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Jonathan Frewin | 12:30 UK time, Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Screen shot from NASA's Moonbase Alpha gameOn Tech Brief today: Twitter unveils its latest money-making strategy, NASA lets you fly to the moon (almost), and a chance to contribute to a film by Ridley Scott

• Ever since the microblogging site Twitter rose through the internet's popularity rankings, observers have pondered how the site will ever make any money. It recently started allowing advertisers to sponsor "Promoted Trends" and "Promoted Tweets", and has now introduced an account that users can follow, which will offer special offers to Twitter users, as The Guardian explains:

"After what seems like a lifetime, the company has now officially announced EarlyBird, which aims to inform users of special promotions that are unique to Twitter and the account. Selected advertisers will pay to distribute offers to the thousands of users present on the network, although none of these has yet been named. The offers will be time sensitive, so fast action will be needed to catch that particular worm."

Users will have to follow the account themselves, rather than being automatically signed up. But Sebastian Payne thinks that is unlikely to be an obstacle to success:

"The opportunity for EarlyBird to go viral is huge, with offers potentially spreading around like internet like wildfire - if they are deemed worthy enough. As I type, the account has 9,545 followers, something that will need to multiply infinitely for the scheme to be successful. Thanks to the joys of trends and retweeting, this seems likely. Assuming the followers flood in, Twitter will be closer to long-term sustainability."

• Open-source web browser firm Mozilla has unveiled the first beta of version four of its popular Firefox browser. Mashable reckons it's a major upgrade:

"It not only includes a redesign of the user interface (tabs are now on top except for the Mac version), but a wave of additional features, including enhanced HTML5 support, hardware-accelerated HD video, WebSockets and enhanced add-on support via Jetpack."

Firefox has been losing market share to Google's Chrome in recent months, so it will be interesting to see whether the latest version reverses that trend. Whilst you can download and start to use the software now, Ben Parr points out that it is still likely to be unstable:

"This is an early beta of the browser -- it will crash and frustrate you, which is exactly what Mozilla is hoping to catch now before its final release."

• Have you ever harboured dreams of being a film-maker? If so, YouTube wants to hear from you, and is offering a chance for your film material to make it into a global documentary, to be directed by a major film-maker, and screened at next year's Sundance Film Festival. The Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy takes up the story:

"Producer/director Ridley Scott, director Kevin Macdonald ("The Last King of Scotland" ) and YouTube are teaming up to create and produce a user content-driven documentary to debut at next year's fest. Entitled "Life in a Day," the film experiment asks users to upload short video snapshops and intimate moments from their lives -- specifically from July 24 -- to a designated channel on YouTube."

It's a fascinating idea, and as Michelle Kung points out, it is impossible to know what the final film will look like:

"Macdonald, who brainstormed the concept for 'Life in a Day' after meeting with Ridley Scott's production company Scott Free, says the vagaries of the project are what he finds the most intriguing. 'I'm excited by the lack of control,' he says. 'I'm laying out the ground rules [for the project] as much as possible, but am just going to have to wait and see... Everything depends on how much people will contribute. I don't know if I'm more afraid of getting too much content or too little.'"

• NASA is trying its hand at science fiction, by collaborating on a free computer game that lets players visit the moon, to try and save the astronauts who are attempting to colonise it. Kotaku explains the idea:

"The player in Moonbase Alpha takes on the role of an astronaut returning from a jaunt on the surface, just in time to witness a meteorite disable the base's life support systems. You and your team (the game features online multiplayer) have to coordinate your efforts in order to get the life support systems up and running, or just give up and let everyone die a horrible death."

Mike Fahey explains that this is just the precursor to a fully-fledged massively multiplayer online role-playing game from NASA, which was announced last February.

• Finally, for today, CNN reports that Hong Kong-based Wicked Lasers has incurred the wrath of Star Wars-creator George Lucas's Lucasfilm, over a laser that the company says resembles a lightsaber:

"Lucasfilm Ltd. has sent a cease-and-desist letter to Hong Kong-based Wicked Lasers, threatening legal action if it doesn't change its Pro Arctic Laser series or stop selling it altogether. 'It is apparent from the design of the Pro Arctic Laser that it was intended to resemble the hilts of our lightsaber swords, which are protected by copyright ... ,' said the letter, dated last month and provided to CNN by Wicked Lasers."

Doug Gross reports that the CEO of Wicked Lasers, Steve Liu, claims never to have compared his products to the Jedi weapon used in the Star Wars films. And Lucasfilm appears to acknowledge that in the letter itself:

"The cease-and-desist letter doesn't accuse Wicked of using the term 'lightsaber' in its marketing ... But it notes coverage from technology blogs that have frequently made that comparison ... 'These references make it clear that the public is being led to believe that the Pro Arctic Laser is an official lightsaber device and/or copied from our design,' the Lucasfilm letter said."

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

Sebastian Payne | Guardian Technology Blog | Twitter: EarlyBird catches the tweets
Ben Parr | Mashable | Firefox 4 Beta 1 Released
Michelle Kung | WSJ Speakeasy | YouTube Documentary 'Life in a Day' to Employ User-Generated Content, Debut at Sundance 2011
Mike Fahey | Kotaku | NASA Invites Gamers to Explore Moonbase Alpha
Doug Gross | CNN | 'Star Wars' creator says laser too much like lightsaber

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