Phil Sim

Web, media, PR and… footy

Not Blogging (otherwise known as nogging)

Stuart Kennedy is the technology editor of The Australian, a national here newspaper down under. I thought I'd link to Stuart's mirthful recent column Nogging to say, and we meme it if for no other reason than just to make his nog part of the "great online conversation". It's cool, hey?

Filed under: Blogs, Piss take

Blogs on steroids

For some time now, I've pushed the barrow that for blogs to take that next step, where they can perhaps evolve into sustainable, self-funding publishing vendors, the blog platforms must first evolve to enable blogs to provide readers with richer, deeper experiences.

That's finally starting to happen. Over the last 24 hours or so, WordPress.com have released their Widgets plug-in out into the wild and now TypePad have launched their own Widgets offering.

That leaves Google as the odd-man out with Blogger. What we'd really like to see is for Google to allow Blogger users to snap in the same widgets that can be plugged into the Google personalised Homepage.

While the simplicity and ease-of-use of blogs are their greatest asset, it is also their biggest flaw. Let's face it, right now there is only so much you can do with a blog. To build a deeper, more involved website you still need to piece something together in a content management system or invest a bunch into developing a custom blog platform.

Why is this important? Because every publisher, from the global empires to your tiny blogger-come-media-magnate-wannabe needs a certain level of repeatable consistent traffic to sustain it.

Most blogs traffic patterns look like rollercoasters. They make spike when a story gets picked up in the blogosphere and linked to but then just as quickly it can fall back to near zero a couple of days later. That undermimes every rule of publishing which is based on being able to spend x amount on content to satisfy y number of readers who will be the basis on which to generate $z of revenue.

The peaks and troughs traffic model just can't be sustained. Even on purely a human capital basis, every blogger has to do deal with the reality that the post you've just spend hours lovingly crafting may end up being read by basically nobody. I don't care who you are or why you're blogging at some point you're going to say, I've got better things to do with my precious time.

Blogs need something more, something to convince at least your most loyal readers that they should drop by at least every couple of days to keep track of what's going on. These something more need to be low maintenance, because the one thing almost bloggers struggle with is their time.

I mentioned last week, Google Reader's ability to let users create their own RSS feed by simply tagging their favourite stories. That kind of thing is fantastic. Anything that enables a blogger to extend what is essentially their "brand"; ie their authority, expertise, contacts will assist blogs in increasing reader loyalty and building a more consistent traffic flow.

The other thing I think you're going to see is blogs becoming far more than just a blogging platform. We've already seen services like Edgeio that push the boundaries of how you can use blogs and I'm certain that we'll see more of that as information increasingly moves out to the edge. Some of the commerce widgets in the new TypePad offering are a fantastic example of this. Read my blog and while you're there, buy my eBay item!

As a point of disclosure, the company I've mentioned that I've been working with recently is about to launch a service that turns your blog into an application vehicle. We're pretty excited about its potential to really extend the way that people use blogs but more on that as we get ready to launch the beta.

P.S. If this sounds like a cool idea to you and you think you can help us by running an educated eye over the pre-beta gear send me an email at philipsim at gmail.com.

Filed under: Blogs

Google to build MySpace for all

The one piece of the Google puzzle that seldom gets any attention but I believe is going to be an absolute key piece of the puzzle is Orkut.

Earlier in the week, Eric Schmidt gave a very rare insight into Google's longer-term strategies when he said in the big Newsweek Web 2.0 article:

Everybody thinks we're building Operating Systems, PCs And browsers. They clearly don't get it. Look at MySpace. Very Interesting.

Google has clearly outgrown it's home page. Pretty much the only way you can find most of the recently developed services is to Google it and then follow the link.

However, to date Google has resisted the "portal" model. Schmidt's comments, perhaps for the first time, confirm that Google will head down that portal route because that's what MySpace is, at its most basic level – a personalised portal.

So how long before we see for want of a better term, GoogleSpaces? Google's personalised home page meets MySpace?? Maybe, it will look something like this:

Google keeps insisting that it has not wavered from its core mission of organising the world's information and increasingly people are relying on personal portals to do just that so it makes absolute sense that Google will follow suit.

What is different about MyScene is it is a combination of a social networking environment amalgamated with content relevent to that social network. So while I can go and build relationships in LinkedIn, I don't hang out there because LinkedIn has not content. When you start to interact and collaborate with content via your social network you build deeper connections with people because you're relationship moves beyond surface-level similarities and your content also becomes more satisfying because its shared and enjoyed socially.

So the big piece of the puzzle that Google has yet to plug in is Orkut but it has made a few special appearances of late. Google mentioned in its analyst briefing that Orkut when integrated with GMail has the potential to become the ultimate address book. And then there was the initiative with Nike around the soccer/football Orkut social network.

Take a good look at that, because that could very well be the best indication yet as to the direction Google wants to go. You see, the power of Google is that it can create a MySpace for all. Once it establishes a framework for plugging Orkut into the rest of its content plays there's no limit to the number of communities and networks it can create because Google is the ultimate long-tail content aggregator, remember.

And you don't think advertisers are going to love that? Magazine publisher should get very scared if this is the case because right now, that's their turf – delivering advertisers well formed, niche communities.

Filed under: Google

Ads infiltrate my GMail RSS feeds

Very clever Google.

I use GMail as my primary mail client and I can tell you I don't think I've clicked on an ad, or even noticed an ad for as long as I can recall. When you use an app like GMail, advertising is totally ineffectual because you just develop ad blindness as your eyes are trained to go where they need to go.

My eyes are trained on the other hand to quickly flick up to my Web Clips (that's the RSS posts that Google throws up onto your front page) in the hope that one of my favourite blogs has a new post that I might click over to.

Just now, however, for the first time that I've seen, I got fed a "sponsored link".

It did a pretty good job on the relevance side of things feeding me an ad for "Writing Opportunities. FreelanceWorkExchange.com – Freelance jobs for Writers…"

Yes, it annoyed me. I don't really want my RSS feeds punctuated with ads but it's not going to annoy me enough to persuade me to ditch GMail if its not done with too much frequency.

I do wonder how they're working out the relevence based on my Inbox though. If they're only using the text from my message headings that's surely going to throw up a ton of irrelevent ads. For example, based on my message headings you'd probably be serving me up lots of ads about squash equipment.

Whatever, the case Google has to solve the ad blindness problem and intermixing ads with Web Clips is a good way of doing it and they'd probably do well to extend the same idea to the right-hand column.

Filed under: Uncategorized

Abandon Vista. We don’t need another desktop OS

Over the last 24 hours I haven't been able to help myself but dig a little deeper into the Vista story and I have to tell you, I've not read more fascinating content on the Internet than I found at the Mini Microsoft blog in the comments section on this post.

There are an amazing 400+ comments but don't let that deter you because all the good stuff is right at the top. Basically, it's a whole bunch of Microsoft developers and staffers bitching about everything from compensation, hours, shipping schedules, management incompetence, accountability and so on. If you want to take a real peak under the hood, forget Scoble, this is where the real naked conversation is going on. (The quality of comments decreases exponentially after the post gets slashdotted and the geek mob arrives but the dude behind mini Microsoft has provided a summary of the best comments here).

Basically, the thread gets down to the fact that Vista is a bloated product and Microsoft has become a bloated company, with one staffer comparing what M$ has become to the old Big Bloated Bluey.

The real problem for Microsoft is it has invested about as much money as the Gross Domestic Product of more than a few African nations in an operating system that became out-of-date about a year before it was due to ship. The simple fact is we don't need another desktop operating system. We need an Everywhere OS.

When was the last time you smacked your PC across the display because XP didn't look pretty enough or was lacking some key feature you needed. Don't ask me because I couldn't tell you.

Now tell me when was the last time you found yourself at a loss because there was some file on your home PC that you really needed when you were on the road. I reckon I have that problem once a week, at least. Do you use multiple computers too? Find it frustrating trying to remember how you set up the file system on each one?

I've written before how I think Google is working towards an online/offline future. Now if Microsoft really wanted to trump the big G, this is where they could hit them with a great big plank of four by two.

Start the foundation of your next operating system with the kind of technology that appears to drive Omindrive or Sharpcast (I say appear because both are still pre-public beta so I've not played with either yet). Don't tack online tricks onto the back of a desktop. Start with this model. Get replication, synchronisation, online/offline file system models right first and foremost and then tack everything else on around it.

I don't care if you have to start again, nobody does. Build a skinny Windows emulator for those apps that some customers just have to have, but once you give developers a platform to build all of their applications according to the online/offline model, who's going to want to keep a desktop bound application, anyway.

Change the paradigm, Microsoft and watch the innovation flourish. Re-energise your devs with a project that really does matter. Enabled your third-party developers to re-cast their applications. Give people a real reason to upgrade their software and give our industry a real-lift in the process. Build the Everywhere OS. Let me centralise my desktops, my favourites, my preferences, my file structure and have it follow me where ever I may go. And while you're there, start again with security so that we can make this model inherently protected.

Because once you enable true online/offline, all these AJAX applications start to look pretty lame. Finally, you enable the software industry to build true, rich applications that can natively harness the collaborative and everywhere nature of the Internet.

And guess what, as an added bonus for software monopolisits who call within the next five minutes, free to you, a subscription model! Finally you have a genuine reason not only to ask your users to pay for that up-front upgrade, because who the hell wouldn't upgrade to the Everywhere OS, plus you can charge them an annual fee for their online storage requirements.

Google may be heading in this direction with G:Drive, GDS and Lighthouse but they're at a fundamental disadvantage because they don't control the OS of-choice today so they have very little leverage in regard to the offline part of the equation. Apple are more intent on pushing into the loungeroom and the open source brigade would take a decade to regroup and respond to this kind of initiative. In fact, really only Microsoft has both the online and offline clouth plus the developer network to properly pull this off within the forseeable future.

Maybe Microsoft is headed in this direction with Live? However, it doesn't appear to be. I don't think it can do this until it makes the strategic decision to let loose it legacy model and start again from scratch. But I reckon if you took 50 of the smartest devs in Microsoft and gave them a project like this to sink their teeth into, they'd probably beat out Vista, if they didn't have to worry about the backward-compatibility issue.

Hell, if Microsoft won't do it, maybe there's a start-up out there who can. OS X wasn't created by Apple let's remember. Build this and I reckon you'll have Bill and Steve coming knocking on your door in double-time flat. You can even have my Everywhere OS name, free, gratis, on me.

The industry needs this. Build it and we will come.

Filed under: Microsoft

Half-clad conversations?

I really am quite aghast at Robert Scoble's latest post, following on from the Vista controversy.

We should now start deriding people who link to non-credible sources. I
will. Anyone who links to that jerk down in Australia anymore is simply
not doing bloggers any favors.

At our recent MediaConnect Forum I stood in front of the audience of PRs and marketers and recommended they run, not walk, to their nearest book seller and buy a copy of Scoble's Naked Conversations. I explained how they needed to realise that they can not stop the "conversation" and so they needed to be a part of it. I mentioned how Naked Conversations explains in this new world of democratised publishing that companies need to be transparent and open with their customers and potential customers. And so on, and so on.

Doesn't this quote I've broken out, piss on everything that Scoble has previously championed? How does using one's influence to call on bloggers not to link to someone, have anything to do with "naked conversations". How does wanting to tread down a point-of-view in anyway constitute being transparent.

And for that matter how does calling someone a "jerk" not constitute the kind of "snark" that Scoble has railed against in recent weeks. You don't do your credibility a lot of good when you complain about someone's professionalism and in the process lower yourself to name-calling.

Fact of the matter is the efficiency of the blogosphere was highlighted to a tee by this episode. Smarthouse posted its story, some people supported it, some people criticised it. The reader had every opportunity to weigh-up for themselves where the truth lay. That's transparency and I'd argue exactly the opposite to Scoble and say that anyone who is trying to serve a readership, be they journalist, blogger, publisher has a duty to their audience to give both sides of the story and LET THE READER MAKE UP THEIR OWN MIND.

Scoble, dude, run, don't walk to the bookshelf, grab your book, sit down and re-read what you're supposed to stand for.

Filed under: Uncategorized

Richards responds

David Richards has responded on Squash to the criticism levelled at his story. Seeing as some of his detractors have a bigger stick than he does on this matter, I thought I'd break the comment out into a story.

During the past 48 hours a lot of people have passed comment on my
recent Windows Vista story. I stand by it in the same way that I stood
behind a Microsoft story some years ago when I was the first journalist
to report that Microsoft was dropping the Windows version number for
names like Vista or XP. At the time Microsoft denied it.

Microsoft also denied the fact that they were set to bail out Corel
in Canada or that they had done a sweet heart deal to delay Corel
rolling out a Linux suite of applications to go up against Microsoft
Office.

I have a long history of breaking big stories and in the scheme of
things this is a piss ant story compared to other major stories that I
have written in the past. However it seems to have wound up a lot of
people to hit their keyboards and spout off. On the question of my
credibility and reputation I make the following comments. Back in 1976
I won a Logie for A Current Affair in Australia for Most Outstanding
Contribution to TV Journalism. Recently the ABC credited me for being responsible for one of the biggest Royal
Commissions Ever held in Australia. I was breaking stories back in
Fleet Street back in the 1970’s so I don’t need a bunch of upstart bloggers
to tell me how to write a story or how to stand a story up.

And if there is one thing that I have learnt over the years and that
is, that one of the most corrupt elements of our society are the police
and that all politicians lie and that the likes of Microsoft will not
only spin doctor an issue but lie, lie and lie again to defend
themselves.

I come from a very poor family in the British Midlands, I went into
journalism at 17, I worked as a crime journalist and foreign
correspondent. I built the third largest PR Company in Australia which
was sold to Ogilvy & Mather. I built one of the largest IT Media
Companies in Australia and sold it. Throughout all of these commercial
adventures when I was putting my money at risk to employ journalists
and editors I remained above all a journalist. I have made millions
making the right decisions not the wrong ones and that means today
writing the stories that attract eyeballs.

When one accuses a Company like AMD of shafting someone you have to
be accurate or they will sue. And touch wood I have NEVER lost a
deformation action. For example, with the two AMD stories that I wrote
last year the lawyers for AMD tried there hardest to get the stories
iced. They failed because I dealt in core facts.
See here and here.
No other Australian IT publication followed up this story which says
a lot for the quality of IT journalism. I have also accused Intel of
massive tax avoidance while also writing a story that accused Apple of
deliberately moving stock from Apple stores prior them going bankrupt.

Good IT journalism is not all about bits and bytes. Its as much
about business issues and as journalists we have a role to play in
keeping the vendors honest and at all times questioning what they say.

 

Filed under: Uncategorized

Biggest. Microsoft. Stuff-up. Ever? (And Who the heck is David Richards?)

In case your not a regular Squash-ee or else haven't picked it up along the way, my tiny, tiny little niche area of authority that I've been fortunate to build a business on is the Australian technology media.

So it always warms the cockles of me heart when an Aussie IT journo (which is Aussie/Brit slang for journalist btw) breaks a story big enough to warrant them significant attention in the big, worldwide blogosphere. I kinda feel like a parent who's kid just hit a home run (in Australia of course, that would translate to hitting a six).

Tonight, one particular Australian tech hack is at the very centre of the blogosphere's hot story of the moment. Although, the jury is still out on whether he's hit a homer or if he's taken a wild air swing.

That journalist is David Richards, who penned the now infamous 60% Of Windows Vista Code To Be Rewritten story. Today, he updated his story with quotes from the marketing director of Acer Australa who "confirmed independently of SmartHouse Magazine that Microsoft is having major problems with its Vista operating system".

However, Microsoft blogger and evangelist Robert Scoble wants Richards sacked.

Whenever you see a story that says 60% of any OS is gonna be rewritten you should demand that the journalist who wrote that be immediately and publicly fired. Totally 100% incompetent. Did NOT do their homework.

Dave Winer gives Richards "zero credence" and Alec Saunders also weighed in on the "hogwash" call. But then Richards has also had people back him including Stowe Boyd and
Steve Gillmor who wrote to Scoble:

Stop calling for the head of a reporter or an editor or both about the 60% code story. Are you so sure that's untrue? Or put it another way–are you so sure anyone except maybe Bill really knows how much code has to be rewritten, or thrown away, to meet a January deadline which most likely will also slip?

For those of you who are trying to work out how much credence you want to assign the SmartHouse story, I thought, I'd fill you in on who David Richards is, because it makes this little drama even the more delectable.

Firstly, the Scobleizer isn't going to be happy to hear, that it's highly unlikely that Richards is going to be sacked, on account of the fact that he'd have to sack himself. Richards is CEO and editorial director of 4Square Media, the publisher of the Smarthouse magazine and website. So you can be pretty safe to assume that in this instance, Richards was journalist, editor and publisher. So if you want to point your spears at anyone, there's only one person you need go looking for.

Without a doubt, Richards is the most notorious and controversial technology journalist in Australia and it won't surprise anyone down under in the tech media or IT industries that he's managed to get himself embroiled in this kind of saga.

First things, first. Richards is a real, bona fide journalist. He's not an amateur blogger. He's not a techie, who took up a writing. He's got a Fleet Street background and was responsible for one of the most, important investigative journalism works ever published in Australia when his expose on the Painters and Dockers union uncovered extensive corruption and sparked a historical Royal Commission. This ain't no tinpot IT product scoop, we're talking about. This is about as close as we've gotten in Australia to a Watergate scandal.

Richards is also a successful entrepreneur. He started a PR company, Weston Communications, which he built up and sold and following that he founded a publishing company DWR Media, which he flogged to US publisher Penton Media for up to $US8 million (Penton would about 2 years later offload the division for a pittance).

Along the way, though, he's ticked a lot of people off. He's brash, pushy and thrives on controversy. He always seems to be suing someone, or else being sued. In the past few months, he's been accused on plagiarism, attacked for conflicts of interest and laid a big, steelcapped boot into one of the world's biggest PR companies.

He does, however, know a lot of people. However, in his reporting, he constantly flies dangerously close to the wind (a lot of reporters with track records for breaking news do though). So would Richards report this story without checking facts or seeking out confirmation. Absolutely. Would he write this kind of report, if he didn't think it was true. I don't think so. Would he sensationalise it? Yes. Would he have access to a "Microsoft insider" who you would really trust with this level of information. It's possible. Would I believe everything I ever read or hear from Richards. No. Would it surprise me if this story was, at least in part, true. Absolutely not.

So what does Squash reckon? I think it's mathematically impossible that Microsoft will be changing anything near 60 per cent of Vista code before release. I think it's more likely that Richard's source has heard something along the lines that 60 per cent of code will need to be reviewed.

Is Microsoft stuggling with Vista? Abso-farking-lutely. Not hitting that pre-Christmas deadline is one of, if not the BIGGEST screw-ups in Microsoft history. You cannot possibly underestimate how much angst this is going to cause Microsoft's hardware partners. You cannot possibly underestimate how much this is going to ruin Microsoft's Vista marketing plans.

With this delay, Microsoft has pretty much single-handedly ruined Christmas for the PC industry. The single-biggest season for PC sales will flop because nobody is going to buy a PC when a new OS is just around the corner. I'm sure Microsoft and its PC partners will offer free Vista upgrades to people who buy Christmas PCs but that's not going to be enough. Hell, do you want to go through that upgrade process when you can wait a couple of months and have it pre-installed. No way!

Which means Microsoft isn't going to be able to do any pre-launch marketing or else it's hardware partners will tear them to shreds. All this at a time, when Microsoft is under more competitive pressure than it's ever been before. If ever PC makers needed a reason to offer alternative operating systems to Windows, this will be it! Christmas-time Linux PCs? Guaranteed. And stand by for Apple to crank up the marketing like never before. This is an opportunity they simply will be salivating over.

So, for Microsoft to have delayed this one, there has to be major issues. All of which re-affirms everything I've learnt in dealing with David for the last ten years. Take everything he says with a grain of salt, but do listen, because more often than not somewhere in amongst the barrage, there's nuggets of truth and sometimes they're gold.

Filed under: Microsoft

A Web 2.0 Intranet on the cheap

My company has a bit of an intranet stuck on the back of our websites, which is incomplete, buggy and all-in-all, a complete piece of crap.

I know what I’d like. I’d like a nice AJAX-style desktop on the front page, I’d like a Trumba-style calendar, an online-project management system, a CRM sales system, a news aggregator and so forth.

In a recent post, I mentioned Trumba and how they’re supposedly now focusing on being a calendar engine company rather than a calendar provider themselves. So I went back and got a new Trumba account and started round with publishing a Trumba calendar on my Intranet. Unfortunately, Trumba has still got a way to go for them to get where I want to see them be. It’s still the case that while you can publish your calendar to any website, to really manage your calendar you need to do that from the Trumba website itself.

So then I had an idea. Rather than embed the published calendar into my Intranet, I just put the whole Trumba website in an iFrame under my Calendar tab on our Intranet. And you know what it works a treat. There’s a bit of wasted real-estate with the Trumba banner that I could do without, but that aside it doesn’t look too out of place and because it remembers who I am, I generally don’t need to log in again.

I was then going to just publish our group calendar to the front page of the Intranet but then I had another thought. I ditched the front page we had and used an iframe to make an AJAX desktop the welcome screen. Both Google Personalised Home and NetVibes worked really well. Google Desktop is good if you use the personalisation widget which lets you strip out the Google logo, customise the colours and compact the screen to save real estate. NetVibes just works well without much effort at all, although it doesn’t have the range of Widgets that Google Desktop does.

What NetVibes does have is a really great iCal calendar widget though. So I just fed it my Trumba iCal URL and wham, I can see my upcoming appointments from my new NetVibes-powered Intranet front page. In fact, there’s not much I can’t feed into NetVibes via RSS these days. It’s not always exactly what you want, but you can get an idea of updates and launch straight through to the content.

(I just wish NetVibes would re-do their To Do widget. It’s awful. Please guys, take some of that new VC funding and put it into what is surely a critical widget for all).

The iFrames/RSS/AJAX desktop combination has worked so well but I’d love to see more Web 2.0 companies accomodate it. Publish a version of yout site without your big banners, have RSS on everything or build widgets and badges that can be cut and paste into pages or plugged into an AJAX desktop.

But more importantly, one of the AJAX desktop companies needs to run with this. You need to let businesses or individual create their own widgets and also enable them to be used without having to publish them publicly. Google Desktop already seems to do it and as much as I love NetVibes, it’s probably going to pull me over to the Google way unless they make this process nice and easy.

There’s even a revenue model for all those AJAX desktops out there if you do this right. For my Intranet, I’d like to “lock down” a couple of the widgets. We have a few pieces of information that I don’t want my team to be able to remove or even move around their desktop. If NetVibes or someone similiar delivered on what I’m after, I’d be happy to pay a per-user fee to get my own company version of NetVibes with locked-down widgets that I can just iFrame into my intranet.

Filed under: Uncategorized

Power up the blog

My pet subject of native blogs vs RSS has picked up a bit of momentum lately with these posts from Jeanne Sessum, Shelley Powers and Euan Semple, among others.

As much as I agree with Jeanne and have expressed similar thoughts, I guess in the end, all bloggers have to take responsibility for ramping up their blogs so that they have more inherent value so people feel inclined to visit the site rather than just sifting through an RSS feed.
One very potentially valuable service for doing this is the new functionality that has been added to Google Reader. Google Reader now lets you tag or star your various posts that you read via RSS and then, and here’s the good part, let’s share those posts via a personalised RSS feed.

A lot of blogs try to add value by providing some quick links to things they found of interest, well if you plug this RSS feed or paste the required code into you blog, you can do that as simply as clicking on a star as you read the post.

Of course, the irony there, is you have to be reading the blog in the Google RSS reader, which kinda is against what we’re trying to achieve here. It’d be nice to have a bookmarklet so you can do the same thing but from within the post itself.

I got very excited about this prospect and I tried to use the new WordPress.com widgets to do it. However, the RSS widgets didn’t seem to work properly with this Google Reader feed and I didn’t seem to have any luck pasting the javascript code into a text widget.

This issue has frustrated me for the last couple of weeks. The startup I’ve mentioned I’ve been working with will in the next fortnight release a new service aimed at enabling you to power-up your blogs, myspace’s, e-mails and homepages. However, the service keeps striking problems because WordPress, Google Page Creator, Hotmail and others strip out the code that would enable you to do the neat tricks we’re trying to achieve.

In this Web 2.0 world of mashups, badges and so forth, it seems nuts that these kinds of services limit the code that you can copy into them. I have no doubt that over the next year, companies will keep piling on the functionality that enable you to do more and more with your blog if only their innovations aren’t thwarted at the point of publish.

Filed under: Blogs

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