Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Ning is the newest thing (v2.0)

Ning is the Marc Andreesen backed free social network site (free as in, you can set up your own social network for nought).
"We are anticipating that there will be millions of social networks once users get used to the idea of social networking," Andreesen said. "Once that happens, users are going to want to build their own world around their own topics, towns, sports teams, books and movies they love, churches and families. ...We are going into this with a head of steam and with a killer product.
Robert Scoble talks to the co-founders:

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Google's malware warnings

Not sure how long Google has been doing this, but it makes me even less likely to visit the Quadrant site!

The magazine's main link on this page looks like it goes to an interstitial ahead of Perhaps that's where the problem is. The "This site may harm your computer" link contains the string "malwarewarninglink".


Media disruption: search & aggregation v creation

Scott Karp has kicked off a nice little debate on the question of the media's future, (as in 20th century publishing and broadcasting models, will they survive?).
"The once monolithic media industry is undergoing a radical schism, dividing itself into content creation, on the one hand, and content aggregation and distribution on the other."
Some agree, and some disagree. The great thing is how informed this discussion is. It ain't just dinosaurs roaring about how they still matter. It's people who care about the industry trying to figure out what's happening to it.

Plus - BRW's newest flagship edition launched last week. It's called Australia Online, and somehow the cover story made it on to the AFR's new website/application thingy.

Monday, February 26, 2007

What is Google really up to?

The launch of Google Apps Premier last week provoked much speculation about the company's long term strategy. But what, exactly, could that be?

The Observer's John Naughton thinks he knows. "It's about bandwidth, infrastructure and - ultimately - effective control of the net," he writes.

What's the evidence?

1. Google now controls more network fibre than any other organisation on the planet.
2. The company has been building large numbers of 'server farms' with tens of thousands of computers in each.

So, what does this add up to?

The answer is video, according to Naughton.

The big guys are all positioning themselves to take advantage of the massive uptake in online video useage. Online video advertising is predicted to grow from US$1.1bn last year to US$6.2bn by 2010. And that may well be a conservative estimate.

The problem is that with so much heavy data traffic being predicted, the network in its current form won't be able to handle it. The content companies, like News Corp, have what people want but they don't - or won't - have the infrastructure to deliver it. But a business that anticipates this, and has the means to acquire or build that infrastructure, will be in a position to dictate terms of trade to the content owners.

Thus we have an explanation for Google's acquisition of network fibre.

It's not a new one, though. The story about Google's fibre buying spree first surfaced around August 2005. At the time speculation centred on Google outplaying the telcos by becoming the world's biggest ISP. The company offered no comment. Remember, this was before the Youtube phenomenon took off; News Corp had only just bought Myspace. Video was well and truly on the radar, but the concept of TV-like services delivered over the internet was not widely endorsed.

18 months later things have changed, but Google looks like it is still ahead of the game.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Pidgin to Creole: Evolving use of social media

What happens when the older generation takes a close look at what the kids are doing with their Myspace / Bebo / Vimeo / Flickr / Facebook pages?

Dire warnings about lost privacy, future regret, stranger danger etc, that's what.

But as it turns out, mostly the kids have figured this out already and they aren't really concerned. It's a generation gap thing. The media usually follows the lines about the risks and the potential for anarchy in young people's use of social media sites, but as Emily Nussbaum observes in the New York magazine:
"It’s been a long time since there was a true generation gap, perhaps 50 years—you have to go back to the early years of rock and roll, when old people still talked about “jungle rhythms.” Everything associated with that music and its greasy, shaggy culture felt baffling and divisive, from the crude slang to the dirty thoughts it was rumored to trigger in little girls. That musical divide has all but disappeared. But in the past ten years, a new set of values has sneaked in to take its place, erecting another barrier between young and old. And as it did in the fifties, the older generation has responded with a disgusted, dismissive squawk."
Anyone who regularly uses these social media tools quickly becomes aware of the reach and impact they can have by posting their thoughts and observations, photos or videos on Myspace, Youtube or a blog. Your buddy list, or message board, your cluster of blog friends who comment and talk to each other are an audience that can be measured easily. Big or small, you can see it instantly.

Plenty of free tools can let you know who is using your site, when and where they are from. Try Sitemeter, Clicky or StatCounter for starters. Total anonymity is possible, but that's not really what the new generation of social media useage is about. A lot of it is about branded identity: your real one, if you choose, or a creation.

There's still a long way to go with this phenomenon. It's deep seated, it's generational, it's social and economic. It's not going away.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Business 2.0's 25 startups to watch

A guide to the hottest Web 2.0 companies - and the powerful trends driving them.

2007 is going to be a make-or-break year. While the barrier to launching is low, the barrier to success is high.

"The losers are likely to be those companies that try to make money by pouring old-media wine into the new Web bottles. The winners will be the players that invent new ways to tap into what the Web brings to the party: instant feedback, instant analysis, and the collective wisdom of a billion users."

Google Apps takes on Microsoft

The tech buzz this morning is about Google's announcement overnight that it has launched Google Apps Premier, a subscription package of premium, hosted business applications in direct competition with Microsoft.

"With Google Apps, our customers can tap into an unprecedented stream of technology and innovation at a fraction of the cost of traditional installed solutions," said Google vice president Dave Girouard.

The hosted package will cost US$50 per user.

The service will include the existing Google Apps tools - GMail, Google Calendar, Google Talk and IM as well as the Google Docs applications that are now integrated into the suite. Webmail will come with 10 GB of storage and Apps Premier includes service level agreements that promise 99.9% uptime and 24/7 tech support.

Here's a roundup of discussion on the subject: Techmeme

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

New Oz blog network via Gawker

A couple of posts yesterday about a new blog network backed by News Corp VC fund Netus. It's called Allure and will launch with two blogs, an Australian version of Gizmodo and a gossip blog.

Here's an extract from the story published on ITjourno yesterday (via Squash).
The first, big independent blog media initiative to take on the Australian market will see the launch of a local version of the powerful Gawker Media ‘Gizmodo’ tech blog.

Gizmodo Australia will be published by newcomer Allure Media. Allure is a spin-off from netus - a News Limited-backed investment vehicle that boasts management heavyweights like former Microsoft bigwig Daniel Petre as executive director, and former eBay and eCorp CEO Alison Deans as executive director of operations. Allure is headed by one-time editor Chris Janz.

Netus describes itself as an “Australian technology investment company focused on bringing proven technology-based services and products to the Australian market”, with Allure Media signifying its pitch into the blog media arena, based on the company’s acquisition of the rights to the mastheads and content of US blog network Gawker Media.

Allure will launch with two blogs. The first will be Gizmodo, a gadget blog which is Gawker’s most popular masthead with 4.3 million monthly unique visitors and sitting at No. 4 on the Technorati list of most-linked to blogs. Allure will also launch a gossip blog, a Gawker Media staple, closely modelled on the LA-centric Defamer masthead.

Chris Janz - who took an express ride through the News Interactive ranks - is Allure Media’s managing director, but will retain editorial control over all mastheads, in a similar manner to the way Nick Denton runs Gawker Media. Again, much like Gawker operates, each of Allure’s blogs will be chaired by an editor, as well as calling on the assistance of outside contributors.

Janz has been on board for three weeks, having relocated back to Sydney after a stint on the Gold Coast as a producer on Channel Ten’s Big Brother program.

“I’ve been talking to netus for a while. They’ve been looking at blogs for about a year and they’ve gone through all the properties in the States and have cherry-picked those that they’re really interested in, and we’re now bringing them to market,” Janz said.

Janz said that Allure has exclusive rights to Gawker content as well as a “another couple [non-Gawker blogs] that we really think will work in this market”.
Paul Montgomery rightly questions the logic (or sanity) of localising US content in a web environment. Why wouldn't you go straight to the original?

I guess we'll see.

According to Montgomery: "It's not going to work. At least, not unless the netus people learn that A$8 million can get burned pretty damn quick in Surry Hills".

Apparently Janz's package is about AUD$200k, plus bonuses and 5-10% equity in Allure. I suspect he's going to have his work cut out "monetising" these new blogs in order to keep that salary.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Introducing an almost smart new company

Smart Company is the newest kid on the digital publishing block. Backed by Eric Beecher's Private Media Partners, The Oz reports the business employs 10 staff, including a number of former BRW journalists led by publisher and co-owner Amanda Gome.

Actually, they are just about all former BRW journalists. There's been a veritable exodus from the magazine.

It's an interesting venture. I hope it does well. But I'm sort of scratching my head about their approach. According to The Oz the "investors spent less than $1 million creating Smartcompany and it is believed to have already turned cash-flow positive".

Why go down the subscription route, though? It just smacks of desperation and makes building the brand that much harder to do.

They've got a bunch of expensive journos and other infrastructure to support - they list 26 people on their masthead. OK, some are contributors, but that's still a lot of people.

It's not that dissimilar to the number of staff that used to run Shares and Personal Investor magazines. So it doesn't seem like a particularly good use of resources in today's online environment. It's the same old model - subscription based, inhouse produced, display ad driven.

Don't get me wrong, I think it's an honourable effort. But that's about it.

You could do so much more with a progressive, Web 3.0 style publishing operation for an SME and entrepreneurial audience.

Web 3.0

Where's it going?

Here's where: content, community, commerce, context, and vertical search.

I'm working on a project that, I believe, fits this next gen publishing model perfectly. So far it's in stealth(ish) mode. More at a later date.

In the meantime, Sramana Mitra, to my mind, nails the concept.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Size isn't everything

Big wave surfing has become big business in recent years. The winner of the Oakley/ASL Big Wave Awards will be announced on Wednesday night in Bondi.

It's a hell of a spectator sport, that is when spectators can actually get within viewing range. Most of the action happens offshore on big wave reefs in the Pacific, off the US west coast, or the West Australian coast.

Occasionally you get something closer to home. I took these photos standing on Coogee point last April, five minutes from my house, with a crowd watching a couple of guys towing in to some pretty big waves.

As a kid in 1981 I was fortunate to be sitting on the cliffs at Bells Beach the day Simon Anderson won the Bells Classic in what was reported as 15 foot surf. Maybe that was 15 foot measured from the back of the wave, because the face of those waves was closer to 22-24 foot.

Anyway, size - in vertical numbers - isn't everything. Check out this footage of Laird Hamilton at Teahupoo reef off Tahiti.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

$64 billion question for print publishers

Jeff Jarvis has found a great post by Colin Crawford an online executive at global IT trade publisher, IDG.

IDG's "absolute dollar growth of [our] online revenues now exceeds the decline in [our] print revenues", Crawford says. And it's working for them. Online growth is more than making up for decline in print revenue.

It's a great post because, as Jarvis emphasises, this is the holy grail, the $64 billion question for print businesses transitioning to online: How do you develop a strong digital revenue stream, as print inevitably declines, without cutting costs and jobs to the point where you no longer have a recognisable publishing brand?

IDG's example seems to prove it can be done.

Arthur Sulzberger will be glad to hear it. The publisher of the New York Times told Israeli news site Haaretz last week, "I really don't know whether we'll be printing the Times in five years, and you know what? I don't care, either".

I don't think we'll hear David Kirk put it quite like that any time soon, but it does underline the importance of the Fairfax half year results this week.

Google loses copyright case

It has been festering for a while, but finally a Belgian court has ruled that Google may not reproduce extracts from a variety of Belgian newspapers.

Google now has to remove articles, photos and graphics "from all its sites'', including Google News and cached copies visible in search results.

The implications are serious. Already legal commentators are suggesting this will lead to further actions. And of course it's not just Google who will be affected. It's a big target, but there are plenty of others.

Globally, newspapers are likely to applaud this result and use it as a leverage point in their own markets, certainly WAN has been banging on about it for a while. But to my mind it's an unfortunate symptom of senior newspaper executives' misunderstanding of how the web works and what Google does.

And another thing ...

Google, Yahoo! and MSN news search are one thing, but what about social bookmarking? Do you sue Digg for all the news stories that Diggers do? Do you oppose social media in general?

Not only does this campaign by newspapers dump on the distribution opportunities and confuse the way the web works, but on the evidence of their own sites the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing in a lot of these news organisations.

It all starts to get bizarre when you remember that just about every news site is RSS enabled. So effectively they are actually asking for their content to be distributed into RSS readers and other sites.

Jak Boumans, though, has a different view. As he points out, the heart of the issue for publishers is Google's caching whereby Google not only links to an article, but keeps a copy on its own system.

The media reporting, in business and technology pages, has not been absolutely clear about this issue. It has concentrated on the Google News effect and compounded the confusion by referring to the separate court order that Yahoo! remove certain links to news articles from its French site.

If caching is the main problem then Google is on its own. RSS can be controlled at the source to deliver full text or headline only so a publisher can decide for themselves. But similarly, a piece of code attached to a page can prevent it being cached. The Australian does this. So none of its pages are cached by Google.

Monday, February 12, 2007

New Matilda on life support

Crikey reports today that New Matilda is being sold for $10 (well $10 and a fair whack of debt funding).
"New Matilda was launched two and a half years ago on the back of donations from a bunch of well-meaning lefties, led by former senior public servant John Menadue AO. Others included former Labor Minister John Button, publisher Hilary McPhee, speechwriter to Labor luminaries, Graham Freudenberg and businesswoman Janet Holmes a Court.

"Menadue said at the time that New Matilda was planned as a response to the media’s failure to hold government to account, which he described as "one of the greatest institutional failures of our time".

"As well as putting out a weekly publication, largely consisting of opinion pieces by unpaid contributors, New Matilda also attempted to act as a forum for the development of policy, a mix that Menadue acknowledged in a letter to shareholders last week "on reflection… didn’t fit easily together"."
Yes, Menadue is right on that last score. The policy thing was a bit odd in a straight publishing context.

I had my own brush with New Matilda very early on. I was approached to consider the job as founding editor. I had a couple of very pleasant meetings with Hilary McPhee before meeting with Menadue and a couple of other board members in a plush office suite in South Melbourne one afternoon in mid-2004.

It was an interesting experience, even more so in retrospect. I was uncomfortable with a few things, but one of the real warning signals to me was that they didn't have any web knowledge or experience between them.

They appeared to be going down an online route simply because they thought it would be cheaper than actually printing a magazine. So they weren't really interested in hearing how they might use the medium specifically. They had their business model - paid subscriptions - and they had their target subs numbers to reach.

In the end they decided not to offer me the job, and that was that. At the time I was working at The Age and I guess they thought I was either too obviously part of the media problem that New Matilda was designed to counteract, or too much of a political lightweight to drive a serious opinion journal. I can't say I was upset.

Still, one of the things that interests me about New Matilda's efforts to date is that they could have done with a bit of fun. It's quite possible to publish a journal/site with a serious intent without being completely earnest all the time. A little bit of light with the shade would have done wonders.

That, and a better designed site.

For starters.

It's easy to be critical, but I do think the project is/was worthwhile. However, there's a problem with independent publishing that, whether they knew it or not, always stood in their way. It's well articulated by the chairman of the New Matilda board, Mick Kelly, who is quoted in Crikey today: “I have been quite frank with [prospective owner] Duncan Turpie. I think all small magazines in Australia are in some way subsidised, and New Matilda will need that indefinitely”.

It seems to me that if you start from this position you're buggered.

Online gives Fairfax report some shine

Fairfax Media today reported a first-half net profit of $142.2 million for the six months to December 31, 2006, up 18.6 per cent. (Announcements here.)

But excluding one-off items, the company's underlying net profit fell 2.7 per cent to $121.4 million.

Fairfax Digital is the company's shining light lifting revenues 43.7% to $61.2 million, while EBITDA rose 41.7 per cent to $17 million.

And the Trade Me result was pretty good too, with EBITDA of $NZ23.3 million (AUD20.61 million). Those sorts of numbers should help dispel the remaining criticisms around the AUD$625 million price tag.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

What is stupidity?

Einstein said: "Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity and I'm not so sure about the former".

Watching this BBC documentary, aptly titled Stupidity, you can see why.

From zero to $25 million per month

Rupert Murdoch, in an interview at the McGraw-Hill Digital Media Summit in New York on Thursday revealed that Myspace is generating around US$25million in ad revenue per month, and growing fast. It's the no.1 site in the UK, and no.3 here in Australia. They are a close rival in the video market against Youtube and Google, "We're very clearly number two to YouTube. We deliver close to 60 or 70 percent of their traffic," Murdoch said.

All up, things are going swimmingly.

In Australia, though, it has taken a while for the reality to sink in at News Ltd. The Australian division of News Corp is still print-led, unlike elsewhere in the News empire. There was a lot of head-scratching here about this Myspace thing back in late 2005 and early 2006. But when the audience growth numbers started coming through senior management realised it was a huge phenomena, a wave they had to somehow surf.

But Myspace is not like anything else, and within the Australian suite of News products it presents a challenge. How do you manage something like this? How do you take advantage of that huge audience when internally the powerbase still rests with old media? The newspapers are struggling to come to terms with their role online but they still have the biggest budgets and their revenues, while shrinking, are still the core business.

It's hard to escape the conclusion that while the rest of News Corp has moved on, here in Australia the newspaper division is looking increasingly like a museum exhibit.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Next gen social networking ...

... Will be what?

Om Malik has a shot at answering the question: "It is time to rethink the whole notion of social networking, and start thinking of it as a feature for other online activities."

And he has a point.

But the bigger picture, I think, is around meaning. What does social networking actually do for us? How can it add meaning to our lives?

Yes, Om is right. But you can push this notion further and ask not just how can it integrate into other online features, but how can it help me achieve certain goals? How can I learn more? How can I be more productive/creative/organised ... ?

I suspect we'll see some good examples this year.

Social music: what's your flavour?

I've become a total addict. Who needs music radio? Tagging and sharing music online is vastly preferable.

But of course is just one of many such options. Ryan Stewart at Techcrunch does a neat roundup of what's available.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

More redesigns

'Tis the season to relaunch ... here's another, launched today: The Times.

So far, I think, the UK designers are ahead of the Australians. The new ninemsn doesn't rate too highly next to this or The Guardian.

And what do the Times designers say? Check it out here.

Plus a wee critique from The Guardian's Organ Grinder

Monday, February 05, 2007

Thanks, Dad

What else could you say?

"Rupert Murdoch has given each of his six children $100m (£51m) worth of News Corp shares in the biggest distribution yet of his multi-billion dollar fortune and a clear sign that he plans to share his wealth among them equally."

Site redesigns

Ninemsn is about to launch a new look site. You can see the new site in beta here (screenshot below). It's not clear when they'll flick the switch, but they do have a few gremlins to work through, judging by some of the layout issues on the new front page.

They're overdue for an overhaul, and in my opinion the new look is an improvement. It will definitely shake up the competition ... as these things always do.

Another major site that's about to undergo a relaunch is The Guardian. The Guardian famously has kept its look and feel constant for years. I don't think it's actually ever had a redesign. So, as one of the biggest newspaper sites the new look will be the subject of much discussion. If you want to know what that look is, check out their new Travel section. The main site will be based on this design.

Personally, I like it. My only criticism is that the pale blue they're using for the link colour is a tad hard to read. But the layout is great, it's a much more effective use of space. I understand the launch date is some time this month.

Connectors and collective actors

Belated catch-up on last week's WEF session on The Impact of Web 2.0 and Emerging Social Network Models.

The session, which was widely reported, was webcast - video is here.

Participants included Caterina Fake (Founder, Flickr), Bill Gates, Chad Hurley (Co-Founder and CEO, YouTube), Mark G. Parker (President and CEO, Nike), Viviane Reding (Commissioner, Information Society and Media, European Commission, Brussels).

Jeff Jarvis was also there, and reported in his inimitable style.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Web 2.0: Teaching the machine

I was talking with Ross Dawson the other day about this thing that's called Web 2.0. What exactly is the best definition? There are plenty of buzz words, and lots of hype, but not much in the way of clear distinctions between Web 1.0 and Web "Now", as a colleague calls it.

Well, here's a very interesting explanation of the journey from early web to the present, put together by a cultural anthropologist from Kansas State University. It explores transformations in useage, technology and and how people are interacting on the web, and it points to some of the implications this will have in wider social terms.

The piece was posted in response to this earlier explanation of Web 2.0 from March last year.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Mark Day, O dear

Mark Day has discovered blogs. Holy cow, the guy's quick!