Talking about “the cloud” on The Agenda

If you happen to get TVO (TV Ontario) on your set-top box, this is just a quick note that I’ll be on the show tonight talking about the move toward “cloud computing” — Web apps, distributed services using Amazon’s S3 and so on. And unless I’m mistaken, one of my fellow panelists will be none other than Nicholas Carr of Rough Type, with whom I have sparred (in a totally collegial way, of course) over various Web 2.0-type subjects. He has a new book out about the transformation of computing from silos to clouds. Also on tonight talking about Microsoft and Yahoo is my friend and fellow mesh conference organizer Mark Evans.

Bob Cringely does his Dorothy impression

Robert X. Cringely, the pseudonymous tech guru who writes a column for PBS, gives us the benefit of his decades of wisdom on the whole Microsoft and Yahoo front in a post entitled The Men Behind The Curtain. Not only does he give us the benefit of his wisdom, in fact, but he spends the first part of the column telling us how he’s going to give us the benefit of his wisdom, and how we should all be damn glad about it.

“The big question was whether the passage of seven days would make pointless anything I would have to say. So I waited and waited, and it is a testament to the shallowness and endless repetition of both the tech and business media that there is still plenty to say about the deal, the true nature of which few people yet understand.”

It almost has a Moses-like, quasi-Biblical flavour to it, doesn’t it? “The true nature of which few people yet understand.” Thank God that Bob is around, to sift through the nonsense on the Interweb and tell us what really matters. He then launches into an extended metaphor about how Yahoo is really the Cowardly Lion and Microsoft is really the Tin Man — because Yahoo needs more courage and Microsoft needs more heart. Get it?

I’m okay with that part, actually. But the big revelation… wait for it… is that Yahoo has been scared ever since it bought Mark Cuban’s for $5.7-billion. So first of all, we’re supposed to believe that a deal the company did almost 10 years ago has kept it from achieving greatness, and second of all we’re supposed to be grateful to Bob for having the wisdom and the insight that it takes to deliver that kind of fascinating tidbit.

Matt Gertner at AllPeers goes into an extended rant about the uselessness of the blogosphere, and how he only reads people like Cringely now, and the New York Times — but what exactly have we gained by reading Bob? Not much, I would argue. And on top of that, as a commenter notes, he gets a key fact wrong: he calls it an all-cash deal, when it’s actually cash and stock. But then Bob has a way with the facts.

A tribute to Wired magazine, age 15

I know I should be writing about Microsoft and Yahoo, but I confess that I find the whole thing so mind-numbingly boring that I would be asleep before I made it through another post about two gigantic, boring companies merging into one gigantic, boring company. So I thought I would point instead to a fantastic post by my friend Rex Sorgatz of Fimoculous about Wired magazine in honour of it turning 15 this month.

As I admitted in a comment on Rex’s post, I have a complete collection of Wired magazines from the very first issue all the way up to the mid-1990s, when it got huge and boring (much like Microsoft and Yahoo). My wife gives me grief every time we move, because there are about three boxes full of magazines — and those suckers are heavy. The magazines themselves are somewhat moldy and wrinkled in spots because our basement flooded a few years ago. Eventually I will throw them out, I suppose.

But sometimes it’s fun to flip one open and look at what we were so excited about all those years ago: the 14.4 modems and “virtual reality” and a magazine called bOING bOING (like anyone would read something with a dumb name like that). All the bigs were on the masthead, like Nicholas Negroponte and Kevin Kelly from Whole Earth Magazine — which I confess I also have a few issues of — and the WELL.

Rex is right when he says that the design didn’t really take hold for a couple of years, but it was pretty damn cool even in the first issue. And it had way more meat than Mondo 2000 (which I also have a few issues of). I have another admission: I applied for a job at Wired in 1993, when I was a business writer in Toronto, because I thought it would be so cool to write for them. The first of many rejection letters 🙂


Founding editor Louis Rossetto responded to Rex’s post.

It’s a conspiracy… to be totally lame

The Wall Street Journal is now reporting the same thing that several blogs — including The Register, which got it from a music industry mailing list called Music Ally — were reporting earlier today, which is that the Department of Justice is looking into whether a proposed music service from the four big labels would be collusion, restraint of trade, etc.

As Mike Masnick of Techdirt points out, of course, what they should really be accusing the labels of is restraint of intelligence or colluding to waste everyone’s time. It’s probably not surprising that the DoJ might be interested in a plan to distribute music through ISPs and music players, with device makers and service providers picking up the tab, since that would pretty much be a cartel. And the record labels have used their combined powers before in various underhanded ways.

At the same time, however, it’s hard to imagine how TotalMusic — the name of this so-far vapourware service — could be anything but lame. It will no doubt come with all kinds of restrictions on what you can stream, or when (and if) you can save or transfer a file, and will generally be all smothered in DRM and all that other good stuff that makes consumers so overjoyed. As far as I’m concerned, the DoJ should just let the labels go ahead with their plan — they are their own worst enemy.

Yahoo Live was live, now it’s dead


Valleywag is reporting that Microsoft is in talks to acquire Ustream, a Yahoo Live competitor, for $50-million or so — which MG Siegler at ParisLemon notes doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense. As for Yahoo Live, it is now apparently “taking a maintenance break” according to the site, and the blog asks for our forgiveness because they’re just a group of six people who are trying to do their best and learning as they go. There’s also a comment from Chad Dickerson of Yahoo Live on Joe Duck’s blog post about the downtime.

Original post:

Well, it was fun while it lasted. Yahoo Live went, er… live earlier this evening, and promptly keeled over and died. At last check (10:20 p.m. EST), a featured “performer” named JT The Bigga Figga was actually moving on camera, but the audio sounded like someone playing a 78 rpm record at 33 and 1/3 rpms — although I know some of my younger readers probably won’t even know what I’m talking about with that analogy.


Just before the super slow-mo audio feature, there was a big popup saying “we’re experiencing heavy traffic and have run out of capacity,” and also suggested that users come back “when our servers have stopped smoking. Marshall Kirkpatrick at Read/Write Web tried to broadcast live, but was also brought down by lack of bandwidth and/or server space. As Valleywag noted, maybe Brad Horowitz shouldn’t have said on Twitter that Live was up and to “help us crush it with load.” Consider it crushed, Brad.

While it was up and running, though, it looked like a pretty killer “life-streaming” product (although the videos aren’t stored anywhere, as TechCrunch notes, which is kind of a big drawback). It’s slick-looking, and easily as polished as or Stickam or Ustream or If it can stay up, that is. I have to wonder though — as a commenter did on one of the blogs I read — how long it will be before YouTube launches something similar. It’s not rocket science.

Newspapers dying — news thriving

There’s a piece in the New York Times today that takes a look at the newspaper industry in the United States and concludes — not surprisingly — that these are dark times indeed. That won’t come as news to anyone who has been following the industry over the past couple of years, as papers across the U.S. have been downsizing, selling assets, getting bought by “grave dancers” like Sam Zell, and so on.

Is this a national tragedy? Some would have you believe that it is. And I’m sure many of those being downsized at the newspapers in question would like to think that it is — not to mention many of those doing the downsizing and selling off assets. But just because newspapers aren’t doing well doesn’t mean that journalism or media or the news business itself isn’t doing well. If anything, people are searching for more and more news all the time. They’re just doing it online instead of on paper.

Amy Gahran has a great column putting things in perspective at the Poynter Institute site. As she puts it:

“Personally, I’d be surprised if many dailies are left standing after the next 7-10 years, if they don’t make fast, fundamental changes to their revenue strategies. I realize this is dire news to people who can’t envision doing anything but working for a traditional newspaper.

But on the bright side, for those with flexibility and a bit of business savvy, I think that right now there is more space than ever in the news market for entrepreneurial journalistic ventures.”

As Amy describes it, monolithic newspapers and paper chains may not do well in this new environment (although there’s no reason to think that they can’t, especially with advertisers looking for trusted brands to latch onto), but that doesn’t mean journalism or media is ailing. “Smaller, more numerous, entrepreneurial ventures with less overhead and inertia could be the future of journalism,” she says.

Dan Kennedy — whose post I found through Amy’s column, and she in turn found through the Wired Journalists network that Ryan Sholin set up — says the evolution that the media industry is going through feels like it’s the end of something, but it could turn out to be the beginning of something at the same time. As he puts it:

The news business has been through several paradigm shifts since taking on a form we’d recognize beginning in the 1830s. The current one may be unusually wrenching. But it only looks like the end of the world because it happens to be the one we’re living through.

Kennedy suggests that many newspapers will have to refocus on local markets instead of trying to get by on wire stories that everyone else has, and that maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

OpenID: Still not quite there yet

If you’re one of those people who hates to have multiple logins for every site you come to (and I know I do), it’s great to see more big players like Microsoft, Google and Yahoo joining the OpenID project as board members. The more weight the idea gets behind it, the more likely that sites will use it, and Microsoft/Yahoo and Google pull a lot of weight.

As Mike Arrington at TechCrunch notes, however, this announcement only goes partway towards making it easy for you and I to employ one single sign-on for a multitude of sites. Why? Because all of the players involved are happy to join the team, but only Google has taken the extra step of becoming what’s called a “relying party” — meaning it accepts OpenID logins from other services and websites, which is kind of the whole point.

So yes, you can create an OpenID at MyOpenID or another trusted site (my OpenID page is here), but you won’t be able to use your Yahoo-generated or Microsoft-generated OpenID persona at one of the other big-name portals — at least not yet. So we’re falling well short of the interoperability thing. Hopefully some of those moves will start happening soon.

The gorilla moves into local news

For lots of people I know (including me, I have to admit) Google News has effectively become their online newspaper. I don’t know where it stacks up in terms of news portals, and whether Yahoo News or MSN have bigger market share, but for many the day starts with a browse through Google’s version of the newspaper — and now that paper will include local news as well as world news. Can the 800-pound gorilla make local work? And does that help or hurt newspaper sites?

The first thing I wondered was whether Google was just looking at the placeline and/or the source for its stories, since the section in my version of the new Google News showed that the five stories were all from the Toronto Star. Was that paper being ranked higher just because it has the word Toronto in its name? Not according to the Google blog.

We’re not simply looking at the byline or the source, but instead we analyze every word in every story to understand what location the news is about and where the source is located.

As always with Google, the algorithm is king. And the local section on my page did a pretty remarkable job of pulling together news from most of the local outlets, including radio-station websites such as 680News, as well as newspapers like the Star and the Globe — although it did pick up stories from as far away as Kingston and Montreal, so it’s not foolproof. But it’s still as good or better than many of the other news aggregators I’ve tried, including Yahoo (which used to be my start page).

Update: Topix founder Rich Skrenta has a response to Google’s launch that is worth reading, and there’s a post on the Topix blog that also looks at the impact of Google moving into the company’s local search space. The point of the post seems to be that “local news is not a search problem.”

I may be somewhat biased toward the “Web is friend, not foe” argument as far as newspapers are concerned, but I think this helps newspaper websites rather than hurts them. I know that there will be the inevitable arguments, like the ones the World Newspaper Association and others keep trotting out, that Google is “stealing” eyeballs and readers who just want a quick summary of the news, but I think that continues to miss the point.

In a nutshell, if a quick summary or the first paragraph of your story captures all that you have to offer, then you don’t deserve to have those readers in the first place. Write well, add value and readers will continue to come to you — and now even more may wind up coming, as a result of features like Google’s localized news. (Update: Greg Sterling has some market share numbers for Google News at Screenwerk).

The cable cuts: Get out the foil hats

I’ve been watching the “undersea cable-cut conspiracy” gathering steam over the past few days, and it’s almost comical to see some of the hoops people will jump through to suggest — with all kinds of provisos and assurances, of course — that there is something mysterious going on. So I’m glad to see that saner heads are prevailing in some posts, in particular one from O’Reilly that quotes a passage from Neal Stephenson’s piece in Wired magazine about undersea dangers.

It sometimes seems as though every force of nature, every flaw in the human character, and every biological organism on the planet is engaged in a competition to see which can sever the most cables.

The Museum of Submarine Telegraphy in Porthcurno, England, has a display of wrecked cables [and] each is labeled with its cause of failure, some of which sound dramatic, some cryptic, some both: trawler maul, spewed core, intermittent disconnection, strained core, teredo worms, crab’s nest, perished core, fish bite.

Robert Graham at a site called Errata Security is also pounding the “no conspiracy” drum, and points to security expert Bruce Schneier’s blog as one of those muttering darkly about how all of these cuts just have to be more than a coincidence. But as Robert notes, the reports of something dastardly at work mostly just highlight what he calls:

the human psychology of computer security: people are apt to see patterns where none exist. Outages in undersea cables are a common occurrence. They usually go unreported. However, once a major outage is reported, minor outages that would normally be ignored now become reported as well.

As it turns out, the reports that Iran was completely cut off were false. And at least one of the “cuts” (which makes it sound like Dr. Evil sent sharks with frickin’ lasers to destroy Iran’s Internet access) appears to not be a cut at all, but a previous repair that failed. As the O’Reilly piece points out, this may say something about how much of our access to broadband depends on a relatively small number of cables, but it doesn’t say much other than that, unless your tinfoil hat is on too tight.

Does “crowdsourcing” work for investing?

TechCrunch has a post up about Wikinvest, a kind of “crowdsourced” investment encyclopedia, and how it has added a pile of interesting data about certain sectors such as airlines and so on — including revenue per available seat mile and other fun stuff (and yes, if you invest in airlines, that stuff had better be interesting). Coincidentally enough, I was just looking at earlier today, because I spotted the name on the list of panelists at Paul Kedrosky’s Money:Tech conference.

The first commenter on the TechCrunch post brings up one of the first things that jumped into my mind as well, namely: If investing consists of finding little-known metrics or tools or insights that you can use to spot trends or problem areas, how does it help you to have — or contribute to — a kind of encyclopedia that keeps track of all that kind of info? In other words, wouldn’t it make more sense to keep that kind of thing to yourself, rather than sharing it? If so, then you have to wonder who is going to be doing all the work of submitting stuff to Wikinvest.

In some ways, what Wikinvest seems to be trying to do is a little different than what or Cake Financial are doing. Like Motley Fool’s CAPS — which is quite well done, as far as investing-related social networks go — these sites capture your trading activity, your portfolio performance, etc. and let you talk about what you think about stocks. But Wikinvest requires you to actually help other investors by providing data that may or may be one of your special tools for assessing the worth of a particular sector, which is a whole different ball game.

That said, I like Wikinvest — it’s well designed, and I think it is a valuable effort. I’m just not sure how much of the data that gets contributed is going to be worthwhile. It almost seems like the more worthwhile it is, the less likely that someone will contribute it. On a somewhat related note, Michael Robertson — of and and dozens of other ventures too numerous to name — just launched a kind of encyclopedia for the VC business called