Apple make something bad? Say it ain’t so

I’d just like to say right off the top that I like Apple a lot, and they make some great products – in fact, product design and marketing are really the company’s stand-out skills in many ways, I think. But given the obsessive, almost fetishistic, love that some geeks have for Apple and anything that comes out of the head office in Cupertino or out of Steve Jobs’ mouth, it’s nice to see them fall flat now and then too. And as far as I can tell they have done just that with the Hi-Fi accessory for the iPod.

Yes, it has the iconic Apple white sheen, but even with the iPod attached to the top it’s still just a giant, squarish speaker box. As more than one person has pointed out, it makes no sense as a “boombox,” even if people still wanted such a thing, since it has no radio, no CD player and if you tried to carry it your iPod would fall off. Here’s a selection of comments from the more than 200 that are attached to a post on the new product at Engadget – more than 90 per cent of which I would say are negative. And remember that these are from gadget lovers:

“Umm… I’m not sure it’s large enough. I mean, make it 2, maybe 3 times bigger and it could also replace my sofa.”

“How can this bring music to the masses. It is expensive, large, and ugly. Disappointing…”

“Watch as Apple’s design team hits a boombox with an ugly-stick. only $349 per ticket!!!”

“This is the dumbest idea ever.”

“I am a total mac fanboy and this made me die on the inside.”

“Wow, hideous. Absolutely terrible. Looks like a toaster oven.”

And what about the Mac Mini with the souped-up processor and digital outputs – a glimpse of the much-anticipated Apple digital entertainment hub? Definitely closer than the first version, since it now has enough guts to be a media server, and has DVI and digital audio outs as well as Front Row – but Thomas Hawk makes a good point: it’s missing PVR functionality, which would easily make it a killer product. But let’s put it this way – it’s a heck of a lot better than that gigantic monstrosity called the iPod Hi-Fi.

Maps, satellite photos and Grand Theft Stupid

I’m going to go out on a limb here and disagree with Mike Arrington, who calls the new Microsoft Live Local street-level photo thingamajig a “killer” in one of his typically breathless posts on TechCrunch, in which he says it will help Microsoft’s continue to “crush” others in the Web 2.0 portal game. I tend to agree with David Galbraith, who suggests quite succinctly that the drive-by map feature is total bollocks and that the Microsoft team have “lost the plot.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

The interface, as David points out, is ridiculous – a cheesy, video-game style rendering of a car’s cockpit, which you can switch from a regular car to a race car (complete with fire extinguisher). Quirky and fun? Maybe. I would add “stupid and useless” to that list as well though. As one commenter noted on TechCrunch, “not sure what use I would have for something like this.” A fair point. Not to mention, of course, that Amazon’s A9 launched a similar street-level photo feature about six months ago. True, it doesn’t let you “drive” your virtual “car” down the streets, but I actually see that as a positive rather than a negative.

Now if Microsoft could somehow add virtual people to the streets and let you mow them down like in Grand Theft Auto or Carmaggedon – that would be cool. After all, it is called a “street-side drive-by.” But it would still be useless for mapping or finding your way anywhere.

An online memory-retention service

I got an email from a company called WisdomArk today, with an invitation to try out an “alpha” service they’re testing called MemoryArk – I must have signed up for more info, which is something I do with almost every alpha or beta I hear about (I’m easily bored). The offer was for a free “premium” account for the rest of 2006 with the service, which the company says is regularly $39 (U.S.) – and if I write six posts, upload two images and invite five people to use the service, it says I “could qualify” to get the premium membership extended for life.

MemoryArk seems to want to act as an online memory-retention system for families, a way of keeping track of all those stories your grandfather tells about the war, or your mom tells about when she first met your dad, or whatever. When you set up an account (here’s a screenshot of my account page), it asks you to either answer several questions about yourself or come up with questions to ask an “interviewee” such as a family member. If you choose yourself, then it asks you to write about your first memory, your first kiss and similar key events.

One interesting feature is that when you’re posting them, it offers you the chance to search for key words in Yahoo Photos, and then attach one to your memory. The post then appears on a blog-style page, but also appears as a link on a time-line of dates, with the image coming up when you hover over the entry. I’m not sure what I think about the service yet, because I haven’t really played with it that much, but it’s an ineresting idea.

But will people pay the kind of money that MemoryArk wants them to? I’m not sure. The idea of an online repository for memories, a way of keeping track and sharing those family stories with others, definitely appeals to me (what can I say – I’m getting old), but I don’t know if it’s a business you can charge up front for. Why not sell people disk storage space for their photos and other files they want to save? Or sell ads (which the site appears to already be doing) and other related services like photo-book printing?

Google investors get another gut check

Those Google guys — they’re a nice bunch, and smart as all get out, but when it comes to dealing with investors they could probably use a few tips. For example, when your stock is selling for more than 80 times earnings, and you have a market value of over $110-billion (U.S.), don’t use the words “growth is slowing.” Ever. Why? Because then your share price will get creamed, as Google’s did on Tuesday, when chief financial officer George Reyes did exactly that at a Merrill Lynch conference on Internet advertising (which accounts for about 90 per cent of Google’s revenue).

Specifically, the Google executive was quoted by CNBC as saying: “Growth is slowing and now largely organic… the search monetization gains have now been largely realized.” Did he say that the company was going down the tubes? No. But when you’re growing as quickly as Google has been — and your stock is predicated on that growth continuing — admitting that growth is slowing down even a little is tantamount to yelling “Sell!” Which is what investors did: Google was down by more than $50 or about 13 per cent in early trading, which wiped about $14.5-billion off the company’s market capitalization in a matter of hours (former analyst and tech-stock lightning rod Henry Blodget has more here and also here).

By mid-afternoon, the stock had rebounded to trade at $373, which meant it was only down by about 4.5 per cent from Monday’s close — but clearly some investors were rattled. It’s been a tough couple of months for the search kingpin: although Google’s stock price has come back from its lows of a couple of weeks ago, it is still down by more than 20 per cent from its peak of $475 earlier this year. And Mr. Reyes’ comments didn’t help the rest of the Internet sector either — shares of Amazon, Yahoo and eBay were all down as well on Tuesday.

While the Google exec’s comments may not have been news (at least not to anyone who looked at the company’s financial results from the most recent quarter) they seem to have come as a surprise to some investors. And they could make them increasingly nervous about the stock going forward. As my friend Paul Kedrosky notes, it’s not so much that Google doesn’t give guidance, it’s that they suck at it.

Public service notice: Toronto blogger meetup

A short public-service notice for anyone who is planning to attent the bloggers’ meetup with Shel Israel (co-author of Naked Conversations) in Toronto on March 6th – Alec Saunders notes that the venue has changed. It was supposed to be the Peel Pub, but that venerable bar is no more and has been replaced by Filthy Mcnasty’s – who are apparently so McNasty that they don’t return phone calls. The new venue is Shoeless Joe’s on King Street east of Spadina. A map is here (Alec used Mapquest, but as anyone who has seen the Lazy Sunday video knows, Google Maps is the best – double true)

Why is everyone so down on Digg?

For whatever reason, there seems to be a segment of the blogosphere that sees “social bookmarking” sites like and as the Internet’s equivalent of the trailer park – or maybe the local video-game parlour, if they still have those (Galaga rules!). In other words, it’s full of people who look like Bubbles from Trailer Park Boys, or “pimply teenagers,” as one person put it recently (okay, it was Umair Haque of Bubblegeneration). You get the picture: Digg is filled with drivel, which is posted and then “dugg” by mouth-breathers with low foreheads and a short attention span.

Is that true? Who knows. I haven’t seen a breakdown of the socio-economic stratification of users, and I’m betting Umair hasn’t either. He and my pal Scott Karp of Publishing 2.0 – who also did a drive-by on Digg and Reddit in his recent post about how some audiences are better than others – both make assumptions based on the kinds of links that fly by on the Digg home page or Digg/spy, which they conclude are filled with useless crap. And I’ll admit there’s a lot of crap in there. But then, there’s a lot of crap on the Internet period. For that matter, there’s a lot of crap on TV too, and in newspapers (although not the one that I work for, of course).

Umair says that is useless to him and to “most of the rest of the universe,” and that he doesn’t care whether there’s a video of “an 87-year-old guy having a sex change.” I don’t know about that, but I do know that it was through Digg that I came across a fantastic video clip from a local TV station about an autistic kid who got his big chance to play in a high-school basketball game. Did it change my life? No, but it was pretty incredible just the same. And if some pimply teenager posted it to Digg, then I’m glad he did.

I get the fact that Scott and Umair are all about the need for filters and whatnot, and how we need smarter tools to get through the crap. But I don’t see why has to be held up as a symbol of everything that’s wrong with the existing filters we have. It doesn’t seem to me to be filled with any more or less crap than some link blogs that smart people I know have, including’s links and Kottke’s links. I think all in all Digg is pretty good. And I know Jeff Jarvis thinks so too, because he just wrote a column about it for the Media Guardian.

What is the sound of one hand clapping?

Have you ever noticed how leading up to Macworld there’s a blizzard of rumour and speculation about what kind of cool new products Apple will release? The rumours are invariably wrong (remember the big-screen TV with a computer in it that one site figured was a shoe-in?), but it makes for fun reading. It looks as though Microsoft may be taking some lessons from Steve Jobs, the king of buzz-building, with a new portable device that is said to be in the works — code-named “Origami.”

According to several different reports, including one from respected tech site Ars Technica, Origami is a small portable device with a detachable keyboard and a Tablet PC-style screen — a device that might allow you to take the screen with you and watch movies or listen to music, or perhaps surf the Web, with a keyboard for entering large amounts of data if necessary. There’s a “viral marketing” website with few details, other than a note that more info will be forthcoming on March 2nd. Coincidentally, Apple is also set to announce something mysterious a few days before that.

Some sites have been having fun with the idea of Origami, but it seems obvious that something is coming (the original ad for the as-yet-unseen device is gone from the agency’s website, but video-sharing site YouTube managed to grab a copy). The Scobleizer has effectively confirmed the existence of such a device or project, which seems to be more like a mini-Tablet than a video iPod type of device, although he’s been backpedaling a little on the whole thing. Even the New York Times has picked up on the buzz, with a piece about the speculation, and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer has something too.

Whether the reality of Origami lives up to the buzz, of course, remains to be seen. As my buddy Kent Newsome notes, Microsoft is likely in for a backlash if it isn’t.

Some Scott Karps are better than others

Scott Karp at Publishing 2.0 is getting on my nerves again. Scott, who works at the company that publishes The Atlantic Monthly, removed that fact from his “About Me” page because he didn’t want all that “old media” baggage to colour the way people perceived his blog. And maybe it’s a good thing he did, because I can’t help but think of it when I read some of the stuff he writes — which is almost always very thoughtful and well-considered, and quite often wrong.

Take his latest post for example, which is entitled Audiences Are Not Created Equal. As he often does, Scott is talking about the reams of information on the Web, and how people need filters and so on. He talks about Matt McAlister’s post on “What will be the next PageRank” and so on. So far, so good. Then he gets to his main point, which is that someone — traditional media, he suggests — needs to find a way of getting the RIGHT people to filter things. He says:

There’s an egalitarian sensibility among Web 2.0 and participatory media evangelists that says any participation is good participation. But as anyone who works in media ought to know, all audiences are not created equal.

Scott then goes on to talk about how and are useless because they are so random, and does what many people who make this argument do, which is to pick a random list of headlines from each and make fun of them (I actually found more than half the links in each of his lists to be interesting, which I think is a pretty good signal-to-noise ratio, but I digress). In other words, the people who filter through stuff and post it to Digg are morons, and what we really need are people who read The Atlantic Monthly and/or agree with Nick Carr to filter things for us.

Scott says he often gets “accused of being elitist” and then we see why — because he is elitist. As he puts it:

“The collective intelligence of some groups of people is more intelligent than that of other groups. Why? Because on certain topics, and in general, some people are smarter than others.”

As I often say, being an elitist is great provided you are one of the elite, but it kind of sucks for everyone else. And yes, obviously some people are better basketball players than others, although what that has to do with filtering information on the web is beyond me. What Scott’s post boils down to is that he wants the New York Times and other old media to do a better job of getting their readers to filter things, so that he doesn’t have to read all the crap the morons on are always posting. I would much rather have the best of both. We in the old media need to get past the idea that we are always smarter than our audience.


I seem to have made Scott Karp mad, as you can see if you read the comments on this post. He thinks I’ve missed the point, and been disrespectful to boot – please read my apology after his comment if you have time. Pete Cashmore of has also responded with some thoughts both here in the comments section and on his own blog in this post, and I think he and I agree that Scott is still trying to argue that old media should define audiences somehow, instead of allowing them to define themselves. But I could be wrong (it has been known to happen). Scott has updated his post to respond to Pete’s comments, but so far no response to mine. I guess I’ve been banished from the discussion 🙂

There’s good Dave, and there’s bad Dave…

Remember that Star Trek episode where Captain Kirk and Spock went through some kind of rip in the space-time continuum and split into two personalities? There was good Kirk and bad Kirk, and you could tell the bad Kirk because he laughed maniacally and had a sash, and the bad Spock had a goatee. For some reason, I think of that episode sometimes when writing about Dave Winer, who helped develop RSS – which powers the newsfeed for this and other blogs – and was also involved in the genesis of podcasting.

As anyone who has read my previous posts on the subject knows, I have a fascination with Dave and his involvement in what is happening with RSS – not just because I’m interested in what happens in the syndication and feed/aggregator field, but because I find it incredible that after all this time one man’s personality is still getting in the way of so much. Whenever and wherever RSS is discussed, Dave Winer is the elephant at the table – a presence that dominates the discussion even if it isn’t mentioned.

Here’s good Dave, in a post on his blog that is aimed at newbies to the blogosphere:

“Someday, when you’re in the shower or lying in bed in the morning and get an idea that you wish you could tell everyone, remember that you have a blog, and go to the computer, and write it up and publish it. That actually feels pretty good, even if you think no one will read it, because you got it off your chest.

Kindly old Uncle Dave. You can almost picture him in a sweater by the fire. And then there’s bad Dave – the one with the sash and the goatee, who told Rogers Cadenhead that he was going to do everything he could to destroy the RSS Advisory Board because it was trying to mess with his creation:

“If anyone else decides to join up with [Rogers] on the terms of the old “advisory board” I will talk with each of them individually, until they see that it serves no purpose. This process will go on until Rogers gets the idea that it isn’t go to work. I may at some time send him a bill for all of my time that he is wasting.”

The soap opera continues, as Dave has managed to convince David Sifry of to resign from the board, and now has inserted himself into a conversation between Brad Feld of Mobius Capital, who wrote to Rogers (see his comment on Dave’s post) because he has investments in RSS-based companies such as Technorati, and – all of whom Dave sees as enemies. He has decreed that RSS must remain as it is, he refuses to admit that it might be broken, and he will take on all comers who say otherwise.

One long-time observer of the tech scene recently described Dave’s behaviour to me this way: “Now he’s added Newsgator to his list of kills,” said this person, who has known Dave for a long time. “This is getting to be like a serial killer. There is a sick fascination in watching him stalk his prey.” Let’s all bow our heads and pray for Brad Feld, and Rogers Cadenhead for that matter – and for RSS.

Google finally starts to roll out GBuy

Google’s move into online payment has been rumoured for some time now, at least since Google Base launched last fall. The thinking was that it made sense to attach a growing database of stuff to a payment system, which could theoretically compete with both and, not to mention Amazon. And it still makes sense – so much sense that it’s actually happening. Google says it has begun incorporating payments for Google Base items with your Google account, the same one you use for your Gmail and for creating those crappy web pages with Google Page Creator.

In fact, it’s been incorporated to the point where Greg Yardley has already bought something – a pink highlighter. Greg says the experience was preferable to that of buying through eBay-owned, which he said he despises. According to the comments on Greg’s blog, John K. of Got Ads has already bought a rock. Inside Ads has more info about Google Base if you’re interested.

On the official Google blog, they seem to be trying to downplay the whole “crush eBay, Craigslist-killer” kind of thing, although they do say that Google has “billed advertisers in 65 countries more than $11.2 billion in 48 currencies, and made payments to advertising partners of more than $3.9 billion.” Not exactly a little startup.

Bill Burnham notes that this is exactly how it is likely to roll out – gradually, but picking up speed. It means that Google has built a payment platform that is large enough and scalable enough that virtually anything is possible. Bill, who is a Very Smart Guy TM also points out that the “Buy It Now” feature that Google appears to have its sights on currently makes up about 40 per cent of eBay’s business. And in a related post, he discusses how the way Google has structured the service implies a greatly expanded role for it in the Google universe.