The Scobleizer calls it quits — updated

According to Tom Foremski at SiliconValleyWatcher and Andy Plesser at, the guy who is arguably Microsoft’s most famous person — at least as far as the blogosphere is concerned — is leaving the company. Robert Scoble, also known as the Scobleizer, is reportedly heading to to be its corporate evangelist. Tom says that Scoble wasn’t happy working at Mister Softee, in part because they weren’t interested in paying for all his travels to conferences.

I’m with Vinnie Mirchandani on this one — I think it would have been smart to try and hang onto the Scobleizer, and maybe even cough up the one-thousandth of one per cent of daily cash flow that his travel budget might have represented. Flack or not, corporate shill or not, I think he has single-handedly done more to humanize Microsoft than all the millions of dollars spent getting Bill Gates to kiss babies or hug orphans or whatever they do to make MSFT seem less like the Borg.


Scoble has posted a confirmation of his move, and goes on to counter the rumours about concerns over his travel budget and lack of support from Microsoft — totally not true, he says. He also says they “moved heaven and earth” to keep him happy, but he decided to make the move anyway. “It’s a rapidly-evolving part of my life,” he says. “I just made this decision and it got out before I was completely ready to talk about it.” Best of luck to him.

Why Google isn’t killing the Internet

I’ll admit that I’m as much of a fan of the contrarian argument as anyone — maybe even as much as my buddy Scott Karp over at Publishing 2.0. But I think he and some others are a little too quick to congratulate Seth Jayson of Motley Fool for his insight into how Google is “killing the Internet,” as the Foolish columnist puts it.

The first thing that bugged me about Seth’s column wasn’t that he blames Google for all the spam-blogs and other crap on the Internet, it was the fact that he started off with a crack about all the insider stock selling at the search company — and he comes back to it at the end, as though all those insider sales are a clear indication that Google is pulling one over on the stock market. This one has been tossed around a fair bit since the news came out that Google’s insiders sales accounted for about 51 per cent of all the insider selling in the Bay area in the first quarter.

There are a couple of problems with that line of argument, however, and the first one is kind of obvious: Who in their right mind wouldn’t sell some of their stock if it had gone up by more than 500 per cent? And the other problem with the argument is that the vast majority of those massive share sales by Eric Schmidt and Larry Page and Sergey Brin were pre-programmed long before Google’s stock rose to the heights it is at now. If you look at the insider transactions in Yahoo Finance, you will see the words “automatic sale” beside almost every single one of them.

Don’t get me wrong. I think Seth and others have a point that Google’s click fraud problem could be larger than many investors (or advertisers) expect. But it’s stretching things to say the company is somehow killing the Internet. I remember what search was like before Google came along, and it is a hell of a lot better on balance. The volume of junk mail doesn’t mean the postal system is broken — it just needs to be managed better. And all those insider sales prove exactly nothing.

Letters section meets blog — blog wins

Back in the good old days of traditional media, when newspapers ruled the world and editors were a law unto themselves, the Letters section of the paper was what passed for interactivity with readers. Anyone could write a letter expressing their thoughts on an issue, mail it to the newspaper, and if they were lucky their letter (or part of it) would get published. The exact process by which certain letters were chosen and others discarded was a mystery — just one of the many mysteries of the newspaper business. And let’s face it, lots of journalists liked it that way.

The old ways are getting harder and harder to maintain, however. For a good illustration of how that is happening, look no further than the recent dust-up between General Motors and the New York Times over a column written by Thomas Friedman, which Mike at Techdirt summarizes here. Like many columnists, Friedman went a little overboard with the colourful rhetoric when he was describing GM — calling it the equivalent of a “crack dealer” and so on — and needless to say, GM wasn’t impressed. So they wrote a letter to the editor. And that’s when things started to get interesting.

The Times balked at the letter idea, at first because it was too long — a fair enough point, since the letters section isn’t really the place for a 500-word essay from a company spokesperson. Then, however, things degenerated into a debate over the word “rubbish” and whether that was appropriate language for the letters section (the Times wanted to change it to “We beg to differ” and then to “Not so.”) So what did GM do? They wrote about the whole affair on a GM blog — and included the text of the emails.

As Jeff Jarvis notes, this all makes the Times look not just arrogant, but woefully clueless about how the Web has changed the balance of power when it comes to traditional media — just as clueless as the reporter who wrote a series of emails to Mark Cuban not that long ago and then watched as the billionaire posted them on his blog for everyone to see. As Tom mentions here, the Times is used to having voice, not in giving voice.

Should the Times have caved in right off the bat and let GM run a 500-word letter defending itself? No. But it should have been smart enough to know that treating the company the way it did over a simple word like rubbish (which InOpinion notes has been used many times in the NYT letters section) would backfire. The Letters section is no longer the only sandbox that readers (and advertisers) can play in.

Even old music geezers are blogging now

Well, you know that blogging is getting pretty advanced when even old geezers like Pete Townsend of The Who are doing it. I came across a post on Fred Wilson’s blog a little while ago (Fred is a venture capitalist, but he spends most of his time writing about music) that mentioned his friend Tom Watson got a comment on his blog from Pete, the legendary lead guitarist for The Who.

Pete, in turn, was moved to comment on Tom’s blog because Tom was the first to post a comment on the rock icon’s recently revived blog The Boy Who Heard Music. As Pete noted in the post restarting the blog:

“If you visit my website at and check out my diaries you will see that I am posting items about the good and bad things going on around me at such a busy time, and I mention the fact that a lot of people have tried to reach out to me. Hopefully this Blog will provide a way for that to happen.”

Pete isn’t the only music legend blogging either. Another one I came across recently was Thomas Dolby, the electronic music pioneer whose iconic song She Blinded Me With Science is still a favourite of mine. In true blogosphere style, he wasn’t blogging for more than a few weeks before he got into a spat with Kevin Federline (Mr. Britney Spears) over a sample of Dolby’s that the alleged musician used in a song without credit.

And that’s not all — there’s Bob Mould from Husker Du, artistic Renaissance man David “Talking Heads” Byrne, Rivers Cuomo from Weezer, and of course, Canada’s own Barenaked Ladies.

The future of newspapers — a Q&A

Michael Urlocker, a former Bay Street technology analyst who is now a management consultant, has a relatively new blog called On Disruption, and an interest in how industries such as media are being disrupted by Web technologies. He and I got talking via email about how newspapers are (or should be) dealing with some of the forces that are acting on them — something I’ve been writing and thinking a fair bit about, and something we talked about at the mesh conference last month — and then it kind of turned into an email Q & A about those issues, which Mike has posted on his blog. Here’s an excerpt:

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the Web is one of the biggest growth areas, and one that news organizations of all kinds need to find some way of working with. Not that people won’t continue to read newspapers, because they will — in the same way people still go to the theatre to see plays. There are just a whole lot fewer people doing that than there used to be, and anyone in the theatre business or the play business has had to deal with that change somehow.

To me, a news organization has to focus on what its core skills are — whether it’s breaking news, investigative journalism, social and cultural coverage, opinion and analysis, political coverage or local news, or some combination of all those things. If anything, people need the kind of filtering and aggregating and analyzing function that newspapers bring to the table even more now that there is a firehose of information coming at us on the Web. News may increasingly be a commodity, but context is more important than ever.

If you need any evidence that newspapers are in a world of hurt, Mike has links to some nice (or not so nice) graphs, including this one — which tracks readership declines from 1964 to 1997 — and one which shows the decline from 1999 to last year. It’s interesting to note that the industry has seen the same size of decline in the past seven years (about 10 percentage points) as it saw in the previous 30 years.

Mike also points to these recent comments from legendary value investor Warren Buffett:

“Newspapers face the prospect of seeing their earnings erode indefinitely. It’s unlikely that at most papers, circulation or ad pages will be larger in five years than they are now. That’s even true in cities that are growing. But most owners don’t yet see this protracted decline for what it is.

It’s hard to make money buying a business that’s in permanent decline. If anything, the decline is accelerating. Newspaper readers are heading into the cemetery, while newspaper non-readers are just getting out of college. The old virtuous circle, where big readership draws a lot of ads, which in turn draw more readers, has broken down.”

The law of unintended consequences

Came across an interesting blog post just now by Jonathan Schwartz, the recently installed CEO of Sun Microsystems, who says he was on an airplane with a senior executive from the hotel industry, who told him that flat-panel televisions had helped to drive down occupancy rates in the industry. Why? Here’s what he said, according to Jonathan:

“Apparently the space savings and lower power consumption of a flat panel TV (think about it, they’re quite a bit smaller and draw far less energy) allowed hotels to skip having to put giant media cabinets in their rooms.

And they could save on their total power (and air conditioning) envelope, as well. Which freed up space, power and budget for more rooms. Which led to a glut of new rooms.”

Is that really what happened? That’s hard to say. The industry may have just built too many rooms because it was expecting travel to continue to grow and it didn’t, and this particular executive decided to blame it on cost savings from flat panels. Still, it’s an interesting theory — and an illustration of how the “law of unintended consequences” can jump up and bite you when you least expect it.

Should newspapers have a pay wall?

A recent post by Tim Porter about the New York Times’ for-pay service (known as Times Select) really struck a nerve, and while I commented on Tim’s post — and got a response back from him — I thought the issue deserved a post here as well, since it is a topic close to my heart as a newspaper journalist. Tim’s post was a response to this post by Mark Glaser of the PBS blog MediaShift, in which Mark wrote an open letter (based on Ronald Reagan’s speech in 1987 about the Berlin Wall) to Arthur Sulzberger of the NYT urging him to “Tear down this (Times Select) wall!”

As Mark pointed out in his post, walling up all the Times columnists such as Maureen Dowd separates them from the blogosphere, which in turn isolates the newspaper from the conversation that blogs and columnists should rightly be part of — and were part of, until the wall went up. Tim, however, argues in his post that this view is “wrong-headed” and says that the Times is doing exactly the right thing. As he puts it:

“The print business model cannot sustain journalism as we know it, so we must find new ways to pay for it. Charging for full access to the newspaper, like the Wall Street Journal does, is one option. Selling subscriptions to pure online journalism products like Salon or is another. Putting a price on the head of your most popular columnists, like the Time does, is yet another.”

Tim also points out that Times Select makes money, although the $9-million figure he uses is likely overstated (as he acknowledged in his response to my comment, and to Mark’s). He also notes that you can find columns by Maureen and other NYT columnists if you look around on the Internet — although I would argue that this is a little like telling people to download songs from pirate music sites instead of using iTunes. The newspaper that I work for pursues blogs and other sites that run the full version of columns and news stories for copyright violations.

As I said in my comment to Tim, there’s no question that a pay wall like Times Select can make money for a high-quality newspaper like the Times. The important question is, is it the right way to make money over the longer term? Or does it sacrifice the long-term value of having those columnists be part of the online conversation — getting links and commentary and traffic and all those other things the Web is so good at — in return for a short-term revenue boost?

I would argue the latter. And I’m not sure the sacrifice is going to be worth it. I think — and Mark seems to agree — that newspapers could probably make a whole lot more money by encouraging links and traffic and all those other community-based things, and monetizing those through advertising and other means. Could we be wrong? Sure we could. And maybe the Berlin Wall was a good thing too. But in the end, it came down, and we were all a lot better off.


Came across a post by Jeff Jarvis about a presentation made by Alan Rusbridger, the editor of The Guardian, who had some comments about pay walls:

“On the Guardian we ignored all those who told us that we should be charging people to access our content online because we believed there was a greater prize to be won – both in influence and reach – if we built the best digital version of the paper we possibly could.”

Just sit down and do as you’re told

Television used to be something you pretty much had to watch, well… on your television. In one place. All at the same time. But the VCR changed that, and more recently the arrival of devices like the Slingbox have changed it even further, by allowing you to stream recorded TV to anywhere you want over the Internet — and that has made the entire broadcast industry very nervous.

An example of just how nervous came at the Digital Media Summit in Los Angeles, when a representative of Major-League Baseball told Sling Media that it didn’t particularly like the fact that viewers were moving games around and watching them in different places. Why would baseball care? Because the league — like other sporting leagues — sells broadcast rights based on geographical location, which explains why some cities are “blacked out” during the playoffs.

Slingbox threatens that whole structure, which in turn is the financial foundation for much of sport broadcasting. So MLB wants users to pay more for the right to move their programs around. As Carlo points out, however, it’s not like the viewers of those games are doing something illegal — they have already paid their cable or phone company. Why should they have to pay more just because they want to watch it on their laptop in the airport?

In many ways, the TV industry is fighting the same battle as the music industry. Illegal downloading is just the tip of the iceberg — for companies like Apple and record labels like Warner Music, the bigger issue is whether paying customers have the right to move their media to another location, or whether what they paid for was some kind of geographically-restricted (or format-restricted) use. As Mark Evans notes, the real battle is over who controls the media once it is paid for, the consumer or the content industry.

Memo to Lee: some books suck too

If Lee Gomes of the Wall Street Journal was Nick Carr, I would accuse him of trolling again, but since he isn’t I will assume that he actually fervently believes all the things he says in his WSJ column about the dangers of “mashup culture” and the imminent decline of civilization as we know it as a result of YouTube, etc.

Not surprisingly, Nick himself was all over this one like white on rice, since it fits right in with his thesis that interactivity is bad. Why? Because in Nick’s view it allows morons and mouth-breathers to clutter up the public discourse with their puerile thoughts, instead of leaving it up to smart people (like Nick, presumably) to determine what is discussed and how.

Lee’s approach, which as some have noted was likely sparked by John Updike’s recent outburst at BookExpo, is a variation on the “Digg is bad” or “YouTube is bad” theme — which in most cases consists of taking a random sample of the top stories at or the top videos at YouTube and making fun of how stupid they are. Like shooting fish in a barrel. And therefore, ipso facto, the Internet is a vast cesspool of morons, right?

I think Eric Schonfeld makes a good point, which is that much of what we now revere as art started as a “mashup” of other people’s art, and much of modern art and even literature was derided as crap in its early days (Joyce being just one example). For that matter, much of it actually is crap, just as much of what is on TV is crap. Plenty of books are crap too. So what? To say that this somehow invalidates interactivity is absurd.

It also doesn’t have to be an either/or question. Lee (doing some more Carr-like trolling) describes this new literary future by saying: “Imagine a long email message with responses and earlier messages included. We’ll have those in lieu of “Middlemarch” or “The Corrections.” That’s hogwash, and I’m sure Lee knows it. Then he contrasts videos with the top hits from the BBC, and says that the list of sitcoms (Fawlty Towers being number one) and talk shows are “weighty meals for the mind.” WTF?

In fact, now that I think about it, maybe Lee’s column is actually an elaborate satire. I wish that were true.

Next up — Google takes a run at Flickr

Let’s take a look at a hypothetical Google feature checklist: Web-mail? Check. Document editing? Check. Spreadsheets? Check. Calendar? Check. All that’s left (apart from maybe a presentation app like is a photo-sharing site. Which is kind of strange in a way, since Google’s image search is pretty popular, and storing and organizing photos seems like a bit of a no-brainer for the Googleplex. The company even has Picasa, which is a photo-organizing tool, but one with no online component whatsoever — it does have the integration with, a kind of instant messenger thing, but hardly anyone seems to use it.

That’s always seemed a little weird to me, as though Picasa was a three-legged dog. Not that there was anything wrong with it, it just seemed… incomplete somehow. Now it looks as though that missing piece will be coming soon, according to Google Blogoscoped, which spotted a tiny link on the Picasa home page to something called “Picasa Web Albums.” This is so obvious that I have no problem believing it is coming — the ability to take photos you have organized with Picasa and upload them seems like something we should have had a long time ago.

Will it offer all the same kinds of features as or Will it have tags and communities and Ajax editing and printing and all of that, or will it just be a giant repository like or Webshots? Google certainly has the storage space for just about anything. Here’s hoping it’s at least a little bit more interesting than Google Spreadsheets. All of the hubbub about Google seems to be driving Mike Arrington of TechCrunch a little mental.