Dabble with project management in Facebook

It may sound like a new way to torment your friends using Facebook, but a widget that Vancouver-based DabbleDB just launched also strikes me as an interesting way of managing different tasks or parts of a project among a group of Facebook users. Not only can you create tasks and to-do lists for yourself, but you can create them for others as well — and then bug them until they’ve finished them. Here’s a link to the widget, and my friend Paul Kedrosky (whose venture firm has an investment in Dabble) has more here.

Has the NYT seen the light on the pay wall?

According to a report in the New York Post, the New York Times has decided to drop the Times Select pay wall that keeps most of its opinion and editorial content, including its popular op-ed columnists, locked up for paying customers only. The Post says that publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. has made the decision but the paper is trying to resolve various software issues before announcing it.

The story also notes that the Times has seen its subscription base for Times Select flatten (the Post report says the number dipped in June to 221,000 from 224,000 in April, but the Times has said those figures are wrong). As Henry Blodget points out at Silicon Alley Insider, it has been obvious for some time that Times Select was not growing and would never become a substantial part of the newspaper company’s business.

One could argue that getting people to pay $11-million is better than nothing, but $11 million in revenue for an operation the size of the NYT is a rounding error. It hardly seems worth it — especially when columnists like Maureen Dowd and Thomas Friedman (love them or hate them) are among the best draws the paper has. To keep them locked up for paying customers only instead of maximizing their traffic-drawing abilities seems increasingly absurd.

I hope the Post report is for real. Scott Karp has a more in-depth look at why Times Select makes no sense in an online media world. In other newspaper-related news, a new report says that online advertising revenue is expected to eclipse newspaper advertising revenue by 2011.

Fake Steve and the power of blogs

By now, anyone who isn’t living in a cave probably knows that the blogger behind Fake Steve Jobs has been exposed as Forbes writer Daniel Lyons. If you need to find out more, you can read one of the eight thousand posts about it on Techmeme. I’m not all that interested in finding out FSJ’s secret identity — in fact, I was kind of hoping he wouldn’t be found out.

What I find really fascinating, like Anil Dash of SixApart and my friend Joey deVilla from Global Nerdy, is that Daniel Lyons is also the guy who wrote the Forbes magazine screed about blogs not so long ago. Does that make him a hypocrite? Perhaps — although I would argue that, like many magazine writers (or newspaper writers for that matter) Lyons likely took a stance for the article that he knew would be controversial, as a rhetorical device, and may or may not have actually felt that way personally.

In any case, that clearly didn’t stop him from seeing the power of having a blog. As Anil puts it: “The benefits of blogging for one’s career or business are so profound that they were even able to persuade a dedicated detractor.” And Scott Karp at Publishing 2.0 notes that Lyons clearly felt compelled to do something more creative than Forbes allowed him to do, and as a result he is likely to benefit from it — at Forbes’ expense.

Money = a way of keeping score

When I read the New York Times piece about the poor multi-millionaires lamenting their poverty — while living in million-dollar homes and making hundreds of times more than the average person — I had many of the same thoughts as my friends Mark Evans, Jason at Webomatica and Jeremy Toeman at Live Digitally. In other words, a combination of disbelief, irritation and more than a whiff of outright disgust.

At the same time though, one of the things that the piece brought home to me was that beyond a certain point — in most cases, once people get past having to work to literally put food on the table or a roof over their family’s heads — money doesn’t really matter in the same sense any more.

I’ve seen it happen to stockbrokers and bond traders and men who have made millions in the oil patch: many of them would continue to work just as hard if they were being paid in poker chips or jelly beans, provided everyone else in their social circle was also being paid in poker chips or jelly beans.

At that point, what matters is who you see as your peers, why you are doing what you’re doing, and what you see as important in life. And in many cases, the drive that makes people work so hard can’t just be turned off with the flick of a switch once they make a certain amount of money. In many ways, the money is irrelevant. I wish I knew what that felt like ๐Ÿ™‚

Freshbooks helps Amazon take on PayPal

I know there’s been a lot of Canadian flag-waving around here, what with my recent posts on Treehugger, Club Penguin and Webkinz, but heck, if I don’t wave it, then who will? In any case, there’s some news today about another Canadian Web 2.0 success story, namely Freshbooks — which (full disclosure) is run by my friend and fellow mesh organizer Michael McDerment.

As discussed in a post over at the Amazon Web Services blog, Freshbooks is one of a handful of partners that has been testing a new service called Amazon Flexible Payment Service. Mike’s partner Sunir explains more about the details of the testing they’ve been doing in a post at the Freshbooks blog, and Amazon has more details on FPS here, and Phil Burns says he is already working on integrating it with Facebook.

cash.jpgAmazon’s payment service (which Mike Arrington broke the news of here) looks to me like something that has the potential to become a real competitor to PayPal, a service that has many great features but has also irritated many users by being, well… inflexible. And at least at first glance, the pricing for FPS looks fairly competitive with PayPal and Google Checkout. Even Uncov seems to like it ๐Ÿ™‚ FPS joins a stable of impressive services Amazon has launched over the past year or so, including its S3 storage business and the EC2 or “elastic computing in the cloud” business — which companies can effectively use as a virtual server farm.

As the AWS blog describes it:

In much the same way that S3 and EC2 allow developers to forget about leasing space in data centers, buying servers and negotiating for bandwidth, FPS shields developers from many of the messy and complex issues which arise when dealing with money.

There are no minimum fees and no startup charges, and any transaction fees are obvious and transparent to the user, Amazon says. As James Robertson notes on his blog, Google gets a lot of attention, but Amazon continues to roll out services that are inexpensive, useful and potentially even revolutionary with very little fanfare. Congrats to Mike and his team for getting in on the ground floor of what could be another winner.

Club Penguin got bought — is Webkinz next?

It’s rare enough to have an industry-leading Web service that is based in Canada, let alone two of the top 10. But if you define “online virtual worlds aimed at children” as an industry, then that’s what we’ve got with Club Penguin and Webkinz. The former just got acquired by Disney for an eye-popping $700-million, after less than two years in business.

In what is sure to become a legendary Canadian example of bootstrapping a company, the popular social networking/game site was created by three friends in Kelowna, B.C. as a wholesome place for their young children to play and was completely self-funded by credit cards, angel investors and friends (much to the chagrin of several VCs).

snipshot_e4cpbnum66l.jpgWebkinz is a little different from Club Penguin. While the latter is strictly an online phenomenon, Webkinz — which also got its start about two years ago, but in Toronto — is a clever blend of online virtual world and offline toy. The company behind the site, a third-generation toy company called Ganz, came up with the idea of creating a toy that had a virtual doppelganger on a social-networking style website. Webkinz plush animals (which cost $15 each) come with a code that gives their owner access to the Webkinz world. They can then design a “house” for their avatar, and buy toys or furniture with their virtual money, or Kinz Cash. They also have to take care of their virtual pet, and players can chat — but only using stock phrases generated by the site — as well as play games and win Kinz Cash.

Club Penguin and Webkinz are alike in one thing, apart from their appeal for young children and “tweens”: although Ganz (a private company) doesn’t release membership figures, it and Club Penguin appear to have roughly the same number of subscribers — about 4 million or so, according to several estimates. Does that mean Webkinz might be worth $700-million too? After all, Club Penguin reportedly talked to several other companies about an acquisition, including Sony, which was ready to offer $500-million, as well as News Corp. (although Ganz itself has not confirmed any previous talks).

The Webkinz business model is slightly different, however. While both sites have a free section in which kids can play to a limited extent, in order to do anything more elaborate they have to become members — which in Club Penguin’s case costs $5.95 a month or $60 for a year. Webkinz owners can get access to everything by buying a single toy, which only costs $15, although many owners (such as the woman we wrote about in this story) have half a dozen Webkinz or more. But while Club Penguin’s revenues may be higher, Ganz has likely made about $60-million already on its virtual venture.

Whether that is appealing enough for a takeover bid is difficult to say, and it’s also unclear whether Ganz would be willing to sell Webkinz, which is likely a blockbuster cash generator for the company. One (possibly hopeful) venture capitalist blogged recently that he could see a spin-off, acquisition or even an IPO in the company’s future, but Ganz spokesman Susan McVeigh said late Thursday that the toymaker likely wouldn’t be interested. “Ganz is a privately-held family business and is very proud of that,” she said.

Google wants you to help create maps

snipshot_e4rwknta5mt.jpgAccording to a recent speech by Google Earth’s chief technology officer Michael Jones — which Brady Forrest describes at the O’Reilly blog — the site is using “crowdsourcing” techniques to generate detailed maps of India — using a package that the company has put together with a GPS transmitter and some software that it hasn’t publicly released yet. There’s a transcription of the talk and some more details at Dan Karran’s blog, and the Google Earth blog notes that this approach is very similar to the Open Street Map project — except of course that OSM is, well… open. More thoughts at FortiusOne. We all work for Google in one way or another, don’t we? Whether we know it or not ๐Ÿ™‚

Creating a top blog: So easy a kid can do it

Came across a great story at CNET, in a post that SEO (search engine optimization) blogger Stephen Spencer wrote about his 16-year-old daughter Chloe and her website. As she told a recent conference, Chloe loved Neopets so much that she wanted to set up a website about them, so with her dad’s help she looked up some popular keywords and built a blog on WordPress. He says she is now making close to $1,000 a month.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=djjl_4jeznw&w=425&h=350]


Next: A Simpson’s medical textbook

xin_3120704301027437122523.jpgI just love this story: an article on multiple sclerosis at Xinhua, the Chinese news site, used a “file photo” of an X-ray that happens to be a still image from The Simpson’s — namely, an X-ray of Homer’s brain. An editorial comment about MS patients? Unlikely. Tony Hung wonders whether it’s a cultural thing, and Joey deVilla at Global Nerdy thinks it might have something to do with the kind of animation used in Asian instruction manuals. I think the explanation is pretty simple: the image is number three when you do a Google image search for the term “X-ray.”

Nice guys do finish first sometimes

snipshot_e41bgtfca5ut.jpgThree hard-working, family-oriented guys from the picturesque mountain town of Kelowna, B.C. A website that is filled with nothing but wholesome, kid-friendly entertainment featuring that most kid-friendly of animals, the penguin — and not a single advertisement, pop-up window or spyware-installing toolbar. The only way the Club Penguin story could be any more Canadian is if the site featured Mounties in it. The company even donates 10 per cent of its profits to charities involving underprivileged youth. If Mother Theresa had kids, this is the website they would play on. The site is so clean it almost squeaks. Congratulations to the Club Penguin team — nice guys (and Canadians) do finish first sometimes.