MySpace overdoing the hubris a bit?

Hey, MySpace is great and everything — although it got its start as a spam and malware-pusher, according to Trent Lepinski’s recent opus — and we all know that it is the largest Internet site by far (although there’s some doubt about that too) and that it plans to revolutionize the music business and likely many other things as well. But to say that the company can do just about anything that any Web 2.0 company does, because they all piggyback on MySpace? That’s a bit rich.

And yet, according to Marshall Kirkpatrick over at TechCrunch, that’s exactly what MySpace thinks — or at least what News Corp.’s chief operating officer Peter Chernin thinks. He told investors and analysts at a Merrill Lynch conference that

If you look at virtually any Web 2.0 application, whether its YouTube, whether it’s Flickr, whether it’s Photobucket or any of the next-generation Web applications, almost all of them are really driven off the back of MySpace. [snip] Given that most of their traffic comes from us, if we build adequate if not superior competitors, I think we ought to be able to match them if not exceed them.

You go, Peter. And then you can get into ad-driven search and put old Google out of business too.


My friend Rick Segal, a Canadian VC, congratulates Mr. Chernin on becoming the new head of AOL, and VC Fred Wilson has some thoughts along the same lines, but says MySpace can choose either the open or the closed path. If you want some high-level intellectualizing on that particular point, you can (as always) check out Nick Carr, and my friend Scott Karp of Publishing 2.0 has some worthwhile thoughts on the issue of control versus openness. Om Malik has posted on the MySpace threat as well — a post he apparently published at 3 a.m. Om, buddy… that’s not healthy, dude. 🙂 My friends and fellow mesh-ites Mark Evans and Rob Hyndman have also weighed in.

Identity of Lonelygirl15 revealed


Valleywag has more links on Jessica “lonelygirl15” Rose (is that her “real” real name I wonder?), including a link to a photo montage of her and some friends goofing around and a video clip. Bloggers Blog has a link to her resume, which includes a KFC spot, and there’s a whole pile of photos here.

Update 2:

Virginia Heffernan has an excellent in-depth piece on how the whole affair evolved. If nothing else, lonelygirl15 is an interesting look at how resourceful Web-heads can track down just about anything, no matter how careful those planning it have been. And Tom Foremski explains how his son Matt broke the story. The L.A. Times also has an in-depth look, including an interview with the guys behind the story.

Update 3:

Associated Press got an interview with Jessica, who says she answered a classified ad on (where else) Craigslist, and had never been to YouTube or seen a video-blog before she started the project. She says all the attention has been overwhelming.

Original post:

Kudos to Tom Foremski of Silicon Valley Watcher and his brother son Matt for tracking down the identity of the girl behind the “lonelygirl15” videos on YouTube. According to photos that Tom has posted on his blog, the allegedly 16-year-old known as “Bree” with the ultra-religious parents is actually (surprise!) an aspiring actress named Jessica Rose, who is 19 years old and recently moved to Los Angeles from New Zealand to find work. The pictures were apparently found thanks to Google’s cache (ironically, her catchphrase on her MySpace page is “I wish you weren’t a liar”).

If you’re like me (and I know I am), you’ve watched the “lonelygirl15” saga with a mixture of fascination and shame. Fascination at how the magic of YouTube and a couple of short video clips has propelled Bree to the forefront not just of the blogosphere but of the regular media as well, with New York Times writer Virginia Heffernan outdoing even yours truly with her daily updates. And a little bit of shame at how obsessed I have been with something so, well… lame. I mean, all Bree did was sit in her room and talk about her boyfriend and her parents (okay, there was the swimming video, but come on).

Maybe it’s because I have teenagers, and was hoping for a glimpse at what makes them tick (Note: still don’t have a clue). To some extent I think it was an attempt to understand why these short video clips with so little in them — not even a skateboard trick or a cute kitten climbing out of a Kleenex box — got tens of thousands of views in a single day. And then I think it became a mystery: was she fake or wasn’t she?

And now, unfortunately, the mystery is gone. But as a friend mentioned to me, the great thing about the Internet is that something even better (or worse, depending on how you look at it) is just around the corner 🙂

Wisdom of crowds — except at work?

James Surowiecki has written about The Wisdom of Crowds, and many Web 2.0 services such as Wikipedia are based on the idea of “crowdsourcing,” as Wired magazine put it — aggregating contributions from many people to produce some kind of definitive result. But does that kind of thing work in the enterprise? J.P. Rangaswami, a former economist and financial journalist who blogs at Confused of Calcutta, has a great post in response to a recent opinion piece in Inc. magazine that argues it does not.

The piece by David Freedman has the ring of Nick “The Prophet of Web 2.0 Doom” Carr about it, with comments such as “the effectiveness of groups, teamwork, collaboration, and consensus is largely a myth” and “Our bias toward groups is counterproductive. And the technology of ubiquitous connectedness is making the problem worse.” A cheerful guy, this David Freedman. He goes on to cite numerous studies that find “groupthink” is a serious problem in corporations, because “groups often breed a false confidence that leads to unsound decisions none of the individuals in the group would have made on their own.”

It’s worth noting that much of what Freedman is talking about when it comes to group decisions — and by extension decisions that are made by collaborative tools such as email, online conference tools, etc. — is a problem because of inter-company dynamics such as being afraid that your boss might find out that you said his idea was the stupidest thing you’ve ever heard. To the extent that Web 2.0 apps help take advantage of “anonymous” groups, as it were, this isn’t a problem.

In any case, I won’t summarize all of Freedman’s arguments here. It’s worth reading them — and comments such as “Simply put, when you make it easy for everyone to put in his two cents, with little filtering or accountability, the scum tends to rise to the top.” And it’s worth reading what Rangaswami says in response.

While Freedman dismisses virtually all collaborative software as being just another producer of noise, when what is needed are strong individuals making decisions alone (nice management model, Dave — were you in the army by any chance?) Rangaswami makes the argument for informed consensus, which Web 2.0-style tools can help to bring about.

Trying to launder MySpace history?

Valleywag is mostly known as a gossip site that specializes in poking fun at Silicon Valley types, but a recent post took a different tack: it’s a condensed version of a story about the beginnings of MySpace, written by a freelance journalist named Trent Lepinski, who says the publication that commissioned the story dropped it after pressure from News Corp. According to the piece:

Instead of getting comments or an interview from News Corp., they began harassing my employer. Due to groundless legal implications, the article I had written was no longer to be published. However, I now own the rights to my work and after weeks of looking for support and contemplating the situation I have decided to publish the article in its entirety on Valleywag.

The article is said to be forthcoming, but for now there are a series of bullet points — with headlines such as “MySpace is not a viral success” and “MySpace is Spam 2.0.” According to Trent, who is described as a journalism student (and has a website/blog here), Tom Anderson didn’t create MySpace and co-founder Chris DeWolfe has a long history of being associated with spam and malware providers. (Valleywag has written about Trent’s expose before here, and Trent has some background on MySpace at his site here and here).

Is any of this true? From what I have read about the history of MySpace, which emerged from a company called eUniverse, most of what Trent writes about is likely true to some extent (you can find descriptions of eUniverse’s software if you look at certain online spam and malware catalogues). Should it matter that MySpace used its gigantic spam mailing list to help try and turn the new site into a “viral” success?

In the comments on the Valleywag piece, Nick Denton poo-poohs the entire thing, saying:

This article is about as naive as they get… So what if eUniverse had a directory of email addresses? There had to be some value in the service, and viral spread, if it was to attract the number of users it has… Please, enough of the manufactured outrage.

Or maybe Nick is just mad that Valleywag is jumping all over his Gawker action 🙂 If you’re looking for what appears to be a relatively fair appraisal of MySpace’s creation and an analysis of how it triumphed over Friendster, Startup Review has a pretty good take on it.


The full version of Trent’s opus is up now at Valleywag — and comes with a preamble that pokes fun at Gawker Media’s Nick Denton, who (as Valleywag’s Nick Douglas points out in my comment section) owns Valleywag.

Paying the users — an ongoing saga


Kevin Rose talked at a conference about a bunch of things, including the “me too-ism” of Web 2.0 companies (he doesn’t want to add tags just because everyone else has them) and the fact that he doesn’t like the idea of paying Diggers. He said: “It’s important to us there’s no outside motivations for submitting content to the site. We don’t want to discourage the people who aren’t getting paid from submitting quality content.” Wired quotes him saying much the same thing here: “It’s very important to us that there are no outside motivations for posting stories to Digg. When something makes it to the front page, the only motivation should be that the story was interesting to somebody, not that they were paid to do it.”

Original post:

Weblogs Inc. founder and current Netscape supremo Jason Calacanis (who I most recently tangled with on this post about Steve Irwin), has posted a memo that he sent out to staff of the Digg-ified site recently, updating them on the performance of Netscape since Jason tried to hire away the top submitters from Digg, Newsvine, Reddit and Slashdot (which I wrote about here).

Needless to say, things seem to be going swimmingly. Jason says that “votes and stories submitted broke records every 2-3 days over the last two weeks,” although there’s no mention of what those records are, “and Netscape’s web pages are growing again.” Not only that, but according to Mr. Calacanis the tide has turned against the critics of his move to pay submitters of links, and now the consensus is that he was completely right and the “top 1% of these community members deserve to get compensated for their time.”

Some folks claim it’s desperate to have to pay the 1%. That’s pure *spin* by people who don’t want to pay other people for their hard work. These folks are the life-blood of these systems and paying them isn’t desperate–it’s smart. Also, paying them does not stop other folks from want to get involved from getting involved.

I’ll leave questions of spin to the spin-meister. I’m not convinced that the issue of paying submitters for their work is quite settled yet. As I wrote when Jason jumped up to confront Yochai Benkler about his theories on social networks, I think there are a lot of questions yet unanswered (Marshall Kirkpatrick has a nice overview of the issues at TechCrunch).

Does paying some submitters change the nature of what the rest do, in the sense that it becomes all about making money — and if so, does that reduce the utility of or the value of the links submitted? I think the jury is still out on that one, regardless of the fan letter that Jason links to at the end.

HP needs to act quickly

Why is Hewlett-Packard taking so long to get rid of board chair Patricia Dunn? Does she have incriminating information about other board members, or a secret underground bunker where she is holding their loved ones for ransom? I would have thought that HP would want to get this matter behind them as quickly as possible, but it seems that they are determined to drag it out. Instead of coming to some kind of conclusion on Friday, or even Sunday, they put it off until today (with no reasons given), and there is no guarantee that there will be any kind of resolution today either.

It appears that Dunn is trying to argue she didn’t know that the investigators she hired — apparently without the rest of the board’s knowledge — were using “pretexting” and other fraudulent means to gain access to the phone records not just of HP board members, but of journalists as well. She also appears to be trying to make dissident board member Tom Perkins out to be part of the plot, according to a piece in the San Jose Merc, which my friend Rob Hyndman describes as the “cookie” jar approach.

This is sounding more and more like HP’s version of the Watergate break-ins, with Dunn playing the role of Richard Nixon. All we need is some audio tape of her talking with the “plumbers” to be released, with long gaps at crucial points in the discussion. Matt Marshall at VentureBeat has more details.

As far as HP is concerned, whether Ms. Dunn knew any of these details is irrelevant. She was in charge of a secret and quasi-legal investigation into the activities of her fellow board members, and that justifies her termination — assuming HP is serious when it says that “Directors should have the highest professional and personal ethics and values, consistent with HP’s longstanding values and standards.” And the sooner the company does it, the better off it will be.


Incidentally, what everyone seems happy to refer to now as “pretexting” has been around forever, and back in the early days of hacking and phone “phreaking” used to be called “social engineering.” I think pretexting sounds like when you send someone an SMS message on their phone to let them know you’re going to call them.

Facebook does damage control

Whoever Facebook got hold of to try and put out the fire they started with their new “stalker-style” RSS features has done a pretty good job, judging from the mea culpa that co-founder Mark Zuckerberg wrote on the Facebook blog. It had a considerably different tone to it than the one he wrote when the fuss first erupted, which was kind of condescending and pretty much belittled the privacy concerns of the social network’s users.

I though my friend Rick Segal the Canadian VC had a pretty good take on things right off the top, in his response to Zuckerberg’s initial post. Using the post as an example for other startups, Rick makes this point:

He starts off with the title: Calm down. Breathe. We Hear You. Hmm.. I’m at 7 out of 10 on the arrogance scale but I withhold the points award because this might be a fun, oops, aw shucks, sorree, type posting.

The first paragraph, the most important paragraph, falls flat on it’s face. Consider this sentence:

“We think they are great products, but we know that many of you are not immediate fans, and have found them overwhelming and cluttered. Other people are concerned that non-friends can see too much about them.”

Given that about 1000% of the concerns were all about privacy, all about stalking, etc, this type of dismissive, we like it lead off, with yeah some people are bitching, is not good.

Did you notice the same thing I noticed about Rick’s post? Yes, that’s right — in the phrase “flat on its face” the word “its” doesn’t take an apostrophe because it isn’t a contraction. (Just kidding Rick). But seriously, I think Rick makes a good point, which is “Lesson: Acknowledge and agree with the big concern. In this case, Privacy is a top priority/concern should have been the first words written.” Here’s his advice for startups if something like that happens to them:

When 200,000 people start bitching and complaing, you swan dive onto your sword. Don’t even attempt to rationalize, simply say, oops, here’s what we heard and what we are immediately doing about it, not hey dorks, learn how to use the privacy settings and keep the cards -n- letters coming. That’s what I (and others) read into Mark’s blog entry.

Rick is right, and obviously someone got through to the nice folks at Facebook and told them that, so Mark took another crack at his blog post — and is getting some props from users for being so up front. That’s the kind of response you want. And you don’t get all that many chances before people turn their back on you and go somewhere else.

The truth about lonelygirl15?

Although there have been several hints and rumours, which I have written about here and here — and which Virginia Heffernan at the New York Times and others at the L.A. Times, the Times of London and elsewhere have written about — the truth about who is behind the “lonelygirl15” videos on YouTube has remained elusive.

Is Bree just a regular teenager with religious parents who spends a lot of time in her room and fights with her boyfriend from time to time? Or is it a calculated viral marketing effort for a movie? The latest twist is a message purported to be from the creators of the lonelygirl15 phenomenon, who say that they are just filmmakers and artists who are trying to get people involved in their art.

But the letter — excerpted here at Danah Boyd’s blog Zephoria — is vague and generally short on details, and the website it was originally posted at appears to be down at the moment. All I get is a database error.

Here’s part of the letter:

Right now, the biggest mystery of Lonelygirl15 is “who is she?” We think this is an oversimplification. Lonelygirl15 is a reflection of everyone. She is no more real or fictitious than the portions of our personalities that we choose to show (or hide) when we interact with the people around us. Regardless, there are deeper mysteries buried within the plot, dialogue, and background of the Lonelygirl15 videos, and many of our tireless and dedicated fans have unearthed some of these.

Plenty of comment on the letter at lonelygirl forums, including this one. Some are disappointed that the mystery is over, some don’t believe it. As usual, Virginia Heffernan has the scoop (what the heck is she going to write about on her blog if the mystery is over?) And BusinessWeek media writer Jon Fine, who also got sucked into the lonelygirl15 vortex, says “It’s over, thank God.”

Wired wiki a qualified success

I figured since I kind of dumped on the wiki story that Wired turned into a wiki, I should follow up by looking at what actually came out of the event now that it’s over and the story has run on Wired News. I would have to say that (surprise!) I still think pretty much what I did when I posted that last item on the idea, which is that it was an interesting experiment and produced some things of value, but that the story itself did not really become that much better as a result.

I’m encouraged by the fact that the author Ryan Singel came to much the same conclusion, and it sounds like Rex Hammock did too. Ross Mayfield, who was involved on the part of socialtext, says it was a success but came close to blowing up.

Ross notes that there were some valuable things that occurred, and I would agree, including:

One person took it upon themselves to interview an expert at Harvard after coordinating with Ryan and contributed a quote that persisted. Someone suggested an expert to Ryan on the Comments page, but he didn’t have time to interview her. She got word of the experiment and contributed persistent edits herself.

I’m going to say it again: Those kinds of things, and the vast majority of the links and commentary that were contributed, are incredibly worthwhile, and can add a lot to a story — but they don’t necessarily have to all be in the story. That kind of reader contribution makes perfect sense as an adjunct to a story, a kind of community add-on that enhances and takes off from the story and builds on it. That’s where I see wikis and other social tools coming into play.

Fred vs. Jason on YouTube’s value

Now things are starting to get interesting — it looks like we’ve got ourselves a bet on when and how YouTube gets TV networks to play ball. Check the comments on Jason Calacanis’s blog, where he takes issue with Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures over YouTube’s ability to “monetize” their traffic (from the Latin for “turn into stock options”). Fred says that he expects a network to license their content for distribution on YouTube “and take a guaranteed CPM or a rev share (maybe both).” And here’s the kicker:

I’ll bet you a sushi dinner of the winners choice in NY or LA that it happens in the next 12 months.

Game on, as we say up north in the world of road-hockey. For what it’s worth, I think Jason makes some good points (although I would deny that if called to testify in court), since they are pretty much the same points I made in my comment on Fred’s post. Namely: the CPM Fred uses is likely too high, and so is the proportion of YouTube content that is monetizeable — although I think the one of the cat in the Kleenex box or whatever is hilarious too, don’t get me wrong, and I’m a huge lonelygirl15 fan too, as anyone who reads this blog (yes, I mean you, mom) knows by now.

So who’s right — Jason or Fred? A sushi dinner is riding on the outcome of this historic match-up. Film at 11.