Google ruining Christmas? Get a grip

Since I’m full of the milk of human kindness after a wonderful Christmas, I’ve been trying to remain calm in the face of all the Google Reader hysteria about shared items and so on — but wiping out on some ice yesterday and landing on my ass has made it hard to stay serene (combined with gashing my hand playing Wii baseball), so I can’t help pointing out that much of the moaning about “privacy” is just ridiculous.

Like Stan over at Mashable, I’m wondering what part of the word “shared” isn’t being understood in this whole scenario. Are the people who are complaining non-English speakers? That seems unlikely. So the idea of “sharing” items on your Google Reader must be one they are at least glancingly familiar with. Scoble has decided to take the high road and blame Google for not implementing ‘granular privacy controls’ — and that might be a good thing for Reader, just as it would be for Facebook.

But it’s not something that’s necessary, in my opinion, nor is it something Google should be slammed for not having. The company explained that shared items would be visible to GTalk contacts — pretty simple, in my opinion. Plus, they can only be seen by contacts who also use Google Reader, and those contacts have to specifically click on the shared items from other users to see them. It’s not as if they’re being emailed to your friends, or scrolling by on the Jumbotron.

Would GPC be handy to have? Sure. Would a better contact management system be good? No doubt. But if you want to keep something private in Reader, but still save it for later, there’s a simple way of doing that: use the “Star” function. The word “share” means exactly what it implies. In case anyone is interested, my shared items are here. They may not be as interesting as Scoble’s, but they’re the best I can do (they’re in the sidebar of my blog as well, via a Reader widget).


Steve Rubel has a post that shows how to share items with a certain group of people without having them shared with every member of your Google contact list — share them by using a special tag. And now Mark “Rizzn” Hopkins at Mashable says that Google has added the ability to move all of your shared items to a new tag if you wish to stop sharing them with everyone and only share them with certain people. The official Google blog post on the topic is here.

Merry Christmas from me and the Queen

I have to confess that I’ve never been much for the whole Queen thing (the monarch, not the rock band) and never paid much attention to Her Majesty’s regular Christmas morning addresses, but I think it’s kind of cool that the Royal Family has a YouTube channel now — and that it’s the 50th anniversary of the first televised address by the Queen. So I thought I would link to the 1957 version, in which Her Majesty talks about this newfangled thing called the television, and how it enables people to connect over long distances (there’s a transcript here). Just one thing about the YouTube videos though, Liz: not letting people embed them is kind of rude. Just FYI.


Viruses and hacking the human genome

Via my friend Rob Hyndman (who came across it via David “Joho the Blog” Weinberger), I just finished reading a fascinating article in The New Yorker about how HIV-style “retroviruses” from millions of years ago have successively rewritten the human genome, and may have even been instrumental in reprogramming our DNA in ways that helped the human race to survive — for example, by causing proto-humans to develop the ability to give birth to their young alive.

One of the disturbing aspects of the article (at least to me) was the description of how researchers had recreated, Jurassic Park style, a virus that existed hundreds of thousands of years ago, and how:

“Thanks to steady advances in computing power and DNA technology, a talented undergraduate with a decent laptop and access to any university biology lab can assemble a virus with ease.”

Kind of a disturbing image: a medical hacker with some mail-order biological material and a virus database, working away in some basement lab. I realize there have been movies and books about this concept, but it always seemed like science fiction. Now it seems a lot more like just plain science. But even apart from that kind of movie-of-the-week idea, I think it’s fascinating that horrible epidemics in the past may have helped create the human race as we know it.

Nalts calls for Hartwell video mob

You might be thinking that the Lane Hartwell incident — the Soap Opera 2.0 of a week or two ago — had pretty well blown over by now. The photographer, whose photo was used in the video by a capella group Richter Scales, is reportedly still pursuing financial compensation from the band, but apart from that most bloggers seem to have moved on. Not the popular video blogger known as Nalts, though.

He’s posted a video calling for others to create YouTube accounts and mashups using more of Lane’s photos, and several people have done so. That’s fair comment, obviously — although whether it’s fair use is debatable, since the videos aren’t specifically a parody, and they don’t really comment on a larger issue in any direct or obvious way (although they are clearly meant as a commentary on fair use).

Still, I wish Nalts and some of the commenters weren’t so quick with the insults and the personal attacks. It’s one thing to disagree on an issue, but when you make it personal it’s easy to lose sight of the real point.

Smackdown: Andreessen on The Economist

As most of us know too well, the end of the year brings a deluge of “best of” lists and predictions for the coming year (in part to fill the pages of newspapers and magazines that have little or no actual news to print, but still need to put something in to keep the ads from bumping into each other). The Economist has come out with a look at what we can expect from the Internet next year, and one of those things — according to the respected periodical — is that the net will slow down.

Apparently, all the new devices and video and applications are causing a traffic jam on the “information superhighway” (used ironically, I hope). There’s just one problem with the Economist’s vision of the near future: Most of it is just wrong. I was really looking forward to dismantling some of the assumptions in the article, and then I discovered that Marc Andreessen had already done that — and better than I likely would have. And he’s a lot nicer about it than I would have been too 🙂

Digg bait: Cute girls, Digg song

There are lots of ways to get on Digg — and one of the best, as many people know by now, is to mention Digg. Better still, write a cute song about it. And better even than that, be a cute girl and play the song you wrote about Digg on a guitar, with your cute friends in the background. Kina Grannis has done all of those things, and on top of that she has a great voice too. She’s in the running for a SuperBowl contest, according to her website. This one has front page written all over it.


Mozilla Weave: Who owns the cloud?

From various sources comes the news that Mozilla is testing a prototype of a service called Weave, a kind of browser-to-cloud feature in which users can synchronize their bookmarks and other info from Firefox to a remote server somewhere — although most descriptions don’t really make it clear where these servers are located or who operates them. Will Mozilla be using Amazon’s S3, one of several cloud-computing services the online retailer has launched over the past year or so? That’s not clear.

It seems like everyone is moving in the direction of desktop-to-cloud synchronizing, or the blurring of borders between online and offline. Google has Google Gears, which lets you synchronize your Google Reader RSS feeds, and Zoho has synchronizing features for its online document-editing and spreadsheet tools (which Google will presumably be adding to its Google Docs services soon). Google has had a rudimentary bookmark-sync tool for awhile now, and Opera recently added one to its browser. Where will Mozilla’s Weave sit in this landscape of tools?

More importantly, are we going to have several competing standards for this kind of syncing, or is everyone going to agree to use open-source methods such as FOAF and OpenID and all that other semantic Web goodness? I would hope for the latter. If there’s anything worse than having to type the exact same personal info into half a dozen social networks, it’s having to replace all your bookmarks everytime you get a new machine. Synchronizing would be a huge boon — and Mozilla says it will be encrypting the data too, which is another plus.

Fake Steve: Techmeme uber-troll

Due to a surfeit of Christmas parties, I missed much of the Fake Steve Jobs takedown frenzy, in which the writer — otherwise known as Daniel Lyons of Forbes — claimed in a series of posts that Apple was trying to shut down his blog. I realize it’s easy for me to claim that I saw through the whole thing, since it’s all over now, but I must admit that even when I saw the headlines I had a suspicion we were being played like a prize trout.

I’m not sure I would describe Fake Steve’s trolling for sympathy as “brilliant,” as my friend Scott Karp at Publishing 2.0 has, but it’s obvious Lyons knew he could get a huge amount of mileage out of such a rumour in the slow-news runup to Christmas. Fake Steve has continued to try and play the game, but his latest post — in which he describes an Apple lawyer offering him $500,000 to close the blog, and refers to his lawyer as Tony Clifton — is just too hard to believe.

First of all, there’s no way he would have been offered that much, and the addition of Tony Clifton as his lawyer is the capper, since that was the name of an alter ego character that comedian Andy Kaufman used. There’s a picture of Kaufman in the post too, getting beaten up by a female wrestler (some of his favourite gags involved wrestlers, including an infamous David Letterman appearance).

I’ll give Scoble some credit — he caught on fairly quickly, and so did Engadget, which pointed out that all the talk about Apple going after Lyons personally didn’t make much sense, considering he is employed by Forbes. Other skeptics included Steven Hodson of Winextra, as well as Shel Israel and to some extent ParisLemon. But it took others awhile to get the joke, including my friend Karoli and James Robertson (at least briefly).

A desperate cry for attention on Fake Steve’s part? I wonder. For awhile now I’ve been wondering how much longer FS could continue, now that everyone is in on the joke. Can a blog based on satire continue to work once everyone knows who’s behind it? I’m not sure. But when you have to resort to lashing out at the likes of yours truly — as FS did when I wrote my Think Secret post — maybe it’s time to turn out the lights.

Will the strike change Hollywood?

(this is cross-posted from my Globe and Mail blog)

As the strike by Hollywood TV and movie writers drags on, one question that keeps popping up is whether the strike is a boon for online content. The short answer is that it’s impossible to say for sure. Will the strike be one of those turning points for online media, as the previous strike in 1988 was for reality TV and satellite programming? No one knows. But one thing is pretty clear: writers like to write, and if they can’t write for television or movies then they will write for the Web.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, several writers have signed on to create a Web-based comedy series for Worldwide Biggies, a digital studio run by former MTV Networks executive Albie Hecht, the creator of Spike TV. The writers have experience working on shows such as “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson,” VH1’s “Best Week Ever,” and “Saturday Night Live.” They will share in the revenue from the series, which Hecht said could be posted on a dedicated site or distributed through a portal.

The report also mentions that former News Corp. executive Ross Levinsohn has discussed funding writers who are on strike but want to do online projects, through a venture Levinsohn has called Velocity Interactive Corp., which he co-founded with former AOL head Jonathan Miller and recently merged with a venture capital firm called ComVentures.

On his investment blog, hedge-fund manager Barry Ritholtz wrote recently that the strike could be a tipping point, and that Silicon Valley VCs could see it as an opportunity to start getting into the content business. As he puts it: “The TV studios have already lost. The VCs will find a business model that works on the cheap, and begin competing with the studios, even if the strike is settled tomorrow. I suspect that Television, as we know it, is now officially over.”

Netscape founder and venture capitalist Marc Andreessen put forward a similar theory on his blog recently, first in a post entitled Suicide by Strike and then in a follow-up post called Rebuilding Hollywood in Silicon Valley’s Image. In Andreessen’s view, the arrival of the Web means (as it has for the music industry) that while distribution costs have fallen virtually to zero, production costs have also fallen dramatically, and that means the number of potential competitors is theoretically limitless. Whether that increases or decreases the amount of quality content out there is another question, of course.

A recent L.A. Times piece looked at a number of writers who have been pursuing a Web strategy as a way of keeping their creative juices flowing — and also of increasing the amount of creative and financial control they have, another of Andreessen’s major themes — including Aaron Mendelsohn, co-creator of the Air Bud movies. Groups of like-minded artists have formed and are looking for venture financing, using a model not unlike the original United Artists studio in the 1920s by Charlie Chaplin and several other prominent stars.

Funny or Die, a comedy-video portal founded by SNL star Will Ferrell that now includes content from filmmaker Judd Apatow and others, recently got $15-million in funding from several venture capital groups, although a profile in Portfolio magazine pointed out that the site has yet to achieve the same amount of traffic its first hit (Ferrell’s Landlord sketch) achieved. Some skeptics, meanwhile, have argued that Web content isn’t going to replace TV content anytime soon, for a number of reasons.

Is Perez Hilton a pawn in Google’s war?

After having his account suspended for what YouTube said was a history of repeated copyright violations, uber celebrity-blogger Perez Hilton has announced that he is pulling all of his videos from the site and will henceforth only be posting them to YouTube says that it is merely complying with the rules under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act by blocking a known copyright infringer — but is its behaviour towards Perez part of its ongoing war with Viacom?

As CNET points out, many of the copyright complaints about Hilton have come from entertainment giant Viacom, and part of why the Google-owned site might be a little hyper-sensitive about copyright infringement is the ongoing $1-billion lawsuit launched by Viacom against YouTube for just that kind of thing. It’s more than a little ironic, then, that Viacom is also the parent company of VH1, the entertainment channel that owns the rights to Perez Hilton’s TV show, and would presumably be interested in the publicity that his videos might draw on YouTube.

After phone calls back and forth from lawyers, YouTube reinstated Hilton’s account, but by then he had already decided to pull his videos and stick to his own site from now on. But the big question is this: was Google beating up on Perez as a way of sending a message to Viacom about the cost of winning its war? Or maybe it was just trying to do the right thing 🙂