Iotum hooks up with AIM Phoneline

Ottawa-based Iotum, whose software allows phone networks to offer “presence”-based services, announced a partnership this morning with AOL’s voice-over-Internet service AIM Phoneline — details are here. Iotum CEO Alec Saunders, who blogs at, says that being part of AIM Phoneline will give Iotum access to the more than 43 million U.S. AIM users through AOL’s developer program. The Ottawa company worked with AOL on an API that will allow software developers and device manufacturers to easily build support for Iotum’s software into their applications.

In a email, Alec told me AOL will promote its partners’ applications and devices at an on online store users can access by clicking the “Shop” link in the AIM Phoneline dashboard. And next week at Jeff Pulver’s VON conference, AOL will be showcasing their new platform with their first three development partners, of whom Iotum is one. Interestingly enough, Alec also told me that the AIM Phoneline development team is located in Halifax. As he put it, “telecom seems to be part of our DNA in this country.” I wrote a piece for the Globe and Mail about Iotum earlier this year.

Iotum’s software is designed to function like a personal assistant, learning which calls go to which device and when, and which calls should be re-routed to voicemail (or the waste bucket). Iotum won a coveted “DEMO God” award at the last DEMO conference organized by industry guru Chris Shipley, and has signed deals with PhoneGnome — the VOIP device company — and others in the telecom sector. I wrote about Iotum and Tello (another presence-related venture) here. Congrats to Alec and Howard and the rest of the Iotum team.

Digg rejigging to stop the rigging

Over the past year or so — ever since it became one of the red-hot social networking sites, and co-founder Kevin Rose one of the new poster boys for Web 2.0, thanks in part to BusinesssWeek’s recent cover story — has been critcized for being “rigged,” in the sense that a small group of Diggers (Rose included) seem to have a disproportionately large effect on what gets voted to the front page of the site, and what doesn’t (more discussion here and here).

One of the latest pieces to bring this up is here, and a follow-up post about how the original post suspiciously (apparently) disappeared from Digg is here. I’m not sure whether it’s worth noting that the blog in question is hosted at infogami, which merged with Reddit, a competitor of Digg’s. Paul Graham, the angel investor who funded both, has also criticized Digg in the past.

These kinds of reports have had an air of believability about them, although it’s difficult to tell whether Digg was being deliberately rigged or “gamed” and whether some of it was just the nature of the beast (as discussed here). As Rose explained in one somewhat exasperated post, he Diggs stories his friends submit sometimes — big deal (I’m paraphrasing). In any case, some of the repeated criticism must have struck a chord, because the Digg founder explained today that the site is instituting some changes to try and prevent the kind of clique effect or gaming that has been alleged.

In a nutshell, the Digg algorithm is going to lower the “juice” given to stories that appear to be Dugg by a small group, and top Diggers will also be sorted by how diverse the things they have dugg happen to be. I think that’s a great idea — it will be interesting to see what kind of effect it has on Digg’s results.


At least one top Digger isn’t pleased with the rejigging: P9 is leaving. Jason Calacanis of the re-Diggified Netscape agrees with him, not surprisingly, and says the top Diggers should be rewarded (presumably with cash) rather than hamstrung by such manoeuvres. Mike Arrington says that Diggs that come from the top stories page should count for more than Diggs that come direct, which is an interesting idea.

Jay Adelson of Digg has also responded to the controversy in comments on some of the stories that have been submitted to Digg about the whole issue, in which he said:

The mistake we made was not being clearer that we were not associating the algorithm change with the top submitters. These guys are hard working, honest contributors to digg and are being unfairly scapegoated. Please stop with the targeted burying… Digg what you like, bury what you don’t. We’ll take care of the abusers.

Google News archive is halfway there

Like many others, I’ve been waiting for Google to update or enhance Google News for a long time now, and one of the things that has been missing is a sense of time. The announcement of an archive feature answers that issue, and is a fantastic resource for anyone who wants to look at news from before this week (Topix has a good one too, as Steve Rubel points out) — but it is still missing something that would make it a whole lot more useful.

If you poke around a bit inside the Google News archive, you will quickly find out what that missing something is, because you will be directed to half a dozen individual news websites — whether they are newspapers or news services such as Reuter’s Factiva — where you will be confronted by half a dozen different login and signup pages, which will then prompt you for passwords and credit card numbers and ask you whether you want to buy a five-article package or the deluxe 10-article package or whatever. You can almost feel your interest in whatever you were searching for expiring.

My hope is that Google will take this pay-wall search feature and incorporate it somehow with Google Checkout or some other payment feature, and allow searchers to click and pay for all the articles they want through a single portal, with a single login. To me, that would be the Holy Grail of searching — and I’m willing to bet that if it was organized properly, newspapers and even services such as Factiva would celebrate it as well. Why not have Google direct traffic to your archives, and then pay a small fee for the Googleplex to handle all the transactions, while you sit back and count the money?

Seems like a no-brainer to me.

Is Jason Calacanis a troll?

Amid all the commentary about Steve “Crocodile Hunter” Irwin that I came across on the Web over the past day or so, one blog post stood out: a post by Weblogs Inc. founder and current AOL employee Jason Calacanis, who is now running the Digg-style Netscape news portal. His commentary — which he cross-posted to — was entitled “The Discovery Channel killed Steve Irwin.” In it, he makes the argument that the network, in its shameless drive for ratings, helped encourage Steve Irwin to do ever more dangerous things, and therefore it is culpable in his death.

As more than one of Jason’s 81 commenters noted, this is a load of bollocks. For one thing, it’s obvious to anyone who has had a look at Irwin’s history that he would have done all the things he was filmed doing over the years whether he had a TV show or not, including dangling his child in front of a crocodile. And two, he died in a freak accident while filming a documentary for a kid’s show, and wasn’t even doing anything that dangerous (stingrays are not violent, and deaths are extremely rare).

The only conclusion I can come to is that Jason deliberately posted his commentary with the inflammatory headline in order to get comments, traffic and votes on Netscape. Isn’t that like insider trading or something?


Jason has responded in the comments, saying he isn’t interested in traffic and that he stands by his point that the Discovery Channel encourages dangerous activity. I should note that he’s not the only one who feels this way: Ray Mears, a TV documentary producer, told the Telegraph that Irwin “clearly took a lot of risks and television encouraged him to do that,” and that “The voyeurism we are seeing on television has a cost and it’s that cost Steve Irwin’s family are paying today.” Cultural figure Germaine Greer also criticized Irwin, saying in her Guardian column that “the animal world has finally taken its revenge on Irwin.”

Kiko finds a home in Toronto

Well, well, well — look who wound up buying Kiko, the online calendar-app-disguised-as-a-business that everyone was talking about not so long ago, when it put itself up for sale on eBay. It’s none other than my old pal Elliot Noss over at Tucows, the domain registrar and Blogware provider whose ultra-hip, factory-reno offices hosted a BarCamp Toronto event back in the spring. In a posting on the brand-new Tucows blog, he writes about why the company paid $258,100 for the Ajaxy calendar app.

In a nutshell, the reason seems to be a variation on the reason oil companies often give for buying other oil producers — cheaper to buy than dig for it yourself. As Elliot puts it (on the blog Gigaom says somewhat harshly was set up “to justify its purchase”):

So why didn’t we build it? Well the short answer is we have so many things to do in general and so many exciting things to do with email in particular that it was just not going to be possible until at least Q2 of next year and even then the plan didn’t really excite anyone around here.

Makes sense to me (Don Dodge thinks so too). And for what it’s worth, Elliot also says that the founders are to be congratulated for “determining that Kiko was a feature not a business,” (Richard White blogged about the sale here) and that while the existing users of Kiko were a nice bonus, Tucows wasn’t really interested in buying it for its user base, just for its existing app functionality, which Tucows will be rolling into its hosted email solution for domain operators. In fact, he says he’s glad the company didn’t have too many users, because it would have pushed up the price.

Ross Rader, who runs the Tucows retail services group, has more on the purchase here. Congratulations, guys (and girls).

Remember, you are an edge case

A post from my friend Paul Kedrosky reminded me of something I’ve been meaning to write about, and that is the need to do two apparently contradictory things simultaneously when looking at online behaviour — whether it’s reader behaviour (for newspapers and magazines) or user behaviour (for Web-based apps). Those two things are to pay close attention to what early adopters or “edge cases” do, and to discount what early adopters and edge cases do.

As Paul notes, the New York Times story about the penetration of the online role-playing game World of Warcraft shows that it has become a mass-market online game, and even it is only at 7 million users, a relative drop in the bucket. He also mentions new ComScore Media Metrix data which show that online classified traffic is up 47% year-over-year, and Craiglist traffic is up 99% year-over-year.

Paul says this is “a worthwhile reminder, if needed, that you can judge nothing from noisy early adopters. You would have dismissed these categories, the latter one in particular, as old and uninteresting, if you watched early adopter behavior.” And he is right (as always), in the sense that for many of us, those two developments are old news — but that doesn’t mean they aren’t still important, and in fact growing in importance as they penetrate the mainstream. So it doesn’t pay to become too enamoured with the edge case crowd.

At the same time, however, I think it’s important to pay attention to early adopters for signs of what might be important later — and I would throw Web 2.0-type social apps into that category. In a similar sense, Don Dodge looks at his use of online media as opposed to newspapers and magazines, and whether he is typical or not. I would argue that Don may not be typical now, but he is likely to become increasingly typical in the future, and if the media discount edge cases like him, they will soon find that the boat has sailed without them — and the same goes for companies of all kinds when it comes to online behaviour.

Good luck with that manifesto, Tom

There’s been lots of discussion pro and con about the recent commentary in Editor & Publisher by Tom Mohr, a former executive with Knight-Ridder (which was on the auction block not too long ago), an opinion piece he terms a “manifesto” for the future of newspapers online. Mr. Mohr (who Matt Marshall says is now an advisor to Charles River Ventures) says in his opening paragraph: “Newspapers must win online, or face a future of painful contraction.”

As blogger Ethan Kaplan of blackrimglasses notes, this statement isn’t exactly a surprise to anyone who has been following the newspaper business for awhile (Ethan posted his own manifesto of sorts, which I think has a lot of merit, last year). Still, it is worth echoing the point, if only to try and alert the media frogs to the rapidly boiling pot of water they are currently sitting in (Don Dodge has some thoughts about newspapers, magazines and the online future here).

I have no issue with Mr. Mohr’s general take on things, or with his statement that “newspapers’ social purpose — the building of civil society in cities and towns across America through the daily output of good journalism — is worth fighting for.” And I think most of his central points hold, although I would argue that local might just be defensible, if done properly (admittedly a big “if”). Where I part company with him is in his proposed solution, a kind of Switzerland Inc. partnership of major newspapers to share an online platform/strategy.

He describes it thus:

Producer tools, ad positions, measurement tools and metrics, ad serving infrastructures and classified marketplace solutions would all be standardized. There would be one ad network for national advertising. And business development, shared content management and channel services in channels like travel, business and technology would all be centralized.

Underneath the hood, the platforms would be built on a common, massively scaleable infrastructure to allow efficient addition of markets. A Switzerland Inc. would manage both the technology and the network, with all the inherent relationships involved.

I can see the appeal in such a strategy — share the platform and/or a common standard for ads, etc., and thereby make it easier for advertisers to make online buys. I just don’t think it will work. Newspapers can’t even agree on how to measure actual physical newspaper circulation and other easily quantifiable metrics. How could they possibly agree on online standards and/or measurement? I don’t see it happening in my lifetime. My friend Stowe Boyd has some thoughts on the manifesto too.


Tom has a response to some of the criticisms (including mine) here, although as Jay Small notes, there are no links to either the original piece or any of the responses. Bad Web 2.0, Tom.

Going to school in Second Life

Sure, Second Life has its weird side — what with spiky-haired avatars wielding swords in cellphone stores and whatnot — but it has a serious side too. There are conferences, for example, held by prestigious groups such as the Berkman Center for the Internet and Society at Harvard. And increasingly, educators are using it as a tool to assist them in reaching new audiences and teaching in new ways (pdf link).

In a recent post, Rebecca McKinnon — a research fellow at the Berkman Center and former TV journalist who co-founded Global Voices Online — mentioned that she has gotten involved in Second Life in order to take part in an educational exercise set up by Charles Nesson, founder of the Berkman Center : a class called Law in the Court of Public Opinion. Rebecca has some interesting thoughts about how Second Life reflects some of the world’s existing prejudices, despite the fact that there are very few boundaries the way there are in RL (real life).


Henry Jenkins, the director of the comparative media program at MIT, has a (rather lengthy) excerpt from the thesis written by one of his students, Ilya Vedrashko, which is well worth reading. It’s about the evolution of the relationship between advertising and games, including Second Life. The complete thesis is available in PDF format from Mr. Vedrashko’s website here.

What’s in Pandora’s Web 2.0 box?

Like many other music lovers who are also Web-heads, I’ve tried — and like — Pandora, the “collaborative filter” for music that was profiled in this past weekend’s New York Times, although I also quite like, which some believe is a better service for finding new music. But the thing that struck me about the NYT piece on Pandora wasn’t anything about the service itself, or even the story really. It covered the usual info about how thousands of songs have been categorized according to their music “DNA.”

It’s quite a cool product (Cynthia Brumfield at IPDemocracy writes about it here and O’Reilly has more info here). But what really struck me was the picture that ran with it:

Two rows of people, crammed in fairly tightly, each sitting in front of a monitor and keyboard, with headphones on. Is it just me, or does this photo look a bit like a digital sweatshop? I know the lede of the story — all about cool bass player Seth Ford-Young (he’s played with Tom Waits!) and how he is one of the “New Tastemakers” — makes it sound as hip as anything, but to me it looks like a call center in Mumbai somewhere, except everyone is listening to music instead of providing tech support for Dell or whatever.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the service is great, and I’m sure listening to music is better than doing call-center work, but damn — is that Web 2.0? We need to get better collaborative filters, so those poor people can go outside.