Phil Sim

Web, media, PR and… footy

M0nty goes mainstream

My good friend Paul Montgomery is back on the mainstream media pony, scoring a gig to write a blog on ZDNet Australia about Web 2.0. It shamelessly flogs Squash's Reality Check tagline, but hey, if you're going to copy, why not copy from the best, hey? Monty reckons he didn't come up with the Reality Check tag and even goes so far to call it unimaginative.  One day on the job and he's already biting the hand thats feeding him. In fact, on his personal Tinfinger blog he's also launched a bit of a tirade against ZDNet US blogger Steve Gillmor as well as well as noting  that "there are some other topics I want to explore here that it is hard to do there, such as getting stuck into Steve Gillmor".

Looks like a bit of censoring going on over at the Zeds. Anyhow, that's what makes M0nty such a good blogger. He's not afraid to rip in, when he thinks its deserved and its nice to see an authentic, experienced blogger who truly understands the medium get a run on a mainstream Australian sites.  

I'm expecting to see Paul write a ZDNet column real soon on the challenges of implementing cross-domain cookies (in joke, please ignore).

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The return of the ad-subsidised PC?

Having lived through one dot com bubble and being of somewhat cynical persuasion, it's hard for me not to burst out laughing when I hear of a company giving away it's wares because its set-up to make all of its money via online advertising. I still remember such fanciful start-ups as, who were going to make their fortune by selling products at no-margin and living off the ad revenue of the online shoppers they attracted.

However, just as a good old belly laugh starts to rumble in my guy, I keep coming back to the millions of dollars that the free Firefox browser makes off its default search bar.

In 1999, I was editing channel magazine Australian Reseller News and I wrote any number of columns about how advertising-based business models might upset traditional, PC selling. There were more than one company around at that time, that planned to sell subsidised PCs, where the money was to be made over time via advertising or affiliate e-commerce sales. Of course, none of them lasted.

Now, Dell is bundling Google's search technology onto its PCs and the two will share the revenues that are generated by user's who stick to the machine's default search settings. I'd be fascinated to know the numbers and projections. PC margins are so ridiculously slim these days that this could just be an alternative business model. Is the zero margin PC back?

Interestingly, CNET quotes an analyst who questions the value to Google. He points out that Google would have probably received the search business without the deal, so by cutting in Dell, its only cutting into its margins.

However, this was almost certainly a defensive move by Google. All PC makers are likely to be looking for their cut of the search business and if Google isn't willing to deal in the box makers then Yahoo and Microsoft will. CNE's report noted that "Yahoo and Microsoft were reportedly vying for search-bar real estate on Dell PCs before Google sealed the deal".

Fortunately, for Google, you still make more money partnering with it on search because of the critical mass it has in this business. I've said it before and I'll say it again, Microsoft is going to have start subsidising and matching Google returns for it to have any hope in this market. Being the default search option in IE7 is going to help, but its not going to be enough, especially when deals like this are added to the equation.

Incidently, I just bought three AU$1000 (US$750) Dell desktops for my business, complete with 19 inch flat panel displays. They arrived at the office about four days after I ordered them, I ripped them open, installed Google Pack and Open Office and my machines were ready for work in about $15 15 minutes and without spending a dime/cent on software. GMail, Google Calendar, Google Desktop, Picasa and the Open Office suite now constitute our standard operating environment.

Some have commented that they expect to see more Google software come pre-loaded on machines but that ignores the fact that PC makers bundle software where there is money to be made. Stick on too much free software and you cruel your upsell.

Anyway, back to the subsidised PC. There probably aren't enough margins or opportunities for PC vendors and builders to look at advertising as much more than a promising additional revenue stream, however the telcos could be another option.

If you take the Power of the Default concept and extend it beyond search and advertising and throw in they money you can potentially make over the long term via ISP charges, downloadable music and video, it could start to make a lot of sense for telcos to start pushing out PCs set-up and optimised to work with its services. Apple has already proved how well that works. And if there's one sector that understands how to manage subsidies its the telcos.

Based on the Australian market, I reckon we've got to the stage where a telco could put together an AU$800 (US$600) PC, zero dollars down, lock the user into a 24 month $100 per month broadband plan with a PC all set-up to download from that telco's music and video services and it might actually now be sustainable.

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The 47,381 Meme

What a delicious irony. The 53,651 meme is still raging on and now if you go to TechCrunch it says there are only 47,381 subscribers.

Thank god this is Web 2.0 and it's all about Read/Write. Can somebody please hack back into the blogosphere and change all those 53,651's to 47,381.

Did 6270 readers dislike the TechCrunch redesign that much?

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OPML won’t catch on

Squash has felt a little redundant of late. For a while there it seemed as if every blogger and his pet rock was going the snark route but I sense the flockosphere has started to get bored with snark, which means it's time for Squash to take out the big steel-capped boots again.

And what better place to start with than OPML. Today, the flockosphere is bleating with great gusto over Dane Winer's newest gift to the world Share Your OPML.

I've written before that RSS is going to struggle to go mainstream, well if RSS is still an edge-case technology than OPML long ago fell off the edge and is laying in a mangled mess at the bottom of the precipice.

If you're inclined go to Share Your OPML and let everyone delight in your RSS reading list. Go on, I'll wait here. Lord knows, I won't be following. Why on earth would I bother? What's in it for me to share what I read with the world. Wow, a couple of people might, maybe, perhaps subscribe to my reading list. Well my message to those people is, go find your own bloody reading list.

So much of what is supposedly cool about Web 2.0 is about being the same as everyone else. This is a recipe for reading list homogeny and its counter to everything that is good about the Internet.

So I log into Share My OPML and what do I get? The list of Top 100 sites. Well, just what I needed to expand my knowledge of cool, new feeds. Good job I logged into Share My OPML, otherwise I may not have known about TechCrunch.

People, it's not that hard to surf the web. Want to know what your favourite blogger reads. Well, chances are they have a blogroll and you can see what they read there. 

So far, as I mentioned the blogosphere are in raptures. TechCrunch, Steve Rubel, Robert Scoble and other usual suspects give it rave reviews but then why wouldn't they. The come in at 1,3 and 26 respectively. It's a good marketing strategy to tout the service because you get YOUR readers to upload their OPML feeds, guaranteeing you rank well.

Of course, such circumstances will cease to hold true once the service gets critical mass. Quite a few bloggers have enthused about what one might do with Share Your OPML "once it gets critical mass".

I don't think it will get critical mass. Aside from for vanity reasons, which will give it an initial kick along from tragic bloggers, I just can't see why you'd both participating.

That said, I encourage all Squash readers to rush to the site now and upload your OPML cos we don't even have a single user as yet. I guess the good thing is now, I know who doesn't read Squash and I can begin a spam campaign targetted at all those ignoramuses to make them see the error of their RSS ways.

So, there you go, there is a practical use of the service!

(I'll be very interested to watch the Share My OPML numbers. If I'm right, they'll grow for about three days then hit a plateau. If nothing else, it will give a really, nice indicator as to the size of the net edge..) 

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Wyacracker shoots skywards

So Wyacracker is well and truly launched. As far as marketing plans goes, we couldn't be happier. We picked up a bit of traction via our initial blog posts here but were lucky enough to get Mike Arrington to review the product on TechCrunch. That stories ended up on the front page of Digg and we subsquently had many hundreds of requests for beta access.

There some negative comments on both Digg, here and TechCrunch but we were expecting that somewhat. Wyacracker isn't drop-dead technically amazing. It's just a simple, little tool but it does something that nothing else really does (for free anyway). A lot of people these days, seem more intent on praising flash designs and snazzy Ajax coding, rather than bothering to judget the merits of the actual idea behind an application. From the people, who have actually beta-tested the product, the feedback has been outstanding. Yes, we now know that the design didn't work (we were trying to do something fun and non-threatening) but thankfully, alot of people "get it". One example of the use of the product has been a Scout troop that has created a widget on their blog to allow people to register and also view who else is going so that they co-ordinate transport.

They've been able to customise the view that is outputted so that children's names or phone numbers aren't used while still allowing people to see who needs a lift and who can offer one. That's exactly the kind of use we had in mind and we think when people start thinking about how much more they can do with their blog with this application you'll see this kind of thing pop up everywhere.

It's also given us a lot of encouragement already that the world is ready to start building and customising their own applications, which of course, is what Wyaworks is all about. John's attention is now on bashing out the first release of the new Widget-based Wyaworks development environment, which I can assure you will be something that will make people sit up and go 'wow'. We're also probably re-tool the design of Wyacracker now before we open it up to public beta. But we are being very generous with out private beta so if you're interested in giving it a go, just click on the Try the Beta link.

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Microsoft must subsidise ad results

As someone who has managed to do alright as a bit of a tech media observer and critic I can only say to the Bloomberg reporter who wrote this lead par,

Microsoft Corp.'s new Web advertising software, three years in the making, may fail to crack Google Inc.'s dominance of the Internet ad market.

DUH! Ya reckon? Three smacks around the head with a wet fish for this bloke.

There's more buzz around to, regarding a Microsoft and Yahoo tie-up. This has been going on for some time ever since a Microsoftie supposedly mentioned in a blog or was quoted in a blog as saying that Microsoft might be willing to partner to upset the Google applecart.

Search Engine Journal reckons a Microsoft/Yahoo hookup is a good idea, not least for the fact that this game is "all about volume".

Time for another bit of advice from Squash & Co. Outrageously Priced Consulting. Microsoft needs to take a leaf out of the telecommunications industry's book of gameplays. Turn to page 34, which is titled Subsidies. Telco companies have no dramas giving massive subsidies on mobile phones or selling services below cost price in order to build market share. 

Microsoft needs to take the same approach to this market. It needs to go out and start subsidising online advertising in order to win over both advertisers and content providers. Guarantee big advertisers 50 per cent the number of click throughs they will get from advertisers. Guarantee content providers that they'll get a cheque no smaller than their last Google cheque if they switch ad networks. Even better just give away $100 worth of online advertising to new advertisers to try and grow the market.

This market is all about critical mass. But this market even more so is all about dollars and cents. All you have to do is give a better bottom-line result than Google and people will swap in droves. So spend a year hocking in big dollars to subsidise the results achieved by both advertisers and content providers and you'll be back in the game. Along the way, you'll have delivered Google a massive blow and suddenly Golden Boy won't be looking so hot anymore as it reels from consecutive disastrous quarters because Microsoft has hit it just where it hurts. 

Sure it will cost billions but this is the game of the future and as far as I'm concerned there ain't no other way to get dealt in. 

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Making a living in the smallest possible time

It's not always easy to justify the ridiculously stupid hours of trying to operate a startup (or three) so I've fallen in love with these words from Paul Graham.

We take it for granted most of the time, but human life is fairly miraculous. It is also palpably short. You're given this marvellous thing, and then poof, it's taken away…. life commands respect. There are times in most of our lives when the days go by in a blur, and almost everyone has a sense, when this happens, of wasting something precious. As Ben Franklin said, if you love life, don't waste time, because time is what life is made of.

So no, there's nothing particularly grand about making money. That's not what makes startups worth the trouble. What's important about startups is the speed. By compressing the dull but necessary task of making a living into the smallest possible time, you show respect for life, and there is something grand about that.

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The crumbling world of co-opetition

Don't you love the word co-opetition. It posits that companies can both compete and co-operate at the same time. And sure they can. That is while the relationship profits both parties. That is while the “co-operation” benefits outweighs the “competition” factor.

But make no bones about the fact that as soon as the competition side of the scales starts to tip that way, the whole concept of co-opetition falls apart. And that's exactly what's about to happen right now.

Google, Microsoft, Yahoo. Each of these three companies believe the need to rule the Internet. Google owns search. It owns online advertising. They're arguably the two most powerful forces on the Internet, so its not surprising that Google thinks its well positioned to rule the world. Microsoft, is used to dominating the desktop, so its natural that it wants to own the Internet as well. And hell, why should either Google or Microsoft govern the Internet when Yahoo! was there first, dammit.

The problem is the Internet is such a big space that it can never be ruled by one party. The Internet encompasses media, commerce, software and a whole bunch of new innovations the world is only just beginning to grasp. It's so big that partnering has never been so important.

Yet, in a web universe that supposedly places so much importance on valuing the user, there appears to be an abject neglect for valuing the partner.

Maybe, it's got something to do with the fact that Google got away with it for so long. It's dominance in search and the powerful position of its AdSense business meant that other businesses felt they were forced to tolerate working with a company that every day kept extending its tentacles into its partners businesses.

Google's primary customers are content providers yet Google more and more is a content provider as well. They also own a big chunk of one of the world's biggest media companies AOL Time Warner. Trust me, the day any big media company can work with anyone else but Google, they will.

But who will they turn to? Yahoo! No, they're in the content business, too. Yahoo! have always been a media company and they keep going that way. In Australia, the company has rebranded as Yahoo7, partnering with one of this company's major television networks. This week they launched Yahoo Tech, which will put them in competition with the likes of CNET, IDG and many others.

Microsoft. Same deal. So who is a content provider to work with? Meanwhile, the cosy little relationships between these vendors are falling apart. Amazon's Alexa search engine has dumped Google for Microsoft. Google and Microsoft are increasingly at war. eBay is keen to get over its reliance on Google AdSense. The age of co-opetition on the Internet is quickly coming to an end.

That's could open up opportunities. Not for Google, Microsoft or Yahoo. But for companies who focus on their business and only their business.

Now, maybe it's true. Maybe, the big boys do have too much scale and its become impossible for 'independents' to compete. But, I just have a feeling that when you combine this crumbling world of co-opetition with some genuine innovation which I'm sure is lurking out there that “best-of-breed”, focused plays have to have a shot.

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