Yes — but a smaller, less frothy bubble

Bubble-ology has become a more popular topic than ever now that Time magazine has named You as its annual Person of the Year (no, not you specifically, but the collective you — or us; oh never mind). In fact, there’s quite a bubblicious debate going on between my friend Paul Kedrosky and Josh Quittner of Business 2.0.

Josh wrote a piece for Time that boils down to the old “it’s different this time” argument. Yes, it’s kind of bubble-rific out there, but it’s okay because it’s different. As Paul notes, the most ominous words in the investment business are “it’s different this time” — words which are usually a prelude to all the same mistakes being made, but with different names and by different people.


Paul counters that, if anything, this bubble is actually worse than the first one, because “it’s cheaper this time to get yourself in just as deep — and this time there is no IPO market to bail you out.” And he is right — but then Paul is also the one who told our mesh conference back in May that as a venture capitalist, he is a big fan of bubbles because they speed up the pace of development, and that it “takes a lot of dead bodies to fill a swamp.”

In the end, the debate over where we are on the bubble-ometer comes down to a debate over what was wrong with the first bubble. Was it that entrepreneurs got taken advantage of by venture capitalists eager for a big-dollar IPO exit? Or was it that the combination of those two factors wasted billions of dollars of investors’ money? If you think that VCs and Wall Street brokers were to blame (as I do), then the lack of IPOs is probably a good thing.

Then the only ones losing money (assuming they are losing) are big companies like Google and eBay. Does the current bubble make it easier for entrepreneurs to get in over their heads? Sure it does. But I don’t think they can get as far in, because there isn’t as much incentive, and because it’s a whole lot cheaper to scale up to acquisition size than it was before.

Finally, PayPerPost changes its tune

Anyone who has been following the debate in the blogosphere over “blog payola” — under-the-table compensation for a positive review of something — knows the name The company emerged earlier this year and was instantly vilified for paying bloggers to write about clients, but not requiring them to disclose that compensation. Pete Cashmore of Mashable said that PayPerPost was unethical, and Shel Israel called founder Ted Murphy “the devil.”

Now, the company has decided to change its approach, and — according to a press release Mike Arrington has reproduced on TechCrunch — will require bloggers who take part in the program to disclose that they are being compensated. As Mike notes, it isn’t a perfect solution, since bloggers can choose to have a site-wide disclosure policy rather than disclosing which specific posts are paid for, but it is a whole lot better than nothing (Scott Karp doesn’t think it goes far enough).


It’s not clear whether this change has come about because PayPerPost decided its initial policy was wrong, or because it wasn’t getting enough uptake among bloggers or advertisers, or because of the recent FTC ruling on word-of-mouth marketing and the requirement to disclose, which I wrote about here. It’s possible that it was a combination of all the above.

In any case, I think the move is a good one, and would like to believe that PayPerPost finally saw the error of its ways (although I would much rather that each post involving compensation was disclosed as such). Allowing bloggers to write positively about clients without disclosure amounts to deception, and that isn’t a proper basis for any kind of relationship, financial or otherwise.

Facebook to Yahoo: Please (don’t) buy us

Did Peter Thiel have to practice in a mirror saying that Facebook is worth $8-billion, so that he didn’t smirk at the wrong time, or worse yet, burst out laughing? I wonder. The venture capitalist and former PayPal founder certainly seems to have pulled it off, since he got Bloomberg to publish that number with a straight face. Rupert Murdoch is going to kick himself for only saying MySpace is worth $6-billion.

As Mike Arrington has noted at TechCrunch, and Carlo has likewise pointed out over at Techdirt, this is exactly the kind of thing that companies say when they are looking to be acquired. Call it a combination of playing hard to get and fluffing up your feathers so that you become more attractive to the other birds. A kind of mating ritual.


Could Facebook actually be worth $8-billion? It all depends on your math. There’s no way in a million years that Yahoo (or anyone else, for that matter) is going to pay $8-billion in cash money for it — but will they pay a billion or $2-billion and then claim that they got $8-billion in value from it, as Rupert and his minions continually claim about MySpace? That’s got a better chance of happening.

As for the talk of Facebook doing an IPO, that is likely also posturing. If they actually try to do one, it will only prove — as Vonage’s IPO did — that their backers are nervous and want to get out as soon as possible.

Steve Rubel throws a softball to Gates

Bill Gates, co-founder and chairman of Microsoft and the world’s richest man, met with a bunch of technology bloggers yesterday, including Chris Pirillo of Lockergnome, Mike Arrington of TechCrunch, Liz Gannes of and several others. Everyone got to ask one question and there was some general discussion for about an hour with what some described as a very relaxed Gates.

Some of the questions — like Mike’s question about DRM, which I wrote about here, and Liz Gannes’ excellent question about the future of web-based applications — were fairly hard-hitting, but others… well, not so much. Like Steve Rubel’s question: “What’s on your Zune?” (This wasn’t the only softball, of course; there was also a question about what Bill has on his Christmas list).


Trevor Cook, who writes at a blog called Corporate Engagement, takes Steve to task for this question in a recent post. He notes that Edelman, the PR firm where Steve works, represents Microsoft (which he freely admits in the post) but that he says he was there “as a blogger.” So if Rubel had a month to plan for it, why didn’t he ask a better question? Cook’s post is entitled “Rubel inadvertently demonstrates the value of traditional journalism.” Cook says:

I’d hate to see blogging just become a way of the powerful giving the appearance of being open and accessible by using these carefully orchestrated events with people who seem to be overcome by their audience with the great monopolist. There is not going to be much ‘speaking truth to power’ in these situations.

This is a fair point (Todd at Geek News Central asks the same thing). Yes, Steve admitted he works for Edelman, but says he was invited as a blogger (and therefore was supposedly independent). So why such a lame question? I realize that Steve is not — nor has he ever claimed to be — a journalist, but still. That kind of thing makes Barbara Walters’ Oscar special seem hard-hitting.

Hurray, it’s the “five things” meme!

I hate these blog-tag things. But I don’t want to be a poor sport, so here are the “Five Things You Don’t Know About Me” (thanks a lot, Vanessa):

  • One of my legs is shorter than the other. I had a car accident when I was in university and broke my right leg (I also dislocated my left hip and cracked eight ribs) and after I got out of the hospital it was about half an inch shorter.
  • I used to play the guitar and sing folk songs in coffee houses and bars. And very much wanted to be a folk-rock star like my hero and fellow Canadian Neil Young. But the siren song of journalism called.
  • My mother once dated Paul Martin, the former Prime Minister. She went to the University of Western Ontario and met him at a social event or something like that. She said he was a good dancer.
  • I went to the same high school as Allan Legere, a serial killer from New Brunswick known as the Monster of the Miramichi. We both went to James M. Hill High in the tiny pulp-mill town of Chatham.
  • While visiting the quantum super-collider at Los Alamos, I discovered a new particle that was named after me, the Ingramoson (I made that one up just to see if anyone got this far).

And now, it is my duty to nominate five other people, so here they are: Rob Hyndman, Stuart MacDonald, Mark Evans, Mike McDerment and Richard Bloom.

Bill Gates told me to just rip it

Next time someone gives you grief for ripping music from CDs to put on your iPod (or Zune, or whatever your player of choice might be), just tell them that the world’s richest man told you to do it. According to Mike Arrington of TechCrunch, that’s what Microsoft co-founder and chairman Bill Gates said when he was asked about DRM (digital rights management).

Gates said that no one is satisfied with the current state of DRM, which “causes too much pain for legitmate buyers” while trying to distinguish between legal and illegal uses. He says no one has done it right, yet.

There are “huge problems” with DRM, he says, and “we need more flexible models, such as the ability to “buy an artist out for life” (not sure what he means). He also criticized DRM schemes that try to install intelligence in each copy so that it is device specific.

bill gates mugshot.jpg

And now the money quote: “His short term advice: ‘People should just buy a cd and rip it. You are legal then.'” Of course, you aren’t really — at least not in every jurisdiction. Canada has a private copying levy that allows you to make copies for personal use (and Britain is considering one) but other countries don’t. In any case, Bill’s point about DRM being too complicated and not easy enough to use is a good one.

In many cases, of course, it is also an attempt to turn back the clock and prevent you from using music you have purchased in ways you could before digital music existed, and that is probably my biggest beef with it. (Incidentally, the theme music for this post, if I had such a thing, would be a modified version of the famous Devo song Whip It called — of course — Rip It)

Okay, that was a little weird

Let me just say that I have a lot of respect for Virginia Heffernan, the TV writer for the New York Times. I think she’s a good writer, and I like her blog Screens as well — but the piece she just wrote about Amanda Congdon’s debut on ABC News is, well… really out there. I watched Amanda’s first show, and I found it sort of grating in the same way Rocketboom was — she overdid the perkiness just a tad, and the hair-flipping and the wide-eyed innocence thing.

And the items she did were, well, underwhelming. For a debut, I would think she could have done a little better than a bit about Tori Spelling’s garage sale and a company that makes fake blood — although she did take a shot at ABC for having a pop-up video player instead of embedded video (you can’t fast forward or rewind either, which is dumb). But it was pretty gee whiz, and kind of, well… dumb.


But that’s not what Virginia saw. She says:

Like a teenager, she seems exaggeratedly puzzled by whatever’s at hand; she’s too cool for almost everything, and good for her. To achieve this effect, she often appeals to the camera — the audience? God? — to find out what’s going on.

Slim, swan-necked, with the upright bearing of a dancer or cadet, she doesn’t exactly lean in for intimacy with the viewer. She’s not relatable. She seems a touch abstemious.

In case you’re wondering, “abstemious” means to use temperance or moderation. In any case, Virginia then goes on to compare Amanda’s engagement — which she indicates by saying things like “That was weird” — with Walter Cronkite of all people. She even says that a shrug by Amanda during a report on New Orleans was “an editorial in itself.” I’m not making this up.

To tell you the honest truth, I thought for a second that maybe Virginia’s piece was an elaborate Onion-style parody. But I don’t think it was. My friend Joey deVilla from Global Nerdy appears to be similarly nonplussed. And TDavid doesn’t think much of it either (great line about Amanda’s departure being “like Suzanne Somers leaving Three’s Company in season three).


Andrew Baron says on his blog that Amanda Across America and the ABC and HBO deals were either completely or in large part a result of work he did at Rocketboom before Amanda left (hat tip to Cory Bergman at Lost Remote for the link). Oh yes, and the inimitable Loren Feldman weighs in on Amanda’s debut — he was so underwhelmed he couldn’t even be bothered to get out of bed to tape his video review.

The “long tail” and Wired magazine

If anybody is in a position to help Wired magazine think about new media and the “long tail” theory, it’s the magazine’s editor Chris Anderson, who just finished publishing a book called The Long Tail. Chris, who has obviously thought a lot about these kinds of issues, has a great two-part post up about how he wants to change Wired magazine’s website, now that the print magazine and the web service are once again part of the same company.

The first part is an overview of how the media landscape has changed, and how people’s expectations have changed, structured in a “then and now” format, including:

THEN: Bookmarks and habit drive traffic to the home page; site architecture and editorial hierarchy determines where readers goes next. Portals rule.

NOW: Search and blog links drive readers to individual stories; they leave as quickly as they come. “De-portalization” rules.


THEN: Media as Lecture: we create content, you read it.

NOW: Media as Conversation: a total blur between traditional journalism, blogging and user comment/contributions.

And the second part of the post deals with how to change a magazine and a website to better reflect some of those changes in attitude. Chris deals with six things that he says a truly “transparent” and interactive media organization would do — and the possible benefits and downsides of those approaches — including:

Show who we are. All staff edit their own personal “about” pages, giving bios, contact details and job functions. Encourage anyone who wants to blog to do so. Have a masthead that actually means something to people who aren’t on it.


Privilege the crowd. Why not give comments equal status to the story they’re commenting on? Why not publish all letters to the editor as they’re submitted (we did that here), and let the readers vote on which are the best? We could promise to publish the top five each month, whether we like them or not.


Let readers decide what’s best. We own Reddit, which (among other things) is a terrific way of measuring popularity. Why should we guess at which stories will be most popular and give those preferential treatment? Why not just measure what people really think and let statistics determine the hierarchy of the front page?

Well worth a read for anyone interested in the future of online media. Some things Anderson says he’s not sure will work (wikis for stories, for example, which Wired has experimented with) but thinks should probably be tried anyway. I wish more editors would think about that kind of thing. There’s more commentary about the piece at Rex Hammock’s blog, at Publishing 2.0 and over at the Bivings Report. And if you’re looking for a laugh, check out Gawker’s version.


Josh Quittner, editor of Business 2.0 magazine — who recently asked all of his writers to start blogging (and who I’m pretty sure used to write for Wired) — has posted a bit of a rebuttal to Chris’s piece, in which he says that publishers of print magazines are going to have to decide which is more important, online or print, because telegraphing what your cover story is going to be doesn’t really work for print mags. Thanks to Scott Karp of Publishing 2.0 for pointing to Josh’s post, and for writing one of his own.

Mike did what any publisher would do

Mike Arrington takes a fair bit of heat for the stuff he does at TechCrunch — even I have taken a shot at him when I think he has overstepped his bounds, like I did when he made those comments about Dave Winer and Rafat Ali the other day (see post below) — but for the record I think he is getting a lot of unnecessary crap about the dismissal of Sam Sethi from TechCrunch UK.

Much has been made of the fact that Mike doesn’t consider himself a journalist, and how TechCrunch isn’t journalism but something else that combines — or even embraces — conflicts of interest among those its covers, etc. etc. But for what it’s worth, I don’t think Mike has done anything different with respect to Sam Sethi than any editor of a magazine would do under the same circumstances, unless there are significant details that haven’t come to light (there’s a good roundup here).


As far as I can tell, Sam got called an asshole by Loic Le Meur for the review he gave Le Web, then Mike and Sam differed about whether to remove that comment (because Loic felt badly about it), at which point Sam not only left the comment up but wrote a post (archived here) in which he said TechCrunch was going to start having its own conferences in the UK and Le Web was history.

I would agree with Mike that the latter move crossed an important ethical boundary. If you’re the editor of a magazine — which is what I think TechCrunch and Gigaom and PaidContent and other similar networks might as well be — you can’t trash a conference and promote your own in the same breath. That’s just not on. And I think Mike was right to make it an issue. In other words, I think Tom Morris is wrong to call it an example of Old Boys Club 2.0.

It’s too bad Sam and Mike couldn’t work it out, but I give Mike some props for putting it all out there on his blog and taking the inevitable fire from the armchair quarterbacks who see it as an arrogant American throwing his weight around in the UK or whatever. I think he did what had to be done.


Sam Sethi has pointed out that he and Mike were 50-50 partners on TechCrunch UK (which I don’t think was widely known), and that as far as he is concerned it was the decision not to remove Loic’s offensive comment that soured the relationship between the two. Mike’s post, however, makes it clear that it was the decision to promote TechCrunch UK’s events at the same time as he was trashing Le Web.

Mike Butcher, co-editor of TechCrunch UK, has posted a long open letter to Mike about the incident, and Duncan Riley has posted hilarious PDF of the entire debacle. To complicate matters further, there’s a comment on the TechCrunch UK post about Sam’s dismissal from “TCAdmin” (which is the name Mike Arrington had been using) saying: “I was being such a stupid arsehole I am so sorry. TCUK will be back shortly.” Someone spoofing the name, or has Mike reconsidered?

Facts get in the way of a good story

I’m sure there are lots of people who are even now blaming blogs and “new media” and God knows what else for the frenzy of stories about how iTunes sales are “collapsing” or “plummeting” or “hemorrhaging” or (insert sensationalized adverb here), all of which were based on a loose interpretation of a Forrester sales report. The key takeaway for most was that iTunes sales were down 65 per cent.

Great story, right? So great that it turns out to be, well… not exactly true. Or rather, true in a fairly limited sense. Forrester’s report was based on a relatively small set of credit-card data, and the research firm itself warned against extrapolating from that data. So what did The Register do? Extrapolated wildly, put the word “collapse” into the mouths of the Forrester team, and then said iTunes’ sales were “collapsing” in the headline (Bloomberg wrote a story too).


Why did The Register do this? Probably because it made the story sound even more interesting, and because the writer, Andrew Orlowski, wanted to use the data as a springboard for a larger story about the death of DRM (digital rights management) and how the music industry might be forced to go the “blanket license” route.

Is this something unique to online media or the blogosphere? Hardly. Newspapers and TV networks do this kind of thing all the time. Staci at PaidContent is right that Rex Hammock had the best line: “Reporters’ inability to interpret statistics is ‘sky-rocketing’.”

Forrester analyst Josh Bernoff has a post here about the reaction to his initial piece about the report, in which he says that the data set was too small to jump to any conclusions, but that this point “was just too subtle to get into these articles.” It wasn’t too subtle at all — it’s just that some outlets couldn’t bear to let the facts get in the way of a good story.