Friday, January 30, 2009

Apple and AT&T could be working on a MacBook 3G by By David Chartier

Comments from AT&T's President of Emerging Devices Division have reinvigorated rumors that Apple could be working on a "MacBook 3G." AT&T is looking to partner with more manufacturers on subsidized hardware in return for data subscriptions, and Apple is right in its crosshairs.

We are rapidly approaching an age where portable computers may not be much to write home about if they don't have some kind of fast, wide area Internet access. The iPhone sports 3G capabilities, one of Acer's netbooks comes with a data contract, and now, if generic comments from an AT&T department president are to be believed, Apple may be working with AT&T to produce a 3G-enabled MacBook.

In a conversation with Fortune, Glenn Lurie, AT&T's President of Emerging Devices Division, discussed netbooks and the emerging business model of subsidizing devices in exchange for everyone's favorite two-year data subscription contract. Lurie says that AT&T's holiday experiment with a $99 Acer Aspire One netbook that requires a contract for data service went "extremely well," and the carrier is looking to expand on its prospects of supplying data services to more gadgets.

At the end of the interview, Lurie teases the fact that he recently sat down with Apple COO Tim Cook—who, once again, is stepping in during Steve Jobs' leave of absence. While Lurie did not namedrop any specific product opportunities, he did say, "I would very much like to do more business with Apple, and hope that we do" in response to questions about a discounted MacBook.

Combine these comments with Apple's statement from its Q1 2009 earnings call that it is "watching [the netbook] space," and it isn't hard to imagine a MacBook 3G in the company's future. While the $1,299 MacBook probably wouldn't drop to quite the price range of the Aspire One with AT&T's subsidizing, the possibility is there for either a cheaper MacBook/Pro, or the much-rumored arrival of an actual Apple netbook.

One minor detail that the two companies will have to contend with is how to handle iPhone owners who already pay $20-30 for data on their (non-tetherable) phones. Asking aspiring MacBook 3G owners who are already iPhone subscribers to drop what is typically $60 for data connections on a subsidized notebook might not go over well. Hopefully, some appreciation for doubling up on 3G devices will soften the financial blow.

Self-publishers flourish as writers pay the tab By Motoko Rich Published: January 28, 2009

The point may soon come when there are more people who want to write books than there are people who want to read them.

At least, that is what the evidence suggests. Booksellers, hobbled by the economic crisis, are struggling to lure readers. Almost all of the New York publishing houses are laying off editors and pinching pennies. Small bookstores are closing. Big chains are laying people off or exploring bankruptcy.

A recently released study by the National Endowment for the Arts found that while more people are reading literary fiction, fewer of them are reading books.

Meanwhile, there is one segment of the industry that is actually flourishing: capitalizing on the dream of would-be authors to see their work between covers, companies that charge writers and photographers to publish are growing rapidly at a time when many mainstream publishers are losing ground.

Credit for the self-publishing boomlet goes to authors like Jim Bendat, whose book "Democracy's Big Day," a collection of historical vignettes about presidential inaugurations, enjoyed a modest burst in sales in the hoopla surrounding President Barack Obama's swearing-in.

After failing to secure a traditional publishing deal in 2000, Bendat, a public defender in Los Angeles, paid $99 to publish the first edition of his book with iUniverse, a print-on-demand company. He updated the book in 2004 and 2008, and has sold more than 2,500 copies. IUniverse takes a large cut of each sale of the book, currently on for $11.66.

As traditional publishers look to prune their booklists and rely increasingly on blockbuster best sellers, self-publishing companies are ramping up their title counts and making money on books that sell as few as five copies, in part because the author, rather than the publisher, pays for things like cover design and printing costs.

In 2008, Author Solutions, which is based in Bloomington, Indiana, and operates iUniverse as well as other print-on-demand imprints including AuthorHouse and Wordclay, published 13,000 titles, up 12 percent from the previous year.

This month, the company, which is owned by Bertram Capital, a private equity firm, bought a rival, Xlibris, expanding its profile in the fast-growing market. The combined company represented 19,000 titles in 2008, nearly six times more than Random House, the world's largest publisher of consumer books, released last year.

In 2008, nearly 480,000 books were published or distributed in the United States, up from close to 375,000 in 2007, according to the industry tracker Bowker. The company attributed a significant proportion of that rise to an increase in the number of print-on-demand books.

"Even if you're sitting at a dinner party, if you ask how many people want to write a book, everyone will say, 'I've got a book or two in me,'" said Kevin Weiss, chief executive of Author Solutions. "We don't see a letup in the number of people who are interested in writing."

The trend is also driven by professionals who want to use a book as an enhanced business card as well as by people who are creating books as gifts for family and friends.

"It used to be an elite few," said Eileen Gittins, chief executive of Blurb, a print-on-demand company whose revenue has grown to $30 million, from $1 million, in just two years and which published more than 300,000 titles last year. Many of those were personal books bought only by the author. "Now anyone can make a book, and it looks just like a book that you buy at the bookstore."

To be sure, self-publishing is still a fraction of the wider publishing industry. Author Solutions, for example, sold a total of 2.5 million copies last year. Little, Brown sold more than that many copies of "Twilight" by Stephenie Meyer just in the last two months of 2008.

But in an era when anyone can create a blog or post musings on Facebook or MySpace, people still seem to want the tangible validation of a printed book.

"I wanted the satisfaction of holding the book in my hands," Bendat said.

As a result of his iUniverse book, the British news channel Sky News asked Bendat to provide live commentary on Inauguration Day. A group of Washington hotels ordered 500 copies to give to guests who were in town for the event.

"O.K., it's not a best seller," Bendat said, "but I'm happy for what's happening."

Vanity presses have existed for decades, but technology has made it much easier for aspiring authors to publish without hefty upfront costs. Gone are the days when self-publishing meant paying a printer to produce hundreds of copies that then languished in a garage.

Now, for as little as $3, an author can upload a manuscript or collection of photos to a Web site, and order a printed book within an hour. Many books will appear for sale on or the Web site of Barnes & Noble; others are sold through the self-publishing companies' Web sites. Authors and readers order subsequent copies as needed.

The self-publishing companies generally make their money either by charging author fees — which can range from $99 to $100,000 for a variety of services, including custom cover design and marketing and distribution to online retailers, or by taking a portion of book sales, or both.

Some, like Lulu Enterprises and CreateSpace from, allow the author to create the book free, but then make their money on a small printing markup and a profit split with the author.

For some authors, the appeal of self-publishing is that they can put their books on the market much faster than through traditional publishers.

Of course, authors who take this route also give up a lot. Not only do they receive no advance payments, but they also often must pay out of their own pockets before seeing a dime. They do not have the benefit of the marketing acumen of traditional publishers, and have diminished access to the vast bookstore distribution pipeline that big publishers can provide.

Still, many self-publishing companies allow authors to take more than the traditional royalty of 15 percent of the cover price on hardcovers and 10 percent or less on paperbacks.

Michelle Long, an accountant who advises small businesses, published "Successful QuickBooks Consulting," a guide for others who want to help businesses use a software package made by Intuit through CreateSpace a little more than a year ago. She said she had earned 45 to 55 percent of the cover price on each sale and had made $22,000 in royalties on the sale of more than 2,000 copies.

During an economic downturn, books tailored to such narrow audiences may fare better than titles from traditional publishers that depend on a more general appeal.

"A lot of this niche content is doing fairly well relative to the rest of the economy because it's very useful to people who have a very specific need," said Aaron Martin, director of self-publishing and manufacturing on demand at Amazon.

For many self-published authors, the niche is very small. Weiss of Author Solutions estimates that the average number of copies sold of titles published through one of its brands is just 150.

Indeed, said Robert Young, chief executive of Lulu Enterprises, based in Raleigh, North Carolina, a majority of the company's titles are of little interest to anybody other than the authors and their families. "We have easily published the largest collection of bad poetry in the history of mankind," Young said.

Still, the dream of many self-published authors is that they will be discovered by a mainstream publishing house — and it does happen, however rarely.

When Lisa Genova, a former consultant to pharmaceutical companies, wrote her first novel, "Still Alice," a story about a woman with Alzheimer's disease, she was turned down or ignored by 100 literary agents.

Genova paid $450 to iUniverse to publish the book and sold copies to independent bookstores. A fellow author discovered the book and introduced Genova to an agent, and she eventually sold "Still Alice" for a mid-six-figure advance to Pocket Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, which released a new edition this month. It had its debut on the New York Times trade paperback fiction best-seller list on Sunday, at No. 5.

Genova likened her experience to that of young bands or filmmakers using MySpace or YouTube to attract a following. "It's really tough to break into the traditional model of doing things," she said.

Louise Burke, publisher of Pocket Books, said publishers now trawl for new material by looking at reader comments about self-published books sold online. Self-publishing, she said, is "no longer a dirty word."

Diamonds in the rough, though, remain the outliers. "For every thousand titles that get self-published, maybe there's two that should have been published," said Cathy Langer, lead buyer for the Tattered Cover bookstores in Denver, who said she had been inundated by requests from self-published authors to sell their books. "People think that just because they've written something, there's a market for it. It's not true."

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Man Gets Life in Prison For Killing Wife Who Changed Facebook Status to 'Single' By Jack Loftus, 4:00 PM on Sun Jan 25 2009

Edward Richardson, douche bag, got what he deserved this week when a jury of his peers convicted him of murdering wife Sarah Richardson, after she changed her Facebook status from "married" to "single."

Richardson received a life sentence for stabbing his estranged wife to death last May. She was living at her parent's home at the time following a falling out. When she later changed her status to "single," Richardson broke in and killed her. Later, he tried and failed to kill himself.

This is the third U.K.-based Facebook murder story to happen in the past year.

As ComputerWeekly reports, last year in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, "a man murdered his wife and then killed himself after she told visitors to her Facebook page that she was splitting up with him." In October, a Croydon, Surrey, man murdered his wife when she also changed her status to single. Somehow I don't think it's Facebook that's to blame in these cases, as they'd probably play out the same way, sadly, regardless of the method use to break off the marriage. [ComputerWeekly

Monday, January 26, 2009

We're in danger of losing our memories We have to make sure digital doesn't mean ephemeral, says the head of the British Library

by Lynne Brindley
The Observer, Sunday 25 January 2009

Too many of us suffer from a condition that is going to leave our grandchildren bereft. I call it personal digital disorder. Think of those thousands of digital photographs that lie hidden on our computers. Few store them, so those who come after us will not be able to look at them. It's tragic.

As chief executive of the British Library, it's my job to ensure that this does not extend to our national memory. At the exact moment Barack Obama was inaugurated, all traces of President Bush vanished from the White House website, replaced by images of and speeches by his successor. Attached to the website had been a booklet entitled 100 Things Americans May Not Know About the Bush Administration - they may never know them now. When the website changed, the link was broken and the booklet became unavailable.

The 2000 Sydney Olympics was the first truly online games with more 150 websites, but these sites disappeared overnight at the end of the games and the only record is held by the National Library of Australia.

These are just two examples of a huge challenge that faces digital Britain. There are approximately 8 million .uk domain websites and that number grows at a rate of 15-20% annually. The scale is enormous and the value of these websites for future research and innovation is vast, but online content is notoriously ephemeral.

If websites continue to disappear in the same way as those on President Bush and the Sydney Olympics - perhaps exacerbated by the current economic climate that is killing companies - the memory of the nation disappears too. Historians and citizens of the future will find a black hole in the knowledge base of the 21st century.

People often assume that commercial organisations such as Google are collecting and archiving this kind of material - they are not. The task of capturing our online intellectual heritage and preserving it for the long term falls, quite rightly, to the same libraries and archives that have over centuries systematically collected books, periodicals, newspapers and recordings and which remain available in perpetuity, thanks to these institutions.

The British Library is undertaking a collecting and archiving project for the London 2012 Games. With appropriate regulation, we aim to create a comprehensive archive of material from the UK web domain.

I am fortunate to spend my working day in one of the world's greatest libraries, a unique storehouse of 150 million items from ancient oracle bones to daily papers.

Our treasures range from Magna Carta to the lyrics of the Beatles. Digital Britain must include digitising this goldmine of content. Access to a digitised British Library ought to be the right of every citizen, every household, every child, every school and public library, universities and business.

We've made a start. Among the jewels of the collection are our 17th and 18th century newspapers. This magnificent archive provides a vivid insight into two centuries of British history, including the reporting of the French Revolution, the South Sea Bubble and the inauguration of George Washington.

Because of their fragility, access to such newspapers is severely restricted, but earlier this month, a digitised and fully searchable version of the collection became available, for free, to UK higher and further education institutions.

Tomorrow, Lord Carter will offer his interim report into digital Britain and I will welcome a strong vision because of the fundamental importance for the UK's cultural, creative and economic future in the global digital environment of the 21st century. This vision of a digital Britain must include the critical public service of preserving digital Britain's collective memory and digitising the unrivalled content within the British Library.

Anyone who watches television, films or reads novels can see how the UK is now reaping the benefit of systematic public investment in its rich heritage. David Starkey couldn't have made his forthcoming TV series on Henry VIII without the British Library's collections. Anthony Horowitz used the library for research when writing the popular television series Foyle's War and actor Alun Armstrong researched for the part of Albert Einstein by listening to the only sound recording of him at the British Library. Creativity does not simply emerge from nowhere.

We are in danger of creating a black hole for future historians and writers. In the British Library, the UK has an institution capable of leadership and a track record of delivery to ensure that our digital future can be a rich goldmine and not a void. For my part, I commit to championing this effort to the very best of my ability.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Sony Cybershot G3: World's First Camera You Can Surf the Web On By matt buchanan, 12:00 PM on Thu Jan 8 2009

The Cybershot G3 is a camera so special Sony Sir Howard Stringer himself did the honors: It's the world's first Wi-Fi camera with a built-in browser.


END Besides stealing your neighbor's Wi-Fi, it has free access to any AT&T hotspot until 2012, but then it won't matter since we're all going to die then anyway when the world ends. It's worded so it might mean you can only use AT&T spots for free to hit Sony's Easy Upload Home Page (which provides quick access to sites like Shutterfly, Picasa and YouTube), not But we'll find out. Oddly unmentioned in the list of supported services is Flickr.

Still, it doesn't really matter if it has a web browser, if the browser can't render itself out of ASCII paper bag—we're hoping it's a WebKit dealio 'cause that would make it a quick call from the sidelines. But we're not holding our breath on that (we are talking Sony, after all), so we'll have to grab some hands on time to see how well it handles the real internet. Sony's seeing this more as a flexible, fast way to dump and check your photos and videos online, direct from your camera, not so much as a way to compulsively watch YouTube videos or read Gizmodo, even though that's exactly what we want, and will try to do, practicalities aside.

Oh hey! I think there's a camera somewhere in there too. 10 megapixel sensor with 4x optical zoom, but it's got 4GB of storage built-in (optional expansion is Memory Stick only, grrr), with a 921,600-dot, 3.5-inch touchscreen and photo browsing software integrated. Otherwise, it's got typical Sony features like Intelligent Scene Recognition (automatically picks the best automatic scene setting, automatically), Face Detection, Smile Shutter (it snaps when people smile) and Dynamic Range Optimizer, which automagically balances contrast and detail.

It's available rightnowomg for $500.


Cyber-Shot Camera Lets You Share Your Memories in the Moment

LAS VEGAS (CES Keynote), Jan. 8, 2009 – With a focus on making photo sharing easier and more convenient, Sony today introduced the world’s first Wi-Fi® enabled digital camera that uploads photos and videos to Web sites through any public hotspot due to its built-in Web browser.

The new Cyber-shot DSC-G3 digital still camera answers one of the most pressing needs for photo enthusiasts: how to share those amazing photos and video clips of family, friends and events as soon as you shoot. The Cyber-shot camera makes it easy to upload images and video directly to popular photo and video sharing sites wherever a Wi-Fi connection is available.

“Research shows that our customers greatly value sharing images and video clips, but they often forget or don’t have enough time if they wait to get home to upload images,” said Phil Lubell, director of digital camera marketing at Sony Electronics. “Our new Cyber-shot DSC-G3 camera provides the simplicity and convenience of sharing in the moment, while the impulse is still fresh in people’s minds.”

The camera can wirelessly connect to any public hotspot, including hotels, restaurants, coffee shops and airports. Like a computer, the camera can connect to free or fee-based hotspots, as well as to secure and unsecured access points.

The new DSC-G3 model comes with complimentary AT&T Wi-Fi access to Sony’s Easy Upload Home Page until Jan. 31, 2012. It includes Wi-Fi access at thousands of AT&T hotspots across the United States, including participating coffee shops, selected book stores and major quick-serve restaurant locations, as well as hundreds of upscale hotels and airports.

“By collaborating with Sony to launch the first digital still camera with a built in Web browser and embedded access across the entire AT&T Wi-Fi service network, we’re enabling consumers to gain quick and convenient access to Sony’s Easy Upload Homepage through thousands of AT&T Wi-Fi hotspots across the country,” said Glenn Lurie, president of AT&T’s emerging device organization. “The wireless capabilities and cutting-edge features of the G3 camera with the reliable coverage of AT&T’s Wi-Fi network offers a unique consumer experience.”

Uploads Made Easy
The new camera makes it easy to connect to the Internet and upload images. By pressing the WLAN button on the camera, you can open its embedded Web browser.

After connecting to the Internet via wireless access points, the camera automatically navigates to the Sony Easy Upload Home Page, which includes direct links to photo sharing sites like Shutterfly™ and Picasa™ Web Albums; video sharing sites like YouTube™ and Dailymotion™; and a photo and video sharing site, such as Photobucket™. Also, the DSC-G3 camera allows you to access other sharing sites for uploading photos and videos through its Web browser.

Through the Sony Easy Upload Home Page, you can send e-mail notifications from the sharing Web sites to let friends and family know that you have posted new images and videos for viewing. This is perfect for sharing with loved ones that were not with you when you took the pictures or shot the videos.
When friends and family are nearby, you can use the camera to access photos you may have already uploaded to sharing sites and display them on its high resolution 3.5-inch LCD screen.

The camera supports DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) guidelines. By connecting to such DLNA-compatible devices as Sony BRAVIA® televisions via access points, photos in the camera can be played back with high-definition quality. In addition to BRAVIA TVs, the camera can connect to other DLNA-compatible devices, such as Sony VAIO® PCs.

Smart Camera
In addition to its wireless sharing capabilities, the new camera is built for high-performance imaging. The 10-megapixel camera is about three-fourths of an inch thin and includes a 4X optical zoom Carl Zeiss® Vario-Tessar lens. Although compact enough to fit in the camera’s slim dimention, this lens provides excellent sharpness and color accuracy.

The Intelligent Scene Recognition™ feature automatically identifies a total of eight types of scenes — backlight, backlight portrait, twilight, twilight portrait, twilight using a tripod, portrait, landscape and macro — and automatically optimizes camera settings for each challenging shooting situation, taking an additional shot in low and bright light scenarios.

With Sony’s Face Detection technology, the DSC-G3 camera detects faces in a scene and adjusts auto focus (AF), auto exposure (AE), flash and white balance accordingly. It can also distinguish between children and adults, allowing users to to prioritize faces according to their preference.

Combining the Intelligent Scene Recognition feature with Face Detection technology, the camera includes an anti-blink function that helps make closed-eye photos a thing of the past. The camera automatically takes two shots and then determines whether the subject(s) have closed eyes. It will record images with open-eyed subjects. If both pictures have subject(s) with closed eyes, the cameras will record one and display a warning so you can try again.

Sony’s Smile Shutter™ technology automatically captures a smile the moment it happens. You can use the adult or child priority setting when shooting scenes containing both adults and children, and the camera will distinguish one face from another.

The camera’s Dynamic Range Optimizer (DRO) determines the best exposure and contrast settings in almost any shooting environment, giving images a natural look with clearer details that match what you see with your naked eye. DRO also balances the contrast in scenes with strong highlight and shadow, recovering detail normally lost in shadow areas. Combining the benefits of Optical SteadyShot™ image stabilization with high sensitivity mode, Sony’s Double Anti-blur feature helps reduce camera shake blur, especially when there is low light.

Photo Library
The Cyber-shot DSC-G3 model is also a “photo album in your pocket” and has 4GB of internal memory that can store nearly 1,000 full-resolution or 40,000 VGA-quality photos. The 3.5-inch (measured diagonally) wide touch panel Xtra Fine LCD™ screen is perfect for photo-like viewing with high contrast and wide-angle viewing. This Xtra Fine LCD screen delivers high resolution images (921,600 dots) that is approximately four times higher than conventional LCDs.

The camera also makes it easy to sort thousands of images. While shooting, images are organized automatically in albums by date. All images in an album can be displayed simultaneously as thumbnails on the screen, and the desired image can quickly be selected.

There are four ways to view photos: standard folder view, date view, favorites and event view. Images can be stored and managed on both the camera’s 4GB internal memory and an optional Memory Stick® media card.

In addition to the in-camera organization and search functionality, bundled Picture Motion Browser (PMB) software allows you to quickly organize images on a compatible PC. The software lets you search and organize images by event or face, and you can display images in calendar or chronological views organized into folders.

Pricing and Availability
The Cyber-shot DSC-G3 camera is now available in black for about $500. The camera and a range of accessories can be purchased online at, at Sony Style® retail stores (, at military base exchanges and at authorized dealers nationwide.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Sommersi da milioni di sms Due miliardi per gli auguri - From by ETTORE LIVINI

BIP-BIP, bip-bip. Bip-bip, bip-bip. Altro che Jingle bells e Bianco Natal. Da qualche anno a questa parte la colonna sonora delle feste degli italiani, Capodanno compreso, è un martellante motivetto mono-nota suonato senza sosta dai cellulari di tutta la penisola: la valanga degli auguri via sms. Al giro di boa del millennio - tra il 25 dicembre '99 e il primo gennaio 2000 - ne erano partiti 100 milioni. Sembravano tantissimi. Quest'anno solo tra vigilia e giorno di Natale sono stati quasi un miliardo, il 20% in più del 2007.

Uno tsunami di baci e abbracci virtuali destinato ad andare in replica alla mezzanotte di domani quando, tra zamponi e lenticchie, la contabilità delle affettuosità telefoniche - secondo le stime dei gestori nazionali - dovrebbe aggiungere un altro miliardo di sms portando verso il record dei 2 miliardi il totale in questi giorni di vacanza, una quarantina a italiano.

Merry Christmas, non a caso, è il contenuto del "padre" di tutti i messaggini, il primo testo spedito su un arcaico cellulare il 3 dicembre 1992 da Neil Papworth della Sema a Richard Jarvis, manager Vodafone, per sperimentare questo nuovo servizio nato come ausilio per i non-udenti. Da allora molto è cambiato. Il bip-bip elettronico che scandirà i nostri veglioni di fine anno è diventato un cicalino familiare e sovranazionale, uguale a se stesso in ogni angolo del globo. Nel 2008, secondo la società di ricerca Gartner, sono stati spediti 2.300 miliardi di sms, il 19,6% in più dell'anno precedente e 150 volte i 17 miliardi del 2000. In Italia siamo a quota 29,3 miliardi e viaggiamo a una media di 1,4 a testa ogni giorno, lontanissimi dai fenomeni filippini (che ne digitano 15) ma secondi in Europa solo agli inglesi.

Cifre che si traducono in una pioggia d'oro - 60 miliardi l'anno il giro d'affari mondiale - per i gestori. Il motivo? Semplice, gli sms sono di gran lunga uno dei servizi più redditizi nel mondo della telefonia. Le cifre parlano chiaro: un messaggio può essere lungo un massimo di 160 caratteri, pari a 140 byte di spazio. In un kilobyte (prezzo di mercato circa 6 centesimi) ci stanno - anche aggiungendo un po' di spazio per formattazione e spedizione - sei testi. Il prezzo industriale, quindi, è attorno al centesimo mentre quello medio di vendita ai clienti di carte prepagate in Europa è di 7,5 centesimi (13 in Italia, siamo i più cari). Su 7.500 euro incassati dal gestore, insomma, ben 6.500 sono di profitto. Un margine da capogiro che ai colossi della telefonia mobile Usa è costato una class action da parte dei consumatori.

Gli short messages services non sono però solo un fenomeno economico e statistico. Anzi. In 16 anni di vita hanno cambiato le abitudini del mondo. Via sms ci si fidanza, si scoprono i tradimenti e alla fine ci si lascia (è successo all'ex tennista Boris Becker cui la compagna Sandy - per sicurezza - ha mandato cinque messaggi consecutivi d'addio). Un tribunale della Malesia ha stabilito che un testo mandato col cellulare vale come annuncio ufficiale di divorzio.

Il tempo ha sbriciolato anche le barriere generazionali: i ragazzi tra i 6 e i 19 anni (l'80% di loro ha almeno un telefonino) restano gli utenti più compulsivi con una media di cinque "invia" al giorno. I loro nonni però stanno recuperando il tempo perduto visto che in cinque anni il numero di ultra65enni che messaggia abitualmente è cresciuto del 33%. Qualcuno - soprattutto tra i giovanissimi - ne abusa. L'American Journal of Psychiatry ha ufficializzato sei mesi fa la nascita della dipendenza dai messaggini (sintomi l'apatia sociale e l'ansia quando si è senza cellulare), misurando stati di assuefazione agli sms superiori a quelli della nicotina. Le sale d'attesa degli ortopedici in tutto il mondo si sono riempite di pazienti affetti dalla neonata "Blackberry thumb", una tendinite che colpisce i pollici dei 40-50enni costretti - dopo anni d'ozio - a una compulsiva ginnastica messaggistica.

La lista delle patologie indirette è ancora più lunga. Se parlare al cellulare mentre si guida è pericoloso, leggere (e soprattutto digitare) un testo è un esercizio al limite del masochismo. Il Rac, l'Automobil club inglese, ha calcolato che la velocità di reazione dell'autista impegnato a pigiare i tasti del suo telefonino si riduce del 35%, più di chi ha fumato marijuana (21%) e persino di chi ha nel sangue una percentuale dello 0,8% di alcol (12%). Il vizio, tra l'altro, è piuttosto diffuso: il 70% degli americani, secondo Osterman Research, non rinuncia a mandare sms nemmeno mentre sta viaggiando in auto.

Abitudine diventata reato in California (con multa di 20 dollari, 50 per i recidivi), dopo il tragico incidente ferroviario di Los Angeles d'inizio anno, 25 morti, causato dalla distrazione del macchinista che - impegnato a inviare messaggini - non ha visto un semaforo rosso.

L'ultimo ingresso nell'enciclopedia medica del settore è però il nuovissimo "Sms walking", un fenomeno che solo nel 2007 in Gran Bretagna ha causato 68 mila feriti. Le vittime in questo caso sono i pedoni troppo concentrati nell'invio della loro corrispondenza telefonica per evitare ostacoli improvvisi lungo il percorso (cassonetti, auto in sosta, pali della luce, tombini aperti) o per accorgersi, capita anche a loro, di un semaforo rosso. A Londra i tecnici del Comune hanno addirittura avviato in alcune zone un servizio sperimentale di imbottitura dei lampioni con materassini morbidi, coadiuvato dal disegno di una linea continua a terra per segnalare i pericoli anche a chi - in trance da sms - cammina guardando solo verso il basso.

Il lungo elenco dei danni collaterali da messaggino non ha però impedito né la loro diffusione capillare né la trasformazione in un business a 360 gradi. Gli gnomi della pubblicità, com'era prevedibile, non si sono lasciati sfuggire un canale di comunicazione così importante e trasversale: solo in Italia nel 2007 sono stati spediti un miliardo di testi promozionali via telefono con un giro d'affari di 67 milioni, in aumento del 24% sull'anno precedente. La semplicità d'uso e di contabilizzazione ne ha fatto anche il canale privilegiato della raccolta di fondi per beneficenza, consentendo tra l'altro di raggiungere fasce di donatori che prima, scottati dalle difficoltà burocratiche e dai tempi lunghi, non avevano mai partecipato a iniziative di questo tipo: i bip-bip solidali hanno consentito l'anno scorso di raccogliere per buone cause 21,6 milioni di euro.

La sms-mania, e non poteva essere altrimenti, ha contagiato anche l'uomo dell'anno del 2008, Barack Obama. Anzi, secondo uno studio dell'Univesità di Yale, proprio la sua innovativa strategia elettorale tutta a base di messaggini è stata una delle chiavi per la vittoria alle presidenziali di novembre. "Change", predicava il candidato democratico, e cambiamento è stato anche nei delicati meccanismi della comunicazione politica. Il rivale John McCain, uomo del passato, si è affidato ai volontari per le campagne porta a porta e alle classiche telefonate personali. Obama ha cavalcato invece l'onda lunga del nuovo, gli sms. Una scelta che alla fine - sostiene Yale - ha pagato: bussando alla porta degli elettori, dicono le statistiche, si conquista un voto ogni 14 visite, al telefono circa uno ogni 38, con i messaggini uno ogni 200 "invia" pigiati. In termini di capillarità d'esecuzione e di costi, però, il risultato si ribalta: un voto costa 1,5 dollari con gli sms, 38 al telefono e 16 con la visita di persona a casa. E Obama alla fine ha avuto ragione.

Esiste già una tecnologia, anche in fase di studio, in grado di insidiare il boom degli sms? Gli esperti preferiscono non sbilanciarsi in previsioni. Qualche segnale di stanchezza, dicono, in effetti c'è già: i volumi continuano a crescere a buon ritmo ma la loro redditività, complice la concorrenza, non è più quella di una volta. Qualche anno fa gli analisti avevano vaticinato il boom degli mms, i messaggini con foto incorporata destinati, secondo la vulgata, a soppiantare i loro antenati. Ma sono stati sbugiardati dal mercato dove questo prodotto ha raggiunto percentuali di penetrazione che si misurano sulle dita di una mano.

Il vero nemico - dicono i big delle tlc - sono adesso i network sociali tipo Facebook. Ma anche loro, dopo un successo iniziale che ha fatto venire la pelle d'oca ai gestori che temevano la fine del Bengodi, sembrano iniziare già a battere in testa. Mandare in pensione il vecchio bip-bip, ormai che ci abbiamo fatto l'abitudine, non sarà facile nemmeno per loro.

Ma la community non dà soldi - from by ALESSANDRO LONGO

Social network come Facebook e MySpace sono giganti dai piedi d'argilla e molti di loro nel 2009 sbatteranno il muso contro la crisi. Alcuni falliranno e chiuderanno bottega. Oppure si faranno acquistare da giganti del web. Altri dovranno ridurre le pretese e mettere in campo rimedi sgradevoli quanto necessari, come cominciare a far pagare gli utenti per alcuni servizi ora dati gratis. Il problema è che la pubblicità già ora non riesce a coprire le spese, per molti social network, e nel 2009 andrà peggio. Sono stime che vengono dai vari ricercatori esperti di questo mercato.

In particolare a parlare di rischio fallimento sono stati gli analisti di Deloitte Research: fanno notare che i social network si sono fatti prendere da manie di grandezza e ora si trovano stretti in una tenaglia, tra i costi che crescono e i ricavi pubblicitari che non aumentano a sufficienza. Ormai i principali siti pagano 100 milioni di dollari l'anno, ciascuno, per archiviare i dati degli utenti. Hanno permesso loro di pubblicare foto e video in grandi quantità. File pesanti, che occupano spazio su hard disk e server, e che consumano banda. Di contro, secondo Deloitte un social network tipico ricava per ogni utente iscritto solo qualche centesimi di euro.

Gli analisti di Ovum, un altro osservatorio di ricerca, commentano quindi che molti social network non riescono a fare ancora soldi in modo adeguato in rapporto al numero di utenti che hanno. Vale soprattutto per Facebook, che ha un modello di business ancora da sistemare, e per Twitter, che invece non ne ha affatto uno. Già, Twitter ha zero entrate: deve ancora decidere come trasformare in soldi la propria popolarità. Pessimista è anche eMarketer, uno dei più autorevoli osservatori specializzati. Nei giorni scorsi ha rivisto le previsioni sui ricavi pubblicitari di Facebook, di MySpace e del mercato in generale, per il 2008 e il 2009. Le ha ridotte del 20 per cento circa, rispetto alle stime fatte prima della crisi.

Facebook conferma il ribasso: il ceo Mark Zuckerberg ha appena dichiarato al BusinessWeek che prevede di ricavare 250-300 milioni nel 2008, contro i 300-350 milioni stimati in precedenza.

Dai calcoli di eMarketer si apprende anche un'altra cosa: MySpace fa da solo circa metà dei ricavi del mercato totale dei social network. Facebook ricava molto di meno (meno della metà di MySpace), anche se ormai è il social network con il maggior numero di utenti al mondo (130 milioni). È come gridare che il re è nudo: Facebook è un fenomeno sociale, richiama analisi di scrittori, guru, sta esplodendo in Italia con un successo di pubblico insolito da queste parti, attirando nella rete anche utenti alle prime armi con l'informatica. Eppure non riesce a fare profitti, a differenza di MySpace, che è in positivo di poche decine di milioni di dollari l'anno.

Nel novero dei social network che bruciano soldi, tanto popolari quanto non profittevoli, c'è anche Youtube, posseduto da Google: anche questo sito come Facebook è ancora alla ricerca di un modello di business efficace. Il punto è che non è facile trasformare in denaro, con gli sponsor pubblicitari, i dati e i contenuti forniti dagli utenti. È un business molto nuovo, pochi grandi sponsor sono disposti a sperimentarlo e in tempi di crisi sono ancora più prudenti del solito. Preferiscono affidarsi a strumenti pubblicitari più consolidati, che garantiscano meglio il ritorno dell'investimento: per esempio, link sponsorizzati sui motori di ricerca.

Di contro, i social network devono stare attenti a non tirare troppo la corda con i propri utenti: li farebbero fuggire, se li bombardano di pubblicità o se sono troppo aggressivi nello sfruttare, per il marketing, i loro dati personali.

Finora il gioco comunque si è retto in piedi, perché anche se social network come Facebook e Twitter non fanno profitti possono contare sui finanziamenti dei capitalisti di ventura. Sono investitori che scommettono soldi in piccole aziende innovative e di solito hanno pazienza anche per 5-10 anni prima di vedere un ritorno. La crisi toglie però anche questo terreno dai piedi dei social network: i capitalisti di ventura stanno stringendo i cordoni della borsa.

Accedere al credito diventa più difficile, i soldi disponibili diminuiscono e vengono distribuiti con più prudenza e parsimonia. La soluzione? Secondo gli analisti i network cercheranno di differenziare le fonti di ricavo, affiancando l'e-commerce alla pubblicità. Alcuni venderanno indirettamente la musica, facendo accordi con fornitori come Amazon e Apple (iTunes). Youtube ha già fatto questo passo, MySpace lo farà l'anno prossimo (ha annunciato). Facebook punterà di più sulla vendita di servizi ai clienti (come i regali virtuali, che nel 2008 porteranno 50-60 milioni di dollari, secondo le stime di Silicon Alley Insider).

È probabile quindi che diventeranno a pagamento alcuni servizi adesso gratuiti, come la pubblicazione di video. I rimedi non basteranno a tutti per salvare il business: gli analisti stimano quindi che alcuni saranno costretti a chiudere o a farsi comprare da giganti come Google o Microsoft. I quali potrebbero usare i social network per potenziare le proprie piattaforme pubblicitarie, ora centrate sui motori di ricerca.