While Google is currently the dominant player in the Internet search engine business, that doesn’t mean that there is not a great deal of activity among companies vying for a piece of the action. As was recently reported, even 1% of the global search market represents quite a bit of money.

Not all search engine companies use the same strategies to capture market share, however. (more…)

It suddenly occurred to me that there might be a better way of verifying my impression that afr.com would have lost readers as a result of its move from an html-based subscription model to the awful Flash-based one I wrote about recently. (Others seem to have similar opinions – see eg this well-written post at ExplodedLibrary bunker.)

Enter Alexa, a site for measuring web traffic. Now it’s not perfect, but any systematic under/over counts or reporting biases should remain relatively constant over time — meaning that somewhat meaningful comparisons can be drawn against its own figures from different time periods, even if they cannot necessarily be drawn against data from other statistics sites.

Without further ado, here is the 5 year graph of traffic to afr.com as measured by Alexa. That crater in mid-2006 corresponds, unsurprisingly enough, with the introduction of AFR Access.

afr.com views over 5 years

(permanent link)

A comparison against other Australian and international news sites is also instructive. (more…)

I opened the Fin Review today to see a double page ad spread for the new afr.com. Fantastic, I thought; they’ve ditched the awful experiment that was AFR Access and reverted to an html-based site that I can actually use.

For those who never subscribed, the Fin Review originally had one of the best on-line services (see a sample view), with some stories free to all users, and some only available to subscribers. I used the free service since 1996 or 1997, and then had a subscription via my former employer, which I used daily.

Then for some reason Fairfax decided to switch to a flash-based version in mid 2006, called AFR Access. I tried it a couple of times, and gave up: it was impossibly slow, unwieldy, and offered no benefits at all over the former version — while introducing plenty of needless annoyances and a poor user interface. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who was put off, as someone a few months ago mentioned a Crikey story that there were only 2,000 subscribers, about 1/10th of the budgeted amount. (Just found it – here it is.) (more…)

BDW has alerted me to the fact that:

‘The NSW Legislative Council Standing Committee on Law and Justice has released their final report on the inquiry into unfair terms in consumer contracts. This is likely to have a direct impact on users of internet, mobile phone and cable television services, amongst others. … The Committee has recommended creating a taskforce within the NSW Office of Fair Trading to develop and implement a scheme for the protection of consumers in relation to unfair terms in consumer contracts. The scheme will be based on the Victorian model.’

I think this is an interesting development, but it also puts me in mind of something that Mark Lemley points out in a new paper – that it’s not just consumers who are affected by so-called ‘unfair contracts’:

‘The rise of terms of use has drawn a great deal of attention because of the mass-market nature of the resulting agreements. Terms of use are drafted with consumers or other small end users in mind. Commentators – myself among them – have focused on the impact of this new form of contract on consumers. But in the long run they may have their most significant impact not on consumers but on businesses. … Businesses … are presumed to know what they are doing when they access another company’s Web site, so courts are more likely to bind them to that site’s terms of use. Sophisticated economic entities are unlikely to persuade a court that a term is unconscionable. And because employees are agents whose acts bind the corporation, the proliferation of terms of use means that a large company is likely agreeing to dozens or even hundreds of different contracts every day, merely by using the Internet. And because no one ever reads those terms of use, those multiple contracts are likely to have a variety of different terms that create obligations inconsistent with each other and with the company’s own terms of use. ‘

Engadget has an interview with “Viodentia”, creator of software which cracks Microsoft’s Windows Media DRM (Digital Rights Management). Engadget last month confirmed that the software (FairUse4WM) will strip the protection from music files downloaded from Napster (meaning that they could continue to play the music files after their Napster subscription ended).

It’s a relatively rare interview, given that this kind of activity now opens one up to prosecution under copyright legislation. (more…)

One of the arguments that is sometimes raised in favour of stronger and more fine-grained control over copyright material is that it facilitates price discrimination. People who can pay more, do; people who can’t pay more, don’t. This looks good when you are a developing country seeking access to essential patented medicines. In that context, price discrimination with strong controls on re-export to other countries actually does look like a really good idea (and that is what the WTO Decision implementing the Doha Declaration on TRIPS Public Health in fact put in place.)

It doesn’t really look quite so nice from Australia’s perspective. Relatively affluent population. High consumers of IP-protected material. Isolated market where it ain’t so easy to nip over to nearby country to buy cheaper stuff (well, unless it’s from Bali and pirated of course). High price heaven for copyright owners, you might think. But surely not higher than the US?

Well, if you had ever wondered what the evidence was on price discrimination of copyright content (and the anecdotal little study that David Richardson did failed to satisfy your curiosity), head on over to my colleague Joshua Gans’ blog. He can tell you the answer is no. No, no, no.

Check out how much more we pay for iTunes music and games than they do in the US at his blog here. Oh well. at least it looks like we’re not quite as done over as Europe is.

Warner Bros. has joined a number of other television broadcasters in providing some of its programming for sale on Apple’s iTunes. A number of networks, including Fox (owned by News Corp.), ABC (Walt Disney Co.), NBC (Universal), CBS, and MTV (Viacom Inc.), along with Warner Bros., together offer more than 150 television shows for US$1.99 per episode. The shows may be viewed on a computer or a video iPod. And what’s really interesting — it’s possible to subscribe to a current season of a television show (and not just repeats). (more…)

IPRIA and the Melbourne Business School have an event coming up which would be of interest to readers of this blog: David Levine and Eric Von Hippel will be giving a seminar on Intellectual Property and Innovation: A Different Perspective. It’s all happening on 11 August. More details over the fold. (more…)

I was catching up on some podcasts recently, and happened upon a very interesting one from Boston radio station WBUR’s “Here and Now” on “crowdsourcing“. While the phenomenon itself is not completely new, I found the approach to it intriguing.

This issue of “What is…?” describes crowdsourcing, looks at the origins of the term, and briefly considers some of the pros and cons of the practice. (more…)

At an eBay convention in Las Vegas this week, the company announced that from Monday 19 June sellers of certain types of items will be able to add a “Skype Me” link allowing potential buyers to contact them through the VoIP service. This launch has been expected since eBay spent US$2.6 billion to purchase Skype.

The service will be available for 14 categories of (high-value) items, including real estate, cars and trucks, silver coins, and beds.

Who will win the race for Internet dominance? Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo! are certainly the key finalists. At this point, however, Google seems to be ahead in creating the computing power necessary to win.

Google is building a massive campus on the shores of the Columbia River, on the Oregon side of the Oregon-Washington border. While the project is shrouded in secrecy, the data center will include two or three large buildings and two cooling plants (to keep all those servers running). The site is at least as large as two football fields. (See the article for an aerial photograph.)

According to The New York Times, this upgrade in computing power is in addition to what is referred to in the industry as the “Googleplex”, a global network of computers that distinguishes Google from the competition. (Strangely, the only references to “Googleplex” I found–with Google’s search engine–were to Google’s corporate headquarters, and not to its computer network.) In contrast to the estimated over 450,000 servers forming Google’s network, Microsoft has approximately 200,000 servers devoted to the Internet, which is expected to increase to 800,000 by 2011.

A few interesting developments on a number of fronts:

The Register has a story panning the trial judge’s decision in the Apple trade secrets vs blogging case. According to the story, “Judge Rushing cites Wikipedia as a source, a mistake which earns students an ‘F’ grade today. He talks about the need to disregard economics and sociology in favor of a ‘memetic marketplace’ – whatever that is – and allows himself some flights of technological rapture.”

ArsTechnica has an interview with the CEO of eMusic. You may not have heard of eMusic, but it is currently the number 2 seller of downloadable music, behind only Apple’s iTunes Music Store. And the interesting part: eMusic does not use DRM. (And its songs cost only about 25c each, from what I can see on its website). I wonder how Napster can complain about this one?

Finally, an interesting post claims that a newly-created lobby group for net neutrality is just a shill for telcos. And according to SourceWatch (run by the nonprofit Center for Media and Democracy) the primary funder of the group is … AT&T.

And when I write “Apple”, whom do you think of? The computer maker? Thought so. Today, Mr Justice Mann found for Apple Computer, Inc. in the lawsuit between it and Apple Corps Ltd (the Beatles). My intro is possibly a little misleading, however, as the case was not directly about the classical trade mark concerns of confusion between two particular marks.

Rather, it concerned the interpretation of a settlement agreement between the two parties executed in 1991 in order to avoid some of the sporadic conflicts the two had previously had in exploiting their similar marks. However, notions of applications and use of trade marks do surface in construing just what that agreement meant. (more…)

Napster is apparently changing its business model in an attempt to turn a profit. They will now allow a user to play songs five times before they are required to buy it or become a Napster subscriber.

It’s not a bad idea, but it does not address the fundamental problems with subscription models, that I have previously commented on. (more…)

Napster CEO has pointed the finger at Microsoft as part of the reason it has not been successful competing against Apple’s iTunes. “There is no question that their execution has been less than brilliant over the last 12 months,” the article quotes Napster CEO and Chairman as saying. (more…)

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