Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Really Easy Slidecasting Arrives

Slideshare is a site that I just love, especially the way they display a timeline with markers where your slide changes are. Mike Arrington (of TechCrunch) describes Slideshare as "YouTube for PowerPoint". And now, Slideshare has introduced 'Slidecast' - the ability to add narration to your slides. This is a great capability for people in the marcomm area.

I heard about this new feature in a post by Garr Reynolds on Presentation Zen. I follow Garr's blog with interest an occasional side-long look. Sometimes you get a gem like this. And viewing other people's stuff on Slideshare is another great way to stay on top of the presentation game.

Social Media Guru on the Move

Jeremiah Owyang, shown here with TDM folks at the recent iX Conference 2007, is leaving Podtech for Forrester Research. Jeremiah is the web-strategist extraordinaire, and one of the guys doing interesting stuff with live webcasting and social media. In fact, he introduced me to UStream. I have no doubt he'll make a great analyst.

Maybe I'll see him at TechCrunch 2.0 conference, which I'll be attending in San Francisco next month.

Anystream acquires Lectopia

A quiet revolution in the delivery of recorded presentations is allowing students to review lectures on their iPods and mobile phones, in addition to the browser. Given the number of niche players and proprietary technologies, this is a business opportunity which was bound to result in industry consolidation.

It is thus not startling that Anystream, which makes the Apreso presentation recording solution, has announced it paid an undisclosed sum to acquire Australia-based educational software Lectopia from the University of Western Australia (UWA).

Lectopia (known as the iLecture System from 1999-mid 2006) was developed by staff at the UWA's Multimedia Centre. It is a first generation tool for presentation recording. Anystream's Apreso is a third generation tool for presentation recording (after products from Accordent, Sonic Foundry and Aculearn), and it excels in automated publishing and distribution. Anystream also pioneered delivery of enhanced podcasts. Perhaps the rationale for this acquisition is for Anystream to expand its international presence, while gaining access to the relatively large installed base (of 500 classrooms) Lectopia has in Australia.

The combined entity will be known as Echo360 Inc (http://www.echo360.tv). It is not yet clear if the merger involve a technology change or is simply a rebranding of Apreso, but more information is expected to be available in coming months. In any case, the move marks a formal separation of the Apreso division from Anystream's Agility product line under the leadership of recently appointed CEO Fred Singer. Anystream had indicated to customers that its Apreso 2.0 release would be available in the 3rd quarter of 2007, and the acquisition is likely to delay this release. [Disclosure: My company Iterate is a master reseller for Apreso in Singapore.]

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Presentation Recordings with Style

Some people still do presentation recordings the old-fashioned way. Reading this article about how one Dartmouth lecturer is doing his own recordings really reminded me of how archaic things can be, and yet still solve the basic requirement of recording presentations.

Apreso is just so much better. Presentation recordings are fully automated, delivered within minutes after a class, and they look great!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Galaxy Zoo the Right Approach?

I've been pondering the premise of Galaxy Zoo, a newly launched astronomy Web site that lets the public contribute to a project that aims to help astronomers understand the large-scale structure of the universe. It adopts the basic model of SETI@home in enlisting volunteers to help analyze huge amounts of data in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. Today there are more than 85,000 volunteers.

In Galaxy Zoo, participants are called upon to help classify a million or so galaxies based on images taken by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS). The problem is framed in such manner that participants simply discriminate between a spiral or elliptical shape. But whereas SETI@home is a grid computing project in which computers do the number crunching, Galaxy Zoo participants must devote their eyes and minds to the task of evaluating the galaxies­, pattern-recognition work that (so the organisers believe) people do much better than computers.

Is it true that people are much better than computers at such recognition tasks? Today I had the honor of recording a lecture by Dr. Stanley Osher, an American mathematician who specializes in image recognition. Dr. Osher developed the Level Set method for tracking images and shapes in motion, now widely used in crime detection and animation. After the lecture I asked him about the Galaxy Zoo problem and he assured me that it was a waste of human effort - that computers could do the job more efficiently and accurately.

I buy the basic premise that humans have very well-refined pattern recognition capabilities, but I think the Galaxy Zoo problem is so basic that a machine could easily handle it. This is especially true if the software is as powerful as the various examples Dr. Osher shared in his presentation. The organisers seem to think otherwise, but it is indeed wonderful that they are inspiring so much popular interest in astronomy.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Virtual Maps Scam

Recently I received a very legal-looking letter from Virtual Map (S) Pte Ltd, which advised that I am liable for license fees for using a image reproduced from Singapore Street Directory. The image concerned was on the contact page of my company's website, and was acknowledged as supplied by Street Directory.

Recognising that my use of the map was inappropriate, I immediately removed the image, and replaced it with a link to an aerial view of my location using Google Maps (for free). Google Map provides both a physical and map view, with clear labels for surrounding buildings, so it's a better option anyway.

The letter as it turns out, is a marketing scam. The letter did not ask me to cease using the image from Street Directory, but merely to meet the good folks at Virtual Map (VM) "with a view to reaching an amicable settlement". On the Street Directory website, there is a link to estimate the cost of licensing such an image for one's website. I checked and the cost is US$ 2,117.65. It's not clear whether this is a one-time perpetual license, or an annual fee. The license terms state the territory is Singapore, so it's unclear if this is intended to cover international use (which would certainly be needed for an Internet website).

I called and wrote to the folks at VM and informed them that I had removed the image from my website, and had no money to pay for maps. I even offered to link to the map on the Street Directory website - which would bring traffic to their advertisers. Apparently deep linking is also something they want to charge for. They still insisted on a meeting to discuss terms of settlement. My view is that they have not even asked me to cease using the image - they simply want my money! I have informed them that if they want to discuss settlement, I will do so as part of mediation by the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS).

Then, today I spotted an article in the Straits Times which clearly states that Virtual Maps does not even have a clear copyright to the map data. The map data was licensed to them by Singapore Land Authority (SLA), and apparently they have not paid the license fees since 2004. SLA demanded over a year ago that they cease using the data. Yesterday a judge ordered VM to cease "dealing in maps which are reproductions of SLA's street directory vector data", and further ordered an inquiry into damages due to SLA.

Even the Wikipedia entry for Virtual Map has highlighted the disputes between VM and SLA on the one hand, and its users on the other.