Australian entrepreneur with FanFooty (alive) and Tinfinger (dead) on his CV. Working on new projects, podcasting weekly at the Coaches Box, and trying not to let microblogging take over this blog.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Brand over quality: Aussie journos speak

While Cameron Reilly was at the Pacific Area Newspaper Publisher’s Association earlier in the week, he recorded a short podcast with Mark Jones, IT editor of the Australian Financial Review and Hugh Martin, editor of News.com.au. Discussion centred around the future of print media, and how print-focused media giants transition to the Net era.

What struck me is that neither Mark nor Hugh mentioned what I think is the most important word: quality. The currency of the discussion, led by two journalists, is brand, brand, brand - Hugh mentions it ten times, while Mark says it twice. On his blog, Hugh linked some articles from MSM sources discussing what he called the "quality will win" view, so he's not unfamiliar with that side of the argument. However, the quote he uses from the Vanity Fair article also talks in terms of brand.

I am amazed at this. Are not Hugh and Mark trained journalists? Do they not represent all that is virtuous about quality investigative reporting? Why do they talk in terms of brand, when their hearts should be beating with outrage over the decimation of their ranks by accountants concerned more with short-term shareholder value than the fundamentals of journalistic institutions which have made their respective employers into the great bastions of mainstream media they are today?

Brand, in this case, is an agglomeration of goodwill garnered from past quality. But what of future quality? Does quality not matter any more? Is the only hope for Fairfax and News that they can con their audience into thinking they're paying for the same old quality they've come to know and trust, even though budgets for content have been slashed across the board at Fairfax, and News continues to pour good money after bad into businesses designed to cannibalise the media properties that made News Corp's brand in the first place? Brand is an ever-crumbling wall to hide behind, not an asset. You have to keep on building your brand by investing in quality stories that you will publish tomorrow, and the next day, and so on.

IMO, the discussion should be centred around how MSM giants keep their monopoly on quality, or at least their lead. Previously, they kept it by being the best vehicle for quality content creators - journalists, columnists, editors, etc. - to get paid the most and have the biggest audience. That is no longer the case. It is easier to get noticed by huge numbers of people AND get paid oodles of dollars by uploading one video on Revver, or start a podcast like Keith & The Girl did, or host a show like Rocketboom as Amanda Congdon did. People worry too much about "amateur" content as if it is low quality: the opposite is the case. Much of the content which succeeds at UGC sites is of the highest quality. The thing that should really scare MSM companies, and the editors whose livelihood is reliant on them, is that the UGC model enables an alternative way for the market to identify, promote and reward quality.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Old Man River keeps old-man-rivering along

Since Dave Winer deleted my comment on his Scripting News Wordpress annex on this issue, let me restate it here. Re his solution to duplicate entries in this river of news system he's in the middle of building, which Dave says would rely on unique titles, what about feeds where most entries don't even have titles... such as his very own blog?

Also, Dennis makes a good point:

I love the idea of NYTimesrRiver and BBCriver but I’m disappointed that they don’t work on most mainstream phones. The reason is simple and easy to fix - page size. The Rivers are 50 - 75 KBytes for the main page. Ordinary mobile phones like the RAZR for example, and just about anything without a keyboard or touchscreen have a page size limit of between 10 and 30 KB. If you limited the number of stories or broke the list of articles of articles up into multiple pages and kept page size down to under 10 KB you’d have a much larger mobile audience for these sites.

I don't understand why these sites are 50-75KB when, for instance, one of my own site's front pages (FanFooty) is only 6.8KB with about about a third of the character length (22,000 to 60,000). Is Dave doing something strange? Is there some compression issue here?

Finally, yesterday Dave railed against annoying Web bugs, such as counter scripts. Yet at the bottom of his river sites, there's this:

<script language="JavaScript" type="text/javascript"><!--
var imageUrl = "http://counters.scripting.com/counters/count.gif";
var imageTag = "<img src=\"" + imageUrl + "?group=staticRiver&referer="
+ escape (document.referrer) + "\" height=\"1\" width=\"1\">";
document.write (imageTag);

That looks suspiciously like an annoying Web bug to me, something which would be particularly egregious to mobile users to whom bandwidth is scarce. I want to support Dave, I really do, and I've been a supporter of his in the past on RSS politics because I think his heart's in the right place. But he makes it real hard to be one of his boosters when he contradicts himself so blatantly.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Dave Winer hates CSS... again

Item #2 of the Tinfinger Challenge looks like a lock, meaning I won't be appearing with orange paint over my head any time soon. After yesterday's stinging parody by Shelley, Ralph of There Is No Cat delivers the most accurate criticism yet of Dave Winer's latest project. Not only is Dave claiming credit for something others have been working on for years, the way Dave wants to do it is actually harmful and non-compliant with Web standards. Much the same argument is advanced in various comments to Scoble's fawning post on the subject.

Dave had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into accepting Cascading Style Sheets in the first place. Yet CSS is the solution to this problem, and has been used to solve the problem for many years. Back when Dave first hated CSS, browsers were very patchy in their non-compliance to the W3C spec, so it was easy to hate. By now, all browsers have long since caught up. There's no excuse to be ignorant of how to make your site mobile-friendly via HTML and CSS, as Ralph demonstrates. Crucially, this can be done - SHOULD be done - using the same URL as the regular site, without needing an extra subdomain, or an external aggregator, or relying on a separate RSS feed.

Mention should also be made of FEEDcombine, which has been doing almost exactly the same thing - consolidating mainstream media feeds, including those from the BBC and NYT or any other feeds you specify, into one low-bandwidth feed URL - for about a year now. Compare FEEDcombine's NYT superfeed with nytimesriver.com. Would you call that prior art?

Dave's response is typically belligerent. Despite the above criticisms about Dave's strategy on the client side - where "client" means publisher, who is effectively a client where aggregators are the servers - I still think he will probably produce something worthwhile on the server side. The mobile news aggregator market is still open to new players, and good luck to Dave for whatever he launches into it. I'm guessing that his main strategy would be to launch a ping service for mobile news content to enable the "push" element that will make the concept so compelling. If that is true, the master plan must be to eventually sell off that ping service for something like the $2.3 million price that VeriSign paid for Weblogs.com. NTTAWWT.

Please Dave, don't try to control the client side too. Don't force publishers into learning yet another new way of publishing. Work with CSS, not against it. Aggregators have had to learn to deal with the idiosyncracies of RSS, surely they can handle CSS-driven mobile versions of Web pages. At the very least, if you want to push on with whatever new and/or proprietary method you've got up your sleeve, give people a heads-up that they can do it with CSS too, and support CSS in your aggregator server code. It's the inclusive thing to do.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Orble advertises for pro bloggers through Seek

I keep an eye on Seek's job listings for various reasons, and this one jumped out at me this morning as the first listing I've seen looking for pro bloggers. Orble, which I hadn't heard of but appears to be Perth-based and have been in existence for four months, is a rather average-looking blog network, but they promise to hire one new blogger each week for a minimum A$40 per week for eight weeks, with the expectation that you'd blog for 30 minutes each day.

It's not going to change the world, but it's good to see another player in the Australian market, giving b5 media and their ilk a bit of competition. Orble's goals look to be smaller than b5's at this stage, but that's not a bad thing. It takes all sizes to grow an industry.

A relevant link: a rejected applicant posts his rejection letter which has some interesting details.

Opensewr, the river of refuse

Shelley nails the flow... on the... um... head with YellowGatr, her all new, never-been-though-of-before piddle of news concept. Generation gap, pshaw. Damn kids.

I bagsies brown, Shelley. I shall shortly launch Opensewr, a revolutionary open source river-of-refuse metaphor. Opensewr will consign outdated concepts from Web 2.0 to the toilet of history. It is perfectly suited to those of an older persuasion whose "products" are pleasingly regular. It will also coexist neatly with certain sites' wiping of their RSS feeds every day by introducing the concept of "flushing" your feed at predetermined times, to clean out all the old detritus clogging up your river. I'll also be working with Gabe Rivera to get DrekMeme up and running.

Opensewr. What can brown do for AdSense?

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Top 3 who need to fix their RSS shit

Time for some self-indulgence. The following wholly exhaustive list is compiled from my NetVibes page (who, incidentally, should have a Mark All As Read button for anal retentives like me who suffer from the following serial RSS miscreants).

#1: Google. Every time I go back to NetVibes, the feeds from their blog search and Web search products are jumbled up, causing NetVibes to mark all items as unread. Come on Google, fix your shit! You guys are so smart, solve this little problem.

#2: Dave Winer. Multiple times per day the order of his feed items get jumbled round, which confuses NetVibes, causing more erroneous unread flagging. Then every 24 hours, all the old items get wiped. Dave, mate, I know RSS is your baby and everything, but do you really have to prove how hardcore you are by publishing the least user-friendly RSS in the known Web? The accepted standard is a set number of items, ordered by publication time in descending order. It may not be the standard you set, but please adhere to it because it's a standard for good reasons.

#3: Valleywag. There's not anything technically wrong with Nick Douglas' feed, but damn, there are way too many items per day. It takes longer for . Do you get paid per... oh yeah, you actually do. You whore! Meant in the nicest possible way, of course.

Special mention goes to Penny Arcade, who have recently fixed their RSS shit but were previously competing with Dave for the shittiest feed on the Web. Now it's just their Web site which sucks.

(This shit [which is bananas, B-A-N-A-N-A-S] brought to you by Cheekyboy's I Need Bananas, part of solcofn's latest mashup mix.)

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Got an idea for a new site

A simple one really, although as I think it through it becomes more and more complex in the execution. It shall appear soon under the name of TableVsJetski. Shouldn't take too long to code up the basics of it.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

What's the point of enterprise Web 2.0 if suits don't get it?

Frank Arrigo muses on Tuesday's Web 2.0 piece in the Australian newspaper, bemoaning the lack of quotes from and/or mentions of local 2.0 entrepreneurs. This is an accurate criticism, not necessarily because us entrepreneurs can come up with anything more exciting, but at least we wouldn't sound as clueless as the besuited analysts who are flailing around trying desperately to seem as if they're on the cutting edge. Take the bloke from Gartner:

However, Gartner analyst Dion Wiggins says it's more important to understand the technologies behind Web 2.0 than its democratising effect on information.

"That's only one element of it. It's really about what the technology enables you to do, and really that's creating a richer environment in the browser," Wiggins says.

"There was a clear lacking in richness of web access for users, and this functionality brings back that richness," he says.

Bullshit, Dion. Maybe you got misquoted by Andrew Colley or maybe Andrew was asking a leading question or maybe Andrew chose the wrong quote out of a sixpack where the other five were humdingers, I don't know, but if that's your message then I call bullshit. The social and political aspects on Web 2.0 are far more important than the technology, and to say any different is to display your own ignorance.

Then again, you have to expect vacuity when you're reading a MSM article filled with analyst quotes. The Forrester analyst is the only one of the three quoted who sounds like they have any idea at all. From personal experience as a journo, it's hard to get an analyst to say something that doesn't sound like a vague motherhood statement, if only because that's all they're qualified to talk about, and that's what you're ringing them up about. It's the concept of a simplistic analyst ringaround to explain a new concept to the suits in a MSM feature which is the problem.

So how to get the 2.0 word out there in a format which the suits will consume that doesn't come across as a blancmange of nothingness? Perhaps I'm biased given my own background, but I think this is where the niche business magazines come in: IDM, CIO, MIS, Technology & Business and similar publications are where the concept should really be explained in full. Will any of these publications have the journalistic talent and the editorial comprehension to embrace the 2.0 concept and spend enough effort in understanding it (and identifying who is qualified to speak about it) and delivering an accurate portrayal of the phenomenon to their audiences? It will be interesting to watch.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Melbourne still Australia's home of Web 2.0

Tonight's webdirections event headlined by Ben Barren of Feedcorp went off swimmingly. Mr Barren is looking as fit as ever, which apparently is due to him walking around golf courses and long beaches in the Rye area. Feedcorp consiglieri Michael Leone was also in fine form. A good time was had by all, though some had a better time than others*.

In amongst the phantasmagoria of fantastical facts and figures which was Ben's slideshow, he let slip a screenshot of a project Feedcorp is doing in conjunction with News Corp about which he afterwards swore me to secrecy. I guess the IT journos reading this will have to scour every nook and cranny of the series of tubes to find out what it was.

We discussed various projects afterwards, primary among which is a sequel to the Melbourne Long Tail Camp. At this point we're hoping to have another barbeque for local Web 2.0 types in Melbourne some time in September. Along with the now-weekly Tequp meetings - every Wednesday at 3pm @ Joe’s Garage, 366 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy - there's no question Melbourne is the place to be if you have the cojones to risk your very sanity by becoming a 2.0 entrepreneur.

* I won a book about AJAX in a random business card draw, which I'll have to fit into my bedside reading schedule between the latest novels from Dan Simmons and Robert Rankin.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

CDM is the new fantasy sports hero

The leadup to the NFL season, always a time of expectation and excitement for fantasy sports freaks like myself, has been sweetened with the news that CDM won its case against MLBAM today. In short, Major League Baseball tried to destroy competition in the 100+-provider fantasy baseball industry by licensing only a handful of operators for huge sums, but the court in St Louis ruled that MLB had no right to charge for the right to use sporting statistics in fantasy games. CDM sued, and won even before the case began on a point of law. Appeals will no doubt ensue, but as the WaPo says, if the appellate court confirms the decision then it's rock-hard precedent.

This is a case I have been following with great interest due to my other site, FanFooty, which would be in a similar position to CDM if the Australian Football League ever decided to get serious about fantasy Aussie Rules sites, the numbers of which seem to be growing steadily. The case would not be a slam dunk (to mix sporting metaphors) to also apply in Australia, since we don't have the First Amendment, or the right to publicity, or precedent like the Feist case. Nevertheless, this case along with the recent European ruling that the English FA can not claim copyright over soccer fixtures for the similar purpose of restricting competition among fantasy service providers adds to "the vibe". The uniting force behind the two decisions is that big business - where sport is the business in question - can't use the copyright system to restrict competition in industries which are auxiliary to its own.

Fantasy sports have a history of independent development which is done in spite of, not with the help of, the central sporting organisations. The AFL has demonstrated to me in the last month that it is unwilling to work with anyone who is not a licensed partner, and me in particular. That is par for the course for fantasy sports, becoming a huge underground industry in the US and UK without much in the way of investment or support by the sport industry. I wouldn't expect it to be any different here, but at least now I have more confidence that my hard work won't be undone in a courtroom.