Blackout

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The power was out when I came home today, second time this week. Alameda Island has it’s own power company and several times a year they have trouble keeping the juice on. I think some poor squirrel was the cause last time.

Today the power was out for about an hour so we got to enjoy dinner by candlelight which Julia said was pretti-ful.

“Hosted Office. Hosted Everything.”

Richard MacManus hones in on the key quote in an Information Week article about Microsoft’s direction with SharePoint. At a conference scheduled to take place in San Francisco next week, Microsoft is due to announce it’s plans for software-as-a-service and it appears that this will mean more than just hosted SharePoint servers.

How much would you pay for a hosted Office service? What other services would you like to see bundled into the service?

Penny for your thoughts

Anil Dash writes that Flickr, because it’s generating ad impressions off of content submitted by their users, should share it’s wealth and pay it’s members. Flickr co-founder Caterina Fake replies that there’s more to life than money. I work at Yahoo which recently acquired the Flickr service so you’re excused if you think I’m one-sided on this one but I really do feel that Yahoo is trying to think this one through carefully, in a way that works for everyone. It’s a new world we’re building and traditional business models are being turned inside out. But it’s not only the corporations that need to rethink the traditional profit/loss statement as a way to measure success, it’s also all of us, the
users who interact with these services everyday, that need to rethink how we value these services that serve as great connectors and distribution platforms.

While we cannot ignore the fact that Flickr hosts your high-resolution photos and the bandwidth and storage required to serve them, I align myself most closely with the view put forth by Thomas Hawk. Here’s a guy that’s not even a professional photographer but through the use of the service he’s met other people that he wouldn’t have normally met without the distribution that Flickr provides. He even sold a print to someone for $500 based on a photo that someone spotted on his Flickr photostream.

As a new round of services sprout up around Social Media (think del.ico.us, upcoming, flock) transform themselves from interesting side projects into financially viable businesses it’s useful to keep in mind the delicate balance between time, passion, and reward that keep these communities together and growing. Participation in any community will pay dividends in unexpected ways.

I spent many an evening hand-coding my budding Tokyo Q website back in 1994 with absolutely no promise of return. Money that came in from our generous sponsor Nokia went straight out the door to our columnists and webhost leaving almost nothing for poor old webmaster me. I think over the course of a year my total compensation was somewhere around $400 which doesn’t go far in Tokyo. Yet, I’ve always
thought that the proper way to look at how Tokyo Q paid me was through the people I would have never met had I not been running the site, TQ gave me the experience to talk with confidence about running a online city guide, TQ introduced me to the web which lead to all sorts of career opportunities. Heck, Tokyo Q is still repaying the favor today as juice for this post!

I think we all have stories about “internet karma” and how a helpful post here led to a fruitful connection elsewhere. It’d be great to here from you all on how time or energy you’ve put into the internet was rewarded elsewhere. Please leave a comment if you have a story to share.

Mie & Dav’s Wedding

Papa Kennedy
Papa Kennedy,
originally uploaded by inky.

So the knot was tied – or bunched together and presented for all to see. My sister Mie and her beau Dav celebrated their commitment to each other with an un-formal formality in a bar in San Francisco. There was a cake with Burning Man iconography, a band in the form of a warbling Japanese cowboy (Toshio Hirano), a bartender serving mean mojitos and even handmade corsages provided by Mie’s friend Rachel.

There were a few speeches including a great one by my father in a 16th century powdered wig (pictured) which opened with, "so this is San Francisco!" and ended with "marriage is what you make it." I read a passage from Thoreau – "To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts." and Rachel read a touching note from someone who couldn’t be there.

There was some dancing and I’m sure the party went on late into the evening but our little doggies were wiped out and fell asleep as soon as we buckled them in for the ride home.

Spam Blogs and Financial Incentive

Technorati’s Niall Kennedy posts about the recent spate of spam blogs coming out of Google’s Blogger service and describes Google’s Blogger and Adsense service as parts of a spam suite. BoingBoing first posted Niall’s theory that CAPTCHA’s are no longer a valid block and are circumvented by spammers who redirect the test to eager seekers of free porn. What’s more troubling is that there is no immediate financial incentive for Google to thwart the creation of spam blogs. For every successful spam blog created, the revenue line for Adsense goes up a notch.

Big ol’ disclosure here because I work at Yahoo which is equally concerned and vulnerable with spam. In the interest of generating public debate, I want to throw out this question. Not only am I interested in how spam blog creation can be stopped (more interested in how to take away the incentive to splog, not how to block them), but also interested in the problem of click fraud. The incentive to create a splog is further accelerated with the creation of specialized crawlers that would click all your ad links and generate immediate click-thru revenues along with the more insidious use of zombie networks reported today by Joel on Software.

What can we do to ensure that the tools we have available to communicate and connect are not pulled apart by greedy individuals using automated tools to gain a quick buck? I know it has something to do with authority and trust. Why do we trust our savings with First National Bank at a swank downtown address and not Ed’s Bank in the trailer on the edge of town? Just as we bank at what is most likely a marble-faced edifice in the physical world, is there anyway to add these same clues to reputation in the virtual world?

Unsubscribe

In this new age of, "get your information when you want it & how you want it," more of the heavy consumers of content are starting to burn out from having too much to read. I dread all the unbolded items in my feedreader that are patiently awaiting review.

I’m looking forward to thinking how social networks, recommendation engines, and ambient findability logic can make "staying up-to-date" less stressful.

Casual Content Creators

In my new role here at Yahoo, I am shifting gears and tone down my focus on corporate blogs and think more about blogging (and other Social Media tools) for the masses. My target audience has shifted from the VP of Marketing or Chief Knowledge Officer to the mother of three in suburban New Jersey. Yahoo makes tools for these folks and I want to consider what tools and information would make their lives richer and fulfilling. I’ll tag posts about these topics with a new category, "Social Media."

I will continue to post from time to time on corporate blogs because that is an ongoing interest and these posts will continue to be tagged with the "Corporate Blogs" category. I still need to post my thoughts about the recent BlogOn conference in NYC, a recent paper and discussion around "Innovation Creators" being posted by Rod Boothby of Ernst & Young over at innovationcreators.com and IBM’s Willy Chiu & Harriet Pearson discussion on blogging on business.

Evan Williams of Odeo recently posted about casual content creators as it relates specifically to podcasting but his observations ring true for any of the self-publishing tools out there today.

While blogging can be about playing on a world stage to influence, gain
audience, and, potentially, monetize (the same goals as most other
media), there are millions of people who are happily pubishing daily
without those motivations. For them, it’s more about expression,
self-reflection, and communication.

I call these people "casual
content creators." It’s not just that they’re amateur or part of the
great, unwashed, Long Tail. It’s that they’re playing a different game.

Both
approaches to publishing are legitimate—and there is certainly a blurry
area in between—but the second one is underrated, in my opinion. As we
learned at Blogger, it’s what the vast majority of people want to do.
And if you set people up with the expectation that, by publishing to
the web, they are becoming a "personal publisher" and should strive to
be part of the A List (an intimidating concept to most people), you’ll
get a very different result than if you give them a casual way to
express themselves and share information.

Ev echos Mena Trott’s seminal Blogs, Bandwidth, and Banjos post from over a year ago. To paraphrase, the true revolution will happen when no one thinks of blogging as a defined activity anymore but just one of many tools (which will include podcasting, moblogging, and sharing  calendars) used to communicate or, perhaps more appropriately, stay connected.

Working towards a new metric

Back in August, Mary Hodder riffed on the shortcomings of Google’s PageRank and Technorati’s incoming links algorithms for ranking blogs.

Counting links is very much like counting subscriptions to magazines in order to sell ads, as far as comparing it to a number not reflective of what is actually going on with the media it’s meant to reflect. Link counts alone are an analog media model, but online media is dynamic, and what is digital often has the possibility of getting much closer to finding smaller, more granular, and more interesting ways of perceiving things, that are much more interesting, and orthogonal to legacy media models counting eyeballs.

Mary goes on and puts forth several new vectors of influence that could be harnessed to feed into a new type of ranking. At the core of the criticism though is that any kind of “ranking” is going to be imposed from above (either from an algorithm or an editor) where as blogging as an activity and medium is from and for the masses. This point is brought up by Terry Heaton in the comments.

While the time and age of links are an important factor to determining the freshness of a blog’s authority (someone should not get too much credit because of a racy picture, funny meme, or scoop that they posted 3 years ago), the relevance and ranking of the blog and blog post to the community at large is important. The only way this can be measured is by measuring how the blog post is used with the community. I can think of a few items of interest:

  • text of the link to the post compared to tags & categories of the referring post
  • number of links to the post divided by number of links to the blog from the referring site
  • number of links to the post divided by number of total links to other posts & blogs within the referring post
  • text of tags associated with post on social bookmarking services such as del.icio.us and My Web 2.0

An important point made by Danah Boyd is that a lot of the brute force ranking engines out there today are not taking into consideration the blogrolls on systems such as Microsoft Spaces or TypePad which are random links to recently updated blogs on the network and not votes of quality or relevance. Another important point to keep in mind is that any list that is automatically generated from algorithms is going to be prone to gaming – that’s just human nature (for a hilarious account of how one guy hacked MySpace and gained 1 million friends in 24 hours, see Samy is my Hero). I think both of Danah’s observations stress the importance of editorial oversight in any new engine used to crawl and rank the blogosphere.

As the recent valuation of Weblogs Inc pointed out, the industry is grasping for a transparent way to rank and evaluate a blog’s influence. The term de jour seems to be that we need to measure a user’s “engagement” with a site and that follows from a blog’s “influence.” Who ever can come up with this golden metric will be the Neilsen of the blogging age and to a great extent will control access to funding and influence. The race is on.

Blogs by Mail

I was listening to the This Week in Tech (TWiT) podcast this morning and Dvorak called the whole Web 2.0 conference "groupthink." Yes, the hype meter was turned up higher than last year and at $2,800 a pop, the conference weeded out the starving developer types and favored the MBA & Biz Dev folks which many view as not in tune with the central message. Was AOL’s purchase of Weblogs Inc. an attempt to purchase some Web 2.0 juice? It looks like we’re headed back to the echo chamber debate (it seems like this debate comes up every year, right after all the October conferences) so and I’m looking forward to a visit with my relatives in Tennessee for a reality check.

I’m always on the lookout for ways to bring what’s going on in my online world to the wider world of my offline friends. Qoop is a cool service that will print & bind your blog (beta) or Flickr stream. Last year I gave each of my inlaws one of those beautiful, hardcover bound iPhoto books. Another cool idea is a subscription service that turns each of your blog posts into a "meatspace" letter which gets sent to your internet-challenged grandparents.

Belated Review of Web 2.0

I’m a bit slow out the gate with this post and I expect you all to take whatever I say with a big ol’ grain of salt because of my new position with Yahoo. Truth is, there’s lots going on both here at Yahoo and the industry at large. Let’s take a quick rundown over the events of the past week:

No wonder we’re all out of breath! I only attended the workshops and opening day sessions but feel like I was there because I picked up on the buzz at the afterparties and have read through lots of the posts about the conference.

Two points of discussion that I wanted to highlight because I didn’t see them mentioned anywhere else.

Esther Dyson contributed and interesting riff on the variable of time and how that might impact the relevance of what an advertiser might be targeting or a search engine presenting. If someone subscribes to a feed or buys a book today, they may not continue to have that interest in the  future. We all must keep in mind that behavior profiling via a clickstream may actually deceive. If someone is a starving student that likes to browse expensive car sites, does that really make them a qualified buyer to the BMW advertiser? If they did a lot of research for a new computer last month, post purchase, that may not be their interest and in fact, it may be more appropriate to target marketing messages for accessories instead of new systems.

The challenge is to build an ad network which can take feedback from it’s participants. The example I’ve been turning over in my mind is the banner ad that has a button which allows you to block future instances of ads in it’s category from every appearing again. If I’m presented with an ad for a Buick Lacrosse, I should have the option to "opt out" of those ads. This feedback should make it’s way back to the advertising engine and modify my profile appropriately. Not only is the beneficial to me, as a consumer who never wants to see and ad for a Buick again, it also is beneficial to Buick who will not have to waste their inventory on me.

The second point was best summed up in a one-liner attributed to Ross Mayfield, "Let’s stop measuring impressions and start measuring the impressed." Online advertising in the Web 1.0 world looked at banner impressions and then, with self-serve networks such as AdSense, cost-per-click. In the world of blogs, trackbacks, and rss subscriptions, it’s now possible to measure something like a cost-per-influence. It’s time for the publishers and advertisers to come together and experiment on this new unit of measure and try out new business models that are made possible by this innovation.

In my mind, advertising is useful and complimentary if it adds to the experience of what I’m reading. It can do this by being either educational, entertaining, or highly contextual (or best case, all three). The tools we have at our desposal are improving and modern day metrics allow us to also to measure not only the nameless "daily uniques" but also the quality of an audience demographic and impact of a writer like never before. I am hopeful that this will ultimately reward quality writing which will benefit us all.