Earlier this week, Amazon began shipping the international version of the “Kindle” electronic book reader for US$279. The first generation of the Kindle was released almost two years ago in the US, so it has been a long time coming. But, with the announcement this week of the competing Barnes & Noble “Nook“, it looks as though the era of the e-book reader is well and truly upon us.
The Kindle has a monochrome “electronic paper” screen rather than the pervasive LCD screens found on laptops, iPhones and BlackBerries. Also known as e-paper or e-ink, the electronic paper screen comes a lot closer to replicating the appearance of traditional printed paper. There is no back-light and in fact displaying a page draws no power, it is only changing the display that will draw on the battery. As a result, the battery life of electronic paper devices is much longer than other devices. Amazon claims that, with the wireless connection turned off, you can read on the Kindle for up to two weeks before draining the battery. This also means that the Kindle can display an image on the screen when it is powered off, which is somewhat disconcerting at first. Although the contrast is not quite as high as print (the background is not quite white and the text is a little grey), reading on the Kindle is very comfortable. Better still, the quality does not degrade in strong sunlight as is often the case for LCD screens (although they are getting better all the time). So reading the Kindle outside is just as easy as it is in bed (although you will still need a bedside light).
Back in August, muxtape, a popular music playlist site, was forced to close by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Now mixwit have announced that it is closing too. The only explanation offered was as follows:
We’ve put a year of work into Mixwit so this choice wasn’t taken lightly. I won’t go into the details of our situation but state simply that we boldly marched into in [sic] a position best described as “between a rock and a hard place.”
Reading between the lines, it looks as though they too have fallen at the hands of the RIAA. Under the cover of claims to be protecting artists, claims that do not bear close scrutiny, the RIAA is building an impressive track-record of stifling innovation. While it is possible to take comfort from the fact that attempts to stem the tide of progress always fail in the end, it is nevertheless frustrating to see the suffering of victims of this pernicious organisation in the meantime, whether those victims are single mothers sued for file-sharing or the creators of sites like muxtape and mixwit.
Google and others have had great success with online advertising, while the provision of the mere “pipes” of the internet has become an increasingly competitive, commoditised business. So, it is no surprise that some ISPs have felt they have missed out on the real success of the internet and are keen to join the party.
The holy grail of advertising is to be able to precisely tailor ads to a behavioural profile of their intended target. ISPs have one enormous advantage when it comes to profiling web-surfing habits: the one node of the internet that users cannot bypass is their way in, their ISP. Companies such as Phorm, NebuAd and FrontPorch have developed technologies to exploit this advantage and have tempted a number of ISPs to install their systems with the promise of a slice of the advertising action.