Yahoo buys MyBlogLog — but why?

Okay, so Yahoo finally fronted the cash (reportedly about $10-million) for MyBlogLog, the viral social network that a couple of guys started awhile back and that has been growing by leaps and bounds according to Alexaholic. As you can find out from any of the bazillion posts on Techmeme this morning, there was a rumour back in November of such a deal, but nothing came of it.

That explains the nervousness with which people posted yesterday morning about another acquisition report, this time from a blog called Marketing Shift — which put up a post, and then just as quickly pulled it down. Om Malik posted something and then retracted it, but last night got to retract the retraction, after getting confirmation from his buddy Scott Rafer, the CEO.

My favourite part of this story, as told by Om, is that the two co-founders of the company are friends from elementary school, and that they raised zero — yes, zero — dollars in financing from angels or VCs (of course, it helped that Scott probably brought in some money from his previous stint at Feedster Note Scott’s comment below). Now that is a Web 2.0 story.


This is great for the MyBlogLog guys, and as I have written before I am a big fan of the application. I like the way it connects people who read different blogs, including mine. I like looking at the pictures of who has been reading, and then clicking on the pictures to see who that person is and whether they have a blog. That is social networking, pure and simple.

My only lingering question is: what the heck is Yahoo going to do with it? Their track record so far doesn’t exactly fill me with optimism about how they’re going to make use of their new acquisition. Don’t get me wrong — I like the fact that they haven’t screwed up Flickr or, both of which I am a huge fan of. But that doesn’t mean that owning them makes a lot of sense either.

How have they been integrated or made Yahoo better? The short answer is that they haven’t (my friend Stowe Boyd is similarly puzzled). Maybe Yahoo has a master plan that I haven’t been able to figure out — but I’m not betting on it. Tony Hung has some thoughts about what the company should do with it over at Deep Jive Interests. And Don Dodge does the math and decides Yahoo overpaid.

Open sourcing the virtual universe

I think the folks at Linden Labs have made some mistakes when it comes to creating their virtual world of Second Life, and there has certainly been plenty of debate lately about whether SL has gotten overhyped based on flawed numbers, but the latest move by Linden — to make the software that powers the world open source — is like a beam of sunlight. It’s huge.

In fact, if creating SL was like creating the world, then going open source is like the invention of fire, or maybe Ford’s invention of the assembly line. Having played around with Second Life a bit, I know that much of what is interesting about the world comes from non-Linden developers, whether it’s the ones who created the heads-up-display that lets you play golf, or the guy who sells roller skates from vending machines.


Not only will this accelerate that by making add-ons and plug-ins and mash-ups a lot easier to develop, but it might make using the SL frontend software a little more user friendly as well (official Linden statement here). In the same way that Firefox helped to strip down and focus the Netscape/Mozilla browser, open source development could help streamline and extend Second Life’s software in interesting ways. At least, that’s the potential.

Some people will no doubt continue to dismiss Second Life as a haven for sexual deviants (and admittedly, the flying pink penises don’t help), or not as good as World of Warcraft — which is presumably better because you get to kill things — but I think the virtual world has a lot of potential. Potential for what? For just about anything. Education, political activism, social engineering, entertainment. Kind of like the Internet. More thoughts about the implications at RedMonk.


The very smart Susan Wu, a VC at Charles River Ventures and former CMO at the Apache Foundation, has some thoughts about the open-sourcing of Second Life that are well worth reading.

Tony Hung fills in at Problogger

Just came across Tony Hung’s post about filling in for Darren “Problogger” Rowse for a week while Darren takes a holiday, and I wanted to send him a shout-out (as my homies in the ‘hood like to say) and wish him all the best. He’s already off to a good start with a well thought-out piece on the kinds of things it takes to maintain and grow a good blog.

To be honest, I think the “10 best” blog post model gets overdone at times, but Tony has some good advice from his own perspective, and it’s definitely worthwhile reading. Tony has come a long way over the past six months or so with his own blog (in addition to now helping run things over at The Blog Herald), and has done it with smart writing, strong opinions and a lot of hard work.

In other words, he is a great guy to be handing out advice about how to develop and grow a successful blog. All the best, Tony.

Cool gizmo? Yes. Fun? Yes. Business? No.

Update 2:

Greg Linden has said he is no longer going to be maintaining, his personalized-news recommendation service, and Richard MacManus over at Read/Write Web says that Talkr is looking to be acquired.


The Dead Pool rumour mill continues — Mike Arrington says there are reports that Insider Pages, a Web 2.0 recommendation site, has laid off as many as two-thirds of its staff. And Tom Evslin has some advice for Web 2.0 companies: in a nutshell, it may take more money now to run a startup, rather than less.

Original post:

Nothing gets the New Year off to a rousing start like a bunch of failing Web 2.0 companies, I always say. And we certainly seem to have a fresh crop: Peerflix (the DVD-trading company) is laying off staff, and so is Jobster (social-networking jobs site); GUBA (Web video) is shedding executives like rats from a sinking ship; FilmLoop (photo slideshow software) is struggling and Browster (browser search plugin) has apparently gone under.

What makes these kinds of failures a little awkward, of course, is that investors have plowed some handsome sums of money into these companies. FilmLoop raised about $7-million not long ago, and Browster raised about $5.8-million about a year ago. It’s true that as Don Dodge says none of these company went public and sucked money out of gullible investors (unlike the last bubble), but still. Perhaps whoever lost it on FilmLoop made it on some other dot-com. That would be fitting.

dead pool.jpg

Mike Arrington has a long treatise on the topic of Bubble 2.0, in which he notes that regardless of which segment of the Web you look at — photo-sharing, video-sharing, video search, Q&A sites, Ajax start pages, social-shopping services — there are too many companies chasing the same pie. As my friend Paul Kedrosky said at mesh last year, the great thing about Web 2.0 is the low barriers to entry, but that also means you can have dozens of competitors in the blink of an eye.

For services like FilmLoop, two things stand out for me: The first is that so many of these Web 2.0 “businesses,” like Browser, are cool features or gizmos but not necessarily businesses. And the second, as expressed by <a href="“>many commenters at Mike’s post on FilmLoop, is what the heck is a Web 2.0 startup without any real business model doing with $7-million and 30 employees?

How to handle getting buried on Digg

From Karoli at Odd Time Signatures comes the story (via The Zero Boss, and prior to that Chris Winfield of the website 10e20) of one Chandler Kent, a 19-year-old college student who wandered into the sights of the Digg bury brigade. In this case, it was Chandler’s comment that got buried, and may have become the most buried comment ever. But there’s a twist.

As Chandler describes it in a long and hilarious post here, he posted a quick comment on a Digg link, saying he liked the site that was linked to, and (big mistake) attached his blog’s URL. This set off alarm bells as a “spam” comment — like the ones I get all the time that say “I am liking your content very much!” with a link to some porn or poker site — and so it got buried repeatedly.

Chandler also got some fairly abusive comments, which is typical of the mentality that one finds at Digg, and why many people have given up on reading the comments at all. His phone number was also posted by some unscrupulous Digger, and people even abused him via instant messenger.

More evidence of what is wrong with Digg, as Zero Boss notes. But there’s a happy ending, in a sense: Chandler’s post about what happened has gotten Dugg about 4,000 times, and he has used the criticisms about the crappy design of his website to start a contest to redesign it. Nice work, Chandler.

Of copyright and flying pink penises

One of the things I love about Second Life is that bizarre things can happen at almost any moment. During an interview with a journalist from CNet, for example, a flock of giant pink penises might fly by (known as a “grief” attack). But what makes it interesting — and potentially important — is that the person whose interview was interrupted in such a manner, Second Life entrepreneur Anshe Chung, has threatened to sue YouTube for hosting video of the event.

Ms. Chung, a Second Life land owner and developer whose real name is Ailin Graef, didn’t threaten to sue because she was embarrassed (although that was no doubt part of her motivation). As Steve O’Hear describes in his post at ZDNet, she sent a “notice and takedown” letter under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act because the video showed copyrighted artwork — in other words, her SL virtual character or “avatar” — without her permission.


Unfortunately, YouTube decided to take the video down (although at last check it was still on Google Video). I wish they had decided to fight instead, since the claim Ms. Graef is making is ridiculous and would likely never hold up in court. For one thing, there is the principle of fair use under copyight law; for another, allowing Ms. Graef to ban video of her appearance would theoretically allow anyone to have video of themselves removed provided they were wearing a piece of homemade jewellery.

As game designer — and now Second Life correspondent for Reuters — Warren Ellis notes, using the DMCA in this case opens up “a large and nasty-looking can of worms.” For more, check out Slashdot, and for commentary from deep inside the world of Second Life, check out Prokofy Neva’s piece in Second Life Herald.

A back fence around a ghost town

I wish I could say I was surprised that all is not well at Backfence, the local “citizen journalism” site, where the second of the co-founders, CEO Susan DeFife, just left (the first, Mark Potts, left a few months ago) and about a dozen employees — out of a total of 18 — are being let go, according to a post by Peter Krasilovsky.

Potts is to act as interim CEO while the company tries to restructure itself, according to the post at Local Onliner. DeFife says that “Ultimately, we did not share the same strategic vision for the company as the board of directors.” The company got $3-million in financing in 2005 from a group of venture capital funds, including the Omidyar Network. Apparently, Backfence’s backers didn’t think things were going well, and pulled the trigger.

I don’t live in the areas covered by Backfence, which has 13 sites in three metropolitan areas (Washington, Chicago and the Bay Area), but I have taken a look at it from time to time because I’m interested in local citizen journalism efforts — and spent a bit of time looking at Backfence after it absorbed Dan Gillmor’s failed local CitJ experiment, Bayosphere, which I wrote about here. And it certainly never seemed like a thriving entity to me.

back fence.jpg

Like Frank Barnako, who has written about it here and who also wrote skeptically about it about a year ago, it just seemed stale and unappealing to me, not to mention a little bit like a ghost-town. I would agree with Frank that in order to draw people in, a local site has to live and breathe the area it covers, and have lively personalities and content. And maybe giving citizen journalists some financial incentive might help too.

How all that happens exactly, I don’t know, but it is possible to do local journalism — seems to be doing well, and so does And the Fresno Bee, owned by McClatchy, just finished acquiring a couple of local sites that seemed quite successful: ModestoFamous and FresnoFamous. Did the founders sell because it wasn’t a viable business, or did McClatchy want them because they had something the chain needed? Perhaps a combination of both.

In any case, I will leave it to others to decide whether Backfence failed because it took the wrong approach, or because local online journalism doesn’t work. My bet is on the former rather than the latter. Howard Owens has also written about the recent news, as have the gang over at PaidContent. Greg Sterling at Screenwerk says that winning with a locally-focused website is “like climbing Mount Everest.”


Tish Grier, who comments below, has written a post about local content and monetization here, and Fred “A VC” Wilson has written one as well talking about how he believes it isn’t about trying to attract a community but about aggregating posts from a community that already effectively exists — and I believe he is right. Someone is going to do that, either the local paper or a startup (or both put together, as the FresnoFamous case illustrates).

Update 2:

More on the saga here at Jay Rosen’s NewAssignment, and at Citizen Media Watch, where blogger Lotta Holmstrom got an email from Mark Potts about the restructuring of the site, and later did a short email interview with him. Greg Sterling also talked with Potts about the restructuring and some of the strategic changes he wants to make, and wrote about it here. And Robert Niles has a great look at building communities online at the Online Journalism Review, entitled “Fake grassroots don’t grow.”

Update 3:

The New York Times had a piece about a network of local “citizen journalism” sites called American Towns, but not everyone was impressed. Tish Grier, for example, said that American Towns is more like “citizen shovelware.” Good one, Tish. And according to a story in the Washington Post, Backfence appears to be headed down the tubes: One angel investor said that arguments between backers and founders has “destroyed the company” and that it has “downsized to a modest team of people and they’re out of money.” Someone who has spent some time on the sites posts their thoughts here.

Are you interested in learning more about the “citizen journalist” and Web 2.0 culture? Learn more about some superior web hosting options available for small businesses and individuals. Check out top-notch small business email hosting and many other services like exchange outsourcing.

Google serious about video? You bet

There are likely to be some long faces at NBC this week. The network — which has gotten plenty of attention this year for its ambitious embrace of Web distribution and its decision to play nice with YouTube, also known as the “Lazy Sunday” effect — has lost Michael Steib, the senior executive that has been steering its new broadband initiatives. And where is Mr. Steib off to? Why, Google, of course.


PaidContent broke the news first, noting that Steib was the general manager of strategic ventures for NBC Universal, and the guy who founded and was responsible for NBBC — or the National Broadband Broadcasting Co., the unit that the network launched in September after watching the viral success of the Lazy Sunday video clip from Saturday Night Live a year ago.

From the sounds of it, Steib is going to be working on “monetizing” Google Video and YouTube by creating some sort of ad program. “We are pleased to have Michael Steib join the Google team to help us work with advertisers to create effective, measurable video advertising,” a Google spokesman told MediaPost. Will it be pre-roll ads? Post-roll? Pop-ups? Ashkan says Google wants to create AdSense for video.

Daylife: The pitfalls of high expectations

I missed the big rush of posts that hit Techmeme about the launch of Daylife yesterday, but from what I can gather just about everyone — including Mike Arrington of TechCrunch, a prominent investor in the project — is underwhelmed by it, if that’s a word (gratuitous Sloan reference). I wonder if the next shareholders’ meeting is going to be a little frosty 🙂

Paul Montgomery of Tinfinger says that he thinks Mike’s response could have something to do with his well-publicized dislike of the New York Times, which is a lead investor in the site, and Paul also notes — as do other blogs that have looked at Daylife — that mainstream-media content is featured awfully prominently on the site. In which case, why not use Topix or Newsvine or even Google News?

Some of the only kind words have come from Steve Rubel, who says in a response to a comment on his post that we should “put on our anti-geek glasses” and see it from the point of view of someone who doesn’t read Techmeme or visit dozens of blogs a day. Which is a fair point, but again I have to ask why we wouldn’t point someone like that to Topix or Newsvine or Google News.


I think a big part of the problem is that Daylife has been in stealth or development mode for a year or more, and it has some pretty high-profile people involved, including Jeff Jarvis — who seems to be taking all the criticism pretty well so far — as well as Craig Newmark, Dave Winer and the NYT. So I think the expectation was that when it launched it would be significantly different than Newsvine and Topix and so on. And it’s not.

Does that mean it won’t ever be any good? Hardly. From what Jeff says, more improvements are planned (including RSS, which does seem like a pretty major hole), so I’m willing to wait and see how the site develops. I hope it finds a way to add more interaction — comments, blogs and so on — in an interesting way. We could use some more experimentation in that department, and Jeff has the chops to be able to deliver it.

More commentary comes from David Weinberger at Hyperorg, Scott Karp of Publishing 2.0, Rex Hammock, Liz Gannes at Gigaom and Tony Hung at Deep Jive Interests. And for a totally unvarnished and skeptical take, as usual, watch a video review from the inimitable Loren Feldman of 1938media.

Online calendars still drop in the bucket

LeAnn Prescott from Hitwise has an analysis of online calendars that has been getting a fair bit of traffic and commentary, since it shows that Google’s calendar — which has only been around for about six months — is growing strongly in “market share of Internet visits” (as Hitwise describes their proprietary measurement of traffic).

LeAnn says that Google’s traffic share has tripled since June, and that it appears to be close to matching Yahoo’s traffic, which has been declining sharply over the same period. All of which is great, and it’s nice to see that a Google property is growing — unlike, say, Froogle or Google Co-op, etc. But that’s not what struck me about the Hitwise chart. What struck me was how tiny the online calendar market is.


If you look away from the downhill slide of Yahoo’s line on the chart and the upward climb of Google’s line on the chart, what you notice is that even at its peak the market leader — Yahoo — had 0.008 per cent of all Internet traffic. After its slide, it is around 0.005 per cent, and Google is at 0.0043 per cent. In other words, all three of the online calendar leaders put together have a little over one one-hundredth of one per cent of Internet traffic.

As more than one commenter has noted, it would be interesting to see where and some of the other online Ajax calendars sit in terms of traffic share. But what is clear is that Google and Yahoo are still fighting over table scraps, and that online calendars have a long way to go before they become a significant factor for Internet users.