Charlie Sheen Helps Make a Name for Ustream

Published: March 13, 2011

His last job was on a network sitcom that drew 15 million viewers a week. Now Charlie Sheen, fallen television star, delivers nonsensical, expletive-laced rants before an audience of roughly three million on a live video-streaming Web site called Ustream, whose most prominent claim to fame was showing the early lives of six Japanese hunting dogs.


Charlie Sheen’s show made its debut on March 5 on Ustream. A few days later he used the show to give his first on-camera response to his firing from “Two and a Half Men.”

Sheen’s Korner” — tagline: “You’re either in Sheen’s Korner or you’re with the trolls” — has elevated Ustream into the pop consciousness for a second time. The idea for the site came from John Ham and Brad Hunstable, who met while attending West Point and were looking to create a service that would enable those serving in the Iraq war to see and hear their families back home. It was introduced in March 2007.

“We created Ustream with a vision of giving anyone, anywhere, with a camera and an Internet connection, a platform to talk to their audience live, whether it’s friends, family or fans,” Mr. Ham, its chief executive, said in an e-mail.

As with YouTube, Ustream users can create their own channel, but unlike YouTube, the only option on Ustream is live streaming, making it more like a live-to-tape version of Skype. There is no editing or possibility of retakes, making it a curious forum for the unpredictable Mr. Sheen, whose logorrhea in recent weeks has included some damaging rants.

The service reached worldwide fame a year and a half after it started, when a San Francisco couple trained a camera on their six Shiba Inu foster puppies so that they could monitor the dogs while at work. Within a month, the Shiba Inu Puppy Cam had drawn three million visitors, serving as a cuddly distraction from a contentious presidential election. A second litter of puppies drew more than 26 million total views, making it the most-watched continuous live stream on the site.

“The puppy cam really put it on the map, but there have been a number of different broadcasts that really put it on the map as well,” Lynn Fox, the company’s vice president for marketing and communications, said. “Like the Obama inauguration. Michael Jackson’s funeral. Recently we had the Chilean miner rescue,” which attracted 5.3 million views over two days.

Ustream, a privately held company, makes money from advertising, production services and some premium content like pay-per-view. Movie studios have approached Ustream to broadcast red carpet movie premieres, in part, Ms. Fox said, because the company follows copyright laws. The site has also hosted live sporting events like boxing and rugby, and news footage is shown live, like the horrific images of the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan on Friday.

“Ustream is much bigger than a few days with Charlie Sheen,” Ms. Fox said. But Mr. Sheen is a clear ratings winner. “Sheen’s Korner came upon us really, really quickly,” said Ms. Fox. “It was an opportunity grabbed very nimbly by one of the guys in our content group.”

That person was Jason Kirk, and as he watched Mr. Sheen’s public rants, he saw an opportunity. Mr. Kirk heard Mr. Sheen say he would like to do live streaming and reached out to the actor on Twitter. Less than 12 hours later, “the whole world knew that Charlie Sheen was going on Ustream,” Ms. Fox said.

Mr. Sheen directed his own production company, WyTV, to set up the channel; Ustream just advised. The live and interactive nature of the site meant that viewers could comment on Mr. Sheen’s performance in real time, and that he could immediately respond.

The show made its debut on March 5, and a few days later Mr. Sheen used the show to give his first on-camera response to his firing from “Two and a Half Men.” He has produced four videos so far, each littered with the bizarre, rapid-fire utterances he has become known for, like referring to himself as “the Malibu Messiah” with “Adonis DNA” and weaving in warlocks, tiger blood and rock-star Vatican assassins.

A call to Marty Singer, Mr. Sheen’s lawyer, was not returned, and attempts to reach his management were unsuccessful.

For its part, Ustream does not mind Mr. Sheen’s negative image, as long as he doesn’t violate the site’s terms of service. So far, he has not.

The second episode of “Sheen’s Korner,” “Torpedoes of Truth,” opens with Mr. Sheen in midphone call with his friend Bob Maron, who warns, “Don’t give them too much. Keep the mystery. Keep a little bit of smoke and mirrors between you and the people so that you’re not overexposing yourself.”

It is advice Mr. Sheen does not seem to be heeding.

Posted by Sadina Todorovac ’12 International Affairs

Armies of Expensive Lawyers, Replaced by Cheaper Software

Ramin Rahimian for The New York Times

“People get bored, people get headaches. Computers don’t,” said Bill Herr, a lawyer who used to work for a chemical company.

Published: March 4, 2011

When five television studios became entangled in a Justice Department antitrust lawsuit against CBS, the cost was immense. As part of the obscure task of “discovery” — providing documents relevant to a lawsuit — the studios examined six million documents at a cost of more than $2.2 million, much of it to pay for a platoon of lawyers and paralegals who worked for months at high hourly rates.

But that was in 1978. Now, thanks to advances in artificial intelligence, “e-discovery” software can analyze documents in a fraction of the time for a fraction of the cost. In January, for example, Blackstone Discovery of Palo Alto, Calif., helped analyze 1.5 million documents for less than $100,000.

Some programs go beyond just finding documents with relevant terms at computer speeds. They can extract relevant concepts — like documents relevant to social protest in the Middle East — even in the absence of specific terms, and deduce patterns of behavior that would have eluded lawyers examining millions of documents.

“From a legal staffing viewpoint, it means that a lot of people who used to be allocated to conduct document review are no longer able to be billed out,” said Bill Herr, who as a lawyer at a major chemical company used to muster auditoriums of lawyers to read documents for weeks on end. “People get bored, people get headaches. Computers don’t.”

Computers are getting better at mimicking human reasoning — as viewers of “Jeopardy!” found out when they saw Watson beat its human opponents — and they are claiming work once done by people in high-paying professions. The number of computer chip designers, for example, has largely stagnated because powerful software programs replace the work once done by legions of logic designers and draftsmen.

Software is also making its way into tasks that were the exclusive province of human decision makers, like loan and mortgage officers and tax accountants.

These new forms of automation have renewed the debate over the economic consequences of technological progress.

David H. Autor, an economics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says the United States economy is being “hollowed out.” New jobs, he says, are coming at the bottom of the economic pyramid, jobs in the middle are being lost to automation and outsourcing, and now job growth at the top is slowing because of automation.

“There is no reason to think that technology creates unemployment,” Professor Autor said. “Over the long run we find things for people to do. The harder question is, does changing technology always lead to better jobs? The answer is no.”

Automation of higher-level jobs is accelerating because of progress in computer science and linguistics. Only recently have researchers been able to test and refine algorithms on vast data samples, including a huge trove of e-mail from the Enron Corporation.

“The economic impact will be huge,” said Tom Mitchell, chairman of the machine learning department at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. “We’re at the beginning of a 10-year period where we’re going to transition from computers that can’t understand language to a point where computers can understand quite a bit about language.”

Nowhere are these advances clearer than in the legal world.

E-discovery technologies generally fall into two broad categories that can be described as “linguistic” and “sociological.”

The most basic linguistic approach uses specific search words to find and sort relevant documents. More advanced programs filter documents through a large web of word and phrase definitions. A user who types “dog” will also find documents that mention “man’s best friend” and even the notion of a “walk.”

The sociological approach adds an inferential layer of analysis, mimicking the deductive powers of a human Sherlock Holmes. Engineers and linguists at Cataphora, an information-sifting company based in Silicon Valley, have their software mine documents for the activities and interactions of people — who did what when, and who talks to whom. The software seeks to visualize chains of events. It identifies discussions that might have taken place across e-mail, instant messages and telephone calls.

Then the computer pounces, so to speak, capturing “digital anomalies” that white-collar criminals often create in trying to hide their activities.

For example, it finds “call me” moments — those incidents when an employee decides to hide a particular action by having a private conversation. This usually involves switching media, perhaps from an e-mail conversation to instant messaging, telephone or even a face-to-face encounter.

“It doesn’t use keywords at all,” said Elizabeth Charnock, Cataphora’s founder. “But it’s a means of showing who leaked information, who’s influential in the organization or when a sensitive document like an S.E.C. filing is being edited an unusual number of times, or an unusual number of ways, by an unusual type or number of people.”

The Cataphora software can also recognize the sentiment in an e-mail message — whether a person is positive or negative, or what the company calls “loud talking” — unusual emphasis that might give hints that a document is about a stressful situation. The software can also detect subtle changes in the style of an e-mail communication.

A shift in an author’s e-mail style, from breezy to unusually formal, can raise a red flag about illegal activity.

“You tend to split a lot fewer infinitives when you think the F.B.I. might be reading your mail,” said Steve Roberts, Cataphora’s chief technology officer.

Another e-discovery company in Silicon Valley, Clearwell, has developed software that analyzes documents to find concepts rather than specific keywords, shortening the time required to locate relevant material in litigation.

Last year, Clearwell software was used by the law firm DLA Piper to search through a half-million documents under a court-imposed deadline of one week. Clearwell’s software analyzed and sorted 570,000 documents (each document can be many pages) in two days. The law firm used just one more day to identify 3,070 documents that were relevant to the court-ordered discovery motion.

Clearwell’s software uses language analysis and a visual way of representing general concepts found in documents to make it possible for a single lawyer to do work that might have once required hundreds.

“The catch here is information overload,” said Aaref A. Hilaly, Clearwell’s chief executive. “How do you zoom in to just the specific set of documents or facts that are relevant to the specific question? It’s not about search; it’s about sifting, and that’s what e-discovery software enables.”

For Neil Fraser, a lawyer at Milberg, a law firm based in New York, the Cataphora software provides a way to better understand the internal workings of corporations he sues, particularly when the real decision makers may be hidden from view.

He says the software allows him to find the ex-Pfc. Wintergreens in an organization — a reference to a lowly character in the novel “Catch-22” who wielded great power because he distributed mail to generals and was able to withhold it or dispatch it as he saw fit.

Such tools owe a debt to an unlikely, though appropriate, source: the electronic mail database known as the Enron Corpus.

In October 2003, Andrew McCallum, a computer scientist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, read that the federal government had a collection of more than five million messages from the prosecution of Enron.

He bought a copy of the database for $10,000 and made it freely available to academic and corporate researchers. Since then, it has become the foundation of a wealth of new science — and its value has endured, since privacy constraints usually keep large collections of e-mail out of reach. “It’s made a massive difference in the research community,” Dr. McCallum said.

The Enron Corpus has led to a better understanding of how language is used and how social networks function, and it has improved efforts to uncover social groups based on e-mail communication.

Now artificial intelligence software has taken a seat at the negotiating table.

Two months ago, Autonomy, an e-discovery company based in Britain, worked with defense lawyers in a lawsuit brought against a large oil and gas company. The plaintiffs showed up during a pretrial negotiation with a list of words intended to be used to help select documents for use in the lawsuit.

“The plaintiffs asked for 500 keywords to search on,” said Mike Sullivan, chief executive of Autonomy Protect, the company’s e-discovery division.

In response, he said, the defense lawyers used those words to analyze their own documents during the negotiations, and those results helped them bargain more effectively, Mr. Sullivan said.

Some specialists acknowledge that the technology has limits. “The documents that the process kicks out still have to be read by someone,” said Herbert L. Roitblat of OrcaTec, a consulting firm in Altanta.

Quantifying the employment impact of these new technologies is difficult. Mike Lynch, the founder of Autonomy, is convinced that “legal is a sector that will likely employ fewer, not more, people in the U.S. in the future.” He estimated that the shift from manual document discovery to e-discovery would lead to a manpower reduction in which one lawyer would suffice for work that once required 500 and that the newest generation of software, which can detect duplicates and find clusters of important documents on a particular topic, could cut the head count by another 50 percent.

The computers seem to be good at their new jobs. Mr. Herr, the former chemical company lawyer, used e-discovery software to reanalyze work his company’s lawyers did in the 1980s and ’90s. His human colleagues had been only 60 percent accurate, he found.

“Think about how much money had been spent to be slightly better than a coin toss,” he said.

Posted by Sadina Todorovac ’12 International Affairs

Europe’s Consumers Could Lose in Auctions of Internet Spectrum

Published: March 13, 2011

BERLIN — In Europe, the digital dividend may not pay off as well as it should.

Across the Continent, the sale and redeployment of lucrative television broadcast frequencies for high-speed mobile Internet service — the so-called digital dividend — has so far done little to increase competition, instead reinforcing the position of existing market leaders.

Consumers appear to be in danger of losing out because the largest operators are using their superior financial and political clout to shut newcomers out of the bidding process and out of the mobile market, advocates said.

Limiting competition is likely to have the effect of increasing the cost of mobile Internet services, slowing the adoption of its use and realization of the European Commission’s ambitious goal of providing broadband service with ultrafast, 30 megabit-per-second download speeds to every European household by 2020.

“What is happening with the auctions so far has not been in the interests of consumers,” said Ilsa Godlovitch, the director of the European Competitive Telecommunications Association, a group in Brussels that represents smaller telecommunications operators in Europe. “These are only reaffirming a stagnant status quo in most of these markets, or even reducing competition.”

In addition to the leading operators, the other beneficiaries stand to be the cash-strapped European governments, which still reap dividends from their former national telecommunications monopolies.

France and Germany, for example, still own large stakes in France Télécom and Deutsche Telekom, respectively, and receive millions of euros each year in dividends. In both countries, as well as in Spain with its former monopoly, Telefónica, these operators are still among the biggest domestic employers, which also increases their political influence.

Rival operators have long complained that the former monopolies continue to receive special treatment from domestic regulators, which is hindering competition in these markets.

Neelie Kroes, the European commissioner who oversees telecommunications, said she would use her powers to work with national regulators to design auctions that increase competition.

“Spectrum auctions should be designed in a way to ensure that operators make optimal use of scarce resources,” Mrs. Kroes said. “The amount of the charge should not have the effect of hindering access for new operators to the market or of reducing the capacity of telecommunications service operators for innovation.”

Britain, France, Italy, Spain and Switzerland have yet to set terms for national auctions of 800 megahertz bandwidth that will take place over the next year. The spectrum is being freed up by television broadcasters as they switch to digital broadcasting, which uses only a fraction of the spectrum required for analog transmission. But from the initial auctions, the trend is not encouraging for consumers.

In Germany, a six-week auction raised €4.38 billion, or $6.1 billion, for government coffers in May 2010, but only the three largest operators, T-Mobile, Vodafone and O2, a unit of Telefónica, were able to buy spectrum. The design of the bidding process shut out a fourth operator.

The losing bidder was E-Plus, a unit of the Dutch operator KPN. Without the additional spectrum, E-Plus will be hard-pressed to handle the skyrocketing digital traffic being generated by data-hungry smartphones and similar devices.

On March 4, Sweden raised $324 million in its auction. Only the four biggest operators, TeliaSonera, 3 Sweden, Telenor and Tele2, obtained spectrum. Two smaller bidders, Com Hem, a cable operator, and Netett Sverige, a rural mobile broadband seller, lost out.

Per Borgklint, the chief executive of Netett Sverige, which is based in Stockholm, said the Swedish auction set a higher priority on generating revenue for the government than on ensuring a new competitor in the domestic mobile business. Netett Sverige is owned by Access Industries, a private equity group in New York founded by the Russian-born American entrepreneur Len Blavatnik.

“The Swedish auction has only confirmed the status quo, which is to basically preserve what is an oligopoly in the domestic mobile business,” Mr. Borgklint said. “This was not a victory for consumers. This has maintained or decreased competition over time.”

In Britain, where the regulator, Ofcom, plans to release the terms of its auction March 21, the country’s smallest network operator, 3 U.K., is concerned that the sale may eventually force it to leave the British market.

In January, Ofcom allowed the three largest British operators — O2, Vodafone and Everything Everywhere, a joint venture of Deutsche Telekom and France Télécom — to redeploy their 2G spectrum for 3G services. But 3 U.K., the low-cost leader in Britain and the only operator to offer unlimited data plans, had no 2G spectrum and did not benefit. On the contrary, 3’s share of British 3G spectrum fell from 25 percent to 9 percent.

“There is a real risk in the U.K. auction that strategically the incumbents have a great opportunity to squeeze 3 out of the marketplace,” said Kevin Russell, the chief executive of 3 U.K., which has asked Ofcom to reserve part of the frequency for smaller operators and to place a cap on the amount of spectrum an operator can control.

A spokesman for Ofcom, who did not want to be named citing his agency’s policy, said the regulator was considering whether to cap the amount of 3G spectrum that could be held by a single operator. Operators will have a chance to comment on Ofcom’s auction design before it is formally adopted in the autumn, he said. The auction is set to take place in the first half of 2012.

Potential bidders in other European countries are similarly worried. Manuel Kohnstamm, the president of Cable Europe, the association in Brussels representing cable television operators, said governments were focused on maximizing revenue, not increasing long-term competition.

“The more money that governments take off the table in license fees, the less that operators will have to invest to rapidly build out mobile broadband networks,” said Mr. Kohnstamm, who is a managing director of Liberty Global, a Colorado company that sells cable TV, voice over Internet and broadband service in 11 European countries.

The mobile industry, like the cable industry, is maturing, Mr. Kohnstamm said, and consolidation is inevitable, which will reduce the number of mobile operators. Having failed to design auctions that encourage new entrants, cable TV companies looking to add mobile service to their TV and broadband packages will have fewer potential partners, he said.

The only European country so far to use its auction to increase competition is the Netherlands, which in April 2010 designed a sale that ensured that two newcomers, Tele2, a Stockholm-based operator, and Ziggo 4, a joint venture of the Dutch cable operator Ziggo and UPC, a unit of Liberty Global, were able to buy spectrum.

In the approach to the sale, a Dutch court rejected a challenge by the major operators KPN, Vodafone and T-Mobile, which argued that the government’s cap on their spectrum holdings was illegal.

The coming spectrum auctions in other European countries will be critical to the competition in wireless markets. In Portugal, one of the Continent’s smaller mobile markets, three operators, Portugal Telecom, Vodafone and Optimus, have carved up the business for the past decade.

A potential new bidder, Oni Communications, a company in Porto Salvo, Portugal, that provides broadband, voice and video telecommunications services to 3,000 businesses, is not confident that the Portuguese government, which wants to raise €200 million from its spectrum auction, will structure a sale that lets new competitors into the market.

For most of the past decade, the spectrum shares of major Portuguese carriers have been relatively stable, with Portugal Telecom and Vodafone each having 40 percent, and Optimus 20 percent.

“It is absolutely critical how this auction is structured to the future of competition in Portugal,” said Xavier Rodríguez-Martín, the chief executive of Oni, which is controlled by a New York-based private equity firm, Riverside. Oni plans to join a consortium with a major European operator to bid for new Portuguese spectrum.

But Mr. Rodríguez-Martín, a former executive at Telefónica, said he was not confident that the Portuguese regulator would construct an auction that gives new entrants like Oni a realistic chance of obtaining spectrum. Current discussion in government circles, Mr. Rodríguez-Martín said, suggests that Portugal may hold a so-called beauty contest that gives away free licenses to bidders on the basis of their commitments to build out their networks quickly.

Such a format would favor established operators, he said, which can more quickly expand to use new spectrum. That may speed the rollout of mobile broadband networks in Portugal, but at prices that are less attractive to consumers.

“Today this market is functioning in a closed loop,” Mr. Rodríguez-Martín said. “Across Europe we have to stop playing poker and start playing chess, and doing things that make sense in the long term.”

The Portuguese regulator, Anacom, has so far released no details of its plans for the auction. Last December, a vice president at the agency, Jose Manuel Ferrari Careto, told journalists that Portugal planned to conduct an auction rather than a beauty contest because it was more fair and transparent.

Posted by Sadina Todorovac ’12 International Affairs

LinkedIn Launches ‘LinkedIn Today,’ Social News Service For Professionals

The Huffington Post  Catharine Smith  First Posted: 03/10/11 04:27 PM Updated: 03/10/11 05:05 PM

Business-focused social network LinkedIn announced Thursday the launch of a personalized news aggregation product called LinkedIn Today.

Available online or via the network’s iPhone app, LinkedIn Today aims to create a news destination for the professional set by displaying popular headlines and links that are relevant to the user.

Busy professionals can view which stories are most popular among their friends, co-workers and connections within their own industry.

“You know and trust most of your connections and coworkers, so if they share an article, it’s a good signal that it’s something you should be paying attention to,” Liz Reaves Walker explained in a post on the LinkedIn Blog.

Users can also get the skinny on top stories from outside their personal networks by subscribing to LinkedIn’s industry-specific news feeds. LinkedIn Today will also show the user which stories are being shared across several industry networks.

“We’ve heard from a lot of users that they may work in one industry, but they pay attention to news across multiple industries. For example, maybe they need to stay informed on the industries of their clients, or maybe they closely follow news in the industry they want to work in next,” wrote Walker.

“Right now the news product includes 22 industries,” according to VentureBeat, “but Walker said it could add more filters, for example job title (a section showing what CEOs are sharing) or location (a section for healthcare professionals in India).”

CNET notes that LinkedIn has already partnered with Twitter and hopes to integrate the Facebook Like in the future. “The company also wants to put LinkedIn share buttons on major news sources,” writes CNET.

In a guest post written for TechCrunch, former LinkedIn Business Development Manager Mrinal Desai said that the new product could transform LinkedIn into “the Wall Street Journal of social news.”

But not everybody is convinced. Gigaom countered with the following statement: “[LinkedIn Today is] the same most-shared link you would find by going to virtually any other aggregator such as Yahoo News. And that’s a potential flaw for LinkedIn’s new service in terms of getting traction with users.”

View the video (below) to get a visual feel for LinkedIn’s social news product.

Posted by Sadina Todorovac ’12 International Affairs

Posted by Sadina Todorovac ’12 International Affairs

The Top 11 Countries That Spend The Most Time Online (PHOTOS)

The Huffington Post   |  Dean Praetorius First Posted: 03-10-11 08:46 PM   |   Updated: 03-10-11 08:46 PM

The country that spends the most time online may not be the one you’d think.

By the fourth quarter of 2010, the average internet user (worldwide) spent 23.1 hours per month online, according to a report released by comScore. However, the heaviest internet-using country used almost twice that.

That country: Canada.

The neighbors to the North average a staggering 43.5 hours per month, beating the next highest using country by over 8 hours. The U.S. was on the list, as well as the U.K. and South Korea.

However, despite the high usage per person, Canada has ranks 11th for total number of unique visitors. Canada’s number of unique visitors per month fell slightly between 2009 and 2010, though the hours spent online increased by 3.3 hours.

The top 11 countries in terms of unique vistors are listed below, arranged in terms of average hours per month spent online.

Posted by Sadina Todorovac ’12 International Affairs