Light blogging expected to continue

Some of my more careful readers may have noticed that I haven’t exactly been posting up a storm lately, and that’s because I have been having waaaay too much fun offline — touring around PEI with the family, relaxing by the shores of Bay Fortune, which looks like this:


… and have also been doing a fair bit of this:


Regular blogging will return soon.

MyTimes is more like WhyTimes

As plenty of others are reporting elsewhere, the New York Times has launched the public version of its MyTimes customizable home page, which has been in beta for almost a year now. I tried it out when it first launched and I confess my reaction was very similar to some of the other responses out there — in other words, the new offering has some not bad features, but nothing that’s going to alter the fabric of the Web or cause the earth to stop rotating.

I think one of the most interesting features is the ability to check out — and add the RSS feeds for — some of the sites that New York Times reporters and columnists like to go to. I confess I haven’t really spent much time on the site since I checked it out initially, but the last time I looked they hadn’t done much apart from letting you add feeds from NYT writers and add tabs specific to each of your favourite authors.

My friend Mike Masnick at Techdirt isn’t very impressed with the site, and I share his lack of enthusiasm. While it’s not a bad offering, I wonder why the Times bothered with MyTimes when there are others offering much the same features. I assume they’re hoping faithful readers will gravitate to the site because of their love for the brand, but I’m not sure that’s true. If I were them, I would have spent a bit more time trying to make it unique.

Zoho offline: Is being first enough?

As Mike Arrington points out at TechCrunch, Zoho has launched offline support for its Zoho Writer application (although it’s read-only for now) using Google Gears — which is more than a little ironic, considering Google still hasn’t offered the same functionality for Google Docs.

But while that irony makes for a funny post, does it really amount to anything from a competitive point of view? I’m not so sure it does. Implementing Gears support for Google Docs would probably take about half an hour of programming time — and in all likelihood requires little more than a piece of script to be turned on.

There’s no question that having offline support is a key feature, and Zoho should be congratulated for offering it. But Is being first enough to give it any kind of compelling advantage over Google Docs? Unlikely.

Does Skype outage betray flaws in P2P?

At last, the folks at Skype have provided us with a half-decent explanation of what happened when the peer-to-peer telephone service went dark for almost two full days last week. Unfortunately for Skype, it’s not a very favourable one. The company does its best to blame the service outage on Microsoft, saying the disruption was triggered by a massive wave of restarts by users whose computers had downloaded routine updates from Microsoft:

“The disruption was triggered by a massive restart of our users’ computers across the globe within a very short timeframe as they re-booted after receiving a routine set of patches through Windows Update. The high number of restarts affected Skype’s network resources.”

logo_skype.jpgBut the real culprit seems to be the company’s own software, which handles the provisioning of services across millions of individual PCs. Apparently the simultaneous restarts led to a wave of login requests and that — combined with a flaw in Skype’s network-management software — caused the failure:

“This caused a flood of log-in requests, which, combined with the lack of peer-to-peer network resources, prompted a chain reaction that had a critical impact.

Normally Skype’s peer-to-peer network has an inbuilt ability to self-heal, however, this event revealed a previously unseen software bug within the network resource allocation algorithm which prevented the self-healing function from working quickly.”

The chief technology officer of SightSpeed argues that the event Skype experienced shows the flaws in its P2P network structure. Instead of relying on its own servers, Skype’s network uses some of its users’ individual PCs as “SuperNodes” to handle the traffic flow of data. The loss of any significant number of those SuperNodes, he argues, can cause a substantial disruption.

It should be noted that SightSpeed — which uses a P2P network structure with central servers instead of SuperNodes — is a competitor of Skype’s, and is offering any disgruntled Skype users a special trial of its premium services. And as one commenter on the post notes, SightSpeed’s model is also far from immune to outages, and arguably less robust because it depends on the company’s servers alone to handle traffic.

Nevertheless, the outage has no doubt caused more than one Skype user to wonder about the network that the service is based on. There is a comment <a href="“>on one of Om Malik’s posts that appears to be from someone with knowledge of the Skype SuperNode problem.

Newspapers ignore Google at their peril

An editorial about Google in the Los Angeles Times has caused quite a kerfuffle (or perhaps a brouhaha) in the blogosphere — in part because the editorial said that for some newspapers, the search engine and its Google News aggregator are as bad as Osama bin Laden.

Robert Niles of the Online Journalism Review says the paper “lit its credibility on fire” with that statement, and insulted its readers with a misunderstanding of how Google News operates and what the benefits are for online journalism. Jeff Jarvis says — and I would agree — that the editorial seems to be mocking newspapers that see Google as Osama.

In any case, there does seem to be a tone of righteous indignation to the editorial, at the idea that someone like Google could be so bold as to claim that a feature of theirs — in this case, the ability to add comments to a Google News story — might help to improve journalism. And that is where I think the LA Times misses the boat.

As my friend Scott Karp at Publishing 2.0 points out, journalism is no longer (if it ever was) a thing that is crafted and polished and then delivered to newspaper readers for their enlightenment every morning. It is something that develops over time — a continuous process, and media outlets are only part of that process now.

I think smart newspapers know that, and are trying to make their readers, their community, and those affected by news events a part of that process. The not-so-smart ones are making fun of Google and hoping it goes away.

Can you say “Facebook bubble”?

Wow. That’s all I can say. Inside Facebook says that TripAdvisor has bought the “Where I’ve Been” app for Facebook for a massive $3-million — which works out to about $1.30 for every one of the widget’s 2.3 million users (and I use that term loosely). As the site notes, that’s about 30 times what Slide paid for the “Favourite Peeps” app a couple of months ago.

Pete Cashmore at Mashable says that works out to about $43,000 for developer Craig Ulliot for every day that his app has been in existence. Not bad. Just a little while ago, Andrew Chen wrote a blog post in which he pondered how an app like Ulliot’s might monetize its users — I guess he just got his answer.

Peter Kafka of Silicon Valley Insider says that the price paid for Where I’ve Been might not be all that insane after all, depending on what TripAdvisor does with it, and Phil Sim of Squash says flipping is nothing to be ashamed of.


This appears not to be happening. Inside Facebook has a (brief) update here.

Sifry out, layoffs galore at Technorati

It has looked for awhile as though Technorati was having difficulties — and not just technical difficulties but in the executive suite as well, with founder and CEO Dave Sifry writing on his blog earlier this year that the blog-search company was looking for someone to replace him — but now the wheels really appear to have come off. Sifry is leaving the company completely, without a CEO to fill his shoes, and eight people are being laid off.

In his farewall post, Sifry says the company will be run in the interim by a committee of the board (trust me when I say this is rarely a good sign), and that the search for a CEO continues. The Technorati founder says he will continue to be “engaged strategically from the point of view of a director on the board.” According to his post, he will be chairman. As for the layoffs, Sifry says:

“Because we’ll be focusing our efforts more precisely moving forward, it became clear we needed to adjust our expense structure to be more appropriately aligned with our priorities moving forward. So, we had to make the difficult decision to part ways with eight of our staff members.”

I’ll say this much for Dave — he certainly seems to have gotten the hang of the cold-blooded CEO dismissal message. Om notes that one of Technorati’s biggest issues (apart from uptime problems) is that Google is eating the company’s lunch. Tom Foremski of Silicon Valley Watcher has some added perspective on the difficulties of the startup game here.

USAToday — bad model or bad fit?


As Allen Stern of Centernetworks notes in the comments here, and Mike Arrington notes in this follow-up post on USAToday, the paper says that its traffic not only hasn’t fallen but is actually up by double digits. Maybe we need to file this one under the heading: “better traffic data urgently needed.”

Original post:

There’s a post up at TechCrunch in which Mike Arrington raises the question of whether the USAToday’s high-profile launch of “Web 2.0”-style features — including comments on news stories, blogs, voting on stories, and so on — is paying off or not. According to the stats Mike has from Compete and comScore, traffic to the site has fallen over the past several months by anywhere from 14 to 29 per cent.

At first, I assumed — like <a href="“>some commenters — that this might be explained by a normal summer decline in readers, a lack of compelling news, etc. But as Mike points out in his graph, the Washington Post and the New York Times haven’t seen any similar decline over the same period.


Of course, all the usual caveats about traffic measurement should be inserted here — neither Compete nor comScore (nor any of the other major measurement agencies, for that matter) have what you would call 100-per-cent reliable statistics. But the fact that both of them together show a similar trend at least leads me to believe they are on the right track.

So what can we learn from all this? Mike wonders whether it’s possible that “news and social networking just don’t mix.” But I think Tish Grier — who was involved with Jay Rosen’s Assignment Zero crowd-sourcing project, among other things — gets closer to the mark with her post, in which she argues (as I have in the past) that, well… social networking is hard.

You can’t just set up shop and expect people to suddenly show up and start contributing and interacting. For one thing, as Chris Heuer argues, online community doesn’t fit with everyone and everything. There also needs to be real interaction from the newspaper side as well, and encouragement and moderation and so on. It’s like gardening, not construction. And there has to be a reason for people to want to participate, as <a href="“>someone notes in the comments on Mike’s post.

Much like gardening, it also takes time for the fruits of your labours to become obvious — I’m not sure we should write USAToday’s experiment off just yet. And for what it’s worth, Jason at Webomatica says that he enjoys the comments there.

Some great advice from the Doctor

Doc Searls has an excellent post up with some advice for newspapers trying to make their websites better. One quibble: he’s still trying to push the “charge for the new, give away the old” idea, which I gave him some grief for last time be brought it up (and he gracefully admitted that he might not be right about the “charge for the new” part).

In any case, the rest of his advice — including the “give away the old” part of the above statement — makes perfect sense and should be laminated and posted in every newsroom from sea to shining sea. Bon mots include the following:

Start following, and linking to, local bloggers and even competing papers (such as the local arts weeklies). You’re not the only game in town anymore, and haven’t been for some time.

The whole “bloggers vs. journalism” thing is a red herring, and a rotten one at that. There’s a symbiosis that needs to happen, and it’s barely beginning. Get in front of it, and everybody will benefit.

Stop calling everything “content”. It’s a bullshit word that the dot-commers started using back in the ’90s as a wrapper for everything that could be digitized and put online… Your job is journalism, not container cargo.

There’s plenty more where those came from. Go read the whole thing — I’ll wait.

Who does Kara Swisher work for?

The question in the title of this post is meant to be facetious — sort of. I know that Kara works for the Wall Street Journal, or at least for Dow Jones (and ultimately for Rupert Murdoch now). The only reason I ask is that she broke a story about Facebook on her Boomtown blog, which is located at All Things D, the site that she and WSJ gadget guru Walt Mossberg run. That story appears nowhere at the Journal site, as far as I can tell.

about_th_kara.jpg All Things D started as an online adjunct to the similarly named tech conference, which Swisher and Mossberg have put on since 2003, and which regularly features geekosphere luminaries such as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and a few other people you might have heard of. The website was recently relaunched as a news/blogging site with regular posts from Kara and John Paczkowski (and somewhat less frequent posts by Mossberg). The site is owned by Dow Jones but “run autonomously as a small online start-up,” according to the About page.

I guess what I’m driving at is that I think what All Things D is doing is an interesting experiment. Some of Kara’s video interviews show up at the Journal site, but her blog appears to only be at — and the Facebook story is only there (at least for now), perhaps because it’s just a management shuffle at a non-public company, and therefore might not merit a full WSJ story.

In any case, it will be interesting to see what happens if Kara breaks more stories there rather than the WSJ site — it’s possible that the Journal won’t even care, since it apparently sells ads at All Things D as well.


Kara’s rather long disclosure statement (in which she also talks about the fact that her partner Megan Smith is the director of new business development at Google) notes that she is no longer on staff at the Journal but is employed as an independent contractor. I still think the model the Journal is experimenting with at All Things D is an interesting one.