Twitter Launches Promoted Accounts and Gets a New CEO

While 2009 was the year in which Twitter really made it big, 2010 is shaping up to be the year in which Twitter really grew up as a product. Gone are the days when the disruptive social networking service used to be mocked for its (lack of a) business model. During the course of this year, Twitter has launched “Promoted Trends” and has announced “Promoted Tweets”. Now the company has rolled out “Promoted Accounts”.

“Promoted Accounts” is currently available to only select brands, but might be offered to individuals later. The concept behind Twitter’s latest monetization effort is simple. As shown in the screenshot embedded below, the promoted twitter accounts will show up in the “Who to follow” section of Twitter’s website. Twitter will be suggesting relevant promoted accounts to its users algorithmically. Carolyn Penner, Twitter communications, explains, “For example, a lot of people who follow several gaming-related accounts also follow @xbox. If someone follows gaming-related accounts, but not @xbox, Twitter may recommend @xbox to that person”.

Twitter-Promoted-Accounts

In related news, the startup is now 300 employees strong, and has just announced the selection of Dick Costolo as its new CEO. Ev Williams has stepped down to concentrate on envisioning new product ideas. Like his partner Biz Stone, Williams now simply holds the title of co-founder. Costolo, who was previously Twitter’s COO, has revealed that Twitter will not be filling the vacancy in the near future.

RIM’s BlackBerry Woes Continue: India Rejects Proposed Decryption Solution

BlackBerryYou are probably aware that the Indian government has been gunning at Research in Motion – the manufacturer of the popular Blackberry series of handsets, due to concerns over the misuse of Blackberry’s encrypted messaging system by terrorists. Towards the end of August, RIM finally appeared to have succeeded in placating the government’s concerns by agreeing to set up a server in India. However, according to The Economic Times, RIM’s woes are far from being over.

The department of telecommunications (DoT) has rejected the solution proposed by Research in Motion on the grounds that it doesn’t allow security agencies to obtain email and chat communications in plain text (unencrypted/decrypted) form.

RIM has been under fire from several nations including Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Even the United Nation’s telecommunications agency urged it to share data with law enforcement agencies. RIM has been insisting that it doesn’t have a magical key to decrypt the data which is protected using end to end encryption. It will be interesting to see how RIM responds to this new development. If it doesn’t manage to come up with a satisfactory solution by the end of this month, then the one million BlackBerry subscribers in India might have to do without BlackBerry services like e-mail and chat.

Nokia N8 Begins Shipping

Nokia has announced that the N8 has begun shipping worldwide. Customers who pre-ordered the N8, either through Nokia’s online shop or through retail stores, will obviously get first preference. Broad availability is expected in a few weeks, with the exact date depending upon the country and operator.

Nokia-N8

Nokia N8 got off to a rough start, with a harsh review from Eldar Murtazin. However, Jo Harlow, Senior Vice President, Smartphones, Nokia revealed, The Nokia N8 has received the highest amount of consumer pre-orders in Nokia history and we are thrilled to start shipments of the N8, the first of Nokia’s new Symbian smartphone range”.

The N8 features the new Symbian^3 operating system and boasts of a 3.5″ display, and 12-megapixel camera with 720p HD video recording. Although the Symbian operating system might be a turnoff for many, the N8 is a full-featured device with unique features like USB On-The-Go that will entice power users and fans of the Symbian operating system.

Popular Bookmark Syncing Tool Xmarks is Shutting Down

XmarksIn a move that will definitely surprise a lot of people, Xmarks – the popular bookmark synchronization tool, has announced that it will be shutting down in approximately 3 months.

Xmarks, which started off as a Firefox extension called Foxmarks, offered free cloud based bookmark synchronization for Firefox, Safari, Chrome and Internet Explorer. In spite of the introduction of out of the box bookmark synchronization to recent versions of Firefox and Chrome, Xmarks managed to remain wildly popular due to its ability to cross-sync bookmarks among different browsers.

Earlier today, in a lengthy blog post, Todd Agulnick, the Co-Founder and CTO of Xmarks, explored the events that ultimately led to the demise of Xmarks.

By Spring 2010, with money running tight and options fading, we started searching for potential buyers of the company. Over the past three months, we have been remarkably close to striking a deal, only to have the potential buyer get cold feet. We also considered refocusing Xmarks as a freemium sync business, but the prospects there are grim too: with the emergence of competent sync features built in to Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome, it’s hard to see users paying for a service that they can now get for free. For four years we have offered the synchronization service for no charge, predicated on the hypothesis that a business model would emerge to support the free service. With that investment thesis thwarted, there is no way to pay expenses, primarily salary and hosting costs. Without the resources to keep the service going, we must shut it down. Our plan is to keep the service running for another 90+ days, after which the plug will be pulled.

There’s nothing unusual about startups collapsing due to the lack of a viable user model. Yet, one can’t help feeling sorry for Xmarks, simply because it was a damn useful service. It’s a pity that they decided to fold even without trying the freemium model.

Android Market Introduces Paid Apps to At Least a Dozen More Countries

Google-AndroidLast week we reported that Google was preparing to expand Android Market to support paid apps in several additional countries. Google’s press release stated, “Over the next few weeks, we’ll be adding paid apps support for additional countries”.

Now TechCrunch has learnt, by the way of Distimo, that paid apps have already started appearing in several previously unsupported Markets. The countries which have been confirmed to have received paid apps are – Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Finland, Hong Kong, Israel, Mexico, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Singapore and South Africa. Sweden and Hungary might also be in the list. Although India is not included in TechCrunch’s list, there is still hope for Indians. AndroidCentral claims that Google has been testing paid apps with select users in India.

The expansion of paid apps to more countries is a welcome move. Not only will this encourage developers to create more high quality apps, but also help in reducing piracy. However, if paid apps are still not available in your country, you can still access them using apps like “Market Enabler” and “Market Access(requires root).

MeeGo Ported to Nexus One, Dell Streak, and HTC Desire

MeeGo is Nokia’s best hope for resurgence. That’s something most of us will probably agree on. At this point, anything short of a complete makeover won’t allow Symbian to compete with the iPhones and Droids and Galaxies. Unfortunately, this is something Nokia doesn’t seem to fully appreciate.

Nokia N900 was a decent effort, and quite frankly, a step in the right direction. MeeGo was supposed to merge the best aspects of Maemo with Moblin to create a versatile operating system capable of handling mobile phones, tablets and even set-top boxes with ease. However, even after more six months, Nokia is yet to announce anything concrete based on MeeGo.

Nevertheless, if you are dying to get a taste of MeeGo, you can do so – even on your non-Nokia devices! MeeGo wiki has ported the open source operating system to Nexus One, Dell Streak, and HTC Desire, besides the N900. Download links and instructions are available here and here. Quite obviously, try it at your own risk. There is a reason why Nokia is taking its time to deploy MeeGo – it’s not yet ready!

MeeGo-Nexus-One
MeeGo Running on Google Nexus One


MeeGo Running on Dell Streak

via Gizmodo

Google: Orkut’s “Bom Sabado” Worm Did Not Compromise User Information

Yesterday, Orkut was paralyzed and transformed into a booby trapped minefield by the “Bom Sabado” worm that spread like wildfire. While most of the world was oblivious to the attack, its effect was felt in countries like India and Brazil where Orkut has a sizable presence.

Orkut-Hacked

As suspected, the worm exploited an XSS (cross-site scripting) vulnerability present in Orkut, to load a third-party JavaScript that automatically sent scraps to everyone in an affected user’s friend list. However, contrary to popular belief, user’s cookies weren’t stolen or poisoned.

A Google spokesperson issued the following statement:

We took swift action to fix a cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerability on orkut.com that was discovered early Saturday. We were aware of a script being used to spread messages on orkut, but our analysis of the script code did not reveal any evidence of users’ accounts becoming compromised; nonetheless, the issue is now resolved. We’re in the process of cleaning affected profiles, and we are studying the vulnerability to help prevent similar issues in the future.

Twitter Attacked Again

Just a day after Google’s social network Orkut was ravaged by the “Bom Sabado” worm, Twitter has possibly fallen victim to a XSS (cross-site scripting) attack.

Details are scarce at the moment, but the gist of the matter is that you should strictly avoid clicking links in any tweet that begins with a WTF. If you do, then be prepared for a barrage of embarrassing messages like these being tweeted out from your account:

Twitter-Hacked

The attack has already claimed high profile tweeps like Robert Scoble and Zee.

via CoveringWeb

Update 1: Twitter has issued a statement that states, “A malicious link is making the rounds that will post a tweet to your account when clicked on. Twitter has disabled the link, and is currently resolving the issue.”

Update 2: Twitter is now saying that they have fixed the exploit and are in the process of removing the offending Tweets. While Twitter succeeded in nipping the problem in the bud through their quick response, this attack comes just five days after a major XSS vulnerability resurfaced in its web interface. Twitter clearly needs to do a better job at plugging the holes.

Twitter Starts Selling Wine to Help Promote Literacy in India

What does Twitter and alcohol have in common? Apparently a lot. A year back, Twitter started accepting pre-orders for 2009 vintage wines under the label Fledgling Wine. Now, they are finally ready to start shipping the first lot of wines.

According to the website, these wines are being made using some of the best vineyards in California by the acclaimed winemaking team at Crushpad. Twitter is currently offering two variants –

2009 Fledgling Pinot Noir: A suave rendition of Pinot Noir produced from top-flight California vineyards.
2009 Fledgling Chardonnay: A pure expression of brilliant California Chardonnay from acclaimed vineyards and a superb vintage.

A single bottle (750 ml) will set you back by $25, while an entire case (12 bottles) will cost $300.00. But, all of this is for a good cause. The revenue generated from Fledgling Wine will be donated to Room to Read, which will be working with children in Uttarakhand, India to promote literacy. Twitter says, “For each bottle you buy, $5 will be donated to Room to Read, a transformational non-profit that brings books, libraries and ultimately literacy to people in the poorest areas around the world”.

Clueless French Court Fines Google for Suggesting Defamatory Search Queries

GoogleA French court has convicted Google and its CEO Eric Schmidt of defamation. Google’s offense? Google Search suggested the words “rapist” and “satanist” when someone searched for the plaintiff’s name. The court has ordered it to pay damages worth 5000 euros to the unnamed plaintiff who has a standing conviction in a case of corruption of a minor.

Now, it’s unfortunate for anyone to have their names associated with offensive search queries. However, that’s all it is – unfortunate. Its common knowledge that Google Suggest as well as Related Searches features are completely algorithmic (as is pretty much every aspect of Google Search). While I can accept that an algorithm might act stupidly, it’s hard to fathom a well educated and enlightened judge acting as if he has “no effing clue”!

The court’s argument seems to be that Google can be held accountable for the suggestions generated by its algorithm, since it has already admitted to censoring terms that involving pornography, violence and hatred. One again, it doesn’t take a computer expert to notice the gaping hole in that logic. Retrospective human intervention is an altogether different beast than a general broad censorship that is required to protect minors from getting exposed to adult content. If Google were to grant every request from every disgruntled user who shares a first name with a p*rn star, then very soon, that’s all they will be doing.