Phil Sim

Web, media, PR and… footy

The slippery slope

Further to my Marxism 2.0 post… Time Inc. is cutting 100 jobs, according to the New York Times.

It’s cutting 100 jobs because its moving away from print to online. Moving from just publishing magazines to doing web, wireless, events and broadcast with less people? That’s a pretty neat trick. A Time Inc. spokesperson said:

“We’re moving from being a magazine publishing company to a multiplatform media company, and we have to reallocate our assets. The people you need, the investments you need to make, are different if you’re going to be building Web sites and making TV shows and doing wireless deals and events and partnerships.”

Being a multiplatform media company is all very well, but if you let the quality of your core assets, which for Time Inc is its magazines, slip then you undermine the stable platform that you want to leverage with your alternative tiers.

Filed under: Big Media

Marxism 2.0 – has Karl finally got it right?

Scott Karp this week initiated another interesting meme, this time on media economics, basing a post on the work of Mr Plastic Fantastic himself, Umair Haque. Karp called Haque “possibly the most brilliant mind looking at what’s going in media, and thus in technology”. Maybe he is, maybe he isn’t but Umair is certainly the dude most capable of extrapolating the most graphs and buzzwords per theorum. Undisputed.

I have no arguments with most of what Haque has to say, although I think he’s dressing up a lot of conventional wisdom in bedazzling terminology just so as to wow and amazie and I also think he comes from too much of a technology-oriented point of view. I think concepts like community, voice, and authority are too difficult to plot on a graph yet essential to any modern media analysis and therefore go MIA in Haque’s PowerPointing.

But the one point I did want to make is that Karp uses the Haque-isms to suggest there is a bubble in the media forming that will in turn spill over to the wider tech sector.

To which Squash says one man’s bubble is another man’s bust.

If we’re going to talk economic models here, let’s revisit a classic oldie – Marxism.

Blah, blah, blah, to cut a long story short, the ruling class rules because it controls the means of production which enables it to exploit the labour of the working class to create “surplus value”. In media terms, this means Big Media contols the printing press and the broadcast stations, which enable them to create surplus value, ie profits, from the sweat of its content creators.

Fast forward to “media 2.0″ (quite amazing that this is the first major upgrade of hundreds of years of media thinking isn’t it?). The Internet means big media no longer control the means of production. The content creators themselves can blog, podcast, videostream. They can outsource their advertising department (and their accounts receivable department for that matter to Google). All they need is to be able to market on an equal footing. That’s where content aggregation comes in. When Big Media company ceases to control the gatekeeping mechanism, all content creators are reduced to a level playing field.

Big media now has to rely primarily on its superior content produced by their superior content creators. However, as Haque notes, the democratisation of media makes the role of Big Media more difficult. Their costs increase, their revenues decrease – profits slide. The only place they can cut costs are their labor costs (if you’re in Australia, does this sound like Fairfax people?).

Suddenly, those superior content creators find that they can strike out on their own as mini-media and snatch a slice of the surplus value themselves thereby increasng their overall share. Quality at Big Media sinks and falls behind micromedia. Slippery slope ensues. Big Media dies. Micromedia flourishes. Capitalism is dead.

And the means of production? Maybe we exist in a socialist world; ie the means of production is controlled by the people’s elected representative – Google?. Maybe, we operate in a communist world, wher the means of production is owned communally – Open Source? Long live the revolution, Comrade.

So what the hell, hey. If we must insist on slapping a 2.0 suffix on the end of every word in the dictionary then here’s mine: Marxism 2.0.

Filed under: Big Media, Content Aggregation, Media Models, New Media

F*cking awesome technology, shame about the name

I’d like to give two awards to SpongeCell, an AJAX calendar that got written up in TechCrunch today called SpongeCell.

The first awards is our F*cking Woeful award. SpongeCell? Dudes, that is truly an inherently bad, bad name, but it’s an even worse name for a calendar app. If there’s a single person out there able to guess that SpongeCell is a calendary app then I’ll let Kiera Knightly give me a spongebath (Hey, what can I say I’m risk averse…)

Mind you, if you thought SpongeCell was bad then wait for the tagline – “the absorbful calendar”. OMG.

Why does every Web 2.0 company feel the need to invent a new verb. Just because Googling has entered the public vernacular, everybody now wants to create or reinvent a verb. Sure, it worked for Digg and quite clearly it rocks for Squash, but for most of you peoples, it just sounds dumb.

So guess what? On SpongeCell you can “sponge”. (You’re still thinking about Keira aren’t you. Stop it, now) The great pity is that the act of sponging is one of the coolest things I’ve seen on the Internet for a very long time. Not quite as good as a Kiera Knightly spongebath but pretty damn tops nevertheless.
Generally, the act of adding a calendar entry sucks. You click on enter, add a subject. You pull down some drop boxes to add the start date and end date, whack in a location and press save. You’re constantly back and forth between the mouse and the keyboard and its just a right-royal pain in the neck. A couple of AJAX calendars have tried to make that easier by letting you simply type an appointment straight into a time slot on your calendar, which is nice.

But not as nice as SpongeCell. Say you want to have a meeting with Squash tomorrow at 10am. You simply go to the SpongeBar (a place where you can enjoy a spongebath while sucking back on a beer? Unfortunately not) and type “Meeting with Squash tomorrow at 10″ press the sponge button and it gets translated into an event.

That’s not even the really cool part. You’re on the road, you meet an old buddy and you decide to hook up tomorrow night at 7pm. You simply pull out your mobile and text message or email to the generic address sponge@spongecell.com and it’s added. Magic. Or you text message or email the words “Next” and you get your next appointment. Send Today and you get today’s appointments.

Now that’s F*cking Awesome. Amidst all the Web 2.0 hype and hoopla you seldom see the technology being used to do really simple things like making a simple act like adding a calendar entry or retrieving calendar information this natural and intuitive.

BTW, the Sponge guys are having a release party. No word as to whether it will feature sponge baths, Kiera Knightly or more crap branding. Incidentl, the company’s media release notes that the four-person team behind the product includes the president, a chief scientist, a chief technology officer and a chief architect. Bet you’re so surprised there was no chief marketer!

Filed under: Online Applications, Online Calendars

When will Picassa go online????

Google was talking up the fact that Picassa is now available in 25 languages. And if you speak Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Estonian, Finnish, Greek, Hungarian, Icelandic, Indonesian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Norwegian, Tagalog, Polish, Romanian, Serbian, Slovak, Slovenian, Catalan, Swedish, Thai, Turkish, Ukrainian, or Vietnamese I’m truly very happy for you.

But when oh when is Picassa going to have an online equivalent. As much as I love Flickr, I struggle to keep it up-to-date because it’s another step in my photo filing process, which I already consider laborious.

What I want is to download my files into Picassa (preferably with some intelligent tagging) and then have the software automatically start uploading the files into the online version. ideally, online/offline should then stay synched.

That’s something I’d definitely pay for so it represents a way for Google to actually monetise its Picassa investment, as well. Quite frankly, I’m staggered this hasn’t happened already.

Filed under: Online Applications, Online Photo Libraries

AJAX Challenge: Online Suite Spot

I’m getting well used to using Writely now. Really the only thing its missing for my day-to-day use is an automatic spellcheck. Having become used to Word’s automated red squiggleys I now seldom remember to click on the red squiggleys. So if Squash typos are annoying you, blame Writely. ;-)

I now post directly from Writely to my WordPress.com blog. That’s really kind of neat. As a journalist I’ve never had a production system where you could sent text straight out of your text editor into a production system. This is a functionality shared by Zoho Writer too.

Speaking of Zoho, I was well pleased to hear that the Zoho spreadsheet is on its way. It was due for any day now but is running a couple of weeks behind schedule. However, I’m already ruminating over what having all my Word documents in Writely and all my spreadsheets in Zoho Sheet will mean.

Zoho has gone on record as to the fact that they’re also working on a Powerpoint tool, so effectively they look like being the first and probably only provider of a full online suite. I’ll be interested to see how they bring this all together.

As I’ve said in the past, the primary reason I’m using Writely is I don’t like how Zoho manages your documents store. It’s fine if you have a half dozen, but as that mounts up, Writer really falls down and Writely with its ability to both tag and archive documents is far superior.

When Zoho pull together their suite, though, they’ll probably be able to leap across any stand-alone applications on this front because really I want to see all my documents, spreadsheets, powerpoint presentations, etc that relate to a single subject aggregated together.

That said, the nirvana is really to pull together my Writely documents, Zoho spreadsheets plus my Trumba calendar appointments, Gmail emails, etc. To all you AJAX desktop companies, take a tip. This is where you need to be focused because at the moment you’re just building gloried RSS readers. What I really want is to be able to tag something in Writely, Zoho Sheet, GMail, Calendar, tagged news articles, images, etc and them be able to click a tag on my Webtop and pull up everything under that tag regardless of what online app it exists in. Think del.icio.us meets Backpack. But where the aggregation all takes place automatically.

Of course, the challenge here is to be able to pull all of this data out of your various online applications so that you can aggregate it together. In particular, you’ll need to tap into GMail, Yahoo Mail or Hotmail because that’s where most people spend most of their day, these days, and that’s where your most valuable data lies.

So while an Office suite provider like Zoho is aiming to become, has a distinct advantage and could pull its application together in a way that makes life easier than using best of breed standalone online apps, eventually, it’s really only someone like Yahoo, Google or Microsoft that could pull the whole thing together.

Of those, Yahoo could do this most easily. Imagine if Yahoo bought Zoho. It could use del.icio.us as a central tag store, with tags from Yahoo Mail, Flickr, Yahoo Writer, Yahoo Sheet, etc all automatically populated. Give My.Yahoo a much needed overhaul built around pulling all this together.

Filed under: AJAX Challenge, Online Applications, Online Spreadsheets, Online Wordprocessing, Webtops

AJAX Challenge: Update

Tonight, I needed to paste a table from my online banking service into a spreadsheet and for the first time in a fortnight I needed to call on a desktop app. While numsum handled itself ok when building a spreadsheet from scratch, it failed me when I needed to bring data in via a cut and paste.

I almost downloaded Open Office but instead I made use of Microsoft Works which was bundled on the laptop. I’m definitely re-thinking whether I’m going to need a fully-fledged spreadsheet, however, I think I’m going to hold out till I get my hands on a release version of Zoho Sheet (it’s been renamed from Websheet).

Filed under: AJAX Challenge, Online Applications, Online Spreadsheets

A VC revolution is coming

The meme that has most interested me this week have been the folk talking about disrupting the VC business (Rick Segal, Doc Searl, Shel Israel, Jeremy Wright , Fraser Kelton , etc.)

The day I decided to start my own business in early 2000 my old boss said to me: “Do it with somebody else’s money”. I spent a couple of months writing a business plan for an e-commerce business I’d been working through in my head for the last year. Then the bubble popped. My venture called for a couple of million in start-up funds, about half of which would have gone to one of those bigshot development houses for the initial platform. I pressed on after the pop, thinking things would bounce back but every single person I met said the same thing. “Gee, if you’d have come and seen us six months ago…”

It was pretty clear, if I was going to start a business, it wasn’t going to be with somebody else’s money.

Less than six-month later, myself and a partner launched MediaConnect. It costs basically nothing. I learnt enough about code to built the website we needed myself; we worked out of our bedrooms and spent basically nothing. We created our own marketing material, printed it on a bubble jet, did our own books, made our own sales. After making a couple of early sales, we even had enough to pay ourselves a reasonable wage. As revenues increased we hired staff, got an office, even opened a foreign subsidiary. We never got approached by a VC and never went looking for one.

Having gone through that process, I’ve developed a healthy scepticism for the whole venture capital business. My original business plan didn’t suddenly start to suck because the bubble had popped. I think about what we might have done differently with MediaConnect had we had venture capital and realistically, I think we’d have been far less worried about ensuring everything we did was monetised and our business model was profitable and I’m not convinced we’d have come out the other side. Bootstrapping is a wonderful way to ensure you’re focused on what should really be the core concern of most every business – getting profitable.

What I would have liked, was access to expertise. When you’re a small, resource-constrained company, access to smart marketers, finance dudes, business strategists, etc is what you really need. I’ve been thinking a lot about the whole start-up process on account of the fact that we’re doing our lab stuff and I’ve had a few ideas. I even registered a domain name today because I think I’m going to conduct an experiment. I do think there is a revolution coming. More when I’ve fleshed it out a bit in my head…

Filed under: Venture Capital

Why I’m keeping my mouth shut

In my early days as a tech journo I was news editor of Computerworld Aus and then edited Network World Aus. In both those roles my constant frustration was trying to get CIOs/IT & Network Managers to talk about their really shit hot projects – the one’s that were really business shaping. Of course, no one wanted to talk about those because they were commercially sensitive. Even though it would have been good for their careers to do so, they had big, scary comms departments standing behind them with a whopping big stick should they ever overstep the mark.
I was then asked to take over IDG Australia’s channel title. Based on my previous experiences, I was expecting to be constantly knocking my head against a brick wall trying to get these IT resellers to open up about how they were making money. After all, why would you tell your opposition what you’re doing better than they are.

However, much to my surprise, these guys were open books. Firstly, they were fiercely proud of their businesses and by god if someone was willing to give them a platform to boast about it then they weren’t going to knock that back. Secondly getting a profile meant that it became easier to do deals/get credit terms/etc with distributors and vendors.

So it’s with a distinct feeling of deja vu that I look around the Web 2.0 blogosphere (which let’s face it, is mainly made up of people in the industry writing for other people in the industry) where every company has a blog and they’re remarkably open about talking up what their company is doing, even though much of the information I’d consider commercially sensitive.

It’s almost certainly for exactly the same reasons I discovered when channel reporting. 1) People are very proud of their creations and 2) Getting a name in the industry helps (except in this case it’s primarily with an eye to a flip).

The interactive nature of blogs, does lend itself to another potential benefit – feedback. If you can nurture feedback through this process, that of course is invaluable.

And btw, I include the whole beta phase within this concept. I see companies opening up their services long before they’re ready. Or else, not opening up their services, when in fact they should be ready to go public (Newsvine). I don’t understand either strategy. If you show off all your goodies before you’re ready to go large, then you’ve only got yourself to blame if someone else mimicks it and can put it into action before you do. If you go live but invite only and then someone steals your strategy and gets critical mass before you can, likewise.

Paul Montgomery, who actually inspired me to to have a crack at this when he wrote in a comment on one of my armchair critic posts something along the lines of ‘you’re all talk, no action’ has to be the master of using his blog and blog activity to promote himself and Tinfinger. Paul has been talking up Tinfinger long before he recently opened it up, ironically under the guise of being in ‘stealth mode’. His knack is to constantly reference Tinfinger, but primarily he does so in more general, thoughtful posts about the aggregator business, so it’s very subtle but effective.
The fact that Tinfinger recieved a pretty reasonable acquisition offer even before launch is proof of how well he’s done it.
All that said, I don’t buy into it. There’s a reason those big companies are so loathe to talk about the really good parts of their business. Time matters. It’s the one commodity you can’t buy. In particular, in the dot com business, time to critical mass is everything. And as far as I’m concerned every time you lift your skirt, you’re making your time to critical mass that much harder while making it easier for the other guy.

So I’m afraid, you’re not going to get a lot out of me, on the subject of aggregators, for instance. My recent post, Why Google News if Fatally Flawed is about as insightful as Squash will get on that topic. Which is hard because that post generated more traffic than any other post I’ve ever written, and I could quite easily write a series along the lines of Why Newsvine is Fatally Flawed, Why x.aggregator is Fatally Flawed.

Instead, I’ll be putting all of that reasoning and thought into our aggregator project and hopefully on launch it’ll do all the talking for me.

Filed under: Blogs, Corporate Comms

The Bloke-o-sphere

Anne Zelenka has written a post titled “An OPML Answer to ‘Where are the women in tech blogging“, which was somewhat co-incidental because I was all set to write a post I could very much have simply headlined: “Where are the women in tech blogging”.

Yesterday, I conduced an exercise. I counted all the links on tech.memeorandum. There were about 120 or so. About 100 of them were blog posts (you’ll have to excuse the fact I’m talking in generalisations but I just didn’t have the time to sit down and make sure my numbers were precise).

Of those, only around 10 were female bylines (nine by my count). What’s more about half of those were not blog bylines, but were MSM female journalists.

Talk about the bloke-o-sphere. What’s going on here? Why is the tech blogging community one big boy’s club.

Are there so few women in tech? Do women not blog? Do the A-List of male bloggers, simply not link to their female counterparts meaning female bloggers don’t register on a blogosphere radar like memeorandum?

Filed under: Blogs

Happy Australia Day

It’s Australia Day today. If you live in Australia that means you’re likely enjoying your day off, but if you don’t live in Australia Squash insists that you do at least three things today to honour my great country. Here’s a couple of suggestions…

Call your best mate a bastard…
Wear a thong on your foot, not under your pants…
Preface every sentence you say to someone by saying “Maaaaaate”.
Put a garbage bin in the background or in the middle of your street, grab a tennis ball and a fence paling and have a game of backyard cricket. And remember if the ball bounces off the house it’s only out if you catch it with one hand.
Have a BBQ and if you must throw a shrimp on there, please call it a prawn…
Drink an Australian beer (Fosters doesn’t count, noone drinks it here!)

Any other Aussie is welcome to contribute their own suggestions.

Filed under: Self-indulgent wanking

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