Tech News January 2011

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1. Donations ban on iPhone apps irritates nonprofits

The nonprofit world is stewing over the ban Apple has put on making donations on the iPhone via charity apps.  No one, including Apple, has data on how many nonprofits have created apps for the iPhone, but none can be used to make gifts. Prospective donors instead are directed out of a nonprofit’s app and to its Web site, which the organizations say makes the process of contributing more cumbersome.  “When you’re popped out of an app, you then have to go through a whole bunch of clicks to make a donation,” said Beth Kanter, co-author of “The Networked Nonprofit” and chief executive of Zoetica, a consulting firm. “It’s cumbersome and it doesn’t have to be.”   In protest, Ms. Kanter said she planned to replace her iPhone with a phone that used Google’s Android operating system, announcing her decision on Twitter, where she has more than 366,000 followers.  An Apple spokeswoman, Trudy Muller, declined to explain the rationale for banning charitable solicitations via apps, saying only, “We are proud to have many applications on our App Store which accept charitable donations via their Web sites.”   Apple takes a 30 percent slice of purchases made from the App Store, an amount that would be frowned upon if it were to be taken out of a charitable donation. (Source: New York Times)

2. nnounces partnership agreements with key classical institutions, a new online classical music store from Sony Music Entertainment, has announced that it is joining forces with a number of leading names in classical music performance and radio to improve the ways classical listeners in the US can discover and purchase music on the web.  Carnegie Hall, London Symphony Orchestra and Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, as well as both Classical 105.9 WQXR in New York and WFMT and the WFMT Radio Network, will curate and promote special programming and features on Through a series of strategic partnerships with Ariama, they will each have their own dedicated areas within to spotlight artists, recommend performances and highlight music from on-air programming. In addition, Ariama will serve as a sponsor of programs and features with each partner. (Source:

3. Illegal music downloads are 'on the rise'

Around 7.7m people have illegally downloaded music this year, according to research commissioned by the British record industry's trade association.  Its latest report suggests more than 1.2bn tracks were pirated or shared, costing the industry £219m ($342m).  The BPI's research, based on internet users' habits, claims that more than three quarters of music downloaded in the UK is illegally obtained, with no payment to the musicians, songwriters or music companies producing it.  This is despite a digital music market in the UK which is served by 67 legal downloading services.  Mark Mulligan, an analyst in the online distribution of music, said: "The music industry has been fighting hard against piracy for over a decade, but they haven't managed to stem the flow.  There is now a generation that believes music is available to download for free on the internet, he added.  This generation, he said, had never experienced the concept of "saving their pocket money to buy a record, which is why file sharing is never going to go away".   (Source: BBC News)

4. Supermarkets joining record companies in music deals

Despite their popularity around the holidays, CD sales are in decline.  A BBC News video discusses how some famous artists are by-passing record deals altogether and signing exclusive contracts with supermarkets to ensure sales.  (Source: BBC News)

5. Ontario choir logs 25.7 million YouTube hits

A so-called "flash mob" choir that recently performed at a food court in Welland, Ont., has a huge YouTube hit on its hands. The 80-member Chorus Niagara showed up at the Seaway Mall in November and spontaneously serenaded surprised shoppers with a rendition of the Hallelujah chorus from Handel’s Messiah.  Seven weeks after the video was uploaded, it had more than 25.7 million views.  (Source: CBC News)

6. What do we want copyright to do?

In an essay in the Guardian, Cory Doctorow explores copyright policy issues that affect whether and how creators and their investors (that is, labels, movie studios, publishers, etc) will be compensated in the digital era.  He tries to answer questions such as which creators and which investors should be able to earn a living from digital distribution, and what constitutes "a living". Copyright is in tremendous flux at the moment; governments all over the world are considering what their copyright systems should look like in the 21st century, and it's probably a good idea to nail down what we want copyright to do.  (Source: Guardian News)

7. E-Mail gets an instant makeover

Texting and instant messaging within social media applications, such as Facebook and Twitter, are replacing e-mail as the preferred method of communication, especially among young people.  “The future of messaging is more real time, more conversational and more casual,” said Andrew Bosworth, director of engineering at Facebook, where he oversees communications tools. “The medium isn’t the message. The message is the message.” The numbers testify to the trend. The number of total unique visitors in the United States to major e-mail sites like Yahoo and Hotmail is now in steady decline, according to the research company comScore. Such visits peaked in November 2009 and have since slid 6 percent; visits among 12- to 17-year-olds fell around 18 percent. (The only big gainer in the category has been Gmail, up 10 percent from a year ago.) The slide in e-mail does not reflect a drop in digital communication; people have just gravitated to instant messaging, texting and Facebook (four billion messages daily).  (Source: New York Times)
8. F.C.C. approves net rules and braces for fight

The F.C.C. has passed a new set of rules, which will prevent Internet service providers from restricting consumers’ access to content.  In a move that angered consumer advocates, the same protections were not made applicable to wireless devices such as cell phones.  The rules, which address some of the principles of so-called network neutrality, will be tested in the courts in the months ahead, and Republicans said that they would challenge the rules in Congress as well. 

The debate over the rules, intended to preserve open access to the Internet, seems to have resulted in a classic Washington solution — the kind that pleases no one on either side of the issue. Verizon and other service providers would prefer no government involvement. Public interest advocates think the rules stop far short of ensuring free speech. Some Republicans believe the rules are another instance of government overreach.  At the commission meeting in Washington, Julius Genachowski, the F.C.C. chairman, said the steps were historic. “For the first time,” he said, “we’ll have enforceable rules of the road to preserve Internet freedom and openness.” 

The new rules are, at best, net semi-neutrality. They ban any outright blocking and any “unreasonable discrimination” of Web sites or applications by fixed-line broadband providers, but they afford more wiggle room to wireless providers like AT&T and Verizon.  They require all providers to disclose what steps they take to manage their networks. In a philosophical break with open Internet advocates, the rules do not explicitly forbid “paid prioritization,” which would allow a company to pay for faster transmission of data.  (Source: New York Times)

9. For artists’ fund-raising, a social network site

United States Artists, a nonprofit group founded by foundations and wealthy art donors to broaden support for working artists, has unveiled a new Web that solicits small donations from regular people to help underwrite specific artworks.  Part social network, part glossy brochure, part fund-raising mechanism, the site seeks to democratize arts patronage as government support for the arts continues to decline and private sources of financing also shrink.   “What we’ve tried to do is take the good ideas about microphilanthropy and the good ideas about social networking and put them together in a way that people can learn about artists and learn about their projects and how they work,” said Katharine DeShaw, the organization’s executive director.  In testing, the Web site attracted roughly 36,000 unique visitors and raised a total of $210,000, with an average of $120 from each of 1,500 small donors, Ms. DeShaw said.  (Source: New York Times)

10. Opera in cinemas takes off – and joins the 3D revolution

The Royal Opera House, eager to build on the popularity of seeing opera in a movie theatre and challenge the Met's prominence in UK cinemas, is now developing what it hopes might be the next big thing for opera at the cinema: 3D. The ROH, which owns its own film production and distribution outfit, Opus Arte, filmed Georges Bizet's Carmen in 3D earlier in the year, and is planning a release and glamorous Leicester Square premiere in early 2011.  Why opera houses might want to put their work into cinemas is not difficult to intuit. Peter Gelb, general manager of the Met, talks of the need to tackle the problem of his house's "ageing and dwindling audience" and a desire to "reconnect what we do at the Met with the society around it".
This season, Gelb expects 3 million people worldwide to see the Met's work at the cinema, and serious money is being made. "The net amount we made last season after covering costs was $15m," he says, adding that attendances are also up 10% in the Met's Lincoln Center base in Manhattan.  (Source: Guardian News)

11. Opera's media macher: how Mia Bongiovanni helped the Met go digital

An article in the New York Observer profiles Mia Bongiovanni, the Metropolitan Opera’s assistant manager for media, who is responsible for the company's weekly live radio broadcasts, satellite radio channel, subscription audio and video streaming service, house-produced recordings and films, and, last but very much not least, its "Live in HD" movie theater broadcasts, the Met's signature initiative.  (Source: New York Observer)

12. Why we sell Third Man records on eBay

In a blog post, Ben Swank says, “The internet is a strange place and can become dangerous when philosophies, commerce and comment sections collide. My boss Jack White became the subject of internet controversy when our label, Third Man Records, put five limited-edition White Stripes LPs on eBay, which sold for more than $300 each. Some fans cried foul, Jack decided to address the situation and the blog machine erupted. What often happens when these things blow up is that we're only getting half of the story. For instance, people were less repulsed when they heard that $15,000 would be donated to charity from sales of these limited-edition LPs.  But charity donation or not, why can't a business hawk its own wares on auction sites? I'd argue that the record industry is in trouble, and anything we can do to stay afloat should be condoned. If there are people out there willing to pay for the item, and there certainly are, then why not provide it to them directly and cut the "flipper" out of the picture? The artist and label put the work into the release, so they should profit from it.”   (Source: Guardian News)

13. 4 Social Media Marketing Predictions for 2011

Tim Ferriss’ predictions for 2011 related to where the smart money and dumb money will go in social media marketing include:

  • YouTube Beats Yahoo — Video Will Convert: At least 30% off all the video views (more than 6.3 million) on my main YouTube channel come from search or organic referrals. By putting up videos, particularly on YouTube, you open up a whole channel for sharing and connecting to the biggest word-of-mouth platform in the English language.
  • The Full Resurrection of E-mail: E-mail addresses are a safer long-term investment than social media features.  The smarter marketers will budget “social media” acquisitions based on lifetime value (or a set duration, like 6 months’ retail purchases) of e-mail addresses.
  • Large Companies Will Waste Money on Vanity Metrics: There’s a difference between “actionable” and “vanity” metrics.  Impressions, page views, and undefined terms like “engagement” are at best gameable and at worst meaningless.  “Actionable” need not be expensive.
  • Ads & Conversation Will Impact Different Conversion Rates: you can have multiple audiences for your ads.  This is why advertisers should start monitoring chatter about their content and come up with ways to track and value that.


14. Digital download sales slowed to a trickle in 2010

In 2010, the growth in sales of digital downloads, which only last year had been marked and promising, slowed to a trickle, as more consumers plugged into Internet radio and video streaming sites.  Through November 21, total track sales (both albums and individual tracks) are up about 5 per cent (assuming 12 tracks equal an album). That gain of 95 million tracks pales in comparison to the 277 million-unit gain achieved in all of 2009. And the revenue those 95 million tracks generated is tiny compared with the financial impact of 47 million fewer CDs sold through November 21.   Nearly all of 2010's meagre gain in track sales has come from albums. Sales of digital albums are up 12 per cent through November 21, according to Nielsen SoundScan. At the same point in 2009, they were up 17 per cent and finished the year up 19 per cent.
Streaming sites are also struggling to move the needle forward. "Buy" links at such services as Pandora and YouTube give millions of users the ability to make an impulse purchase. Pandora has more than 65 million registered users -- it added about 22 million in 2010 alone. Each week, YouTube streams more than 1 billion music videos from just the top five music labels, according to TubeMogul. Between the two, consumers streamed billions more songs in 2010 than they did in 2009.  Unfortunately, those billions of additional streams appear to have had little or no incremental impact on download sales. A small fraction of streams may result in a purchase, but who's to say those purchases wouldn't have happened anyway?
Moreover, the digital album is showing signs of old age. For the first time, digital album sales declined for three consecutive quarters -- from the first quarter through third-quarter 2010. If downloads are like any other consumer product, the current slowdown will be followed by an irreversible slide in sales and revenue. Streaming alternatives that will accompany the downloads' fall are already on the market. More are certain to follow in 2011. Whether they can replace lost download revenue will be up for debate.  (Source: via Reuters)

15. Spotify is the coolest music service you can't use

Spotify is perhaps the biggest, coolest, greatest piece of software you’re not allowed to use. It’s a stand-alone application that lets users listen to and share any song by any artist instantly and for free. And it’s entirely legal. The service supports itself (and pays for music rights) with advertising and monthly subscriptions that unlock premium features such as the ability to store songs on an iPod, mobile phone, or tablet.

Spotify is an elegant application, by far the simplest, easiest way to listen to digital music. It’s faster and more responsive than iTunes, torrents, or Pandora. And while there have been all-you-can-eat music services like Rhapsody for some time, none of them let you start listening without laying down a credit card. Not surprisingly, Spotify dominates the markets where it’s available. The company estimates that it has more than 10 million users in seven countries, with more than 500,000 paying subscribers. It has fundamentally changed how people listen to music in Europe.  But, thanks to resistant labels and archaic rights systems, Spotify isn’t available yet in the US.  (Source: Wired)