Stories by Steven Levy

  • A Boot Camp for the Next Tech Billionaires

    Calling all geeks! Do you have a hot idea for a start-up? If so, this boot camp where Silicon Valley meets 'American Idol' is for you. That is, if you make the cut.
  • Twitter: Is Brevity The Next Big Thing?

    Jack Dorsey has long been obsessed with status. [I'M WRITING THE LEAD TO MY COLUMN] Not in the snob-appeal sense, but status as in "where are you and what are you doing." He became fascinated with the idea while programming software for cab and courier companies. And later he became entranced with the instant message "status line," which evolved from "I'm away from my computer" to dense, haiku-ish briefs of what people were up to.So it was natural, when he was working for the San Francisco dotcom company called Obvious, to propose a service that tells your friends—via mobile phone, instant message, or the Web—what you're doing at any given moment. Obvious's founder, Evan Williams [I'M CHECKING GOOGLE FOR THE SPELLING] best known for starting one of the first blog software companies (later purchased by Google), gave him the go-ahead and last year Twitter was born.The lure of Twitter—as well as its Achilles heel—is its simplicity. You "twitter" (yes, it's a verb) by answering the...
  • Levy: Is Carpooling With Strangers the Way of the Future?

    Kate Sydney had never met me, but on the basis of sharing a mutual acquaintance, and knowing what I like for breakfast, she unhesitatingly opened the door of her 1998 Nissan so I could ride to Target with her. The trip—from a Cambridge, Mass., street corner to a shopping center in Watertown—didn't take long, but it spared the world 10 pounds of carbon dioxide. Multiply that by millions, and you have one reason Robin Chase started GoLoco, an Internet-based service that uses social networking to create instant car pools. If Chase has her way, GoLoco will be the behavioral equivalent of the Prius, zapping enviro-guilt while cooling off Gaia.Chase, 48, whose previous start-up was the Web-based car-rental service Zipcar, saw a big problem: 75 percent of all auto trips transporting only one human, driving Earth to ruin with toxic emissions. Her idea was to let drivers and riders use the Web to turn solitary rides into shared ones, saving fuel and cutting costs. She'd also build a business...
  • Pandora's Music Box

    Labels may not like it, but radio on the Net is catching on.
  • Steve Jobs Tries TV

    Now that Apple TV has finally shipped, we can see for ourselves what makes it so special. Or can we?
  • Twitter: Is Brevity The Next Big Thing?

    Jack Dorsey has long been obsessed with status. [I'M WRITING THE LEAD TO MY COLUMN] Not in the snob-appeal sense, but status as in "where are you and what are you doing." He became fascinated with the idea while programming software for cab and courier companies. And later he became entranced with the instant message "status line," which evolved from "I'm away from my computer" to dense, haiku-ish briefs of what people were up to.So it was natural, when he was working for the San Francisco dotcom company called Obvious, to propose a service that tells your friends—via mobile phone, instant message, or the Web—what you're doing at any given moment. Obvious's founder, Evan Williams [I'M CHECKING GOOGLE FOR THE SPELLING] best known for starting one of the first blog software companies (later purchased by Google), gave him the go-ahead and last year Twitter was born.The lure of Twitter—as well as its Achilles heel—is its simplicity. You "twitter" (yes, it's a verb) by answering the...
  • Going Your Way

    Kate Sydney had never met me, but on the basis of sharing a mutual acquaintance, and knowing what I like for breakfast, she unhesitatingly opened the door of her 1998 Nissan so I could ride to Target with her. The trip—from a Cambridge, Massachusetts, street corner to a shopping center in Watertown—didn't take long, but it spared the world 10 pounds of carbon dioxide. Multiply that by millions, and you have one reason Robin Chase started GoLoco, an Internet-based service that uses social networking to create instant car pools. If Chase has her way, GoLoco will be the behavioral equivalent of the Prius, zapping enviro-guilt while cooling off Gaia.Chase, 48, whose previous start-up was the Web-based car-rental service Zipcar, saw a big problem: 75 percent of all auto trips transporting only one human, driving Earth to ruin with toxic emissions. Her idea was to let drivers and riders use the Web to turn solitary rides into shared ones, saving fuel and cutting costs. She'd also build a...
  • Levy: Death to DRM?

    A new deal between Apple and EMI drops restrictive software from their songs, paving the way for better portability of digital music and improved sound quality. So why does it have to cost more?
  • Law: Changes in Patents May Be Pending

    Jon Dudas often hears how the current U.S. patent system is "broken." Dudas, director of the Patent and Trademark Office, hates that term. The process is "the envy of the world," he says. "Brazil, China, other countries, they want to know how we do it."I'll wager, however, that China would be less than delighted to emulate the United States if the consequences included events like the one in a San Diego courtroom last month. A jury delivered a whopping $1.52 billion judgment against Microsoft for infringing on a patent involving the mechanics of playing MP3 music files. Here's what is outrageous: Microsoft had already licensed MP3 technology from the consortium that developed the standard, for $16 million. Years later, after MP3 technology took off, Alcatel/Lucent (inheritor of patents filed by Bell Labs) emerged to file its suit, and won almost 100 times as much as what was determined a fair license fee originally (because Microsoft had unwittingly infringed that patent). Unless...
  • Levy: Invasion of the Web Amateurs

    Andrew keen is not surprised at the latest twist in the ongoing saga of Wikipedia. In his view, the entire Internet movement involving "collective intelligence," "citizen journalism" and "the wisdom of crowds" is a cultural meltdown, an instance of barbarians at civilization's gates. He considers Wikipedia, the popular Internet-based encyclopedia written and vetted by anyone who cares to contribute, as no more reliable than the output of a million monkeys banging away at their typewriters, and says as much in his upcoming poison-pen letter to Web 2.0, "The Cult of the Amateur" (due from Currency/Doubleday in June).So imagine Keen's delight in learning about an adjustment to last summer's New Yorker article about Wikipedia. The article's author prominently cited a person identified as "Essjay," described as "a tenured professor of religion ... who holds a Phd in theology and a degree in canon law." Essjay had contributed to more than 16,000 Wikipedia entries, and often invoked his...
  • Levy: Report from the TED Conference

    Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Technology, Entertainment and Design conference: A dispatch from the mind-bending conference in Monterey.
  • Wal-Mart's Online Movie Premiere

    Wal-Mart opened an online video store earlier this month, proudly announcing that it was the first legal movie-downloading site to offer flicks from all of six major studios. While that's a nice milestone, those who have been hoping to see the Internet bloom as a movie-distribution outlet saw the move as a marker of a different sort: there was finally a place that Hollywood could sell its wares online with no concerns about offending Wal-Mart.Wal-Mart sells 40 percent of all DVDs--Hollywood's biggest revenue source. That's right, 40 percent. So it's no wonder that the studios don't want to ruffle any golden-goose feathers. And it's no surprise that we've read reports that Wal-Mart (and other retailers like Target) have been clear in letting studios know that an irresistible digital movie-buying system would not be appreciated by the bricks-and-mortar companies that sell actual disks. Is Hollywood listening? For whatever reason, legally downloading a movie is a much worse proposal...
  • Can A $100 Laptop Change The World?

    The green and white gizmo is not much bigger than a clutch purse, but when you extend its plastic bunny-ear antennas and flip it open, clamshell style, the screen is colorful and welcoming, ready to network or create. It's even got a video camera and social networking software? It's the $100 (or so) laptop and its proud parent, the founder of the nonprofit One Laptop per Child, Nicholas Negroponte, believes it is within his sights to equip millions of developing-world children with these gadgets, paid for by governments and grants. NEWSWEEK caught up with the former head of the MIT Media Lab and best-selling author in Germany last month. ...
  • Finally, Vista Makes Its Debut. Now What?

    On the morning of the launch of the Vista operating system earlier this week, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates talked with NEWSWEEK’s Steven Levy about the new version of Windows—and the one after that. He also shared his views on those Apple television commercials in which the Mac is represented by a hip guy and the PC by, well, a dweeb. Excerpts:NEWSWEEK: If one of our readers confronted you in a CompUSA and said, “Bill, why upgrade to Vista?” what would be your elevator pitch?Bill Gates: The most effective thing would be if I could sit down with them and just take them through the new look for a couple of minutes, show them the Sidebar, show them the way the search lets you go through lots of things, including lots of photos. Set up a parental control. And then I might edit a high-definition movie and make a little DVD that's got photos. As I went through, they'd think, “Wow, is that something I could use, would that make a difference for me?”Vista has been a very long time in...
  • Steven Levy: Microsoft’S Slick New Vista

    Last night the giant billboards of Times Square lit up with the long-overdue news: Vista, Microsoft's endlessly awaited new version of the Windows operating system, is finally on sale to consumers. CEO Steve Ballmer and chairman Bill Gates both contend that it's the best operating system that Microsoft has ever produced. That's not necessarily so impressive: after five years and billions of dollars of development (including five million beta testers pounding on prototypes of the system) it would be pretty shameful if Microsoft turned in something worse than one of its Windows predecessors. But Gates and Ballmer can rest easy on that count. While the operating system is not the "wow" generator that its marketing campaign promises, it is definitely an improvement over the Windows of yore.If you are a Windows user, the question is not whether you will use Vista, but when: a solid majority of people will not upgrade their machines to run Vista but will get the system when they buy a new...
  • The Low Cost Of (Guitar) Heroism

    Legend has it that the iconic blues guitarist Robert Johnson was granted his otherworldly chops by Satan himself, at a deal forged at a Mississippi crossroads. The price was his soul. In 2007, one does not have to cut such a hard bargain to get the unique rush of being a guitar god. You don't even have to sit in your room and practice for months on end. All you need is a PlayStation 2, a special game controller that looks like a tiny Gibson model SG and software called Guitar Hero 2. Within 10 minutes, you will be shredding heavy metal. As you get more adept at the game you will be ecstatically channeling Eddie Van Halen. All this with no strings attached.By allowing more than 2 million gamers to become ax slingers without the years of practice involved, Guitar Hero has become a cultural phenomenon. Technically, you are not creating music by pushing buttons on the fret board of the game controller (which button to push is dictated by similarly colored dots that scroll on your screen...
  • Music: Common Hero

    Legend has it that the iconic blues guitarist Robert Johnson was granted his otherworldly chops by Satan himself, at a deal forged at a Mississippi crossroads. The price was his soul. In 2007, one does not have to cut such a hard bargain to get the unique rush of being a guitar god. All you need is a PlayStation 2, a special game controller that looks like a tiny Gibson model SG and software called Guitar Hero 2. In 10 minutes, you will be shredding heavy metal.By allowing more than 2 million gamers to become ax slingers without the years of practice involved, Guitar Hero has become a cultural phenomenon. Technically, you are not creating music by pushing buttons on the fret board of the game controller (which button to push is dictated by similarly colored dots that scroll on your screen at higher and higher speeds). Hitting the right button at the right time simply unlocks music that real guitarists created using real guitars. Yet the illusion is given that you are actually making...
  • Gadgets: Apple Makes A Cool Call

    Steve Jobs, shiny object in hand, lays it out for me: "This is five years ahead of what everybody's got." Predicting the future is gamy, but a tour of the iPhone--it's called that pending a trademark dispute with Cisco--makes the claim seem credible. At its best, Apple transforms a product category plagued by awkward interfaces, inadequate utility and ungainly packaging and transforms the experience into something effective and fun. The iPhone--actually a combination of a smart phone, Internet communicator and iPod--is a case in point.Here are the details: a 4.8-ounce palm-size slab dominated by a bright "multitouch" screen you control with your fingers. It runs on the Macintosh operating system, so it has sophisticated e-mail and Web browsing, along with stuff like Google Maps. It lets you handle voice mail like e-mail, choosing which message you want to hear. It's got a revamped iPod interface that makes the most of the iTunes ability to let you watch movies and TV. And with the...
  • Technology: Valley Of The Gadgets

    On the eve of the massive Consumer Electronics Show--a bacchanalia of gizmology, with 140,000 conventioneers packing Las Vegas to visit 2,700 companies spread over several football fields' worth of booths last week--Gary Shapiro sighed when he talked about who wasn't there. "We invite him every year," says the CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association, which organizes the show. "It would be great to have him here." But in 2007, as in the past, instead of joining an all-star keynote lineup that this year included Bill Gates, Michael Dell, Motorola's Ed Zander, Disney's Bob Iger and CBS's Les Moonves, Apple CEO Steve Jobs presided over his own conference in San Francisco. So for the first two days of CES everybody obsessed about what Steve would do. During the last two days, after Apple had introduced its iPhone, they obsessed about what Steve had done.Of course there were plenty of things to see at CES. Electronics behemoths rolled out major products at packed press conferences,...
  • Steven Levy: Apple Computer Is Dead; Long Live Apple

    Apple Computer Incorporated is no more. On Jan. 9, CEO Steve Jobs announced that the name he and Steve Wozniak gave to their new business 30 years has changed. It will now be called simply Apple Inc. Jobs had deleted the word “computer” with the same ruthlessness that he once used to deny cursor keys to the original Macintosh, and an on/off switch to the iPod.It was no coincidence that Jobs revealed this on the day that he unveiled the iPhone, Apple’s long-awaited entry into the mobile marketplace. The device further broadens the scope of the company once known primarily for making things with keyboards. It also enhances Apple’s legacy for swooping into a creatively moribund category and upending the established players with a level of style and innovation that has seemed beyond their grasp.During Jobs’s keynote address at the Macworld Expo in San Francisco on Tuesday—a seamless two-hour infomercial that mesmerized 4,000 people, some of whom had waited all night for a seat—he...
  • Gaming: Embedded In Azeroth

    To get an inside look at World of Warcraft--a "massively multiplayer online role-playing game" with 7 million addicted players--I became an embedded journalist. The idea was to tag along with one of the elite "guilds" of experienced players who engage in well-choreographed raids. I managed to wangle an invitation to the We Know guild and take possession of a high-level, custom-built game alter ego; otherwise, I wouldn't have lasted a second in the perilous "Molten Core." So I became Journalist, a Level 60 Night Elf Rogue with electric blue hair, purple horns and a Mighty Cloak of the Monkey draped over my back. Niiice .The crucible was a 40-person raid on the dungeonlike Core. After brief instruction from our team leaders, we engaged horrible giant beetles called Molten Giants. In the fog of war, it was hard to tell what was going on, what with the battering, the stabbing, the spell casting and the healing. We killed the Molten Giants--though more showed up, as well as Core Hounds...
  • Everyone's a Star!

    Plenty has been said about comedian Michael Richards's racial outburst in a Los Angeles comedy club, but not as much on the speed and thoroughness with which the news spread. The enabler of this ubiquity was a combination of two related technologies: cheap, portable video recording and broadband Internet. It's a one-two punch that will increasingly affect our public life--even for some people who aren't in public life to begin with.It's a new fact of the digital age: any time you step outside your door, the possibility exists that you may wind up an unwilling figure of shame and ridicule--if not in the "Borat" movie, then at least on YouTube. It's surprising how celebrities and politicians have been slow to grasp this reality. But the two Bank of America employees at a private function celebrating the company's merger with MBNA couldn't have anticipated what happened to them. Their over-the-top rendition of U2's "One" (with custom lyrics like "Integration has never had us feeling so...
  • Smile! You're an Unwitting Net Star.

    By now you've heard enough about Michael Richards's racist meltdown at a Los Angeles comedy club. Plenty has been said about the content of his outburst, but not as much on the speed and thoroughness with which the news spread. The enabler of this ubiquity was a combination of two related technologies: cheap, portable video recording and broadband Internet. It's a one-two punch that will increasingly affect our public life--even for some people who aren't in public life to begin with.It's a new fact of life in the digital age: any time you step outside your door, the possibility exists that you may wind up an unwilling figure of shame and ridicule--if not in the "Borat" movie, then at least on YouTube. It's surprising how celebrities and politicians have been slow to grasp this reality. Certainly one would have thought that George Allen, running to retain his Virginia senatorial seat, might have understood that directing the term "macaca" to a person of color might have had...
  • Smile! You're an Unwitting Net Star.

    By now you've heard enough about Michael Richards's racist meltdown at a Los Angeles comedy club. Plenty has been said about the content of his outburst, but not as much on the speed and thoroughness with which the news spread. The enabler of this ubiquity was a combination of two related technologies: cheap, portable video recording and broadband Internet. It's a one-two punch that will increasingly affect our public life--even for some people who aren't in public life to begin with.It's a new fact of life in the digital age: any time you step outside your door, the possibility exists that you may wind up an unwilling figure of shame and ridicule--if not in the "Borat" movie, then at least on YouTube. It's surprising how celebrities and politicians have been slow to grasp this reality. Certainly one would have thought that George Allen, running to retain his Virginia senatorial seat, might have understood that directing the term "macaca" to a person of color might have had...
  • Digital Music: Beyond 'Squirting'

    Have you squirted a song yet? That's the question Microsoft hopes your friends will ask you as you ponder which digital music player to acquire. After all, iPods don't squirt songs. And Microsoft's new player, Zune, does.What's a song-squirt? It's the first, and currently the only, application of the wireless connectivity built into every Zune. Squirting is a tune-sharing feature that works like this: with built-in Wi-Fi, your Zune can alert you to every other Zune within 10 meters, to which you can then send a song (or a podcast or a photo). If the potential recipient accepts the tune, in 10 or 15 seconds it's in his or her Zune.The catch is that the squirt is fast-drying--in three days it goes away. Or, if the recipient plays it three times within that period, it evaporates after the third spin. This is because Microsoft cut a lousy deal with the record labels, which still regard innovative digital schemes as potential piracy threats. My guess is that people will be turned off...