Dell seems to be learning fast

I stayed out of the recent fuss over Dell’s entry into the blogosphere, partly because I was tied up with other things and partly because it turned into kind of a pile-on, as my friend Rob Hyndman pointed out. Jeff Jarvis did kind of jump all over the company when it first appeared, and Steve Rubel also chimed in with some free advice — some of it (in fact most of it) well-deserved — and lots of others did as well.

There was a good point there, that Dell should have maybe surveyed the blogosphere before launching one, but it was overdone. And as it turned out, Dell has done all that and more: it started with links to Jarvis and Rubel and a commitment to learn as much as possible, and it has continued. The latest, as Steve points out, is a lengthy post that is honest almost to a fault about the company’s problems with customer support, and how much work needs to be done still.

I hope some of those who were so quick to criticize will take note of how open Dell is being (Steve Rubel has and so has Jeff Jarvis). The company deserves to be applauded for it.

Will money make Technorati better?

Technorati, the blog-ranking and search tool, has gotten more financing — $7.6-million (U.S.) from Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Mobius Venture Capital. For a sense of how divided opinions are when it comes to T’rati, check out the difference between what Mashable wrote about the deal and what TechCrunch wrote. Pete Cashmore at Mashable says that Technorati is way ahead of Feedster (not very hard, Pete) and has fended off new rivals like Sphere, while Marshall Kirkpatrick at TechCrunch says that Technorati has been struggling, staff have left and the financing was likely done at a discount. Ouch.

It’s hard to think of a Web 2.0 property (apart from perhaps TechCrunch itself) that inspires such a wide range of opinions, all the way from love to hate. In the interests of full disclosure, I would like to point out that I have had some issues with Technorati’s tracking of this blog in the past, including stale stats and a failure to update for weeks at a time even after repeated pings, but those issues were cleared up — without any personal pleas to Dave Sifry — and I have been pretty happy with the service.

At the same time, however, there are those who have had some problems with Technorati — all the way from its ranking methodology to its customer service and its indexing hiccups. I’ve had emails from a veteran software engineer and startup executive complaining about how weeks go by sometimes and Technorati’s data on blog traffic or rankings is clearly flawed or non-existent, and there is no response from the company. Is that fair? Maybe, maybe not. I know I find the Technorati 100 somewhat flawed, and the “authority” ranking is also dodgy.

Some of this is no doubt due to understandable growing pains or hiccups. Tracking 48 million blogs or whatever they are up to now is not easy to do (of course, people argue about that blogosphere measurement as well, not surprisingly) and it’s possible that the company has been having issues of “scale,” as the VCs say. Hopefully the money will help. We need all the search and indexing tools we can get.


My friend Pete Dawson is right to note the deal the Technorati and Edelman signed a month or two ago — no doubt some of the money will be used for that as well.

One truce aside, the IM war continues

If you only read certain blogs or publications today — or press releases from both Microsoft and Yahoo — you would think that something truly revolutionary had been announced, with the news that Microsoft’s MSN Messenger (or Windows Live Messenger or whatever we’re supposed to call it nowadays) will inter-operate with Yahoo’s instant messaging client as part of a limited beta. Thankfully, however, there are people with memories that last longer than a week or two, like Elinor Mills of CNet and Alec Saunders of Iotum and Stowe Boyd of, well… Stowe Boyd.

Is the fact that Yahoo and Microsoft’s IM clients will work together something to celebrate? Yes. The walled gardens of instant messaging have existed for too long, just like early phone systems that would only handle calls to users of the same network. But this deal was announced about nine months ago, as CNet points out, so it’s hard to get excited about it all over again. In addition, the two companies go out of their way not to mention the fact that their systems still won’t work with IM applications from anyone else — including, of course, AOL’s AIM and Google’s GTalk.

Those two companies are working on their own federation deal as part of their $1-billion partnership, and GTalk already works with open-source instant messaging apps such as the Jabber client. Why don’t Yahoo and Microsoft support open-source too? Because they likely see that as helping Google, or diluting whatever strengths they feel they have as a result of keeping users in a kind of IM roach motel.

Obviously, companies can do whatever they want with their applications, and co-operate with whomever they wish to co-operate with. Unlike my friend Stowe, I would hesitate to recommend that the government force them to open up their networks. But just because they choose to do that doesn’t mean as users that we have to congratulate them for it. I will continue to use GTalk or Trillian or Meebo or any other app that lets me inter-operate with everyone.


According to the latest numbers, Google Talk is at the very bottom of the list as far as IM clients go. Does that surprise anyone? Not me. It’s only been around for less than a year, for one thing, and it doesn’t inter-operate with MSN or Yahoo (because they don’t want to, not because Google doesn’t want to). I still like the way it integrates with Gmail, and I like the fact that it supports the Jabber standard, despite what my comment-writing fan says below. Open standards are better — period.

Rocketboom is back with a bang

Like my fellow Rocketboom soap-opera fan Mark Evans, I too am glad to see the video-blog-cast back after the turmoil of the past couple of weeks surrounding the departure of host Amanda Congdon. It’s too bad that Andrew Baron and the Rocketboom team couldn’t make their self-imposed deadline of Monday, but I guess that’s showbiz.

I thought Andrew and new host Joanne Colan did a nice job of handling the changeover, making light of the storm in the blogosphere by having Joanne show up in a catcher’s mask and have tomatoes thrown at her. And I thought she did a great show, with some light-hearted street interview and even some Spanish thrown in just for fun. I will lapse into sexism just for a moment to say that Joanne is easy on the eyes, as they say, and as Mark points out the British accent doesn’t hurt either. All in all, a nice comeback after all that has happened.

And in case all the back-and-forth of the past couple of weeks isn’t enough for you, Jeff Jarvis has given his blog over to a guest post from a music exec with some advice for the Rocketboom gang. And a CNet interview with Amanda shows that there is still a ton of bad blood between the two sides — with Amanda continuing to say she was pushed out, and that Andrew wanted to strip her of any duties apart from hosting. In other words, sounds like there’s still plenty of work left for the lawyers.

Pay-per-click vs. rent-a-click

I don’t want to get into the whole debate over how big “click fraud” is — with some estimates as high as 14 per cent of all online pay-per-click advertising (in which Google and Yahoo are the leading players), and Eric Schmidt of Google arguing that the problem is self-correcting (something Mark Cuban takes issue with). Google is also trying to settle click-fraud related lawsuits.

I do think it’s interesting to watch the markets, including the black and grey markets, find ways of profiting despite Google’s restrictions on click fraud — which can involve either paying people to click on your ads (if you run a website), or paying people to click on your competitor’s ads (if you’re an advertiser who wants to drive up your competitor’s costs). When it comes to the former, there are stories popping up all over about offshore “click farms” where impoverished families in India make money by clicking ads — the 21st-century equivalent of stuffing envelopes.

And a reader named Mike just sent me a link to something he came across at the Blogging Stocks blog: auctions on eBay that sell the services of click-fraud artists. As the post describes it, there are half a dozen auctions with titles like “5 Google Adsense Ads Clicks Hits Each day for 5 Days” (Buy It Now for $1.99) that advertise how they “Don’t deal with worthless hits/clicks. These are real people clicking on your Adsense ads. Real money flowing into your Adsense account.”

They advertise how they arrange it so that multiple clicks don’t come from the same IP address in a 24-hour period, since that would trip Google’s fraud filters. No doubt some of them will be found out anyway, but others will spring up — it’s like Whack-A-Mole. And of course there’s always ClickMonkeys.

Could pay-per-click be on its way out, as my friend Scott Karp has argued? And if so, what replaces it — cost-per-action? No doubt fraudsters will find a way of gaming that too. For what it’s worth, my friend Markus from PlentyofFish, who knows a lot about online advertising, says there’s a lot of hype about click fraud, and security consultant Bruce Schneier has some thoughts at Wired News.

<update :

Google has responded on its official blog to the post about Eric Schmidt’s “let it happen” comments (hat tip to John Battelle).

MySpace might be bigger — or not

Like my old-media colleague Mark Evans, I’m skeptical of the somewhat boosterish (to put it mildly) headlines about the growth of MySpace, and how it is now supposedly a larger Internet property than Yahoo, according to figures from Internet traffic-tracking firm Hitwise. And yet, the numbers from Comscore/Media Metrix and Nielsen/NetRatings don’t show anything like that — at least not when it comes to unique visitors.

According to a statement from Hitwise about methodology, the company uses a “network-centric” measuring process, in which traffic data is collected directly from ISPs using the company’s proprietary software. Other tracking services such as Comscore and Nielsen measure traffic based on software that users install (Alexa uses this method as well), phone surveys and/or through software trackers installed at websites directly. Naturally, Hitwise says its way is better.

The Hitwise release about MySpace (which was just for the first two weeks of July) didn’t give specific numbers for the social-networking service. Instead, it said that MySpace’s “market share of visits” was higher than Yahoo’s at 4.46 per cent. It’s not clear what that phrase refers to, but it appears to be a lot closer to raw hits than it is to unique visitors. Part of the problem seems to be that Hitwise only tracked Yahoo’s email domain, and left out its search and portal properties. According to Yahoo, it had 129 million unique visitors in June (for Yahoo’s search, email and web properties), and MySpace had 52 million.

I hate to rehash something that I thought we had all hoisted aboard during the first Web bubble, but raw traffic is a crappy measure of anything (and has been criticized for having a design that boosts page-hit counts). That’s why unique visitors and other metrics get used more often. Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop newspapers — and blogs, unfortunately — from trumpeting the “XYZ Corp. is the biggest!” headlines whenever there’s a slow news day.

For an interesting look at the differences between Hitwise numbers and those from ComScore/Media Metrix and Nielsen/Net Ratings, check out this comment from Flickr founder Stewart Butterfield on a recent post at Paul Kedrosky’s blog.

Andy Kessler on disruption

Mike Urlocker, who used to be a technology analyst and is now a consultant specializing in disruption and its effects on various industries, has a couple of interesting Q & A sessions up on his blog at (he did one with me awhile back on the future of newspapers, but these are far more interesting). In the first one, longtime analyst and author and now venture capitalist Andy Kessler has a discussion about how technology is disrupting — or could disrupt — the medical field. Fascinating stuff.

“Doctors are human and don’t scale. Get them out of the equation and you have a business that can get smaller, cheaper, faster, just like everything else silicon valley touches. Consumers can do their own tests, and then only see specialists when they need them. (No pun on the NYSE, but same concept!)”

And the second Q & A is with Pip Coburn, also a former technology analyst and now venture capitalist, who writes a widely-followed bi-weekly newsletter called Waypoints. He has just written a book on disruption called The Change Function: Why Some Technologies Take Off And Others Crash And Burn and he spoke with Mike about a variety of things, including what he is following now that he finds particularly interesting.

“Watching — the video in which scientists dropped mentos into diet coke. Hard for folks who haven’t seen it yet but this is compelling content by almost anyone’s standard…. So-called user generated content is tremendously under appreciated by the investment world but videos like this have created “ah-hah” moments.”

Some great stuff there, Mike.

Gdrive — this one makes sense to me

Kudos to Corsin Camichel for spotting what appears to be signs of Google’s much-awaited Gdrive “in the wild” as the network types like to say. It seems a little odd that he would find details of the network-storage service (apparently codenamed “Platypus”) by putting the extension “index.html” on the address of Google’s online word processing product, — but then again, maybe that’s not as weird as it seems at first.

There are a couple of reasons to suspect that Gdrive is actually going to make an appearance. One is fairly obvious, and it is that the company mentioned the service during a presentation to analysts back in March. Another is that networked storage seems like a natural fit for the company — and certainly a lot more natural than a comparative shopping service (Froogle) or a web-clipping service (Google Notebook) or a social networking tool (Orkut).

For one thing, Google is already providing tons of networked storage for users of Gmail, where everyone gets two-and-a-half gigabytes (and climbing) worth of disk space for their mail, or for using as a Linux filesystem as some geeks have done. And Web-based software — such as and Google Spreadsheets and whatever presentation service they’re going to launch or buy — means going down that road even further. Gdrive could have all those Word documents and spreadsheets and email, and all your pictures from the new Picasa Web Albums, and now your health info even.

Networked storage is also crying out for a simple solution. Lots of companies (as TechCrunch has pointed out) are going after that market, but none of them have the scale or deep pockets or established services that Google has. I’ve tried Mozy and Streamload and several others and they were all fine — and some of the services such as have interesting features, such as the ability to write documents to the server on the fly as you use them, just like a regular hard drive — but I still think this one is Google’s to lose.

Marshall Kirkpatrick at TechCrunch seems less than pleased with the feverish speculation whenever a Google product seems about to launch, but I think this one is a no-brainer, and a potential game-changer.


Nik Cubrilovic, who is a smart fellow, says in the comments on the TechCrunch post that Platypus or Gdrive appears to be an internal Google service, although it could be rolled out to the public at some point (and the comments at the analysts’ presentation day lead one to believe that is in the cards). Would you use something like Gdrive? Would companies use it?

Paul Graham on the Web 2.0 bubble

Paul Graham is a smart guy with loads of experience — not just in Web technology, which he knows from the programming side, but in business as well, which he knows from the venture capital side — and so it’s worth paying attention to what he has to say about Web 2.0. He was interviewed by British journalist Ian Delaney, who is writing a book on Web 2.0, and agreed on the condition that he could post the interview to his site, which he did. Here are some excerpts:

“If you create a web-based startup that becomes massively popular, you can probably figure out a way to make money from it. Just about every massively popular site has. The idea of building something popular then figuring out how to make money from it was born in the Bubble. It sounds irresponsible, but it works. Requiring founders to have a carefully worked out plan for making money is not hard-headed business sense. It’s what hackers call “premature optimization.” The really important thing is to make something people want.”

So does Graham think that Web 2.0 is a bubble?

“No, I don’t think this is a bubble. The companies the VCs are investing in now are nowhere near as laughable as the ones they were funding in 1999. A lot of those seemed like deliberate parodies. Certainly there is a lot of hype. For example, there are a lot of sites using cheesy “Web 2.0” design elements to seem cool. All those fades and “Betas” and giant fonts are going to look very dated in a few years. But cheesy design doesn’t make a bubble. The measure of a bubble is investment, and that’s still under control.”

And what about the term Web 2.0 — is it all just hype with a cheesy name, or is it a real thing?

“Web 2.0” is a weird phrase. It began as the name of a conference, but the people organizing the conference didn’t really know what they meant by it. Mostly they thought it sounded catchy. However, “Web 2.0” has since taken on a meaning. There are some interesting new trends on the Web, and it’s the nature of a phrase like that to adhere to them. It’s kind of like they printed the name on a sticky label, threw it on the floor, and it stuck on the heel of a guy passing by. The name is a little fake, but the guy is real.

Yet another Wikipedia death notice

It’s tough to come up with something that has been declared either dead, broken or irrelevant as many times as (okay, the Bush presidency comes close, but that’s in a different category altogether). Nick Carr alone has probably rung the funeral bells for the open-source encyclopedia at least a half a dozen times by now. The latest death knell, however, comes from the Washington Post, where Frank Ahrens uses the death of disgraced Enron chairman Ken Lay as a hook to hang his column on.

There’s no question the activity on Wikipedia following Ken Lay’s death was fascinating to watch, and is worth writing about, as Reuters did. First, it said he died of “an apparent suicide,” then “an apparent heart attack or suicide” and then that it was “yet to be determined.” An entry was posted that said “the guilt of ruining so many lives finally [sic] led him to his suicide,” but it was quickly removed and replaced with “the cause was a ‘massive coronary’ heart attack.” Someone wrote about speculation that the coronary was “due to the amount of stress put on him by the Enron trial,” but that was removed too.

Ahrens tells us that this is a sign of Wikipedia’s greatest weakness, which is presumably the openness that allows anyone to edit an entry (although the rest of the column is somewhat muddled, so it’s hard to follow his point exactly). But I would agree with Kent Newsome that in fact the process functioned as it should — mistakes were entered, and were quickly corrected, just as they are in wire stories carried on news services such as… well,

Anyone who has watched a newswire report on a breaking story take shape over the course of a day has seen much worse than Wikipedia went through, and newswires are staffed (presumably) by rigorously trained and experienced journalists. In other words: nice punch, Frank — but that straw man wasn’t really up to the challenge.