Google Spreadsheet — so what?

So Google has a spreadsheet app (and yes, it’s called Google Spreadsheets — really creative name there, guys). Now let’s start the countdown to the presentation app (called Google Presentation, no doubt): here it comes in 10, 9, 8… oh, why not just buy and be done with it.

With the acquisition of, the launch of Google Calendar, and now the spreadsheet, the search behemoth with the $130-billion market cap has put together many of the same pieces as the Microsoft Office suite, which more than one person has noted makes up about 25 per cent of the software company’s revenue (it used to be about 40 per cent) and an even larger chunk of its profit as well.

The only question that remains unanswered is, so what? Don’t get me wrong — I think is a great app, and the mesh gang used it religiously when collaborating on the schedule for the conference. But you can’t export as a Word document, which means that no one is going to be able to use it as a business app (ThinkFree Office makes more sense for that).

Google Calendar is great too, and nicely integrated with Gmail, but I don’t see businesses standardizing on either one of them. So why is Google bothering — just to show that it can muscle in on markets too, as Paul Kedrosky says? Or is it just jumping on its horse and riding madly off in all directions, as Canadian humorist Stephen Leacock put it?

One thing is for sure, it’s not a great day to be JotSpot, NumSum or iRows — although they had to see this coming a mile down the road (or should have). And maybe Google Spreadsheet will have enough going for it, as Richard MacManus describes here, that it will become something more than a kind of half-assed Web version of Excel. Let’s hope so.


I’ve spent enough time on this blog telling Nick Carr when he’s wrong (which is quite often), I thought I should be fair and acknowledge when he’s right too, and his post on Google’s Spreadsheets is pretty right (as I admitted in a comment on his blog). Google’s new feature is not an Excel killer, no matter how much some people would like it to be, nor is a Word killer. They are both extenders, in that they add features to those existing products. Embrace and extend — anyone heard that one before?

The battle of the homepages continues

It was inevitable that someone in the ongoing battle of the Ajax homepages (okay, it’s no Alamo, but hey — we have to do the best we can on the new frontier) would eventually eat a bullet, and in this case it turned out to be the fittingly named Fold which, well… folded. That leaves Netvibes, Protopages, Pageflakes, Zoozio and — oh yes — a couple of little players named Google (with its google/ig) and Microsoft (with Both Netvibes and Pageflakes have recently gotten financing, so someone must see a future.

Richard MacManus of Read/WriteWeb sees a future too, and I’m not so sure that he’s wrong. In a recent post, he says that what now appear to be just cool homepages with some Ajaxy modules could become the portals of the Web 2.0 future, with all kinds of widgets and tools built in. In a sense, they could become a virtual desktop — the tool you use to gather all the bits and pieces of your online life together, all of them interacting and updating automatically.

I confess that I’m a big fan of, in part because it is fast — a lot faster than Google’s ig, as far as I can tell — and because it is flexible, with dozens of different modules (such as Flickr, and Digg modules) and features including the ability to add new tabs, click once and mark all items in a feed read, and so on. Google’s effort, much like its other tools such as Google Reader, verges on the lame. It seems slow and clunky, you only get three columns ( has four) and you can’t add new tabs. Admittedly, those kinds of things aren’t exactly a powerful barrier to entry.

I almost hate to admit it, but Microsoft’s entry in the portal sweepstakes has gotten better. When I first tried it, totally blew. It was slow and buggy and useless — kind of like Windows 1.0. But now it has gotten a lot faster and sleeker-looking, and is the closest to having what I think is a competitive offering compared with Netvibes. I like Pageflakes too, but for some reason it seems cluttered. All are racing to add as many modules as they can, but so far Netvibes has the most useful ones, such as a window where you can track your documents, and a connection to online storage.

Pageflakes has added a “share this page” feature so you can effectively publish your page, and Netvibes now lets you add modules to the Netvibes “ecosystem.” As for Google, one thing that it does have going for it — and I think this shouldn’t be underestimated — is a mobile version of its portal that is fast and slick. In fact, when it comes to mobile RSS readers, it is right up there with the best. I’ve tried several, including one called for the BlackBerry, and they all leave something to be desired. This could be an important differentiator between the competitors going forward.

Seth Godin likes the megaphone better

Seth Godin is a smart guy, and a marketing whiz who regularly gets asked to talk about how to communicate better, and who has written a bunch of books about how to market yourself or your company, including the “purple cow” one that many people are familiar with. So why has he decided not to have comments on his blog? Apparently, Seth would much rather stand at a lectern and show a bunch of PowerPoint (or, more likely, Keynote) slides, and then get his fee and move on.

Web 2.0 — or whatever we’re calling it nowadays — is supposed to be about the conversation, isn’t it? It’s not much of a conversation if you’re the only one talking, a point I have tried to make several times in the past, including here and here . In fact, a blog with no comments is more like a traditional media vehicle, in the sense that it’s a monologue, one that sends a subtle message that the writer has all the answers, and you the reader are simply a receptacle, a passive audience with nothing to contribute.

We added comments on every story at the newspaper I work for, the Globe and Mail, because we would like to hear from readers — some of whom, it must be said, seem to like shouting or criticizing just for the sake of criticizing, but many of whom have intelligent and thoughtful things to say. The BBC has its “Have Your Say” feature for the same reason. In many ways, it’s the evolution of the letters section, or a more civilized version of call-in radio shows. We benefit from it, and so do our readers, and I would argue blogs do the same.

Seth says that it takes too much of his time to think about or weed out comments on his blog, and that he finds himself changing the way he writes because of what people say. This, apparently, is a bad thing. And yet, in a previous post — one which did have comments, for some unknown reason — Seth talks about how to have a successful blog, and number 27 is “Include comments so your blog becomes a virtual water cooler that feeds itself.” Good advice. But not for Seth Godin, it seems.

I think the “no comments” idea is related to the “no links” idea, which my M-list buddy Kent Newsome had a bit of rant about awhile back, and with good reason. As he points out, not linking — which Steve Gillmor and others seem to be promoting — is all about arrogance and vanity. And so, I would argue, is not having comments. It says that the writer believes no one has anything useful to contribute but them. And I think it makes Seth’s blog inherently less appealing, to me at least. Scott Karp seems to agree with me, but (not surprisingly) Dave Winer doesn’t. And Anne Zelenka has a great post about it here — always happy to see you in the quiet hallways of the weekend Internet, Anne. Kent says that non-linking and non-commenting bloggers suffer from faux agoraphobia.

Hey, vote for me — I’m a moron!

I would just like to point out that — the title of this post aside — I have nothing against Joe Volpe, the Honourable Member for Eglinton-Lawrence, who is running for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada. However, I would note that it seems rather odd that he would be getting so many donations from children. A bunch of other people think so too, so they put up a website poking fun at this odd turn of events — but it has been taken down (there’s a mirror here.

Apparently the Volpe campaign had the site removed. According to the story in the Globe and Mail, a staff worker named Brenden Johnstone wrote: “My Office has had the website suspended through CIRA [Canadian Internet Registration Authority] and CDNS [Canadian Domain Name Services] and it will be down as soon as 6 p.m.” Don’t like what someone has said about your candidate? Just have the site removed. Simple as that.

Needless to say, this caused a fairly predictable firestorm of criticism, all of which is described on the website of Stephen Taylor, a former candidate for the Conservative Party — who appears to be trying not to be too partisan about the whole thing, which is nice to see (although I’m sure some will disagree). As it turns out, CIRA did not remove the site, but the site’s domain registrar did, citing fears of a defamation lawsuit. Mention has also been made that the site was created using a fictitious name and address, which is not allowed for obvious reasons.

As my friend Rob Hyndman notes, the Volpe campaign had a couple of choices — and for whatever reason, they decided to go with the stupidest one, which is to have the site taken down and then hope that the whole thing will go away. As someone on Stephen Taylor’s site remarked, this is the “pouring water on a grease fire” approach, which accomplishes nothing but spreading the fire even further. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

Items that might become posts

As usual, I’ve accumulated a pile of things I want to blog about, and might eventually — but until then, here’s a few links:

  • has gotten financing from Brightspark and some angel investors, as was mentioned at mesh a couple of weeks ago — founder Michael Tippett was on a panel there about the future of journalism, and did a great job of holding his own with Om Malik — and Pete Cashmore at has a post about how NowPublic wants to take a slightly different route in “citizen journalism” or “participatory media” (my preferred term, and I think Mike’s too).
  • Stuart MacDonald, who knows a thing or two about airlines from his days running Expedia, has a great post about how little attention is being paid to the auction of spectrum for in-flight Internet access, something you would think more people would be interested in. I know I would, if only I could actually afford to travel anywhere. Maybe we should call in-flight Internet Hi-Wi 🙂
  • Mark Cuban, the gazillionaire blogger and owner of the Dallas Mavericks (plus and some other stuff), has a post up about how journalism matters — although he says it needs to change (and I would agree). Carlo Longino of MobHappy and, however, says on his personal blog that journalism is broken.
  • Roelof Botha, the Web 2.0 guy at Sequoia Capital who spearheaded their investment in YouTube, talks to SiliconBeat.
  • Another couple of journalism notes: Wall Street Journal publisher Gordon Crovitz talks about the paper’s redesign and how it is being influenced by the web (Tim Porter’s take is here) and on a somewhat-related note, Globe and Mail editor-in-chief Ed Greenspon took some questions on the paper’s website, and had some interesting things to say.
  • Jaron Lanier has written a long rant about the collectivist — and even flat-out communist — kind of “hive mind” he sees behind a lot of Web 2.0 such as Wikipedia, something that Andrew Keen got a lot of mileage out of, and a line others have parroted as well. Why we should take Jaron’s word for it just because he helped invent “virtual reality” way back when is beyond me. And Umair Haque of Bubblegeneration has a nice deconstruction of the piece.
  • Last but certainly not least, the Pew Internet and American Life study is out and it has found that 50 million Americans are content creators.

Hey, where’s my Apple halo?

Remember the “halo effect?” That was the term some analysts came up with for the boost in Apple sales that was expected to result from the smash success of the company’s iPod music and video players. The assumption was that all the love for the iPod would spill over onto the rest of Apple’s business, and that people would be drawn to purchase more Macs and iBooks and so on. There were several articles and analyst reports last year that said the effect seemed to be working — but now there are numbers that call those early reports into question.

According to the latest report from Gartner Group — obtained (ironically) by Apple Insider — Apple’s worldwide market share actually dropped in the first quarter of this year, to 2 per cent from 2.2 per cent in the same quarter of 2005. Even in the U.S., the company’s primary market, its share barely budged during the quarter, remaining more or less flat at 3.6 per cent (Gartner says the company’s share rose by one-tenth of one per cent). Even if you assume that lots of people held off buying because they were waiting for the new Intel models, that’s still not a great performance — and not much evidence of a halo.

If you’re wondering why it’s ironic that the Gartner report shows up on Apple Insider, it’s because the blog was one of several that were sued for leaking inside information about Apple products — a lawsuit that Apple just recently lost. Could Apple Insider be feeling a bit of what the Germans call schadenfreude?

My podcast with Jon Arnold

Not to blow my own horn too much, but I did a podcast with Jon Arnold yesterday that I thought I would put up here for people to listen to if they’re interested. Jon is an independent telecom analyst here in Toronto, and among other things works with legendary VoIP pioneer Jeff Pulver of on his conferences and so on. He’s got the podcast with me — which is part of his IP Thought Leaders series — on the Pulver site (click here to download the mp3 file from the Pulver site), but I thought I would host it here too, for all my loyal fans 🙂 Incidentally, the player below this post is powered by the Podpress plugin for WordPress, and you can click and download the file directly from the link near the player.

Jon and I talked a bit about the blogging I do for, and about my involvement with Mark Evans and Rob Hyndman and Stuart MacDonald and Mike McDerment in the mesh conference that was held at MaRS in Toronto a couple of weeks ago. We also talked about the evolution that journalism is going through, and about how Web 2.0 is accelerating that, and a few other things. Incidentally, Jon has an interesting post on his blog about a Norwegian VoIP startup called Telio that is going public, and provides a nice contrast to the ongoing debacle that is the Vonage IPO.