The blogosphere is not a thing

Kudos to my M-list buddy Kent Newsome for posting pretty much what I intended to write (if I had been around a computer at the time) after I read Stephen Baker’s recent piece at BusinessWeek’s Blogspotting. Baker’s post came in response to a comment by Steven Streight — aka Vaspers the Grate — on a previous Blogspotting post. In complaining about the number of blogs filled with drivel, Streight said that “as the blogosphere fills up with more and more worthless blogs, the overall quality and reliability of the blogosphere as a whole declines.”

In his post, Baker notes — correctly — that “the blogosphere by itself has no credibility. Individual bloggers build their own credibility.” The fact that there are thousands of inane, asinine, flaccid or insipid blogs out there doesn’t diminish the quality of those that are good. If anything, it enhances the good blogs by making them seem even more rare. And Kent makes the same point: “Saying that the blogosphere is losing credibility is like saying the spoken or written word is losing credibility. It’s not the medium that matters – it’s the person at the other end of it.”

For what it’s worth, Vaspers clarifies his argument here.

Nick Carr, Web 2.0’s grim reaper

It’s been awhile since we heard anything substantive from Nick Carr, the grim reaper of Web 2.0, the Doctor Doom of interactivity, the Keeper of Souls for anything related to Wikipedia, etc. But the launch of Netscape as an interactive news site similar to Digg seems to have gotten him fired up — albeit several weeks after the event itself.

Nick says that since Netscape served as midwife for the original Web, in what he calls “a lovely ironic twist,” the company may be “the undertaker at the burial of the Web 2.0 hype.” Mr. Carr seems to like declaring things to be dead, or at least on their deathbed, since he has done that at least a couple of times already with Wikipedia. His regular calls of doom remind me of Sir Lancelot in Monty Python and The Holy Grail, who was so eager to declare people dead so that he could ride off to avenge them.

Nick says that Netscape’s new format looks like “a junk drawer” because people have voted all kinds of oddball stories to the top, such as one about the discovery of Noah’s Ark. This is similar to the slagging of that takes place regularly, which involves picking some of the top stories in order to prove what morons most people are. Then he says that “normal people” (whoever they are) dislike the revamp, as proven by items such as this one.

None of that proves anything close to what Nick is arguing for, however, which is the death of interactivity in news media. All it shows is that some people react badly to change, and some wish to have others decide what’s important for them. On the former point, I would agree with Dare Obasanjo that Jason Calacanis probably handled the transition badly, and could have done a better job preparing people for the move.

A breath of fresh air from Nick Denton

Courtesy of Steve Rubel at Micropersuasion — who seems to catch things before just about anyone (including me) — I came across a piece in the New York Times about Nick Denton selling off some of his Gawker Media blogs and reassigning various bloggers from other properties. According to the story, he has put Sploid — a tabloid-style blog — on the block, along with Screenhead, which was devoted to online video and other new media, and has reassigned bloggers at Gawker itself as well as Wonkette and Gizmodo.

The always refreshingly — even brutally — honest Denton says that events such as’s wildly popular recent blog mixer make him nervous. “It made me want to move to Budapest, batten down the hatches and wait for the zombies to run out of food,” he told the Times. Nick has regularly made comments about how the blog explosion is overrated, and some of that is no doubt intended to keep as many competitors away from the field as possible (Jeff Jarvis says Nick practices “reverse hypology”). But he is also quite right that blog networks such as Gawker, just like regular media, have to be ruthlessly managed.

In many ways, Denton’s stable — much like Jason Calacanis’s very similar Weblogs Inc., now owned by AOL — are more like traditional magazines than they are like blogs. They have short items posted regularly, just like blogs, and they often have personality and a point of view just like blogs, but many of them don’t accept comments (Valleywag makes you apply to be a member who can comment) and don’t really have a sense of community about them.

I’m not saying any of that is bad — I’m just saying they are very much like magazines, and magazines need to be ruthlessly managed and pruned. And as Nick points out, online magazines are even more vulnerable than the print kind. “The barrier to entry in Internet media is low,” he said. “The barrier to success is high.” The Huffington Post’s Eat The Press site has more on the personnel changes at Gawker, including internal memos and a preview of a post from Nick, in which he says (among other things) “Better to sober up now, before the end of the party.”

Wise advice.

Scoble breaks the law in Second Life

It’s getting so the virtual world isn’t any fun any more. Isn’t the whole point of an imaginary universe that you can toy with the laws of nature, by doing things like flying? Apparently some laws aren’t meant to be broken, however — such as the law that says teenagers can’t play Second Life. Or at least not the adult version anyway. Former Microsoft PR blogger Robert Scoble seems to have run afoul (again) of the lawmakers in the virtual world of SL, by allowing his 12-year-old son to play the adult version of the game.

The Scobleizer says that he got his son to build some objects in Second Life while he was moderating a panel at the Gnomedex conference. Unfortunately for Scoble, a Linden Labs employee (Linden runs Second Life) was in the audience and put two and two together, then confronted Scoble junior (in the game) and after the panel spoke to Scoble as well. She said Scoble’s account would be banned, and that he was not entitled to a refund of the $100 worth of Second Life objects he had purchased, including a virtual Mac computer. The uber-blogger must have known it was coming, however, since he has been down this road before.

It’s obvious that Scoble has an issue with the age restrictions on Second Life. He has written before about how he thinks it should be up to the individual parent whether they let their child play the game, and where they let them go. From Second Life’s point of view, however, it is an invitation to a lawsuit, much like the $30-million one that MySpace is now fighting because a teen was molested by someone she allegedly met through the social network. I tend to agree with Scoble though, who said in one post: “This is a virtual world. Why do we need to live with first-world rules?” My M-lister pal Kent Newsome disagrees though.

The Devil and Daniel Blogger

Is it true that there’s no such thing as bad publicity? I’ve always wondered about that — I’ll bet whoever owned Tylenol didn’t think so after it poisoned a bunch of people way back when (now I’m dating myself). In any case, Ted Murphy and have certainly been testing that motto today. It all started with an article in BusinessWeek by media writer Jon Fine about Ted’s new venture, which involves bloggers getting paid to make positive posts about companies.

Then Marshall Kirkpatrick posted about it on TechCrunch, saying it entices bloggers to “sell their soul,” and all hell broke loose. My pal Scott Karp got his knickers in a royal twist over the idea, saying that the whole concept of blogging has “now been starkly divided into the pre-PayPerPost era and the post-PayPerPost era” and that blogging has “been irrevocably tainted” (Scott has since followed up with a more thoughtful post).

Pete Cashmore of Mashable says that PayPerPost is “a terrible, terrible idea and totally unethical,” and Shel Israel says on Naked Conversations that he hopes this “nasty, cynical, ugly idea crashes and burns quickly.” Should be a fun time at the blogger dinner that Ted Murphy is co-hosting with Jeremiah Owyang and Shel in a couple of weeks, since Shel effectively calls him the devil.

And I thought some of the stuff that has been written about Jason Calacanis was bad. Ted Murphy must be wondering what he did to deserve all this, and to his credit he appears to have responded on several blogs in an attempt to do some damage control. Is PayPerPost the end of blogging as we know it, or a disaster that ruins the credibility of every blogger? Hardly.

Yes, it is kind of dumb, especially since there is no requirement for the blogger to mention that he is being compensated for his posts. But I think the comparison to the mainstream press is a good one — everyone knows there are publications that get paid for their content, and people take them less seriously. Credibility is won a post at a time. PayPerPost doesn’t change that — it just makes it more obvious.

And for what it’s worth, I think slamming Ted Murphy is kind of an immature response. Don’t like his company or his idea? Fine. But suggesting that he’s the devil is taking things a wee bit too far for my liking. Rob Hyndman and Mark Evans also have some thoughtful responses to the whole brouhaha.

Has blogging jumped the shark?

I’m tempted to declare that blogging — once the domain only of Web geeks and teenaged girls — has officially jumped the shark, with the news (via Bloggers Blog) that a reference to blogging appeared in a Family Circus comic on Wednesday. In Dilbert, sure. In Archie, even. But Family Circus? That most boring and suburban of comics, renowned for recycling those same “Billy tries to get somewhere but gets distracted” comics every month?

Yes indeed — Billy’s sister is running a lemonade stand and tells the customers that Billy is her advertising manager, and he’s inside blogging about the business. I kid you not. So that’s it, folks. Time to wrap it up and move on to something else. Oh yes, and speaking of “jumping the shark,” that phrase has also officially jumped the shark, since the site that popularized it has been bought by TV Guide magazine. Is nothing sacred anymore?

family circus

Is Photobucket Web 2.0?

I’ve been meaning to blog about something for a few days now, but various events in my personal life (including a move to a new house and a sick family member) have kept me from doing so. The something I wanted to blog about was a post by LeeAnn Prescott of the Web-tracking firm Hitwise, which looked at the traffic stats for various photo sites, including Flickr and Shutterfly (which is controlled by former Netscape CEO Jim Clark and has filed to go public).

One of the interesting things about the numbers LeeAnn provided, which drew a lot of commentary on, was that Flickr — despite being by far the most widely talked about photo site, at least from a Web 2.0 perspective — came in fairly far down on the list of top 10 photo sites. Number one by a landslide was a site hardly anyone talks about: Photobucket, which (unless I’m mistaken) gets the vast majority of its traffic from MySpace and other social networking sites, by providing an easy photo hosting service for blogs.

LeeAnn’s Hitwise item sparked a fairly extensive response from Flickr co-founder Stewart Butterfield, who tried to post a comment on TechCrunch but apparently had difficulty getting it past the spam filter. I wound up seeing his comment a day or two later on Paul Kedrosky’s blog. Paul liked Stewart’s comment so much that he later elevated it to post status.

Stewart’s comment/post is worth reading, if only to see the (in some cases) large discrepancies between Hitwise traffic numbers and those from Comscore Media Metrix and Nielsen/NetRatings. But it also brings up the issue of whether Photobucket and Flickr really compete or not. One is a community — Web 2.0 if you will — and one is just a hosting service, which is more Web 1.0. And yet Photobucket is the plumbing behind a very Web 2.0 service such as MySpace, and it has 48 per cent market share and is still growing.

Google Checkout — future of micro-payments?

It’s not the PayPal-killer that everyone was hoping it might be, but Google has launched a payment system — known as Google Checkout — that could still wind up disrupting the existing online payment game, if only because the search engine has the cash hoard to finance a prolonged battle for market share with advertisers. The service is tightly integrated with Google’s AdWords program, and will give advertisers who use it a break on their charges for the keyword advertising system.

This is a smart move, and arguably a lot smarter than launching a direct head-to-head attack on PayPal, which has a substantial market share with eBay sellers (which is what compelled the auction service to buy it in the first place). For one thing, as Forrester analyst Charlene Li notes on her blog, integrating Google Checkout and AdWords could make the advertising service that much more attractive to companies and even individuals — provided Google can show that shoppers will “convert” to being buyers at the same rate they do with existing checkout schemes.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt said the company’s intention is to make the process of buying something as fast and as painless and possible, and to a certain extent that’s what PayPal tries to do as well — it just does it mostly for auctions on eBay. But if Google can get sufficient traction from the retailers in its AdWords program, it would be relatively simple to roll the Checkout service out to just about anyone, including individual website and store operators. And the fact that Google’s fees are lower than either PayPal or Visa/MasterCard will make it that much attractive as well (more details here).

It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Google Checkout could become the fast and easy micro-payment system that many Web-heads have been anticipating for so many years. What if a website or blog network or micro-publication of some kind could sell access to stories or other merchandise, and get a deal on their ads to boot? That could be a powerful tool. Whether Google wants to go down that road — and whether consumers are willing to have Google be their online bank — is the big question.

Marshall Kirkpatrick over at TechCrunch is disappointed that it’s not a stored-value system, and wonders what’s in it for him, and Om Malik makes the point that Google’s main interest in launching Checkout isn’t to bash PayPal or even Amazon for that matter, but to enhance its advertising model by moving towards a “pay-per-action” rather than a “pay-per-click” model. Scott Karp of Publishing 2.0 (who should maybe change the name of his blog to Advertising 2.0) says Checkout is a very 1.0 shopping engine.

NBC and YouTube, sitting in a tree

Not that long ago, NBC was beating up on for hosting copyright violations like the brilliant “Lazy Sunday” video clip from Saturday Night Live. This struck me as completely asinine, as I mentioned at the time, because the viral quality of the clip — which was downloaded more than 5 million times in a couple of weeks (and that during the Christmas holidays) — gave NBC and the normally lame SNL show millions of dollars worth of free publicity. Not only that, but telling YouTube to take it down made them look heavy-handed and uncool.

It seems that someone at NBC finally woke up and got a clue about the marketing impact of an event like that, and the potential that a site like YouTube offers, because the two have now struck a deal whereby the video site will promote clips of NBC’s new shows and host a contest as well. YouTube CEO Chad Hurley said that the deal is clear proof “that we’re building a viable, long-term business, and it’s showing there’s common ground between traditional and new media.”

This comes at the same time as Warner Brothers has struck a deal with a video site called Guba to sell and/or rent full-length movies and TV shows. Warner has also signed a partnership with Bram Cohen’s BitTorrent to use the peer-to-peer technology to distribute content. Of course, said content will be all crapped up with Microsoft’s DRM (digital rights management) restrictions, but it’s a start.

Okay, I guess I’ll take your money

As more than one observer has pointed out, one of the benefits of being a Web-based startup is that you can get a lot farther with less money, to the point where some Web 2.0 companies such as Flickr, and Writely made it all the way from tiny startup to multimillion-dollar buyout by one of the Internet majors without any large-scale financing whatsoever.

The founders of Dabble DB, the Vancouver-based interactive Web database provider, say they had every intention of avoiding the usual venture-capital rodeo. And yet they just announced a financing deal (rumoured to be about $2-million U.S.) with Ventures West of Vancouver, a deal brokered by Ventures West advisor — and now partner — Paul Kedrosky, the Canadian-born and San Diego-based VC behind the blog Infectious Greed.

So what changed their minds? The two co-founders of the company, Andrew Catton and Avi Bryant — who tend to finish each other’s sentences, which makes it difficult to identify who said what in a conference-call interview — said before they got in touch with Paul (who I got to know in the lead up to the mesh conference I helped organize last month in Toronto), they had gotten a lot of interest from venture groups such as Hummer Winblad, particularly after they showed off their service at the venture-capital oriented Under The Radar conference in March. But they turned them all away.

“We joked about giving them the ‘soft no’ response,” the co-founders said, since that’s how many VCs describe their response to companies when they are trying to let them down easily. “But we tended to shut them off pretty quickly. We weren’t playing hard to get — we just didn’t want their money.” The two twenty-somethings said they didn’t want to go down the usual Silicon Valley route of having to give up a large stake in the company and/or board seats.

Paul described the co-founders’ reaction to traditional VCs as “almost an allergic response.” But he offered a middle way that appealed to the company. “I told them what I had in mind as a sort of entrepreneur-friendly approach,” as opposed to the traditional Silicon Valley model, he said in an interview. In addition, “most of what they would have gotten [with a traditional VC] is access to board members and access to the buyout channel, and with me they get those things anyway because I know all those people.”

The upshot for Dabble DB is that they get funding from a local VC, but one with contacts in the Valley, and they only have to give up one board seat (to Kedrosky) and they don’t have to move to Silicon Valley — as StumbleUpon, formerly based in Calgary, did earlier this year.