Rory Cellan-Jones

A forum for fraudsters

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 28 Aug 08, 17:03 GMT

In the last few days, I've entered a whole new web world. It's a place where people speak of getting "dumps... sniffed from ATMs" or using "blinds to cash out" or getting data through "rj 45 taps." The language belongs to a criminal community - the people who make a living out of credit card fraud.

Credit cardsThey gather to swap tips and appeal for information on a number of web forums, and the one we've been looking at features some quite astonishingly brazen messages. The one which really caught our attention was about an attempt to use thousands of stolen US credit card details in British supermarkets. You can read the whole of it here.

The discussion on the crooks' forum is a bit of a wake-up call for all those who think that the introduction of chip-and-pin in the UK has wiped out card fraud. It has certainly made it harder - but the fact that the United States has yet to adopt the system gives the crooks a big opportunity in a crime which the internet has helped turn into a globalised business. So, as in this case, British fraudsters can buy stolen credit card details from the US and use them here because retailers still have to allow the "swipe and sign" option for overseas cards without a chip. Equally, card details stolen from UK consumers can be sold overseas for use in countries without chip-and-pin.

The author of the message appealing for information on where to use his cards - and offering "a ps3, 10 bottle of vodka or jd for weekend" in return - also has another post on the forum, generously offering advice on how to steal credit card details from cash machines. His guide to an "ATM skimmer" features photographs and technical details of a machine which is apparently attached to an ATM and then sends data to a mobile phone. Let's hope the police and the banks are studying this website too, and working out how to foil the fraudsters.

But a policeman I contacted admitted that it's a huge struggle to keep track of what's happening on these fraud forums - and virtually impossible to act against sites that are usually based abroad.

The fraudster describes his "interests" in his profile on the forum as: "Get rich... or Die Trying :)". By the sound of it, getting rich is still far too easy.

I suppose all of this is more proof that the internet is a brilliant way of organising people around the world with common interests. How sad that, all too often, those interest are criminal.

Continue reading "A forum for fraudsters"

Rory Cellan-Jones

The Scrabulous puzzle

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 28 Aug 08, 10:46 GMT

I promised the answers to the little Scrabble/Scrabulous puzzle I set earlier this week - and here it is. The six words were DELUDED, OBLOQUY, IDIOTIC, OPENING, UNHAPPY and CABBAGE, which I managed to fit on the board in the manner shown in the picture.

Scrabble board

I reckon that adds up to a score of 162, plus 50 for getting all seven letters out first go, so 212. Someone called "dashing dave" was first to post the answers.

But most of you seemed more preoccupied with wading into an argument about ithe rights and wrongs of the affair. Some championed the right of the Agarwalla brothers - who created Scrabulous - to give Facebook users a better twist on Scrabble than its makers could provide. Others felt Mattel and Hasbro had a perfect right to battle to protect their intellectual property.

But in this war of words you seem to be voting with your feet, and that's bad news for the official Scrabble. The Agarwalla brothers have already launched a Facebook game called Wordscraper, which has a different board and circular tiles to get round the copyright problem. It has a quarter of a million users, as compared to the 71,000 now using the official worldwide version of Scrabble on Facebook - a figure which has actually fallen in the last few days.

And it looks as though more players, desperate for their fix, may be heading for the Scrabulous website and playing the game there. The result? Less traffic for Facebook - and the prospect of a new punch-up over intellectual property between the Agarwallas and Hasbro and Mattel. Now, who's got a seven-letter, high-scoring word for that?

Rory Cellan-Jones

Scrabulous users - stunned, bemused,baffled.

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 25 Aug 08, 11:24 GMT

My inbox is filling up with the grief-stricken, the angry, the lost and the desperate. Who are they? Sad obsessives who played Scrabulous on Facebook. They had been through a spasm of anxiety a few weeks back when the word game - which some may think resembles a popular offline board game - disappeared from the American site after legal action by Hasbro, but somehow assumed that it would never happen to them.

Now though Mattel - which owns Scrabble outside the US and Canada - has deprived British (and I assume other) users of their drug and they are not happy. One even suggested that the BBC should rouse itself from its Bank Holiday torpor and give ample coverage of this event of earth-shattering importance. Well I've tried to convince the news editors that the disappearance of a much-loved word game from a popular social network is more significant than some Democratic convention(happens every four years, doesn't it?) or the return of our victorious Olympic athletes (similar argument) but they remain to be convinced.

So it's dirty work but I'm going to have to do it . However, you're going to have to do a little work yourselves. Assume you have a rack of seven tiles and a board with which to spell out the key words of the great Scrabulous disaster.


This word sums up the attitude of all those who somehow thought that a game which looks and feels exactly like Scrabble would be permitted by Hasbro and Mattel to go on serving millions of Facebook users around the world, while reaping a steady flow of advertising dollars for its young Indian creators. You might as well expect Rolex to endorse those people selling "Rolex" watches on street markets worldwide, or Viacom to say, "Hey, YouTube, great to see our content on a whole new platform."


A fabulous word(and could be high-scoring) which describes what has been directed at Hasbro and Mattel on a number of Facebook groups. "What the HELL ..... where is my scrabulous, I feel sick to my stomach". "I am seething MAD....I had abt 10 games going on and now they have just taken it away????? This isnt fair...". "CURSE YOU HASBRO / MATTEL!!!!!!!! I'm going home to cut up my deluxe scrabble set and feed it to the cat."

It seems capital letters and mass exclamation marks are the natural online response to any traumatic event these days - even for the highly literate Scrabulous crowd. But it does show how powerful a brand an online application can build within a very short space of time. Is there any other Facebook application whose disappearance would cause such grief and anger?


This word is how some (not the BBC, of course) might characterise the stance of Hasbro and Mattel. Could they really not come to some kind of accommodation with the makers of Scrabulous? Have they enhanced the Scrabble brand - and their own reputations - by their actions? And, if they were going to remove Scrabulous, could they have not replaced it with one official game instead of two - one for American and Canadian users, another for the rest? It's a serious setback for transatlantic relations - two nations not just divided by a common language, but by the lack of a common word game.


One of these has now appeared for any other platform that might seek to attract the smart, and presumably prosperous and time-rich crowd that plays Scrabulous. It could be the perfect pastime for a mobile phone with a decent screen - and so far none of the games that have appeared on the new iPhone have broken away from the pack to establish a big lead. Or maybe the first Android phone will feature a compelling way of wasting time trying to work out how to score maximum points with a dodgy word like Qi?


And that is how Facebook executives may be feeling. In May last year they were acclaimed for throwing open the social network's doors to outside developers and thus making it a far more "sticky" place for its users, at no cost. "Scrabulous" was a particularly "sticky" application, and some of its fans may now feel they have little reason to spend much time with Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg's little firm claimed it was just a playground where users and developers could enjoy themselves as they liked, at their own risk, with no comeback for the network's owner. But, like Google's YouTube, Facebook has now grown into a big media business, and other firms see no reason why it should profit from their intellectual property.


This, believe it or not, is the name of my mongrel, and it sums up the dog's dinner Mattel has made of its official Facebook Scrabble application. Every time you open it you get "a message from our sponsors", and the first message I got told me that I had won a free iPhone. Is this kind of spam really going to convince Scrabulous users to transfer their allegiance? It does not seem to be working so far - the worldwide version had only attracted 75,000 users when I last looked, as compared with the millions who used Scrabulous. What's more, those users have given it very poor reviews, with an average rating of 1.6 stars out of 5.

All of these words will fit together onto a conventional Scrabble board, and should not prove a challenge for any moderately skilled player. But it might give some of those tortured Scrabulous souls a little respite from their grief. But can you come up with a really high score?Answers later this week.

Maggie Shiels

Inside Intel's geekfest

  • Maggie Shiels
  • 22 Aug 08, 09:52 GMT

All this week I have been attending the Intel Developers Forum in San Francisco and of all the developers' conferences I have been to over the last few months this one was very different in atmosphere.

The company just turned 40 recently and the vibe here was certainly much more conservative than that of sayGoogle, which is heading for its 10th birthday.

Google's I/O ,as it was called, was a mix of hip and geek (and massage therapists) whereas Intel was pure geek.

In fact Intel exec Pat Gelsinger boasted on the first day that the forum was all about geeks and people who love technology and innovation. Admittedly, all developers' gigs are full of people coming from the same perspective to a greater and lesser degree.

Facebook ,by the way, do it louder than anyone, ear-splittingly so!

But here you kind of felt you were hanging out with the grown ups. But that's not to say there wasn't some fun to be had.

Craig Barrett and person lying on floor playing deadIntel chairman Craig Barrett was clearly enjoying himself during his keynote when he play acted someone who had been in a motorcycle accident and lay on the ground for added authenticity.

And Eric Kim, who heads up Intel's digital home group clearly had his own wardrobe budget for his keynote entitled "I Love TV."

More play acting, as he took on the mantle of game show host to quiz some audience members about TV trivia. And to add some wardrobe pizzazz, he donned a snazzy red jacket for the occasion.

Man and Eric KimEven though Mr Kim admitted he would have loved a career as a game show Johnny, he reckoned he wasn't that good because all three contestants won flat screen TVs for taking part.

Cries of 'foul' and 'a fix' did I hear you shout? Not at Mr Kim's sesh, but certainly some inferred to me that was the case at the Brain Bowl quiz which took place on the first evening of IDF.

The result was a very controversial one among a couple of American journos I spoke to but that would be because they were gubbed by the Europeans in this head-to-head competition covering general knowledge, the industry and Intel products.

One American journalist complained the buzzer button on their side wasn't quite working as well as that on the Euro desk which was known as Team Moore or Less, in honour of Moore's law. And the US of A was called Team Turbo in recognition of a system that is part of Intel's new mega Nehalem chip.

The scores on the doors by the way. The US 150 and Europe 550.

Fancy a couple of sample questions?

Is there a voice-activated etch-a-sketch? The answer is yes, it's in the pipeline.

And is there a virtual female assistant who takes your calls, answers your e-mail and hands out your business cards. Again, another affirmative.

Alas, no prize to the journalist who shouted out that he would marry her.

Annie Leung playing Guitar HeroOn the exhibition floor lots of fun to be had cruising some of the toys. Annie 'Ecstacy' Leung wiped out everyone who tried to challenge her at Guitar Hero. She is a professional gamer and, at 23, is making a nice living out of it.

Over at the embedded section, a Beamer kitted out with a 3D navigation system that shows colourful graphics, TV's in the headrest that play movies or gives you information about the local area you are in and GPS.

Reem the robotAlso on exhibit was Reem the robot who doesn't do a heck of a lot except move a few steps, utter a few words and kick ass when it comes to playing chess.

For the 'Easy Rider' geek, there was a flashy 250-horse-powered bike that had chips embedded everywhere. The 'one off' motorbike has GPS navigation, rugged mobile PC, wi-fi connectivity, thumbprint recognition so no need for keys, rear view cameras, kickstand control, and a digital dashboard.

Motorbike and model NatashaI was told by one person that the bike would cost anywhere between $250,000 to $500,000 but someone else told me it had no price tag and was custom built and unique.

I don't know if the constant number of people coming to see the exhibit had anything to do with the bike or Natasha, who posed alongside anyone who wanted a rock out photo as a souvenir of their time at IDF.

Rocking out and IDF - strange bedfellows .

Maggie Shiels

Cool garbage

  • Maggie Shiels
  • 21 Aug 08, 14:24 GMT

We are constantly being told to recycle recycle recycle. And with something like two million tones of e-waste being produced in America alone, a very interesting piece of art work caught my eye while at the Intel Developers Forum in San Francisco.

The SkullStanding 9ft tall, it's kind of hard to ignore as I rush back and forth from the press room to technical sessions and round tables and keynotes. But aside from its size, the 'Skull' is making a pretty strong statement given the fact it is made from electronic waste, some of which was most probably created by a company like Intel.

Some of the dead and obsolete computers though end up at the Alameda Computer Resource Centre whose mission is to recycle responsibly. Every year it turns a portion of the four million pounds of computer waste it handles into useable computers. One thousand of them, in fact, every year which the centre donates to schools, non profits, underpriveleged homes and the like.

The Skull's artist is James Burgett, founder of the centre ,who says he is on a one man crusade to attack e-waste, with which he has a profound disgust.

KeyboardsThe eyes and teeth of the Skull are made out of flat panels. It plays streaming audio and will read out test messages in one of hundreds of artificial voices, though at the Intel Forum the Skull's voice has been silenced.

At night, it has a projector that shows old classic movies on old technology. Things like The Last Man on Earth, Flash Gordon and the Night of the Living Dead.

And apparently it can move under its own power playing the theme from Jaws.

Now that's cool and I think worth sharing.

Rory Cellan-Jones

Can Brits make bucks from blogging?

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 21 Aug 08, 12:58 GMT

The answer is no, according to the co-founder of one of Britain's biggest commercial blog networks Shiny Media. In a fascinating guest post on TechCrunch UK, Ashley Norris, who has just left the business he started in 2003, explains why it is so much harder to make a living from blogging in the UK than in the US.

He points out that in the US the likes of Gawker Media and the Huffington Post are showing that it's possible to make big bucks from blogging, then complains that he's struggled to turn Shiny - which has a stable of technology and fashion blogs - into a moneyspinner.

Amongst the main reasons he cites are the smaller UK market, a lack of imagination from the ad industry and the venture capital firms - and an omnipotent BBC.

I'm not best-placed to judge whether the corporation's excellent web operations are really crowding out investment in UK blogs - I'll leave that to you - but let's try to address two other questions. First, is it true that British bloggers aren't finding a route to commercial success, and, if that is so, what is holding them back?

When I posed the first question on Twitter, I quickly received a flurry of messages - some from bloggers - naming successful British blogs. People mentioned the political bloggers, Iain Dale and Guido Fawkes, technology blogs like smstextnews and TechCrunch UK, and a number of conultancies that earn money by advisiing big corporations on blogging. Hmmm, the trouble is those individual blogs do not seem to be building growing businesses - even if they're providing a new living for people who are often already professional journalists or commentators.

Ironically, it's Shiny Media which stands out as one of the few successes, and Ashley Norris appears to have upset some of his former colleagues by his musings. The current managing director Chris Price told me,"We're turning a small profit," though he admitted it was not on the scale of US blog networks.

And perhaps comparing Shiny with businesses like Gawker Media and Huffington Post tells us something about different ambitions on either side of the Atlantic. Patrick Altoft certainly thinks so. He gave up his job at an insurance firm when his blogs about the mobile phone world started making serious money, and he now runs a blogging consultancy. He thinks too many UK blogs are too focused on the UK with too much on their local market: "That's what the UK bloggers are missing - you've got to make it relevant around the world."

Arianna HuffingtonUS blog networks also seem more ruthless about their cost-base. Shiny Media has some rather shiny offices in Covent Garden where its bloggers can chew over ideas, Gawker Media lets its people do it from home - and only pays them according to the traffic they generate. And when Arianna Huffington visited the BBC recently, she seemed taken aback when I asked her what she paid her bloggers, indicating that the joy of blogging was sufficient reward.

But Mr Altoft says it is their use of social media like Digg and StumbleUpon to promote every post that gives the American blogs an edge, particularly those focusing on technology. "If you're on the front page of Digg, that guarantees 50,000 hits. The likes of TechCrunch and Gizmodo are there every day - you'll never see Shiny there." He says the American blogs are much more "professional" about manipulating sites like Digg so that their stories get plenty of votes.

But Mike Butcher of TechCrunch UK - another professional journalist making a decent living from blogging - thinks a lack of imagination in the UK advertising industry is part of the problem. "They're a bit lazy. it's easier to buy space on 50,000 Guardian online pages than to deal with hundreds of little blogs."

But Patrick Altoft's best point comes back to what is at the heart of good and successful blogging. "You have to develop your own niche, you need to break news, you need to write stuff that nobody else is writing." He's right. There is a huge amount of information out there - and little time to absorb it - so once readers judge that you are the destination for orginal stories and well-written analysis they will keep coming back, and advertising revenue will follow.

So, yes, just as it is still harder to find funding for a start-up in Shoreditch than in Silicon Valley, UK bloggers are not in the same commercial league as their American counterparts. But if they - and their potential backers - can begin to think big, then a country which punches above its weight in many areas of the media should be able to make a decent fist of commercial blogging.


Just to be clear, Chris Price, described here as the "current managing director" of Shiny Media is actually a co-founder of the business with Ashley Norris, and has been the MD since the launch. Sorry for any confusion.

Rory Cellan-Jones

Credible news - who decides?

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 19 Aug 08, 16:15 GMT

Do we really need another news aggregator to follow in the footsteps of Google News, Digg, Reddit, Netvibes and the rest? Well, the founders of NewsCred have decided we do - and they reckon they've got two killer angles which will make their service, launched today, into a winner. Simplicity and credibility are what they're pushing.

NewsCred logoShafqat Islam, one of NewsCred's founders, believes all the other news aggregators are just too complicated for most users. "My parents and my friends aren't using the likes of Digg or Netvibes," he told me on the phone from Geneva where he is based.

But what marks NewsCred out is the way it encourages users to rate the "credibility" of the stories it pulls in from a wide variety of news sources and blogs - from the BBC to Al-Jazeera, from the Huffington Post to Techcrunch. At the bottom of each story are these two options: "If you think this article is credible and quality content, please credit this article." Or: "If you think this article is biased or factually inaccurate, please discredit this article." Now sites like Digg - and every kind of consumer review site - encourage users to give the thumbs up or down to various kinds of content. But NewsCred claims it is going much deeper, building up a detailed picture of the credibility of news organisations and even individul reporters.

It's too early to say how well or badly the likes of the BBC will come out of this - at the moment there are obviously very few NewsCred readers, and they are mostly giving "credits" rather than "discredits" so far. But in the longer term this is an interesting, if frightening, development for a professional journalist.

When I started in this trade a quarter of a century ago, seasoned journalists were confident about two things. They knew which stories were important, and they had strong opinions about which news sources were credible. A veteran editor lectured me long and hard about the dubious standards of one international news agency, never to be used as a single source by the BBC.

But in the internet age, a lot of that confidence is seeping away. Editors are increasingly casting a glance at the "most-read" lists on their own and other websites to work out which stories matter to readers and viewers. And now the audience - which used to know its place - is being asked to act as a kind of journalistic ombudsman, ruling on our credibility.

In one way, this is obviously a positive development, putting more pressure on news organisations to improve their professional and ethical standards, and to listen to the people who consume their products. My worry is that sites like NewsCred will become playgrounds for lobby groups and obsessives on issues ranging from the Georgia conflict to the 9/11 conspiracy theories. Isn't it likely that those with passionate views will rush to judge the credibility of news stories according to their own prejeudices, while the rest of the internet population just won't bother?

Shafqat Islam is more optimistic: "Is it 'mob mentality or wisdom of the crowds'? We believe in the latter." And he also believes that once NewsCred gets critical mass, the judgements of its readers will matter to editors: "If a million come on and say Fox News or the BBC is not credible then we think that's worthwhile."

The new media blogger Jeff Jarvis asked earlier this week whether editors would become a luxury that the news industry could do without, relying instead on the internet audience to provide leads, correct errors, and generally do much of the work. But in some ways, I think editors are becoming more important. In a world where readers and viewers have huge quantities of news and opinion flung at them from every direction, there is also an ever greater demand for ways of working out what is important and what is credible. Should you rely on your fellow news consumers to tell you that on sites like NewsCred - or would you rather trust an editor?

Darren Waters

Technology blog links: 19/08/08

  • Darren Waters
  • 19 Aug 08, 12:45 GMT

Here's your fix of technology links and postings I've seen around the blogosphere that I think are worth reading.

Feel free to post some of your own. Or we could set up a group Delicious feed? Post your thoughts.

Apple is flailing badly at the edges
Michael Arrington of TechCrunch holds no punches for the bad apples.

Google releases Android SDK beta
Zdnet says Google's rival to Symbian, Linux, Windows Mobile and the iPhone edges closer to launch.

Garmin gets the social network groove
Cnet reports on GPS firm combining its technology with social networking.

Patent office rejects cloud computing application
E-Week on Dell's attempts to patent cloud computing.

Rory Cellan-Jones

Broadband - are you mobile or fixed?

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 15 Aug 08, 11:01 GMT

My first task on my return from holiday was to plough my way through a 365 page document. Actually, Ofcom's UK Communications Market report is a fascinating document, with all sorts of insights into what is changing and what isn't in the way we run our media lives. So, we may be spending 24 minutes a day with computers - but we're spending 3 hours and 38 minutes watching the television.

Cables going into computerBut what really excited the Ofcom researchers was something that we've been tracking here - the extraordinary take-off of mobile bradband in the UK.

Two million people have gone online using a "dongle" or similar device and they're signing up at the rate of 133,000 a month. And these new mobile broadband consumers aren't just using the product on the move - three quarters of them are using it to go online from home, even if they've already got fixed-line broadband. That appears to show that the 3g mobile networks now pose a real threat to fixed-line companies in what is already a very competitive UK broadband market.

This set me thinking about my own experiences, because I've done a bit of what marketing types call "mystery shopping" with both fixed and mobile broadband providers over the last month. First, I switched my fixed broadband supplier after getting tired of slow speeds and poor service. My new provider made no big claims about faster speeds - and was even more expensive than my old ISP - but it did promise better service.

I then went hunting for a mobile broadband contract. Dropping into a mobile phone shop, I was promised what sounded an amazing deal. The salesman wrote down for me what one of his firm's dongles would give me - 7.2Mbps for just £15 a month, if I signed up to an 18 months contract. No "up to " - just the full 7.2Mbps.

Naturally, I questioned the salesman a little more closely. Just how good was their 3g network in my area? "Very good", he claimed - amongst the best areas in the country. Seeing as the deal was nine pounds a month cheaper than the fixed line contract I had just signed, I agreed to take the dongle.

So what were the results? Well both the fixed and the mobile broadband services are now performing pretty well. But the one which promised little in terms of speed - the fixed line - is actually delivering up to 5 or 6Mbps, almost three times as fast as my previous ISP.

As for the mobile broadband dongle, that is going at a greater speed than I've achieved with other similar devices - and the 1Mbps it delivers is perfectly acceptable when I'm out and about. But it's a long way from the 7.2Mbps that was promised.

Ofcom's new code of conduct on broadband speeds, which lays down pretty strict rules about what is promised at point of sale, does not yet apply to mobile broadband. If it did, I would be well placed to throw away the contract I've signed for my dongle.

So what have I learned? With fixed line broadband, it can be worth paying a bit more for good service - and you may even find you can get a faster line than you expect. As for the mobile product, it is now delivering the web on the move for millions of users - but take the speed promises with a pinch of salt.

Darren Waters

Express your inner Geek

  • Darren Waters
  • 13 Aug 08, 17:49 GMT

Graham Linehan, writer of the peerless geek sitcom, the IT Crowd wants our help in providing props for the third series of the comedy programme, which he's just finished writing.

The IT Crowd has always been spot on in using authentic props on the show, with great bits of hardware and general tech/geek references.

Writing on his blog (where else?) he's asked the audience to contact the production firm behind the show to suggest items.

I fancy volunteering the following from my own personal stock of IT and geekiness:

A Dragon 32 computer
The first issue of Amiga Format
A Sony Trinitron from the early 1970s
A 7inch single of Jean-Michel Jarre's Oxygene IV

Anyone else fancy offering up some suggestions?

Darren Waters

Technology blog links: 13/08/08

  • Darren Waters
  • 13 Aug 08, 15:36 GMT

As I'm working away from the technology section for a few weeks on a side project my postings on will be a lot lighter.

So I'll be trying to link to other bits and pieces that I think are worth reading.

Here are some for today:

'Slow' light to speed up the net
BBC News Technology

Sony takes wraps off PlayTV for PlayStation 3
The Guardian Games blog

Microsoft patch Tuesday fixes six flaws

Seventeen percent of GTA IV buyers 'were minors'

Yahoo's location aware Fire Eagle goes live

Rory Cellan-Jones

US media's crimes against Web 2.0

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 13 Aug 08, 09:30 GMT

I've been on holiday - and mostly offline - in the United States for the last couple of weeks, but one story has caught my eye.

Olympics opening ceremony in BeijingTwo American "old media" organisations - a TV network and a newspaper - have had ridicule poured upon their heads for crimes against the Web 2.0 orthodoxy. But both companies may feel they are doing what is right for their 2008 audiences - and for their bottom line.

First in the dock is NBC which chose to broadcast the Olympics opening ceremony 12 hours after it happened in Beijing, in American prime-time. To a British viewer it was a bizarre move - while the rest of the world watched the ceremony live Americans had to wait - and even in the US, NBC came in for some heavy flak.

The New York Times described what it called a game of "whack-at-mole" as footage of the ceremony kept popping up all over the web, while NBC tried to protect its exclusive rights by suppressing it in a seemingly doomed attempt to prevent American citizens from getting an early peak.

The other media business under fire was the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper whose managing editor sent a memo to staff suggesting that much of the paper's best content - investigative scoops, reviews, features - should appear in print before it went online. You'd think from the reaction of the digerati that the Inquirer was planning to take down the internet and burn bloggers at the stake.

The US new media pundit and professor Jeff Jarvis described the move this way: "You are killing the paper. You might as well just burn the place down. You're setting a match to it...It is suicide. It is murder. You should be ashamed of yourselves." So, um, he thinks they might have got it wrong?

Of the two cases before the Web 2.0 court, NBC's is the easier. Its decision to show the Beijing opening in prime-time rather than live over American breakfast tables has left it rolling in Olympic gold. 34 million people tuned in to watch the ceremony - and the endless "messages" from big advertisers that proved an irritating distraction for this British viewer but hugely lucrative for NBC.

All the leaks on the web and the chatter in the blogs about the spectacular show may even have helped boost the audience, the biggest in the US for any Olympics not held in their territory.

For all the talk of the web taking the power from the schedulers and giving it back to the audience, it's still quite a struggle for anyone but the determined few to get what they want from the Olympics online.

Desperate to see Nicole Cooke's gold medal sprint in the cycling, I had to resort to YouTube - the footage was "not available in this territory" when I tried to watch it on the BBC website from New York. So, in 2008 at least, the broadcasters and the IOC are managing to hold back the web tide, to the benefit of the bottom line, if not the audience.

And what of the thought-crimes at the Philadelphia Inquirer? The paper may be in decline, but it may also feel that, right now, it still has to give its remaining old economy readers a reward for the 75 cents they shell out most days. Jeff Jarvis and many who've responded to his blog suggest there is now a perfect opportunity for a new Philadelphia online news operation to come and steal the Inquirer's lunch. But maybe breaking news - which will still go online first on the paper's - is not the future for newspapers anyway?

Perhaps in-depth investigations, crafted features, and trenchant, well-informed columnists will provide a more compelling reason to keep buying a paper. And will the Inquirer's online customers really be so aggrieved to get that content at the same time, or even a few hours after the sad old saps who like to turn a page rather than click on a link?

As the new media future arrives, old media organisations on both sides of the Atlantic are experimenting furiously with platforms they may struggle to understand. Newspaper reporters are trying to become broadcasters, TV news correspondents are doing a little light blogging, and broadcasters are making more of their content available online - NBC has had more than a million viewers for streamed footage of one swimming event.

But the habits of media audiences are changing more slowly than some pundits predicted - and getting too far ahead of them is as dangerous as being left behind. By 2012 the revolution may have happened, but for now the likes of NBC and the Philadelphia Inquirer are betting that they can still profit from the old model.

Maggie Shiels

Jerry Yang getting his groove back?

  • Maggie Shiels
  • 12 Aug 08, 10:10 GMT

It looks like the most fun the beleaguered Yahoo chief has had in a long time and it's Jerry Yang shaking his stuff for all it's worth and dancing. Kinda.

Yahoo flag and signYes that is what I said, dancing.

The last seven months have undoubtedly been trying for the Yahoo boss between fighting off the advances of Microsoft and then the corporate raider Carl Icahn while at the same time trying to persuade investors not to kick him out of the top job.

Well all that is history and in an effort to boost the spirits of Mr Yang and fellow colleagues, Yahoo blog editor Nicki Dugan persuaded You Tube dancing phenomenon Matt Harding to come jig with the Yahoo faithful and make a video (you can watch it here) at the same time for the world to revel in.

Matt is the star of Where the Hell is Matt, a website that chronicles his jigging pursuits around the globe as he sets up a camera and, hey just dances. His travels have taken him to the four corners of the globe. He has danced in zero gravity, partnered up with humback whales, lemurs, Bollywood dancers and now Mr Yang and his gang.

You have to hand it to Jerry. Alongside Matt doing his stuff, he certainly goes for it and while he sure ain't got rhythm, he has bags of enthusiasm. Alas Susan Decker titled El Presidente doesn't even get up from her desk and while it might have been tongue in cheek, some would say she comes off as a kill joy.

Throughout the video, Matt gets jiggy all across the Sunnyvale campus including a stop in the scary looking cubicle of co-founder David Filo which hasn't seen furniture polish or a waste bin in a long time.

One of the big hits on the Yahoo blog is Matt's jig outside 'Frenemy territory' that is the Google HQ up the road in Mountain View. Microsoft does not figure in this video.

Nicki Duggan said the film is a "Reminder that, in spite of the extraordinary events of the last seven months, this is still one helluva great company."

And by and large the comments on the blog are overwhelmingly positive with one or two pointing out that perhaps instead of messing about making videos, the Yahoo workforce should be working on improving products.

Hey surely everyone deserves the chance to cut loose once in a while?

Darren Waters

Inside Electronic Arts

  • Darren Waters
  • 11 Aug 08, 09:30 GMT

From the outside, Electronic Arts' Los Angeles studio, just a few miles from LA's main airport, could be the offices of any number of blue chip IT firms.

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Just one of the 16 developer studios it operates around the world, the building's anonymous grey and steel exterior speaks of hi-tech and analytical operations, not creativity and video games.

We were given a tour of the studio by David Silverman, the exuberant marketing head of Command and Conquer: Red Alert 3. And it's inside where the creativity and talent is to be found.

Screengrab from EA Command and Conquer: Red Alert 3Electronic Arts is an undoubted behemoth in the games industry. It employs more than 8,500 people worldwide, and last year its revenues were more than $3.5 billion.

The firm makes games for more platforms than any other company, and has more than a quarter of a century of experience in the industry.

The company also owns some of the biggest franchises in gaming, including The Sims, Harry Potter, Madden and Fifa.

That success brings its own share of issues: the company in the past has been accused of churning out titles with a lack of innovation. The annual release schedule for the biggest franchises, with tweaks to graphics and gameplay, has seen plenty of critcism aimed EA's way.

Character from Command and Conquer: Red Alert 3It is a publishing house, and developer with 16 different studios, including relatively recent acquisitions Bioware, the team behind Mass Effect, Criterion, the makers of Burnout, and Digital Illusion, creators of Battlefield.

In the past the firm was accused of meddling too much with the independent creativity of its studios but that would appear to have changed - with studios getting the freedom they need to make the games they believe they can.

Those recent purchases, as well as working with gaming legends such as Will Wright on Spore, and film legend Steven Spielberg on Boom Blox, are revitalising EA from within.

The company is working hard to shift itself from being seen purely as a game firm to a global entertainment corporation. And I spoke with the firm's chief executive John Riccitello at E3 this year about his ambitions for the firm and the industry in general.

EA gameAt EA LA the firm has established a music publishing business, partly because songs which appear on the soundtrack to games like Madden have become an essential part of the package.

The company recruited music industry veteran Steve Schnur as its worldwide executive of music and marketing; a quick tour of his territory at the studio and you would be forgiven for thinking you were walking around a record label such as EMI rather than a games firm.

At E3 this year, while most people were grumbling about the lack of spark at the conference, EA's press conference at the downtown Orpheum Theater was one of the undoubted high points.

Instead of a long-winded corporate speech from a suited executive the firm put the lead designers and developers themselves front and centre.

Character from SporeAnd games such as Mirror's Edge, Spore, Dead Space, Left4Dead and Rage, which EA is either developing or publishing, has given the company one of the strongest rosters of titles for the year ahead.

But the firm still has sizeable challenges to face. Its shares took a hit at the end of last month when its first quarter results were worse than the market expected.

It lost $95m on net revenues of more than $800m in the first quarter. However, EA's sales were up more than 100% on a year ago, thanks to the success of games such as Rock Band and the launch of Battlefield: Bad Company and Mass Effect.

And the firm is still involved in the protracted pursuit of Take2 games, publishers of Grand Theft Auto.

But perhaps the biggest challenge comes from newly-merged Activision Blizzard. The company's most recent financials, with sales of more than $1bn, would appear to suggest the EA is no longer the biggest games publisher in the world.

Let battle commence.

Maggie Shiels

The lion that never roared

  • Maggie Shiels
  • 4 Aug 08, 09:45 GMT

To say the Yahoo shareholders annual meeting was the biggest yawn ever might be construed as mean. But then you have to remember the press, and I include myself, were expecting a hum dinger of a showdown with fisticuffs at dawn.

Sign saying welcome to Yahoo meetingUntil over a week before d-day, the annual shindig was one of the most eagerly awaited events in the journalistic calendar. For months there have been calls for the Yahoo board to walk the plank over what some saw as their botched handling of negotiations with Microsoft who wanted to buy the company for $47.5bn.

The on off on again off again (at time of writing) talks with Microsoft have for months enthralled Silicon Valley. As both sides lambasted one another, the admiration pendulum swung back and forward between Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and 'Mr Nice Guy' Jerry Yang, who co-founded Yahoo back in 1995.

The jury is still out as to who to admire most. Mr Ballmer for his bluff and bluster and telling Yahoo to go jump in the lake and that he was no longer interested in the company? Or Mr Yang for his publicly quiet nice guy image who managed to escape Microsoft clutches.

And when it all went belly up, Carl Icahn injected some more drama by entering the fray. He tore a strip off Yahoo for letting Microsoft walk away from the table and subsequently bought millions of Yahoo shares. He then declared war on the Yahoo board and said he would launch a proxy fight to oust them and replace them with his own handpicked team.

Matthew RafatSo you can't blame a gal for thinking, well this is one annual shareholders meeting that will go down in history. In the end, it was all a bit of a damp squib.

Carl Icahn didn't show up, but that's because he and the Yahoo board did a deal that resulted in him and two of his team getting seats on the board. The day before the gathering, he wrote in his blog that he wouldn't be coming because he said "It will not do shareholders or Yahoo any good to have the annual meeting turn into a media event for no purpose."

Mmmmm? Do you suppose that would have been his view had an agreement not been hatched?

At the end of the day, around 150 people made the 800 seater Imperial ballroom at the Fairmont Hotel in San Jose look very empty indeed. That meant a lot of leftover croissants and melon and Yahoo staff in purple t-shirts with not a lot to do.

It felt a bit like turning up to a party only to find the venue had been changed without you being told.

Dick LammerdingThe only person to address the Microsoft issue directly was chairman Roy Bostock who struck me as being in a fairly rambunctious mood as he tried to right the 'misunderstandings' and the 'misrepresentations' about the whole shebang. He told the shareholders that the board had worked its cotton socks off and that "to this day, I can't tell you why they did that (walk away.)"

It was pretty noticeable that neither Jerry Yang or President Sue Decker talked about Microsoft, or Carl Icahn for that matter.

The best lines of the day came from the shareholders.

Matthew Rafat told Roy and the board to stop acting like a 'jilted girlfriend' over the Microsoft affair. Dick Lammerding described Microsoft as "an over-the-hill corporation destroying green octopus". And Dirk Neyhart reserved his invective for Mr Icahn saying he is the kind of fellow "who drives a stake into the soul of a company".

The award for making everyone sit up goes to Mr Neyhart who used the word "pusillanimous."

It means lacking courage and resolution.

Ah you might be wondering, to whom was he referring? Well actually, it was Mr Icahn not the Yahoo board, who got voted back into their jobs for another year.

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