Wikia: Wikipedia In Disguise?

Wikia: Wikpedia In Disguise?What’s the difference between a Wikia and a Wikipedia? Trivia, mostly – but also, Gil Penchina (pictured below). Penchina has spent eight years running eBay as a general manager and told me it was “like a whole career with any ordinary company, and I want to stop.”

So Gil has started his own gang. He’s the new CEO of Wikia, which is (at first sight, anyway) exactly like Wikipedia, right down to being founded by the same guy – Jimmy Wales – but it’s designed to relieve the pressure on the main site to cover trivia like soap TV shows.

The company announced itself in a Wiki entry on its own site saying: “Wikia enables groups to share information, news, stories, media and opinions that fall outside the scope of an encyclopedia.”

But it’s not all Star Trek, as you might deduce from that. Try “Archaeology” for example: “The archaeology Wikia is for any archaeology related content, and for the archaeological community to share ideas on this topic.” Why isn’t that on Wikipedia? or “Astronomy”? – “The astronomy Wikia is for all astronomy topics.”

Wikia: Wikpedia In Disguise?But a little roaming around exposes the difference: it’s a “community thing.” According to the Astronomy Wikia, “The wiki was started with a focus specifically on topics related to the Mid Atlantic Star Party and will include reports from MASP attendees.”

Is there a real need for this? Gil thinks yes, definitely – but the way he talks, it’s not altogether clear who exactly is needing it. For example, try the “Buffyverse” Wikia which was founded on 15 October last year.

That’s got to be a goodie, right? Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the spinoff, Angel, are two of the most cult-like of cult-media TV shows. It’s not only got meaningless violence by cute, tight-busted teens, but also supernatural demons and Powers That Be – and any true Buffy fan will also assure you, a line in wry comedy that rivals anything the best of British TV comedy could offer.

And despite all that, there’s nothing there. Hit the button “article” for and all you get is: “You have followed a link to a page that does not exist yet. If you are here by mistake, just click your browser’s back button.” And off you go, kid; you’re effectively going to found the Buffy Wikia.

Wikia: Wikpedia In Disguise?Why would you do that? In Gil’s view of the future, of course, it would be to prevent the more serious Wikipedia from being cluttered with Buffy trivia. Too late, surely? – but even if it isn’t, is “good for Wikipedia” the same as “good for Wikia?”

Out in the real world, of course, people run fan sites without feeling any need to use a Wikipedia entry. If they think a Wiki is a good way to do a fan site, the software for running a Wiki is available – many are free. All you need is a nice URL like (say) BuffyGuide or BuffyWorld and in that case, the “community” can create advertising and subscription and screensaver revenue – and you get to keep the money, not give it all to Gill and Jimmy.

Gil accepts that the financial success of Wikia isn’t yet assured. He’s not pouring cash into it. It’s not flooded with expensive staff; it’s going to grow as it grows, he says.

On the other hand, lots of people have made lots of money out of supporting groups and communities. And a lot of people have been pouring scorn on the trivial content of the Wikipedia – and saying “it’s not a Real Encyclopaedia, is it?” in mocking tones – a criticism that deeply offends Jimmy Wales.

If the Wikia concept does catch on, it looks like it may be slow. As one disappointed visitor to the “Doom” Wikia complained: “wow, I just came to the main page of this wiki and got excited to read about Doom, it’s got coverage of the games, the mods, everything I’d want to know. Then I got to the end of the paragraph on the main page, and had no idea how to access any of this cool content. how about a link or two on the main page to get people started? a table of contents or something perhaps? there’s just nothing there.”

Doom isn’t the only empty cupboard. There are some obviously promising Wikias, but far more that are not yet.

Gil just nodded and smiled. “I’m not looking for instant frenzy,” he conceded. “I was really thinking of retiring, but Jimmy said this needed doing, and it may suit me after the stress of eBay for the last eight years…”

Vodafone Pre-Empts Viviane’s EC Rip-off Roaming Action

She’s got a mission to eliminate mobile phone roaming rip-off charges. She’s Commissioner Viviane Redding of the EC, and today, Vodafone took PR action to keep itself out of her sights, by promising to “cut roaming by 40%” by this time next year.

Vodafone’s announcement says: “Average European roaming costs for Vodafone customers will be cut by at least 40% by April 2007, when compared to last summer.”

This, it says, “will benefit over 30 million Vodafone customers who roam every year, and will see the average cost of roaming in Europe fall from over €0.90 to less than €0.55 per minute.”

Ironically, Vodafone is probably not highest on Commissioner Redding’s hit list. It’s certainly possible to pay over the odds for Voda phone calls when overseas – pick the wrong contract! – but amongst the giants, Voda actually scores quite well on fair use, especially if you’re a Passport subscriber.

Arun Sarin, Chief Executive, Vodafone, said: “Customers want simplicity and value for money when they’re travelling abroad. They get it with Vodafone Passport, which we launched last year, allowing customers to take their home tariff abroad with a small additional per call fee. Today Passport provides savings of at least 30% for more than 6 million Vodafone customers.”

But like many of the giants, Vodafone is suffering from the cost of providing phones. All the European operators, traditionally, subsidise handsets; they give them away, or sell them for a fraction of their cost, in the expectation of making substantially more out of phone call charges – and it works.

Unfortunately, we’re changing our phones too often. It’s mostly the shops that do this, because they are incentivised to do it by the networks.

The networks all pay a premium to a phone shop who “steals” a customer from a rival network. At the same time, paradoxically, they’re trying to make contracts longer: 12 months minimum, 18 months or even longer, as standard.

So the trend is to pay as you go phones – which tend to be paid for. And it’s PAYG agreements which most heavily penalise you when roaming. That is, assuming that your PAYG phone even makes it possible to use it overseas; many don’t.

Sarin said: “The success of Passport shows the demand for simple, great value roaming in Europe and today we’re showing that Vodafone will continue to lead the industry in providing it.”

What he probably means, is that Passport needs to be able to compete with PAYG, and Vodafone sees no harm in ingratiating itself with the Commissioner for Information Society and Media while doing so.

Viviane Redding
Guy Kewney’s NewsWireless

John Bunt, And Flame Groups: Legal Pitfalls With Postings

John Bunt, And Fame Groups - Legal Pitfalls With PostingsWhen you actually talk to John Bunt, it’s me-groups-legal-pitfalls-with-postingshard to imagine him getting so angry about a Usenet group flame session, as to take the other parties to court. But he did. He also took their ISPs to court for carrying their libels.

The case isn’t settled, yet, but the case against the ISPs was thrown out, on the grounds that ISPs are not “publishers” – a complicated shift in the way the digital age views these things. Time was, when WH Smith refused to carry copies of Private Eye because to carry a publication containing a libel is to be guilty of that libel.

John Bunt, And Fame Groups - Legal Pitfalls With PostingsThat dates back to a Noble Lord of the 19th century, who won a libel action against a book, causing the publisher to be convicted. Some years later, he found a second hand copy of that book in a second hand book shop, and sued them – and won. This meant that people sued WH Smiths – not because they disliked the bookseller, but because Private Eye was poor, and WH Smith had plenty of money.

Bunt’s case means that we now know the law, in the UK, on ISPs and libel. It doesn’t mean that the law is simple, or easy to understand! The case of Godfrey vs Demon back in 2000 means that if you are an ISP who knows about a libellous posting, and someone can prove you knew about it, then you have a choice: take it down, and escape legal penalty – or leave it there, and become a publisher.

John Bunt, And Fame Groups - Legal Pitfalls With PostingsI spent some time chatting to Bunt after the case, and he says that he’s not a vindictive man – which isn’t much surprise, perhaps. But what’s interesting, is that he says he doesn’t think the people he’s suing are, either.

“When this latest thing started, my friends and I assumed that it was a bunch of kids, winding us up, and getting out of hand,” he said. It seems they aren’t; they are adult, savvy people who seem, somehow, to have spurred each other on to greater and greater excesses. It seems that at least one of them actually became so heated, he refused to accept a legal injunction to stop repeating the alleged libels, and began attacking the Judge who granted the injunction.

John Bunt, And Fame Groups - Legal Pitfalls With PostingsThis sort of case seems to be on the increase. “Anyone with web access and a quick temper can find themselves facing a lawsuit,” commented Shannon Proudfoot of Ottawa newspaper, Star Phoenix. Apparently, people who are new to the art of publishing – bloggers, to some extent, but newsgroup flamers, more often – don’t realise that there are legal limits to what you can say about someone else in public.

The problem is that on the Internet, you can flame someone anonymously. What Bunt has shown is that it’s pretty hard to do that if a lawsuit is involved; in those circumstances, your ISP will lift the veil.

Array Microphones: Podcasters Prepare For Excitement

Array Microphones: Podcasters Prepare For ExcitementYou’re thinking of doing your own podcast, I can tell. You were getting all excited about the new generation of digital microphones.

Microphones on laptops really are good quality – a fact which you could be forgiven for not noticing. You probably remember trying to make a voice note on an early notebook PC, and on playback, got something rather like an early 1910 bakelite recording of the sea, with a noise in the background that might (or might not) have been your voice.

Actually, the trick of getting a microphone – even if it’s a MEMS array – on a single chip is good, but what’s better, is the new array microphone technology.

It’s an extension of the idea of the two microphones of stereo, taking it up to eight. If you feed the sound from two points into a recorder, the two ears will be able to use the phase differences to concentrate on one sound stream. For example, you can make notes from what the Chairman said, even though your two neighbours were muttering about a donut right next to you.

Array Microphones: Podcasters Prepare For ExcitementDigital array microphones, however, are as good as the data stream they’re poured into. Imagine my delight to find that the default setting for OneNote audio recording is eight kilobits per second, mono. I found this out AFTER recording an Important Person at a press conference. I have no idea what he said; all I have is a recording of people coughing and creaking their chairs. I’m sure fellow-recorders have found the same.

Tomorrow, I’ll do you a NoteCast. It will be created using a digital array microphone on a Motion Computing Tablet LE1600 model. I’ll set the audio to CD quality stereo. Not only will it be clear as a bell, but it will be indexed, and you’ll be able to play back each section of the NoteCast simply by touching the indexed bit with your mouse pointer.

Excited? You are? Oh. Darn. I suppose I’d better do the Notecast, then…

Meanwhile you could amuse yourself by preparing by downloading an eval version of OneNote. It works just fine on any ordinary PC – you don’t have to have a Tablet.

Bluetooth’d Films On London Underground

Bluetooth on London underground - High-tech for high-tech's sake?The easy way of getting “content” into a mobile phone, would be just to print 2D barcodes. However, Viacom Outdoor has started a rather more challenging experiment, fitting London Underground posters with Bluetooth transmitters.

The main reason Viacom has to do this, is that there’s no cellphone coverage in London’s deep-level underground railways – the Bakerloo, Victoria, Northern, Piccadilly and Central lines.

The network is said to be permanent, and was promoted as “Meet today’s underground filmmakers” with FourDocs on Channel 4 television. The initial posters are in the inner city, and there are fifteen Bluetooth “jacks” built by Wideray.

Anybody within range can request a download of a four minute documentary.

The project was put together by PosterScope and we understand that Viacom has opened up the project to advertisers.

Guy Kewney write extensively, and quite brilliantly, in lots of places, including

Seattle Plans Library WiFi Network – Conflict Ahead?

Seattle Plans Library WiFi Network - Conflict Ahead?Seven branches of the already-wireless central Seattle library are going WiFi. The announcement focuses on warnings that “no technical help is available” – but further South, in the San Francisco Bay area, the Joint Venture Silicon Valley organisation is planning to cover 1,500 square miles with 802.11 signals. What happens when such projects collide?

According to Glenn Fleishman the Joint Venture group has yet to reveal any details – it hasn’t even officially announced anything on its own web site – but is organising a lobbying effort to local communities.

The group, headed by Intel, seems to be focusing on mobile, according to a local paper report, says Fleishman. That raises the real question of what the technical platform will be, because while Intel has done some work on mobile WiFi, it is spending a lot of effort planning for mobile WiMax – a confusingly similar technology, which has yet to be defined by the IEEE.

Seattle Plans Library WiFi Network - Conflict Ahead?Neither report, it seems, is talking of the inevitable spectrum conflict looming as domestic WiFi proliferates, and City WiFi spreads through the same areas.

The issue is discussed by ABI Research’s senior analyst of wireless connectivity research, Philip Solis, who points out that the Qualcomm-Flarion merger has gone through, providing WiMAX with a possible competitor in 802.20.

Solis has contributed to a recent paper from the company on the status of WiMAX, now that the WiMAX Forum has announced that some suppliers have put equipment for WiMAX certification for 802.16-2004, and passed.

Seattle Plans Library WiFi Network - Conflict Ahead?“There is a long queue of companies waiting to undergo the same certification process. Then, they can proceed to ‘wave 2’, covering security and quality-of-service, and when they too are certified, we can expect to see larger numbers of products actually reaching the market,” was one comment.  But Solis added:

“The picture is complicated, however, by a resurgence of rival wireless broadband access technology 802.20, based on frequency-division duplex technology developed by Flarion. With the closing last week of Qualcomm’s acquisition of Flarion, 802.20 may get a new lease on life. Qualcomm will almost certainly attempt to rally support from other industry participants, but many companies had abandoned 802.20 to support 802.16e.”
The photos illustrating this article are fantastic shots taken by Timothy Swope at pixelmap – clearly a man with a strong eye, and it’s well worth looking at the rest of the shots. The building? The stunning new Seattle library, designed by Rem Koolhaas.

Guy Kewney write extensively, and quite brilliantly, in lots of places, including

Virgin Mobile Fishing For Extra Cash – Vodafone and FT Interest

Virgin Mobile Fishing For Extra Cash - Vodafone & FT InterestBoth Vodafone and France Telecom are now considering a rival bid for Virgin Mobile, following a “unanimous” decision by the Virgin board to reject the starting offer from NTL. Financial sources say both companies have asked to look at the Virgin Mobile books.

This means that if NTL wants to buy the brand and put it on all NTL products, it will have to come up with a bigger offer. NTL, waiting for the Stock Exchange to open before making any announcement, is going to have trouble finding the money after its big takeover offer for Telewest, say finance analysts.

It also means a nasty gap in the future of T-Mobile, which provides the network for Virgin as a virtual network; neither France Telecom nor Vodafone would renew that contract, and the loss could be crushing, following T-Mobile’s defeat in the contest to buy O2.

Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson has told reporters he is sure the deal will go ahead.

Virgin Mobile Fishing For Extra Cash - Vodafone & FT InterestFrom Australia, Forbes quotes Branson as saying that the new company will be formed and will be called Virgin TV – all it will take, he added, is a small increase in the offer. He said the current offer under-valued the company in the eyes of his fellow directors, but that “the difference between what they’ve asked for and what NTL has offered is not considerable in financial terms.”

According to the Times, the difference is between the current offer of £817 million and a hoped-for bid of £891m – increasing the bid to 345 per share while the Guardian thinks the extra needed is rather less at 340 pence.

Guy Kewney write extensively, and quite brilliantly, in lots of places, including

Blue Bsh-100: Anycom’s Bluetooth Headset With Mic

Blue Bsh-100: Anycom's Bluetooth Headset With MicIt has taken the Bluetooth headset industry a remarkably long time to twig that we don’t want to use one headset for listening to music, and then frantically rip it off to use another Bluetooth headset for answering the phone. Anycom has the one… at a price.

The company has announced the blue bsh-100 headset [right] which, at first sight, is just another of those “hang-on-both-ears” stereo headsets for iPod users. Except for the little black bit jutting out of the right earpiece. That’s the audio input device, or microphone. [see left]

It’s described as “a wireless unit that offers multiple settings for hi-fi stereo headphone for digital audio, Bluetooth headset with attachable microphone for use with mobile phones and PC peripheral using a USB Bluetooth adapter for gaming, chat and VoIP.”

And (if it works as described) the best feature will undoubtedly be its ability to connect to your PC and your phone at the same time. If a call comes in while you’re listening to streaming audio, it will switch to the phone. Of course, this won’t work if you don’t also have a Bluetooth transmitter on your PC, and so you may have to buy one.

Blue Bsh-100: Anycom's Bluetooth Headset With MicAnd the icing on the cake: a Bluetooth audio gateway. Without further details (actual hands-on reviews!) this is probably going to seem more wonderful than it can in reality be: but what we’re hoping it will do, is allow you to plug several audio inputs into it, and switch between them – from landline phone to Skype, from Skype to iPod, from iPod to mobile phone.

Price in the US has been announced at $120 (~£68~e102) for the headset, and $29 (~£16~e24) for the audio adapter.

Guy Kewney write extensively, and quite brilliantly, in lots of places, including


T-Mobile Web’n’Walk – Is Google Behind It?

Anybody who really thinks that T-Mobile is behind the new “Web’n’Walk” offering it trotted out last week, has really not being paying attention. It’s Google Talk, a VoIP service normally available for PC users, now sneakily able to go out over 3G data services.

The question to ask is: if Web’n’Walk is all T-Mobile’s doing, why is Google the Home Page of the new service?

Answer: the system is seen, inside Google, as a Trojan Horse to hook the mobile phone companies on VoIP and other Google Web services – and it is really part of the fierce rivalry building up between Skype (eBay) Yahoo (France Telecom) and Google (T-Mobile) to control the nascent “presence” business, with Instant Messenger and voice as the lever.

Exactly why all these people want to be in the presence business is another story – but anybody who knows what is really happening in the advertising business won’t need an explanation. The question, as far as the mobile phone operators is concerned, is whether they will actually end up with the slightest profit.

Officially, the new service gives you the Web in your pocket. This is not new; the Opera press release went out announcing Web’n’Walk back in June! it would only have been in any sense new last month, if we were discussing the “3” Internet service was being leaked, since Hutchison had previously been resolutely adamant that its users would have access only to the “3” web in a walled garden. That news was known to NewsWireless readers back in broke in early September: Hutchison will be opening up its 3G phones to full Internet browsing shortly.

Indeed, the only real surprise in today’s announcement is the discovery that the Danger-designed HipTop phone, which achieved such fame as the Sidekick in the North American market, will be one of the 3G announcements from T-Mobile later this year (according to

But 3G phones that can access the Internet are not a T-Mobile invention. There’s no sudden change in the way people use the Internet, and 40 megabytes of data per month isn’t worth £30 of anybody’s money, even with 100 minutes of talk time. As Tim Richardson reported on The Register, it’s hype: “Hyping up the launch of its new service T-Mobile said it believes Web’n’Walk will lead to a considerable growth in total internet usage and, ultimately, more internet traffic being carried by mobile than by fixed line.”

It will do no such thing. What it does, is open up the mobile companies to a cuckoo’s egg; Google Talk, Yahoo! Messengerwith Voice, or even MSN Messenger – not to mention Skype- all on an IP backbone.

The idea that UMTS is a suitable IP backbone will be exposed in due course. Some of the gilt will flake off as soon as next week, when the first nationwide Flash-OFDM technology network will be rolled out by Flarion in a major European capital.

UMTS will work – sort of – but it adds latency to voice which rival systems won’t suffer from – rivals like IP Wireless, like Flash-OFDM, like WiMAX-WiFi mesh networks. Effectively, it turns the expensive mobile data networks into bit pipes, fit for carrying Internet Protocol traffic – at several times the price of rival systems.

Can UMTS really compete?
T-Mobile group CEO Rene Oberman [right] either knows nothing about home broadband, or this is an attempt to bamboozle the market. “T-Mobile will turn on a High-Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA) network next year that will provide download rates of up to 1.8Mbps” he told Iain Thomson, who reported that T-Mobile appears to believe that the average download speed for home fixed line broadband ranges from under 264KB to 1MB.

In fact, by the time T-Mobile gets HSDPA working for a minority of its 3G users (a tiny fraction of its market) typical cable modem speeds will be ten megabits in the UK, and ADSL2 will be matching that.

Costs of home broadband, however, will continue to be flat rate, not £30 and upwards for no more data than will allow you to transmit a couple of dozen five megapixel photos. And you will only ever get 1.8 megabits out of a 3G HSDPA wireless mast if you are right next to it, and nobody else is trying to use the same cell for mobile data. Let’s not even mention the fact that the upload speed will remain below 64 kilobits per second – slow modem speeds.

What T-Mobile gets out of this deal, is some breathing space. It is making forward-looking pronouncements, and allowing investors to imagine that this will mean “jam tomorrow” after all.