Web 2.0 in limbo? Let’s get a grip

Caroline McCarthy of CNET’s blog The Social has a long post that uses as a jumping-off point the party at this week’s Web 2.0 conference thrown by Mashable, with sponsorship from a new social-networking startup (still in alpha) called Chi.mp. The highlight of Caroline’s post, as Erick Schonfeld of TechCrunch noted on Twitter, was a line from an anonymous observer, who provided this humdinger:

“I’ll tell you what Chi.mp is. It’s venture money getting set on fire.”

In other words, no one cares what Chi.mp is or does, and even an alpha site clearly has enough VC money to blow on a fancy party. What does this prove exactly? Nothing, really — although it sure is a great quote. Caroline goes on to quote one of Tim O’Reilly’s typically enthusiastic comments about the Web’s effect on the world, in which he says that “We’re at a turning point akin to literacy or the formation of cities,” and then she notes how it’s easy to raise money if you’re PayPal founder Max Levchin or serial entrepreneur Marc Andreessen, but everyone else had better watch their step because the Web economy looks tippy.

Given that the party — which McCarthy seems to see as a kind of 1920s, pre-crash, Gatsby-style bacchanal — was thrown by Mashable, it’s probably not surprising that Mashable writer Adam Ostrow steps up to challenge the CNET blogger’s post. But I think Adam (who is also a Web entrepreneur, having acquired and relaunched Readburner.com) makes a number of good points. The bottom line is that the Web makes it so much easier to start and run a business — and yes, I’m using that term broadly — that it’s hard to see where the sturm und drang about the crumbling Web 2.0 “economy” comes from.

As Adam points out, the previous bubble was made up of companies with sky-high valuations that had gone public. How many Web companies have done that this time around? Not many. So Slide convinces VCs it’s worth $300-million, and Twitter raises money at a $60-million valuation based on hopes and dreams — so what? That doesn’t hurt anyone except VCs who should know better. Web startups will continue to pop up like mushrooms because it’s just so cheap to put them together. Eric Ly started a scheduling service called Presdo with $35,000 and some code he wrote in a weekend. Let’s try and relax, shall we?

Tripharbor.com: Full speed ahead

Congratulations to my friend and fellow mesh 2008 organizer Stuart MacDonald — or Captain Stubing, as we like to call him now — on the launch of Tripharbor.com (or Tripharbour.ca), which is designed to bring the cruise-booking business into the 21st century. In addition to being one of the mesh guys, Stuart is also the former chief marketing officer of Expedia and was the founder of Expedia.ca, so travel is sort of in his blood. When he and his family tried to find and book a cruise online, he discovered how out of touch that business is with the rest of the Web-enabled world and set out to change it.

The result is Tripharbor, which makes it as easy to find and book a cruise as it is to find a book at Amazon.com or to find a regular trip at Expedia. There are two simple date and location fields, and choosing a place and time gives you a selection of all the cruises available — as well as plotting them on a map — along with the prices. Narrowing down your selection is as simple as using a few sliders, which set the price range you’re interested in, the departure date and the length of cruise you want. You can browse easily through different ships.

One of the really powerful things about Tripharbor.com, I think, is the community aspect. Although it’s obviously still new and relatively unpopulated, there are all sorts of tools there for people to organize trips with their friends, talk about their good and bad experiences, and generate recommendations that others can use. And throughout the community will be Tripharbour staff, acting as guides and moderators and in general keeping things ship-shape. All in all, a great job by Stuart and the team. Stuart has a post on the Tripharbour blog, and Mark Evans and StartupNorth have posted on it as well.

Andreessen: MSFT did us a favour

I don’t normally like to praise Microsoft for things. Not only am I not a Microsoft fan-boy, but I think some of the ways that the software company has done business in the past have been — well, bordering on unethical. I also think many of its products suck in terms of useability, and give new meaning to the word bloat-ware. But I’m glad that Marc Andreessen (of all people) said something that I’ve often said in the past, which is that love them or hate them, at least Microsoft standardized the operating-system market around something.

Maybe it wasn’t the best something — maybe DR-DOS was better, or whichever flavour you happened to like if you are old enough to remember those days (and yes, I am; thanks for asking), or IBM’s various tries at recapturing its lost glory. But that doesn’t really matter. You may think DOS was bad and Windows was worse, but at least Microsoft stabilized what was a fragmented and chaotic market, and that arguably pushed us further ahead faster. If they hadn’t done it, someone else would have had to, and it might have taken longer and been even worse. More from Marc Andreessen’s chat with John Battelle here.

Google search by date: sign me up

I know it’s a small thing, and maybe not worth a huge amount of noise — but I have to say that I hope TechCrunch is right and Google is going to roll out default search that includes sorting by date. I don’t know why they haven’t added that as a default feature by now. Am I the only one who likes to see fresh results when they are searching? Obviously if it’s a search about 18th-century military techniques or something like that, it may not matter when the website was last updated — but if it’s anything even remotely current, then I don’t want to get sent to some site with information from three years ago.

I assume that part of the reason Google hasn’t set this as a default is that sorting by date to some extent interferes with the proper functioning of the Page Rank system — but I don’t know that for sure, so if you know something about it then please feel free to enlighten me. And yes, I know that you can sort by date using the advanced search. But most of the time I can’t be bothered. What I do know is that in most cases I would like the ability to sort by date, even if it’s a secondary process (i.e, sort first by relevance and then by date). So I would like Google to add this to my default search right now. Kthnxbai.


Mike Arrington says that according to Google blogger Matt Cutts, sorting by date as a default feature is not happening — which is too bad. Matt, could Google enable it just for me? That would be great.

Twitter-storm: Blaine leaves, blame flies

Update 2:

More turmoil at Twitter: Lee Mighdoll, the engineering VP that Twitter just hired in January (!) has left the company as well.


My friend Mike McDerment of FreshBooks interviewed Blaine during his road-trip to the Future of Web Apps conference, and the video is here. And if it’s video you’re interested in, Mike Arrington defends his post in a video comment that he posted on TechCrunch using the new Seesmic video-comment feature. He says Blaine “owns” the failure as chief architect, and should have owned up to it instead of getting his friends to attack TechCrunch and other critics.

Original post:

If you need any proof that Twitter is the hot topic in the blogosphere at the moment, all you have to do is look at the volume of blog posts about the service — and related services such as Tweetscan and Twist (Twitter trends) — on sites like TechCrunch. The latest brushfire has to do with the departure of Blaine Cook as the outage-plagued service’s chief architect. Mike Arrington says that it’s obvious that he failed to scale the service properly, and therefore it’s a good thing he’s gone (and has apparently been replaced by a couple of new hires).

As support for this argument, Mike uses a presentation that Blaine made at a conference last year, in which he claimed that scaling applications that use Ruby on Rails is “easy” and suggested that Twitter’s problems were mostly behind it. As anyone who has been using the service much over the past year knows, that statement was… well, overly optimistic. Is that Blaine Cook’s fault or is it that Rails doesn’t scale? There’s no question that Twitter usage has skyrocketed over the past six months or so. For his part, Blaine says the departure was amicable and that it was just time for him to move on.

There are plenty of comments from supporters (ironically, using Twitter) who say that the former Twitter architect is a class act and a great software engineer, including Tom Coates and from Tara Hunt. Others seem to support Mike’s case that if you make a public claim that your software is easy to scale and then you fail to do that consistently, then you deserve to be held to account for that. In any case, it’s more than a little ironic that while this blogstorm is swirling, Blaine is presenting at the Web 2.0 conference about how to scale a Web application.

Disqus: Connecting the conversation

I don’t use Plaxo’s Pulse — a kind of aggregator for social information about you and your friends — but I think it’s interesting that they have integrated any comments posted through Pulse with the Disqus comment system, which I have been using on my blog for some time now and am a big fan of. As Daniel Ha of Disqus mentions on the company blog, the various threads of disconnected conversation that are occurring in different corners of the blogosphere is something that is crying out for a solution, and Disqus could be the one to solve it.

One of the most recent flash points in that area occurred when Shyftr showed up on the scene, pulling full feeds from blogs such as mine and allowing people to share them and comment on them. Some people were upset about the fact that their RSS feed was being used as the foundation for someone else’s business, but others were also concerned that comments occurring on Shyftr weren’t connected to their blogs any more. The same type of issue has come up with other aggregation-style services such as FriendFeed (which allows you to post comments back to Twitter, etc. but not to blogs).

Congrats to Daniel Ha — who Mark Evans recently interviewed for his blog — on taking the first step in helping to tie those loose strands of conversation together. It almost makes up for the fact that Disqus still doesn’t support trackbacks 🙂


Founder Nick Halstead pointed out to me that Fav.or.it — a feed aggregator that also aggregates comments — allows comments that are posted inside the service to be integrated with blogs as well, although Fav.or.it has not gotten rave reviews from some.

Wikia Search: Edit anything and everything

Jimmy “I invented Wikipedia” Wales gave a demo of the latest version of Wikia Search tonight, at the Social Media Marketing conference in Long Beach, and there is a new alpha site that you can play around with — if you don’t mind a page that yells “Beware!” at you in red type, and throws Javascript errors every time you click a button or launch an Ajax script (I particularly like how the URL is re.search.wiki.com; nice touch there, Jimbo). It’s actually kind of impressive in a way, if only because everything on the page is editable by any user, without leaving the page.

When Wikia Search was first released, it was dismissed by Mike Arrington at TechCrunch as one of the most disappointing products he had ever reviewed — primarily because it just added social features such as user profiles on to a rather lame search tool (powered by the Nutch engine). I had to agree at the time. But this alpha allows a user, through the wonders of Ajax, to click and edit in place any one of the search results, including title and description, and even allows search results to be completely deleted. You can also add new URLS, and pull data from a preview, which also appears in place.

Obviously, this is wide open to abuse — in much the same way that Wikipedia is. In fact, it’s even easier because you don’t have to click to go to an incomprehensible “edit” page with weird wiki commands for links. You just click and edit. Whether Wikia Search can develop the same kind of community of editors and overlords that Wikipedia has, which prevent the entire effort from degenerating into outright anarchy, remains to be seen. But it’s an interesting experiment, I think.

eBay to Craigslist: Oh no you didn’t


A post at the newish Craigslist blog says that the company is:

“surprised and disappointed by Ebay’s unfounded allegations, which came to us out of the blue, without any attempt to engage in a dialogue with us.”

And the post goes on to say that eBay has no reason to feel threatened

“unless of course they’re contemplating a hostile takeover of craigslist, or the sale of Ebay’s stake in craigslist to an unfriendly party. (In which case, they’re out of luck!)”

So there you have it. Not much clearer than before, but it certainly lends some support to the “poison pill” idea. It’s possible that Craigslist implemented some kind of provision that would change the share structure in the event that eBay mounted some kind of hostile takeover attempt. Don’t you wish the court hadn’t sealed those documents? Maybe we can buy copies on Craigslist.

Original post:

It seems that now, along with other Craigslist mysteries — such as why the site sticks with that 1996 design, and why Jim and Craig don’t just sell out and buy a small Latin American country — we have the mystery of what the dynamic duo did to make eBay so mad. The auction site, which has about 300 employees and $2-billion dollars for every one that Craigslist has, is suing Craig and Jim for “unfairly diluting” eBay’s 25-per-cent stake in the classified service. As some readers may know, eBay wound up with a stake after an early employee sold his shares, something Valleywag has covered in great detail and was also confirmed by Craig in an interview with Sarah Lacey on TechTicker.

So what did Craig and Jim do to get eBay’s knickers in a knot? Dilution implies that shares were issued that reduced the value of eBay’s stake in the company. But why would Craigslist do that? Peter Kafka at Silicon Alley Insider says it’s likely because the classified site was raising money — although even he admits that doesn’t really make any sense. Why would a company with about $100-million in revenue and costs of about $30-million have to raise money? My friend Paul Kedrosky wonders whether Craig introduced some kind of poison pill that would reduce eBay’s stake if they pulled something the site didn’t like.

And what might that be? Well, what if eBay went into competition with Craigslist? That’s exactly what happened when eBay-owned classified site Kijiji announced last year that it was moving into the U.S., and it has quickly become a major competitor to Craigslist. The dilution eBay is complaining about took place in January — which is about the time that Kijiji was talking all kinds of smack about eating Craigslist’s lunch. Did Jim and Craig issue themselves some more stock around then? After all, they make up the entire board, and they own preferred voting shares while eBay owns common shares.

As Ashkan Karbasfrooshan at HipMojo says: “Put down the bong, the honeymoon is over.” And as my friend Rob Hyndman notes, this is an excellent lesson for all you startups out there — another example of why you need to maintain control over your stock.

Filmaka: Like American Idol, but for TV

After more than a year, an independent Web-based movie venture called Filmaka is finally out of “beta.” The project has a couple of high-profile backers: indie film producer Deepak Nayar (responsible for movies such as Bend It Like Beckham and Buena Vista Social Club) and former Fox TV network honcho Sandy Grushow, who gave the world shows such as The OC, 24, The X-Files and Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Grushow was also one of the network executives behind American Idol, and says Filmaka is based on a similar premise.

The founders say they want to find young or up-and-coming TV producers and filmmakers and in some cases to help them get major studio or network deals. The site already has a stable of more than 40 Web-based shows that it plans to run on networks such as YouTube, and has been conducting a kind of Web-based talent search with a contest that ends on April 28 — the winner, who will be chosen by a jury including David Lynch, Wim Wenders, Werner Herzog and Neil LaBute, will get as much as $3-million in financing to produce a movie for theatrical release.

That’s not the only contest Filmaka has been sponsoring either: the venture has also been running a sitcom competition with the cable channel FX, which will see the winner get $40,000 to shoot a 15 to 20-minute pilot for a potential FX television show, and the site has a documentary competition and a “branded entertainment” competition. Fox ran a similar kind of contest with MySpace, but didn’t turn either of the winners into a pilot. Jerry Zucker of NBC has spoken in the past about how expensive — and in many cases, ultimately futile — the current pilot-oriented TV production process can be.

More than 3,000 submissions have been received from aspiring filmmakers in more than 90 countries, and all of the submissions can be streamed from the Filmaka.com website. Visitors can choose to see entries by category (documentary, TV, feature etc.) or only the ones that have advanced to the jury level. Submissions include everything from animated shorts featuring “claymation”-style characters to sitcom-style comedies, and at least one Canadian filmmaker has several entries in different levels of the competition: Terry Miles has submitted a feature film called Lost and Found and also has an entry in the TV-pilot contest called The Secret Life of Amanda Jones, about a twentysomething college student who is also a vampire.

In an interview with Wired magazine, Grushow said that after 20 years in the network business, he wasn’t sure that any independent or unsigned filmmakers could produce content that he might be interested in, but he says his eyes were opened after Filmaka started the competition: “I was astonished at the quality level people were capable of creating … at such a low cost. To me, that represented a game-changer.” In Filmaka, he said, the partners hope create what amounts to “a studio with essentially no overhead.” And there’s already Canadian content.

Video interlude: High Noon, with robots

If you’ve ever watched the Western classic High Noon and wondered what it would have been like if the bad guys were robots and the guns shot death rays, wonder no more. Not unlike a Star Trek episode, as it turns out. But a pretty cool one.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w1m44VNw3O0&hl=en&w=425&h=355]