Facebook app fund not such a bad idea

There’s lots of skepticism out there about stodgy venture-capital fund Bay Partners creating a special investment vehicle for Facebook apps, called AppFactory. Om’s post is entitled “Bonkers By The Bay,” which pretty much sums up his point of view on the idea — that it’s a dumb move by a VC firm that has been swept up in the Facebook hysteria, and that it’s dumb in part because it means building a business on a proprietary platform.

blowing-bubbles1.jpgOthers are similarly skeptical — Ashkan Karbasfrooshan of HipMojo, for example, can barely contain his derision for the idea. And the biggest criticism centers around whether Facebook apps are monetizable at all, something that venture capitalist Andrew Chen talked about in very skeptical terms in a recent interview with Inside Facebook. But Mike Arrington, who has no small amount of experience in the startup game himself, seems to think that building apps based on the Facebook platform isn’t such a bad idea at all, since it allows a startup to build and test something relatively quickly and cheaply (the guy behind the Bay venture, Salil Deshpande, responds multiple times in Mike’s comments).

For what it’s worth, I think Bay Partners is making a smart move. We’re talking about a relative pipsqueak of a fund in dollar terms — up to fifty investments worth $25,000 to $250,000 (but most likely far less). That’s pretty close to a rounding error in VC terms. Will any of them work out? Who knows. But it’s possible that one or two could become something real, using Facebook as a springboard, and that seems like a small chance worth taking, along the lines of what Google Ventures and Y Combinator are doing.

Crowdsourcing journalism is hard work

Wired magazine is running some of the stories that have been produced by Assignment Zero — the first “crowdsourcing” journalism experiment from Jay Rosen’s NewAssignment.net and Wired writer (and mesh panelist) Jeff Howe — and one of the first is a piece by Anna Haynes about just how difficult the entire process has been. As she describes it:

“The results of my efforts were mixed. Some parts were rewarding: I enjoyed digging to uncover lobbyist connections to earmarked appropriations in the Earmarks Project, plus there’s a certain satisfaction in publicly exposing stonewalling, and a different satisfaction in finally getting an answer.

But I contribute to crowdsourced journalism because I want my work to yield a high “social good” return, and by that metric, overall, the experience has been frustrating. With some of these projects I ended up with nothing to show for the time I put in.”

In the end, however, Anna says that she believes it was worth it — and that more of it needs to happen:

I did it, and will continue doing it, for the same reason that you keep going out on dates even though the first six guys didn’t measure up — you know there’s potential to the form, you want that potential to be realized, and you’re pretty sure that, if you keep plugging away and you put the word out, in time that potential will blossom.

Maybe Facebook is the new AOL

Given all the talk about Facebook being the new AOL — and I’m as guilty as the next guy — couldn’t the social network have tried a little harder to hire someone other than Chamath Palihapitiya, who was until recently a senior executive at the ill-fated Time Warner unit? His hiring is seen as just another sign that Facebook is prepping for an IPO.

snipshot_e4100kf4ucef.jpgOf course, Palihapitiya has other credentials as well, despite the fact that he is just 30 years old: he comes to Facebook after a brief stint at the venture-capital outfit Mayfield Fund, and before he was at AOL (where he ran the ICQ and AIM business and the broadband unit) he worked at Spinner.com and Winamp.com. Before that, according to his LinkedIn profile, he was a derivatives trader for BMO Nesbitt Burns in Toronto. Yes, the new Facebook hire is a Canadian boy, who was raised in Toronto and got his degree in electrical engineering at the University of Waterloo. He is also apparently a high-stakes poker player, according to his “fun facts” page at Mayfield, who has played no-limit games against some of the best. And he doesn’t take kindly to snotty car salesmen who fail to pay him the proper amount of respect, according to this New York Times article.

Blogging a military siege in Islamabad

I wrote about this last week — bloggers covering the attacks on a radical mosque in Pakistan — but wanted to return to the subject in a little more depth:

On some “metro-blogs” such as Torontoist.com or NYCBloggers.com, a big day might be a photo montage of a cultural event or a post about something dumb the mayor has done (always a good topic) — or a public fracas such as the one involving a bicycle courier and a driver that got Torontoist so many page views back in January of last year. At Metroblogging Islamabad, however, they have been “live-blogging” the ongoing incendiary standoff between a group of radical Islamic priests and the Pakistani army in the country’s capital city.

While U.S. cities were taking the day off to celebrate July 4th, Metroblogging Islamabad was posting updates like this one at 2:30 a.m.:

“The 111 Brigade from the RWP Corps has assembled at the Lal Masjid and there is a high probability of an assault. The area is cordoned off completely, and there is a curfew. EVERYONE IS ADVISED TO AVOID THE AREA AS SPECIAL FORCES AND OTHER SECURITY PERSONNEL HAVE BEEN TOLD TO EXERCISE MINIMUM RESTRAINT, ZERO TOLERANCE AND ‘SHOOT ON SIGHT.”

Further updates came at 2:40 and 3:00 a.m., then another at 3:10 saying simply “SHOTS FIRED!” At 5 p.m. came a post that said:

“Activity near the Lal Masjid intensifies as gun shots from automatic rifles are heard. Tracked vehicles can be heard. Gun smoke can be smelt several meters away from the site of action. The loudspeaker has gone mute, that was chanting Allah-o-Akbar. After the willing students left, the ones left inside seem to be ready for death or victory.”

Metroblogging Islamabad is part of the Metroblogging network, which includes more than 50 blogs in U.S. cities such as Los Angeles and Boston, but also foreign centres from Dublin to Manila. The network was started by Sean Bonner and Jason DeFillippo, and began with the Blogging.la website. A competing “metro-blog” network is the series of “-ist” blogs, which started with Gothamist and now includes Torontoist, Chicagoist and Shanghaiist among about fifteen other metro-blogging sites.

As the siege of the mosque in Islamabad continued last week, posts at Metroblogging Islamabad continued to chronicle the attempted escape of one of the ringleaders, disguised as an old woman in a burqa (“So much for Jihadi spirit!” says the post). The following day, the site carried posts about shots being fired in the mosque, heavy gunfire coming from Pakistan Army soldiers and the arrival of AH-1 helicopters — with a helpful link to the Wikipedia entry on military attack helicopters.

The siege has now gone on for six days, and Metroblogging Islamabad continues to pull together eyewitness reports, news reports and rumours on an almost hourly basis. Other Metroblogging sites have done similar things in the past, including the London site during the bombings in 2005 — where people posted eyewitness reports, impressions, news about the missing and so on — and the New Orleans site after the floods during Hurricane Katrina. Metroblogging Montreal also became one of the sites that people went to after the shootings at Dawson College to find out more about the event.

Is this an example of what some are calling “citizen journalism” in action? That’s difficult to say. While many of the reports on Metroblogging Islamabad are journalistic in nature, with facts and attribution (some to mainstream media, some to local reports and eyewitnesses), there are also posts like this one:

“Immense emotion fills me up when I think of the people that have died on the either side of this conflict. While one being in the capacity of delivering pictures to the outside world, I take this time to say a little prayer for Lt. Col. Haroon Islam, a son of Lahore.”

It may or may not be journalism, but whatever it is, I find it fascinating.

One social network to rule them all?

From Ionut Alex Chitu at Google Operating System comes news of a project from Carnegie Mellon University — sponsored by a large search engine whose name begins with a G and ends in “oogle” — to create a kind of social network called SocialStream. Although several reports wonder whether this could be a replacement for Google’s failed (except in Brazil) social network known as Orkut.com, it seems obvious from some of the documentation here and here that SocialSystem is designed to be a meta-social network.

snipshot_e47uot40nd1.jpgIn other words, it looks as though Google wants to help create the social-networking version of Einstein’s unified-field theory: a single place where users of different social networks can bring content together and share it, whether it comes from Flickr or Facebook (which is never explicitly mentioned) or a blog. As someone who feels a little overwhelmed by all the social networks I belong to and all the content I have scattered around in various places, this seems like a great idea to me (and others as well). But will it work?

The big question in my mind is whether sites like Facebook and MySpace and so on will allow their content to be pulled in and aggregated by Google (assuming that is what happens). Those sites have APIs, and many are opening up even further, so perhaps it won’t be an issue. But if you were a social network would you want to just be an adjunct to a Google site? Probably not.

Blogging is easy — just blog all day every day

snipshot_e41c2p5kvbdh.jpgMichael Parsons of CNET.co.uk has a piece in the Times Online — jumping off from the recent Wired profile of Mike Arrington and TechCrunch — that makes an excellent point. If you want to succeed at blogging about anything, you have to work at it. As Parsons says:

“Like all people who rise to the top of their profession, it demonstrates a simple truth: good bloggers work like dogs. You can’t expect readers to show up unless you show up. And the internet never closes.”

And in order to work that hard, in many cases for very little return (at least in the beginning), you have to love it. And if there is a competitive threat for traditional media, that is it in a nutshell. Parsons says:

“If you’re a journalist reading this and thinking, ah, time for a nice lunch and then perhaps this is the day to knock off early, take a moment to think of the bloggers out there who want to eat that lunch.”

Well said. Mike has his take here, and there’s another good example of hard work in the blogosphere paying off in this piece about Richard MacManus of Read/Write Web, who is a class act.

Warning: light blog posting ahead

As the weekend approaches, blog posts could be few and far between, since I will again be somewhere (a different place this time) with spotty Web access. Blame the weather 🙂

And so once again I leave you to picture me here, or somewhere like it:


MSFT: Hey, we can do p2p video too

I’m surprised it took this long, but word has filtered out about a streaming, peer-to-peer video application that Microsoft is backing, called LiveStation. Ars Technica got out the megaphone and started yelling about how Microsoft had announced a “Joost killer” — the “fill-in-the-blank killer” being one of the most popular memes in tech-land by far — but the writer of the piece has modified his original post after one of the developers of the app posted a comment taking issue with the Joost-killer angle.

snipshot_e41dp0o6qv1f.jpgAs pointed out by the LiveStation staffer — who actually works for a company called Skinkers, which Microsoft owns a stake in — and by Mike Arrington in his post at TechCrunch, LiveStation just does streaming of live broadcasts and not archived shows, and therefore isn’t a direct competitor with Joost or Babelgum.com or the other TV-style apps, which stream archived content. If anything, it’s a competitor with something like Slingbox, which can stream your existing TV signal over the Internet, or with RealNetworks (Om Malik has a typically level-headed post on it). And as more than one person has pointed out already, the key with LiveStation — as with Joost and any other app — is content. Will Microsoft be able to get access to compelling content? If not, then LiveStation will become DeadStation pretty quickly. My friend Steve O’Hear has a review of LiveStation here.