Will Facebook face the music?

Something called Co-Ed Magazine — which I have never heard of until this moment — is reporting that Facebook will soon launch a music platform that allows artists to connect easily with their fans and even sell music or other merchandise through widgets, etc. This, of course, is very similar to what MySpace already does through Snocap and its recently announced deal with Zazzle, the custom T-shirt company.

A music strategy like the one Co-Ed describes makes a lot of sense for Facebook — so much sense that it has been rumoured to be launching just such a thing several times over the past six months or so. Co-Ed mag says that it has heard from record label executives that something will be announced at the upcoming ad:tech conference. Whether the announcement comes then or not, it is likely something Facebook wants to do.

But will it work? There’s no question that Facebook has a big platform and lots of users — and music-sharing apps like iLike have gotten a good response from members of the social network. And yet, MySpace seems to me to be the de facto place where bands and musicians set up their shops, meet their fans and upload tracks or video. In a way, Facebook seems a little too restrained and buttoned-down for that kind of thing.

Google wants one ring to bind them

After much rumour and speculation about what Google might do as far as social-networking goes, TechCrunch has the details on its first real foray into the social sphere, and it sounds like the search giant is trying to do exactly what many were thinking — and perhaps hoping — it would do: namely, offer a set of APIs and other tools that could allow users to make sense of the various profiles and information that have embedded in different networks (the NYT has the deets as well).

snipshot_e47uot40nd1.jpgThis is something that social networking has been needing for some time, and Google is just the one to do it. For one thing, the company is large enough and carries enough weight that people want to play along — although I noticed that the list of partners TechCrunch has (the full announcement is scheduled for Thursday) doesn’t include a certain company whose name starts with Face and rhymes with “schnook,” although that probably shouldn’t come as a surprise. MySpace isn’t there either.

This goes even further than the earlier reports from Erick Schonfeld and others, who talked about Google using a single API to build connections between its own apps and create “activity streams” not unlike Facebook news feeds (I wrote about those rumours here. I for one hope that Google succeeds in getting all of the various networks — including Facebook — to sign on, but I expect that Facebook will see this attempt as a threat (and rightly so) to its more walled-garden approach to its data.

Further reading:

— Nick Carr thinks Google Social could possibly play a role in Enterprise 2.0.
Scott Karp of Publishing 2.0 talks about Facebook’s vulnerabilities.
— Mike Masnick at Techdirt says Google and Facebook are flipping each other’s business models around.
— Marc Andreessen thinks Google Social is the next big Internet platform, and he has screenshots of the new feature/service as well.

Update 01/11/07:

Mike Arrington says he has confirmed that MySpace and SixApart are both joining the Google Social platform, confirming a rumour that Peter Kafka at Silicon Alley Insider first reported earlier today. At this point it looks like it could be Facebook vs. the Googleplex.

Facebook and Google: Intent vs. relevance

Full credit to Eric Eldon of VentureBeat for the nice piece of link-bait that he posted this morning about how Facebook “could” be worth $100-billion, a topic that has spent the better part of today climbing up Techmeme. But it’s too bad that the bubble-math in the headline (which Eric actually blames on Lee Lorenzen of Altura Ventures, a Facebook-only VC, based on this post) tends to obscure Eric’s point.

The point (I think) is that a targeted advertising network — based on Facebook’s database of user profiles and demographic data, combined with the use of cookies that would generate ads even outside of Facebook’s network — could produce a much higher payoff than the site’s current attempts at advertising are doing. I’m not an advertising guy, but I think there is probably a lot to that theory (although there are flaws).

Unfortunately, everyone wants to talk about how Facebook is building “a Google killer,” and how the search-advertising giant with the $200-billion market cap is “afraid” of the as-yet-unreleased Facebook ad program — as Lee Lorenzen argues here. That’s almost certainly nonsense, of course. Still, there is a potential battle of sorts heating up.

I think of it as a battle between “intent” and “relevance.” Google’s power comes from the fact that when you search for a keyword, there’s a good chance you’re going to be open to advertising that is related to that — i.e., your search betrays your intent. Facebook’s power could come from its knowledge of your profile, your behaviour, your demographics, your interests. That could make its ads more relevant.

Even if there is such a battle, does that suddenly make Facebook worth $100-billion, or $10-billion, or even $1-billion? Who knows.

Markus Frind: The Craig Newmark of dating

Richard MacManus of Read/Write Web has a post up today in which he talks about PlentyofFish.com, the Vancouver-based dating site, and the mind-boggling pageviews, unique visitors and revenue it is generating. Although founder Markus Frind can no longer claim to be a one-man shop (he recently hired his first employee), to be doing $30,000 a day in revenue and over 1 billion pageviews a month is still incredible.

Although Markus and Plenty of Fish have gotten some notice here and there — particularly in the SEO/AdSense community — it’s surprising how little attention they get for a site that is number one in its market in Canada and the United Kingdom, and second in the United States according to Hitwise. Not bad for one guy (okay, two now, plus Markus’s girlfriend) and a roomful of servers.

To me, Markus is a little like Craig Newmark. He started a service because it seemed like a good idea — although I think he had more of a sense that it could be a moneymaker than Craig did — and he hasn’t spent more than a dime or two on site design, as you can see if you go there. All he has done is to make things easier and more convenient for his user base (mostly by making membership free).

Markus may not be doing eight billion pageviews a month the way Craigslist is, but then they have 200 servers and 25 employees. Compared to Markus, Craig might as well be Microsoft 🙂 Is Plenty of Fish worth $1-billion, as Richard speculates? I have no idea — but it is definitely worth a ton of money to someone, and Markus deserves all the credit.

MySpace: Tom Anderson and the age thing

So Newsweek magazine has confirmed that Tom Anderson — one of the co-founders of MySpace, and the guy who is automatically added to your list of friends when you create a profile on the site — was actually 31 when the service launched, and not 27 as his profile claimed. That would make him 36 now, rather than 32 as his profile says. Mike Arrington passed along a rumour to that effect awhile back, and Newsweek checked it out using state licensing records, etc.

Opinion seems divided on whether or not anyone really cares about this little tidbit of news or not. A number of commenters on the latest TechCrunch post about it say they really couldn’t care less, and Caroline McCarthy greets the revelation with a yawn and asks for some real news please. Mike, however, responds to critics in the comments section of TechCrunch by pointing out that while it is just a simple “white” lie, it is one that is amplified by the fact that Tom becomes everyone’s friend by default, and also:

“There is significant irony: if you can’t believe what you see in the founder’s profile, then you really can’t believe anything you see on the site.”

I’m going to go with Mike on this one. Do I care that Tom Anderson is 36, or was already 31 when he created MySpace? No, but I do think it’s interesting that he chose to lie about his age — possibly because of the Valley’s ageist approach to startups — and I think it probably will make some people more cautious about what they read on MySpace. And maybe that’s a good thing.

Jeff Zucker tries the “Sam Zell” gambit

According to an interview with NBC supremo Jeff Zucker — as reported by Variety magazine on its website today — the TV network hasn’t been happy with its iTunes deal for a number of reasons, including the fact that Apple wouldn’t let it experiment with differential pricing. But the real howler in the piece comes when Zucker huffs that the computer company refused the network’s request for a cut of Apple’s hardware sales:

“Apple sold millions of dollars worth of hardware off the back of our content and made a lot of money,” Zucker said. “They did not want to share in what they were making off the hardware.”

This, of course, is known as the “Sam Zell” strategy, in honour of the real-estate billionaire who attempted to argue that Google should pay newspaper’s a cut of its revenue because Google News carries excerpts from newspaper stories. Could Jeff Zucker seriously believe that Apple owes NBC a cut of hardware sales because iTunes carries some NBC shows?

He might as well argue that Google deserves a cut of the PC revenue that Hewlett-Packard and Dell generate, because so many people use their computers to go to Google’s website. What a maroon.


Not content with whining about Apple not paying a portion of its hardware revenue to NBC, Zucker also apparently said that the computer maker “destroyed the music business” in terms of pricing and threatens to do the same with video. Translation: Man, I wish we could get away with charging $40 for a DVD full of “deleted scenes” from Facts of Life.

It’s Hulu vs. Brightcove, not YouTube

So Hulu, the joint venture between NBC and News Corp. that some thought would be a YouTube competitor, has sort of launched — or at least it has given some of the chosen few in Silicon Valley a look at the service. As far as I can tell from most descriptions of it, it sounds like a video-distribution network that will compete more with Brightcove and other similar video services than it will with YouTube.

In other words, it has nothing to do with “user-generated content” or people uploading video — it’s all about network content from NBC and News Corp., distributed through a Flash player that can be embedded on other sites and will be white-labeled to partners such as AOL and MySpace. Still, the early impressions seem positive; even Kara Swisher seems to like it, and so does MG Siegler at ParisLemon.

To the extent that NBC and News Corp. are getting the idea that distributing your content by any means available is a good thing, I think Hulu is a positive step. But as Mark Hendrickson points out at TechCrunch, this is still very much a TV-centric model — that is, shows and content appear and disappear based on the TV schedule. It may be flashy and well-designed, but I wonder whether it will be compelling enough to really draw people in.

Further reading:

Henry Blodget at Silicon Alley Insider has a nice rundown of the things that make Hulu less thrilling than it appears, and one of those things is the restrictions on the content that Hulu distributes. And Liz Gannes has more on that angle as well — as she puts it:

“Hulu can’t avoid the trappings of big media. The company is tied up in a contradictory situation, where it’s chartered to have web-wide distribution while trying to maintain tight control over the user experience wherever it goes.”

PaidContent has a nice overview of the launch as well, including the $100-million investment by Providence Partners.

iPhone in Canada for Christmas?

The Boy Genius, who has a pretty good reputation so far for getting his rumours right, spotted an ad for the Canuck version of the iPhone, which is supposedly going to be here by December 7. But will it? Some have pointed out that the ad looks a little Photoshopped, and that the price — $499 even with a three-year contract — is a little usurious, even for Rogers.

Whatever the truth of the rumour, there’s no question that Rogers and Apple are being very coy about the timing of the blessed event, despite the fact that everyone knows the iPhone has to be on Rogers’ network because it’s the only one that does GSM. Just the other day there was a story in the Globe about a Molson contest letting the cat out of the bag about an iPhone launch in January, but both Rogers and Molson quickly backpedaled on that one and said it was a mistake, they haven’t got a deal yet, etc.

Why so coy? One reason could be that — as one of the commenters on the Boy Genius report and Engadget have noted — there is still the small matter of a trademark on the name iPhone, which in Canada is held by Comwave. Can they get a deal signed to everyone’s liking in the next month or so? Let’s hope so, or there will be a dark Christmas for many Apple fans.

Mozilla Prism: Don’t really get it

So like the beta-whore I am, I downloaded the demo of Mozilla’s new web-desktop hybrid thing — which used to be called Webrunner and is now called Prism — and I installed it and created a desktop icon for Google Mail without too much trouble. But I have to confess that I still don’t really get it. I mean, it’s cool and everything, but well… I don’t get it.

So I can click on a desktop icon and open a Gmail window, which is great — but it’s really just a browser window with all of the browser bits (like the address bar and the back and forward buttons) taken off, as Phil Lenssen at Google Blogoscoped points out. It can be added to the Start menu on Windows, but you know… ho-hum. I seem to remember that Internet Exploder’s “Active Desktop” setting could do something similar, but no one really cared and so no one used it.

I realize that this is still an early demo, and there are no doubt all sorts of great things ahead for Prism, some of which Phil mentions in his post, and others of which are described by Ryan Stewart at ZDNet and the Wired blog. And there’s no question that the blend of desktop app and Web app is something that holds a lot of promise. So maybe I should give Prism more time to become amazing. As it stands, I’m underwhelmed.

Microsoft: Still a fair bit of juice left

Gobsmacked. That’s what the Brits call it when something jaw-dropping happens and you can’t think of anything to say. Microsoft’s blockbuster quarterly results kind of fall into that territory for me. I have to admit that I’m one of those skeptics who has been talking about the gigantic software maker as yesterday’s company: slow-growing, boring, etc.

Don’t get me wrong — I still think that Microsoft is most of those things, except maybe for the “slow growing” part. Who knew that the company had a quarter like that in it? Profit up 23 per cent to $4.3-billion, revenue up 27 per cent to $13.8-billion. To put that in perspective, Microsoft made almost $50-million in profit a day during the quarter, which means it took less than a week to pay for its recent Facebook investment.

Apparently the skepticism about Vista (which I have also shared) has been more or less misplaced (although it is important to remember that the 88 million copies sold are to retailers, not to consumers), and a strong Halo 3 launch also boosted the software behemoth’s bottom line by a substantial amount. And yes, all you Microsoft critics can rest easy — I know that a lot of those Vista sales and Office sales are a result of Microsoft’s virtual monopoly.

The only issue for Microsoft now is the curse of inflated expectations: can the company produce a quarter like this one every time? Unlikely. And if there’s one thing the company likes to do, it’s to talk down expectations and then outperform. That could be a little harder to do now than it has been in the past.