Amazon Widgets released! Bloggers can spice up their sites AND make some cool cash.

18 09 2007

amazon logoAmazon released widgets yesterday. Check out their website for more samples. Essentially, amazon widgets are a cute, eye candy rich widgets featuring amazon content such as CD covers, movie posters or even food products. Bloggers and social network users can embed these widgets on their web pages to add some colour and fun (again??).

The interesting aspect of Amazon widgets is that the website owners can make some cool cash. If for example, a visitor clicks an amazon movie poster, it would lead to the DVD page on amazon for that particular title. If the visitor buys the DVD, then the website owner can earn up to 10% in referral fees. Not bad! Definitely a neat way to get thousands of bloggers to embed these widgets and ultimately promote amazon.com in the long run.

In the widgets gallery, current offerings include slideshow (CD covers, book covers etc), My favourites, Wish List, Product Cloud, Unbox Video Previewer, Amazon Search, Text links amongst others.

I tested out the “My favourites” widget and found the process to be very intuitive and simple. A fast AJAX enabled search and customisation workflow quickly allows you to add items to the widget. You can set display options like widget width, title, colour and design. You’re then presented with options to add the finished widget to your blog of choice.

Overall, a neat attempt by Amazon to cash in on the widget craze and further promote their brand.

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Yahoo! buys Zimbra for $350 million. It’s a great catch.

18 09 2007

Zimbra LogoIt’s official. Yahoo goes the enterprise route. Why else would it acquire Zimbra?? I think this is a great acquisition of a product which offers one of the best messaging and collaboration suites out there.

This move will definitely bring yahoo into the fight club already populated with the two giants Google and Microsoft. All competing for the best comprehensive web apps/mail/collab solution for small businesses and enterprises. Of course there’s one key difference in this fight… Google offers all its products for free right now. Zimbra doesn’t. In fact it charges $25/user/year for a 25 seat package. Prices fall to $18 for 50 seats or more. There are of course fat discounts for educational institutions and Government agencies but won’t they be using Google’s services anyway?

Zimbra, a California based company currently has an assorted suite of open source messaging software. According to their site, Key customers we work with include service providers, higher education institutions, and Fortune 1000 enterprises, particularly in the financial services, retail, and manufacturing sectors.

Zimbra suite screenshot

Their flagship collaboration suite (ZCS) 4.5 has a lot of AJAX functionality built into it which makes managing contacts and information a fluid experience. Zimbra mobile provides over-the-air “push” synchronization to mobile devices without the need for third party software or additional servers for most devices. One interesting feature is “Zimlets” which essentially allow you to push messages onto a 3rd party services to create creative mashups which save time. For eg. there’s a zimlet which allows you to click a phone number in email messages to directly connect using Skype. Another cool zimlet is the SMS zimlet which allows you to drag and drop a mail message and send it as an SMS to an addres book contact.

It’s going to be interesting to see Yahoo’s next steps with this acquisition and where it plans to take this to. It’s not hard to imagine a company using the Yahoo branded zimbra suite for all its messaging/collab needs, using a secure, branded yahoo messenger for internal chat and also have access to yahoo’s other services like maps, groups and mail. Overall, it’s an excellent catch for Yahoo.





Yahoo! Mash – A detailed review…

15 09 2007

mash logoI just got my invite to Yahoo’s spanking new social networking site MASH which was launched few days back and is currently in BETA and open by invitation only. I tried it right away and here are my comments along with the listing of all the features and options.

– After I logged in to Mash for the first time, it asked me whether I wanted to import address books from my existing Yahoo account, Windows Live or Gmail. After that step, you land up on your basic profile page.

– The profile page gives you a wide array of options to play with and edit like – your photo, friend list, tags, about me, modules (widgets), Blurts (status messages) and a guestbook.

first page

– When updating your photo, Mash gives you the option to update the photo across all your yahoo accounts. Initially, it picks up the default avatar you set for your Yahoo account.

selectpic

– Modules are basically the widgets you can add to pimp out your page. Currently, there’s a limited choice in comparison to other established social networks. In fact the list of available modules (as of writing this) can actually be mentioned here without taking too much space 🙂 They are Flickr RSS, Ego Boost, Common Friends, My MoshLog, Blog Modules, Asteroids, Astrology, Pimpmypet, Hover, Kaleidoscope, Amazon Wishlist, Translucency Plus, Karl Marx Paddleball, Last.fm Top Artists, My Youtube videos, Content Blob, World of warcraft Armory, News Ticker, Current eBay listings. Wheel of lunch, Journal, Twitter Status, Mashies (a puzzle game involving your friend’s pics), Mash Pit, The daily word and Swell Picture.

I did try out some like Kaleidoscope which creates pretty flash animations based on your favourite spice! I admit… I watched these creations for quite some time. Very hypnotic and 70s themed 🙂 Another neat module was the classic arcade game – Asteroids (hosted by a 3rd party myspace modworld). Can’t ever get tired of asteroids..

All modules have an option to “remove” and “grab it” while some have an option to “edit” settings at a later stage. On clicking grab it, you can choose another friend’s profile to add this module to. Although I’m not sure how happy friends would be with this once hundreds of mutual contacts keep pushing modules!

One great feature of Mash is the generous amount of AJAX goodness sprinkled all over the page. Adding/editing modules gives you instant feedback without page refreshes.

– In the coming months, Yahoo will open up their module development platform to 3rd party developers. In my opinion, the Mash API needs to be opened up to the Dev crowd really soon. That’s the key. In today’s world of social network overload, proprietary and closed platforms will have it tough to grow beyond a point. If you’re interested in knowing more about being a developer, you can email modules [at] yahoo-inc.com.

– In the profile page, there are a bunch of fields in ABOUT ME which you can edit away. Stuff like “If I were an animal, I would be…” and “My best features…”. I found one field interesting – “What’s most likely playing on my iPod”. Now I am an Apple fan but shouldn’t we also think about the Zune and Archos owners 😉

about me

– Style this profile allows you to change your page’s background image, link / text / border colours. You can also change the background colours of your modules and create hover effects. Here’s a screen shot of my entire page after the initial pimp out routine.

styled

The page styling option does bring back bad myspace memories of impossible reading experiences and huge download times but there’s one neat feature here on Mash which comes to your aid. There is a link called “This is fugly”. If you click that, you get to see the page in a visually toned down style. This is a good one and Myspace could really benefit from having something similar.

– Blurt is an option on the profile page where you enter a one liner describing at best what you’re doing currently. Basically blurts are status updates similar to the ones on facebook. It would be nice to have a blurt feed for friends so I can keep track without actually visiting Mash.

– Tags is an option where you enter keywords of interest like movies, music etc. Clicking on a keyword shows up other Mash members who tagged the same word, thus helping you find people with common interests.

– In the FRIENDS box on the top right, you can add new friends by entering their email addresses. If they’re not already on Mash, you can set up a profile page for them. I like this feature compared to the traditional “send an invite to sign up” route. One key feature which is sorely lacking is the ability to search for friends by name! The search bar on the site just allows you to search the web using Yahoo. You cannot have a social networking site without basic member search.

– Pulse is a feature which takes you to a page which compiles updates and blurts from all your friends. Whether they added a new friend or added a new module… it’s all reported here.

– In your profile settings, there’s an option to allow anyone or your trusted friends to edit your page. This gives them the means to actually play around with modules on your page, change colours and basically play havoc. You do have the Revision History setting to revert to a previously created page style. Needless to say, I’ve turned that feature off for now.

Overall, Mash is Yahoo’s latest attempt at social networking and still needs some work. It’s currently in BETA. It will surely get a lot of early adopters and members purely based on it’s Yahoo! brand and existing Yahoo loyalists will like the idea of their own network to hang out in.

If they can add member search, open up to the developer community, deploy a mobile version and fine tune the overall user experience soon, they have a fighting chance in the ever so crowded me-too networking scene. After all, what they’re offering is far from unique.





400 million Firefox downloads in 3 years

11 09 2007

firefox logo The Mozilla foundation announced today that there have been 400 million confirmed Firefox downloads spread across 3 years. Not bad stuff for one of the original “alternate” browsers 🙂

One of the main reasons Firefox succeeded in challenging the dominant IE (Internet Explorer) browser was that they opened up their platform for 3rd party developers really fast. It has the largest collection of 3rd party add-ons and plugins across multiple categories like music, movies, bookmarks, dictionaries, themes etc. The list keeps growing monthly.

I also like the idea of special releases like the “Firefox Campus Edition“. It features a lot of extras like access to music, sites and useful information for students in a nice free package. It features Foxytunes to listen to music while surfing, Zotero for taking quick notes and of course Stumble Upon!

Firefox has a legion of fans and an ever growing developer base working hard to make this the most open and flexible browser in the market. It’s probably a matter of time before this application becomes the major browser out there and sheds its “alternate” tag. It’s about time.





Amazon to sell DRM-free MP3s. Will it make a dent in iTunes sales??

4 09 2007

Amazon LogoYou read that right. Amazon.com – the giant (we’re not just books anymore) web store announced earlier this year that it’s going sell DRM-free MP3s. What that essentially means is that you can I can ‘legally’ burn CDs with the purchased music. We can copy and listen to the music across multiple computers/devices be it Desktops, laptops, iPods etc (provided the devices all belong the same user). Amazon’s music catalog will include music from EMI as well as from 12,000 independent music companies.

What’s not clear is the pricing model as yet. Some industry insiders are speculating that they might have a variable price-point model. Users can vote for the price on a song and then settle on a bid. I’m not sure whether this is the best idea to start with since people have different views on creative content like songs. You and I will have different opinions on whether a particular song is worth a dollar or more or less.

What will work is a flat fee system like iTunes. Maybe even go the Apple route and charge a flat 99c per song. Apple currently charges a flat 99c for all songs in the iTunes store but they’re all DRM bound. Currently, if you want to purchase DRM free music from Apple iTunes, you have to pay a premium of $1.29 per song. Read the official press release. *

If amazon can set a very aggressive pricing system of 99c (or less) across the board for all DRM free music, they might be able to make a dent in iTunes sales within a year. Apple does have the head start however. It recently announced the crossing of the 3 billion song mark on iTunes! Plus, Apple is a brand which is intrinsically connected with digital music thanks to iMacs, iTunes and of course iPods. Make no mistake…. it was digital music which resurrected the mac in the late 90s. The iPod saved the entire computer company as a whole.

And for my money, I feel iTunes certainly offers the slickest way to buy and enjoy digital music today. It’s integrated iTunes software (browsing, shopping, jukebox) keeps getting better and more solid with every version.

Amazon needs to create a cracker of a shopping experience and set “easy on the pocket” prices for it’s DRM-free music. THEN, the battle will truly begin. Whatever happens, we consumers will anyway have more choice so that’s always a good thing!





Reliance Entertainment launches BIGFLICKS.COM

4 09 2007

Reliance launches BIGFLICKS.COM

Big Flicks Logo
Reliance Entertainment (in India) just launched bigflicks.com last week. It’s great to see big corporate groups investing in new media and internet platforms. However, considering that they have far more financial resources at their disposal, they should hopefully focus on creating great delivery platforms. Right now my initial impressions are that bigflicks.com is a half baked product. It’s still work in progress and will need a lot of features to really make it interactive.

As a long term strategy, Reliance retailing video content is a very smart move. They already own the broabdband pipes which can power the people with bandwidth. Once more home users in India have 1MBPS or more, they will eventually seek streaming video content, pre-recorded shows and of course mainstream films. Currently, the bigflicks site is catering more to Indians settled abroad.

Movies can only be bought as of now but in the near future renting will also be an option. In this regard, Reliance will be setting up DVD rental outlets which will be launched soon. Some of my observations……

– Current catalog includes some of the latest bollywood releases which is great for folks who missed it on the big screen. Great value for millions of Indians worldwide.

– The interface looks so 1997. I want some of the cool web 2.0 GUI here. The top side is that the site loads fast even on a normal cable net connection.

– No flash video??? The online trailers and previews are all in the windows media (.wmv) format. That seems a bit narrow. Ideally in today’s market, any online video should be published in the flash FLV format (a la youtube). It’s a far more democratic approach allowing more people to view the clips directly in their browsers. Plus, if you must launch a movie site which is to take advantage of broadband, why not throw in some hi-res trailers while you’re at it? Give everyone a low-res and a high-res viewing option. Plugging in mobile friendly videos in .3gp format wouldn’t hurth either. I would love to have an hour’s worth of movie trailers on my phone 😉

– The download manager is windows only. As a mac user, I can only wait and hope for apple compatibility.

– All titles retail for flat fees of either $14.99 or $4.49. I’m not sure what decides the pricing for a title.

– It’s clear the website structure and feature set has been designed in a rush. There are some critical navigational and search options which are sorely missing. Eg. if I’m seeing the detailed movie page , I only get the cast, director, producer details below. Ideally the director name should be a link which takes the user to a page listing other movies directed by the same director. The actor name should also be a link taking me to a page with a list of other films in which the actor is present. These are features which are very basic and quite easy to implement. Bigflicks could learn a lot by checking out the navigational structure of imdb.com

– No value addition. The biggest advantage of online platforms is the immense potential in value adds. Eg. on the cast listing for a movie, I should be able to click an actor’s name to get a detailed bio, check out trivia, see some misc. pics of the star and also leave messages in a fans section. Give people a reason to visit the site for movie information and details besides being just a plain vanilla retail channel.

– No inter-site functionality. Considering that the guys behind bigflicks.com also created bigadda.com (an Indian social networking site), it beats me why there’s no cross linking betwen the two. Eg. if I liked a movie I bought on bigflicks, there should be a button there called “Liked it? Discuss it with your friends on Bigadda!”. This allows both the properties to benefit from incoming traffic. If the same company is going to invest in multiple properties like social networking, movie retailing, broadband infrastructure, it makes sense to bind them all together so users have no reason to go elsewhere.

– As the online catalog grows, it would be nice to have a listing of movie titles by Date of release. This allows a user to quickly check for all the titles released in 2005 or whatever.

There are lots of other points which I’m sure can be added to make this site a richer, more interactive experience. Anyway, it’s a start and hopefully they will implement these points along the way.

P.S. I’m always open to consulting them long term 😉

– Amit Bhowmik