Okay, now Dave is starting to scare me

As I’ve said before, I think Dave Winer – one of the first bloggers, and the guy who created the specification for RSS or “really simple syndication” – has a couple of different personalities. There’s the nice Dave, who gives advice to new bloggers and sort of sees himself as the eminence grise of the Web, the one who also wants to be part of the whole blogosphere as it develops — but that can quickly turn into the other Dave, who gets all snippy when he doesn’t get invited to speak at conferences to pass on his wisdom.

“I felt so wronged, why do they lie about these things, don’t they know eventually they’ll get caught in the lies, or don’t they care. (BTW, that includes Scoble too, I asked why he didn’t give me a heads up, and the answer was unsatisfying.)”

This is an ongoing theme with Dave – and it’s tied into another one, which is that everyone steals things from him:

“Now I see things a bit more clearly, it looks like Esther wants us to think these are her ideas, and how inconvenient it would be to have the person whose ideas they really are, there, in the flesh, explaining how the stuff really works.”

Of course, this then leads us into the whole RSS thing, about which there has probably been enough written already, where Dave tries to stop anyone who is doing anything with RSS – all the while protesting that he doesn’t want to be the “Lord God of RSS.”

But now there are signs of a different side to Dave – a kind of scary side. Here’s what he said on Sunday:

“Why not wait until after the OPML Editor 1.0 release ships to try to hijack the format. After that I won’t fight with you. I probably won’t even fight very much now. The fight has pretty much gone out of me.”

I’m feeling the stress of all the fighting, and age… Why not let me go, quietly and peacefully, I’ll stop writing my blog, I’ll stop developing new stuff, you can be me if you want, I won’t be in your way.

Whoa, Dave. Take it easy, dude. Just because you didn’t get to speak at SXSW and Rogers Cadenhead tried to set up an advisory board on RSS, that’s no reason to start talking crazy. Update: Now Dave has taken things a step further and says he’s planning to stop blogging altogether.

Nortel throws investors another curveball

The marketing tagline for the 1970’s shark-attack movie Jaws 2 was “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water.” If you replaced the word “water” with the name “Nortel,” you’d probably have a fitting tagline for what’s going on at Canada’s favourite love-it-or-hate-it networking-equipment company, Nortel Networks (or “No-tell” Networks, as one wag dubbed it). Except, of course, that for Nortel the latest financial restatement isn’t just the sequel to its previous financial troubles — it’s the third in a series of such restatements, each of which affected several years worth of results.

In case you need a refresher course in how not to run a giant telecom supplier, Nortel has spent the better part of the past three years restating its results, changing chief executive officers and otherwise reorganizing itself. Not long after John Roth left the company and was replaced by former chief financial officer Frank Dunn, the company announced that its results were not reliable. That produced the first restatement, which altered revenues and profits for several years, and led to an internal review that eventually produced a second restatement to correct errors in the first one, which delayed the company’s official filings for more than a year. As a result of the review, Mr. Dunn and half a dozen other executives were fired.

Former U.S. Navy officer Bill Owens came on board to straighten things up and get customers back on board, but after an acquisition that didn’t get many cheers and a failed succession plan that got a lot of boos, he left and was replaced by former Motorola executive Mike Zafirovski. And a new CEO seems to require yet another restatement, this time for various contracts that were signed in 2003, 2004 and part of 2005. Why? Mike Z says it’s because the company is now applying more stringent rules to how it accounts for contracts. And guess what? He said he can’t say for sure that there won’t be more restatements or “adjustments” as they go through the rest of the deals from last year.

To continue with the horror-movie analogy — one that some Nortel investors might see as appropriate — let’s hope the company isn’t trying to create a 10-movie legacy like the Halloween or Nightmare on Elm Street franchises. Investors have suffered enough already.

Office if necessary, not necessarily Office

What started with a rumour last night – which Om Malik (among others) wrote about – has become fact: Google has acquired Writely.com, which provides something approaching an online version of Microsoft Word. Needless to say, this has revived talk about the much-rumoured Google “Web Office,” with Web apps that take the place of the different parts of Microsoft’s Office suite – the one that accounts for a fairly substantial proportion of the software giant’s revenue and profits, in case you’re keeping score at home.

Om has a nice graph that puts the issues into perspective, with Google’s Web-based versions of Word, Excel, mail and so on — all of which Microsoft charges almost $400 for. Google’s price? Zero. My friend and fellow M-list wagon-trainer Kent Newsome doesn’t think this model will scale, but it doesn’t really have to scale all that much before it becomes a threat to Microsoft. In effect, there is nowhere for the software behemoth to go but down in terms of market share. Yes, it’s true that not everyone wants to use Web-based apps, and there are issues with the reliability of free services such as Gmail.com (which has been down several times today and yesterday).

But at the same time, Writely and JotSpot Tracker (an Excel-style spreadsheet app) and presentation tools such as Thumbstacks.com are likely to be good enough for many people, and perhaps even small businesses – and as some smart person pointed out recently (if I remember who, I will insert it here) it isn’t always the people or services that are better than you that should concern you, it’s those that are good enough to draw your customers away.

For me, having used Writely.com to plan the Web 2.0 conference I’m helping to organize in Toronto this spring, Writely is definitely good enough. And if you combine it with something like Gdrive, then the relevance of Microsoft’s Office becomes less and less compelling.

Is a blog as good as a press release?

Former Merrill Lynch and Oppenheimer analyst Henry Blodget of Internet Outsider – which is where Henry pretends to still be an analyst, even though his legal settlement with Eliot Spitzer prevents him from actually becoming one again – has posted a long rant about Google announcing a proposed settlement in a “click fraud” case. Among other things, he seems upset that the search company disseminated this info by posting something on the official Google blog. Here’s what he says:

“To make matters worse, the company released its “statement” about the settlement on its blog. A $90 million payout on a critical issue at the forefront of every Google observer’s mind… and the company has an anonymous associate general counsel type up an “update” on a freaking blog. Google needs some new PR people, and it needs them now.”

Anyone agree with that? I’m not sure I do. I may not believe that the traditional press release is dead, but I would agree with Steve Rubel that blogs are serving the same function for many companies – and rightly so. Why shouldn’t Google put out news by posting something to the blog? I assume the company is still complying with disclosure in other ways, such as filing to various securities-related newswires and so on. And smart reports for wire services are watching the Google blog and filing stories about what they put there.

Want to keep up with Google’s statements on something? Subscribe to their RSS feed. I’m not sure why Henry thinks this is such a huge deal, unless it’s that blogs are somehow a joke and “real” companies do things the old-fashioned way, by sending out press releases and email spam and so on. How is posting on a blog any different than putting a press release on your website? Plenty of companies do that and no one complains.


Henry has expanded on why this bothered him. Still don’t see it, Hank.

Marketing and blogs, still lots of work to do

Pete Cashmore of Mashable has a post that is a nice microcosm of what is both right and wrong about PR and marketing as they relate to the web and Web 2.0 – at least as nice an example as the recent kerfuffle over Wal-Mart and Edelman (incidentally, Marc, I think your post is a little over the top – I know people hate Wal-Mart, but I don’t think the hate should spill over onto Edelman).

Pete, who tracks Web 2.0 apps, writes about how he has gotten dozens of breathless emails and comments from people who work for Kosmix and Kaboodle, and how they have voted for their own companies in Pete’s Weblist review over 25 times. As Pete puts it:

“You’d think this was obvious, but clearly some startups need it spelling out: never, never, never promote your company by leaving fake comments on blogs. There’s absolutely no need to pose as a “happy customer” – just state that you work for the company from the outset. How hard can it be?”

A great point. There’s more to the story, though – someone who works for one of the companies Pete mentioned wrote a comment on his blog post, saying:

“Pete and all – sorry, our guys got a little over-enthusiastic when they saw we were on Mashable. Yes, naivety and awkwardness would both apply here. But…like most companies we’re very excited about what we’re doing.”

Very smart. The response, I mean. The commenting and multiple voting – not so much. You excited about your company? Great. But don’t spam websites and bloggers, don’t try to rig votes and don’t try to pretend that you’re a satisfied customer if you’re not. That didn’t get Nvidia very far. You know what works best? Honesty. If you’re pitching wine, just be like Hugh and say you’re pitching wine, and then send a case of the stuff to someone’s party and hope they write about it.

Does Google need adult supervision?

Maybe Google, which has become notorious for not providing Wall Street analysts with forward-looking financial “guidance,” was trying to give some surreptitiously. Or maybe someone just… what’s the term? Oh yes – screwed up. The search giant managed to inadvertently let some financial data loose on its website, which quick-thinking Google-watchers naturally archived before it could disappear, and as a result the company had to file a financial statement with the Securities and Exchange Commission or risk running afoul of disclosure laws. The gaffe caused the high-flying stock to stumble on Wednesday.

“I’ve seen a few bizarre things on the street, especially in the past year, and this would be close to the top of the list,'” Pacific Growth Equities analyst Derek Brown told the San Jose Mercury News. Not only was the financial data somewhat less appealing than many analysts had been expecting – both in terms of revenue growth and also what it says about pressure on profit margins for Google’s Internet ad business – but the slip-up didn’t exactly restore anyone’s confidence in the search giant’s ability to handle itself as a public company with a $100-billion market value.

Just a week or so ago, the company’s chief financial officer made some comments about slowing growth that hit the stock as well – comments the company later tried to distance itself from. And when it comes to non-financial matters, Google seems to have difficulty keeping its trap shut as well: in addition to the forecasts for revenue, slides used for a presentation to analysts included details about hitherto unknown Google projects such as the “Gdrive” or Web-based universal file storage.

As one analyst said after Google’s initial stock offering, during which the founders gave an interview to Playboy magazine (which was also technically against disclosure rules): “Sounds like they could do with some adult supervision over there.” Former analyst and tech-stock lightning rod Henry Blodget says too many people are whining about “guidance,” and he’s probably right.

The blogosphere grows up, part 57…

There’s been plenty of talk in the blogosphere about a New York Times story involving blogs and Wal-Mart. It seems a PR person with Edelman – the “Me2 Revolution” firm that recently hired Steve Rubel – sent out some emails discussing Wal-Mart’s position on various things, and some bloggers repeated parts of those emails without saying where they came from. That has produced all kinds of sturm und drang about whether bloggers’ ethics have been compromised, and whether Edelman somehow crossed a line with its blogger campaign.

Whenever one of these things blows up, which they do from time to time, I like to go to the source, which in this case is Edelman – a firm that I think gets Web 2.0 and the interactive conversation idea better than just about anyone. And Richard Edelman has a post on the topic that I think gets across some important points about the strategy, without getting all hot under the collar and defensive, or blaming it on a few rogue bloggers or whatever.

Among other things, he says that PR companies need to

“always be transparent about the identity of our client and the goal of the PR program. Second, we should ask permission to participate in the conversation, and be comfortable with any communication being made public… Third, we must reveal any financial relationship with bloggers, whether consulting or even reimbursement of trip expenses. Fourth, we must ensure that the information we provide is 100% factually correct.”

What Mr. Edelman sort of hints at without really getting into it is that bloggers – if they are to have any credibility at all – need to govern themselves the same way credible journalists do, as Jeff Jarvis points out. Want blogs to be seen as alternate sources of information, just like the “old” media? Then behave that way. In other words (among other things), declare potential conflicts, and don’t use material from PR companies without sourcing it. Can you get away with not doing those things? Sure you can. Lots of media outlets do too.

As I was saying to someone at the blogger get-together last night in Toronto, with Naked Conversations author Shel Israel, bloggers and the “old” media have to do exactly the same things in this new Web 2.0 world – win the respect and continued attention of their readers every day, with every article and every post. Want more on the subject? Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit has plenty.

Get ready – it’s “VOIP tax” time

Continuing the theme of “network neutrality,” voice-over-Internet provider Vonage has raised the spectre of a “tiered” approach to the Internet in Canada in a filing with the Canadian broadcast regulator – the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission or CRTC, the agency whose name is almost as long as some of its meetings. According to a press release from Vonage, it is protesting the $10 a month “VOIP tax” that Shaw Communications of Calgary charges customers to “improve” their service (the filing was actually made in December, but not publicized until now). It’s an issue that has been around for awhile now.

Shaw, one of the country’s largest cable concerns – which is controlled by the Shaw family – doesn’t charge extra if you want to use Shaw’s own VOIP service. But if you use Vonage or Babytel or one of the other services out there, you will be offered the $10 extra charge to “improve” the quality of your phone calls. You don’t have to pay it, of course. You’re free to use VOIP without paying extra, but the clear implication is that the service might be of poor quality, and that Shaw isn’t likely to be interested in your complaints unless you paid your $10 fee.

Maybe it’s just me, but this seems a little like the bad old days in Chicago or some other corruption-riddled city, where you were free to run your business without paying “protection” money to certain parties, but if you didn’t then you were likely to find your store burning to the ground some evening with the police and fire department standing around watching. It’s no big stretch from what Shaw is doing – or other ISPs — to a multi-tiered Internet that charges extra for things like peer-to-peer music downloading, but doesn’t charge extra if you use the music service marketed by your Internet provider.

Is that what the Internet is supposed to be like? Not according to Vinton Cerf, who helped invent the darn thing in the first place. Whether the CRTC will take any action remains to be seen. For more thoughts on the topic, both of Shaw’s move and network neutrality in general, see Mitch Shapiro’s post at the always excellent IPDemocracy.com

Toronto jumps on the muni Wi-Fi train

According to a report in the Toronto Star by my friend Tyler Hamilton, it sounds like Toronto could soon join the ranks of North American boroughs with wireless access that covers most (if not all) of the city. The local utility, Toronto Hydro, put out a press release saying it’s going to announce something tomorrow, and Tyler’s story says the announcement is going to be a rollout of city-wide wireless.

This would put the Big Smoke in the same league as Philadelphia, which gave Earthlink a contract to provide wireless that covers the city, and several California cities such as San Francisco, where Google and Earthlink have joined forces to provide municipal Wi-Fi coverage. Such efforts have come despite resistance from telecom players such as Verizon, which successfully got legislation passed in an attempt to block the Philly plan. New Orleans and Chicago are working on similar proposals.

The big question, of course, is what Toronto’s Wi-Fi will cost. Ever since coffee shops started adding wireless access and providers such as Spotnik and Fatport tried to turn it into a business, people have been wondering how to make money from Wi-Fi. If you’re a retailer, wireless is close to becoming a condiment – meaning something you have to have, like cream and sugar or public washrooms.

Will Toronto Hydro charge a monthly fee that can be added to your power bill? Will you be able to use PayPal, or tack it onto other city charges such as water or parking? And will it be $10 a month for all you can eat, or $40 a month for limited bandwidth? Those questions and more will hopefully be answered tomorrow.


More details about the plan here – it involves covering a big chunk of the downtown core, with 54mbps by the sounds of it, but no prices were given. Mark Evans has a great quote from Toronto Hydro on his blog.

Cue the violins for the telecom gang

Boy, it seems like only yesterday, doesn’t it? The day that U.S. regulators busted up AT&T, I mean, and created the seven regional Bell operating companies or RBOCs, also known as the “Baby Bells” — including Southwestern Bell, Nynex, USWest and BellSouth. And how many big telephone companies are there now? Well, there are four: AT&T, BellSouth, Qwest and Verizon. And it looks like soon there will be three, if AT&T gets approval for its $67-billion (U.S.) takeover of BellSouth. The company that is now calling itself AT&T is actually Southwestern Bell or SBC, which bought AT&T last year for $16-billion and assumed the name.

Over the past decade or so, AT&T had acquired Pacific Telesis and Ameritech (two other Baby Bells), while Verizon bought Nynex and Bell Atlantic, and USWest merged with Qwest. Of course, there was also that whole sordid mess involving Bernie Ebbers and WorldCom (the shell of which became MCI), but let’s not get into that. If it feels a little like AT&T has been putting itself back together again, that’s not surprising, since in many ways it is — or at least creating a duopoly where there was once a septopoly. As Mike Masnick at Techdirt put it recently, Ma Bell is “getting the band back together” for a kind of reunion tour.

And how is the company going to make this mega-deal fly, especially when it will create the single largest telephone company since AT&T was broken up? Get ready to hear a lot about how the telecom market is hyper-competitive and local phone service just doesn’t make money any more, how voice-over-Internet is killing the industry and carriers need more volume to be able to compete, and how the idea of “network neutrality” just doesn’t pay the bills any more, and therefore AT&T needs to be able to charge Google and Yahoo and others extra to get their digital info to users on time.

That’s a tune Ed Whitacre of the new AT&T has been singing for some time now, and this is only going to make him boost the volume, as my friend Mark Evans points out. But will regulators buy it, or will it sound a little off-key when it comes from one of the world’s largest phone companies? Vinnie Marchandani at DealArchitect has a good take on it, and Blake Ross has a satirical take on the press release that is worthy of The Onion.