Sunday, December 16, 2007

Google takes on Wikipedia with new knowledge service

Google is to go head-to-head with Wikipedia, the web’s largest reference work, in a clash of two of the internet’s most powerful brands, Rhys Blakely of the Times of London reports

A new Google service, dubbed knol, will invite “people who know a particular subject to write an authoritative article about it”, Udi Manber, a Google engineer, said.

Like Wikipedia, articles in knol (the name derives from “knowledge”) will be free to read online. In a departure from the nonprofit Wikipedia model, however, knol’s authors will be able to attach advertising to their work and take a share of revenues.

“The goal is for knols [individual articles] to cover all topics, from scientific concepts to entertainment,” Mr Manber said. The project is the latest to distance Google from its roots in internet search and pitch it against well-established rivals in a new sector. The company recently squared up to the mobile phone industry by unveiling its own operating system for hand-held devices. It is also set to bid for a portion of America’s airwaves that it could use to build a wireless broadband network.

The creation of knol, at present in an invitation-only test phase but likely to be open to the public within months, will set two of the web’s titans against each other.

In October, Wikipedia, which relies on donations for funds, was visited by 107 million people, or a third of the “active global internet population”, according to Nielsen Online, the analyst. That made it the eighth most-visited online destination.

Google’s search engine was the world’s most popular site, with more than 260 million users, although its own reference work, Google Scholar, was only fifteenth in its class, with about 4.5 million users. Google, which says that it exists “to organise the world’s information and make it universally useful and accessible”, suggested that knol was designed to stamp out the malicious entries that have blighted Wikipedia, the online encyclopaedia that “anybody can edit”.

“We believe that knowing who wrote what will significantly help users make better use of web content,” Google said. The company noted that it “will not serve as an editor in any way and will not bless any content. All editorial responsibilities and control will rest with the authors.” Contributors will retain the copyright to their submissions.

However, as well as being ranked by readers, content will be ranked by the Google search engine, which will be the most important access point to the site. Mr Manber said: “A knol is meant to be the first thing someone who searches for this topic for the first time will want to read.”

Jimmy Wales, the Wikipedia founder, who recently launched a rival search engine to Google’s, questioned whether knol would be able to generate enough “quality content”. He also suggested that knol articles would lack balance. “They are not going to allow collaboration and aren’t going to go for Wikipedia’s neutral style,” he said.

Where Wikipedia promotes collaboration between authors, knol looks set to foster rivalry. Contributors to knol will not be able to contribute anonymously and will not be able to edit each other’s work, two defining characteristics of Wikipedia. Whereas on Wikipedia, readers find only one entry on, say, the First World War, on knol authors will submit separate pieces that will compete for advertising dollars.

Wikipedia, founded in 2001, has more than eight million articles in 253 languages, from Afrikaans to Zazaki. In contrast to Google, it has refused to alter its policies to operate in different countries, which has led it to being blocked in states such as China.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The son king - James Murdoch

How will Murdoch fils approach his role as head of News Corp's business in Europe and Asia? Ian Burrell of the Independent reports on how the feisty former BSkyB CEO is apt to face future challenges.

By the time James Murdoch celebrates his 35th birthday on Thursday, he will have his feet under the table at his new office in News International, working on a strategy that is likely to transform the British media landscape for years to come.

His gaze will extend well beyond the Wapping Highway and his decisions will have such far-reaching effects that no competitor, be they in broadcasting, print, new media, telecoms, mobile, or any combination thereof, can afford to ignore them.

Put simply, Rupert's chosen son, starts his first working week today in his new role as the most powerful figure in this country's news media. So it is worth considering his past record to assess his likely impact.

First of all, we know that he is not afraid of a fight. For all his reluctance to do interviews, his apparent wish to be seen as "reclusive", his early-evening departures from social functions and his understated style of dark, tailored suit and plain white shirt, James Murdoch does not covet a quiet life nestling on the inherited laurels of more than $100million-worth (£49million) of News Corporation shares.

No, he has already demonstrated that he has his father's Conquistadorean instincts to seek out, explore and capitalise on new territories, and the old man's tactical nous for outmanoeuvring both commercial opponents and regulatory obstacles in established markets. And he does this with an urbane charm not always associated with the "Dirty Digger".

During three years at the helm of BSkyB, and in spite of all the claims of nepotism when his appointment was announced, James has delivered real results.

The company's stock has risen by 15.7 per cent under his leadership, annual sales have climbed by 24.3 per cent to £3.7billion and profits have more than doubled to £499million – £1.3billion has been returned to shareholders in the past two years.

Having taken charge of a relatively one-dimensional business in pay TV, he has repositioned it as a triple-play, multi-platform player, offering a package of satellite TV, home telephony and broadband. He has pledged that BSkyB will increase its subscribers to 10 million by 2010 and the company, with 8.7 million subscriptions, remains on course to meet that.

When rivals have threatened his position he has responded with the speed and force that one might expect from a black belt in karate. Sir Richard Branson was left shocked and bruised by the young Murdoch's audacious seizure of 17.9 per cent of ITV shares earlier this year, a move which, though it remains under investigation by the Competition Commission, wrecked Virgin's plans for taking control of Britain's biggest commercial broadcaster. That raid was instantly attributed to Rupert, until BSkyB sources went out of their way to stress that the plot had been hatched by James and his finance chief Jeremy Darroch during a flight to Barcelona.

Though he generally avoids the public gaze, he will step forward when there is the opportunity to land a blow. Invited to speak by the broadcasting regulator Ofcom last year, he took the chance to say that the watchdog's attitude was "more at home in Rangoon than in modern Europe", saying it was "authoritarian" and engaged in a "moral and educative crusade". He also denounced Lord Reith, the revered founder of public service broadcasting, as someone with "a pretty firm view of the need to keep the lower classes in their place".

When it was suggested to James that his battles with Virgin, the telecoms sector and the regulators meant fighting on too many fronts, he dismissed the clashes as "isolated skirmishes".

He has been alert to opportunities to present the big beast of BSkyB as the outsider, fighting for the viewer against the self-interest of the broadcasting establishment. He told Management Today earlier this year that the media elite in Soho regarded Sky's outer London headquarters as "a bunch of mud huts out in Osterley". Like Sir Alex Ferguson, James recognises the value of presenting his successful operation as being hard done by and encouraging what he describes as a "challenger culture" among his staff.

When it was announced last week that James would be standing down from his chief executive's role at BSkyB, shares fell by more than 16p (2.7 per cent) during morning trading. Nevertheless he remains involved, taking his father's former position as non-executive chairman, while his ally Darroch steps up to become chief executive.

In his new job, James Murdoch will have responsibility for other large pay TV operations such as Sky Italia and for the Asian satellite empire Star TV. He has already demonstrated to his father his acumen for running the latter, during a spell working in Hong Kong. When he presents his business card he still does so holding it between thumbs and forefingers and making a bow.

But in Britain, observers will be most interested in what plans he has for reinvigorating the national press, of which he will oversee 42 per cent through his control of The Times, The Sunday Times, The Sun and the News of the World.

Some believe that he has little feel for print media. They point to James's earliest experience of newspaper journalism as a schoolboy intern on his father's Sydney Mirror, when a photograph of him asleep during the morning news conference was published in the rival Sydney Morning Herald. Yet James's role will not be to get scoops but to position the business for the digital era, a process which is already well under way at Wapping, notably on The Sun, which already markets itself as a multi-platform proposition.

Much as he sees the value in taking the position of the underdog, James Murdoch is not slow to use the muscle at his disposal. Witness the speed with which he found £940million for that swoop on ITV.

Already there is speculation building that News International could go on to the front foot, using the twin tactics of price-cutting and smart journalistic investment to strike at less well-nourished opponents, such as Trinity Mirror. James Murdoch will be rolling up his tailored sleeves for fresh challenges. This time they could be bloodier than those "isolated skirmishes".

Conrad Black is jailed for 6+ years for fraud

The press tycoon Conrad Black got a lighter sentence than anticipated, but he is looking at half a dozen years of enforced "boredom" behind bars. The Right Honourable
The Lord Black of Crossharbour, PC, OC, KCSG was absolved of racketeering, tax charges and five of the wire and mail fraud counts.

The former Hollinger International Inc. chairman, convicted of mail fraud and obstructing justice, today was sentenced to 6.5 years in prison, about a quarter of the maximum originally sought by the government. Bloomerg News reports

Black, 63, led Hollinger for eight years as chairman and chief executive officer. He quit as CEO in 2003 after an internal probe found he and other executives got more than $32 million in unauthorized payments. He was fired as chairman two months later and convicted in July of directing a $6.1 million fraud.

``You violated your duty to Hollinger International shareholders,'' U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve, who presided over the trial, told Black today when pronouncing sentence in Chicago federal court. ``I frankly cannot understand how someone of your stature, at the top of the media empire, could engage in the conduct you engaged in and put everything at risk.''

Black was ordered to return the $6.1 million and pay a $125,000 fine. His conviction stemmed from a federal crackdown on corporate crime that followed the 2001 collapse of Enron Corp. Juries convicted several ousted CEOs of fraud, including Enron's Jeffrey Skilling, WorldCom Inc.'s Bernard Ebbers, Tyco International Inc.'s L. Dennis Kozlowski and Adelphia Communications Corp.'s John Rigas.

`Very Profound Regret'

``I do wish to express very profound regret and sadness'' for Hollinger investors who lost ``$1.8 billion of shareholder value,'' Black told St. Eve today. The judge sentenced him to the minimum prison term available under the law.

The judge allowed Black to remain free on bail until March 3, when he is to report to prison. She granted a defense request that he serve his term at a low security facility at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. She rejected U.S. requests to seize Black's Palm Beach, Florida, home or the proceeds of the sale of his Manhattan apartment.

Mike Truman, a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, said the facility at Eglin was closed last year. He added that Black may be eligible for a similar, low-security facility in Miami, though because he isn't a U.S. citizen, he must seek government permission. Black's attorney, Edward Greenspan of Toronto, said his client will appeal his conviction.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Sussman today argued against leniency for the former Hollinger chief executive.

``Black and his codefendants nakedly stole money,'' he argued. ``What brought him here today is his own greed.''

Tougher Guidelines

The judge rejected U.S. efforts to sentence Black under tougher guidelines or to consider the higher fraud amount found by the internal company investigation.

St. Eve said the range for Black's sentence was between 6.5 and 8.1 years. Prosecutors, who originally sought a maximum 24- year term, today asked for the maximum in the range provided by the judge, while the defense sought the minimum.

Black, 6-foot-1, silver-haired and barrel-chested, is a member of Britain's House of Lords, with the title of Lord Black of Crossharbour. A Toronto native, he renounced his Canadian citizenship to become a British peer. He has written well- reviewed biographies of former U.S. presidents Richard Nixon and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

At its peak and under Black's command, Hollinger, now Sun- Times Media Group Inc., was the world's third-largest publisher of English-language newspapers, including the Chicago Sun-Times, London's Daily Telegraph, Canada's National Post and the Jerusalem Post.

Guilty of Fraud

Black was charged in November 2005. On July 13, a jury found him and three former subordinates guilty of fraud stemming from $6.1 million in checks paid to three defendants in exchange for sham non-competition agreements involving Hollinger. Black was convicted of obstruction of justice for removing 13 boxes of documents sought by regulators from his Toronto office in 2005.

Black was found not guilty of racketeering, tax charges and five wire and mail fraud counts.

St. Eve said today before sentencing that she would increase Black's prison term because he used such ``sophisticated means'' in perpetrating the fraud.

Defense lawyer Jeffrey Steinback told St. Eve the prison term constitutes ``life without parole'' for the 63-year-old Black. ``This case is not like Enron or WorldCom,'' the attorney said. ``No bankrobbers ever built the banks that they robbed.''

Black was the largest shareholder in Hollinger, he added.

`Wrapped Up'

``His fate was wrapped up in'' the company, Steinback said.

The government argued the defendants were responsible for the theft of at least $32 million from Hollinger. St. Eve rejected that calculation today before sentencing.

The judge ruled that fairness dictated that she sentence Black under the same 2000 federal guidelines used to sentence his chief accuser, ex-Hollinger President F. David Radler.

``Radler was the one who was ordering the money and telling others where it should be disbursed,'' St. Eve said, adding Radler was ``calling just as many shots.''

Prosecutors had asked her to use tougher guidelines approved last year.

Gene Fox, chief executive officer of Cardinal Capital Management Inc., a former Hollinger shareholder, told the judge in a victim-impact statement today that noncompete payments weren't properly disclosed, and shareholders need accurate financial information.

``Stocks would become no better than lottery tickets,'' without accurate information, Fox said. ``They lied to us repeatedly.''

Sun-Times Reaction

Sun-Times spokeswoman Tammy Chase said in reaction to the sentence that the Chicago-based company is ``focused on the future.''

``While we continue to grapple with some of the troubling legacy issues previous management left behind, we are deeply committed to overcoming those hardships,'' she said.

Convicted with Black were former Hollinger Vice President Peter Atkinson, ex-Chief Financial Officer John Boultbee, and former General Counsel Mark Kipnis. St. All three men are scheduled to be sentenced later today.

The case is U.S. v. Black, 05-cr-00727, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois (Chicago).

Thursday, December 6, 2007

New London Times editor next week? Step up, James Harding??

All change for Mr Murdoch, says Stephen Brook, press correspondent for Guardian Unlimited:

The Times board, which approves the appointment of a new editor, is set to meet next week - fuelling speculation that James Harding is about to replace Robert Thomson in the top editorial job at the paper.

News International has refused to comment on the agenda for the meeting of the Times Newspapers Holdings Board, which is set to meet on Tuesday, December 11.

The meeting is two days before News International's parent company, News Corporation, completes its takeover of the Wall Street Journal's parent firm, Dow Jones.

As has previously reported, Thomson is strongly tipped to leave the Times to take up a senior job at Dow Jones after the acquisition is completed, although News Corp has not commented on this.

However, all the talk in News International's Wapping HQ is of an imminent new arrival in the Times editor's office, with one executive saying the appointment would be made "by the end of next week".

Harding, the Times business editor, whom Thomson recruited from the Financial Times 18 months ago, is still regarded as the favoured candidate to replace him as editor.

Other candidates are said to be deputy editor Ben Preston, Sunday Times editor John Witherow and Sun editor Rebekah Wade.

Next week's TNHB meeting is one of its four scheduled each year. Board members include News Corp chairman and chief executive Rupert Murdoch and News International executive chairman Les Hinton.

Independent directors currently on the board are Sarah Bagnall, Baroness Eccles of Moulton, John Gross, Baron Marlesford, Sir Robin Mountfield and Rupert Pennant-Rea.

Murdoch gave evidence about the Times board to a House of Lords select committee on media ownership in September.

According to the minutes, Murdoch said the Times board was there to make sure he did not interfere in the running of the Times and Sunday Times.

The minutes recorded: "He never says 'Do this or that', although he often asks 'What are you doing?'.

"He explained that he 'nominates' the editors of these two papers, but that the nominations are subject to approval of the independent board.

"His first appointment of an editor of the Times split the board but was not rejected."

This is thought to be a reference to Harold Evans, whom Murdoch switched from the Sunday Times to the Times after he bought both papers in 1981. Evans lasted less than a year in the Times job and was replaced by Charles Douglas-Home.

Prepare for Mac-attacks, Apple warns

Forget that smug assurance that your Mac won't be targeted by miscellaneous hackers. The Zlobs are out there and waiting to find your weak point
According to the Financial Times there now are twice as many fiends trying to infect your hard drive.

Mr Runald said the jump in attacks against Apple appeared to be the work of a single gang of professional hackers. The group, known in security circles as the “Zlob gang”, makes programs that infect PCs by tricking users into thinking they are installing software needed to view copyrighted video files.

As with other attacks against Apple, the Zlob gang relies on tricking users to install its malicious software, rather than on exploiting any inherent software vulnerability.

Apple sold 2.1m Macs in the third quarter, up from 1.1m in the first quarter of 2006, according to Gartner, the research group. After years of catering to a niche audience of Mac lovers, Apple now commands about 10 per cent of the consumer PC market, according to Mr Kay.

News of Apple’s growing profile among professional criminals comes as the number of viruses and other malicious computer programmes loose on the internet has doubled over the past 12 months, according to F-Secure.

F-Secure said it had detected 500,000 viruses, trojans and worms in 2007, compared with 250,000 last year.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

War as 3D-chess in the dark and other strategic turns of phrase

Check out Rod Nordland's nifty piece in Newsweek for a guide to jingoistic -linguistics emerging from the Iraq morass.

Early on it was robust and muscular. "Shock and awe" set the tone; verbs were strong, simple and always in the active voice. But as the situation worsened, there was much less talk about "victory over antiregime elements" than about "achieving our mission" in Iraq...In the beginning there was much talk about how coalition troops were going to "kill or capture anti-Iraqi forces" and "destroy high-value targets." The enemy comprised "terrorists, criminals and regime dead-enders," supplemented by foreign jihadis. America's mission was to "create a secure and stable Iraq" or create the "conditions for security and stability" so that the "political process could move forward."

After the country's elections in January 2005, though, the "kill and capture" formulation fell into disfavor. The military began focusing on training the Iraqi police and military in what became known as "standing up the Iraqi security forces." Subsequent rhetoric also promised to "stand up" Iraqi ministries and local government agencies, as if they were all a bunch of pieces on the board that had toppled over (which is sort of what happened with the invasion).And later came a recognition, in a phrase uttered by one general after another and now heard right down to captains and literate lieutenants, that "the enemy gets a vote too."

Throughout it all, the American military continued to "own the battlespace" or at least "dominate the battlespace," even when a lot of people were getting killed in it by rival factions. And officers started routinely talking about distinguishing between "kinetic operations" (i.e., blowing people away) and "nonkinetic operations" (i.e., winning their hearts and minds—never a popular phrase in Iraq). The military command became concerned that the Iraqi government wasn't taking advantage of the "breathing space" that had been created by the relative decrease in violence. And at last count, I've heard no fewer than four generals, six colonels and innumerable junior officers talk about the "window of opportunity" that has been created for the Shiite-led government to reconcile with Sunnis.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Morrissey sues NME music mag for defamation

Former Smiths frontman Morrissey is suing music magazine New Musical Express (NME) for defamation after it printed an article in which he discussed his views on immigration in Britain, according to Reuters.

The magazine criticized the 48-year-old singer for allegedly saying Britain had lost its identity as a result of higher levels of immigration than other European countries.

"We can confirm we have received two writs from Morrissey's legal representatives pertaining to NME and its editor Conor McNicholas," a spokesman for NME said on Friday.

"NME takes this matter -- and the issues it highlights -- extremely seriously and we are currently in discussion with our own legal representatives."

On Thursday, Morrissey's representatives issued a statement on Web site His record label in Britain referred journalists inquiring about the case to the site.

"The NME had until 1.00 p.m. today (Thursday) to agree to print a suitable apology to Morrissey. Their only response to this deadline was to say that they 'do not have time to respond to the allegations'.

"Our lawyers are therefore in the process of issuing legal proceedings for defamation against the NME and its editor, Conor McNicholas ..."

In the interview, Morrissey was asked whether he would consider moving back to Britain from Italy. He is quoted as replying that high immigration levels meant England's identity was disappearing, unlike other countries like Germany or Sweden.

In a follow-up interview to discuss the original comments, Morrissey is quoted as saying that high immigration was not the reason he would not want to live in England, and that expense and pressure were important factors.

(Reporting by Mike Collett-White)