CoComment, MyComments, Co.mments

I’ve been meaning to write something about CoComments.com, the new comment-tracking tool that got launched with much fanfare (or blog-fare) recently. I got an invite and have been trying out the service since a day or so after it went live, and I have to say that I’m impressed. It is easy to configure and it makes nice use of Ajax on the site, such as expanding or collapsing the comment threads that you’ve taken part in on various websites. It was relatively easy to configure, and it wasn’t that hard to install the comment box in the sidebar of my WordPress setup (although just as I wrote this it stopped working – server issues?)

To use CoComments, you click on a bookmarklet before submitting a comment on a blog – or if you use Firefox, you can use one of the Greasemonkey scripts that are floating around, which removes the need to click a button every time. You can then track the comment thread on a single page, and load your recent comments into a comment box like the one I have (you can exclude comments on certain blogs from being displayed if you wish). Although CoComment doesn’t support all blog platforms, more and more are being added. The company also has plans to provide code so that people can add support to their blogs themselves if they run a modified version of one of the main platforms, or one that isn’t supported.

To tie the CoComments idea into another thread that’s going around about Web 2.0 and the “so what” factor, which I wrote about in relation to the recent launch of 3bubbles, I have to wonder if there is a longer-term business model for CoComments. Within days of the launch, word appeared of another similar service called MyComments, which appears to be the work of a single person, and now there is a third, called Co.mments.com, which gives you an RSS feed of any comment threads you want to be alerted about.

The speed with which these competing services appeared is definitely worth noting. Are they cool, yes. Useful? Definitely. And I like the idea that comments are becoming part of the larger conversation on the web, as I’ve mentioned several times in the past. But is this a business? Maybe not. Still, it is cool 🙂 Elsewhere on the web, Amy Gahran has some thoughts as well (bottom line: not there yet), and so do Neville Hobson and Kevin Lim. Kareem notes that it’s important to remember that users are lazy, and Pascal looks at both MyComments and CoComments.

Please, Firefox – don’t drop the ball

Richard MacManus of Read/Write Web, who also blogs for ZDNet, put into words something that I’ve been thinking about for awhile now, which is that Firefox might be losing its lead in the browser game. Obviously, I’m not talking about a market-share lead, since Internet Exploder Explorer still has about 90 per cent of the browser market. I mean the cool, cutting-edge kind of lead that has helped make Firefox the browser of choice for geeks and opinion leaders in the geek-o-sphere.

Don’t get me wrong, Firefox is still cool. And even though Internet Explorer 7 has a built-in RSS reader and tabs, two of the things that many people love about the ‘fox, it still isn’t as cool. But it’s getting there. For one thing, it’s fast. And for another thing, it doesn’t suffer from what I (and others such as Nik Cubrilovic of Omnidrive) think is one of the big weaknesses of Firefox – one that has been around since at least 1.2 or earlier – and that is the gigantic memory leak that sucks up RAM every time you open a tab, until pretty soon your browser either crashes or your entire system slows down like your processor just got swapped for a 486.

Before anyone suggests that I try the various fixes that are out there, I have. I’ve tried the one where you open the “about:config” page and edit the minimize function, and I’ve tried editing the memory usage settings. And I know that extensions can cause problems with leaks as well – but then extensions are also one of the main things that makes Firefox so special, since you can add all kinds of functionality. But I feel a whole lot less special about it when my system crashes and I have to restart it.

One of the things that makes what Richard writes so compelling is that we’ve seen this movie before. Netscape was also a kick-ass browser with all kinds of features, but it lost its way and became a bug-riddled pile of bloatware. And yes, I know that a certain software company used anti-competitive tactics to help defeat it – but Netscape also made it easier for Microsoft to win by shooting itself in the foot (and many other more crucial body parts) and I would hate to see Firefox do the same.

Update: I tried disabling the tab-caching feature in Firefox, based on this recent post by Firefox developer Ben Goodger, and it seems to have done the trick. After a day of opening up tabs – I think I have 23 open at the moment, which is about average – my system would normally be so sluggish I would have to quit and restart Firefox, which by this point would have chewed up as much as 350 megabytes of RAM. And now? Total RAM usage is about 90 megabytes and the system (an older Windows 2000 Dell desktop I have at work) is running fine.

3bubbles is cool — but so what?

I hate to be a curmudgeon, but I just don’t see the point of something like 3bubbles.com, which Mike Arrington at TechCrunch profiled recently. I mean, my first response as a geek was hey, this is cool. Click on a link and see a little window pop up where you can chat in real time? That’s cool. But the more I thought about it, the more I came to agree with Pete Cashmore of Mashable, who says he’s skeptical, and Zoli Erdos, who is similarly unimpressed.

I could see a limited number of situations where real-time chat would come in handy, including when you’re looking for tech support on a website, which is one of the only places I’ve seen it before now. But on a regular blog? I don’t see it. Plus, as fellow Canadian Larry Borsato notes, chat kind of detracts from the commenting thing, which can be saved and viewed later by others. Would 3bubbles allow that? I don’t know. Maybe you could save the chats and then display them at some later point, like a conversation frozen in amber. I still prefer comments for a lot of reasons, as anyone who has read some of my previous posts will know.

Kent also wonders how many blogs would be able to sustain a chat conversation using 3bubbles, and answers “none.” And he notes that people sometimes “confuse a blue ribbon science project with a business.” An excellent point. I’m sure the gang at 3bubbles are just as nice as Stowe says they are, but if they came to me looking for financing, I would send them on their way. Not every cool idea is a viable business.

I could be wrong (it has been known to happen). Charlie O’Donnell of Union Square Ventures, who posted a comment here with a link to his own thoughts on the subject, thinks it could be the start of something big, but I remain skeptical. My friend Mark Evans thinks more than one cool Web 2.0 business suffers from the same problem: lots of cool, not much business.

Hey Doc — how about allowing comments?

I know I’ve been kind of a one-shtick pony on the whole blogs and comment meme, but when I spot an opportunity to flog a dead horse I just can’t pass it up. In this case, it’s the recent post by Doc Searls in which he laments the fact that he is a “gatekeeper” in the new media universe. Why would he think that? Because Seth Finkelstein, a Web 2.0 sociologist of sorts, told him so.

Doc says he doesn’t want to be a mean old gatekeeper, since he got pushed around a lot when he was younger, and so he says that he’s happy to help subvert whatever “A-lister” hierarchy has grown up in the blogosphere:

It pains me to think I’m being cruel without knowing it to a blogger who’s trying just as hard as I am — or maybe harder — to make sense of things. So, if that’s what I did with that post, my apologies to Tristan, Scott, Seth and anybody else who took offense. I’ll just add that, if ya’ll want to subvert some hierarchies, including the one you see me in now, I’d like to help.

Here’s a suggestion, Doc: How about allowing comments on your blog? Yes, it’s a pain in the ass, and yes there are going to be a lot that piss you off or get in your face. That’s part of opening yourself up — and I would submit that not having them is one of the signs that you think of yourself as an A-list gatekeeper who is above the sturm und drang of the hoi polloi (to mangle metaphors in two different languages). Even Dave Winer has decided to open his blogging up to comments, although in typical Winer-esque fashion he’s only doing it in a limited way and is grumbling about it the whole time.

Adam Green of Darwinian Web has a nice thought too, Doc: Let at least one new blogger through the gate every day. I would second that — but I also think having public comments (rather than the forums you have to sign up for that you currently have) would send a message of inclusiveness as well. Obviously, you don’t have to do this. As I tried to point out before, I’m not saying everyone has to have comments — but I do think it makes a difference. Maybe you’re like Russell Beattie and you don’t care. But given your recent post, I have a hunch that you do.

P.S. Shelley over at Burningbird has some thoughts too, about how the A-listers could do a bit more to walk the walk instead of just talking the talk. As she puts it:

I have no respect for the linking/attention games played and those who play them, and neither should you. When you see this bullshit, call it bullshit. This will do more to ‘tear down the gates’ then begging an A lister, even a nice one like Doc, for a link.

Thou dost protest too much, Robert

The Scobleizer is more than a tad upset that everyone is so excited by Google’s hosted Gmail project (he calls some of the posts “rewritten press releases”) and complains that no one is giving Microsoft any love, despite the fact that its Live domain project has been around for awhile now, and apparently has about 20 universities up and running already.

As I mentioned in a comment on Robert’s post (which you can see in the sidebar, in my CoComents box), that’s a fair point, but to drag the whole conflict of interest bogeyman into it just because a few bloggers run Google ads is way over the top – and it demeans his argument. Like Nick Carr, I find the whole thing a little bizarre. For the record, I’ve made a total of about $0.07 from my Google ads. It’s fine to complain about what you think is unfair treatment, but to impugn the motives of a host of people like Paul Kedrosky is offside (Paul’s hilarious response is here).

The bigger question, of course, is why Google’s move got so much “press” and Microsoft’s didn’t. The simple answer is that Google is cool and Microsoft is not. When it comes to email and hosted applications, Google is the upstart competitor and Microsoft is the dominant player – who wants to root for the dominant player? No one. People like to cheer for the underdog (although I admit that calling a company with a market cap of $110-billion an underdog seems a little odd).

I also find it interesting that at Dare Obasanjo’s blog, right underneath his post complaining about how little attention Microsoft gets for things, is a post about how confused the company’s marketing is when it comes to MSN and Live.com. Could that be part of the problem? Vinnie Mirchandani of Deal Architect thinks the lack of marketing support might have something to do with Microsoft’s desire to avoid cannibalizing Outlook. And old-media defender Scott Karp thinks bloggers need some kind of “Chinese wall.”

Google wants to host your company’s email

A couple of days ago, Garrett Rogers of ZDNet posted an item about something interesting he found while poking around in the Javascript source code for Google’s Gmail: the word “domain.” Putting two and two together, he theorized that Gmail would soon be offering a hosted email solution for anyone with a domain of their own – such as a corporation, for example, or a university. In other words, Google would be your email administrator, but the email would look like it came from your domain.

Nice work, Garrett – because that’s exactly what Google has done. First there was a note on the Google blog about the company providing a hosted email service for San Jose City College – which was spotted by eagle-eyed Nick Carr of Rough Type, who posted a comment called “Google attacks Outlook.” In case you thought he was exaggerating just a tad, Google then put up its hosted service beta, which was spotted by the equally eagle-eyed Paul Kedrosky.

Not to be inflammatory, but I think this is huge. Yes, some companies will be concerned about letting an outside provider host their mail, just as there are people who don’t use Gmail because they don’t trust the company, or don’t want even robotic eyes looking through their messages – or because they are worried about the government forcing Google to deliver email to the authorities.

Despite all that, I think there will be plenty of companies – particularly small ones – as well as universities and other users who will be more than happy to get out from under the thumb of Microsoft Exchange/Outlook, although as my friend Rob Hyndman notes, the MSFT package still has a lot of things that Gmail doesn’t when it comes to being a PIM. Phil Sim of Squash, meanwhile, thinks that hosted Gmail is just one more tool to lock you in, and Zack Handley says that many companies would probably find that Gmail is more than enough.

See my update here.

iStockPhoto of Calgary gets bought by Getty

Who says there’s no Web-buyout action going on in the Great White North? It may not compare with Yahoo buying Flickr or del.icio.us in terms of visibility, but in the world of downloadable stock photography, iStockPhoto.com – based in my former home town of Calgary, Alberta – has been one of the early stars, and so it’s interesting to find out that they have been acquired by stock photo giant Getty Images for about $50-million (U.S.). Thanks to Thomas Hawk for pointing that one out.

Along with Corbis (owned by Bill Gates), Getty is one of the largest players in the industry. If you see a classic or iconic shot in a newspaper or magazine or on a website, there are good odds it belongs to Getty. There’s more information on the buyout at an online photo magazine called Photo District News Online, and much discussion at StockPhotoTalk, run by Andy Goetze, who mentioned a rumour that Getty would buy iStockPhoto in a post three weeks ago.

According to the reports, Getty will continue to operate iStockPhoto.com as a separate unit, run by iStockPhoto CEO Bruce Livingstone and about 30 employees (a nice payout for them). As far as I can tell, this is one of the first signs that the world of big, expensive, global stock-photo companies such as Getty and Corbis has started to pay attention to the small, inexpensive, Web-distributed model being pursued by iStockPhoto, Fotolia.com and others.

As Thomas Hawk mentions in his post, imagine what Yahoo could do if it started trying to monetize some of the photos in Flickr. And if you want to explore this topic further, Alan Meckler of Jupitermedia.com – which also owns a stock-photo company – has some thoughts here, and StockAsylum notes that Getty is trying to soothe the ruffled feathers of its professional photographer suppliers, who might think it is going down-market.

Edgeio could become like Craigslist 2.0

In addition to running the very influential Web 2.0 site TechCrunch.com, and writing a blog called CrunchNotes.com, Mike Arrington has been working on a startup of his own called Edgeio (along with Keith Teare) – which Rob Hof of BusinessWeek got a demo of recently. Some might wonder why another kind of classified service is worth getting excited about, but the Edgeio model has an interesting and potentially disruptive twist. In a nutshell, listings of things for sale don’t have to be posted to a service such as eBay.com or Craigslist.com or BuyMyUselessCrap.com – they can live on your own blog or website, or anywhere. If they are tagged “listing,” Edgeio simply grabs them and indexes them.

This is the kind of extension of the “tagging” idea that really starts you thinking about what could be accomplished by simply tagging different items in a certain way and then indexing them. In a sense, it’s the ultimate expression of the “microchunking” idea, as venture capitalist Fred Wilson “edge” expert Umair Haque of Bubblegeneration calls it (thanks for the note, Umair). Let people find what they want wherever it happens to be. Tag a post on your blog “music review” and have it aggregrated; tag it with any number of other tags, and have them sorted and aggregated.

It’s a powerful idea, and in a way it accomplishes what the “structured blogging” crowd have been trying to get at, without all the coding and formatting. As Craig Donato of the classified search engine Oodle.com mentions in the comments below this post, there is also the “microformats” project, which is discussed here and an example of which can be seen here. A Swiss startup called Ichiba seems to be going for the same market, judging by the explanatory cartoon on their website.

On a somewhat related note, it will be interesting to see what kinds of conflicts of interest get declared when Mike launches Edgeio, given the recent story in the WSJ. Adam Green has more on that angle. Dave Winer, for one (who is an advisor to Edgeio), is already congratulating himself and wishing himself much success.”

Update:

As several people have pointed out to me, including one person whose comment appears below this post, what Edgeio has in mind isn’t exactly easy to do – the sheer brute strength required to somehow find and exclude all the inevitable spam listings would be similar to what Google and eBay.com have to do every day to prevent themselves from being deluged with fakery and phishing. So Mike and his company have set a pretty high bar to jump over, and it will be interesting to see if the product lives up to the promise.

The blogosphere is growing up

I’ve been expecting something like this to happen for awhile now: my friend Paul Kedrosky points to a story in the Wall Street Journal that looks at all the attention the “share your Wi-Fi” startup FON got after announcing an investment from Google, Skype and Index Ventures.

As the story notes, some of that attention came from people who sit on the advisory board at the company, including “citizen journalism” pioneer Dan Gillmor, David Weinberger of Joho the blog, technology lawyer and blogger Wendy Seltzer, tech commentator and Berkman Fellow David Isenberg (who has a response here) and Ethan Zuckerman of My heart’s in Accra.

Is that a big deal? Probably not. And the WSJ story has more than a little whiff of muck-raking about it, since it insinuates that all of the coverage was driven by the prospect of personal gain. I don’t know Dan Gillmor (who started bayosphere.com), but he seems like a fairly decent guy, and I don’t think he would do that. The story also mentions Mike Arrington of TechCrunch.com, but doesn’t say whether he’s advising FON or not – it just says that he doesn’t usually write about companies after he becomes an advisor.

But while the story doesn’t have a lot of actual meat, it does get one wondering why there was so little discussion (apart from at Om Malik’s blog, Glenn Fleishman’s and here) about the gaffe involving whether Speakeasy had an agreement with FON or not. The story also contains this helpful overview of the problem of conflicts of interest in the blogoverse:

That can be a murky issue in today’s clubby blogosphere, where many people including venture capitalists, lawyers and journalists write about Web issues and companies — and often, each other — with little editing. The rebound in Silicon Valley’s economy, coupled with the popularity of cheap, easy-to-use blogging tools, means there are more aspiring commentators than ever opining about start-ups and tech trends on the Web. And increasingly, it is difficult to discern their allegiances.

The point is a good one. Bloggers, particularly those who advise or sit on the boards of startups, and receive either cash or stock, are walking a fine line. Even those who regularly party with the founders and receive exclusive looks at things, like TechCrunch.com does, are walking a fine line. As the blogosphere grows up, that will become more and more of an issue, and it will help determine how others see the blogging “industry.” Adam Green of Darwinian Web, who was one of the first to pick up on Paul’s post, has a longer and more in-depth look at the various bloggers involved, and Seth Finkelstein has some thoughts too.

Update:

Doc Searls says that he has changed his bio page to include disclosures about his interest in various things, an idea he based on the Disclosures page that Berkman Center director John Palfrey (of TopTenSources.com fame) has. And Nick Carr has some worthwhile thoughts over at his Rough Type blog. Glenn Fleishman has also posted more about it on his personal blog, as have David Weinberger and Ethan Zuckerman.

It’s interesting to see the range of reactions from those involved — all the way from outrage and defensiveness (perhaps deserved) to a grudging acceptance that more disclosure might be required. Tristan Louis thinks the FON affair says a lot about how A-list bloggers have become the new “gatekeepers”, a topic my friend Scott Karp of Publishing 2.0 has written about more than once as well. Meanwhile, Mitch Ratcliffe has a long and thoughtful – and conflicted – post on it at ZDNet, and Kent Newsome has some thoughts as well.

Vonage pulls the trigger – out of desperation?

So VOIP pioneer Vonage has finally pulled the trigger on its much-rumoured IPO, hoping to raise up to $250-million. Over the past year there has been repeated whispering that the company was planning a stock offering – but then the rumours changed their tone, and Vonage was reported to be in talks about being acquired. Then everything went quiet. As Andy Abramson noted almost exactly a year ago, the company has been burning through money at a tremendous rate.

As my Canadian tech-blogging colleague Mark Evans notes in his take on the news the SEC filing from Vonage states the company had revenues of about $174-million (U.S.) in the nine months ended in September, and racked up losses of $189-million or so in that same period . The vast majority of those costs were for marketing, which isn’t surprising given that Vonage has been blanketing the Web and the airwaves over the last year.

Needless to say, that’s not a terribly attractive business model – which implies that founder Jeffrey Citron (who also founded online stock-trading firm Datek Online, which he later sold) – has gotten a little desperate about his ability to cash out his significant investment in the company. And he might be right to feel a little desperate, considering the fact that VOIP from cable companies, Skype and other forces – including a possible Google VOIP offering – is turning up the heat.

According to a recent survey by Sandvine, the share of VOIP minutes that broadband providers control has gone from 18 per cent last year to 53 per cent, while Vonage has 22 per cent. Good luck with that IPO, Vonage. At least Jeff Pulver might get a little something out of it.