The honeymoon seems to be over, Matt

Matt Marshall over at VentureBeat (formerly Silicon Beat) is taking some lumps for a recent guest-blog post that was extremely critical of the online part-planning site Evite, because the author, Auren Hoffman, is an investor in a competing site known as Socializr — a fact that isn’t disclosed until almost the end of the piece, in a kind of offhand way. My friend Paul Kedrosky has taken a shot at Matt, as have others.

As Paul notes, this is a risk that someone like Matt takes by letting others write pieces on a site like VentureBeat. Is Evite a glacially-slow site that could use a good update? Sure. But that’s not the point. The fact that Auren’s criticisms are all totally valid becomes irrelevant as soon as we discover that he is both an investor in a competitor and a friend of the founder.

Should Matt have run the piece from Auren at all? Plenty of commenters on his site seem to believe he shouldn’t have, although Matt says he believed it was a worthwhile commentary, and one he agrees with. I think it’s questionable, but if he is going to run that kind of thing I would recommend a disclaimer at the top, so that readers go into it knowing what they are getting. Andrew Fife has some thoughts here.

Are podcasts even worse than vlogs?

There was a bit of a kerfuffle recently (a kerfuffle is a little smaller than a brouhaha) over whether v-logging or video blogging is worth it or not. I wrote about it here after Alec Saunders brought it up, and everyone from Jeff Pulver to Robert Scoble has weighed in on it over the past week or so. Lots of discussion about whether video is the right way to get certain things across, is it too much bother, etc.

Now we have noted VC blogger Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures announcing that he has given up podcasting. Why? Fred says that basically it was too much trouble to put together a show, with all the equipment and getting guests and editing it down, and so on. He also says something similar to what I think Alec and I and others were saying about vlogs, which is that a big audio file is not necessarily the best way to get information across. My friend Stowe Boyd concurs.

That’s not to say it isn’t worth doing for other reasons — a podcast like This Week in Tech with Leo Laporte is fun to listen to for the entertainment value, especially when someone completely deranged like John C. Dvorak is on. But to me it’s more like a talk show than something you do because it has a huge amount of value to it. So it’s fun to listen to on the train or while you’re running, but it’s not something I would consider a must have.

I know my friend Mark Evans has been doing a podcast with his former colleague from the National Post, Kevin Restivo, and I know that podcasting consultant Leesa Barnes is probably going to call me crazy, but most of the time I just don’t see the point of some of the podcasts that are out there. Of course, I should probably add that I don’t see the point of many of the blogs that are out there either 🙂

Yahoo! — more music without DRM

The folks at Disney seem to be jumping all over the digital media bandwagon lately, what with the deal to sell movies through Apple’s new movie-download service (the only studio to sign up with Apple so far), and now a deal with Yahoo to sell an entire album from a Disney artist — Jesse McCartney — in pure, unrestricted, uncrapped-up with DRM format. Maybe somebody slipped something into their coffee over there at The House That Mickey Built.

I’m sure Steve Jobs, who just joined Disney’s board after they acquired Pixar, would rather they stuck with iTunes and only iTunes, but it’s nice to see record companies trying something different. A representative from Disney-owned Hollywood Records told Variety magazine:

We’re trying to be realistic. Jesse’s single is already online and we haven’t put it out. Piracy happens regardless of what we do. So we’re going to see how Jesse’s album goes (as an MP3) and then decide on others going forward.

It will be interesting to see how sales of the album do, both of Yahoo’s DRM-free version and the DRM-rich iTunes version — not to mention the old-fashioned shiny metal disc version. A few years ago, the band Wilco streamed its entire Yankee Hotel Foxtrot album for free on its Web site, and wound up having a best-selling album on their hands.

MySpace worth more than NY Times?

On his recent radio show, former money manager and current investment pit-bull and part-time sideshow freak (and friend of Paul Kedrosky’s) Jim Cramer said that old media companies will never be as successful as new ones because they keep getting dragged down by the losses of their legacy assets like newspapers, and that on the open market, something like MySpace would be worth more than the New York Times. Discuss.

It’s true — we’ll always have Paris

Let me just say from the outset that I hate Paris Hilton and everything she stands for. I don’t just hate the fact that she’s shallow and has no good reason for being famous (apart from being from a well-known family, who aren’t nearly as rich as everyone thinks they are). And not just because of that stupid TV show either. I hate lots of other things, including her weird nose and that face she makes with her eyelids half shut that makes her look like someone with brain damage.

Hate or not, however — and it’s possible that many people love to hate her, just as they love to hate Jessica Simpson and lots of other airhead “celebrities” — the blogger known as Chartreuse hits the nail on the head with his latest post about why Paris Hilton is famous, and what marketers can learn from her, a post entitled “Why Paris Hilton Is Famous (or Understanding Value In A Post-Madonna World).” As Chartreuse puts it, Madonna was marketing 1.0 and Paris is marketing 2.0.

paris

What’s his point? That Paris, having gotten attention with her ridiculous sex video — which was about as erotic as watching paint dry — used that attention to surreptitiously market anyone and anything that she was associated with or might want to be associated with, from fashion designers to dog food companies. Even in her comments about being arrested for DUI, she mentioned that she wanted to stop for an In-n-Out burger.

As Chartreuse notes, attention is the currency of Web 2.0, and Paris has gained more by deflecting it at the same time as she attracts it. In effect, he says, she is not a product but a *platform.* That, as one commenter says, is f***ing brilliant (check out the comment from Satan too). Chartreuse, I think it’s time to come out of beta.

From blogging to lunch with the CEO

My tech-writing colleague from the National Post, Mark Evans, has an interesting Q&A on his Canadian Web 2.0 site Maple Leaf 2.0 with Mike Pegg — the guy behind a blog called Google Maps Mania. Mike says he started the blog because he has always loved maps, and so when Google Maps came along he wanted to find out everything there was to know about it and all the various mashups people were doing (like my favourite — beerhunter.ca).

From there, he started getting invited to speak at conferences, and met some of the Google Maps team, and then wound up being invited to have lunch with Google CEO Eric Schmidt — who gave him a few tips on how to make the blog better. From blogging to lunch with the chief executive officer of one of the world’s largest technology companies. That’s quite a ride.

Belgium needs to grab a clue

Just when I thought the whole “Google News is stealing our content” furore had finally gone away, here comes Belgium. Having fought tooth and nail to not have their material indexed or displayed by Google’s news aggregator, the tiny country — whose major contribution to global culture appears to be Belgian waffles — has finally been successful in its efforts, and will no longer be forced to have Google redirecting traffic to its news sites for free. Another victory for idiocy.

“We are asking for Google to pay and seek our authorisation to use our content … Google sells advertising and makes money on our content,” said Copiepress president Margaret Boribon, conspicuously ignoring the fact that Google doesn’t sells advertising on the Google News site, and only uses snippets of articles as allowed under most “fair use” provisions of copyright law.

Well done, Belgium. Now you can join that small group of morons currently dominated by Agence France-Presse, which successfully had itself (and all of its member papers) removed from one of the world’s most popular news search engines.

Update:

Google appears to have taken the judge’s order literally, and removed Belgian newspapers not just from the Google News index, but from the entire Google index period. That’ll show ’em.

Who’s right — Mark Cuban or Warner?

Update:

Mark Cuban says that the Warner deal proves nothing, since we don’t know any of the details, and that it reminds him of when Bertelsmann AG did a deal with Napster not long before the company had to close its doors and file for bankruptcy. You gotta give Mark credit — he sticks to his guns 🙂

Original post

In case you needed any further confirmation that the state of online media is in turmoil, there’s a great example today with the news that Warner Music is working with YouTube to license its music to the massively popular video-sharing site. That’s one end of the spectrum of reaction to what’s happening with media. Then there was Universal Music rattling the sabres at a recent conference, and saying that YouTube was stealing from the label and owed them millions of dollars. That’s the other end of the spectrum.

It’s ironic (or at least a funny coincidence) that just as the Warner deal emerges, former online-media mogul and billionaire sports-team owner Mark Cuban writes a blog post about the decline of YouTube, and how the site is doomed because — among other things — it uses a lot of bandwidth and relies on copyrighted material for a lot of its traffic. As far as Mark is concerned, YouTube is just like Napster and will be hit with the same lawsuits, and likely be found guilty of inciting people to breach copyright, just like Grokster and Kazaa were.

I happen to think that the principle of “fair use” still covers things like using a Talking Heads song as the soundtrack for your kid’s bar mitzvah or whatever, but IANAL (that’s geek shorthand for “I am not a lawyer”). However, Mark also argues that there’s no need for YouTube because the major labels — and by extension the TV networks — can do their own deals and bypass YouTube, and that’s where I think he is most wrong. Sure they could, and they likely will. But why not use the massive traffic and name recognition that YouTube has going for it?

They would be stupid not to, just as the record labels were stupid not to find some way of working with Napster instead of beating it into the ground with lawsuits. Warner Music’s deal may have a lot of question marks still, but it is taking the path of least resistance, while Universal is stuck in the dark ages. Mark Evans has some thoughts too. Oh yes, and Jason Calacanis agrees with Mark Cuban, but he is also wrong. Rafat at PaidContent says that the labels may take a stake in YouTube, and ArsTechnica says that Warner has had a conversion on the road to Damascus, just like Paul.

Update:

Mark Cuban says that the Warner deal proves nothing, since we don’t know any of the details, and that it reminds him of when Bertelsmann AG did a deal with Napster not long before the company had to close its doors and file for bankruptcy. You gotta give Mark credit — he sticks to his guns 🙂

Keyword searches as economic indicator

Everybody loves to look at the search terms that people type into Google and other search engines. I’m convinced that’s half the reason people wanted to write about the debacle that erupted when America Online released all those search histories, and it’s why people like to look at Google Trends and Technorati’s Buzz and all those other trackers (if only we could get a look at that giant screen in the Googleplex that scrolls real-time search requests all day long).

Markus Frind, the founder and sole proprietor of the massively successful online dating site Plenty of Fish, has an interesting theory in one of his recent posts. The post is mostly about how Markus’s site ranks compared to other international dating sites (answer: number three), but the interesting part for me was right at the end, where Markus says that searches for info on new homes correlates extremely well with real economic data such as housing starts. His theory:

There will come a time when traders, banks etc pay more attention to keyword search data then government housing stats and other economic reports that are months out of date. I predict in the next 5 years search data such as trends in search terms like “buy new home” will have major impact and move markets and reports on housing starts will do nothing.

Is Markus out to lunch? I’m not so sure. He might be overstating the case, but I think he is on the right track, and that search data will become (is becoming) an ever more important indicator of consumer behaviour, or potential behaviour. In an interesting coincidence, my friend Paul Kedrosky posted something recently on what Google searches — categorized by region — might indicate about housing bubbles (or fears of same) in the offing.

Sanger sticks a fork in Wikipedia

Getting too deeply into the personalities behind the formation of Wikipedia.org is not wise — much like delving into the history behind the development of RSS or podcasting (see Wikipedia entries on either for more detail, and if you’re a real glutton for punishment try reading the changelogs) — but suffice it to say that Larry Sanger played a key role in the development of the “open source” encyclopedia, along with the much more famous Jimmy Wales.

In any case, Mr. Sanger announced recently that he has decided to create his own version of Wikipedia, which he calls Citizendium. In open-source software terms, this is known as a “fork,” which is what happens when one group working on a project decides they can’t work with another group. According to Mr. Sanger, the Citizendium will begin with the complete text of what is already in Wikipedia, and then build on it.

The explicit use of experts as “editors” (non-experts are to be known as “authors”) is one of the key differences between Citizendium and Wikipedia, although how someone qualifies as an expert is not clear (that’s a problem with Jason’s idea too). Is a degree in that subject enough, or does it have to be a certain type of degree from a certain calibre of institution? Another key difference is that Citizendium will require the use of real names and email addresses, and there will be enforcers known as “constables” who can remove articles or suspend accounts.

Is any of this going to work, and if so will it make what results better or more reliable than Wikipedia? That remains to be seen. While Mr. Sanger’s proposal sounds interesting, I wonder when I read sentences like this one: “In time, an effective and fair “legal” system will be established.” How would the United States would have turned out if the Constitution had contained nothing but that single sentence under the discussion of the new republic’s legal system? Marshall Kirkpatrick has a fairly skeptical take on the new venture at TechCrunch.

I have to say I’m a little surprised that Nick “Wikipedia is dead” Carr hasn’t devoted more space to this new development. While he has posted about it, there is remarkably little about how this proves Wikipedia is flawed or that the entire community-driven knowledge model is a load of bollocks etc., etc. There’s some discussion at Slashdot (with Sanger taking part) and Nick has helpfully linked to the original email thread in which Sanger proposed turning what was then called Nupedia into a wiki back in 2001.