Vongo to Canada: get lost (updated)

Vongo, the newly-announced downloadable video service from Starz Entertainment (a unit of John Malone’s Liberty Media), sounds like a pretty cool idea — it would let you download Hollywood movies, concerts, TV shows and other content to various devices, including portable video players (although maybe not iPods, according to the New York Times).

There’s just one problem — at least for someone like me, who happens to live in the Great White North (i.e., Canada). Vongo is restricted to U.S. residents. Here’s what I got when I went to the webpage: “You need to be in the United States to view this site.” On a somewhat redundant note, under the heading of Minimum System Requirements, the only requirement is that you be “located in the U.S.”

I know there are probably all kinds of perfectly reasonable legal requirements for that kind of thing, but I have to confess that it still pisses me off — or maybe it’s just the suggestion that living anywhere other than the U.S. constitutes a “geographic failure.”



As you can see if you read the comments, someone from Starz responded to this post within about an hour of it going up, which I have to say is pretty good, considering I don’t get a lot of traffic. Alesya Holick said the U.S.-only requirement is necessary because the company only has the U.S. distribution rights for the content it will be distributing (which is pretty much what I figured), and that Starz would change the description on the website to make that more clear — and remove that nasty “geographic failure” part.

Nice to see a company responding so quickly to a post by a puny little Canadian blogger like me.

Update 2:

Rafat over at PaidContent notes that the Vongo terms of service carry a number of restrictions — which makes Thomas Hawk wonder why anyone would want to use it instead of just recording or torrenting whatever they want to watch. A fair point.

Update 3:

As the latest comment on this item shows, Vongo hasn’t changed the page that first comes up when you hit the site, so top marks for quick response to my blog, but subtract all those and more for not doing anything about it.

Wi-Fi shouldn’t be a toll road

I don’t fly to Boston much, but I’m still interested in the fight going on between Logan airport and Continental Airlines over public Wi-Fi. The airport — which is run by the Massachusetts Port Authority — shut down Continental’s wireless network last fall, and the airline has asked Congress to intervene.

Massport says it wants to avoid interference from a bunch of competing wireless signals, but the airlines (including American Airlines) argue that what it really wants is a monopoly on Wi-Fi, for which it charges $8 an hour. I’m with Fred Wilson (and others) on this: Wi-Fi should be a form of public infrastructure, like roads or bridges.

I also like an analogy I first saw in a Wired article by Paul Boutin: Wi-Fi is a condiment, like sugar or cream, or salt and pepper. Providing it is a service that you hope will make people want to come back to your establishment. Hardly anyone charges for the use of their washrooms either — not even airports.

There’s more discussion at WSJ writer Jeremy Wagstaff’s blog and at WiFi Networking News. Dana Blankenhorn at ZDNet has also posted on it, as has my friend Rob Hyndman.

Coldplay’s label — loser of the year?

Okay, maybe the first day of the new year is a little early to be calling someone the year’s biggest loser, but I’d like to start the bidding early by nominating Coldplay’s record label, which as far as I can tell is EMI (the record company the Sex Pistols made infamous).

A note inserted in the band’s latest CD — a label you can’t see until you buy the disc — has a laundry list of places you probably won’t be able to play the new CD you paid so dearly for, a list that includes many portable music players, most computers, CD players in cars, and other incredibly common places for playing music. Arif in Hyderabad found the note after buying the disc.

What is a company thinking when they do this? It might not be as bad as the comically inept DRM exploit that Sony tried to foist on an unsuspecting public, but it’s still a ridiculous way to approach your market or your customers. Assume that they are thieves, and tie their hands in every way imaginable so that they can’t enjoy their music as they wish — after they’ve already paid money for your product. Nice.

I’d like to hope that we could chip away at that kind of dinosaur thinking this year, but I’m not optimistic.

Jason McCabe Calacanis = Bubble 2.0

Does the fact that Jason Calacanis — of Weblogs Inc. — is successful again mean that we’re in another Web bubble? For many people in Silicon Valley in the late 1980s, Jason was a dot-com poster boy, as a profile in Wired points out. He built a photocopied and hand-delivered gossip sheet into an industry-leading magazine, and also had a reputation for throwing lavish parties. (Wikipedia has the abbreviated version of his bio).

Now, Jason works for AOL, which paid an estimated $25-million for his network of about 80 blogs. While that seems like a large enterprise, only a dozen or so of those blogs — such as Engadget.com and Joystiq.com — appear to get much traffic, and according to the Wired article the company had about $1-million in advertising revenue when AOL bought it. As the piece notes, “it’s not clear that $25 million is a sane amount for 10 disconnected employees and a network of bloggers who could jump ship at any moment.” That’s putting it mildly.

In typical Calacanis fashion, he isn’t content to bask in the glory of a bubble-style takeover of his company — he’s convinced that he could become chief executive of AOL if he wanted to (an idea that, sadly, might not be as much of a stretch as it should be). Paul Kedrosky gives Jason props for bouncing back from his first popped bubble, but others will likely see his return as evidence that the bubble mentality is back with a vengeance.

Comments — the new search frontier

Among the blizzard of year-end predictions and forecasts on various blogs — some interesting and some not — is one that caught my eye from Steve Rubel over at Micropersuasion, who said that one of the things he really wants is a way of searching and tracking comments on blog posts. That’s something I’ve been thinking about too.

As Steve notes, sometimes the best thing about a blog post is the comments, but there isn’t an easy way to search or track them — although he notes that Elisa Camahort tags any post she comments on with del.icio.us so she can track them. Where are the searches from technorati.com or bloglines.com or icerocket.com that focus on comments? (Come on, Mark . You can do it).

Fred Wilson over at A VC expands on Steve’s comments with his thoughts — including the fact that it would be nice if there was a way to elevate the best comments on a post, something I’ve been waiting for as well. (Come on, Matt. You can do it). As Fred puts it: “Bottom line – blogs are conversations. We need to start treating the comments like the important content that they are instead of an afterthought.”

Well said.

Blog plagiarism — Steal this blog!

As usual, Mike over at TechDirt has what I think is a nice take on the blog plagiarism (or ‘splog’) problem that has afflicted some top bloggers, including Om Malik and TechCrunch. Mike’s response boils down to this: Ignore it (and it’s worth reading his reply to some of the comments his post got too).

Is wholesale blog-copying wrong? Obviously. Is Google making money from the AdSense ads that run on such sites? Yes. But I don’t think that means Google needs to police the problem, as Jeff Jarvis and some others believe. Do we really want Google to become a de facto website-content policeman? I would argue that we don’t.

Even Om isn’t sure what kind of response he wants to see. I have a hunch that Mike is right — anyone who matters will quickly realize that such sites aren’t adding any value, and therefore any AdSense revenue they gain will be fleeting at best. Maybe there’s a touch of Pollyanna in that, but I think the “reputation economy” — or whatever you want to call what we’re all doing here — should be more of a self-regulating mechanism.

As James Robertson notes, the issue of “fair use” is definitely a very grey area, since it covers feed aggregators as well as plogs. So what should be done? By all means, send the splogger a threatening note mentioning the DMCA (although be aware that you are using a badly-formed law that plenty of people dislike for plenty of very good reasons), but leave Google out of it.

Google changes the RSS landscape

One reason why people pay so much attention to what Google does is that it can change the landscape with a single move. Take the whole RSS feed-syndication thing, which — despite the relative popularity of Bloglines.com and NewsGator.com and their ilk — is still in its infancy as far as the bulk of Web users are concerned. That’s why things like Yahoo adding RSS support to its email app (much as I dislike having feeds in my mail) make a difference.

Now, the ever-diligent Niall Kennedy has managed to reverse-engineer the API (application programming interface) that Google uses in its Reader application, which sparked the interest of a couple of Google staffers — who said the company is close to releasing its API for public use. (Paul Kedrosky says the API announcement is also a way for Google to deke around criticism of its reader).

I’m not a programmer, but I think this could change things dramatically. For one thing, it could make it even easier for a few smart people to come up with easy-to-use feed readers — apps that are light-years ahead of Google’s own reader, which I happen to think is lame. As Niall has pointed out, Google has already made it relatively easy to come up with an Atom feed for your blog of choice, since Google’s app takes whatever feed it is given and converts it to Atom.

As more than one person has pointed out, RSS (or Atom) is plumbing — hopefully Google’s move will make it easier for people to just use the facilities instead of worrying about what format the equipment is based on. Phil Wainwright says he expects that RSS readers as we know them will eventually disappear (or be absorbed). So maybe Scoble is too late in his attempt to get Microsoft to buy NewsGator.

Moderation in all things — including tele-work

The morning of the transit strike in New York, I told a colleague that I expected a rash of stories about the benefits of telecommuting. There hasn’t exactly been a “rash” (whatever that is), but the New York Times did one over the holidays — which I first noticed because my friend Mark Evans blogged about it. It’s a good piece, because it points out that tele-work hasn’t really caught on as much as many expected it to, despite the widespread adoption of high-speed Internet connections.

Why? As the article notes, the main obstacles are psyschological. For example, lots of bosses assume (or at least suspect) that if a person working for them isn’t at their desk, then they are goofing off. Technology isn’t much help in that department, unless you include things like keystroke-loggers and similar types of monitoring, which is pretty Orwellian. And on the other side, there are benefits to being in the office that are impossible to duplicate over an Internet connection, even with instant messaging — you can’t bump into someone, which then jogs your memory (or theirs) or go for an impromptu cup of coffee.

Those intangibles are important. And as Mark notes, working at home takes discipline (a friend of mine actually put on a suit to go down the hall to his at-home office, so he would be in the right frame of mind). But at the same time, the benefits of working at home are undeniable — lack of commuting stress being just one of them. Another friend who does both says he works at home a couple of days a week because he gets a lot more done, but goes into the office a couple of days a week so that he can network with his colleagues.

And that’s why a little bit of both is the perfect mix, I think: a day or two at home, a few days in the office. The best of both worlds. Stuart MacDonald makes a good point in a comment on Mark’s post — a blend of both works fine in many cases, provided everyone is on the same page goal-wise (in other words, no bosses counting who’s at their desk and who isn’t).

Happy Festivus to all!

Or should that be Merry ChrismaKwanzakah? Anyway, best of the holidays to anyone who happens to stop by. Thanks for reading. I’m gonna take a little break. And don’t forget to pick up your Festivus pole before the Airing of Grievances and the ritual Feats of Strength. Festivus

Winer unloads on iTunes

It’s kind of a guilty pleasure, but I can’t help it — I love reading Dave Winer when he gets on a rant (except maybe when it involves Adam Curry and the origins of podcasting). His latest is on iTunes, and having used it before with both Windows and Mac, I have to agree. Dave’s rant was apparently sparked by this post by Rex Hammock on his blog.

“The user interface on iTunes is awful. It’s the worst piece of crap I’ve ever used. People would tell me when I was a Windows user that it was because the Windows version of iTunes is crap but the Mac version is easy. Well, both programs are head-up-butt impossible to figure out. The user model makes no sense. When is something on the iPod? How many copies of the music do I have? Where the fcuk are they? How do you delete something? Is it really gone? Why does it wipe out the contents of the iPod when I don’t say it’s okay to? What did I do wrong? I swear, I have no idea, and I’m a professional software designer. What about the poor schnook who is just a user?”

Rob Hyndman says he has dumped iTunes as well, mostly because it’s a pain to use in a networked environment (memo to Apple: this is a big problem, and likely to get bigger). And David Berlind at ZDNet has some thoughts on the DRM issue as well.