Fruits of Ray Ozzie’s labour

Ray Ozzie, the Lotus Notes founder who is now chief techno-visionary at Microsoft (and author of one of the recent “sea change” memos about the need to embrace the interactive Web) has a new blog, and in one of his first posts he talks about a new extension to the RSS newsfeed standard that allows people to share, merge and otherwise interact with lists of meetings, appointments, contacts and other info. As Ray describes it, lots of people have multiple lists of contacts, meetings and other data — personal ones, work ones, different levels of work, and so on — and this allows them to “mesh,” so that information can flow from one to the other.

Better still, Microsoft has released this new format proposal under a Creative Commons license, which means it is freely shareable — a nice move by the (formerly?) evil empire. “We brainstormed about this “meshed world” and how we might best serve it,” says Ray, and “we decided we’d never get short term network effects among products if we selected something complicated – even if it were powerful. What we really longed for was “the RSS of synchronization.”

Dave Winer, who helped create what became the RSS standard, says he enjoyed working with Ray on the new extensions (described here), and that this collaborative process and what the group came up with was “technology at its best. This is is technology working.” Mike Arrington of TechCrunch says that new businesses will be built as a result of the SSE standard, and he applauds Microsoft for using the CC license.


Niall Kennedy is already working on exporting a feed that takes advantage of the new extensions, and software VC and blogger Jeff Clavier says the speed with which Microsoft came up with the new format, and the open-source nature of it, are a novel move for Microsoft , and Mitch Ratcliffe calls it “slick.” Not everyone is impressed, however: programmer Danny Ayers says Microsoft has ignored much of the work that has gone on with Atom, a more open standard, and is “ringfencing their own territory away from everyone else, a strategy likely to end in tears for them.”

Is Web 2.0 just one big party?

Am I the only one who feels left out of the whole buzz and hum that is Web 2.0, with its launch parties and takeover parties and Flickr galleries of same? I’m joking, more or less, but sometimes Toronto — or just about anywhere that isn’t the Bay area — feels an awful long way away from where things are happening. Do you feel the same, Mark? Of course, Paul Kedrosky is lucky because he gets to travel to all the conferences and so on, so he’s like an honorary resident of Web 2.0-land.

Michael Arrington of only arrived a few months ago, and already his house is the place to be for Web 2.0 conference attendees and launch parties, like the recent one for facial-recognition software company Riya — the one that may or may not be about to become part of the Brin and Page family. Maybe it’s because of the giant yard and patio that Mike’s house has, which makes it easy to have 250 or so people over. Some think the focus on parties has gone a little too far.

Anyway, reading various blogs after the Riya party makes it obvious just how many people know each other and see each other regularly in this small crowd of Web 2.0 types — people like Robert Scoble of and Jeff Clavier of SoftTech, not to mention Gabe of (although he wasn’t there), Fred Oliviera of and Scott Beale of Laughing Squid. It’s funny in a way how something that is based on the next-generation Internet — a distributed medium in which anyone can be anywhere and be close to whatever or whomever they want — still depends so much on face-to-face communication and who knows who.

Update: My friend and fellow tech writer Mark Evans posted something similar about Google’s Xmas party. And interestingly enough, Richard MacManus of Read/Write Web — who lives in New Zealand — just wrote something about how maybe being far away from Silicon Valley isn’t such a bad thing… he notes that Dan Grossman of A Venture Forth says companies may increasingly start to look outside the Valley when they’re hiring.

Google takes over the Internet

Robert X. Cringely has an interesting theory about why Google has been buying all that dark fibre everyone says it has been acquiring: to take over the Internet — but in a good way.

“The probable answer lies in one of Google’s underground parking garages in Mountain View,” he says. “There, in a secret area off-limits even to regular GoogleFolk, is a shipping container. But it isn’t just any shipping container. This shipping container is a prototype data center. Google hired a pair of very bright industrial designers to figure out how to cram the greatest number of CPUs, the most storage, memory and power support into a 20- or 40-foot box. We’re talking about 5000 Opteron processors and 3.5 petabytes of disk storage that can be dropped-off overnight by a tractor-trailer rig. The idea is to plant one of these puppies anywhere Google owns access to fiber, basically turning the entire Internet into a giant processing and storage grid.”

This idea makes a lot of sense. Google’s specialty consists of taking vast amounts of data and analyzing, collating, searching, sorting and displaying it. It does all this with in excess of 60,000 or so servers running as a giant distributed computer. So why not distribute nodes to where the they can jack right into the high-speed backbone of the Internet? That makes running things such as a Google distributed Office suite — or any other feature, service or application Google feels like providing — both easier and faster. Cringley figures the company could do it for about $1-billion. Considering the company is worth about $110-billion or so at the moment, and has $7.5-billion in cash, that shouldn’t be very tough.

Dan Dodge points to Cringley’s take as well, as does Michael Parekh.

The new kid vs. the veteran

One of the things causing a lot of buzz in the blogosphere lately — apart from the rumours spreading like wildfire that facial-recognition startup Riya, profiled recently by TechCrunch, may be acquired by Google for as much as $60-million — is the debate over the incredible growth of, which according to Alexa is getting close to passing the venerable in terms of Internet traffic.

However you feel about that, the rise of Digg has been pretty incredible, considering it was started just a little over a year ago by Kevin Rose, one of the former hosts of TechTV. People have already started to complain about their websites crashing after a link was posted on Digg, similar to the way people used to talk about getting “slashdotted.” In fact, for part of the day today seemed to be having problems, perhaps because a story on the company was the number one link on Digg.

As several people have commented on Slashdot — effectively providing support for their own argument — the main benefit of Digg seems to be speed in finding new links and stories (although this ranking site seems to disagree), and the main weakness seems to be the moronic level of commentary. By contrast, while Slashdot has its share of idiots (not to mention pedants) the main strength of Slashdot is the comments, which often add a huge amount of depth. As one person put it, Digg doesn’t have a “soul.”

In other words, they aren’t really competing with each other. Each is useful in different ways. I must admit I look at both, and often find myself getting more out of Slashdot’s comments than I do from Digg’s quick hits.

Don’t buy blogs — partner with them

It hasn’t been that long since America Online bought Jason Calacanis’s Weblogs Inc. stable for a reported $25-million (U.S.) — and now comes another deal that is the polar opposite. From whom? None other than Jason’s old nemesis and polar opposite himself, Nick Denton of and and so many other great blogs. When Jason sold his company and became part of AOL, Mr. Denton made it clear that he thought that was a mistake, and many seemed to agree — and so instead of selling, Nick has partnered with Yahoo to distribute his blog postings from a number of blogs through various Yahoo hubs (the news comes via and before that via

As the ever-astute Jeff Jarvis of points out in a post on the topic, Nick’s choice seems to be the smarter of the two. Yes, the Weblogs Inc. team cashed in for a big payout, but for a blog network it seems to make much more sense to piggy-back on the distribution and marketing of a giant such as Yahoo or AOL, not get swallowed up by it. As Scott Moore of Yahoo tells Rafat Ali at, the move is part of a strategy to become “more blog aware and blogcentric,” and it is not an exclusive deal, meaning Gawker Media can do similar deals with others. For what it’s worth, I would vote with Nick on this one. Susan Mernit seems to like it too.

Update: Jason Calacanis has posted his thoughts on the Gawker/Yahoo deal, and he says it’s great news for the medium. He also notes that his deal with AOL allows him to do distribution deals with whoever he wants — which may be true, but ownership is still different than partnering.

This debate is almost Audible

The audio service known as, which has been around for a number of years and — to be fair — was way out in front of the downloadable audio game, set off a bit of a firestorm when it announced a service that would allow podcasters to distribute their content in its proprietary .aa format, which would make it easier for them to track it and insert ads into the audio stream. Dave Winer of, who helped pioneer podcasting along with former MTV video jockey Adam Curry, jumped on the company for using a proprietary format, and said that they were “trying to make podcasting into a replay of previous media.” Om Malik of said that Audible was trying to “hijack a popular trend.”

So far, so good — fair comment and all that. And both men have a point: Audible’s service may have useful features that MP3s do not, such as tracking, but it’s still a proprietary format controlled by one company. Convincing others to use such a proprietary format instead of an open standard is something Microsoft has caught flack for, and quite rightly. In any case, Mitch Ratcliffe — who helped Audible develop the service — waded into the fray and the debate quickly got personal. He responded that Om and Winer were either missing the point or being deliberately unfair to Audible, and then he called Winer a thief for downloading audio without paying for it, and said that he could have sold his service for more than the $2.3-million he got if he had only invested more in it along the way.

Both Om and Dave responded quite reasonably to these unfair jabs, but Ratcliffe has refused to back down. Meanwhile, Nicholas Carr of has taken a refreshingly middle-of-the-road stance on the whole affair. Why do such debates — which are theoretically about the technology — often descend into ad hominem attacks? That’s one for the psychologists to answer.

Hey Sony — wake up

Here’s a column I posted at about Sony’s DRM rootkit fiasco:

“For a company that has so much great technology behind it, including a number of firsts like the compact disc and the portable music player, Sony Corp. often seems to behave more like a dinosaur — and a slow-moving, club-footed dinosaur at that. A case in point is the company’s recent ham-handed attempt to protect some of its music CDs by installing anti-copying software on its customers’ computers. A simple thing, you might think. Plenty of other companies do it. Sony, however, has managed to turn what should have been a non-event into a public-relations disaster, one that has helped to cement its reputation as the technology giant with the best technology and the worst execution.

The company has said that it will stop using the “rootkit”-style copy-protection software — first discovered and publicized by Mark Russinovich on his blog — but the damage has already been done. Not only does Sony look stupid as well as sneaky, but a list of the artists whose CDs have been “protected” by the company’s technology has been published far and wide. Is anyone going to rush out and buy those particular discs, or are they going to stay as far away from them as possible? If I were an artist with Sony Music (such as Canada’s Our Lady Peace), I would consider asking the company to compensate me for the effects of its reverse PR.

Continue reading “Hey Sony — wake up”

Are you a user or a slave?

Robert Scoble of has an interesting post on his blog in which he tries to get at the question of Web 2.0 services whose “content,” as it were, is produced by its users — something like being an obvious example. The pictures are uploaded by others, they are shared with the community, and Flickr derives revenue from that and from ads that run alongside the pictures. (which hosts Scoble’s site, and whose software powers this one as well) does the same thing with blogs, and for that matter does the same thing by aggregating other people’s content and then selling ads related to it. What does that make you and I? “Content generator” makes it sound like some kind of soulless, Matrix-style factory. Participant? Partner? Content provider?

Anil Dash has also wrestled with this issue, not so much the naming of it but the relationship between the content service and you the person whose stuff drives the service (Caterina Fake of Flickr responded to Anil here, and Matthew Gertner responded too as did The Teutonic Spectator, who made some good points). For me, the equation comes down to why you do what you do — put pictures on Flickr, or post blog entries, or whatever. Presumably you do so because you want people to see and/or read them. The service you use — WordPress, MSN Spaces, Blogger, Flickr — helps you to do that, and then takes a cut of the attention that people are paying you by looking at your pictures or reading your blog. That doesn’t seem like such a bad deal, especially if it keeps the service free.

Sun, Google — and Gdrive?

Jonathan Schwartz, chief technology officer of Sun Microsystems, gave a couple of hints recently about what Sun and Google might be working on as part of their collaboration, the one that got everyone (including yours truly) salivating about a Web-based Office suite. On his blog, Jonathan mentioned that lots of people have a need to retrieve documents and files from different computers at different times (the Sun exec has 5 computers and multiple laptops) which makes the idea of storing your files on a shared network drive somewhere more and more attractive (just one question: why not just use a USB thumb drive, Jon?). In other words, perhaps a “Gdrive” run by Google or a version of Sun’s “Grid Utility” network, which according to some critics has very few customers.

Says Jon: “The two features every single user needs are: Save, and Open. So wouldn’t it be interesting if rather than exploring your local file system on your local PC, the Save and Open panels simply looked to a network account on Sun’s Grid? Shareable like any of the mainstream photo services are today? Or how about saving to that 2.5Gb allowance Google gave you in your GMail account? And wouldn’t it be great if you could save to ODF, or translate to Microsoft Word, or generate a podcast or mp3 file – on the fly? From within any app? That would certainly put into question why you’d want to shell out $500 for Microsoft’s Office 12 when was free, cross platform, more innovative, and just more for your money. And enabled by the biggest names on the internet.” Sounds like a plan.

In the interim, you can do as Mr. Schwartz suggests and use your Gmail storage as a file system if you wish, and you can also add your name to a petition asking Google to please provide a Gdrive-type service — it’s at

Visto, RIM in for “world of hurt?”

Visto — the wireless e-mail provider whose service competes with similar “push” e-mail services from Seven Networks, Good Technology, Intellisync and of course Waterloo’s own Research In Motion — has raised another $70-million (U.S.) in financing from a bunch of venture capital groups, including Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Oak Partners, bringing the total it has raised to more than $230-million. According to a VC named Bill Burnham, who used to work at Softbank and before that was a Wall Street analyst, Good has raised a similar amount of money. Mr. Burnham feels that this is insane, given the fact that Microsoft has added push e-mail features to its Exchange server software and included them as a free upgrade.

He has a point. And what does this mean for Good and Seven and Visto? As far as Mr. Burnham is concerned, they are in for “a world of hurt.” As for RIM, he predicts it will “see its value cut by 30-50% in the next 12 months.” An aggressive forecast, but not out of the realm of possibility. Most businesses already have Exchange servers, which they are not only comfortable with but have invested a lot of time and money in, and now along comes a free upgrade that provides push e-mail to any Windows device — which will soon include the Palm Treo handheld, now that Palm has done a deal with the Beast from Redmond. An interesting time to be pouring money into a wireless e-mail vendor such as Visto. (via