Free means never having to say you’re sorry

Not surprisingly, the decision by the New York Times to tear down its pay wall has fueled speculation that Rupert Murdoch will do the same thing with the Wall Street Journal — speculation that has been around for awhile now, primarily because ol’ Rupe keeps talking about it (of course, knowing Murdoch, that’s probably just a way of keeping the media writing about him).

I’ve written about this before, after the Australian billionaire took over the Journal, and I hope by now I’ve made it clear that I think free makes the most sense not just for the Times or the Journal but for virtually every newspaper including the one I work for. There are those — like former journalists Mark Potts at Recovering Journalist and Dorian Benkoil at Corante who disagree, and think that subscription is a model that works, but they are wrong.

I should clarify that. They are right in the short term, but wrong in the long term. As the Times has admitted, charging people for content created a subscription business that made money, but one that wasn’t growing very much (if at all). I’m not privy to the numbers at the Globe and Mail, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we have seen a similar pattern. Steve Boriss argues that this could be because the NYT did it wrong, but I’m not convinced.

Scott Rosenberg of Salon, among others, has written about the difficulties of financing a large newsroom through online revenues only, and that is definitely a concern. But I believe — as Jay Rosen and other smart people do — that being part of the online ecosystem (which includes permanent links to archived stories) is going to be a lot more valuable in the long run than charging people a nickel or two to read the paper online every day.

Chris Crocker: from YouTube to boob tube

Pity anyone who has been trying to get attention for their YouTube videos in the past week or so. Why? Because the past week has belonged solely to Chris Crocker, the pseudonym of a young gay man who reportedly lives with his grandmother in a small town in Tennessee, and makes videos in his closet.

One of those videos — in which a crying and screaming Crocker tells people to “leave Britney alone” as mascara runs down his face — has gotten almost eight million views on YouTube. I have embedded it here so that you can experience the full Chris Crocker effect in person.

Crocker has now been signed to a TV production deal with 44 Blue Productions, according to a note in Variety magazine. The company says it plans to create a show around the YouTube star and his life as a gay man in a small U.S. town. “It’s going to pretty much be the ‘Chris Crocker experience,'” a spokesman for the production house said. “We consider him a rebel character that people will find interesting. He’s going to be a TV star.”

Not only is YouTube home to Chris Crocker’s video clips — which are available on his YouTube page here — but now there are parodies of his Britney video as well (in which he defends her after her recent train-wreck performance on the MTV Video Awards). One of the most popular is by Seth Green, the comedian/actor/writer who starred in the Austin Powers movies and who writes and produces the Robot Chicken show.

Crocker has also been interviewed on Jimmy Kimmel Live (via iChat from his home in Tennessee), and was recently the subject of a fairly long feature piece — called “Escape from Real Bitch Island” — in The Stranger, an alternative newspaper in Seattle. In the story, it says that a former Hollywood producer for Entertainment Tonight had approached Crocker about basing a reality show on his life.

If you’re interested, Wikipedia has more.

Can I vote my friends up or down?

Business Week got the scoop last night on some new social-networking features that have been added to I haven’t checked them all out, in part because the site was running really slowly for me (which isn’t surprising, since lots of people are no doubt trying to see the new additions) but I think the move makes a lot of sense.

social.jpgIn many ways, Digg has been a social network without a lot of the things that other social networks have. Although you could always see someone’s profile — how many articles they had submitted, how many they had Dugg, and so on — the primary focus of the site was simply voting articles (and, more recently, comments) up or down. The new features add the traditional accoutrements of a social network to the site, including more extensive profile creation, adding of friends, and the ability to talk about links or articles with friends on a message board that Business Week describes as being very similar to Facebook’s wall. With the click of a tab, you can even see the links that two or more of your friends have Dugg.

These enhancements may not exactly be earth-shattering, and there aren’t really any that break much new ground, but I think they are long overdue for Digg. If the site wants to grow and deepen its relationship with its members and users, this is one of the ways to do that, although many of the commenters on a Dugg link to the Business Week article don’t seem all that thrilled by the idea.

Hammer to Arrington: Please touch this

Tony Hung at Deep Jive Interests points out something I missed while wading through the small ocean of coverage on the TechCrunch40 conference: Mike Arrington is an angel investor in MC Hammer’s new startup, which is called DanceJam — a company he launched during the conference, where Hammer (real name Stanley Kirk Durell) was a member of the “panel of experts.”

I recall when Mike made the announcement that the 80’s dance star would be on the panel, there was much scoffing — by yours truly, among others. So did Mike invest in Hammer’s company before or after he was named to the panel, and before or after he knew that the company was going to launch at TechCrunch40? Just wondering. I’ve got an email in to Mike and I will let you know if and when I get a response.

Can you have too much information?

From my friend — and notorious data junkie — Paul Kedrosky comes this photo of a young fund manager surrounded by (from my rough calculations) almost 20 LCD screens with stock charts and trading data. Is there such a thing as too much information?


Of course, in his post, it’s difficult to tell whether Paul is shocked by the sheer information overload, or secretly jealous 🙂

Free office market is getting crowded


I originally wrote this post under the impression that IBM was launching an online Office suite based on Star Office, but instead it has launched a free downloadable office suite. My apologies.

As expected, Google has finally launched its long-awaited PowerPoint-style presentation app — Google Presently — which was discovered by the ever-resourceful Ionut Alex Chitu earlier this year. It’s the final piece of Google’s online Office-style suite, which it is now pushing to sell to corporations in direct competition with Microsoft’s Office.

And now IBM has decided to awaken from its slumber and get into the game as well, with the launch of a Lotus-branded free suite built on Sun’s Star Office software, called Lotus Symphony. An IDC analyst tells the New York Times:

“I.B.M. is jumping in with products that are backed by I.B.M., with the I.B.M. brand and I.B.M. service,” said Melissa Webster, an analyst for IDC, a research firm. “This is a major boost for open source on the desktop.”

As the NYT story points out, this is also another big gesture of support for the Open Document Format, which Star Office and Open Office use and which Google’s document services also support. Microsoft, of course, is championing a competing format. And Mike Masnick notes that Yahoo’s purchase of Zimbra means there could soon be another large competitor in the free and online Office game.

Anyone want to buy

The time has come — NYT goes free

After many rumours and crossed fingers (at least on my part), the New York Times has finally bitten the bullet and removed the pay wall from its website. Columnists and other content have finally been set free to find an audience wherever they can — and that’s not all. The site is also removing the pay wall from its newspaper archives going back 10 years.

Not everyone is celebrating the death of Times Select. Former journalist Mark Potts — co-founder of, a “citizen journalism” site that recently shut down — still thinks the pay service was the right idea, but says the newspaper chose to put the wrong content behind the wall. He thinks in-depth and feature coverage should have been charged for instead of columnists.

I happen to think Mark is wrong. In any case, I think allowing bloggers and other sites to link freely to columnists and other writers at the Times will help increase the discussion around the issues the paper writes about, and that will benefit the Times in the long run. It may be hard to prove that case to the CFO with hard numbers, but I still believe it to be true.

If anything, however, I think the decision to remove the pay wall on the archives could be even more important than the removal of Times Select. This is clearly a “long tail” gamble if ever there was one, and it will be interesting to see whether the newspaper can make that work economically. I would suspect that if it even manages to sell a few ads on archived pages, it will exceed the amount of money it made by charging for its archives.


More on the New York Times decision from the always insightful Mike Masnick at Techdirt, from Scott Karp at Publish2.0, from Buzzmachine’s Jeff Jarvis — who calls it a “cynical act” that was “doomed from the start” — from Jimmy Guterman at O’Reilly and from online media pioneer Scott Rosenberg of Salon. And of course the big question still remains: Will the Wall Street Journal be next?

What’s in a name? In Web 2.0, confusion

The TechCrunch40 conference, which is being put on by my pals Mike Arrington and Jason Calacanis, sounds like a great show, and is clearly packed with launches and demos from interesting Web 2.0 companies. With that caveat out of the way, I have to say that reading through the list of names at the TechCrunch40 site makes me wonder whether we will ever get tired of the “let’s come up with a wacky Web 2.0 name that doesn’t even sound like English” naming convention for social Web apps.


Here’s just a selection of the names of demo presenters at TechCrunch40: Faroo, Viewdle, Yap, Flock (I’ll give that one a pass), Ponoko, Xobni, Argoo, Kerpoof, ZocDoc, Mego, Wixi, Ceedo and Orgoo. I know there are real English names too, like Powerset and MusicShake, but still — what planet are these other services from, or do they think their potential users will be coming from?

Yahoo: Desperate for Web 2.0 traction?

According to a report that appeared this morning on Kara Swisher’s blog at All Things D and later at TechCrunch — where Mike Arrington is no doubt swimming in scoops, thanks to his TechCrunch40 conference — Yahoo has apparently acquired webmail-provider Zimbra for the whopping sum of $350-million, a purchase price that sources have told GigaOm is coming mostly in cash.

My first thought on hearing this news was: What the heck did Yahoo do that for? Doesn’t it have its own Ajaxy, Web-ified email service, which it only recently foisted on users launched to much acclaim? And even that modest effort took more than two years after buying Oddpost, which was one of the first Ajax-driven Webmail clients (if we ignore Microsoft’s Outlook Web Access, which kind of pioneered Ajax, believe it or not).

One thing that might have attracted Yahoo is Zimbra’s relatively new Zimbra Desktop, which gives users of its Webmail and calendar services access to their data offline — a feature that Google is also reportedly working on. Still, Yahoo must truly be desperate for something that will move the needle in Web 2.0 terms. Paying $350-million for Zimbra values each user of the app at about $60. By comparison, CBS paid about $18 per user.

Profile: Smilebox mixes Web and desktop

(for anyone who’s interested, here’s a piece I wrote on for

Andrew Wright, a Canadian who made his way from Alias Research to Microsoft and then to Real Networks during the 1990s, says he had an epiphany of sorts while building the RealArcade gaming unit, which would eventually become a $100-million-a-year revenue generator for Real Networks.

The epiphany had to do with the target market for RealArcade’s casual computer games. Over time, it had become obvious that the main market for such games wasn’t kids — although they were an important market. The biggest market segment by far, however, was women, specifically stay-at-home and working moms.

Why? Because games such as Bejewelled were intellectually stimulating, but were also simple enough that they could be completed in minutes — perfect for a mom with dozens of other things on the go, and only a few minutes here or there to relax and do something fun.

Mr. Wright took those insights with him when he left Real Networks and started building his own company: a combination greeting card and photo-sharing/scrapbooking service called Smilebox, which launched last year. Much like RealArcade, the service is a combination of Web and desktop: users install a small application, but it is tied closely to the Web.

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