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Jonathan Frewin | 18:14 UK time, Tuesday, 15 June 2010

shapewriterOn Tech Brief today: Apple's policy on iPhone donations rankles, the professional blogger who annoyed "anonymous" commenters by e-mailing them at work, and the future of typing, which may involve drawing.

• The creator of an iPhone app for the popular American radio show This American Life has criticised Apple for its policy towards charitable donations through Apple devices. The company's app terms and conditions prevent organisations from soliciting donations, which Jake Shapiro thinks is a shame:

"Apple is not just preventing app developers from putting 'donate' buttons or any language suggesting that users contribute to charitable causes; it is also cutting off nonprofits from the most powerful direct-payment platform in the mobile marketplace. 1-Click payments are transformative for direct giving, and Apple has tens of millions of users with stored credit cards already accustomed to instant purchases - over 100 million if you add in iTunes users worldwide."

He goes on to argue that Apple gains from public broadcasters and media as a source of material for its devices, but is then denying a major potential revenue source for those non-profit organisations:

"For public media, where contributions from 'listeners like you' are a critical source of revenue, Apple's donation blocking is a particularly acute problem. For one thing, public media content is hugely popular across iTunes and iPhone/iPad - check out the top rankings for NPR, PBS, PRX and other public media podcasts, station streams, and apps. Apple is effectively blocking a major revenue stream to public media while enthusiastically featuring public media content and apps that enhance value for its devices."

• Perhaps this isn't Apple's week. According to Valleywag, Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of that popular social network with close to half a billion users has threatened to switch to a Google Android phone, only a short time after getting an iPhone:

"In a post to his Facebook wall, Zuckerberg explained that, within one week of acquiring the device, he's already had to buy landline phone service in order to make calls, and a whole mess of chargers in order to move the Apple device from place to place."

But it seems Mr Zuckerberg may be confused about exactly which iPhone he has. Ryan Tate suggested that Apple might provide the latest fourth edition of the iPhone to Mr Zuckerberg before he switches allegiance, then clarified:

"Kim-Mai Cutler at VentureBeat reports this was an iPhone 4, even though... Zuckerberg says the next-generation device is still in his future."

• A blogger named Zach Kouwe who left the New York Times under a cloud, after copying elements of his reports from the Wall Street Journal and others has been moved on from his next job as well. He had been employed by the Dealbreaker website, which Felix Salmon at Reuters says was another organisation Kouwe had been accused of pinching material from without attribution:

"One anonymous commenter -- and Dealbreaker prizes its commenters' anonymity greatly -- wrote that 'Kouwe e-mailed me the other day to tell me he 'knew' where I worked', and later posted a screenshot of the emails in question. It seems that Kouwe obtained the commenter's email address -- presumably through his privileged access to the commenter login system -- and then emailed the commenter to tell him exactly where he worked."

Felix Salmon points out that Mr Kouwe was not normally inclined to respond publicly to comments on his pieces:

"Kouwe declined to comment on the situation, but it seems that two months of aggressive needling from Dealbreaker's commenters finally got to him. There's no doubt that the commenters on the site -- who are not representative of its readers, and who can be extremely mean -- applied a lot of negative pressure on Kouwe from day one. But at a site like Dealbreaker, commenter anonymity has to be non-negotiable."

• Sticking with e-mail for the moment, NPR has published a list of phrases to avoid using in electronic communications, if you don't want to face investigation if your organisation ever attracts the attention of the authorities. It lists a number of phrases that those lawyers exploring the collapse of Lehman Brothers searched for in 34 million or so pages of documents from the bank. Jacob Goldstein explains that, in addition to a range of technical terms, the lawyers also searched for some pretty general phrases as well:

"One search in particular targeted a bunch of words and phrases that anybody might use in an incriminating e-mail. They are:
  • stupid
  • huge mistake
  • big mistake
  • dumb
  • can't believe
  • cannot believe
  • serious trouble
  • big trouble
  • unsalvageable
  • shocked
  • speechless
  • too late
  • "

• Finally, for today, enthusiasm for an alternative to typing on touch-screen smartphones. Tapping out messages on glass is not everyone's cup of tea, and after getting a Google Android smartphone, Jeremy Wagstaff found he preferred "predictive text", as commonly installed for typing messages on mobile phones for the last decade or so:

"My wife complained that she could tell when I was using the Android phone over my trusty old Nokia because she didn't feel I was 'so reachable'. By which she means my monosyllabic answers weren't as reassuring as my long rambling Nokia, predictive text ones."

Then Jeremy Wagstaff discovered ShapeWriter software for smartphones, which lets you literally draw the word you're after on the glass, instead of tapping the letters individually:

"Typing 'hello,' for example, is done by starting your finger on 'h', dragging it northwest to 'e', then to the far east of 'l', lingering there a second, then north a notch to 'o'. No lifting of the finger off the keyboard. Your finger instead leaves a red slug-like trail on the keyboard, and, in theory, when you lift your finger off the keys that trail will be converted to the word 'Hello.'

"And, surprise, surprise, it actually works. Well, unless you're demonstrating it to a skeptical spouse, in which case instead of 'hello' it types 'gremio' or 'hemp'."

Or, indeed, if you are an intrepid BBC reporter trying out the software, and get: "Go Jeremy slapped edited is not as good as I explicit it would be", instead of "Hi Jeremy, shape writer is not as good as I thought it would be".

He says that it gets better with practice.

If you want to suggest links or stories for Tech Brief, you can send them to @bbctechbrief on Twitter, tag them bbctechbrief on Delicious or e-mail them to

Links in full

Jake Shapiro | ars technica | Apple's no-donation policy for apps is a cop-out
Ryan Tate | Valleywag | Facebook CEO disses iPhone
Felix Salmon | Reuters Blogs | Zach Kouwe fired again
Jacob Goldstein | NPR Blogs | 23 Things Not To Write In An E-mail
Jeremy Wagstaff | loose wire blog | The Shape of Things to Come

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