The dirt on Amazon, Steve Jobs, Topix, Fatdoor, MySpace, VC tax and more

Here’s the latest action:Amazon’s odd and scary patent — First, Amazon rolled out a product called Mechancial Turk (image left), where people do tasks for you that a machine couldn’t perform. Strange name, we thought, but nicely couched in history, and the people still ruled. But the latest Amazon patent puts the machine in charge, breaking down tasks, and commanding the human to do them. According to the patent, just awarded, “the humans perform the subtasks and provide the results back to the server.” Note that the inventors are the guys who have since left Amazon and launched Kosmix, a search engine.

Steve Jobs: Great artists stealWe can’t confirm this yet, but h Here’s a statement reportedly made by Apple’s Steve Jobs. The transcript is on PBS, and the edited version of the video is still at YouTube (see below), and emphasis is ours: “…I mean Picasso had a saying, he said good artists copy, great artists steal. And we have always been shameless about stealing great ideas and I think part of what made the Macintosh great was that the people working on it were musicians and poets and artists and zoologists and historians who also happened to be the best computer scientists in the world.” This airing of this again is notable, of course, because Apple is also in the midst of sparking a revolution in music copyright, prodding the removal of digital rights from its iTunes offerings — and music labels are sensitive about their music getting ripped off. The original video, meanwhile, has been ordered down. (Udpate: This is apparently a well-known quote by Jobs, as pointed out in comments below, so perhaps only relevant in the context of the take-down order).

Viacom vidoes represent just two percent of views on YouTube — Viacom, the large music and video publisher, sued Google for $1 billion for hosting pirated video on its video property, YouTube. But only two percent of views had Viacom-owned music or video, according to a report. That’s more than the other labels and studios, though. See summary by Henry Blodget.

Topix, the news site, opens up to citizen journalists — Topix has been working on local news for a long time, and yesterday opened itself up for citizens to post and edit stories. Question is, why did it take so long? Chief executive Rich Skrenta explains some of this on his blog. Also, note Topix is partly funded by USA Today parent Gannett, McClatchy and Tribune, and so was trying to serve those masters, and lost focus on its own survival. Meantime, though, several other such sites (Newsvine, Backfence, NowPublic, Outside.in etc) have emerged and make Topix a little late to the game. Helps to have your partial owner, USA Today, the nation’s largest newspaper, announce the news, though.

Something fishy with Technorati traffic? — Odd that Technorati, the search engine for blog material, suddenly announces a spike in traffic as rumors circulate it is searching for a new chief executive. Chief exec David Sifry provides the latest details on traffic: Nine million unique visitors over the last thirty days, up from 3.5 million two months ago. At first, we wondered whether the company had hit the wall, and was looking for publicity as it searches for a sale, or a new round of funding. This comes after we stopped using Technorati for blog searches last year — with the emergence of blog material in other engines such as Google. To be fair, though, others are asking the same question, and hearing that Technorati has simply gotten better. Any thoughts?

MySpace ad revenue disappointing? — The giant social networking site will only make $271 million in ad revenue, says one Wall St. analyst, even though Google was supposed to pay a minimum of $300 million to sell ads on the site!

Capital gains tax on VCs — Venture capitalist Fred Wilson has an good analysis on the debate about the VC tax proposal being weighed in Washington. He criticizes a NYT editorial, which argues the capital gains benefit is excessive. Wilson’s point is that the earlier the stage of investment, the greater the risk, and thus the more justified the tax benefit. Should private equity firms, which invest very late, and take on less risk, enjoy the low taxes they get? Maybe not. But if you tinker too much with VC taxes, the better VCs will leave the industry and become angel investors. The Europeans would love it. They’ve been trying to figure out how to get a vibrant VC industry, and a weaker U.S. industry might push more money over there.

As usual, see latest deals — See our VentureBeat Newswire here.

SustainLane gets $3.5 million for sustainable living site — The funding for the San Francisco company is its second round, according to a regulatory filing cited by PE Week. It ranks US cities by how environmentally friendly they are, and provides animated media about people trying to live green and reviews of eco-products.

fatdoor.jpgFatDoor, secretive social network, to launch soon — The Palo Alto-based start-up, backed by Bill Harris, former CEO of Paypal and Intuit, and Bertram Capital, launches April 15, and describes itself as “a wikipedia of people,” with over 130 million people and business profiles at launch. It wants to let you get to know your neighbors, with “…..search and groups based on pre-seeded politics, religion, ethnicity, age, interests, etc.” The site features “three-dimensional geo-spatial visualization of data” and user-generated community publications and “geo-spatial coupons.” Stay tuned