iStockPhoto of Calgary gets bought by Getty

Who says there’s no Web-buyout action going on in the Great White North? It may not compare with Yahoo buying Flickr or in terms of visibility, but in the world of downloadable stock photography, – based in my former home town of Calgary, Alberta – has been one of the early stars, and so it’s interesting to find out that they have been acquired by stock photo giant Getty Images for about $50-million (U.S.). Thanks to Thomas Hawk for pointing that one out.

Along with Corbis (owned by Bill Gates), Getty is one of the largest players in the industry. If you see a classic or iconic shot in a newspaper or magazine or on a website, there are good odds it belongs to Getty. There’s more information on the buyout at an online photo magazine called Photo District News Online, and much discussion at StockPhotoTalk, run by Andy Goetze, who mentioned a rumour that Getty would buy iStockPhoto in a post three weeks ago.

According to the reports, Getty will continue to operate as a separate unit, run by iStockPhoto CEO Bruce Livingstone and about 30 employees (a nice payout for them). As far as I can tell, this is one of the first signs that the world of big, expensive, global stock-photo companies such as Getty and Corbis has started to pay attention to the small, inexpensive, Web-distributed model being pursued by iStockPhoto, and others.

As Thomas Hawk mentions in his post, imagine what Yahoo could do if it started trying to monetize some of the photos in Flickr. And if you want to explore this topic further, Alan Meckler of – which also owns a stock-photo company – has some thoughts here, and StockAsylum notes that Getty is trying to soothe the ruffled feathers of its professional photographer suppliers, who might think it is going down-market.

Edgeio could become like Craigslist 2.0

In addition to running the very influential Web 2.0 site, and writing a blog called, Mike Arrington has been working on a startup of his own called Edgeio (along with Keith Teare) – which Rob Hof of BusinessWeek got a demo of recently. Some might wonder why another kind of classified service is worth getting excited about, but the Edgeio model has an interesting and potentially disruptive twist. In a nutshell, listings of things for sale don’t have to be posted to a service such as or or – they can live on your own blog or website, or anywhere. If they are tagged “listing,” Edgeio simply grabs them and indexes them.

This is the kind of extension of the “tagging” idea that really starts you thinking about what could be accomplished by simply tagging different items in a certain way and then indexing them. In a sense, it’s the ultimate expression of the “microchunking” idea, as venture capitalist Fred Wilson “edge” expert Umair Haque of Bubblegeneration calls it (thanks for the note, Umair). Let people find what they want wherever it happens to be. Tag a post on your blog “music review” and have it aggregrated; tag it with any number of other tags, and have them sorted and aggregated.

It’s a powerful idea, and in a way it accomplishes what the “structured blogging” crowd have been trying to get at, without all the coding and formatting. As Craig Donato of the classified search engine mentions in the comments below this post, there is also the “microformats” project, which is discussed here and an example of which can be seen here. A Swiss startup called Ichiba seems to be going for the same market, judging by the explanatory cartoon on their website.

On a somewhat related note, it will be interesting to see what kinds of conflicts of interest get declared when Mike launches Edgeio, given the recent story in the WSJ. Adam Green has more on that angle. Dave Winer, for one (who is an advisor to Edgeio), is already congratulating himself and wishing himself much success.”


As several people have pointed out to me, including one person whose comment appears below this post, what Edgeio has in mind isn’t exactly easy to do – the sheer brute strength required to somehow find and exclude all the inevitable spam listings would be similar to what Google and have to do every day to prevent themselves from being deluged with fakery and phishing. So Mike and his company have set a pretty high bar to jump over, and it will be interesting to see if the product lives up to the promise.

The blogosphere is growing up

I’ve been expecting something like this to happen for awhile now: my friend Paul Kedrosky points to a story in the Wall Street Journal that looks at all the attention the “share your Wi-Fi” startup FON got after announcing an investment from Google, Skype and Index Ventures.

As the story notes, some of that attention came from people who sit on the advisory board at the company, including “citizen journalism” pioneer Dan Gillmor, David Weinberger of Joho the blog, technology lawyer and blogger Wendy Seltzer, tech commentator and Berkman Fellow David Isenberg (who has a response here) and Ethan Zuckerman of My heart’s in Accra.

Is that a big deal? Probably not. And the WSJ story has more than a little whiff of muck-raking about it, since it insinuates that all of the coverage was driven by the prospect of personal gain. I don’t know Dan Gillmor (who started, but he seems like a fairly decent guy, and I don’t think he would do that. The story also mentions Mike Arrington of, but doesn’t say whether he’s advising FON or not – it just says that he doesn’t usually write about companies after he becomes an advisor.

But while the story doesn’t have a lot of actual meat, it does get one wondering why there was so little discussion (apart from at Om Malik’s blog, Glenn Fleishman’s and here) about the gaffe involving whether Speakeasy had an agreement with FON or not. The story also contains this helpful overview of the problem of conflicts of interest in the blogoverse:

That can be a murky issue in today’s clubby blogosphere, where many people including venture capitalists, lawyers and journalists write about Web issues and companies — and often, each other — with little editing. The rebound in Silicon Valley’s economy, coupled with the popularity of cheap, easy-to-use blogging tools, means there are more aspiring commentators than ever opining about start-ups and tech trends on the Web. And increasingly, it is difficult to discern their allegiances.

The point is a good one. Bloggers, particularly those who advise or sit on the boards of startups, and receive either cash or stock, are walking a fine line. Even those who regularly party with the founders and receive exclusive looks at things, like does, are walking a fine line. As the blogosphere grows up, that will become more and more of an issue, and it will help determine how others see the blogging “industry.” Adam Green of Darwinian Web, who was one of the first to pick up on Paul’s post, has a longer and more in-depth look at the various bloggers involved, and Seth Finkelstein has some thoughts too.


Doc Searls says that he has changed his bio page to include disclosures about his interest in various things, an idea he based on the Disclosures page that Berkman Center director John Palfrey (of fame) has. And Nick Carr has some worthwhile thoughts over at his Rough Type blog. Glenn Fleishman has also posted more about it on his personal blog, as have David Weinberger and Ethan Zuckerman.

It’s interesting to see the range of reactions from those involved — all the way from outrage and defensiveness (perhaps deserved) to a grudging acceptance that more disclosure might be required. Tristan Louis thinks the FON affair says a lot about how A-list bloggers have become the new “gatekeepers”, a topic my friend Scott Karp of Publishing 2.0 has written about more than once as well. Meanwhile, Mitch Ratcliffe has a long and thoughtful – and conflicted – post on it at ZDNet, and Kent Newsome has some thoughts as well.

Vonage pulls the trigger – out of desperation?

So VOIP pioneer Vonage has finally pulled the trigger on its much-rumoured IPO, hoping to raise up to $250-million. Over the past year there has been repeated whispering that the company was planning a stock offering – but then the rumours changed their tone, and Vonage was reported to be in talks about being acquired. Then everything went quiet. As Andy Abramson noted almost exactly a year ago, the company has been burning through money at a tremendous rate.

As my Canadian tech-blogging colleague Mark Evans notes in his take on the news the SEC filing from Vonage states the company had revenues of about $174-million (U.S.) in the nine months ended in September, and racked up losses of $189-million or so in that same period . The vast majority of those costs were for marketing, which isn’t surprising given that Vonage has been blanketing the Web and the airwaves over the last year.

Needless to say, that’s not a terribly attractive business model – which implies that founder Jeffrey Citron (who also founded online stock-trading firm Datek Online, which he later sold) – has gotten a little desperate about his ability to cash out his significant investment in the company. And he might be right to feel a little desperate, considering the fact that VOIP from cable companies, Skype and other forces – including a possible Google VOIP offering – is turning up the heat.

According to a recent survey by Sandvine, the share of VOIP minutes that broadband providers control has gone from 18 per cent last year to 53 per cent, while Vonage has 22 per cent. Good luck with that IPO, Vonage. At least Jeff Pulver might get a little something out of it.

Is a blog without comments still a blog?

Blogger and Yahoo employee Russell Beattie has been taking a fair bit of flack for removing comments from his blog – and seems more than a little defensive about it, from what I can see. Fair enough. As he points out, it’s his blog and he can run it however he wants to. He says he got fed up with having to weed out the flames and spam, and also was spending too much of his time responding to comments, so he’s returning to “old-school blogging.”

With all due respect to Russell, I’m not sure blogging without comments constitutes “old-school blogging,” although I admit that the blogosphere’s eminence grise, Dave Winer, kind of screws up my argument by not allowing comments on his blog. But even Dave has come around of late, it seems, since he has a second WordPress blog where he does allow comments. In fact, I would argue that a website isn’t even a blog at all unless it includes comments, and I know that others agree. Don’t get me wrong – a blog without comments might still be valuable, but it’s not really a blog.

Russell says that now everyone has blogs, they can just respond to him on their blog if they don’t like something he says, or want to get in touch with him – and other than that, they can hunt for his email address in his “About” page and get to him that way. As more than one person has pointed out, it’s ironic that Russell decided to do this only days after a new comment-tracking feature called came out (which I am beta-testing and so far quite like, but more on that another time).

As anyone who has read my previous posts will know, I think the “conversation” is part of what makes blogs so powerful (even if it’s more of an argument :-)), so I’m disappointed Russ has done what he’s done. It’s his blog, and so I wouldn’t presume to tell him what to do, but I still think it’s a mistake.


Kent Newsome has some thoughts on the subject too (thanks for the compliments, Kent) and it’s probably a fair point that Russell’s views might have been influenced by the cease and desist letter he got recently – although he didn’t mention that in his post. I would also recommend – not surprisingly – that anyone reading this should look through the comments. There’s more good stuff in there, which kind of helps make my point.

Dave Winer has also clearly caved in under the convincing weight of my arguments and decided to get back in the comment game (hat tip to Kent Newsome for noticing). Just kidding about the caving part, Dave.

Google and Orwell? Come on, people

On the assumption that posting at least two comments about something on two separate blogs means I feel strongly about it, I’ve decided to wade into the whole Google-BMW fray. So here goes:

Can’t we save the term Orwellian for something really meaningful, like a state taking some kind of oppressive action against its own citizens, or using doublespeak in the service of some great wrong? Using it to describe an Internet search engine engaging in the site-indexing business is more than a little over-the-top, I would argue. Scott Karp of Publishing 2.0, who has said in the past that he wishes bloggers would take more time with their posts and not say things just to be inflammatory, says he wonders whether “total power [will] totally corrupt Google.”

Just one question, Scott: Since when does Google have anything approaching “total power?” It’s a search engine, for pete’s sake. It indexes websites. Yes, it cut off BMW’s German site because they used hidden front pages to try and game the indexing and page-rank process – which Google has made clear is not allowed. So their site was removed. But despite the inflammatory rhetoric everyone loves to use to make it seem a lot more exciting than it really is, this is hardly a “death penalty.” There are plenty of other search engines.

Google’s market share isn’t even close to giving it the kind of dominance that would justify a term like “total power,” or make removing a site the equivalent of cutting off BMW’s “oxygen supply,” as my friend Paul Kedrosky describes it. And for Scott to mutter darkly about whether his post on the subject might earn him the wrath of the great Google, or for Alex Muse of Texas Venture Capital to wonder whether doing so might affect his page-rank is just ridiculous. Surely there are some really important issues out there that we could all be devoting some time to instead of this.

Not a great start for FON

Well, the FON network has $22-million or so from Google, Skype and Index Ventures, but it might have a bit of a credibility problem as well, after reports from one U.S. Internet service provider that contradicted what founder Martin Varsavsky said when he announced the deal. He said the company has the support of Speakeasy, a large ISP — but Glenn Fleishman of Wi-Fi Networking News says that he got a message from the ISP saying that isn’t the case.

Looking at what Mr. Varsavsky said on his blog, he referred to being “pleased to announce today that we have obtained the support of two significant ISPs for FON. In America, Speakeasy has said that they welcome FON and in Europe, Glocalnet and FON have signed an agreement.” While he doesn’t specifically say that FON has a deal or has signed anything with Speakeasy, he makes it sound as though the company has pledged its support in some fashion.

According to Glenn, Speakeasy said that it supports sharing of Wi-Fi (one of the few ISPs that does) but that doesn’t mean it supports FON. In fact, the company says that FON’s plan sounds like something Speakeasy came up with in 2003 called NetShare, which also involved revenue sharing with those who allowed others to use their wireless connection. Although Speakeasy says it has reconsidered its initial plan to take legal action against FON for the statements, it is obviously less than pleased.

Needless to say, this kind of thing doesn’t bode well for the success of FON. It’s possible that Mr. Varsavsky misspoke, or that he was over-eager, and wanted to show more support than his company actually had. Whatever the case may be, it doesn’t look good to be claiming relationships you don’t have when you are trying to get something as ambitious as FON off the ground – and I would argue that it’s not likely to help other ISPs feel particularly comfortable about negotiating deals with the company either.

FON sounds great, but will it work?

It’s nice to hear that FON, the share-your-Wi-Fi network founded by entrepreneur Martin Varsavsky, has gotten an investment from Google, along with Skype founders Niklas Zenstrom and Janus Friis – but while that is a huge vote of confidence, it doesn’t remove some of the uncertainties surrounding the FON business model. For one thing, as more than one person has mentioned (including in the comments on Scoble’s post) almost every major ISP specifies in their contracts that this kind of wide-open sharing isn’t allowed.

According to comments Martin sent to Om, the company is trying to bring ISPs on-side, but has so far only managed to strike a deal with Speakeasy (Update: According to Om, Speakeasy says it has no arrangement with FON). Alec Saunders of Iotum says that most ISPs don’t enforce these agreements, and that’s true – but they might decide to change their minds about that if they find widespread sharing of the type FON has in mind.

Glenn Fleishmann of Wi-Fi Networking News, who has been a major skeptic on FON, says the investment by Google and the Skype gang (as well as Index Partners, which made a bundle on its investment in Skype) makes him a little less skeptical, but he still has concerns – including the difficulty of getting ISPs on-side, but also the difficulty of building out a robust enough wireless network to make what the company has in mind actually feasible.

Not only that, but how many people are going to feel the same concerns over security that the commenter on Scoble’s post feels? FON has a response here, but that might not satisfy enough people to open up their networks – especially after everyone has been telling them to lock them down so no one piggy-backs on them. FON has a response to the ISP question too, but that amounts to trying to convince the ISPs they will share revenue with them (assuming there is any). Like my friend Rob Hyndman, I think many providers (particularly in Canada) would be skeptical.

At last, a way to track blog comments

If you’re like me (and I know I am), you travel around the blogosphere reading different posts on blogs and adding your thoughtful comments here and there – and again, if you’re like me, you often forget what you said or where. As a result, you miss the responses to your comments, which in most cases (okay, some cases) have valuable information in them, or make a point that corrects your initial impressions. Like others, including Steve Rubel of, I’ve been looking for an easy way to track this kind of activity.

At last, it looks as though someone has come up with it: Robert Scoble and TechCrunch are both talking about a new beta service called, which allows you to track your comments wherever they are made, to be notified when someone responds to your comment, and to see all your comments in one place (and publish them on your blog, if you wish to do so).

I was unable to use one of the demo codes that the CoComment guys attached in comments (how fitting) to Scoble’s post, but I’m eager to try this service out. I think it is exactly the kind of juice we need to keep the conversation going.


Someone at was kind enough to send me an activation code, so I am now signed up with the service, and have installed a “comment box” in my sidebar, which will track comments I’ve made, as well as responses to those comments. You can also subscribe to an RSS feed of that comment stream, which I’ve done – and in the future, the site says blog publishers will be able to add code to their comment sections so that the service will index comments left there even if the commenters themselves haven’t signed up for the service.

Stowe Boyd has more here, and so does Solution Watch – including a greasemonkey script that avoids the need for a bookmarklet. Ben Metcalfe has some thoughts as well.

The disruptiveness of doing what you love

Anne Zelenka, whose excellent blog I have only recently discovered, has a great post about how doing what you love can lead in unexpected directions – in which she uses the example of Mary Hodder, who started a Web 2.0 video-sharing service called Dabble about six months ago and is almost ready to launch (which is part of a much larger story about how easy it is to start companies now… but I digress).

Mary wrote something about how she wanted to stop doing things she didn’t like and start doing something she loved, and how great it was to do that, and she mentions the insightful (if long) piece by uber-geek Paul Graham called How To Do What You Love, which is worth a read. Paul mentions how “The test of whether people love what they do is whether they’d do it even if they weren’t paid for it– even if they had to work at another job to make a living.” And when you combine that with Web 2.0, you wind up with something quite powerful. Even usually gruff blogger and Kurt Cobain-lookalike Ben Barren gets a little misty-eyed at the idea.

Anne says:

One thing that must scare the wigs off of media moguls is that many writers and other content creators will work for free, because it’s so intrinsically enjoyable. In fact, they’ll pay to be able to create and publish content like essays, software, videos, and photographs. I’m a great example. Not only do I pay for TypePad for my momblog and Haloscan for the comments here, I am foregoing a six-figure income in software development for the opportunity to write and think and develop what I want. I am effectively paying more than $100,000 annualized in order to do what I love.

That is a pretty incredible statement. And yes, it must scare the wigs off of many media moguls, not to mention people in lots of other businesses. How can you compete with something that allows people to do what they love and start a business all at the same time? Just think of Mary and Dabble, or Josh and, or Kevin and, or Gabe and A recent interview with Gabe said that email responses came in from him at 3 a.m. – would he be doing that if he worked at any other company but one he started and runs for the love of it?