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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Twitter Tricks And Treats For Halloween

Twitter tweeted out a message today about a special Halloween feature if you Tweet “#trick” or “#treat.” It was difficult to figure out at first, but if you tweet either from your Twitter home page (this is key, you can’t enable the feature when you are on a client), your home page background will go “ghoulish” and the avatars on the Tweets on your page will turn into zombies and ghouls.

The way to trigger it is by tweeting ONLY “#trick” OR “#treat” with nothing else. #Treat is the top trending topic on Twitter so it looks like the masses haven’t figured it out. If you only post #trick or #treat, it doesn’t actually Tweet it out (if you post from Twitter’s site). Happy Halloween!

There are a few variations of backgrounds that Twitter is featuring in the trick. Here are the ones we found.

Google Wave Federation: Why it Matters

According to The Next Web, the Google Wave team is getting ready to open up its servers for federation. This announcement may come as early as today.

The Google Wave we see today is only one part of what Wave is all about. Wave is also an open protocol that allows different Wave providers to run their own Wave servers. These are not just stand-alone Wave servers for internal use in a company, however. This protocol gives Wave providers the ability to exchange messages between different servers that are running Wave-based services, just like different email providers can pass emails back and forth thanks to standardized email protocols.

Update: A Google spokesperson just told us that the company will have more news about the launch of the Wave federation program early next week - not today.

What The Google Wave Federation Looks Like

The Wave team likes to compare Wave to email - and just like email, Wave users will be able to exchange messages and share waves with Wave users on different servers. Right now, Google is the only Wave provider on the market. This will soon change. Wave providers will be able to use the Wave federation protocol to share updates and users only have to know the other users' wave address. A wave address looks just like an email address: @.

To reach its potential as a ubiquitous new means for real-time communication, Wave has to be open and available to as many users as possible. If Wave only existed in Google's silo, it wouldn't be very interesting.

wave_protocol_graph_oct09.pngIf you are interested in the technical background, Google offers a very readable White Paper about the Google Wave federation architecture.

What Does This Mean for Users?

Because it's a federated protocol, you could soon run your own Wave server. No pre-packaged distributions that would allow a user or company to set up a Wave server exist at this point, but it's only a matter of time before these will arrive. Hopefully, some of these will also experiment with alternative user interfaces that will extend the functionality of Wave beyond Google's current implementation.

Companies will be able to host their own Wave servers and use them to communicate internally or with clients who run their own Wave servers. Many enterprise companies are still worried about storing their data in a hosted environment. If Google wants to make Wave palatable for this market, these companies need to have the ability to control their data and customize the experience for their employees.

For our thoughts about Google Wave use cases, also see our posts about Wave in education and arts and filmmaking.

BlueBeat streaming and selling Beatles albums digitally

We have to admit, we’re baffled by this one. BlueBeat is a US-based site offering high-quality streams of full albums, as well as downloads for $0.25 a track. Its Facebook page promises to “stop the insanity of overpriced online music”, but it appears licensing deals aren’t on its agenda.

How do we know? Well, it’s streaming and selling the Beatles back catalogue for starters, with albums like Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band available for $3.25 as MP3s. AC/DC albums are also being sold and streamed on the service – another digital refusenik.

BlueBeat is apparently a wholly-owned subsidiary of Media Rights Technologies, a Californian firm run by Hank Risan, chairman of the Museum of Musical Instruments. The site and company has been around for years in different forms, but its latest incarnation doesn’t seem to have aroused the wrath of the music industry.

Well, not yet, anyway. But if they went after Grooveshark (and on this side of the pond, AllOfMP3), we sense they may be firing off letters to BlueBeat soon too.

Don’t Be A Featured Loser: Facebook Helps Out The Unpopular

Nobody wants to be the kid who only gets invited to birthday parties because his mom calls up the other mom and asks. Everyone knows that only succeeds in making you even more unpopular.

Our guess is a fair number of the geeky employees at Facebook were exactly that kid. Which is why I’m sort of surprised that they’d think asking people to help out Facebook friends who don’t have a lot of Wall activity, or even many other friends. These people get mocked. Obviously.

We’ve all seen the messages under Suggestions on the Facebook home page. So and so only has two friends on Facebook, suggest friends for him? Others are urged to write on the Wall of unpopular users.

A reader writes to us today with a screenshot:

So, apparently facebook is now suggesting you write on a friend’s wall to “make facebook better for them” or “reconnect with them” if they are not getting many wall posts. It’s nice to know that if I’m a facebook loser my virtual mom will call up the other kids and ask if they’ll come play with me. Because that sure worked in the real world when I was 10.

Who knows what levels Facebook will go to to ensure that your unpopularity turns into a mocking sideshow like the one above. Don’t be that guy. Find some friends and convince them to leave a wall post every week or two. The last thing you want is to be a Featured Loser

Facebook Director of Mobile Jed Stremel Resigns

Jed Stremel, Facebook’s Director of Mobile who has been with the company for four years, has resigned, according to a post on his Facebook profile. Stremel was charged with leading the company’s mobile strategy, and was previously involved in Business Development at Facebook.

Below is Stremel’s bio, taken from last year’s MobileBeat conference page.

Jed Stremel oversees Facebook’s mobile strategy transforming how individuals find and express information relevant to their life. Prior to Facebook, Jed played key partnership, business operations, and strategic roles at high-growth businesses. He spearheaded mobile initiatives for Yahoo! building the company’s efforts to empower seamless communications across SMS, WAP, Java, BREW, and other mobile technologies. At Tellme Jed managed distribution, promotion, and licensing relationships with leading online and telecommunications partners. Jed holds a law degree from Santa Clara University and a bachelor’s degree in economics and public policy from Duke University.

Other recent departures from Facebook include Josh Elman, who was Facebook’s Platform Program Manager and was deeply involved in the launch of Facebook Connect. Elman joined Twitter earlier this week as a product manager.

How Google Voice Is Growing

In response to questions by U.S. regulators, Google (GOOG) handed over information about the number of users for its Google Voice communication service and a list of the companies that route the calls sent via Google Voice. It also outlined plans that suggest it may expand the call-management service into foreign markets.

Google Voice, which provides people with a single phone number that can be used to reach them on their work, home, or cell phones, has 1.419 million users, according to the letter. Of those, 570,000 use it seven days a week, Google says. Google Voice began in 2005 as GrandCentral, a startup acquired by Google in 2007. Ring Central, a company founded in 1998 that provides similar call-management services to small businesses, says it has "tens of thousands" of customers.

The contrast underscores the rapidly increasing popularity of a service that, while available only on a limited basis, has put Google at odds with Apple (AAPL) and AT&T (T) and subjected the Web search company to questioning by the Federal Communications Commission. The top communications regulator asked for information about the service after AT&T complained that Google Voice was unfairly blocking calls to certain numbers in rural areas. Google sent its response on Oct. 28.

Formatting Error

Though the number of Google Voice customers was redacted in the version that was made public, BusinessWeek reviewed the information in the redacted sections. "We had intended to keep sensitive information regarding our partners and the number of Google Voice users confidential," Google said in a statement to BusinessWeek. "Unfortunately, the PDF submitted to the FCC was formatted improperly." The FCC says it has replaced the original letter posted to its Web site. "As soon as we discovered Google's error, we removed the document from the Web site and posted a new one," an FCC spokesman says.

In the public section, Google says it blocked certain connections to numbers in rural areas to reduce expenses. "In August 2009 Google Voice began the practice of restricting calls to certain high-cost destinations," Google says in the letter. Google argues that because it's not a traditional phone service provider, it shouldn't be subject to the regulations that require phone companies to connect calls to any number. Rural carriers are allowed to charge phone companies like AT&T high termination fees for calls destined for their areas.

Some businesses, including phone-sex and conference-calling services, take advantage of these higher fees by driving high call volumes to those numbers and collecting fees in the process, a practice known as "traffic pumping." Google says in the un-redacted portion of its letter that it had experienced an unusually high volume of calls to these numbers and blocked access by its user to some 100 numbers. AT&T cried foul over Google's blocked calls in a Sept. 25 letter to the FCC.

In another redacted section, Google hints at the prospect of going global with Google Voice. Google says it has signed contracts with a number of "international service providers for inputs to Google Voice." It goes on to say that "none of the contracted services have yet" been launched.

Network Cooperation

This is not the first time the FCC has looked into issues relating to Google Voice. In July, the FCC also looked into apparent foot-dragging by Apple in approving Google Voice for use on the iPhone. After months of review, Apple has yet to grant its approval, indicating that it may too closely resemble features already on the device. Critics say Apple may be unfairly blocking access and constraining competition.

In its correspondence with the FCC, Google also reveals several companies that help it provide Google Voice. The list includes fiber-optic network operators Level 3 Communications (LVLT) and Global Crossing (GLBC). It also mentions Broadvox Communications,, and Pac-West Telecomm. IBasis (IBAS) is responsible for connecting outbound international calls on Google Voice and Neustar (NSR) provides "porting and carrier lookup services," Google says in the letter. Syniverse Technologies (SVR) provides the free text-messaging service.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Turn Your Windows 7 Computer Into a WiFi Router In 5 Minutes, Free No Hardware is a new service we just found out about. They've sussed out how to make any Windows 7 computer into a WiFi hotspot. Since we just installed Windows 7 on a spare laptop, we figured it was about time to make Windows do something cool, so we installed the app.

We were quite literally up and running with other devices connected in five minutes. In fact, this post is being published right now on a connection. Windows 7 users have got to try this app. You never know when you'll get to save the day by letting other users share your Internet connection.

Speaking of which, use cases we can think of right now run the gamut between Sticking It To The Man and Violating My ISP's TOS; nevertheless, it's an interesting, fun little hack that should've been done long ago.

Installation is simple. Go to the website, click the big, shiny button, run the .exe file, follow the prompt. You'll then see a Connectify logo in the notification tray. It's party time! Choose a name, set up a password, and click the big, shiny button. Congratulations. You're now a software-based wireless router. It took about five very obvious clicks and was truly so easy a caveman could do it.

This is almost as much fun as that MiFi we played with a while ago. The main difference is that the MiFi creates an Internet connection for 3-5 users using cellular networks, and Connectify allows multiple users to piggyback off a single connection. Oh, and the MiFi and similar devices cost a bit - or a lot - to buy and maintain, but Connectify is free to install and run.

Connectify runs on Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 r2. Why no other Windows OSes, you ask? "Connectify depends on improvements made in Windows 7 to operate," reads the site's FAQ. "Frankly, Windows 7 is such a big improvement that we suggest you're better off upgrading than waiting for us to get all this working on an older version of Windows."

Three cheers for Windows for getting their act together on the OS front, and many thanks to Connectify for bringing us all n-for-the-price-of-1 WiFi!

Amazon PayPhrase Tries to Make Paying Online Easier is trying to take some pain out of the process of buying stuff online. I’m not sure that the new service it is introducing tonight, PayPhrase, accomplishes that, but it may be an important building block for the future of Amazon’s fledgling subsidiary, Amazon Payments.

The new service aims to replace the user names, passwords and the multiple clicks needed to purchase an item online today with a unique, simple-to-remember catch phrase - say, “Brad’s Home.” Beginning tonight, any Amazon user can visit and create up to 20 of these phrases, then associate them with a four-digit PIN, a shipping address and credit card.

Then, people primed to buy items on and on sites that use Amazon Checkout, such as DKNY and, can enter in their PayPhrase for a relatively easy, three-click checkout.

“They do not have to share credit card with another third-party Web site, they do not to have to be signed in, and they get this consistent experience wherever they checkout,” said Matthew Williams, general manager of consumer payments at Amazon Payments.

The challenge for Amazon, as I see it, is that it requires a bit of effort to set up PayPhrases. And then it gives people’s already password-swamped brains a new set of stuff to remember. Only one Amazon user can grab a given PayPhrase, so when the obvious ones are gone, people may resort to some wacky combinations. (Amazon itself recommends some odd phrases, such as “relentless dentist.” Will people who use the word “password” as their password really remember that?) There’s also the PIN to remember, although people can use the same PIN for all their phrases.

But this may all be about setting up Amazon Payments for the future. Typing in a PayPhrase on doesn’t seem that much of a short cut. But how about saying it out loud, when a keyboard is not available? The coming wave of smartphones and Internet appliances will all have some kind of voice recognition built in. Although Amazon is not integrating PayPhrase into its mobile shopping tools right away, it certainly will at some point. With PayPhrase, Jeff Bezos and his crew may be looking into the future, and preparing to seize a cut of the mobile payments business.

Apple TV 3.0 software update to support iTunes LP, Extras

Apple has updated the iTunes Store Terms and Conditions to reference a forthcoming 3.0 software update for the Apple TV, which will allow viewing of iTunes LP and iTunes Extras content.

The new paragraph under the "iTUNES LP AND iTUNES EXTRAS" section references an update to Apple's set-top box hobby: "iTunes LP and iTunes Extras Products are usable only on computers with iTunes 9 or higher and Apple TV with software version 3.0 or higher."

The new iTunes LP format, which debuted in September, is designed to encourage sales of full-length albums. The new format comes with additional content such as photos, videos and other bonus material. The iTunes LP format was joined by iTunes Extras, which delivers bonus materials for movies, much like are traditionally found on DVDs.

The TuneKit JavaScript framework on which both are based uses open Web standards like HTML and CSS. AppleInsider originally reported in September that the new format appeared to have Apple TV written all over it.

TuneKit content is designed for a 1280 by 720 pixel resolution, which is too large to play on the 13-inch MacBook Pro without entering full-screen mode. But it does exactly fit the HDTV output resolution of Apple TV, and could even scale down to a 480p display.

iTunes LP Apple TV

In addition, the TuneKit format includes references in its HTML meta tags to "hdtv-fullscreen" and "hdtv-cursor-off."

The last major update to the Apple TV was when the "Take Two" 2.0 firmware was released at Macworld Expo in January 2008. The next major update is expected to incorporate features of Snow Leopard, including QuickTime X and its HTTP Live Streaming protocol.

iTunes LP Apple TV 2

This summer, analyst Gene Munster with Piper Jaffray reiterated his belief that a new Apple TV with iTunes TV show subscriptions and potential DVR capabilities would eventually arrive from the hardware maker. He said the timing of a new hardware debut would likely be impacted by the negotiations Apple would need to conduct in order to have the rights to offer a subscription model. Munster said he believes a new Apple TV or updated Apple TV software will arrive within the next year.

iTunes LPs


Nintendo Announces Big Screen DSi

The rumors are true. Today, at Nintendo's press event in Tokyo, the company announced a revised version of the Nintendo DS.

Dubbed the Nintendo DSi LL, the new portable will feature a 4.2 inch screen. Priced at ¥20,000 (US$220) the DSi LL will be released on November 21. The "LL" refers to the extra large size.

The redesign comes at the request of customers who said they wanted a larger screen, and the screen is a 93 percent increase over the DS Lite's screen size — the number of pixels is the same, however. The DSi LL is geared for those who want to use their Nintendo handheld for internet and as a music player as the larger screen is able to display letters and characters in a bigger font.

The DSi LL is bundled with two touch pens: one shorter and one longer touch pen (129.3mm), and comes will three DSiWare titles pre-installed: Two brain training games (one for humanities, the other for sciences) and DS Easy Dictionary. Releasing in three colors, the DSi LL will be available in Dark Brown, Wine Red and Natural White.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Brizzly Gets A New Coat: Facebook

Since its beta launch this summer, Brizzly has been hands-down one of the best ways to interact with Twitter. The web app puts a new and intuitive user interface over Twitter’s data, which allows you to do things like see pictures inline in your stream, and easily retweet anything with the click of a button. Today, Brizzly applies its magic to Facebook.

The new Facebook functionality for Brizzly, which should be live in the next couple of hours, puts the Brizzly look and feel over some of Facebook’s features. Within Brizzly, you’ll now be able to do Facebook status updates, wall posts, comments, and likes. For now, you won’t be able to post pictures or videos, but Brizzly will offer a way to display them inline that is arguably better than the way Facebook itself does it.

This is an important new feature for Brizzly, as one of the service’s previously core features, Groups, is about to be done by Twitter itself in the form of the new Lists feature (which is currently in testing with about 25% of Twitter users). Brizzly has noted that it’s excited for the Lists feature, and that they’ll use its APIs to integrate with their Groups, but the functionality residing on still gives users a reason to go there, rather than Brizzly.

But with Facebook support, Brizzly offers something that Twitter cannot. It also gives it a leg up on rivals like Seesmic Web, which is also a very nice way to interact with Twitter on the web, but doesn’t yet have Facebook support (though it’s coming eventually).

Switching between your Twitter account and Facebook account on Brizzly is as easy as clicking a Facebook icon to switch over to a new stream. It’s the same idea as if you have multiple Twitter accounts set up with your Brizzly account. And within the Facebook area of Brizzly, you’ll be able to switch between a “Home” area and a “Recent” area. Home is basically the live Facebook News Feed, while Recent Activity shows stuff you’ve posted or commented on/liked recently.

In terms of developing for both Twitter and Facebook, “Twitter is very simple and Facebook has a ton of different features,” Brizzly co-founder Jason Shellen tells us. He went on to note that it can be hard to keep up with Facebook’s changes to their Platform, some of which are changing again later today.

Again, this new Facebook functionality should be live at some point today. And if you still need a Brizzly invite, ask around, there should be people still will plenty of invite codes available.

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Click here to find out more Intel and Numonyx report a breakthrough in new kind of memory chip

Intel and startup Numonyx said today they have accomplished a breakthrough in a new kind of memory chip that combines the best features of a variety of memory types. Numonyx (founded in 2000) has been working on something called “phase change memory” for years, with Intel as an investor, and the companies view it as a candidate for the ideal memory chip. But it seemed to be lost in an endless research cycle. Until now.

Today, Intel and Numonyx are demonstrating a prototype of a 64-megabit phase change chip that can be stacked three dimensionally on the same chip. That means the chip has multiple layers of memory cells, allowing it to be densely packed with storage cells. It can also be used for both random access (DRAM) functions and non-volatile memory (like Flash, where the memory is retained even without power). And it doesn’t consume a lot of power. The initial chip has just one layer, but future chips are expected to be stackable.

Memory chips need to be fast, dense in terms of storage capacity, and need to hold their data even when the power is off. Nothing has fit the bill yet. Dynamic random access memory chips used as main memory in personal computers is fast, but it loses data without an electrical charge. Flash memory is dense and holds data even if the power is turned off, but it is slower. And disk drives hold data when the power is off, but they’re slow compared to DRAM.

This new prototype chip, called a PCMS for phase change memory and switch, has a storage cell layered with what Numonyx calls an Ovonic Threshold Switch, which allows the cells to be stacked vertically yet accessed easily. The prototype uses a material that is an electrically-charged form of glass. This same kind of material is used in CD-ROM drives and non-volatile memory today

Intel is doing the research to advance personal computing and is encouraged by the milestone, said Al Fazio, an Intel Fellow and director of memory technology development at the world’s biggest chip maker. But in a conference call, he said the companies are not ready to predict when they can manufacture commercial chips. He said he does expect that, because the memory can be stacked, the chips will be able to store more memory in a given space than flash memory chips — the memory of choice in storing data in cell phones — which can’t be stacked that high.

Greg Atwood, senior technology fellow at Numonyx, also said the results are promising, since it shows the ideal memory is possible. If the chips are commercialized, they could be used in everything from mobile phones to data centers, Atwood said. Atwood said that research on memory technologies usually takes about 10 years and that he isn’t surprised it has taken this long, given the need to test so many materials in manufacturing.

Memory cells are built by stacking a storage element (which stores a data bit) and a selector (which connects it to a larger array of memory cells). In this case, both use the same type of material.

There are other kinds of new memory technologies under research. One of them, magnetic random access memory, is in production now, but it isn’t a stackable memory. In principle, Atwood said that there can be four or more layers of stacked memory with PCMS. The exact number of layers is yet to be determined.

Apple's 2009 ad budget: Half a billion

Apple (AAPL) shells out a ton of money for advertising. In fiscal 2009 it spent $501 million, according to the 10-K form filed Tuesday. That's up from $486 million in 2008 and $467 million in 2007.

But half a billion doesn't seem like so much when it's compared with the $1.4 billion Microsoft (MSFT) spent in fiscal 2009, or the $811 million Dell (DELL) spent on ads I can't remember ever seeing.

In fact, as a percentage of revenue, Apple has actually been decreasing its ad spending every year for the past eight, from nearly 5% in 2001 to 1.37% today (1.17% if you use non-GAAP revenue). That's less than half the 3.6% of revenue Research in Motion (RIMM) spends advertising BlackBerries. (See chart below.)

Advertising as a percent of revenue

Most recent fiscal year. Source: Company reports

Yet even if you despise Apple and never use their products, you tend to remember their ads. How does Apple get so much bang from its marketing buck?

I can think of five reasons:

  1. The ads are memorable. Apple spends its money on creative, producing a few clever ads rather than a lot of forgettable ones. Those Get-a-Mac ads are marketing events in their own right, picked up on YouTube and re-played again and again at no extra cost to Apple.
  2. The ads are well-placed. Apple pays a steep premium to be seen during the World Series or on the back of glossy magazines, but it stays away from the low-cost media where its competitors pour so many of their ad dollars, either directly or through co-op ads. You don't see AT&T (T) advertising the iPhone in newspaper fliers, for example. "Apple doesn't want anyone else promoting its products," says Financial Alchemist's Turley Muller, "just because it is so meticulous and Martha Stewart about marketing and positioning."
  3. The Apple brand speaks for itself. In Interbrand's 2009 report, Apple was the 20th most recognizable brand name in the world, up there with Coca Cola, IBM and McDonalds. "The Apple brand is the most supported within its industry," according to Interbrand, "and among the most iconic of relatively young brands in the world."
  4. Apple Stores are their own best advertisement. Sales per store at those 273 retail outlets was down this year ($25.9 million per store vs. $29.9 million in 2008), but traffic was up — to 45.9 million visitors in the fourth quarter alone. How many of those shoppers — bathed in hip music, surrounded by slick Apple products, coddled by preternaturally helpful staffers — left with their reality permanently distorted?
  5. Word of mouth. While Apple's rating on the American Consumer Satisfaction Index was down 1.2 points this year, that was still 9 to 10 points above its nearest competitors. Apple users tend to be intensely, zealously loyal, and they do the company's evangelical work for free.
Apple spends a ton on advertising. But it seems to be money well spent.

Confirmed: Netflix Streaming Coming To The Wii Very Shortly

Last week I received some images that showed Netflix streaming on a Wii console. I didn't run with the story at the time as I didn't know if the images were legit and it's taken me until today to confirm they are in fact real. I'm not disclosing who confirmed it for me but someone involved in the project has confirmed that Nintendo is currently in testing stages with Netflix to bring their streaming service to the Wii very soon.

What I'm hearing is that Nintendo originally planned to bring the Netflix service to the Wii before the end of this year, which still might take place, but that Nintendo is also considering holding off on the Netflix service until they release their next generation Wii HD unit in early 2010.

Bartz: Yahoo Will Rise Again

A defiant Carol Bartz took the stage at Yahoo's analyst day this morning, promising the audience that she would reinvigorate the flagging Web pioneer, and making no excuses for the company's past missteps.

"Today is the beginning of a journey back to respect," said Bartz, who took the company's top job in January. "Yahoo was the big shining star in the mid-90s, the big shining star in the mid-2000s. Then somehow we weren't so shiny anymore."

She only spoke briefly, setting the tone for the various presentations throughout the day from company executives, engineers and product managers in what is aimed as a show of force to remind the financial community that Yahoo (NASDAQ: YHOO) still matters, and that the firm is moving to execute on a clear strategy that Bartz and her team have put in place.

In her early months at Yahoo, she as a corporate identity crisis, where analysts and even employees were unsure what, in fact, Yahoo was supposed to be about.

The identity Bartz is trying to forge turns on scale. By its own tally, Yahoo reaches 600 million people worldwide each month, including more than 75 percent of U.S. Internet users.

The result is 10 billion ad impressions served up each day, of which 9 billion come from Yahoo's Right Media Exchange.

Still grappling with the identity of the company, Bartz earlier this year deployed teams in about 10 countries to canvas users about what Yahoo meant to them. The response, she said, was the emphatic expression of the Yahoo faithful that it is their home page for the Web.

Of course, they venture out to other sites, but return to Yahoo to "check in," she said.

"They come home," Bartz said. "They come home to Yahoo. That is scale that nobody else has. That's diversity that nobody else has. That's really important."

The way she views it, Yahoo's scale and myriad content offerings defy the temptation to make an apples-to-apples comparison of the company to any other.

Running through Yahoo's verticals, Bartz sees Yahoo competing with ESPN in sports, with the BBC and CNN in news, Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal in finance, with TMZ in celebrity gossip, and, as a portal-style home page, with AOL and MSN.

"Guess what, they're all our competitors. And guess what, we wake up with passion every morning to beat every one of them," Bartz said. "And guess what, we usually do."

As to Yahoo's identity, Bartz resolves it this way:

"We're not a search company. We're not a display company. We are a broad-based Internet technology company that serves up the most interesting content on the Internet."

For advertisers "looking for a safe neighborhood," Bartz believes that Yahoo remains a must-buy. The company's success going forward -- including raising Yahoo's 6 percent operating margin, which Bartz called "pathetic" -- turns on Yahoo's ability to continue to build out its content and provide a more personally relevant experience for its users.

The drive to personalization has been evident in several of Yahoo's recent initiatives, including its redesigned home page, and tweaks to some of its most popular products like search and e-mail. Those upgrades, the thinking goes, will increase user engagement and expand Yahoo's reach, while at the same time gleaning insights about its audience that can be used to serve better-targeted ads.

Such was Bartz's pitch.

"We have fallen, and we really want to get back up. We want to get back up on our tippy-toes," she said. "We have passion to get back there."

It’s Complicated, But MicroHoo Hasn’t Fallen and Will Get Up (Now, Lay Off Jerry Yang)

In what should come as a shock to almost no one, the detailed negotiations to complete the Microsoft (MSFT) and Yahoo (YHOO) search and online advertising final agreement is more complicated that its authors anticipated and is taking longer than expected to complete.

Relax, folks–it’ll get done.

But here’s a more important thing that should wrap up sooner than later: Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz’s seemingly never-ending jibes about former CEO and Co-founder Jerry Yang’s tenure.

First, let’s deal with the issues around the agreement, which is a monster document.

That’s why MicroHoo has missed the deadline yesterday to execute its definitive agreement on the transaction struck in July.

In a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Yahoo said:

“The Letter Agreement specified that the parties would execute definitive agreements by October 27, 2009, but given the complex nature of the transaction, there remain some details to be finalized.”

Added Microsoft in a long statement:

“Microsoft and Yahoo! are committed to this agreement and believe this is a highly competitive deal that is good for consumers, advertisers and publishers. We have made good progress in finalizing the definitive agreements. Given the complex nature of this transaction there remain some issues that need some additional clarity and definitive details. So, the teams at Yahoo! and Microsoft are continuing to work on the remaining details, and we have mutually agreed to extend the period to negotiate and execute the agreement. We plan to do this as expeditiously as possible. Both companies are optimistic that we will be able to close this deal by early 2010.”

Thus, the deadline has been pushed indefinitely, which is very common in such larger and complicated deals.


Yahoo and Microsoft already had done a pretty hefty binding letter agreement (here is a picture of Yahoo’s Bartz and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer holding it, in fact).

Getting approval from regulators is also part of the deal, and it is likely to happen in the U.S. just after the new year.

International regulatory approval is another story, especially in Europe, which could further delay the implementation of the partnership, since it is unlikely the pair would move forward without clearance globally.

But perhaps most of all, what seems more like that it will never end and probably should is the proclivity of Yahoo’s Bartz to use sharp-tongued analogies to talk about just how bad Yahoo had been doing and how it is now poised to make a comeback.

In her very first press conference when she got the job, in fact, she noted, “frankly, could use a little management.”

Bartz was right then and even more correct to say it out loud, but she has not stopped the criticism.

And, like clockwork, at an analyst day at Yahoo HQ in Sunnyvale, Calif. today, Bartz trotted out a yet another in a long series of backhanded insults to former CEO Jerry Yang and his crew.

Said Bartz at the event about the Silicon Valley icon :

“We have fallen and we really want to get back up. If you haven’t had good times and bad times, you don’t know what you’re doing. We prefer the good times. We have passion to get back there. Today is the start of that.”

Today is the start? Didn’t Yahoo declare a version of the same theme when the MicroHoo deal was announced in July? Or at the the launch of the new homepage in September? Or the more recent rollout of its massive marketing campaign?

It seems to me that since she has been there almost a year, much like the Obama administration, Bartz should not be looking backward anymore and keep announcing that it is time to get back on track.

Because she is most definitely in charge now at Yahoo and should be the one to get all praise and all blame from here on out.

So, as someone who has definitely been very tough on Yang while CEO, it’s time to stop knocking him over now, because it is starting to feel like a very cheap shot.

D-Day For Facebook App Developers

Facebook is holding a Developer Garage today at its offices in Palo Alto, and a number of new app policies will be formally announced. Some of the changes, though, are so dramatic that Facebook has briefed the bigger app developers in advance. And those developers are, to say the least, more than a little worried about the effect the changes will have on traffic and usage. One source we’ve spoken with estimates that the changes may drop usage on their apps by 70% or more (more on that below, some developers may use the changes to their advantage).

Like previous changes, Facebook is moving to clean up their user interface and try to get application spam under control. The changes will roll out over the next six months, we’ve heard.

Last week Facebook changed the way it publishes the news stream to users. For the last few months users have seen a constant Twitter-like stream of news from friends. Now the default view is algorithmic. A lot of applications (especially these guys) encourage users to add a status update every few minutes with what they’re up to – and when there was a constant stream of this stuff the apps benefited from all the extra traffic. That’s all muted now, and developers we spoke with say traffic and usage has declined 20% – 30% from just that one change.

And today Facebook will hit developers even harder. An even more lucrative traffic stream for apps comes from notifications – the pop up box in the lower right hand corner of Facebook that tells you when people leave comments or “like” your links and updates, etc. Today apps have free reign to publish into notifications without even telling the user. And they do it. A lot. When the changes go into effect, we’ve heard, apps will no longer be able to publish to notifications. There goes another 40% of traffic for the apps that use it heavily, say our sources.

Instead, developers will get apps back on the home page of users in the left sidebar, along with notifications of new messages from the application in that sidebar. There will also be a new channel in the messaging inbox for notifications from apps. And developers are also encouraged to create direct email relationships with users and communicate with them off-Facebook.

The overall plan will be to let users get notifications from apps they use and/or their friends use when they want them, but to get them out of the news feed, messages and notifications where they’re spammy. One source we spoke with says that developers who use the new tools properly may even get better quality communications with users. “Innovating developers will adjust,” said our source.

There are lots of other changes coming today as well, but our understanding is the notification prohibition is the big hit to developers. As a Facebook user, I’m ecstatic. But App developers aren’t. Zynga CEO Mark Pincus had to cancel a talk at Harvard Business School last week to get back with him team and figure out how they’ll deal with the changes.

Here’s the other big change today: Facebook is apparently a little tired of making and then endlessly changing developer rules to plug loopholes and keep the user experience tolerable. So instead of trying to put in writing everything that developers can and cannot do to spread word about their apps, they’ll move to more of an Apple/iPhone model. Meaning they’ll reserve the right to just say “we don’t like what you’re doing” and take action against the app. It’s important to note that this doesn’t mean applications need to pre-approved like they are on the iPhone.

Facebook Platform: A Roadmap for the Future

At Facebook, we focus on providing our developer community with simple building blocks to speed innovation and create an environment where small teams quickly push new products that can rapidly disrupt industries.

As part of our commitment to enable you to easily build on Facebook Platform, today we are announcing a roadmap which includes a series of changes and improvements that will roll out over the next two quarters.

These updates are designed to simplify communication for users and developers, improve app discovery and engagement, and provide you with more comprehensive tools for building or expanding your business with Facebook.

Through these new APIs and tools, we are giving all developers building with Facebook and those in our largest application category — gaming — new ways to attract and engage users.

Direct and Simplified Communication with Users

  • Access to user email addresses. To reduce friction and empower application and Facebook Connect developers to manage their relationship with users, for the first time, we're providing a simple and safe way for users to share their email addresses with you.
  • Focusing Facebook communication on the stream and Inbox. This consolidates developer and user communication into the two most powerful channels — stream and Inbox — and provides new features to help users stay engaged with applications. User-to-user communications commonly in the notifications and requests channels will be moved to the Inbox.

Improved Application Discovery and Engagement

  • Simplified navigation. To make it easier for users to quickly find and engage with applications, their favorite apps will be featured on their home page with bookmarks and new dashboards. Applications will also be represented on canvas pages with a format that increases brand association with users. In addition, users will be able to better represent applications on their profile following short-term changes that include focusing profile integration on application tabs, as well as removing profile boxes, the info section of boxes, and the Boxes tab.
  • Prominent new Dashboards. With default placement on the home page, an all-new Apps Dashboard and Games Dashboard will ensure users can easily find and return to their favorite apps and discover new ones; the Games Dashboard will be a dedicated place for users to interact with games and will provide an additional communication channel, called "News", where you can personalize text updates for users.
  • New Counter channel. Re-engaging users is an important part of delivering a high quality experience. We are introducing the Counter, a simple number to the right of your application's home page bookmark. The Counter is your own channel where you can prompt users when they need to perform an action within your application.

New Developer Products and Clear Policies

  • Open Graph API. Any page on the Web can have many of the features of a Facebook Page – users can become a Fan of the page, it will show up on that user’s profile and in search results, and that page will be able to publish stories to the stream of its fans.
  • Improved Application Insights Page and new Analytics API. We will provide improved tools with more robust data to better adjust and manage applications and Facebook Connect-enabled websites.
  • New Facebook Connect Libraries. Our libraries will be smaller, clearer, and faster.
  • New developer website, Platform Live Status, and public roadmap. will include a central dashboard to view the health of various integration points, bugs and Platform uptime as well as detail about upcoming changes and improvements to Platform. You will also be able to subscribe to the Developer Blog and Status Feed via email.
  • New principles, simplified policies, Verification standards for all. We have streamlined our policies and principles and will be proactively applying them widely across Platform. In addition, we're retiring the formerly optional Application Verification brand, submission process, fees and badge; the program's higher standards will be required and applications will be subject to review at any time.

You can find details and estimated timing for all of these items on our Developer Wiki and view initial screenshots in this photo album.

Where We Go From Here

Our goal is to increase the opportunities to innovate on Facebook Platform and reduce its complexity for both established and new developers.

Application communication in channels like notifications and requests aren't effectively serving their original purpose. There is a significant opportunity to improve the user experience and reduce spam by replacing them with better features and moving most communication to the stream and Inbox. We believe these steps, combined with providing users with a way to share their email address with applications they trust, will simplify the site and create new long term opportunities for developers.

With simplified communication channels and unified integration points, the decision to build an application on Facebook or on a separate website with Facebook Connect becomes only a question of the goals of the developer creating a brand. The underlying technologies are the same regardless of whether your application appears inside Facebook or on an external website.

We're in This Together

We'll keep you posted about the progress of these changes and what they mean to you over the next two quarters. For the first time in this level of detail, we will provide a roadmap to help you anticipate future changes and opportunities. Like all roadmaps, it may shift slightly but we will share insight into what is happening as these details are available.

As part of these initiatives, we are focused on designing Platform in a way that we can run core Facebook applications on the same set of APIs you're building on. If our technologies aren't fast, robust, and simple, we will feel the same pains that you do.

We have a lot of work to do between now and the next f8 conference in the first half of 2010 in San Francisco. Our third f8 will bring us back to our roots - building great technology and spurring innovation. We couldn't be more excited about where we are going together. Facebook is a technology company and we want to provide you with the building blocks to start and change industries.

The anti-iTunes arms dealer

Apple rules music retail for now: iTunes passed Wal-Mart (WMT) last year to become the top-grossing music store in the world. But that doesn’t mean things will stay that way.

Palo Alto-based Lala is an online jukebox with 8 million songs; you can buy the rights to stream a radio-quality version of any song for 10 cents or download a higher-quality version for 99 cents. He says he’s averaging about $67 per year from paying customers.

By itself, Lala poses no threat to the iTunes juggernaut. But now it’s teaming up with Google (GOOG) and Facebook, arguably the two hottest properties online. Late today Google is expected to announce a partnership with Lala that should drive massive amounts of new traffic to the service.

And just last week, Lala announced that it will team up with Facebook and its 300 million users to push a new form of music distribution: song gifting. Soon, Facebook’s legions of social networkers will be able to do more than chat, update and poke — they’ll be able to buy each other songs, right within Facebook’s payment system.

We caught up with Nguyen soon after the Facebook announcement to ask about his vision for digital music, and why he dares to take on iTunes and Apple (AAPL).

Fortune: What’s the elevator pitch on Lala. What business are you in?

Nguyen: We’re a music service. But I think what makes us different from some other music services is we focus so much on helping you discover new music by using social behavior. There used to be such great radio and MTV that would help us find music, and a lot of those sources don’t really exist in the same way anymore.

So how long did it take this deal with Facebook to come together?

We’ve been having conversations with a lot of different partners about how to make Lala a part of what they do. There’s a lot of music out there — there are 8 million tracks. A lot of companies say, “there are 8 million tracks, come to our site and knock yourself out.” The reality is none of us have the time or the patience or even the knowledge to find what we want to listen to.

So we’ve been working for the last couple of years to try to add context. We launched a service with CMJ, we launched something with Pitchfork, we launched something with the guys at Billboard. And the reason why we did that is, those guys are curators. They were telling people what was good. In summer of this year, the conversations really picked up around, how can you connect with some much bigger websites? We’ve been talking to Facebook for almost a year about how to take advantage of all the amazing social features they have on their site. It’s been an ongoing process.

You’re going to be selling 10-cent song streams and 99-cent downloads. Right now you deliver about 5 million songs a month. What do you expect these new partnerships to do for your business?

It takes music and makes it a new product, in the same way that ringtones did. You buy ringtones to tell everyone else what you like, not for your own personal listening. So I describe it as jewelry, in a way. Gifting is like that. It’s a really cool way of expressing how you think.

We think what’s exciting about gifting is, people don’t have to even give us money. They can use the payment system already built into Facebook, which people are already using for everything from games to personal gifts already. It’s kind of like a greeting card. When you get it, it’s inside of your feed and you can listen to it.

So the social aspect is what makes this different from iTunes.

It is. We live in this age that I think is the best time for music, ever. It’s so much easier to create music because there are digital tools like pro audio. There are really no limitations for distributing your music like there used to be. You really don’t need a label or a studio to get your music out there. But iTunes doesn’t help you find out what to listen to. It just gives you the top lists. [Editor’s note: The latest versions of iTunes actually do include “genius” song recommendations based on your interests.]

Why are virtual gifts such a big deal?

Gifts are driven by events. I can give someone a song because I want to say something to them, personally. We think it’s so much more targeted than just browse and collect your music. It’s a very personal thing. And what’s nice about it is, it’s already happening. It’s not a new business model. Virtual gifts on the web are actually a really big business. It’s everything from what Facebook’s doing to Zynga with games. We think giving music is so much more tangible. People might not know what a virtual carnation is, but they definitely know what a song is.

How will the economics work for Lala? How much will you make from each sale?

I got in trouble for talking about it. I’m not allowed to talk about it anymore. But we’re happy with the relationship. One of the unique things about the Facebook relationship is they’re handling the billing and the credit card transactions. It’s a great deal. We’re really happy about it.

I’ve seen you quoted as saying it’s similar to the split that Apple does on apps in iTunes, so you get 70%, Facebook gets 30%.

I’m really not allowed to talk about it anymore.

You’ve also been working on some mobile stuff. What can you tell me about the iPhone app?

That’s a really good way to segue into some of the things we’ve been doing. On a mobile, it’s really not easy to get a song over the air. There are no free streaming services on the mobile platform [for streaming specific songs]. When you buy a song on Lala, whether it’s Facebook or anything else that we do, that music will be instantly available on a mobile device. That will be beginning with the iPhone.

It’s streaming. You’re hardly going to know the difference between that and an MP3 file. It’s flawless. There’s smart cacheing so it’s available offline for you if you’re in a bus or lose the connection. It’s pretty amazing.

Making search more musical

Every day we get millions of search queries about music. You want to know more about your favorite artists, find that new album or iconic song or figure out the name of that tune stuck in your head. In fact, according to Insights for Search, two of the top 10 queries in the U.S. are music-related. But often, if your answer is in a song, it can take a while to get there. We call this "time to result" — and we're always looking for ways to reduce it.

Today, we're rolling out a search feature that does just that by enabling you to search and more easily discover millions of songs, all via a simple Google web search. If you're searching for music, "time to result" is really "time to music." Now, when you enter a music-related query — like the name of a song, artist or album — your search results will include links to an audio preview of those songs provided by our music search partners MySpace (which just acquired iLike) or Lala. When you click the result you'll be able to listen to an audio preview of the song directly from one of those partners. For example, if I search for [21st century breakdown], the first results provide links to songs from Green Day's new album. MySpace and Lala also provide links to purchase the full song.

Many times, though, you don't know the name of the song or the artist who sings it. Maybe you remember only the chorus — or maybe you remember who sang it, but you forgot the exact name of the song. If you've ever heard a catchy song in a car or cafe, but just can't figure out the name of the song, you'll know what I'm talking about. This search feature also helps you find many of those songs by entering a search containing a line or two of lyrics. So if I search for [static silhouette somehow], I'll get results for Phoenix's song "Rome."

Finally, a search engine should also be able to help you discover music you'll like, even if you can't tell it what exactly you want to hear. We've partnered with Pandora, imeem and Rhapsody to include links to their sites where you can discover music related to your queries as well.

This feature doesn't just make search better. It also helps people discover new sources of licensed music online while helping artists to discover new generations of fans and reconnect with longtime listeners. Our users love music, and this tool introduces millions of music seekers in the U.S. to a new generation of licensed online music services, from MySpace and Lala to Pandora, imeem and Rhapsody.

Of course, this is just a first step toward making search more musical. There's a lot of music out there in the world, and in some instances, we may not return links to the song you're looking for. But by combining the strength of Google's search algorithms with our music search partners' efforts to increase the comprehensiveness of their music content, we're on track to answer more of your rhymes with the right rhythms.

We'll be rolling this feature out gradually to users across the U.S. over the next day. To learn more, check out this page or watch the video below. As we said back when we first announced universal search, the best answer is still the best answer, whether it's in the form of a video, an image, a magazine — or a song. And of course, the best way to know you've found the music you were looking for is to hear it. Well, let the music begin!

Announcing Google Maps Navigation for Android 2.0

Since 2005, millions of people have relied on Google Maps for mobile to get directions on the go. However, there's always been one problem: Once you're behind the wheel, a list of driving directions just isn't that easy to use. It doesn't tell you when your turn is coming up. And if you miss a turn? Forget it, you're on your own.

Today we're excited to announce the next step for Google Maps for mobile: Google Maps Navigation (Beta) for Android 2.0 devices.

This new feature comes with everything you'd expect to find in a GPS navigation system, like 3D views, turn-by-turn voice guidance and automatic rerouting. But unlike most navigation systems, Google Maps Navigation was built from the ground up to take advantage of your phone's Internet connection.

Here are seven features that are possible because Google Maps Navigation is connected to the Internet:

The most recent map and business data
When you use Google Maps Navigation, your phone automatically gets the most up-to-date maps and business listings from Google Maps — you never need to buy map upgrades or update your device. And this data is continuously improving, thanks to users who report maps issues and businesses who activate their listings with Google Local Business Center.

Search in plain English
Google Maps Navigation brings the speed, power and simplicity of Google search to your car. If you don't know the address you're looking for, don't worry. Simply enter the name of a business, a landmark or just about anything into the search box, and Google will find it for you. Then press "Navigate", and you're on your way.

Search by voice
Typing on a phone can be difficult, especially in the car, so with Google Maps Navigation, you can say your destination instead. Hold down the search button to activate voice search, then tell your phone what you want to do (like "Navigate to Pike Place in Seattle"), and navigation will start automatically.

Traffic view
Google Maps Navigation gets live traffic data over the Internet. A traffic indicator light in the corner of the screen glows green, yellow or red, depending on the current traffic conditions along your route. If there's a jam ahead of you, you'll know. To get more details, tap the light to zoom out to an aerial view showing traffic speeds and incidents ahead. And if the traffic doesn't look good, you can choose an alternate route.

Search along route
For those times when you're already on the road and need to find a business, Google Maps Navigation searches along your route to give you results that won't take you far from your path. You can search for a specific business by name or by type, or you can turn on popular layers, such as gas stations, restaurants or parking.

Satellite view
Google Maps Navigation uses the same satellite imagery as Google Maps on the desktop to help you get to your destination. Turn on the satellite layer for a high-resolution, 3D view of your upcoming route. Besides looking cool, satellite view can help you make sense of complicated maneuvers.

Street View
If you want to know what your next turn looks like, double-tap the map to zoom into Street View, which shows the turn as you'll see it, with your route overlaid. And since locating an address can sometimes be tricky, we'll show you a picture of your destination as you approach the end of your route, so you'll know exactly what to look for.

Since there's nothing quite like seeing the product in action, we made this video to demonstrate a real-life example:

The first phone to have Google Maps Navigation and Android 2.0 is the Droid from Verizon. Google Maps Navigation is initially available in the United States. And like other Google Maps features, Navigation is free.

Check out the Google Maps Navigation page to learn more and browse a gallery of product screenshots. Take Google Maps Navigation for a spin, and bring Internet-connected GPS navigation with you in your car.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Iterative Web App: Auto-expanding Compose Boxes

When composing a message on my phone, I really want to see as much of my draft as possible and make use of all the available screen space. One of my biggest gripes is a fixed-size compose box that restricts me to only a couple lines of visible text when my screen still has room to display more lines.
Today we launched auto-expanding compose boxes in Gmail for iPhone. This makes composing longer messages much easier since you're able to see more of the text you've typed. Just keep typing until you get near the bottom and then the compose box will magically expand by a few lines! As an added bonus, for all those iPhone users out there, auto-expanding compose boxes take away the need to press and hold to scroll with the magnifying glass! Instead, you can flick to scroll, much like you would normally do to scroll up and down a webpage. (On Android-powered devices, this hasn't been much of a problem, thanks to the trackball.)

While we're on the subject of making it easier to view content in Gmail, one more bit of news. We've been working on ways to make inline images show up in your messages, and you can now get some of those images to display by following these steps.

Report: Stray jet's pilots were on laptops

(CNN) -- The pilots of the commercial jetliner that last week overshot its destination by about 150 miles have said they were using their laptops and lost track of time and location, federal safety officials said Monday.

The Airbus A320 was flying at 37,000 feet over the Denver, Colorado, area at 5:56 p.m. Wednesday when it last made radio contact, the safety board said.

Northwest Flight 188 had departed San Diego en route to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport carrying 144 passengers, two pilots and three flight attendants. Northwest recently merged with Delta Air Lines.

"Using laptops or engaging in activity unrelated to the pilots' command of the aircraft during flight is strictly against the airline's flight deck policies and violations of that policy will result in termination," Delta said Monday in a statement.

Pilot Timothy B. Cheney, 53, was hired in 1985 and has more than 20,000 hours flight time; First Officer Richard I. Cole, 54, was hired in 1997 and has about 11,000 hours of flight time, the report said.

Neither pilot reported having had an accident, incident or violation, neither had any ongoing medical conditions and neither said he was tired, it said.

They each had a 19-hour layover in San Diego; neither said he had slept or argued during the flight, but both said "there was a distraction" in the cockpit, according to the report.

The pilots said there was "a concentrated period of discussion where they did not monitor the airplane or calls" from air traffic control, though both said they heard conversation on the radio, the report said.

Neither pilot said he noticed messages sent by company dispatchers, it added. It said the men were talking about the new monthly crew flight scheduling system put into place in the wake of Northwest's merger with Delta Air Lines.

"Each pilot accessed and used his personal laptop computer while they discussed the airline crew flight scheduling procedure," the report said.

"The first officer, who was more familiar with the procedure, was providing instruction to the captain."Neither pilot said he was aware of where the plane was until a flight attendant called the cockpit about five minutes before the plane was to have landed and asked their estimated time of arrival, the report said.

"The captain said, at that point, he looked at his primary flight display for an ETA and realized that they had passed" the airport, it added. After 78 minutes of radio silence, the pilots re-established radio contact with air traffic controllers, it said.

After landing at Minneapolis-St. Paul, both voluntarily underwent alcohol breath tests, which proved negative, the report said.

The safety board said its investigators interviewed the pilots separately Sunday in Minnesota for more than five hours combined. The investigation will include scrutiny of the flight and voice data recorders, it said.

An airline spokesman said Monday the company has sent the passengers on the plane $500 travel vouchers to compensate them for their inconvenience, and that the pilots have been suspended until the conclusion of the investigations.

The NTSB on Monday interviewed the three flight attendants who were on the plane, a spokesman for the Association of Flight Attendants said.

The lead flight attendant told officers she was unaware there had been an incident aboard, according to the report.

Police who met the wayward jet said the pilots were "cooperative, apologetic and appreciative."

The NTSB is hoping the plane's cockpit voice recorder either will confirm the pilot's account or provide evidence of another possible explanation, including whether the captain and first officer fell asleep.

Watch the co-pilot speak

The voice recorder is capable of recording only 30 minutes of audio, federal accident investigators said. The plane was in the air for another 45 minutes after radio contact was restored, meaning that if the recorder was working properly, anything the pilots would have said during the time they weren't answering radio calls would have been recorded over.

But a former accident investigator said the voice recorder may still provide valuable information, because the pilots could have discussed the earlier events on the way back to Minneapolis after overshooting the airport.

The flight data recorder also could prove valuable because it would have recorded actions taken by the pilots during the 78 minutes they did not respond to repeated calls from air traffic controllers, the ex-investigator said.

Meanwhile, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, which scrambled fighter jets for the wayward plane but did not launch them, said it was reviewing procedures for launching the fighters to track potentially hijacked or suspicious aircraft.

At issue is the Federal Aviation Administration's apparent delay in notifying NORAD the Northwest jet was not in contact with controllers, according to a senior U.S. official directly familiar with the timeline of the incident.

Watch how the military is looking at a possible FAA delay

The official, who declined to be identified because the military and the FAA are reviewing the incident, said the FAA's request for military involvement came after the plane passed the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. NORAD scrambled fighter jets at two locations. But as they approached the runway for takeoff, the FAA reported being back in contact with the Northwest flight, and the fighters stayed on the ground.

"My real question is why we did not know of the 'radio out' situation from the FAA sooner," the official said. "The FAA is also looking into that."

Since the September 11, 2001, attacks, NORAD has regularly launched fighter jets to track aircraft in unusual situations such as when they deviate from flight plans, lose radio contact or enter restricted airspace.

According to a second U.S. official, NORAD is in constant contact with the FAA so it can respond when situations arise.

Global Phone Number Provider iNum Brings HD Voice Calling To Skype

Tomorrow at the eComm Europe 2009 event, Brussels-based provider of international VoIP origination services and telephone numbers Voxbone will be officially announcing that its global phone number service iNum now supports high-definition voice calling between Skype (which now boasts over 521 million users worldwide) and dozens of VoIP networks.

Voxbone will be transcoding between Skype’s wideband SILK codec and the HD codec G.722, with support for additional codes planned for the future. In the end, Voxbone says it wants to turn the technology into the sound quality standard for VoIP and “eventually all telephony”.

For your background: iNum is short for “international Number”. Think of it as a geographically-independent phone number that lets you use the same number all around the word, instead of needing to switch to a new number from a new supplier in case you move to a new country or stay in one for a long period of time. Here’s a list of current providers.

iNum makes use of the +883 global country code newly created by the ITU (International Telecommunication Union). The startup received a first allocation of 100 million numbers from the organization last year.

Because iNum numbers can be dialed from PSTN phones (aka via the ‘plain old telephone system’) as well as IP endpoints, Voxbone’s move enables conference calls with attendees on conventional phones, who will hear within the PSTN’s audio constraints, and others with HD IP endpoints, who should enjoy a richer sound. Skype made its SILK super-wideband audio codec freely available last March.

We should note there is some industry criticism around the concept of ‘HD calling’, which at times gets billed as a fancy new term that doesn’t describe anything earth-shatteringly new or innovative and something which there is no demand for.

Any specialists who want to weigh in on this discussion?