News flash: There’s no free lunch

Today’s award for the most obvious statement about a Web-related issue has to go to the New York Times, which wrote an entire story about how getting “users” to generate advertising actually — audible gasp! — takes work, in the sense that someone has to weed through all the crap in order to produce anything useful. Does this really come as a surprise to anyone?

snipshot_e41cavpxmu70.jpgAs a commenter said on Ryan Sholin’s blog, this definitely falls under the heading of “Free Lunch — isn’t one, etc.” If any of the advertisers quoted in the New York Times story were told by a “Web 2.0” advisor that they could somehow outsource ad production to “the crowd” and wind up with something just as good as what they produce in-house, then they should sue. But I suspect they weren’t told that. They may have wished that was true, but if wishes were horses then beggars would ride, as my mother used to say (actually, she still says that). Scott Karp at Publishing 2.0 has more on the subject.

As a number of people (including commenters on Scott’s post) have pointed out, however, whether an ad is technically or even creatively as slick and well-crafted as a Madison Avenue spot isn’t the only factor that needs to be considered. In some cases, a quirky, user-created ad like the one Global Nerdy likes, or like the Diet Coke and Mentos video, might actually work better. And getting people to “engage” with the brand may be even more important than the actual technical brilliance of the ad.

Let’s put it this way: there are plenty of ads that are slick and well-produced and no doubt cost millions, and do absolutely nothing for me whatsoever, just as there are Hollywood blockbusters with stars up the wazoo and giant budgets that barely even register. But a small, quirky, independent film can really touch you. As Heather Green notes over at the BusinessWeek blog, there has to be some kind of connection there or it won’t work.

Be careful what you wish for, iLike

server_fire.gifIt has to be pretty great to see your application become the new hot thing — with everyone wanting to sign up all at once — and to be able to piggy-back on the success of something as huge as Facebook’s new F8 platform in order to get there. And hopefully that feeling of joy and well-being will sustain the crew at iLike through the next couple of days, as they watch all their servers explode into flames from the heat of 50,000 new users all wanting to log in at the same time. According to an email posted at Venturebeat, the company doubled the number of servers it had, then doubled them again, then again, and then again — and is still getting slammed.

Scott Karp wonders whether Facebook will become the arbiter of which Web 2.0 apps become successful (or which ones get hammered into the ground, in iLike’s case). Will all of those 180,000 signups translate into real traffic and/or revenue for iLike? That remains to be seen. Some people prefer an app like, which doesn’t have a Facebook widget but has acquired one unofficially, thanks to the resourcefulness of Jeff Jarvis’s son.

And my friend Paul Kedrosky makes a typically insightful point about Facebook’s success — it isn’t that the apps are so good, but that Facebook brings them all together in one place, in the same way Microsoft Office does. That and the social glue that is created through Facebook are a powerful force.

CBS extends its content further

After announcing deals recently with everyone from AOL and Microsoft to CNet and Joost — and fresh from its acquisition of Howard Lindzon’s brain with the Wallstrip deal — CBS Interactive continues to roll out its distribution strategy. From MediaPost:

CBS Interactive said its month-old, ad-supported CBS Audience Network, previously known as the CBS Interactive Audience Network, has added 13 partners in the social- and community-network realms.

The agreements are designed to empower the embedding of clips from CBS shows into user profiles, Web sites, blogs, wikis, widgets and community pages.”

New partners include Matt Mullenweg’s WordPress, Clearspring (a widget creation network), Goowy Media, Ning, RockYou, Slide, VideoEgg and others. Smart strategy, I think. Jeff Jarvis has more — and he’s right that CBS probably means “embed” where it says “mash” on the widget.

Doc Searls is dead wrong on newspapers

I have a lot of respect for Doc Searls — he’s been at this whole blogging/social media thing a lot longer than I have, and he is a thoughtful and sincere guy. He also sent me a high-res copy of some of his sunset photos after I saw them on his blog, and for that I am grateful. But I still think his latest post about newspapers and what to do with them (which sprang from a recent WSJ opinion piece by Andy Kessler) is totally wrong.

snipshot_e41cuj0qpkuh.jpgOkay — maybe not totally wrong. I think he is right that some people will always want to hold a paper in their hands, just as some people want to hold books, or listen to radio plays. But the number of those people is dwindling. As I mentioned on my friend Kent Newsome’s blog, I think Doc would probably like to return to a happier time when newspapers ruled the world. So would I. But that’s not happening. And to say that newspapers should charge people for the news and give away their archives is — sorry Doc — one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard. Almost as dumb as the guy Jeff writes about here.

Would it be nice if we could go back to those days? Sure it would — but we can’t. I’m sure the record industry would like to keep overcharging people for CDs full of crap too. That ship has sailed. If you restrict access to your content some people will pay for it, but the vast majority will go away and never come back. That’s not much of a business model.


Doc has responded to some of his critics (including yours truly) in a post here, and admitted that I… er, we are right 🙂 Please read that and his comment below.

Smart thoughts on newspapers

From an opinion piece by Andy Kessler, one-time Wall Street hedge-fund manager and all-around smart guy:

In the meantime, rather than just charge for content, I’d be licensing every type of newfangled software and Web service until I could come up with a tight community of interest around my newspaper, local or national.

Don’t just start the discussion, keep it. This means comments, reviews, personalized newsfeeds, social networks of like-minded readers, whatever. Give advertisers a little “link love” so they don’t stray to generic search engines. Google, Microsoft and others dropped over $10 billion to buy online ad-delivery companies in the last few weeks alone.

The value is there: Newspapers aren’t in the printing business, they’re in the ad business.

Hey, we suck less — hooray for us

A rousing vote of confidence in Sirius Satellite Radio from CEO Mel Karmazin (link via I Want Media):

NEW YORK (AP) — Sirius Satellite Radio Inc. CEO Mel Karmazin sought to allay shareholder concerns at the company’s annual meeting Thursday, saying he was just as disappointed as other investors in Sirius’ lagging stock price. Compared to rival XM, however, he said: “We suck less.”

What’s so bad about a car crash video?

Writing at eWeek, Steve Bryant says that the New Jersey Turnpike Authority is suing YouTube because video from the agency’s security cameras has been posted to the site showing a car crashing into a concrete barrier at a toll booth and bursting into flames. The driver — who according to one report had just been released from hospital after a seizure — was killed.

turnpike-crash.jpgA couple of things strike me about this case. It’s one thing for the Highway Authority to argue that the posting is a copyright violation, since it owns the footage, and obviously the agency is well within its rights to send YouTube and other sites like and a “notice and takedown” letter asking that it be removed. At the same time, however, doing so is — as others have discovered — a little like playing Whack-A-Mole, since new versions continually pop up elsewhere (including here and here). If anything, trying to take them all down makes them even more valuable.

The other thing that bothers me is that the agency seems to be arguing that watching this video is somehow wrong, or unsavoury in some way. Really? If it is, then so is watching the TV news on just about any given night. If slowing down to look at a car accident is wrong, then we are all wrong.

Could Facebook eat Yahoo’s lunch?

As promised, Facebook has launched an ambitious effort to transform itself from being just a social network into a platform with all kinds of services from other companies running inside its network. In a sense, Facebook will be the frame of the car and the engine, and other companies will provide the radio and even the seats. This is more ambitious than I was expecting, although PaidContent tries to play down the hype.

snipshot_e4ia5vhurcg.jpgFacebook has announced partnerships with more than 65 companies to build features and widgets based on the Facebook API, and those companies — as detailed by Allen Stern at Centernetworks — include everyone from Microsoft, Amazon and Warner Brothers to Photobucket, Slide and Twitter. Interestingly enough, those last three partners are all competitors to some extent, since Facebook’s photo app competes with Photobucket and Slide, and its status updates are very Twitter-like. Reaching out to those companies and giving them access to Facebook’s user base is an interesting move for the company to make. Investor and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel says it is the most important development since Facebook was created.

Mark Zuckerberg, the 23-year-old Harvard dropout who started the company with a few of his friends — and has been criticized by some for not selling to Yahoo for a rumoured $1.6-billion last fall — told Fortune magazine that he sees the social network becoming something like “an operating system” for the Web, and made an analogy to Windows. At least you can’t accuse the flip-flop-wearing Zuckerberg of thinking small 🙂

Whatever Facebook’s chances of success might be — and that is still a very big question mark — this move does one thing for sure: it reduces the odds that the social network will take after Friendster and suddenly flame out. And as Alex Iskold pointed out in an analysis at Read/Write Web, if it can successfully leverage the social ties within its network, it could turn out to have the magic ingredient that Yahoo has been missing.

Insert gratuitous Star Wars reference here

The Wall Street Journal had a bit of scoop in the “user-generated content” area today, with the news that Lucasfilms is re-launching on Friday, with a massive library of fan films, and some online video-editing tools from Eyespot that will allow fans to mash-up clips (more than 250 in all) from all six of the movies and mix in their own content. For a Star Wars fan and/or aspiring filmmaker, this is a pretty huge deal.

snipshot_e4967rqgdak.jpgAs the WSJ story points out, Lucasfilms isn’t quite opening itself up completely to the fan-film phenomenon — the submissions will be monitored by Eyespot’s software for nudity and other bad things (so forget about the “Leia slave-girl” mashups you’re thinking about, boys) and just to be extra sure, they will all be watched by a team of human filters in Costa Rica (why Costa Rica? Who knows). Fans will also be restricted to using the clips and music that Lucas provides, which some fans are upset by. At the same time, however, it’s easy to understand how a filmmaker like George Lucas — who is notoriously control-oriented — would feel just a tad nervous about allowing his creations to be altered and mashed-up without any restrictions whatsoever. I think he actually deserves some credit for giving it a shot (and as John Murrell at GMSV notes, it’s also enlightened self-interest). It will be interesting to see whether we can find another fan creation that’s as good as Chad Vader: DayShift Manager.

Google denies deals with news sites

According to Ars Technica, Google says there is no truth to the recent story in Scotland’s Sunday Herald about the search engine cutting deals with news sites
clipped from

Scotland’s Sunday Herald recently reported that Google has entered into secret deals with unnamed UK news organizations for the rights to use their material on Google News. According to the paper, “It now seems that Google has accepted it has lost the argument over carrying stories without paying for them.” That would be a shocking about-face—if it’s true.

A Google spokesperson tells Ars that the story is not true and that the company hasn’t yet been able to contact the reporter who wrote it. “We have not changed our approach to Google News,” said the spokesperson. “We believe Google News is legal. We index the content of thousands of news sources online. When users go to Google News, they see only headlines, snippets and image thumbnails from the relevant news articles. If people want to read the story, they must click through links in our results to the original web site.”
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