Feedburner gets even better

I’ve always liked Feedburner.com, and now I like it even more. Let’s face it, most people (including me) are consuming Web content through RSS feeds — whether they read them through NetNewsWire, Bloglines.com, Feeddemon, Newsgator.com, Yahoo’s new RSS mail add-on or (heaven forbid) Google’s ugly “web clips.” I wonder how many people actually go to websites any more, rather than just reading what journalists call “the wire.”

As far as I can tell, Feedburner was one of the first companies to see that this was going to take off — and that people were going to need a way to produce a feed without having to worry about whether it was RSS .90 or RSS 2.0 or Atom or whatever. They’ve added some new features called FeedFlare (hat tip to TechCrunch, as usual) that beef up your feed — adding links to send an item by email, send an email to the author, search for links in technorati.com, tag it with del.icio.us and see how many comments there are.

Feedburner hasn’t just been catering to blogs and micro-publishers either. They’ve also been doing deals with major old-world publishers, including the Houston Chronicle, and they just announced a partnership with Reuters, one of the largest news organizations in the world. It’s a smart move for Feedburner, and I would argue a smart move for the Chronicle and Reuters too.

For more, take a look at what Fred Wilson has to say (he loves it), and Read/Write Web too. And congrats to Brad Feld, an investor in Feedburner.

Is opening up becoming contagious?

I don’t want to add to the “echo chamber” that some have complained about in tech-blogging circles — which is a real risk given the number of blogs tech.memeorandum.com has commenting on the news — but I think it’s interesting that Amazon seems to have decided to open up its Alexa API for no apparent reason.

In other words, there doesn’t seem to have been any pressure to do so, nor is Amazon.com in financial trouble or under severe competitive threat — although it’s true that the company is no longer growing as quickly as it used to. That means it has decided that “opening the kimono,” as Fred Wilson likes to call it, is worth doing for some other reason (Fred calls Alexa “Amazon’s hidden jewel.”)

In all likelihood, it’s because Amazon has seen the spread of Google’s search, not to mention Google Maps, and Google Earth, and Flickr and so on, and realized that an open API likely creates more value — in the longer term — than a closed one. Let’s hope so. Because if there is one lesson that companies can learn from “Web 2.0,” it is that. Paul Kedrosky wonders why the Amazon announcement is news, and maybe it isn’t really. But it is still important.

Update:

Richard MacManus at Read/Write Web has more. And Cynthia Brumfield of IPDemocracy makes an important point (which others have made as well), which is that it isn’t just the open API, but the quality of the index that counts. And Danny Sullivan of SearchEngineWatch is underwhelmed by the news.

Newspapers — adapt or die

As a newspaper guy — although one who is trying his best to get with the Web 2.0 program — I have a close personal interest in what the industry is going through right now, thanks to a combination of its own inaction and arrogance, combined with a tidal wave of blogs and Craigslist.org and podcasts and so on. Finding intelligent comment about and analysis of what is going on is a real treat, and as always Jeff Jarvis’s Buzzmachine.com is one of the places I often go.

Jeff pointed me to what I thought was an interesting post by Peter Rip, a managing partner at Leapfrog Ventures, who writes a blog about the venture capital business and technology. Peter used to work at Knight-Ridder on the technology side, and in his post he says newspapers are like mainframes used to be in the 1980s when the personal computer was transforming the world.

It makes sense. Newspapers are large and expensive and centralized and dominant (okay, not so dominant), and require specialized tools and skills (okay, not so specialized). And they are being threatened by a phenomenon that consists of “small pieces, loosely joined” – blogs and social bookmarking sites and ad hoc news networks and so on, who are “unbundling” the pieces that make up a newspaper, whether it’s classifieds or stock listings or news stories themselves (or the columnists, for that matter).

An interesting perspective — and a warning. Some, such as the Toronto Star’s David Olive, see this transformation as having a potential upside as well — provided newspapers handle it properly. And Scott Rosenberg at Salon has some thoughts too. And just to come full circle, I’ll let Mr. Jarvis have the last word.

Yahoo makes another smart move

So just a few days after gobbling up del.icio.us, Yahoo has formed a partnership with Six Apart, whose Moveable Type was one of the early leaders in the blog software game — more flexible and sophisticated than Blogger.com. According to the release, Yahoo will be offering Moveable Type to small businesses for running blogs, but Jeremy says anyone can use it.

A nice deal for Six Apart’s Ben and Mena Trott (and Anil Dash), who have expanded MT into hosted solutions such as Typepad and now also own LiveJournal. I moved my blog to Typepad from Blogger a year or so ago and found it easy to set up and use, although I have since moved on to using a version of WordPress that I host myself on a server at home. I like the openness and flexibility of WordPress, and I’ve been trying out the hosted version too, at WordPress.com. Coincidentally enough, Dave says that Yahoo will be offering WordPress too soon.

Anyway, another smart move for Yahoo I think. Maybe it’s difficult to see how the del.icio.us purchase makes sense financially, but I think it and this deal are signs that Yahoo gets it — or is getting it. And more than one person has pointed out that many of the moves it’s making are ones that you would figure Google either could be or should be making.

Is a Google PC a good idea?

Linking to IPDemocracy.com items is becoming a habit, but Mitch Shapiro noticed something I did as well in the rather long New York Times piece on Ray Ozzie and re-engineering Microsoft — namely, word that Google is working with Wyse Technologies on a $200 “thin-client”-type PC.

According to someone at Wyse, the search company is looking at a Google-branded machine that would be marketed by telecom companies in places like China and India. Wyse CEO John Kish said that Google is “on a path to developing a stack of software in competition with the Microsoft desktop, and one that is much more network-centric, more an Internet service — and this fits right into that.” Is it any wonder that Microsoft has started talking very publicly about Web-enabled versions of Office and rolling out things like Windows Live?

Dave Farber at ZDNet notes that this idea is just the latest in a long line of “network is the computer” visions, most notably from Sun, which could never seem to make it fly. Oracle also tried it — and Wyse CEO John Kish happens to be an ex-Oracle executive. David Berlind at ZDNet has also speculated that the time has come for a networked PC, and Google is the one to bring it to us. But others remain skeptical. Is a Google PC the way to go?

Does Steve Case want AOL back?

Cynthia Brumfield over at IPDemocracy.com points to a fascinating opinion piece by AOL founder Steve Case that appears in Sunday’s Washington Post (which obviously appears on the website Saturday night). In the piece, Case argues that the merger between America Online and Time Warner — which was actually a $165-billion acquisition of Time Warner — hasn’t worked, and therefore the two companies should be split apart again.

Cynthia notes that complaining about a lack of integration between Time Warner and AOL is a little disingenuous, considering AOL was the one in the driver’s seat after the deal closed, and Case himself became chairman (although Time Warner chairman Gerald Levin was CEO). In fact, there were reports at the time that Time Warner executives were more than a little peeved at being sidelined by their counterparts at the online company. As the dot-com bubble deflated, of course, it became harder and harder to justify that, and Time Warner reasserted control.

In any case — no pun intended — the AOL founder says that by last July he had come to the conclusion that the company should be split not just in two, but into four: Time Warner Cable, Time Warner Entertainment, Time and AOL. The board disagreed, and Case left. At the end of his piece, it’s clear that he would like to draw a comparison between AOL’s somewhat tattered reputation and another company that was once dismissed as a has-been: Apple.

It’s unlikely AOL would ever be able to pull off a similar rejuvenation, however, since it would likely be bought by Microsoft or Google first.

Update:

Mark Evans says the piece is part of Steve Case’s ongoing attempts at “reputation rehab.” And Om Malik writes a post in which he appears to be comparing Case to Brutus in Julius Caesar. As I mentioned in a comment on Om’s blog, I think he’s being a little hard on Case. I’m not saying he’s a candidate for sainthood, and much of what he did at AOL made things worse instead of better. But he didn’t manufacture the market value that allowed AOL to take over Time Warner, nor did he slip something into Gerald Levin’s coffee that made him or the board accept the deal.

Random things said at Google

Doug Edwards, an ex-Google employee who runs xooglers.blogspot.com (he thought up the term AdWords), has a funny list of random things he remembers saying during his first month working for the search engine company:

“Wow. That’s a really cool roller coaster. How many sets of K’Nex did you have to use to make that?”

“No. I’ve never made cappuccino before. How does it work?”

“Um, is it okay that all these bikes are blocking the fire exit?”

“Hi Larry. Hi Sergey. What happened to your office? Well, it’s just… uh, nothing. Hey, which one of these remotes works with the VW Beetle? No, that other one. There, under the couch between your hockey jersey and the LEGO Mindstorms…”

“See, you can knock down more of the garbage cans if you bounce the ball instead of just rolling it straight at them.”

“How long does it take the sauna to get hot? You think it’s okay to go in the women’s locker room to get some towels since we’re out in here?”

Yahoo.licio.us

Well, holy crap — more fodder for the “how much are eyeballs worth” debate that Om so thoughtfully started: Mike Arrington of TechCrunch just reported that Yahoo has bought del.icio.us, my favourite “social bookmark” site, and one of the first in a long line of similar sites that include Furl.net (bought last year by LookSmart), StumbleUpon.com, Simpy.com, Shadows.com and so on. What was the price tag? That remains to be seen (rumours put it anywhere from $15-million to $30-million).

There’s a note on the del.icio.us blog, and it says they’re glad to be joining their “fraternal twin” Flickr as part of the Yahoo family. Union Square Ventures, which funded del.icio.us creator Josh Schachter seems pretty excited about it too. Should users be excited? Depends how Yahoo handles the integration with their own My Web 2.0 feature. I know there was some nonsense with passwords that kind of jammed up the Flickr handover, but they were pretty minor.

Interesting times.

Update:

Not surprisingly, there’s plenty of comment on this one 🙂 Greg Yardley — who knew about it but didn’t say — has some thoughts here. Joho the Blog says it’s good for tagging, and that’s good for the web. Steve Rubel managed to have an IM chat with Josh Schachter, and posted a screenshot of it. And like Richard MacManus of Read/Write Web and ZDNet, I too hope that Yahoo doesn’t put del.icio.us in some “walled garden” but keeps it free and open. Mark Evans also raises a good point in his post: Was the del.icio.us business model just to get bought? Lots of VC-bloggers have criticized that approach, including Brad Feld of Mobius and David Hornik of Ventureblog.

Update 2:

Paul Kedrosky says Yahoo got sno.oker.ed by buying “technology that is freely available elsewhere as open source; a tiny team (and) a largely unmonetizable product.” Any thoughts, Brad?

Better bite the bullet, RIM

Bringing up the subject of Research In Motion‘s legal battle with U.S.-based NTP can generate a pretty heated emotional response in some circles, and I’m not just talking about RIM’s Christmas party or one of co-CEO Jim Balsillie‘s poker night get-togethers. What began as little more than a nuisance lawsuit from an unknown company four years ago has become one of the biggest — and potentially most expensive — legal wars in recent memory.

Opinions on the case have quickly become polarized. Those who believe that NTP’s patents on wireless e-mail are invalid and should never have been issued in the first place see the lawsuit (and potential injunction against the sale of RIM’s products in the United States) as a form of legalized extortion. A great Canadian success story is being held to ransom, they argue, based on a mistake by the overworked and ill-informed U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. To this group, the battle between RIM and NTP is about fundamental issues of right and wrong, truth and justice.

Others, meanwhile, see RIM’s refusal to settle with NTP (or its foot-dragging on the terms of a settlement) as a symptom of the Canadian company’s hubris, an attitude that has arguably hurt not just the company but also its shareholders. Instead of agreeing to license the NTP patents early on in the process, they argue, RIM has left itself open to the threat of having to pay billions of dollars more than it otherwise would have, as well as losing customers and partners as a result of its intransigence. To this group, RIM’s battle might be right in principle, but wrong in practice.

To read the rest of this column, please go to globeandmail.com

Hey Skype — can Yahoo play?

Not to beat the drum too much, but Skype’s world (or that of its new parent, eBay) seems to get more complicated by the day. First there were the rumblings — mentioned in an item below — about the company losing its cool, about internal friction with eBay managers, and about “power sellers” being cool to the whole Skype revolution. Now, Yahoo has joined the party by adding new VOIP features to its instant messaging software. John Paczkowski at Good Morning Silicon Valley’s headline is great: “Feeling a little buyer’s remorse, eh eBay?”

Yahoo already allows PC users to call other PC users for free — as Microsoft’s MSN and Google Talk do — but now it is adding the ability to call regular phones for as little as 1 cent per minute, and to receive calls from regular phones for as little as $2.99 a month. Both prices are lower than what Skype charges. Susan Mernit notes that this could be just the beginning. And it seems obvious that Microsoft and Google are likely to add features similar to Skype’s for next to nothing — or perhaps (in Google’s case at least) even for free.

This may not be terribly creative, as some critics have noted, but that isn’t really the point. The point is to win market share, and the “first mover” doesn’t always have an advantage (Exhibit A: TiVo). As lawyer and tech blogger Rob Hyndman observed recently, getting displaced in such a way is even easier in a world where technology changes rapidly, is either cheap or even free, and users are constantly looking for the next greatest thing. Is that good or bad? That’s difficult to say. But it does seem to be the new reality.

P.S. At least one reader has pointed out (in response to a previous post) that Skype does have some proprietary differences from other VOIP products, since it uses a “peer-to-peer” model developed by Kazaa founder Niklas Zennstrom. That makes it easier to use in some cases, because it can find its its way through corporate firewalls more easily. That’s also why some companies block the software, however — whereas “open source” solutions such as the Gizmo Project have the benefit of being, well… open. And that can mean a lot.

As noted elsewhere, the always excellent Andy Abramson has a great analysis. He also notes that lost admit the Yahoo buzz was the news that Microsoft is rolling out voice features in Windows Live Messenger.