MSFT and Yahoo: two icebergs, roped together

Update:

The latest version of the Wall Street Journal story at 4:19 on Friday afternoon says that the talks between Microsoft and Yahoo “are no longer active,” according to the paper’s sources — although “the two companies may still explore other ways of cooperating.”

Original post:

I wonder if Rupert Murdoch has any shares in Yahoo he’s trying to get rid of. Just kidding 🙂 But now would be a pretty good time to unload them. The New York Post ignited a firestorm of rumour this morning — and lit a fire under Yahoo’s share price too — with a story saying Microsoft is back in merger talks with the Internet portal. That pushed Yahoo’s moribund stock up by 17 per cent or so, adding about $6-billion to its market cap.

snipshot_e4j1ejppaan.jpgAs the Wall Street Journal points out in its story, the combination of Microsoft and Yahoo is not a new idea. The two companies were reportedly talking a year or so ago about a possible deal, and now those talks have apparently been revived. But does it make any sense? That depends on how you look at it. It makes sense when you consider that Microsoft’s search and related assets are running a distant — and I mean distant — third in the market. And Yahoo, for all of its faults, is a big property with a snappy new engine behind its search, which is (theoretically) supposed to close the gap with Google.

That’s the “glass is half full” argument. The half-empty argument is that both Microsoft and Yahoo are lumbering behemoths with hardly an agile bone left in their sclerotic bodies. Most of their problems stem from the fact that they have accumulated immense bureaucracies — a big part of the impetus for Yahoo exec Brad Garlinghouse’s infamous “peanut butter” manifesto — and a collection of legacy businesses that keep getting in the way.

They are like icebergs: not only is nine-tenths of them unseen, but they are slow-moving and difficult to steer. Impressive? Yes. Powerful? No doubt about it. But fast, or nimble or imaginative? No. Roping them together would do nothing but compound their problems.

Further reading:

Paul Kedrosky doesn’t think the merger would be a good thing, even though he has been speculating that Microsoft would probably take a run at Yahoo for some time now. Even Henry “I used to be a famous Wall Street analyst” Blodget doesn’t like the idea. And Charlene Li of Forrester Research takes a look at both sides of the argument here. Seamus McCauley puts it well in his blog post at Virtual Economics: Yahoo plus MSN does not equal Google.

Yahoo gets smart, kills Yahoo Photos

snipshot_e4qmki7axqg.jpg According to Mike Arrington — who interrupted his dinner with Brad Garlinghouse of Yahoo and Flickr creator Stewart Butterfield to do a blog post about it — Yahoo is effectively closing the doors on its photo service and migrating everyone either to Flickr or to another online photo service of their choice (Photobucket, Webshots, Snapfish, etc.). USA Today had the story too. Although there are details to be worked out, such as whether Flickr users will get free unlimited hosting the way Yahoo Photos users did or be forced to pay and upgrade to Flickr Pro, I think this is a smart move. Running two photo services doesn’t make any sense.

Maybe someone is finally paying attention to that “peanut butter” memo from awhile back — written, coincidentally enough, by Brad Garlinghouse. Danny Sullivan isn’t so sure that it’s a smart move because he thinks Yahoo Photos users will be pissed. Incidentally, Yahoo Photos hosts over two *billion* photos. Yes, billion. And Mike says that Flickr is going to allow users to upload video soon as well as photos — that should make things interesting.

MySpace, YourSpace and Politics 2.0

(cross-posted from my Globe and Mail blog)

Politicians love to show how hip and “with it” they are, by using all those cool Interweb tools like MySpace and Facebook, uploading their videos to YouTube, and even inviting bloggers onto their campaign tours, as John Edwards did with uber-blogger Robert Scoble (although Edwards had a somewhat less pleasant experience involving two bloggers he hired to work for him, who got roasted by conservative Catholics for things they had written on their personal blogs).

snipshot_e4188ixfjpuf.jpgBut it seems that at least some of the cogs in the traditional political machine in both Canada and the U.S. didn’t get the memo about the new openness and being part of the “conversation.” The Ontario government has reportedly blocked Facebook from all of its employees, arguing that the social nature of the site isn’t appropriate for staff when they are at work — in the same way that employers used to remove Minesweeper from PCs because they thought people would spend all day playing it. Now lots of places block web-based email for the same reason, or “entertainment”-related websites.

Meanwhile, south of the border, the Barack Obama campaign is currently embroiled in a battle with a former Obama supporter over the presidential hopeful’s MySpace site. A 29-year-old paralegal named Joe Anthony set up the page in 2004 as a personal project, and managed to build it up to the point where the U.S. senator had over 160,000 MySpace “friends” — more than all of the other candidates combined.

According to Anthony’s version of events, the Obama campaign machine made it clear they wanted to start running the site, and although he tried to remain involved (and by his own admission asked about potential compensation for the unpaid work he had put into it) the site was eventually taken over by Obama and he was blocked from having access. He says:

“The campaign got involved in February and although at first it was very exciting, it quickly became clear that they just had no interest in me or my involvement. They only wanted to take control of the profile and get on with it… they quickly went from passive aggressive, to aggressive, and then eventually just rotten and dishonest.”

In addition to not making friends with Anthony due to their approach, Obama’s campaign also lost about 90 per cent of the “friends” they had built up on MySpace, dropping to about 12,000 from 160,000. And hundreds of commenters on Anthony’s blog — and their own blogs — said they had lost faith in the presidential candidate, or that they were convinced he was “all hype and no substance.” Not great marketing, needless to say.

There’s more on the story — including some response from the Obama campaign about why they did it — at TechPresident.com, where Micah Sifry was the first to get the full story. An Obama campaign worker has also posted a long discussion of the events on the candidate’s official website.

In an update on Wednesday, Anthony said that he had received a phone called from Barack Obama, and that

“I assured him that this is just a horrible thing that happened and obviously he wasn’t responsible and shouldn’t be held responsible. It’s his campaign that perhaps mismanaged this whole thing. He of course stands by his campaign, but again. . . much to be learned by all.”

In the end, he said, “It’s not right what they did to me and this profile, but it’s also wrong to let this change your views of Barack Obama as a candidate.” Problem solved? Perhaps. But Barack Obama likely won’t be the last candidate to get a rude awakening from social networks like MySpace and Facebook. They aren’t just platforms for marketing spin and electioneering — that whole “two-way conversation” thing is for real, and it can bite you in a tender place if you’re not careful.

Update:

Micah Sifry at TechPresident.com has a great follow-up post in which he tries to get to the bottom of how much work Joe Anthony put into the Obama MySpace pages, and what that might be worth — and therefore whether Anthony was justified in asking for a little monetary consideration (reportedly $39,000).

Pandora puts Internet radio back in the box

It’s nice to think of the Internet as a place without borders — in other words, without all the walls and boundaries and checkpoints that we’re used to in the “real” world. Unfortunately, that’s just not the way it is, and the Pandora music-sharing site is only the latest example. The thing I find most surprising about Pandora isn’t that it is being forced to put its content in a box, it’s that the company has been able to remain unboxed for so long.

snipshot_e4vw9oglksv.jpgContent owners and rights-holders of all kinds use IP sniffing to block users from different countries (and of course countries like China use similar means to block foreign content that might unduly influence the local populace). As a Canadian, I’m well acquainted with this practice, since it is the same process that prevents me from watching episodes of Heroes on the NBC site if I forget to have my PVR record it, or blocks me from watching clips from Saturday Night Live and other shows. Why? Because Canadian broadcasters make their living by licensing those shows, and they don’t like to think about people watching them on the Interweb any old time they want.

As Tom Conrad of Pandora points out in the comments section of Mike Arrington’s post at TechCrunch, it’s not enough to do deals with groups like Canada’s SOCAN — which handles rights for composers and “publishers.” Sites that are considered to be Internet radio like Pandora have to sign deals with the record labels as well, and that is where the sticking point lies. As Mike Masnick notes at Techdirt, the record industry could teach advanced classes in how to shoot yourself in the foot.

And Mark is quite right that this isn’t the only fight that Pandora and Last.fm have on their plate: there’s also the ongoing battle over the new fees for streaming Internet radio, about which there is more info at the Broadcast Law blog (thanks to Lucas Gonze for the link). If you want to get involved somehow, check out the Save Internet Radio site.

Get your 15 minutes of fame at mesh

In case you haven’t been keeping track, it’s May already — and that can only mean one thing: the mesh conference is less than a month away. It’s on May 30th and 31st in Toronto at the MaRS Discovery District, and there’s more info at the mesh site about some of the amazing speakers and panelists we have coming, including Mike Arrington of TechCrunch, Jim Buckmaster of Craigslist, Tom Williams and Austin Hill, Christine Herron, Techdirt’s Mike Masnick, Rachel Sklar of Huffington Post — and the list goes on.

Tickets are going fast, but there are still a few left if you hurry 🙂

One thing we’re doing again this year is the “15 Minutes of Fame” segment on each of the two conference days, in which three deserving entrepreneurs and/or their startups get five minutes each (hence the 15 minutes) to talk to the attendees about their idea and why they are the best thing to happen to the Web since YouTube. Last year’s winners included the gang at TakingITGlobal, as well as AreYouFrank.com, Favorville.com and Pixpo. Stowe Boyd wrote about the 15 Minutes here, and Tara Hunt wrote about it here.

Same idea this year: head over to the sign-up form at the mesh site, and give us a pitch — in 250 words or less — about you and your company or idea, and tell us why we should give you five minutes in front of the mesh crowd to wow them with your brilliance. If you get selected, you get a free one-day pass to the conference as well as those five minutes of glory.

Prom Queen no wallflower

Michael Eisner’s Web production shows that the ex-Disney CEO is down with what the kids are into. Like, totally.
clipped from www.mediaweek.com
According to Vuguru, the Eisner-backed Web production firm that is churning out eighty 90-second episodes of Prom Queen in as many days, the short-form series is averaging roughly 200,000 views a day, and has accumulated more than 5.2 million views since its April 2 debut. While relevant benchmarks are hard to come buy in this uncharted space, the show’s daily audience is equivalent to a low-rated cable series
However, a number that is sure to be encouraging to Vuguru (and the producers of the movie Hairspray, a Prom Queen sponsor) is the 18,000-plus friends that Prom Queen has garnered. MySpace, one of several outlets where fans can stream the show, accounts for nearly 3.7 million of the views generated to date, making the site far and away the leading distributor (MySpace gets each episode 12 hours before other sites do
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Digg vs HD-DVD: a social network revolts — updated

Update:

After trying and failing to remove all the Digg posts containing the AACS key, Kevin Rose says Digg has decided to let the community (or crowd, or mob — depending on your point of view) have its way.

“You’ve made it clear. You’d rather see Digg go down fighting than bow down to a bigger company. We hear you, and effective immediately we won’t delete stories or comments containing the code and will deal with whatever the consequences might be. If we lose, then what the hell, at least we died trying.”

Unwise? Perhaps. But still admirable, I think. Jeff Nolan disagrees, and doesn’t believe that Kevin should have let the mob bully him into defying the law. Tony Hung thinks Kevin has made his bed and now has to lie in it. And Mike Masnick at Techdirt notes that this is a great example of the Streisand Effect at work. Staci at PaidContent wonders what this means for Digg as a business.

Also, be sure to read Danny Sullivan’s excellent overview of the whole fracas, along with his thoughts about whether the DMCA even applies in the case of Digg (or Google, which has also been asked to stop indexing sites with the key). And Ed Felten of Freedom to Tinker says the AACS is being silly — but that doesn’t mean it’s going to stop.

Chilling Effects has a copy of an AACS takedown letter that was sent to Google, which Danny Sullivan has done such a great job of dismantling. And for more info on the AACS argument, check out EFF lawyer Fred von Lohmann’s explanation here.

Original post

What do numbers mean? And are they protected the same way that words are? What if they are commercially restricted in some way? Take the numbers 0x09F911029D74E35BD84156C5635688C0. Harmless, right? Except that they are the hexadecimal code that can be used to decrypt HD-DVD discs in Linux. Someone posted them to Digg yesterday and that post was removed, and since then dozens of similar posts have been removed — and some users have been banned. Cory Doctorow’s class blog was removed after a legal threat.

snipshot_e413t23gb5th.jpgThis isn’t exactly a new fight. The crack for the AACS key has been around for awhile now — you can even get the code on a T-shirt. But the folks behind AACS (including Microsoft, Intel, Sony and IBM) continue to threaten websites that post the numbers. There have clearly been such threats made to Digg, as co-founder Jay Adelson suggested in a blog post that tried to explain why Digg posts keep disappearing and users are being banned. But the Digg community just keeps on posting them again and again, like a tidal wave — one page had more than 15,000 Diggs before it disappeared — making Jay and the rest of the gang at Digg look like King Canute trying to stop the ocean. Jay says the site has no choice:

“Our goal is always to maintain a purely democratic system for the submission and sharing of information… however, in order for that to happen, we all need to work together to protect Digg from exposure to lawsuits that could very quickly shut us down.”

Fair enough, right? But there’s a wrinkle: Jay and Kevin Rose are partners in Revision 3, the video blog startup — and it is sponsored in part by HD-DVD. Now there are dark rumours about why the Digg team is so quick to remove posts and links, and to ban users (thanks to The Last Podcast for that link). Just another weed in the garden of social media? Perhaps. A test of what the term “Digg community” means, definitely.

Dell and Ubuntu: it’s all about the drivers

So Dell has given some more details on its plan to fulfill one of the top 10 wishes of the people who submitted ideas to its Digg-style IdeaStorm site: It’s going to start shipping Dells that have the Ubuntu flavour of Linux preloaded on them. Regardless of what you think of the move, I think it’s pretty amazing that Dell has given its fans a forum like IdeaStorm, and — more importantly — has actually listened to them.

ubuntu.pngNaturally, the Ubuntu announcement has caused plenty of cheers in the Linux camp, since the release from Mark Shuttleworth’s Canonical is seen by many as the new standard-bearer for the Windows replacement vanguard (Michael Robertson’s Linspire, formerly known as Lindows, also had some early potential, as did Xandros and Novell’s Suse). And I have to say that having Ubuntu pre-loaded on a Dell machine would help with one thing: namely, finding drivers that work for all the various hardware inside a brand new machine, especially if it’s something fancy like a Media Center.

I don’t know if Michael Dell — who is a Ubuntu user, as Engadget notes — has had any of the same problems that I have, but I’ve been trying for days to get Ubuntu’s latest release running on an HP Media Center, and have had no luck. It installs fine, and loads and I get the nice Evolution desktop that comes with Feisty Fawn (as the new release is called, following the Linux “goofy name” rule). But the network card doesn’t work.

Let me note that I am not some Linux noob. I’ve installed and run Suse 8, 9 and 10 as well as Debian and Xandros and three or four other flavours of Linux. I have personally edited the x86config file and added mode lines by hand to get an LCD monitor working, and have SSH’ed into my Debian box remotely using putty and repaired my MySQL tables. So there.

Ubuntu can’t recognize the Intel network chip, no matter what I do. I’ve edited the modules file, installed various add-ons. Nothing. Intel has a Linux driver — but you have to compile it yourself and add it to the Linux kernel, and that’s a little too close to brain surgery for yours truly. Give me a box with it all pre-installed, and I would be a pretty happy camper. If there’s one thing Windows does pretty well, it’s the drivers.