No, it’s not really a “conversation”

I haven’t posted anything about the current “blog storm” over Microsoft’s ad campaign involving FM Publishing (which started with this post at Valleywag) because I wanted to take some time and think about it a bit — and in the blogosphere, waiting even a few hours seems to be an eternity 🙂 We’ve got a whole spectrum of opinion out there about the propriety of “A-list” bloggers providing quotes for Microsoft to use in advertising: Mike Arrington, for example, is poo-poohing the whole controversy.

arringtonmalik.jpgPaul Kedrosky is also leaning towards that end of the spectrum — although he admits that he now thinks the decision to provide a quote was probably unwise. And Fred Wilson seems to see it as a mountain built from a molehill as well. He takes Nick Denton of Valleywag to task for being “old school,” and not recognizing that bloggers might want to participate in a “conversation” with advertisers. Om Malik, meanwhile, has been beating himself up about it and has apologized profusely for his decision to take part.

I appreciate Mike’s point — the FM ads are obviously ads, and the company has done the same thing with Cisco and other companies, which never became the subject of controversy (perhaps because no one realized they even existed). So no big deal, right? Except that I think there is a deal — maybe not a big deal, but a medium-sized deal. And as usual, my friend Tony Hung puts his finger on it in his post: this is not a “conversation” the way we would normally think of one, as much as Fred wants to make it one.

Let’s imagine it this way: If I’m talking to a bunch of people in a bar, and an advertising guy working for Coke comes up and tries to change the subject to the idea of “refreshment,” and says that he plans to tape-record my comments and use them on a billboard, then I am going to react pretty negatively to that idea. That’s not a “conversation” the way I would define it.

And for Mike and Om to take part in an ad campaign — to lend their words to Microsoft’s ownership of a slogan, as Tony notes, does seem more than a little awkward given the role they are trying to play in new media. Fred and Paul have slightly different roles to play, as my friend Rob Hyndman notes in his post on the subject, and therefore different considerations to make.

I haven’t lost any respect for Mike or Om (or Paul or Fred) as a result of the campaign, but I still think being involved was probably a mistake. Scott Rosenberg of Salon, who has been around the block a few times as far as online media goes, has some thoughts that are worth reading on the subject.

For those who get bored when fishing

Does regular fishing not provide enough action for you? Try this: shooting Asian carp — some of which can be up to 20 pounds and several feet in length — with a bow and arrow, as they fly through the air around your boat, disturbed by the sound of the motor. The fish can jump as high as six or eight feet in the air, and on some trips more fish jump into the boat than are shot with arrows.

Boaters have been injured by the flying fish, and there have even been reports of deaths. Asian carp were apparently introduced into Illinois as part of an attempt to control the growth of plankton, but they escaped and are taking over the habitat from indigenous fish. Be sure to watch the video long enough to see the part where they’re fishing at night with glow-in-the-dark arrows.



Newspapers suffering from bad math

John Duncan, the former managing editor of The Observer in Britain, is a newspaper consultant who writes a blog called The Inksniffer, and has lots of interesting things to say about what the industry should be doing. In one of his latest posts, however, I think he does more harm than good — or rather, he starts off on a good foot and then goes off the rails (to mix a metaphor). The post is entitled How Internet Metrics Promote the Myth of the Dying Newspaper, and his argument is that poor Internet traffic measurement makes the paper-Web balance look worse than it really is.

snipshot_e4177u9djmao.jpg He is quite right about that, of course. As I have mentioned before (most recently in this post), Internet traffic rankings from all of the major firms — Compete, Alexa, comScore, Nielsen and Hitwise — are flawed in all sorts of ways, and combined with a continuing obsession with page views rather than unique visitors, it’s easy for Web audiences to look larger than they really are. And if John had stopped there I would have been totally onside. But after going through the numbers with admirable dedication, he arrives at the conclusion that “in the UK there were 310,788 people buying the Guardian or Observer on average each day in April 2007 [and] there were 270,576 reading online.” Not bad, right?

But then, he says that “We need to compare readers to readers, not readers to purchasers,” and falls back on what has become accepted wisdom in the newspaper business: that anywhere from three to five readers look at every purchased copy of a newspaper. In other words, the Guardian gets to multiply its readership by three at a minimum, which gives the paper more than 970,000 readers and online only 270,000.

As I mentioned in a comment on John’s post, this is complete rubbish — some of those copies might be read by two people, or maybe three, but plenty of them are read by no one. Steve Yelvington agrees with me, as he points out in a comment and on his own blog. He says: “the notion that a newspaper’s daily print sales figures should be multiplied by some factor to derive actual readers is wishful-thinking crap.” As Steve says, if we are to get anywhere, we need to be clear about what we’re talking about.

What Second Life is really like

This video (hat tip to Valleywag) made me laugh out loud. If you’ve ever been in Second Life and tried to move around or engage in pretty much any kind of behaviour requiring fine motor skills, you’ll know what I mean.



Zuckerberg: the Greenspan of Facebook’s economy

I continue to be fascinated — as many are — by the growth of the Facebook “widget-o-sphere,” whether it’s a service such as iLike, which now has 3.8 million users (although how many of them are actually using it in any real sense is debatable), or one like Where I’ve Been, which is the latest to experience rocket-fueled growth that is pushing the developer’s resources to the point where he is begging for help. Buying up some of these small widgets seems like a great idea for someone to pursue.

mark_zuckerberg03.jpgBut the bigger question is what happens to this proto-economy. It’s like watching a small former Soviet country suddenly adopt capitalism: no one really knows what they’re doing, and all of the rules are being re-invented in various ways, some of which work and some of which are doomed to fail. It’s not quite an economy yet, because no one is really making any actual money — but you can see the structure of what could become an economy being built. In an otherwise unremarkable Wall Street Journal piece about the widget-o-sphere, a Facebook executive mentions that the site is considering a “wallet” type of service that would allow sales transactions, or an ad network that would do rev-sharing with widgets.

The more cynical among us (you know who you are) will probably come to the conclusion that Mark Zuckerberg and the Facebook team are building their own growth on the backs of poor developers like the guys behind and Where I’ve Been, and just waiting to snap them up and make them part of the mothership when they fail. And to some extent they are building growth using those widgets — but if they are smart, they know that what they are creating (or could be creating) is an economic framework.

Brad Feld has some thoughts about that on his blog, and Andrew Chen looks at some of the advertising possibilities. And as a bonus, here’s a video that Kara Swisher of AllThingsD and the WSJ recorded of herself badgering poor Mark after running into him at a local restaurant.


Robots, crowds or editors? Yes.

The news that Daylife — the social news-aggregator that Jeff Jarvis is involved with, and founder Craig Newmark has helped financially — has gotten a second round of funding is an optimistic note for the idea of social news, although I’m not quite sure Daylife is there yet (or Newsvine, or for that matter). Ashkan Karbasfrooshan says he thinks the perfect media product for the 21st century would be a mix of Techmeme, Digg and (which doesn’t get as much attention as I think it deserves).

I think he’s probably right, in the sense that all of those use some combination of “crowdsourcing” and editors/moderators, along with some algorithms (or robots). And that’s why I would argue that when it comes to Stan Schroeder’s question at Mashable — Who Will Bring Us News: Robots, Crowds, or Editors? — the answer should be: All of the above.

Digg takes links that people submit and lets users vote, and also uses algorithms to help determine what gets to the front page; Gabe Rivera uses an algorithm at, but also tweaks it himself constantly, using his dark geek magic 🙂 I think it makes sense to use readers as a resource — either to submit news links, or vote on them, or rank them based on clicks or comments, or some combination of all three — but it is also important to have editors who make judgments as well, and algorithms to smooth the process. It doesn’t have to be (and shouldn’t be) just one or the other.

Anyone want to buy “”

According to an ad… er, story that ran in the Wall Street Journal today, the domain name/business known as is on the block and could fetch as much as $400-million. Where did the paper come up with that number? Good question. The reporter says that it came from “people familiar with the matter,” which could mean anything from “the lawyer brokering the deal” to “my neighbour, who is in the domain-parking business.”

blowing-bubbles1.jpgMy friend Ashkan Karbasfrooshan at HipMojo, who knows a thing or two about advertising, argues that this isn’t just another dot-com bubblicious domain-name scam, since has actual revenues and has cash flow (or EBITDA, which is short for “earnings before bad stuff”) of $15-million. He even takes Adario Strange of Wired’s Epicenter blog to task in a comment for making it look like the domain itself is for sale at a price of $400-million. But really, would whoever buys the site (assuming Dow Jones or the NYT really want to) actually keep any of that pay-per-click, link-spam directory-scam business? I doubt it. And 25 times EBITDA is a heck of a multiple for any business like that, let alone a domain name.

If nothing else, the report — assuming it has even a shred of truth to it — makes Sky Dayton (founder of early ISP Earthlink as well as a mobile venture called Helio) and his partner Jake Winebaum, a former Disney executive, look like geniuses for buying the domain in 1999 for the whopping sum of $7.5-million and then hanging onto it until the market came back. Which (if this actually happens) it kind of looks like it has.

BlogTv is cool — except for the bars on the door

There’s been a bunch written about BlogTv over the past few days — including at Mashable and Jeff Pulver’s site — in part because the company has been at the Supernova conference in the Valley. BlogTv does streaming video and allows users to create their own “TV shows,” much like and, and lots of people seem to think that it’s a great thing, etc. etc.

snipshot_e4vw9oglksv.jpgSounds pretty good so far, right? But if you happen to be north of the 49th parallel, as I am, when you click on you go to instead. Some other sites do this too — it’s a redirect based on where your IP address is coming from. Google does it too, but allows you to click and go to if you wish. doesn’t do that. Why? Because — which was created by Alliance Atlantis, a large media and entertainment conglomerate that just got bought by another large media conglomerate — licensed the platform from an Israeli company called Tapuz, and it is only open to Canadians. As a result, content is blocked from Canadians.

Am I the only one who thinks that this sucks? (apparently not — Robert Sanzalone thinks it does too, and so does Global Nerdy). Call me crazy, but I think video-sharing works best when it’s open to anyone from anywhere, and I said exactly that on my Globe and Mail blog when I reviewed after it launched its beta. YouTube doesn’t have a U.S. version that is blocked from Canadians or anyone else for that matter, do they?

Alliance Atlantis tries to make the fact that is restricted to Canadians into a feature rather than a bug — it’s a “community” designed just for Canucks, they say. No offence to the bright minds at Alliance Atlantis, but that’s a load of bollocks. It’s geo-gating, and it’s dumb.

Something smells funny in videogame-land

I don’t know who to blame for the fact that Manhunt 2 has been indefinitely shelved by Rockstar Games: the Entertainment Software Rating Board, which rated the game Adults Only because of its “excessive violence” (thus ensuring that Sony and Nintendo would never release a version for their consoles); the video-game console makers for being such nervous Nellies, when they already ship violent titles by the truckload — and happily so; or Rockstar itself, for caving in and shelving the game.

snipshot_e4hug54p2wp.jpgIs Manhunt 2 extremely violent? Undoubtedly, considering the first one was, and the second likely ups the ante — considering the player is seeing the game through the eyes of someone who may be a psycopath, recently held in a mental institution. Is that an unreasonable premise for a game? I hardly think so. I played Max Payne and Max Payne 2, and they had a similar theme — including Satanism — and they were great. Moody, frightening, cinematic even. Doom 3 was quite the gore-fest too. And speaking of cinematic, why is it OK for kids to see the Saw movies, but not to play video games? As my friend Clive Thompson asked recently, why is it OK for me to grow up playing violent games, but not my kids?

Pando does P2P video — where’s BitTorrent?

NewTeeVee has a post about Pando, a large-file sharing application that is branching out into offering video streaming — something that makes perfect sense to me. If you’re already hosting files that people are sending through your servers because they are too big to email (David Pogue just wrote about discovering Pando in the New York Times — I guess he didn’t read my feature from awhile back that looked at different file-sending services), then why not do a little peer-to-peer streaming of video too?

pando.jpgPando announced the new feature at the Supernova conference in the Valley. According to NewTeeVee, they will be offering ad insertion for publishers, usage tracking and an API for integrating the service into their existing products. One question that occurred to me: why isn’t BitTorrent, the P2P service that Bram Cohen developed, doing this already? They did just announce a deal to build BitTorrent into set-top boxes, but the streaming back-end service seems like a no-brainer to me.

And speaking of back-end services, my new friend Ethan Kaplan — who I met when he came to be on a panel at mesh — has a brief but er… colourful post about video-streaming apps such as Ustream and and how they “bleed bandwidth out the arse.” Thanks for that image, Ethan.