’s non-silence speaks volumes

Although I hate to jump on the whole “Day The Music Died” thing — which I think is a little over the top — I find it interesting that while a whole bunch of Web radio companies, including Yahoo Music and Pandora, are turning off their streams in order to protest the increase in licensing fees for Web broadcasting, has decided not to, which has caused some consternation in the blogosphere, including this post at TechCrunch by Duncan Riley.

snipshot_e47fptthesl.jpgRiley says that the decision could risk a backlash from users, and in a follow-up post at TechCrunch, Mike Arrington raises the issue of whether the company’s decision has something to do with it having become part of CBS, the media conglomerate that bought it for $280-million not too long ago., in a blog post in its defence, says: “We do not want to punish our listeners for our problems, period.” The company argues that royalty rates are a fact of life, and that because it is based in the UK it has had to deal with them for a long time, etc. It says the industry should fight for fairness, but that turning off Internet radio even for a day “is just plain wrong.”

While the idea that users should come first is an appealing one — and companies like have certainly prospered by making it a mantra —’s argument seems a little disingenuous. If the doubling of radio royalty rates takes effect (Stan Schroeder at Frantic Industries has a nice overview of the issues, as does the SaveNetRadio site), small streaming companies could go under. That would obviously leave in a pretty sweet position.

I’m not saying that’s why made the decision it did. I don’t know the company or the founders, so I can’t judge. I’m just saying it looks kind of fishy — especially when Yahoo and RealNetworks and others have joined the protest. Turning off the stream for a single day doesn’t seem like a huge issue to make a point, and I would bet that’s users would probably support the move.

(Incidentally, Pandora has been inaccessible to Canadians for more than a month, after the company turned off access to Canadian IP addresses because it couldn’t afford to reach licensing deals with all the record labels for Canada as well as the U.S.)

Is Friendster coming back? Puh-leeze

Matt Marshall over at Venture Beat has a post up about Friendster with a “returning from the dead” kind of vibe: Matt points out that the site — which is kind of the poster boy for early social-networking success, followed by equally rapid failure — has had what he calls a “massive” 40-per-cent jump in page views in May, to 9 billion (Facebook gets about 11 billion a month).

snipshot_e4h9jcpu7jw.jpgOf course, Matt also explains most of the reason for that growth by saying the site has adopted similar techniques as are used by Facebook and MySpace — which generates a mind-boggling 3 billion page views every day — including forcing you to click multiple times to get anywhere. Is that something to be proud of? Not in my book. There’s also a table in Matt’s post that tells a different story — and what I think is a far more worthwhile one when comparing sites: it’s a table of unique visitors at the different social networks.

Over the past six months, Friendster’s unique visitor numbers have grown by about 30 per cent, while MySpace’s have grown by about 20 per cent. And Over 100 per cent in the same period, and close to 30 per cent in the last month alone. To me, that’s the whole story right there — something I wish Megan McCarthy had pointed out at Valleywag instead of just pointing to Matt’s post. I wish we could get away from the focus on page views.

Facebook is IKEA, MySpace is Las Vegas

Danah Boyd, a sociologist and researcher in the U.S. who specializes in youth culture and online social networks such as Facebook and MySpace, has posted a draft version of a new paper she is writing on what might loosely be referred to as “class divisions” between the two popular social networking sites. Although she says that the differences between the two audiences are not strictly class-based, there appears to be a clear difference between teens who gravitate to one versus the other.

For the most part, Boyd says, the younger users on MySpace are what she calls “subaltern” — a term meaning subordinate, or lower in station — in the sense that they are outcasts in some way or another, either because they are involved in a social sub-group of some kind (i.e., they are gay, or goth) or they are a member of a racial or cultural group that is non-mainstream (i.e., Hispanic, Asian, etc.). As she puts it:

“The goodie two shoes, jocks, athletes, or other “good” kids are now going to Facebook. These kids tend to come from families who emphasize education and going to college… they are primarily white, but not exclusively.

MySpace is still home for Latino/Hispanic teens, immigrant teens, “burnouts,” “alternative kids,” “art fags,” punks, emos, goths, gangstas, queer kids, and other kids who didn’t play into the dominant high school popularity paradigm.”

Boyd admits that some of these differences are likely a result of the ways in which Facebook and MySpace evolved. The latter started as a social network for music fans to share information about their favourite bands, whereas Facebook started as a social network that was restricted to university students and faculty — and therefore has had a collegiate type of appeal ever since.

The different approaches taken by MySpace and Facebook extend to design as well — MySpace is much more chaotic and colourful, while Facebook is more clean and austere — and therefore the ways that the two sites are perceived by their users is different too, Boyd says:

“Teens who use Facebook see MySpace as “gaudy, immature, and “so middle school.” They prefer the “clean” look of Facebook, noting that it is more mature and that MySpace is “so lame.” What hegemonic teens call gaudy can also be labeled as “glitzy” or “bling” or “fly” (or what my generation would call “phat”) by subaltern teens.

That “clean” or “modern” look of Facebook is akin to West Elm or Pottery Barn or any poshy Scandinavian design house (that I admit I’m drawn to) while the more flashy look of MySpace resembles the Las Vegas imagery that attracts millions every year.”

Boyd has a blog post with comments about the paper here, and some of the comments are well worth reading.


Nick Denton injects some of his patented Valleywag skepticism here. And Joey “Accordion Guy” deVilla was at a recent presentation at the Harvard Berkman Center on Internet and Society that Danah gave about her research, and he has an extremely comprehensive set of notes if you’re interested in more detail. And Danah has posted her own thoughts on the reaction her post has gotten.

Is Google getting serious about mobile?

There are reports floating about the tech-blogosphere that Google is going to buy GrandCentral, the mobile startup that gives you a single phone number that can then be directed to any number you choose — or to email, etc; in other words, a single point of mobile contact (of course, this holy grail isn’t available to Canadians, as far as I know). I must admit that the first word that popped into my head when I read the report at TechCrunch was: Dodgeball.

snipshot_e4×3k6uo7w6.jpgRemember Dodgeball? A very interesting mobile 2.0-type of application — way ahead of its time, in fact — that used geo-location as the foundation of a mobile social network, a little like is trying to do with the Web. Fantastic idea, I thought. Google bought the company in 2005, and there was a huge amount of excitement about Google getting into the mobile software arena at that time. And what came of it? Bupkis, as New Yorkers like to say (incidentally, bupkis is a Yiddish word meaning “beans,” but the phrase means something so small as to be worthless). Dodgeball is still around, but not much has happened with it as far as integrating it with anything.

Google also bought Android around the same time, including Andy Rubin — who founded Danger, the company behind the Sidekick — and nothing much has happened there either, at least as far as anyone knows (the founders of Dodgeball recently left Google and made no secret of their frustration). Could all of these assets — and others such as Reqwireless, the Canadian mobile software company that Google bought last year — become something real? Who knows.

There are still lots of rumours floating around about the secret Google phone project, which is reportedly a personal interest of Larry Page’s, and involves Andy Rubin and a host of others on a Sidekick-like device. Of course, others say that’s all bollocks, and the Google phone amounts to nothing more than bundling deals with other phone makers to install mobile versions of Gmail, etc.

Is it too late for LinkedIn to catch Facebook?

As far as I’m concerned, the answer is yes. But I still think it’s interesting to see that LinkedIn is planning to open its network in what appears to be an attempt to “platformize” it the way Facebook did — at least according to a tip that the site All Facebook got (and to a report from Dan Farber at ZDNet). Will it work? Who knows. But I think without it, LinkedIn is probably doomed to be the new Friendster, or at least to be overtaken by Facebook.

snipshot_e4q5×7l4e89.jpgIn a way, I think Facebook is what LinkedIn could have been if it had taken a different road, and tried to become more of a social network — instead of just a series of digital business cards linked by dotted lines, with no real functionality apart from sending an email (I already know how to do that, thanks). In fact, LinkedIn often seems to spend as much of its time preventing you from doing things as it does actually helping you to do things. Or perhaps there was no way for LinkedIn to have become anything like Facebook, since LI started from the business end of the social curve and Facebook started at the university student end — a much better place to start a foundation, I think.

MG Siegler thinks Facebook should buy LinkedIn, which is not a bad idea (Ashkan ponders this as well). And Dave Winer has an interesting suggestion: someone should not only open up their network, but become the operator of a digital identity service — OpenID style — that could be used anywhere. Jeremiah Owyang has some thoughts along those lines as well. Maybe if Facebook tried that, it might get a better reception than the times Microsoft has tried to do something along those lines.

Triumph of the average-looking: Paul Potts

I apologize to all of those who may have already seen and heard about him before, but I only just got a chance to check out Paul Potts, the cellphone salesman and former supermarket shelf-stocker from Wales who won the Britain’s Got Talent show with a mind-boggling rendition of the Puccinia aria Nessun Dorma. Someone mentioned it at work last week, but I didn’t get a chance to see the video clips until now, and they are incredible.

snipshot_e4c8p8gn2lt.jpgStart with the semi-final performance, and then check out the winning performance (singing starts about 4 minutes in), and if you want to see more there’s a clip of Paul on NBC’s Today Show. There’s no question that a big part of what caught the public imagination about Paul is his underwhelming appearance — somewhat pudgy, with bad teeth — and his shy, unassuming personality, coupled with a tremendous operatic tenor voice.

There was some controversy when British newspapers reported that he took opera lessons and even performed for Pavarotti, and had performed with a local opera company. But Potts said he paid for those lessons out of his own pocket and that the opera company was volunteer. After being diagnosed with a benign tumour and fracturing his collarbone falling off his bike, he was deeply in debt and took a job at Carphone Warehouse.

Now he is $200,000 richer and will be performing for the Queen and the Royal Family at the annual Royal Variety show.



A free and open market in credibility

This is a follow-up to an earlier post about the controversy swirling around Microsoft paying bloggers — including Mike Arrington, Om Malik, Paul Kedrosky, Richard MacManus and Fred Wilson — to provide quotes for an ad campaign about being “people ready” (at this point there’s a fair bit of irony in that phrase, which should probably be changed to “blogosphere ready” — which Microsoft clearly is not). People like Frank Shaw of Waggener Erdstrom (Microsoft’s PR company) see this as just another swarm in the blogosphere echo chamber, but I think there are important issues at stake.

snipshot_e4ws0kr8o31.jpgJohn Battelle says (if I read him correctly) that it’s important to experiment with new forms of conversation, and that the primary issue in this case was disclosure, which Mike Arrington takes him to task for, since he sees it as foisting all the responsibility onto the authors in this case — or “throwing them under the bus,” in Mike’s colourful phrase (the comments on Mike’s post have other opinions, including a fairly snotty one from Rogers Cadenhead). Some have argued that this whole affair is much ado about nothing, since “advertorial” and endorsements occur all the time — including radio ads with TWiT’s Leo Laporte, as Scoble points out (and there’s some more discussion worth reading in Scoble’s comments).

One thing to remember, I think, is that ultimately all the metaphors — comparing this to magazine advertorials or radio ads or Tom Cruise pitching scotch in Japan or whatever — fail because we’re talking about a relatively new medium. Yes, it’s true that and are a lot like magazines, and that makes Mike and Om a lot like journalists (and of course Om has actually been one, and arguably still is) and so people expect them to behave in certain ways. Is that fair? Maybe. Maybe not.

In a lot of ways, we’re watching what is effectively a new medium develop its own way of dealing with issues of credibility in real time. Whenever there’s something like Edelman and Wal-Mart, or Microsoft and the Ferrari laptops, or even PayPerPost, it brings up the same questions: How do we judge someone’s credibility? How do we know whom to trust? It’s something I get asked all the time by people still grappling with the blogosphere.

As my friend and fellow mesh organizer Rob Hyndman has suggested — in comments like this one — I think every blogger effectively negotiates a trust relationship with his or her readers every time they write a new post, or submit a quote for an ad, or agree to an endorsement. That’s a lot more complicated and messy than relying on a masthead to carry the freight for you, but at least it puts you in control of your own fate.

The only thing to remember is that trust is a slippery slope — by the time you’ve lost ground, it may already be too late.

NYT and WSJ on social media and new media

Rafat Ali and the team at PaidContent have been putting up video clips from their Economics of Social Media conference, a conference I would very much like to have gone to. One of the latest clips is from a panel I definitely would have attended had I been there: Vivian Schiller of, Kara Swisher of the WSJ, Rich Skrenta of and Ken Stern from NPR talking about social media and “old” media.

The panel talks about how they approach the Web, whether there is such a thing as “citizen journalism,” the financial pressures on newspapers and traditional media, whether Google is friend or foe, and a bit about Kara Swisher’s new site AllThingsD — which is a joint venture with gadget guru Walt Mossberg and is owned by Dow Jones but separate from the WSJ. There’s a transcript of the panel at PaidContent, and the video is embedded below.