flash intro pages – a useful analogy

Just a short one today before I get back to work. Completely unrelated to law.  If you’re building a website, and thinking of using flash, and, moreover, thinking of having a flash splash page, you may want to consider this sage advice:

Jared said, “When we have clients who are thinking about Flash splash pages, we tell them to go to their local supermarket and bring a mime with them. Have the mime stand in front of the supermarket, and, as each customer tries to enter, do a little show that lasts two minutes, welcoming them to the supermarket and trying to explain the bread is on aisle six and milk is on sale today.

“Then stand back and count how many people watch the mime, how many people get past the mime as quickly as possible, and how many people punch the mime out.

“That should give you a good idea as to how well their splash page will be received. That’s the crux of it.”

MarketingSherpa: Uproar over Anti-Flash Intro Survey Results by way of The Oatmeal.

from the “this is potentially very cool if it works” dept.

Came across this story by chance via an article in a Twine update that I was about to delete. Anyway, I caught the name Wolfram so thought I’d take a peek. The name might ring a bell – it’s Wolfram as in Wolfram Research, as in Stephen Wolfram of Mathematica fame. No slouch when it comes to all things mathematical. In any event, apparently in May he will unveil Alpha which, I gather from the article, is a “computational engine” that will actually compute answers to plain language queries. A brief sampling from the article:

For those who are more scientifically inclined, Stephen showed me many interesting examples — for example, Wolfram Alpha was able to solve novel numeric sequencing problems, calculus problems, and could answer questions about the human genome too. It was also able to compute answers to questions about many other kinds of topics (cooking, people, economics, etc.). Some commenters on this article have mentioned that in some cases Google appears to be able to answer questions, or at least the answers appear at the top of Google’s results. So what is the Big Deal? The Big Deal is that Wolfram Alpha doesn’t merely look up the answers like Google does, it computes them using at least some level of domain understanding and reasoning, plus vast amounts of data about the topic being asked about.

It will be interesting to see how (and whether) it actually performs. Given Wolfram’s credentials, the huge effort (undertaken in stealth mode it seems) and data that has gone into it and the positive articles to date (such as the one below) it does sound very promising.

From a legal perspective, it will be interesting to see how content used in the engine has been utilized and how the rights to such content (assuming there is at least some non-public domain material used) have been dealt with. From a tech perspective, it will be very interesting to see what the iron powering this thing will look like, particularly if it starts getting millions of queries a day, how the underlying algorithms work and the extent to which it can evolve and improve over time (I hesitate to use the word “learn”). And from a biz perspective, it will be interesting to see whether Wolfram takes a google-type approach to revenue generation (i.e. ads) or whether he has something else up his sleeve. Check it out for yourself in May.

via Wolfram Alpha is Coming — and It Could be as Important as Google | Twine.

chrome a windows killer? i doubt it

Read an article in eWeek that left me scratching my head a bit. The nub below:

Then later:

And that would spell doom for Microsoft. It’s one thing to squeeze Microsoft out of the Internet game by dominating search and Web services. It’s another entirely to come after the software giant’s core operating system business, wielding the Web as your platform.

Must admit I have a lot of trouble seeing that, as I would have thought in order to supplant Windows, it would need to be gone, and to go from a browser that sits on an o/s to replacing the o/s seems to be a rather large leap. A huge leap, actually.

What they’re suggesting might happen is already a possibility today. There is definitely something that can supplant Windows altogether, and provide access to all the web-oriented apps, etc. that Google offers. Its cheap (sometimes free), stable and has pretty good UIs – in fact, a selection of UIs and different flavours. Its called Linux. However, for a variety reasons, it hasn’t kicked Microsoft’s ass yet (at least on the desktop – there are a few areas where it definitely does, such as web and other server functions).

To suggest, then, that, because Google has come out with a browser, that that will lead to the supplanting of Windows seems, IMHO, to be a bit far-fetched. I’m not suggesting that Google wouldn’t have the wherewithal to try to go after the desktop. They may do so. Though I’m not sure if they’d want to – they have a pretty good business model already…

Anyway, if and when they do something like that it will be so much larger an undertaking than Chrome that the links between that and Chrome would be tenuous at best, other than possibly bundling Chrome within whatever o/s they create.

Even possibly on the application front, I can see Google putting some pressure on MS, and how this might tie with Chrome. But not the o/s on which the whole thing runs.

So I think for the time being, Bill and Steve probably don’t have much to worry about with Chrome’s introduction, at least when it comes to the o/s business (IE on the other hand, is another matter altogether…).

hybrid computing – bigger than i thought (possibly)

I recently mentioned Prism in a prior entry and how it was an intriguing business model. What I didn’t realize is how widespread a movement it seems to be, as suggested in this Knowledge@Wharton article. A brief blurb:

It’s been a busy few weeks for the big technology companies. On October 1, Adobe Systems announced an agreement to buy Virtual Ubiquity, a company that has created a web-based word processor built on Adobe’s next generation software development platform. One day earlier, Microsoft outlined its plans for Microsoft Office Live Workspace, a service that will combine Microsoft Office and web capabilitiesso that documents can be shared online. Recently,Google introduced a technology called “Gears” that allows developers to create web applications that can also work offline. The common thread between the recent moves of these technology titans: Each company is placing a bet on a new vision of software’s future, one which combines the features of web-based applications with desktop software to create a hybrid model that may offer the best of both worlds.

Such a model seems to make a lot of sense, both from the perspective of users as well as developers. From a developer perspective, I can see how simply gaining information on how their products are used (albeit possibly involving some privacy complications) could be invaluable. In addition, tying software to a service will likely curb piracy – its one thing to bypass protection mechanisms on standalone software but something quite different to try to fake an account setup to take advantage of an online service (at least given what little I know about it).

Then again, as the article points out, this movement may simply be the latest iteration of a trend that has never quite caught on (e.g. MS Hailstorm, “thin” computing, network as the computer, etc. etc.).

silly lawsuit of the week

OK. Short version of the story in InformationWeek: Woman puts up a website. She puts a “webwrap” agreement at the bottom – i.e. basically a contract that says if you use the site then you agree to the contract. Still some question as to whether such a mechanism is binding, but anyway…

So the Internet Archive of course comes along and indexes her site. Which apparently is a violation of the webwrap. So she sues, representing herself, I believe. The court throws out everything on a preliminary motion by IA except for the breach of contract.

InformationWork observes that “Her suit asserts that the Internet Archive’s programmatic visitation of her site constitutes acceptance of her terms, despite the obvious inability of a Web crawler to understand those terms and the absence of a robots.txt file to warn crawlers away.” (my emphasis). They then conclude with this statement:

If a notice such as Shell’s is ultimately construed to represent just such a “meaningful opportunity” to an illiterate computer, the opt-out era on the Net may have to change. Sites that rely on automated content gathering like the Internet Archive, not to mention Google, will have to convince publishers to opt in before indexing or otherwise capturing their content. Either that or they’ll have to teach their Web spiders how to read contracts.

(my emphasis).

They already have – sort of. It’s called robots.txt – the thing referred to above. For those of you who haven’t heard of this, its a little file that you put on the top level of your site and which is the equivalent of a “no soliciation” sign on your door. Its been around for at least a decade (probably longer) and most (if not all) search engines

From the Internet Archive’s FAQ:

How can I remove my site’s pages from the Wayback Machine?

The Internet Archive is not interested in preserving or offering access to Web sites or other Internet documents of persons who do not want their materials in the collection. By placing a simple robots.txt file on your Web server, you can exclude your site from being crawled as well as exclude any historical pages from the Wayback Machine.

Internet Archive uses the exclusion policy intended for use by both academic and non-academic digital repositories and archivists. See our exclusion policy.

You can find exclusion directions at exclude.php. If you cannot place the robots.txt file, opt not to, or have further questions, email us at info at archive dot org.

standardized methods of communications – privacy policies, etc. – more. Question is, will people be required to use it, or simply disregard and act dumb?

Mesh Conference

Will be taking place the same week as Toronto Technology Week. What is it you ask?

mesh is Canada’s Web conference, being held in Toronto on May 30th & 31st, 2007. You will hear from thought leaders, connect with peers, and get a better understanding of the impact of new developments online. mesh brings together people who are passionate about the potential of the Web to change how we live, work and play. Meet the next generation of Web ideas, leaders and companies at mesh.

See the mesh site for more details. Taking place at MaRS.

The Virtues and Evils of Open Source

Yes, I know, I’ve been behind lately. A ton of very interesting things to catch up on. But I’d like to put in one quick note about open source code. I recently came across an article, written last year by a lawyer, generally advising development companies not to use open source. I don’t quite recall where it was (if I did I’d link to it) but I do remember it being quite clear in stating that using open source is A Bad Thing and to avoid it altogether – not just to be careful, but rather to treat it as one would radioactive waste.

With respect, I don’t quite agree. I certainly advise my clients to take a great deal of caution in using open source code, particularly the GPL variety, and very particularly if they have a desire to keep some or all of their own secret, proprietary code secret and proprietary. That being said, I do have many, many clients who have used open source code to great advantage in various ways. Some have simply used existing open source code to avoid reinventing the wheel (and saving on costs), while taking care to keep viral elements out of their proprietary code. Others have been more aggressive with the open source model and have intentionally decided to use open source as the basis for their business model and making their very own code, or parts of it, either open source or subject to a dual-licensing model. As the Red Hats, JBosses, Sleepycats, MySQLs etc. etc. of the world have demonstrated, you can go open source and still have a pretty viable business. And, of course, there are the “old world” companies like IBM who have decided to go open source (in some limited ways – e.g. IBM’s DB2 Express-C thing).

Of course, this is not to suggest that anyone through caution to the wind and just start pulling down stuff from Sourceforge and whacking it into your product. Use of open source definitely requires some planning ahead and consideration of what the business model and value proposition of your business will be. Optimally, enlist the help of a lawyer who’s familiar with open source licenses to discuss what you plan to do and the packages you plan to use. Or, if that’s not feasible, try at least to read the applicable licenses yourself and ensure you comply with them, because if you don’t think that anyone will notice, or that no one will actually sue you, you may want to pay a visit to the GPL Violations Site and reconsider, in addition to the questions that will be asked of you when the due diligence starts on your next round of financing or, even worse, your (aborted) exit event. Can badly managed open source usage (and I emphasize badly managed, not simply open source usage) kill a deal? Definitely.

In short – I don’t think open source is necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it can be a pretty good thing, not just in the social good sense and all that, but also as a business. But it need to be used taking into account its terms of use and ensuring that its consistent with the strategy you plan to take.

If perhaps there’s one thing I’d recommend it would be for shops to make absolutely sure they have a disciplined approach in tracking where code comes from and the terms under which its being used and why its being used. That applies not only to open source stuff, but also, for example, your programmers taking neat snippets of code from Dr. Dobbs or something else, or coming across a nice little script somewhere on the Web and saying “Gee, that’s neat, let’s use it in our product”.

Anyway, if I remember where the article was I’ll update this to include a link.

Top Ten Twenty Lies

Yes, this is a bit old, but quite good. I was wandering around and found these two articles on Guy Kawasaki’s website, about The Top Ten Lies of Venture Capitalists and The Top Ten Lies of Entrepreneurs. Great, great reading. One small snippet from each. On the VC side:

“This is a vanilla term sheet.” There is no such thing as a vanilla term sheet. Do you think corporate finance attorneys are paid $400/hour to push out vanilla term sheets? If entrepreneurs insist on using a flavor of ice cream to describe term sheets, the only flavor that works is Rocky Road. This is why they need their own $400/hour attorney too–as opposed to Uncle Joe the divorce lawyer.

and one on the Entrepreneur side:

“Oracle is too big/dumb/slow to be a threat.” Larry Ellison has his own jet. He can keep the San Jose Airport open for his late night landings. His boat is so big that it can barely get under the Golden Gate Bridge. Meanwhile, entrepreneurs are flying on Southwest out of Oakland and stealing the free peanuts. There’s a reason why Larry is where he is, and entrepreneurs are where they are, and it’s not that he’s big, dumb, and slow. Competing with Oracle, Microsoft, and other large companies is a very difficult task. Entrepreneurs who utter this lie look at best naive. You think it’s bravado, but venture capitalists think it’s stupidity.

Great stuff.

Microsoft Patents RSS. Or Tries To. Maybe.

Interesting post on someone else’s blog about Microsoft apparently trying to patent RSS:

The applications, filed last June but just made public yesterday, cover subscribing and discovering what Microsoft calls “Web feeds.” That comes as a bit of a shock to anyone who’s been working on RSS, which has its origins in a format developed seven years ago at Netscape Communications.

Microsoft executive Don Dodge, while not involved in the patent applications, says he suspects the filings were made to defend the company against “patent trolls”. (The filings were made shortly before Microsoft announced plans to build RSS technology into its upcoming Vista operating system.) Still, if granted, the patents would give Microsoft a legal cudgel to wield against other companies using RSS.

Well. They do have a point. Generally speaking, I don’t think patent trolls (those that basically file overly broad patents and then sit on them in a dark cave until someone who actually does something useful, and therefore has deep pockets, unwittingly infringes, at which point the troll comes out and clubs them over the head with a lawsuit or settlement) are a good thing. That being said, its ironic that Microsoft feels the need to abuse the system in the same way as patent trolls in order to proactively defend itself. It will be interesting to see how things turn out.

Unfortunately, I’m not necesarily sure that prior art would necessarily invalidate these patents – after all, most of NTP’s patents were more or less considered invalid, but that didn’t stop them from collecting several hundred million from RIM. And its not like there haven’t been other, um, rather broad patents asserted in the past. You know, like back in 2002, when British Telecom asserted ownership of hyperlinks (which they lost) though of course BT doesn’t quite fit the description of a patent troll.

Then again, it begs the question as to who or what should or shouldn’t be considered a patent troll – for example, its well known that IBM has a huge, gigantic, enormous arsenal of patents at its disposal. IBM also actively licenses these patents (and of course threatens litigation where it believes its rights are being violated), but it isn’t necessarily the case that IBM would otherwise have exploited these patents in what I’ll call “active” business – i.e. making and selling something based on the patent as opposed to primarily seeking royalties and licenses from those do – even though IBM does do so in some cases. So does that make IBM a patent troll? What about Philo T. Farnsworth who, arguably, never started producing televisions but instead sought legal claims against others?

My perhaps overly simplistic take on this is that patent trolls are not inherently the problem, but rather the ability, primarily in the US, to register patents that should have never issued in the first place. If someone comes up with a smart, cool, inventive, and truly novel way of doing something, then they should certainly be free to either produce something with it, or sue the living daylights out of someone else who comes along and infringes the IP even if they don’t (or can’t) make productive use of it themselves. Not actively exploiting a patent is not necessarily tantamount to being a bad guy, IMHO.

It will be interesting to see what happens on this front, if anything. If nothing does, then I may well turn to drafting patents, the first being “Method of Utilizing a Rhythmic Cadence in the Expansion and Contraction of Multiple Muscular Groupings to Faciliate Indefinite Continuation of Metabolism of Cell Structures.” I like the sound of that. Yes indeed.