Use your VOIP to call a lawyer

As more than one person has already pointed out, the much-anticipated — and much delayed, and much criticized — Vonage IPO just keeps setting new records for how screwed up a public share offering can get. In what no doubt seemed like a Web 2.0-type gesture for a tech issue, the company offered its customers stock as part of the IPO, and that has turned into a gigantic boomerang that just clocked Vonage in the back of the skull. Since the stock tanked after it started trading, many of those eager investors are now saying they won’t pay.

Even if my friend Paul Kedrosky is right (which he often is) and the investors who grabbed those shares should have known what they were getting into — since skeptics on the Vonage IPO weren’t exactly difficult to find — the company is still caught between a rock and a hard place, or maybe two rocks and a hard place. It has now said it will reimburse the brokerage firms for any stock that disgruntled Vonage customers (see the Vonage forum here) don’t pay for, but all that’s going to do is piss off the ones who actually paid money for a stock that was tanking.

So then you have a company that is already losing money at a prodigious rate of speed — losing more last year than it made in revenue, which is no mean feat — spending more money to soothe the egos of the customers it convinced to buy shares. The only other option is to sue those customers, and what kind of marketing would that be? It’s a lose-lose-lose proposition, a rare money-losing hat-trick in hockey terms. It’s no wonder that Om thinks it’s a shoe-in for Business 2.0’s 101 dumbest things list. Mike Urlocker, a former tech analyst, has a nice take here.


Vonage now says that it will pursue legal action against those who don’t pay for their stock, but as I pointed out above, that is just one of the three losing options available to the company (the third being to do nothing).

Hangin’ with Bill at the D conference

Sometimes it’s just impossible not to hate Walt Mossberg. Okay, hate is a strong word. But still — not only does he have a plum job getting access to all the cool gadgets and tech stuff, and writing about it for the Wall Street Journal, but he also hosts the D: All Things Digital conference, which routinely gets people like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs and Eric Schmidt to show up and be interviewed and even hang around by the pool.

Case in point: Gary Arlen of Arlen Communications in Washington attended the conference and wrote about it for IPDemocracy, summarizing what Billg said in his interview — and describing how he buttonholed the gazillionaire over by the “poolside pastry/dessert table” and asked him what he thought about net neutrality. Not surprisingly perhaps, Bill said that he was “in the middle” on the issue, before being whisked away by Washington Post CEO Don Graham.

Among other things, Arlen says that Bill is convinced this is the year IPTV really takes off (it had better be, since Microsoft has been selling that vision to plenty of companies, including Verizon and AT&T). Of course, Bill also said about 10 years ago that ubiquitous pen-based computing was right around the corner, but hey — let’s not get picky. Here’s Arlen’s take:

IP “blows away the broadcast model,” Gates said, predicting that “this is the year all the pieces” will come together and eliminate the “dividing line between TV and the Internet.” Asked about the traditional broadcast model, he bluntly pronounced, “It’s gone. It was a hack.”

More coverage of Gates here, and at PaidContent, where they have a great shot of the Bill Gates “bobblehead” doll that Walt gave to the real Bill as a speaker’s gift. Very classy. And Eric Savitz at Barron’s has a list of the “schwag” in the bags given to D attendees (hat tip to Paul Kedrosky for the link), including a coupon for money off five office chairs from Steelcase. How Web 1.0.


Arianna Huffington of has a description of Bill Gates’ keynote — an account that is interspersed with notes back and forth between Arianna and actor John Cusack (hat tip to for the link).

Tim O’Reilly handles it well — almost

I hope Tim O’Reilly’s houseboating trip on Lake Powell was relaxing, because he came back to a boatload of stress as a result of his company’s association with a “cease and desist” letter that CMP Media sent to a (non-profit) IT group in Ireland for using the term Web 2.0 in relation to a conference. There’s more on the history of it all here if you’re interested. Tim has now posted a long dissertation on what happened and what he thinks of both the Web 2.0 trademark (which wasn’t his idea) and the blogosphere’s “pile-on” response.

I will say this — after reading it, Tim strikes me as just the kind of stand-up guy and all-around straight-shooter that my friend Paul Kedrosky described him as in a discussion we had about the whole mess. And he is right that the whole affair turned into an unpleasant kind of schoolyard pile-on that had a nasty tone to it, which is unfortunate. That said, however, I’m pretty sure Paul still thinks that applying for the trademark was a wrong-headed thing to do, and I do too — and not just because I helped organize the mesh Web 2.0 conference earlier this month in Toronto.

One of my fellow organizers, Stuart MacDonald, firmly believes that O’Reilly was right to try and enforce its trademark (although it hasn’t been approved yet), but I tend to agree with Rob Hyndman that Web 2.0 is not something that is really trademarkable. As Marty Schwimmer of The Trademark Blog notes in a short post on the whole controversy, “If you coin and promulgate a term, you can sell it as a buzzword or you can sell it as a brand, but under trademark law, it’s virtually impossible to do both.”

O’Reilly has done an amazing job of spreading the gospel — so to speak — of Web 2.0, and they are justifiably proud of that. But trademarking it at this point is a dumb thing to do, and towards the end of his post it seems like Tim is coming around to that way of thinking too. I encourage him, as Chris Messina and others have, to offer Web 2.0 up as a Community Mark and turn this sh*tstorm of negative publicity into something positive. I think James Robertson has a good perspective on the whole thing here, and Don Park makes a very good point on his blog.

Yes, it’s kind of a cruel joke, but…

I know it can’t have been easy being stuck in the glass elevator in Apple’s cool new store in New York, but since no one died in this tragic accident, I feel safe in making what I consider to be the obvious comparison with Apple “locking” people into iTunes via its use of DRM and a proprietary music format. I know, I know — I should grow up.

apple elevator

The Web — not democratic, but open

Scott Karp over at Publishing 2.0 has a post in which he questions the somewhat gushing tone of an op-ed piece in the New York Times over the weekend about net neutrality. Scott says that his problem with the piece is that the great promise of a democratic Web is an illusion.

The problem with the democratic web ideal is that no one really owns their own press — not me, not the rest of the blogosphere, not Yahoo, not Google. Why? Because none of us owns our own internet access.

Since the cable companies and telecom companies own the Internet, he continues, then it can’t really be truly democratic — in the sense of being an instrument of the people — unless Congress explicitly says that Internet access is a public utility. Part of what Scott seems upset about is that fuzzy terms like “net neutrality” don’t really help the discussion, and I can sympathize with him there. It doesn’t help that the telecom industry has cleverly called its counter-campaign “Hands Off The Internet,” so both sides are effectively claiming that they want things left as they are and the other side wants to change them.

As I put it to Scott in a comment, however, I think the telcos are guilty of moving the goalposts, as I have mentioned before. According to a recent book called Broadband Scandal, the telcos got all kinds of favourable deals from the U.S. government a decade or so ago, in part by promising that everyone would soon have a super-fast connection capable of handling phone calls, TV-style programming and so on. Now it seems as though they are asking for the ability to charge more for delivering what should already be here.

In addition, as Craig Newmark of Craigslist mentioned in his recent debate with a telecom lobbyist in the Wall Street Journal, network experts say that there is still a large quantity of “dark” fiber out there (some of which Google is rumoured to have been buying), which would tend to refute the argument that the Internet is somehow getting “full.”

In any case, I would disagree with Scott’s premise: it’s not so much about democracy as it is about open access — and the telecoms are quite used to dealing with such things, since the telephone network was effectively treated as a public good through “common carrier” legislation. All the net neutrality folks are talking about is doing the same thing for the Internet. If that requires treating the Internet like a utility, then so be it.

Court says that bloggers are journalists

It appears that one of the perennial blogosphere vs. journalism questions — can bloggers be considered journalists, and therefore subject to the same protections? — has been answered in the affirmative by the California court of appeals, in the case of Apple vs. a bunch of rumour sites that spilled the beans on various new products before Steve-o wanted them to.

As the court put it: “In no relevant respect do they appear to differ from a reporter or editor for a traditional business-oriented periodical who solicits or otherwise comes into possession of confidential internal information about a company.” Pretty straightforward. The court also said:

“We decline the implicit invitation to embroil ourselves in questions of what constitutes ‘legitimate journalis[m].’ The shield law is intended to protect the gathering and dissemination of news, and that is what petitioners did here. We can think of no workable test or principle that would distinguish ‘legitimate’ from ‘illegitimate’ news.

Any attempt by courts to draw such a distinction would imperil a fundamental purpose of the First Amendment, which is to identify the best, most important, and most valuable ideas not by any sociological or economic formula, rule of law, or process of government, but through the rough and tumble competition of the memetic marketplace.”

This is huge (assuming Apple doesn’t appeal, which I think they shouldn’t — but you never know with Steve). And it helps to quash the notion that journalism is somehow a secret art that only J-school graduates or carefully-trained acolytes can practice properly, a notion that many journalists would love to have accepted as reality, for obvious reasons.

In reality, journalism is something that just about anyone with a functioning brain-stem and a command of language can engage in, and that includes bloggers. You don’t have to have a license, you don’t have to pass a test (not even a spelling test) and there’s no college or body that regulates the practice — you just do it, and you’re either good or you’re not. Period.

The O’Reilly Web 2.0 debacle continues

As my fellow conference organizer (and yes, it was a Web 2.0 conference) Rob Hyndman notes in his latest post, we’ve had a bit of a debate going among the mesh gang about the whole O’Reilly trademark thing — and not just because we have kind of an interest in whether conferences can use the term. From a philosophical point of view, Stuart believes that O’Reilly should be able to trademark the term, since they were the ones to popularize it and build a conference business around it. As he put it, why should they not be allowed to somehow protect the value that they created?

My point is not just that it’s stretching things to say they “created” value in any meaningful sense by using the term Web 2.0 — although, as a commenter on the O’Reilly Radar blog notes, the term was used in a widely-publicized sense as early as 1999 — but more that I don’t see the point in trying to “protect” it, or how that benefits O’Reilly’s business. If anything, in fact, trying to protect that value by sending cease-and-desist letters to a non-profit group in Ireland has damaged O’Reilly’s brand, in the sense that it has got people re-thinking their commitment to the company. That just doesn’t seem very smart in a whole bunch of ways.

Now people are even starting to mutter about how there has been little or no response from the “FOO” camp, or friends of O’Reilly — and what response there has been, including the recent post from Cory “freedom fighter” Doctorow at BoingBoing, seems particularly mealy-mouthed and disingenuous at best. In the end, however, I think Cory seems to be making the same point I am trying to (although he dances around it), which is that it’s better for O’Reilly to be known as the pre-eminent Web 2.0 conference holder than it is to be known as the lawyer-mongering owner of that trademark. Way better, in fact.

Are people going to stop going to O’Reilly’s Web 2.0 conferences just because some non-profit group in Ireland uses the term? Hardly. But there might be people out there reconsidering their attendance as a result of all this ham-handed trademark bullshit. That’s the real issue for O’Reilly, it seems to me. Chris Messina was right in what he said in a comment on one of my previous posts: O’Reilly should make Web 2.0 a “community mark” — a Creative Commons-style public trademark — and put all this to rest.

Is MySpace last year’s hot nightclub?

My old-media pal Scott Karp of Publishing 2.0 has a great post up about whether MySpace is peaking. There are some anecdotal reports that might lead one to believe that it is, including a recent story about how some teenagers see MySpace as “so last year.” This is just a single newspaper story (from Wichita, no less), but I still think both it and Scott are on to something — and then there’s a recent interview with some teenagers that Guy Kawasaki did, which adds some fuel to the fire as well. It was summarized at Flickr by Steve Jurvetson.

All these reports are anecdotal, obviously — as is the fact that neither my 16-year-old daughter nor my 13-year-old daughter use MySpace, and neither do any of their friends. They use Nexopia and MSN Spaces (which apparently has over 100 million users now) and and lots of other sites. Is MySpace huge? It certainly is, although as more than one person has mentioned, its page-view figures (which put the site ahead of eBay, and just about everyone else except for Yahoo) are almost certainly wildly inflated.

I would agree with Stowe that MySpace is like a nightclub that is super-hot right now — and that kind of thing almost never lasts, especially when some big company buys the hot nighclub and everyone starts writing about it. Speaking of the nightclub metaphor, I used it recently in a piece I wrote for The Globe and Mail about MySpace and the difficult of monetizing social networks.

This is taking the FOO thing too far


I — along with many other people — was hoping O’Reilly would respond to this whole Web 2.0 thing (see my previous post) by saying it was all CMP’s idea, or some lawyer’s overreaction, but it would appear that O’Reilly thinks it is in the right to be demanding that a non-profit IT group stop using the term Web 2.0. Although Sara Winge, in charge of corporate communications for O’Reilly, has said that the company believes it handled things badly by just sending a cease and desist letter (gee, ya think?) it is not backing down on the whole “we own Web 2.0” thing.

As my fellow Web 2.0 conference organizer Rob Hyndman points out, this is just dumb on so many levels. I’m tempted to say that it’s even more obviously dumb because a guy like Nick Carr agrees with it, but that would just be mean. But seriously — why would O’Reilly do this? Yes, an argument could be made that they were among the first to use the term, but they can hardly be said to own it. O’Reilly compares it to using the term LinuxWorld, but Linux is a product. Web 2.0 is a concept, one which I would argue predates O’Reilly’s claim to it.

It’s true that the term Web 2.0 has gotten overused (and I am as guilty of that as anyone, as people continually remind me), and maybe this is a good excuse to stop using it, so as not to give O’Reilly the satisfaction of owning something like that. But at the same time, I sort of feel like we should all use it as much as possible, just to give CMP and their lawyers fits. In any case, the thing that makes all this so ridiculous, as Paul points out, is that O’Reilly isn’t some corporate Darth Vader — Tim O’Reilly is widely admired, as is the company, for supporting startups and open source. This is about as anti- all of that as you could imagine.

Jeff Clavier argues that O’Reilly should do what Judy’s Book did after trademarking the term “social search” — they said that they would never enforce it because that would be, in Jeff’s description, “silly and a waste of money.” Exactly. Marc Hedlund of O’Reilly says in a comment that he trusts Tim and believes that in the end he will do the right thing, and I hope he is right.

Original post:

Somewhere, Tim O’Reilly is smacking his head with frustration, I would wager. It’s bad enough that lots of people blame him for coming up with the term “Web 2.0” in the first place (that’s a joke, Tim), but now he’s being virtually tarred and feathered for being associated with an attempt to trademark the term. Tim Raftery says IT@Cork, a non-profit group for information technology professionals, got a C&D (cease and desist) letter from lawyers associated with CMP Media, who organize Web conferences along with O’Reilly.

As someone who recently helped organize a Web 2.0 conference in Toronto called mesh, this one strikes kind of close to home — and seems like just the kind of ham-handed behaviour that lawyers (sorry Rob) seem to engage in a little too often. As someone said in the comments on one or the other of the postings about it, how Web 1.0. Of course, O’Reilly may have no idea that this is even going on, and for his sake I would hope that this is all some giant misunderstanding. Because it looks pretty stupid at the moment.

For anyone confused about the title of this post, FOO stands for Friends of O’Reilly, and FooCamp is a get-together that Tim has to which you have to be personally invited — which some people felt was a little too exclusive, so they started BarCamp. Then there was MashupCamp and GroovyCamp and, well… you get the picture.

Nick Carr, the king of all trolls

Like a moth to the flame, I just can’t help but respond to Nick Carr, even when I know that he is trolling — and man, is he trolling. He should change his blog name from Rough Type to Tough Hype or something like that (work with me here). His format is almost always the same, and in fact hasn’t really changed since the old IT Doesn’t Matter days: take an extreme position, in the guise of puncturing the conventional wisdom, and then throw a lot of Harvard-educated rhetoric at it. Just like slugs drawn to a glass of beer, the commenters will come.

His recent post on “the death of Wikipedia” is a perfect example. Extreme position? Check. Straw man set up? Check. Lots of pseudo-intellectual claptrap? Check (actually, not as much as usual). And yet, at the risk of appearing slug-like, I just can’t help responding. In a nutshell, the post is a kind of shaggy-dog tale — a long, circuitous argument in which the real point is only apparent at the end. And the point? A variation on one of Nick’s favourites: that something like Wikipedia, which tries to take advantage of the “wisdom of crowds” is smoke and mirrors, and that only the traditional model of wise editors carefully organizing things for the plebians has any merit.

Nick says Wikipedia has “died” in the sense that it has somehow betrayed its initial vision, by closing some entries to new changes — at least by accounts that are newer than a certain date. This is an admission of defeat, in Nick’s eyes. As Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales notes in the comments, however, this ignores the fact that only a small percentage of the entries are actually fully closed, and a relatively small number are even partially closed. Is that evidence that the Wikipedia model is flawed? Far from it. It means that Nick’s idealized portrayal of it (see the entry under “man,” subsection “straw”) might be dead, but that’s about it.

It’s too bad that places like the Guardian give Nick credence on stuff like this. Sure, it’s nice to have a gadfly who pokes holes in things — heck, I like doing that type of stuff too. But trolling is a different story. This one, as Wayne and Garth would say, is right off the troll-o-meter. As Paul Kedrosky points out, Nick seems to be getting more and more predictable in his “everyone is a moron and all the stuff they believe is crap” shtick.