NYT on blog comments as conversation

An interesting piece in the New York Times today (although it was in the Fashion & Style section, which I thought was a little odd). I’m not sure if the topic signals some kind of evolution in the way the Times looks at the blogosphere or an evolution in the blogosphere itself — or maybe a bit of both.

It’s about people who have become known — “Internet famous” — not for having a popular blog, or for being a YouTube star, but for commenting on other people’s blogs and content (no doubt an academic somewhere will call this “meta-blogging.”) As the Times piece puts it:

“Since many blogs have a readership of one — or, at best, the writer, his mother and some guy he sat next to in seventh grade who found him on Google — piggybacking on a more popular site offers a wider audience for a keyboard jockey’s gripes and quips.

Not everyone is up to the task of creating a blog with the kind of consistent tone and provocative topics that attract visitors.”

The Times piece profiles a Metafilter commenter known as DaShiv, as well as Seth Chadwick, who posts on a food-related site called Chowhound. But my favourite quote comes from Marshall Poe, a professor of new media at the University of Iowa, who describes the motivation of commenters in this way:

“You are one of the millions of people who sit at a computer all day… every hour you have 10 minutes where you’re not doing anything productive at work, and you can’t look at porn.

So you make a comment and fulfill this desire to show yourself off as a smarty-pants.”

The Times piece also talks about a commenter on Gawker, where the site picks and chooses who will be allowed to comment, and so a competition has developed where people try to post the wittiest comments so that they can join the club. Now that’s social networking. And DaShiv explains why he prefers to comment at Metafilter rather than starting his own blog:

“It’s easier to join in on a conversation than to start one,” he said matter of factly.

And it takes both kinds to make the blogosphere tick.

Apple: What happened to thinking different?

picture-134.jpg Hats off to Erick Schoenfeld — ex of Business 2.0, and now the Numero Duo over at TechCrunch — for his post about Apple and the iPhone. At the risk of getting flamed again (or having my server melt down from the Digg-storm), I have to say that I think he has put his finger on one of the main things that bothers me about the whole iPhone/iBrick episode: namely, that by locking down its device and crippling it when anyone messes with it, Apple is acting just like every other phone company and device company. That is likely to come as a disappointment for many Apple fans — or at least those who believed that the phrase “Think different” was more than just a marketing slogan. As Erick puts it:

Apple, of course, is free to try to lock in customers to its partner AT&T and to control what software will work on the phone. That’s just the way the cell phone business works. Right? It’s all about customer lock-in and reducing churn.

More than one commenter on my previous Apple post made the exact same point: Why should we criticize Apple for cutting off that guy’s Internet access because he was uploading code from his iTouch? Why should we give Steve-O a hard time just because Apple wants to control what people do with his phone? After all, that’s what companies do.

The only problem with all of that (as some other commenters on my earlier Apple post pointed out) is that I think people have grown used to the idea of Apple as a different kind of company — the company that makes things easier to use, not harder; the one that actually cares what people want and tries to give it to them. Was that idea just an illusion?

Nick Carr says it’s because Steve sees Apple products as works of art, and doesn’t want people to mess with them, which I think is probably pretty close to the mark. According to the accounts I’ve read of Apple’s birth, he didn’t want to let people fiddle with the first Apple PCs either.


Peter Ha has some videos that also make the point over at CrunchGear.

Interview: Spiral Frog CEO Joe Mohen

(This is a story I wrote for globetechnology.com about Spiral Frog, based on an interview I did with founder and CEO Joe Mohen. I’m cross-posting it here for anyone who might have missed it. You can listen to the audio of our interview here. And my colleague Ivor Tossell has a look at the service here)

Delivering entertainment for free — paid for by occasional ads for cars and toothpaste — has worked pretty well for TV and radio all these years. So why not use the same model for music that gets delivered over the Internet? That’s the idea behind SpiralFrog, a new service that launched in Canada and the United States earlier this month. It’s one of a number of services that are trying to make a business out of giving away ad-supported music.

With Spiral Frog, users must watch a video advertisement or take a survey while a song is downloading. Two-thirds of the income from those ads is then passed on to record companies and others who hold the licensing rights to the music. Spiral Frog founder Joe Mohen, a former U.S. software industry executive, says that while the idea seems simple enough, the reality of putting together such a service has been “the most complex project I’ve ever undertaken.”

The company has been around for almost five years, but only opened to the public a couple of weeks ago, in part because the technical issues involved were so complex. The service was originally scheduled to launch last year. SpiralFrog has also undergone a certain amount of executive turmoil. Several senior executives left the company abruptly in January, including CEO Robin Kent, the former chairman and CEO of ad agency Universal McCann.

Continue reading “Interview: Spiral Frog CEO Joe Mohen”

Hey — you got your blogs in my newspaper!

Every now and then, I come across a blog post that hits so close to home that I just find myself nodding, wordlessly, as I read it. Choire Sicha, the editor at Gawker and former editor at the New York Observer (whose name is pronounced “cory see-ka,” in case you’re interested) wrote just such a post on a topic close to my heart: namely, newspapers and blogs.

Choire’s post is entitled “Newspapers Now Stuffed Full Of Blogs, But No Clue Where To Put Them,” and he scans the landscape of newspaper blogs from the New York Times and the Guardian to the Chicago Tribune and the Miami Herald, and finds plenty of blogs, but poorly organized:

“Nearly all newspaper websites mistakenly segregate their blogs off with the other blogs. They’re organizing by form, not by content.

Readers just don’t come to a newspaper’s website looking for a messy passel of blogs. They come looking for sports, or fashion, no matter what “form” it’s in. Old newspaper editors may think blogs are some crazy different variety of publication; readers don’t.”

blogging.jpgI’m not sure Choire is quite right on that one. I admit that ghettoizing blogs doesn’t seem quite right either, or grouping them together just because they’re blogs. But I also think that if the word means anything to people at all, it means a personal take on something — and one that encourages (hopefully) reader interaction in the form of comments, etc. I often look for blogs because I know they will give me that, and I expect others do as well. Choire makes a good point about lots of bloggers “screaming into the void,” with nary a comment on them — presumably because readers can’t find them. In many cases, I suspect that this is because the papers in question are making fairly poor use of things like prominently displayed RSS feeds, keywords that are hooked into Technorati or some other blog indexing engine, and the ability to ping blog search engines with new posts.

Jeff Jarvis makes the point that blogs may not even belong on newspaper sites in the first place. Jeff is a big believer in the idea of keeping blogs separate, and forming a loose federation with a newspaper (which is what he does with his PrezVid blog), and I think that is an interesting way of solving the monetization issue while still keeping the blogger’s voice separate and distinct.

Plenty of room for improvement, let’s put it that way 🙂

CBS: Creating a lab for mashups

While most of the major U.S. TV networks are struggling with the idea of YouTube and dipping their toes gingerly into new areas — such as streaming their new shows over the Interweb — CBS is pushing the envelope in a number of different ways. For example, according to a story in the Wall Street Journal, the network is setting up a site just for short-form video “mashups” and other content created both by CBS staff and by viewers.

The site, which is to be called EyeLab, is designed to appeal to Web surfers who have grown used to watching and sharing YouTube video clips or user-generated tributes to various mainstream shows — such as the collection of corny one-liners from CSI: Miami that a fan going by the name stewmurray47 put together and uploaded to YouTube. The clip has gotten more than a million views, which is enough to get a network executive drooling.

Steve Safran, who writes for the excellent TV blog Lost Remote, describes the conversation that he imagines taking place at CBS after someone mentions the David Caruso clip:

Executive Three: “You mean the thing I wanted pulled down from YouTube?

Executive One: “That’s the one. Anyway, it was a big hit.”

Executive Two: (Suddenly interested) “Oh. Really?”

Executive Three: How big?

Executive One: About one million views and counting.

(Executives Two and Three actually have $$ signs light up in their eyes)

According to the WSJ story, CBS has hired half a dozen video-editing twentysomethings to create mashups like the CSI: Miami clip — and the network also plans to find and distribute similar clips created by users and viewers as well. Hopefully CBS has contacted stewmurray47 about a job, since it was his clip that more or less gave the network the idea.

If CBS is looking for ways of using video clips to build audience interaction or interest in a show, it should take a look at what actor Adrian Pasdar is doing with behind-the-scenes video from the TV show Heroes. The actor, who plays one of the leading roles on the show, has uploaded to YouTube (using the name “buckshotwon”) dozens of clips of his fellow actors goofing around backstage, and each one gets between 15,000 and 20,000 views.

Whether CBS’s effort will be successful or not remains to be seen, but I think it is an interesting idea. Building a community around your content — or making it easy for people who enjoy that content in different ways to share it with each other — is one of the few tools that the TV networks have left (hopefully CBS will find ways of aggregating that content from wherever it is, rather than requiring everyone to sign up with yet another site).

Hat tip to LAist for the info about Pasdar and his video clips.

Yahoo: Somebody set us up the bomb!

I was really hoping that the much talked-about meeting of senior Yahoo types that is taking place in Sunnyvale today — which Mike Arrington describes as a meeting of the “leadership team” — would turn out to be a barn-burner, a firecracker thrown into the sleepy boardrooms of the Internet behemoth that might get some people moving again.

After reading Kara Swisher’s description of what is likely to happen, however, I’m not sure I should be hoping for much of anything. Several hundred vice-presidents doesn’t exactly qualify as a “leadership team,” as far as I’m concerned. In fact, calling it a team at all kind of distorts the meaning of the word beyond all recognition.

Technically, it’s possible that something dramatically positive will come out of the meeting, and that it will add some real meat to Yahoo’s 100-day plan to turn things around. But I’m not holding my breath. And I fear that Valleywag’s source may be right when he or she says of the 100-day idea:

The punchline is that there is no plan. Yang was just saying it in a conversational, rally-the-troops sort of way, not realizing that the Street and the Valley were going to to mark that date in red ink and count the days… The first rule of being CEO: don’t set your company up to fail.

If the plan boils down to “rewrite our ad-serving code again to try and make it more like Google’s,” then I fear for Yahoo’s future even more than I did before.

Note: for those who might not get the reference in the headline of this post, it’s from the “all your base are belong to us” meme, more information about which can be found here.

Google Earth changes our perceptions

Came across a quirky little story from Associated Press yesterday, but one that sort of made me think (and Danny Sullivan too, it seems). It seems that the U.S. Navy is planning to spend $600,000 (about the cost of a new wrench or toilet seat in military terms) to change the structure or appearance of a little-known Navy barracks unit near San Diego. Why? Because it looks like a swastika in Google Earth.


How many planes and helicopters have flown over that building in the 40 years since it was built? Thousands, I would assume. It’s probably been one of those quirky things that local pilots know, but hardly anyone else is aware of. Until Google Earth, of course — or Keyhole, as it was known before Google bought it. Someone first spotted it while using Keyhole in 2005.

According to several reports, the Navy realized the buildings would look like a swastika from the air after they were built, but decided that it wasn’t important because not that many people would be able to see it.

Mobile Web sucks — or maybe it doesn’t

So it appears that Russell Beattie — who took a sabbatical from blogging for a year or so, for reasons I never quite understood — is, well… a little ticked at some of the criticisms that Scott Karp levels at the mobile Web in a post at Publishing 2.0. So ticked that he sprinkles his post liberally with the F word (a good, Anglo-Saxon word that I have no problem with).

prod-mobile.jpgI actually found myself nodding as I read Scott’s list of things he dislikes about the mobile Web experience. For example, Russell essentially calls Scott a moron because he complains about how most websites don’t automatically detect a mobile browser and send a mobilized version of their site — but that’s something that bugs me too. I have a script for my blog (from the excellent Alex King) that serves up a stripped-down version when it detects a mobile device. It’s not rocket surgery. But lots of sites don’t do it.

But Russell says this complaint just “highlights one’s inability to use a decent mobile browser and or the lack of effort to bookmark a site’s mobile version,” which I think kind of misses the point. It’s possible that Russell’s thoughts on that particular matter have something to do with the fact that he’s working on a startup called Mowser.com, which does exactly that — takes websites and feeds them through a transmogrifier that turns them into mobile-friendly sites.

I also happen to think that mobile sites could cut down on the advertising a bit, which is another of Scott’s criticisms. But Russell says that “complaining about a website having ads is like complaining it’s not 1996 anymore. Grow up.” Why not keep the ads on the full version of the site, where most people still go? That doesn’t seem like a huge deal to me either.

I have nothing against a little swearing to make a point — in fact, I’m in favour of it. And I like a strongly-worded critical polemic or two (and have written my share). But to me, Russell’s post seemed so angry and over the top that it made me wonder what else was going on. Rex seems to agree with me. I certainly don’t think that Scott said anything as moronic as Russ is making it out to be. Karoli has more at Odd Time Signatures.