Tuesday, September 30, 2008

BPN 1236 EC moves to Web 3.0

While half of the European Union still has not stomached Web 2.0, the European Commission (EC) starts thinking about Web 3.0. In fact it wants to take the lead in the next generation of Internet, which the EC calls the Internet of Things (IoT), and now starts a consultation.

The European Commission has outlined the main steps that Europe has to take to respond to the next wave of the Information Revolution that will intensify in the coming years due to trends such as social networking, the decisive shift to on-line business services, nomadic services based on GPS and mobile TV and the growth of smart tags. The EC has written a working paper in preparation and this report shows that Europe is well placed to exploit these trends because of its policies to support open and pro-competitive telecom networks as well as privacy and security. A public consultation has been launched today by the Commission on the policy and private sector responses to these opportunities. The Commission report also unveils a new Broadband Performance Index (BPI) that compares national performance on key measures such as broadband speed, price, competition and coverage. Sweden and the Netherlands top this European broadband league, which complements the more traditional broadband penetration index used so far by telecoms regulators.

Web 3.0 means seamless 'anytime, anywhere' business, entertainment and social networking over fast reliable and secure networks. It means the end of the divide between mobile and fixed lines. It signals a tenfold quantum leap in the scale of the digital universe by 2015. Europe has the know-how and the network capacity to lead this transformation.

European Internet users are increasingly accessing faster and better value Internet: half of them had access to broadband at more than 2 megabits per second (MBps) at the end of 2007, a speed which is twice as fast as one year ago and supports TV over the Internet. Broadband covers 70% of rural population of the 27 EU Member States, closing the gap with total coverage (93%). In the last year, broadband rural coverage in the EU-25 has risen 8 percentage points.

This means that a new generation of Internet use is already on its way, and the potential for Europe's economy is clear. While a quarter of Europeans used web 2.0 sites in 2007, business applications of social networking are on their way. Internet based enterprise software is also expected to grow by 15% from 2006-2011 worldwide.

New technology applications will need ubiquitous Internet coverage. The Internet of Things means that wireless interaction between machines, vehicles, appliances, sensors and many other devices will take place using the Internet. It already makes electronic travel cards possible, and will allow mobile devices to exchange information to pay for things or get information from billboards. It is predicted that such technology will be in more than one billion phones by 2015.

These will be major opportunities for EU businesses as long as there is enough investment in high-speed broadband access and support for innovation and research. The Commission Communication adopted today said that the EU should stimulate investment in next generation broadband access, for example strengthening the involvement of local authorities who may facilitate the access to ducts (or digging of new ones) for faster broadband fibre cables during civil works, keep the Internet open to competition, prevent unfair restrictions in consumers' choice, safeguard consumer confidence in using the Internet and fund research in the Internet of the future.

The Communication is accompanied by a new Broadband Performance Index (BPI) that compares competition, coverage, speed and quality of Internet access across Europe (see Annex). It shows that the EU is already well placed to exploit these broadband opportunities, thanks to an open and competitive environment for investments. The index ranks EU countries' achievements in high speed Internet by the main factors affecting the development of faster broadband to highlight priorities for improvement.

The index shows that Sweden and the Netherlands are clear leaders in the EU, thanks to a competition-friendly environment and skilled citizens and businesses that can use advanced services. On the other hand, poor competition may hold back investment in advanced technologies and result in high prices. Social factors such as the lack of digital skills, limited PC penetration and a poor spending in ICT also appear to be important barriers to further developments.

It is interesting to see that the EC calls the new internet the Internet of Things, following the RFID line of internet. I might hope that by the time Web 3.0 comes around, it is a People’s Web.

Blog Posting Number: 1236

Tags: Web 3.0

Monday, September 29, 2008

Update PCM and KPN stop paper edition of DAG

The last edition of the paper edition of the free Dutch language newspaper DAG will be published on October 1, 2008 (the first one was published on May 8, 2007; see illustration). The managements of the joint venture, PCM Publishers and KPN, have decided to stop the paper edition. PCM will continue the DAG and concentrate on the digital channels. KPN will buy the DAG content from PCM for KPN Vandag, its mobile service and its narrowcasting services.

BPN 1235 ICT in education

ICT has penetrated in education in several countries. But in most cases it only means that there are computer labs in the schools where people can work on to prepare their assignments. But experiments with portable ICT in education are scarce.
The Ostrea Lyceum in Goes (The Netherlands) has selected the laptop to research the effects of digital education for pupils and teachers. Especially the use of laptops for home assignments is a topic of the research. The experiment should indicate whether the pupils deliver better quality assignments.

In the trial 55 first years will start with digital learning. A year long they will use a mini laptop to be taught, make assignments digitally and deliver this in a digital learning environment. Also the tests will be done digitally. In the classroom the smartboard, an interactive school board, will be used, while the pupil scan also chat with their teacher.

This way of learning should motivate the pupils to learn better. Whether this is so will be researched by the University of Twente. The method and the results of the two classes will be compared to two classes which will work in the traditional way with books.

Not yet all books will be digitally available as not all books have been digitized. Annotations and home work are done on the computer. In this way the results can be compared with the test class. In the experiment teachers have been invited who are not computer savvy. In this way the researchers will know what the average teacher experiences. The school will be supported by ICT specialists of Knowledge Net and Surfnet. It is expected that the Dutch high schools will be digital in five years time.

Pupils are not allowed to be diverted by chat programmes and online games. Downloading music and photographs is allowed. A fine of 125 euro will be imposed on downloading games.

This project is one of the projects in the program to have all teaching material digitally available within five years. Schools recently started a large ICT project together with ICT companies, the ministry of education and publishing companies. Computers will not replace the teachers, but improve their position as teachers can compose their own lessons. The Dutch Education Council favours ICT in the class room, so that teachers will have digital material available for their lessons copyright-free.

e-reader in the class
Pupils at Caritas College in Ballyfermot will get closer to the paperless age as they will start using the e-reader iLiad. The publisher Gill & Macmillan launched a pilot scheme that will take some weight off the shoulders of the first-year pupils.

St Brendan’s class, a group of 18 first year students at the all-girl school will say goodbye to heavy schoolbags this year. They will become the first class of students worldwide to replace their academic load with the iLiad, an electronic book device.

The main difference for the girls will be a dramatic reduction in the weight of their schoolbags as they replace more than six kilograms (almost 13 and a half pounds) of textbooks, workbooks, an English dictionary and a novel with this 400 gram (less then a pound) e-book. The students will be able to make notes and even doodle on the pages as in a regular textbook and then decide whether they wish to erase or save their notes. In addition, each iLiad reader is pre-loaded with 50 classic novels in the public domain which will be available free of charge to each student.

Blog Post Number: 1235

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Sunday, September 28, 2008

BPN 1234 Sony e-reader to be introduced in The Netherlands (again)

Sony has announced that it will introduce its reader PRS 505 with its digital paper screen in 2009 in The Netherlands.

The reader became available in the USA in 2006 and was introduced in the UK in September 2008 by Waterstone and has been introduced by the FNAC bookshop in France. The introduction will not go unnoticed a Sony representative said.

First reactions to the announcement are not hopeful, saying that the introduction is too little, too late and that Sony has already been overtaken left and right. The Netherlands is of course a difficult country for e-readers. First of all there is a certain nationalistic feeling with the iLiad e-reader and recently the Digital E-reader1000 by iRex Technologies, a spin-off from Philips. But the iLiad wifi version and book version are more expensive than the Sony PRS505 (299,00 euro in France). Besides other e-readers like Cybooks and Hanlins have already creamed off the initial market of interested e-reader users.

On the other hand, the introduction will be a memorable one, as it will be 15 years ago in 2009 that Sony introduced an e-reader for the first time in The Netherlands in March 1994 with a large newspaper ad. The Sony EB e-reader was introduced after thorough preparations. An Netherlands Electronic Book Committee had been set up, consisting of publishers and system integrators as well as the Sony marketing department. The EB version had an e-reader with a black and white screen; it had a mini-disc as book. It was not exactly a device to put in your pocket given the dimensions (17x10x4 cm) and its weight (450 grams). A few books were prepared for the launch such as a hotel guide and a dictionary. The introduction bundle consisted of the e-reader and two e-books at a price of 1250 Dutch guilders (roughly 550 euro). The introduction failed and by 1995 the whole project was over, despite the lighter and smaller e-readers. The conclusion was that the e-reader was too heavy, the black/white screen too heavy on the eyes and the bundle too expensive. Of course, there were still too many e-sniffers around. What still is left is harvest of 15 titles had been produced over the period, mostly reference works like hotel guides. dictionaries, spelling books and a proverb book.

Title (Publisher)
Winkler Prins Gezondheidsvademecum (Bonaventura)
PBNA Polytechnisch Marketing Zakboekje (Bonaventura)
Hotels en Restaurants in Nederland (Elektroson)
Elektronisch Handwoordenboek Engels (Van Dale Lexicografie)
Verschueren Groot Woordenboek/Het Juiste Woord (Standaard Uitgeverij)
Het Groene Boekje (Sdu)
Source: Electronic Media Reporting, 1996

Blog Posting Number: 1234

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Saturday, September 27, 2008

BPN 1233 Social Networking important for economy and society

Yesterday Viviane Reding, Commissioner for Information Society and Media, gave a speech on Social Networking at the Safer Internet Forum in Luxembourg. Commissioner Reding underlined the importance of self-regulation and met with representatives of the social networking companies Myspace and Dailymotion.

What is the importance of social networking sites in Europe?
In the past year, the use of social networks has grown 35% in Europe. 56% of the European online population visited social networking sites last year and the number of regular users is forecast to rise from today's 41.7 million to 107.4 million in the next four years. In 2007 9.6 million British belonged to the country's social networking community, with 8.9 million and France and 8.6 million in Germany.
In Europe users spend 3 hours per month on average on social networking sites according to comscore.com. The UK registered the highest usage in 2007 with an average of 5.8 user hours spent on such sites. This was a significantly heavier usage level than in France, which averaged 2 hours per month, or Germany, with 3.1 hours and Spain and Italy with 1.8 hours.
In parallel with well known companies based in the US like Facebook, Youtube and Myspace, European companies are doing very well in this sector. Finland-based Habbo Hotel claims 80 million registrations. Badoo and Faceparty from the UK have a combined membership of about 15 million users; Belgian-based Netlog has 17 million while the French based Skyrock 18 million and Dailymotion 11 million.
Other European sites include Hyves in the Netherlands, StudiVZ and SchuelerVZ.de in Germany, Aha.bg in Bulgaria, Arto.dk in Denmark, E puls and Grono in Poland, Szene1.at in Austria, Studenti media group in Italy, and Tuenti in Spain.

Why is the Commission now addressing social networking sites?
Because of the open nature of social networking sites and the fact that they offer cultural diversity and enhanced interactivity, they can serve several different audiences with minimum financial effort and bring about new economic opportunities for the European industry. Customer service, advertising, mobile phone industry, human resources, entertainment are only a few sectors that have been changed by the raise of the social networking sites.
Social networking sites also turn people into active users of new technologies and empower them to make active choices about their environment by offering the opportunity to create new creative content.
The most obvious change brought about by the social networking sites is probably the influence on the way people manage their social contacts. Whether it is maintaining and enhancing existing relations or making new friends online, social networking sites play an increasingly important role in the way people keep in touch and organise their social life.
Social networking sides also have started to raise new issues with regard to data privacy and protection of minors.

Why are social networking sites on the agenda of the Safer Internet Forum?
To stimulate the debate on Social networking and children, the Commission organised this Safer Internet Forum. The Safer Internet Forum gathers around 300 participants from NGOs, industry, and public authorities, coming from Europe, the US, Brazil or Australia.
In parallel, the Commission launched a public consultation on social networking and child safety. The results of the public consultation have been published online.
The European Commission is encouraging self-regulation with regard to social networking. For this purpose the Commission has convened a Social Networking Task Force, which held two meetings in 2008 with 17 operators of social networking sites used by under-18s (e.g. MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, Bebo, Hyves, StudiVZ, and Skyrock), a number of researchers and child welfare organisations. The objective is to agree on voluntary guidelines for use of social networking sites by children, to be adopted voluntarily by the European industry. The Commission acts as a facilitator for bringing together industry players and other stakeholders interested in child safety online. In doing so its builds on its experience from the successful initiative with the mobile phone industry, which resulted in the European Framework for Safer Mobile Use by Younger Teenagers and Children (IP/07/139).
Last February, the European Commission proposed a new Safer Internet programme to enhance the safety of children in the online environment (IP/08/310). The 2009-2013 programme takes into account new developments such as mobile content and social networking sites.

What are the business possibilities of social networking?
Social networking sites can be beneficial to public and professional institutions and to society as a whole. Given the popularity of social networking services among professionals, the young and the retired for sharing holiday photos, stories and news, keeping in touch, and organising their social and working life, it is clear that social networking sites offer potential for European industry, by increasing productivity through better customer relations and internal communications or as a business in itself.
Technology firms are taking the lead by using social networking to improve customer services and client involvement in company's product innovation and development services. Other companies are opening specific networking sites for their own employees, giving them the possibility to operate as a community no matter where they are. This gives employees the chance to feel involved in company decisions which could help engage them and increase productivity.
Social networking websites are also a means for smaller companies to take advantage of the internet at lower cost. 40% of small and medium enterprises do not have websites because running a website can be costly. These are cheaper, less demanding but efficient way for them to attract customers and promote their business across borders.
While social networking offers great contributions to productivity and growth, it is also directly creating jobs in Europe. For example, since its foundation in 2000, Finnish social networking company and a European Champion in this field, Sulake Corporation has expanded from its headquarters in Helsinki to 14 other offices around the world. It employs over 300 people globally and the company is in the top 25 of the most valuable digital start ups in the world. Furthermore, international social networking companies like Facebook and MySpace are now opening offices in Europe, employing local staff to reflect the culture of a particular country.

What risks are involved in the increased use of Social Networking Sites? Are they safe for young people?
The social networking phenomenon was most rapidly and immediately adopted by young people, and this trend is continuing. The age of internet users in Europe has actually decreased in the past few years. 9-10 year old children now connect several times a week; 12-14 year olds generally use the Internet daily, often for one to three hours. One of their main activities is communication through chats, instant messaging and social networking sites.
The risks they face in passing an increasing proportion of social time online include grooming (where adults can pass for young people with the intent of abusing children), accidentally finding inappropriate content, abuse of personal or private information or cyber-bullying. According to a Danish study, 31.5% of the 12 to 18 year old users participating in the study said that they have had bad experiences on the Internet. 70.1% of these were caused by messages from strangers.

What can be done to minimise the risks?
There are many existing measures to protect young internet surfers like screening and parental control. Some social networking sites also provide user safety tools and information. Many of them have in place systems for reporting unwanted content and inappropriate or illegal behaviour, like cyberbullying and grooming. A report is usually followed by written warnings to the offending users, suspension or cancellation of accounts. When lawfully required by the police, sites have a policy for the disclosure of communications data and content in line with the national law. In addition, most social networking sites use a combination of technical and human moderation with personnel who receive appropriate training to manage different types of situations.
However, it is also important to empower digital natives – who have grown up with and are more confident in using network technologies – though age verification systems and industry self-regulation.
Following the successful initiative of 2007 with the support of the Commission, when mobile operators signed the European Framework for Safer Mobile use by Young Teenagers and Children, the Commission is discussing a set of guidelines for ensuring the online safety of young people and children with social networking sites. They will be unveiled at the next Safer Internet Day, February 10, 2009, along with a pan-European INSAFE network campaign to raise awareness of the potential risks children and young people can meet online.

Blog Posting Number: 1233

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Friday, September 26, 2008

BPN 1232 Watch where you are going: EU cities differ sharply in internet performance

It is interesting to read that research findings like London is the best city to internet and in Milan, Madrid and Dublin you may struggle with gaming (come to Amsterdam!). It points to a kind of digital divide.

The findings are part of the report European City Internet Performance Index by the British research bureau Epitiro, which calls itself The Broadband Communications Authority. The bureau have monitored top internet service providers (ISP) since 2003 for the purpose of providing industry bodies with actual customer experience data of broadband service. The bureau started to expand its coverage by monitoring city, sub-urban and rural broadband performance, in both wired and wireless (3G) formats, across all Member States of the European Union. The question is of course why urban areas were selected for testing. But in short this boils down to the point that urban areas are the fountainheads of countries, with most activity going there. Besides, the performance of broadband benefits the social and economic structure of a country.

This is a report which offers the results of broadband performance in the major European cities Amsterdam, Dublin, Lisbon, London, Paris, Madrid, Milan and Zurich. It is a preliminary report, which will be replaced by the beginning of 2009 with a report showing the results of more cities. Most likely cities like Stockholm, Oslo, Helsinki, Copenhagen, Berlin, hopefully Munich and Vienna will be included. It is a pity that in this preliminary report the results of Stockholm are not taken in. In the broadband world Stockholm has been a city which started early with broadband and would provide a good measuring stick. But we will have to wait till January 2009.

The researchers wanted to gain insight into the likely performance levels of popular uses such as web surfing, VoIP, internet gaming and streaming video were the drivers behind the technical aspects measured. They had their own technical method for this, using a network of satellite devices that simulate typical residential computers by connecting to the internet and executing a series of test routines. Every 30 minutes the satellite devices connect to broadband providers and measure HTTP Download, DNS Resolution Time, Ping Time and Packet Loss whilst connecting to popular local and international web sites.

The dataset was based on over 2 million tests from July 2008 to September 2008 and the testing process remains active. This was during the holiday season, when the use of internet in the European cities is lower. Of course it might have given the researchers a secure start-up, but I like to see the results after the holiday period.

Still the key findings are remarkable:
• London has the best average internet service amongst the cities tested and also the fastest individual ISP;
• Amsterdam and Zurich also offer above average internet service;
• Dublin and Milan broadband service levels were the lowest of the European cities tested;
• Multinational ISPs that trade under the same brand name in different countries vary in performance as much as 44%.

The report concludes that there is a significant ‘digital divide’ amongst European cities in terms of broadband performance. Whilst all cities and ISPs can handle basic web browsing and email, the demands of VoIP and streaming media may not be reliably met by ISPs in some cities tested.

Blog Posting Number: 1232


Thursday, September 25, 2008

BPN 1231 A tricky proposal by MEPs

The European Parliament has voted in favour of new legislation offering ISPs the opportunity to close off internet access as punishment for illegal downloading. Under the new rules providers can be obliged to terminate the connection of users who have downloaded music, games or video three times illegally. The measure, however, is not mandatory.

The new package of telecom measures offers EU member states the possibility to let ISPs punish their users; however, the measure is not mandatory. The measures have been accepted in the telecom package on the instigation of French members of the European Parliament, who are of the opinion that illegal downloading will harm the creative industry. ( A simular measure has been proposed by the French minister of Culture a few months ago). The usual argument of musicians missing revenues was brought up again. The EU-countries still have to agree with the telecom package. This will go back to the EU Parliament for a second reading.

The measure of disconnecting a user means that the ISP can start checking the content being downloaded manually or by filter. Theoretically (and in practice it already has been signalled) it is possible for a provider to check whether a user is downloading large copyrighted material, causing the network to sow down. However, some member of the EU Parliament (MEPs) find it unacceptable that ISP are promoted to police functions by making them responsible for the content of internet. Copyright should not take precedence over privacy.

The package of measures is supposed to improve the rights of the digital consumer. One of the measures concerns itself with the duration of the subscription to maximally two year. This should prevent subscribers from long and expensive subscriptions. Another measure obliges the ISP to offer parents software to guard their children from adult sites and chatrooms. Besides the internet users will be better informed about their rights and warned when there is interference with their internet use, causing privacy problems. The users would also be able to claim damages from the ISP for non-performance.

There were also non controversial measures like the statement that internet should be there for everyone, that tariffs and bills should be more transparent and that there should be a better protection of the data traffic, not only of public sites, but also of social sites.

Blog Posting Number: 1231

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

BPN 1230 EC consultation on next generation broadband

Now that the fibre broadband projects, with speeds of 100Mb are introduced in several European countries, The European Commission is launching a consultation on the regulatory principles to be applied by EU Member States to Next Generation Access broadband networks (NGA). The EC is doing this at a time , when the first commercialisation of next generation broadband projects is taking place. In the Netherlands for example there are many commercial fibre optic projects in progress or even operational. The Netherlands is in the forefront after many a study for large municipalities were delivered with the message that high speed access to internet was needed for its knowledge industry and economy. If needed the municipalities should take the lead. This caused some problems for some non-profit bodies and commercial companies in setting up projects. With a ruling by the EC on the Amsterdam broadband project, basic rules were established. Non-profit companies like municipalities are allowed to stimulate broadband projects, but are not allowed to invest commercially.

NGA optical fibre-based networks enable bitrates several times higher than those currently available on traditional copper wire networks. NGAs are required to deliver high-definition content (such as high definition television) and interactive applications. The objective of a common regulatory framework for NGA is to foster a consistent treatment of operators in the EU and thereby ensure the necessary regulatory predictability to invest. The Commission is consulting on the basis of a draft Recommendation, addressed to the regulators in the 27 EU Member States and suggesting definitions for harmonized categories of regulated services, access conditions, rates of return and appropriate risk premiums. The public consultation will be open until 14th November 2008. The Commission will then finalise the Recommendation in the light of comments received and formally adopt it in 2009.

The deployment of NGA is indispensable to deliver new broadband services to European consumers. While a number of operators, both incumbents and alternative operators, have launched large-scale rollouts of new broadband infrastructure in a number of Member States, Europe appears to be still lagging behind other economies, notably the United States and Japan.

The basic principle of the Commission's draft Recommendation is that national regulatory authorities should provide access to the networks of dominant operators at the lowest possible level. In particular, they should mandate access to the ducts of the dominant operators allowing competitors to roll out their own fibre. However NGAs should also impose further physical access obligations (access to unlit fibre) beyond access to ducts where ducts are not available or the population density is too low for a sustainable business model. Access to active elements such as "bitstream" shall be maintained provided lower level remedies do not sufficiently address distortions of competition.

The draft Recommendation provides also a common approach to ensure non-discriminatory access, as well as a methodology for calculating a proper rate of return, including a risk premium. The Commission believes that for NGA, rates of return should be derived in the light of the risks associated with this kind of investment, bearing in mind that the nominal pre-tax weighted average cost of capital for fixed and mobile operators has been roughly 8 to 12% in recent years.

In the meantime the Finnish government has approved a proposal to provide all homes and businesses with internet access at 100 Mbps by 2015. The decision is based on proposals from a broadband study conducted by Harri Pursiainen, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Transport and Communications. The project aims to have a distance of no more than 2 km from each user to the nearest fibre-optic or cable network.

Blog Posting Number: 1230

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

BPN 1229 iRex beyond e-books and e-Papers to the business segment

It was clear that Forbes had received all the information on the launch of the new iRex Digital Reader 1000 (see photograph). Al the details were correct. The launch did not have any surprises for the journalists present; I was not there. But the first reviews basically copied the press release; only a few journalists had been able to hold and touch the new reader and they were in a jubilant mood. ZDNet opened by saying that the new reader gave a Windows feeling; supposedly this is meant as a compliment. The digital lifestyle site and magazine Bright.nl sported the caption: Size does matter (we know that by now from all the SPAM mail). The manufacturer iRex Technologies went a step ahead in its press release by using the headline: iRex Opens New Chapter In E‐Reading. In my opinion this is too much as only colour or video would open up a new chapter. The introduction of the DR1000 is just a logical expansion on the iLiad.

So the iRex Digital Reader 1000 is there, or better two versions are for sale now. The specs:
Diagonal screen size: 10,2 inch (25,9 centimetres)
Screen resolution: 1.024 x 1.280 pixels.
Screen size: text on a A4 format can almost be shown 1 on 1, as the white margins have been cut out; developers have been compromising between the A4 paper size in Europe and the legal paper size in the USA
Dimensions: 27 cm x 21,7 cm x 1, 2 cm (!)
Weight: 570 gram
Operating system: open source Linux
Document formats: most common formats such as PDF, HTML, TXT, JPEG and PowerPoint.
Version DR1000: 499 euro (650 US dollar)
Version DR1000S with digital pen and write functionality: 599 euro (750 US dollar)

The specs look good and interesting. The Open Source Linux will attract diverse applications. The size is interesting in a business environment and will not be dependent on book formats or newspaper formats. The DR1000 is clearly intended for the business market as it can show documents in the most current formats. Missing from this new reader is the bar to flip the pages back and forth, which is available on the iLiad. I thought that this was a new reading tool, but apparently not for the business environment.

But the disappointment of the introduction was the absence of the DR1000SW with Wifi, Bluetooth and 3G functionality, which will be available later this year. No price was mentioned in the press release about this version; however Forbes indicated that it would cost 850 US dollar, which would translate to 699 euro. To me this would be the most interesting one of the set. So why not introduce this one at the same time. Or are the DR1000 and DR1000S just teasers to warm up the market? I think there is more behind this introduction. iRex Technologies is getting nervous as Plastic Logic has been much in the news sporting its reader with 10,2 inch diagonal screen, which is due to be released in the second quarter of 2009. So, yes the DR1000 and DR1000S are teasers to warm up the market. And iRex Technologies will have to launch the DR1000SW before the second quarter of 2009 to keep the initiative. But by doing so it ill also have to set the price of the device, offering Plastic Logic the opportunity undercut the DR1000SW price of supposedly 850 US dollar.

I will be saving in the meantime in order to buy either the DR1000SW or the Plastic Logic reader.

Blog Posting Number: 1229

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Monday, September 22, 2008

BPN 1228 While waiting for the new from iRex

Today iRex Technologies, the manufacturer of the e-reader iLiad is said to unveil its first 10,2 -inch e-book reader for the business market tomorrow. The iRex site says that iRex Technologies will unveil a new thing. So I will be checking the site continuously today. But the magazine Forbes was able to unveil some details already, even with a picture of the e-reader (see photograph). The basic message is, according to Forbes, that iRex Technologies will release a large size reader with a screen, which measures diagonally 10,2 inch. It looks like Rex Technologies is going to shift gears in battery life, software and addressing target groups.

From the small Sony PRS 500 to the iLiad, it was already a step forward. But the move from the iLiad to the 10,2 inch screen of the iRex Reader 1000 is a giant step. Especially for the business sector this will be interesting as most documents are still A4 or legal size. Whether the Reader 1000 will be more interesting for newspapers will depend on the price; the first rumblings are that iRex Technologies will again be on top of the price list.

It looks like iRex Technologies is the only one in that field, if the announcement is correct and concerns the Reader 1000. But just a week ago Plastic Logic was also in the news showing a large e-reader with the size of 8.5 x 11-inch, diagonally measuring up to 10,2 inch. Plastic Logic will start selling the product commercially at the beginning of next year. If all the rumours around the iRex Reader 1000 are true, iRex Technologies will start selling immediately in the USA.

So, we are witnessing a new step ahead in size of the screen. It will also be an incremental step in battery life and software. But I will wait to see the specs. But I can hear the critics already saying that it is not a step ahead as the screen is still using 16 grey tones and not colour, while also video is still missing. I am not impressed by that type of comments as colour will come around by 2009, as indicated by Russ Wilcox, the chief executive of E-Ink. Video is said to be on the horizon by 2012. So far digital paper has proven to be unruly for web processing and certainly for video; a few years might be needed to get around the problems involved. Yet a large screen will already be a step ahead; the next logical step would not be web browser functionality and video, but flexible digital paper.

Blog Posting Number: 1228

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Update iRex to present 10,2 inch e-Book reader

iRex Technologies, the manufacturer of the e-reader iLiad is to unveil its first 10,2 -inch e-book reader for the business market tomorrow. The iRex site says that IRex Technologies will unveil a new thing, but the magazine Forbes had already more details.

The name of the new e-reader will be iRex Reader 1000. It will be able to use any file format including PDF, Word, and HTML-rendered documents, contrary to the limited file use of the iLiad. However there wil be no no video and no colour yet.

Thre will be three versions of the iRex Reader 1000. For the base version you will have to shell out 650 US dollar. For the verson with writable screen you will pay 750 US dollar. For the version with WiFI, Bluetooth and 3G the price is 850 US dollar.

Watch this blog for a new posting on Tuesday morning.

BPN 1227 European collecting societies quarrel among each other

The Dutch collecting society BUMA/Stemra has been denied the right to offer pan-European music licenses in no less than two courtcases. Recently Ms Neelie Kroes, Commissioner of the European Commission, announced that the collecting societies had to demolish their monopolistic structure of regional license areas. The first attempt of BUMA/Stemra has gone wrong badly.

On 25 August 2008, Mannheim Regional Court granted an interim injunction against the download provider Beatport.com as well as BUMA/Stemra. The injunction prohibits Beatport.com from making specific musical works from GEMA's repertoire available to the public over the Internet in the territory of the Federal Republic of Germany without having previously obtained the consent of GEMA. The German collecting society administers the copyrights of more than 60,000 members (composers, lyricists and music publishers) as well as those of over 1 million rights owners round the world. BUMA/Stemra is prohibited from licensing such use. Beatport.com has already recognised the interim injunction as the final ruling for itself.

The Dutch collecting society BUMA/Stemra had announced on 21 July 2008 that it had granted Beatport.com a Pan-European licence allowing Beatport.com to offer the entire worldwide repertoire of music - i.e. also including GEMA's repertoire - online throughout the EU. From GEMA's perspective, BUMA/Stemra is not entitled to do this, as it was granted the right to licence GEMA's repertoire only for uses within its own administrative territory. This standpoint has now been confirmed by Mannheim Regional Court. Like GEMA, the British collecting society PRS has also successfully gone to court against the EU-wide licensing of its repertoire by BUMA/Stemra to Beatport.com.

GEMA, for its part, is one of the leading collecting societies in the complex market of Pan-European online licensing. It has, for instance, recently set up a one-stop shop for the Europe-wide licensing of mobile and online use of the Anglo-American repertoire of SONY/ATV Music Publishing. CELAS, the company established by GEMA and the British collecting society, has already been licensing the Anglo-American repertoire of EMI Music Publishing on a Pan-European basis in the online and mobile sector since December 2007. With these models, GEMA can offer Pan-European licences to licensees for the use of extensive repertoires.

Three days earlier the Dutch judge agreed with the British collecting society PRS, that BUMA/STEMRA was not allowed to give Beatport.com.com a pan-European license for satellite, cable or internet. BUMA/Stemra pleaded that the regional limitations between the collecting societies, part of the Contract of Reciprocal Representation (CRR) from 1973, were not applicable on the licenses of online music as cross border music rights were not in use in 1973.

Dirk Visser, a Dutch lawyer and professor specialised in copyright, named the BUMA/Stemra pan-European deal with Beatport.com.com a provocation, saying that BUMA/Stemra has triggered a minefield.

Blog Posting Number: 1227

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Saturday, September 20, 2008

BPN 1226 Making online commerce a reality

Ms Neelie Kroes (see photograph), European Commissioner for Competition Policy, made closing remarks at the Online Commerce Roundtable in Brussels on 17 September 2008,

“Ten years ago The Economist proclaimed "The Death of Distance". It was right. Liberalisation of telecommunications services has meant that the internet is now within reach of the 500 million people in the 27 countries of the European Union. So consumers now have the internet, with global means of payment, and global distribution systems.

But consumers do not yet have global commerce. Far too often they do not even have pan-European commerce. Consumers are not happy with this. We have heard from one highly respected consumer organisation today, and I have heard similar complaints from other organisations and from individual consumers in the past. So have my fellow Commissioners.

Consumers see the internet, and the borders that exist online, and feel that they are not getting a fair deal. The internet gives more power to the individual than any technological change in history. We cannot let that power be taken away.

This goes beyond narrow commercial interests. The people of Europe were promised a union, a place without borders: but on the internet they have not yet got it. Progress has been made; sometimes impressive, but it is not enough.

There seem to be many reasons for this, some common to the online and the offline worlds, including tax systems, consumer protection laws, guarantees and after-sales service. My colleagues in the Commission are doing their best to address these, knowing that there is a lot more to be done.

But even in areas where these concerns have been overcome, consumers often find that the products they are looking for are not available to them. As Competition Commissioner, I want to know why.

- If this is because the competition rules are not clear enough, I will clarify them.
- If it is because the competition rules are not up to date, I will update them.
- And of course, if this is because the competition rules are not being respected, consumers and companies should know that I will enforce them.
- If the problems do not lie with the competition rules, but are due to the wider regulatory environment I will support my colleagues in the Commission to make any changes that are needed.

The purpose of this meeting is to begin a discussion with consumers and with companies on online issues. I want to hear more views, of course, from other people not present here today, which is why I am inviting others to send me their views. I will also publish a short report of today's meeting on which people can comment. Today is the start of a discussion, not the end of one.

And to help that discussion prove fruitful, I want to outline some impressions that I take away from this meeting, and outline what I intend to do next.

The Single Market of the European Union is based on a relatively straightforward premise. The fewer the barriers between markets, the more efficiently those markets will work. That is why we have spent fifty years trying to create a Single Market for goods and services, for companies and workers, and for capital. And that is why, once state and regulatory barriers have been brought down, the competition rules are there to ensure that state barriers are not replaced by commercial ones.

There are well established competition rules for companies that enter into distribution agreements. They are due for review next year, and we are working hard on that review.

These rules already have provisions for internet sales, and if I hear that these rules are not being respected, then I will look into these allegations immediately. And if I find any company to have breached the rules, I will ask the Commission to act and punish the companies concerned.

There are also questions, however, about whether these rules strike the right balance when it comes to restrictions on internet sales. Should a company, for example, be allowed to exclude internet-only retailers from its distribution system? I have heard today from companies who think that that is the best way to protect a brand image. I have also heard from companies that use internet only retailers but impose strict conditions on them. And I have also heard from consumers who believe that consumers should have the right to choose.

This is going to be an important issue in the forthcoming debate and I hope that we receive more evidence as to the effects of these restrictions.

There are also questions about territorial restrictions. It is a long standing principle of Community law that a company can prevent its distributors from actively selling across borders - this helps to protect investments and efforts made by other distributors. However a company cannot prevent arbitrage and stop its distributors selling - passively - to consumers who are themselves active, and who seek out the distributor.

This distinction between active and passive sales is fundamental - but questions have arisen as to what this means on the internet.

Since the rules were last reviewed, there are a number of practices which are being used by companies to restrict cross border sales which I think require a closer look.

Website redirection, and credit card checks, to name just two practices, may be permissible if decided on by the distributor itself. But if these are imposed on the distributor by the manufacturer, then that seems to risk limiting passive selling - and that is clearly an infringement of competition rules. I intend to look very carefully at these practices, and any others brought to our attention.

So when it comes to physical products, there seems to be room to do more to enforce the competition rules more rigorously to help consumers.

For digitally-delivered products, such as music, the position seems more complicated. But no easier to explain to the consumer.

Why is it possible to buy a CD from an online retailer and have it shipped to anywhere in Europe, but it is not possible to buy the same music, by the same artist, as an electronic download with similar ease? Why do pan-European services find it so difficult to get a pan-European license? Why do new, innovative services find licensing to be such a hurdle?

The answer, as we have heard today is complex. The rights are more complicated, the licensing agreements are more complicated, the issue, so everyone has told me, is more complicated.

The world is always more complicated than we would like it to be. But that is no excuse for inaction. Collecting societies and music labels have come a long way since 1851, the time of Bourget and his sugared water, but the world has changed around them. Artists have changed, distribution has changed, and consumers have changed. There is a perception, though, that the collecting societies and the music labels have not.

Collecting societies have a vital responsibility in looking after the interests of artists. That is only right because music is a vital part of our society and our culture. It always has been and it always will be. But where regional monopolies are not necessary - in the online world - then I want to hear more about whether the current system really helps the artists and whether it serves the consumer.

As you know, I have been trying - through a range of cases in the telecoms and music sectors amongst others - to make the Single Market a reality for new products and services. Today's debate has provided me with useful input to better understand this market and see what needs to be done in the future. If the competition rules are breached, you know already that I will continue to be active. If other changes are needed, I will support my colleagues in making the necessary changes. However I believe that the music industry can reach sensible solutions, allowing simple, workable licensing systems to be created.

Historically, the copyright system has always found a solution for dealing with complex licensing issues and technological change. Indeed the collecting societies themselves developed to solve just such problems.

But if a solution to the problems we face today is not found, then the music industry can hardly complain if regulators or enforcers step in.

I want again to thank all of you for your contributions, and to repeat that this is the start of a discussion, and not the end of one. Each of you now has an opportunity to submit more detailed comments in writing, and I will be inviting third parties to do the same, and to comment on the report of this meeting that will be prepared".

Blog Posting Number: 1226


Friday, September 19, 2008

BPN 1225 Pre-internet (11): The arrival of internet

While the online industry was developing and coping with disruptive technologies like videotext and CD-ROM, a new online phenomenon was developing in academic circles. It started out in 1969, when the ARPA project was started by the US Department of Defence (DoD). It was the Cold War with a division between the two superpowers of the USA and Russia. In order to be able to keep a network alive after a potential bombing or worse nuclear bombing, a new network had to be designed, which would leave the not –hit network part operational. This required a new network protocol. By 1971 it lead to the packet switching telecom technology. It also yielded a new way of co-operation between the Department of Defence and the universities, which executes assignments for the DoD, and between the universities mutually. A number of networks came into existence, which were eventually based on a new series of protocols, TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol over Internet Protocol), developed by Bob Kahn and Vincent Cerf between 1972 and 1976. The protocols took care that networks could exchange electronic mail and information. By 1986 The DoD started talks to move the Internet over from the department to the National Science Foundation (NSF). The Internet as it existed in the USA became an interrelated network of networks which was expanding to universities and research centres in other countries.

The network was mostly in use for e-mail, for file transfer (Ftp) and other facilities such as Usenet. However there was no overlay in the system which made it easy to jump from one function to another or from one server to another. This was for the Brit Tim Berners Lee, a researcher at the European Particle Physics Laboratory CERN in Geneva, the moment to start thinking about the World Wide Web in 1990.

Tim Berners Lee defined the first web client and server in 1990 with specifications of web addresses (URL, Unique Resource Location), links (HTTP, Hyper Text Transfer Protocol) ) and the mark-up language (HTML, Hyper Text Mark-up Language); HTMP was based on the ISO standard 8879 of 1986 known as the Standard Generalised Mark-up Language). In 1991 he developed the first pages on a Next machines.

With this material browser-like products were produced such as Gopher, a distributed search and retrieval protocol. Important was the text menu. It was soon to be superseded by Mosaic, which was a user-friendly interface. This web browser took the computer world by storm and popularised the World Wide Web, soon to be followed up by Netscape Navigator.

The online industry with ASCII databases and videotext services were taken by surprise and had problems understanding the depth of the change. Internet expanded fast and the traditional online industry had no answer. Databases sprang up like mushrooms and coming from the academic world were available at no costs. Information providers of ASCII databases were able to convert their data to the HTML, and later to XML standard. Yet the pioneer host Dialog was sold off to the Canadian publisher Thomson. But the videotext services were hard to convert due to its page structure and the videotext information providers were left in the cold and only a few were able to cross over to internet. Yet a completely new industry with new players came up, all using the same protocol. The scientists could put their databases online, pre-publish their articles and universities could build up repository of the PhD theses and scientific articles. Business started sites and company promotions and online business became a new line of trade. And the tifosi of the bulletin board systems made the cross-over easily and started their own sites. The internet protocol gave any target group the opportunity to get online.

Blog Posting Number: 1125

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Pre-internet (10): Frozen online

The online industry was in development in the seventies and the beginning of the eighties. But online was expensive, especially for intermediaries in science, scientists and business people. On the other hand information providers, usually publishers of scientific, technical and medical information (STM) wanted more penetration for their electronic information. So they looked around for other carriers than online, especially in the optical field. By the end of the seventies the laser disc had been launched as a consumer product for film, but it lost its race against the video tape. But in the STM world there was interest in the laser disc. In the early eighties a consortium of STM publishers, among which Elsevier Science and Blackwell Scientific, formed the consortium Adonis to produce and distribute scientific articles on laser disc.

However this technology was superseded by the CD-ROM technology in 1984, when Philips started to produce CD-ROM. The carrier was seen as an adequate storage medium with 600Mb. For many STM publishers this was sufficient space to store many of their text databases. Besides the publishers could promote and handle this medium themselves. However in the first year there was a problem with the logical file structure, which bound a product to a particular brand of CD-ROM player. So twelve hard- and software parties came together and established the High Sierra format, which was turned into the ISO 9660 standard in 1988. From the High Sierra format onwards, any information provider could deliver a silver disc for any CD-ROM player. And the STM publishers and information providers made use of it as it was much the same type of subscription management distribution as magazines and books.

To the online industry CD-ROM was a disruptive technology. CD-ROM could hold 600Mb of data, which is a lot of text. And as most of the databases were archive databases putting the database on a CD-ROM was cheaper and more profitable than putting the material online. Besides, with CD-ROM no taxi meter was running in the back of the mind of researchers. And for information provider with timely information, h could choose for a hybrid distribution model offering timely information online and the archive on disc. This business model was adopted by STM publishers and information provider a well as business publishers.

The Dutch publisher Kluwer had started a commercial online service in 1980 and started to experiment with CD-ROM in 1987. By 1988 it published the legal database on the silver disc, while it used online only for timely matters. The Royal Tropical Institute ran it database Agris on two host computers/servers. Its audience were intermediaries in countries with problematic telephone networks and with high costs. So when he institute started to distribute the disc KIT Abstracts, it reached more subscribers than online.

Although many a publisher believed that the combination of online and CD-ROM had a healthy life expectancy, the business model was over by 1995 and the publisher and information providers had to cope with another disruptive technology: internet. Companies like Kluwer had to invest again. And Elsevier Science started the radical idea to bring all its publications, including its article archives, into the ScienceDirect database. By 2000 STM text CD-ROMs were over and online had been defrosted.

Blog Posting Number: 1224

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Update Three Dutch nominations in Europrix Multimedia Awards 2008

Among the 23 nominations of the 2008 edition of the Europrix Multimedia Awards, are three nominations of Dutch designers. The nominations have been selected out of 338 entries from 32 countries. The winners will be presented at the Gala in Graz (Austria) on 29 November 2008

The Dutch nominees are:

Title: Images of the Street
Designer: Sandra Karis (NL)
School: Utrecht Graduate School of Art, Media, Music and Technology
URL: http://emma.hku.nl/

Title: Kika and Bob
Designer: Fons Schiedon (NL)
Company: Submarine
URL: http://www.kikaandbob.com/

Title: Treehuggers, A Studies in Immersive Animation
Designer: Gatze Zonneveld (NL)
School: Utrecht School of the Arts
URL: www.don-quixote.nl/pages/treehuggers.htm

Update NRC Handelsblad starts international site in English

The Dutch quality paper NRC Handelsblad has started an English language site in co-operation with Spiegel Online. The Dutch site contains news from NRC Handelsblad, but will also publish items by DutchNews.nl. See video.

BPN 1223 Pre-internet (9): Videotex outstripped by the time and technology

Videotex was a European technology. It was heavily stimulated by national politics and by the European Commission; grants were provided to promote research and development of the technology and market. Despite the support, videotext had a varying success.
For Great Britain the whole videotext adventure lasted 20 years from the start in 1971 till the sale of assets in 1991. Despite the fact that Prestel made use of common household devices such as the telephone and the television, it was still an expensive proposition. As a result, Prestel gained a limited market penetration among private consumers achieving a total of just 90,000 subscribers. But Prestel also received competition from other BT value added services like the combined e-mail and database system Telecom Gold.
In The Netherlands the whole technology also existed just twenty years, from 1976 (its first demonstration) till 1996 (the end of Videotex Netherlands. By that time the technology was over and done with. In the end roughly 350.000 users had made use of the public systems Viditel and its successor Videotex Nederland.
Other European countries, such as Italy, Austria, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Germany bought the Prestel system. Italy registered 180,000 subscribers.
Remarkable is that the success of the French Télétel/Minitel was never repeated in any other country, let alone by any other videotext system. Yet Prestel had more success with selling the system than Télétel/Minitel. The success in France is often attributed to the free handing-out of the Minitel terminals. However I think that the Kiosque model was the key to success. The Kiosque was not regulated by the French PTT and the information providers felt more involved.
But also outside Europe videotext was no success. Singapore used a variation on the Prestel system by using a telephone line for prompting the system, while cable was used for downloading, providing a higher speed, allowing the transmission of pictures. Yet the system did not get out of the starting blocks and the same goes for the American trials of Green Thumb and Knight-Ridder. But system Telidon in Canada and Captain in Japan never got of the drawing board at all.

Part of the problem of penetration was also the colliding technologies. When videotex came onto the market, the PC was introduced in companies and bought as a toy by amateurs. They found out that the videotex technology and mini-computers and PCs were incompatible. All kind of conversion programs had to be written to transfer information from videotext devices to PCs for processing and storage of data.
Another interesting fact is to see that operational videotex remained limited to Europe. On the other hand in the United States the residential services like The Source, CompuServe, Prodigy and AOL also struggled to get enough market penetration. One should not forget that the seventies were a time of technology change with the introduction of computing and the first sales of PCs. In the eighties consumers were discovering how to make sense out of all these new technologies and how to cope with these new devices.

Could videotex have won the technology race against ASCII databases, e-mail and bulletin board systems? I personally do not think so, as the videotext technology was too much of a suit of armour, limiting the information provider and user. Besides the retrievability of information was too limited due to tree structures and page oriented navigation.

British Telecom, the telephone company spun out of the British Post Office, was early to abolish Prestel in 1991. Other countries were later. The Netherlands dumped Videotex Nederland on January 1 1997. In France Télétel/Minitel is dying out as the number of information provider declines with 30 percent a year. In 2005 there were still 6 million of Minitels (at its height it were more than 20 million), still yielding 351 million calls for 18.51 million hours of connection, generating € 206 million of revenues, of which € 145 million were redistributed to 2000 service providers. But the success of Télétel/Minitel has had also a drawback with the introduction of internet in France. In the nineties France turned out to be the first country on gaz and the last on electricity. France was one of the laggard countries in adopting internet.

Blog Posting Number: 1223

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

BPN 1222 Pre-internet (8): videotext to conquer the world

Videotex as created by the British Post Office started to promote the system around the world, but it also sparked variations on the system. The rush for a consumer system was on. Although the PC had come to the market being pushed by the company Hewlett & Packard (HP) and by the newcomer Apple, it had not gained speed as a consumer product. So the was still a window for a television oriented text service for residential (left) and professional (right) use.

The British Prestel system was migrated and adopted to the American television system. The American government department of Agriculture and Trade initiated a 16 month long pilot in the state of Kentucky under the name Green Thumb. Another trial, with a different system, was held in the region of Miami by the newspaper conglomerate Knight-Ridder. Both projects were discontinued with the rise of information services like The Source and Compuserve as reason.

In Japan a trial was started in 1978 with a system, dubbed Captain (Character And pattern Telephone Access Information Work). 1.000 devices, ready to receive text, were handed out. The information was sent out from a central system through the telephone line to the consumer’s device. The television set had a decoder with a memory of 64k. the screen pages existed of only 8 rules with 15 symbols. The Captain system could handle the Roman alphabet as well as the Kanji, Hirangana and Katakana symbol set. The trial involved a daily newspaper.

In 1979 Canada showed its own videotex system, dubbed Telidon. Over the British Prestel system, the Telidon system had as advantage that it had more graphical opportunities. Instead of a mosaic only having six small squares like in the British Prestel system, the Telidon letters and symbols were made up with points. A car wheels would be less square in Canada than in Britain. The Canadian trial lasted from 1979 till 1982. During the trial 100.000 pages were entered. The trial encompassed ca. 1.000Bell Canada paid the experiment.

The Netherlands
The British videotex system was shown in the Netherlands in 1976 during a conference of cable operators during a secret meeting. By 1978 the Dutch PTT announced that it was going to introduce the Prestel system. The Dutch publisher VNU tried to reach a deal with the Dutch PTT in order to control the consumer and professional market, but the Dutch PTT got out from under this agreement. On August 7, 1980 the Dutch PTT started the videotext service, dubbed Viditel (I see from afar). One year later VNU got its videotext computer, but never was able to make it profitable with professional services. In order to get a better penetration for videotex, VNU started Ditzitel, a project with videotex technology but with cable transmission instead of telephone. Ditzitel never got the technology right, but by the end of the eighties the technology was operationel.

France had a different point of departure. The country needed a new telephone network. Plans for this were put on paper in 1975. But it became not only a technical specification of a network, but the paper also contained ideas about information services. The Centre National d’Etudes de Télécommunication (CNET) developed a terminal under the codename TICTAC (Terminal Intégré Comportant un Téléviseur et l’Appel au Clavier), which later on became known as Minitel. In order to stimulate the use, a program for free distribution of 1 million Minitels was set up. But the French PTT also thought about content. It planned to replace the printed regional directories with a total of 34 million telephone numbers by an electronic directory, with the advantages of 24 hours availability and the passing out of the print edition. The electronic directory was launched in 1981.
The French videotext system Télétel became a success. This is often ascribed to the free handing out of the terminals Minitel to stimulate the use of the telephone directory. But not all Minitels were free. The success can rather be attributed to the distributed network organisation, to which information providers could hook up, and the freedom of information providers using the distributed network.
The French Télétel/Minitel became a success with millions of Minitels around. They generated millions of online connected minutes, amongst others with sex messages via the messagerie rose, the pink e-mail service.

Blog Posting Number: 1222

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Monday, September 15, 2008

BPN 1221 Pre-internet (7): Videotex, tree content

Videotex content
Videotex differs from ASCII in presentation and linking. Videotex is a presentation protocol and not a communication protocol like ASCII. While in ASCII the rules fill the screen from the top, videotex presents the information as a page. All those pages are like a mobile artwork from the ceiling, but a mobile with nine levels. The top two levels (0 to 9 and 01 to 99) were destined for system activities. The third level (001 to 999) was intended for starting pages. An information provider could use six levels to distribute his/her information. Every page could expanded with add-on pages from a to z. Via a tree menu one could search for information and by keying in page numbers one could reach a page directly; in this way it was possible to use the system for timely information by keying in a date like 800915 (15 September 1980). In this way it was also possible to search sideways. Searching like in ASCII databases by keywords was not possible, unless the information provider put up a list of controlled keywords as links.

Illustration of tree structured pages:
- top two systems levels;
- level three is starting page;
- information pages;
- add-on pages.

Every page had 24 rules of 40 positions (letters, figures, symbols and diacritical signs). Every position was built up in a small mosaic of sic squares, which could be used to produce rudimentary graphical representations such as cars (with square wheels). Text as well as graphical representations could be embellished with one of seven colours (white, black, green, blue, red, yellow, magenta).

The page orientation entailed consequences for the writing of content. The author was limited in text by the space of a page and always had to think about navigation. Every page needed links to go back to the level above or to the starting page as well as the exit page (which was hardly used), but there was also a need to lead the user in the navigation from top to bottom, from the bottom pages up as well as sideways by using index pages (see illustration).

Videotex was seen as a consumer information system. The first British Prestel system contained 16 sections:

Buying a Car------Financial Information
An Evening Out -- Market Intelligence
Houses for Sale---Business Intelligence
Local Information-Community Services
Social Guidance---Route Planning
Looking for a Job-Holiday Information
Education---------Sports Results

Source: The Viewdata Revolution by Sam Fedida and Rex Malik; Associated Business Press, 1979

The organisation of the videotext service was similar to the ASCII database service, except that the videotext services in the eighties were claimed by the national mail and telephone services as an extra service and source of revenues. In the UK the British post office claimed the service, in The Netherlands the Dutch PTT, in West-Germany the Bundespost and in France the French PTT.
But soon there came a difference between the organisation of the service following the British Prestel model and the French kiosque model. In the Prestel model the PTT controlled the system, did the marketing and publicity and handled the revenues on behalf of the information providers. The PTTs even got involved, for the first time, in content for the first time by claiming the common index and keyword maintenance.
The French PTT was less in control and left the content business to the information providers and publishers. The French PTT was involved with maintaining the system and the network as well as handling the revenues. But the information provider and publishers were more independent in setting up their services, including the technical side. They could link their own computer to the central computers and use the service like a newspaper kiosque, promoting their own products. This has been a key success factor in the promotion of the French Teletel project.

Blog Posting Number: 1121

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Update: Butterfly Tattoo in world premier showing

Last Saturday the movie Butterfly Tattoo, based on a novel with the same title by the British author Phillip Pullman, went on screen for the first time during the movie festival Film by the Sea in Vlissingen (Flushing) in The Netherlands. The production team and the cast were present. I have written before in a posting about this movie (and my small investment in the movie).

The photograph was taken after the showing of the movie. The three people from the left are the members of the production team and the the three people from the right are the two main actors and the producer.

There are no reviews yet. Personally I found it remarkable that such a low budget movie had such a professional look. The movie was dramatic, emotional and entertaining with humour and fine music. It is also a very British movie in its language and the theme of class distinction. The pace of the movie could be speeded up in some parts, but the movie was not boring.

Presently the movie The Golden Compass can be seen in the theaters. This movie based on a novel by the same author was produced for 16 million US dollar. The Butterfly Tattoo was produced with a budget of a little over 200.000 euro. The money was picked up in two days after a front page article of the Dutch financial daily FD, describing the project of three students. The production team is presently negotiating about the distribution rights.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

BPN 1220 Pre-internet (6): Online from Europe by television

Online was started by the Americans using computers. Information was shown on a terminal screen or on paper. But another development came from television. The basic idea was that a central computer would send textual and rough graphic information to a television screen. The information was transported by television waves at first and later by telephone.
The US company RCA started the development of a text system for television under the name Homefax. In 1971 Mitre Corp. started the first text tests bundled on a television wave. However the company was passed in its ambition by the British broadcast company. The BBC announced that it had developed a system Teledata in order to broadcast news in text form to an adapted television independently of the programme broadcasted at that time and without interrupting the program. On the other hand the texts could be coupled with a television programme for subtitling or translation. BBC described the system in 1970 in an internal memo of December 14, 1970 and a patent was applied for on February 9, 1971. The BBC named the system Ceefax (see facts) and started trials from 1974 till 1976. An official Ceefax editiorial staff was operational from 1976 onwards. However the success was dependent on the number of adapted television sets (10.000 sets in 1978 and 40.000 sets in 1980). The commercial broadcast company started a teletex service in 1973 under the name Oracle (Optical Reception of Announcements by Coded Line Electronics). Both systems started to present the weather, stock quotes, news- and sports items.
The British system was exported to the Netherlands, West-Germany, Flanders in Belgium, Sweden, Denmark, Austria, Australia and Hong Kong. France developed a system of its own under the name Antiope (Acquisition Numérique et Télévisualisation d’Images Organisées en Pages d’Ecriture). There were also other standards developed like in Japan (Captain) and Canada (Videotron).

From teletex to videotex
The development of Teledata by the BBC was followed with great interest by Sam Fedida of the British Post Office Research Department. In 1970 he combined the Teledata system with the Telephone system and developed the viewdata concept, an online system via the plain old Telephone system with the television as information delivery system. (The generic system name viewdata became obsolete due to depositing the brand name and was dubbed videotex – the Latin word combination for I see text). With the consumer in mind and the absence of a personal computer – which only was introduced from 1995 onwards -, the system was seen as the Volkswagen of the online industry: a costly central computer, a common telephone network and a mass consumption television as delivery station. Only a modem and decoder were needed, but these devices would become cheap through mass production. The advantage of the telephone transmission was the interactivity between the user and the central computer; with the transmission through television waves information could only be sent one way.
Sam Fedida made his first presentation on January 13, 1976. In the same year the UK Queen Elizabeth II sent a first message by videotext. In October 1978 the first test service was opened on the Waterloo computer in London. In the same year the Financial Times and the financial information company Extel started the financial service Extel. In September 1979 the British Post Office officially started the commercial videotext service Prestel (see illustration of opening screen of the service) for business and consumer services.

Cover of the book book Viewdata Revolution by Sam Fedida and Rex Malik; Associated Busines Press, 1979

Blog Posting Number: 1220

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Saturday, September 13, 2008

BPN 1219 Pre-internet (5): Consumer services

Online was not exclusively the domain of scientists and business men. Small and middle large companies as well as well to do private persons were interested and looked for timesharing services from 1969 onwards. However, also consumer services were set up some 10 years later, from 1979 onwards.

Consumer services
Some companies with a computer saw an opportunity to make money by selling idle computer time at night. It was the start of consumer online companies. In 1969 the online service Compuserve started in this way. While best known for its consumer services division, the CompuServe Information Service, CompuServe was also a world leader in other commercial services. Another consumer online company was The Source, which offered e-mail and chatting from 1979 onwards. Compuserve started to offer e-mail in 1979 and chatting in 1980.

The Source (Source Telecomputing Corporation) started service in 1979 as an online service, one of the first such services to be oriented toward and available to the general public. Intended for use with 300 bit/s and 1200 bit/s dial-up telephone connections, The Source was text-based for most of its existence. At its peak, The Source had 80,000 members. During much of its existence it charged a start-up fee of about $100 and hourly usage rates on the order of $10 per hour. It provided news sources, weather, stock quotations, a shopping service, electronic mail, various databases, online text of magazines, and airline schedules. It also had a newsgroup-like facility.
In 1989 Compuserve acquired The Source, which turned out to have many ghost accounts and dismantled its competitor. Eventually in 1997 the pioneer consumer online service Compuserve was acquired by America On Line (AOL)

Prodigy Communications Corporation (Prodigy Services Corp., Prodigy Services Co., Trintex) dates back to 1980 when broadcaster CBS and telecommunications firm AT&T formed a joint venture named Venture One in Ridgewood, New Jersey. The company hoped to introduce a Videotex-based TV set top device that would allow consumers to shop at home and receive news, sports and weather. After concluding the market test, CBS and AT&T took the data and went their separate ways. In 1984 Prodigy was founded as Trintex, a joint venture between CBS, computer manufacturer IBM, and retailer Sears, Roebuck and Company. CBS left the venture in 1986. The company's service was launched regionally in 1988; a nationwide launch followed in1990. It was the second largest online service provider, with its 465,000 subscribers trailing only CompuServe's 600,000. Under the guidance of editor Jim Bellows, Prodigy developed a fully staffed 24x7 newsroom with editors, writers and graphic artists intent on building the world's first true online medium. The initial result was that Prodigy pioneered Internet portals - a single site offering news, weather, sports, communication with other members, and shopping for goods and services such as groceries, general merchandise, brokerage services, and airline reservations as well as lifestyle features, including popular syndicated columnists, restaurant surveys, Consumer Reports articles, test reports and games for kids.

AOL (formerly America Online, Inc.) is an American global Internet services and media company. It was founded in1983 as Quantum Computer Services and franchised its services to companies in several nations around the world or set up international versions of its services. AOL offers millions of customers around the world to access the world's largest "walled garden" online community and eventually reach out to the internet as a whole. In January 2000, AOL and Time Warner announced plans to merge and the deal was closed on 2001. AOL began life as a short-lived venture called Control Video Corporation (or CVC), founded by Bill von Meister. Its sole product was an online service called Gameline for the Atari 2600 video game console after von Meister's idea of buying music on demand was rejected by Warner Brothers. Subscribers bought a modem from the company for $49.95 and paid a one-time $15 setup fee. Gameline permitted subscribers to temporarily download games and keep track of high scores, at a cost of $1 per game. The telephone disconnected and the downloaded game would remain in Gameline's Master Module and playable until the user turned off his console or downloaded another game. In 1985 launched a dedicated online service for Commodore 64 and 128 computers, originally called Quantum Link ("Q-Link" for short). The joint venture with Time Warner has not delivered the content engine from Time Warner to AOL,so that it could become a real new publisher.

Bulletin board systems
For the real amateurs the electronic messaging service Fido net became available. This e-mailsystem was developed by the American Tom Jennings, who named the network after his dog (see the opening screen of Fido-net). In 1984 he succeeded to realise a computer network for PC amateurs, which was a fraction of the subscription to The Source and Compuserve. The core of the success was in the bulletin board software. Copies were multiplied and distributed freely to PC amateurs as long as they wanted to function as a system administrator. In this way more nodes in the network were created along which messages could be sent at night against tariffs for down hours. Amateurs could call in at a local telephone rate. The messages could also be sent to other networks. But no guarantee of receipt was given. When internet was introduced the population moved over from bulletin board systems to internet without any troubles.

Blog Posting Number: 1219

Tags: bulletin board system, walled garden, portal, ,