Steven Levy

Stories by Steven Levy

  • Sports: Would You Buy T.O.?

    Is plain old fantasy football not time-wasting enough for you? A new twist promises more addictiveness--and is even more nerdy. This week a Silicon Valley start-up called Protrade (protrade.com) is launching an "athlete market" that merges the high-pressure action of stock-market trading with the skills of sports prognostication. The site is like a brokerage house where you buy and sell players. Their value fluctuates according to complicated calculations that supposedly track an athlete's feats to the value he brings to the team. (The secret sauce is a "Moneyball" -style formula.) If you buy shares in a blue-chip stock like Peyton Manning, you can expect regular dividends based on his performance--and if you take a chance on a rookie like Ryan Moats, you'll make a killing if he gets the ball and runs with it. Participants compete in various "challenges" (some free, others requiring a buy-in); the winner is the one whose portfolio grows the most. Prizes range from signed Ben...
  • Q&Amp;A With Steven Levy: Ballmer Unbound

    Microsoft's CEO has always been hard core, whether leading cheers at employee meetings, strategizing to maintain the company's status as the world's biggest software firm or upbraiding analysts for insufficient bullishness on the company he joined in 1980. And according to a deposition in a court case involving Google's brain-raid on Microsoft's top talents, he's still capable of going over the top; the defector telling the tale said Ballmer reacted to the betrayal by tossing a chair and vowing to bury Google's CEO. Ballmer released a statement disputing the account, and left it at that. But in an interview with NEWSWEEK he did speak candidly on a number of issues, including a new business initiative, the tardiness of the next version of Windows and, oh yes, Google.Newsweek: What's behind the new small- and midsize-business initiative Microsoft just announced? ...
  • Honey, I Shrunk The Ipod. A Lot.

    Ever since it was clear that Apple's 2001 foray into digital music would be a smashing success, naysayers have been proclaiming that it was only a matter of time before competitors would catch up to and eventually surpass the wildly popular iPod player. Even though this prediction has so far proved no more reliable than an Enron balance sheet--as of this summer, the iPod was claiming a 74 percent market share of digital music players--Apple CEO Steve Jobs feels the pressure. "Playing it safe is the most dangerous thing we can do," he recalls telling a gathering of Apple's hundred brightest execs and engineers last year. "We have to get bolder."So Jobs and his team undertook a big initiative to come up with a new iPod model that wouldn't just improve its predecessors but "change the rules." Their efforts bore small results. Very small. The iPod nano--a term meaning one billionth--is smaller than a business card and about as thick as layer-cake frosting. Introduced at a much-touted...
  • Ask The Technologist

    -Larry Gist, Indianapolis It's true: broadband via power lines (BPL) is on the way. Several small towns already use power lines to offer high-speed Web access, and IBM, Google and Earthlink are exploring the technology. There are obstacles--radio enthusiasts swear BPL jams their signals--but broadband could begin hitting sockets as early as 2006.
  • Google To Microsoft: Watch Your Desktop

    If Bill Gates ever had reason to doubt that the brash young billionaires of Google were out to get him, the time for such uncertainty is now officially over. Last month's dramatically revised version of its program Google Desktop is a glove slap across the face of Microsoft's fabled chief software architect. Ostensibly Google's update to a previous tool that searched people's hard drives in addition to the usual lightning-quick survey of the entire World Wide Web, Google Desktop 2 turns out to be a not-so-stealthy attempt to hijack the desktop from Microsoft. And in a move that must be particularly galling to Gates, the program does it in a way that directly steals thunder from Microsoft's upcoming Windows update, Vista.Specifically, I'm talking about Google's feature called Sidebar, a stack of small windows that sit on the side of the screen and dynamically draw on Web and personal information to track things like weather, stock prices, your e-mail, your photos, recently opened...
  • ASK THE TECHNOLOGIST

    I have Norton firewall and anti-virus software. Am I safe from spyware and viruses?George Moody, Overland Park, Kans.You are smart to install security software--though even Symantec, the publisher, specifies that you must make sure it is up to date. (Its most recent version addresses spyware.) But even diligent use will only decrease the chances of an attack, much the way a locked car will frustrate some thieves but not the most determined ones. You must still be cautious about opening unknown applications and backing up your data.
  • WILL STICKS LICK BROADBAND FIX?

    When Bob Dylan sang "Time passes slowly up here in the mountains," he wasn't referring to the speed of Web pages loading on his computer. But this month I've had plenty of time to think about that Dylan lyric, as well as re-read the paper and stare at the hummingbird that flutters outside my window at my western Massachusetts retreat. This is dial-up country, and my browser refreshes in slo-mo, my mailbox fills up in dribbles and two coats of paint can dry before a PowerPoint file downloads. Though the Berkshires are only hours away from superwired citadels like New York and Boston, in terms of telecommunications this might as well be Nepal.The sticks are getting shafted when it comes to broadband. The Pew Internet and American Life Project study reports that rural users are only half as likely as urbanites to use high-speed Internet service, and that two thirds of rural dial-up users either don't know of their options to get the fast stuff or have checked it out and learned for...
  • MICROSOFT'S PLAN: VISTAS FOR EVERYONE

    This month people in the tech world are looking back 10 years to the Netscape IPO, which marked the arrival of the Web as an unstoppable phenomenon--and began inflating a tech bubble. Not many people are reminiscing about the other big August 1995 story: the splashy introduction of Windows 95. To the riffs of the Rolling Stones' "Start Me Up," Bill Gates unrolled a dramatic operating-system update that promised a quantum leap in utility, simplicity and just plain good looks on the screen (kind of like the Macintosh). As well as its own Web browser to fend off those guys in Silicon Valley.Where are we 10 years later? A new company, Google, has a Brobdingnagian market cap. And Microsoft has finally released an early Beta version (for developers only) of its long-delayed new version of Windows. It promises a quantum leap in utility, simplicity and just plain good looks on the screen (kind of like the new Macintosh system, Tiger). As well as built-in search to fend off those guys in...
  • THE NEW CRYSTAL BALL: IT'S THE INTERNET

    If you were selling a product to Generation Y--the age group between 10 and 27, which has yet to come up with a melodious moniker--who would be your ideal spokesperson? At one point in marketing history, answering that question would have been a pricey process involving phone surveys, focus groups and hanging around schoolyards and student unions. Today there's a perfect shortcut: the Internet. Specifically, blogs and chat rooms, where the opinions, whims and heartthrobs of today's youth are freely aired. "We have the ability to listen to unsolicited opinions and comments," says Howard Kaushansky, CEO of Umbria Communications. "Listening to the stream of consciousness, we get an unbiased view of what people think." As a result, Umbria's team of Web surfers and analysts didn't have to make any phone calls or interrupt a single soccer game to come up with the guy you want selling your product to young males: Kobe Bryant.That's only one of a million juicy fruits that are now hanging...
  • PULLING THE PLUG ON LOCAL INTERNET

    Pete Sessions, a Texas member of the House, believes in states' rights. But he also thinks that there are situations so extreme that Congress must slap down state and local government initiatives. One such case: localities that offer citizens free or low-cost Internet service. Idealists may view extending high-speed Internet as a boon to education, an economic shot in the arm and a vital component in effective emergency services. Sessions (who once worked for telecom giant SBC) sees it as local-government meddling in the marketplace--"trying to pick winners and losers," he says--and thus justifies federal meddling to stop elected officials from giving their constituents a stake in the 21st century.The Sessions bill is only one shot in the battle over municipal wireless, or muni Wi-Fi. In hundreds of communities, public officials have concluded that the Internet is an essential service. They see that their residents are either offered prices that are too high or are not offered...
  • THE SUPREMES HIT THE PIRATE SHIPS

    There is something about the pomp and circumstance of a Supreme Court decision, especially a long-awaited one like last week's file-sharing case, that tempts one to view any conclusion of nine justices as a historic turning point. Though plenty of cases clear that bar, my guess is that MGM v. Grokster will not be among them. Not that the court didn't nail the basic issues--the case was all about dealing with technological innovation when it empowers illegal activities (in this case, copyright infringement), and the Robed Ones not only struck a balance but delivered an impressively clueful precis of how file-sharing services work on the Internet. In retrospect, though, the conclusion seems rather obvious: it's not OK to steal. (More specifically, it's not OK to build a business based on helping people to steal.) And in practice, it's not clear that the decision is going to make much difference in the struggle between the music and film industries and their Net-savvy customers.First,...
  • Grand Theft Identity

    BE CAREFUL, WE'VE BEEN TOLD, OR YOU MAY BECOME A FRAUD VICTIM. BUT NOW IT SEEMS THAT CORPORATIONS ARE FAILING TO PROTECT OUR SECRETS. HOW BAD IS THE PROBLEM, AND HOW CAN WE FIX IT?
  • AOL'S SOLUTION: A PORTAL IN A STORM

    Nine years ago I wrote a column about the future of the three great subscription online services--CompuServe, Prodigy and America Online. In the age of the Internet, I argued, their business model was doomed. People would not pay for content locked up in proprietary "walled gardens" when a wealth of similar information was available free on the Net. I called the trio "dead men walking." I got only two out of three; AOL kept growing. For years, whenever I saw Steve Case, he'd gleefully bring up my premature obituary.Clearly I underestimated Case's ability to overcome his company's challenges, and even convince a media giant that AOL could continue to defy commercial gravity. Now, of course, the Time Warner merger is viewed as a colossal disaster--and the bell is finally tolling for AOL's business model. Subscribers are fleeing like beachcombers after a shark warning--down to 22 million, from a high of 27 million. Barry Diller recently said he spurned an offer to buy AOL for $20...
  • LIFE AFTER NAPSTER

    Shawn Fanning, at 24, has already had a career's worth of fame as creator of Napster, the free peer-to-peer music-sharing service that changed the record industry, before it was litigated out of business. (Don't mistake that effort for the current music-subscription service that bought the Napster name.) But he thinks the best is yet to come. His new company, Snocap, is gathering an electronic registry of millions of songs, along with information on who owns the rights, and what, if anything, they want to be paid for a download. The registry and software that supports it will (he hopes) be licensed by peer-to-peer services that would instantly become legal, for-pay versions of Napster. So far, three of the four major labels and many indies have signed on. Fanning dropped by NEWSWEEK recently to discuss his second effort.LEVY: After the problems with Napster, why start a peer-to-peer related company like Snocap?FANNING: After Napster began to deteriorate, I became disillusioned and...
  • LOST MY SECRETS? PAY UP, BUDDY!

    If you had something extremely valuable to ship--a bundle of cash, a bag of diamonds or the plotline for "Mission Impossible 3"--would you just pack it in a cardboard box and hand it over to the United Parcel Service for delivery? My guess is that you would take extraordinary precautions. Hire an armored car for the valuables. Encode the story line with bulletproof encryption. So why did Citigroup use unencrypted computer tapes for a UPS run to transport personal financial information on nearly 4 million of its customers?Those tapes are now, um, misplaced--in the same zone where your missing eyeglasses and checked airport baggage disappear to. There's no reason to think that the private information on them will fall into the conniving hands of identity thieves, but it's certainly possible. The same goes for the confidential data lost by Time Warner on 600,000 employees and the hacker-compromised credit-card numbers of 1.4 million DSW Shoe Warehouse customers. Meanwhile, the secrets...
  • DIGITAL DJS ARE TURNING THE TABLES

    I can't imagine what my life in the early '70s would have been like without Michael Tearson. As the alpha disc jockey on WMMR, Philadelphia's hippest FM radio station, Tearson spun song sets that seemed to cosmically interact, providing transcendent moments throughout his midnight shift. My pals and I often wondered if he was sending secret messages by his song selection. Only recently, when I finally met Tearson, was the mystery resolved: he was sending us messages--ones of mood, not code--via Beatles, Bowie and Moby Grape.Personalities like Tearson have all but vanished from the airwaves. But in the era of the iPod and other digital players that store a huge amount of music, there's a rekindling of interest in the art of song sets. Apple's own solution is a double-barreled strategy of handpicked playlists for certain moods and random play for serendipitous discovery. But others are exploring more-sophisticated schemes to algorithmically clone the Michael Tearsons of yesteryear...
  • TELEVISION RELOADED

    Forty-four years ago, when Newton Minow famously described television as a vast wasteland, he might have hit the bull's-eye on the wasteland part. But he didn't know from vast. TV back then--a few black-and-white channels with a test pattern after midnight--was a sleepy three-light town where everybody hung out at the same dull places because there wasn't much else going on. As monochrome moved to color, and we got pay TV, more channels, remote controls, VCRs and cussin' on HBO, television sprawled much wider. But compared with what's coming, our 2005 experience is only half vast.Tomorrow's television? Now we're talking vast. Start with the screens--wide, flat, high-definition monsters that delineate tire treads on NASCAR rigs and zits on an anchorperson's chin--and move to the programming choices, which will expand from a lousy 200 or so channels to tens of thousands of 'em, if you figure in video-on-demand (VOD). It'll be a cosmic video jukebox where you can fire up old episodes...
  • THE EARTH IS READY FOR ITS CLOSE-UP

    Not long ago we were instructed to think of cyberspace--the digital realm that opens when you go online--as a territory of its own. But these days you don't hear much about cyberspace as a foreign country. Instead, as the Net becomes more and more geographically aware, we're using it to enhance our experiences in the realm of terra firma. The metaphor for this, as well as the potential center for such activity, is the literal mapping of our Earth, delivered piece by piece by piece to our screens--along with the location of the nearest pizzeria.Google was first among search leaders to integrate high-resolution space photos into its service. After acquiring a satellite-imagery company named Keyhole, it introduced Google Earth, allowing you to toggle between a traditional cartographic view and the actual picture from space. Google sightseers can zoom in close enough to see airplanes parked in the desert, the baseball diamond at Wrigley Field and cars in the Mall of America parking lot...
  • THINKING OUTSIDE THE (MUSIC) BOX

    Technology moves at broadband speeds. but the music industry's transformation to the digital era has been trickling along at a pace suitable to that modem you tossed out when you got your high-speed connection. Apple's iTunes Music Store--which has sold more than 350 million downloads at a buck a pop--has been wildly successful. But because digitized music can be distributed, paid for and listened to in so many ways, there's room for other business models that could potentially grow the whole industry. Apple CEO Steve Jobs professes to be cautious about this issue--"We're not religious on this, but there's no evidence people want [other models]," he says--but others have been brainstorming different ways to move legal digital music forward. Now we're finally seeing some of the schemes come to market.For instance, Real Networks has just come out with Rhapsody 25, which adds two twists to its existing subscription service. The first is that instead of being able to stream unlimited...
  • TELEVISION RELOADED

    Forty-four years ago, when Newton Minow famously described television as a vast wasteland, he might have hit the bull's-eye on the wasteland part. But he didn't know from vast. TV back then--a few black-and-white channels with a test pattern after midnight--was a sleepy three-light town where everybody hung out at the same dull places because there wasn't much else going on. As monochrome moved to color, and we got pay TV, more channels, remote controls, VCRs and cussin' on HBO, television sprawled much wider. But compared with what's coming, our 2005 experience is only half vast.Tomorrow's television? Now we're talking vast. Start with the screens--wide, flat, high-definition monsters that delineate tire treads on NASCAR rigs and zits on an anchorperson's chin--and move to the programming choices, which will expand from a lousy 200 or so channels to tens of thousands of 'em, if you figure in video-on-demand (VOD). It'll be a cosmic video jukebox where you can fire up old episodes...
  • HUFFINGTON'S POST: NOT YET TOAST

    Almost from the moment Arianna Huffington's blog (huffingtonpost.com) went live last week, it became the epicenter of digital snarkiness. Seemingly everyone with access to the Web--and more than a few spitballers from mainstream media--took a shot at the socialite pundit's site, a compendium of the views, opinions and random remarks of 350 actors, pundits, writers and politicos, ranging from genuine celebrities (Gwyneth Paltrow, Larry David, Walter Cronkite) to the niche-famous (wonky speechwriters, people cranking out television scripts for "Alias," Jon Corzine). Bloggers complained about its cluenessness, lack of focus and self-aggrandizement. One writer called it "the box-office equivalent of Gigli, Ishtar and Heaven's Gate rolled into one." Someone even created an anti-Arianna blog, with the Web address huffington.isfullofcrap.com.None of this seems to bother the senatorial spouse turned author turned entrepreneur. "Give us a few months to evaluate what it will become," she says...
  • THINKING OUTSIDE THE (MUSIC) BOX

    Technology moves at broadband speeds. But the music industry's transformation to the digital era has been trickling along at a pace suitable to that modem you tossed out when you got your high-speed connection. Apple's iTunes Music Store--which has sold more than 350 million downloads at a buck a pop--has been wildly successful. But because digitized music can be distributed, paid for and listened to in so many ways, there's room for other business models that could potentially grow the whole industry. Apple CEO Steve Jobs professes to be cautious about this issue--"We're not religious on this, but there's no evidence people want [other models]," he says--but others have been brainstorming different ways to move legal digital music forward. Now we're finally seeing some of the schemes come to market.For instance, Real Networks has just come out with Rhapsody 25, which adds two twists to its existing subscription service. The first is that instead of being able to stream unlimited...
  • TECHNOLOGY: THIS TIGER HAS CLAWS

    Mac users, not a shy bunch to begin with, will be roaring over Tiger, the $129 operating-system upgrade Apple rolled out last week. The showstopper is Spotlight, a built-in hard-drive search. Just type in a word and Spotlight locates its appearance in documents, PDF files, photo and music labels, even e-mails. (Microsoft Entourage support is yet to come; in the meantime, export your messages to Apple's beefed-up Mail app.) Also new is Dashboard, a set of applications that perform little tasks or keep watch on stuff like stocks or flights. There's a dazzling way to run full-screen high-res video conferences. The upgraded Safari browser adds a privacy function (so you can surf without leaving a wake). Our installation went flawlessly, and we've already discovered cool new features--like photo-slide shows within e-mail. And we haven't even begun with the parental controls or the new program that automates your complicated desktop tasks.
  • TIGER'S OUT THIS WEEK. NO BULL.

    It's Steve Jobs's plan to make this the Week of the Tiger. But Bill Gates and his minions at Microsoft are crying bull--specifically, a Longhorn steer. Despite the zoological bent, this dust-up is not about animals, but operating systems; Apple and Microsoft just happen to have named each of their major system upgrades after beasts of the realm. This Monday, Bill shows off the future of Windows, a.k.a. Longhorn, at a developers' conference. The oohs and aahs may be tempered by the fact that the hundreds of millions of Windows users won't get their hands on it until holiday season, 2006. (Unless it's even later.) On Friday, Jobs proudly presents the latest Macintosh OS X upgrade, named after that big striped cat that he always seems to have by the tail. When can the 25 million Mac users get their hands on Tiger? This year. This month. That day. Growwwl.That's a big point for Apple in the latest matchup in high tech's equivalent to the rivalry between the Yankees and the Red Sox. Both...
  • LIVING BY GOOGLE RULES

    A couple of weeks ago, a prominent dot-com warrior gave me a hot tip about Google: the next big move of the search phenom would be an assault on eBay. Think about it. Millions visit the Google site daily; why not let them search for items offered by sellers? The company already knows auctions, since it uses a bidding process for ads that accompany its search results. And eBay might be vulnerable, since it recently angered its sellers by raising commissions. The move would be straight out of the "Art of War" playbook apparently distributed by venture capitalists to all ambitious entrepreneurs.But when I floated this theory to Google's CEO, Eric Schmidt, the valley veteran who joined the company in 2001, he just laughed. "It's a perfectly reasonable question, but it doesn't compute here," he says. "If I said at a meeting, 'Are we going to enter eBay's space?' everyone would look at me and say, 'Why? They do a fine job.' The genius of Google is that we find new ways to solve problems...
  • DIE, SOFTWARE!

    The not-exactly-thrilling world of enterprise software, which manages the workings of corporations and monitors their client relationships, paradoxically generates larger-than-life executives in its own ranks. Think Larry Ellison, the billionaire CEO of Oracle. It's no accident that Marc Benioff worked for Ellison for 13 years before founding San Francisco-based Salesforce.com in 1999. That new company was based on the premise that business software--and maybe all software--was changing from a product to a service. Leaving Oracle was a risk for Benioff, but risk-taking is in keeping with his outsize, gregarious personality, which has gotten him in hot water--like when he spoke too much about his company's ultimately successful IPO before the offering last year. Now that the quiet period is long over, the 40-year-old can dish.NEWSWEEK: What do you mean when you say software is dead?BENIOFF: The concept that you buy the software, that you own it, that you manage it has really come to...
  • IN THE NEW GAME OF TAG, ALL OF US ARE IT

    Melvil Dewey had it easy. In 1876, when he created his famous system of ordering information, the Dewey Decimal Classification System, there weren't Web sites, video clips or blogs. Today's digital world--where millions of items are generated on an hourly basis, and even fantastic search engines can't find all the good stuff--is tougher to organize than a herd of Democrats. But Internet pundits now claim a solution: let the people do the categorizing. Using a practice called tagging, we can collectively label everything from great literature to pictures of your puppy. Bye-bye, Dewey. Hello, do-it-yourself.As the name implies, tagging something means putting a virtual label on it. (Software lets you do this by simply typing a word; from then on, it's linked to the content.) What the tag says is totally up to you. The important thing is that later you--and others--can find things simply by the tag name. Think of tagging as the opposite of search. By leaving linguistic bread crumbs...
  • LIVING BY GOOGLE RULES

    A couple of weeks ago, a prominent dot-com warrior gave me a hot tip about Google: the next big move of the search phenom would be an assault on eBay. Think about it. Millions visit the Google site daily; why not let them search for items offered by sellers? The company already knows auctions, since it uses a bidding process for ads that accompany its search results. And eBay might be vulnerable, since it recently angered its sellers by raising commissions. The move would be straight out of the "Art of War" playbook apparently distributed by venture capitalists to all ambitious entrepreneurs.But when I floated this theory to Google's CEO, Eric Schmidt, the Valley veteran who joined the company in 2001, he just laughed. "It's a perfectly reasonable question, but it doesn't compute here," he says. "If I said at a meeting, 'Are we going to enter eBay's space?' everyone would look at me and say, 'Why? They do a fine job.' The genius of Google is that we find new ways to solve problems...
  • A VERY DANGEROUS SUPREMES RERUN

    According to Cary Sherman and Dan Glickman, the last thing that the record labels (for whom Sherman lobbies) and movie studios (for whom Glickman lobbies) want is to stifle the development of awesome new gadgets that make life worth living in couch-potato land. They are taking their case--MGM v. Grokster--to the U.S. Supreme Court this week because those darned file-sharing services like Grokster, Kazaa and Morpheus make it easy for millions of people to steal movies and songs over the Internet. But the outcome may very well affect what tools all of us might one day use to hypercharge our entertainment. Specifically, do we want to enjoy unfettered the fruits of the digital revolution--or will Hollywood, despite its protestations, put on the brakes?The case is centered around the question of whether those theft-enabling file-sharing services are legal. The lower courts have ruled that they are. This was in keeping with the 1984 Sony Betamax case, when the Supremes gave their blessing...
  • LIFE ISN'T JUST AS YOU WANT IT? REMIX IT!

    The weirdness bar was set pretty high at last week's Emerging Technology Conference (ETech) in San Diego. Even so, a lot of the techie presenters cleared it with room to spare. These certainly included the University of California, San Diego, professor who spoke of unleashing "feral robotic dogs" on contaminated landfill sites. Ditto for the giggling British tinkerer who set up a complex system of wires, sensors and potentiometers in order to tell time by measuring the deterioration of a prawn-and-mayonnaise sandwich.All of this delighted the audience of 750, heavily tilted toward geekitude. But the point of the conference was not to single out strangeness, but argue that such acts were only extreme examples of an increasingly commonplace process: people using cheap and accessible digital tools to "remix" the world around them. Just as music producers sometimes go back to the original components of a tune--boosting some instruments, sweetening the tone and maybe adding a voiceover-...
  • A GOOD KNIGHT FOR SONY

    Howard stringer was about to embark on a round of Oscar weekend partygoing when he got the call from Japan: Sony's chairman and CEO Nobuyuki Idei was stepping down and vice chairman Stringer, who is based in New York, was the pick as his successor. After checking with his wife, who lives with his two children in England, Stringer accepted. The 63-year-old Welsh-born former head of CBS News (who was knighted in 2000) is now the first gaijin to head the electronics flagship of the Japanese economy--albeit a troubled company that has lost 75 percent of its stock price during the last five years. Stringer, who doesn't speak Japanese, faces the challenge of directing a firm with assets in film and music, a mighty game division and a woefully underperforming electronics division. He spoke with NEWSWEEK's Steven Levy about his plans to restore the luster to one of the world's greatest brands.LEVY: Why did Mr. Idei choose you as the first foreigner to lead Sony?STRINGER: I think he liked...
  • A GOOGLE TO GO

    What with Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz, Priceline, Hotels.com and every airline, hotel chain and car-rental place hosting its own site, you would think that the last thing the world needs is another travel destination on the Web. Nonetheless, veterans of several of the aforementioned online travel giants have launched yet another start-up, Kayak.com, claiming that it would be more of a travel search engine than a direct competitor to the others. The site has been in beta since last fall and offers a few things not seen on other sites, like complete access to discount airlines like JetBlue and Southwest, and a nice way to refine results without having to go back to the beginning of the search. CEO Steve Hafner, who got out of Orbitz to paddle Kayak's course, recently tried to explain what needs his new venture could serve.LEVY: Why do we need another travel site? There are millions of them already.HAFNER: That's precisely why you need another one. There are so many sites out there,...