Payback is a bitch, isn’t it Mark?

I’m shocked — shocked, I tell you — at the conspicuous lack of sympathy that’s being shown for poor Mark Zuckerberg, who has had to sue a magazine aimed at Harvard alumni for publishing some personal information about him, including (as I understand it) his parents home address and some of his, er… passionate journal entries and emails when he was just a young lad at Harvard. How dare they expose his personal data like that? Isn’t that an invasion of privacy? There should be a law or something. It’s almost as though someone was following him around, watching his every move and then publicizing that information without asking him. The nerve of some people.

U.S. gets Google, we get Ottawa

So the worst-kept secret in the mobile-phone industry is finally out: Google has confirmed that it plans to bid for new spectrum in the 700-Mhz auction that is to be held early next year. One of the requirements of the spectrum auction is that whoever wins must allow users to download whatever applications they want to their mobile devices, which would fit with Google’s Open Handset vision. Google CEO Eric Schmidt said:

“Consumers deserve more competition and innovation than they have in today’s wireless world. No matter which bidder ultimately prevails, the real winners of this auction are American consumers who likely will see more choices than ever before in how they access the Internet.”

Meanwhile, Canada is planning a spectrum auction of its own, and also hoping to increase the amount of competition in the mobile sector — which is currently held hostage by an oligopoly consisting of Bell, Telus and Rogers. Canada being what it is, of course, we don’t have a Google bidding for spectrum and promising competition, we have the government setting aside spectrum and blocking Bell, Telus and Rogers from bidding on it.

The hoped-for upshot of both moves is more competition, and as a result more features and lower prices (Om Malik doesn’t think Google is in it to win it). Will that be the actual outcome, or will it just mean higher handset prices and more attempts to lock customers into long-term contracts? Stay tuned.

Is ArmchairGM the future of blogs?

I was watching the interview with Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales on Om Malik’s show on Revision3, because I’m always interested in what Jimmy is up to, and he mentioned a site called ArmchairGM, which I don’t recall hearing about before — or at least paying much attention to. Om was talking about how he wanted a combination of his blog and a wiki, so that his community could contribute and get involved more, and Jimmy said he saw ArmchairGM as being close to that kind of thing. is a sports site that Wikia (the for-profit company that Wales runs) bought earlier this year for $2-million. It’s designed as a kind of combination blog and community site for sports fans, and so it has a bunch of the same features as a blog — posts, comments, etc. — but also many features of a wiki, in that anything can be edited (apart from user profiles), as well as some features of a Facebook-style social network.

For example, the site allows members to give each other gifts (which have a twist, in that they can be created by members), and to vote on or rate each other’s posts and comments — and it also has an interesting level system that allows members to work their way up based on the amount of activity they put into the site. Registering gets you 1,000 points and recruiting a new member gets you 5,000, and you get points for writing a new post, editing a post, and whether your comments get votes or not.

It’s an interesting idea, and the site appears to have gained a substantial amount of traction and developed a strong community. I don’t know how long a period the numbers relate to, but the site says it has more than 73,000 pages and there have been 441,000 edits, 660,000 votes and 173,000 comments. As of September it had about a million page views a month, according to TechCrunch.

Facebook coffers go Ka-ching

Despite all the good-natured pokes (or is that Super Pokes?) that Kara Swisher has taken at young Mark Zuckerberg, she’s got a scoop about Facebook, and it’s not even Beacon-related: the company has attracted a $60-million investment from Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing — often known as Li Ka-ching, for his ability to turn gigantic heaps of money into even larger heaps of money.

A couple of interesting points to note: Facebook has apparently managed to get the $240-million investment from Microsoft and the $60-million from Li Ka-shing (which apparently didn’t come through either of his usual holding companies) without having to a) protect them from any downside or drop in the company’s valuation, or b) give them a seat on the board of directors. That’s pretty incredible.

It may not be Zuckerberg, but someone on Facebook’s negotiating team has brass cojones — and what’s better, the company continues to get what it is asking for. Rafat Ali at PaidContent sees a possible arrangement between Facebook and Tom Online, the Chinese portal that Ka-shing is chairman of. The big unanswered question, of course, is what the heck is Facebook planning to do with that $300-million?

I hate to say it, but he has a point

Came across this succinct appraisal of journalism — and journalism schools — in an interview that Campus Progess did with Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi, who is clearly going for the “Hunter S. Thompson” award:

“If you have no real knowledge or skill set and you’re lazy and full of shit but you want to make a decent wage, then journalism’s not a bad career option. The great thing about it is that you don’t need to know anything. I mean this whole notion of journalism school—I can’t believe people actually go to journalism school. You can learn the entire thing in like three days.

My advice is instead of going to journalism school, go to school for something concrete like medicine or some kind of science or something and then use the knowledge you get in that field as a wedge to get yourself into journalism. What journalism really needs is more people who are reporting who actually know something.

Instead of having a bunch of liberal arts grads who’ve read Siddhartha 50 times writing about health care, it would be really nice if some of the people who are writing about health care were doctors.”

Well, at least there’s some hope left for my friend Dr. Tony Hung, who writes over at Deep Jive Interests.

Facebook bows to the Beacon haters

Nick O’Neill at All Facebook has the news that Facebook has backtracked on its Beacon feature (as I expected they might), and will now present the data for a Facebook user to approve before it is added to their news feed. In other words, you could now prevent the information about the Christmas present (or Christmakkah present) you bought from being broadcast to the person you bought it for.

Will the statement from Facebook placate all of the Beacon critics? That’s pretty unlikely — I think some people have the knives out for anything that they see as an infringement on their privacy, even if they have to agree before their privacy even gets infringed. I know that my friend Leigh, for example, feels very strongly about the Facebook tracking idea, but I honestly don’t see what the big deal is (Update: I’m glad to see that Fred Wilson agrees with me).

Hopefully now that Facebook has made it even more obvious for users what is being tracked, and they have to explicitly approve it before it’s added to their news feed, some of the complaints will die down. Just to be clear, users have always had to approve the disclosure, but many have complained that it was too confusing, or they weren’t paying attention, or the opt-out notice disappeared too quickly, or whatever.

So now, as I understand it, Facebook will present you with a notice about the shopping or other behaviour it has tracked through a partner site like Amazon, and if you click OK then it will be added to your news feed. And then Facebook will let me know that you bought “Chicken Soup For the Heartless Bastard” or whatever, and I will promptly ignore that just like I ignore most of the things in my feed.

Pirate Bay: Find new music, and steal it

You have to hand it to The Pirate Bay. No, really — you have to hand it to them, because they’re just going to take it anyway. (sorry, just a little peer-to-peer humour there; is this thing on?) The BitTorrent site, which has made a career out of thumbing its nose at just about every legal authority, regulatory body and government from here to the Swiss Alps — and not just thumbing its nose, but occasionally dropping its pants — is now in the music recommendation business.

In an irony so twisted that members of the RIAA are likely to get whiplash just thinking about it, site has added some new features to its site that show you similar artists when you search for a particular song or album (which, of course, you plan to download without paying for it). They even have a player that will stream music from those related artists — which makes you wonder if there isn’t someone over at’s media-giant parent, CBS, who hasn’t been reading his memos carefully.

Snapshot: comments on Google News

I was looking around at some of the blog posts and news articles on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, including one at Compete about traffic flows on Cyber Monday, and as usual I wound up at Google News doing a search for the term Cyber Monday. What came up was a cluster of almost 700 articles with one from CNet at the top.

Directly underneath the story cluster, however, was a comment balloon, indicating that Google News had added a comment from someone involved in the story, as the site started doing earlier this year in an attempt to add balance to the news that it presents (a curiously journalistic approach for a search engine). The Cyber Monday comment was one of the first ones I’ve come across “in the wild,” so I took a snapshot of the page. As it turned out, there were actually three comments:


One comment is from the chief retail analyst at NPD Group, a research firm, a second is from the executive director at — where they have put together a page with hundreds of Black Friday deals, and a third comment comes from a retail analyst at Forrester Research.

What purpose does this serve? I’m not sure. The NPD analyst is actually quoted in some of the retail stories I came across, but his comment on the Google News page is substantially longer than any of his quotes in news stories; does that add value? Perhaps. The comment seems fairly blatantly promotional, which makes you wonder why Google bothered. And the Forrester comment — which is quite short — arguably adds something to the story, but not a huge amount.

Will many people read those comments? And if they do, will it add to their understanding of the story in a way that a simple quote in a news article wouldn’t? I wish I knew.

Warner Music: We’re totally screwed

I’m paraphrasing a little, but that seems to be the general thrust of Edgar Bronfman Jr.’s comments about the company’s latest financial results. In a nutshell, Warner — which Edgar Jr. maintains is not a record company at all, but a “music-based content company” — is selling less and less of its bread and butter (i.e., CDs), and not nearly enough new things to make up for the declining sales of old things.

According to a rundown of the news and the related conference call at PaidContent, Warner’s revenue was essentially flat, while earnings fell by almost 60 per cent to just $5-million — and that’s on total sales of almost $900-million, which works out to a profit margin of about .5 per cent. In other words, virtually non-existent. And the near future looks as though it’s likely to be as bad or worse.

Digital revenue climbed by 25 per cent, but at $130-million it is still only about 15 per cent of the company’s business, and that proportion is unchanged from the same quarter last year. Is it any wonder that Edgar Jr. seems to have finally gotten religion about the record industry’s futile war against new business models? It’s just too bad it happened four or five years later than it should have, and Warner is now sliding down the slope of a curve it could have been ahead of.

Is Google crowdsourcing? Not quite

As described by Phil Lenssen at Google Blogoscoped and at Google Operating System — and apparently first spotted by Haochi at Googlified — Google is experimenting with a customized search function that allows users to “vote” search results up or down, or even suggest sites that match their search better than the ones Google has come up with. So is Google going to start “crowdsourcing” its search function, and letting people vote on search results Digg-style, as some are suggesting? Unlikely.

Duncan Riley at TechCrunch may be surprised, but this just sounds like just another step in customized search, which Google has been experimenting with for some time — as Google Operating System noted, there have been earlier experiments in letting you suggest new pages, change the order of results and even remove results. It makes sense to let you sort the results yourself, and then if you search for the same keywords again, you’ll be more likely to find pages that meet your needs.

So does that mean Google is going to start letting people vote on results in the Google index as a whole? I think the odds of that are approaching zero. After all, PageRank already effectively does that — people vote with their links. At some point, if there was enough usage of the experimental features, Google might allow some of that voting to influence whether it shows a link or how high it ranks (particularly with pages that are repeatedly removed), but I can’t see it affecting things that much.

If it did, one commenter on Flickr said, it would mean “another job for out-of-work gold farmers,” those poor souls who toil day and night completing virtual quests in World of Warcraft in order to earn gold for their employers. They could just switch to voting on search results.