Saturday, December 16, 2006

Open question: How to solve Digg's problems

Let us now stop criticizing Digg and start looking for answers. It would have better if Kevin Rose had posed this question on Digg and or on Digg itself asking for suggestions from Digg’s million or so users.

Crowdsourcing Digg style: that would be cool, indeed.

So, before the ‘cabal of diggers’ problem rises to dangerous levels or other problems start taking toll on Digg in 2007, I invite readers to post problems and solutions with Digg.

Social news is the future. We must work together to find better solutions.

Related question:
what is your idea of an ideal social news site?

A short library of related Reading material:
Google search –problems with Digg
Most recent : Will Digg get flanked?

And, some shameless self-promotion:

I will duly Digg this article. I am sure this would be buried, ignored, or whatever fate the Digg system assigns it. Hopefully, one day Kevin Rose and Co. will put that question on the site itself. And that would be great news for social news.

Friday, December 15, 2006

5 questions for Bill Gates

Finally, Microsoft’s huge PR machine is paying off. Preparing for Vista’s launch, they brought the big old man Gates out of the building and made sure no one asked him hard, probing questions.

The PR juggernaut seemed to have forced bloggers to go for soft questions.

On the DRM issue, Mr. Gates advised consumers not to buy DRM music, and rip CDs instead. The man is turning soft.

Here are my 5 questions for one of the most generous people on Earth. No, Micorsoft PR did not pay me to say this :-)

1. The MS Office business in worth $10 bn. Plus. How do you see the Web Office movement?
2. The Windows OS is worth another $10 bn. or so. How is Microsoft prepared for a Web OS scenario?
3. The Server business brings in another $10 bn. and change. How long do you see Microsoft and Oracle dominating this lucrative business?
4. Why is Zune so underwhelming? The general perception is that the music gadget business is a commodity business now. Why did Microsoft have to go for Zune?
5. How is MS Live ramping up vis-à-vis The Google Cloud?

And, finally, after Steve Ballmer, who?

Todd has more questions for Bill Gates here.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Radical Transparency: It is the story, stupid

I fear sometimes we get too much carried away with ideas and buzzwords.

For example, take the idea of ‘radical transparency’. Huh?

Chris Anderson of the Long Tail fame has suggested a scenario where magazine stories were developed with the help of all and sundry – the readers, the magazine’s competitors and so on.

Something like Google throwing open the algorithms to all add. I am sure the SEO companies would have a field day with this.

As long as it serves to create a better story, it is okay. This transparency idea may work well with special stories, books, etc. However, it not okay for the whole magazine or newspaper.

Crowdsourcing, an idea related to Radical transparency, has its limits.

At the end of it, Publishing is just another business, and so no need to be right in every aspect.

A good story – that’s what readers want.

Nice idea, though.

Ethics 101 for blog network owners - part 1

Michael Arrington has already been anointed the Tony Perkins (formerly of Red Herring magazine and owner of Always On network) of Web 2.0. His image as a ‘Grey area’ media reporter was enhanced by his recent skirmish with his ex-editor of the Britisj version of Techcruch, Sam Sethi. When Sethi refused to delete an ‘offending’ comment, he was relieved of duty and his subsequent two posts were also deleted.

You can read about it all here.

Silicon Valley does that to you - the incest.

During the earlier dotcom bubble, valley-based magazines like Red Herring, Upside and The Standard had all the scoops and the advertisements. Similar cases of unethical practises were common. Tony Perkins, like Arrington today, used to host special startup events and accusations of 'favorite coverage for equity' were raised. Michael Arrington and his Techcruch is accused of doing similar things. Of course one might say that similar cosy arrangements happen all the time in Old Media world.

That means, Techcruch is so old-world.
We need better reviewers and aggregators of the latest launches and trends in the web economy.

More coverage of the Arrington-ethics issue here.

At a time when blog network owners like Om Malik, Rafat Ali, Nick Denton and Arrington are planning to be the magazine networks of the future, I suggest some thoughts on ethics and blogging:

1. Reportage is reportage: whether you are writing on blog, newspaper, magazine or other media. So, follow, the same ethics that your fellow print journalists do. Just because you own a ‘cool’ blog, does not make you act the way George Bush administration ran the anti-terror campaign.
2. Just because server space is cheap, doesn’t mean you can post and delete stuff with impunity. Even Rupert Murdock does that sparingly.
3. Blog network owners should not change the byline of writers just because some new software was being setup or the writer left the job. This happened at a blog network I worked at for some time, before all that rewriting became too much heavy for me to edit.
4. Blog owners must disclose any conflict of interest before they write about something. Arrington, who hosts events for tech companies and has equity positions in many startups is often accused of doing this.
5. Remember, the same viral marketing and hype that helped made your brand online in double-time, can also make you eat crow in double-time.

Covering the poor: ruminations on the best book of the year

Marginal revolution suggests Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh’s book, 'Off the Books: The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor'.

The book covers a wide range of related themes –
crime, gangs, poverty, micro-finance, the foundations of cooperative behavior, urban economics, Jane Jacobs, what the police maximize, and why so many barbershops rent out their back .

This theme had earlier been covered by Barbara Ehrenreich’s great work, ‘Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America’. It covered all the factors that contribute to making what they call being (working) poor in America.

Steinbeck was a great chronicler of life at the ground floor of the great tower of America.

In India, we had Premchand. Who else?

I remember a time when P.Sainath wrote great reportage from the interiors of India, writing about poverty which is still spread like a shroud of doom. I remember a print article where an unemployed M.A., M.Phil somewhere in North Bihar saying he is not unemployed, he is working on a book.

Such reportage about the interiors is missing from the mainstream media in India, save the inevitable kidnapping, election-reportage and flood or famine. How is it like living in the interiors? I wrote once on the topic before.

We have the tools. I am looking forward to blogging from the interiors, cyber-writers reporters from the friendly cyber café near the railway station.

Why Google, Yahoo and Microsoft should stay away from buying Web 2.0 startups

A couple of days ago, Techcrunch displayed documents reportedly sourced from within Yahoo. The documents, prepared some months ago, included a financial model for projected future advertising performance for Facebook.

Accorrding to Yahoo’s internal forecasts, FaceBook will clock revenues of $50 million in 2006, $172 million in 2007, $346 million in 2008…and $1.4 billion in 2009.

Techcruch also reports that the deal between the two companies broke up, Yahoo offered $ 1 billion and could have gone up to $ 1.62 billion.

Yahoo should have spent that money on Project Panama, which will get it Google-like PPC revenues. Facebook’s crowd is a fickle crowd. Yahoo has done enough Web 2.0 for now.

Now, onto my real reason why Google, Yahoo and rest of the big daddy gang should stay away from web 2.0 startups:

Paying huge amounts of money spoils the mindsets of other entrepreneurs.
I still can’t understand how Facebook’s revenues would triple from $346 million in 2008 to $1.4 billion in 2009. This is straigt out of a fresh MBA's wet dream.

When Google bought Youtube for $1.6 billion, it made all other Video companies and analysts lip their licks in anticipation. Before the Youtube acquisition, we all said that showing videos online is a cost-heavy activity and now everyone seems to have changed their tune.

I am still not sure about the existence of the web 2.0 bubble, but building yet another blog/wiki/video/rating/take-your-pick startup for flipping within 18 months is a sign of trouble. Google and Co. are spoiling the startup field.

It used to be said that the old sent the young to fight and die for their wars. In today’s web economy, cash-rich companies like Google are sending entrepreneurs to a similar. The battle for web 2.0 has already been won – Google has won it. Now, they are putting blinkers on entrepreneurs’ eyes. They see nothing but cash. They don’t see innovation and usefulness, the eternal bottomline.