Wednesday, December 31, 2008

20 Predictions for 2009

It's New Year's Eve which means that once again it's prediction time. Last year's went pretty well with 17 of them, so I'll go up to 20 this time. I think the following will happen in 2009:

1. iTunes goes DRM-free
Apple is clearly talking with the labels about this and I think it will happen sooner rather than later. The labels I'm sure want to keep this as leverage over Apple (they have their music DRM-free already on services like Amazon MP3), but I think Jobs & Co. will cut a deal to get it done. After all, Jobs said in 2007 that by the end of the year half of all songs on iTunes would be DRM-free -- it's now going to be 2009 and that still isn't the case.

2. Apple enables certain third-party background tasks for the iPhone
Apple said we'd see its Push Notification system in September, and that never came. They're still working on it, hoping to get it right, and I think they'll launch it sometime in Q1 2009. But if it doesn't do what it needs to do -- make apps that need background location features like Loopt, useful -- then I think we'll see Apple eventually relent by the end of the year and let certain apps that can prove they won't harm the device or the user, run in the background for certain tasks. Loopt already has a separate deal for this with AT&T (but as of right now not including the iPhone), so I expect it to be the first to get this done. Then everyone will go back to bitching about battery life.

3. Facebook enters the location-based servies game
I think they will enter the location-based service arena that others, like the aforementioned Loopt are in. Privacy concerns will make it slow to catch on though. But this could be very powerful if they do it right.

4. Twitter sells if its business model doesn't work out
Twitter will try to launch some sort of business model in early 2009, probably based around coroporate accounts to shill stuff on Twitter. If that model doesn't prove lucrative, expect them to sell to one of the big players for something in the 9-figure range.

5. Microsoft buys Yahoo's search and advertising businesses
We all know Microsoft still wants at least this part of Yahoo. More importantly, it needs it -- Microsoft is never going to catch Google in search and advertising without some outside help. It still won't catch them with Yahoo, but at least they'll be in a better position. The rest of Yahoo will focus on its core brand after they turn down an offer from Time Warner to merge with AOL.

6. FriendFeed launches a monetization strategy before Twitter
I write this mostly because FriendFeed seems to be able to launch most things before Twitter does. I'm not entirely confident here, since indications are that Twitter is close to the model it wants to go with, but FriendFeed has to eventually be thinking about making money too, and I expect them to delve into that in '09.

7. After Pink flops, Microsoft releases its own phone hardware
Pink will be unveiled at CES as some sort of media content for mobile device platform. It'll likely tie in with Zune and maybe the Xbox, and will fail to take off. Towards the end of the year, Microsoft will shift to "plan B" and launch a phone to compete with the iPhone, but they'll say it's to compete with the BlackBerry for business users.

8. Sony cuts the price of the PS3 to $249
I've been talking about how big PS3 price cuts were needed to save the device for over 2 years now. Sony hasn't listened, and so the PS3 is in trouble of being an after-thought to the Wii and Xbox 360 in this round of the gaming console wars. And remember, Blu-ray is at stake as well, if Sony can move PS3 units, it will only help the Blu-ray format which has not caught on yet despite beating out HD-DVD in the format wars. But even at $249, the Wii will outsell it.

9. The Beatles come to iTunes
Yes, it will finally happen this year. The hold up now is just a legal one, and with The Beatles music already coming to video games, it'd be silly if it wasn't available to download (legally) on the Internet as well.

10. Once it launches on the Mac, Chrome gets double-digit market share
Chrome exploded out of the game in terms of usage, and for good reason: It's awesome. But it's also currently still only on Windows PC, and I'm not going to dual-boot just to use it. When it comes to the Mac -- it is being built by Mike Pinkerton, the guy behind Mozilla's Camino browser for the Mac (which I am using right now) -- I suspect it will be the new browser of choice for myself and many others on the Mac.

11. Android phones outsell iPhones worldwide, but in the U.S., the iPhone is still king
There are many, maybe even dozens of phones running Google's Android platform set to launch in 2009. While I have no doubt that worldwide sales will soon elipse the iPhone, which is just one device in two flavors (8GB and 16GB) after all, I think the iPhone will still hang onto a lead in the U.S. in 2009 simply because it's better.

12. Apple creates a way to get apps running on the Apple TV
This may be done by linking up the iPhone or iPod touch with the Apple TV (which you can do already to use the Remote app), or it could be that Apple actually brings the App Store to the Apple TV, and you use your iPhone (or iPod touch) as the controller for it.

13. Apple unveils a multi-touch Mighty Mouse
I thought this would happen last year, but despite many patents suggesting such functionality being uncovered, this never came in 2008. I expect it to in 2009 because the Mighty Mouse still sucks and Apple continues to push forward its multi-touch agenda.

14. Windows 7 comes out at the end of the year and is better than Vista, but fails to dazzle
It will be launched towards the end of the year, will look just like Vista, but will perform better. Still, that won't be enough for most people and the overall reception, while better, will be lukewarm at best.

15. One of the online movie distribution services will get a deal for movie rentals the same day they appear in stores
The most annoying thing about iTunes, Xbox Live and all the rest of the Internet rental services is that you can't rent new releases the day they are available in the brick and mortar stores like Blockbuster to rent. Some, like iTunes let you buy them that day, but you have to wait weeks to rent them. I bet someone gets the movie studios to change this rule in 2009.

16. Blockbuster finds itself in trouble after its digital distribution model fails to catch on
Blockbuster has simply been too late to jump on the trends in the industry it once dominated. The only way I see them making a comeback is if they are the ones to pull off prediction #15.

17. Apple will stop updating the iPod classic
The device is slowly being put out to pasture. That process continues in 2009 with no updates to the hard drive-based version when Apple updates the rest of the iPod line. A de-facto death.

18. Transformers 2 will narrowly beat Wolverine, Star Trek, Terminator: Salvation, Harry Potter, G.I. Joe and Angels & Demons as the biggest movie of the year
In terms of what I want to see the most, right now, I vote for Star Trek after that kick-ass trailer.

19. Google Reader launches a "Most Shared" area
A 'most shared' area, which services like ReadBurner and RSSmeme already do, could be very powerful. Google is slowing moving in that direction with its new "What's Hot" area, this is the next step.

20. Blog commenting become hot again thanks to Facebook Connect
The integration is slick, and it makes comments useful since they're tied to an actual person instead of some anonymous schmuck named masterchief4ever666.

Also see, 17 Predictions for 2008. Happy New Year everyone!

On Yogurt Stores and Steve Jobs' Health

The Internet went crazy today with more rumors and questionable reports about Steve Jobs' health. Let me start out by saying that I really don't like writing stories which solely focus on anyone's health. For the most part I've avoided it, except when trying to help debunk ridiculous rumors (yes, almost always about Jobs), or mentioning it in passing. But today I took a little bit different approach -- and I thought I should explain.

First off, some people were outraged with my headline on VentureBeat, 'Local yogurt store tells blogger that Steve Jobs is “in great health”.' Some thought it was too much like a spoof, some found is distasteful, some just thought it was stupid. Here's the deal, yes, I intended it to be goofy -- it was almost much more goofy, believe me.

My reasoning for doing that -- and for writing the whole story itself -- is really that this whole thing with Jobs' health has gotten out of hand. When I saw on FriendFeed that Scoble talked to someone who had actually seen -- as in with their own eyes -- Jobs recently, and that he looked healthy to them, at first I thought that was ridiculous -- but then I stopped -- why is that anymore ridiculous than any of the other speculation and half reports going around the Internet about the topic? If anything, it's much less ridiculous. So I wrote it.

And that's why I gave it the spoof title -- it's just as much a commentary about the whole situation, as it is about the actual story involved (which yes, was kind of silly). Sorry if that went over some people's heads.

My actual feelings on all of this are pretty much in line with CNBC's Jim Goldman, who, as far as I can tell remains the only one (besides Scoble in the yogurt store) doing any real reporting on this topic day in and day out. I recommend you read his second story on the topic today, in which he basically goes off on people for irresponible reporting on this issue.

Now, the Gizmodo rumor may be all true, somewhat true or not at all true. But that's the problem -- these same types of stories are getting thrown around on a weekly basis now citing either no one or one anonymous source. It's affecting Apple's stock price and creating a kind of hysteria. If Jobs really is sick -- as in so sick that he can no longer run Apple -- Apple would absolutely have to disclose it. And as Goldman says, they know it. They would get in a lot of trouble if they did not do that. They are not idiots, it would come out eventually.

So until Apple does disclose anything about Jobs' health, why speculate on it? This is a human being after all, one who is still alive and has a family. The Times (which also didn't get my humor in the headline apparently) says this is akin to the hoopla surrounding Princess Diana when she was still alive. That's probably not such a ridiculous claim.

Has Apple been misleading on this topic in the past? You could argue that -- but you could also argue the other way. One of those times didn't involve a life-threatening illness, so what difference does that really make -- and the other time, Apple consulted lawyers to see if it would have to disclose that Jobs had cancer (before he had surgery to remove his tumor), the lawyers determined they would not have to disclose it, so they did not.

Could Steve Jobs pass away tomorrow? Sure, but really we could all die tomorrow. The key is if Apple knows he's going to pass away soon. And seeing as they haven't said that, I have to believe they don't know what, and that Jobs is fine.

Will that end the speculation? Of course not, and that's why I'm hoping for a Jobs cameo at Macworld -- even if it's just by way of video iChat with Phil Schiller -- to give a big "fuck you" to all those out there speculating about him being near death.

Wouldn't that just be a classic "one more thing..."?

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Bitchmeme: Twitter, Idiots and Why The Joker Is Right

Yesterday's Bitchmeme about Twitter authority searches has spilled over into today. I love Bitchmemes that can last a whole weekend, and Arrington, Le Meur and Scoble are doing their best to keep it going, bless their hearts.

Last night, Arrington wrote a post, Bloggers Lose The Plot Over Twitter Search, which called out me (among others) for getting too worked up over the issue. After all, he argues, you wouldn't have to use Twitter authority search, it would just be an option. Eric Marcoullier of Gnip basically echoed that sentiment in a comment on my post yesterday as well.

Here's my response to that, something which Arrington knows but probably can't say too loudly on TechCrunch: Most of the people who use the Internet are idiots.

If you give them an option to search by "authority," they will assume all the results returned are from the most authoritative people -- even if that is just based on the number of followers they have and not really anything authoritative at all. They will continue to assume that WHEN the system is gamed and it's all spammers who have the most followers. Let me re-emphasize WHEN.

Another TechCrunch writer, Jason Kincaid, has it right when he says, "as Google showed over a decade ago, popularity isn’t the best indicator of relevance. For that, you need an algorithm that can filter out spammy results (don’t be surprised if Twitter is already working on one in-house)." But with that, we're getting into something that is way more complex than Twitter itself.

Which brings me back to my third point yesterday, that it should be some third party service which makes this functionality for those who really want it -- and guess what, one did in a few hours: Twitority.

This made the agitator of this whole Bitchmeme, Loic Le Meur, very happy. And now, for his part, he says that "authority" was the wrong word for what he meant. That's basically what I figured yesterday in saying "Now let me be clear, the most basic form of the idea isn't an awful one -- that it should be easier to search highly influential Twitter users' thoughts on specific topics -- but the way Loic Le Meur wants to do it is laughably bad," and that gets to the heart of Bitchmeme itself.

For a Bitchmeme to be really great, it basically has to be an argument about nothing. If Le Meur had just said "Twitter needs more search options," that would have been boring and no one would have gotten into a heated discussion about it. Instead, he adds authority to the mix and the blogosphere explodes.

Scoble is more or less saying that in his all-over-the-place post about idiots on the Internet today, but it's something that The Joker says much more succinctly:
"If tomorrow I tell the press that like a gang banger, will get shot, or a truckload of soldiers will be blown up, nobody panics, because it's all, part of the plan. But when I say that one, little old mayor will die, well then everyone loses their minds!"
Shameless last sentence plug to follow me on Twitter.

Update: And I'm glad to see my friend Sean Percival is on the case already with Twithority, which gives a side-by-side of time-based Twitter searches versus ones based on users with the most followers.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Bitchmeme: On Twitter You Will Respect My Authori-tay

I'm so glad Bitchmeme is back, because it gives me the opportunity to weigh in on what is an awful idea: Authority search in Twitter.

Now let me be clear, the most basic form of the idea isn't an awful one -- that it should be easier to search highly influential Twitter users' thoughts on specific topics -- but the way Loic Le Meur wants to do it is laughably bad.

First of all, he wants this to be based on the number of followers you have. While for some people that's a good indicator of importance, for others it means nothing. I have 3,600+ followers on Twitter right now, that's a lot, but there are plenty of people with thousands more simply because they follow thousands of people and pull in the reciprocal follows. If I went out there and followed 15,000 people I'm sure I would get up to near that number of followers very quickly, instead I choose to keep the people I follow to a more manageable 700-ish.

But the problem isn't me doing that to gain followers (at least I hope not), it's that there are a ton of quasi-spam Twitter users who do that and many of them have thousands or tens of thousands of followers. They would show up on Le Meur's "Authority Search." And if they weren't, they would start gaming the system to gain more followers so they would show up.

Second, this absolutely would ruin one of the most compelling things about Twitter: That it's completely democratic. If you want to know what someone has to say on a topic, follow them, no need to have their opinions forced in everyone's face because they are "more authoritative," that's subjective. Dave Winer and Jeremiah Owyang have the right idea for this: Make an option to search for topic within the people you follow.

Third, it's fine if someone wants to filter out all the Twitter noise and use it to highlight key thoughts being formed by key people, but Twitter itself should not be doing this. Leave Twitter as an equal playing field, let some third party use the APIs to make this -- some already have to some extent.

Back in Bitchmeme land, nearly everyone is jumping on this as a bad idea -- because it is. But the reasons people are bitching about it so much is because Le Meur's actually onto something that is in fact a growing problem on Twitter (too much noise), but he proposes a solution without thinking it through.

Find me on Twitter so you can "respect my authori-tay!"

Find more Bitchmemes here.

Friday, December 26, 2008

2008 Predictions Revisited

Well it's that time of year again -- the end of it. As such, it's time to go over my predictions from last year and see how I did. Without further ado:

1) Google Drive aka 'Gdrive' or 'Platypus' will be released -- Wrong
Platypus rumors crept up a few times throughout the year, but it remains an internal Google project that I've haven't heard anyone talk about coming to the public since the economy took a turn for the worse. AOL is closing Xdrive, it's online storage solution in a few days.

2) Microsoft and Google's next big battle will be over who gets the rights to purchase at least part of Yahoo -- Right
Arguably no story was bigger this year than Microsoft trying to buy Yahoo -- which started just a couple months after my predictions. As I expected, Google got involved early, first with just words against such a deal, then actions, by offering Yahoo an out with a search advertising deal, which they eventually dropped amid pressure from the U.S. government. I still suspect we haven't heard the end of all of this...

3) Blu-ray will finally defeat HD-DVD thus ending the format wars towards the end of the year -- Right
I said "the end of the year" but it happened very early on in the year. Still, I'm going to give myself credit, because I wrote: "However if Blu-ray is able to woo Warner Brothers to their side exclusively, it will be all but over." That happened, and then HD-DVD, as expected, died. Some analysts thought this war would go on for years -- those analysts were stupid.

4) The Nintendo Wii will continue its dominance in videogame wars but Sony's PS3 will outsell Microsoft's Xbox 360 for the year -- Half Right
The Nintendo Wii utterly dominated the game console space this year, even while some thought it would flop after initial success. But while the PS3 was outselling the Xbox 360 for much of the year after Sony finally cut the price, Microsoft came on very strong at the end with its own price cuts (and cool features like Netflix compatibility) to edge out the PS3 in sales for the year by what looking to be only about 600,000 units worldwide.

5) Flickr will launch its video service - but it won't be meant to directly compete with YouTube -- Right
While it was an easy call to say Flickr video would launch (even though it was several months after the company said it would), the company did make a definite decision not to have it compete with YouTube by limiting lengths to 90-seconds and giving it only to premium members.

6) Google's OpenSocial will fail to capture the excitement that Facebook's Platform did this year -- Right
OpenSocial made some headlines this year for partnerships, but we have yet to really see anything of any significance come of it. Google is clearly working on it, but as I said in the prediction, rather than being like a "social blanket" that's easy to spread, "this could turn out to be like painting an old brick wall - hard to get all the little spots."

7) Social Network Aggregation is going to be huge -- Right
This isn't a slam dunk "right," but I think it's fair to say that FriendFeed has caught on much more than it was at this point last year. Also, we now see Facebook aggregating items from other sites like I predicted.

8) Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull will be the biggest film of the year -- Wrong
When I said this, who knew that it would be a rather mediocre movie? Still, it was the number three movie of the year overall with $317 million at the box office -- behind Iron Man by only $1 million. And who knew The Dark Knight would becomes the 2nd biggest box office money maker ever with over $530 million? I was more excited for it than any other movie, but I didn't realize everyone else was -- or that it would be that good.

9) Apple releases a new kind of mouse with multi-touch capabilities -- Wrong (for this year)
Patents were unveiled that indicated that Apple was definitely working on something in this field (bonus points?). And this news recently blew up again when someone did a kick ass mock-up of what it could look like. The Mighty Mouse still sucks, I fully expect this new mouse in 2009.

10) NBC goes back to iTunes -- Right
The two sides finally figured out that they need each other. It was meant to be.

11) Microsoft really starts hyping the idea of 'Windows 7' as Apple continues to grow more quickly and Vista continues to be an albatross -- Right
This is probably my favorite prediction because I'd say this is completely what happened. I feel like I've hardly heard the word "Vista" in months, as all I hear now is "Windows 7" -- and a lot of it now is from Microsoft itself, which even gave out an early build this year!

12) Microsoft will enter the mobile phone market -- Wrong (this year)
This is another one of those predictions that is wrong for 2008, but I think will be right in 2009. There is a lot of smoke out there about what exactly Microsoft is doing with the Zune, project "Pink," and its purchase of Danger -- the company that made the Sidekick. Additionally we have one source at VentureBeat that claims to have seen a prototype of a Microsoft-built phone -- but perhaps that is just a prototype...for now. I still believe this is just a matter of time. Microsoft needs to make a move here.

13) Digg will finally be bought - by a major player -- Wrong (but almost right)
Google was very, very close to acquiring Digg this year, but pulled out at the last minute. After that fell apart, the company raised a new large round of funding and is pushing for expansion in 2009 despite losing a bunch of money.

14) Blockbuster will make a last ditch effort to save itself via Movielink -- Right
The company finally launched a website that could stream movies with Movielink's technology, but the funnier stuff came when Blockbuster's CEO said it was in no rush to make a set-top box -- then came out with one a couple months later, after everyone else already had. I haven't heard much about Blockbuster's set-top box since its launch, but everyone sure seems to love their Netflix on the Roku, Xbox 360 and various other devices.

15) GPS will be all the rage in consumer goods -- Half Right
The iPhone 3G has upped its popularity, and it is popping up in more cameras and I'm seeing more cars with it, but it's not exactly everywhere -- yet.

16) Yahoo makes a bid to buy Twitter -- Half Wrong
So this is a tricky one. I've heard from two separate sources that Yahoo did in fact approach Twitter about an acqusition, but that is was before all of the Microsoft takeover stuff, so it very well could have been sometime in late 2007. Still, I'll go with technically wrong until I find out more.

17) The Beatles will FINALLY be on iTunes -- Wrong
Even Paul McCartney thought it would be a done deal in 2008, but alas, it wasn't. Legal issues remain, but I'd definitely bet on 2009.

Overall, I came up with 9 for 17 as my total score. That includes the "half rights" as half points, but doesn't include my "half wrong" for any points. I'm pleased with getting more than half right for such a long list, but I'm more pleased as how close I seemed on nearly all of them -- even the ones that were wrong.

Watch for my 2009 list in the coming days.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

On Leaderboards

It's Christmas Eve, above is my most favorite holiday card of all.

Today, VentureBeat, the site I work for, secured the #3 spot on the Techmeme Leaderboard for the first time. Amazingly, one year ago, while the current #1 and #2 (TechCrunch and CNET, respectively) were in the exact same positions, VentureBeat was all the way down at #31.

So what does that mean? Well to a lot of you, probably nothing -- it's mostly insider baseball type stuff. Most tech writers and pundits watch Techmeme religiously -- even if some claim they don't like it. For a glimpse of what is going on in the world of tech, there is simply no better source.

Being on Techmeme's leaderboard means that your site has contributed a lot of the Techmeme headlines in the past 30 days. Is a leaderboard for such things silly? Maybe, but it also serves as a type of validation for a job well done. There's a lot that goes into Techmeme's algorithms to determine what should be a headline (and some of it is now, and has always been human-picked), but the most important factor remains links. If you break a story or write about something in a provocative way, people link to you.

Being high up on the Techmeme Leaderboard to me means that people find what me and my colleagues at VentureBeat are writing to be useful, good or at least interesting. That validation is a nice holiday gift.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

I'm Dreaming of a White Bitchmeme

Ah the holidays. The spirit, the joy, the Bitchmemes.

I haven't written up any Bitchmemes in a while, mostly because I'm too busy but also because it seems like there haven't been a lot -- at least not like last year at this time. But we're in a very different world this year -- times are tough, the economy is shit, and people are losing their jobs. Serious times don't seem conducive for long arguments about nothing in the tech blogosphere.

And maybe that's a good thing, but a little diversion now and again is always nice. And so thank God we have Robert Scoble and Mike Arrington launching into an argument about nothing tonight amid the slow holiday tech news cycle.

The topic: FriendFeed.

Arrington says Scoble is addicted to it, Scoble says all the use pays off. Like any good Bitchmeme the real answer is simple: There isn't one. That leads to a perfect storm of circular discussions on blogs, on Twitter and yes, on FriendFeed.

To quote Tyler Durden from Fight Club (as I often do in times like this), "do what you like, man."

As a sidenote, the last Bitchmeme that I wrote about (and that I labeled as such) was back in July when Jason Calacanis "quit" blogging. As I announced I was also "quitting" Bitchmeme, I wrote:
Blogs are not dead, blogging is not going to die. Calacanis will be back blogging in a few months time. Just wait until there is something he feels like he needs to talk about and actually wants people to hear. Do you think he is going to use a mailing list with a thousand people on it? No.
Guess who has not only resumed using his blog but spreads his newsletters all over the blogosphere...yep. So I guess Bitchmeme can come back too now.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

On Embargoes Revisited

Today, Mike Arrington threw the gauntlet down and said TechCrunch won't adhere to embargoes anymore (with a few exceptions). I mostly agree with everything he says, but there's some layers to this that he doesn't really go into.

First of all, from what I've seen and heard, rarely do sites break embargoes on purpose. Some of the time it's a mistake (wrong time communicated or accidental publish and immediate pull-down), but a lot of the time it's also the case that a company will give some site permission for an early jump on a story and just not let anyone else know. This happened to me over the summer, it's bullshit, but it happens.

Part of the problem is that there is often two companies involved -- the start-up/tech company and then the PR firm -- sometimes the main company will give a site permission to run something without letting the PR firm know. I haven't really seen too many people communicate this, but I know it happens all the time. As long as it keeps happening, there is really no point to embargoes.

I honestly don't mind if some company wants to give another site a scoop on something, we all get them from time to time, it's how the system works, but when a PR firm or company lies to me and tells me that everyone will be publishing under the embargo at the exact same time and then I see one go a few hours early (too early to be a mistake), I get really pissed off. It's just a waste of my time to agree to do something only to have the rug pulled out from under me.

I think subconsciously, that experience (which has happened more than just that one time) has led me to take less embargoed news to cover. In general, I don't really like the idea anyway. I like digging up my own, interesting stories. I like the thrill of the hunt. I don't really like stories being handed to me like a lion in a zoo.

But I understand that embargoed stories are an important part of the way news currently works. Jeremy Toeman has some good points about this in response to Arrington. But as Arrington alludes to, as more and more blogs get added to these embargo lists (sometimes I get pitched embargoed news for both VentureBeat AND this site), the problem will only continue to get worse.

Arrington is also right that the solution probably should be companies blacklisting those sites that break embargoes, but as I note above, a lot of times it doesn't seem that it's really sites going rogue and rather is a wink-wink nudge-nudge behind the scenes deal to publish early. Maybe that is also why Arrington is claiming that TechCrunch has never broken an embargo. If I'm to believe what PR firms tell me when I write them all pissed off, TechCrunch has broken embargoes numerous times -- so have many other sites -- the problem is that I don't really believe those PR firms, I think someone gave these sites permission to run early.

The system is broken and there's really no way to fix it without everything being completely transparent, and unfortunately that can't be the case with embargoed news or it would leak out early. So it will be very interesting to see if TechCrunch adheres to its new policy and how that effects the embargo landscape.

I'm fine with no embargoes at all. But it will probably lead to some pretty sketchy blog wars for the right to publish news.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

On Fanboyism

The web is exploding right now on the news that this will be the last year Apple participates in Macworld and more importantly that Steve Jobs will not be giving his signature keynote at the event this year. I'm sure plenty of people are wondering: Why does everyone care so much?

It's a valid question. Consider that if Microsoft announced Steve Ballmer wasn't doing the keynote at CES, the collective sound of silence would largely be deafening. So why all this to do over something someone isn't doing at an event?

Calling everyone who cares about this a "fanboy" is the obvious and easy out. But Apple's popularity seems beyond that now, today is a good example.

I've said it many times before: At the end of the day it all comes back to the product. Apple makes great products, that is why people care about Apple.

Are there Apple products that aren't great? Sure -- the Mighty Mouse and MobileMe come to mind. Is the Mac better at everything than the PC? No, certainly Windows-based PCs are better at a number of tasks. But by and large, it has to be said that Apple puts out quality products. The same cannot be said for its competitors.

I've also repeated numerous times that in the 1990s I could have been considered a Windows "fanboy." I went to the midnight launch of Windows 95. Bought both Windows 98 and Windows XP on the day they came out. Hell, I even owned Windows Me.

More importantly, I hated all things Apple and Mac. So what changed? It's simple. Steve Jobs came back to Apple, Apple launched OS X and I started working in an industry (Hollywood) that was largely Mac-centric. It was weird at first, but after about a week of using a Mac, I decided I was going to buy my own -- and I did. Then over the next few years I bought 4 more and gave my PC to my dad.

And none of that speaks to the iPod and what I think now is the best device I've ever purchased: The iPhone. Could I live without my iPhone? Yes, but my life would be a lot less productive. It's my lifeline to the Internet and no other phone (and I've tested a lot of them) comes close to the experience you get with it.

So call me a fanboy, call me whatever. I care about Apple products because they are good products. I care if Steve Jobs isn't doing a keynote at Macworld because Jobs is the visionary behind those great products. Apple is not above slipping into crap products like Microsoft largely has on the consumer end, and that worries me.

It's not about the Apple name. It's not about Steve Jobs. It's about the product.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Comcast Away

On a scale of 1-10, Comcast is a 0.

It's been three months since I first contacted them about billing me for services I don't have, and three months later, I'm still getting billed for them. While it's great that they're trying to put on a nice public face with things like a Twitter account(@comcastcares), at the end of the day, if your service is shit, it just doesn't matter.

And Comcast's service is shit.

I've called multiple times, I've email multiple times and yes, I've tweeted multiple times -- my billing issues remain unsolved. I've stopped paying my bills in protest, but I know that will really only hurt me (my credit score) and eventually Comcast will just turn off my service.

Which would be ABSOLUTELY fine with me, I've long weaned myself off cable, but I am very much addicted to the Internet. And right now, where I live, unfortunately there aren't really many other options.

And that is forcing me to keep Comcast, which despite me only having basic cable (and only having that because it's only something like $5 more a month with Internet than getting Internet alone -- a rip-off) I'm getting charged for phone service (which I haven't had in a few months), premium cable service (which I haven't had ever since my cable box died over 6 months ago -- and Comcast never fixed despite calls) and HD service (which I don't think I've ever had here). It's bullshit.

What I find most laughable about this is that even if Comcast was the picture of perfection when it comes to customer service, they're screwed anyway cause their offering sucks. Sure, they're not going to die overnight or even anytime soon, but without a change in business plan, they will die at some point down the road.

You see, eventually all content is going to be served over the Internet. For me, it is already. I don't ever watch cable, but I am always watching my Apple TV, Xbox 360 or streaming stuff to my computer. The one reason you need cable now is for live sports, other than that, it's easy for anyone with Internet access to ditch it.

I would say the future of companies like Comcast is just to be Internet providers, but that too will change. Eventually, that will all be done wirelessly -- and Comcast doesn't do wireless.

Their death might be prolonged a bit if their service (relating to their content) was any good, but it too is crap. You're forced to pay well over $100 a month if you want the compelling options (like HD and movie channels), and with that you're served hundreds of channels of absolute crap that you don't want and will never watch.

They could potentially save themselves by going to a-la-carte packages, where you pay only for what you want, but that's been talked about for years and it still hasn't happened. Instead, we get more shitty channels shoved down our throats for the wonderful deal of a higher price.

Eventually, I'm sure the Internet video revolution will force the cable companies into a-la-carte, but by then it will probably be too late. And it's not just the content, it's the experience that is crap too.

Their cable boxes' UI is an absolute joke. Usuability is a nightmare. They all look like shit. And the speed on them is even worse. A product like this cannot last when there is competition -- and it's coming -- fast.

Now I realize that every user in America is not like me -- I live in the tech center of the country and it's my job to try out gadgets and know the latest things in tech. But in 10-15 years does anyone really have any doubts that we'll all be consuming all of our content over the Internet on things like the Xbox 360 and Apple TV rather than through cable company television service? I have no doubt.

And the cable companies are too stupid and slow to do anything about it. The whole industry has become an overgrown forest. It needs to be purged.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

On "Slow Blogging"

The New York Times recently ran a piece about a so-called movement called "slow blogging." In it, they talk about a growing number of people who are rejecting the "fast food restaurant"-style blogging that a lot of large blogs do in favor of a snail's pace approach. This makes me laugh.

First of all, obviously not everyone writes at the same speed, with the same frequency or about the same topics. To insinuate that there are only two types of blogging: Breakneck fast and turtle slow is ridiculous.

Second, "slow blogging" is hardly a new movement. Since it's inception, some people who write personal blogs have spent a lot of time writing long, thought-out posts that they clearly care about. That never stopped. Just because bigger blogs that NYT mentions like Gawker, Huffington Post and TechCrunch are more visible these days (because most are just as good or better than many mainstream media publication IMHO) doesn't mean they are indicative of all blogging.

If you want to do blogging as a profession, is there pressure to post more and more? Sure. I certainly felt this last year when I started writing on this blog a lot. But now that I have been professional blogging for about a year with VentureBeat, I feel like I have a pretty firm handle on things.

Somedays I post as many as 10 entries, other days as few as 2 or 3 -- it varies greatly. Some stories deserve a long discussion, the hunting down of sources for comments, and research. Others are simply something short and noteworthy to put up in order to bring to readers' attention.

Are services like Twitter, Facebook and FriendFeed killing blogging? For some people I think they certainly have replaced the desire to blog, but I would argue that people who really like to write -- as in, complete sentences that make up coherent thoughts -- still blog and will always blog (or whatever we call it in the future).

I use the quick posting services to compliment my blogging, or to spread the word on what I'm blogging about. They are also a consistently great source of content that helps my blogging. I have nothing against people who solely "micro-blog" on Twitter and the like, in fact, I think that's good. Not everyone in the world is meant to have a blog. Some people are too private. Some people are too busy. Some people flat out just can't write.

[story via Mathew Ingram on FriendFeed picture via flickr/hamed saber]

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Why are mainstream media publications such pansies?

Earlier today I shared a link on ParisLime (my Tumblr link/misc blog) of David Pogue's review of the new BlackBerry Storm. I shared it mainly because his title was brilliant: "BlackBerry Storm Downgraded to a Depression." But now I see the title has been changed to the infinitely lamer "No Keyboard? And You Call This a BlackBerry?"

Hard to know exactly why the change, but I'd be willing to bet it was one of three things: 1) The New York Times didn't like Pogue's snarky title 2) NYT didn't think the title was clear enough or 3) NYT didn't like "Depression" in the title given the rough economic times. No matter what it was, how lame is that?

Titles are important. In the age of endless online news, they pull a reader in. While the new title is clearer I suppose, it's boring. It sounds like a tagline for the Storm's new advertising campaign.

This switcheroo today also got me thinking about another mainstream media journalist, Dan Lyons (the artist formerly known as Fake Steve Jobs). Lyons had some hilarious titles/posts ripping on Yahoo (and AllThingsD's Kara Swisher) on his blog, but was forced to take them down by his employer, Newsweek.

The incident apparently has even made Lyons reconsider blogging entirely.

I say again, how lame. The mainstream media still doesn't seem to get how the game is being played nowadays. If Lyons felt that Yahoo lied to him about something (in this case, CEO Jerry Yang stepping down), he should be able to express that. Yahoo, in turn, should be able to respond publicly to that charge and let the reader's decide.

That's much better than all this behind-the-scenes political bullshit that goes on. Many of you out there is readership land may not realize it, but it goes on -- a lot.

Update: Pogue has left a comment clarifying the change. Looks to be a case of a final draft joke change derailing the headline (so basically #2), but I would have kept the title intact, it works by itself as a compelling title joke.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Twitter's New Business Plan

A funny tweet by Twitter chief executive Ev Williams.

Though talk of Twitter's lack of coherent business plan has died down in recent months (there are more important things going on in Silicon Valley -- like people losing their jobs and their shirts on stock losses), it's still out there.

Twitter has succeeded in getting the user base. Now it's going mainstream. One way or another someone will figure out a way to make Twitter a viable business, whether it's Twitter itself or a larger company that uses it as a piece of a larger pie.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Zune: From Shit Brown to Irrelevant in 60 Seconds Flat

I don't get where Microsoft is going with the Zune. It's clearly worse then the iPod. It clearly sells a lot less. It's not going to catch up anytime soon unless Apple abandons the iPod line completely in favor of the iPhone, and it would only do that if and when flash media players become a niche market. So why is Microsoft keeping on keeping on?

Certainly, I'd guess there's an element of stubbornness, Ballmer and crew don't want to lose any battle to Jobs and crew. But overall it just seems like another bad strategy. Once again, Microsoft, which is a huge money-making machine in certain fields, is distracting itself with a fight it can't win -- much like it's doing in battling Google in search and advertising online.

And if they must insist on battling their rivals (Google and Apple) in every market, why not go for the real golden goose -- the iPhone? Microsoft keeps indicating that it has no intention of making a piece of hardware for a phone, but it really should consider it. (And I'd be willing to bet it's prototyping ideas despite denials.)

If it thinks it can win the next (and really already here) huge battleground, mobile, it's going to need something a hell of a lot better than Windows Mobile. I've spent the past several months at a lot of mobile conferences, the consensus on Windows Mobile ranges from "complete crap" to "mostly complete crap." And most of the people with those opinions are mobile developers.

That is not a good sign.

It's true though. While the company will never admit it, if Windows Mobile doesn't improve in a hurry, it's going to be completely obliterated in the mobile sphere by the iPhone and Android, and maybe, if they can pull their act together, Blackberry.

Compared to just the current generations of those devices, Windows Mobile looks like it should be running on my old TI-83 graphing calculator. Image matters, functionality matter, developers matter. Microsoft doesn't have the first two, and it's in danger of losing the third group in a major way.

Microsoft should scrap Windows Mobile and build a single (like the iPhone) mobile computing device with a completely new mobile OS. Sure, it's easy for me to say that, but if it wants to fight a meaningful battle against its rivals, that is the fight. Not the goddamn Zune.

It has the clout and the money to make something happen, even if it is starting from scratch on a new project. It's succeeding the with Xbox gaming console.

They're not saying "Zune," they're saying "Boo...."

Monday, November 17, 2008

Chief Ya-Who?

I've never met Yahoo's soon-to-be-ex CEO Jerry Yang, but from all the interviews and talks I've seen, he seems like a pretty nice guy. Unfortunately, nice guys often don't translate well as heads of big companies. It's sad, but to look out for the best interest of your company, you have to be pretty ruthless. Yang, it seemed, had no fangs.

The fact that he's stepping back into his figurehead roll as "Chief Yahoo" is humorous. The name itself sounds like something like "head dunce." And sadly, that is how Yang's tenure as Yahoo CEO is likely to go down in history.

What's odd to me that is I've met a ton of current and former Yahoo employees and they are almost uniformly brilliant people. The same cannot be said for many other companies. For whatever reason, Yahoo has just not been able to pull it together over the past few years.

They should have bought Facebook a couple years ago. I've heard from people that they were also close to having deals with several other now-hot web companies that just never got done (I may elaborate on that more someday in a VentureBeat post). Sure, the Microsoft battering ram screwed them, but Yahoo was not going the right direction before that came along.

In my opinion, Yahoo, much like its former suitor, Microsoft, got Google-eyes. That is, they saw Google go from nothing to king of the Internet at a breakneck speed and assumed what they were doing must ne the right thing to do. So they expanded operations into every realm that Google was getting into. Unfortunately, while Microsoft has Windows and its enterprise stuff to fall back on, and Google has search and advertising, Yahoo really doesn't have much.

It has/had the most trafficked site on the Internet (Google is close, or on top now depending on what you look at and if you combine sites), but it never really leveraged that to much of anything.

It has awesome properties like Flickr, which is still one of the most successful social sites out there, but I'm not sure that anyone outside of Silicon Valley knows it is owned by Yahoo -- unless they got pissed off by the account migration process or the closing of Yahoo Photos.

Yahoo Mail is huge, but let's face it: Sucks compared to Gmail.

In his most recent talks, Yang would go on and on about making Yahoo into a platform company. I don't know what the hell that even means. Most people don't. He might as well have said "we're going to be doing buzzword, with buzzword and buzzword." People don't care.

Yahoo should have stayed relatively small and focused on what it was doing right. Instead, when it failed to buy Facebook, it tried to start a billion different crappy social networks. And worse, it seemed to do them all in a half-assed way.

Now, all the focus seems to be turning to who Yahoo's next CEO will be. There are a lot of big names being thrown out there. Most with plenty of leadership experience. But I think a lot of us still know who will eventually be leading Yahoo: Steve Ballmer.

It may not happen this year, but despite Ballmer's rhetoric that he's not interested in Yahoo beyond its search product anymore, I still would bet that Microsoft will end up buying Yahoo -- and at a significantly cheaper price than their offer last year.

Microsoft is hell-bent on catching up with Google in both search and advertising (again, stupid, in my opinion), and the only way to do that in any meaningful way is to buy Yahoo. Now that Yang, the guy who hurt Ballmer's feelings, is out, it should be easier.

Maybe Yahoo will merge with AOL before then, and make a company that is even more of an albatross for Microsoft to buy.

Let's get some new big companies out here to write about. These guys are boring me.
[photo: flickr/yodel andecdotal]