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    Tuesday, February 9, 2010

    Reuters - Google tweaks Gmail to challenge Facebook, Twitter

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    Google tweaks Gmail to challenge Facebook, Twitter

    Tuesday, Feb 09, 2010 8:40PM UTC

    By Alexei Oreskovic

    MOUNTAIN VIEW, California (Reuters) - Google Inc injected social networking features into its popular Web email product as the world's No. 1 search engine seeks to fend off competition from Facebook and Twitter.

    Google introduced a new product dubbed Google Buzz on Tuesday that allows users to quickly share messages, Web links and photos with friends and colleagues directly within Gmail, the company's popular email product.

    And the company unveiled a handful of new products designed to make the new social networking features suited to mobile devices, like smartphones based on Google's Android operating system.

    Google's new social networking technology mimics some of the key features of popular social networking services like Twitter and Facebook, which are increasingly challenging Google for web surfers' online time.

    Gmail is the third most popular Web based email in the world, with 176.5 million unique visitors in December, according to comScore. Microsoft Corp's Windows Live Hotmail and Yahoo Inc's Mail were No. 1 and No. 2, with 369.2 million unique visitors and 303.7 million unique visitors respectively.

    In addition to the Buzz features for Gmail, Google said it is launching a special mobile application for Buzz, as well as weaving Buzz technology into the mobile versions of its flagship Web site and its maps products.

    Google has tried to ride the social networking wave before, launching the Orkut social network in 2004. But while Orkut is big in certain overseas markets, like Brazil, it has failed to attract as many users as social giants like Facebook and MySpace in the United States.

    In building a social network on top of an email product, Google is following in the footsteps of Yahoo, which has taken a similar approach in efforts to keep up with Facebook.

    (Additional reporting by Ian Sherr, editing by Gerald E. McCormick)

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    As attitudes shift, marijuana classes roll

    This school doesn't have a problem with students not paying attention.

    "They're paying us to come, and our classes are full," says Jeff Jones, chancellor of the Los Angeles branch of Oaksterdam University, where students learn the business of marijuana from seed to ash.

    Attitudes are changing as 14 states now have laws allowing some form of legal marijuana use with a doctor's recommendation. And with legalization comes a growing cannabis industry.

    In California alone, the medical-marijuana business could be worth as much as $2 billion, says Dale Gieringer, state coordinator for NORML, a marijuana advocacy group. Prices vary widely, but dispensaries have advertised an ounce of dried marijuana for $340 or more.

    "Ten years ago I couldn't get a room full of people to talk about this," Jones says. Now, people from across the country come to learn how to legally grow, distribute and profit with pot, even though it remains illegal under federal law.

    Oaksterdam holds classes in three California cities and is expanding out of state. Students learn about the law and science of marijuana as well as how to lobby local government leaders and how to tamp down the pungent, tell-tale smell of cannabis gardens. Growers often worry about theft, and because of legal uncertainties, there is always the risk of a raid by authorities.

    About 7,000 people have taken classes at Oaksterdam, says Executive Chancellor Dale Sky Clare, who oversees all branches. There are waiting lists to enroll 850 students started courses this semester, and more than 300 have signed up for next semester, she said.

    "It's not just hippies in tie-dye," Clare says.

    Mixed group of students

    Jeff Studdard, a former police officer, was among students at a recent class. Studdard, 46, of Riverside County, said he had been a school district police officer and a Los Angeles County auxiliary sheriff's deputy trained to recognize drug users until a broken back forced him to retire. The pain, even after three surgeries, prompted him to try marijuana.

    "I never smoked pot as an officer," he says, but after the injury, "I know first-hand the benefits." He was hoping to incorporate medical marijuana in a holistic treatment business.

    Kenji Klein, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California-Irvine, is studying the emerging legal pot market as a basis for his doctoral thesis. "It's interesting to me the way social change and entrepreneurship get linked together," Klein said.

    Many students, worried about legal uncertainties, did not want to be identified.

    "We all like to have fun in this industry, but sometimes people go to jail," says Sarah Diesel, an instructor.

    Oaksterdam University opened in 2007 in Oakland. Its name is part Oakland, part Amsterdam, the Dutch city known for its permissiveness toward pot. Classes are offered in Oakland, Los Angeles and Sebastopol, north of San Francisco. Last year, it expanded to Michigan, where voters passed a medical-marijuana law in 2008.

    On a recent weekend, 55 students in Los Angeles paid $250 each for Marijuana 101, a two-day introductory course.

    They were instructed on key court decisions, how to work in a dispensary, which varieties of cannabis are best for various ailments and how to cultivate a good pot crop.

    Oaksterdam is not the only school of its type. In Michigan, Nick Tennant, 24, opened Med Grow Cannabis College. "Our law is in its infancy," Tennant says. "We've been doing very well. I think there's huge demand."

    'People come from all over'

    Oaksterdam's founder and owner, Richard Lee, is a successful medical marijuana entrepreneur. His Coffeeshop Blue Sky is one of four dispensaries licensed in Oakland. He recently financed most of a $1 million signature-gathering effort for a proposal on California's ballot this fall to fully legalize pot while establishing state and local taxation.

    "It's been amazing, the response," Lee says of his school. "People come in from all over the country."

    Special Agent Casey McEnry of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, wouldn't comment on the cannabis school but said, "It is not the practice or policy of DEA to target individuals with serious medical conditions who comply with state laws."

    Much of the school's teaching is devoted to helping students operate within the law, while acknowledging that gray areas remain 14 years after California approved the nation's first medical-marijuana law.

    "If you have a grow, don't let anyone know," Diesel warns.

    In a recent Los Angeles class, there were students from states with medical-marijuana laws, such as Colorado and Nevada, and states without, including Arizona, Florida, Minnesota and Texas.

    "Everybody wants to get in

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