Aug 30, 2006

Free and legal music downloads from SpiralFrog

In what could change the music industry since the launch of Apple's iTunes service, a startup company called SpiralFrog will offer music downloads for free. Supported by the vast catalogue of Universal Music which backs the service, this model hopes to make its revenue through advertisements. The users of the service will have to watch advertisements and the downloaded music will be copy protected to prevent being passed onto others. The advertisements will be a 90-second block which has to be watched before the content will be made available.

This move could be even more critical when the music and film industry is fighting a losing battle against piracy and illegal sharing through peer-to-peer networks. Almost every copy protection technology that has been employed recently has either landed the publisher in hot soup (Sony's DRM woes) or has been broken (FairUse4WM breaks Microsoft DRM).

Although not the first service of its kind to offer free content supported by advertising (Napster is already doing it and Kazaa is expected to follow suit shortly), SpiralFrog will offer actual music which can be stored on the user's computer, whereas Napster provides a streaming service, which can be heard only once. The likely option for Universal's cut would be a share of the advertising revenue generated through the service.Initially, the service will be available in the US and Canada, and may branch out to other regions depending on the success of the venture.

Aug 26, 2006

Web analytics revisited

Just like research into customer behaviour is vital for all businesses, websites today cannot do without Web analytics. Simply put, Web Analytics is the collection and analysis of data on how users behave on a particular website. Web analytics can help you in deciding what users look for and see in a website, whether they are interested in staying on or decide to move on and so on.

After investing a lot of money, effort and time into building traffic to a website, it is really important to check your return on investment, and web analytics tools helps in doing that. Web analytics solutions can tell you which pages are the most popular on your site, what content users find more appealing and where they skip off to other destinations. They can also tell you which pages referred users to your site or what keywords in search engines led them to you.

Such kind of information is vital for webmasters and marketers because it helps them in tailoring their site content and design to cater to the needs of the users. When users find more relevant content during their next visit, they are sure to stick on. Besides, the solution can also tell you where users leave off, hinting at where your content or design needs modification to make them stay on.

There are lots of web analytics solutions in the market and depending on the features and benefits offered, the prices range from free to several thousands of dollars. I have been using Google Analytics (formerly Urchin) for sometime now, and I find it extremely useful, not to mention, it is free as well. Google Analytics has just been released for free sign-ups from the invitation-only mode and I would recommend getting an account to get started. It is extremely simple to use and gives you more information than most of us bloggers would need.

Web analytics solutions are not something that you can use just for the fun of it, it is something that is critical to measuring user behaviour metrics on your website. Anybody serious about developing a website as an online business or even as a hobby should definitely take a look into them. By creating more compelling content and improved design, you offer a better reason for users to visit your site again, which is a critical factor in deciding the success of the website.

Aug 19, 2006

How fast is your computer?

No matter who you are or what you do, people are always complaining about how slow their computers are. We groan about how much time it takes for that spreadsheet to load or how jittery the graphics in that new videogame is. And that is after spending loads of money to get that blazing fast new processor and motherboard. When it comes to giga-hertz and giga-bytes, It seems we are simply obsessed with speed. Faster is always better.

That is why somebody who would say that all that processing power is maybe too much for us strikes you as somewhat odd. I have a friend who says just that. He thinks that we are simply being forced to upgrade to newer and faster hardware because of the evil nexus that exists between hardware vendors and software companies.

He might have a good case though. The latest operating system won't run with hardware that is now in the market, you would have to wait two more months for that to happen. Indeed, it might very well be the case that clueless consumers are being forced to upgrade to software that is by no means better, but definitely expensive and requires nothing less than a supercomputer to run on. But then, we have great visionaries like Bill Gates who made a software empire make statements like 640 K should be sufficient for anyone. Maybe he is seeing the glass half-empty. (To be fair to Mr. Gates, the authenticity of that quote has not been established beyond doubt.)

Consider what we have seen in the last decade in personal computing. To be more specific and really to the point, let us take computer games. Would you really believe that someone who was playing Dave in 1995 can play Halo 2 or FIFA 2006 now? (If you have actually played through all those games, you would get my point more easily.)

This revolution in the industry didn't happen because we sat tight with what we had. No, we decided to push the limits. When software was too demanding on the hardware, we made faster hardware. When we got better hardware, we wrote better code to take full advantage of its capabilities. This virtuous cycle is what drives innovation and indeed, the entire industry. It is not that we never seem to have enough, we just shouldn't. Maybe our obsession with speed isn't accidental, it very well could have been hardwired into us. So the next time you are wondering why that document is taking too long to open, you might be actually fueling innovation.