Get off the A-list treadmill and just write

I didn’t get a chance at the time, because I was on the A-list treadmill (that’s a joke), but I wanted to take note of a post that Rex Hammock made on his blog the other day (thanks to my buddy Kent for reminding me by mentioning it). It was my favourite type of blog post – a post about blogging. Rex was responding to the spate of articles about how blogs are dead, about how blogs will never amount to anything, about how blogs are shite, and so on. And he had some very smart advice.

Among other things, Rex said that:

“If you believe the size of your audience is the measure of success, don’t blog. If you think how many people link to your site is the measure of success, don’t blog. Blog because you want to have a voice in a conversation.”

That is it in a nutshell. Full stop. As others have pointed out – including my favourite sparring partner, old-media defender Scott Karp of Publishing 2.0 – blogging is not a business. It is a form of communication, which can be useful for business. But it is not a business, as Jason Kottke has discovered.

Among Rex’s other smart tips were these:

“Don’t let any feature – and I’m not referring to a specific feature as I can’t keep up with them – define your authority or popularity or pecking order.” And also: “If you run a business, blog – because one day, I promise, you will be glad you have a place to respond when the conversation is about you.”

Thanks, Rex. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

RIM clock keeps on ticking

By now, everyone involved in the legal battle between Research In Motion and NTP – from the lowliest BlackBerry user to RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie, and even Judge Spencer himself – probably wishes the whole affair would just go away. But while many observers, including many in the mainstream media, had convinced themselves that the case would finally come to a head today, it is far from being over. Not only has Judge Spencer reserved his decision for some future date, but RIM has said that it intends to proceed with its software “workaround,” which the company has said avoids the patent infringement issues that are at the centre of the lawsuit. And NTP, meanwhile, says it is still open to a settlement, but RIM won’t negotiate.

In other words, not much has changed.

What happens now is still a giant question mark, and there are as many opinions on the future outcome as there are patent lawyers (and that’s a lot). There are a few indicators that send a fairly strong signal, however — and the signal they send is that an injunction from Judge Spencer is almost a certainty. Whether it will be a complete injunction, which prevents BlackBerrys from being sold or operated in the U.S., or a partial injunction that merely stops the company from selling new ones, remains to be seen. But most patent-law experts say injunctions in such cases are commonplace, and that Judge Spencer has already indicated he isn’t sympathetic to the government’s arguments against such a decision, especially since NTP said it would allow a workaround for government users.

As for the decisions by the U.S. Patent Office, which has rejected almost all of NTP’s patents as invalid – meaning they should never have been issued – it’s important to remember that Justice Spencer has to base his decision on what the reality is right now, and the reality is that those patents are still in full force until NTP has exhausted its appeals to both the Patent Office Appeal Board and the U.S. Court of Appeal. Some patent lawyers also point out that the pressure that has been exerted on the patent office by the U.S. government will provide ammunition for those appeals. And it’s also important to keep in mind that the U.S. Court of Appeal has already heard many of the arguments about the validity of the patents, and has found in favour of NTP. As Judge Spencer put it:

“The hallmark of sanity is to remain firmly tethered to reality. One unfortunate reality for RIM that they want to forget is that there was a trial, a jury was selected, evidence was received and when all was said and done, they found RIM had infringed the patents and the infringement was willful.”

While the delay will give RIM more time to hammer out a deal – something the judge may be counting on – it’s unclear whether Mr. Balsillie wants to settle or not. While comments he made Thursday seemed to indicate that he was more open to the idea, statements he made after the Friday hearing suggested the opposite. And so the RIM saga continues.

Hey Google — where’s my calendar?

Not content with controlling a majority of the market for online search and search-related advertising, Google has been rolling out add-ons to its online hegemony over the past year or so, including GTalk, Google Analytics and so on. And the most recent – not including the hideous and lame Google Page Creator – was the addition of a hosted email and domain service, which The Scobleizer got all upset about for some reason.

But there’s more. Garett Rogers, the ZDNet columnist who first spotted evidence of the hosted email solution — hidden inside the Javascript code that underlies Google’s Gmail webmail service — has found something else in the entrails of Google’s programming. It appears to be the precursor of a voicemail offering Google plans to roll out, which would make sense considering that voice-over-Internet calling is part of its GTalk service. What would make more sense than bundling instant messaging, voice calling and voice messaging into one web-based application?

So let’s think about that for a minute. Email, contact manager, voicemail, instant messaging all integrated into one app. What is it missing? If it were Microsoft’s Outlook, it would be missing a calendar, so you could schedule things with all your business or social contacts. So where’s the calendar, Google? It has been much rumoured in the past, and rumours have sprung to life again more recently.

Will Google do it? It seems like a natural fit in many ways, and it could be one of the last links in the chain – apart from the word processor and spreadsheet part, of course – creating a Google hosted-Office suite of some kind. One thing is for sure: many people seem to want them to do it. And the customer is always right.


Google also appears to be getting close to finally launching a Finance hub. And Google Page Creator has been having some teething problems.

Hey look – it’s 1996 all over again

Yet another Google product launch, and yet another collective yawn – or worse, a quizzical look and a shrug of the shoulders. What the heck is Google Page Creator supposed to be? You go there, type in some text, maybe drag an image, change the font, choose a template and away you go. Google publishes and hosts the page at and you get 100 megabytes of space. Does this sound at all familiar? It does to The Blog Herald, and to Jim Benson at J. LeRoy and others – including me. It sounds like GeoCities.

Remember them? They were one of those great website-creation tools that sprang up in the late 1990s and quickly tried to outdo each other in the low-price, garish design sweepstakes. It got to a point where I refused to even go to a webpage if it had a address. Nevetheless, there were plenty of similar services – including TheGlobe, which saw the largest increase in market value ever on the day of an IPO. It later disappeared, but GeoCities was bought by none other than Yahoo for $3.6-billion.

Apart from the use of AJAX, which makes it that much faster to create a crappy website, Google’s page creator is like going back in time. Richard MacManus of ZDNet wonders whether it isn’t part of a much-rumoured Google Office suite of some kind, a sort of proto-word processor. Matthew Gifford feels the same. But Nik Cubrilovic says it looks like just another lame product rolled out the door with too little thought, like Google Base or, and I must say I’m leaning in that direction myself. Maybe it’s part of a larger strategy, but if so then the rest of the strategy better look pretty damn good, because this is lame.

DemoCamp in Toronto was a blast

Before too much time has gone by, I wanted to write something about DemoCamp Toronto, which was held on Monday in the offices of Tucows, a domain registrar and blog software provider run by my friend Elliot Noss. Organized by David Crow, it was a fun event attended by about 100 people as far as I could tell. There were six presentations (including one from Blogware), each of which lasted about 20 minutes with a demo and questions.

Brent Ashley presented a chat application for blogs that he developed a while ago called (what else) BlogChat, a group from the University of Toronto presented a wiki-style software development tool called Dr. Project, OpenBlue presented an online shopping platform for jewellers, and Geoff Whittington demonstrated a local job/social networking site called Local Guru.

But for me the standout of the night was Nuvvo, an online learning platform developed by John Philip Green, his wife Malgosia and a small team. Nuvvo provides everything you need to start offering an online course in something – such as “Hindustanic music for the Western listener.” You can create a course in minutes, send and receive messages, upload files and Nuvvo provides an online payment system as well. There is a free tier, and then for-pay tiers will be coming soon with extra features.

All in all, I had a great time watching the presentations and listening to the questions along with my friends Rob Hyndman and Mike McDerment, and enjoyed the discussions over beers afterwards as well. Nice job, David.

Softbank buys into “citizen journalism”

My boss at, Angus Frame, doesn’t like the term “citizen journalism.” He says – and I quote – that it’s “a crock.” But he doesn’t mean that the concept is a crock – I think he means that the term itself is a crock, in that it makes it sound like some kind of brigade of citizens with fedoras (with cards that say “Press” stuck in them) and notebooks, fanning out across the land looking to right wrongs and triumph over evil (to quote Sailor Moon). He prefers to call it “user-generated content,” and for him it covers everything from e-mailed cellphone shots to reports from crime scenes to shared bookmarks.

There have been a number of experiments with the concept of citizen journalism, including Bayosphere, a high-profile – but ultimately failed – attempt by online journalism pioneer Dan Gillmor to marshall the forces of interested Bay residents. Dan has written about why Bayosphere didn’t work, and one reason could be that it was too rigid and structured.

At the other end of the spectrum is OhMyNews, a “citizen media” experiment that began in South Korea. And now OhMyNews has gotten a huge vote of confidence from Softbank, the Japanese venture capital outfit, which has bought about 13 per cent of the equity in the venture for $11-million. OhMyNews said that it plans to use the money to start a Japanese site, which is the first step in an international expansion.

OhMyNews has been written about many times, including in Wired magazine and in Newsweek. The venture began six years ago, and by the time Wired wrote about it in 2003 there were 40 editors and the site published about 200 stories a day – most of which came from some of the service’s 26,000 registered citizen journalists. By the next year, when Newsweek wrote about it, the site had more than 750,000 unique visitors a day. By way of comparison, – a leading Canadian news site that covers Canada and the world – gets about half that.

Amy Gahran of I Reporter and The Right Conversation has some more thoughts on the future of citizen journalism here.

Google image search – two thumbs down

Reproducing copyrighted images without permission is an infringement of copyright law — everybody knows that. But what about a search engine that shows you thumbnailed versions of those images? Is that infringement too? According to U.S. District Court Judge Howard Matz, yes it is. The judge just ruled in a case involving Perfect 10, a provider of “adult” images, that Google’s image search effectively infringed on the company’s copyright over those images, just by displaying the tiny thumbnail versions of those photos.

There were actually a couple of different issues being considered in the case, as described by my friend Paul Kedrosky. One was whether the displaying of thumbnails represented infringement, and another was whether displaying the entire image on a third-party website (which had acquired the image illegally) constituted “secondary” infringement. The judge found that there wasn’t enough evidence to conclude that Google infringed in a secondary way — although he did say that he found it interesting that Google ran AdSense ads on many of the infringing sites, which he said changed the nature of the relationship with these “third-party” infringers.

However, he did find that Google had infringed on the company’s copyright simply by generating thumbnails, in part because Perfect 10 sells thumbnail-sized photos to cellphone users, and therefore Google’s behaviour might potentially eat into this market. That, among other things, disqualified the search company in the judge’s mind from being excused of copyright infringement by the “fair use” principle, which allows other parties to make use of copyrighted content in a limited way, provided they don’t either make money from it or cause the copyright holder to lose money.

How this will affect Google’s image search remains to be seen. But the courts are clearly interested in how the search company’s business affects copyright, and this decision could be the first of many — given the unfavourable attention that Google has already gotten from book publishers and newspaper owners.

The RSS soap opera (updated)

Dave just can’t let it go. The RSS thing, I mean. He started with a thinly-veiled attack on the RSS Advisory Board a few days ago, which he managed to rope John Palfrey and Harvard’s Berkman Center into as well (are they regretting ever getting involved? I would have to think they are, unless they are closet masochists). And now he is firing broadsides in typical Winer-esque fashion both on his blog and on the Yahoo Group dedicated to the RSS effort (or perhaps “sideshow” might be a better term).

Here’s a typical example of how Dave likes to deal with things. He often talks about how the RSS process should be open, and how ideas from the advisory board have to compete for acceptance, that they are “not mandates.” But then he writes things like this:

“I am banging the gavel and ending this experiment of Rogers’s [Roger Cadenhead, head of the advisory board]. Tomorrow I will talk individualy with all the corporate members of the “board” and ask them to resign.”

But even this isn’t enough for Dave, who likes to talk about how RSS has been given to the people through Harvard and the Creative Commons process, but still guards the spec as though he were a mother bear and it was his cub. Here’s how he continues his ultimatum:

“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 sad thing is that Dave’s efforts will probably do a fair amount of damage to the advisory board, and his talking to various corporate backers of the idea might just sabotage a lot of what the group is attempting to do – which, let’s remember, is to improve the spec. Dave would rather have it frozen in amber for eternity, which is why Atom was developed – as a way of routing around Dave (as James Robertson puts it, the reason why Atom exists is demonstrated “every single time Dave speaks on the subject”).

And whenever supporters like Paul Montgomery of Tinfinger come out in support of Dave, they wind up having to twist themselves into rhetorical pretzels. Tim, for example, thinks the fact that RSS is broken and generally sucks is actually a positive thing. How did things get to this point?


I can’t resist. Another exhibit in the ongoing Dave Winer-versus-everyone-else story: Dave posted something today (Feb. 23) that is like an exercise in split personalities. He starts off very reasonably, telling Rogers Cadenhead to “be a sport and listen a little, give a little. You can make a contribution without being Lord Master God of RSS.” Then he tells Rogers that the “compromise” he suggests is for Rogers and the rest of the RSS Advisory Board to change their name and their mandate completely – to what Dave wants it to be, of course. Then he says

“I’m not going to argue with you about whether or not you’re in conflict, since I’m the author of the roadmap, I reserve that judgement for myself. Someone has to have the last word, and when it comes to the RSS 2.0 roadmap, that’s me, not you.” He also warns Rogers that “you can’t just blow by me in RSS, and ignore what I say, that just isn’t going to work.”

Priceless. If you want more on the saga, Shelley over at Burningbird has plenty.

Update 2:

Dave Sifry of has resigned from the RSS board today (Feb. 24) at the request of Dave Winer.

Is BlogBurst a force for good, or evil?

I know I’m coming late to this particular party, but I’ve been thinking a bit about the implications of BlogBurst, the newly-launched service from Pluck (which also does a feed reader/aggregator). The idea behind the service is that you sign up and BlogBurst syndicates your blog posts to various newspapers, in the same way services like Scripps-Howard or Knight-Ridder syndicate columnists or cartoonists to the Brantford Expositor or the Greensboro Statesman-Review or whatever.

There’s just one difference with Scripps-Howard and other syndication services, however, which is that the columnists or feature writers whose material is sent out actually get paid. Let me be clear on that – they get cash. Money. They don’t get links, or trackbacks or referrers or whatever, but money (although maybe not a lot, unless you’re Dave Barry). By now, you’ve probably figured out what one of my beefs with BlogBurst is. Blogs that are syndicated get traffic referred back to them, but other than that they get nothing – although the terms of the agreement, which are mentioned here, say that Pluck may pay some form of honorarium or royalty. But those who sign up do so on the understanding they will not be paid.

As Darren Rowse of notes, bloggers should think long and hard about whether this makes sense for them. As my friend Mark Evans has pointed out – and Tris Hussey in the comments on Mark’s post – unless you think syndication is going to turn into traffic that you will then be able to monetize in some other way, it’s probably not worth it. Which makes you wonder who would sign up for BlogBurst. From the comments at, it looks as though authors and speakers or consultants who want to raise their profile would be interested, because they are looking to make money through some other outlet. A pure blogger (if there is such a thing) probably wouldn’t see it the same way.

One of the larger questions that this kind of thing raises, I think, is how much of Web 2.0 and the interest in it is just companies (newspapers, in this case) looking for ways to profit from the content of others without having to pay them? This is something I’ve written about before, as have others, and I think it’s going to become more and more of an issue. In that sense, maybe BlogBurst is a sign of things to come.


Adam from Pluck contacted me via email and said that contrary to some of the early reports, the company is planning a compensation model of some kind — it just doesn’t know how it’s going to work exactly yet. As he put it, “There actually will be a blogger compensation model after the beta period. Initially, of course, we do need to fully understand the dynamics of the whole system and determine the best monetization model for bloggers and publishers alike.” So stay tuned. BlogBurst has (what else) a blog at Adam also has a blog where he has demonstrated what a BlogBurst feed would look and act like.

Hey, dude – cool-looking, er… box

I’m as excited as the next guy about the introduction of Apple computers running on Intel chips, if only because it raises the possibility that I could someday have a PC that runs both Windows and Mac OS. And I know that the new MacBook laptops are supposed to be ultra-sweet — but does that mean we have to bow down and worship even the box that the new laptops arrive in? A recent post at tech site ZDNet does exactly that, in an entry that is entitled “Exclusive: MacBook Pro unboxing pics,” in the kind of breathless tone that tabloids reserve for photos of Brad and Angelina on a beach somewhere.

What the post gives you is 28 — yes, 28 — close-up shots of the box with the MacBook Pro inside it, then a shot of the box after it has been opened, and then a shot of the styrofoam insert that protects the MacBook, and so on. After the picture of the styrofoam insert, there is a caption that says “The Styrofoam inside the case has a cool circular cutout pattern.” (Note: I am not making this up). In order to see the coolness of the styrofoam up close, there is a second shot from a different angle. Then there are shots of the MacBook in its anti-static bag, then another foam insert, then shots of the power supply (up close) and so on. And they’re not the only ones.

If there’s one thing that gives geeks — particularly Apple geeks — a bad name, it’s the kind of obsessive and lavish attention paid to every tiny detail of a new product, from the finish on the aluminum to the packaging (packaging porn, someone called it). A blog called I Kew makes another point, which is that there has been little said about Apple’s decision to send “cease and desist” letters to websites devoted to hacking OS X so that it can run on any Intel box, but everyone wants to talk about the cool new products and the boxes they came in.

Freedom of speech? Who cares. But cool boxes and styrofoam inserts with circular cutouts? Now that’s something worth talking about.