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Dec 31, 2008

CLIP: Revolutionizing business markets with games

from VentureBeat by 

David Edery and Ethan Mollick are co-authors of Changing the Game: How Video Games Are Transforming the Future of Business, published in 2008 by Pearson Education. Edery, the Xbox Live Arcade games portfolio planner at Microsoft, wrote this piece, about the trend dubbed Funware in our past stories, for VentureBeat.

Over the past several years, my co-author and I have watched as video games have become a powerful tool through which organizations teach, persuade, and motivate people. For example, medical schools have used game-like simulators to train surgeons, reducing their error rate in practice by a factor of six. America’s Army, a recruiting game developed by the U.S. Army for just 0.25% of the Army’s total advertising budget, has had more impact on new recruits than all other forms of Army advertising combined. Google is using video games to turn its visitors into a giant, voluntary labor force –  encouraging them to manually label the millions of images found on the Web that Google’s computers cannot identify on their own. And of course, it’s remarkable how quickly video games have evolved from scapegoats for childhood obesity into the next great fitness craze.

The use of video games as advertising vehicles is one of the oldest and most common business uses of games in general (we’ve identified good examples from the early 1980s.) One of the most remarkable and relatively recent examples can be found in the fast food industry. For decades, multinational titans such as McDonald’s have generally attacked the market in a very traditional way — with expensive television advertisements and short-term promotions. But in 2006, Burger King changed everything by recognizing the increasing popularity of home video game consoles. The company developed and released three packaged games that were explicitly designed to promote the Burger King brand. Each game incorporated Burger King’s highly-recognizable characters, such as the King himself, and the Subservient Chicken. The results of this promotion exceeded everyone’s expectations.

Over 3.2 million copies of these games were sold in Burger King restaurants for $3.99 each, which resulted in one of the most effective promotions in the history of the franchise. So many consumers dropped by their local Burger King to purchase these games (and eat a meal while they were there) that during the period of this promotion, the company’s quarterly profit jumped by 40%. Better still, many consumers continued to play the games long after the promotion ended, which effectively meant free long-term advertising for Burger King. Compare that to the typical TV advertisement!

Of course, the executives at McDonald’s have taken notice of Burger King’s success, and have escalated the war for the hearts and minds of the gaming public by launching a virtual world centered around the McDonald’s brand. (Or as their website once noted, “The happy meal has gone digital!”) Children are encouraged to become citizens of this world, which contains a variety of gameplay experiences, and their sense of belonging is enhanced through customization features like the creation of their own avatar, and the opportunity to vote on the name of features within the world — not to mention the very name of the world itself. (The kids ultimately voted for “McWorld,” which suggests how, er, “creative” McDonald’s was with the choices.)

The overlapping space between business and games has become so active that we hear of interesting new projects on a near weekly basis. In the short time since we finished writing Changing the Game, we have learned that over half of the teams in the NBA are using NBA Live 2008, a popular basketball game, to simulate potential trades and evaluate personnel. That games are being used to significantly reduce the pain and suffering experienced by burn victims. That the US Army is using games to help prevent suicide. And that Allstate is using games (not driving simulations, but specialized casual games) to estimate the driving skill of people over the age of 50.

The big question is no longer “will businesses ever leverage the power of games?” That question was answered years ago. The question now is, “what major market will be revolutionized by video games next?”

Dec 30, 2008

CLIP: Digital Revenues Fall at New York Times Co.

Digital ads just won't suffice to save the struggling newspaper business. That's been clear since early this fall, when the Newspaper Association of America reported its members' second quarter revenues shrank for the first time in Q2, following weak Q1 growth. Those revenues declinedagain in Q3, shattering the pipe dream that rapid Web growth would support the publishers' huge cost structures.

So perhaps it shouldn't come as a shock that The New York Times -- itself an NAA member -- is also feeling a digital ad pinch. Long known for its culture of innovation, particularly at NYTimes.com, the company last week reported results for November, and were they ever bad. The dismal report includes a 21.8 percent overall revenue drop, led by spending declines in a bunch of major sectors and in all its divisions.

While grim, that big picture pain is less disheartening than this tidbit: Online ad revenues for the month contracted 4 percent compared with November 2007, owing to the continued flight of real estate and job classifieds advertising. The collapse of those two bedrocks of its ad model appear to have trumped all the company's smart synchronized banners, its surround sessions and its 10th place ranking among the largest Web players (Nielsen Online). Even for the Grey Lady, it would appear based on these numbers that rapid adoption and innovation in new channels just aren't enough to sustain a business mired in old ones.

CLIP: Facebook Connect Boosts Gawker's New User Sign-Ups, Comments

Three weeks after it launched, about 100,000 people have signed up for Facebook Connect, the social network's service that allows members to use their accounts on participating third-party sites across the Internet.

The numbers are according to AllFacebook.

100,000 users is not much -- about .07% of Facebook's 140 million active users.

The main hold-up? Large Web publishers Hulu, Digg and Twitter, which say they plan to implement Facebook Connect, haven't yet.

For now, the largest publisher on the authentication service is TV-on-the-Web video site Joost.com, which has 13,000 users signed-up through Facebook Connect.

Next, there's the Gawker Media blog network, with six sites in the top 25 and some 9,000 Facebook Connect-using members. IAC video-sharing site Vimeo has 6,000.

If Facebook is going to build an ad network on the back of Facebook Connect and finally earn revenues to justify a $15 billion (or even a $4 billion) valuation -- as everyone assumes is the company's plan -- it needs to quickly put the 100,000 user milestone in the rear mirror.

We believe it will.

Gawker Media tells us that since implementing Facebook Connect, user registrations are up 45% week over the week. Comments are up 16%.

It's hard to imagine that after hearing those kinds of numbers, publishers won't scramble to hook up their sites to Facebook's 140 million active users as fast as possible.

CLIP: Content Sites Bracing For 50% Revenue Slowdown

The U.S. economy has likely been in recession for a year, and tech companies have been bracing for a big slowdown in growth. But the fact is that revenues for most Internet-based companies haven’t dropped yet. Amazon, in fact, was able to issue its annual “best year ever” press release the day after Christmas.

That’s all about to change, at least for content sites, starting this week. Display advertising revenue is going to fall of a cliff in January according to a number of content sites I’ve spoken with who rely on advertising for revenue. “Sales through December were mostly strong as advertisers used up their marketing budgets,” said one sales exec. But, he added, “there are few buyers for this next fiscal quarter, and those few that are buying are looking for steep discounts.”

Just how bad will it be? I’ve heard estimates of 30%-80% revenue drops over the next three months from companies that serve a variety of content (games sites, tech news, celebrity news, political news, etc.). The median pessimism point is around 50%. The people I’ve spoken with work at large public companies and small one-person blog shops. Absolutely no one I spoke with said they expect an up quarter.

Some of the companies that survive the next few months will be leaner and stronger when this ends. That’s the upside. But everyone is cutting the fat, and your boss just may think you’re expendable.

Anyhow, on a more upbeat note, guess the movie the image is from, first comment to get it right gets a TechCrunch tshirt.

Dec 29, 2008

CLIP: What are the Benefits of Social Media Marketing?

Looking to make the case for why your organization or clients should be using social media marketing? A survey last month, highlighted today in eMarketer, outlines the benefits that marketing executives cite as reasons to embrace the medium:

Not surprisingly, customer engagement takes the top spot, with 85.4% of respondents citing it as a benefit of using social media marketing (perhaps the better question is, who are the 15% of respondents who didn’t see that as a benefit?). More interesting is that direct response – defined as “great lead generation source” in the list of benefits – was only cited by 21% of execs, implying that most execs don’t see the medium as having a direct impact on sales.

Will that make it harder to make the case for social media marketing as a part of leaner ad budgets in 2009? With 51% of respondents also citing “low cost” as a benefit, I think the case can still be made that social media marketing is a viable medium for driving customer growth next year. But, it could be challenging, given the more immediately tangible results you can see (or not see) from more traditional online ad buys like pay-per-click or affiliate marketing.

What are you citing as the main benefits of social media marketing with your company and clients? Are you optimistic for ’09? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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Dec 27, 2008

CLIP: USA Today Will Be Sold On Amazon's Kindle

Gannett (NYSE: GCI) flagship USA Today is the latest paper to be sold through Amazon's Kindle. The top-selling U.S. paper has yet to show up in the Kindle Store but Amazon told Kindle subscribers on Christmas morning that they'll be able to download the Dec. 26 edition for free. USA Today, which doesn't publish on holidays, only offers weekday editions so the first issue for sale will be Dec. 29.  We're checking on the subscription and single-issue prices. Single Kindle copies tend to go for 75 cents while monthly costs vary: the New York Times, published daily, is $13.99 a month, while the Wall Street Journal (six days) and the Washington Post (daily) run $9.99. Publishers get the bulk of the revenue share with Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN). Update: USAT is $11.99 a month.

Often requested by Kindle users, USAT is only the 21st U.S. paper and the 28th paper overall to show up in the device store. Some publishers, including the NYT, have talked about their surprise at the service's success but it's hard to gauge just how meaningful that it. Amazon also has received considerable publicity from the likes of Martha Stewart raving about reading the Wall Street Journal on her Kindle (no ink to rub off) and others who talk about substituting print editions for Kindle subscriptions. (I don't subscribe to any Kindle newspaper editions, preferring to keep my print subscriptions and download single issues while traveling.)

Kindle launched in November 2007 in time for the holidays but what should have been a breakout season for sales this year has been hampered by recurring supply problems credited, in part, to a popularity boost from an endorsement by Oprah Winfrey and a discount through her show. New models at $359 are currently out of stock at Amazon, with shipping estimated in 8-10 weeks; refurbished models are available sporadically. Amazon is encouraging would-be owners to sign up now to get a place in line when delivery resumes. The company doesn't release the actual number of units soldPublish Post or the volume of Kindle content sales.

Top five newspapers on Kindle sorted by bestsellingNYTWSJWaPoFinancial TimesChicago Tribune.

CLIP: The top 20 game stories of 2008

2008 has been a big year for the games market. Game sales soared to new heights this year and resisted the onset of the recession. Here’s a recap of our biggest game-market stories this year (including some links for related stories) for those of you who may have missed them:

1. The Nintendo Wii broke all sales records and expanded the market for gaming beyond nerds. The Wii tapped into a need to play more casual and social games. We had a Q&A with Nintendo of America’s president, Reggie Fils-Aime, about the phenomenon.

2. The industry hit a record $22 billion in the midst of a recession. A census estimates there are 44,400 people working in the U.S. game industry.

3. The iPhone emerged as a game platform. With companies such as Ngmoco making iPhone-only games, the market took off. Thousands of games are now available on Apple’s App Store.

4. Activision closed its merger with Vivendi Games, which included the crown jewel Blizzard Entertainment, maker of World of Warcraft. In post-merger life, the crown jewel was left to operate as its own independent company.

5. VentureBeat uncovered the behind-the-scenes story of Microsoft’s Xbox 360 Red Ring of Death hardware failure. Microsoft fired the game tester who talked to Venturebeat.

6. Electronic Arts struck out with its holiday line-up. Spore disappointed, and EA was forced to lay off 10 percent of its staff.

7. Both Microsoft and Sony tried to make console games into a more social experience. Sony launched Home virtual world for PlayStation 3, while Microsoft debuted its new Xbox Experience including movies from Netflix. Sony was able to get a bunch of partners to launch inside Home, but users overwhelmed Home in its early days.

8. Electronic Arts courted Take-Two Interactive with a $2 billion hostile takeover bid, but the maker of Grand Theft Auto IV wanted a higher price and the companies gave up on merger talks.

9. Microsoft cut console prices, finally addressed Red Ring of Death with Jasper-based models of the Xbox 360.

10. Advanced Micro Devices took leadership in graphics chips back from Nvidia. It did so by shooting for the sweet spot of the market. Previously, Nvidia owned the gamer market. But now the tables have turned.

11. World of Warcraft expansion pack Wrath of the Lich King sold 2.8 million units in 24 hours.

12. Google launched, then buried, Lively virtual spaces. But it got off the ground with in-game advertising.

13. The redesigned E3 trade show — once a signature extravaganza that drew 80,000 people — was a train wreck, drawing only a few thousand underwhelmed media and business people. Afterward, the game industry vowed to bring the old show back.

14. Music video games overtook sports games, thanks to Guitar Hero and Rock Band franchises.

15. Nintendo DS ran away with the portable market, outselling the PlayStation Portable by two to one. Then Nintendo announced the DSi improved version of its handheld.

16. Grand Theft Auto IV sold 10 million copies, despite the criticism of anti-violence critics. The biggest game industry critic Jack Thompson was disbarred for unprofessional conduct.

17. Scrabble clone Scrabulous took off on Facebook, Hasbro sued, the game was shut down and the replacement Scrabble tanks.

18. Wii Fit broadened the video game audience and brought the exercise genre — which had been just a niche in the past — to mainstream audiences.

19. Funware — the use of game mechanics in non-game applications — expanded the game industry’s reach beyond games.

20. YouTube became a huge channel for game marketing.

Please check out our link to VentureBeat’s inaugural game conference, GamesBeat 09, on March 24.

A Wii Christmas: Console Finally Gets VOD; Pumps Up Amazon's Holiday Sales

Two news bits about the Nintendo Wii snuck out during yesterday's Christmas Day lull: Nintendo announced that the Wii would finally be getting video downloads, and Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) said that the console topped its holiday best-seller list.

Nintendo teams with Dentsu for Wii video service : Nintendo has partnered with Japanese ad agency Dentsu to roll out a video distribution service on the Wii. Reuters says the service will offer both free (ad-supported) and subscription-based shows, though no specific series were named. NewTeeVee reports that the VOD feature, tentatively named the Wiinoma Channel, may not appeal to console owners that have become accustomed to broad show libraries: as it stands, the Wii won't be used to access third-party content over the Web, just the clips that Nintendo approves.

There also weren't any details about when the service would be available outside of Japan, though it's in Nintendo's best interest to scale it out globally at some point. The company has sold roughly 34.6 million Wiis worldwide, and just 7 million of those units were sold in Japan (per Gamespot)—compared to 13.4 million in the U.S. alone.

Wii fuels Amazon's "best ever" holiday sales : What recession? Online shoppers helped Amazon rake in its best holiday sales season in 14 years—with nearly 73 items ordered per second on Dec 15, its peak day—per a company press release. Amazon called out the Wii specifically in terms of its holiday success, saying: "the Nintendo Wii dominated the top sellers in video games and hardware including the Wii console, the Wii remote controller and the Wii nunchuk controller."

Dec 25, 2008

5 Hints for Personal Productivity Using the Internet

Happy Holidays. Here is my updated, email signature:

Connect! Strength through growth. 
 tEarn Exitmercial (http://tEarn.com

Social media strategist:  
Hundreds of friends have asked how I keep up with so many projects. The answer is productive use of the Internet. Here are the key aspects.

Social Networks

Use social networks as your secretaries. The networks automate tracking of friends, emails, phone numbers, and status changes. Christmas cards become a simple post to all friends. 

Conversely, use blogs and feeds to keep your friends informed about your progress. 

For boomer friends, get over the privacy concern. Join networks, connect with friends, and save time to focus on important themes. 

RSS Feeds and Readers

It's simple to do. When you see the orange icon on a worthy site, click and choose your RSS reader. Content flows from the site to your RSS reader.

If the feed produces garbage, it's easy to stop the subscription. 

I use My Yahoo, iGoogle, and Google Reader - with no specific preference for any of the formats. Each allows scanning of interesting headlines, reading clips, and drilling down to more details. In a typical day, I scan thousands of articles by subject, read hundreds, and clip dozens where I've learned something new. Also, I clip content that substantiates or refutes a current personal project or theme.

I've experimented with Twitter and Friendfeed. Lifestreaming seems like a hula-hoop - too extreme and distracting for my personal productivity. That's just a personal opinion. For certain clients, these services can produce huge value. 

Team Up with Worthy Partners

Dozens of partners work together for mutual benefit. For each substantial project, one or more partners work together to start, maintain, and expand the project. 

Leveraging the ideas, execution, and connections of partners expands personal reach. 

The chinese fable says, "you can break a chopstick, but not a bundle of chopsticks." Already, cross pollination of talents have targeted bigger and better projects. 

Stay Flexible

My signature changes every month. New ideas lead to new projects. 

The Internet changes rapidly. Even leaders like Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon, and eBay are constantly reinventing themselves. If they succeed, they stay  in the lead. If they fail, like Yahoo, Microsoft, and eBay - they lose market share. 

These changes imply that slow-adapting enterprises and businesses need help. Web 1.0 commerce sites look old, unfashionable, and unappetizing to the massive wave of Internet users. Web 2.0 is everywhere - except enterprise sites - but we're moving on to web 3.0.

Create IP to Protect and Automate

My unique strength is to quickly convert ideas into solution platforms. Platforms produce solutions that scale across millions of sites, not just for one client or one project. 

For example, Flash animators create interesting pages, but they don't scale. The Flash platform itself scales well. 

Content management, social media, or advertising networks - these are the 3 key themes for web 3.0; and our library of IP is growing rapidly for each theme.

Does This Work?

Our collective projects reach over 1 million UU per month. It's been doubling every quarter. The growth could accelerate. 

Cloud computing, RSS integration, microformats, semantic web, and mash-ups - drop the acronyms. Web 3.0 has arrived and we're having fun.

Suggest your ideas. Tell us why we should become partners. Let's get to work.

CLIP: Kids and teens have pushed at least 6 immersive online worlds to over 2m UU/mth in the US

Ed: Exludes casual gaming at Yahoo Games, Facebook, and Microsoft Live.

April 23, 2007Posted by jeremyliew 

Wagner James Au has a great post on GigaOm about GaiaGaia is a casual immersive MMORPG that describes itself as:

“The world’s fastest growing online world hangout for teens.”

In an interview with Gaia’s CEO, Craig Sherman, he quotes that Gaia has gone from 0.5m unique users/month midway through last year to 2.5m UU/mth last month. (nb Comscore only has them at 700k UU/mth in March). Furthermore, he claims 300k users log in each day for an average of 2 hours per session, and in their forums area they are getting an average of 1m posts per day for a total of over 1 billion posts so far. And its mostly (85%) US traffic. Impressive stats. Gaia has been pretty quiet about its growth until recently, but Susan Wuwas finally able to get them to break their silence by getting Craig to speak at her panel at Web2.0 Expo last week.

Casual immersive worlds have not previously been as popular in the US as they have been in Europe (Habbo Hotel) or Asia (Cyworld). ( I draw a distinction between casual immersive worlds and games such as Runescape and World of Warcraft). Even press darling Second Life, currently reporting 1.7m log-ins in the last 60 days, is lagging Gaia’s usage.

Interestingly enough, Gaia isn’t the only casual immersive world that is getting meaningful usage in the US. The original casual immersive world, Neopets, is still going strong, with 4.2m UU/mth in March according to Comscore.

Neopets® is the greatest Virtual Pet Site on the Internet. With your help, we have built a community of over 70 million virtual pet owners across the world! Neopets has many things to offer including over 160 games, trading, auctions, greetings, messaging, and much much more. Best of all, it’s completely FREE!

Club Penguin, who Susan also got to speak for the first time on her panel at web2.0 expo, is also growing like crazy - 4.1m UU/mth in March.

Club Penguin is a kid-friendly virtual world where children can play games, have fun and interact with each other.

* Kid-friendly chat
* Lots of fun games
* Nothing to download
* Lots more!

Webkinz, who I mentioned last week as one of the few sites getting their users to visit more than 10 times per month, is also at 4.1m UU/mth.

Webkinz pets are lovable plush pets that each come with a unique Secret Code. With it, you enter Webkinz World where you care for your virtual pet, answer trivia, earn KinzCash, and play the best kids games on the net!

And a dark horse entrant that I was unaware of until recently - Millsberry, run by General Mills (the manufacturer of cereals), is getting 2.2m UU/mth.

Millsberry is a fun virtual city for you to explore. You create a citizen of the city and discover Millsberry through his eyes. You’ll need to make sure he takes care of himself, so you’ll need to get food (from the shopping area) and make sure he exercises (by playing games), but you’ll also get to go on adventures, solve mysteries and have all kinds of fun while visiting Millsberry!

Even Lego has announced its plans to release a casual immersive world in 2008

These worlds are all exploring different business models. Some are mainly ad supported (Neopets, and effectively Millsberry), others rely on subscriptions (Club Penguin) that deliver certain privileges, and others rely on transactions, either in the real world (Webkinz) or for digital goods (Habbo HotelGaia.

Its worth noting that all of these are websites with no download required. This has likely helped them grow more quickly than other casual immersive worlds such as Second Life and IMVU, which are also growing fast, but not as fast.

One can’t help but notice that all of these immersive online worlds are targeted at kids and teens. If demographics are destiny, then we can expect more and more people to interact with each other in casual immersive worlds over the next few years. Susan Wu thinks so too, and her prediction about web 3.0 (are we there already?) is that it will be:

continuing down this path of improving the user experience of living and socializing online. This story is about human context, social proximity, and a sense of place.

I think she is right. What are your thoughts?

UPDATE, April 26th, 2007: Barbie is now also getting in on the action withBarbie Girls.

UPDATE, April 29th, 2007: Techcrunch reports that IAC’s Zwinky is also launching a casual immersive world. In this case, they are also employing a different business model than the other virtual worlds as the toolbar that enables much of the functionality includes a search box and will be usable both when the user is and is not “in world”. Note that the search box occurs to the LEFT of the URL box… This tactic worked great for previous IAC products such as Smiley Central and Cursor Mania.

Dec 24, 2008

CLIP: A Tipping Point for Online Coupons?

By Gian Fulgoni

I’ve often wondered if and when the Internet would become a major distribution medium for cents-off coupons issued by CPG manufacturers. Sure, I realize that there are concerns about the possibility of fraud if hackers figured out some way to print millions of coupons and some unscrupulous retailer tried to submit them for redemption. But, since the gang-clipping of coupons from newspapers appears to have been stymied, I figured that it was just a matter of time before manufacturers got to the point where they felt comfortable using the Internet. Today, I’m wondering if we’ve reached that point.

To begin, here are some interesting – even remarkable -- statistics about coupons. PROMO magazine reported that CPG manufacturers distributed 302 billion coupons in 2007, up 6% and representing a whopping 16 billion more coupons relative to 2006. The face value of the coupons was $387 Billion, a big increase of 16% over the $337 Billion in 2006 and representing a 9% increase in face value. Free-standing inserts in newspapers continued to lead the ways in which marketers distribute coupons (88%), followed by handouts (5%), direct mail (2%), magazines (2%), newspapers (1%), in/on-pack (1%) and the Internet (0.4%), according to NCH Marketing.

According to CMS, a promotions logistics company, the boost in value and sheer number of coupons available helped improve redemption in 2007. Consumers turned in $2.8 billion of the total $387 billion in available coupon value. That added up to 2.6 billion coupons redeemed in 2007, the first time since 1992 that redemption volume did not decline.

Economic pressures and consumer-friendly tactics combined to guarantee continued consumer and manufacturer engagement with cents-off offers in 2007. In fact, comparing coupon response to key economic indicators over time has shown a strong link between the economy and coupon redemption. Most notably, as unemployment and prices rise, coupon redemption increases. So, with today’s challenging economic conditions, I don’t think we should be surprised if coupon redemption increases again this year and next.

So, what’s been happening to the use of coupons online? Well, it certainly appears that surfing for coupons is growing in popularity. comScore’s data show that 27 million people visited coupon sites in October, up 33% from a year earlier (that’s 18% of the 148 million Americans who use any coupons in a year). The number of searches conducted using coupon terms also increased by 100% from January to September of this year. On a global basis, we saw a 42% increase in the number of pages viewed at coupon sites, so it’s certainly not just a U.S. trend...

CLIP: Animoto’s iPhone app makes instant slideshows from your junky pictures

iPhone fart app pulls in nearly $10,000 a day

Apple’s App Store is currently experiencing a plague of fart applications. Last week, I detailed one day in which at least 14 new fart apps were accepted into the store. And now, just in a quick search, it looks like there are about 50 apps all dedicated to making fart noises on your iPhone or iPod touch. Classy, I know, but why are there so many?

Because apparently there’s big money in fart apps — nearly $10,000 a day for the most popular ones.

Developer InfoMedia (Joel Comm), which makes iFart Mobile [iTunes link], has been releasing download statistics for the app each day since it launched. The $0.99 app has been in the top 100 paid apps every day since its launch, and has seen great growth. In fact, yesterday it hit thenumber one overall position with over 13,000 downloads. MacRumors ran the numbers, factoring out the 30 percent cut Apple takes from each sale, and determined that, yesterday alone, iFart Mobile made its developers $9,198.

Certainly, a part of this onslaught of fart apps is that Apple, which had previously rejected all crude apps, changed its policy to let them in. But now that they glimpse the potential for big business in fart apps, expect even more to come.

Of course, not all fart apps are going to make it to the number one paid app position, but a number of them are selling well. Personally, I prefer Pull My Finger [iTunes link], but it’s hard to argue with iFart Mobile’s icon, which simply reads “Best Fart App!”

Animoto’s iPhone app makes instant slideshows from your junky pictures

Everyone loves slideshows. You sit back and watch as the images before you help you reminisce about a past event. But why wait? Now you can make a slideshow minutes after taking photos thanks to Animoto’s new iPhone app.

You simply select between eight and 16 pictures, arrange the order you want them to show up in, pick a song and let Animoto encode a video pulling it all together. Once you’re done, you can watch the video on your iPhone (in Quicktime format), edit it or share it via email with anyone. By far the longest step in the process is the encoding, and that only takes a few minutes.

But it’s not perfect. First of all, a maximum of 16 photos is a bit low. That’s not going to cut it for say, a wedding. But then again anyone who is expecting a professional wedding slideshow made on the iPhone probably deserves some 16-shot, blurry (thanks to the iPhone’s 2 megapixel camera with no flash or autofocus) footage set to music by some band no one has ever heard of.

And that’s the second problem — despite one of the iPhone’s key features being that it holds your music, Animoto won’t let you use any of it in your slideshow. Instead, it has a collection of songs from artists I’ve never heard of. Some of the stuff isn’t bad, but for sentimental slideshows, isn’t it a requirement to at least have Green Day’s “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)”?...

CLIP: Turning Page, E-Books Start to Take Hold - Kindle, iPhone, Jetbook, Iliad, Eslick


Published: December 23, 2008

Could book lovers finally be willing to switch from paper to pixels?

Alan Zale for The New York Times

Although Amazon will not disclose sales figures, the Kindle has at least lived up to its name by creating broad interest in electronic books.

The New York Times

For a decade, consumers mostly ignored electronic book devices, which were often hard to use and offered few popular items to read. But this year, in part because of the popularity ofAmazon.com’s wireless Kindle device, the e-book has started to take hold.

The $359 Kindle, which is slim, white and about the size of a trade paperback, was introduced a year ago. AlthoughAmazon will not disclose sales figures, the Kindle has at least lived up to its name by creating broad interest in electronic books. Now it is out of stock and unavailable until February. Analysts credit Oprah Winfrey, who praised the Kindle on her show in October, and blame Amazon for poor holiday planning.

The shortage is providing an opening for Sony, which embarked on an intense publicity campaign for its Reader device during the gift-buying season. The stepped-up competition may represent a coming of age for the entire idea of reading longer texts on a portable digital device.

“The perception is that e-books have been around for 10 years and haven’t done anything,” said Steve Haber, president of Sony’s digital reading division. “But it’s happening now. This is really starting to take off.”

Sony’s efforts have been overshadowed by Amazon’s. But this month it began a promotional blitz in airports, train stations and bookstores, with the ambitious goal of personally demonstrating the Reader to two million people by the end of the year.

The company’s latest model, the Reader 700, is a $400 device with a reading light and a touch screen that allows users to annotate what they are reading. Mr. Haber said Sony’s sales had tripled this holiday season over last, in part because the device is now available in the Target, Borders and Sam’s Club chains. He said Sony had sold more than 300,000 devices since the debut of the original Reader in 2006.

It is difficult to quantify the success of the Kindle, since Amazon will not disclose how many it has sold and analysts’ estimates vary widely. Peter Hildick-Smith, president of the Codex Group, a book market research company, said he believed Amazon had sold as many as 260,000 units through the beginning of October, before Ms. Winfrey’s endorsement. Others say the number could be as high as a million.

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