Markus Frind, 21st-century superhero

(cross-posted from my Globe and Mail blog)

Vancouver resident Markus Frind is a bit of a 21st-century superhero. After all, he helped to catch a suspected murderer who was featured on the TV show America’s Most Wanted. But instead of using superhuman strength or the ability to see through solid metal, Markus used his abilities as a programmer and Webmaster who runs one of the world’s most popular dating websites,

According to news reports, Mr. Frind got an e-mail on Saturday night from the U.S. Marshal Service, saying someone had seen a picture of the suspected killer, 26-year-old Calvin Bennett, on the dating website. Bennett had a warrant out for his arrest in the murder of an elderly couple in Nashville on October 30. Pierce Odell and his wife Mary were shot in the head and their bodies dragged into the woods after being robbed (more details on the America’s Most Wanted site here).


Provided with the user name that Bennett used on his site, Mr. Frind went through his logs and found several conversations the suspected murderer had had with women online, and eventually determined that he was staying with one of those women in Wisconsin (since messages from both Bennett and the woman came from the same IP address). Armed with this information, the U.S. Marshals Service was able to track down and arrest the man on Sunday. Parked outside the house was a truck matching the description of the one belonging to the elderly couple from Nashville.

“There are millions of people who use the site and I feel like I am responsible for them,” said Mr. Frind in an e-mail interview. “It felt really good to capture him. Unlike the other dating sites, who I’m told take days to get ahold of, I was able to do this all within 10 minutes on a Saturday. But all in all it feels surreal — this is what you hear about in the movies but you never actually expect to happen.”

Although it is one of the most popular dating sites on the Internet, with more than a million users a day and advertising revenue estimated at almost $1-million a month, Mr. Frind runs the entire website himself on three computers. And nabbing a suspected killer isn’t his only claim to fame: A research paper on high-level mathematics that Mr. Frind co-authored was recently used as supporting research for another academic paper that helped to win its author the Fields Medal, also known as the Nobel Prize for math.

Yahoo gets some ink on its hands too

As expected, Yahoo has announced a wide-ranging deal with a group of seven newspaper chains (totalling 176 newspapers, according to the New York Times story) to join forces not just on help-wanted classifieds — that part of the deal that has gotten the most attention — but also on news. Both sides described the arrangement as “transformational.”

The partnership is to begin with job ads from the papers appearing on Yahoo’s HotJobs site, and then expand to include local news appearing on Yahoo’s news site, in exchange for various tools such as search and mapping that will be included on the websites of the member newspapers. The deal includes E.W. Scripps, the MediaNews Group, Belo and Cox Enterprises, and the big papers included are the San Francisco Chronicle, the Dallas Morning News and the Denver Post.


The first thing that strikes me about the deal is that those papers aren’t exactly of the same calibre as the Washington Post, the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune — some of the papers that Google recently did a deal with. The other thing that struck me was how all this sounds like the New Century Network, in which the Times and Knight-Ridder and Gannett tried to form an online venture that failed miserably in 1998. But hey, now newspapers are sexy, says Greg Sterling.

As my friend and former journalistic colleague Mark Evans points out, these deals are a whole lot easier to announce then they are to actually follow through on. And online journalism veteran Mindy McAdams has an even darker view of the arrangement: she calls it another “desperate grab at nothing” and describes it as “seven newspaper companies, wandering lost in the woods, walk into the gingerbread house.”

One big question in my mind is whether the newspapers involved will get enough out of this deal to justify giving away their local news, the thing that could turn out to be their most powerful asset. Since we don’t know the financial details, it’s hard to know who is giving up what, but they might wind up transferring power to Yahoo at the expense of their own bottom lines.


Dan Gillmor says that newspapers “are starting to behave as though they’re doing the two-minute drill at the end of the game: trying everything in the playbook, and doing it in a hurry.” Frank Paynter thinks that maybe this deal will put some pressure on the newspaper world’s nemesis, Craig Newmark of craigslist. Marshall Kirkpatrick at TechCrunch has some thoughts about the deal and how helpful it will (or won’t) be to newspapers — calling it “a tiny band-aid on top of a massive hemorrhaging in the old media industry.” And Jeff Jarvis (surprise!) remains skeptical.

Oh yeah, and the food sucks too

If your company just got bought for several million dollars by one of the biggest publishing companies in the U.S., and you moved from your cramped bedroom office or whatever to the luxurious San Francisco offices of the legendary Wired magazine, what would you do? If you’re Aaron Swartz — whose social-bookmarking site Reddit just got bought by Conde Nast — you would write a blog post complaining about the soulless, grey office with the crapped-up corporate laptops and the traffic noise.

Aaron’s post is quite the litany of grief, from the white noise and the unhelpful IT department to the inability to get anything done. As I was reading it, I found myself ping-ponging back and forth — from sympathizing with someone who is clearly a creative and frustrated individual who is now part of a large, corporate machine, to wanting to shake him by the throat and shout: “Dude, your company got bought and you live in San Francisco, for chrissake! Grow up!”


At one point, he complains that to escape from his soul-crushing day he has to go bike-riding and stay out until 3 partying. Yeah, I’m all choked up. It’s interesting to read the comments on Aaron’s post (which has no doubt pleased his new corporate masters to no end). Some are definitely sympathetic, and advise him to get headphones, work at home and so on — or quit and start another company. Others are of the “grow up” variety.

One guy says his post sounds like a letter home from camp, in which the camper complains about everything from his bunkmates to the food. But my favourite comment appears to be from Steve Huffman, co-founder of Reddit, who says simply “Speak for yourself, man.”

Yahoo! This peanut butter is

I guess I’m not the only one who wonders why Yahoo has bought so many things (scroll down one post — and note that Yahoo hasn’t actually bought MyBlogLog yet, but the two are reportedly in talks about a deal) and yet has done such a poor job of actually doing anything with them. Now, along comes some senior VP named Brad Garlinghouse who thinks the same thing, and has written a long memo in which he compares the Internet giant to peanut butter because it’s “spread too thin.”

Like my friend Paul Kedrosky, I have a feeling that Brad’s oh-so-frank memo found its way to the Wall Street Journal in a fairly deliberate way. It sounds very much like something that was written with a public audience in mind, to rally the troops and give the impression that a few noble freedom-fighters are trying to change the company (like Ray Ozzie’s Microsoft memo).


Still, Brad has a point. As Canadian humorist Stepehn Leacock described it some time ago, Yahoo has been jumping on its horse and riding madly off in all directions. Buy Flickr, buy, buy this and that, launch this new thingamajig, get into video, whatever. That’s a good way of giving the impression of movement, but without actually moving all that much. My eye got caught on the same passage in the memo as Fred Wilson’s did:

We end up with competing (or redundant) initiatives and synergistic opportunities living in the different silos of our company.

• YME vs. Musicmatch
• Flickr vs. Photos
• YMG video vs. Search video
• vs. myweb
• Messenger and plug-ins vs. Sidebar and widgets
• Social media vs. 360 and Groups
• Front page vs. YMG
• Global strategy from BU’vs. Global strategy from Int’l

Brad’s solution? Fire a whole bunch of people, break down the silos that different arms of the company have turned into, and get a few senior managers who know what they’re doing to control entire lines of business, and let them do what they want. Is there any chance in hell that this might actually happen? Not in a million years. Good ideas though.

As Valleywag points out, Brad Garlinghouse is Jerry Maguire. And Ethan Kaplan at blackrimglasses says the memo will come as no surprise to anyone who knows someone who works at Yahoo or who has ever been to its campus.

Yahoo buys

Maybe all of that criticism about how Google is winning the race and Yahoo is just sitting around with its thumb you-know-where has finally gotten to Terry Semel. Whatever it is, the middle part of the Google-Yahoo-Microsoft triumvirate seems to have awakened from its slumber and gotten out the cheque-book. Not only has it bought the online-contest site Bix, but it has also bought some Swedish mobile thingamajig, and now it has bought MyBlogLog (Update: According to TechCrunch, Yahoo and MyBlogLog have not done a deal yet, but are in discussions about an acquisition).

The MyBlogLog deal (if there is one) interests me most, if only because I have some familiarity with it. If you don’t know it, MyBlogLog is a tool that makes it easy to create communities around blogs — my community, or at least some of it, appears in the left-hand rail of my blog. That’s how I know that Zoli Erdos comes by from time to time (thanks Zoli) and that Marshall Kirkpatrick also drops by (thanks, Marshall) as does Howard Lindzon or “Bones,” (thanks, Howard) and Scott Karp of Publishing 2.0 (thanks Scott).

MyBlogLog actually started as a traffic-measurement tool, which counts clicks and then tells you when you hover over a link how many times that link has been clicked (you can choose either that or to see which is the top link, or 2nd-most clicked, etc.). Much like other traffic tools, you can see where people came to your blog from, how many visits per day and so on. The CEO of MyBlogLog is Scott Rafer, who used to work at


But it was the addition of the community that really pushed MyBlogLog in a new direction — a smart move, in my view. I wasn’t sure it would work, in part because I figured that many people like to surf anonymously, but it seems to have taken off in recent months. And there’s no question that adding the community features put a different spin on MyBlogLog that set it apart from the other analytical tool companies.

The big question, of course, is what the heck Yahoo is going to do with it — or with Bix or Kenet for that matter. What has it done with since it acquired it? Virtually nothing except move it to new servers and give it a few nips and tucks here and there, as far as I can tell. And what about Same thing. You could argue that leaving them alone makes sense, but in that case why buy them?

Presumably there should be “synergies” there somewhere, but I have yet to see Yahoo taking advantage of any. Tony Hung over at Deep Jive Interests has some thoughts about what they might have in mind — let’s hope the folks at Yahoo are as smart as Tony is. Eric Jackson has written an open letter to Jerry Yang and David Filo about what he thinks Yahoo should do. And Brian Balfour of Zoominfo makes a good point about the MyBlogLog acquisition here.

Jason Calacanis escapes from AOHell

Erstwhile Weblogs Inc. supremo and Netscape revamper Jason Calacanis has confirmed on his blog that he has left AOL, in the wake of the departure of Jon Miller, whom he described as his “mentor.” As he told the New York Times in a brief interview: “I’m not inclined to start over with a new guy.” Mike Arrington had the news first on TechCrunch — except it wasn’t news, it was only a rumour. I wonder if Mike is a little bent about the fact that Jason gave his first official comments to the Old Grey Lady. And I thought Jason was all about the new media. I wrote about what I think Jason should do here, and my friend Rob Hyndman has some thoughts here.

Google — have your people call my people

Google has been rolling out some cool features for some of its products, like the recent “search public events” addition to Google Calendar — which hasn’t really gotten a lot of notice — and now the “click to call” option in Google Maps, which connects you to a business if you search for one. Just click the word “call” and type in your phone number.

google phone.gif

Of course, it took someone at Valleywag all of about 10 seconds to figure out that this makes for great pranking material, since you could connect anyone with just about any business (massage parlors, etc.) Very funny. Still, I think this is a pretty cool feature — although I did wonder why on the page the Google blog linked to, the only business without the click-to-call link was the one advertising on the page.

Marshall at TechCrunch says this is part of a previous deal with Skype. Everyone has been working on click-to-call, including Google’s trial of it with its AdWords search advertising — and a deal with eBay to offer it there as well — plus Microsoft is launching it as part of its Windows Live mobile search, and Yahoo is also said to be working on it. And the deconstruction of the telecom market continues.

Jason Calacanis has left the building

Yes, ladies and gentlemen — the Jason Calacanis era at AOL appears to be over. Although the only response from the great man himself has been a terse “no comment,” the writing is on the wall. The rumours first started to fly after the news that AOL exec Jon Miller, whom Calacanis has described as a “mentor,” departed the Time Warner soul-sucking vortex unit.

Personal prickliness aside, I think Jason has been doing his best to remake Netscape into something substantial, although I still don’t know whether bribing paying the top posters at Digg and Reddit to work for him was really the best strategy. But hey — it got lots of press, both real and blogospheric, and that’s something.


That said, it was essentially a copycat approach, and my sense is that it hasn’t really been going all that well traffic-wise. Muhammad Saleem, a top Digger and Netscape poster, has some thoughts, and so does my friend Tony Hung. Nick Denton, who only recently seized the helm at the listing Valleywag, tastefully posts his thoughts about his old blogging nemesis under the category “obituary.” Nice.

I for one will be interested to see what Jason comes up with next. I think he should get some VC money together and convince Mike Arrington and Om Malik to set up shop together as a blog/advertising network, and maybe roll some other sites in there too — like Techdirt for example. Slam dunk, Jason. Call me.

Warning — Second Life geek alert

Like my occasional blogging nemesis Nicholas “The Prophet of Doom” Carr, I am fascinated by the controversy that has exploded in the virtual world known as Second Life over unauthorized copying of avatars and other objects in the game (which isn’t really a game at all, but let’s leave that for another day). Nick also wrote about it here.

To some, including my friend Stuart, Second Life is just a wacky, carnival-sideshow kind of place, where losers and shut-ins get to play dressup — something he and others often refer to as “Get A Life.” And there are definitely some weirdos in the world who need to put down the bong and get outside for some fresh air now and then (like there aren’t any of those on the Internet).

At the same time, however, Second Life is in many ways just a microcosm of real life, and many of the issues that come up “in world” (as the geeks like to say) are also similar, although they are often seen through the fun-house mirror that is the game. The current CopyBot controversy is a perfect example.


As Second Life’s first “embedded journalist” Wagner James Au describes it, a program that can copy virtually any object — ironically designed by Linden Labs, creators of Second Life — has escaped into the wild and is being used to copy everything from furniture to people’s individual avatars.

Linden Labs, which discusses the controversy here, has said that the use of the copybot is a breach of the game’s rules, but for technological reasons it’s difficult (if not impossible) to prevent its use. There’s a great overview of the problem here, and a story by Reuters’ own embedded reporter here.

In many ways, the ability to copy anything is much like the ability to copy mp3 files or movies from the Internet. Someone spent time creating that content, just as people spend hours creating clothing, furniture, plants and houses in Second Life. How does a company like Linden try to protect people’s content but still allow the kind of freedom that makes the game an appealing place to “live?”

Linden says it is looking at Creative Commons licensing, virtual watermarks and so on, but no one has any definitive answers. That’s what makes it so fascinating.

Nick Douglas termination memo

For those who like nothing better than a little behind-the-scenes corporate intrigue in the blogosphere, the guys over at 10 Zen Monkeys have some more deets on the sudden departure of Nick Douglas from Valleywag — where he was replaced by another guy whose initials are N.D., and whose name rhymes with Nick Denton (for an earlier installment of the Nick Douglas saga, scroll down a few posts).

nick douglas.jpg

According to a memo from Gawker exec Lockhart Steele (is that someone’s real name?) that was posted by Dealbook at the New York Times, Little Nicky was given the axe because he a) refused to stop giving interviews; b) refused to stop acting like he was a big player in the Valley scene; c) refused to stop mouthing off about how he really wanted to get sued, or d) all of the above.

Anytime a writer settles in too closely with the subjects he/she’s writing about, there comes the inevitable tradeoffs: favor trading, and an elevated sense of one’s own importance to the field at hand. Both, to some degree, ended up being the case here. We were also concerned by Nick’s repeated misunderstanding of the purpose of our sites.

Meanwhile, Nick Denton has made up for lost time by taking a few whacks at Federated Media’s John Battelle, as well as InterActive Corp. supremo Barry Diller, who Nick suggests is a) gay (although married) and b) interested in young men. Oh yes, and then there was the wonderful Dave Winer and NakedJen item. So much for cutting down on the sex at Valleywag, Nick.