Image-based ads on Google? The horror…

According to a report in the New York Times, Google has decided — in part because of pressure from America Online — to experiment with graphical, image-based advertising on some of its pages. Although the early reports were that this would be restricted to ads for AOL content as part of the $1-billion deal between the two companies, the NYT says the ads will be open not just to AOL but to any advertiser.

John Battelle’s comment on this is a simple “My, my, my.” John also warned Google recently not to “jump the shark,” because of rumours that the company was going to give AOL content preferential treatment on its search pages — something Stuart MacDonald and I discussed a bit on the comments on this recent post.

As someone commented on John’s blog, this is going to be a “tricky balancing act” for Google to pull off. On the one hand, while it may irritate the purists who like the plain look of the company’s websites, as Danny Sullivan notes, graphical ads are a reality that we all put up with just about everywhere else, including our own blogs (unless you’re too puny to get advertising, like me).

At the same time, however, the more Google becomes like everyone else the more risk there is, since that uniqueness is arguably a big part of what makes people pay the astronomical sums they do for its stock. How will it handle the changes that its deal with AOL involves? And will it be worth it?

Tom Raftery says he hopes it’s just a trial balloon that will get shot down, and Cynthia over at IPDemocracy figures it’s only a matter of time before video starts showing up too. And then what — pop-ups? Henry Blodget at Internet Outsider thinks it’s inevitable, and so does Stuart MacDonald in the comments on this item.


Marissa Mayer has a note up at the official Google blog about the AOL deal and what it means. ‘Business partnerships will never compromise the integrity or objectivity of our search results,’ she says, and ‘there will not be crazy, flashy, graphical doodads flying and popping up all over the Google site. Ever.’ So apparently the motto ‘do no evil’ extends to evil advertising. But Danny says there is still some wiggle room for the company.

Hang in there, Riya

After much talk about Riya being acquired by Google, the facial-recognition-software startup has decided to remain independent, according to co-founder Munjal Shah. Microsoft blogger Robert Scoble says that Microsoft also looked at the company but decided to pass.

And maybe that’s a good thing. For what it’s worth, I took a look at Dare Obasanjo’s post on how to flip your company to one of the big guys (GYM or whatever we’re calling them now), and I wound up agreeing with Paul Kedrosky on the subject (and no, not just because he’s Canadian). Making a flip your end goal is the wrong approach – but not because the profit motive corrupts your principles or something starry-eyed like that. Because, ironically, that approach tends to make your company into something that isn’t really worth acquiring.

To quote Paul, who said it better than I could: “The best way to get purchased by anyone — GYM included — is to build a great team, find a large and growing underserved market, build a great product/service for which people will pay more than it costs to provide, grow faster than the market, and stay paranoid that a hundred other companies are gunning for you all the time.” Well said — and now Riya can continue to do that. And for what it’s worth, some people seem to agree.

My chat with a Reddit co-founder

If you’ve experimented with “social bookmark” sites such as or as a way of filtering the web (something I wrote about here), you may have come across When I mentioned it in a recent column for the Globe and Mail about Yahoo’s acquisition of, I got an email from one of Reddit’s co-founders, Alexis Ohanian, and we started a kind of ad hoc interview about the deal and about Reddit’s business model.

Alexis said that he felt Yahoo’s purchase had “validated the ‘business model without a business model’ approach of,” (something that not everyone thinks is a good idea), but that he was “curious to know how whether or not it’s an anomaly,” adding that “one look at reddit and you can guess what we’re hoping for.” I asked whether was modelled on, and he said it was — but that Reddit wants to do something different as well. “We were actually inspired by,” Alexis said. “We found ourselves most interested in this page because it was a sort of zeitgeist for what people were busy bookmarking — but we wanted to take it further.”

The Reddit co-founder, who was part of a “summer camp for startups” along with his college roommate Steve Huffman — and was in a movie called Aardvark’d — said that while there are “aesthetic similarities in the minimalist designs of our sites,” is “trying to build a very different site.” As a Guardian article on the site pointed out, Reddit users can vote an article up or down in popularity (in much the same way Slashdot modifies comments) and they get “karma points” if something they linked to is voted onto the front page (Solution Watch has a nice overview).

Continue reading “My chat with a Reddit co-founder”

Hey Google — You’ve got AOL!

According to a blizzard of reports, starting with the Wall Street Journal and now including the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Reuters, Google is close to a deal to take a five-per-cent stake in America Online for $1-billion (U.S.). This, of course, is only the latest in a series of rumours about what’s going to happen to AOL – first Microsoft was close to a deal to buy the whole enchilada, then Google’s’s name was brought up, then Microsoft was seen as being back on top.

At one point, the speculation was that Time Warner CEO Dick Parsons was trying to get the takeover rumours going so that he could cut a better deal with Google, which AOL uses to power its search results. Then AOL founder Steve Case came out with his impassioned plea to split up the company – the same thing Carl Icahn seems to want to do – in an op-ed piece in the Washington Post, which I wrote about, and which was hilariously satirized in a commentary piece here.

Most analysts seem to think that Google taking a piece of AOL – if only so that Microsoft or Yahoo don’t get it – makes sense. The former walled wasteland… er, garden is estimated to account for about 11 per cent of Google’s annual search revenue, and that wouldn’t be a good thing to give up. And it’s only a billion, right? Pocket change for a company with a market value of almost $130-billion.


Several people, including O’Reilly Radar and John Battelle, have noticed a potentially ominous sentence in the New York Times piece: “Google, which prides itself on the purity of its search results, agreed to give favored placement to content from AOL throughout its site, something it has never done before.” Don’t jump the shark, says Battelle. Henry Blodget says it’s a good deal for Google, and a bad one for Microsoft. And Rafat over at has a nice roundup of the various twists and turns this story has taken.

Google Music — what’s the big deal?

With all the attention Google has gotten for its new music search, you would think the company was going to compete with, or — or that Larry and Sergey had set up their own music label. It isn’t the Google Music Store that some have been talking about, and you can’t even click on a link and listen to a streaming web clip of a song. So Google searches for things and then links to them — what’s the big deal about that?

Maybe at some point Google will be able to index audio files and link to them — although that would no doubt become a legal quagmire. Mike over at TechDirt is already speculating about the existing music search getting the company in trouble because it links to lyrics, and the RIAA a music publisher just finished shutting down (although there is some reason for hope there, apparently — more details here). In any case, Google Music seems a little thin to be getting so excited about.

Apparently I’m in good company. Fred Wilson of A VC doesn’t think much of it either (Fred, I tried to link to your post directly but the link didn’t work).

The Ingram Christmas Letter for 2005

Yes, it’s that time of year again. No, not tax time — that will come soon enough. I’m talking about “rush around at the last minute shopping and baking and visiting and office parties and driving in the snow and trying to find a &^%$^*#& parking spot at the mall” time. Yes, it’s Christmas. And boy, our lights sure do look pretty, if I do say so myself. Someone actually came by to ask us if we could turn some of them off — something about how Ontario Hydro was going to have to bring one of the mothballed Pickering reactors back online just to keep up with the power demand. But I told the guy to take a hike. That’s politicians for you — no Christmas spirit.

Our year began and ended as it did for most Canadians — with snow. Way back in the early part of the year, it was all about tobogganing near Buckhorn, then later on we headed down to Ottawa for a little Winterlude snow sculpture and Beaver tail action on the canal, and then — as if we hadn’t had enough winter — branched out into a little snowshoe racing up in Buckhorn. And that took us pretty much straight up to Zoe’s 7th birthday, which was followed quickly by a trip to Muskoka for a little canoeing through the ice. And as spring rolled around, there was even a little time for some creative trampoline jumping on the one hand, and some investigative trips to the swamp with Grandma on the other hand.

As the weather got warmer heading into May, Meaghan did a little dancing at a big outdoor dance festival and Caitlin made a trip to Niagara Falls. And Zoe, who is now in Grade 2 and has lost and gained several teeth at various times over the year, “graduated” from Sparks (the tiniest version of Girl Guides there is) and became a Brownie — a ceremony Becky got to preside over. And June brought a couple of major events for Meaghan, who is now 12: she had her birthday and she also graduated from Grade 6 and began the big move to middle school — a magical place filled with amazing inventions like “lockers” and “detention.”

And after graduation, of course, comes summer! That meant water volleyball up in Muskoka and fishing in Golden Lake, a few sunset trips on the boat and, naturally, lots of swimming — and even a little water baseball, an interesting sport that is being considered for the Olympics. There was also the occasional splinter, and some running down country roads. And Meaghan and Zoe spent a week at summer camp in Golden Lake together and had a great time. Caitlin and Meaghan also spent a week at the Health Club in Muskoka serving as “mother’s helpers” for Becky’s cousin Libby and her sister-in-law Jane. Then a whole pile of Becky’s cousins and aunts and uncles came up from the U.S. for a week-long party and get-together known as “The Boondoggle.” And towards the end of the summer, a smaller version of Becky’s family got together for a big photo op out in front of the sauna at the cottage.

Meanwhile, Caitlin made a big move this year too: she joined the ranks of the province’s drivers. I thought Becky and I handled this development pretty well, all things considered. As fall rolled on, Zoe got inducted into Brownies and got to ride her old four-legged friend Bobby at the annual Rouge Hill Family Day and of course a ride on Bobby the pony for Zoe. After the pumpkins of Halloween came and went, Meaghan and Zoe started rehearsing for their drama club’s Christmas pageant, in which Meaghan played a Queen and Zoe played a donkey named Samson. And finally, the year came to an end with the Globe and Mail Christmas party, complete with Meaghan’s favourite — snakes — some face-painting, and of course, a visit with the old guy in red.

The campaign for a two-tier Internet

Can you hear that sound? It’s the sound of the telecom troops stepping up their lobbying effort on Capitol Hill in Washingon, and on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. And the subject of this effort? The “need” for a two-tiered Internet. The telcos don’t call it that, of course, but that’s what it will amount to. As Rob Hyndman points out, this “war on net neutrality” could be the issue of the year for the tech sector.

As so eloquently stated by AT&T CEO Ed “Google better pay for access to our pipes” Whitacre and BellSouth CTO Bill “pay up or watch your download crawl” Smith, telcos in the U.S. and Canada want the ability to structure their networks so that their own applications and data — streaming video to your cellphone, for example — work faster and better than others. (Om Malik notes that the FCC seems to favour the telcos).

Remember the idea of a “common carrier,” where phone companies provided networks that anyone could make use of, in return for regulated rates of return? That’s history. It’s easy to see why the telcos are making this pitch — they don’t get the nice rates of return any more, and their legacy business is being eaten away by low-cost VOIP services, so you can see why they’d want to rig their networks for their own benefit. But that doesn’t mean they should be allowed to.

For an eloquent explanation of why losing “network neutrality” would be bad, see Vint “father of the Internet” Cerf’s submission here. And Canadian columnist and technology-law expert Michael Geist has written a nice column on the subject.

Google going to the Opera? Unlikely

Everyone loves a hot rumour, especially about a takeover involving Google — and the hot rumour du jour is that the search company is going to buy Opera, the upstart browser maker. That’s according to Pierre Chappaz, former head of Yahoo Europe, who mentioned it on his French blog (thanks to Om for providing a link to the translated page).

Makes for a great rumour, doesn’t it? Opera is cool, and buying it would re-fuel rumours that Google wants to get into the browser business and go up against Microsoft and Internet Exploder. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really make any sense. Not that buying it would be hard for a company with a market cap of more than $123-billion — the price tag would be a rounding error.

But why? Google hasn’t made a habit of just buying things for the sake of buying things. And as others have noted, Google is pretty close to the Firefox community. Why not just partner with or fund Opera if Google wants to do a deal — like for Larry Page’s Google smart-phone? On a related note, whatever happened to those rumours that Google was about to buy Riya?

Content creator or slave?

Henry Blodget, the guy many people blame (rightly or wrongly) for convincing them to invest during the dot-com bubble, wades into the “content creators vs. exploited masses” debate with a recent post on his blog Internet Outsider. Henry says that one of topics of conversation at a recent think-tank gathering was about aggregators like and Google and how they exploit those whose blogs or links or sites they aggregate.

The former brokerage analyst says that as far as he’s concerned, “All those people who built into what it is did so because they wanted to, and because it was useful, and that “similar, non-financial motivations drive the vast majority of unpaid bloggers (22 million and counting), blog commenters (100 million?), letters-to-the-editor writers, MySpace citizens, chat board participants, expounders, opiners, self-deemed experts, whiners, bar-stool philosophers, and assorted windbags (billions) that express themselves every day the world around.”

Most of these people, Henry says, “aren’t doing it for the money. And if someone else is making money off them, while enabling them to do what they love to do — and do of their own free will — well, then, more power to them). I would have to agree, as I’ve mentioned before.