Seagate CEO: I help people "watch porn"
Anyone who thinks that Silicon Valley CEOs rarely say interesting things in public must read this salty interview with Seagate CEO Bill Watkins. Fortune's Jeffrey O'Brien got Watkins to open up about Dell, Apple, and his overall approach to business. The Browser is betting that Seagate's board of directors is not going to be pleased.
Google: No Fast Food Nation here
Is Google looking more like Chez Panisse than a fast-growing tech empire? The Internet search giant's plush employee perks, including tasty free meals served up onsite, are well-known. But, adding some spice to the gossip, Valleywag has published a copy of Google's "Culinary Team Kitchen Food Standards," a sort of kitchen manifesto with accompanying "Statement of Values." The short of it? Nothing but nitrate-free organic chickens chez Google. Here are some choice tidbits from the statement in question, which is presumably posted for all to see near the Google cafeteria:
Going gaga for LaLa
Here's an idea so crazy that, to borrow from Blazing Saddles, it might just work: got used CDs you don't listen to anymore? Now you can swap them with strangers for CDs that you might like. At least that's the gist of LaLa, a hybrid Web-meets-snail-mail service that hopes to be the used records story of the 21st century. Nate Anderson goes "gaga for LaLa" in a write-up on Ars Technica:
The premise is a simple one: each user lists the CDs that they are willing to trade, then creates another list of CDs that they want. Each time that someone ships out a CD he requested by someone else, he gets one from his "want list" in return. Lala acts as the middleman, taking $1 for each trade and charging another 75 cents for shipping.We know what you're thinking: CDs are dead, and this is simply a curiosity shop for a bunch of baby-boom music nuts. Perhaps, but The Browser senses that there's more to this sort of thing than meets the eye. In an age of DRM, those unrestricted CDs are nice to have. And who's to say the only things fit for peer-to-peer swapping are CDs? Does LaLa's Web 2.0 community spirit offer any advantages over today's commercialized eBay? We're just saying....
BitTorrent's spin control
The Internet changes the way the world does business, but it can't overthrow the really fundamental stuff like physics, economics--or public relations. Rarely will you see an example of switcheroo spin as deft as BitTorrent's advance announcement that it has cut deals with a number of Hollywood studios to legitimately distribute movies and TV shows.
Which studios? It's hard to know for certain, because as of Wednesday morning there was still no official announcement. But somehow, news leaked out, and outlets like news.com are reporting that the partners include Paramount Pictures, Lions Gate, 20th Century Fox, and MTV Networks. (UPDATE: There is now an official release.) Meanwhile, Om Malik, who's not even on the West Coast today, manages to report that a ton of VC cash is headed to BitTorrent. The infusion is apparently coming from Accel Partners and others, though the company won't confirm that, either.
So, bully for BitTorrent, right? Sure. But buried beneath this snowheap of positive news is a much less encouraging factlet: BitTorrent is actually delaying the launch of its legit video store until February. That means it's months late, and by the time it gets going the video download space is going to get a lot more crowded, with everybody from Apple (AAPL) to Wal-Mart (WMT) looking for a slice of that rich download pie.
Ah, you say, but BitTorrent has an advantage: It uses a peer-to-peer software distribution system which, as the more credulous wire reports put it, "allows for the transmission of large files at high speeds." To which The Browser says: Do you honestly believe that the fight for mass downloadable video is going to come down to a question of speed? As opposed to, say, pricing (BitTorrent doesn't have it yet), transferability to portable devices (ditto), branding (who?), or ease-of-use (calling Steve Jobs)? Like we said, you can't overthrow the fundamentals.
Cuban disses--again--on Internet video
Mark Cuban was one of the first to call Google's $1.65 billion buyout of YouTube a boneheaded move--and he's not letting up. Cuban, in his latest blog rant, assures cable and satellite companies there's no need to worry that YouTube-style programming sent over the Internet will be their death knell.
Let's leave Cuban's motive aside (he is, after all, the co-founder of HDNet, a TV network delivered via cable and satellite) and consider his reasoning: As high-definition TVs become more affordable, everyone will want them. "Compressed web video looks bad if you try to expand it to fill your PC monitor," argues Cuban. "It becomes abstract art if you try to put it on your HDTV."
Even before you get to the challenge of delivering high-def video over a home Internet connection, Cuban argues, the first problem for Internet video buffs is that most PCs simply can't deliver high-def signals to high-def TVs. That's because the connection formats are incompatible--and Cuban thinks they're going to stay that way. Ergo, all those HDTVs, cheap or no, now showing up in living rooms will guarantee the survival of HD cable boxes and satellite. If the cable crowd plays this right, says Cuban, "video over the internet replacing cable and satellie would be just an amusing memory."
When Cuban speaks, some pundits listen (and others don't). Robert Scoble takes Cuban on with details of how his own MacGyver-like wireless xBox 360-driven home entertainment system works beautifully:
My Media Center-run PC hooks up to my Ethernet jack, which hooks up to a Wifi router. My Wifi router sprays its packets down (via 802.11a) to a Wifi antenna on my Xbox 360. Those packets get decoded, and sent from my Xbox 360 over its HD component cables to my Sony 60-inch HDTV. Which displays them for me to watch.Well, The Browser figures that if the future of Internet TV depends on Scoble's setup arriving in every American home, then Cuban just might be right. Then again, the snarky Dave Winer has a more relevant response: The connectivity problem, he says, may not dampen demand for Internet video. "I bought a Mac just to be part of my home entertainment system, and...I watch it a lot more than I watch the danged settop box, even though my Mac can’t produce an HD signal, and I love HD."
Therein lies the flaw in Cuban's self-serving argument: He misses the disruptive nature of Web video. People love high-def, for sure, but they're even more fascinated by LonelyGirl15, and her scratchy Web-cam quality videos. Remember, early PCs couldn't do much more than say "Hello World," but that didn't stop their march. The medium, not the signal quality, is the message.
French filmmaker sues Google
Hell hath no fury like a French filmmaker scorned. Ask Google, which is on the receiving end of a copyright lawsuit filed in France by producer Jean-Francois Lepetit. Lepetit's Flach Films wants to hold Google accountable for hosting on Google Video a pirated copy of his film "Le Monde Selon Bush," ("The World According to Bush,") reports Variety.
The documentary, which apparently parallel the themes in Michael Moore's Farenheit 9/11, has since been removed from the site, and Google has issued boilerplate responses thus far to press inquiries: "Our terms and conditions specify that users (internet surfers) don't have permission to use videos which they don't own the rights to," said a Google porte-parole. (BigMouthMedia reports that the Frenchies want 500,000 euros in damages.)
Indie French film producers are not exactly a major legal threat, of course. (Why does The Browser fantasize about how Donald "Going to war without France is like going duck hunting without your accordion" Rumsfeld might handle this were he to suddenly emerge from unemployment as Google's new head of PR?) But with copyright-infringing YouTube now nestled close to the Google bosom, these sorts of legal shots across the bow must be unnerving for the Google crew. When GooTube was buying lawsuit insulation from the U.S. media giants prior to the merger, did they think to include media outfits all over the world?
Yahoo's China Syndrome
OK, it can't have been an easy gig. But less than two months into his new stint as President of Yahoo (YHOO) China, Xie Wen has abandoned ship, apparently for "personal reasons." Could the executive malaise in Sunnyvale have spread East? (Recall that closer to home, there's been a steady flow of Veeps out the door, and growing supply of unsolicited turnaround theories popping up, like the Peanut Butter Manifesto.)
Could what one Valleywag reader describes as an " ayurvedic cleanse" in the Valley have made it to China? The reality is not likely so simple. As Reuters reports, "Yahoo China was absorbed by Alibaba last year when Yahoo...bought a 40 percent stake in Alibaba for $1 billion." So the person with the hands on the wheel in China is Alibaba founder Jack Ma, and he's not likely to be overly distracted by the Peanut Butter set in Silicon Valley.
That said, word is that Xie Wen's "personal reasons" may relate to his differences of opinion with Ma over Yahoo China's strategy. Reports China Tech News: "Chinese online bulletin boards are filled with rumors that he fled the company because of different ideas about the company's development."
"When it rains, it pours." Isn't that a Chinese proverb?
Ghosts of Boo.com spook 'Bubble 2.0' believers
Remember Boo.com, the famed flameout of Web retailers from the cash-flush days of 1999? Mike Butcher of the UK version of TechCrunch reports that Boo.com is planning a relaunch soon. Butch, as he's known in the London tech world, bases this on a report in a Swedish magazine; it's also the case that the site itself indicates that "Boo.com is back and a new site will be launched in 2006".
For anyone who may have forgotten the Boo.com saga: The site surfaced in 1999 as the brainchild of two young Swedes, Kajsa Leander, a former fashion model, and Ernst Malmsten, a former poetry critic. Its ambitious goal was to launch a fashion e-commerce site simultaneously in dozens of languages across the globe. Instead, Boo.com made just about every mistake imaginable: It launched late; it spent millions advertising a site that wasn't up; it used too much Flash that made it unreadable on many computers, and so on. Press stories focused on the company's total burn of $125 million in six months (although, in his book about the disaster, Malmsten asserts that it was merely $75 million.)
It would be tempting - and certainly understandable - to take this news as yet more evidence that we are living through Bubble 2.0, which is basically Om Malik's take. But Butch argues, counterintuitively, that "among the general public there is probably enough name recognition to make this - and I say this hesitantly - almost a savvy move on Boo's behalf."
Before jumping to any conclusions, isn't it worth knowing first what the new Boo.com is and who's behind it? Last time we checked, the original managers were feuding and the company's assets had been sold at fire-sale prices to whomever would take them. It stands to reason, then, that whatever the new Boo.com is, it will be significantly different from the first - assuming it launches at all. (The Browser has e-mailed Malmsten to see if he can shed light on these reports; we'll update you if he writes back with anything relevant.)
BuzzFeed: the new, new Digg?
Will 2006 go down as the year "social news" took off and flamed out? Recall that it was only last winter that Digg, the site that lets readers decide which news stories matter most, nudged Slashdot aside to become the go to site for tech news junkies. By summer, Digg had launched its strategy for more general news domination, inspired a full-on assault from AOL in the form of Jason Calacanis' reinvented Netscape.com, and been the recipient of a gushing BusinessWeek cover story. Then, of course, Conde Nast lumbered onto the social news bandwagon when it bought Reddit. That's probably when alarm bells should have started ringing.
Well, welcome to the backlash. "Digg just isn't doing anything for me to make my day easier," writes Jeff Nolan in a post titled 'I'm done with Digg.' Adds BusinessWeek's Rob Hof: "As much as I like the idea of Digg...I must confess that I just don't use it that much." Then Robert Scoble piles on: "I too unsubscribed from the general Digg feed," he writes. "Too much crap!"
And so the pendulum swings. Out of favor go people-driven sites like Digg, and guess what's suddenly all the rage? Algorithms. Where do Nolan and Hof go regularly for their headline fix? TechMeme, they say, the automatic tech blog buzz filter which also happens to be at the top of The Browser's blogroll. Indeed, the new media question of the moment is once again man vs. machine (Yahoo directory vs. the search engines, anyone?) Are you more about Google News and TechMeme or Digg and Reddit?
But here's a new data point to add to the mix: While you were away eating turkey, the tech geniuses behind Eyebeam and the Huffington Post launched BuzzFeed, a sort of hybrid--a little bit country, a little bit rock 'n roll--news site that's edited by humans but powered by algorithms.
Call us filthy moderates, but The Browser says the hybrid approach makes sense. Score one for BuzzFeed, and also for Calacanis' Netscape "Navigators," (though they're now navigating without his leadership.) Is the future of web news all about man AND machine? Your comments welcome, as always.
A Black Friday misquote from Slashdot
The Browser has long been a bit flummoxed by the term "Black Friday"; in part because it is the title of a grim-but-catchy Steely Dan song, we can't help but feel that it sounds like the name of a very bad day on Wall Street, rather than a really busy day in the malls. It seems oddly appropriate, then, that The New York Times chose today to run a fascinating story on automatic algorithms that make stock trades, which, advocates claim, can execute huge volumes of trades nearly instantaneously, based on pattern recognitions that mere humans might never discern.
The article contains some debate about the ultimate value of such systems. Some investors swear by them, while some scientists and others argue that the amount and type of data needed to match the complex understanding of stocks and markets that professional traders have ultimately limit what these systems can do. Indeed, the Slashdot entry for the article originally highlighted this terrific quote from Andrew Lo, director of the MIT Laboratory for Financial Engineering: "I'll build a stock market neural network for a couple thousand (you'll just need five thousand years of market data to train it before it actually works)."
Oddly, however, this quote is not in the dead-tree version of the Times in The Browser's office; neither is it currently on the nytimes.com site. The Browser wrote to Times reporter Charles Duhigg to inquire about this discrepancy, and he wrote back: "i have no idea where that supposed second half of the quote came from. Certainly not from anything I wrote, and Lo never said anything like that to me."
Slashdot's Zonk, who initially posted the item Friday morning, acknowledged to The Browser that "Looking through the article again, [the Lo quote] doesn't seem to be there. I'm not sure whether this means it was removed, or the submitter was overzealous with his quotation marks." At approximately 1:45 PM EST, after our Browser item was originally posted, Slashdot changed the entry on its site and removed the non-existent Lo quote.
The Browser accepts that this is an unintentional foul: most likely, a quote from the original story was mixed up with a comment from the person who submitted it. Still, all the more reason to read carefully in the blogosphere.
In search of a Web yardstick
The frighteningly insightful Om Malik addresses a question this week that has been rolling around The Browser's head recently: Why is it so hard to get reliable figures about Web traffic? He specifically goes after Alexa, with some arguments we've heard before (that the Alexa tool bar doesn't capture Firefox users), and some that are new to us (that Alexa apparently goes down for substantial periods, up to a day a month).
But the problem is actually much bigger than that, and has begun to move from the griping stage to something approaching an industry revolt. Anybody who publishes a big site like ours can tell you that there is a massive discrepancy between the audience we measure and the audience reported by professional outfits like Nielsen/NetRatings and comScore Media Metrix - and not a discrepancy, from the publishers' point of view, in the right direction!
On some level, there is a legitimate philosophical debate about what should be measured: Web publishers tend to emphasize page views, mostly because that number comes out sounding really big. By contrast, the yardstick firms focus on unique visitors, arguing that measuring page views brings in all sorts of noise, like counting pop-ups or even pages viewed by robots. It's also worth remembering that arguments about how to properly measure audiences are hardly unique to the Web business.
But there's another dynamic at work here worth thinking about. For all of the arguments about how information wants to be free and how the Web makes our world more transparent, it's pretty ironic that very basic data - like how many people visit which sites - are available only to those willing to pay.
Malik suggests that a kind of consortium of Google (GOOG), Microsoft (MSFT) and Yahoo! (YHOO) could come together to address traffic, an approach that strikes The Browser both as unlikely - too much proprietary info at stake - and oddly corporatist. Web 2.0 advocates in particular like to talk about outside disruptive technologies (think Napster) exploding entire industries; imagine how disruptive it would be to find a technologically sound way of measuring Web audiences, and then making that data freely available. Is anybody working on that?
Dell hell freezes over
Remember Dell Hell? Back in 2005, blogger/pundit Jeff Jarvis had a nasty experience with the computer retailer, and vented on his Buzz Machine blog with some very salty language. Readers responded with infernal rage, and in a short time, Dell (DELL) found itself with a huge PR problem. It didn't stop with Jarvis; entire Web sites were set up for people to come and dump on Dell (we'll come back to that in a minute). The episode is often cited as the first, or best, example of how blogs influence corporate behavior.
The Browser was thinking about all of that last night when Dell beat analysts' expectations and announced healthy third-quarter earnings. The financials were all the more impressive, given Dell's encounters with exploding batteries and the increasing market share of Hewlett-Packard (HPQ). Oh, sure, there were a few things in Dell's SEC filing that might spook shareholders, such as ongoing investigations into the company's accounting practices. But overall, the announcement tends to confirm the analysis from Fortune's David Kirkpatrick a couple months back: Dell's growth overseas is impressive - up 33% in China year-on-year - and augurs a bright future. Even as The Browser writes, Dell stock is burning brighter than a laptop battery, up 10% in early trading.
And so: For all the noise, did Dell Hell really make any dent? There are a few ways of looking at that. One view is that the blogosphere identified a problem with customer service, and Dell fixed it (and indeed, if you look these days at Jarvis's blog, you'd think Dell hired someone to service him alone). Another view, though, is that Dell Hell was largely hype. Yes, there were some customer service nightmares, as with any large retailer, and yes, the nature of social media allows a large number of people who've been burned to find each other and trade their hellish tales. But it's not ultimately surprising that tech-oriented people are going to take out their aggressions on a technology company as opposed, say, to a health-care provider.
More and more The Browser has been thinking that social media sites do not necessarily represent the wisdom of the crowd as much as they do the prejudices, however reasonable, of the technology community. And while perhaps none of these theses are provable, it does seem relevant that at least some of the once-flaming Dell Hell sites are now merely receptacles for spam and porn.
Microsoft and Novell: BFFs no more
Well, that didn't last long. Barely three weeks have passed since archrivals Microsoft (MSFT) and Novell (NOVL) made nice with a historic pact meant to make Linux and Windows work better together. Ever since, there's been nothing but scorn heaped on Novell, which open-source diehards accuse of selling out to Microsoft. Now comes Novell CEO Ron Hovsepian with an "open letter" defending the deal and disputing recent comments from the Microsoft camp declaring victory in its longstanding claim that the Linux operating system violates Microsoft's patents.
You can read Hovsepian's full missive here, and Microsoft's "[we] have agreed to disagree" riposte here. But last week Fortune's Roger Parloff highlighted other problems with the 'patent cooperation' clause of the Novell-Microsoft agreement even before this week's dustup - namely, that the cooperation clause violates the license that underlies Linux.
Needless to say, the whole patent brouhaha now has the blogosphere calling for war. Stephen O'Grady at Tecosystems tells Microsoft, in a post titled "I liked it better when they were just aggressive," to cut out the huffing and puffing and just sue if it thinks it has a case against Linux developers. Meanwhile, Matthew Aslett over at Computer Business World calls on Red Hat to tap into its $1 billion cash reserves and launch a preemptive strike against Microsoft, just as it did three years ago against another Linux challenger, SCO.
The Browser's take? Novell knew full well what it was agreeing to when it included a patent cooperation clause as part of its 'multi-part agreement' with Microsoft and is now back-pedaling fast from the wrath of Linux defenders. As blogger David Berlind notes: Novell agreed to pay Microsoft $40 million as part of their deal, and "has yet to explain why", given its claims that Linux doesn't violate Microsoft patents. Both companies are looking to save face, but this furor too shall die down.
Who's sweeping whom?
Maybe you think, along with Microsoft's Steve Ballmer, that Google paid way too much money for YouTube. And from a strict investment banker's point of view, $1.65 billion, even in Google (GOOG) stock, seems like a huge chunk of change. But you don't have to be as smart as Michael Hirschorn to see that Web video is the driving force behind American media right this second.
The latest piece of evidence is Michael Richards' inexplicably racist eruption at a Los Angeles comedy club last Friday, caught for all eternity by someone who flipped it to TMZ.com. (That site, which the New York Times declared on Monday is the nation's leading entertainment news site, is owned by Time Warner, which also owns CNNMoney.)
As recently as five years ago, a moment like this would have made it into a gossip column in one newspaper in New York or L.A., a publicist would furiously spin behind the scenes, and the incident would be a stain soon forgotten. But now, thanks to nifty phones and the power of Web video, Richards was forced to apologize within 24 hours of the thing being posted online--on network TV during sweeps.
It's not The Browser's job to meditate on the psychological motivation behind any of this (although for the record, we think The Malcontent pretty much nailed it). And our cynical side suspects that Jerry Seinfeld made room on the Letterman show for his old costar partly out of affection, and partly as damage control, lest Richards' spewing interfere with sales of a certain DVD. The point here is that video news now breaks on the Web first, leaving even the biggest networks to scramble to catch up. In and of itself, that's not a business model for YouTube, but it suggests that whomever can build an advertising platform around Web video will be able to host the next generation of Lettermans and Seinfelds.
Time to talk severance for Semel?
Rough day for Yahoo chief Terry Semel. An underling compares the media giant's investment strategy to spreading peanut butter too thin on a slice of bread and suddenly everyone's betting on how long Semel will last. In an "open letter" to Yahoo co-founders Jerry Yang and David Filo, blogger Eric Jackson says it's time for Semel to go since Wall Street doesn't believe in him and neither do his troops. "Let me be clear," writes Jackson, whose real job is management consulting. "If a change is not made now, I think there is substantial risk that the organization will be taken out as a stand-alone firm." Among the potential acquirors, according to Jackson: Microsoft, Comast, Disney....maybe a hedge fund?
If Semel goes after five years at the helm, who will take over? The Wall Street Journal reports Monday that COO Dan Rosensweig and CFO Sue Decker could become co-presidents, but Jackson isn't so sure that's the right answer. Rosensweig, he says, is too closely aligned with Semel and needs to go. Decker, on the other hand, "has huge credibility" with investors and is "well-liked" by Yahoo staffers.
What about Brad Garlinghouse, the senior vice-president who penned the "Peanut Butter Manifesto" calling for a company-wide shake-up? "[A]t this point, I don't see how Semel and Garlinghouse can both remain at Yahoo," writes TechCrunch's Michael Arrington. "From what I'm hearing, Semel may be the one to lose." Arrington says Garlinghouse may have made a very smart power play. Garlinghouse is reportedly now in charge of an internal group reviewing how the specific suggestions made in his manifesto can be implemented. "[W]hen your lieutenants openly question your leadership and are then put in charge of overseeing change," concludes Arrington, "the writing is on the wall."
The Browser has to agree. We thought we'd had enough of big media exits after last week's exodus. But then we checked Yahoo's stock price and, well, it's stuck...again. What do you think? Is it time for Semel to go?
Windows 1.0 hits the big 21
First the iPod turns five, then Windows XP celebrates its fifth. So who's getting cake today? Windows 1.0. The original Microsoft operating system turned 21 years-old on Monday. While it would hard to drum up much enthusiasm for a party - after all, it is Monday and we're trying to save up for Turkey Day - London blogger Everton Blair has given The Browser reason to reflect. His 21 things "you never knew about Windows, Microsoft and Bill Gates" is worth a look. A few nuggets:
What would you call it today?
Hot or not? Yahoo's buyout of 'social contest' site Bix
We've been wondering what Yahoo's been up to. Between the tide of departing executives and ho-hum earnings reports, the online portal hasn't been grabbing a whole lot of happy headlines lately. So we're going to help: Yahoo has snapped sexy startup Bix, whose raison d'etre is "social contests." Less than a year old, Bix allows users to create their own "hot or not" contests, complete with audio and video. Karaoke smack-downs appear to be standard fare. Yahoo exec Bradley Horowitz, who was behind the acquisition, describes the service as "absolutely addictive and absolutely compelling." On his own blog, Horowitz elaborates that Bix fits in to the Yahoo grand plan much like its early-stage acquisitions of Flickr, del.icio.us, Upcoming.org, and Jumpcut: "Imagine where Bix's creativity could go once we scale it to over half a billion people worldwide." Bix boss Mike Speiser, onetime founder of Epinions, will join Yahoo as a Vice President in the "Community, Communications, and Front Door" group. No doubt, Horowitz is pleased to have execs coming in the front door, rather than going out.
Deal terms weren't disclosed, but the best take comes from Matt Marshall at VentureBeat. Marshall calls the acquistion another score for a very particular kind of Silicon Valley investor: "It is yet another win for angel investor Amidzad, the rug merchants who own lots of office property in Palo Alto. They invested in Bix when it moved into their property on Florence Street, and saw a nice profit on this investment, we're told."
Okay, The Browser's ready: Start sending the "bubble warning" comments....
Media shakeup: Calacanis, Levinsohn are out. Who's next?
Wow. What a busy, busy Thursday it was for human resources at two big media giants. Before The Browser had digested our lunch, news leaked that blog-impresario Jason Calacanis, seemingly in mid-stride on his relaunch of Netscape.com, is leaving AOL. Then came reports that Ross Levinsohn is moving out of the executive suite at Fox Interactive Media, apparently to pursue unspecified independent ventures.
News of the Calacanis departure, appropriately enough, was broken by a blog. Calacanis is strangely quiet, although he did change the "No Comment" to "Yes, it's true..." on his own blog. The short of it seems to be that when AOL CEO Jon Miller was ousted, Calacanis no longer felt a strong need to stick around. Famously smart and abrasive, it's also possibly that nobody else felt a strong desire to keep him around. The long story, of course, will come out eventually.
The Miller angle sounds plausible, though, as Calacanis on Wednesday publicly lamented Miller's pink slip: "Today was a very sad day for me," he wrote. "One of the few mentors I've had in my life, Jon Miller, was replaced as CEO of AOL." As to this show of emotion, Gawker Media's Nick Denton - now on Valleywag beat after he booted the gossip site's editor - commented: "...touching, but not very politic, to describe the outgoing boss as a mentor, quite so publicly, unless you're planning to quit anyway under the new regime." Denton then predicts Calacanis is headed back to his roots in startup land. "He'll be loud, infuriating -- and probably, irritatingly, successful."
At Fox, it's a tale of two Levinsohns. Out goes Ross, the man who scored MySpace for Rupert Murdoch, and in comes his cousin, Peter Levinsohn. As president of digital media at Fox, Cousin Peter previously did boring things like negotiate "revenue sharing" deals with Fox affiliates. Om Malik, who profiled Levinsohn in Business 2.0 magazine this year, was on top of the news early:
Our sources say that Ross Levinsohn is planning to start a new kind of media operation, and there is considerable interest (and funding) for whatever his plans might be. We are also hearing from fairly reliable sources that Levinsohn plans to raise this money and buy-and-aggregate an online media property of high traffic sites.The moral of the story? It wouldn't be 'new media' if things didn't change fast.
The elephant has left the building
Fortune's Jeffrey O'Brien writes:
Any of the thousand-or-so people who showed up at TechNet's annual Innovation Summit yesterday expecting a meaningful discussion about the effect of the recent election on the tech biz went home sorely disappointed. Instead, the event (which took place at Stanford University and doubled as a live taping of the Charlie Rose show), only underscored how little Silicon Valley cares about politics.
Most of the four-hour affair involved Rose lobbing softballs to his guests, who he repeatedly referred to as "friends." Those friends used the forum to hammer on the bipartisan political action committee's usual wishlist: immigration/visa policy, R&D tax credits, and education reform. The only new wrinkle came in the investment community's latest cause celebre, green technology. The organization officially unveiled a "Green Technologies initiative" to generate an action plan for government policy makers, a clear road map for how green technology can be best put to use to solve the world's energy crisis.
There's no one better in the Valley to tout the promise of a new premise than uber-VC and TechNet founder John Doerr. Doerr was his usual well-prepared, articulate self, hyping the next great already over-hyped trend. On a panel with Sun's Scott McNealy and KR Sridhar, CEO of the Kleiner-funded Bloom Energy, Doerr said a perfect storm of forces is convening on "what could be the largest economic opportunity of this century." From lefty tree-huggers to holier-than-thou evangelicals, everyone is recognizing the dangers of global warming and dependence on foreign oil. And they better, Doerr added: "In a half century, Manhattan could be under water."
Doerr was the best of the lot. McNealy, who wore his patented Sun Microsystems (SUNW) white oxford, seemed to think the point of the show was to tout his company's super-fast, energy-saving servers as Rose nodded along. Sridhar, a NASA alum and expert on Mars who now runs the secretive Bloom Energy, seemed there mainly to fill in the technical gaps for Doerr. Following the green panel, Rose cooed along with Bill Gates and then eventually gave way to the Governator, who put the perfect cap on the event by talking for 15 minutes and saying absolutely nothing.
Apple iPhone: The drum roll begins?
Nothing titillates the Apple faithful more than rumors of an impending Apple-made cell phone. The rumor mill has been grinding about this for years, and it's cranking up fast this week. First, Apple trademarked the "iPhone" name in October. Then, on Wednesday, the Red Herring reported, via a UBS analyst report, that Jobs & Co. have ordered 12 million iPhones from Taiwanese manufacturer Hon Hai Precision, also known as Foxconn. The Herring, along with Business 2.0 blogger Paul Sloan, then predicted that Apple could make the killer announcement at Macworld in January. Sloan even posted an image of what the iPhone might look like. The blog consensus seems to be that with music moving to cell phones, Apple's got to act to avoid cannibalizing iPod sales. Clearly, Jobs isn't getting sidetracked by Microsoft's new Zune....
AOL bets that money buys Web 2.0 love
Jason Calacanis is turning up the heat again in his assault on the social news space. You'll recall that Calacanis, a dot.com-refugee-turned-blogger-impresario, re-launched Netscape.com this summer in the image of Digg, the pioneer of community-filtered news headlines, and later said the AOL site would, gasp, pay $1,000 a month to its top contributors.
The catcalls that followed were loud and fast: how dare Calacanis, the blogosphere raged, introduce cash into the communitarian ethos of Web 2.0? But, armed with his Time Warner budget and desperate to make AOL cool again, Calacanis is only adding more fuel to the fire. On Wednesday, he hired seven new "navigators," as he calls them, several whom appear to be defecting from prominent "roles" at Digg and smaller rival Reddit. As usual, Calacanis seized the opportunity to do some trash talking:
The concept of the global Internets (and Interwebs and associated series of tubes) is that anyone can make their own version of the world. In our version of the world people get paid for their work, it digg's they get recognition.Calacanis' taunting apparently has met with a deafening silence on Digg and Reddit. And, according to Techcrunch, Calcanis resigned on Thursday. But a few relatively-unknown blogs seem sympathetic to his vision of mixing capitalism with Web media: Pakistani blogger Muhammed Saleem, who has been following the saga, decides that Calacanis' "farm team" analogy is off, and suggests that Netscape's recruiting is akin to a pro sports draft. "The top social bookmarkers (at Digg, Reddit, and Netscape) along with non-social bookmarking bloggers essentially become the draft pool for Calacanis & Co.," Mu writes. "Since no one is competing with them to draft, Netscape gets to name the terms and have their 'pick of the litter.'" Meanwhile, the blog Quick Online Tips meekly adds: "I believe many such top users will be tempted to opt for Netscape and still enjoy doing what they like and get paid for it."
What's next? "Will Wiki for Cash?" Ah, you laugh now....
Second Life's attack of the clones
What happens when the virtual world meets the Xerox machine? Chaos.
That's what took place in Second Life this week. Second Life, for the uninitiated, is a virtual world created by startup Linden Lab that is unlike most of the fantasy-oriented games you might have heard of. In SL, as it's known, people create online environments and objects and - in true capitalist fashion - buy and sell them like crazy. Linden Lab makes its money by issuing the virtual currency that its users need to shop.
But since virtual objects are just bits and bytes, they're vulnerable to copying, and new software called Copybot has made such copying easier to do. Copybot's debut enraged sellers on Second Life, and Linden Lab's first response - to deliver a lecture about how copyright violations aren't "theft" - didn't go over well. More than 200 sellers closed their virtual stores in protest.
Linden quickly changed its tune, however, noting that copying objects without permission wasn't just a violation of copyright, it was also a violation of SL's terms of service. The company now promises to kick off any user who engages in such behavior.
But there's little technically that Linden Lab can do to stop the copying, points out Programmer Tao Takashi. Encryption and digital rights management aren't good options, since they're easy to crack and annoy users. At Theory.isthereason, graduate student Kevin Lim says the whole Copybot episode reminds him of Star Trek's replicator, which destroyed the Federation's capitalist economy by making physical goods endlessly available. A scary thought - but Second Life's creative traders will surely find a way to live long and prosper, no matter what.
Guess what? Zune can't run on Vista
You'd have to be living under a rock not to know that Microsoft is in the midst of two big product launches - the Zune MP3 player and the Windows Vista operating system. Apparently the programmers behind Vista and Zune have been living under their respective rocks - because the Zune is incompatible with Vista, longtime Microsoft watcher Mary Jo Foley reports. Talk about the left hand not knowing what the right hand is coding.
Scott Erickson, a senior director for product management at Microsoft, told News.com that the company hopes to have the Zune compatible with Vista by the end of the month, when Vista's business edition becomes available. If they miss that date, he expects a Vista-compatible version of Zune's software by January 30, when the consumer edition of Vista rolls out.
What happened here? Blame the ongoing delays with Vista, which was only released to manufacturing - a key, final step - last week. That's hardly enough time for the Zune coders to test and update their software against the final version of Vista. Still, you'd think that Microsoft could have gotten more cooperation going between its platforms and entertainment divisions to have Zune be Vista-compatible from the get-go. It's hard to imagine Apple, even though it divided itself into iPod and Mac divisions more than two years ago, not coordinating software updates between the iPod, iTunes, and Mac OS X.
Oh, the irony: YouTube, the victim?
Here's what, in the journalism world, we call a "man bites dog story": YouTube, fresh from its $1.65 billion sale to Google and the subject of unending complaints that its video-sharing site enables rampant piracy, is now claiming it's the victim of copyright infringement.
Huh, you say? That's exactly what TechCrunch, the target of YouTube's ire, is asking. Michael Arrington disclosed today that he'd received a 'cease and desist' letter from lawyers at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati - arguably Silicon Valley's most powerful law firm and the former home of Google general counsel David Drummond. This legal slap comes on the eve of a big TechCrunch show in New York; talk about party pooping.
The letter - roughly translated as 'if you don't stop doing this we're going to haul your ass into court' - is full of legalese that makes The Browser's head spin. Luckily, Arrington sets us straight: "The offense we committed was creating a small tool that lets people download YouTube videos to their hard drives" - say, your iPod.
Arrington's sophisticated response: "Well, crap." He says he didn't do anything wrong, but adds that he'll probably remove the offending tool anyway.
The Browser's two cents? Now that it's under the Google umbrella, YouTube's adopting a tried-and-true strategy in corporate America: Offense is usually the best defense.
No sweet music for Zune in blog-land
Don't have anything nice to say? Review Microsoft's Zune MP3 player, released Tuesday. At least that seems to be the blogosphere's general rule as Microsoft's bid for cool gets a frosty reception. Engadget doesn't mince words: Installing the Zune, "sucked", causing the reviewer's top-of-the-line Media Center PC to crash several times. It then took the critic another 20 minutes to load the program on another PC. That's not all Engadget griped about: The registration process was arbitrarily complex, requiring too much personal information and demanding that the user create both a Zune "tag" and a Windows Live ID.
Apple Matters - obviously, not the most objective of sources - deftly rips apart the absurd complexity of Zune Marketplace's pricing, which requires users to buy Microsoft "Points" - about 1.25 cents apiece - and then convert prices from Points to dollars. Maybe math comes easy to Redmond residents with computer-science degrees, but what were they thinking? People struggle to calculate tips on dinner!
Gizmodo's Brian Lam says the brown Zune looks like "swamp water Jell-O." Ouch! Tech blogger Siddiq Bello also mentions the brown color - one of three options - as one of 10 reasons the Zune will flop.
Digg readers, meanwhile, went for the jugular and openly mocked the photos that appear throughout the Zune software-installation process. Asks one, presumably rhetorically: "I'm assuming by the photos of the hipsters on the install screens that the Zune is meant to be used almost exclusively by white kids in their early 20s with MTV-approved haircuts?"
Gawker Media boots Valleywag gossip
Heads rolled yesterday at Valleywag, the Silicon Valley gossip site that blog king Gawker Media launched earlier this year. Actually, The Browser slightly exaggerates: One head rolled - that of Nick Douglas, Valleywag's founding editor. Apparently, the Valley has a limited appetite for salaciousness and Douglas, all of 22 years-old, overindulged.
Gawker Media founder and publisher Nick Denton timed the ousting to coincide with a new design for the site. He also posted a Help Wanted plea for a new editor - "someone with, ideally, some background in reporting," wrote Denton. Meanwhile, Denton has anointed himself the new, more puritan-like Nick. Why the staffing change? Douglas dug up too much gossip for the geeks. "I suspect we're going to tone down the personal coverage of civilians," wrote Denton, "because they haven't done anything to seek out attention, and their personal lives aren't that interesting. Unless they are. Anyway, more money, a little less sex: that is Valleywag's new gossip mantra."
Naturally, a gaggle of tech blogs are salivating at the news. "Valleywag, now with less wag," quipped Good Morning Silicon Valley. "Word is," whispered Venture Beat, "Wired is looking at him, for potential hire." SiliconValley Watcher, for its part was magnanimous toward the axed editor: "Nick Douglas did a fine job with ValleyWag although by the time he left he had burnt quite a few bridges/contacts." One thought for publisher Denton: maybe the reason Valleywag has not commanded quite the mindshare of the other Gawker properties is simply that the supply of tech blogs far outstrips the demand...
Sun, Dell, and IBM search for life on Second Life
What is it about virtual worlds that so captivates techies? Could it be that the real world isn't working out that well for them?
That certainly would explain why, over two days this week, Sun, Dell, and IBM have made company announcements in Second Life, drawing howls of complaints from busy journalists who object to having to install 3D software just to watch PR people fly around as avatars.
The Browser could join them and go on and on about how awful this trend is, but we'll keep it short. All of these companies are trying to reach influential tech buyers with busy schedules. And if you have time to have a Second Life, you probably don't have much of a first one.
Is Microsoft censoring Zune bloggers?
Microsoft (MSFT), awkward and heavy-handed? Say it isn't so! Rocketboom's Andrew Baron claims that Microsoft tried to get him to agree not to disparage the company or its Zune MP3 player as part of an advertising deal on the popular videoblog. "I have been losing sleep over it and decided this is just not going to be right for Rocketboom," writes Baron on his personal blog, and goes on to confess his undying love for Apple (AAPL) and his feeling that Microsoft had "taken advantage of" him. Browser is trying to get a response from Microsoft; we'll update when we hear back.
Tech blogger James Robertson says that Baron is "'burning [his] bridges' ... dynamiting them, actually." But Robert Scoble disagrees, saying he would have declined the Zune sponsorship deal, too. "You define yourself and your business by the customers you fire," he writes.
Why all the fuss? Microsoft wanted to place a Zune logo on the sites where it advertised, and the logo came with a restrictive agreement, which reads in part: "You may not display the Logo(s) on any site that disparages Microsoft or its products or services, infringes any Microsoft intellectual property or other rights, or violates any state, federal or international law." It's more likely that a hyperactive lawyer rather than a scheming media control freak wrote that contract, but one way or another, Microsoft seriously goofed by sending out agreements with that language to free-speech-minded bloggers.
Michael Wolff returns to the Net, with instant gaffe
When the Browser read Valleywag's report that Michael Wolff was thinking about an Internet startup, we reloaded the page. Twice. After determining that it wasn't a server glitch, we checked the calendar. Was this 1995? No, still 2006.
Wolff, the founder of Wolff New Media, chronicled the utter debacle of his '90s-era startup in Burn Rate, a book that savagely critiqued the Internet industry. Any reader of that broadside would have thought Wolff had had enough of the business. But apparently, Wolff is now in talks with Barry Diller's InterActiveCorp about starting a new Internet company. "I'm too old for social media. I've been talking to [IAC executive Michael Jackson] and others about a news idea," Wolff wrote in an email to Valleywag.
That comment alone suggests that Wolff is in for a repeat of the clueless flailing of his first Internet startup. News isn't social media? Tell that to Digg's Kevin Rose or AOL's Jason Calacanis. With newspapers in decline, local TV broadcasters starting to get worried, and bloggers starting to make serious money, it's hard to see how Wolff will be able to avoid the world of social media.
Ah well. With Wolff's track record so well-documented, Diller & Co. won't be able to see they hadn't been warned.
The Gray Lady says 'Web 3.0' and the blogosphere snarls
New York Times writer John Markoff made a big blogosphere blunder when he wrote Sunday about the future of artificial intelligence on the Internet and dubbed it "Web 3.0." Web pundits had a field day, rejecting the new term and sniffing at Markoff's underlying premise. "I've done more than 50 interviews in the past three months and collected hundreds of business cards and I've NEVER heard anyone talking about Web 3.0," writes Robert Scoble.
And what about Markoff's claim that computers will get smarter in their ability to read users intentions? "The idea of the Semantic Web has been around since 1999," writes Valleywag. "Why is The Times treating it as new? For the same reason that the Times put Burning Man afterparties on the Styles section cover: It sells papers." Ouch.
For his part, blogger Greg Linden saw in Markoff's Web 3.0 article a dangerous trend towards over-hyping immature technology: "AI researchers, do not overpromise and underdeliver again. Cut out the 'Web 3.0' hype. Let's be realistic. Even without the chimerical Holy Grail of AI, we can help people find and discover what they need." OK, so it's been a rough Monday....After a long week at the Web 2.0 Summit, maybe the pundits aren't ready to hear spin about a threequel.
"Hit hos," meet the blog pimps
Will bloggers ever catch a break? First they're accused of being "hit hos," more concerned with pageviews than with quality. Now Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has weighed in with the charge of "blog pimping":
In the Blogosphere, self promotion is out of control. Self Diggin', Slashdotting and Deliciousizing are pretty much par for the course, but more prevalent is the new habit of writing about whatever the top story is on the aggregation sites. If it's at the top of Techmeme, there are a core of bloggers that you know are going to write about the top ranking story. Why? Because then your blog gets listed under the top of mind, top of page topic. Which leads to more traffic. Thats BlogPimpin'.
We're shocked, shocked that Mark Cuban, founder of Broadcast.com, would make such an accusation. Here at The Browser, we'd never do that. Cuban goes on to write:
There are people who no matter what I write about technology, will write about it. There are others that no matter what I write about stocks or the market, will comment on it. The same with movies, copyright and sports. Why? Because when people search on my name, or for my blog, on sites like Icerocket.com and technorati, their blogs will show up.
Just one word for you, Cuban: Bal. Der. Dash.
Microsoft to Vista hackers: Bring it on!
Microsoft's Jim Allchin is talking mighty tough to hackers eager to crack Vista, BetaNews reports. The extent of his bravado? You can run Windows Vista without antivirus software, he boasts, thanks to a new trick that randomizes the location of PC system files. (Many viruses rely on system files being located in the same spot on every Windows PC. With Vista, that's no longer the case; those files will be stored in random locations that vary from PC to PC, thanks to something called Address Space Layout Randomization.)
While Microsoft is hyping Vista's new security features as a selling point - and Allchin's comments are part and parcel of that marketing campaign - Allchin is violating a fundamental tenet of security: Never wave a red flag in front of hackers' faces. You're just asking for trouble.
Hyping this particular feature is an especially bad idea: Security researchers have already found vulnerabilities in Vista's ASLR technology. Microsoft's Michael Howard counters that researchers haven't found a weakness at all: it's an intentional design feature. Allowing too much randomness, he says, would make the system unstable. But a commenter on Howard's blog points out that the security compromise could be easily defeated with a "brute-force" attack if hackers used thousands of infected PCs to check every possible location for files.
What next? The Best of SMS?
Media outfits just love lists. Readers devour them. Advertisers eagerly sponsor them. Somehow, then, it doesn't seem so surprising that blogs have discovered "Best of" lists too. Case in point: FierceVoIP has a list of the "Top 15 VoIP companies of 2006." And, in true media fashion, the list is full of surprises: You won't see Internet telephony giants Skype or Vonage. Since the former is owned by eBay and the latter is now publicly-traded, they don't meet the blog's up-and-comer qualifying rule. Instead you'll find obscure names like Iotum and Airvana, startups that promise to let you do things with VoIP that you didn't know you needed. Like keep a single phone number for life, or consolidate all your voicemail accounts.
The Browser hadn't heard of most winners so don't be embarrassed if you don't recognize many either (one we did know about, Jajah, was featured in Business 2.0 in September). Even specialty blog VoIP Now cops to some ignorance: "I'll be honest - I've only heard of about half of the companies on Dan's list. I guess I have some reading to do." On the other hand, there are others who seem to think the list is painfully short. "I'm sure narrowing it down to just 15 was tough and as a result some good VoIP players will inevitably be left out in the cold," writes the VoIP and Gadgets Blog.
OK, here's the simple takeaway (think Ross Perot as you read this): You don't need to know what these companies do, you just need to know that there's enough of them to make a Top 15 list worthwhile! Not to mention a whole ecosystem of VoIP blogs (did we mention TheVoIPGirl.com?) Don't let anyone tell you different: VoIP is coming on strong.
Apple gives 'Mac guy' the boot
Radar Online says Justin Long, the nerdtacular star of Dodgeball and Galaxy Quest, will no longer play the "Mac guy" in new Apple commercials. John Hodgman, the geeky "PC" in those same commercials, however, has signed on for more ads.
The problem with the ads? Hodgman, as the PC, is more likeable than Long's hipster Mac. Here's the Browser's bet: We're going to see Hodgman make the switch to the Mac side in a new series of ads. And we're already picturing the first one, coming out as Microsoft launches its new operating system in January: Hodgman walks onscreen and says, "Hasta la Vista, baby."
Oops! Dell coughs up Windows refund to Linux fan
LinuxWorld reports on a rare incident: A Dell customer got a refund on the copy of Windows preinstalled on his laptop.
Dave Mitchell, a systems administrator who lives in the U.K., got a $105 check from Dell after laboriously documenting his refusal of the user-license agreement required to run Windows. Dell spokeswoman Anne Camden later tried to clarify matters, but just muddied the waters in follow-up comments to LinuxWorld: "It appears this was a unique response for a customer based on the individual circumstances of the customer's experience and request. Dell does not have an official program that accommodates the return of the operating system."
In other words, it looks like someone at Dell U.K. goofed. Not only did that staffer not follow normal procedures, but he or she also appears to have overpaid big-time. The $105 refund is 50% more than the average cost of a Windows license, and analysts believe that the price that Dell pays to Microsoft for a basic version of the operating system like Windows XP Home - the version installed on Mitchell's laptop - is closer to $50. No wonder PC makers find it simpler - and cheaper - to just keep on bundling Windows on PCs.
At Google NYC, partying like it's...2006
The Browser checked out Google's new 300,000 square foot HQ in Manhattan's chic Chelsea neighborhood yesterday. The quick take? Think Port Authority (NYC's main bus terminal) meets lava lamp with an open bar.
The occasion for our visit was NY Tech Meetup, the increasingly buzz-worthy monthly event that Meetup.com CEO Scott Heiferman started two years ago. It was a sellout crowd (250 spots at $5 apiece), despite potential competition from the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco and, of course, any number of post-election celebrations in Democrat-oozing Manhattan. The NY Tech Meetup drill: Heiferman gives five presenters five minutes each to pitch their tech-related company or product. (Last night's contestants included author Allison Fine, Jennifer Houser of Motionbox, Jane Boone of Prosper.com, Google engineer Joel Webber, and a self-described "brain machine interface" researcher who pitched his "RoboRat.") Afterwards, a sea of scruffy techies mingled with gray hairs in pin stripes. Heiferman - the Phil Donahue of the tech world - ended the festivities with a rousing: "We are the NY tech community, and let's keep it going!"
In 1999, a gathering like this would probably have been thinking IPO. (Anyone remember First Tuesday? Guess what: That's back too.) But this is 2006. Everyone's so much smarter now...and, naturally, Heiferman's chief concern is how much Google love to accept. "They've offered to host all [NY Tech Meetup gigs]," he said, eyeing the crowd helping themselves to free chips, wine and beer. "But you can sort of feel the death star approaching. It's like they'll be able to watch the company presentations and just say, I'll take that one, and that one, and that one...."
New iPod Shuffle's clip draws rants, raves
Every time Apple comes out with a new iPod, complaints ensue: The case smudges. The screen scratches. Is there no pleasing you, people?
Apparently not. You'd think the new 2GB iPod Shuffle would be so minimal as to be damage-proof, but some Shuffle users have already found a problem, AppleInsider reports: If you drop your shuffle, the aluminum clip can get seriously dented. The Shuffle will still play music fine, but the bent clip can prevent you from fitting the MP3 player into its dock for charging and synching.
Until Apple takes the next logical step to prevent this kind of incident - merging the Shuffle into a set of headphones - there's always BuzzLogic cofounder Jeffrey Glover's solution to where to clip your Shuffle. Ouch.
Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Glover
Space Wars: Microsoft vs. Google
The war for virtual Earth intensified yesterday as Microsoft released the next version of its Virtual Earth. In the latest release, dubbed "Spaceland," Microsoft layers three-dimensional, photo-quality images over street maps. 3D photo-imagery has been available for some time, notably in Google Earth, but it had not yet been integrated into a daily product with yellow-pages-like utility. (Google Earth and the more pedestrian Google Maps remain separate products. The former requires an application download, while the latter works with a browser.)
Redmond isn't wasting time peddling Spaceland to advertisers: "The first 15 cities shown in their full three-dimensional glory are peppered with billboards," reports the MIT Advertising Lab. Floating billboards aside, critics are raving about Spaceland. "Every once in a while, Microsoft does something right," comments one Slashdot reader, while the O'Reilly Radar calls the software "quite beautiful." CNET makes the point that "users can "fly" over cities and in between buildings just like they do in virtual-reality environments like the online 3D world of Second Life." Worried about getting lost on the way to Grandma's house? Follow the virtual road first.
Naturally, there are complaints. Virtual Earth, for instance, works only with Internet Explorer. The Advertising Lab also warns users to load up on "a couple of hefty plug-ins, .NET 2.0, and a fairly powerful computer." So is Google quaking? Sniffs Google Earth Blog: "With all the limitations (IE, XP SP2, plug-in, etc.) I don't really see this as a big threat to Google Earth...If you are a Microsoft devotee, I guess you will be happy. But, if you are a Mac/Linux/Firefox/Opera type - forget it." Let the mapping wars go on!
Best Buy dumps junk PCs on Thanksgiving shoppers
First Wal-Mart cut PC prices well ahead of the annual post-Thanksgiving discount wars. Now comes Best Buy, one of the first to have its Black Friday ad leaked online.
Admittedly, The Browser is tempted by the price cuts, available from 5 a.m. to noon on the day after Thanksgiving. We've already put the $399 Toshiba DLP projector on the holiday wish list. But there are a few Best Buy deals we're stearing clear of, like the $180 E-Machines desktop PC. The machine normally sells for $500. which makes the offer sounds like a steal, but there's a reason Best Buy is eager to unload this model at dirt-cheap prices. The processor's an antique, and the machine will struggle to run the most bare-bones version of the upcoming Windows Vista. Our recommendation: This is a PC that no sane consumer not in the grips of Black Friday doorbuster fever would touch in a million years. You'd be better off spending your holiday dollars to upgrade the computer you've already got.
A modern revolution, SMS-style
How's this for a "disruptive" technology in action? In Malaysia, an anonymous group of provocateurs this week managed to stir up a national crisis using SMS. Agence France Presse reports that widely-circulated text messages spread the rumor that some Muslims would be baptised as Christians in the country's northern region. Conversion is a hot-button issue in Malaysia, notes the AFP. "Muslims are not allowed to convert."
The Malaysian government has pledged to prosecute the activists under the country's tough Internal Security Act. "The SMS caused a lot of uneasiness among the Muslim community, and this is not good for the security of a country which has various races and religions," said a government security minister to the New Straits Times. The Western Resistance blog has picked up the story, noting that the penalty under law is three years imprisonment and up to $1,350 in fines.
That's alot more than the 10 cents The Browser used to pay T-Mobile for a text message. Perhaps that's the lesson here: When communication is inexpensive enough, people make their voices heard.
Comcast attempts to launch YouTube clone
If your cable TV has ever gone on the fritz, then you're familiar with how committed cable companies are (hah!) to quality service. One major cable operator - Comcast - apparently is just as reliable on the Web.
Take the botched launch of Ziddio.com, Comcast's would-be competitor to YouTube. Comcast announced the service last week, but the press release suddenly vanished from BusinessWire. Why? Looks like the website wasn't ready for prime time.
The site is up and running now, and it looks slick. Empty too. Comcast is hoping to solicit videos by running contests for devoted groups like Star Wars fans. But why would any Star Wars fan upload a video to Ziddio when there are already, at last count, 22,582 Star Wars-related videos on YouTube?
Even Ziddio's creators seem to admit they've got a bad case of YouTube envy: Take a close look at this Ziddio promotional video, where "Lonelyguy35" explains how the site works. Doesn't it look like it's been uploaded to YouTube? Maybe it's a spoof - or maybe, given Comcast's glitchy launch, Ziddio wasn't ready when "Lonelyguy35" filmed the clip.
MSN Music: Leaving so Zune?
Just two years ago, Bill Gates promised a crowd in Los Angeles that Microsoft's MSN Music store would bring them freedom:
"Today, the dream of digital entertainment becomes a reality. People want to choose how and where they enjoy their digital media, and to easily customize their digital entertainment experiences."But freedom's just another word for no songs left to lose. As of next week, Microsoft is shutting down its MSN Music store, BBC News reports - and songs purchased on that store won't play on Microsoft's new Zune player.
Of course, it's not clear how many people will really feel that as a loss. As of May - when the most recent figures were released - MSN Music had a measly 3 percent of the digital-download market, according to NPD Group. Apple's believed to have an 80 percent share of the market through iTunes - and with the Zune, Microsoft's hoping to get a slice of Apple's pie.
Adobe gives Mozilla a big holiday gift
For a mostly virtual crowd, web media cognoscenti have a voracious appetite for real world encounters. This week's hot ticket, the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco, has drawn some biggies, such as Jeff Bezos, Barry Diller, and Mark Benioff. It's also already produced one notable announcement: Adobe will contribute key source code from its Flash player to the open source Mozilla foundation. The win-win idea here is that Mozilla will integrate Flash into its Firefox web-browser, upgrading the software while assuring Flash of ever-wider distribtution. Other nifty news may be forthcoming, and the full contingent of conference bloggers - Joi Ito, GigaOm, TechCrunch, and the rest - are sure to keep us all instantly informed.
Geeks to Microsoft: Size matters!
Goodbye Halo, hello "South Park." Microsoft has announced that Xbox 360 gamers will soon be able to watch downloaded TV shows and movies from the all-new Xbox Live Network on their consoles. Tech bloggers and gamers generally like the idea, but they're skeptical too - about storage capacity and Microsoft's proposed fix to the copyright protection problem.
First, the storage issue: On Digg, users pronounce the current 20 gigabyte hard drives insufficient for movie downloading. "I think they're *obligated* to come out with a bigger HDD now," comments one Digger. Adds another: "Unless they release a bigger HD this will be worthless."
Not to fear, counters Gizmodo: A 70 gigabyte Xbox 360 hard drive appears to be in the works: "If the timing is to coincide with the new download service, we're talking about seeing these things before Q4 is up."
Still, bigger drives aren't going to address another techie gripe about the new movie service: Microsoft's 24-hour rental period, which is presumably meant to placate anti-piracy honchos in Hollywood. "Ok, you rent the movie and then have 14 days to watch it (no problem there)," complains one Digger. "But once you start it, you only have 24 hours to view it. Huh? If I goto Blockbuster, i can watch a movie 10 times if I want during the rental period. So this is basically a "one view" rental unless you watch it more than once in that 24 hour period." The Browser doesn't completely follow this logic, but we get the point: Time restrictions on movie watching is backward in a NetFlix world.
Finally, there's the Zune question: "I'd love to see Microsoft integrate this store with the Zune Marketplace, but for now this is an Xbox-only product," laments PVR Wire. Score one for the Apple iTunes-iPod combo, say the early adopters. But Microsoft has the edge on another point: Unlike the Apple setup, when it comes to xBox downloads, "you can actually watch them on a television. To the average consumer, watching your downloaded movies and tv shows on a television is a huge advantage." True enough.
Let's see....The score at the bottom of the first inning? Jobs 1, Ballmer 1, Bezos 1, Sony 1/2. Close game.
Self-proclaimed "online activist" Daniel Brandt, creator of the Google Watch and Wikipedia Watch websites, has a new bone to pick with Wikipedia: plagiarism. Brandt claims he's found 142 examples of material copied from other sources.
The Sydney Morning Herald examines the controversy and concludes that Brandt's accusations are overstated. Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, reviewed the list and said that some questionable passages are in the public domain. In other cases, Wikipedia itself is the original source of material that was copied elsewhere on the Web. But there were genuine cases of plagiarism on Brandt's list, and Wikipedia editors are reviewing those instances and all other Wikipedia contributions made by the now-suspect authors.
Is plagiarism acceptable on a free-for-all website written and edited by anyone with an Internet connection? Of course not, but policing such a mammoth encylopedia is hard. One suggestion for Wikipedia's volunteer editors? Enforce the requirement that all statements posted be attributed to a source. At least that will make cases of plagiarism instantly obvious.
The new way for startups to sell out
Want to sell your startup? Forget the eBay auction - that's so August. Try posting a notice on your blog, as Ryan Carson did at Bare Naked App, and let the offers to roll in. Carson is looking to sell DropSend, a file-transfer service that one reviewer calls "the answer to your data transfer prayers."
Who knows if selling Dropsend will be the answer to Carson's financial prayers. Carson claims DropSend is profitable and requires only 10 minutes a day to maintain, which begs the question why he's selling in the first place. Carson explains on his blog that "DropSend could be even more successful if someone focused 100% of their attention on it....It’s like having a racing horse that has the potential to win the Grand National, and never taking it out to run." DropSend charges users up to $99 a month, so there must be some consumer demand for file-transfer services. And Carson promises details of DropSend's financials soon.
Without hard numbers, it's hard to evaluate Carson's sellout bid. But in principle, we like it a lot better than the notion of trying to manage two or three companies at once, as some startup founders are now trying to do. Selling businesses you're neglecting is the sensible response to attention-deficit-disorder entrpreneurialism. Once you're bored with a startup, flip it and forget it.
Kramer out at CBS Digital
Is CBS gearing up for a shopping spree? That's what media pundits are wondering now that Larry Kramer, the founder of MarketWatch and, until now, the chief of all things digital at CBS, is out of a job. He's more or less being replaced by 35-year-old Quincy Smith, a veteran tech media dealmaker who will be boss of a the newly-created CBS Interactive, reporting directly to CBS Corp. boss Leslie Moonves.
By all accounts, the changing of the guard is a friendly one. "I knew there were a set number of things that I wanted to accomplish, that there would be stages after that," Kramer told The Hollywood Reporter. "I wasn't sure if I wanted to be involved or not (in those future stages)."
The substitution of Smith, most recently at Allen & Co., for company-builder Kramer suggests that CBS sees its future growth in mergers and acquisitions rather than the messy business of from-scratch product development. (More than one observer notes that the switch comes just a few months after Tom Freston was relieved of his duties at Viacom in favor of private equity honcho Phillipe Dauman.) On that point, Mr. Smith is sending some mixed signals. He tells Reuters: "I'm actually pretty excited about the opportunity of continuing on the great platform, or collection of sites, we've aggregated already - To be more of a build place (as in build-it-ourselves rather than buy)." Yet he also tells Marketwatch's Bambi Francisco that "he plans to be 'much more proactive making acquisitions across the board.'" And apparently the marching orders from Moonves are to "find the next YouTube."
We're going with Bambi's take on this one: Organic growth is tough for old media companies. Look for the Allen & Co. influence to assert itself....
Who says newspapers are dead? Not Google.
The New York Times reports morning that Google has begun testing the use of AdWords, its online ad auction system, to sell print ads in newspapers around the country. The extension of AdWords to newspaper ads is not unexpected. The search giant has long said that it intends to become a clearing house for ad sales across all media, and in August it began a pilot project selling ads into a handful of tech trade mags. The current trial involves 50 major newspapers.
But the news is an inflection point on an evolution that once would have been difficult to imagine, and its hard to decide what's the more surprising: the weakened state of the once-mighty newspaper industry, or the prospect of a high-flying Internet search engine showing any interest at all in grubby, penny-ante newspaper ads... Never inclined to miss a news item that affords them the chance to talk about Google while also beating up on old media, the bloggers are out in force. "Is it a good idea?" asks Jeff Jarvis at BuzzMachine. "Of course, it is. It is an idea the newspaper industry should have taken on itself 10, no 20 [years] ago." John Battelle mainly agrees, though he offers a glimmer of hope for the print sales reps just now coming to work: "Print advertising is a maddeningly 'human' business, driven by passion, emotion, and gut feeling. I'm not sure that's ever going to go away," Battelle writes, arguing that the new Google system will not usurp the big ticket brand advertisers in print. Instead, Battelle sees AdWords "working well for remnant/backfill, as well as classifieds, where I'm guessing the system will really excel." At paidContent.org, Rafat Ali hits on an interesting, somewhat insider point: "though Google executives dismiss the notion, Google Print Ads could reduce the role long played by media-buying agencies by essentially offering advertisers a mechanism to deal directly with print publishers." For the record, despite all the industry's troubles, print advertising in newspapers remains a $48 billion market, so there's still lot's of disruption left to go.
Comcast's new DVR? 'Like a 1972 Gran Torino'
You know the old saying about two hunters chased by a bear? One sees a bear and takes off at a fast clip. The other says, "You'll never be able to outrun a bear!" And the first one replies, "I don't have to outrun the bear, I have to outrun you!"
That pretty much sums up TiVo's situation these days. Sure, the device is expensive, and people don't like its new remote control. But all TiVo has to do to win the DVRs war is suck less than the competition. Comcast, for one, appears to be making that incredibly easy for TiVo. John Battelle, author of "The Search" and a contributor to Business 2.0, writes a vitriolic report on how awful Comcast's high-def DVR is.
How does Battelle define awful?
"... the damn thing is slow - beyond unresponsive. There's no way you can accurately predict where and when the thing might stop and start when you are fast forwarding or rewinding. The Tivo is like an Audi, but the Comcast drives like a 1972 Gran Torino Station wagon. And the remote? My God, what a piece of sh*t!"
Battelle says he's going to dump his Comcast DVR for a new TiVo HD box. Of course, he could just wait for Comcast's upcoming TiVo-powered DVR. But from the sounds of things, Battelle can't bear to wait.
Google's Microsoft strategy: death by a thousand Gmail links
Google's reading your e-mail - and doing some really smart, helpful things in the process. First it inserted links to Google Maps in users' Gmail accounts: Put anything that looks like an address in an e-mail, and Google automatically added a link to that location. Then came the ability to add an e-mail invitation to your Google Calendar. Now Google is offering to open Microsoft Excel attachments in Google Spreadsheets, Google Blogoscoped reports.
There's nothing nefarious about this, of course. Google's not blocking you from adding events to Outlook or opening files in Excel. But it's becoming easier and easier to stay in Google's Web orbit, and harder and harder to break out and take the additional steps needed to use a Microsoft desktop-software product. Will this quiet integration slowly bleed away Redmond's business? Call it death by a thousand hyperlinks.
Cellphone video storms the blogs, and other news
It's all cellphone video this morning, all the time.
You gotta fight for your right to Wi-Fi
Here's good news for Wi-Fi users in airports, rented apartments, and elsewhere: The FCC has ruled (PDF download) that landlords can't block renters from installing Wi-Fi networks on their leased property. The specific decision helps Continental Airlines in its Wi-Fi dispute with Massport, the operator of Boston's Logan Airport, but it has more far-reaching effects, says Susan Crawford, an assistant professor at Cardozo Law School, who wrote up the FCC's ruling on her blog:
This is a significant decision. It means that landlords (even if they're government instrumentalities) can't stop people from operating community Wi-Fi antennas on their leased premises. It means that mesh networks can't be outlawed by landlords on one pretense or another -- as long as the antenna is being used to send and receive signals within the leaseholder's own property, it's covered.
You'd think that landlords would welcome tenants providing a free amenity that other renters can use -- but it turns out that in many cases, landlords hoping to sell Wi-Fi or wired Internet connections in their buildings don't like the competition. One San Francisco landlord in particular went ballistic last month over Google's plans to provide free Wi-Fi to city residents. Now, the FCC has ruled that Massport and other landlords trying to resist Wi-Fi installations were fighting the law -- and the law, and Wi-Fi users, won.
For Nokia, clear is the new color
Nokia executive Anssi Vanjoki has been telling anyone who would listen that the cellphone is going to kill the iPod, just like its built-in photo-taking features are killing the digital camera. But the iPod is not proving as easy a mark, thanks in part to the vast iPod economy of cool accessories that go with Apple's ubiquitous MP3 player.
Now Nokia's trying to get cool, too, and we have to hand it to them: A clear, portable boombox that hooks up to your music-playing Nokia cellphone, discovered by the Coolhunter blog, is pretty awesome. It's one heck of a gadget fashion statement: Clear is the new color -- and the cellphone is the new iPod.
The second coming of Weird Al, on utube.com
Video may have killed the radio star, but the Internet is reviving Weird Al Yankovic. Thanks to the triple threat of MySpace, iTunes, and YouTube, Weird Al's parody single "White & Nerdy" has now made it to the # 9 spot on the Billboard Top Ten. But who cares about the Billboard Top Ten? The Detroit Free Press reports that "White & Nerdy," a spoof of Chamillionaire & Krayzie Bone's hit "Ridin'," is the fourth most downloaded song on iTunes, and it has been viewed well over a million times on YouTube in the last month. Meanwhile, Ars Technica notes that Weird Al now has 213,000 MySpace friends -- and all this after he told Reuters he had "kind of written off the chance of ever having another hit single."
Armies of new YouTube fans may be music to Yankovic's ears, but they're a pain in the neck for Universal Tube and Rollerform Equipment Corp., a company with the unfortunate Internet address of www.utube.com. It seems many YouTube fans, no doubt hunting for Weird Al, are typing "utube.com," and they're wreaking havoc on the Ohio-based company's modest server setup. "It's killing us," said Ralph Girkins to CNNMoney's Chris Zappone. (68 million hits might cause problem for your site too.) What's a nice midwestern company to do? Well, Universal Tube has decided to sue YouTube for trademark infringement - this according to the The Utube Blog, which exists to cover all things YouTube. Confused yet? That's exactly Mr. Girkins' point.
iTunes thinks you're Danish
Apple has launched a new "iTunes Latino" section in its U.S. iTunes store, just as some users are discovering that upgrading the software inadvertently relocates them to France...or Denmark...or Sweden.
The Unoffical Apple Weblog reports this morning that a bug in recent versions of iTunes (the most recent is 7.0.2) moves users from wherever they may live to some other country - there are distinct iTunes stores for 21 different countries. "I was Chinese when I installed 7.0.2," laughs one upgrader on TUAW. Says another: "I upgraded and wound up in France. Worst part was I didn't realize I was browsing in French until I tried to buy something." TUAW notes that the problem is easy to resolve simply by selecting the correct country from a drop down menu on the iTunes home page.
But it does remind The Browser of a pet peeve: the seemingly never-ending stream of bulky iTunes upgrades, each of which comes with new quirks (and/or "digital rights management" restrictions) along with the nifty new features. This bother anyone else?
Speaking of new features: the launch of "iTunes Latino" is a move calculated to appeal to the 29 million U.S. residents that speak Spanish in the home. Sure, iTunes has long had "Latin" as a genre in the store, but the new section is free standing - a link right up there at the top of the iTunes home page along with Podcasts, TV Shows, Movies, and Music Videos. VNUNet reports on the deal, noting that "Apple has also partnered with Spanish-language TV networks Telemundo and Mun2 to provide TV shows for its download media store." Reuters has Apple iTunes VP Eddy Cue arguing that "the Latin market is vast and largely untapped by online entertainment merchants."
Hopefully, the Spanish speaking U.S. residents who upgrade to the latest iTunes version will be able to find their way back home from Denmark, or France, or China....
Movie pirates ambush another Hollywood defense
The war between Hollywood and Internet users over file sharing is turning into a technological arms race - and so far, the file sharers seem to be winning. The latest trick, according to the Torrentfreak blog: Online video pirates have figured out the Motion Picture Association of America's method for watermarking not just DVDs, but also new releases. The latest movies find their way onto the Internet in part because pirates armed with handheld videocameras record the films right off the screen. With the new theatrical-release watermarks, studios can find out precisely where and when a bootleg copy was made. Now pirates have figured out how to erase the watermarks - and cover their tracks.
The other new pirate trick? Software called PeerGuardian, which blocks computers owned by the MPAA and its music industry counterpart, the RIAA, from scanning file sharers' computers for illegal movie and music downloadeds. Of course, the industry associations could easily use third-party investigators who aren't on the sharers' block lists. This is what arms races are all about. May the best tech win.
In a tough market for VCs, a novel strategy emerges
It's been years since smart entrepreneurs found a new road to riches: Build a company on the cheap and sell out fast, bypassing the venture capitalists who demand a big chunk of the companies they fund. Cutting out the VCs is great for entrepreneurs, and great for angel investors who make a killing off their small investments.
But it's leaving traditional VCs high and dry. Some are returning money to their investors, citing a lack of good funding opportunities.
Charles River Ventures isn't wringing its hands. It's innovative answer, reportsTechCrunch, is to become an angel investors itself. The way it works: Charles River loans a small amount - $100,000 or so - to a startup, with the right to convert that debt into an equity stake. No valuation is calculated; instead, the valuation is set when the company gets its next round of funding. It's a smart move, skipping time-consuming negotiations over valuations that, for early-stage companies, are highly speculative anyway.
Just one question: What happens when startups inevitably flop? The Browser would hate to be the VC partner who has to make that debt-collection call.
Wired Digital snaps up Digg competitor
Wired Digital announced this morning that it had acquired Reddit, a "social" news service much like Digg, for an undisclosed sum. Read/Write covers the basics of the deal, while ValleyWag highlights the best comment on the deal, a parody of a popular Wired Magazine editorial gimmick: "Tired: Asking how much Reddit was bought for. Wired: Buying Reddit yourself."
Let's cut to the chase: This is a smart move, adding much needed tech chops and entrepreneurial spirit to the Newhouse magazine empire that has, until recently, been what we call a "late adopter."
Like Digg, and the re-invented Netscape.com, Reddit allows users to submit headline links, and then vote for the ones they like most. The more votes a story gets, the higher up the home page it goes. Though not as high profile as its competition, Reddit has a loyal audience and reportedly about one million unique visitors a month. It had already struck deals with Conde Nast to power the site Lipstick.com, and Slate to deliver a social news page at slate.reddit.com.
The meta story in all this is the rise of Wired Digital within Conde Nast. Conde Nast purchased Wired.com this summer from Daum Communications, where the site had languished after its separation from its sibling magazine during the boom. Finally reunited - and under the presumably firm hand of Wired magazine editor Chris Anderson (of Long Tail fame) - the Wired branch of the Conde Nast family seems to be stirring things up. Writes Anderson on his blog this morning: "After we bought back our site in July, I promised that more was to come...."
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