Sept 29 – Oct 5

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This week’s headline story: Business Supported MOOCs

empty_classroomMassively Open Online Courses or MOOCs have received a lot of attention, but questions remain as to the value that businesses place on students who receive education through MOOCs rather than through traditional colleges. That question is beginning to be resolved. Major corporations are beginning to invest in building MOOCs that meet their specific needs. Last week, MOOC provider Udacity announced the Open Education Alliance, which allows students to earn a free certificate based on a series of online courses developed with input from Google, AT&T and several other companies. Similarly, MIT and its MOOC partner edX are offering the XSeries – a series of courses based on input from a consortium of about 50 companies, including UPS, Procter & Gamble Co. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. The XSeries will prepare students to take a test and earn a “verified certificate” in subjects like computer science and supply-chain management. Meanwhile, companies such as Yahoo Inc. have begun reimbursing employees who take certified courses from Coursera, another MOOC provider.

and elsewhere in Tech News.

  • Okay, you’re familiar with MOOCs, how about MOORs? The first Massively Open Online Research or MOOR course is being offered by a team from UC San Diego. In “Bioinformatics Algorithms – Part 1,” students will work in teams on specific research projects under the direction of prominent bioinformatics scientists from around the world.
    Is Massive Open Online Research the Next Frontier for Education? [UCSD News]
  • Scientists at Stanford University have built the first functioning computer based on carbon nanotube transistors. “This could be a revolutionary technological leap,” says Dan Olds, an analyst at The Gabriel Consulting Group. “It takes much less power to change the state of a carbon nanotube versus today’s transistors,” Olds said. “Nanotubes are much better at dissipating heat. You can pack more nanotube transistors onto a chip. We would see devices that can do a whole lot more useful work while using a whole lot less juice — and that’s a great combination.”
    Replacing silicon with nanotubes could revolutionize tech [Computerworld]
  • The creator of the world wide web and director of the web standards body W3C, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, is backing measures to embed support for Digital Rights Managament in HTML5. The measures Berbers-Lee backs would add support for Encrypted Media Extensions to HTML 5 allowing media companies to publish DRM-protected music, movies, and other media to the web reducing worries that users will download and distribute the media illegally. Berners-Lee believes that supporting DRM on the Web is necessary in order to get media companies to utilize the Web for media distribution. Free software advocates such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the Free Software Foundation, have called the proposals “disastrous”. They argue it is an attempt to elevate the business interests of media companies over the greater good of an open web where information can be shared freely, and would place unacceptable restrictions on how individuals use computers.
    World wide web creator rules DRM support should be baked into web tech [ZDNet]
  • NASA is planning to send a 3d printer into space next year allowing astronauts to print tools and parts as needed.
    NASA To Launch 3-D Printer into Space [NewsFactor]

and in Tech Industry news…

  • Microblogging service Twitter has filed for an initial public offering and should debut on the stock exchange in November. The firm aims to raise as much as $1 billion under the TWRT ticker symbol.
    Post-IPO, Twitter Co-Founder Moving to Billionaire Status [NewsFactor]
  • Apple has displaced Coca-Cola as the leading global brand in Interbrand’s 14th annual Best Global Brands report, ending the soda maker’s 13-year rule. Google took 2nd place pushing Coke down to 3rd.
    Apple, Google Stomp Coke in Global Brand Ratings [Ecommerce Times]
  • There is unrest amidst Microsoft’s Board of Directors. Several of the board members are pressuring Bill Gates to step down as chairman. They are looking to reboot the company with fresh ides from a new CEO and new Chairman of the Board.
    Mutiny at Microsoft Over Gates’ Future Role [Ecommerce Times]
  • Amazon is about to join Apple, Roku and others in the set-top box business. Amazon’s box will provide instant access to Amazon Videos, as well as Netflix and Hulu Plus.
    Amazon To Debut Set-Top Box For Holidays [NewsFactor]

and finally…

  • The new iOS7 recently released by Apple for iPhones and iPads has a new user interface where icons seem to float above the background, and apps zoom in an out as the user interacts with them. While most users think the new user interface is cool, a minority are complaining that the zoom animations are making them nauseous and giving them headaches.
    Does iOS 7 Make You Feel Sick? [NewsFactor]
    Twitter IPO Filing Shows It Ain’t No Facebook [Technology Review]

Do you MOOC?

MIT’s open-source online learning platform, MITx has launched its first course. The course is an electrical engineering course titled Circuits and Electronics and has 90,000 students enrolled on campus and off. MITx is MIT’s latest experiment in MOOC – Massively Open Online Course where anyone in the world with an Internet connection can enroll in an MIT course to view lectures, work on projects, and take exams. Stanford is offering five new MOOCs with classes beginning March 19th. The courses are Design and Analysis of Algorithms, Natural Language Processing, Cryptography, Game Theory, and Probabilistic Graphical Models. Enrollment is currently at 335,000 students registered.

First course offered by MITx begins [MIT News]
Stanford offers more free online classes for the world [Stanford Report]

Apps and App Stores

App stores and marketplaces are transforming the way developers interact with users, and the way users find and acquire software. The iTunes app store and the Android Marketplace each boast hundreds of thousands of apps. Apple just purchased a company by the name of Chomp that should help Apple users find useful apps hidden like needles in a haystack. A new study released by Canalys found that on average iPhone apps are significantly less expensive than Android apps. The average price of Android Market’s top 100 is $3.74 per Android app, vs. $1.47 per iPhone app in the iTunes App Store. Meanwhile, Mozilla, maker of the popular Firefox browser, is planning to open its own app store. The Mozilla Marketplace will feature apps that will run on any platform in any browser that supports HTML 5. The latest version of HTML supports all kinds of application development in the browser including games, media, music, productivity and others.

Apple’s New Cloud

This week Apple unveiled the long anticipated iCloud at its World Wide Developers Conference. The new cloud computing platform is similar to recent cloud music services from Google and Amazon, but goes several steps further. Users of iCloud will be able to store not only music, but all kinds of data and apps on Apple’s Web servers, to be shared across devices. iCloud takes advantage of Apple’s new unified OS X Lion, scheduled to be released next month, to allow users to have a common computing experience across all of their devices. Using iCloud, all of your apps, music, movies, photos, books, email, contacts, calendars, and data files are stored on the Web, and pushed to each of your devices. Users will no longer need to purchase multiple versions of an app for each of their devices. One copy of an app will come with a license that covers up to ten devices. The service also runs on Windows PCs through iTunes. The New York Times suggests that iCloud is the beginning of the end for PCs, and the birth of true cloud-based personal computing. iCloud is scheduled to be released this Fall. Microsoft and Google are both working to offer similar cloud services.

As users migrate to the cloud, they will have to commit to one vendor for storing their data and media. That vendor will most likely be Apple, Microsoft, Google, or perhaps even Facebook. As the cloud era arrives there are several important issues that should concern users. What happens if you are unhappy with your cloud service? Can you easily move your data to a different vendor’s cloud? Also, who is responsible for the safety of your data? How will Apple and the others compensate users for the loss of data? How about privacy and security? Can the vendor monitor what you store in its cloud, like Google monitors gmail, and Facebook monitors user profiles? These are issues that are already important and will certainly become critically important in coming months and years as cloud computing becomes the norm.

FTC Cracks Down on Astroturfing

If you are like many online consumers, you probably assume that some of the positive product reviews posted by consumers on sites like are actually posted by agents of the manufacturer. But did you know that it is illegal for a business to post positive reviews of its own products anonymously? The practice is called “astroturfing,” referring to phony grassroots efforts to promote products. Last year the Federal Trade Commission developed a new guidelines for Internet endorsements that require bloggers and others that publish their opinions online to reveal their connections to the products that they review. The guidelines are similar to truth-in-advertising principles that have existed for print and television for decades. This week, public relations agency Reverb Communications was fined $16,000 by the FTC and has agreed to stop posting fake game reviews for its clients on ecommerce sites like iTunes. This is the first move by the FTC to enforce its new guidelines, and it is expected that more such cases will follow.

Target Mobile Coupons

Target is the first major retailed to roll out a mobile-coupon program. Register for the program by texting the word “coupons” to the phone number T-A-R-G-E-T. Registered users receive periodic text messages that provide links to access discount bar codes in your mobile Web browser. Scan the bar code from your smart phone display at check out to enjoy the savings.

Target Launches Mobile-Coupon Program [NewsFactor]

eBook Power Struggle

Amazon has had its hands full since the announcement of Apple’s upcoming iPad tablet computer. The iPad is expected to compete strongly against Amazon’s Kindle eBook reader. Besides the many and varied applications that will run on the iPad, it will also offer a robust iBookstore that will feature titles from popular publishers that include Penguin, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, MacMillan, and Hachette. The deal that Apple has made with these publishers is significantly better than their deals with Amazon. Apple is allowing the publishers to set their own price for ebooks and will take 30 percent, while Amazon pays publishers a flat $15 per book and sells the ebooks at a subsidized rate of $9.99.

The publishers are using their new association with Apple’s iPad to leverage a better deal with Amazon. Last week, Amazon made the headlines for pulling all MacMillan books from its online shelves in retaliation of MacMillan’s demand for variable pricing on its ebooks. Amazon complained that MacMillan was imposing a pricing model that was bad for consumers and the ebook industry. MacMillan, which has considerable influence in the publishing world, began advertising its books as “Available at booksellers everywhere except Amazon.” The tiff didn’t last long as Amazon gave in to MacMillan’s demands within days. Shortly there after, two other publishers, Hachette and HarperCollins made the same pricing demands of Amazon. That leaves only Penguin and Simon & Schuster, who are expected to jump on board any day now.

So, it would appear the days of $9.99 ebooks are over. Best sellers are likely to sell for $14.99, while other, less popular titles will retain their $9.99 price tag. This is essentially what happened in the digital music industry in 2007 when Apple iTunes, under pressure from the music industry and Amazon’s new MP3 store, moved from a 99 cents per track model to variable pricing. Now its Amazon’s turn to buckle under pressure.

But Amazon isn’t taking its recent hardships lying down. This week Amazon acquired Touchco, a manufacturer of touchscreen displays. Meanwhile, PVI, the company that makes the Kindle’s e-ink display announced that it will soon be capable of producing color e-ink displays, and even flexible models. It’s feasible that Amazon could come back later this year with a new Super Kindel featuring a color e-ink touchscreen, and additional applications. As color e-ink displays enter the market, it will be interesting to see if consumers prefer them over the led displays of the iPad and the upcoming generation of tablets.