Hey, my dad has a barn — let’s put on a show

Anyone who’s been following the whole “Web 2.0” thing for any length of time knows that blogging and all the other tools for interactivity that go along with that – the “conversation” we are all a part of – has profound implications for the media, for marketers, for businesses (both startups and established companies) and for society as a whole. My fellow tech blogger Mark Evans, lawyer/blogger Rob Hyndman, entrepreneur/blogger Mike McDerment and marketing wunderkind Stuart MacDonald and I have been talking about these kinds of things for awhile, and lamenting the fact that while there are lots of great conferences about these issues in France (Les Blogs), in Geneva (LIFT06) and in Vancouver (Northern Voice) there hasn’t really been a good one in Toronto.

So we decided to organize one. Essentially, we want to get some of the smartest and most interesting people in the Web 2.0 movement (if I can call it that) into a room together and talk about how some of these issues are changing the way we live our lives, whether we’re journalists, marketers, entrepreneurs or just people in general. As Mark and Rob and Mike have already mentioned on their blogs, some of the details have yet to be worked out – such as the exact date and location – but we’re looking at early May sometime, and we wanted to throw the idea out to the blog community and see what some of you would like to get out of a conference like that.

We’re going to have some blockbuster keynotes, and we’re planning to have some panel discussions, but we also want to have some smaller, workshop-style discussions for people to really get into the meat of some of the things we’re talking about. Should bloggers be considered journalists? How can the “old” media deal with Web 2.0? How are blogs changing the way companies do business? How have they affected the political process or society in general, either positively or negatively? If you have any ideas, we’d be happy to hear them.

A telecom nightmare: VOIP over Wi-Fi

Amid all the hoopla of the 3GSM conference in Geneva last week, most of which seemed to revolve around Microsoft getting into “push” email to compete with the BlackBerry, there were a couple of announcements that probably had telecom companies biting their fingernails (if they weren’t already, that is). One of these came from Microsoft head coach Steve Ballmer, who described how one of the features of the new Office Communicator suite would be the ability to make free VOIP calls over Wi-Fi from your cellphone (running Windows Mobile of course).

Come to think of it, Skype might be a little nervous at that idea too – not to mention the company that paid as much as $4-billion for it. But think about a carrier such as Verizon or AT&T. Their game up to this point has been selling mobile phones and services as fast as they can, in order to make up for the fact that regular old wired phone service is a moribund business. What if even a small percentage of those users (particularly the free-spending business types) could suddenly make free voice calls over Wi-Fi?

If I were a telecom player, that would certainly keep me awake at night. According to one British telecom analyst, voice revenues are set to plunge. “The premium for wireless voice, without mobility, will disappear as wi-fi networks spread,” Westhall Capital analyst Cyrus Mewawalla said. “By our estimates, that puts 75% of the market for mobile voice revenues at risk of a substantial price downgrade (in the order of 50%-80%). For some international calls, prices could fall by 90% or more.” And Nokia has made it clear it is determined to support VOIP over Wi-Fi: “Internet voice is going mobile,” said Nokia head Jorma Ollila.

The telecom companies aren’t completely powerless in all this. Nokia, Microsoft, Motorola and Research In Motion want access to their customers and networks, and they also want the carriers to subsidize their devices so that more people will buy them. That gives them leverage – but it may only allow them to slow the speed with which VOIP eats into their business, not stop it altogether.

NBC plus YouTube = Crazy Litigious

As an example of the kind of “viral marketing” that the Internet can achieve with very little effort, the so-called “Lazy Sunday” video from Saturday Night Live is about as good as it gets. In the clip, which was aired on December 17, comedians and show writers Chris Parnell and Andy Samberg perform a rap about how much they love cupcakes, and take a trip to see the movie The Chronicles of Narnia. The combination of the subject matter and the gangster-style rap made the video a huge hit over the Christmas holidays, to the point where it was downloaded more than five million times in just a couple of days.

What great advertising for NBC and the show Saturday Night Live, right? After all, the success of the video led to stories being written in the New York Times and elsewhere about both the writers and the show itself. So what did NBC do — send a cheque and a big thank-you to YouTube and other sites that helped to drive this Internet phenomenon? Er, no. They sent a letter from their solicitors, telling the site to remove the video or face legal action.

NBC’s argument, of course, is that this is a blatant copyright violation, and that viewers should be forced to go to NBC’s website to see the clip (where it can be watched free of charge) or to download it from iTunes for $1.99 (U.S.). Why? So that NBC can make money from it, obviously. What seems to have escaped the network’s mind is the fact that the video already aired on the program, and therefore has made as much revenue as any episode of the show normally does, not to mention the fact that the attention the video got could drive thousands more people to watch future shows. As usual, the network seems prepared to sacrifice all that free marketing for a little short-term profit. And that’s why it’s called “old” media.


I wish I could take credit for the headline on this post, which my friend Paul Kedrosky so kindly mentioned as part of the Chronicles of Narnia memewatch, but as it turns out Pete Cashmore of Mashable used it first. Nice job, Pete. I guess great minds think alike 🙂

Update 2:

Paul Kedrosky points to a post at Data Mining that describes how NBC might have gotten things just right — let the video go viral and get lots of attention, then pull it back once the heat has subsided.

An attempt at Kent’s “second opinion”

My blogging friend Kent Newsome had a great idea recently (I’m sure it’s just the latest of many). After all the talk about gatekeepers and how A-listers such as Doc Searls could do more by linking to unknown bloggers, Kent decided to start a feature he called “second opinion,” in which he singled out and linked to a lesser-known blogger with a good post on a particular topic. Doc has called this “affirmative traction.” (Nice one, Doc).

I think this is a fantastic idea. For all the whining from B-listers and C-listers and Z-listers about how no one links to poor old them, very few go out of their way to link to bloggers who are even lesser known than they are. I know this is kind of cheating, but as my first attempt at doing this, I’m actually going to pick someone I found through Kent’s blog – except that he didn’t link to this person as an example of a second opinion, he linked to them because they agreed with his suggestion and mentioned it on their blog. So who is it? It’s Dave Wallace of Australia, who writes two good blogs – one called Lifekludger, and a personal one called Blob.

I went to Dave’s blog to check out what he said about Kent’s idea, but then I read this post, which was about equality on the blogosphere, and how there plenty of tools for grouping the same dozen or so blogs together around topics, but there aren’t enough that allow you to find the lesser-known voices – kind of like Kent is trying to do. I thought Dave put it quite well. While looking around his blog (because I’m a nosy journalist), I discovered that Dave also writes Lifekludger, which is about the tools he uses to make it easier to do things, since he has been a C4 quadraplegic for the last 25 years or so.

Dave’s blogs aren’t exactly the bottom of the Z-list – Lifekludger is number 342,900 in the Technorati rankings with 30 links from 8 sites, and Blob is number 255,753 with 30 links from 11 sites. But I still think he could use a boost, and I’m happy to do my part to help him get more readers.

Great party… er, company you got there

If anything sums up the conflicted state of the blogosphere when it comes to startups and Web 2.0 and so on – the fact that the same people who write blogs about cool startups are often people who are involved in other startups, which are then blogged by others, and so on – it is the links that have populated tech.memeorandum.com for most of today (click here for a screencap). Although their positions have shifted around during the day, they are all about Mike Arrington – but from two different vantage points. Some are about his great party (which was held for Robert Scoble and Shel Israel’s book Naked Conversations) and others are about Edgeio.com, his startup.

They do have one thing in common though – apart from being about Mike. And that is, they are almost all raves. The posts about the party are raves (even, surprisingly, some from people who couldn’t make it), and the ones about Edgeio.com are almost all raves as well, although to be fair there are a few questions thrown in here and there. But Dan Farber’s post, as my old sparring partner Scott Karp notes, sums up the tone of breathless enthusiasm: it is entitled “TechCrunch leads Silicon Valley Web renaissance.”

Now, Mike seems like a nice guy. And so do The Scobelizer and lots of the rest who were at the party, and many who wrote about Edgeio and the invitation-only previews they got. Mike has also been pretty good about declaring his conflicts, especially after the whole FON brouhaha. But that isn’t really the point. The point is that at the moment the lines can get pretty blurry in the old blogosphere, especially for those in Silly-con Valley – and no, I don’t feel that way just because I don’t get invited to Mike’s parties (and am too far away to go anyway). I think it’s a lingering problem people will have to confront in one way or another if Web 2.0 is going to get ahead in the credibility game.

Hey Dave — you have to let go of RSS

Full disclosure: I know diddly-squat about RSS. I know what it does, and I know a little about how it works, and I use it – but I’m not a programmer, so for example I don’t know why sometimes my feeds have weird characters in them where the quotes should be, or where the apostrophes are, or whatever. I do know that RSS is important, because it gives people a way of subscribing to blogs and news sources they like, or even of subscribing to individual pieces of a smart news site such as the one I work for. This allows people to desconstruct the media and reconstruct it in new ways, which is “a good thing” TM.

I also know that the inimitable Dave Winer, who by all accounts is a brilliant programmer and is also a long-time blogger, developed RSS and is working on various outgrowths from that, including OPML, which allows the creation of “reading lists,” which also looks like a good thing. But at the risk of pissing Dave off so soon after my most recent run-in with him, it’s also clear that he is too close to RSS, and too personally invested in it, to the point where he appears to be hindering progress in making it better. And that’s “a bad thing.” TM

Even digging a little bit into the whole affair gives me the willies, but as far as I can tell, Dave is doing his best to screw around with the RSS Advisory Board, which is run by Rogers Cadenhead – a guy who (as Steve Kirks points out) has supported Dave when he was slammed by critics and worked with him at Weblogs.com. And yet, Dave suggests in a recent post that the board no longer exists.

The comments on Roger’s post, as well as discussions of the topic from Adam Green at Darwinian Web and Marshall Kirkpatrick make it obvious that Dave is trying to control RSS, and that this isn’t the first time he has tried to exert his will and stymie change. I can understand why he feels personally attached to the spec, but that is no reason to stall change. If the board proposes things that aren’t good, presumably others will resist and criticize, and changes will be made – that’s how things work in a democracy, which last time I looked is how these things were supposed to operate. I’m sure Dave will correct me if I’m wrong.


Paul Montgomery over at Tinfinger says that the board and I are all wrong, and that Dave is right. Why? For some pretty odd reasons, as far as I can tell. For example, Paul says that RSS needs to be fixed, but says it’s better to keep it the way it is because that keeps it “strong;” he also says that it’s vague, and that is also a strength – but the strangest one is when he says that one of the great features of RSS is “its poor quality.” That’s quite the argument you’ve got there, Paul. For me, I’d rather have something that changes and evolves and gets better, and to hell with Dave and his ego.

Blogs that have comments are better

After the rhetorical beating I got the last time I broached this subject, I should probably keep my mouth shut, but I can’t help myself. The subject, of course, is blogs and comments, and whether one can (or should) exist without the other. I suppose I should know better than to argue about the nature of blogs with a blog that calls itself Bloggers Blog – and (just so you don’t miss the point) gives its motto as “blogging the blogosphere” – but what the heck. The site, which is written by an author or authors unknown, says this:

“The argument that blogs are not a blog without comments is silly. Boing Boing, the most popular blog on the Internet, has no comments. Michelle Malkin’s blog has no comments. Post Secret has no comments. Seth Godin’s blog has trackbacks but no comments. There aren’t many that would argue these commentless blogs are not blogs.”

There may not be many who would argue this, but I feel compelled to wade in there anyway (I hate crowds.) Am I really going to argue that Boing Boing, the most popular blog on the Interweb, isn’t a blog? Yes. Or at least, not a very good one. Because I think that’s what we’re talking about here – not what a blog is (because there is no definition, or at least nothing that isn’t so vague that you could just as easily replace it with the term “web page”), but what makes a blog good or not. And I think one of the biggest factors, apart from actually having something worthwhile to say, is to have comments, whether you’re Russell Beattie or Dave Winer.

Why? Because blogs are about conversation, dialogue, back-and-forth, the fray (as Derek Powazek’s early venture was called) or whatever you want to call it. Yes, as Bloggers Blog and Dave and others have mentioned, you can write a response to something on your own blog and then link to the original post and comment that way, but not everyone is going to want (or have the time) to do that. Why leave them out? Maybe they have something to contribute. I would argue that Boing Boing and Post Secret and other sites like that (such as Valleywag, which has limited comments by registered users) are actually more like magazines than they are blogs. That doesn’t make them bad. It just makes them less good.

Yeah, blogs are so last year, dude…

Lots of chatter in the blogosphere about whether blogs are dead, whether blogs can ever achieve anything, whether blogs will mean the death of civilization as we know it, whether my blog can beat up your blog, and so on – all of which was sparked by this article in Slate magazine.

The point of the piece seems to be that blogs as a business, in terms of making money and being acquired, is over. Fair enough. As many have pointed out, however – including my friends Tris Hussey, Mark Evans and Rob Hyndman, as well as Steve Borsch, Dan Gillmor and Steve Rubel – there is a lot more going on than Slate seems to think. Whether it’s “monetizable” or not (and how) remains to be seen.

I find it interesting that only a couple of people, including Rob, Paul Kedrosky and Munir at Blogging Journalist have mentioned an even more in-depth look at how blogs aren’t all they’ve been cracked up to be, which appeared in the Financial Times (written by Trevor Butterworth, who as Paul points out has a name that is almost too British to be believed), under the headline “Time for the last post.” In it, he quotes Choire Sicha (ex of Gawker and now at the New York Observer) as saying blogs are essentially a waste of time and accomplish little.

“The word blogosphere has no meaning,” he said from across a folding table vast enough to support the battle of Waterloo in miniature (the apartment owes much to eBay, the Ikea of bohemia). “There is no sphere; these people aren’t connected; they don’t have anything to do with each other.” The democratic promise of blogs, he explained, has just produced more fragmentation and segregation at a time when seeing the totality of things – the purview of old media – is arguably much more important.”

It’s fine to say – as the article does – that blogs aren’t a revolution, won’t kill the “dinosaurs” of old media, and other lame truisms. But Sicha’s point is a different one: that blogs are bad because they fragment things, that they aren’t connected the way they pretend to be, and that old media needs to be there to “see the totality of things.” As tied to the early success of Gawker as he might have been, this shows that Sicha never really got it to begin with. Do there need to be aggregators or filters or sources that coalesce some of the fragmentation that democracy brings? Yes. Does that have to be “old media?” No. Sicha and others are short-changing themselves and others with their narrow-minded views.

Nick Carr is a smart guy – but he’s wrong

Nicholas Carr is a former editor at the Harvard Business Review. He’s written books, he’s written for the New York Times, he’s spoken at MIT and he’s won awards (see Nick’s comment below for clarification). I have done none of these things (okay, I won an award once in Grade 6). I do, however, have a blog – just like Nick does over at Rough Type – and so that puts us on an equal footing, more or less. Is that bad? After all, I’m not nearly as smart or as accomplished as he is. We may have different tastes when it comes to a bunch of things, like whether ZZ Top is great music or not, or whether John Kricfalusi of Ren & Stimpy fame is one of the funniest cartoonists alive.

Why is any of this relevant? Because Nick has written a post in which he says that Web 2.0 is part of a “machine” that is killing (or will kill) culture as we know it, since Web 2.0 is designed to fuel what he calls “the new narcissism.” In this, he agrees with Andrew Keen, who has written a long piece for the Weekly Standard (which you can find here) about how Web 2.0 reminds him of Marxism, a utopian vision that became a nightmare.

And what is this Web 2.0 nightmare? Keen calls it “Socrates’s nightmare: technology that arms every citizen with the means to be an opinionated artist or writer.” He also says – to use the quote that Nick pulled out for his post: “If you democratize media, then you end up democratizing talent. The unintended consequence of all this democratization… is cultural ‘flattening.’ In the end we’re left with nothing more than ‘the flat noise of opinion.'”

This – not to put too fine a point on it – is a load of elitist clap-trap. (Richard MacManus of Read/Write Web is much more succinct than I in his post about it). Every time something even remotely new or different comes along, there’s always a knee-jerk “how did this riff-raff get in here” kind of response from places like the Weekly Standard. Imagine if everyone were entitled to voice their own opinion, or indulge their own tastes, instead of recognizing the superiority of whatever art or music or literature they’re supposed to be bowing down in front of. Total chaos. Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together – mass hysteria.

In his final paragraph, Nick warns us to “beware of those who come with money and influence and pretty-sounding abstractions and who are utterly unaware that what they so joyfully seek to impose on the world is their own reckless banality.” I can take a little reckless banality, to tell you the truth – and there’s plenty of that at Harvard too, I’m betting – but I’m just crazy enough to think that out there in the blogosphere there are lots of unique voices that could also be heard, if only elitist morons like Andrew Keen would take the poker out and loosen up a little (Eran at supr.c.ilio.us has a nice one).


Nick has responded to my original post in the comments.

Yes, information does want to be free

Jason Chervokas, former editor of @NY magazine, has a great piece up on his blog about the continuing stupidity of the current media /DRM model (hat tip to Fred Wilson of A VC for the link):

“I like Howard Stern. I’m willing to pay $13 a month for the option of flipping over to his show when I feel like it. But I’m not willing to invest time, money, or aggravation in the hardware or installation services required to buy into the Sirius distribution network. I’m willing to pay for the content, but I want my content liberated, free to roam the network of networks until I pull it down to the device of my choice at the time of my choice for the personal use of my choice… end users want information to be network- and device-agnostic.”

Jason is totally right, as is Fred. And just after reading both of their takes on the issue, what do I come across but this post at PaidContent, in which Staci points to Walt Mossberg’s review in the Wall Street Journal of the ESPN phone – which comes with all kinds of ESPN content, but is so restricted and locked down and cumbersome in what it allows that it sounds like a recipe for disaster.