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Sprout, developer of a unique drag-and-drop widget creation service, announced today that its development platform now supports the Facebook Platform, Facebook Connect, and OpenSocial. According to the press release, this will "enable brands and agencies to focus their time on the creative campaign development and still reap the rewards that social netwo
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rking applications offer.." Which means, if you are using Sprout for your ad campaigns already, you now instantly have access to three more social platforms to deploy on. If you aren't using Sprout, why not?

We covered Sprout's widget creator, product SproutBuilder at the DEMO '08 conference. Since then, it had to withdraw their free offerings to concentrate on remaining profitable. The good news is that recently, it is putting a toe back in with the availability of a limited free account type that allows for up to 3 projects (widgets) without reporting features or support. This is perfect if you have an idea for a Sprout widget but you want to try before you buy.

Details on how Sprout's foray into social media campaigns will work on a technical level are not outlined in the provided documentation. But if it is telling us that a marketing or advertiser can use their product and deploy it cross-platform without any coding skills, it could potentially add up to a big cost savings overall and may make the difference between Sprout and one of its competitors. Plus, one of those platforms is Facebook, which means instant viral exposure to millions of active user accounts.

Ribbit, the VOIP platform that was bought by British Telecom last year, announced the winners of its $100,000 KillerApps challenge today. The contest was obviously meant to stimulate interest in Ribbit's APIs among developers, and judging from the line-up of winning applications, a lot of developers came up with highly creative ways of using Ribbit's platform in their apps.
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Ribbit opened up its API about one and a half years ago, but even though the company was quickly bought up by British Telecom in July 2008, it was only after this year's SXSW, where Ribbit won the Innovative Web Technologies category in Microsoft's BizSpark Accelerator, that it appeared on our radar again.

We spoke to the Ribbit team yesterday, and while Ribbit is currently focused on providing SDK's and toolkits for Adobe's Flex and Flash platforms, it is also currently testing a RESTful API in private beta, which will soon allow developers to integrate Ribbit's platform into numerous other programming languages as well.


Here are the winners of the five categories in Ribbit's KillerApps challenge:

Media, Advertising, Entertainment: Lucid Viewer

Lucitd Viewer is an authoring tool that allows developers to create interesting, immersive experiences. This demo here, for example, shows a 3D, Google StreetView-like view of a street in Rome, with the ability to call up stores directly from the Flash interface through Ribbit's service. Lucid Viewer also won the Grand Price in Ribbit's KillerApps contest.

Business: Sugared Frog

Similar to Ribbit's own integration with Salesforce, Sugared Frog integrates Ribbit with SugarCRM. With the help of Sugared Frog, users of SugarCRM's open source solution can use Sugared Frog to organize their voicemail, and dictate notes and memos right from their mobile phones.

Social Networking and Communication: Save A Life

Save a Life is an interesting Adobe AIR application that allows you to quickly reach a group of friends or community members by phone. Currently, the application focuses on blood donations (you can download the application here), though the program could be used for other donation campaigns or emergency services as well.

Breakthrough: CYHAA

CYHAA won Ribbit's free-form 'breakthrough' category. CYHAA, which stands for Control Your Home, Anytime, Anywhere allows users to control their smart home devices with their voice right from their phones.

Link shortening services are so common you can't throw a stone online without hitting one, but TinyURL is the undisputed champ. It's one of the oldest, its name says what it does and despite repeated outages - its downtime is small enough that millions of people keep using it.

TinyURL has also allowed incomprehensible amounts of value, both in terms of technology and in terms of money, sit on the table unclaimed. For years. Now a group of some of the web's hottest investors are betting a few million dollars that a smart TinyURL competitor called
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a href=""> can take advantage of being the conduit through which millions of people visit sites of interest to them.

Today announced that it has raised about $2 million in its first round of funding. The round was led by Tim O'Reilly's venture fund and included money from Mitch Kapor (the inventor of Lotus), Jeff Clavier (portfolio), Ron Conway (early Google investor), the Accelerator Group and Howard Lindzon's new fund Social Leverage. All of those names are some of the hottest in the startup scene and all the companies in those various portfolios will now have a close business connection to

We reviewed when the project launched last July and urged readers to use this service to shorten their long links instead of other services like TinyURL. Why do we care what service people use? Because we're fans of innovation and is aiming to be a platform for innovation like TinyURL should have been. If web 2.0 is about democratizing publishing, the next step is machine leveraging all the resulting data.

The Magic

What does do that's so special? They use all the data they see and make it available to third party developers who want to build on top of it. They keep track of the clickthrough numbers and can tell you what the hottest links on the web are at any time. See this @bitlynow Twitter account for one display of that information. says it resolved 20 million distinct URLs last week. That's the beginning of a really large database. also uses Reuters Calais to extract semantic terms out of the pages that shortcuts are created to. That's valuable information. Want to see the most popular web pages that talk about Dancing With The Stars, or the Federal Stimulus Package, or some other topic, in the last 30 minutes? Somebody wants to, you'd better believe, and that's the kind of real-time information that the API aims to make available. (Disclosure: Calais is an RWW sponsor.)

We've had some concerns about the clickthrough numbers that has reported but the company says they are going through a list of reporting sources that give them problems and eliminating them one at a time. The company says it is now reporting real-time traffic stats that are within 10% of what Google Analytics reports much later. We've been watching the numbers improve in accuracy when it comes to our numbers and can confirm that they are getting much better.

A number of people have looked at today's news and thought it was ridiculous that a link shortening business could raise $2 million in funding. We don't think it's ridiculous at all. Show us a service that can report in real time how many people are visiting millions of pages around the web and what those pages are about, that exposes that data in an API, and we'll show you a platform we're very excited to see work.


Skype does not get the respect it deserves, because eBay not only publicly admitted to overpaying for it but is making a mess of its core business. Another reason may be that Skype flies in the face of conventional Valley wisdom that says it has to be all about social media. digg_url = '';digg_bgcolor = '#ffffff';digg_skin = 'normal';Or maybe the fact that Skype came from Europe, and we all know that Europeans are just lunch-eating dilettantes. Whatever the reason, a company tha
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t has $500 million in revenue, is profitable and growing, and has a shot at becoming the largest player in what is now a $2 trillion (yes, "t" for trillion) market, should get more respect.

Ten Reasons

In ten years time we may look at Skype in the same way we look at Amazon and Google, as a huge built-to-last company, for these ten reasons:

It has revenue, about $500 million in 2008. Ahem, only in the strange world of Web 2.0 is that considered remarkable. I love using Twitter, but without sustainable revenue their future has to be in question.

It is profitable. We're talking "high-teen margins," according to eBay's CEO at the Accel Symposium. That does put it in a different league. It means they can survive the harshest of economic climates. If Facebook is having to raise money in these markets their model must be fundamentally flawed, which means their time as an independent company maybe limited. To control your own destiny, you need to be profitable.

Skype's growth is accelerating in a tough market. Skype is publicly talking about growth rates of 30% to 40%. That's not bad in an economy where flat is the new 30%. Skype has the perfect recession pitch: cut costs now! This shows in its most recent numbers. In the last quarter, Donahoe told us that Skype-to-Skype grew 73% and Skype Out grew 63%.

Disruptive technology. Disruptive technology is an over-hyped term, but in this case it really fits. Skype's peer to peer technology enables them to dramatically under-price the competition and still make money. New users don't cost much money - compare that with Facebook and YouTube. Even better, each new user that comes on improves the service for others - the core P2P proposition.

Viral marketing. Skype is the perfect viral business. I have lost count of the number of people I have told about Skype, for the simple reason that I want to communicate better/cheaper with them. Many of them are doing the same.

Massive market with vulnerable incumbents.$2 trillion is a lot of money. That is the size of the global telecom market. As to vulnerable, how many people feel so loyal to their telephone company that they won't switch to get lower prices? Yes, when Skype dominates the market it won't be worth $2 trillion any more. Even if it is worth 25% of that, say $500 billion, that is OK for the dominant player. Faced with the Skype threat, incumbents have a horrible innovator's dilemma. To really match Skype will destroy their current business even faster.

Just wait until it bites into those cell phone bills.Skype on mobile phones - really native Skype you can use for free wherever there is WiFi - has been possible technically for some time. This has been held back by the mobile operator's head lock on the device manufacturers. At some point the damn will break. Consumers pent up anger over nickle and diming cell phone bills will ensure that a real alternative will be welcomed.

Skype is totally mainstream. This is not about being hip or early adopter. Just show the video conversation to anybody with loved ones in distant places. You will see the surprise and amazement that makes it seem like magic.

It is a sticky service. Google still gets my business because they are better than the alternatives. But switching to an alternative will be totally simple. When somebody suggests using something other than Skype, I resist. I have my contacts in there, know exactly how it works and have integrated some external tools. Skype can continually add new features to make the experience better as our hunger for communication is pretty well limitless.

Skype can do an IPO. For anyone younger than 30, we should probably spell that out: Initial Public Offering. We keep being told that the IPO market is moribund because of Sarbanes-Oxley. Baloney! The IPO market is moribund because we have lacked profitable high-growth companies that move into huge markets.

My prediction is that as soon as market conditions improve, eBay will sell Skype through an IPO. Their shareholders will pressure them to do so. There is no synergy logic being part of eBay. The value of Skype is obscured by the problems in eBay's core business. The Skype IPO can be early in the market recovery as their story resonates so well in a recession (markets usually recover well before the economy recovers).

Who Else?

Who else can take the title "biggest winner from the Web 2.0 era"?

Google: not really Web 2.0, though; born in 1999.

YouTube: still losing money, no clear monetization model, and video-serving costs are substantial. It is hard to imagine YouTube as an independent company

Facebook: how long can the great hope remain the great hope? At some point, it has to demonstrate a sustainable revenue model and some profit. It still doesn't have a native revenue model that makes sense to both users and advertisers.

Twitter: see above. not really Web 2.0 either; born in 1999. More revenue than Skype today, but smaller addressable market.


Researchers from the University of Toronto have discovered an online spying operation that has infiltrated in excess of 1,200 computers in over 100 countries according to a report today in The New York Times.

Dubbed GhostNet, the operation is notable. Not only can it phish for information, it has remote access capabilities that can quickly and easily turn any computer into a giant listening device.
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The investigation into GhostNet began after the office of the Dalai Lama suspected malware on its computers and contacted the Munk Center for International Studies to take a closer look. As the researchers dug deeper, they found more cause for concern: the operation, according to the researchers, appears to not only be spying on the Dalai Lama, but also on the governments of South Asian and Southeast Asian countries.

While researchers believe the operation is based in China, they are quick to point out that this does not necessarily mean the Chinese government was involved. "This could well be the C.I.A. or the Russians. It's a murky realm that we're lifting the lid on," Ronald Deibert, an associate professor of political science at Munk told The New York Times.

The researchers' findings, Tracking GhostNet: Investigating a Cyber Espionage Network, are due to be released this weekend on the Information Warfare Monitor Web site.

In this edition of the Weekly Wrapup, our newsletter summarizing the top stories of the week, we discuss web apps that have stood the '30 day test' for our writers, analyze the past, present and future uses of the Twitter platform, look into the phenomenon of "ghost twittering", review the latest changes to the Facebook homepage, check out the latest online TV trends, and more. Also we look at featured stories from Jobwire, ReadWriteWeb's new product which tracks hires in tech and new media, and our Enterprise channel.
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Web Products
Still Shiny: 23 Apps We're Using One Month Later
Here at ReadWriteWeb we see hundreds of new apps, scripts, plug-ins and doo-das every week. We review some portion of those. Many we get excited about. But few stand the test of time for even 30 days. Here are 23 apps we're still using a month or more after discovering them.

We wrote a similar post last November ("30 Days Later: 22 Apps We're Still Using 1 Month After Finding Them") and can happily report that we're still loving almost all the services we wrote about then. If a service can make it past the 30 day mark, it has a good chance of sticking around for awhile. 22 or 23 in a month is a pretty impressive number really, so go web innovators go!

The Future of Firefox: Interview With Mozilla's Chief Innovation Officer
In my recent visit to Silicon Valley, I got the chance to visit the Mozilla headquarters. Among others at the organization, I spoke to Chris Beard - Mozilla's Chief Innovation Officer and the person overseeing its efforts to bring new concepts to the browser, a.k.a. Mozilla Labs. We discussed where Firefox is heading and how it compares to Google Chrome in particular. We also talked about Mozilla's new mobile browser Fennec, the add-on platform, and how recent innovations by Mozilla - such as Weave and Ubiquity - fit into the big picture. In this post we'll focus on the near future of Firefox. to Charge Subscription Fee for Many International Listeners
The CBS-acquired streaming music service announced this week that it will "soon" require users outside of the US, UK and Germany to pay €3.00 per month to keep the music rolling. In blog comments on the announcement, the company explained that those three countries were the only ones where ad sales were proving successful enough to monetize the free music that way; elsewhere the money will have to come out of listeners' pockets. It's a dramatic move that could pave the way for other media companies to do the same and effectively open up international markets. People complain, but do you think that viewers would pay a similar monthly fee for international access to Hulu, for example? We do.

Facebook Tweaks New Homepages in Response to User Complaints
As we reported last week, Facebook's users clearly disliked the latest updates to their homepages, and now, Facebook is giving in to pressure from its most vocal users. According to Facebook, its users were especially unhappy with the lack of filtering mechanisms for the news stream on their homepages. This week Facebook's Chris Cox announced that the company plans to tweak the current design in order to give users greater control over what updates appear in the news stream.
The White House Has a Digg Clone
The White House has launched a new web site where anyone can submit and vote up their most important questions for President Obama about the economy. That's right - the White House has a Digg clone!

A Word from Our Sponsors
We'd like to thank ReadWriteWeb's sponsors, without whom we couldn't bring you all these stories every week!

Mashery is the leading provider of API management services.
Web 3.0 Conference, semantic web and linked data, May 19-20 NYC
Socialtext brings you 5 Best Practices for Enterprise Collaboration Success

Crowd Science gives you detailed visitor demographics.
Rackspace provides dedicated server hosting.
TaxACT lets you file your taxes online.
Calais brings semantic functionality into your website or app.
Aplus provides web hosting services for small business hosting needs.
Wistia offers private video sharing for business.
MediaTemple provides hosting for RWW.

Eurekster is a custom social search portal.
SixApart provides our publishing software MT4.


Former Yahoo! Now Guitar Hero Frontman
Activision Blizzard announced that it has appointed former Yahoo! COO Dan Rosensweig to be its new President and CEO of of RedOctane, the business unit which develops the mega-popular video game Guitar Hero. Rosensweig will be responsible for Guitar Hero's global operations "including game development, hardware manufacturing, supply chain, logistics and marketing" and report to President & CEO of Activision Publishing Mike Griffith.

Web Trends

The Twitter Platform: 3 Years Old and Ready to Change the World
Twitter marked its 3rd birthday last weekend and the site that Nielsen called the fastest growing social network last month shows no signs of slowing down. While active participation by users is a great show of strength, the use of Twitter as a platform for developers and aggregate data analysis is the most exciting thing about the company. The story of Twitter as a platform is just beginning; the most exciting developments are still to come. In this post we share our three favorite examples of what Twitter is becoming; these 3rd party uses of the service point the way for the larger Twitter ecosystem to become even more important in the future. We're not talking about Twitter clients, we're talking about Twitter data mining.

How Do You Feel About "Ghost Twittering?"
The New York Times this week had an interesting article about the new trend of "ghost Twittering." If you don't know what that means, it's when someone, usually a celebrity, politician, or a "personal brand" of some sort, pays another person or other people to update their Twitter account on their behalf. This "ghost writer" of tweets thus becomes a "ghost Twitterer." While it may make sense for someone like U.S. President Barack Obama to farm out Twitter updates to staff (he has bigger tasks to focus on than tweets), when individual celebs and micro-celebs engage in this practice it seems a bit disingenuous. Is it really so hard to post 140 characters every now and then?
Gen Y Says: "I Want My Social TV!"
New research from Parks Associates found that many Gen Y TV viewers are ready for a change when it comes to their television-watching experience. According to a recent report, over one-fourth of users ages 18-24 are interested in having more social media features integrated into their TV. This data should come as good news to companies like Verizon and Yahoo!, both of whom have been pushing their new social networking widgets. But it also has broader implications that go beyond kids just wanting Facebook on their TV. The study found that there's a desire to use social networking as a platform to actually enhance the TV-watching experience through interactive chats with other viewers and to have the ability to recommend shows to friends.

Got an Hour? Create a Server in the Cloud
Dave Winer recently announced EC2 for Poets, a step-by-step guide to help you create a server on Amazon's EC2. "It's time to stop thinking about these servers as being things for geeks and start thinking about them as things for people with ideas," Winer said in a podcast roadmap he created for this work. The technology available today is enabling anyone with even the slightest technical bent to get out there and create amazing new things; often taking the technology in directions than the company which created it could have ever imagined.

Enterprise Integrates Twitter
When Gmail failed a few months ago, I tried using Google to find out what was going on. When that did not get me an answer, I tried Twitter and did find some answers. That alerted me to the power of real-time search in one specific usage case. It was a relatively minor problem for me. But what if I ran customer service for a SaaS firm that just had a major outage? How would I find and monitor the conversations going on out there? That is what this week's announcement by about Twitter integration is all about.
Email us if you're interested in writing for ReadWriteWeb's Enterprise Channel.
That's a wrap for another week! Enjoy your weekend everyone.

The U.S. newspaper industry was already facing numerous challenges before the economy took a nosedive, but the latest data from the Newspaper Association of America shows that the current economic climate has only exacerbated the already dire state of the American newspaper industry. Specifically, total newspaper advertising revenue fell 16.6% in 2008. Classifieds advertising, which is under a lot of pressure from online ventures like Craigslist, fell almost 30%, and real est
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ate classifieds fell 38%.

Thanks to the U.S. housing boom, real estate classifieds had been one of the most stable sources of advertising income for newspapers, with growth rates up to 30% in 2006. But now, even recruitment advertising, another income source newspapers used to be able to count on, fell a full 42% in 2008 (and more than 50% in the last quarter of 2008), as overall recruitment fell to record lows thanks to the state of the economy, and as both recruiters and job seekers moved online to advertise and search for jobs.

Indeed, the state of the newspaper industry has become so dire that U.S. Senator Benjamin Cardin introduced a bill on Tuesday that would grant non-profit status (and the tax breaks that come with it) to ailing newspapers to give them a chance to restructure their business.

Image credit: Trulia blog

Shutting Down the Presses

In the last couple of weeks, a growing number of newspapers have moved their businesses completely online. Just last week, the Seattle P-I announced that it was going to become an online-only publication with a reduced staff (and the latest data shows that the traffic on the site has actually gone down since then).

Laying Off Journalists

The New York Times, after already selling its venerable headquarters in a lease-back deal earlier this month, now plans to cut 100 of its 1332 newsroom jobs, and the company just announced that it also plans to cut salaries by 5%. The Houston Chronicle just laid off 12% of its staff - and the list of papers that have ceased publication on the Newspaper Death Watch blog continues to grow.

The Breaking Point: Are We There Yet?

One thing is clear: a lot of newspaper are about to hit their breaking point. While there was already a trend towards online publications, the current economic climate is only accelerating this process. Gimmicky experiments like a custom newspaper that readers can print at home will do little to reverse this trend. Indeed, while some forms of printed newspapers (think free, fully advertising-financed newspapers distributed at train stations in Europe, for example) will most likely continue to be around for a while, the future of the industry is clearly online.

CC-licensed image used courtesy of Flickr user purdman1.

People have been whispering about a new web application in development called Hunch. Today, Flickr co-founder and Hunch head honcho Caterina Fake divulged some more details about the new project on her blog.

The new project aims to become a site that can help anyone make a decision about anything. The way it will do this is through the application of decision trees that are created by contributing users. Using
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ki/Decision_tree">decision trees in expert systems is nothing new, but applying that idea to a crowdsourcing model might possibly be a stroke of genius. Think Aardvark meets Wikipedia and you start to get the idea.

Hunch is still in closed beta, but is accepting requests for invites. We're thinking you will want to sign up, though, after you hear what Caterina says about it:

Look. Decision-making is difficult, and decisions have to be made constantly. What should I be for Halloween? Do I need a Porsche? Does my hipster facial hair make me look stupid? Is Phoenix a good place to retire? Whom should I vote for? What toe ring should I buy?

It's dark and lonely work. Coin-flipping, I Ching consultation, closing your eyes and jumping, postponing the inevitable, Rock-Paper-Scissors, and asking your sister are all time-honored means of coming to a decision -- and yet we think there's room for one more: Hunch.

She adds that a lot of content in Hunch is going to be generated by its user base. Do you know the right questions to ask to help someone pick out the right pair of shoes for hiking, or what cell phone to buy? With Hunch, you will be able to get in on the ground floor and know that your contributions will help many people get the right answer to their question.

While we know very little about the inner workings of Hunch, it apparently combines decision trees with a fair amount of end user personalization in the form of questions it asks people visiting the site. These questions allow Hunch to form affinities with other users who ask similar questions. On the back end, contributors will be able to create topic areas (called Super Questions) and add questions and results underneath those topics. How much control you will have or how the interface looks for this we aren't sure yet.

Caterina also says that there is room for the site to make money, by including Super Question areas that are affiliated with commercial products or services, but that part is not being rushed as they want to get the core functionality working just right.

We think the potential for the idea behind Hunch is huge. If you look at another very famous crowdsourced project, Wikipedia, and combine that with the sheer utility of the application Aardvark (which lets you pose questions to an extensive network Aardvark-managed instant messaging contacts, our review here), the sky really is the limit for how much this tool can grow in usefulness and popularity.

Self-titled photo courtesy of Caterina Fake on Flickr.

AOL, one of the largest national internet service providers and a global web services company, announced today that market research firm Forrester has rated it highest in "overall customer experience" in an independent study. Forrester conducted interviews with almost 4,600 people nationwide and found that AOL rated very high if not highest in categories such as usefulness and ease-of-use. When
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all the categories are combined, AOL was at the top with a 71% approval rating.

For those of us who have moved on to using internet service providers (ISPs) that provide little more than basic internet access, AOL may conjure memories of free installer CDs in the mail and dialing in over a telephone line. Although AOL still offers dial-up accounts, they have been diligently growing their web destination offerings, including a full portal and news page, free email and two free instant messaging utilites, AIM and ICQ. Even with all these offerings they have succeeded in the tough job of making it simple for everyone who uses their service, either online or through their ISP, to have a great experience.

We will admit to clinging tenaciously to our free AIM account that we have had for many years. Even though we may access AIM through such various third-party interfaces as Gmail and Meebo (and even have a hard time thinking of those applications as third-party) we have long since stopped worrying about the service as anything but always there and available, like the air we breathe. However, somebody runs those servers with close to 100% uptime, and its worthwhile to reflect a moment and realize that AOL has made a commitment for the simple reason of maintaining their online reputation at a very high level.

Sure, we have all heard stories about AOL ISP customer service, and of course seen pictures of AOL CD art, but the numbers tell a different story - that AOL is committed to making sure people who choose them are pleased and have the best possible experience online.

Photo CD Reflections courtesy of Artnow314 on Flickr.

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