Techmeme’s new ad model — I like it

Gabe Rivera over at Techmeme has introduced advertising on his blogosphere buzz-tracker/feed-aggregator, and it consists of posts from bloggers that are featured in a right-hand column, a privilege for which they pay several thousands of dollars per month. I think this is potentially a great idea — and much better than just running Google’s AdSense or those annoying pseudo-hyperlinks that some bloggers like.

The ads integrate well with Techmeme’s overall feel, and they are a great way of appealing to blog-centric companies, although my friend Mark Evans wonders just how many of those there might be for such a program. Jeff Jarvis likes it too — and he’s a hard man to please. Cynthia Brumfield at IPDemocracy is a fan as well, and points out that this type of ad has the potential for a lot more engagement with readers than traditional ads (Squash likes it too).

I think Dwight Silverman makes a good point on his Houston Chronicle blog, however, which is that this type of advertising isn’t for everyone or every company, and will only succeed to the extent that those who get involved in the program actually try to become part of the conversation. If those sponsored posts are just lame PR releases disguised as blogs, they will quite quickly fade into the background.

Update:

John Tokash raises an interesting point, in that he wonders how much the featured posts — which are effectively advertising — will wind up “polluting” the overall techmeme aggregation function (admittedly, “polluting” is kind of a loaded word). Just before I came across his post, in fact, I noticed that on my Netvibes feed-reading page, one of the featured posts was listed as the latest addition to Techmeme. Should they not be flagged somehow as sponsored, or advertising? Just wondering.

Dave Winer seems to be suggesting that Gabe should auction off those spaces instead of setting a price for a month, which is probably not a bad idea (makes it hard to forecast revenue though). And Erick Schonfeld wonders if featured posts might actually get less attention than if they just appeared on techmeme normally.

Gabe Rivera has a response to some of Tom Foremski’s quibbles with the model here.

Can Google engineer chaos?

The picture of Google that emerges from a recent Fortune magazine article depends a lot on your point of view. Some will focus on the fact that the Googleplex is all free cafeterias and young people whizzing around on scooters. Others will focus on how the gigantic cash-spewing machine that fuels the company gives its managers unprecedented freedom to think in different ways — to try and fail, and in some cases not even to worry about making money at all.

Is that a good thing? It might be. On the other hand, Google might be fiddling while Rome burns. It’s interesting to contrast Google with Microsoft. Even when the software giant was young, the entire company was focused on extending the dominance of Windows and Office. Do you think Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer gave employees 20 per cent of their time to work on new things? Dream on. Even with the internal think-tank work that Microsoft has done, it has still wound up getting side-swiped by the Internet, the iPod and plenty of other things.

Does Google’s flexibility mean it is any less likely to get a nasty surprise? That’s hard to say. For my part, all the stuff about “engineering chaos” and giving employees the right to fail and so on is great — and don’t get me wrong, it is definitely great, and I think more companies (including mine) should encourage it — but the piece of the puzzle that rang the truest for me, as it obviously did for Richard at Read/Write Web, came at the end, when Eric Schmidt was drawing on the whiteboard talking about the Internet:

The gist of the illustration is that there’s practically no money left to be made in computers, not in hardware or software. The money, instead, is all in Web applications, a trend Schmidt had been predicting since his days as chief technology officer at Sun a decade ago. Users won’t always be traveling to the Web on the PC.

Can Google manage to take a commanding presence in that future world? Google Calendar and Google Spreadsheets and Google Notebook are interesting, but as far as I’m concerned they are baby steps along that road. Maybe a little less chaos and a little more focus wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

Why is there no Grand Theft Auto MMPORG?

An idle thought for a Sunday afternoon: virtual worlds such as Second Life, The Sims Online and World of Warcraft are hugely popular online games, in part because they manage to combine elements of the real world with fantasy and the unreal, and also because they allow for all kinds of behaviour (good, bad and in between) to find a harmless outlet. Such behaviour includes malicious acts known as “griefing” in Second Life, adults pretending to be children for sexual purposes, and even the rise of what amounts to a virtual Mafia in The Sims.

gta san andreas

The game Grand Theft Auto has also become hugely popular by allowing game players to engage in all kinds of nefarious behaviour, including theft, murder, assault and battery, prostitution, drug-dealing, and so on. So why isn’t there an online version of Grand Theft Auto, where people can form gangs and beat other players up, steal their virtual money, blackmail or extort other players, set up prostitution rings and so on? It seems like it would be a slam-dunk.

Obviously, there would be a risk of real-world violence being blamed on Grand Theft Auto, but that already happens. I’m only half-joking here. I think watching people’s behaviour inside such a game would be like an incredible real-world psychology laboratory in action.

Social networking and media isn’t all good

Social networking and social media — sites such as MySpace.com and YouTube.com — are often written about as though they are universally a good thing. And there’s no question that it’s great to have places where kids can socialize online, so to speak, and share blog posts and photos and music, or where they can go and watch video clips of people trying stupid bicycle tricks or kittens trying to get out of Kleenex boxes or whatever. But as my friend Scott Karp of Publishing 2.0 is fond of pointing out, there is a dark side to these kinds of networks.

A couple of stories I came across recently reminded me of that. One was actually fairly comical: a university student posted a picture of a teacher’s dog on MySpace, along with a note saying that he planned to kill the dog — which got animal rights activists and others all in a lather. However, it turned out to be part of a media assignment in which students were asked to do whatever they could to make the teacher’s dog famous (I would have said the student should have won hands down, but threatening the dog was not allowed).

Another story involving students and teachers saw some high-school students set up a MySpace page that they pretended had been set up by their teacher, confessing that she was a lesbian, etc. She is suing two students for defamation and libel, and one of the students is facing criminal charges. And another story that just recently broke in Toronto involves high-school kids videotaping each other having fist-fights and then uploading them to YouTube.

Obviously, these kinds of stories are just the tip of the iceberg. Others have written about adults trolling for sex with children on MySpace, and the social-networking site has been sued by the family of a 14-year-old girl who says she was sexually assaulted by a man she met through MySpace. And some critics of YouTube have argued that having a forum to upload video of people fighting or engaging in other questionable behaviour can encourage that kind of behaviour.

True? Who knows. It’s possible that YouTube and MySpace and VampireFreaks.com (the social-networking site for goths and emos that was associated with the recent shooting in Montreal) are just making it easier to discover things that have always existed, but were harder to come across before the Internet. In any case, I expect we’ll be seeing more of these types of stories — but the potential liability of MySpace or YouTube in such events remains a big question mark. And if you’re a parent, think about what the parents of Amanda Wenk went through — a high-school senior, she uploaded racy photos of herself and her friends and they spread around the Internet like wildfire, until she had become a quasi-celebrity.

Update:

Pete Cashmore at Mashable says Bebo — which is even more popular than MySpace in Europe — is cracking down on bullying and other behaviour.

Weblo wants to sell you the world

(Note: This is a piece I just posted at globeandmail.com, based on an interview with Weblo founder and CEO Rocky Mirza):

As the founder of a UK-based online-gaming property called IBetX.com and an Ottawa-based auction site called UniqueAuction.com, entrepreneur Rocky Mirza knows a little about what people like to do with their money online, and he is hoping that they will want to spend some of it buying and selling virtual properties as part of his newest venture, an online “virtual world” called Weblo.com. Mr. Mirza has managed to get some high-powered backing for this latest project (which launches on September 26): a major shareholder is none other than Richard Rosenblatt, whose most recent company — a little thing called MySpace.com — was bought by News Corp. last year.

Weblo has a long way to go before it is as massive as MySpace, of course, but Mr. Mirza says he believes it has the same kind of appeal as a social-networking site, with one added element: money. And not the kind of virtual money that players use in a virtual world such as Second Life or World of Warcraft, but real dollars. In a recent interview, Mr. Mirza said Weblo is a little like the game of Monopoly, but “without the board and with real money.” Players buy the right to “own” real-world properties such as the Taj Mahal, and then make money by either renting out space to other players, or from advertising that runs on their part of the site. They can also make money by selling their properties to others (Weblo takes a cut of each transaction).

Continue reading “Weblo wants to sell you the world”

Hey Larry and Sergey — it’s me, Canada

Dear Larry and Sergey:

Dudes — long time no talk. Man, you guys must be busy as heck, what with all the billions piling up like that, and the new airplane and whatnot. You know, I kind of picture you guys as being like Scrooge McDuck, climbing around in a giant swimming pool full of coins and bills. Anyhoo, I just wanted to ask you whether you remember that big country just to the north of you — the one with the snow and the Mounties and the maple syrup. You know, Canada?

Maybe you’ve heard of it. It’s pretty big. Okay, it doesn’t have a lot of people, but we’re right up there in the “best places to live” rankings and that kind of stuff. Part of NATO. The United Nations. You name it. So here’s what I’m wondering: How come Canadian companies can’t be ranked as “Qualified Companies” in the Google Advertising Professionals program? That’s what it says at Jennifer Slegg’s blog, and over at the Searchenginewatch forums.

According to Jennifer, your company can be a QC if you’re based in Somalia, Bosnia and Azerbaijan, but not if you’re based in good old Canada. So what do you guys have against the Great White North? We gave you Pamela Anderson and Mike Myers and Celine Dion for chrissake (okay, sorry about that last one). Even Paul Kedrosky, one of your finest venture capitalists, is secretly a Canadian. I will personally auotograph my copy of Bob and Doug Mackenzie’s 12 Days of Christmas in your honour if you do something about this situation immediately.

Your pal,

Mathew

Mike should lay off TechCrush — and Dead 2.0

Update 2:

Apparently Mike and TechCrush have come to an agreement — TechCrush has changed its logo and everyone is as friendly as could be. According to a post at TechCrush:

We had contact with Michael Arrington on a possible trademark infringement with Techcrunch, but we settled the matter quick and amicably. I got to know Michael as a decent and professional guy. Thanks Michael.

Mike has posted a chronology of events here. Still seems kind of pissed at Stowe Boyd.

Update:

Mike Arrington has responded in the comments section of this post, and says that he doesn’t want to go after TechCrush, but that his lawyer has suggested he might be in for trouble down the road if he doesn’t defend his trademark. As I mentioned in my response, trademark lawyers always say that kind of thing — it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to do it. I think maybe the disclaimer is the way to go. As for Dead 2.0, Mike says he loves it… he’s just not sure it’s the kind of thing an executive with a Web 2.0 startup should be doing. On that, he might just have a point. I still kind of hope it continues though.

Original post:

There’s a nasty mess brewing in the blogosphere, boys and girls — once again, the dark shadow of lawyers and trademark infringement is passing across our fair land (Ed: knock it off with the Lord of the Rings vibe already). It seems that TechCrush, a new site that promised to act as an antidote to some of the boosterism in the Web 2.0 sphere, has been smothered in its cradle by threats of legal action.

And who might those threats have come from? Well, the name of the site is a play on the name TechCrunch, which is the hub of Mike Arrington’s blog-publishing empire. Stowe Boyd apparently sparked the idea for the site when he said it would be nice if someone went back to take a look at some of the startups that Mike and his team write about so glowingly, to see if they made the grade or not. According to Stowe, Mike said that his lawyers were raising red flags about the trademark issue.

As Stowe notes, this has much the same flavour as the O’Reilly Web 2.0 trademark brouhaha, in which the publishing and conference firm sent a “cease and desist” letter to a conference that had the gall to use the term Web 2.0 in its name. In that case, however, O’Reilly was just concerned about brand confusion. What is Mike concerned about? A little criticism?

He certainly doesn’t seem too crazy about whoever is behind the blog known as Dead 2.0. Speaking of which, I think The Skeptic should remain anonymous — with or without Nik Cubrilovic’s help — if it allows him to keep taking shots at TechCrunch and other bubble-boosters. Food critics for newspapers get to remain anonymous so they don’t have to worry about the egos of restaurant owners while doing their reviews, so why not bloggers? My M-lister friend Kent Newsome has some thoughts here (and a great Neil Young reference in the title), and Shelley Powers has a good point too.

Citizendium — the clash of the experts

Clay “Power Law” Shirky, who I think is a pretty smart guy when it comes to the sociology of the Internet, has written a long post over at Corante about the idea of Citizendium — the “forked” version of Wikipedia that co-founder Larry Sanger has decided to create in order to try and fix what he sees as some of the problems inherent in the Wikipedia model.

One of the problems, as he sees it, is that experts are not given enough power in the current Wikipedia, and so Citizendium is designed to give them more. Experts — who will be defined by diplomas and other formal accreditation (although Sanger says there may be room to have non-accredited people elevated to expert status) — will be known as editors, and given more responsibility for topics they are expert on. In his post, Clay says that this is flawed because:

Experts are social facts รขโ‚ฌโ€ society typically recognizes experts through some process of credentialling, such as the granting of degrees, professional certifications, or institutional engagement. We have a sense of what it means that someone is a doctor, a judge, an architect, or a priest, but these facts are only facts because we agree they are.

Not surprisingly, such a statement — and the overall egalitarian tone of the rest of Shirky’s piece — draws the fire of Nick Carr, who says it is “fatuous stuff, which reveals, as if we needed to be reminded, that intellectuals make the very best anti-intellectuals.” Experts are experts because of their training, Nick says, whether they are architects or professors of romantic poetry. As Clay points out in the comments to his own post, however, he wasn’t so much talking about expertise as the perception of expertise, or authority in a particular field.

Clay has since posted Larry Sanger’s response to what he feels is a mis-characterization of what Citizendium is up to, or how editors will operate. But I think both men — and Nick Carr, for that matter — are avoiding what could be one of the biggest problems with the structure that Sanger is proposing, and that is experts arguing among themselves about who is the real expert. Anyone who has been around academics will know that they can be as venal and petty and childish as any Wikipedia troll, if not more so. Who’s going to referee that fight?

A note about my love of widgets

Just a quick administrative note to mention that I’ve been doing some housecleaning on the blog as far as widgets — and other plugins and add-ons, such as analytical tools — are concerned, because I’ve had a few comments from my faithful readership (thanks, Mom) about slow loading times, and the fact that occasionally the blog will just hang and not load at all.

I have a passion for widgets, and so I tend to load up on them whenever I come across one. If I’m reading a blog like Fred Wilson‘s or someone else who has a new widget or plugin — like Dead 2.0, which is where I came across the “democracy” poll plugin for WordPress — I have to download it and try it out. Unfortunately, though, some widgets are in beta or not hosted on robust servers, and so the blog will hang while it is waiting for a response.

I’ve removed the BlogMap widget and the Yahoo Finance widget for that reason, plus I got rid of the Swicki search I had because no one seemed to use it. I got rid of the GoodBlogs widget too, but then I put it back because I think it’s a worthwhile project so I’m going to cut them some slack when it comes to the response time from their servers.

I also axed the Google ads, in part because it was an experiment and in part because I only made about $2.50 in the past month or so (my friend Markus Frind of Plenty of Fish could probably tell me how to maximize that, but I’m really not that interested in the money at this point). I also trimmed the analytics that I had loading, like CrazyEgg — which is cool, but not really designed for a blog like mine — and Blogbeat, which was great but it has been bought by Feedburner and I’m waiting to see how that’s going to change the service. I still have Google Analytics and MyBlogLog and Statcounter.

If you notice the blog still loading slowly, please let me know — and if you come across any cool widgets, let me know about that too ๐Ÿ™‚