Cleaning up the mess over at MyBlogLog

mybloglog.JPGMuch has been written about the “Shoemoney Affair,” in which the blogger known as Shoemoney wrote about a MyBlogLog hack that allowed unscrupulous types to spoof their identities, and was subsequently banned from the service, despite the fact that — as Tony Hung pointed out at Deep Jive Interests — MyBlogLog didn’t have a terms of service agreement that said anything about banning people (it has since developed one). The banning also happened despite the fact that, as Eric Marcoullier of MBL admits here, someone else had posted something about the same exploit over a month earlier (although it was on a French blog, and therefore might have been missed).

This all comes in the wake of several other MyBlogLog stumbles involving spam, which I wrote about recently. And while lots of people seem to enjoy taking shots at MyBlogLog CEO Scott Rafer and Eric Marcoullier and others, as though they were some giant evil corporation, I for one have been impressed with how quickly and honestly the team at MBL have responded to their various missteps and the resulting onslaught of criticism. In his latest post here, Eric says:

“A lot of people I respect immensely have written in to tell me that I screwed up, and after a point, it becomes impossible to avoid the truth. We banned Shoemoney originally to keep him from updating his list of User IDs on Wednesday night, which I think was the right thing to do. But after fixing the exploit, I should have unbanned him and thanked him for finding it. But I didn’t. I screwed up.”

Although there is still debate about whether Shoemoney should have been banned in the first place (like Steve Poland over at TechCrunch, I would argue he was just showing off, not being malicious, although Andy Beard doesn’t agree), Eric’s post is the kind of thing I like to see. With a small startup — albeit one that is now part of the giant Yahoo empire — it’s inevitable that mistakes are going to happen, as Caterina Fake points out in her post on the whole affair.

We can’t applaud startups for their gung-ho attitude and then slam then when they screw up. I think Eric and the rest of the team at MBL deserve a lot of credit for admitting their mistakes openly and clearly. Let’s move on.

Yahoo gets a copy of Eric’s Plan B

Like many shareholders of Yahoo — whose stock has climbed somewhat in the past few months, but is still well below where it was at the beginning of last year — blogger and management consultant Eric Jackson has been less than pleased with the company’s performance over the past year or so.

Yahoo-logo.jpg Although the Internet “portal” and search company has finally rolled out enhancements to its search-related advertising system, in an attempt to compete with the more successful platform run by you-know-who (hint: it starts with a G), Yahoo is still seen by many as lagging when it comes to its online strategy, or perhaps lacking one altogether. But rather than just complain, Mr. Jackson wrote a blog post back in January in which he tried to rally other disgruntled shareholders to his cause.

He described a refocused strategy for Yahoo that he called Plan B (including the removal of Terry Semel as CEO), and posted a video of himself outlining the idea to both his blog and to YouTube. As he put it in his original post

“Yahoo! is drifting; and its board and management have been too slow to act to this fundamental problem. As shareholders, we don’t have to sit by and watch this. Activist Investing has principally been the domain of hedge funds — well, no longer. With the help of the web, blogs, and wikis, I’m asking all current and future retail investors in Yahoo! to join me in pushing for a change.”

Eric’s campaign has been written about at and the Internet Outsider blog, which belongs to former Wall Street technology analyt Henry Blodget, as well as Red Herring magazine.

And over the past couple of months, he has gotten a substantial amount of support from other Yahoo shareholders, including a couple of fairly large institutional shareholders whom he says would rather remain anonymous. In all, he says he has $29-million worth of Yahoo stock behind him, and recently filed the required papers to be nominated for the company’s board of directors.

“Some have told me I will need $200,000 to run a “proxy contest” to get elected to the Yahoo! board and — even with that — the odds are stacked against us, as most institutional shareholders tend to be “pro-management,” he says on his blog. “I don’t have $200,000, but I have a love for Yahoo!, the great employees who work there, and we have a plan that has merit — thanks to your input.”

Best of luck, Eric.

Newspaper software: pretty but dumb

The New York Times Reader, a piece of software you can download to read the NYT on your PC, came out in beta last fall and I immediately downloaded it for a few reasons — including the fact that I am a geek, a newspaper journalist and a big NYT fan. And I have to admit that it was (and is) pretty slick. Thanks to Microsoft’s presentation software, it replicates the look of a newspaper, but updates itself when connected to the Web, etc.

prison.jpgNow the company has announced several similar readers for two British papers, Forbes magazine and a Seattle newspaper (PaidContent has more here). And like several other people, including James Kendrick of JKOntheRun, David Rothman of TeleRead and Bob Russell of MobileRead, I am left scratching my head and wondering what the hell any of these publications are thinking. Why on earth would anyone download multiple pieces of software — all of which are based on the same rendering engine from Microsoft — to read different newspapers? It makes no sense. (John Dowdell says that it might appeal to someone who only wants to read one newspaper, which I will admit is a possibility, but it still seems overly limiting to me).

I think it probably makes sense to the executives at the NYT, who approved the idea, or to similar executives at Forbes and Associated Newspapers — after all, the lure of such an idea is that it has the potential to replicate the same kind of physical control that newspapers enjoy in print, but in digital form. No cutting and pasting, no linking from the outside, no messy webpages or RSS feeds or any of that nonsense. Just a very pretty, very appealing, Microsoft-controlled walled garden.

There’s already magazine-reading software from that does quite a good job of replicating the look of a magazine on a PC, and is quite handy for reading offline on airplanes and so on. But a single piece of software allows you to download dozens of magazines, not just one. Will any of these publications agree to be bundled all together into a single reader application? Unlikely. That would make too much sense for readers.

Further reading:

David Hunter at HunterStrat shares my bemusement at the whole idea of a dedicated app for a single publication, as does my friend Rob, and James Robertson. And Don Dodge disagrees with me and points out that “the business of software is about business, not technology.” I would agree — but the business of software (or the business of business, for that matter) should also be about serving the customer.

Will a dedicated application just to replicate the look of a particular newspaper be enough of a service to make these readers fly? I don’t think so. The newspapers in question might want you to think that they came up with this idea to help you as a reader, but I think the real reason is that they are trying desperately to think of a way to maintain their control. And my experience is that that kind of motivation tends to make for a crappy product.

Papers do video, with mixed results

As the word “paper” becomes less and less a part of the newspaper world, things like video are becoming more and more common. While there are some exceptionally well-designed video efforts out there — such as the Washington Post’s OnBeing, which I wrote about recently — there are also some that are, well… underwhelming, if that’s a word.

video-camera.jpgPaul Bradshaw of the Online Journalism blog says that his hometown newspaper in Bolton is one of those that seems to be struggling with the whole concept. In fact, Paul says its efforts are “the worst attempt at online video I’ve seen so far.” And Kurt Anderson has a piece at New York magazine in which he writes about some of the video work that the New York Times has been doing — including film critic David Carr’s Oscar blog Carpetbagger. He also mentions David Pogue’s tech videos, which I have to confess I find exceptionally irritating. But maybe that’s just me.

“In the online archives of U.S. papers are thousands of videos, among them dozens of exceptional short docs, more like miniature Frontlines or public-radio-with-pictures than like network-news segments, available anytime. This is video-journalism-on-demand.”

In other recent newspaper video news, the New York Times just announced that it is going to dip its toes into the “user-generated content” field by allowing couples who want to be featured in the wedding announcements to send in video talking about how they met, or a clip from their wedding. Fittingly enough, an NYT staffer describes the effort in a Google video interview, and says that the paper decided to do it as a way of experimenting with video.


In a followup post, Paul says he came across some video at the Eastern Daily Press website that fits his definition of really well-done video content.

Dude, blogging is just so over

Every now and then some ancient blogger will post a world-weary, “been there, done that” missive about how blogging is tiresome, bordering on useless, and so they are giving it up, etc. The implication being, of course, that blogs are a kind of juvenile pursuit, like skateboarding or body-piercing, and that eventually everyone grows up and puts such things behind them. The latest entry in this genre comes from Dee Rambeau of the Marcom blog, which I got pointed to by Student PR blogger Chris Clarke.

blogging.jpgRambeau is apparently one of a number of PR professionals who contribute to the blog and teach PR at Auburn University in Alabama, in the school of communications and journalism. Number one on his list of world-weary reasons for quitting the blog game? Because he was “in early” (he started posting in 2004). Why this means he has to stop now isn’t clear, at least not to me — except perhaps that he has run out of things to say. Rambeau then veers into whether corporations should blog, and says that he has come to the conclusion that blogging “is not a positive thing for business, rather it is a negative.” In fact, he says, for a public company with shareholders, blogs are “useless and irresponsible.” Personal blogging is fine, he says, but they don’t really matter because blogs are primarily “an exercise of EGO.” Then he says:

“I’m tired of blogging. I’m done. What I have to say…I’m going to keep it to myself. There is soooooo much noise out there. I’m tired of contributing to it.”

“I will contribute to MarcomBlog in the future but I’ll not be adding to my own blog. My writing is going to be private and I hope to publish a book.”

I have to say this whole post rang false for me in a whole bunch of ways. Should public corporations be careful about blogging? Obviously. But useless and irresponsible? That’s a bit much. I guess it was useless and irresponsible for JetBlue’s founder and CEO to post a video on YouTube apologizing for the way his company has treated customers. No PR value there, I suppose. Or for a company to use their blog as a way of responding to customers, like Dell has — no value there, I suppose. Good lesson.

What it reads like to me is that Dee Rambeau has lost interest in blogging, and/or has run out of things to say, and that what he does have to say he will keep to himself (the point of which is what exactly?) and/or publish in a book — the implication being that doing so is a much more civilized and worthwhile effort than writing a “blog” (and books aren’t about ego, I guess). To which I would say: Thanks for leaving, Dee. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.


Please see the comments below for some responses from Dee Rambeau and from Robert French, the Auburn PR teacher who runs the Marcom blog.

Who, us? An Office suite? Never.

Ever since Google first launched things like “apps for your domain” and bought Writely, CEO Eric Schmidt and others have been singing the same song: namely, that the Internet behemoth has no intention of putting together a competitor to Microsoft Office. At the Web 2.0 conference, for example, he said “We don’t call it an office suite. It’s not an office suite.” Google does not want to compete with Microsoft, he and others have said repeatedly.

google office1.jpgIf Mr. Schmidt and his friends Larry and Sergey don’t want to compete with Microsoft, they have a funny way of showing it. As they have added features such as spreadsheets and wikis and bundled all of them together — and are now launching them directly into the corporate market as a suite in everything but name — it’s obvious that what Google really didn’t want was to admit that it was going to try and compete with Microsoft. Better to plan a sneak attack, all the while protesting innocence. Has that really accomplished anything? I’m not sure. I think it might have been better if Schmidt had come right out and said they were going after Microsoft before now — he likely would have been greeted with cheers.

Google’s previous bundled apps — which you can now think of as Google Apps Consumer Edition — were obviously a dry run for what the company has just launched, which is essentially the same suite, with email, documents, spreadsheets, calendar and 10 gigabytes of storage, for just $50 per user per year. In case you’re wondering, that’s about 1,000 per cent cheaper than Microsoft Office (I’m exaggerating, but not by much). And they are providing 24-7 support and guaranteed 99.9 per cent uptime.

But can Google guarantee that the Internet, or my specific provider, will have 99.9 per cent uptime? Probably not. To me, the missing piece is still some kind of offline app that will cache documents for when Internet access isn’t available, like Zoho is doing. Google’s Office suite (let’s call it what it is) might be fine when you’re at HQ with a T1 line, but what about when you’re in a regional office in Poughkeepsie, or on the road? Don Dodge makes a similar point here.

Further reading:

Mary Jo Foley, who knows a thing or two, says Google might want to revisit the history of Microsoft’s failed Hailstorm project, which she says proved that businesses don’t want to store data in “the cloud.” But my friend Paul Kedrosky says that he thinks Google’s apps could easily chip away at the small to medium-sized business market, where companies don’t need or want to pay exorbitant sums to run all of Microsoft Office. And Henry “I used to be a famous Wall Street analyst” Blodget admits that he was wrong when he said Google would never go up against Microsoft Office.

Me media: a podcast with Maggie

If I can get self-referential for a bit, I did a podcast interview type of thing with Maggie Fox of Social Media Group recently, and she has just posted it to her blog and made it available for download in iTunes, etc. The direct link to the file on Libsyn is here if you want to have a listen. Maggie did a great job and I really enjoyed doing it.

microphone.jpgMaggie — whose consulting company specializes in helping companies with blogs, podcasts and other social media — has been doing a series of interviews with people as part of the Social Media Collective (which both she and I belong to). The SMC is a group that Jerry Bowles has put together of bloggers that write about or are involved in social media and new media, and he has a sort of group-aggregator blog at where you can read posts from all the various members.

I don’t expect anyone (other than maybe my mother) to listen to the entire podcast, but if you’re interested, we talked about the mesh conference how I got into blogging, the Globe’s perspective on blogging, the challenge of maintaining a civil discussion now that the paper has given readers the ability to comment on any news story, the introduction of group moderation to the comments at the Globe, and the question of whether spending too much time online makes people anti-social.

Google’s early video deals crumble

(cross-posted from my Globe and Mail blog)

Not that long ago, Google seemed to be carving out a brave new world in online video. Just before it bought YouTube for the eye-popping sum of $1.6-billion, the company announced that it had signed deals with several content providers, including CBS, and there was talk of a wide-ranging deal with the latter to carry TV and radio programming, sell ads around it and share the revenue — an arrangement that the two were supposed to announce at the Consumer Electronics Show.

GoogleTV2.jpgInstead, as the Wall Street Journal reported in a recent story on Google’s TV troubles, Les Moonves of CBS said he couldn’t sign off on the deal and the big announcement with Google CEO Eric Schmidt was cancelled. Sources apparently told the WSJ that there were disagreements between CBS and Google over the length of the agreement, the content that would be included and so on. And Google has been having difficulty with other potential partners as well: Viacom, for example, has gone back and forth on its relationship with YouTube — last fall, it ordered the site to remove dozens of Comedy Central video clips and other material, but then the two signed an agreement to work together on content sharing.

Viacom, however, reportedly got impatient with the pace at which Google was introducing content controls, and recently ordered the company to pull about 100,000 videos from YouTube. And now Viacom has signed a content-sharing arrangement with Joost, as I discussed in an earlier post.

Are the networks just hoping to get more money, or are they leery of getting into bed with Google and not being able to get out again? One thing seems pretty clear: It’s not going to be quite as easy to forge relationships as Google may have thought when it first acquired YouTube.

Further reading:

PaidContent has a nice summary of all the things that haven’t been going Google’s way lately, and Business 2.0’s Next Net blog wonders whether Big Media needs YouTube or not. Cory at Lost Remote has also written about it.

Why should we celebrate tech IPOs?

My friend and former journalism colleague Mark Evans points to a piece in Business 2.0 magazine with the enthusiastic title “Tech IPOs: They’re back!” The story talks about “champagne corks are popping in Silicon Valley,” and how this year could be the best one for technology stock offerings since the bubble burst in 2000. But is that a good thing? It is if you’re a venture capitalist, presumably, since you get a (theoretically) nice exit. But is it good in any other sense?

blowing-bubbles1.jpgDon’t get me wrong. Obviously, a public market is a handy thing to have when trying to build new businesses, since it gives entrepreneurs an alternative source of capital, and it encourages VCs to lend because they know they will be able to get their money back as opposed to having to cross their fingers and hope Google or Yahoo buys their little investment. But the breathless tone of the Business 2.0 piece makes me distinctly uncomfortable. You can almost see the exclamation marks littering the article — the same way they are dotted throughout the spam stock emails I get (and I’m sure you get) hundreds of times a day.

In fact, the Business 2.0 article reads like something out of a magazine you might find in a hair salon or at the supermarket checkout, with headlines like “Short skirts are back!” and “10 ways to tell if he’s cheating!” and so on. Then we get the obligatory nod to the irrational exuberance crowd: “To be sure, smooth sailing on Nasdaq is never guaranteed,” the story says. Gee, ya think? And then it’s on to the six companies that are “likely to strike it rich!” Terrific. Larry Dignan over at ZDNet does some hype-popping of his own here.

The Skype boys take on GooTube

The Wall Street Journal’s story has been confirmed by CNet and by Reuters. No financial terms disclosed (Viacom’s typical deal is apparently to get two-thirds of the ad revenue), and CNet says that the arrangement — at least in the beginning — won’t include some of Viacom’s premier content, including Comedy Central shows such as South Park and The Colbert Show.

Original post:

According to a story in the Wall Street Journal this morning (reg. required), entertainment colossus Viacom has signed a distribution deal with Joost, the peer-to-peer streaming television service that Janus Friis and Niklas Zennstrom started up with the billions they made selling Skype. Viacom, of course, is the same entertainment colossus that recently ordered YouTube to take down 100,000 videos.

joost.jpgAt the time, that looked to me like a negotiating tactic on Viacom’s part, a way of exerting pressure in order to get some leverage over YouTube, and perhaps get a better deal — in other words, more money. Viacom also seemed irritated that YouTube hadn’t come up with the anti-piracy measures it promised to deliver back when it signed a deal with CBS and other content owners just before Google bought the company. And now it seems obvious that Viacom, which bailed out of a proposed “YouTube killer” some of the other networks were proposing, is looking for some competition so that — as Larry Dignan points out at ZDNet — YouTube doesn’t wind up owning the relationship with the viewer in the new digital TV universe.

Can Joost become a credible competitor for YouTube? That’s the billion-dollar question. Having tried the beta, which keeps improving, I think it is definitely going to be a horse race. YouTube has the content — and unlike some TV snobs, I am a big fan of the cat videos, comedy clips and undiscovered singing sensations — but the quality and the interface are underwhelming at best. Joost, by contrast, has a slick and intuitive interface and looks good (mostly) even at full-screen. Much more TV like, whereas YouTube is still Web TV.

If Joost can provide compelling content as well as having those other strengths, then GooTube could definitely have a competitor on its hands.

Further reading:

Henry “I used to be a famous Wall Street analyst” Blodget isn’t so sure whether Joost is the right model, and neither is Stan Schroeder. The always insightful Mark Cuban has some thoughts about Google and video, and my friend Scott Karp wrote recently on the topic of online video and monopoly. Meanwhile, Steve Bryant at GoogleWatch has an excellent list of things that Google could do to make YouTube not just look better but work better. And Cynthia Brumfield at IPDemocracy says Joost has thrown GooTube a knuckle ball.