Google: Don’t cross the “activity streams”

Egon: “There’s something very important I forgot to tell you.”

Venkman: “What?”

Egon: “Don’t cross the streams.”

Venkman: “Why?”

Egon: “It would be bad.”

According to a leaked video from an internal Google briefing — first reported by a commenter called “fanboy” at Google Blogoscoped and expanded on by Ionut Alex. Chitu at Google Operating System — the company plans to tie together some of the strands of social information it has through Google Reader and other services into what it apparently refers to as “activity streams.”

The idea seems to be that your RSS feeds and your Calendar events and GTalk updates and your blog postings could all be turned into a single stream of information, which others could subscribe to. As more than one person has mentioned, this sounds very much like a Facebook feed, which contains everything from status updates to photos that have been posted.

There aren’t a whole lot of details on these new plans — which go by the code name Maka or Mocha or possibly Makamaka, depending on who you believe — but I think such a feature is a smart move for Google to make.

It’s ironic that Facebook’s unified feed, which caused so much consternation when it was first released, is a huge part of what makes the site so sticky — being able to see what all of your contacts are up to in a single glance is very addictive. Google has a bunch of useful apps like Gmail and Reader and so on, but they aren’t tied together very well. Mocha could change that.

Note: There are also some pretty amazing stats about Google Reader in the video briefing, including the fact that the back-end for the Reader (which apparently serves as the back-end for other Google apps that involve feeds) has 10 terabytes of data and 8 million feeds, and that Google plans to add feed recommendations and other social features soon.

Further reading:

MG Siegler at ParisLemon says Google appears to be moving in the direction he has been hoping it would for some time now, and Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land has some thoughts on the various features Google seems to be looking at — including possibly allowing comments on Google Reader shared items, which is a bit of a sticky subject as this TechCrunch post outlines.


Philipp Lenssen of Google Blogoscoped says in a comment here that he has reason to believe the proper name for Google Reader’s new project is “Maka-Maka.” Not sure what the name is supposed to mean — all I could find out from a Google search was that Maka-Maka is the name of a popular “manga” (or adult) comic involving two female friends who become lovers, and that the word “maka” in Hawaiian means “eye.”

Hey, let’s blame Facebook for everything!

The BBC has a story about a survey that says businesses are losing hundreds of millions of dollars a day because employees are wasting time on Facebook and other social networking sites. According to this consulting firm, 233 million hours worth of work time is lost every day — and the firm recommends that more businesses ban or block Facebook, as both the Ontario government and Toronto City Hall have done recently.

wastingtime.jpgI’m sure managers at all sorts of companies are nodding their heads at this kind of report. Those damn lazy workers — clicking around on Facebook wasting time when they could be working! There must be a way to stop them. As Stowe Boyd notes, it wasn’t that long ago that other technologies were the culprit. I can remember (yes, I’m extremely old) the same kind of attitude when PCs and Internet access started to become commonplace in offices. Give someone a PC, let alone Internet access? God forbid — then they’ll just piss the day away playing Minesweeper or Solitaire, or checking their email every ten minutes.

The reality is that employees who don’t like their jobs or aren’t properly motivated will always find ways of avoiding work. If you remove Facebook, or the Internet, or Solitaire, or even their PC they will waste time and avoid work by smoking, or taking long bathroom breaks, or doing a crossword puzzle from the newspaper, or staring out the window for hours at a time.

When it gets right down to it, Facebook is not the problem — Facebook is a symptom. And as Ethan Kaplan points out, if you are in any kind of businesses that deals with the general public and you can’t find a way to leverage those social networks, then you are doing something wrong.

Tuesday? Time for a new Technorati strategy

As you can read in a number of different places this morning, Technorati — the ailing blog-search engine that recently lost its CEO, Dave Sifry — has come out with a new offering known as Technorati Topics, which appears to be a scrolling list of blogosphere posts chosen by the team at Technorati, based on a bunch of criteria that we aren’t really told a lot about.

technorati_stickers.jpgThe company’s description says that it chooses blogs based on a number of factors, including their Technorati “authority” — another ranking system that we know very little about, and which consequently carries little or no weight (I for one can’t even figure out the numbering system). So far, the new feature is getting panned by many. Topics, incidentally, is not to be confused with the last new service that Technorati launched: that was Technorati WTF, a Digg-style ranking feature that appears to be a ghost town.

As Duncan Riley notes at TechCrunch, it would be easy to be unkind to Technorati, and to poke fun at how they are shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic — so easy that I plan to do it. What the heck is this company thinking? They have no CEO, their database comes under fire repeatedly for its lack of reliability, and this is the best they can do?

When I first heard about it, I thought Technorati Topics might be going after, but having seen it I think Gabe Rivera can sleep easily — Topics is just a scrolling list of posts with no organization or ranking that I can see, whereas Techmeme (for all its inscrutability) pulls threads together for you and makes it easy to see a story evolve over time.

Dave Sifry says that this is just the first in a series of releases and announcements, and for Technorati’s sake I hope they improve.

Banning search is double-plus good

From the European Union — not exactly a bastion of sound decision-making on a whole range of issues — comes the novel idea of banning or blocking searches for dangerous words such as “bomb.” EU Justice and Security Commissioner Franco Frattini says that he intends to explore with the private sector how to “prevent people from using or searching dangerous words like bomb, kill, genocide or terrorism.”

I think this is a brilliant idea. Why didn’t anyone think of it before? It’s so simple. But I don’t think it goes far enough. Why not ban the actual words themselves instead? That would be much more effective. Then people not only couldn’t search for things like bombs or killing, they wouldn’t be able to write about them either — and eventually, they wouldn’t even be able to think about them, because the concepts themselves wouldn’t exist!

Double-plus good, don’t you think?

Google turns up the heat on Office

Not that long ago, Google CEO Eric Schmidt would routinely deny that the company had any intention of using its Gmail, Google Docs and other services to compete directly with Microsoft’s Office suite. “We’re just playing around with some Web stuff,” he seemed to be saying. “Nothing important to see over here.”

We all knew differently, of course, and now we have even further evidence that Google is intent on moving into the corporate space, with the news that it has signed a deal with CapGemini to push Google Docs and other apps at small and medium-sized businessses.

Until now, Microsoft has remained relatively mum about Google, but apparently this latest move was a little too much for the software behemoth to take. As ZDNet reports, the company issued a somewhat defensive-sounding statement about its Office software dominating the market, etc. etc. — and then followed up with some helpful questions for journalists to ask Google, such as:

1. Google touts having enterprise level customers but how many “USERS” of their applications truly exist within the enterprise?


2. Google has a history of releasing incomplete products, calling them beta software, and issuing updates on a “known only to Google” schedule – this flies in the face of what enterprises want and need in their technology partners.

Microsoft goes on to take thinly-veiled and not-so-thinly veiled shots at the fact that Google apps depend on Internet access, that they don’t let you create headers and footers, and other earth-shattering revelations (the company’s statement also flicks at the issue of corporate security, which others have mentioned as well).

Of course, the overwhelming impression created by the note is that Google is starting to get under the software titan’s skin. Larry and Sergey are probably chuckling to themselves even now.

Does my butt look big in this avatar?

Lots of commentary out there this weekend on virtual worlds such as Habbo Hotel — which Wagner James Au writes about for GigaOm here — and Second Life, which is the subject of a feature in the New York Times and one in the Globe and Mail as well, by my colleague Erin Anderssen. And then there’s the somewhat ambitious prediction from the CEO of ICANN that virtual worlds are “the future of global commerce.”

screenshot-secondlife.jpgThat last one might be a bit of a stretch, considering that — as the NYT piece notes — a number of the companies that set up shops in Second Life (such as Adidas) or built their own private islands (such as Wells Fargo) have pulled up stakes and departed for greener pastures. Maybe when the guy who sells superfast rollerblades in Second Life becomes a global enterprise, the ICANN CEO’s prediction will have some merit.

Until then, Second Life seems more interesting to me as a social experiment than a business proposition. The fascinating thing is that even in a world where they can be and do anything they want (which can also cause problems, as Erin notes), people choose avatars that look like supermodels and spend hundreds of dollars on shoes. In an interesting economic twist, people won’t buy things that appear expensive in Linden dollars, even though in “real” money they are extremely cheap.

Habbo Hotel, as Wagner notes, doesn’t get a lot of publicity — perhaps because there are no blue-haired vixens with gravity-defying breasts in Habbo, and no flying pink penises either — but it definitely deserves some, and perhaps more than Second Life. Although it offers only blocky, 1985-style graphics, it has become a hit with young users and generates revenues of about $77-million (likely orders of magnitude more than Second Life).

habbo.jpgWagner says that a recent talk by one of the principals at Sulake — the Finnish company that created the site — made several points about virtual worlds, including the necessity for multiple revenue streams and the high turnover rates that such “games” have (something Second Life has also demonstrated). Gamasutra has more on the address here.

To me, one of the most interesting things about Habbo is that it is what the Sulake founder calls “a gameless game,” in which virtually anything can become a game. When my 12-year-old daughter used to play it a lot, she played something called “falling furni,” in which tiny avatars tried to catch pieces of virtual furniture as they fell from the sky.

Sounds dumb, doesn’t it? But she loved it. Second Life is also a gameless game in many ways — and that is a big part of its appeal. Whether it can ever become a real business still remains to be seen.

Want some Quechup on your Rapleaf?


Robert X. Cringely posted something on Quechup that was very similar to what others have written, but drew a response from a VP at the company, who took issue with some of Cringely’s comments, and the blogger/columnist later posted an update addressing some of these points. The company is apparently working on some changes to its policies.

Original post:

Several different strands of Web 2.0 have come together over the past week or so that I find interesting, in part because of the backlash that seems to be bubbling around the idea of social networks. That backlash has flared up in several places recently — specifically, in the comments about two Web 2.0 services: and The combination of those and other similar controversies has led some to propose a Bill of Rights for social networking. But will that really solve anything?

spam.jpgQuechup is the easiest of the two situations to describe. While I haven’t been affected by it directly because I avoided signing up, the site — which is owned by an online dating venture called — appears to spam people without permission, which is a no-no by just about anyone’s definition. When you sign up, it apparently asks for your email and then sucks your address book in and spams everyone you know with an invitation to what it calls “a social networking platform that is sweeping the globe.”

Those with long memories (in Web-time at least) will recall that this is exactly the kind of thing that got in trouble. It spammed people’s contact lists as well, and a number of people refused to use it as a result. Mike Arrington of TechCrunch in particular swore that he would never use it because of its behaviour, and Plaxo later apologized.

Despite several days worth of blogstorm-style posts — such as Ken Camp’s “Rat bastard disease of the Internet” post — the folks at Quechup don’t seem to care that they have gotten a reputation as the biggest spammers on the Web, to the point where critical blog posts now make up virtually all of the results on the first page of a Google search for the company. Perhaps the iDate service is so lucrative that they couldn’t care less what people think.

rapleaf_logo_175×46.pngWhat happened with is a slightly different story: the company is one of a number of social-network aggregators such as, which try to help users find and bring together in one place all of the various profiles and information about them that exists on various sites — and, not coincidentally, tries to sell some of the information about those aggregated profiles to advertisers, through a separate service called

Rapleaf also has a service called, which allows you to upload a contact list and then see who has profiles on which services or networks. In a nutshell, what Rapleaf did was to email all of those contacts to tell them that you were searching for info about them — something it thought was a valuable service, but now admits was wrong and probably also stupid. It says it will no longer do that in such a spammy kind of way.

The company also mentions in passing the idea of a social networking Bill of Rights, which is something that has also been bubbling up for awhile (as Karoli notes here). In its latest incarnation, Mike Arrington and Robert Scoble have joined forces with Marc Canter and Joe Smarr of — yes, you guessed it, Plaxo — to lay the groundwork for a statement of rights that social-networking users would like to see respected. You can read the whole list here, but it includes things such as control over your personal info and what is done with it, etc.

bill_of_rights.jpgA valuable statement of principles, perhaps. But will it accomplish anything? Companies like Quechup that don’t care about their users will continue to engage in all kinds of nefarious behaviour, and a Bill of Rights isn’t going to stop them. The only thing users can do is read the terms of service and privacy policy before clicking the “Submit” button (Prokofy Neva has some other concerns with a uniform bill of rights, which she outlines <a href="“>here).

Meanwhile, companies like Rapleaf — which appears to care about its users and its reputation — will respond to the kind of outcry that has taken place without any need for a Bill of Rights (although getting your info removed is far from easy). Don’t like what a company is doing with your data or your profile? Cancel your account and go somewhere else.

YouTube redefines the word “fake”

(cross-posted from my Globe and Mail blog)

Given the success that some YouTube “stars” have had — with Dutch singer Esmee Denters signed to a boutique label run by Justin Timberlake, and Ysabella Brave also signed to a recording contract — it’s not surprising that some record labels would try to do an end-run around the process and create a YouTube “sensation” out of whole cloth.

0715mariedigby.jpgThat appears to be what happened with Marie Digby, a young singer who was recently signed to a recording contract with Disney’s Hollywood Records. According to a story in the Wall Street Journal, the 24-year-old singer was already working with the record company before posting any of her cover versions of popular songs to the video-sharing site.

Her appearances on TV shows and radio shows, for example — which apparently occurred after they saw her YouTube videos — were booked through a record company executive, and the story says that the record label was also involved in choosing the songs she posted to YouTube.

Crass? Yes. Surprising? Hardly. As Wall Street Journal blogger Kara Swisher put it: “Hollywood lies again; also just in — birds fly, fish swim.”

For many YouTube watchers a big part of the appeal of finding someone like Ms. Digby is that they are outside the traditional star-making machinery, and are therefore more authentic and natural. To find out that this isn’t the case often ruins the magic (although Lonelygirl15 continued to be popular once it was revealed to be fake).

Ms. Digby isn’t even the first to be involved in such a scheme: last year, a Scottish singer named Sandi Thom appeared on the scene, playing songs with her band from her apartment and streaming them over the Internet, and after attracting as many as 100,000 viewers (allegedly) she was signed to a recording contract — except, of course, that she had already been signed to a contract before the performances began.

In a post on her MySpace blog, Ms. Digby maintains that the Wall Street Journal story was blown out of proportion (although she doesn’t deny that she was working with a record company before posting her material to YouTube). She says:

“Here’s Lesson 1 for me in Media – The writer will use whatever quote he wants of yours to make it fit his ‘angle’. This loser was desperate for a good story… he knew what he wanted to write before he ever even talked to me.

The guy’s angle is this : that I am a complete phony and fake and a pawn of my record label in some brilliant marketing scheme. IS this guy completely insane. You think it’s that easy? That you get signed and suddenly everything’s taken care of for you!!!??”

Ms. Digby goes on to say that:

“What hurts the most is that this loser took every genuine thing i said and made it sound like I am acting, that this whole thing is scripted. The dude is desperate to be onto the next ‘ lonely girl’ or whatever.. i’ve actually never seeen that but its obvious that’s what he wanted me to be.”

Although some commenters on MySpace and YouTube have denounced her as a fraud, a number of fans have posted comments of support.

Is Ms. Digby a fake? That’s difficult to say. Her version of events seems to be that she developed the YouTube campaign in an attempt to keep the record company’s interest, while the WSJ tries to make the case that the whole thing was orchestrated by the label. The bottom line is that we may never know the “real” story, now that YouTube has become a subsidiary of the Hollywood department of smoke and mirrors.

Jonathan Coulton — who refers to himself as an “authentic Internet superstar” — has some perspective on Ms. Digby on his blog, in which he describes her as being “clotheslined by the thin line between grassroots and astroturf.” Nice line.

AOL euthanizes Digg-style Netscape

Although we had some advance warning that this might be happening — courtesy of a post from Mike Arrington at TechCrunch that was denied by Netscape at the time — it’s still kind of sad that AOL is pulling the plug on its social-news experiment at

The note at the Netscape site says that the Digg-style interface is merely moving to another location (Mike said he heard reports that it would be, another AOL-owned site). But it seems obvious that interest in the idea is waning, and the focus has shifted back to making Netscape into the news portal it used to be, primarily for the ad dollars. According to the site:

“We received some feedback that people really do associate the Netscape brand with providing mainstream news that is editorially controlled. In fact, we specifically heard that our users do have a desire for a social news experience, but simply didn’t expect to find it on”

I know there will be a lot of gloating over this move — particularly from those who don’t like Jason Calacanis — but I think it’s unfortunate. Even if it was in essence a “Digg-clone,” I still think (as I have said from the beginning) that Netscape introduced some useful features to the social media model, including the use of editors to promote and add to stories, and the somewhat controversial decision to pay top submitters.

For whatever reason, Netscape just never seemed to be able to get much traction, so we will never know if any of those features makes sense for a social news site — and that’s a shame.


Muhammad Saleem, a Netscape “scout,” says in his post on the announcement that he’s shocked at how some blogs have mis-reported the news as the closure of Netscape — and he has a point. But I think even if the site remains at a different location, it seems obvious that its star has dimmed somewhat in the AOL universe, as HMTKSteve notes in his comment at Muhammad’s blog.

Musical interlude: Cadbury gorilla

This doesn’t have anything to do with the Web, really — or with Cadbury chocolate, which is the product that is allegedly being advertised — but it still made me laugh for some reason. The original version is here.