Tony Hung fills in at Problogger

Just came across Tony Hung’s post about filling in for Darren “Problogger” Rowse for a week while Darren takes a holiday, and I wanted to send him a shout-out (as my homies in the ‘hood like to say) and wish him all the best. He’s already off to a good start with a well thought-out piece on the kinds of things it takes to maintain and grow a good blog.

To be honest, I think the “10 best” blog post model gets overdone at times, but Tony has some good advice from his own perspective, and it’s definitely worthwhile reading. Tony has come a long way over the past six months or so with his own blog (in addition to now helping run things over at The Blog Herald), and has done it with smart writing, strong opinions and a lot of hard work.

In other words, he is a great guy to be handing out advice about how to develop and grow a successful blog. All the best, Tony.

Cool gizmo? Yes. Fun? Yes. Business? No.

Update 2:

Greg Linden has said he is no longer going to be maintaining Findory.com, his personalized-news recommendation service, and Richard MacManus over at Read/Write Web says that Talkr is looking to be acquired.

Update:

The Dead Pool rumour mill continues — Mike Arrington says there are reports that Insider Pages, a Web 2.0 recommendation site, has laid off as many as two-thirds of its staff. And Tom Evslin has some advice for Web 2.0 companies: in a nutshell, it may take more money now to run a startup, rather than less.

Original post:

Nothing gets the New Year off to a rousing start like a bunch of failing Web 2.0 companies, I always say. And we certainly seem to have a fresh crop: Peerflix (the DVD-trading company) is laying off staff, and so is Jobster (social-networking jobs site); GUBA (Web video) is shedding executives like rats from a sinking ship; FilmLoop (photo slideshow software) is struggling and Browster (browser search plugin) has apparently gone under.

What makes these kinds of failures a little awkward, of course, is that investors have plowed some handsome sums of money into these companies. FilmLoop raised about $7-million not long ago, and Browster raised about $5.8-million about a year ago. It’s true that as Don Dodge says none of these company went public and sucked money out of gullible investors (unlike the last bubble), but still. Perhaps whoever lost it on FilmLoop made it on some other dot-com. That would be fitting.

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Mike Arrington has a long treatise on the topic of Bubble 2.0, in which he notes that regardless of which segment of the Web you look at — photo-sharing, video-sharing, video search, Q&A sites, Ajax start pages, social-shopping services — there are too many companies chasing the same pie. As my friend Paul Kedrosky said at mesh last year, the great thing about Web 2.0 is the low barriers to entry, but that also means you can have dozens of competitors in the blink of an eye.

For services like FilmLoop, two things stand out for me: The first is that so many of these Web 2.0 “businesses,” like Browser, are cool features or gizmos but not necessarily businesses. And the second, as expressed by <a href="http://www.techcrunch.com/2007/01/06/filmloop-dips-toes-into-the-deadpool/#comments“>many commenters at Mike’s post on FilmLoop, is what the heck is a Web 2.0 startup without any real business model doing with $7-million and 30 employees?

How to handle getting buried on Digg

From Karoli at Odd Time Signatures comes the story (via The Zero Boss, and prior to that Chris Winfield of the website 10e20) of one Chandler Kent, a 19-year-old college student who wandered into the sights of the Digg bury brigade. In this case, it was Chandler’s comment that got buried, and may have become the most buried comment ever. But there’s a twist.

As Chandler describes it in a long and hilarious post here, he posted a quick comment on a Digg link, saying he liked the site that was linked to, and (big mistake) attached his blog’s URL. This set off alarm bells as a “spam” comment — like the ones I get all the time that say “I am liking your content very much!” with a link to some porn or poker site — and so it got buried repeatedly.

Chandler also got some fairly abusive comments, which is typical of the mentality that one finds at Digg, and why many people have given up on reading the comments at all. His phone number was also posted by some unscrupulous Digger, and people even abused him via instant messenger.

More evidence of what is wrong with Digg, as Zero Boss notes. But there’s a happy ending, in a sense: Chandler’s post about what happened has gotten Dugg about 4,000 times, and he has used the criticisms about the crappy design of his website to start a contest to redesign it. Nice work, Chandler.

Of copyright and flying pink penises

One of the things I love about Second Life is that bizarre things can happen at almost any moment. During an interview with a journalist from CNet, for example, a flock of giant pink penises might fly by (known as a “grief” attack). But what makes it interesting — and potentially important — is that the person whose interview was interrupted in such a manner, Second Life entrepreneur Anshe Chung, has threatened to sue YouTube for hosting video of the event.

Ms. Chung, a Second Life land owner and developer whose real name is Ailin Graef, didn’t threaten to sue because she was embarrassed (although that was no doubt part of her motivation). As Steve O’Hear describes in his post at ZDNet, she sent a “notice and takedown” letter under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act because the video showed copyrighted artwork — in other words, her SL virtual character or “avatar” — without her permission.

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Unfortunately, YouTube decided to take the video down (although at last check it was still on Google Video). I wish they had decided to fight instead, since the claim Ms. Graef is making is ridiculous and would likely never hold up in court. For one thing, there is the principle of fair use under copyight law; for another, allowing Ms. Graef to ban video of her appearance would theoretically allow anyone to have video of themselves removed provided they were wearing a piece of homemade jewellery.

As game designer — and now Second Life correspondent for Reuters — Warren Ellis notes, using the DMCA in this case opens up “a large and nasty-looking can of worms.” For more, check out Slashdot, and for commentary from deep inside the world of Second Life, check out Prokofy Neva’s piece in Second Life Herald.

A back fence around a ghost town

I wish I could say I was surprised that all is not well at Backfence, the local “citizen journalism” site, where the second of the co-founders, CEO Susan DeFife, just left (the first, Mark Potts, left a few months ago) and about a dozen employees — out of a total of 18 — are being let go, according to a post by Peter Krasilovsky.

Potts is to act as interim CEO while the company tries to restructure itself, according to the post at Local Onliner. DeFife says that “Ultimately, we did not share the same strategic vision for the company as the board of directors.” The company got $3-million in financing in 2005 from a group of venture capital funds, including the Omidyar Network. Apparently, Backfence’s backers didn’t think things were going well, and pulled the trigger.

I don’t live in the areas covered by Backfence, which has 13 sites in three metropolitan areas (Washington, Chicago and the Bay Area), but I have taken a look at it from time to time because I’m interested in local citizen journalism efforts — and spent a bit of time looking at Backfence after it absorbed Dan Gillmor’s failed local CitJ experiment, Bayosphere, which I wrote about here. And it certainly never seemed like a thriving entity to me.

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Like Frank Barnako, who has written about it here and who also wrote skeptically about it about a year ago, it just seemed stale and unappealing to me, not to mention a little bit like a ghost-town. I would agree with Frank that in order to draw people in, a local site has to live and breathe the area it covers, and have lively personalities and content. And maybe giving citizen journalists some financial incentive might help too.

How all that happens exactly, I don’t know, but it is possible to do local journalism — SunValleyOnline.com seems to be doing well, and so does Baristanet.com. And the Fresno Bee, owned by McClatchy, just finished acquiring a couple of local sites that seemed quite successful: ModestoFamous and FresnoFamous. Did the founders sell because it wasn’t a viable business, or did McClatchy want them because they had something the chain needed? Perhaps a combination of both.

In any case, I will leave it to others to decide whether Backfence failed because it took the wrong approach, or because local online journalism doesn’t work. My bet is on the former rather than the latter. Howard Owens has also written about the recent news, as have the gang over at PaidContent. Greg Sterling at Screenwerk says that winning with a locally-focused website is “like climbing Mount Everest.”

Update:

Tish Grier, who comments below, has written a post about local content and monetization here, and Fred “A VC” Wilson has written one as well talking about how he believes it isn’t about trying to attract a community but about aggregating posts from a community that already effectively exists — and I believe he is right. Someone is going to do that, either the local paper or a startup (or both put together, as the FresnoFamous case illustrates).

Update 2:

More on the saga here at Jay Rosen’s NewAssignment, and at Citizen Media Watch, where blogger Lotta Holmstrom got an email from Mark Potts about the restructuring of the site, and later did a short email interview with him. Greg Sterling also talked with Potts about the restructuring and some of the strategic changes he wants to make, and wrote about it here. And Robert Niles has a great look at building communities online at the Online Journalism Review, entitled “Fake grassroots don’t grow.”

Update 3:

The New York Times had a piece about a network of local “citizen journalism” sites called American Towns, but not everyone was impressed. Tish Grier, for example, said that American Towns is more like “citizen shovelware.” Good one, Tish. And according to a story in the Washington Post, Backfence appears to be headed down the tubes: One angel investor said that arguments between backers and founders has “destroyed the company” and that it has “downsized to a modest team of people and they’re out of money.” Someone who has spent some time on the sites posts their thoughts here.

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Google serious about video? You bet

There are likely to be some long faces at NBC this week. The network — which has gotten plenty of attention this year for its ambitious embrace of Web distribution and its decision to play nice with YouTube, also known as the “Lazy Sunday” effect — has lost Michael Steib, the senior executive that has been steering its new broadband initiatives. And where is Mr. Steib off to? Why, Google, of course.

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PaidContent broke the news first, noting that Steib was the general manager of strategic ventures for NBC Universal, and the guy who founded and was responsible for NBBC — or the National Broadband Broadcasting Co., the unit that the network launched in September after watching the viral success of the Lazy Sunday video clip from Saturday Night Live a year ago.

From the sounds of it, Steib is going to be working on “monetizing” Google Video and YouTube by creating some sort of ad program. “We are pleased to have Michael Steib join the Google team to help us work with advertisers to create effective, measurable video advertising,” a Google spokesman told MediaPost. Will it be pre-roll ads? Post-roll? Pop-ups? Ashkan says Google wants to create AdSense for video.

Daylife: The pitfalls of high expectations

I missed the big rush of posts that hit Techmeme about the launch of Daylife yesterday, but from what I can gather just about everyone — including Mike Arrington of TechCrunch, a prominent investor in the project — is underwhelmed by it, if that’s a word (gratuitous Sloan reference). I wonder if the next shareholders’ meeting is going to be a little frosty 🙂

Paul Montgomery of Tinfinger says that he thinks Mike’s response could have something to do with his well-publicized dislike of the New York Times, which is a lead investor in the site, and Paul also notes — as do other blogs that have looked at Daylife — that mainstream-media content is featured awfully prominently on the site. In which case, why not use Topix or Newsvine or even Google News?

Some of the only kind words have come from Steve Rubel, who says in a response to a comment on his post that we should “put on our anti-geek glasses” and see it from the point of view of someone who doesn’t read Techmeme or visit dozens of blogs a day. Which is a fair point, but again I have to ask why we wouldn’t point someone like that to Topix or Newsvine or Google News.

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I think a big part of the problem is that Daylife has been in stealth or development mode for a year or more, and it has some pretty high-profile people involved, including Jeff Jarvis — who seems to be taking all the criticism pretty well so far — as well as Craig Newmark, Dave Winer and the NYT. So I think the expectation was that when it launched it would be significantly different than Newsvine and Topix and so on. And it’s not.

Does that mean it won’t ever be any good? Hardly. From what Jeff says, more improvements are planned (including RSS, which does seem like a pretty major hole), so I’m willing to wait and see how the site develops. I hope it finds a way to add more interaction — comments, blogs and so on — in an interesting way. We could use some more experimentation in that department, and Jeff has the chops to be able to deliver it.

More commentary comes from David Weinberger at Hyperorg, Scott Karp of Publishing 2.0, Rex Hammock, Liz Gannes at Gigaom and Tony Hung at Deep Jive Interests. And for a totally unvarnished and skeptical take, as usual, watch a video review from the inimitable Loren Feldman of 1938media.

Online calendars still drop in the bucket

LeAnn Prescott from Hitwise has an analysis of online calendars that has been getting a fair bit of traffic and commentary, since it shows that Google’s calendar — which has only been around for about six months — is growing strongly in “market share of Internet visits” (as Hitwise describes their proprietary measurement of traffic).

LeAnn says that Google’s traffic share has tripled since June, and that it appears to be close to matching Yahoo’s traffic, which has been declining sharply over the same period. All of which is great, and it’s nice to see that a Google property is growing — unlike, say, Froogle or Google Co-op, etc. But that’s not what struck me about the Hitwise chart. What struck me was how tiny the online calendar market is.

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If you look away from the downhill slide of Yahoo’s line on the chart and the upward climb of Google’s line on the chart, what you notice is that even at its peak the market leader — Yahoo — had 0.008 per cent of all Internet traffic. After its slide, it is around 0.005 per cent, and Google is at 0.0043 per cent. In other words, all three of the online calendar leaders put together have a little over one one-hundredth of one per cent of Internet traffic.

As more than one commenter has noted, it would be interesting to see where 30boxes.com and some of the other online Ajax calendars sit in terms of traffic share. But what is clear is that Google and Yahoo are still fighting over table scraps, and that online calendars have a long way to go before they become a significant factor for Internet users.

Bubbleshare finally gets acquired

Update 2:

I just got off the phone with Jason DeZwirek, the CEO of Kaboose — which is publicly-listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange — who told me that the acquisition of Bubbleshare is the first in a series of steps the company plans to take to move its various family-oriented websites (including BabyZone, Kaboose.com and Funschool) into the social networking arena.

Jason said that the Kaboose network gets about 10 million unique visitors a month, which makes it the third-largest in the North American online family segment, behind Disney and Viacom (according to comScore). About 80 to 85 per cent of the company’s traffic comes from the U.S. The Kaboose CEO also said that the company is expected to post sales of about $22-million for 2006 and has $30-million in the bank.

Social networking tools for moms and families “is going to be a big initiative for us in 2007,” Jason said, and the Bubbleshare team will be part of making that happen. Kaboose expects to add social networking services both by developing them in-house and by buying other companies in that space.

For more details on Kaboose, check out my Globe and Mail blog here.

Update:

According to one source with some knowledge of the deal with News Corp., the deal fell off the table not because of the publicity but because Ross Levinsohn quit, and it was his idea. Without him, it couldn’t get any traction within News Corp. and so Bubbleshare went looking elsewhere.

Original post:

Not that long ago, there were some red-hot rumours that Bubbleshare — the Toronto-based photo sharing site started by serial entrepreneur Albert Lai — was about to be acquired by News Corp. for a price in the neighbourhood of $5-million. That deal reportedly fell through, however, and now I learn from my friend Mark Evans’ blog that Bubbleshare has been bought by Kaboose for $2.25-million (I’d like to point out that Jeneane Sessum wrote about it first, as she notes here).

Kaboose is a little-known Toronto company that owns a number of kid-oriented websites and networks such as BabyZone, and describes itself in its press release as “the largest independent, family-focused, online media company in North America.” As Mark points out in his post, this deal makes a lot of sense because Bubbleshare — while a great and useful service — has always seemed more like a feature than a standalone business.

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The question of whether the News Corp. deal fell through because the details leaked out, a theory that emerged shortly after TechCrunch wrote about it, remains unanswered. I find it hard to believe that a little publicity would scare off a giant like News Corp., but you never know. In any case, congrats are due to Albert and the team for building a great service and getting a nice exit.

I will add my congratulations to those already expressed by Michael O’Connor Clarke, Alec Saunders and Jeneane Sessum. It will be interesting to see what Kaboose does with Bubbleshare, and whether the Toronto company plans to make a bigger push into the area of social networking — especially given the popularity of sites like Club Penguin, and Disney’s recent social overhaul of Disney.com.

Seven ways to help Digg get better

Before too much time goes by, I wanted to take note of something that Muhammad Saleem wrote over on his blog The Mu Life about 7 ways to improve Digg. Muhammad, who is not only a top digger but also a top Netscape submitter and anchor, has clearly thought a lot about some of the flaws with the Digg model — including things such as the “Bury Brigade” and the problems with comments — and I think some of his suggestions make a lot of sense.

One of the most important recommendations, I think, is the first: Listen to the community. And I would add to that: “respond to the community.” If there’s one thing that Digg has not been terribly good at — during all the criticism about the changes to its algorithm to stop the “gaming” of the site, and the various other problems it has experienced — it’s responding to and interacting with the community.

At times, it seems like Kevin Rose and the gang want to have a community-run news site, but without having to actually deal with the community, or like they think that if they tinker with enough things behind the scenes it will become a smooth-running machine and no input from them will be required. I would argue they are wrong on both counts. A community isn’t a machine but a garden, and it takes work to cultivate and keep the weeds from taking over.

Muhammad has a bunch of other good suggestions, including retiring the Bury Brigade — which Steve O’Hear of ZDNet has been on the receiving end of — and being more explicit about the moderating and filtering of content that occurs behind the scenes at Digg. I encourage you to go and read the rest.