What the heck is a portal anyway?

Among other things, a post today by my friend Scott Karp over at Publishing 2.0 has helped crystallized for me just how inadequate a lot of the terminology is that we’re using for Web services and communities — and not just the obvious kind of cringe-inducing terms like “user-generated content.” In his post, entitled Platforms Are The New Portals, Scott discusses Edgeio and a post that Keith Teare has written about the “de-portalization of the Internet.”

Scott says that “user-centric platforms” such as YouTube and MySpace are acting more like portals, and that Yahoo is an old-school portal because it doesn’t create most of the content it aggregates, and because “it aggregates it by hand, so it’s a closed system and therefore less efficient than the platforms.” In Scott’s view, Yahoo is a portal but YouTube is a platform, in that it allows people to upload things (VC Fred Wilson has written about Yahoo and “de-portalization” here).

But at the same time, he says, “even a platform like YouTube that embraces the distributed nature of the web is still acting like a portal, because YouTube is THE place to upload your videos and THE place to find your videos.” Scott asks why video content owners can’t do what blogs do and publish their content wherever they want, and then with a good search engine “It won’t matter where the video is hosted.”


In conclusion, Scott says: “The challenge for any company that wants to scale in the distributed age is to create a platform that acts as a distributed portal — still a de facto gateway, but one that exists across the web.” This is no slight against Scott, but that sentence made my head hurt. And the more times I read it, the more my head hurt. So you have to be a platform, but one that is a distributed portal; a gateway, but one that exists “across the web.”

The worst part is, I think he’s right. It’s just the language that is making things difficult. What is a “gateway” or a “portal” or a “platform?” If I had to try and imagine something like what Scott is talking about, it would be a new kind of television — one that is hooked up to the Web, and has a powerful search engine, and shows me content not just from the TV networks but from anywhere (like this kind of stuff), using tags and keywords and smart filtering and Digg-style voting and search.

What to call it? A plat-port-way. A way-form-tal. A whatever. I want one.


Leigh Himel’s friend Peter says the network is the portal.

TV networks should take Google’s money

Rumours continue to fly that some or all of the major TV networks are working on a “YouTube killer” — a video-sharing site that all the big content owners would contribute their stuff to, while simultaneously suing the pants off of Google and YouTube. That way, they could continue to control their content on the Web as well as on the public airwaves. Slam dunk, right? The talk about a possible takeover of Metacafe is just the latest development.

If you’re not laughing yet, you should be. This is exactly the same kind of boneheaded idea the major record labels came up with back when Napster was disrupting the global music industry. Of course, getting all the labels to co-operate was like trying to bring peace to the Middle East, so the industry wound up pursuing just the “sue the pants off” part of the strategy. Then Apple came along with iTunes, and now it has the record labels on a short chain.


Two things are relatively certain about this network-backed “YouTube killer.” Number 1: It will probably never happen, because the networks won’t be able to co-operate, and will spend all their time bickering about who gets what, or the best way to bugger everything up with DRM. And Number 2: If it ever does happen, it will suck. Either it won’t be easy enough, or it won’t include the things people want, or it won’t be easy to share, or it will be clogged up with DRM, or all of the above.

As Say No To Crack (a humour site) says in the comments on Mike Arrington’s TechCrunch post, the networks would probably want to have entire shows, but “online viewers want the freedom to watch hundreds of videos quickly, sift through the mess, and then skip over the ads and junk shows.” The networks would also probably never allow a fast forward button, or would have a mandatory sponsor clip at the beginning, which would wreck it even further. Say No To Crack is right.

What made YouTube popular is that it was free, easy to use, easy to share, and had lots of different kinds of content. Anything the networks could come up with — even using Metacafe as a base — is unlikely to have any of those characteristics, and therefore the odds are it would be a miserable failure. VC Fred Wilson is also underwhelmed by the idea.


As Rafat Ali mentions at PaidContent, Jon Fine at Business Week was the first to mention this possibility.

Diggers will find a way to get paid

(Cross-posted from my media blog)

If nothing else, Jason Calacanis did one thing while he was running the revamped Netscape.com: By hiring away some of the top users at Digg, he ignited a debate about whether to compensate the top submitters to a “social media” site. Digg co-founder Kevin Rose said that he would never pay top Diggers because it would ruin the open and social nature of the site, and I tend to agree with him (I wrote about it here and here).

But now, according to Tony Hung at Deep Jive Interests, some of the top Diggers have found other ways of getting compensated — including getting paid by companies under the table for submitting their pages to the social-media site. Several top submitters have reportedly been approached by companies to submit pages in return for money, and have done so. Some have been paid per submission, others on a kind of retainer, and some have received bonuses if a submission makes it to the front page.


This kind of thing is even more underhanded than PayPerPost, the company that pays bloggers to write about clients, but doesn’t require them to disclose it. But Tony says that some of the Diggers justify their illicit salaries by saying “If Kevin Rose isn’t going to pay me for my time, maybe someone else will.” Tony says that this reminds him of Third World countries where government officials take bribes in part because they are paid so little to do their jobs.

All of this tends (although I hate to admit it) to support my friend Rob Hyndman’s contention that top Diggers should be compensated because what they do is effectively work, and that Jason Calacanis recognized that and rewarded it (Rob’s thoughts can be found in the comments here, and in his post here). My argument has always been that Diggers get rewarded in other ways that are non-financial — they get bragging rights, for example, and the admiration of their peers, which in some cases is worth more than money.

But Rob’s point is that this shouldn’t preclude them getting paid as well. And obviously, some top Diggers agree, to the point where they are willing to take what amount to bribes to submit things. To some extent, this is probably inevitable — if there is a system, someone will find a way to game it. My friend Muhammad Saleem, who is a top contributor to Digg and also a paid contributor to Netscape, has some perspective on this phenomenon that is also worth reading.


Steve O’Hear, who writes a blog on social media for ZDNet, wrote something asking whether Digg users should be compensated, and then submitted his piece to Digg. It got about 90 Diggs and 40 comments, and made it to the front page — but then it suddenly disappeared.

Jason Calacanis, ex-Netscape supremo, comments on the Digg payola story (finally). Ane now he’s paying people $100 for evidence of Diggers who are being paid by marketing companies.

It should be Yahoo? instead of Yahoo!

Maybe if I were working at Yahoo, I would be all fired up by Terry Semel’s carefully calculated “Hey, let’s get all fired up” speech, which Jonathan Strauss has helpfully transcribed on his Yahoo blog. Terry says the media are “full of shit,” and that they all dissed Yahoo five years ago and now they’re dissing it again, but it won’t stop the company, etc., etc. All his speech needed was the soundtrack from the climactic scene in Saving Private Ryan.

It could be just me, but I don’t think Terry Semel makes a very good General Patton, or whoever he was trying to channel in his little tirade. He looks like the kind of guy who wouldn’t say shit if his mouth was full of it — or maybe if someone on the corporate messaging team told him it would make him look like a take-charge kind of guy. Nice try, Terry. I hope for your sake it makes your employees forget how far down all their stock options have sunk.


And Terry “The Tiger” doesn’t do much better in the video clip from CNBC that Mike Arrington has posted over at TechCrunch, in which he tries to deny the rumours of layoffs while giving himself a loophole big enough to drive a tractor-trailer through. As several commenters have pointed out, all Semel denies is that there will be 15 to 20 per cent layoffs, not that there will be any layoffs at all. As for the five years ago comparison, Dave “500 hats” McClure notes on Om’s blog post that

The main difference between then & now is that everybody got hit hard in 2000 / 2001, and everyone had to recover at the same time with equivalent challenges.

This time around, lots of companies appear to be kicking ass — most notably Google — but Yahoo is struggling to keep their stock price afloat while they squander #1 position in users & page views.

No one gets blamed for drowning in a typhoon. but if you can’t swim when the sun is shining that’s a different story.

If things don’t start turning around at Yahoo, not only will they have to take away the exclamation mark, but I have a feeling Terry might be saying shit a few more times — and he might even mean it.

Google makes a big bet on video

Well, that didn’t take long. It’s only been a few months since Google bought YouTube, and now it is signing deals with broadcasters — in this case, British Sky Broadcasting or BSkyB — to handle a host of video-related functions, including searching within video, feeding ads into video streams and providing a YouTube-style platform for uploaded video content from users.

Of course, Google was working on video search and video advertising for some time before it bought YouTube, but now it has the full package of abilities and tools to offer someone like BSkyB. It’s interesting that the company went with a British broadcaster instead of someone from the U.S. Google said the choice had to do with higher broadband speeds in Britain, but I wonder whether there isn’t some resistance from U.S. networks who think that they can do all of those things themselves, and therefore they don’t need Google.


According to the Financial Times story, the deal involves search and a YouTube-style hosting service to begin with, but will eventually be extended to video advertising on BSkyB channels, with advertisements stored on the broadcaster’s set-top boxes and then fed into video streams by Google based on its algorithms. “This is a really, really big deal for us,” said Google CEO Eric Schmidt. “If it works, it will become our most lucrative deal from the get-go.”

It’s also the first time that Google will be providing the Gmail engine to someone else for use in powering their email — which BSkyB will offer along with the video tools — according to Google Operating System. And the Guardian says that the British network will also be offering Google’s VOIP services, as well as data storage and other services (the much-rumoured GDrive perhaps?). A pretty interesting deal, and possibly the blueprint for similar deals with other broadcasters.

Don’t blame Google maps for Kim’s death

Obviously, the death of CNet editor James Kim — who had spent days trying to find help for his family, stranded in deep snow in a remote valley in Oregon — is a tragedy. But it shouldn’t be blamed on the use of Google Maps. I’ve seen a few sites where that issue has been raised, including the Lost Remote blog and a Wired blog.

This is apparently based on the fact that the Kims took a forest-service road through the Oregon wilderness — called Bear Camp road — that is not plowed or maintained in the winter, took a wrong turn and got lost. According to a local news report, authorities speculated that the Kims might have used Google Maps, since both Yahoo Maps and MapQuest suggest other routes but Google recommends Bear Camp road.


On the Lost Remote blog, one commenter even asks whether a mapping service can be found legally responsible for leading people astray. A CNN story, however, notes that even some printed maps don’t specify that the Bear Camp route is not suitable for winter driving. According to the story, the 2005-2007 state highway map has a warning in red print that says “This route closed in winter,” but a Rand-McNally map doesn’t.

State troopers said the family had been using a printed map, but it wasn’t clear which one. This story says someone warned the Kims that the road was not maintained in winter (Shelley has also written about it). The bottom line is that the Kims could easily have found themselves where they were without being lured there by an online map. Whenever a tragedy occurs, the tendency is to want to find someone to blame, but Google is the wrong target.


More info on the mapping issue can be found here, here and here (thanks to Mike Pegg of Google Maps Mania for those links). And please read the comments here for some other perspectives and clarification. And according to this story, while the surviving members of the family were rescued by a helicopter hired by the family, they were first spotted by a recreational helicopter pilot who knows the area well.

Update 2:

James Kim’s father Spencer Kim has written an op-ed piece for the Washington Post about his son’s death and the problems that led up to it — from road warning signs being removed and gates left unlocked to media helicopters disrupting the search.

Illegitimus non carborundum, Mike

Nick Denton, the Gawker Media supremo who recently took over as editor of Valleywag (former editor Nick Douglas just popped up at Huffington Post’s Eat The Press), loves to take shots at a few people — including Jason Calacanis, who is apparently now an executive with venture group Sequioa Capital — and Mike Arrington of TechCrunch is definitely high up on that list.

Nick loves to use a graphic with Mike’s face and the logo “Red Herrington” (which is a shot on several different levels), and he never misses a chance to try and take the piss — as the British say — by making fun of TechCrunch or Mike’s various other interests. So it’s interesting to see Nick providing some friendly advice to his nemesis in a recent Valleywag post.


The reason for his advice was a comment by Mike in a recent profile in the San Francisco Chronicle, in which TechCrunch is described (somewhat breathlessly) as “Mr. Web 2.0,” a kingmaker among Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.” At one point, when asked whether there is anyone against whom he holds a grudge, he says Nick Denton — because “Nick Denton is evil.”

And the advice from Nick? “If you’re in a good old-fashioned tabloid war, never let them get to you — and never ever let them know they’ve got to you.” In other words, chill out dude (which is exactly what Mike has said he plans to do, taking two months off to rest and ski at his parents’ place in upstate Washington). Or, as old military types like to say: “Illegitimus non carborundum” — which loosely translates as “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.”

Linked In just doesn’t get it

I’ve talked with several friends about LinkedIn since the Business 2.0 puff piece profile hit the Web — calling the service “MySpace for Grownups” — and the reaction to the company ranges from puzzled indifference to outright revulsion. Like me, many people seem to have signed up because it seemed like a good thing to do at the time, but have gotten very little out of it except contact requests from people we would much rather not hear from.

Is that just a few anti-social people, or a sign of a flawed business model? I would argue it’s the latter. Yes, it’s true that LinkedIn is making money, primarily by charging people to send emails to contacts they don’t know (in other words, to send something that might be considered spam). But the Business 2.0 headline inadvertently points out what I think is the main problem: it isn’t really MySpace at all. In other words, it’s a so-called “social network” that isn’t very social, and I would argue that’s a fatal flaw.


Seamus McCauley puts his finger on it in a recent post at Virtual Economics:

Here’s the problem with LinkedIn – it doesn’t do anything. You sign up, you find some colleagues, you link to them and then…nothing.

Umair Haque of Bubblegeneration says that what LinkedIn is doing is “buying marginal profitability at the expense of scale” (thanks to Seamus for the link). As he points out, the service restricts what you can do — even within your own profile — to such a degree that it makes it virtually impossible to connect with people in any other way but the one or two authorized methods.

MySpace and Facebook and Flickr are popular because they make it easy to connect, share photos, send emails or messages, tag things, search, etc. (yes, you need approval to add someone as a friend on MySpace or Facebook, but you don’t have to pay). LinkedIn does none of those things. In fact, the only thing it does is make it easy for people to spam you with contact requests. Unless it finds a way to expand into a real social network, it is doomed.

Jerry Bowles has some thoughts on his Enterprise Web 2.0 blog, and says that the Business 2.0 article reads like “a wedding announcement written by the bride’s mother.” Good one, Jerry. And Seamus has posted an update to his previous post with some more thoughts about LinkedIn and how it needs to “let go.” And Chuqui is one of those who finds great value in what the network does.

… and the OMpire expands

Call it the OMpire — as Liz Gannes calls it, in a good-humoured jab at her boss — or the OMniverse, as Susan Mernit dubs it here, Om Malik’s blog dominion continues to increase. And that (as Martha used to say) is a good thing. Some of the fastest and smartest coverage of new media is coming from people like Om, and Rafat and Staci at PaidContent.org (where I noticed Jimmy Guterman’s name show up the other day), as well as Cynthia Brumfield at IPDemocracy.com.


New TeeVee, helmed by Liz with people like Jackson West and Russell Shaw contributing, will focus on anything to do with video online, from startups like Howard Lindzon’s Wallstrip to mega-deals like YouTube, as Om describes here. The GigaOm network now includes the main blog, Web Worker Daily, New TeeVee and the upcoming GigaGamez (a blog about the IP networking business has been taken back to the shop for some tinkering, Om says).

Very smart indeed, as Erick Schonfeld points out. Nice work, Om — although I still think it makes sense for you and Mike Arrington to get hitched. Now go get some sleep.

Let me cut you wacky kids a check

I’ve come across various versions of this story, but I still love hearing it: Andy Bechtolsheim, one of the co-founders of Sun Microsystems, gets asked by a couple of young kids from Stanford if he would look at their little Web search doo-dad, the one with a weird name. Halfway through a demo, Andy says “We could go on talking, but why don’t I just write you a check?”

Andy then proceeds to write out a check for $100,000 to Google Inc., a company that didn’t even exist yet for legal purposes. Larry says he left it in his desk drawer for a month while they got a lawyer and actually set up a company. This tale is told in their own words in the notes from an interview that John Ince did for Upside magazine back in January of 2000, which he has written about for the San Francisco Chronicle.

larry and sergey.jpg

The audio tapes from that interview are also being released in a special event described here (thanks to Paul Kedrosky for the link). One of the hilarious parts of the story behind the story is that Ince’s editor at the magazine told him to rewrite the piece and make it more skeptical because, he said, “I personally know these guys and they don’t know what they’re doing. They have no business model.”

What makes this even funnier is that — although it doesn’t look like it now — the editor was half-right. They did know what they were doing, but they didn’t have a business model (who needed one in 1999?). At the mesh conference last May, Paul Kedrosky described how he talked to two of the original VCs who funded Google and they admitted they were scared sh**less because they didn’t know how the company was actually going to make money.

Luckily, Google knew a good idea when they saw it — Overture’s search-related contextual ads — and built a $150-billion business in a little over 5 years. Andy, of course, looks a little smart.