It seems it's never too late to capitalize on the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Just ask NuvoMedia: The creators of the Rocket eBook, one of the first digital "reading tablets," have proudly announced that "Monica's Story" is the first mainstream book to be simultaneously released in paper and digital book formats.
A digital version of "Monica's Story," which was unleashed on an eager American public on Thursday, can currently be downloaded off barnesandnoble.com for a low $14.97 -- the same price as the hardcover version, but faster than trotting down to your local bookstore. The only caveat: You have to own a Rocket eBook to read it, which will set you back $499.
The choice of "Monica's Story" for the first simultaneous release of a bestselling title was no accident, of course: Says NuvoMedia's director of marketing, Marcus Columbano, "Of course we pushed for this. Any opportunity for a book with this amount of awareness is something that no businessperson would be able to pass by." Still, although barnesandnoble.com has announced that "Monica's Story" is selling a record 2.25 copies a minute, it would not reveal just how many of those copies were in Rocket eBook format.
-- Janelle Brown
SALON | March 5, 1999
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Amway joins the online multilevel marketing melee
Companies that have been successful in the offline world always seem to be the last ones to figure out how to make a go of it on the Net. Today's announcement that Amway will soon be hitting the Web serves as further proof of that rule.
Amway is an enormous purveyor of home products -- ranging from soap suds to computers -- sold through a 3 million-strong sales force of "distributors." According to an Associated Press story, beginning in September Amway will begin hawking those products on a site obliquely named Quixtar.com.
The catch is that Amway is best known as the world's most successful multilevel marketing scheme (or MLM). Those "distributors" are generally homespun Americans who try to make money by getting their friends to sell Amway products, who then recruit their friends to sell products, and so on. (The new Quixtar.com site will tailor that model for the Web, encouraging Amway distributors to sell "memberships" to the e-commerce Web site.)
Of course, most veteran Net users already know what a multilevel marketing scheme is: MLM solicitation is perhaps the most popular variety of spam on the Net. Your in box is probably already stuffed with unsolicited e-mail informing you that you'll make millions if you hop aboard some eager entrepreneur's MLM.
These entrepreneurs have long known that the Net is perfect for get-rich-quick MLM schemes -- oodles of potentially gullible "distributors," just an e-mail away! (To be sure, the Net is also perfect for people to vent their critiques of MLM schemes like Amway.) The irony of Amway's announcement is that it took the company this long to figure out that it belonged online. In fact, the wire reports say Amway's sales for last year fell 18 percent -- no wonder Amway is scrambling to catch up with its online imitators.
-- Janelle Brown
SALON | March 4, 1999
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Can the Pentium III bring the Net to life?
Intel is currently bombarding TV viewers with a high-energy ad campaign for the new Pentium III processor, which seems to nest behind a tall, cobalt-blue door. "Through this door is the power to make the Internet come to life," the ads promise. "Intel Inside" is now old hat; the chip giant's new slogan is "Don't just get on the Internet -- get into it." (Whatever that means.) The advent of the PIII means that "the Internet's going to be a whole lot more fun."
Bring on the fun! Just as long as people out there in TV land actually believe that a newer, faster processor will have a cosmic impact on their Net experience.
According to Intel's Web site, "The Pentium III processor offers the performance for the next generation of the Internet." Maybe so -- but for the current Internet generation, most users' computers have plenty of processor power to handle anything the Net can throw at them. The bottleneck remains where it's always been: in the bandwidth we use to connect to the Net, and in the Internet's distributed architecture, which means that data almost always makes it through -- but often not fast enough for the kind of high quality audio and video you might conceivably need a PIII to handle.
To see what I mean, just visit Intel's site and try to view its commercials over the Net itself. Whether you're downloading 3-megabyte video files or trying to view the streaming RealMedia versions, the wait and the picture quality are almost entirely a function of how fast your Net access is.
A fast PIII chip might speed up a programmer's work or spiff up an architect's 3-D model. But it can't do anything about those "Net congestion: buffering" messages that plague the lives of Net multimedia fans. For fun on the Net, your old Pentium should do just fine for a good while longer.
-- Scott Rosenberg
SALON | March 3, 1999
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In Silicon Valley, massively hyped computer
technology conferences are about as unusual as greedy venture capitalists --
and just as boring. But every once in a while, an industry gathering takes
place just as a particular technology is taking off. All the pieces fall
into place -- media and corporate attention, popular interest -- and
suddenly, the excitement on the conference floor is palpable to the point of
At least that's how attendees remember the First World Wide Web
conference, held in Geneva in May 1994, or the Internet Society's INET '95 in Honolulu. And who knows,
perhaps a few years down the line, people will look back at this week's
LinuxWorld conference and say that was when it all came together, when the
world agreed that open-source software was destined to conquer the universe.
The time is ripe for such hyperbole. Linux-related
announcements have surged through the media so fast that observers can
now only stand by and shake their heads. Events as seemingly minor as the
purchase of "linux.com" by VA Research merit a New York Times mention. No
Linux or other open source trade show has ever benefited from as much
pre-conference blather as LinuxWorld.
So has free software come of age? It's not quite a done deal. There's
always the possibility that the influx of corporate representation -- keynote
speeches by Corel's CEO, press conferences from the likes of Silicon
Graphics, investment announcements by IBM and Intel -- will suffocate the
grass-roots enthusiasm that has made Linux such a phenomenon. In which case
LinuxWorld could be remembered as the moment when open-source
software began to sell its soul.
We'll keep you posted.
SALON | March 2, 1999
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New legion in the Net music standard war
On Friday, the first meeting of the Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI) convened in Los Angeles, with nearly 200 representatives of the music and technology industries in attendance. The SDMI is a new coalition -- backed by the powerful Recording Industry Association of America -- that hopes to come up with a standard for music distribution on the Net. According to the SDMI's press releases, both tech and music heavyweights will powwow over the creation of a specification that "will protect copyrighted music in all existing and emerging digital formats and through all delivery channels."
The conflict, of course, is that there are a lot of companies with different standards, different hardware and different distribution systems -- and each has a vested interest in seeing its own technology prevail as the de facto standard.
In the weeks preceding the SDMI meeting, the wires have been burning with press releases from the technology companies that hope to help define the standard. IBM, for example, recently announced the "Madison Project" -- enabling consumers to download music by a cable modem using a special compression technology (Bonus: IBM signed on the Big Five labels). And just last Thursday, Sony announced its own music security system: "MagicGate" and "OpenMG," copyright protection systems for music downloaded to PCs. LiquidAudio, one of the distribution systems currently available, announced that it would be working with Diamond Multimedia to put music on the Rio MP3 player; and a2b -- the AT&T-backed music platform -- said it would be developing a new portable music player with Texas Instruments.
Meanwhile, the Fraunhofer Institute, which helped develop the MP3 standard, said it would work with Intertrust to push a new MP4 standard with an "artists rights system." And although the freely available (and security-free) MP3 format has won a chilly reception from the RIAA, the background of new SDMI executive director Dr. Leonardo Chiariglione might suggest a thaw: He's a pioneer of MPEG, the format from which MP3 has emerged.
Confused yet? Expect lots of bickering, confusion and even more announcements as the recording and technology industries each try to protect their profits and formats. The SDMI has promised both interoperability -- meaning that the specification should work with any format -- and a completion date of December 1999. Delivering on either promise could be tough.
-- Janelle Brown