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11/30 2006 | 03:33 PM
Posted by: Janko Roettgers
With Allofmp3's future becoming more and more uncertain, users are starting to look for alternatives. One new service that is starting to gain some traction is Onlinemusicrecorder.com. The site is offering 128 kbps encoded MP3s from major label artists like Coldplay, Beyonce or Justin Timberlake for free.

online music recorder

The site owners are insisting that the service is perfectly legal, just like Allofmp3 has always done. Only this time it's not some Russian legal loophole . Online Music Recorder is stating that it is only making recordings of radio stations for it's users - and that it's users are only allowed to access these recordings if private recordings of radio transmissions are legal in their country of residence.

Registered users won't notice many similarities to their good old tape deck tho. The radio recording process is supposedly starting with your first login, which is why initially there are no MP3s available for download. Check back a day or two later, and you'll find a searchable pool of a few thousand individual songs.

online music recorder

Finding what you want is quite esasy if your musical taste is somewhat mainstream. Downloading and actually accessing the tracks on the other hand is rather complicated. Online Music Recorder doesn't host all of it's music itself. Some files are on mirror servers with domain names that sound like straigt out of an episode of The Scene.

online music recorder

Of course, most pirates wouldn't use digital rights management. Online Music Recorder does - sort of, at least. Each song is encrypted in a special OMRKey file format. Decrypting is possible with a software that can be downloaded from the Online Music recorder website.

omr decoder

Users need to enter their account name and password to start the decoding process. This information is supposedly used to check if the song was actually recorded with your own virtual radio recorder. There is no word on any watermarking, so I'd suspect the actual MP3 file stays pretty much unchanged.

The resulting MP3 is usually of acceptable quality. As good as a 128 kbps file can be, really. Some users report weird cuts in the beginning and end of the songs, which might be a side effect of the radio recording.

So will Online Music Recorder have an impact? Right now the service seems too complicated to actually compete with file sharing and other sources for free MP3 downloads. But judging from the language of their TOS the site owners seem to have further plans to integrate social and P2P components into their platform.

They also seem to be prepared to duck some legal bullets from rights holders. The website is registered to a company called "Chicco TV" based on the Carribean island of Antigua. The imprint reads "Matroschka Ltd., Darkwood Beach, St. John, Antigua". And the Terms of Service state that the platform is run by " Masterblasta Ltd., Norman Island".

Online Music Recorder might not be the next Allofmp3, but this surely sounds like a new round in the never-ending cat and mouse game.

11/29 2006 | 12:04 PM
Posted by: Janko Roettgers
The Allofmp3 saga continues with a document from the United States Trade Representative stating Russia and the US have agreed on shutting down "websites that permit illegal distribution of msuic and other copyright (sic) works". From the document:

"The agreement names the Russia-based website allofmp3.com as an example of such a website.
• Russia will:
- take enforcement actions against the operation of Russia-based websites; and
- investigate and prosecute companies that illegally distribute copyright works on the Internet.
• Russia will work to enact legislation by June 1, 2007, to stop collecting societies from acting without right holder consent (...)"


Of course that's exactly what previous legislative changes were supposed to do. We'll see how things play out this time.

(via Techcrunch)

11/28 2006 | 12:11 AM
Posted by: Janko Roettgers
Eliot Van Buskirk wrote an interesting piece on Wired.com today about the conflict surrounding the Zune and it's possible Creative Commons license violations.

Here's the background: Van Buskirk talked a bit about the Zune on his Wired blog a few weeks ago. Among other things he mentioned that the device only plays a song three times after it has been transmitted wirelessly. A reader responded by asking:

"If I have Creative Commons licensed MP3's on my Zune and send them to another Zune (which then DRM's them) where they can only be played 3 times this violates the Creative Commons license. How does Microsoft get around this?"

Today Van Bursik presented the answer: By not wrapping the song in DRM. Unprotected MP3s stay unprotected, but the Zune refuses to play them more than three times anyway. One explanation is that the DRM is based on the database, and not the file itself. The article quotes a Microsoft representative with the following words:

"We are not applying any 'DRM' to any files that weren't already protected. No file that has (for instance) a Creative Commons license or is unprotected will have any encryption applied to it."

Files might just get flagged as protected and the Zune refuses to stop playing them after a predefined countdown. Of course tracks from Microsoft's Zune download store are protected with an additional wrapper, since they are transfered form the PC to the Zune. But Zune to Zune transmitted content doesn't need any additional protection with the device being a closed ecosystem.

This is bad news for people who hoped for a showdown between Microsoft and Creative Commons. Reverse engineering enthusiasts on the other hand might be quite happy about this. Of course I'm not an expert in this field - but manipulating a single database seems to be easier than removing DRM from lots of files on the fly.

Speaking of reverse engineering: Jon Johansen used his blog today to defend the Zune. Maybe he knows something that we don't?

11/24 2006 | 04:11 PM
Posted by: Janko Roettgers
There have been lots of debates in the Bittorrent community about the subject of sharing ratios. Some Bittorrent websites are tracking their members' sharing behavior across multiple torrents to force people to contribute. Users with a low upload to download ratio might get punished by having their accounts revoked or being barred access to new content.

Bittorrent inventor Bram Cohen came out strongly against sharing ratios a few weeks ago. Cohen claims that the Bittorrent protocol can deal with people contributing less than the amount of data they download. He blaimed sites with enforced sharing ratios for people trying to cheat those ratios in an interview with Zeropaid.com:

"Sites which do this are being extremely destructive, and the way they grandstand about how they're fostering sharing really ticks me off."

Matei Ripeanu, Miranda Mowbray, Nazareno Andrade and Aliandro Lima seem to disagree. The four scientists just published an extensive paper about Bittorrent at First Monday. They analyzed the sharing behaviour within six Bittorrent communities - and came to the conclusion that sharing rations and other social norms can be beneficial to a community:

"Easytree’s sharing ratio enforcement mechanism has, in some cases, the side effect of creating a motivation to upload original content, a type of contribution that requires more effort than simply uploading existing content. A member whose sharing ratio is below the low sharing threshold cannot join new torrents. In this situation, one way for the member to raise its sharing ratio is to contribute new content. In this case there is a substantial reward for the extra effort: regaining the ability to join new torrents."


However, sharing rations are not the only way to ecourage users to contribute. Some other methods are more technical and less obvious:

"For example, a user may subscribe to an RSS feed of a site that publishes past episodes of television series, and state interest in any new episode from a particular series. Whenever the RSS feed announces matching content, the user’s client will download it automatically. In the time between finishing a download and the user checking to see whether new files have arrived, the client remains connected as a seeder. Thus, as a side effect, broadcatching results in increased seeding and sharing because users maintain their clients running for longer time."

Some of the data used for the study seems to be a little older - they analyzed Btefnet, a site that is offline since it got sued in May 2005 by the MPAA - but it's still a fascinating read for anybody interested in the inner workings of Bittorrent and P2P sharing / gifting economies.

11/21 2006 | 06:20 PM
Posted by: Janko Roettgers
Some press releases are just too wacky to ignore: A UK-based company called Audiobooksforfree.com came out with a release today that predicted the end of P2P and Podcasting within the next five years. Those trends would be superseded by the next step of the digital revolution. From the press release:

"This exciting next stage will be the age of GigaBulk Products - gigantic compilations of thousands hours of digital entertainment in one single and relatively cheap boxset."

You might have guessed it by now: Audiobooksforfree is marketing this futuristic GigaBulk thing already. Way ahead of it's time.

"A typical example of GigaBulk is a 9 DVD boxset containing over 600 unabridged audiobooks from AudioBooksForFree.com - even if used very regularly, these would take between four and five years to listen to."

So there we have it. Who needs free personal on demand downloads of your favoured online radio shows if you can have a whole bunch of crap 600 carefully selected books with lapsed copyrights (read: all of them are more than 70 years old) for just 100 dollars?

It's kinda like saying: Myspace is just a fad - the future of networking are digital phone books. Way more contacts, and it all fits on one DVD.

11/20 2006 | 05:00 PM
Posted by: Janko Roettgers
German consumer and copyleft activists demonstrated in front of the parliament in Berlin today, demanding fair use priciples for the country's upcoming copyright reform. The activists dressed as prisioners and showed off a poster of the first online jail.

online jail

The groups involved in the action opened the online jail website four weeks ago with the idea that people would virtually move into a cell to demand that private copying doesn't become a real crime. So far about 4000 people have participated.

By going to jail people automatically signed a partition petition demanding a clause in the new copyright law that would make sure small-time petty copyright infringements would not be persecuted. The petition also calls for outlawing DRM systems.

Today's action was supported by various online rights groups as well as the German foundation for consumer rights.

11/17 2006 | 04:19 PM
Posted by: Janko Roettgers
I've been meaning to write this article for a while. Now news is out that Jason Calacanis resigned from AOL. This will probably speed up Netscape's demise, but the mistakes that led there were made much earlier. And no, they don't really have anything to do at all with being inspired by Digg.

It's easy to blame Calacanis for all kinds of stuff. He puts himself out there, he isn't afraid of harsh words. And he has this certain kind of East-Coast arrogance that people over here in California don't know how to deal with. But he had a good plan for Netscape: Social bookmarking and collaborative filtering for the masses, complete with editors to add some more background and in-depth information.

He also wanted to pay top contributors in order to get quality links and content. The way he pushed those things forward made many people very uneasy. It was all very well thought-through tho. It just wouldn't work.

I've refered to Alexa charts here before to show that Reddit is becoming more popular than Netscape. Alexa isn't very reliable at all and should only be seen as a sometimes little flunky trend indicator. But that's pretty much all we have publicly available today. Calacanis himself has stated that page impressons at Netscape.com are going up again - something that Alexa seems to echo. But page views aren't equal to participation.

Here's another flunky, anectodical trend indicator: I've been posting links to stories on this blog at Netscape, Digg and Reddit from time to time. I'm not submitting everything - just articles that I feel people might be interested in. It's a practice that Netscape openly encourages, as long as you don't spam or link-bait.

A few times I hit the front page and got lots of visitors. More often than not my stories didn't go anywhere tho. Fair enough, that's what collaborative filtering is all about. But I started to notice something curious early on: I usually ended up getting a few dozen hits for stories that I submitted to Digg or Reddit even when people didn't vote for them. Some users apparently wanted to check them out and make up their mind before they voted. Compare that with the fact that I have been getting close to zero referrals from Netscape.

Now I'm not saying this out of ill feelings against Netscape. Obviously the users that came from Digg and Reddit didn't really help me either in those cases, because they didn't appreciate the article in question. But the only logical explanation that I have for this phenomenon is that Netscape's users don't read newly submitted content and thus don't participate in the filtering process.

You can see other indicators for this by looking at the Netscape site, and especially the different channels. Many of the channels feature top stories with not much more than ten votes total. Even some of the anchor's picks have only been voted on five or seven times. The only notable exemptions are the news and the politics sections, where an article might get a few dozen votes more easily.

Compare that with Digg or Reddit: Right now the top science story on Digg has 600 votes. The top sports story has 235 votes, and the top video has 922 votes. Reddit is a little harder to compare, because it doesn't have that many subsections. Stories on the Reddit home page regularly get 200 to 300 points tho (which might equal many more votes, because you can vote down as well). Netscape's homepage usually only features double-digit stories.

Interestingly enough, Netscape recetly had a huge wave of participation when they asked their users about ways to make the site better. 65 people replied on their blog - and most of them said hat they wanted the old Netscape.com portal back. Here's what one user had to say:

"I really hate the new Netscape format, and want a return to the "old" formula that lets ME decide if we want to go into a story or not. If I want to watch the "News", I'll turn on the TV or Radio, not the Internet, for crying out loud. I resent other people's political biases filling up MY monitor screen. They irritate me, and ruin my day. Just give me a screen that allows ME to choose what I want to see!! Otherwise, Goodbye.....!!"


The comment thread should be considered a must-read for everyone working in online media. It makes you feel bad for the Netscape team that worked months on their new model, only to hear that the majority of users obviously doesn't appreciate it. But it also teaches us an important lesson: You can't force people to be part of a community.

Sites like Digg or Reddit have been building their community organically. They started small and reacted to the wishes of their users. Netscape on the other hand tried to convert millions of existing users to a new, unproven model while at the same time trying to attract new and technical more savvy users from other social bookmarking platforms. As a result they have been both too radical and too tame at the same time - and eventually poised for failure.

Could Netscape have succeeded with a different game plan? There were obviously some other options. Starting an AOL-owned collaborative filtering platform with a new name was one of them. Carefully introducing bookmarking and filtering options into the existing Netscape.com framework might have been another. But with Netscape set up like it is now and Calacanis leaving AOL we'll probably never know.

11/16 2006 | 12:47 PM
Posted by: Janko Roettgers
What happens when an old-media giant buys a P2P journalism platform? Aaron Swartz has the answer:

"There's a company Internet connection, which routes everything through the IT HQ in Delaware, presumably the better to spy on us on. On Day 1 they took our laptops and "backed up" the drives to ensure they had a copy of all our data. (We scurried to get our MP3 collections and worse off first.)

Then they issued us company-approved laptops: terribly-slow iBook G4s complete with Conde Nast desktop and screensaver with spy software pre-installed. When they gave us the machines we didn't even have administrator access on them. The clock was set to the Eastern time zone; I needed an IT department person to change it to show me California time."


11/15 2006 | 05:28 PM
Posted by: Janko Roettgers
Tivo started a couple of new initiatives to give users with broadband access more ways to get content. The company is offering people a software solution to convert their videos and then upload them from their PC to their Tivo recorders.

Also, people will be able to share private photos and videos through a web platfrom called One True Media. And finally the company has signed up more content partners for their Tivocast, which is essentially the posibility to receive selected video podcasts directly on your DVR. They previously tried that with Rocketboom.

Rocketboom Tivocast

There has been some controversy about the fact that you can already convert and upload video from your PC to your Tivo with free tools. I think this is missing the point tho - there is something substantially more dangerous about Tivo's strategy. I've just posted the following as a comment on Buzzmachine.com - but I thought some readers of this blog might want to read it as well:

I don’t think Tivo charging for the ability to easily convert video is the big issue here. People will pay, because they like convenience - and most of the tools available for video conversion right now are not convenient at all.

More troubling is the fact that Tivo uses it’s Tivocast feature to sign up TV studios as content partners. Tivo tested this feature with Rocketboom - and it was revolutionary: For the first time you could subscribe to a video podcast and watch it on your livingroom TV without even touching your PC.

But exclusive content partnerships are not the way to go. People don’t want more content from TV studios on their TV - they get that alread. They want podcasts, unscripted stuff, niche programming. And they don’t want Tivo to decide for them what they can watch.

So instead of becoming the new middleman, Tivo should just open the floodgates and allow it’s subscribers to add any video podcast to their list of subscriptions.

Doing exklusive content deals might seem like a sound business strategy for Tivo in the short term. But in the long term it will transform them into one of the control-freak gatekeepers that Tivos users wanted to get away from when they bought the device in the first place.

11/14 2006 | 02:09 AM
Posted by: Janko Roettgers
Torrentfreak reports that Searching Unlimited Inc. bought the Bittorrent sites Bushtorrent, Demonoid, MyBittorrent, Fenopy, Snarf-it, Torrentportal and Torrentreactor. The admins of the sites supposedly got some stake in the company in return.

Searching Unlimited is run by John Gotts, who is also the owner of PCSafe Inc., an Anti-Spyware company. Gotts made big headlines earlier this year when he agreed to buy Wiki.com for a total of 2,86 Million US-Dollars.

Where is all that cash coming from? Gotts told Valleywag that he is backed by some serious money:

"His funding comes from angel investors, who are putting together a round of $30 million that will give them 25% ownership of Gotts's entire business. "They've been extremely generous with giving me freedom to do what I want to do with their money," he says."

So some anonymous investors are financing the takeover of Bittorrent websites with millions of dollars? Now this would be a story. I have my doubts about all of this, as do some other people, but we'll see how things will unfold.

Update: Snarf-It denies being part of the buyout:

"There have been reports in the media that Snarf-It has been purchased by a larger corporate body, this is in fact not true. We are currently in no negotiations and lack sufficient confidence in the organisation that is propogating this misinformation. In other words it's total bollocks, we're happy where we are."

11/13 2006 | 04:21 PM
Posted by: Janko Roettgers
I had a great time at BarCamp Los Angeles yesterday. Lots of very nice people, some interesting presentations - plus I had a chance to do some ranting about P2P 2.0.

I even did some slides the night before - but unfortunately the projector didn't really blow them up that much. People probably would have seen as much or as little if I had just turned around my notebook.

Anyway, in case someone is interested: Here are the slides - but be warned, they don't make too much sense without having seen the rant.

11/11 2006 | 01:52 PM
Posted by: Janko Roettgers
The German music industry has filed thousads of lawsuits against P2P users. Separately, some game softare makers sued tens of thousands of suspected file sharing users in Germany. This huge wave of lawsuits is starting to take its toll on the German legal system, heise.de reports.

The State Attorney General of Northrhine Westfalia Roswitha Müller-Piepenkötter now said that taxpayers have to pay millions to ISPs alone in order to get the information necessary for these lawsuits. In Germany an ISP can bill law enforcement officials for the work that is necessary to find the corresponding personal data connected to an IP address at a given time.

Usually these fees are in the range of 35 to 40 Euro (about 45 to 50 USD). But since rights holders sometimes sue tens of thousands of users at the same time, the total costs are in the hundreds of thousands per single enforcement action.

German righs holders use criminal lawsuits against unnamed defendants to get ISPs to reveal the identity of file sharers. Once the music industry has the names of the alleged sinners they start another civil lawsuit - only to settle it soon after against the payment of a few thousand Euros.

11/10 2006 | 06:46 PM
Posted by: Janko Roettgers
A few weeks ago I discovered a photo on Flickr that showed a Blockbuster storefront defaced with a pro-P2P graffiti. The photo wasn't under a Creative Commons license, so I contacted the photographer and asked for permission to republish it here.

He not only said yes, but alo changed the license of the photo to CC-BY. The photo got susequently picked up by Torrentfreak, Waxy and quite a few other blogs. It has since been viewed by more than 3300 people on Flickr.

Now the picture got reprinted by Spanish Newspaper La Voz de Asturias - but somehow the paper forgot the proper attribution. La Voz apparently likes piracy as well.

11/10 2006 | 02:09 PM
Posted by: Janko Roettgers
There haven't been too many updates too this blog lately. One reason is that I've ben crunching away on a couple of projects. Another is that on Wednesday morning my DSL connection went out.

I didn't really like the timing of the outage, because I still had a lot of work to do. So I borrowed some of my neighbour's spotty wireless signal (thanks, pal), and checked the Earthlink support pages, where I learned that everything was fine. No outages. So decided to use their chat-based support to tell them that in fact there was an outage. Big mistake.
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11/06 2006 | 01:15 AM
Posted by: Janko Roettgers
Researchers at the Budapest University of Technology and Economics have developed a Gnutella application for Symbian smartphones called Symella. From the website:

"Symella supports multi-threaded downloads which means that if multiple users have a particular file then Symella can download the file from several locations simultenously."


Symella 1.32 was released on October 30th. The application runs on devices based on the S60 platform. It doesn't support uploading of content yet, and there is no word on the effect on the phone's battery.

Here are a couple of screenshots from the Symella website:

symella

symella 2

Symella is Open Source and released under the GNU GPL.

11/04 2006 | 12:49 PM
Posted by: Janko Roettgers
This is a good weekend read: Business 2.0 editor Eric Schonfield reports about privat P2P offerings like Allpeers and Pando. Schonfield focuses heavily on the business side, but somehow fails to mention the fact that P2P architecture is much cheaper than a server-based approach.

From the article:

"Every day YouSendIt, for instance, transfers more than 30 terabytes of files among its members - the equivalent of the contents of about 1,000 laptop computers. MediaMax, which is operated by a San Diego company called Streamload, sends 3 million files among its members daily and stores 650 terabytes of their data."

11/03 2006 | 02:16 PM
Posted by: Janko Roettgers
This is a test of the Platial Mapkit mentioned here earlier. Feel free to add your own locations.

Update: Apparently the map doesn't display correctly (or at all, for that matter) with Safari. Firefox for OS X works fine tho.






11/03 2006 | 02:05 PM
Posted by: Janko Roettgers
Platial.com just released a new extension of their mapping service called Mapkit. It allows anyone to integrate annotated maps into their weblog or Myspace page. Users can add their own places and annotations without any registration.

The service is advertising supported - and while right now all the revenue goes to Platial, the company already has plans to share revenue with mappers. This looks really interesting. I can see lots of bloggers making use of the service to give their stories added value.

(via O'Reilly Radar)

11/02 2006 | 05:44 PM
Posted by: Janko Roettgers
This is completely off topic but still very important to me: My wife is working with a nonprofit called the Garment Worker Center that is fighting sweatshop conditions in the Los Angeles garment industry.

Like many nonprofits they are struggling with funding all the time, but they have nonetheless been able to achieve a lot for LA's garment workers.

Right now the Center is doing it's five year anniversary fundraiser. I'm helping a litle bit with their online fundraising, and I would encourage you to check out their website and consider donating a few dollars.


11/02 2006 | 12:08 PM
Posted by: Janko Roettgers
A German court has decided that prosecutors can't use experts from music and film industry associations anymore when targeting P2P users, heise.de reports.

German rights holders regularly resort to criminal cases to reveal the identity of alleged P2P file sharers. They hand over logs from P2P networks to prosecutors, who then have to decide how serious the case is. If someone is sharing hundreds of unauthorized files on P2P networks, chances are that he'll get a visit from the police who will confiscate his computers and CD-ROMs.

In the past police investigators were oftentimes accommpanied by experts from the private Society for the Prosecution of Copyright Infringements (GVU) - an organization that is funded by German music and movie companies. Those GVU experts would access computers, look for file sharing software and explain to the police what would be worth confiscating.

A court in the city of Kiel now ruled that this has to stop. Police should not take sides in their work on an open case, and using GVU experts would ammount to "privatizing" their casework. According to the court, persons who have an interest in the case are only allowed to take part in a raid if they are the only ones able to identify their stolen property.

This is not the first time GVU is making headlines. The German IT magazine c't reported in February that the GVU had been sponsoring members of the local Warez scene with money and server infrastructure in order to get log-files from those servers.

11/01 2006 | 06:42 PM
Posted by: Janko Roettgers
I've written about the ongoing Creative Commons fundraising campaign here before. Now the organization is trying something new: It is distributing various videos through Revver.com to raise money through advertising. Here is one of the clips:

Thumb_default

The ads are displayed at the end of each clip, and they are embedded in the video - so it is safe to download the clips and share them on your favourite P2P network. In fact, Revver even encourages you to do so.

Revver usually splits ad revenue with it's users 50/50. The company is giving 100 percent of the revenue to Creative Commons until the end of the year tho.