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SoundCloud hits 10 million users, launches Story Wheel web app

posted by Technology @ 9:46 PM
Monday, January 23, 2012
Story Wheel

SoundCloud announced Monday that it has reached a milestone: more than 10 million users and 5 million downloads of the SoundCloud mobile app.

But what's probably more interesting to SoundCloud users is a new Instagram-compatible Web app called Story Wheel that the Berlin company launched Monday.

"It's a really big thing for us to have the community get to that point," Alex Ljung, SoundCloud's co-founder and chief executive, said in an interview. "It's just been a great last year for us. Everything has sort of ramped up faster and faster and recently we're signing up about a million users a month."

The audio-hosting and -streaming service, which we've said aspires to be the YouTube of audio, has grown largely by word of mouth, Ljung said.

"The SoundCloud community is really pushing it forward," he said. "We see now super clearly that sound is mobile with the number of sign-ups and usage growth on the mobile app side. We've also seen over the last year just how wide sound can be beyond music."

One example of that diversity is that there are more than 3.3 million tags that SoundCloud users identify their recordings with, Ljung said.

Another example of SoundCloud's "sound is more than music" ethos is the Story Wheel app, which is essentially an online version of a slide show with a projector sound effects, to re-create the feeling of sharing photos the old-school way with friends and family.

The app enables users to import in photos from the popular iPhone photo-sharing app Instagram and add recorded narration — hosted by SoundCloud — to go with the pictures.

On Monday, Ljung and SoundCloud co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Eric Wahlforss posted a Story Wheel of their own that offered up a bit of company history: Their first SoundCloud "office" was a Berlin coffee shop.

The app started last November in Boston as a project at Music Hack Day, which SoundCloud helps organize, then continued in the company's Berlin and San Francisco offices. The inspiration for Story Wheel came when SoundCloud engineers found themselves telling each other the stories behind the photos they posted to Instagram.

"We chose Instagram is because it's the service we use the most for our own photos," Ljung said. "We built Story Wheel because it's something we wanted to see and we thought it was something our users would like to see and use too. And we built the whole thing on the same API that we offer to our developers, who have made more than 10,000 apps on our platform."

About a year ago SoundCloud had about 2 million users, Ljung said, adding that he thinks third-party developers and the popularity of the company's mobile apps deserve as much credit for the growth to 10 million users as the word of mouth spread by users.

So where does SoundCloud go from here? Ljung said the 80-employee company is focused on continuing its growth and creating more things like Story Wheel that show users what they can do with the audio files they record and share on SoundCloud's website.

Aiding that effort is a recent round of venture funding and the addition of Mary Meeker, a renowned tech analyst and partner at the investment firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, to SoundCloud's board as an observer.

Ljung, however, wasn't too interested in talking about Meeker or just how much money SoundCloud has raised.

"I think for us it's not such a big deal," he said. "It's just kind of like a background thing that helps the company grow. It's great to have good partners and have great apps built on our platform. But for us, the 10-million-user figure is really more interesting. Everything we do, we think about how it will affect our users because without the users, none of the other stuff is there."

ALSO:

SoundCloud reportedly raises $50 million

SoundCloud wants to be the YouTube of audio

Instagram hits milestone: 150 million photos uploaded

– Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Nathan Olivarez-Giles on Google+

Twitter.com/nateog

Image: A screen shot of SoundCloud's Story Wheel Web app. Credit: SoundCloud

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MegaUpload, one of the world's largest file-sharing websites, was shut down Thursday by the U.S. Department of Justice, which accused it of violating piracy and copyright laws.

  In an indictment, the Justice Department alleged that MegaUpload was a "mega conspiracy" and a global criminal organization "whose members engaged in criminal copyright infringement and money laundering on a massive scale."

The Justice Department said MegaUpload, which had about 150 million users, tallied up harm to copyright holders in excess of $500 million by allowing users to illegally share movies, music and other files. Prosecutors said in the indictment that the site's operators raked in an income from it that topped $175 million.

Justice Department indictment of MegaUpload DOCUMENT: Read the indictment against MegaUpload

MegaUpload was just one of the many services that allow for the easy sharing of large files online. Others include sites such as Mediafire and Rapidshare and cloud storage services that allow for shared folders such as Box.net and Dropbox.

One way MegaUpload differentiated itself was with its online marketing campaign that featured celebrities such as rapper/producers Kanye West, Lil' Jon, Sean "Diddy" Combs and Swizz Beats stating in YouTube videos why they loved using the site. Other videos feature tennis star Serena Williams, boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr., Def Jam Records founder Russell Simmons and director Brett Ratner testifying to their use of MegaUpload.

The release of the Justice Department indictment came after dozens of websites, led by tech heavyweights Wikipedia, Craigslist, Mozilla and Google, altered their websites to protest two anti-piracy bills under consideration on Capitol Hill: the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA).

Critics of the bills say the proposed laws would give the Justice Department the ability to censor the Internet by giving the agency clearance to shut down a site without having to get court approval of an indictment, as it did with MegaUpload. Although the indictment was unsealed Thursday, it was issued by a federal court in the Eastern District of Virginia on Jan. 5, the agency said.

In a statement issued with the indictment,the Justice Department said "this action is among the largest criminal copyright cases ever brought by the United States and directly targets the misuse of a public content storage and distribution site to commit and facilitate intellectual property crime."

The Justice Department said that at its request, authorities arrested three MegaUpload executives — officially employed by two companies, Megaupload Ltd. and Vestor Ltd. — in New Zealand, including the site's founder, Kim Dotcom, who was born Kim Schmitz. The agency is also looking to arrest two additional executives.

The indictment charges the two companies with running a "racketeering conspiracy, conspiring to commit copyright infringement, conspiring to commit money laundering and two substantive counts of criminal copyright infringement."

According to the Associated Press, before the MegaUpload site was shut down Thursday, a statement was posted on the site saying the allegations made against it were "grotesquely overblown" and that "the vast majority of Mega's Internet traffic is legitimate, and we are here to stay. If the content industry would like to take advantage of our popularity, we are happy to enter into a dialogue. We have some good ideas. Please get in touch."

Visits to Megaupload.com on Thursday showed the website as unable to load. The Justice Department had ordered the seizure of 18 domain names it linked to the alleged wrongdoing.

[Updated at 3:42 p.m.: As noted by Times reporter Ben Fritz on our sister blog Company Town, the hacker group Anonymous has allegedly lobbed a denial-of-service attack that has temporarily taken down the websites for the Department of Justice and Universal Music as a move in retaliation for the shutdown of MegaUpload. Forbes is reporting that the same attack has struck the sites for the Recording Industry of America and the Motion Picture Assn. of America.]

[Updated at 3:50 p.m.: The Twitter accounts @YourAnonNews and @AnonOps are taking credit on behalf of Anonymous for the web attacks on the websites of the Justice Department, Recording Industry of America, Motion Picture Assn. of America and Universal Music.]

ALSO:

SOPA blackouts inspired protest around the world

Apple's iBooks 2, iBooks Author: Bids to own publishing's future

Wikipedia: SOPA protest led 8 million to look up reps in Congress

– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Nathan Olivarez-Giles on Google+

twitter.com/nateog

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Bloggers in China sound off on SOPA blackout

posted by Technology @ 2:44 AM
Thursday, January 19, 2012
Bloggers in China sound off on SOPA blackout

Watching from China, where Web censorship is practically a national hallmark, some can't help but smirk and crack jokes about the controversy raging over Internet freedom in the U.S.

"Now the U.S. government is copying us and starting to build their own firewall," wrote one micro-blogger, relating China's chief censorship tool to the U.S. plan to block sites that trade in pirated material.

The Relevant Organs, an anonymous Twitter account (presumably) pretending to be the voice of the Chinese communist leadership, quipped: "Don't understand the hoopla over Wikipedia blackout in the U.S. today. We blacked it out here years ago. Where are OUR hugs?"

PHOTO: Sites gone dark to protest anti-piracy bills

Humor aside, the brouhaha has generated some strong opinions in the country that  Google fled, not the least because opponents of the SOPA and PIPA anti-piracy bills are conjuring Chinese Web censorship to promote their case.

The consensus here, however, appears to be this: Americans should try a minute in our shoes before invoking online Armageddon.

If anything, Chinese bloggers say, the debate underscores how privileged U.S. Web users and Internet companies are, even in times of duress.

"Only an American company could protest the way Wikipedia or Google has to the government," said Zhao Jing, a closely followed blogger in Beijing who uses the pen name Michael Anti. "A Chinese company would never get away with that."

Indeed, China's Internet sector has no choice but to submit to government pressure -– be it by censoring its own users or implementing whatever happens to be the state initiative of the moment (the latest may require the real-ID registration of 250 million micro-blog accounts despite threats to privacy and the cost burden on Web firms).

Another distinction Chinese activists note is that the proposed legislation in Washington is being debated openly in public and ultimately has to adhere to U.S. law. Chinese censorship, on the other hand, operates in an opaque space where no one really knows what's banned, what isn't and who is calling the shots.

"It's hard for people in the U.S. to understand Internet censorship in China," said Wen Yunchao, a prominent blogger and outspoken government critic who left mainland China recently for Hong Kong. "In China, all the government decisions are done in a dark box. No one knows what's going on. There's never any legal reason cited. If these laws are passed in the U.S., every step of the way it will be more transparent. People can challenge it. There's no comparison when it comes to censorship in China and in the U.S."

Still, Wen supports U.S. activists challenging the bills, saying it's a slippery slope to lesser Web access. He said China's so-called Great Firewall, which blocks access to many foreign sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, was first billed as a strategy to stop piracy and pornography.

"Now it's being abused and extended to thousands of websites," he said.

Ironically, China's 513 million Web users have relatively free access when it comes to the very sites targeted by the proposed Protect Intellectual Property Act and Stop Online Piracy Act. Those include BitTorrent sites such as Extratorrent and sellers of counterfeit goods such as Taobao.

"The Chinese Great Firewall is not targeting pirated material," said Beijing-based Jason Ng, another popular blogger who has 29,000 Twitter followers. "Look at the Chinese Internet space and it's all about pirated movies, TV and porn. Everyone just wants to enjoy and be entertained. If the government cut all that off, they'd have a serious problem on their hands."

RELATED:

Number of Web users in China hits 513 million

SOPA blackout: How many have joined the fight?

Google says 4.5 million people signed anti-SOPA petition today

– David Pierson
twitter.com/dhpierson

Photo: A Google search page awaits input from a user at an Internet cafe in Beijing. Credit: Alexander F. Yuan / Associated Press

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SOPA blackout: How many have joined the fight?

posted by Technology @ 2:50 PM
Wednesday, January 18, 2012
Google.com on Wednesday Jan 18

There's something awesome and kind of a folksy feeling about today's first semi-coordinated online protest against anti-piracy bills that have been circulating around Congress.

But how many people have actually been moved to action?

That's where the kind of coordinated-ness of it all gets a little annoying. Almost all of the striking websites suggest visitors take some sort of action against the bill — some recommend you get in touch with your congressional representative to express your opposition to SOPA and PIPA,  others ask users to sign a petition expressing their concern over the bills.

PHOTOS: Sites on strike

But even these petitions are not centralized, so it's difficult to tally how many people have been moved to participate.

Here's what we have been able to gather, as of this writing:

48,882 people have liked the Against the Stop Online Piracy Act page on Facebook.

Google is reporting more than 3 million Americans have signed various petitions opposing SOPA.

51,689 signed a petition on the White House's website We the People, asking the Obama administration to veto SOPA.

1.4 million people worldwide signed a "Save the Internet" petition on the activist website Avaaz.org

BlackoutSOPA.org is reporting that 68,620 people have changed either their Twitter, Google+ or Facebook profile picture to feature an anti-SOPA message.

Fight for the Future, a nonprofit, is reporting that 75,000 sites have signed up to participate in the protest, and that between its two sites Sopastrike.com and AmericanCensorship.org, 350,000 people have sent emails sent to their two senators and their representatives.

We'll keep updating as we learn more.

ALSO:

SOPA blackout: Bills lose three co-sponsors amid protests

SOPA blackout: Who’s gone dark to protest anti-piracy bills?

Wikipedia still accessible during SOPA blackout — with a little effort

– Deborah Netburn

Image: A screen shot of Google's anti-SOPA home page.

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Photo: Poeple meetup in an event organized by the group New York Tech Meetup to protest against proposed laws to curb Internet piracy outside the offices of U.S. Democratic Senators from New York Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2012. Schumer and Gillibrand are co-sponsors of the Senate bill PIPA (Protect Intellectual Property Act). SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) is the US House version. Credit: Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images

The protests against the House's Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Senate's Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) spread from the Web into the streets of New York on Wednesday.

According to the New York Times, the New York Daily News, USA Today, Cnet and Mashable, hundreds (and maybe thousands) of people organized by the group New York Tech Meetup protested in person and with signs against SOPA and PIPA outside of the offices of New York Sens. Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, both Democrats.

The group, which reportedly has about 20,000 members, targeted Schumer and Gillibrand for the protest because the two are co-sponsors of PIPA. The protesters, which police corralled into metal barriers on a sidewalk in front of the senators' Manhattan offices, called for Schumer and Gillibrand to withdraw their support for PIPA — a move a few politicians took on Wednesday amid the widespread online actions against the proposed laws.

Similar protests were also planned Wednesday in San Francisco, Seattle, Las Vegas and Washington, D.C.

While lawmakers in support of SOPA and PIPA have said that the bills are written to protect against online piracy and theft of American-made films, TV shows, music and other digital goods, those against the bills say the legislation would open the door to online censorship that would essentially ruin the free flow of information on the Web.

PHOTOS: Sites on strike

Andrew Rasiej, chairman of the New York Tech Meetup, told the New York Daily News that not only would SOPA and PIPA open the door to censorship of the Internet, but the laws would also have negative effects on the ability of the U.S. to remain a leader in the global tech industry.

"Because a new innovation by a start-up could be interpreted by a judge unfamiliar with how the technology works as infringing on copyright, investors and entrepreneurs would be discouraged from moving forward with a start-up due to a significantly increased risk of legal entanglement," Rasiej told the New York Daily News. "This in turn would dampen job creation and future opportunities for New Yorkers and Americans as a whole."

RELATED:

More opponents of PIPA and SOPA emerge on the right

SOPA blackout: Bills lose three co-sponsors amid protests

SOPA blackout: Who’s gone dark to protest anti-piracy bills?

– Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Nathan Olivarez-Giles on Google+

twitter.com/nateog

Photo: People gather outside the offices of two U.S. senators from New York, including Sen. Charles "Chuck" Schumer,  to protest against proposed laws to curb Internet piracy. Credit: Stan Honda / AFP/Getty Images

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SOPA blackout: Bills lose three co-sponsors amid protests

posted by Technology @ 11:19 AM
Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Sen. Marco Rubio

Three co-sponsors of the SOPA and PIPA antipiracy bills have publicly withdrawn their support as Wikipedia and thousands of other websites blacked out their pages Wednesday to protest the legislation.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) withdrew as a co-sponsor of the Protect IP Act in the Senate, while Reps. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) and Ben Quayle (R-Ariz.) said they were pulling their names from the companion House bill, the Stop Online Piracy Act. Opponents of the legislation, led by large Internet companies, say its broad definitions could lead to censorship of online content and force some websites to shut down.

In a posting on his Facebook page, Rubio noted that after the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously passed its bill last year, he has "heard legitimate concerns about the impact the bill could have on access to the Internet and about a potentially unreasonable expansion of the federal government's power to impact the Internet."

PHOTOS: Sites on strike

"Congress should listen and avoid rushing through a bill that could have many unintended consequences," Rubio said in announcing he was withdrawing his support. While he's committed to stopping online piracy, Rubio called for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to back off plans to hold a key procedural vote on the bill on Tuesday.

Rubio's withdrawal will reduce the number of co-sponsors to 39. Last week, two other co-sponsors, Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), joined four other Senate Republicans in a letter to Reid also urging him delay the vote. But Grassley and Hatch have not withdrawn their support.

Terry and Quayle were among the 31 sponsors of the House legislation before they withdrew their support Tuesday.

Quayle still strongly supports the goal of the House bill to crack down on foreign websites that traffic in pirated movies, music, medicine and other goods.

"The bill could have some unintended consequences that need to be addressed," said Quayle spokesman Zach Howell. "Basically it needs more work before he can support it."

Terry said that he also had problems with the House bill in its current form and would no longer support it.

Wikipedia, Reddit and about 10,000 other websites blacked out their pages Wednesday with messages warning of the dangers of the legislation and urging people to contact their congressional representatives. Howell said Quayle's office had not seen a major increase in calls or emails Wednesday, but that the piracy bills have been the main issue in recent weeks for people contacting the office.

There has been a "manageable increase" in visits to House member websites Wednesday, said Dan Weiser, a spokesman for the House office of the chief administrative officer.

"It’s possible some users will see a short delay or slow loading of a member's web page," he said.

RELATED:

More opponents of PIPA and SOPA emerge on the right

SOPA blackout: Who’s gone dark to protest anti-piracy bill?

Wikipedia still accessible during SOPA blackout — with a little effort

– Jim Puzzanghera in Washington

Photo: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). Credit: Joe Burbank / Orlando Sentinel

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SOPA blackout: Wikipedia still accessible — with a little effort

posted by Technology @ 9:19 AM
Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Wikipedia blackout

Wikipedia is the biggest name among the approximately 10,000 websites that pledged to go dark Wednesday in a broad Internet protest of the SOPA and PIPA online anti-piracy bills. But word has quickly spread about how to circumvent the blackout.

Visitors to Wikipedia's English-language site — either directly to its homepage or via a link from a search engine query — are diverted in seconds to a dark page that asks people to "Imagine a world without free knowledge." There's a couple of sentences about threat from the bills, and a box to enter your ZIP code to help contact your member of Congress about the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect-IP Act.

Mashable.com lists a couple of ways to bypass the blackout screen and get to Wikipedia's pages.

PHOTOS: Sites on strike

The easiest is to go to Wikipedia's mobile version, which is not being blacked out. You don't have to use a mobile device to do it. The mobile version is available via your Web browser at en.m.wikipedia.org.

There's a black bar at the top that notes the piracy protest, but the rest of the site is fully accessible.

Another easy workaround is the Simple English version of Wikipedia, which is designed for children and adults learning the language. It's not as extensive as Wikipedia's main site, but could be helpful for youngsters working on school projects.

The Village Voice offers another alternative. Wikipedia's foreign-language sites — with dozens of options, from Afrikaans to Zeêuws — are not participating in the blackout and are open for surfing if you're multilngual or have quick access to Rosetta Stone.

RELATED:

SOPA blackout shows little hope of peace with Hollywood

Websites flexing muscle in push against online piracy bills

Websites going black to protest anti-piracy bills in Congress

– Jim Puzzanghera in Washington

Photo: A laptop in London shows Wikipedia's protest page on Wednesday. Credit: Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images

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House Judiciary Committee members John Conyers and Lamar Smith

One day before major players in the online community plan to launch a virtual protest against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) making its way through Congress, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) issued a statement saying the committee will delay its markup of the bill until February.

But Smith said the delay is unrelated to Wikipedia's announcement that it would black out its English sites for 24 hours, or to Reddit's decision to black out its site for 12 hours, or to Google's announcement that it will place a link on its homepage to highlight its opposition to the bill.

In a statement released Tuesday afternoon, Smith said the delay was because of Republican and Democratic retreats scheduled for the next few weeks.

Then he reiterated his commitment to sending the bill to the White House.

"To enact legislation that protects consumers, businesses and jobs from foreign thieves who steal America's intellectual property, we will continue to bring together industry representatives and Members to find ways to combat online piracy," Smith said. “I am committed to continuing to work with my colleagues in the House and Senate to send a bipartisan bill to the White House that saves American jobs and protects intellectual property."

ALSO:

Yang out at Yahoo

Waterproof smartphones? Yes please!

Internet strike: Wikipedia, Mozilla, Reddit to go dark tonight

– Deborah Netburn

Photo: Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.), left, and Lamar Smith (R-Texas) are members of the House Judiciary Committee. Credit: Alex Wong AFP/Getty Images

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Internet strike: Wikipedia, Mozilla, Reddit to go dark tonight

posted by Technology @ 1:56 PM
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
Wikipedia

What does an Internet strike look like? You're about to find out.

Wikipedia, Reddit, BoingBoing and hundreds of other websites have pledged to go dark Tuesday night to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) — two anti-piracy bills that are currently making their way through Congress.

"This is an extraordinary action for our community to take," said Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales in a statement Monday announcing Wikipedia's decision to go dark. "While we regret having to prevent the world from having access to Wikipedia for even a second, we simply cannot ignore the fact that SOPA and PIPA endanger free speech both in the United States and abroad, and set a frightening precedent of Internet censorship for the world."

Wikipedia — the Web's fifth-most popular property with 470 million monthly users — is the largest Web entity to declare its intent to go dark, but it joins many other websites that have already pledged to shut down for 12 to 24 hours to draw attention to legislation that they say will hasten the end of the free Internet.

Reddit was one of the trailblazers of the blackout movement, declaring its intent to go dark on Jan. 10. Two days later, Ben Huh, chief executive of Cheezburger, which has a network of 50 sites including the seminal ICanHasCheezburger as well as Fail Blog, Know Your Meme and the Daily What, said his sites would be joining the strike.

Blackouts are not the only types of protest you'll find online Wednesday. Google announced Tuesday that, while its search engine will continue to function, the company will place a link on its home page to highlight its opposition to the bills.

“Like many businesses, entrepreneurs and Web users, we oppose these bills because there are smart, targeted ways to shut down foreign rogue websites without asking American companies to censor the Internet,” Samantha Smith, a Google spokeswoman, said in an email Tuesday. “So tomorrow we will be joining many other tech companies to highlight this issue on our U.S. home page.”

And Scribd, which claims to be the world's largest online repository of documents, said visitors to its website would find a pop-up roadblock Wednesday in protest of SOPA and PIPA that will lead to a call to action and an online petition. 

Craigslist started its protest early. A starred section at the top of the site urges users to "help put a stop to this madness" and links to a page dedicated to the topic.

ALSO:

No Steve Jobs doll after all

Waterproof smartphones up next?

Where's my Wikipedia? SOPA, PIPA blackout coming

– Deborah Netburn

Image: The Wikipedia home page.

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Where’s my Wikipedia? SOPA, PIPA blackout coming

posted by Technology @ 9:00 AM
Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Jimmy Wales will shut down Wikipedia for 24 hours

Wikipedia is among hundreds of websites that will be showing just how they feel about SOPA  by going dark Wednesday.

The English-language version of Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, will be shut down for 24 hours in protest of the Stop Online Piracy Act and PIPA, the Protect Intellectual Property Act, now working their way through Congress.

Jimmy Wales, site co-founder, told the BBC's Martha Kearney on Tuesday morning that "tomorrow from midnight Washington D.C. time until midnight the entire day of Wednesday, we're going to blank out" the English version of Wikipedia and post a message of protest.

He told Kearney that the legislation makes "something like Wikipedia essentially impossible … if the provider has to police everything that everyone is doing on the site."

Websites taking part in the so-called SOPA Strike include Mozilla, Reddit, WordPress and Boing Boing.

Twitter was hopping Tuesday morning with the news:

From the BBC's Philippia Thomas: "#Twitter chief says 'Closing a global business in reaction to a single-issue national politics is foolish'. How about that #Wikipedia?"

Greenpeace tweeted:  " 'We're sorry, you're not allowed to read this.' Join us in saying no to corporate censorship of the internet."

The MPAA and others who support the law say the Internet operators have it all wrong. As the Los Angeles Times reported on Tuesday:

The Motion Picture Assn. of America and others driving the legislation said real progress had been made toward creating a law that would protect intellectual property. The advocates said misinformation is inflaming passions on the Web while doing nothing to solve the problem of piracy.

ALSO:

Zappos website hacked

No Steve Jobs doll after all

Waterproof smartphones up next?

– Amy Hubbard

Photo: Wikipedia's Jimmy Wales in 2011.  Credit: Kirsty Wigglesworth / Associated Press

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Number of Web users in China hits 513 million

posted by Technology @ 4:37 AM
Monday, January 16, 2012
The number of Web users in China soared to 513 million last year, a tech-industry group said

The number of Web users in China soared past 500 million last year, a tech-industry group said Monday, capping a period of explosive growth that has elevated Chinese Internet companies and challenged social and political discourse in the communist-controlled state.

The government-run China Internet Network Information Center said Monday that the number of Web users in China grew 12% in December, to 513 million, compared with the same period in 2010.

Chinese Internet giants such as search engine Baidu Inc., news portal Sina Corp. and gaming and messaging service provider Tencent Holdings added millions of users, raising the profile of the increasingly lucrative sector.

But 2011 was also a year that saw the increasing social might of Chinese micro-blogs, which became engines of public opinion that often challenged the authority of state-sanctioned news.

The number of micro-blog users quadrupled last year to just under 250 million, the China Internet Network Information Center said in its recent report.

Known in China as weibo, micro-blogs act much like Twitter, allowing users to post short messages with links that can then be read by subscribers.

The speed and scope in which the services operate create difficulties for government censors, who have more success blocking access to foreign websites such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter using filters, better known as the Great Firewall of China.

Micro-blogs were instrumental last year in exposing government mishandling of a deadly high-speed rail collision in the eastern city of Wenzhou, protests concerning a chemical plant in the northern city of Dalian and corruption in the southern village of Wukan.

A recent decision by Beijing authorities to report the extent of the city's air pollution with greater accuracy is largely credited to an online campaign started from the micro-blog account of well-known property developer Pan Shiyi, 

"Today we can say without hesitation that an independent and richly participatory civil society is emerging on China's Internet," wrote Hu Yong, a journalist and commentator in a recent article translated by the China Media Project at the University of Hong Kong.

"The Internet cannot usher in dramatic change to political life in China, but it can promote the creation of social capital on the basis of citizen rights and duties, giving rise to and strengthening social forces independent of the Chinese state," Hu continued.

The rising popularity and influence of micro-blogs has worried the central government, a fear exacerbated by the role of social media in the so-called Arab Spring uprisings. Chinese authorities have intensified efforts to quash domestic opposition in the last year, jailing and detaining a number of activists.

Damien Ma, an analyst at the Eurasia Group, wrote in a post on Atlantic magazine's website earlier this month that China's leaders regard social media as "western-invented weapons of mass dissemination as potentially powerful as nuclear bombs."

Since the Wenzhou train crash in July, authorities have increased pressure on micro-blog providers (namely Sina and Tencent) to crack down on "rumors," a euphemism for government criticism. 

In October, the Communist Party's Central Committee vowed to strengthen control of the Internet, threatening to punish those responsible for spreading "harmful information."

Last month, cities announced new rules requiring micro-blog users to register their accounts with their real names, making it more risky for individuals to challenge authorities.

How much China's leaders are willing to rein in the Web remains to be seen -– a question investors will have to grapple with in a market otherwise filled with potential.

The Internet sector is the only major industry in China still dominated by private companies. But given the attention to reestablishing government order, 2012 may be defined by how much the state ultimately encroaches online.

One sign is regulators' approval last week for an online unit of the Communist Party's mouthpiece, the People’s Daily, to offer shares in Shanghai. The newspaper plans to raise $83 million to challenge established Web portals such as Sina and Sohu.

ALSO:

CES 2012: Nintendo's Wii U and Zelda in HD, hands-on [Video]

CES 2012: Nintendo's Fils-Aime on declining Wii sales, prepping for Wii U [Video]

– David Pierson

Photo: Chinese youths at an Internet cafe in Beijing. Credit: Elizabeth Dalziel / Associated Press

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ng Connect promotes new uses for broadband at CES

posted by Technology @ 9:24 AM
Thursday, January 12, 2012

Striker_Front

Broadband speeds have increased steadily in the United States, reaching an average of 5.8 Mbps in mid-2011. That's 50% faster than in mid-2009, and it's likely to keep going up. But aside from streaming movies and doing video chats on Skype, what will people do with all that bandwidth?

Alcatel-Lucent, a leading supplier of networking gear to telecommunications companies, is trying to give the public and broadband service providers a better idea of what connectivity can deliver. Just as important, it's trying to show DSL and cable-modem providers how they could offer new services, giving them more ability and incentive to invest in higher-capacity networks — and less incentive to cap their customers' usage or bill them by the gigabyte.

It's doing so through an inter-industry coalition it founded called ng Connect, which brings high-tech companies together to brainstorm and combine their technologies into new service concepts. It's been showing off some of those ideas  this week at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, including new approaches to television, fitness, public safety, shopping and healthcare.

On Monday the coalition announced that it had expanded to more than 125 members. New additions include Fitting Reality, whose software creates virtual dressing rooms for retailers; MetaWatch, whose wireless watches can display Web data and alerts from the wearer's smartphone; and Zephyr Technology, which specializes in remote body- and health-monitoring.

The demonstrations at CES included some familiar concepts, such as using a smartphone in a store to gather more information about the products displayed there, or continuously connecting service and public-safety vehicles to all sorts of information sources and devices (see the "Striker" concept vehicle above). But there were also some intriguing new mash-ups of capabilities on display.

For example, there was a prototype of a table for bars or restaurants that combined Microsoft's Surface computing technology, Brass Monkey's cloud-based games, streaming video and advertising, and 4G wireless broadband. And the "Avatrainer" demo combined a fitness game with wireless heart-rate monitors into a cloud-based service that enables travelers to keep track of their workouts away from home.

Jason Collins, an Alcatel-Lucent vice president who leads ng Connect, said the point of the coalition is to help tech companies combine their specialties into services that improve the experience for broadband users. It's also to help broadband providers "become part of the value equation" of the services made possible by their networks.

The demand for what's already available through broadband is ever-increasing. The question is how telecommunications companies will afford the investments needed to keep up with that demand. Obviously, Alcatel-Lucent wants service providers to expand their capacity by buying more of the company's gear. But its interests — and ng Connect's — are aligned with consumers' when it comes to finding alternatives to bandwidth caps, metered pricing and similar strategies that broadband providers have been exploring.

RELATED:

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The end of all-you-can-eat wireless data plans

 

– Jon Healey

Healey writes editorials for The Times' Opinion Manufacturing Division. Follow him at @jcahealey.

Photo: The Striker concept public-safety vehicle. Credit: Alcatel-Lucent

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The Samsung Galaxy S II Epic 4G Touch, which runs on Sprint's 4G WiMax network. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh / Los Angeles Times

Later this year, Sprint plans to launch its 4G LTE network in the cities of Atlanta, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio; no plans for Los Angeles have been announced as of yet.

So what does that mean for Sprint customers? Hopefully, noticeably faster download and upload speeds on smartphones, tablets and mobile hotspots.

Sprint's first LTE markets are to be activated "in the first half of 2012" along with improved 3G coverage and improvements in "boosting voice and data quality," Sprint said in a statement. In December, Sprint also began testing its LTE towers in Kankakee, Ill.

Of course, once Sprint begins its move over to an LTE network, its current customers with 4G WiMax phones may be left wondering what will happen to their devices — and maybe even what the difference between WiMax and LTE is.

Sprint's current WiMax network offers users average download speeds of about 3 to 6 megabytes per second, which is about four times faster than 3G service. LTE, which uses different cellular-tower and in-phone-chip technology to build out the network (among other differences), offers higher top speeds than WiMax or the 4G HSPA networks AT&T and T-Mobile use.

LTE networks promise speeds that can be as much as 10 times faster than 3G service, with theoretical peaks of 300 megabytes per second for downloads and 75 megabytes per second for uploads. Among the nation's four largest carriers, only Verizon and AT&T currently have LTE networks up and running.

Sprint said that it planned to launch up to 15 devices, "including handsets, tablets and data cards," in 2012 that would be able to run on its LTE network and its 3G CDMA network if LTE was out of range.

Current WiMax devices won't suddenly be downgraded to 3G service or anything like that, Sprint said, adding that it "remains committed to our WiMax customers and plans to sell WiMax devices with two-year contracts through 2012."

RELATED:

AT&T's 4G LTE enters 11 new markets, including Los Angeles

Sprint says it has stopped pulling Carrier IQ data from phones

Verizon expanding 4G LTE network to cover area with 200 million people

– Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Nathan Olivarez-Giles on Google+

Twitter.com/nateog

Photo: The Samsung Galaxy S II Epic 4G Touch, which runs on Sprint's 4G WiMax network. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh / Los Angeles Times

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AT&T closes $1.9-billion purchase of Qualcomm spectrum

posted by Technology @ 5:55 PM
Wednesday, December 28, 2011

AT&T

AT&T Inc. has officially completed its $1.9-billion purchase of wireless spectrum licenses owned by San Diego-based Qualcomm Inc.

The deal gives AT&T the ability to offer service on wireless spectrum that covers an area of more than 300 million people nationwide, with more than 70 million of them in five of the top 15 metropolitan areas, such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Boston and Philadelphia.

The nation's second-largest wireless carrier announced the closure of the purchase Tuesday in a short statement on its website after the Federal Communications Commission approved the purchase Friday.

The FCC's sign-off on the purchase followed AT&T's decision last week to drop its attempted $39-billion takeover of T-Mobile USA, the fourth-largest wireless carrier in the U.S.

Until the AT&T backed off its bid to buy T-Mobile, the FCC was reviewing both the spectrum deal and the takeover together — a move that was expected to push any possible approval into next year.

AT&T's new wireless licenses applies to the 700 MHz spectrum, which the FCC described in its approval of the deal as "underutilized" by the telecommunications industry.

RELATED:

AT&T pulls out of T-Mobile acquisition deal

T-Mobile to gain licenses to AT&T wireless spectrum

FCC approves AT&T's $1.9-billion purchase of Qualcomm spectrum

– Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Nathan Olivarez-Giles on Google+

Twitter.com/nateog

Photo credit: Lisa Poole / Associated Press

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FCC approves AT&T’s $1.9-billion purchase of Qualcomm spectrum

posted by Technology @ 10:50 AM
Friday, December 23, 2011

AT&T

The Federal Communications Commission has approved a $1.9-billion AT&T purchase of wireless spectrum licenses owned by San Diego-based Qualcomm Inc.

The purchase gives AT&T control over licenses that, according to the FCC, "cover more than 300 million people nationwide, including more than 70 million people in five of the top 15 metropolitan areas (New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and San Francisco)."

The FCC's decision on the spectrum deal was set to be delayed into next year as the regulatory agency was reviewing both AT&T's proposed Qualcomm purchase and the proposed $39-billion takeover of T-Mobile USA together — that was until AT&T dropped its T-Mobile plans on Monday.

In its approval of the Qualcomm deal, the FCC stated Thursday that AT&T cannot use the spectrum in a way that would negatively impact other carriers using or roaming on nearby wireless airwaves.

The FCC said that, given that AT&T is the largest phone company in the U.S. and the second-largest mobile carrier, concerns of competitive harm were looked at, but any resulting harm wouldn't "outweigh the public interest benefits of this transaction," the FCC said in the order.

In fact, the FCC said it hopes the purchase will prod AT&T and its rivals to use the "underutilized unpaired 700 MHz spectrum" for mobile service, "thereby supporting our goal of expanding mobile broadband deployment throughout the country."

RELATED:

AT&T pulls out of T-Mobile acquisition deal

T-Mobile to gain licenses to AT&T wireless spectrum

FCC to review AT&T deals with T-Mobile and Qualcomm together

– Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Nathan Olivarez-Giles on Google+

twitter.com/nateog

Photo credit: Lisa Poole/Associated Press

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NFL to stream Super Bowl online and to Verizon phones, tablets

posted by Technology @ 11:24 AM
Thursday, December 22, 2011

nfl.com

For the first time, the Super Bowl, arguably the biggest U.S. sports event of the year, is going mobile.

On Feb. 5, the National Football League will stream Super Bowl 46, taking place at Indianapolis' Lucas Oil Stadium, to smartphones and tablets using Verizon's NFL Mobile app (available on Apple's iOS and Google's Android).

Don't have a Verizon Wireless smartphone but still want to see the big game over the Web? The Super Bowl will be streaming at NFL.com and NBCSports.com.

And, as is the norm, the Super Bowl will be broadcast live on regular ol' TV on NBC. As noted by our colleagues over at The Times' Fabulous Forum sports blog, a record 111 million people watched Super Bowl 45 the old-fashioned TV way last year.

"The live NFL.com and NBCSports.com coverage will come from NBC’s TV coverage of the games," NBC Sports said in a statement. "Complementing that stream will be a number of extra features to enrich the viewing experience including additional camera angles, in-game highlights, live statistics and other interactive elements."

But, of course, the NFL is looking to reach more viewers and looking to mobile gadgets to do so. And that's not all. The NFL, NBC and Verizon will also stream wild-card Saturday, on Jan. 7, the playoffs and the Pro Bowl on Jan. 29.

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– Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Nathan Olivarez-Giles on Google+

Twitter.com/nateog

Image: A screenshot of NFL.com. For the first time, the Super Bowl will be streamed live online and to Verizon phones and tablets. Credit: NFL

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What are you doing on the Web? Most under 30 are wasting time

posted by Technology @ 6:39 PM
Friday, December 2, 2011

Kz5231nc

The Internet is one of the greatest inventions of all time, allowing for a nearly instantaneous sharing of information that the world had never come close to previously.

But for most people under the age of 30 in the U.S., the Web is mostly a time killer, according to a new study from the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project.

"Americans are increasingly going online just for fun and to pass the time," the Pew Research Center said in its report, released Friday. "On any given day, 53% of all the young adults ages 18-29 go online for no particular reason except to have fun or to pass the time.

"Many of them go online in purposeful ways, as well. But the results of a survey by the Pew Research
Center’s Internet & American Life Project show that young adults' use of the Internet can at times be
simply for the diversion it presents. Indeed, 81% of all young adults in this age cohort report they have used the Internet for this reason at least occasionally."

The report, of course, is one more testament to what many of us already know, given the declining profits seen for years by TV networks, print publishers and record companies — not to mention the popularity of memes, LOLcats, YouTube and other online time-wasting cultural phenomena.

Pew also found that the Web as a pastime is on the rise.

"These results come in the larger context that Internet users of all ages are much more likely now than in the past to say they go online for no particular reason other than to pass the time or have fun," the report said. "Some 58% of all adults (or 74% of all online adults) say they use the Internet this way. And a third of all adults (34%) say they used the Internet that way 'yesterday' — or the day before Pew Internet reached them for the survey. Both figures are higher than in 2009 when we last asked this question and vastly higher than in the middle of the last decade."

So what's to explain the increase in time wasting on the Web? Pew is pointing to "a variety of trends," including the growth of broadband Internet connections, the increased use of video on the Web and the meteoric rise of social networking.

"All of those factors are strongly associated with people who use the Internet for fun: If they have broadband, if they are online video consumers, if they use social media of any kind — especially social networking sites — they are much more likely than others to go online to pass the time."

A bit of perspective: when Pew first started tracking the Internet as a diversion, back in March 2000, 29% of adults and 63% of the Internet users at that time said they surfed the Web as a time waster.

"At that time, age and class were the biggest factors associated with using the Internet this way,"  Pew said. "More young adults were online and more of them were using the Internet as a diversion. And more relatively well-off and well-educated people were online and using the Internet as a diversion.

"In the ensuing years, men and women, blacks, Latinos and whites, those in higher-income households and lower-income households, those with a lot of education and those without as much education, have all increased their use of the Internet for this reason."

However, some things remain unchanged in Pew's findings. "It is still the case, though, that well under half of senior citizens and those without high school diplomas are using the Internet as a way to kill time and divert themselves."

RELATED:

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Pew report: Facebook users have a higher degree of social well-being

– Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Nathan Olivarez-Giles+

Twitter.com/nateog

Photo: In March 2010, Kayla Eland checks her email sitting in the window of her dorm room at Pitzer College in Claremont. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times

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Saveto4sqbutton

Foursquare launched its "Save to Foursquare" and "Follow on Foursquare" buttons Wednesday in an effort by the New York company to get users to integrate what they do on the Web with what they do in the real world.

The Save to Foursquare button is aimed at online publishers and can enable publications to relate stories and reviews to places listed in the Foursquare app.

"For example, from a user perspective, if the L.A. Times were to use this feature, and I'm on the L.A. Times website and I'm reading a review of a new sushi place at LA Live, then I can click the Save to Foursquare button from the review online and that sushi place will be added to my to-do list on Foursquare," said Jonathan Crowley, who oversees Foursquare's partnerships with media companies. "And then when I'm in L.A. near LA Live and I'm looking at my to-do list, I'll see that sushi place on my list and the L.A. Times review would show up when I am looking at that sushi place in the app.

"So I could go back and read that review if I wanted to remember why it's on my list in the first place. And all of this would take place with the publisher's logo and branding."

As of now the L.A. Times isn't using the Save to Foursquare button, but Crowley's hypothetical example went into practice Wednesday with launch partners such as Frommer's Travel, Eater.com, New York Magazine, Time Out NY and Time Out NY Kids, Time Out Boston, Time Out Chicago, AskMen.com and CBS.

CBS' use of the Save to Foursquare button is something that Crowley said he is particularly excited about because it's a move many people wouldn't expect, he said.

"We wanted to bridge the gap between what you're reading and watching online, and what you go out and do in the real world," Crowley said. "A lot of people don't look at CBS as a local brand, but if you think about it, there are all of these markets out there that have local CBS stations and they're producing a ton of locally focused content, so it actually makes a lot of sense.

"The fact is that the best content creators, the places that know cities the best, are publications like newspapers and magazines and local TV stations. And now we can connect the work all of these publications are doing with what we're doing on Foursquare very easily. It's something we've been working on for a while now."

The Follow on Foursquare button enables anyone with a website to allow Foursquare users to follow that person or business on Foursquare with a simple click, similar to Twitter's follow button, he said.

"The Follow button is even easier to put on a website," Crowley said. "With the Save to Foursquare button, a publisher has to structure the location data of what they're writing about in a certain way. With the Follow button, it's as easy as copying code from our website over to your website. Anyone can do it."

When a person follows someone or something on Foursquare, they'll see that person's or brand's tips when they check in at a location and they'll see lists of things to do by who they follow as well, he said.

"It's all the same as when you've followed a person or a brand on Foursquare before, but now you can follow someone you see on the Web without having to take your phone out of your pocket and go looking for them," Crowley said.

The company also launched a redesigned developer website Wednesday that should make it easier for third-party apps to build on what Foursquare has built and has coming up.

"I think a lot of people look at us as a 'check-in service,' but it's so much more than that," Crowley said. "It's about exploring your city, having a travel guide when you're in a new city, getting brand or friend recommendations wherever you go — and all of this just adds to that.

"We've got a very long product road map, and we're focused on building more of these types of tools that make it easier for people to explore what's going on around them."

RELATED:

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Foursquare Radar leverages Apple iOS 5 with new discovery features

– Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Nathan Olivarez-Giles+

Twitter.com/nateog

Image: A screen shot of the Save to Foursquare button on NYMag.com. Credit: New York Magazine / Foursquare

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