Rezoning application for Kelowna, BC-based call centre

Rezoning For Call Centre: “City council will be looking at a rezoning application Monday afternoon that could create 400 jobs in Kelowna.”

Kelowna, B.C., could be getting its third major call centre if a rezoning application is approved by the Council of the City of Kelowna, according to Castanet.net news producer Ray Turner. It already has the endorsement of the City’s various departments, including Planning and Corporate Services Department, as well as Development Services. The Council’s city resident dominated Advisory Planning Commission has also recommended rezoning a portion of the former Western Star Trucks land on Leckie Place off Enterprise Way from I3 (Heavy Industrial) to I1 (Business–Industrial).

In an earlier report on Castanet.net, by columnist John Thomson in his widely-read Thomson Report, rumoured Omaha, Nebraska-based SITEL as the company eyeing part of the old plant as a new call centre that would employ between 250 and 400 people that would provide outsourced in-bound customer care services for the U.S. financial services industry. The Central Okanagan Economic Development Commission has reportedly been working aggressively to land another in-bound call centre, which are preferred by cities over telemarketing-style outbound centres, after enticing Teleperformance USA affiliate Marusa Marketing, Inc., to open up down Enterprise Way on Hardy St.

Marusa is currently in the midst of its second round of hiring for its centre, which is already operating, that handles customer calls for Sprint Corporation in the U.S. It expects that eventually, presumably in a few years, it will employ 1,000 people — or approximately 1% of Kelowna’s 100,000+ population, making it the City’s largest employer. In addition, Canada is the second fastest-growing destination for call centre operators after India, according to reports.

While approval of the rezoning is widely expected, it remains to be seen if Thomson was accurate in reporting on a rumour he had received that SITEL is the company. He’s had a number of journalistic (not to mention spelling and grammar) missteps in the past.

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For a Start-Up, Visions of Profit in Podcasting

(Readers’ Note: I wanted to provide you with this interesting, biographical sketch by The New York Times’ technology writer John Markoff on a new San Francisco-based “podcasting” company called Odeo. It was started by Audioblogger founder Noah Glass and Blogger co-creator Evan Williams. Normally, I do not make a habit of reprinting copyrighted news pieces; however, in certain circumstances, where I can not adequately paraphrase a well-read piece, I will do so and will only do so when the news organization maintains a registration-required “walled garden” of content. No infringement is intended and I have gone above and beyond in ensuring The New York Times maintains full credit and copyright ownership.)

February 25th, 2005

For a Start-Up, Visions of Profit in Podcasting (The New York Times)

By JOHN MARKOFF
The New York Times

SAN FRANCISCO, Feb. 24 – The primarily amateur Internet audio medium known as podcasting will take a small, hopeful step on Friday toward becoming the commercial Web’s next big thing.

That step is planned by Odeo, a five-person start-up that is based in a walk-up apartment in this city’s Mission District and was co-founded by a Google alumnus. The company plans to introduce a Web-based system that is aimed at making a business of podcasting – the process of creating, finding, organizing and listening to digital audio files that range from living-room ramblings to BBC newscasts.

Audio files on the Internet are nothing new, of course. But the recent proliferation of portable iPods and other devices for storing and playing files in the MP3 audio format has created a mobile audience in this country – more than 11 million and growing – on whom podcasters are counting to listen to much more than downloaded songs and the occasional audio book.

The question for Odeo, and for the many other entrepreneurial efforts almost certain to come, is whether there is any money to be made from podcasting. Recall that the dot-com boom was full of start-ups betting on one or another notion of the Web’s potential. But for every felicitous pairing like Google and keyword searching, there were dozens of broken marriages like Pets.com and online dogfood sales.

In podcasting, there are already a number of small commercial efforts to create audio programs especially for listening to as mobile downloads. And there are both hardware and software systems that make it possible to convert over-the-air and Internet radio broadcasts for mobile storage and listening on MP3 players. One recent example is Radio Shark, a small device that sells for $70 and enables users of Macintosh computers to automatically record over-the-air radio programs and convert them to MP3 files for later, on-the-go playback.

The enterprising Web logger Adam Curry, a former MTV host, has created a podcast show called Daily Source Code, in which he plays music and chats about whatever is on his mind. The show, free so far, has several thousand daily listeners, he says.

Last week, Audible.com, which in 1994 pioneered the idea of using the Internet to download audio books and other audio material to personal computers, said that it would soon join the podcasting movement. The company, whose business currently includes distributing popular radio programs like “Car Talk” on a subscription basis over the Internet, now says it intends to make its software and distribution system available to people who want to produce their own podcasts.

“When I started Audible and we started signing up radio partners, people would ask me, ‘where does your technology leave radio?,’ ” said Donald Katz, Audible’s chairman. “Now it’s clear that the creative capacity that is out there greatly outstrips the capacity of the radio pipeline.”

But he also warned that podcasting has become the Internet buzzword of the moment and so is at risk of being overhyped. “Podcasting is drafting on the magic surrounding the word iPod,” he said.

Compared with the other various approaches so far, Odeo (pronounced OH-dee-oh) means to be podcast central – an all-in-one system that makes it possible for someone with no more equipment than a telephone to produce podcasts and also makes it possible for users to assemble custom playlists of audio files and copy them directly onto MP3 audio players.

The company plans to make money by selling audio content and advertising and, eventually, software for producing and editing podcasts.

Odeo, which is scheduled to make its formal debut on Friday at the Technology, Entertainment & Design Conference in Monterey, Calif., was founded by Noah Glass and Evan Williams, two pioneers of the Web logging, or blogging, movement.

Mr. Williams, who is 32, helped found a maker of Web logging software, Pyra Labs, which he sold to Google in 2003 for an undisclosed amount of stock, and then stayed at the company until last October. He predicts that podcasting will repeat the steep growth curve of the text blogging phenomenon – which went from only a few thousand blogs when he entered the field in 1999 to more than 7.3 million today.

He bases his forecast on the rapid proliferation of iPods and other handheld MP3 devices that are capable of playing digital audio files containing news, music and talk radio, as well as an increasingly diverse array of amateur productions that are more difficult to categorize.

The number of MP3 players in the United States is expected to grow from 11.3 million last year to more than 45 million in 2008, according to Jupiter Research. And as more of those devices have wireless communications capabilities, the ability for users to download material from the Web from wherever they are promises to expand the variety of potential podcast offerings – possibly including text-to-speech software for listening to written material plucked from the Web.

Odeo plans to base its business on the premise that the explosion of digital audio content has created the need for a central place to find relevant material and that there will also be a need for a market to buy and sell “premium” content in much the style of the eBay online marketplace.

Odeo, noting that advertising is already an accepted component of conventional radio, also plans to embed automatically generated audio ads within the downloadable files. And because the files are specifically chosen by the consumer, the company is also hoping that consumers and advertisers might find one another as readily as through the keyword Web search advertisements that are at the heart of Google’s and Yahoo’s businesses.

“These media advertising paradigms have thrived for a long time,” said Mr. Glass, 35, who previously founded a small company, Listen Lab, that provided a service called Audioblogger for posting audio snippets from a telephone directly to Web logs.

Mr. Williams and Mr. Glass became friends several years ago when they lived in adjacent apartments in San Francisco, after Mr. Glass noticed that his neighbor was constantly sitting in front of his computer while wearing a Blogger T-shirt.

When they started Odeo late last year, they folded in Listen Lab and have incorporated the Audioblogger services into Odeo’s offering.

While still too much in its infancy to be considered an immediate threat to the radio industry, podcasting does present the prospect of a growing army of iPod-toting commuters who take programming decisions out of the hands of broadcasters and customize their own listening.

Odeo’s founders say they believe that, as with other old and new media, conventional radio and podcasting can coexist in the long term. If, through podcasting, conventional radio programs are increasingly stored and played back on the listener’s schedule, rather than the broadcaster’s, then the trend could have the same time-shifting impact that TiVo-style video recorders have had on the viewing habits of television audiences.

But Mr. Williams said that the real promise of podcasting might lie not in what it means for conventional radio but in the new forms of expression the medium will permit. “We’re going to let people do what they do,” he said, “and we’ll see what they do and hope they do it a lot.”

Copyright (c) 2005 The New York Times Company. All rights reserved. Reprinted without permission for the benefit of this blog’s readership without having to register with the New York Times Online Web site to access the “walled garden”. No infringement intended, really — as reciprocol links have been provided to both the company and article Web pages.

ChoicePoint screws up

Personal information and data warehouser ChoicePoint was forced to admit, red-faced, that it screwed up with some of its “due diligence” practices when credentialing customers in its small business segment. At the heart of the information it disclosed in a shocking, and quite embarrassing, company statement, organized criminals, who include a Nigerian citizen that plead no contest in California state court in connection with the elaborate fraud and was subsequently sentenced to sixteen months in prison, that had previously stolen identities of U.S. citizens formed corporations using the stolen names, presumably either as principles or officers of the companies. Using these newly-formed companies, which masqueraded as payday loan and cheque cashing outlets as well as debt collection agencies, it applied to become small business customers of ChoicePoint to gain access to ChoicePoint’s massive collection of consumer data and personal information, including U.S. Social Security/state drivers’ license numbers, credit reports, and public record information such as court records, bankruptcies, liens, property titles, and other professional licenses. ChoicePoint said that because the companies operated by criminal fraudsters used the stolen names of good standing U.S. citizens, they were able to get by ChoicePoint’s “stringent” customer credentialing processes, such as bypassing its criminal record and background checks of its customers’ senior employees.

ChoicePoint says that it believes files on up to 145,000 U.S. consumers in 50 states and three territories (Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands) may be potentially compromised and some 750 people were victims of some form of identity theft and fraud based on, at least some of, the compromised information. It’s sent out detailed notices to those nearly 145,000 people and also said it will pay for one-year of free credit monitoring with the credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. It’s also advised everyone, not just those consumers affected, to regularly check their credit report with one of the aforementioned agencies and if, when reviewing their report, people find discrepancies it, such as credit applications the consumer did not request, to notify the credit reporting agency immediately to begin the process of correcting the report and also to place a fraud alert on the account. (Fraud alerts are a good tool to have in the shed in terms of preventing, or at least monitoring for, identity theft as they require the agency to call you to confirm businesses’ requests for copies of your credit file when applications for credit are made with such businesses. Plus, when you place a fraud alert with any one of the three agencies, it’s automatically forwarded to the other two. To learn more about such a process, visit ChoicePoint’s special Web page they have set up.)

Such advice is good advice, but it provides little consolation to those who have had their identity stolen and used for nefarious purposes as a result of such disclosure. Moreover, it raises some ethical questions. Should personal information and data warehousing suppliers, such as ChoicePoint, continue to operate virtually unregulated? And, as a supplementary to that question, should the U.S. Federal Trade Commission draft and adopt tough government regulations on the collection and dissemination of consumers’ personal information and credit files? Why do U.S. Social Security numbers (and Canadian Social Insurance numbers, for that matter) need to be included on credit reports and in the massive datastream of companies like ChoicePoint?

There’s no doubt we need credit reporting agencies and data collection companies, as they serve to provide issuers of credit, like banks, private-label credit card organizations, retailers, and others, a sort of guarantee that a person is likely going to be able to pay off their debt and in a manner consistent with the agreement between the lender and borrower. However, absolutely no useful purpose is served by providing U.S. SS/Canadian SI numbers to such corporations. Sure, these companies will argue that they require these numbers as they provide a unique identifier for each person, to properly sort the data into customer profiles. However, this is a red herring and a fallacy. Companies can simply sort customer profiles in the order of “Last Name, First Name, Middle Initial”.

Our government identification numbers are uniquely personal to us. They are who we are, what we’re about, and contain records of our earned income right from the first high school job to retirement pension, taxes paid, and other things of the sort. No individual, and no companies, need these numbers.

Footnote: It is worth noting that in the above referenced company statement, ChoicePoint was quick to point out that the incident was not caused by computer “hacking” and that it is working to make its so-called “due diligence” processes in signing up new customers of its small business product segment much stricter. It will now mask, or at least truncate, personally-sensitive information like drivers’ licenses and U.S. Social Security numbers. However, it stopped short of giving out this information entirely — governments and publicly-traded companies, or small businesses sponsored by publicly-traded companies, can access these numbers. It’s true that governments and large Nasdaq, NYSE, and TSX listed companies have strict privacy policies and employee codes of conduct, but by still allowing all publicly-traded companies access to these numbers, it raises the necessary question of, is that good enough? Many companies trade on the far less regulated over-the-counter boards, such as Pink Sheets, and could just as easily operate as nefariously as organized crime running closely-held companies. While it’s a start, it does nothing to address the fact that companies should not be collecting these numbers at all. It’s completely unnecessary.