Blogging your way to fame and fortune

Okay, maybe fortune is a little strong, and she arguably had more fame before — but, well, you know what I mean. Ana Marie Cox, formerly of Wonkette (and even more formerly of that late, lamented bastion of Bubble 1.0 satire known as Suck), has been named the new Washington editor for Time’s online unit, according to Jim Romenesko. Back when Nick Denton’s Gawker media empire was just a dream, Wonkette was one of the blogs that got even non-Internet types talking, perhaps in part because of Ana Marie Cox’s salty language. She retired and wrote a book (which hasn’t done that well, according to a snarky comment on Wikipedia, despite an advance of $250,000) and now seems to have gotten a foot in the door of “old” media — or at least the new version of old media.


Dave Pogue at the New York Times has a nice Q&A with Ms. Wonkette, in which he asks her about how she got her start, what she thinks of blogs vs. old media and so on, in which she says this (among other things):

AMC: You know, I suspect that The New York Times will never cease to exist. That dinosaur can’t be killed. That really would take a meteor, and I don’t think blogs are a meteor. They’re kind of like a tiny asteroid shower. But The New York Times is going to have to change. I mean, all major media outlets are going to have to change to meet the demands of people who might, you know, have grown used to some of the things they get from blogs.

And Stephen Baker of BusinessWeek’s Blogspotting has some tongue-in-cheek thoughts.

The blind men and the elephant

Damn, I hate it when Cynthia Brumfield of IPDemocracy writes the post that I was planning to write — and I hate it even more when Nick “the Prophet of Doom” Carr starts taking his medication again and actually says something reasonable and balanced. Both of those things happened today, when they commented on the “Long Tail” brouhaha started by Lee Gomes at the Wall Street Journal.

Lee, a columnist I have taken issue with before, questioned whether the Long Tail phenomenon described by Wired editor Chris Anderson in his book of the same name was as far-reaching or as significant as the author claimed. He even did what might be called reporting on the issue. Anderson responds with a refreshingly even-handed response, and points out a few places where Lee avoided inconvenient info in making his criticisms (bad columnist! bad!).

As much as I hate to admit it, I kind of agree with Nick, who says that both men are likely right. Is there a Long Tail? It seems obvious that there is, even just anecdotally, in the sense that the Internet makes it easier for people to find those old songs or old books or old pron or whatever. Perhaps Chris — like many authors who immerse themselves in a subject for so long — wound up seeing it wherever he looked, and has overstated its importance a tad.

In the end, quibbling over the size of the tail seems to miss the point to me. By sheer coincidence, I came across a recent Slate magazine piece today that looked at the Long Tail and applied it to Slate stories from the archive, with somewhat mixed results. But it did point out that every old story clicked on by someone is a story that has already paid its way — any clicks, in other words, are therefore gravy. How much gravy remains to be seen.


The suddenly reasonable Nick Carr has posted a lengthy email he got from Lee Gomes in which the WSJ columnist responds to some of the criticisms made by Mr. Anderson. The plot thickens.

Items that may one day be posts

  • The Motion Picture Association may have picked on the wrong guy when they sent a letter asking software developer Shawn Hogan to pay up for downloading movies. He happens to be a multi-millionaire, and plans to take the MPAA to court.
  • Eric Rice of Hipcast makes the point that podcasts and other audio and video content are not two-way — in other words, not conversations but monologues in a sense (although they can contain conversations). This may seem obvious, but I think it bears remembering.
  • Once again, a couple of members of the “old” media show that they don’t know how to take a joke: Ken Jennings, the guy who won all that money on Jeopardy, wrote a satirical post on his blog about the show in which he called Alex Trebek a cyborg (among other things), and the New York Post reamed him out for it, as did the Associated Press. That’s just sad.
  • New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell returns to the scene of the crime and responds to criticism of the comments he made awhile back (eons in blogosphere terms) about how blogs are derivative. He qualifies his comments a bit, but sticks to his central point, and says that being derivative isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Jason: Am not — Kevin: Are too

I don’t know about you, but I’m loving the geek smackdown going on between Kevin Rose of Digg — and assorted Diggers — and Jason Calacanis of the new and improved Digg-style Netscape (let’s just call it an homage, shall we?). Jason tossed a hand grenade into the social media-social bookmarking space when he offered to pay the top submitters on Digg and Reddit and Newsvine to come over and do their stuff at Netscape. Some (okay, it was Mike Arrington at TechCrunch) have called it desperation, while some have applauded Jason’s cojones.

Then Digg founder Kevin Rose made some comments about Jason’s offer (and his lack of imagination, etc.) on Diggnation, the Digg weekly podcast. Cue the outraged post from Mr. Calacanis, in which he says Kevin has “cracked,” and that this proves he has won the debate. Kevin responds with a post saying Jason’s move is a “PR stunt” and that he should “Think of what your loyal Netscape users must think – you’re essentially telling them that they aren’t good enough and that you have pay better users.”

To his credit, Mark Glaser of PBS’s MediaShift does a nice job of summing up some of the back-and-forth on this whole issue, and also does some enterprise reporting of his own — he gets in touch with a top Digg poster by the name of BloodJunkie (Derek van Vliet, who happens to be from Toronto, and has submitted a whopping 13,152 stories to Digg), who says that he is considering taking Mr. Calacanis up on his kind offer (another Digger has the opposite view here). In an email to Mark, he says he is “at the point where I am considering pursuing the offer. I really appreciate that someone is recognizing the value we Diggers, Flickrers and Redditers add to the online world.”

PR stunt? Maybe. But Jason’s relentless focus on paying the “talent” — a topic he also held forth on during the Amanda Congdon-Rocketboom soap opera — seems to have exposed some of the cracks in the “user-generated content” model. It will be interesting to see how (or if) those cracks widen, and where they lead.

Rafat makes a good point at PaidContent, and Leo “TWiT” Laporte has one as well — which is that the top 10 posters don’t really make or break a site like Digg. I also think that Steve Rubel is right when he says that Netscape needs to find its own niche, and let its own community grow rather than trying to buy someone else’s. Meanwhile, Kevin “Tailrank” Burton calls on Jason and Kevin to publish an open API — and Jason responds in the comments.

A really, really… nice idea

Just so we’re clear: I really like Jay Rosen’s idea for a new kind of “open source” or “networked” journalism, as Jeff Jarvis likes to call it (hey, don’t knock it — it’s a lot better than “user-generated content”). Or maybe I should say that I really want to like it. As an old-media hack who thinks there is a whole lot that could be improved about the way that journalism works — including opening it up to just about any blogger or vlogger who feels like taking a crack at it — Jay’s idea has everything going for it. Except that I’m not sure it’s going to work. Other than that it’s a great idea.

Here’s how Jay — who is a smart guy, and a veteran journalist — describes it:

“Enterprise reporting goes pro-am. Assignments are open sourced. They begin online. Reporters working with smart users and blogging editors get the story the pack wouldn’t, couldn’t or didn’t. They raise the money too.”

Sounds great, doesn’t it? Craig Newmark, of the ridiculously successful craigslist, thinks it’s such a good idea he has put up some money to help it get started. The geniuses behind the McArthur fellowship program gave Jay some money too, and even Jeff Jarvis has been helping out, and sees it fitting in with the hush-hush Daylife project he hasn’t really said much about. Jay mentions the terrific donation-funded reporting by Chris Allbritton as an example of what he’s after.

Not surprisingly, Dan Gillmor — who started a citizen journalism venture called Bayosphere awhile back, and now helps run the Center for Citizen Media — also thinks it’s a great idea. But will it work? Dan’s own effort failed to attract any support from the blogosphere, or from interested citizen journalists in the Bay area, for a variety of reasons that Dan himself laid out after it folded. What makes Jay think NewAssignment will get any more traction?

To be fair to Jay, he points out that this is still just an idea, and that it will take time to work out how ideas for stories come up, how the “reporters” who cover them are chosen, how their material is handled and/or edited (or not) and where and how it eventually gets distributed. I really want to like this idea — I’m just not sure it’s going to work. Among others commenting on the subject, my pal Scott Karp notes quite rightly that true journalism has always been a not-for-profit venture.


Jay Rosen has part two of a Q&A with himself about the idea here, and Mark Glaser of MediaShift does some musing about it as well (he’s been asked to help out by Jay apparently). And U.S. News and World Report has a story about it.

You and Burton Cummings, together again

I don’t usually do this sort of thing, and Elliot Noss of Tucows assures me that he doesn’t either, but the Toronto-based domain registrar supremo sent me a link to an eBay auction that some readers — particularly fans of the Guess Who — might be interested in. The item up for bids consists of two tickets to Bridle Bash II, a pool party being held at a private residence in Toronto’s swanky Bridle Path neighbourhood, which features an up-close-and-personal performance by legendary Guess Who frontman Burton Cummings. The party is a benefit concert for Camp Oochigeas, a summer camp devoted to kids with cancer, and there’s more information at the blog run by Joey “Accordion Guy” DeVilla, a Tucows staffer and blogosphere stalwart.

Power to the people, man…

There’s a downside to having the centre of the technology world in a place like Silicon Valley, and that is the need for vast quantities of air-conditioning (not just for the computers, but for the people too). The culprit behind the latest MySpace-crippling power outage in California isn’t clear yet, but power consumption of all kinds is an issue for the entire technology industry, and particularly for data-intensive companies such as Google, which is building giant new server farms on the shores of the Columbia River in Oregon to try and cope with the demands it faces.

According to FON founder Martin Varsavsky, Google co-founder Larry Page said that one of the major hurdles the company faced in its future growth plans was the need for electricity. In a piece I wrote for the Globe and Mail after the Google server story came out, I noted that rising power demands are in many ways the Achilles heel of Web 2.0 — a point that has also made by many others, including Sun CEO and blogger Jonathan Schwartz, who wrote about the pressures that power requirements are placing on businesses.

It’s a problem that is likely to continue, and one that is affecting other business centres too. My solution? Hook all those servers at Google up to stationary bikes at the Googleplex in Mountain View, and have programmers ride them while they’re working. Not only would it produce power, but it would help reduce the expanding waistlines caused by Google’s free-candy policy. For more thoughts, see Rob Hyndman and Mark Evans.

Jan and Nik get bored, Cuban gets interesting…

I’ve been out of commission for a week or so, due to a death in the family, so I’ve missed some of the hot topics rolling around the blogosphere lately — please forgive me if any of these micro catch-up posts seem less than topical 🙂

  • Janus Friis and Niklas Zennstrom — otherwise known as the billionaires behind Kazaa and Skype — are working on bringing their particular brand of peer-to-peer magic to the TV industry, according to Business Week (Om notes that he mentioned this earlier in a Business 2.0 piece). This makes sense for a whole pile of reasons, the two most important being that a) TV is in the process of being disrupted just like music and voice were, and b) Jan and Nik are filthy rich and likely bored at eBay. Can they make it work? Maybe — but if it’s a proprietary standard like Skype, I’m not sure I’m interested.
  • Chip-maker AMD appears to have decided that the arms race in microchips is heating up, and that it needs a little help competing against 800-pound gorilla Intel (apparently the anti-trust complaints aren’t getting any traction) so it is buying ATI, the Toronto-based graphics-chip specialist. This probably isn’t that surprising, given the combination of pressure on AMD and pressure on ATI — which has been squeezed by Nvidia, and by an insider-trading lawsuit. But does it make any sense? I think ATI will give AMD an edge, but in many ways that is only part of the solution. It’s not going to help ease the sting of 60-per-cent price cuts.
  • Jason Calacanis wants to buy the top posters at Digg, Reddit and Newsvine and get them to work for the new Digg-style Netscape instead. Nick “Web 2.0 is techno-utopian socialism” Carr says this is a smart move that reveals how the Web 2.0 economy is exactly like the old economy. Mike Arrington says it’s a sign of desperation, and Scott Karp says Jason should focus on average people instead. I think Mike has a point — the best communities grow organically. That can’t be bought.
  • Mark Cuban, the world’s most interesting (or at least transparent) CEO, has a fascinating post about the movie business, and how he is looking for solutions to the problems that plague the industry — the main one of which is finding a way to lure people to the theatre without spending more than your movie cost to make. Almost as interesting as Mark’s post are some of the comments and suggestions people have made, which range from “make better movies” to “allow me to reserve a seat.”
  • Google Blogoscoped says that you can now link to specific places in a video stream, which I think is a tremendous feature, but one that not many people have commented on. One who did is Steve Rubel, and I would agree with him that this ability ought to rapidly become an industry-standard solution.

Taking a break from blogging

Posting will likely be sparse over the next week or so. I wish I could say that it’s because I’m going on vacation, but it isn’t. My father-in-law just passed away, after a short but fierce battle with a very aggressive form of cancer — a little over two weeks from diagnosis to the end. The next few days will be filled with all the usual details that surround a death in the family, and we will also be trying to celebrate the life of a great father, husband, grandfather and friend — someone who was taken from us much too quickly.

Does this blog come with a face-mask?

Okay, let’s admit it — what’s the first thing you think of when you picture a hockey fan? I’m betting the word “blog” isn’t high on the list, and I’ll bet that or “social networking” isn’t in the top 10 either. For most of the hockey fans I know, social networking consists of finding someone who will bring the beer and chips over when the playoffs are on. But perhaps I am guilty of stereotyping — and I’m sure that hockey mania in this country is broad enough to cover all sorts of different groups, including Web 2.0 geeks.

Courtesy of Pete Cashmore’s Mashable, I found out that the National Hockey League is bringing social networking, with blogs and all sorts of other cool features, to its site starting with the 2007 season (Pete found out about it It’s in beta testing right now, but there are already some publicly available blogs out there, including this one. There are profiles, comments, photos and RSS feeds, and users can add others to their social network.

As PaidContent notes, Major League Baseball — which arguably occupies the same core position in the American sports-lover’s consciousness as hockey does in Canada — already offers fans their own blogs at the MLB site. For $4.95 (U.S.) a month, baseball lovers can choose from multiple templates, and have their blogs featured on various league sites, which can lead to fame (if not fortune).

Narendra Rocherolle (former CEO of Webshots and now involved with 30 Boxes) calls this phenomenon not MySpace but SmallSpace.