Microsoft gets the ad thing right

Okay, so maybe the Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Gates ads were designed to soften up the market by letting people get out all their pent-up anti-Microsoft emotions, so that the newer ads would seem better by comparison (sort of a scapegoat strategy). Or maybe they were just a total screwup and someone thought better of them. Whatever the case may be, the new one I just watched is light-years better (and I was one of the few who actually liked the Seinfeld ones, along with Mike Masnick at Techdirt). It’s understated, it’s human, it’s international in flavour and it has some touching moments as well. All in all, pretty well done, I think.

eBay selling Stumbleupon? Not surprised

According to TechCrunch, eBay is looking to unload Stumbleupon, the “crowd-sourcing” Web recommendation engine that the online retailer bought last year for $75-million. Mike Arrington says that reputable sources have told him the company is for sale. I can’t say I’m all that surprised. Not because Stumbleupon isn’t an attractive asset (although whether it was worth $75-million is a different question entirely) but because it never made any sense as part of eBay in the first place. When the rumours of an acquisition first surfaced in April of last year, I said that I didn’t really get it, and despite the attempts by many people to justify the deal since it happened, it has never made much sense to me, and still doesn’t. Combine that with talk of layoffs at eBay in the near future and a sale seems fairly plausible.

Zuckerberg worth $1.5-billion — or not

It’s bad enough that people pay any attention to Forbes magazine’s pathetic “my portfolio is bigger than your portfolio” list of rich people, but at least most of the people on the list have actual assets that can be measured in some objective fashion — i.e., by stock-market value. But young Mark Zuckerberg, the co-founder of Facebook, manages to get on the list at #321 with what Forbes calls a “net worth” of $1.5-billion, which is apparently based on little more than someone hitting a few numbers on a calculator. But hey, it makes for a great headline, right?

Is Facebook worth $15-billion? Not in any real sense of the word. Yes, it’s true that Microsoft paid $240-million for 1.6 per cent of the company, which theoretically values the entire company at $15-billion. But the key word there is “theoretically.” There’s about as much chance of someone buying Facebook for $15-billion as there is of me flying to the moon. In real terms, Mark Zuckerberg is worth something functionally equivalent to zero. I’d love to see him walk into a bank with a copy of the Forbes magazine list and try to get a loan for a couple of hundred million or so.

J-school student told not to blog about class

A few weeks ago, I came across a guest post at the MediaShift blog at PBS, in which Alana Taylor — a journalism student at New York University who also writes for the blog Mashable — talked about how disappointed she was with her classes at the university, and how “old thinking” permeated the school. Among other things, she mentioned that she was the only class member who had a blog, and that her teacher was encouraging students to think primarily about getting jobs at newspapers, and that the general sense at the school was that working online wasn’t a viable career choice.

It wasn’t a uniformly negative piece, nor was it solely about Taylor’s teacher — about whom she said some nice things as well, including the fact that she at least knew that blogging could be a paying job, and could lead to “real” journalism jobs. And it didn’t say much about the other students in the class, apart from some comments that a fellow classmate made after Alana asked her what she thought about the class during a break. That’s clearly not how her teacher saw it, however: according to an update by Mark Glaser at MediaShift, the NYU instructor called Taylor into her office and told her not to blog, Twitter or otherwise write about the class.

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Google: And then, we annex Sealand!

There was much chatter recently about a patent application that Google filed for a series of floating, offshore data centres, which would use wave energy to help defray some of the power costs required by the massive server clusters that Skynet, er… Google needs to function. Anchored seven miles or more offshore, the centres would also be outside territorial waters and therefore tax-free. My friend Om Malik says this idea isn’t unique to Google: a startup called International Data Security is working on a similar plan, although it proposes to use decommissioned ships docked in various harbours and served by fibre lines and high-speed microwave links.

Floating power centres would raise all kinds of issues, however, including — as one wag at Slashdot mentioned — the risk of Microsoft investing in a fleet of attack submarines, not to mention having to deal with the effect of salty sea water and humidity. More than anything, Google’s plan reminded me of Sealand, a former World War II sea fort anchored off the coast of England that was the subject of an ambitious (possibly even ridiculous) plan in the early 1990s to create an offshore data haven, with a server cluster suspended inside the legs of the structure.

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Can you say The Streisand Effect?

I was flipping through my feed reader today, when I came across a post at BoingBoing about some funny doctored photos of kids at a science fair. You may have seen some of the same ones here and there around the Internet: there’s a girl holding a giant clip from a set of jumper cables in front of a cardboard setup that says “Electricity vs. Cat,” and another kid with a ’70s shirt and a bowl haircut in front of a board with a large hole and two nearby electrical wires that says “12-volt Sex Robot.” They are hilarious. Unless, of course, you are the kid in the ’70s shirt and the bowl haircut. Then, apparently, they are salt rubbed in a very raw wound that was created 30 years ago at the high-school science fair.

The BoingBoing post doesn’t have any photos any more. At first, it had photos but the faces were blurred, and there was no link to the site they came from, because Mark Frauenfelder said that he was concerned that they were real photos of real kids. Then he got a comment — not from one of the kids, or one of the parents of one of the kids, but from the kid in the bowl haircut, or rather the adult who used to be the kid. He said:

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So this one time, at Bandcamp…

Longtime readers of this site will know that I have a fascination with the way that the music industry is being transformed by the Web, much like other content-related industries (such as the one I work in), and how artists such as Trent Reznor and Girl Talk are dealing with that transformation. In addition to those experiments, we’ve seen a number of Web services and companies launch to try and help musicians evolve, from Topspin Media, which was founded by former Winamp and Yahoo Music exec Ian Rogers, to RCRD LBL, which was started by Engadget founder Peter Rojas.

Now, Andy “Waxy” Baio brings news of another startup aiming to fill that void and make it easier for artists to connect directly with (and sell directly to) their fans. It’s called Bandcamp (great name) and was co-founded by Ethan Diamond, one of the founders of Oddpost. For those who may not recall, Oddpost was one of the first Ajax-powered Web apps, and offered a desktop-style interface to Webmail long before Google’s Gmail came along, and was eventually bought by Yahoo. Andy has a great interview with Ethan about what he is trying to do with Bandcamp.

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Should I get an iPhone or an Android?

So the Wall Street Journal says that the long-awaited, much-ballyhooed Google Phone is coming soon, and TechRadar says that Google execs demonstrated a working prototype at a developer event recently in London. Meanwhile, some of the bloom has come off the iPhone rose in the past little while (for some people at least), with much discussion of how Apple maintains an iron fist when it comes to which apps are allowed on the device. So if given the choice between the two — which I admit is pretty hypothetical at the moment — which one should I buy?

The iPhone is tres cool, no question about that. It looks great, it feels great, and (for the most part) it works great. The size of the screen and the auto-rotation feature, not to mention the multi-touch interface, makes Web browsing and photo viewing almost as appealing as on a desktop, and puts it miles ahead of any other mobile device so far. Apps like Shazam — which identifies the music you’re listening to on the radio or your stereo, or pretty much anywhere in the immediate vicinity of your phone — make the phone a pleasure to use. Unfortunately, Apple won’t let iPhone users install certain apps, even when they sound really useful.

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Mark McKay wins C-61 video contest

Congrats to my pal Mark McKay, video-blogger extraordinaire, for being one of the three videos selected in Michael Geist’s recent contest to explain the dangers of the Conservative government’s proposed copyright legislation, Bill C-61, in 61 seconds (although it died when the Harper government called an election, depending on the outcome of that election the law could be revived). Mark — who bears a startling resemblance to Rick Moranis’s character from the movie Ghostbusters — has put together an introduction to the law with his usual skill, a talent he also employed for us at mesh 2008 in May, where he both shot and edited a lot of the video along with my friend Greg Philpott and his team at The C-61 contest was judged by (among others) Stephen Page of the Barenaked Ladies.

watch the video…

IMDB finally gets with the program

Almost a decade after Amazon bought the darn thing, the Internet Movie Database or IMDB is finally getting the ability to stream movie trailers, TV shows and other content, so that when you go and check the site for reviews of a film or goofs (my favourite feature) or a plot synopsis, you can watch some of it right in the page. As Rafat Ali notes at PaidContent, this is so obvious an offering that it kind of makes you shake your head that it has taken so long — but that’s the movie industry for you. Apparently Amazon has signed deals with CBS and News Corp. (for content from Hulu) as well as Sony, and is hoping to get more. I wish them luck.

IMDB was probably one of the first websites I became addicted to — I loved going there before I picked a movie to watch to read reviews, and I loved going there after to read the goofs and other trivia — and it’s also one of the first that I can remember showing other people to try and get them to understand the power of the Web. Unfortunately for me, and anyone else who lives outside of the United States, most of the content that will be available through this new offering is restricted to U.S. residents, and so without some kind of anonymous proxy tool, you will get the dreaded “this video is not available in your country” warning.