Thursday, October 11, 2007

Video Stars

Fully equipped with a face made for radio, I'm not really a video kind of guy. Nevertheless, I've recently done a couple of video related projects.

First, I moderated a Webcast for It's about Mobility For Small and Midsize Companies. You will have to register -- feel free to say you own a company with 75 employees.

Second, I worked with my son Grant to create some cool -- if tech-y -- videos posted on a new site CMP built for Microsoft. The site is and you you'll need to scroll down the video playlist on the right. Our Genius Children, New Ways To Play Old Games, and Windows-as-Mac are all videos I shot of Grant.

Monday, August 27, 2007 Is Live!

Well, it's time to bMighty! The project I've been working on non-stop for the past few months has finally gone live. You can see it at Please check it out and let me know what you think.

There's even a blog there, where I'm actually blogging. Here's a link to my section. It's the next best thing to blogging here at The Freditor.

The difference is, they pay me!

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Coming Soon:

OK, it's no longer a secret, so let me tell you 'bout my new project, due to launch later this summer.

It's called IT Power for small and mid-sized business. Part of CMP's TechWeb Network, it's all about presenting technology solutions for small and mid-sized companies.

Right now all that's there is a sign up field for our email newsletters and our cool new logo:

If you're interested, go ahead and enter your email address and we'll keep you up do date on what we're doing.

In the meantime, just remember to bMIGHTY!

Thursday, May 3, 2007

The Freditor Takes A Break

Sad to say, but I've got to put this blog on hiatus. It's been really fun doing it, but I've taken a new position back at CMP, and for the time being I'm likely to be waaayyy too busy to give this thing the attention it deserves.

When my new project is ready to go, I'll be linking to it from here, but in the meantime you can check out Small Biz Resource.

Thanks for reading, and stay in touch!

Monday, April 23, 2007

Radio Shack = The End Of Retail?

These days, it seems like the humorists are smarter than the analysts. Beyond The Daily Show's nightly truth-telling, The Onion has a unique ability to continually cut to the heart of the matter.

This time, they nail the odd and utter uselessness of Radio Shack. But this brilliant slice of satire does more than skewer radio shack. It accurately implies the increasing irrelevance of many brick-and-mortar retail chains in the age of the Internet.

As The Onion puts it:

"There must be some sort of business model that enables this company to make money, but I'll be damned if I know what it is," Day said. "You wouldn't think that people still buy enough strobe lights and extension cords to support an entire nationwide chain, but I guess they must, or I wouldn't have this desk to sit behind all day."

You could say something similar about The Gap, Best Buy, Macy's, and just about any big retail chain. I mean, unless it's groceries you need right away, a unique personalized boutique, or some fancy-pants "shopping experience," actual stores increasingly feel like an over-priced, under-inventoried backwater.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Insurance Technology Is No Accident

I got rear-ended on the freeway last week.

Don't worry, no one seems to be hurt. But my rear bumper got messed up, and the guy who hit me messed up his car's grill pretty well.

The other thing that struck me, though, is that the technology of insurance accident reporting doesn't seem to have changed much over the years. The other motorist had a digital camera, and took pictures of the damage, but it's unclear what will come of that.

And when I called my insurance broker, everything had to be handled by phone or fax. No email. No online forms. It all seemed like a recipe for extra work and unnecessary mistakes, all leading to higher premiums.

I asked the nice lady at the claims center about it, and she sighed and said they were hoping to begin using email soon, but the that the insurance company was worried about privacy issues.

That's a valid concern, but one that many other industries with similar issues -- financial services, for example -- seem to have solved.

It's not an area I hope to have lot of real-world experience with, but I have to admit I was quite annoyed that I couldn't deal with things online. If I ever gather the willpower to switch insurance companies, online access will certainly be a factor in my choices.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Not EVERYONE Has A Web Site

Seems like practically everyone has a Web site these. I mean, I have one, for Pete's sake. And if a real site or a blog is too much work, there's always MySpace, and Linked In, and Facebook and all that.

But according to McNewspaper, only about half of small businesses have their own sites.

I'm guessing that's a lower percentage than for 11-year-olds.

The Keys To Voicemail Jail

This isn't new, but it's still useful.

Go here for instructions on how to short-circuit the phonemail systems at the popular telecommunications carriers.

For Verizon, Cingular, T-Mobile, and Sprint, follow these simple scripts to save messages, skip messages, check your minutes, and get credits for dropped calls without going through the endless menus.

Good luck!

The Boom Is Back. The Bust Must Be Coming.

When I read about this new site, my immediate reaction was that I had stepped into a time warp and it was suddenly 1998 all over again. is all too reminiscent of those valet and butler service dot.coms from back in the day. They all went belly-up, of course, but there were all the rage at the time.

In keeping with the Boom 2.0 zeitgeist, there is a twist. DoMyStuff is primarily an auction site, where "employers" post jobs they need done, and workers (individuals or companies) bid to perform them for a particular price. Unlike on a true auction site, though, DoMyStuff employers can choose any bid they like.

According to Jaqui Cheng at Ars Technica, there's not that much to choose from yet. And according to The Freditor, this is a key warning sign for Bust 2.0. If you start seeing sock puppets, sell everything and run for the hills.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Techno-Grieving: Helpful, But Also Creepy?

In the wake of the Virginia Tech shooting, there's been lots written about how people are coming together online to remember and to grieve. Student leaders meeting in online chat rooms to plan responses. MySpace and Facebook tributes.

I can't deny the value of doing that, especially for people personally affected but separated by distance. And there's lots of discussion that after the first killings, warnings should have been sent by mobile text message as well as email.

But I also wonder if technology is really the best way to deal with this kind of tragedy. If you knew the people involved, and you're close enough to get together in person, that's obviously more supportive. And clearly there's been a lot of that going on. I suppose online remembrances could help supplement that.

But, if you're not there, and if you didn't know the people involved, then to a certain extent this becomes a media event, not a personal one. The wall-to-wall TV coverage and online frenzy could take on a bit of a voyeuristic tone, of people using technology to bring themselves closer to an emotional maelstrom that they're not actually connected to.

I'm just not sure exactly how I feel about that. Is that honoring the loss, or exploiting it?

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The 3 Laws Of "Roombotics"

A few days ago I posted a piece on Reworking The 3 Laws Of Robotics For Killer Machines. I thought it was pretty funny that the military was bumping into Isaac Asimov's science fiction.

Well, leave it to The Onion for a different take on the 3 laws. Its version for Roomba vacuum-cleaning bots reads:

1. The device "must not suck up jewelry or other valuables, or through inaction, allow valuables to be sucked up."
2. Roomba "must obey vacuuming orders given to it by humans except when such orders would conflict with the first law."
3. Roomba must "protect its own ability to suction dust and debris as long as such protection does not conflict with the first or second law."

I think Isaac Asimov would appreciate it. I certainly do.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Twitter: What Is It And Why Should I Care?

OK, The Freditor is offically behind the curve on Twitter. But I don't think I care.

You've probably been reading about this new "mini-blog" service that lets you follow members' "microposts" in real time. It's often updated via mobile phone rather than from a computer, so it's very much in the moment. But the short post length limit means that you can't expect great literature, just a quick heads up.

Anyway, I was having trouble figuring it out - the FAQs on the site aren't much help - but stumbled across this pathetic but informative video from some well-known geeks. For a more straightforward explanation, here's AP's review.

Now that I know what Twitter is, all I need is a reason to care.

Reworking The 3 Laws Of Robotics For Killer Machines

You remember Isaac Asimov's classic Three Laws Of Robotics, right:

1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Well that kind of simpering do-goodism won't do for today's military bots. So The Register reports that John S Canning, an engineer at the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Dahlgren Division, has come up with his own robotic rules of engagement.

Basically, it comes down to “Let machines target other machines, and let men target men.” But of course, he doesn't worry too much about "collateral damage."

Oh well, it's a brave new world.

Organic HDTV

Throw out your treasured 50-inch Plasma screen. Ditch your 1080p LCD marvel. In a couple years you're going to replace them with a swarm of fireflies.

Well, not exactly, but pretty darn close.

Accroding to Antone Gonsalves at InformationWeek, Sony is on schedule to ship an 11-inch OLED TV set this year in Japan. OLED, or organic light emitting diodes, create images using technology similar to fireflies, requiring no "backlight, color filters or polarizer" and could eventually be cheaper to produce than today's technologies.

Not at first of course, but I still think it's really cool. But hey, the technology is already in use in smaller devices like cell phones and MP3 players.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

On The Web, Timing Is Everything

No surprise, people tend to hit TV Web sites during TV prime time, reports Ars Technica's Eric Bangeman. That only makes sense, especially as some shows offer real-time online voting (American Idol), chat (RealTime with Bill Maher), extra clips (BattleStar Galactica) and other enhancements.

But it also implies a larger trend of thinking of Web sites in day parts. As the post points out, cooking (moms making dinner) and kid-oriented (homework) Web sites tend to peak between 5pm and 8pm.

Similarly, in my experience tech news sites tend to peak during the workday, while online shopping sites get a boost at lunchtime.

Despite these tendencies, few sites actively program to the various day parts. It's a lot of work, after all, and it's not like the appropriate content isn't already there. Still, I'd like to see more sites pay attention to the time of day and what people are most likely looking for at that time.

There is a limit though. While I've got a laptop in the living room mostly for getting background movie info from IMDb, I seldom use it for the TV show activities described above. And while I originally thought I'd be all over it for stats and stuff on live sporting events, that almost never happens.


Cuz' I hardly ever watch anything live anymore. The goal is to record everything on DVR and watch it later to avoid commercials and save time. And the last thing I'd want is to find out from the Web whether the White Sox blew their lead in the 9th before seeing it on the big screen.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Word For Today: "Wilfing"

The story itself is fairly obvious: lots of Web users waste lots of time surfing the Net.

The part that interested me, though, was that it uses a new - or at least new to me - word: Wilfing, or "What Was I Looking For." The idea is that people start surfing with a purpose, but quickly become distracted and begin wandering the Net aimlessly.

Hence, wilfing.

I'm going to try to use the word in general conversation, since I get distracted all the time...

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Outsourcing Irony In India

That outsourced overseas call-center agent I just wrote about? He may not be living in India much longer.

Apparently, there a looming shortage of high-tech workers in the sub-continent.

Despite graduating some 400,000 engineers annually, only a fraction are actually ready to work in the high-tech industry. And observers worry that competition for scarce workers will push up wages, and drive jobs to even lower-paid locales.

Regardless, it's unlikely those jobs will be coming back States-side any time soon.

This Is Fredric Paul And I'm Writing To You From San Francisco

I'm not usually a fan of pointless, grandstanding bills masquerading as public policy. But this is one attempt to create a ridiculous law that I actually like.

According to Jacqui Cheng at Ars Technica, House Representative Jason Altmire (D-PA) has introduced HR 1776, the "Call Center Consumers Right to Know Act."

I just hate it when the obviously overseas call-center drone claims to be named "Ted" and pretends to be located in Iowa.

The bill, like others before it, will never become law. And it probably wouldn't make much difference if it did. But I'm still behind it 100%.

For The Real Story On New Journalism: Ask The Onion

With all that I've been writing lately about how the Net changes the role of journalism and how that affects news and media and content going forward, leave it to The Onion to put it all in perspective with the true story of 'Most E-Mailed' List Tearing New York Times' Newsroom Apart.

According to Times insiders, nearly two dozen staffers, including four Pulitzer Prize winners and Baghdad correspondent John Burns, have requested transfers to the Times' Home & Garden and Travel desks.

To me, the kind of race to the bottom so expertly satirized here is as big an issue as falling newspaper profits.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

F***ked Company Still F***ked

April Fool!

Well, it seems that this time the joke's on The Freditor. According to the AP, the announcement that TechCrunch had bought F***ked Company -- which we dutifully reported -- was no more than an April Fools conspiracy. But apparently so many people took it seriously that it's getting in the way of actually selling the site.

So, maybe the joke's on them, too.

In any case, The Freditor will not be covering this almost-story any longer...

Accidentally Global: Making The Best Of It

A while ago I sent some props to Rusty Weston's My Global Career site. And I mentioned that I might be doing some writing for it.

Well, I did, and it's now been posted. Basically, it's a "lessons learned" from my secondment to the UK last year.

Thanks Rusty!

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Slaying The DRM Dragon

Finally, good news for a change.

Apple and giant record label EMI have agreed on a deal to lift DRM (digital rights management) restrictions from music files sold on Apple's iTunes service.

While Apple chief Steve Jobs had previously called for an end to DRM, this is a huge step for EMI -- and for the recording industry. It signifies real movement away from the record industry's offensive paternalism and toward selling online music in ways that actually benefit music listeners.

Without DRM, we can listen to these files on any music machine and/or software we might have, burn CDs as needed, not have to worry about having to buy the music AGAIN if one device crashes, or worry about the format becoming obsolete.

In addition, the songs will be encoded as higher-fidelity 256kbps AAC files, bumped up from 128kbps. (I would still vastly prefer the standard MP3s, but at least conversion should be relatively easy.)

Jobs is reportedly courting other music companies for a similar deal, and claims that half of the iTunes song library will be available without DRM by the end of the year.

Of course, there's a downside. DRM-free songs will cost $1.29 instead of $.99. And The Beatles will not be available, even though the band is the jewel in EMI's crown.

But what does all this mean to the record industry? Some analysts predict it will boost online music sales. For me, this deal makes using iTunes an actual possibility. I declined to use the service because I don't have an iPod and wasn't interested in dealing with all the restrictions. Now, though, I might just change my mind.

But according to The Register, this is the beginning of a tectonic shift in the music industry:

By removing the ludicrous, artificial countermeasure of DRM it's now plain that individual unit sales of songs and even albums aren't sustainable for anyone in the digital world, except as publicity vehicles or loss leaders.

In related news, PC World reports that despite the deal, Apple won't push to pull DRM from video files.

And finally, the European Union is alleging that Apple -- along with the major music companies -- are restricting music sales in Europe by allowing consumer to only buy from the iTunes store in their home country.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

F***ked Company Gets Crunched

Whew, that was fast!

The sale of F***ked Company, noted yesterday, is apparently completed. The site has been acquired by tech blog heavyweight TechCrunch in a "stock for assets transaction."

TechCrunch's Michael Arrington says the time was ripe because "its [sic] clear that we are at the tail end of the current boom" and "by focusing on the negative we will have much more content for the site."


Friday, March 30, 2007

Albums vs. Singles

Lots of people blame digital downloading for putting the album format on the endangered species list.

If there are only a couple really good songs on the album, the theory goes, why would you pay for the whole album? The record labels are understandably worried by this turn of events, and Apple seems to feel their pain. The company has re-jiggered iTunes' pricing structure to give discounts on album purchases for singles already purchased from that album.

I think that's great. No, really, I do. Discounts are always good, right?

It's just that I find the whole idea of "protecting the album format" to prop up record company profits patently ridiculous. If an album is full of good songs, people will buy it. If it has only a couple of good songs, why should they be forced to buy the dreck just to get the songs they want?

33s took over from 45s back in the '60s when pop music changed and people wanted more than just a song - and a "B" side - from their favorite artists. (LPs always ruled in classical and jazz because they naturally lent themselves to longer forms.)

I still like to listen to whole albums at a time - often on my aging but still sonically wonderful audiophile Rotel RCD-855 single-disc CD player I know, downloads make its musical quality moot. And yes, some songs aren't as strong as others. Still, I like hearing them together. So even when I listen to my digital files, I often listen to them album by album.

But I have a good friend who hasn't done that for years. Back before MP3s, he loaded up his CD-changer with a variety of genres and hit shuffle. Now he's one of the legions who put all their music onto iTunes and shuffle their way through various playlists. I may be wrong, but he seems to have lost all interest in albums, instead downloading only the songs he's interested in.

I guess if discounts are good, choice is better, and it's a wonderful thing that we can choose to buy music the way we like to listen to it.

Now, if they can just get over their addiction to that nasty DRM.

F***ked Company May Be F***ked

Well, at least it's on the block.

Back in the boom years, I used to visit the F***ked Company site all the time. I even read Peter Kaplans freakin' book!

But somehow it all seems faintly dated in these days of Boom 2.0. In fact, until I heard the site was for sale, I didn't even realize it was still around.

Maybe we've all matured and leaned to take less pleasure in the pain of others, no matter how well deserved. Or maybe we're just too jaded to care.

Who knows, perhaps the sales price will tell the tale.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Web Readers LESS Fickle?

I have to admit, this story surprised me. According to a new eyetrack study from The Poynter Institute newspaper readers consume more of online stories and they are more likely to finish reading stories online than in print.

When readers chose to read an online story, they usually read an average of 77% of the story, compared to 62% in broadsheets and 57% in tabloids.

In addition, nearly two-thirds of online readers read all of the text of a particular story once they began to read it, the survey revealed. In print, 68% of tabloid readers continued reading a specific story through the jump to another page, while 59% did so in broadsheet reading.

Frankly, this flies in the face of the conventional wisdom that online readers skim and don't read, and that they are constantly itching to jump to a new site. After all, the entire Internet is just a click away when you're reading online, and many of us content creators and packagers spend a lot of time working to offer readers contextual links to other content even as they're reading something else.

I have a couple theories on what might be going on here:

1. Because there are so many choices online, readers are more invested in the stories they actually select to read.

2. It can often be a pain to find the jump page in print. Instead, readers might choose to start another story on the original page.

3. In print, stories compete with much larger and often more colorful ads. By comparison, much less screen real estate is devoted to ads. That adds up to less distraction.

The reality, though, is that I don't really know why this happens. I'd love to hear some online usability experts weigh in on this issue.

Jakob Nielsen, are you listening?

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Sex Sells, Even Virtually

My old buddy Mitch Wagner reports in InformationWeek that the "Amsterdam" sex-business area on Second Life has sold on eBay for $50,000.

According to Mitch:

The overwhelming majority of the shops in Second Life's Amsterdam sell sexual merchandise. And avatars posing as streetwalkers hang around near the train station, openly soliciting cybersex-for-pay with any avatar who stands still for a few minutes and many walking through.

Seems that sex sells no matter what. Even if it's a virtual sex site in a virtual world. And even if it costs real money.

My only question is how Mitch knew?

Infoworld Stops Killing Trees

The ongoing saga of how the online revolution affects journalism took an interesting turn yesterday as longtime tech-industry stalwart InfoWorld announced that it will stop publishing a paper edition and become an online only enterprise (plus live events, of course).

In the announcement, Editor-in-Chief Steve Fox bravely contends that InfoWorld "is not dead," and I'm sure he means it. But the history of this kind of thing is not encouranging. Some 5 years ago, CMP stopped publishing InternetWeek's paper edition, and I ended up in charge of carrying on the Web operation. We did so, and I believe continued to publish useful information for many years. But eventually, lack of interest from CMP corporate, a lack of resources, and lack of traffic let the once significant brand fade away. Go to today, and you end up on the ebusiness section page of InformationWeek, which retains its print component.

InfoWorld's own Ed Foster addressed the significance of the move, not just for InfoWorld, but for tech publishing in general. There's less money to go around, Foster says, and much of what there is goes to Google and Craigslist and such. So, like his colleagues in the daily newspaper business, Foster wonders where the money's going to come from to create content in the brave new world of the Internet.

As a professional content creator, among other things, I worry too.

(Full disclosure: way back before the Net bubble, I used to write notebook reviews and other stories for InfoWorld, and I still count as friends many of the folks that work there.)

Monday, March 26, 2007

The Giants Score Big

San Francisco likes to think of itself as the capital of the technology world. Maybe that's why even the local baseball team tries to position itself on digital cutting edge.

On top of Wi-Fi access for all patrons, this year the Giants added solar panels to their scenic PacBell/SBC/ATT Park. And now comes an enormous HD video scoreboard.

Even though he's a White Sox fan, The Freditor approves of the technology surge at the ballfield. Heck, he approves of HD almost anywhere. But he's just a tad worried that the Giants' giant screen will merely make it easier to see that Barry Bonds just let a lazy fly ball sail over his and that the team is once again losing 6-2.

(Sorry about writing about myself in the third person, but even thinking about professional athletics can really mess with your sense of ego.)

Friday, March 23, 2007


We may be looking at market segregation in online video sites.

Even as YouTube struggles with Viacom's billion-dollar lawsuit over displaying copyrighted material, heavy media hitters News Corp. and NBC Universal are teaming up to create a new advertiser-supported video site primarily devoted to just that sort of professionally created video.

Due this summer, the as yet unnamed new site will hold movies and TV shows, with "most" content available free (the reports were vague on exactly what that means). Users will also be able to upload their own videos, and the reports were also vague on how copyright control will be handled on those clips. (See TechCrunch's notes on the announcement.)

If the new venture flies, we could be looking at a bifurcation (love that word) in the market. YouTube for loopy, user-generated kareoke videos, and other sites for professional media products. That's probably not good for YouTube owners Google.

In related news, Viacom is being sued over telling YouTube to remove a Colbert report parody called Stop The Falsiness. The clip is still up...

And Reuters has a story on, the YouTube for video games.

Lazarus Responds To Critics

San Francisco columnist Dan Lazarus has responded to bloggers comments about his column calling for newspapers to band together to charge for their online content.

Apparently The Freditor and MediaShift weren't the only ones to take him to task. In fact, he doesn't mention us directly.

More to the point, he still doesn't get it.

For one thing, newspapers' print business is supported by advertising, not by charging for the paper itself. Many newspapers are now distributed free, and even when they do charge they still lose more money on paper distribution then they do on online distribution.

Here's the thing: Online distribution is vastly cheaper and more efficient than chopping down trees, printing up thousands of copies, and delivering them to houses and newsstands. So if the Chronicle thinks it's enough better than the free San Francisco Examiner to charge $.50 a copy, that's fine. If the Chron thinks it's that much better online, too, then it can try and charge there too. If people think it's worth it, then they will pay.

But asking for anti-trust exemption to allow collusion and price fixing is both pathetic and nasty. What's next, forcing Craigslist to charge for its personal ads?

Oh, and here's the best take on the issue, from the Chronicle's consistently hilarious Don Assmussen's Bad Reporter comic.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

David Byrne Talks Sense To The Record Industry

It's no secret that I'm no fan of the record industry. But I am a big fan of former Talking Heads leader David Byrne.

So I was thrilled with this Reuters story about Mr. Byrne railing against the greedy record companies and Digital Rights Management (DRM).

For the greed factor, Byrne notes that the companies pay the same artist royalties for sales over iTunes as they do for CD sales, even though there are only minimal manufacturing/distribution costs. And he admits that he downloads music "illegally" rather than put up with iTunes' DRM restrictions.

Byrne's sensible suggestions?

1. Have artists work independently of the industry establishment.
2. Use music as a loss leader for tours and merchandise revenue.
3. For promotion, do-it-yourself on YouTube and the like instead of paying millions to make videos for MTV and the like.

Now that's starting to make sense.

Oh, and if you want to take a stand, join Gizmodo's RIAA Boycott for the month of March.

More On Online Newspapers

I've posted a lot recently about the controversy over the future of newspapers in the online era. But I'm not the only one. My old friend and former basketball buddy Mark Glaser takes on the issue in his excellent MediaShift blog for PBS.

In his latest post, Mark also takes the SF Chronicle's David Lazarus to task, but ends with a much more positive position, that the Web offers newspapers, and the news industry new opportunities as well as new challenges:

My argument is not that investigative journalism will jump from newspapers to the web. My argument is that investigative journalism will take place in many mediums, from the web to cable TV to network TV to blogs to any place where people congregate to ask important questions and team up to find answers.

I think he's right in many ways. But I am still worried about the money question. Where is the cash going to come from to pay for this. The new media, as a whole, are not yet bringing in anywhere the bucks that print does (did?). And I don't think they ever will. And that will lead to unforeseen implications for journalism.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Mac vs. PC: The Other Side Of The Story

I love Apple's Mac vs PC commercials. This latest one about Windows Vista may be my all-time favorite.

But these four parodies by Laurie McGuinness are also priceless.

Thanks to Angela Gunn at USA Today's Tech_Space for finding these.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Sinbad Is Not Dead

Apparently, Wikipedia had erroneously reported the demise of actor/comedian Sinbad due to a heart attack.

He's still among the living, though, according to the AP.

I'm happy for Mr. David Adkins (Sinbad's real moniker) that he's not dead, but this kind of boo-boo puts Wikipedia's user-generated content in a bad light. Of course, the "legitimate" media gets things wrong sometimes, too.

So let's all just rejoice in the fact that this major, major talent was not snatched away from us prematurely.

SF Chronicle Obsesses Over Viacom/YouTube Tussle

Earlier this week, I lambasted San Francisco Chronicle writer David Lazarus for his column proposing that since newspapers couldn't seem to charge for online content on their own, they should band together to do so.

Lazarus wrote his column based on the Viacom/Google lawsuit, and today his colleagues at the Chron are weighing in on the subject of content ownership, copyright, and all that jazz.

Columnist Jon Carroll -- known for writing about his cats as much as anything else -- agreed with my take, pretty much, although he was much nicer about it.

TV columnist John Goodman had a different take. Falling back on the "content is king" idea, he claims that "Hollywood" will rule until Google starts creating content of its own. I'm not so sure. People do care about some user-generated content, the famous Macaca clip, for example. And delivery systems do matter. Just ask the record companies if "owning" the content is doing them much good these days. (They may be too busy suing music lovers to answer, though.)

Heck, I don't know how this is going to play out, but I suspect that it's going to be messy and difficult and uncomfortable for everyone.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Cisco Meets With WebEx For $3.2 Billion

Cisco's big-bucks buyout of online meeting service WebEx seems a bit spendy, but continues the networking giant's trend of buying companies that will drive additional network usage -- and thus demand for Cisco products.

If Cisco hopes to use the acquisition to spur growth in new markets -- as CNET's Marguerite Reardon supposes -- it may have overpaid. WebEx reported just $380 million in revenue last year, and a paltry $49 million of net income.

Frankly, I don't see this a watershed event for anyone except WebEx stockholders, who made out like bandits.

Google Promises To Protect Privacy: Yawn

I don't know about everyone else, but I use Google for all sorts of things. Email, most of my searches, and this blog, for instance.

The services work, and I like the price. I pay nothing to Google.

And nothing is just about the value I put on Google's announcement that it plans to improve its privacy practices. According to the AP, the company says it will make it more difficult to connect online search requests with the people making them by removing key pieces of identifying information from its system every 18 to 24 months. (According to Tom Clayburn at InformationWeek, one reason may be to save some $$$ on storage.)

But Google acknowledges that it will retain lots of data about users, and no matter what the company says, it's prudent to assume that they will track everything you do. If not to roll-over and give it to the government, then to use it to try and sell you something.

As noted earlier in an earlier post, I'm sure they're tracking usage of Google Apps. Heck, they're probably even tracking travel patterns on their employee bus service!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Forget Anti-Trust: Should ALL Newspapers Charge For Online Content?

The SF Chronicle's normally insightful David Lazarus has come up with the cockamamie idea that the newspaper industry should apply for anti-trust exemption so all papers can start charging for online content at the same time. He also seems to want to charge sites who link to newspaper content.

Whew! There are so many things wrong with these ideas that I don't know where to start.

Lazarus smartly hooked his idea to the Viacom / Google lawsuit, but it's really more about the State of the News Media report. As that report makes clear, newspapers do have a problem with online revenue growth not keeping up with erosion on the print side.

And maybe charging for content will help make those figures tally better. But calling for the industry to unite and do it together is simply silly. As Lazarus notes, beyond the anti-trust implications it would require a level of cooperation previously unknown in the notoriously cutthroat newspaper business. (Whee! I always wanted to use the phrase "notoriously cutthroat.")

Not going to happen -- short of a single company owning all the journalism outlets. Oops, that could happen!

As for Lazarus' other suggestion -- that "newspapers should insist that a licensing fee be paid for aggregators to have access to their content" -- I'm not sure I understand what he's saying. If he means that sites can't reproduce articles wholesale, fine. As he points out, that's already against the rules, and in my experience as a site editor, sites big enough to matter typically stick to Fair Use excerpts, and almost everyone will stop when asked.

But if he's saying sites should have to pay to link to newspaper content, he's making another big mistake. The Web is built on linking. Linking is what sends the people to the site in the first place. Take away linking and newspapers may quickly find that their online readers don't come 'round so much anymore.

Like many others, Mr. Lazarus seems to be wishing for a gentler, simpler time. I don't blame him. The effects of Internet can be very disruptive. I know first hand. But I still believe the Net is a good thing, and in the end it will create far more than it destroys.

Viacom Vs. YouTube

I'm tempted to say that Viacom's $1B lawsuit over "massive" and "intentional" copyright violations on Google's YouTube is a battle for the soul of the Internet.

And it is, but it's only the latest in the unending series of tussles between the technologists (Google in this case, previously Napster and BitTorrent) and the "owners" of content (Viacom, but previously the RIAA and the MPAA).

In my opinion, the suit has the ability to destroy YouTube-as-we-know-it, which is no big deal to me personally. It also has the ability to seriously slow the Web's development as the place to go for video -- see my earlier post. If Viacom succeeds, the Web could become nothing more than Cable TV with more channels. To paraphrase Bruce Springsteen, "infinite channels and nothing on."

As a content creator myself, I certainly understand Viacom's desire to protect its ability to make money. They're scared, and they're lashing out.

But lawsuits are not the way. Over and over again, the Content Industry is fighting the wrong battles. Instead of fighting to protect the money they used to make, they should be scrambling to figure out how to add value in the new world.

For some ideas that might work better than lawsuits, they might want to check out the State of the News Media report I posted on earlier this week.

Monday, March 12, 2007

The State of Journalism Is... Confused

The Project for Excellence in Journalism has released its third annual State Of The News Media report. The report is big, comprehensive, important and devoid of a single, easy-to-digest takeaway. It's worth spending some time perusing the whole thing, but if you don't have the bandwidth, don't worry.

For me, this stuff hits about as close to home as anything could, so I'm going to spend a bit of space talking about it. And at the end, I'll also give you links to some of the news coverage of the report.

So, let me address a couple of the major trends that relate to the parts of the media world I care most about.

Who's Gonna Pay?
None of this is news, exactly, but it's becoming increasingly clear that the old economics of the news industry just aren't going to fly much longer. Print revenue is declining fast, and while online revenue continues to grow, it's still a long way from making up for the print losses.

More to the point, imagine that all of a publication's print readers move over to that pub's Web site. Right now, that would mean economic disaster. Even though the pub is getting the same attention from the same readers, and can offer a much greater degree of interaction with those readers, advertisers simply won't pay the same amount of money.

The Report suggests one solution might be a cable TV model, where ISPs and aggregators (Google?) would have to kick in some cash for access to the content. Similarly, in the UK, users have to cough up an annual licensing fee for their TV, which helps cover programming costs.

I'm not sure that would work online, and it would be a wrenching transition at best.

A New Era Of Blogging
The report says
Blogging is on the brink of a new phase that will probably include scandal, profitability for some, and a splintering into elites and non-elites over standards and ethics.

Maybe so, but I'm hoping that The Freditor gets no more than a brush of scandal and lots of profitability. Not sure we'll be part of the elite, though. We've got ethics, but no standards, whatever that means.

Seriously, the question for me is where do you draw the line between a blog and a "legitimate publication?" Who is a journalist and who is just spouting invective? I have decades of experience, but without backing from a big publishing company, is The Freditor a journalist? And even if I am, who's to say who isn't? I simply don't have an answer to this one.

Conventional Wisdom Of Online Journalism
The Report goes on to say that online journalism is still in search of a clear model. Well, for me, that's the whole point. Way back in 1996 I left my job as editor-in-chief of Electronic Entertianment magazine to try out this thing called the Web for many reasons. Sure, CNET stock options were one reason. But the real lure was the chance to help set the conventions of a new medium.

In print, the conventions have long been agreed upon by journalists and readers. There's not a lot of confusion over what constitutes a magazine cover or a table-of-contents, right? But what is a Web home page? Is it a cover? A front page? A TOC? If it's a TOC, what should be in it? After all, the concept of an "issue" has little meaning online. And what if the page primarily delivers audio or video?

Questions like these often make online life perplexing, but they're also an editorial opportunity the likes of which don't come along every century. We journalists may end up unemployed, but we'll have great stories to tell our grand-kids.

There's a lot more in the report, and I may return to it in the coming days. In the meantime, check it out for yourself, or see what the news media has to say about the report on the news media:

San Francisco Chronicle
Long Island NewsDay
Poynter Online
Chicago Tribune

USA Today

I Told You So

To the surprise of no one, especially me, the Daylight Savings Time bug turned out to be a snore.

And snoring is exactly what I wish I had been doing at 8am (or was it 7am?) on Sunday morning. But instead I hopped out of bed and actually started my day on time. Whatever time it was.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Forget The Net, Google Is Really A Bus Company

For the last few months I've been seeing these ugly brown Bauer Transportation mini-buses wandering around my neighborhood in San Francisco. They're not marked with anything describing where they're going, and we all wondered what they were about.

My theory was always that they had to be taking Googlers to work -- nobody else could afford it -- and today the New York Times confirmed it. (Don't you just love it when you guess right?)

Turns out that the company schleps some 1,200 people a day all around the Bay Area. For free. With free Wi-Fi. And bike racks. And room for dogs. The Times' Miguel Helft reports that many riders see the buses as the best of the company's many legendary perks.

Hey, it's probably the only way they'd get ME to head all the way down from San Francisco to Silicon Valley every day (not that they seem interested). So what the heck, after my experiences hitching rides on CMP's commuter van from Great Neck to Manhasset back on Long Island, I'm wondering how hard it could be to impersonate a Googler...

Prediction: DST Bug Will Be Just as Lame As Y2K Bug

OK, I'm going out on a limb here. As of 3pm PST Saturday, I'm predicting that the big deal on the daylight savings time bug will be revealed by Sunday morning as yet another tempest in a technological teapot.

If I'm wrong, I'll own up to it. But this is one problem I simply refuse to worry about.

YouTube Caves On Turkey Spat

In a recent post, I talked about all the challenges facing YouTube. Well, it seems that the site has backed down from one of them.

In response to a ban from the Turkish Governement, YouTube has pulled a video involving Turkey's founding father, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

It seems that corporate parent Google's commitment to "do no evil" doesn't translate to standing up for free speech.

As TechCrunch points out, this sets a terrible precedent. Pretty soon YouTube will be THE place to go for video that doesn't offend anyone. How exciting, huh?

Thursday, March 8, 2007

China Discoves Sarcasm. No, Really!

According to an article in today's SF Chronicle (I can't find it online, please let me know if you can), China has finally discovered sarcasm. And the government isn't happy.

The piece, by Craig Simons at Cox News Service, discusses the concept of egao (pronounced "uh-gow"), which is news to me anyway.

Apparently, the idea is that Chinese government censorship makes it difficult and dangerous to express direct criticism, so clever Net users have discovered truthiness.

The examples in the story don't seem all that hilarious to me -- a magazine claiming that the country has instituted universal healthcare and that sweatshop workers were happy and respected -- but I still like the idea.

Chinese officials don't seem to see the humor though. One city has banned the practice with stiff fines.

Now I'd like to see people make fun of that!

Don'Cha Wish Your Hard Drive Was Hot Like Mine?

Do you care what your hard drive looks like?

I don't.

But according to today's NY Times, the latest external hard drives are being marketed as eye candy.

Don't get me wrong, I swear by external hard drives. I've got so many of 'em connected to my laptop that I had to buy a USB hub just so I could use 'em all at once. I've got a big one for video, a portable one for work stuff, and another one for music. I've even got one that I can't use most of 'cause I pulled it from an old computer that died and the user files are password protected.

Only the SimpleTech 2.5" portable has anything approaching design, but I bought them all because they offered the most gigabytes per dollar. I might pay a little extra for a smaller size in a portable, but not for style, I don't think. And for a regular 3.5" external drive, style is completely irrelevant.

I understand that vendors want to get away from selling hard drives like commodities, but, uh, that's what they are.

Oh, and despite "price wars, component shortages, and competitive upheavals," drive shipments still grew 15% last year, according to research firm iSuppli, as quoted by Antone Gonsalves in InformationWeek.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Is YouTube Going Down The Tubes?

Sure, YouTube sits at today's absolute nexus of technology and culture. But it’s also at a major crossroads of its own.

On the one hand, Google's $1.6 billion toy is credited with everything from rewriting the rules of video entertainment to influencing the outcome of presidential elections. The NBA now lives on YouTube, for example, and the site made Macaca the key word of the 2006 mid-term campaign.

Yet YouTube is also the key battleground in the fight over digital copyrights and permissions. Viacom (owner of MTV) is battling with the video service over the value of letting its content be posted there. Movie studios are trying to subpoena YouTube to learn the identity of the people posting unlicensed content. Many people speculate that YouTube sold out to Google just to get access to its team of big-league lawyers.

All this means that the very nature of the beast is changing, and not necessarily for the better. As YouTube moves to make nice with rights holders, the site risks losing the grass-roots user participation that made it a phenomenon in the first place. If the site ends up with only the content for which it can cut deals, the service will be much the poorer. While the NBA and the BBC may be in, for example, tennis has been ruled out.

There are political risks as well. YouTube has just been blocked in Turkey - over a video deemed insulting to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey.

If all this means that YouTube ends up just another tightly managed outlet for big media, cutting-edge users may look elsewhere for their video fixes. That would be a shame, but it wouldn’t be the first time that big media stomped on its audience. Don’t get me started on the record companies!

Worse Than A Trip To The DMV

Making fun of the endless drudgery involved in getting a new driver's license has become a hoary cliche.

Well, here's a new approach: something worse!

Massachusetts officials are warning of a new scam that plays on the fact that the state calls its agency the RMV, not the DMV. According to InformationWeek, "The malicious sites are set up to closely resemble the official site, duping users into inputting personal information, along with credit card payments. They also purport to charge users extra for doing business online."

Apparently, the state had to shut its official RMV site until it figured out what was going on...

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Best Buy May Not Be

This one is rich!

Apparently, Best Buy is under investigation by Connecticut's attorney general for maintaining a "lookalike" internal Web site that employees could use to deny in-store shoppers the prices posted online at

According to a company spokesman quoted by AP, it's all just a misunderstanding by the employees. But she added that it may be time to redesign the internal Web site so it doesn't resemble

You think?

Seriously, if you're crazy enough to actually buy anything in a brick-and-mortar store these days, be sure to bring along a smart phone and check the Web to make sure you're not being taken advantage of.

Monday, March 5, 2007

The Secret Pitfalls Of Online Office Suites

Not long ago, I was at an Industry Insider party at a swanky art bar in downtown San Francisco. (Nice, intimate event, except for the cash bar! Sometimes I miss the boom years. Oh well.) It happened to fall on the evening that Google announced the premium edition of its Google Apps online productivity suite.

The pros and cons of the product was a big topic of conversation, especially with Raju Vegesna of, which makes its own browser-based office suite. We discussed Google’s $50/year pricing (more than free, less than Microsoft), and how Google’s offering will “validate the market.” (Isn’t that what every small company says when a giant competitor muscles in?)

Here’s the interesting part, though. Both Google Apps and the competing Microsoft Office Live Premium both actually store your documents online for you, which is a great convenience, right?

Well, in Google’s case that means they “read” everything you’ve got up there and then most likely try to sell you ads based on its content. (Unless you pay for the Premium version, where they'll just remember it forever and use the info to try to sell you something else down the road.)

That’s nothing though. If Microsoft’s past behavior is any guide, Bill’s boys will slap some nasty DRM on your data, and then try to license it back to you – for use on only one computer at a time!

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Oracle Strikes Again

A few years ago, I wrote a column for TechWeb about Oracle's buyout of PeopleSoft. I speculated the takeover ploy was originally designed to roil the markets and sow FUD, but somehow ended up a done deal. And I wondered whether Larry Ellison would eventually regret having fought so hard to acquire PeopleSoft in the first place.

I shouldn't have bothered. Larry shows no signs of buyers remorse, and followed up his PeopleSoft snack with the almost as big gulp of Siebel Systems. And now Oracle has announced plans for dessert with a $3.3 billion deal to buy business intelligence software maker Hyperion.

While this deal will likely reshape the business intelligence software market, I can't seem to muster the same level of outrage. Sure, Oracle is still an evil empire, but these days everyone is more afraid of Google than Oracle, Microsoft, or any other company perceived as a traditional software vendor.

Somehow, these deals, though huge, seem a bit like dinosaurs bulking up to do battle with other dinosaurs. Not to overstretch a mixed metaphor, but Google got to be dinosaur-sized by eating the eggs of other dinosaurs.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Beware The Killer Internet

Apparently, the Internet really is as dangerous as all the talk show pundits say. At least if you're a really, really fat Internet addict.

For a 330-lb man from Jinzhou, in northeasternChina, though, the danger wasn't from online bullying, sexual predators, hate groups, or pornography. No, according to news reports, the 26-year-old Zhang passed away after a 15-day marathon online gaming session over the Lunar New Year holiday. According to the story, there was nothing else to do while all the market and cafeterias were shut down.

I Googled away, though, but couldn't find any information on what, exactly, killed Mr. Zhang.

Nevertheless, the Chinese Government is worried. Surveys classify 2.6 million, almost 14 per cent, of China's teenage internet users as addicts and the government has started electrocuting them to try and shock them out of the habit.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Live Locally, Work Globally

I had lunch (yum, bonito!) this afternoon with fellow CMP alum Rusty Weston, who is busy launching his new project, My Global Career. I was impressed, for a couple of reasons.

First, global employment is a hot topic these days, and one that Rusty is well qualified to address. (I should know, I helped him put together the Global Services Media site back at CMP.)

Millions of people now work in countries different than the ones they call home, and even more work for companies based outside their home country. This community desperately needs information and perspective developed just for them, and My Global Career is already starting to give it to them. In addition to the blog entries, check out the My Global Career 500 and my personal favorite, the World Business Holidays tool.

Just as important, I was impressed with how Rusty has created his site and his company - Third Set Media - so quickly and with such a limited investment. He's outsourced tasks to virtual contributors across the country and around the world.

Stay tuned, in the spirit of online log rolling I may be writing a piece for him soon based on my own personal taste of a global career...

Not So Fast

OK, so maybe I was a little overoptimistic in yesterday's post. Seems like the market slide may not be over quite yet. The market ended up only about 50 points in the black yesterday, and it's just about erased that gain so far today.

At least no one is blaming "computer glitches" today. (In fact, I heard some NPR commentator say that given the volume of trading on Tuesday, the computer problems were actually less severe than might have been expected.)

In addition, it's important to note that while technology companies have been losing value along with everyone else, this is not a technology-driven selloff. According to BBC News, it seems more about a new Chinese tax, slowing housing activity in the US, and a general sense that equities were over-valued.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Computer Glitch Drives Dow Drop

OK, so it turns out that a computer glitch is at least partly responsible for yesterday's big drop in the stock market. Apparently, trading got so heavy the computers couldn't keep up, and when they finally did, they showed a 200-point flameout in less than a minute.

Not surprisingly, that spooked many traders, who jumped on board trying to dump their positions as fast as they could.

Without the glitch, weakness in China, the attempt to bomb Cheney in Afghanistan, and Greenspan's comments about a possible recession in the US later this year still would have driven the market down, but perhaps not as fast or as far.

Fortunately, the effects of technical problems like this seem to be temporary. As of this writing, the Dow is back up some 100 points.


Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Bit-Torrent Goes Legal. So What?

The media business still doesn't seem to get it. Everyone was making a big deal this week about BitTorrent finally offering legal downloads.

Well, great.

But as PC World and many others helpfully pointed out, the new service is pretty lame. Even apart from having to pay, the new service turns out to be nowhere near as good as downloading the unlicensed content you can find all over BitTorrent for free. The selection is relatively tiny, you can play it only on two computers (no mobile devices or TVs), and movie downloads last only 30 days and can be played only during a 24-hour viewing period. Sheesh.

You're trying to get people to "do the right thing" and pay the copyright holders, and then you hit them over the head with restrictions worse than iTunes and other "legal" download options? Yeah, that'll work!

The only real upsides are the fact that you won't get sued or go to hell, and that the image quality is likely to be reliably high. (Oh, and apparently you actually "own" TV show episodes that you download.) Still, if you ask me, if they want to charge for something, it ought to be way BETTER than what you can get for free. Appealing to downloaders' better nature simply isn't enough.

Oscars Take Low Road On Technology

I watched the Oscars the other night, and if I learned anything from the endless broadcast, it’s that the much-discussed marriage of Hollywood and technology is still one of convenience, not commitment.

Sure, some of the nominated movies incorporate some stunning effects – check out Pan’s Labyrinth -- and every movie has a Web site, but mostly the winners were pretty standard dramas and comedies.

That’s cool, but the show itself was decidedly low tech. I mean, they had a “Sound Effects Choir” making train noises. It was kind of fun to watch, but is that really still how they create the audio effects in modern movies? And they won’t even let animated films -- mostly done by computer – compete against the “real” movies.

Of course, the cool kids’ biggest dis to the geeks is that the Scientific and Technical Awards aren’t even part of the show. They get given out rather anonymously a couple weeks earlier. At least someone persuaded Maggie Gyllenhaal to show up.