjuk couldn’t take out a mortgage for this property so he funded this investment from his own pocket. Yet, when questioned by Forbes as to why he had faith in getting a return, his response was quite optimistic and telling:

“When motion pictures were first invented there were a lot of critics saying that it is a novelty act and it would never amount to anything nor will be able  to make any real money once the novelty wears off – last time i checked Avatar has grossed 2.7 billion dollars world wide. Most recent example is MTV and Internet but then you know those stories well enough. Virtual Universe is the next logical step in world entertainment and although there are a lot of critics and people shaking heads it is here to stay and take its ranks among the greats.

According to the Forbes profile of Mr. Panasjuk, he is a 35 year old software engineer living in Boston who was born in the former Soviet Union.

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Facebook virtual currency now real

USA Today reports that Facebook Credits will be available as gift cards at Target.

The new Facebook gift cards will be available in values of $15, $25 and $50 at all of Target’s 1,750 retail stores and at Target.com. Two or three more national retailers will start selling the cards in coming months.

The article goes on to report that cards for online games such as Farmville are already available and that the overall market for gift cards was $80.6 billion last year.

I wonder how the gift card economy works. Does facebook get to book revenues for gift card sales before they are re-deemed? How are gift card sales classified for taxes? If you sell gift cards in other currencies, does the gift card revenue get counted towards the US GDP?

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Unfortunate Truth

Where Does Oil Come From?

With reports of large plumes of underwater oil making their way to the Louisiana coast, it now appears that the Gulf Oil spill will be much worse than imagined.

The image above is from the wonderful site, Fake Science.

For more on someone who’s doing something about the cleanup, listen to my friend Alex Wise interviewing Lisa Gautier, co-founder of Matter of Trust, an organization that collects scrap hair from barbershops and uses them to make specialty booms to soak up oil.

USPO should copy Finnish NetPosti


A recent editorial in the New York Times spoke of how internet commerce is eating into the US Postal Services’ bottom line.

The Postal Service made a profit until 2006. Since then, declining mail volumes — as more Americans use e-mail and pay their bills online — and the demands of its retiree health benefit system have dragged it deeper and deeper into the red. Last year, it delivered 17 percent fewer pieces of mail than in 2006 and reported losses of $1.4 billion, this year it expects to lose $7 billion. Postmaster General John Potter warns that unless the service takes major steps to bring its costs into line, it will lose $238 billion over the next 10 years.

Some of the suggestions include ending Saturday delivery and closing lesser used branch offices and replacing them with ATM-like kiosks in supermarkets or malls. While these may make sense to cut costs, if there was more flexibility for the postal service to expand into new businesses, they would stand to gain from the growth in other areas where they have suffered such as online, electronic invoicing.

Here in Finland I was surprised that the Finnish Postal Service has a strong online presence (NetPosti) that is an integral part of everyone’s life.

  • Receiving e-invoices in NetPosti does not carry a fee.
  • An e-mail notification and/or SMS message of e-invoices received in NetPosti
  • Pay for the e-invoice in any online bank from any account using the virtual barcode.
  • The e-invoice is convenient to attach to an e-mail as a PDF file.
  • E-invoices can be read and archived in all online services that offer the NetPosti service.
  • A free-of-charge archive for seven years (instead of the previous six years)

Netposti has not only everyone’s physical address (they get a feed of all address changes from the Finnish government), but they also provide an account for everyone tied to your social security number and an email address that you can provide.

I get my paychecks delivered electronically as a PDF and I can neatly archive them into folders for future reference. As it says above, I can receive my bills via NetPosti and pay them online via my bank’s website. All for free.

Why doesn’t the US Post Office partner with PayPal, Visa, Amex, etc and deliver invoices electronically and take part in the 21st Century?

Business Idea – Parking Space Net

I’m in Finland this week visiting Nokia, my new employer. The Finns use SMS for everything including late-night spot loans. Last night at dinner, one of my colleagues texted a taxi service and within two minutes he got a call from a cab that was waiting outside the door. He just texted his address to a number and the entire booking took place automatically.

Texting is their command line for physical world.

This got me thinking. With flat data plans getting cheaper and cheaper, could you set up a service which used an SMS broadcasting service such as twitter to reserve parking spots in a busy downtown area?

Need a spot in North Beach on a Saturday night? Send an SMS to a parking shortcode number that goes to a dispatcher. Dispatch then sends out a tweet using the account used for North Beach ‘reservists’ who would have a little time on their hands (homeless folks? students?). If the reservist has a place, they tweet back the location of the spot and then dispatch texts back the location of the free space to the person looking for a spot. When the car gets there, standard pricing applies (i.e. $1 for a metered space, $2 for a non-metered space).

The model can be applied to pretty much any situation where you need a temporary stand-in. Looking for someone to stand in line for your AC/DC tickets? Waiting for a new passport? Text it!

US Postage up a penny on Monday

As of tomorrow, First Class postage is going up from $0.41 to $0.42. I bought a book of Forever stamps a couple weeks ago and as of tomorrow they are worth a penny more. That’s a 2.4% gain in just a few weeks. Not the most practical investment vehicle, you have to stand outside the Post Office to liquidate your holdings, but the closest thing to a sure thing anyone will see these days.

I wonder how many people took the Postal Service up on their futures contract and how much interest revenue they’ll gain from front loading their earnings? They say that email and automated bill pay have cut deeply into the Postal Services’ earnings. The credit market crunch means I don’t get my daily assortment of Capital One credit card offers (don’t miss ’em!). I also read somewhere that after Capital One, Netflix is the Post Office’s next biggest customer (my local post office has a dedicated slot for Netflix drop-offs). What happens when broadband delivery of movies takes over and Netflix drops out as well?

What businesses is the Post Office thinking of getting into in order to stay relevant?

paidcontent.org gets into finance

ContentNext Media IndexRafat Ali and Staci Kramer over at paidcontent.org have added a Finance tab to their site and along with it launched a financial index of the top 100 new media sites. Dow Jones has quite a nice little business from licensing its various indexes to financial firms and mutual funds that wanted to benchmark themselves for their clients. Could this be a new source of business for paidcontent?

Predictive Markets Seminar at Yahoo

Back in June I worked with a team that hacked together an interface for a simple predictive market in which Yahoo employees with trade shares in projects that would pay out when the project IPO’d by getting released to the public. The idea was that value would go towards projects that the Yahoo engineers thought had the greatest merit. With a quick glance at the top "stocks," executives could see which projects were worth allocation of resources and budget.

The hack was a proof-of-concept and while the project has been noodled on by that hack day team, the concept of leveraging the "wisdom of crowds" to drive decision making has spread out to other areas at Yahoo.

Most recently, Yahoo Autos has released a user-driven version of it’s feedback center that allows anyone to vote on comments. It’s like Digg for the help center and is available for any Yahoo property to adopt for their own site.

Bix (recently acquired by Yahoo) also fits nicely into the predictive markets suite and can basically be looked at as a predictive markets engine for talent. Lip-sync karoke smackdown with user voting.

Finally, Yahoo’s hosting a conference about Predictive Markets and to kick it off, James Surowiecki, the author of The Wisdom of Crowds, will be speaking. There will be other speakers as well during this seminar which runs from 5:30 – 8pm on December 13th here at Yahoo in Sunnyvale, CA. Admission is free so mark yourself down as attending on the upcoming.org link and come on down!

Christmas Shopping 2.0 and Riya

A little tidbit I picked up from a fellow at Riya. They will be announcing Riya 2.0 in the next few days which will take their face-recognition know how and apply to finding similar things when out shopping. He pointed to the rather ornate carpet on which we were standing and said that Riya would be able to recognize the pattern and find matching objects that have similar patterns. Apply this to things you see in the store and you have a nice little comparison shopping device.

I asked if I could blog about it and he said that it’s already being written about by one of the founders so no beans are being spilled:

Riya 2.0 would help most in hard to describe items for which searching inside photos was most important. Objects that had this property tended to be soft goods like clothing, jewelry, handbags, shoes, home and garden, etc. Looking at Hitwise we realized that while there were $15-$30B worth of these items sold on the Web, almost 65% of the buyers for these items were women.

We knew we need to reach more women. We would talk to the fashion bloggers who were had the largest audience online, but in addition, I wanted to talk to the traditional fashion magazines like Instyle, People, Lucky, Jane, etc. Millions of women each day read their articles. The reporters at these magazines were not reading Techcrunch or my blog and had never heard of Riya.

Use case: You spot a kitchen appliance you like at the local Williams-Sonoma. Take a photo of it with your camera phone and search for the same product online or from other retailers. For more on the impact of such a device, see John Battelle’s post, The Transparent (shopping) Society.

Just in time for Christmas. Tie that into the Jellyfish Smack reverse auction and you really have something!


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