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Archives for April 2011

Bucking the e-book trend

Maggie Shiels | 10:20 UK time, Wednesday, 27 April 2011

The growth of electronic books is simply staggering.

The Association of American Publishers (AAP) has revealed that its latest stats for February show a growth of 202%. The annual figures from January/February 2010 to the same time this year is equally impressive - a 169% rise to $164m (£100m).

Boxes of textbooks at Chegg


Print books fared badly in the last year with sales falling 25% to $442m (£270m). But there is one area that is bucking that trend, which does not show up in AAP's figures. That is the market for renting books - the printed versions, not the e-book versions.

And the audience that is the most open to this practice is arguably the most digitally literate: students. Chegg is the leading book-renter in the industry and has been dubbed the Netflix of college textbooks. Its chief executive officer Dan Rosensweig says that, for students, accessing information in what might be regarded "the old fashioned' way is all about the bottom line:

"Our mission has not been to rent textbooks or not rent textbooks. Our mission has been to save students time, money and help them get smarter," said Mr Rosensweig, who previously worked as an exec at Yahoo and at Activision Blizzard.

"The higher education market textbooks continue to be easily 98% of the market. The reason for that is the technology is only getting ready now. Books have a better battery life. You can always depend on them. But just as importantly, you can rent a textbook substantially cheaper than you can get a new textbook, or a used one, or one that you can buy digitally," said Mr Rosensweig.

"Students are looking to get access to the content they want in the easiest format and at the least expense. For the moment, that means renting books."

Chegg said that last year it reached 25% of college students and plants a tree for every book it rents out. The company has just announced that it has planted its five-millionth tree, so I will leave you to do the maths.

In cold hard cash, Chegg said in January 2010 it had saved students a total of $100m. That represented the difference between what a student would have had to pay to buy a book versus renting it.

Chegg mascot with books


"This is a $10bn market, with over 200 million books changing hands every year," said Mr Rosensweig.

"If a textbook was $120 new to the student it would cost $100 used and we would probably rent it for about $55. That represents a substantial saving at a time when families in the US are struggling and education becomes more and more expensive."

A number of other players vying for the attention of struggling students agree there is money to be made in second hand books.

Rival company said about 10% of college students rent their books., which had a bit of spat with Chegg over just who could lay claim to the #1 slot moniker, said it serves six million students, representing about 31% of the North American market. The company also claims to be "one of the fastest growing start-ups in Silicon Valley, growing at over 725% each year". promises to provide the cheapest textbooks in the nation by having students sell to students:

"We are an online marketplace. What an online marketplace is is an open platform. Anybody can sell their books and any buyer can buy any book," said CEO Bobby Brannigan.

"As you get more sellers on the site it drives price down. It's basic economics."

A new competitor will enter the fray at the beginning of next month, proving the industry is booming. will allow students to review how professors use required textbooks in a class, helping others to make informed decisions as to how - or whether - they should obtain the book themselves.

"One semester I bought several books, and they sat on a windowsill and kind of decayed, if you will," Rocco Carzo told the Democrat And Chronicle.

The site will allow students to buy, swap or rent books and will link to Chegg and Amazon.

While the physical textbook doesn't seem set to be replaced anytime soon, what about its digital rival? Why have e-textbooks failed to penetrate?

"It is a matter of getting the experience right and the price," said Mr Rosensweig.

"One of the things that holds it back isn't so much the technology, which will be solved. It's that school starts once a year. If it's not this August, it's next August.

"Education is one of the areas where technology has not yet had a chance to work its magic. Like everything in technology, you can't pick the day it is going to flip but you need to make sure you are ready for it. But it is going to happen."

He is betting that 2012 is the year the digital future will arrive.

Obama and Zuck on jobs, education, health and fashion

Maggie Shiels | 10:01 UK time, Thursday, 21 April 2011

For over an hour it was just two guys in white shirts and ties shooting the breeze about the economy, education, immigration, jobs, health care and even fashion.

Sure, they weren't any ordinary guys and they weren't alone.

This was President Barack Obama and Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg, who had abandoned his trademark hoodie to host the first ever visit by a sitting head of state at the bricks and mortar headquarters of the world's biggest social network.

US President Barack Obama and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg at a town hall event at Facebook headquarters, Silicon Valley


Mr Obama came to Facebook for an online town hall meeting to sell his deficit reduction plan and himself for another stint in the White House in 2012.

It seemed nothing was off the agenda as he happily answered questions asked by Mr Zuckerberg, live audience members and Facebook users who had logged in to take part virtually.

"A lot of people all over the world use Facebook to share a lot of things - things about their day, their families, their kids and of course their views on politics," said Mr Zuckerberg.

"It has never been as easy in the history of the world for people to have their voice heard and exercise their freedom of speech. Just post something, comment, like. But it's good to complement that online dialogue with some face time as well."

Mr Obama was in complete agreement, recognising the opportunity as one to reach out to some of the 600 million users who make up a younger demographic of the population and generally rely on their social group to keep them informed.

Throughout, Mr Obama played to the crowd by tackling issues dear to their heart. Silicon Valley has for a long time been pushing for changes in immigration law, at a time when the technology industry is fighting for talented engineers and computer scientists.

The president asked: "If we've got smart people who want to come here and start businesses and are PhDs in math and science and computer science, why don't we want them to stay? Why would we want to send them someplace else?"

US President Barack Obama and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg at a town hall event at Facebook headquarters, Silicon Valley


To huge applause he added: "We want more Andy Grove's here (founder of the world's biggest chip maker Intel and an immigrant from Hungary). We don't want them starting an Intel in China or France. We want them starting them here."

On education, the president scored big time with this audience:

"We have got to lift our game up when it comes to teaching math and science," he said. "That hopefully is one of the most important legacies I can have as president of the United States."

Mr Obama also said he wanted to get people as excited as they once were about going to the Moon:

"I always hear stories about how we can't find engineers, and that's why we're emphasising math and science. We want to start making science cool," said Mr Obama.

"I want people to feel about the next big energy breakthrough and the next big internet breakthrough the same way they felt about the moonwalk."

Reducing the country's reliance on oil was another touchstone.

"It is so important for us to invest in new approaches to energy. We have got to have a long-term plan. It means investing in things like solar and wind."

And let's not forget the deficit which was the president's raison d'etre for coming to Facebook.

"We have an unsustainable situation," he said. "We face a critical time where we are going make some decisions - how do we bring down the debt in the short term, and how do we bring down the debt in the long term?"

Mr Obama repeated his call for the end of tax cuts for the wealthy and noted that millionaires like himself and Mr Zuckerberg will have to pay more. "I'm cool with that," the 26-year-old Zuckerberg interjected. Though according to Facebook's latest valuation, Mr Zuckerberg is no longer a millionaire. His company is now worth $60bn.

Mr Obama's final pitch came to the young people who came out in force to help elect him to the White House in 2008. While he recognised that many who played such a pivotal role back then might well feel frustrated at the pace of change and the lack of progress, the President appealed to them to get involved once again for 2012 - whether it be for him or the other guy:

"I know that some of you who might have been involved in the campaign or been energised back in 2008, you're frustrated that, gosh, it didn't get done fast enough and it seems like everybody's bickering all the time," said Mr Obama.

"Just remember that we've been through tougher times before. If you don't give us a shove, if you don't give the system a push, it's just not going to change. And you're going to be the ones who end up suffering the consequences," he added.

US President Barack Obama and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg at a town hall event at Facebook headquarters, Silicon Valley


The town hall, which pulled in over 2,800 online comments, was seen as a landmark event for Facebook and it's internet TV channel.

"I could never have dreamed when I first started working here that six years later Facebook would be the platform that the president of the country would choose to speak to everyone in America," said Randi Zuckerberg, Facebook's head of consumer marketing.

"It's a pinnacle for us in the United States but I think there is still so much that can be covered by Facebook Live around the world. Facebook is a really global platform and President Obama's view is the view of one political party and we want to make sure we hit a representative sample because Facebook users come from all over the world, all political beliefs."

The audience was made up of about 500 Facebook employees who won a ticket in a company lottery. Other guests included well-known Silicon Valley figures like Ron Conway, dubbed the godfather of angel investing, Yelp chief executive Jeremy Stoppelman, Dan Rosenswieg of Chegg, and Meebo's Seth Steinberg. MC Hammer, musician and entrepreneur added a little bit of glamour to the occasion.

Before the event kicked off, there was a lot of buzz about what Mr Zuckerberg would be wearing. Famed for his dressed down look, he did don a jacket, shirt and tie when he joined other tech titans in February to dine with Mr Obama.

This time around, he dusted off the same outfit - something the President made fun about:

"My name is Barack Obama and I am the guy who got Mark Zuckerberg to wear a jacket and tie," he quipped.

In reply, Mr Zuckerberg presented the president with his very own Facebook hoodie: "in case you want to dress like me".

President Obama drops in on Facebook

Maggie Shiels | 08:50 UK time, Wednesday, 20 April 2011

It could be argued that the tech savvy President Barack Obama is late to the Facebook party. Sure he was the politician who taught the rest of the Western world the power of social media in getting elected to the White House in 2008, but he lags behind the guy he took over from, George W Bush.

President Obama

Later today however Mr Obama will make up for his late start by following in Mr Bush's footsteps and that of pop star Katy Perry, fighter Mike Tyson, talk show host Conan O'Brien, actress Demi Moore and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair when he appears on Facebook's internet TV channel, Facebook Live.

Mr Obama will turn to the world's biggest social network to host a virtual town hall meeting to give his 2012 campaign a boost and also to sell his plans for reducing the deficit to an electorate that incorporates a young demographic that generally speaking relies on its social graph for news and information.

"It is an attempt to reach people who may not get their news through traditional news sources like newspapers or the network news," White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said of the decision to use the social network.

"We want to go to where people congregate online, and Facebook is one of the premier places to do that."

The theme of the event is "shared responsibility and shared prosperity" and Mr Obama will repeat his plan unveiled a week ago to reduce the deficit by more than $4 trillion starting in fiscal year 2012 by cutting spending - including defence, Medicare/Medicaid, Social Security and by raising taxes on the wealthy and restructuring corporate tax law.

House Republicans, meanwhile, passed a 2012 budget last week which would lower taxes and cut more than $6tn in spending - in part by eliminating Medicare entirely and replacing it with vouchers for seniors to use on private insurance.

Hosting the event will be Facebook's co-founder and chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg who broke bread with the president back in February when he was last in Silicon Valley for a dinner with other tech titans like Apple's Steve Jobs, Google's Eric Schmidt, Oracle's Larry Ellison and Yahoo's Carol Bartz.

Facebook's chief financial officer Sheryl Sandberg will also be firing questions at the president.

While the event marks a milestone for Mr Obama, it also marks one for Facebook and its hastily thrown together internet TV venture.

Facebook Live was created on the hoof about a year ago when the eruption of an Icelandic volcano stranded about 500 European developers who had been planning to attend the company's F8 conference. Engineers lashed together a video channel to let the absent developers see what was going on at the event. The fact that 125,000 people logged on shocked them and inspired them.

Facebook saw the potential of the channel as a two way means of communication, giving users a portal into what goes on at the company by streaming product launches, conducting interviews with engineers and letting users ask questions of the famous and not so famous who appear.

Mr Zuckerberg's sister Randi, who is also head of consumer marketing at the company, has conducted a lot of the interviews for Facebook Live.

"There's so much excitement among Facebook employees that the president has chosen to come here, that the president wanted to use Facebook for his message," Ms Zuckerberg told the San Jose Mercury News.

"It's like a real testament to everything the engineers have built here."

The visit is also a testament to the growing power of Facebook with its nearly 600 million users.

During his State of the Union address in January, President Obama positioned the social networking behemoth centre stage as a successful example of American innovation and cited Facebook in that speech as a company that can help secure the economic future of the nation. Google also got props.

"We are the nation that put cars in driveways and computers in offices; the nation of Edison and the Wright brothers; of Google and Facebook. In America, innovation doesn't just change our lives. It's how we make a living," Mr Obama said back in January.

Mr Obama's visit will also be referenced in the history books because he will be the first sitting head of state to visit the real life home of the social media powerhouse.

In a video message on the White House site, Mr Obama has opened the invite to one and all urging users to "take a break from either friending or defriending each other" to get involved. This video is posted on YouTube, which is owned by Google, another tech powerhouse and rival of Facebook.

The event kicks off at 13:45 Pacific coast time. Check it out here.

Supreme Court showdown for Microsoft and patent law

Maggie Shiels | 09:06 UK time, Monday, 18 April 2011

US patent law will be put in the dock later today (18 April) when the highest court in the land considers a case brought by the world's biggest software company, Microsoft.

But at stake is more than just the $290m (£180m) judgement that a small Canadian firm, i4i, secured against Microsoft for patent infringement.

Supreme Court, Washington DC


Legal experts have said that the outcome of the US Supreme Court hearing will decide how patent laws protect exclusive technology and impact innovation.

Critics have said what concerns them most is that a win for Microsoft would significantly weaken important patent protections that allow inventors to profit from their creations.

Back in 2007, i4i took the world's biggest software company to court because its popular Word programme, used by about 500 million people, infringed a patent it was granted in 1998. The alleged infringement was related to document editing.

As well as the $290m judgement, i4i also obtained an injunction that barred sales of certain versions of Word that infringed the patent.

Microsoft's claim that the disputed patent was invalid because the i4i invention was based on technology that was already in the marketplace did not persuade the lower courts or a federal appeals court to rule in its favour.

Last August Microsoft turned to the Supreme Court and later today it will consider whether or not to change the way patent law is litigated.

Microsoft has said the federal appeals court that handles patent cases is making it too hard for those accused of infringement to argue that a patent never should have been issued and is invalid.

The Supreme Court is being asked to decide the degree to which juries should be allowed to question whether a patent should have been granted at all.

In an op-ed piece for the New York Times, Doug Lichtman, a professor of law at the University of California, Los Angeles, has written that this is a "critical issue":

"The current approach, under which juries are explicitly discouraged from questioning a patent's validity, all too often means that dubious patents are nevertheless enforced. That inhibits innovation, the very thing that patent law is supposed to encourage," said Mr Lichtman.

According to i4i's chairman Loudon Owen, the case is "a turning point in patent law":

"The patent you're granted has very little meaning if it's not enforceable. Why have a patent if it's useless?" he told the Canadian Press.

"When you get a patent, you put your heart and soul into the invention, you work tremendously hard and you spend a lot of money. But if all of a sudden it becomes apparent to everybody that the patent itself is worthless, why do it?"

Microsoft has argued that bad patents are the worst of all worlds:

"Innovation is one of the great drivers, one of the bright spots of our economy," said Andy Culbert, associate general counsel for Microsoft. "If you have a really bad patent that shouldn't have been issued, what happens? It stops innovation."

Some heavy hitters have lined up on both sides of the argument.

On i4i's side are the likes of General Electric, Johnson & Johnson, 3M, Procter and Gamble, and BP. In a brief to the court the companies said: "Inventors and society would suffer from such a rule, which would simultaneously reduce the rewards of innovation by weakening property rights while increasing the costs of innovation."

On Microsoft's side are Google, Verizon, Apple, Intel, HP and Yahoo who have said the patent system "is tilting out of balance", giving disproportionate power to people who secure patents of questionable legitimacy.

The $290m award won by i4i, which totals just 30 people, stands as the largest ever upheld by an appeals court in a patent case.

The Supreme Court verdict is expected in the summer, bringing to an end a four year long David versus Goliath fight, with serious consequences for patent law and innovation.

Facebook and King Coal

Maggie Shiels | 10:30 UK time, Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Last week Facebook unveiled its Open Compute Project, which is at the heart of boosting innovation in the data centre space. The initiative was unveiled at an event at their headquarters in Silicon Valley where the social networking giant also took the wraps off their new custom-built data centre which opens in Prineville, Oregon at the end of this week.

Greenpeace protest against Facebook in Dublin, Ireland


A slew of environmental groups have commended the company for increasing its energy efficiency by 38%. But Greenpeace has slated Facebook for not going far enough. The problem, they say, is that while Facebook is building more efficient facilities, such as the one at Prineville and another in North Carolina, they are still relying on good old King Coal to power them. Greenpeace say that 62% of the electricity for these centres will be provided by utility companies that use coal-burning plants.

"Information technology is at the vanguard of technology but it is increasing demand for a 19th Century technology which is coal," said Daniel Kessler of Greenpeace.

"Facebook is an iconic brand. In many ways they are changing the world and we want them to change the way they use energy. But their new centres are hooked up to very dirty grids. While they may be taking the efficiency part of what they are doing very seriously they are not factoring in the type of energy they are using. Coal is the number one contributor to climate change," added Mr Kessler.

A video posted on YouTube by Greenpeace takes that thought one step further, by throwing in some hyperbole and charging Facebook as "the number one contributor to climate change".

But Facebook's vice president for technical operations Jonathan Heiliger said what they are doing "represents a quantum leap in energy efficiency":

"Reducing energy usage is the best thing we can do for the environment," said Mr Heiliger.

"Instead of worrying about what energy source you may have to choose and the impact on the environment, the best way to reduce CO2 and improve the environment is to cut energy consumption and that is what we are doing."

In a bid to influence the company at a grassroots level, Greenpeace is targeting Facebook's employees and bringing their message right to the social network's front doorstep.

Throughout this morning, employees will be accosted on their way into the office by Greenpeace campaigners urging them to take up the fight.

On the back of a flat bed truck there will be a giant 160-inch monitor, flashing LED messages and comments posted by people worldwide on a Facebook page set up for the campaign.

The page is part of an effort to amass the most comments ever to a Facebook post and earn a place in the Guinness Book of Records. Greenpeace said at least 50,000 comments are needed before 10pm Pacific standard time (0600 BST) tonight.

"A big part of our strategy is targeting Facebook's employees who we believe are on our side," said Mr Kessler:

"They share our values, they are young and they think they are working for a 'green' company. But they may not be aware that in fact Facebook contributes to the growing rate of emissions that are affecting our planet. We want the employees to start this conversation inside the company," he said.

Overhead there will be a 174ft-long "flying ship", or airship, with a banner calling on Facebook to "join the energy revolution".

Greenpeace volunteers in Ireland have already lobbied Facebook's offices in Dublin as part of the campaign.

Facebook ownership saga goes on

Maggie Shiels | 09:10 UK time, Tuesday, 12 April 2011

When do you know you are beat? When is it time to call it a day?

These are but two questions that have hounded Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss for a number of years as they doggedly claimed that Mark Zuckerberg stole the idea for Facebook from them. The issue even became central to the narrative of a hit Hollywood movie about Facebook called The Social Network.

Tyler Winklevoss Twitter page

To this day they cling to the belief that they have been robbed despite signing a $65m deal in 2008 with Mr Zuckerberg to resolve the issue. Divya Narendra, a fellow Harvard student, was also part of the settlement but bowed out at a later stage in the proceedings to presumably get on with his life and pursue a career as a businessman.

It should be noted that Mr Zuckerberg has always denied these claims of theft.

The Winklevoss twins, elite rowers who are training for the 2012 Olympics, have been portrayed as idle rich with nothing better to do with their lives. They have been pursuing Mr Zuckerberg since 2004. In interview after interview, the two former Harvard students have claimed their fight has had little to do with money but more to do with justice. Their tweets following the court ruling against them even had the hashtag #FightForJusticeWillGoOn.

An earlier attempt to have the 2008 agreement revisited was thrown out by a lower court. That did not deter the two men who turned to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco at the turn of the year. They again requested that the court unwind the $65m deal, which is worth an estimated $160m today given Facebook's soaring $70bn valuation.

In their presentations to the court the Winklevi twins, as they have become known, claimed that they deserved more money. Their lawyers told three judges presiding over the issue that an internal valuation given for Facebook at the time was material to the settlement and should have been disclosed. Had that been the case, they would have been due around four times as many shares, worth around $600m today.

Facebook's lawyer argued that this was a case of buyers' remorse.

Sitting in court that day in January, it was clear to everyone that the judges were not terribly sympathetic to the notion of two young men of privileged background with the best legal advice that money could buy had been duped. They made just such a reference in their ruling.

"The Winklevosses are sophisticated parties who were locked in a contentious struggle over ownership rights in one of the world's fastest-growing companies," Chief Judge Alex Kozinski wrote.

"They engaged in discovery, which gave them access to a good deal of information about their opponents. They brought half-a-dozen lawyers to the mediation. Howard Winklevoss - father of Cameron and Tyler, former accounting professor at Wharton School of Business and an expert in valuation - also participated. A party seeking to rescind a settlement agreement [...] under these circumstances faces a steep uphill battle.
"With the help of a team of lawyers and a financial advisory, they made a deal that appears quite favorable in light of recent market activity."

A number of people connected with Facebook heaved a sigh of relief that this sorry tale was drawing to an end.

In one conversation I relayed the news from the Winklevoss lawyers that they weren't ready to lay down their arms yet. One ex-Facebooker said they just couldn't believe it and suggested it was time they "got a life" while another quipped perhaps it would be worthy of a movie.

The twins have refused all requests for interview but given vent to a small degree via Twitter. Tyler Winklevoss and his brother Cameron both linked to their lawyer's statement asking for a hearing in front of a larger panel of judges.

If they don't get any joy there, there is always the Supreme Court - a course that might seem extreme to some but not to the Winkelvoss twins who have pursued Mr Zuckberg for what is now amounting to a large chunk of their young adult life.

Steve Jobs in 'tell all' book

Maggie Shiels | 09:32 UK time, Monday, 11 April 2011

When it hits e-book shelves, it is guaranteed to be a best seller. Next year a biography of the man who has arguably shaken up a few businesses and changed the way we think and deal with technology will go on sale.

Steve Jobs, the man who is known as one of the most secretive in Silicon Valley, has been co-operating with a biography of his life.

Steve Wozniack (l) and Steve Jobs (r) with the Apple 1 computer

Steve Wozniack and Steve Jobs with the Apple 1 computer

Gossip about such a book has been doing the rounds for a while in the Valley but until publishers Simon & Schuster confirmed it this weekend, those rumours seemed nothing more than just that.
"This is the perfect match of subject and author, and it is certain to be a landmark book about one of the world's greatest innovators," Jonathan Karp, publisher of Simon & Schuster, said in a statement.
"Just as he did with Einstein and Benjamin Franklin, Walter Isaacson is telling a unique story of revolutionary genius."

The biography will be called iSteve: The Book of Jobs. Its author , has previously written Einstein: His Life and Universe, Benjamin Franklin: An American Life and Kissinger: A Biography. Mr Isaacson was also a former executive at CNN and Time magazine.

Apparently Mr Isaacson has already carried out a series of interviews with Mr Jobs, his family, friends, colleagues and competitors. One report stated that he had even toured Mr Jobs' childhood home.

Fortune's Phillip Elmer DeWitt said when he was at the launch of the original iPad last year, he was surprised to see his former boss among the assembled journalists and analysts. On reflection, he said, the choice of Mr Isaacson as Mr Jobs' official biographer made perfect sense.

"The news came as no surprise to anyone who has worked with Isaacson. If there is one thread that runs through his long career in journalism and public service, it's his talent for spotting the most influential people in any room and finding a way to get close to them.
"Until Sunday's announcement, it wasn't clear to outsiders that the book was a sure thing. Because what Jobs gives, he can also take away."

He recalls a book written by the then journalist - and now successful venture capitalist Michael Moritz - about the creation of the Macintosh called The Little Kingdom.

"When Moritz reported, in Time's 1983 Machine of the Year cover package, the story of how Jobs' initially refused to acknowledge paternity of his first daughter, Lisa, access was abruptly cut off. Moritz had to finish the book without Apple's cooperation."

It is not the only book to have displeased Apple's chief. iCon: Steve Jobs, The Greatest Second Act in the History of Business, written by Jeffrey Young, promised "insider scoops and no-holds-barred style".

It displeased Mr Jobs so much he had all books pulled from Apple stores.

As with all previous biographers, Mr Isaacson has some great material to work with. From persuading his friend and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak to design and sell one of the first successful personal computers to being ousted from his beloved company in a bitter power struggle only to bring it back from the brink of extinction. In his personal life there is the story of his adoption and his conversion to Buddhism.

Mr Jobs has long resisted the approaches of countless authors over the years to tell his story. The question has to be what finally changed his mind? As he endures a third leave of absence from Apple due to health issues in the wake of pancreatic cancer, perhaps he is beginning to fear his own mortality.

There is little doubt that iSteve will make fascinating reading. The fear will be, given Mr Jobs' famed need to control everything down to the last detail, how true a picture we will get of the man who has reversed the fortunes of Apple and turned it into the most valuable technology firm in the world.

All change for Google top brass

Maggie Shiels | 09:35 UK time, Friday, 8 April 2011

Google co-founder Larry Page is now back in the driving seat in a job he gave up roughly ten years ago. As the newly reinstated chief executive officer, Mr Page has lost no time making his presence felt in his first week in the job.

Google executives Eric Schmidt, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, in a self-driving car

There was little doubt that when Google announced back in January that Mr Page would be returning as CEO that it would mark a different era than that under Eric Schmidt.

It was also clearly hinted that the co-founder of the world's most powerful internet company would do things his way, and that he was keen to return the company to its nimble start-up roots. That of course means less management bureaucracy and putting engineers back in charge.

In his first week, there was the surprise announcement by the senior vice president (SVP) of product management, Jonathan Rosenberg, that he will leave the company.

Speaking with the San Jose Mercury News, Mr Rosenberg said he is leaving Google two years earlier than planned because he is unable to meet Mr Page's demand for a long-term commitment. Mr Rosenberg had been planning to step down in 2013, when his youngest daughter will enter college. He will now write a book along with Mr Schmidt about Google - its values, its culture, and its rules.

News of the well-liked Mr Rosenberg's departure has been swiftly followed up by a change of status for a number of major players within Google, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Andy Rubin, who ran Android, is now SVP of mobile, a major strategy for the company with five billion mobile phones in the world and a growing number of people making their first foray onto the internet via their handsets.

Also note that this week the research firm Gartner said that Android's operating system will account for almost 50% of the smartphone market by the end of 2012.

Mr Rubin will be in for a fat bonus at the end of the year if Gartner's forecast of 310 million sales in 2012 comes true. And let's not forget the nascent yet growing tablet market.

Sundar Pichai is now SVP of Chrome. In the war for talent in Silicon Valley there have been stories that Twitter tried to poach the mild-mannered Mr Pichai and that Google countered with a tasty multi-million dollar sweetener to persuade him to stay. The technology blog TechCrunch puts the figure at a whopping $50m.

The media-shy Salar Kamangar, who wrote one of the first business plans for Google and was a big advocate of the company buying YouTube, is now SVP of YouTube and video.

He is sure to have a busy time ahead, given that this week Google announced that it is opening an office in Beverly Hills for its entertainment division. The Wall Street Journal has also reported that YouTube, which acts almost like an autonomous business within Google, will spend $100m securing content and creating specific channels.

Alan Eustace will move from being a SVP in engineering to SVP of search which, don't forget, is Google's raison d'etre. And of course that dovetails neatly into ads... Google's cash cow has long been overseen by the woman often referred to as 'the most important Googler you have never heard of', Susan Wojcicki, who changes title from SVP of product management to SVP of advertising.

Susan Wojcicki

For the Google history buffs, 13 years ago Mr Page and his fellow co-founder Sergey Brin rented a garage from Ms Wojcicki as the company's first office after Stanford.

The spotlight and the big pressure however will really be on Vic Gundotra, who has been in stealth mode working out Google's answer to social networking behemoth Facebook. He becomes SVP for social. As users spend more and more time on Facebook, relying on their friends, family and colleagues as sources of information and recommendation - this hurts Google, which has been painted as failing in the social space.

A lot of people in the company will be counting on Mr Gundotra, given the rumours that Mr Page has tied everybody's bonuses this year to how successfully the company nails a working social strategy.

For many of these senior execs, there is more than just a tweak in title. It is most likely that, given Mr Page's desire to get the company to innovate faster, the changes mean each SVP can make decisions without so many layers of bureaucracy. The guess is that the model that has propelled Android and YouTube to success is one that Mr Page wants to recreate in other parts of Google, with himself very much at the centre of decision making.

"One thing is clearest of all," writes John Paczkowski at the blog AllThingsD. "Page is positioning himself as the centerpoint of the entire company. Because make no mistake, these new autonomous divisions all report to him, in a system that mimics Apple and its legendary leader Steve Jobs."

Mr Page's appearance later today at the company's regular Friday all-hands meeting, where staff can ask management any question they like, is sure to be a lively one.

Making that Ahhha moment pay

Maggie Shiels | 09:16 UK time, Wednesday, 6 April 2011

It's an old adage that ideas are ten a penny and the hard part is actually making them real. Well, one Silicon Valley start-up reckons it can solve that part of the equation and help people bursting with what they think is the next big thing turn it into a business or just make some cash on the side.

AHHHA logo is the brainchild of entrepreneur and business advisor Matt Crowe. He calls it social ideation:

"Like a lot of engineers, I saw an inefficient process when it comes to the currency of ideas and an opportunity to do things better," he says.

"Ideas are cheap. Execution is rare. The execution is the hard part. What does your idea look like? What colour should it be? Where should it be sold? How much should it cost? We can divvy all that up with our community and smart algorithms."

Mr Crowe says he believes Ahhha is part of an evolution occurring in the social space:

"Facebook gives us social networking with the intrinsic value of having friends and pictures. The next state was Twitter which was really creating a personal brand for yourself and creating value that way. Then there's Zynga with social gaming which is basically people paying money to buy virtual swords and fight with people.

"I believe where we found our footing is with social ideation and helping people make hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars of real money. At Ahhha we are collecting ingenuity."

In short Mr Crowe says Ahhha is a platform to create, generate, develop and communicate new ideas and use the wisdom of the crowd to turn that idea into a business or a real product.

Here's how it works: First, enter your idea on the home page. Upload images, descriptions, a YouTube video, then hit submit and sit back as other users chime in on perfecting your idea. As the community becomes involved, bringing together designers, engineers and funders, the web app tracks each product's progress.

"I've seen good ideas not come to fruition, but with Ahhha, we streamline the process," says Mr Crowe.

"If ideas are liked by the crowd and have good content around them, essentially we can identify companies that would be interested in them as a product or service. Our algorithms allow us to understand that path to monetisation."

Mr Crowe says Ahhha has mapped 200 paths to monetisation, with more being added every day. Some of them include licensing, securing patents and the use of online marketplaces. He reckons that about 20% of ideas will be successful.

There are other sites that also work along similar lines helping people finance their ideas. They range from Kickstarter to Quirky, Spigit and corporate versions like Toyota's Ideas for Good and General Electric's eco challenge. Mr Crowe said they have only had limited success because they are "super niche" and his approach is "broad and wide":

"Ahhha accepts an innumerable amount of ideas from right across the board - from time machines and world peace, to innovative solar technology and everything in between. We are creating the market of ideas."

But of course, not every idea is a good idea and Mr Crowe says that is why the crowdsourcing element is crucial in this process along with data that will tell Ahhha what will work or not work:

"The data comes from algorithms we have developed and from the users. We are able to take a wide breadth of data and knowledge from different areas and different individuals and apply that to gauge the chances of an idea taking off."

The person with the bright idea is not the only one who can make money. Ahhha has put in place a system that allows all those who contribute to making that idea great the ability to collect points which can in turn be redeemed for cash, products and services.

"Our business model is to make money from transaction fees and bundled services," says Mr Crowe.

He also has plans for Ahhha to set up a microfund to finance some of these ideas and eventually to host contests like the X-Prize which aims to encourage ideas around space.

"I want Ahhha to be known as the brand of ideas and that is very powerful," says Mr Crowe.

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