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.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Sacred COWBs want a gerontolution

The latest in the long line of crotchety old white bastards, in this case some superannuated Pommy called Bill Thompson writing an anti-2.0 rant for the Register, has perked up the interest of a fellow COWB, Nick Carr.

It's hard to see what Thompson is proposing, since he rambles all over the place like a Trotskyite after a night on the bottle. The less said about the absurd Marxist analogy, the better. He lays on the purple prose, yet doesn't manage to communicate a coherent vision. (Never forget: this is the Reg we're talking about here. Not a noted bastion of advanced thought.)

If Thompson is so old and wise - I think I saw in his bio that he was present when the Declaration of ARPANET was signed in 1776 - then he should know that the Web itself is a presentation layer, so it's no surprise that a movement called Web 2.0 is also mostly about the presentation layer. What he is talking about is a re-engineering of the Internet. It's a classic mistake, confusing the Web and the Internet, and one that I wouldn't expect someone of Thompson's experience to make.

Anyway Nick, you have found someone who is possibly even more of a COWB than you, bravo! I hope you and Bill can share many a good virtual sherry whilst decrying the horrors of today's youth from the safety of your respective ivory towers.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Hydrapinion: a different problogging model?

Via ITJourno comes news of the recent launch of a joint blog called Hydrapinion by five Australian freelance technology journalists. The concept is that each of the journos writes one blog entry per week, in successive days, on technology niches: Stephen Withers on Monday about business IT, Seamus Byrne on Tuesday about gadgets, Patrick Gray on Wednesday about security, Anthony Caruana on Thursday about mobile, and Adam Turner on Friday about the digital home.

I commend this innovation by journalists, trying out new things to see what works. This model is an interesting alternative to what has become the norm: a couple of professionals who know what they're doing hire bums off the street to churn out content in a "blog network", and trickle the profits back down to the plebs, Reaganomics-style. These five pros know what they are talking about, and have years of experience and bodies of work to prove it.

Nevertheless the result, at first impression, is of unevenness. After reading so many blogs which stick to one topic and by one author, it's jarring to see every story about a different subject, and by a writer with a different style. I would be fascinated to see how the concept evolves. My opinion is that a collective of freelancers writing for a group bloggish publication is a fabulous idea, but perhaps stuffing them all into a single blog is the wrong way to do it. I would hazard a guess that it would work better if the bloggers maintained their own separate blogs, but used the group approach to go to advertising agencies for revenue. I think that the economic advantages of such a joining of forces are far more important than changing the well-established blog template of one blog, one author. There are also technical advantages in establishing separate sites if your revenue comes from Google ads, since advertisers can buy individual sites in AdWords making, for example, the gadget sub-site much more attractive to a gadget advertiser.

The problem is that freelance journalism for MSM publications still pays far more than problogging, at least for these long-time journos. It is easy to characterise Hydrapinion as a mere toe-dipping exercise rather than a real immersion in the blogosphere - a place of mystery and terror to most MSM journos. I look forward to tracking the adventures of the Hydra boys as they engage with legions of Hercules wannabes.

Friday, November 17, 2006

When betas are a bete noire

Last night, during a D&M* with Phil Sim after the launch of version 3 of his MediaConnect platform, a project for which I have been in Sydney for the past week acting as database consultant, he explained to me a view that I had not thought of before but found very interesting.

The perpetual beta is a cornerstone of the Web 2.0 manifesto. Web 2.0 applications are considered to always be in testing mode. Gone are the days of iterative point releases which are published en masse like they are hardcover books; now, code is dribbled out like sausage meat from a grinder.

Phil's contention was that this process was perfect for someone who couldn't handle the pressure of failure. It is an easy out, a sop to your own ego which might be too fragile to face criticism of a product that you might dare to say is finished. The result of this is that entrepreneurs, who as a breed are notorious for starting projects and not finishing them, now have a ready-made excuse for all of the flaws of their creations, bestowed upon them by no less a dignitary than Tim O'Reilly. The state of having launched a beta but not graduated to the hard fact of a final product is a seductive one, because it means you never have to give up the defence of "oh, but it's only beta". You get to have a blog and participate in the 2.0 community as an equal, or at least a player. You avoid making the difficult decisions, to set yourself up to be knocked down. You delay the time when you put your skill and work ethic on the line.

By the way, mea culpa.

This leads me to think that at some point, this dynamic of passivity will become less attractive and more of a sign of weakness. The computer game site GameIlluminati.com, for instance, is an industry forum whose sole criterion of membership is that you have been on a project team which shipped a commercial game. Will there be sites or events in the 2.0 community that will adopt such an attitude of professional exclusivity, to weed out the amateurs and wannabes? At the moment it's anathema to most of the culture of the community, but I can't help but think that it's just a matter of time before someone stands up for the shippers.

* "deep & meaningful": a long, serious philosophical discussion usually conducted under the stars after a heavy drinking session at a party.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Asher Moses debacle

Mike Arrington seems to be accreting enemies like barnacles on an oil tanker. The latest stoush involves Asher Moses (his blog appears to be down, though the Google cache isn't), journalist for the Fairfax newspapers (Sydney Morning Herald and The Age).

The last two weeks has brough a fresh wave of TechCrunch hate. I’ve learned to avoid responding to this stuff in the past because it just draws more attention to it, but tonight a reporter from the Syndey Morning Herald named Asher Moses emailed me and said “First off, great site - i’m a regular reader of yours.” He then went on to say he’s working on a story about the “disclosure scrubbed at techcrunch debacle.”

I took issue with his use of the term “debacle” before actually speaking to me - this tells me everything I need to know about this particular reporters slant on this “story,” and basically told him to fuck off. And while I’m not surprised that someone is looking to do a hit job on TechCrunch, I am surprised that traditional media is starting to see TechCrunch as newsworthy enough to attack. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

The first lesson to learn here is that if you want to act like a journalist when you talk to Mike Arrington - or any source for a story, for that matter - it is best that you do your homework on the type of language you should use. Journalists are treated with apprehension at the best of times, as most people who have had any previous contact are highly aware that a wrong word by them could result in adverse publicity. This is especially true when you're cold-calling a source, who doesn't know you from Adam and thus doesn't know about your own level of professionalism and history of ethical conduct (or otherwise).

I don't blame Mike for treating journalists like heavy ordnance, because he knows all too well that little red glowing dots are being painted all over his head and torso by snipers in the MSM who would love to bag him for their trophy cabinet. Asher should know that, being a reader of TechCrunch, and his first strategy should have been to spend time disarming Mike. Just giving a glib bit of praise wasn't going to cut it. Asher's language got him in trouble.

As for why the MSM are attacking Mike and TechCrunch, that is obvious to me, at least in the context of the tech media. First, TechCrunch is a direct competitor to tech media such as the technology sections of the Fairfax newspapers, which have been sickly at best since the last boom. If there is to be a new boom, then TechCrunch and its imitators are the media vehicles that will dominate new ad campaign budgets. Second, the TechCrunch model is an attack on tech journalism itself. Its writers are not arts degree holders or J-school graduates, they have MBAs and computer science backgrounds. They're startup CEOs, not journalists, who see writing not as a singular full-time profession but as a tool that is only one part of their personal arsenal of weapons to Get Shit Done. Third, Mike is beating them. He's getting the scoops that previously bolstered the circulation and/or page views of CNET, Computerworld and PC Magazine.

All of this leads to a situation of mutual distrust that is bound to spill over into spats like this. Mike is perfectly reasonable if you treat him with respect. He doesn't owe journalists anything, and if they want to get anything out of him then they have to realise who they're dealing with.

UPDATE: Along with all of the other kerfuffle in the blogosphere, Herald journalists did themselves no favours by continuing to display arrogance in their responses. David Higgins left a highly condescending comment on Crunchnotes lecturing on how Mike must adopt formalised ethics and kowtow to journalistic institutions in order to join David's exclusive club of collegial old boys. Also, Stephen Hutcheon of the SMH's Mashup blog posted a petulant piece which characterised the post you are reading as an "uninformed rant". Hey, my rants are all informed! Hutcheon saw fit to publish a private email from Arrington to Moses... does that break clause 3 of the MEAA Code of Ethics about respecting confidences in all circumstances? Funny how the only supporting article that Stephen could find was at another MSM source. Not that there weren't more anti-Mike articles out there, but the Fairfax lads haven't shown any inclination to engage with bloggers at any level above paternalism. The more they talk, the higher they hoist their petard.