Online ads — nature abhors a vacuum

Lots of chatter today about the stats on online advertising. In a nutshell, they grew to $4.2-billion (U.S.) in the third quarter, up 33 per cent over the same period last year. That had some — including Netscape supremo Jason Calacanis — crowing about a new Golden Age of online ads, while others urged caution, since the ad figure is a measly 2-per-cent increase over the immediately preceding quarter.

You see this kind of thing in stock-market coverage all the time: Google’s profit rose 892 per cent over the prior-year quarter, so that means BUY! But Google’s profit only rose 38 per cent over the preceding quarter, so that means… er, BUY! Well, you get the idea. The point, of course, is that advertising is moving inexorably online. As Froosh points out, whether that shift continues in the kind of straight-line way or with some bumps and valleys, it will increase.

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It has to increase, because nature abhors a vacuum — and at the moment, the gap between the proportion of ad spending that is devoted to online and the proportion that goes to offline markets is huge. That gap is effectively a vacuum, and so Aristotle’s dictum holds true. Either people will stop spending so much time online, or advertisers will increase their spending.

I would bet on the latter. And as my friend Paul Kedrosky suggests in his post on the subject, I wouldn’t want to be placing my bets on any of the existing media sources that will be the losers in that particular equation.

Amanda goes boom on HBO and ABC

As many people predicted when Rocketboom host Amanda Congdon split up so acrimoniously with her former partner Andrew Baron (which I wrote about here), it didn’t take long for someone to see the potential benefit of having an attractive video-blogger with a built-in following on their payroll. Amanda has signed a deal with ABC to appear regularly on ABC News Now and also to do a regular video-blog for ABC’s website, and is also developing a show with HBO as well.


Business Week magazine has a Q&A session with Amanda, in which they talk about the differences between putting together a video-blog and a segment for a daily TV news show. She also hints that she will be able to do a little more, well… fact-checking than she could at Rocketboom.

It isn’t going to be something that we throw together and hope the facts are right. It’s ABC News, so it definitely needs to be not false information. At Rocketboom, the fact checking was a little bit—it was what it was, it wasn’t always perfect. I was doing it on my own. At ABC, I will have people to help me.

Amanda is wrapping up her Amanda Across America project, where she made the announcement about HBO and ABC today, and says she will continue to blog at her personal site, And despite some ongoing criticism of Amanda for the fallout from the Rocketboom fiasco, she’s getting props for her recent moves, including some from Janeane — who wins the prize for best headline.

And while Amanda is moving from Web to TV, there are those who have gone the other way, including former CNN anchor Daryn Kagan.

Nick Douglas axed at Valleywag

Et tu, Nick Denton? It appears that young Nick Douglas, the brash young gossip-monger behind Valleywag, has left the building. Nick the Elder — i.e., Nick Denton, publisher of Valleywag and founder of Gawker Media — has taken over writing duties and Nick the Younger (the former writer for Blogebrity that Denton plucked from obscurity) has moved on.

Where has he moved on to? No word on that — nor on whether the young lad with the rapier keyboard was shown the door (something Denton has a habit of doing with his online proteges from time to time) or left of his own volition. Although since we are dealing with the king of rumour-mongering, I would be remiss if I didn’t pass on a rumour that he was looking at joining a video entity of some kind, a rumour that Dave Winer was circulating awhile back.


According to Denton — in an interview with Bambi Francisco from Marketwatch — he wants to make Valleywag more about financial gossip instead of just “about sex in the Valley.” He tells Bambi “it would have been nice to get the Google-YouTube deal” or some juicy stories about potential startup acquisitions, and that he’s working on a juicy scoop about John Battelle’s Federated Media. He says that he wants to boost Valleywag’s page views from their current level of about 20,000 (which seems surprisingly small to me).

For more on the brief career of Mr. Douglas, check out an interview R.U. Sirius did for 10ZenMonkeys — in which he talks about Kevin “Tailrank” Burton’s personal life and psychoanalyzes Cory “BoingBoing” Doctorow, among other things — and also a profile in Business Week magazine. Thomas Hawk of Zooomr has some thoughts on Nick’s departure, and wants to know more about it, but I think he’s wasting his time. Nick Denton is the Zen master of PR.


If this post about John Battelle losing Fark from its stable of properties is anything to go by, I hope Nick the Elder sticks around and writes for Valleywag permanently. Not that I didn’t enjoy Nick Douglas, but it’s exponentially more hilarious to hear Denton talking about how his relationship with Battelle is “passive-aggressive” and how he thought his book on Google was “sycophantic.” Battelle puts up his dukes here.

For insiders (or those with no life whatsoever), I also highly recommend the comments on Nick Denton’s post, in which former Gawker editor Elizabeth Spiers goes after former Dentonite Andrew Krucoff, Matt Haughey disses the new Valleywag design, and Jason Calacanis offers Nick Douglas a job — and notes that he owns

Update 2:

10 Zen Monkeys has a post that tries to put to rest some of the rumours about what Nick Douglas (or “Little Nicky” as Jason calls him) is up to, but only succeeds in generating even more. The only comments from Douglas via email are: “I still like Nick Denton” and “I’m wide open for job and gig offers.” Nick has also posted a short goodbye at Valleywag that (as one commenter notes) contains very little of any substance.

Ze Frank knows what’s going on

In the New York Times magazine this weekend was a longish piece on comedians who are using the Web as a medium for their comedy, including the two guys who do Ask A Ninja — and way down at the end of the article is a section on one of my favourite online comics, the incomparable Ze Frank.

I forget how I came across The Show, as Ze (which is apparently short for Hosea) calls his daily vlog — in which he mostly just stares into the camera at close range and does a rapid-fire monologue on various things, much of it without blinking — but I have been devoted to it ever since, even though I can’t really explain the attraction. Sometimes it is hilarious, sometimes it is just plain weird.

What’s also fascinating is the community that has developed around The Show, with message boards (in which Ze regularly appears to respond to comments), and the micro-patronage campaign he recently started where viewers can buy small jewel icons or large plastic ducky icons to put on the site as a way of supporting the show. Ze also regularly asks viewers and forum members for suggestions.

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In the article, Ze makes it clear that one of the reasons he doesn’t like YouTube is that it removes his pieces from that community:

For me, the show itself is far less interesting than everything around it. And if you stick it on YouTube, out of context, it loses all the inside jokes, all the responses, the history of what led up to that show. The framing gets lost.

Is he right to turn his back on the viral magic of YouTube? I can’t say. But he says he’s happy with what he makes from the post-roll ads and other things he sells — and perhaps he is right. Devotion to the community might be the best thing he has going for him.

Hey Mark — how much for the sandals?

(this is a post I wrote for my globeandmail blog, which is here)

When talking about the Internet, it often seems as though time has sped up. Take YouTube, for example: A year ago, Chad Hurley and Steve Chen were just a couple of former PayPal employees kicking around looking for something to do with online video, and now they are seasoned veterans of the startup scene who just sold their company to Google for $1.6-billion — which is roughly the Web equivalent of winning the Powerball lottery and the World Poker Championship at the same time.

At a recent conference of heavyweights in the media, entertainment and Web fields, the YouTube dudes were pretty much old news. Not that everyone didn’t want to be seen with them, of course, but the “It Girl” of the moment was another young startup CEO: Mark Zuckerberg, who started a little social-networking site called Facebook with some friends while he was at Harvard (the Harvard Crimson had a great piece looking at the Facebook team last year), and is now rumoured to be looking at buyout offers in the $1-billion range.


Apparently, the weight of such an enormous amount of money — not to mention the chance that it could never materialize, which must keep the founder of Friendster awake at night — isn’t having much of an effect on young Mr. Zuckerberg. According to the New York Times, he showed up at the FourSquare conference dressed in jeans and a blazer, and wearing Adidas sandals on his feet (sans socks).

Mr. Zuckerberg is also the one who reportedly told Microsoft executives, who wanted to talk about buyouts, that a conference call before 10 a.m. wouldn’t work because he didn’t get up that early. In an interview last year with Marketwatch reporter Bambi Francisco, he wore what appeared to be surfer shorts and a T-shirt that said “My mom thinks I’m cool.” When Bambi asked what kind of presentation he gave to the VCs who wound up giving the company $13-million, he said he “didn’t really prepare anything formal.”

The Adidas sandals the 22-year-old CEO was wearing at the FourSquare conference may or may not have been the same ones he wore in the photo that ran with this Rolling Stone magazine feature. The article says that Zuckerberg was a teenaged computer whiz who put together his own mp3-player software while in high school and turned down a $950,000 offer from either Microsoft or Musicmatch in order to attend Harvard.

Zuckerberg also says “We’re not doing this to cash in. We’re doing this to build something cool.” Yes, but building something cool and then cashing in — what a combination.


Valleywag, now being written by Gawker supremo Nick Denton, says that Zuckerberg is rumoured to be in talks with Barry Diller’s IAC Corp. about an acquisition.

Warning: this is off the geek-o-meter

Being the geekish sort, I noticed with a smile that Slashdot — the venerable tech-focused chat forum/social network that currently plays grouchy old grey-haired guy to young whippersnappers like Digg — broke down yesterday after someone posted the 16,777,216th comment (which in itself should raise an eyebrow or two).

Why? Well, obviously it’s because Slashdot’s MySQL database is structured in such a way that a table can only hold 2^24 data points, which is known as “an unsigned mediumint” (but you probably knew that). While the site changed the way it stores some of the comments — to allow as many as 4.1 billion — it didn’t change all of them and the 16,777,216th pushed the database over and broke it. “We shall flog ourselves appropriately,” said Commander Taco.

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But here’s the best part, as pointed out by my friend and uber-geek Paul Kedrosky: the final comment came from a Canadian — a fiddle player, no less, with a band called Siobhan (his comment was something related to the Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. election). His nom de plume is Da Ghostface Fiddlah. Once again, Canadians rule. Pwned.

Get your Web 2.0 on

Just a quick reminder of the mesh meetup we’re having at the Irish Embassy on November 15th in Toronto (that’s a bar, not the real Irish Embassy, for anyone who thinks the bright green country filled with leprechauns might have seceded when they weren’t looking).

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Photo from

It’s always nice to get together for a few beers and some great conversation during the cold weather — and it was just such a night that spawned the first mesh conference. Startup types, venture capitalists (please leave the calculators at home), marketing people, geeks and even journalists are welcome.

Want to talk about Google and YouTube? Copyright and the Web? The Wal-Mart/Edelman fiasco? Come on down. Sign up at the Upcoming page if you’re interested, or just show up and get your Web 2.0 on. A map and directions to the Embassy can be found here.

Mr. Desperate, meet my friend Mr. Desperate

Two things strike me about the deal between Microsoft and Universal Music, which will see the record company get a cut of every Zune player the software giant (theoretically) sells. The first is that such an arrangement is an obvious sign that Microsoft is desperate, and the second is that it’s an obvious sign that the major record labels are not just desperate but creatively bankrupt.


It seems clear that the record labels see Microsoft’s Zune launch as a key chance to make up for the boatloads of cash they’ve missed out on with Apple and iTunes (and their inability to get a government-mandated levy on portable devices). And the fact that Microsoft is willing to go along with their demands for a cut of the sales proceeds is a sign of how desperate the software company is to get some support for Zune, although it’s certainly not getting much support from some music fans.

I’m going to go along with Om Malik’s take on this one, which is that if you look at the amount of money Universal is likely to make from their Microsoft deal, it’s probably about the same as selling a single extra song to all the people who have bought an iPod. As Om puts it: “If the music industry cannot sell one additional song to consumers (and has to blackmail for more money) then, you as a business, have lost grip over your core competency.”

George Scriban at Global Nerdy has some similar thoughts.

Comedy Central first with Rumsfeld news

Muhammad Saleem over at Mu Life — a great new blogger I’ve recently discovered who focuses on social media — posted something about how Digg and Netscape had the news that Donald Rumsfeld had resigned long before Google News (long in this case being 20 minutes). His post was noticed and linked to by Steve Rubel at Micropersuasion and by Jeremiah Owyang, among others.

As I pointed out to Muhammad and Steve, however, it looks to me like Comedy Central actually broke the news a full 35 minutes before either Digg or Netscape got to it. If anything could reinforce how disrupted the journalism business has become, it’s the fact that a comedy channel can break news — which may not be all that surprising, considering that surveys show many younger people get their news from Jon Stewart’s Daily Show.

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Of course, as Matt Sparkes notes on his blog, Digg and Netscape didn’t “break” the Rumsfeld news — they were simply the first to link to the Associated Press story. That’s not really the same thing. So it’s not really fair for Muhammad to title his post “Why Socially Driven News Is Better.” Faster, maybe — but not necessarily better.

That doesn’t mean Digg and Netscape and similar tools aren’t still a threat to newspapers, mind you, since in many cases newspapers just print the Associated Press stories too. And that is becoming harder and harder to justify.

Coke: Still unclear on the concept

After the amazing Diet Coke-Mentos video from the guys at exploded onto the scene thanks to YouTube (and later Revver), there was a sharp divide between the reaction from Mentos and Coca-Cola. The Italian company that makes Mentos saw it as free advertising and immediately wanted to do something with the Eepybird team — saying they probably got $10-million worth of free viral advertising from the clip. Coke effectively looked down its nose and sniffed.

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A little while ago I wrote that Coke appeared to have finally grabbed a clue, because they were involved in an online contest with the Eepybird guys (also on Revver, as someone from the video site points out in my comments). As it turns out, though, it sounds more like they were dragged kicking and screaming (or whining) into clue-land, according to this story at MediaPost.

John Stichweh, director of global interactive marketing, cast doubt on whether the company thinks engagement is a goal worth pursuing. The measurement that really matters, he said, is sales. “How many more cases of Coke am I selling? I don’t know,” he said at the Ad:Tech conference in New York.

According to the story, the Coke exec also questioned whether doing interactive or “user-generated” advertising was any cheaper than a multimillion-dollar ad campaign in traditional media, saying that online campaigns are cheaper up front but “there is a cost element in terms of internal labor.”

I guess he’s got a point — if by “internal labor” you mean paying someone to run around at headquarters pulling people’s heads out of the sand and showing them how to click on the “most popular” link at YouTube.