Archives For Web

Ongo is a new service that sounds crazy, might be brilliant… or might just be as crazy as it sounds. Here’s the pitch: It’s a one-stop shop for news. Right now that stop is a web site, but there’s an iPad app waiting for Apple’s approval and other mobile apps could follow. Content comes from mainstream news sources including the AP, USA Today, The Guardian, The New York Times and the Financial Times.

Here’s the crazy part: Ongo is a subscription service with prices starting at $6.99 per month. That monthly fee will get you access to content that’s largely already available on the web for free.

Sure, there’s some benefit to getting the top stories from multiple sources in a single location. And an ad-free interface is certainly an attractive selling point, (although after spending the last 15 years or so online, I’ve found it’s generally pretty easy to tune out the ads if I don’t want to pay attention to them). But overall, Ongo is still asking people to pay for something that’s already available for free, and that’s a tough business plan to get away with.

Read the rest of this entry »

Cablevision to the Cloud!

Mari Silbey —  January 24, 2011

After years of wrangling, Cablevision has launched a remote-storage DVR service letting subscribers record and store programs on the operator’s network with no need for a local hard drive. Jeff Baumgartner confirmed with Cablevision spokesman Jim Maiella that the service, called DVR Plus, launched in the Bronx last week with a price tag of $10.95 per month for 160GB of storage. Interestingly, the operator is marketing it as a whole-home DVR play, even though the remote storage angle could theoretically push the service into TV Everywhere territory. Today, DVR Plus is strictly available with a select group of set-tops, and the roll-out is still limited beyond consumer trials and the Bronx-area launch.

Cablevision won the right in court almost two and a half years ago to create a network-based DVR service. However, it compromised with adversaries by agreeing to market RS-DVR rather than a true nDVR offering. The difference? RS-DVR creates an individual copy of each program a subscriber decides to record. No one else can access that recording even if another subscriber wants to record the same show. Each recording must be created and stored separately on the cable network.

Ironically, now that Cablevision has finally launched DVR Plus, it doesn’t seem like such a big deal. There are other options now for accessing your shows in the cloud. All it takes is a few years to turn something that sounds revolutionary into a feature we all expect to get soon on any web-connected device.

netflix-silverlight-error

In 2006, Netflix scored a grand slam when they announced a $1 million prize for anyone who could improve their recommendation engine by at least 10%. It took 3 years for a team of scientists to actually accomplish this feat, but the prize was ultimately worth far more than a million dollars in publicity and to Netflix’s bottom line. Better recommendations not only led to happier subscribers (less churn), but they also made it easier for Netflix to sell the niche content that they spend less money on. Recognizing the benefit that they received from the contest, Netflix was quick to announce a sequel, but ultimately had to suspend their plans over privacy concerns.

While a contest to replace Silverlight likely wouldn’t garner as much attention, I believe that the financial benefit to replacing this video platform could be just as significant.

Some will argue that I’m being tough on poor old Softie and that Silverlight represents some of the best video compression out there, but consider my logic for a moment. From where I’m sitting, Silverlight has two basic flaws: It’s buggy as all get out and it’s a bandwidth thief.

The screenshot posted above is a real life example of Silverlight in action. All video frameworks are prone to errors of course, but look at all the hoops Netflix makes their customers jump through just to support this buggy piece of software. Continue Reading…

Security Alternatives to Norton

Dave Zatz —  January 16, 2011

Internet security month continues here at Zatz Not Funny. Personally and professionally I’ve had a hand in this arena to varying degrees over the years. As our origin story remains untold, you didn’t know that we launched “Project Safety Net” before ZNF morphed into a digital media blog – and the site was intended to provide security guidance for lay people. Like my mom.

As Norton periodically blocks our site from visitors, I’d like take this opportunity to provide some alternate solutions that might serve you better.

The false positives seem to have started about 15 months ago, when various Norton products or components would throw up an interstitial web page strongly encouraging visitors to steer clear of ZNF. One regular reader kindly alerts me when this happens, as he did yesterday, and has previously provided screenshots (above) that’s allowed me to file reports with Norton. Additionally, Norton’s incorrect flagging led to a rather entertaining exchange on the Roku Forums a few months back. From “Village Idiot” :

I have good reasons to trust Norton. – i have no reason to trust you. I DON’T trust some site i never heard of before. It would be really stupid to throw away a trusted Norton program for an unheard of site. Good luck on your site. I just don’t need the risk.

Continue Reading…

At every available opportunity, I partake in airborne WiFi services. Yeah, I know public wireless isn’t the most secure form of connectivity. But, at the same time, I haven’t been bothered to set up a personal tunnel. And I’ll do just about anything to pass the time on a cross country flight… as I did when returning from CES last week. Southwest’s wireless service runs a mere $5 during testing and linking up on my LAS>BWI flight (3140, 1/8) was a no brainer – especially as I hadn’t loaded up my iPhone with content and my Kindle was left at home.

Unfortunately, there’s something not quite right with their Internet connection in relation to Twitter. As you can see, I wasn’t the only one in my account:

southwest-twitter2

The interloper acted in the same manner I would have. Not entirely benign, but mostly benevolent as far as I can tell by merely firing off that lone alert. I’m not so concerned about anything in my archived Twitter direct messages, as it’s mostly boring stuff. I operate under the assumption that everything/anything online can become public at any time. Internet privacy is an easily shattered illusion.

Now it’s possible this person swiped my credentials off the network using something like Firesheep. But I’d expect a person dabbling in such affairs to more proudly proclaim I’d been p0wned. Followed by additional mayhem. So I’m taking him/her at face value and suspect somehow the packets were unintentionally crossed. And at the time there was super high latency on the network. Combined with Southwest’s proxy and framing of every web page (see below, left), I guess anything is possible. Although it shouldn’t be.

At the time of discovery, two hours after the fact, I was obviously startled and the only action I came up with was to delete the tweet. In retrospect, I should have left it be so as to not impact any possible forensic research. And to provide a more compelling post. But the screen grab will have to suffice. Once I deplaned, I changed my unique Twitter password, as a precaution, via aircard.

So consider this post a public WiFi PSA in addition to a security vulnerability notification to Southwest and Twitter. I’ll provide updates if either of them choose to respond.

(Thanks for alerting me, Steve!)

The Snapstick Web Video Box

Dave Zatz —  January 11, 2011

During my brief visit to the Engadget trailer at CES, Jacob Schulman suggested I track down the Snapstick box. Unfortunately I never managed to find the company, so we’re swiping his hard work instead.

Snapstick is currently a prototype set-top device, although a deal’s been inked with D-Link, designed to channel web content onto one’s television. Like countless others. But Snapstick takes a somewhat novel, if currently kludgy, approach by running a stripped down, custom version of Ubuntu to be accompanied by a VLC client for remote control. In English, the small box is basically a Linux computer that’s operated via iOS screensharing: Browse a web page on your iPad, launch the embedded video fullscreen on your TV. Snapstick’s OS and apps are also tricked it out with some dedicated hooks and a Firefox extension as well. But to get a full sense of how this device operates, you should hit Jacob’s video at Engadget. (And that “snap” motion to launch content onto the screen will surely lead to the destruction of many pricey devices… How about an icon or gesture instead?)

Because Snapstick is a full-on computer, with a presumably legit desktop browser user agent string, it’s less likely content providers will have a means of blocking web video as they do with Google TV. (Which Google doesn’t fight…)

Sounds like Snapstick is heading into beta testing shortly and they hope to launch for under $200 in the near future.

Click to enlarge:

Smart TVs are making a lot of the headlines this week, but a company called MultiTouch has a different genre of screens on display, and they are wicked cool. The MultiTouch Displays are similar to the Microsoft Surface technology that was all the rage a few years back, and to the HP TouchSmart product that Dave got a chance to play with at CES 2009. However, the displays from MultiTouch are modular, meaning you can connect multiple screens together; they’ve been implemented all over the world in tables and walls; and the platform is open so developers can create their own applications for the touchscreen interface. And oh, what a touchscreen interface it is.

The applications on display in the MultiTouch booth include a Twitter wall, a photo table, and a table application that was created for Dom Perignon with interactive champagne bubbles, a customized menu, and even table games. The company says it also has the technology deployed in medical, military, museum, and university environments, among others. The screens support an unlimited number of touch points from fingertips, to 2D markers, to household objects like coins. And because the platform is open, the possible applications are virtually limitless.

At CES, MultiTouch has announced the next-gen version of its platform and dubbed the technology MultiTaction.  The resulting displays are thinner, and scalable for screens ranging from “32 to 100 inches and beyond.” The company also says it will be ready to ship for the consumer market no later than Q3 of this year. The displays aren’t cheap, but at $4,000 a pop, they’re not out of reach for a certain slice of the population. And that’s the price this year. Surely eventually mass production will drive the price down further. Continue Reading…

The big TV manufacturers are all pushing 3D very hard, consumer sentiment be damned. But they’re also all getting on board with their own smart TV offerings, including services with app stores, and content that can be place-shifted to different devices. Yesterday Samsung and Panasonic both showed off their own TV app markets: Media Hub for Samsung, and Viera Connect for Panasonic. Samsung is touting TV episodes that can be accessed from mobile Galaxy devices, as well as an app ecosystem that it’s currently building out with developers. Panasonic showcased apps for Hulu Plus, MLB, BodyMedia, Skype, Facebook, Twitter, Withings, and Ustream during its event.

As the TV manufacturers jump into the app space, how will it change the landscape for both pay-TV operators and over-the-top box companies? (Not to mention the likes of Yahoo…) It will be interesting to watch.