July 26, 2006
@ 07:55 PM

Every couple of months, I see a blog post from someone wondering whether websites that traffick in user-generated content should be rewarding their most valuable users financially. A few months ago it was Anil Dash blogging about this in his post The Interesting Economy which wondered whether Flickr users whose photos are determined to be 'interesting' should be financially rewarded. Anil's post elicited a passionate response from Flickr's Caterina Fake entitled Economies of Interest which basically boiled down to "There's more to life than money". Her response rang hollow to me but I didn't really comment on the topic at the time. 

Robert Scoble also wrote about this last month in his blog post The screwing of the Long Tail where he complains that sites that traffick in user generated content such as Digg, photo sharing sites, Craig's List and social bookmarking sites "are gonna take all your content AND take all the money that the advertising generates".

Earlier this month, Jason Calacanis wrote a blog post entitled Paying the top DIGG/REDDIT/Flickr/Newsvine users (or "$1,000 a month for doing what you're already doing where he wrote

Before launching the new Netscape I realized that Reddit, NewsVine, Delicious, and DIGG were all driven by a small number of highly-active users. I wrote a blog post about what drives these folks to do an hour to three hours a day of work for these sites which are not paying them for their time. In other words, they are volunteering their services. The response most of these folks gave back to me were that they enjoyed sharing the links they found and that they got satisfaction out of being an "expert" or "leader" in their communities.

Excellent... excellent (say that in a Darth Vadar/Darth Calacanis voice for extra impact).

That is exactly what bloggers told Brian and I three years ago when we started. Given that, I have an offer to the top 50 users on any of the major social news/bookmarking sites:

We will pay you $1,000 a month for your "social bookmarking" rights. Put in at least 150 stories a month and we'll give you $12,000 a year. (note: most of these folks put in 250-400 stories a month, so that 150 baseline is just that--a baseline).

Kevin Rose of Digg responded today with a blog post entitled Calacanis where he writes

Ya see users like Digg, Del.icio.us, Reddit and Flickr because they are contributing to true, free, democratic social platforms devoid of monetary motivations.  All users on these sites are treated equally, there aren't anchors, navigators, explorers, opera-ers, or editors.  Jason, I know AOL has given you access to their war-chest, but honestly, take that money and invest it into site development.  Listen to your existing community. Think of what your loyal Netscape users must think - you're essentially telling them that they aren't good enough and that you have to buy better users. You can have the best submitters in the world, but if your community doesn't support you it will never work.

Jason Calacanis responds quite nicely in his post entitled Kevin Rose cracks (or "how to know when you've won the debate") where he writes

The top ~50 members on these services are responsible for over 50% of the top stories--that's a straight up fact and Kevin knows it. That seems to scare the heck out of him, and it shouldn't. I've created a market for these users, and others are about to jump in and do that same (I know this for a fact). So, if there is gonna be a market for community leaders, why not just join the party Kevin? You raised a ton of money and you can raise more. You're making money from advertising and you can easily afford to pay the top 12 users $1,000 a month each--share the wealth dude! Why not carve out 10-20% of your revenue for users?

I agree with the spirit of what Jason Calacanis is trying to do, revenue sharing is the way to go. I don't buy arguments from Kevin Rose and Caterina Fake that it's all about charity and generosity especially when there is money to be made [by them but not their users]. After all, the only thing better than doing something you love is doing something you love and getting paid for it. ;)


Categories: Social Software

Sean Alexander, who works on Windows digital media team at Microsoft, has a blog post entitled Thoughts on PlaysforSure and Zune Announcement which provides his perspective on some of the speculation about Microsoft's Zune announcement and it's impact on Microsoft's PlaysForSure program. He writes

From what I've learned, Zune is a new brand for Microsoft - Zune is about community, music and entertainment discovery.  You'll experience Zune with a family of devices and software that bring it all together. Yes, we all want more details, but we’ll have to be a little patient for more details. Check out www.comingzune.com and sign up if you want more details.


One question that gets asked here is the relationship to our existing PlaysforSure program. The Windows digital media team (of which I've been a member) has been focused on raising the tide for all boats, raising the experience for many partners through programs like PlaysforSure, giving sessions on 360 degree product design at partner events, offering frank feedback on product designs when requested and more.  We want Windows to be the best place to experience digital music and entertainment.  The Windows team will continues to work closely with service and device partners to make Windows a great platform for any digital media.


And one need only look as far as the MP3 player/portable media player market to find other examples of taking multiple approaches.  At least two of the largest consumer electronics manufacturers compete on not one, not two, but three levels:

  • They supply memory for their own, and competitive MP3 players
  • They design and sell MP3 "engines" (systems on a chip) for their own, and competitive MP3 device manufacturers
  • They design, build and compete for retail space for their own, branded MP3 players
There are many other examples that can be drawn within Microsoft as well – for example, Microsoft Game Studios competes with independent game publishers for consumer dollars on the same platform (Xbox) also built by Microsoft. In all these cases, relationships of trust must be established independently between product groups or divisions.  The same holds true here as well.   It’s hard to understand unless you’re inside Microsoft but these groups have separate P&Ls (Profit/Loss metrics) and that sometimes means trying different strategies.

I've seen a bunch of negative speculation about Zune and PlaysForSure both from technology news articles such as C|Net's Swan song for Microsoft's music allies? and blog posts such as Magic 8-Ball Answers Your Questions Regarding Microsoft’s ‘Zune’. I'm glad to see Sean offering his perspective as someone who works on the Windows digital media team on PlaysForSure.

The cool thing about blogging is that if people are talking about you and your product, you can just join in the conversation.


Categories: Technology

July 25, 2006
@ 03:32 AM

Over the past couple of weeks I've been trying to introduce my girlfriend's kids to the cartoons from my childhood. I have volume 1 of Pinky & The Brain on order and it should arrive sometime this week. Even though it technically isn't from my childhood, it definitely is a show I loved back when it was still on. I also purchased Season 3 and Season 4 of Transformers (Generation 1). However once I tried to watch it, I was struck by how bad the show was and couldn't bring myself to watch more than two episodes let alone share the experience with others.

On the other hand, I thought I'd struck gold when I picked up He-Man and the Masters of the Universe - Season One, Volume 1 until the following exchange between my girlfriend's son and me.

Me:  Come check this out, it's a show I used to watch when I was around your age.
Girlfriend's Son: I don't wanna watch this.
Me: Why Not?
Girlfriend's Son: That guy is wearing pink, I'm not watching a show with a guy that wears pink.
Me: That's Prince Adam, he's really He-Man in disguise.
Girlfriend's Son: I don't wanna watch it. Can we watch the midget movie instead? [Editors Note: Midget move == R. Kelly's Trapped in the Closet Chapters 1-12]

Prince Adam of Eternia

After this exchange I've declared defeat and thus have given up on introducing them to cartoons from my childhood. I guess I'll be watching my Pinky & The Brain DVD by myself. :)

Categories: Personal

Windows Live Gallery is now live. This site is the one stop shop for a variety of Windows Live plugins and gadgets. There is also a video about the site on On10 in the entry entitled Windows Live Gallery: the one-stop shop for all your Windows Live customization needs which has the following blurb

Your Windows Live homepage looking a bit drab? Sure your shiny new live.com inbox shows up and you've certainly got your 10 feeds plugged in as well, but it's still missing something isn't it? Well fear not, for Windows Live is getting a friend called Windows Live Gallery and we're giving you the scoop.

Windows Live Gallery will provide you an axis for every possible bit of Windows Live customization. Not only that, but if you fight sleep every night in order to build an über-gadget of your very own, then your masterpiece can be easily listed on the site.

The site currently has categories for Windows Live gadgets, Windows Live Toolbar plugins, Windows Desktop Search IFilters, Windows Live Messenger Bots & Activity plugins, and Windows Live Search macros. This site has been something we've needed for a while and it is good to see a unified site being built that focuses on customizing the Windows Live experience. Mad props to Chris Butler, Bubba, Heather Friedland and all the other folks that have been working to make the site a reality.

Some might wonder how this site relates to MicrosoftGadgets.com. It's pretty straightforward, Windows Live Gallery is targeted at end users while MicrosoftGadgets.com is more of a developer community site.


Categories: Windows Live

The New York Times has an article entitled In the Race With Google, It’s Consistency vs. 'Wow' which talks about competition between the big four online services (Google/Yahoo/Microsoft/AOL). The article dismisses Microsoft and AOL as also rans, then primarily focuses on competition between Yahoo! and Google. Below are some excerpts from the article

Google is continuing to extend its lead in users and revenue from Web search, while Yahoo’s attempt to compete is foundering. Last week, Yahoo reported weak search revenue and said it would delay a critical search advertising system, sending its shares down 22 percent to a two-year low.

With AOL and MSN from Microsoft losing share and plagued by strategic confusion, Yahoo is in a position to further solidify its lead as the Web’s most popular full-service Internet portal, so any incursions by Google into areas like e-mail and maps are a threat.

“There is a tradeoff between integration and speed,” Mr. Eustace said. “We are living and dying by being an innovative, fast-moving company.” Sometimes this penchant for speed and innovation can cause Google to zoom past the basics. When asked about the lack of an address book in Google Maps in an interview last fall, Marissa Mayer, Google’s vice president for search products and user experience, said it was a gap in the product. She said it was much easier to get the company’s engineers to spend time developing pioneering new technology than a much more prosaic address storage system.

There are risks in each approach. Google tends to introduce a lot of new products and then watch to see what works. This has the potential to alienate users if there are too many half-baked ideas or false starts. At the same time, Yahoo risks being seen as irrelevant if it tries to put so many features into each product that it is always months late to market with any good idea.

“Yahoo has lost its appetite for experimentation,” said Toni Schneider, a former product development executive at Yahoo who is now chief executive of Automattic, a blogging software company. “They used to be a lot more like Google, where someone would come up with a cool idea and run with it.” While Yahoo’s processes have become too bureaucratic, it is still attracting an audience, Mr. Schneider said. “Google’s products may be more innovative, but at the end of the day, Yahoo is pretty good at nailing what the user really wants.”

So far, outside of the Web search business, neither company appears to be able to make a significant dent in the position of the other. Both companies are gaining users as AOL and MSN decline.

Despite the spin on the article, the chart provided seems to show that Microsoft is in the running for the top spots among the various key online services although I'm quite surprised that neither MSN Maps nor Windows Live Local show up in the list of popular mapping sites. In addition, the demographics are different for worldwide usage versus the United States. I believe MSN Spaces and MSN/Windows Live Messenger are at the top of their categories world wide according to comScore.

It is good to see more people pointing out that all the so-called innovation in the world is a waste of time if you don't handle basic user scenarios. It's more important that I don't have to type my address every time I use a mapping website I visit regularly than that it uses AJAX extensively.

It's also interesting to see complaints of bureaucracy at Yahoo! from Toni Schneider (formerly of Oddpost which was acquired by Yahoo) which echo the same comments made by Jeffrey Veen (formerly of MeasureMap acquired by Google) about bureaucracy at Google. I guess that highlights the difference between working at a startup versus working at a big company like Yahoo! or Google. 

I think the framing of the competition between online serves as being about consistency vs. 'Wow' factor may be a straw man. I think it is more about integrated services versus siloed applications. After all, a portal can consistently use AJAX or Flash and still fail to gain traction with users because it doesn't satisfy basic scenarios. On the other hand, when applications allow users to do multiple things at once from a single application then goodness ensues. MySpace is a good example of this, it integrates social networking, photo sharing, blogging, music sharing and more into a single highly successful application. MSN Spaces does the same and is also highly successful. On the flip side, Google has three or four different overlapping websites to do the same thing. That costs you in the long run. Another good example, is Google search in that it provides a single search box yet provides a whole lot more than website search from that box. Depending on your search, it also does music search, map search, currency conversion, metric unit conversions, stock quotes, news search, image search and more.

As Google search and MySpace have shown there's more of a 'Wow' factor when an application takes a well integrated, multi-disciplinary approach than from merely being AJAXy.


Om Malik has a blog post entitled Microsoft Partners, You Been Zunked which talks about what the recent Zune announcement means for Microsoft's partners in the digital media business. He writes

So Microsoft is going to get into the music device business - imitating the same “integrated experience” philosophy as Apple has successfully deployed to carve itself a big share of the portable music player and online music business.
More on that some other day, but the real and perhaps the only story in the news is that Microsoft’s partners - from device makers to music services - just got double crossed by the company they choose to believe in. I like to call it Zun-ked (a tiny take off on Punked.)

Let me break this down: Zune - the devices, the platform, and the store/service - will compete with everyone from Apple (of course) to Creative Technologies, iRiver, Samsung, Archos, Rhapsody, Napster, Yahoo Music and anyone dumb enough to buy into Microsoft’s visions of Urge, Media Player, PlayForSure etc.

Microsoft could argue that Zune would be unique and those others can still do business. But it is also a classic example of why Microsoft is lumbering bureaucratic morass wrapped in a can of conflicts. A modern day version of medieval fiefdoms, perhaps? Take for instance, Urge which is built into Windows Vista, and is what I guess you could call an almost integrated experience. What happens to consumers when faced with the choice of Zune or Urge!!! Answer - iPod.

This thought popped into my head as well and I'm sure there are folks at Microsoft who have answers to the questions Om asked. We already have Microsoft employees like Richard Winn and Cesar Menendez blogging about Zune which means that Microsoft is definitely participating in the conversation. It'll be interesting to hear what they have to say about how Zune relates to Urge, PlaysForSure and a number of other questions that have been asked in various stories about the announcement. 


Categories: Technology

Michael Gartenberg of Jupiter Research has a blog post entitled Zune is Real and Here's What it Means - First Take Analysis where he writes

If you have the current issue of Billboard, there's an article in there as well.

First, this is an acknowledgement that Microsoft is clearly not happy with Apple's dominance in digital music. I don't think it is concern about new growth scenarios. It's more a concern that Apple controls a key endpoint in the digital home and that Apple bits flow only to other Apple controlled bits or devices. That scenario doesn't bode well for Microsoft's larger ambitions Second, even though Microsoft still talks about the diversity of the Windows platform as an overall advantage, let's face it, the platform argument is dead and licensees will have to deal with it. On one hand, no one has ever successful created a business where you license technology to licensees and simultaneously compete with them on the device side. On the other hand, it's not like there's a lot of other places for licensees to go to get technology.

So what's the challenge? Essentially there are three things.

  • Creating a technically competent challenger...
  • Creating a lifestyle device...
  • Creating a platform...
Early market share, however, isn't likely to come from disgruntled iPod users looking to switch. The real losers in the short term are likely to be the likes of Creative, iRiver and other former partners that have failed to deliver to market share from Apple and will now find themselves not only competing with Apple but with their former partners from Redmond.

Interesting. As someone who's bought 5 iPods over the past few years (2 for me, 1 for my mom, 1 for my girlfriend and 1 for her daughter) I'm quite the fan of Apple's devices and often walk the hallways at work looking like one of those silhouettes from the iPod ads. I'll definitely take one out for a test drive when I'm shopping for my next music player.  So far nothing has compared to the iPod experience but Microsoft's work with XBox/XBox Live shows the company can compete when it comes to hardware/online service combos.

PS: Isn't it weird how different the results are for http://images.google.com/images?q=ipod+ad vs. http://www.live.com/#q=ipod%20ad&scope=images&lod=2&page=results?


Categories: Technology

July 22, 2006
@ 12:42 AM

It's been one of those weeks where it feels like I spent more time sitting in meetings or composing meeting notes than actually doing productive work. Wonder what it's like? Read the post Fireside Chat with Khoi Vinh and Jeffrey Veen: “In-house vs. on your own” on the 37 Signals blog which is excerpted below

About the chatters
Khoi Vinh is Design Director at the NY Times and creator of Subtraction.com. Previously, he was a founding partner at Behavior. Jeffrey Veen is Product Director for Measure Map, now owned by Google. Previously, he was a founding partner at Adaptive Path.

Matt and Jason from 37signals moderated.

Matt L.
Khoi, what’s the biggest difference between your typical work day now versus when you were at Behavior? And Jeff, what’s been the biggest change since your shift from Adaptive Path to Google? What do you like better about your new job? What do you miss about your old one?
Jeffrey V.
Khoi V.
Meetings is right.
Jeffrey V.
At a large orgainzation, communication is different than in a small team.
Khoi V.
There are a lot of meetings for me — sometimes that’s about 60% of my week.
Jeffrey V.
Yeah, that sounds like my schedule.
Matt L.
What % of these meetings are necessary/productive?
Jeffrey V.
Hmmm… I’m not sure I could quantify that.
Khoi V.
I’d say about 90% of the meetings I attend are necessary and productive. There are very few time wasters.

In a way, I’ve come to see meetings as central to the success of the design group I lead. They’re my opportunity to articulate the hows and whys of the design process.
Jeffrey V.
Meetings are a byproduct of scale,

For example, when we were working on Measure Map, we could come to a conclusion with five people very quickly, and launch something new.
Jeffrey V.
But at Google, there are far more dependencies.

What I miss from my old days on the XML team at Microsoft is that I often would take a day off from meetings and either shut myself in the office to get work done or work from home. Somewhere along the line I lost that habit and now every day I spend most of the day either in meetings or killing time between meetings.


Categories: Life in the B0rg Cube

Some of our users have pointed out that the http://www.rssbandit.org domain which houses information about the RSS Bandit project including documentation and support forums is down. This is due to the fact that our hosting provider has taken down the site because it "uses 100% of CPU and slows down the other websites on that server" and it will not be reinstated until we fix whatever is causing this issue.

Torsten and I are trying to get this fixed as soon as possible. Thanks for your patience.

Update: The site is back up.

Categories: RSS Bandit

Microsoft is the only company I've worked for us a full time employee which means that sometimes I wonder how different my perspective of inter-office interaction is from that of the average software developer with a wider range of experiences. For example, one thing I've noticed about internal mailing lists is that there are always people who seem to assume that they are smarter and more knowledgeable about a product or technology than the people who actually work on the product. You can tell these people by the way they point out obvious features that are missing in the product and berate the team for not having them (e.g. why isn't there podcasting support in Windows Media Player or social bookmarking in Windows Live Favorites or support for RELAX NG in System.Xml, etc). I've seen critics both internal and external to Microsoft raise these questions probably because every one of these questions seems like it points to a bad decision on the part of the product team. However things are never so cut and dried.

A couple of weeks ago, I read a blog entry on Robert Scoble's blog where he mentioned that one of the most surprising things about working at Microsoft was that practically every time he criticized a product team for a decision they made there was a good reason behind it. Just this week, I was reading posts by Joshua Allen and Mini-Microsoft that criticized the disappearance of Microsoft Private Folders 1.0 due to "concerns around manageability, data recovery and encryption". Neither of them considered whether these concerns could be valid as pointed out by a comment in the Mini-Microsoft blog which is excerpted below

So what makes you think, even for a New York Minute, that we haven't already been on the firing line because some "gotta have the shiny thing" senior middle mgmt bozo installed this My Private Folder "cool tool" and immediately forget the password that was "securing" the files for a $250,000 project?

I'm here in Redmond, Mini, working IT for a company with 4000 people internationally, 1000 in the US. Some of our staff has been in MS advertisements - there's no dearth of Kool-Aid here. But you want to blame the IT lords? No.

Blame the users to whom your company gave a loaded gun.

It's always interesting to see the other side of the story. Of course, I'm guilty of such criticism of product teams myself. Just this week, I walked over to Jay Fluegel's office to rant about the fact that MSN Spaces hasn't done much in providing users with cool widgets for their space or fixing the bugs in existing widgets in recent months. He not only agreed with me, he also showed me what they have planned to address my issues (i.e. Windows Live Gadgets) and I was blown away.

On the other hand, just because a product team thinks it has a good reason doesn't always make it one. For example, given the predictable amount of negative press about adCenter not supporting Firefox, Safari or IE 7 I would have made the call to not ship whatever features that depend on AJAX/ActiveX/whatever that depend on IE 6 than tell ~10% of the people on the Web that we don't want their advertising dollars. I have no insight into why they made this decision but I'm sure there is a good reason behind it. ;)


Categories: Life in the B0rg Cube