From the magical blog known as Waxy.org, run by the ever-eclectic Andy Baio, comes a tale that seems beyond belief: Summer Allen-Gibson, who runs a foodie blog with her partner Alicia Carrier, spotted what looked to be tiny heads hidden in a picture of broccoli on the outside of a package of frozen vegetables. She wasn’t hallucinating — as the photos she posted on the blog show, there are in fact tiny little smiling people mixed in with the broccoli spears, coloured the exact same shade of green so they are difficult (but not impossible) to see. According to some of the comments, graphic artists apparently do this with headshots of friends and family as a gag. I wonder how often this kind of thing happens and no one notices.
So Jason Calacanis has brought down the hammer on some employees at Mahalo, his “people-powered search” startup — and took the extraordinary step of returning to blogging momentarily to announce the news, after having made a big show of turning his back on it. In typical Jason fashion, he even included what is becoming a kind of blogosphere in-joke: The headline of his post is “Tough times; hard decisions,” a wording that Techmeme’s Gabe Rivera notes is becoming a recurring theme. And if you think Jason didn’t know that, then you don’t know Jason Calacanis.
The cuts at Mahalo aren’t really that surprising, given Jason’s widely-circulated email newsletter about how the downturn is going to hit startups hard (something Ashkan of WatchMojo thinks was a clear sign layoffs were coming at Mahalo). But how many people did he actually cut, and why? That’s a murky question indeed. Some reports said 30 per cent of the staff were shown the door, and Nick Carlson at Silicon Alley Insider said 11 out of 20 (or maybe 25), which is closer to 50 per cent. TechCrunch said 10 per cent, which is the number Jason uses.
But it’s worth wondering just who is included in those staffing numbers. It’s not clear, for example, whether they include the 20-odd people working in the Manila office in the Philippines, the ones Allen Stern of Centernetworks mentions in his post (complete with a photo, which now appears to have been removed from Flickr). Some sources say that the number of full-time paid employees has been cut by 50 per cent, leaving a small number along with unpaid volunteers and freelancers on contract.
Regardless of the number, is it enough to get Mahalo the kind of scale that will make it a viable search site? I think Ash has a point when he says that the company’s current strategy pretty much consists of trying to whip together links and a blurb about whatever is hot on Google Trends, and then hope that Google indexes it quickly and it shows up high in search results. Is that a viable strategy? I confess that I don’t really know.
Erick Schonfeld at TechCrunch has posted the text of Jason’s email newsletter, despite the fact that the email specifically says “Do Not Reprint.” As Erick notes in a comment on his post: “He is the CEO of a startup that just went through a layoff today, and he emailed his thoughts on the matter to almost 9,000 people. This is not a private email.” Jason then steps in to ask that it be taken down, and threatens to send a DMCA takedown notice to TechCrunch’s ISP (something he has reportedly done to others in the past for similar reasons). Mike Arrington’s response is here.
As many people know, infamous Chicago crime boss Al Capone was ultimately brought to justice not because of all the bootlegging, murder and fraud he engaged in but because of a tax-evasion charge. Now the U.S. government is trying a similar tactic in its fight against a criminal biker gang called The Mongols: federal prosecutors say they want the courts to award them the rights to the gang’s name, and any imagery associated with it.
That way, federal authorities say, they could outlaw the gang in part by preventing them from using the name and imagery, and by seizing property and assets that carry the name or insignia — including clubhouses, motorcycles and even gang members’ clothing. This would allow any police officer “who sees a Mongol wearing this patch … to stop that gang member and literally take the jacket right off his back,” U.S. Attorney Thomas O’Brien told Reuters. (I wonder what they would do to this guy, who has the insignia tattooed on the back of his head).
This appears to be the first time that the police or the U.S. Attorney’s office have gone after a bike gang or any other criminal organization based on illegal use of intellectual property. Much like the Hell’s Angels and other popular outfits, the Mongols registered their name and their “patch” or insignia — a ponytailed character resembling Genghis Khan — as a legal trademark so that they could control the use of it.
In my never-ending quest for strange videos that I find amusing, I came across this clip of John Hodgman — the comedian, author and actor best known as “the PC guy” — and a talk he gave at the last TED conference (I confess that I didn’t unearth this myself; it came, like so many other fascinating things, from a link at Jason Kottke’s blog). It’s kind of about aliens and Enrico Fermi and “lost time” and close encounters, but not really — it’s actually a love story, but one that only John Hodgman could tell. Hodgman’s new book is called More Information Than You Require, and is a sequel of sorts to his first book of largely useless and/or made-up information, which was called The Areas Of My Expertise.
Twine just launched a new version of its personal bookmark-sharing, data aggregation service, and it has some cool features — but I think instead of explaining all of them, and trying to get across what the service is designed to do (hint: it has something to do with the “semantic Web”), the company should have just posted the video I’ve embedded here. A Twine staffer created it as a gag and played it for CEO and founder Nova Spivack as a joke (this is the real video). Here’s a couple of excerpts:
“Look, I know you like a lot of sh*t. So we created this new tool so you could collect that sh*t, and connect with people who like that same sh*t. Twine ties it all together by topic, so you can have all that sh*t in one place and it’s easy to find it, you know what I’m sayin’? When you bookmark an item, our sh*t is so dope, it automatically extracts the title, description and tags from the page — you don’t have to do a damn thing. It’s pretty awesome.”
“Each Twine has a unique email address, so dude, you get some crazy email, you like it so much, you can send that sh*t to Twine directly from your email. You can invite people to Twine who like the same sh*t you do. One more time I’m gonna tell you: We like to help you collect it, we help you share it, and we help you find other sh*t that you like. Get started and use this goddamn thing today. Holla! (Sound of a gunshot).”
Spivack and the employee who created the video — Candice Nobles — both commented on TechCrunch’s post about it, along with a number of humorless people who said it was “in bad taste,” which is ridiculous. Not only is it hilarious, but it actually describes the service pretty well.
Since Lala’s newly-relaunched music service includes a “music locker” feature that is virtually identical to one that Michael Robertson pioneered with MyMP3 back in 2000 — only to ultimately be sued into oblivion by the RIAA — I emailed him to get his thoughts on what the company is doing, and how things have (or haven’t) changed since he first launched MP3.com. Here’s what he said in response:
“I really admire what Lala is trying to do. Their user interface is nice and concept as you pointed out is one I championed in 2000. The world has changed dramatically since I did my.mp3 in 2000, but sadly the labels have not. My belief back then was that users should have rights to move their own music around. Music lovers want the music everywhere on any device. This means you must support an open API instead of locking users to a single service. This means you must support downloads not just streaming.
I guess I missed this one somehow a couple of weeks ago, but Dan Aykroyd has apparently launched a somewhat, er… unique vodka that comes in a glass skull. Yes, that’s right — a glass skull. Why? Well, you really have to listen to Dan tell the story, and I warn you that it’s not a short story. It’s worth it though, if only to hear the House of Blues founder and former Ghostbusters star talk about the “mystery” of the 13 crystal skulls, which are believed to be thousands of years old, and to have been carved by Mayans using secret techniques, or perhaps given to us by visitors from other planets.
Is any of this even remotely true? Not even close! All the studies of the skulls have shown that they were probably carved sometime in the last 50 or 60 years using common techniques. But hey, that doesn’t make for a great story, so let’s forget about that part. And what does any of this have to do with vodka? Nothing whatsoever! Dan, the smooth-talking salesman that he is, manages to somehow segue from the crystal skull mystery into how vodka is the “most challenging” form of alcohol (whatever that means) and how it’s fitting that this special brew fills this mysterious skull.
Hey, didn’t you hear? Blogs are so 2004. They’re dead now, says Paul Boutin (who also writes for Valleywag) in a piece he wrote for Wired magazine. Here’s his argument (such as it is) in a nutshell:
“The blogosphere, once a freshwater oasis of folksy self-expression and clever thought, has been flooded by a tsunami of paid bilge. Cut-rate journalists and underground marketing campaigns now drown out the authentic voices of amateur wordsmiths.
It’s almost impossible to get noticed, except by hecklers. And why bother? The time it takes to craft sharp, witty blog prose is better spent expressing yourself on Flickr, Facebook, or Twitter.”
Sometimes — in fact, most of the time — it seems as though the music industry has changed very little since the early days of Napster and the invention of the mp3 file. Lawsuits still shut down Web-based music services and tie people up in court, record labels still primarily ignore the potential of the Internet, and so on. But at least one thing has changed: the idea of an online music locker where you can store songs seems to be something to promote, rather than something to sue into oblivion. It’s one of the main features of the newly-relaunched Lala service.
This feature, as Harry notes at Technologizer, happens to be exactly the same as a service that Michael Robertson used to offer way back when, known as MyMp3.com. Users could simply have the service scan a compact disc and then the songs would be unlocked online, so that they could be listened to anywhere there was Internet access. It was a great service, and like Harry I was pretty sad to see it get shut down after a lawsuit from the RIAA (Michael has since tried to create a similar service at mp3tunes.com, which is also being sued by EMI).
Nick Carr has a post on his Rough Type blog in which he whips up a typical sort of doomsday scenario about Google’s use of a policy called “First Click Free.” In a nutshell, this allows publishers to serve up different content to people who arrive through a Google search than they would get if they just arrived the regular way. This is bad, Nick says, because it “strengthens the advantage that [Google’s] dominance of search provides,” and thereby contributes to what he calls the “centripetal force” that Google exerts on the Web, pulling content into itself like a black hole.
To be fair to Nick, the bulk of his argument actually comes from Phillip Lenssen of Google Blogoscoped, who wrote about the First Click Free policy earlier today. Among other things, Phil said that this policy — which, as Google blogger Matt Cutts notes in a comment on Nick’s post, has actually been around for several months now — could result in more sites putting their content behind pay walls (since they could then show Google users the paid content using the First Click Free policy). As a result, he says, it could help cement Google’s dominance because it would give users of the search engine access that others wouldn’t have.