I've been reading some of the links to my previous post on the topic of Jason Calacanis's offer to pay top users of sites like Digg & Reddit to switch to using Netscape's news site. In posts like Anil Dash's Digga Please and Ian McAllister's Do Contributors Want To Turn Their Hobbies Into Jobs? I see an agreement that users should get value for their contributions to the online community. However there also seems to be an undercurrent of disdain towards the idea of financially rewarding users who create popular content. This ignores the reality of how media and content generation works in the world today, both online and offline.

First of all, I think both Anil and Ian are muddying the discussion my making it seem that the argument is that all people generating content on the Web should be motivated by money. I think this is a straw man argument and has little to do with the point that Calacanis is trying to raise. The fact is that the popularity of media/content and creators of content tends to follow a power law or exhibit a long tail effect (depending on which buzzword tickles your fancy). The top tier of musicians, artists, bloggers, authors, etc capture a significant amount of the audience for that market. This is usually described as the 80/20 rule or Pareto Principle. These popular content creators are often professionals even though their fields are full of millions of amateurs and semi-professionals who write, play music, take photos, etc either for their own personal edification or just to share with friends and family.

Take blogging as an example, even though most blogs are focused on describing their personal experiences to a relatively small audience of readers the list of most popular blogs is dominated by professionals who make money from their efforts. Below is the current list of top 10 blogs based on incoming links taken from the Technorati Top 100 Blogs List.

  1. 老徐 徐静蕾 新浪BLOG
  2. Boing Boing: A Directory of Wonderful Things
  3. Engadget
  4. Daily Kos: State of the Nation
  5. PostSecret
  6. Thought Mechanics
  7. Gizmodo, The Gadget Guide
  8. The Huffington Post
  9. Techcrunch
  10. Lifehacker, the Productivity and Software Guide

Almost every blog on that list is run by professional bloggers who are either directly paid to blog or make a lot of money from the ads running on their blog. So even though, bloggers are primarily individuals who blog to share thier experiences with friends and family without expectation of financial reward, the most popular bloggers are those who are actually in it for the money. And on the Web, since popularity (i.e. page views) directly correlates to how much money one's online service makes via advertising, it makes sense to court and cultivate the kind of professionals that generate popular content. 

The problem I had with Ian & Anil's posts is that they seem to imply that there is something wrong with getting paid for doing what you love. But the fact is that if you got paid to pursue your hobby then you could do it all the time and would get really good at it. A lot better than those who only find time to do it in between their nine to five jobs. That's the the primary difference between a professional and an amateur; the amount of time and focus one can afford to devote to the task at hand.

The interesting question for me is whether sites like Digg are immune to the 1% rule or not. When I used to participate on Kuro5hin it was clear to me that a small set of users determined the focus of the site even though there were thousands of users who could vote on stories and rate comments. It was also easy to see how the direction and the topics covered by the site would change as certain cliques of users left the site. Digg looks to me to be just like Kuro5hin with a slightly better UI and a different community. I would be surprised if both sites don't face the same kind of issues when it comes to small sets of users dominating the content and focus of the site despite Kevin Rose's protestations that this isn't the case


Categories: Social Software

I just noticed that there is now Project Hosting on Google Code via Slashdot. The Slashdot article has the following rich quote

Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier sat down for a talk with Greg Stein and Chris DiBona, who say that the product is very similar to sites like SourceForge but is not intended to compete with them. From the article: "Instead, Stein says that the goal is to see what Google can do with the Google infrastructure, to provide an alternative for open source projects. DiBona says that it's a 'direct result of Greg concentrating on what open source projects need. Most bugtrackers are informed by what corporations' and large projects need, whereas Google's offering is just about what open source developers need. Stein says that Google's hosting has a 'brand new look' at issue tracking that may be of interest to open source projects, and says 'nobody else out there is doing anything close to it.'"

Last year, when I saw Chris DiBona announce Google Code at the O'Reilly ETech conference, he said that that they woild work with SourceForge to improve the service. I wonder what happened. The site seems pretty sparse right now, I doubt I'll be moving RSS Bandit from SourceForge anytime soon.


A few weeks ago, Matt Griffiths wrote a response to my blog post Yahoo! Working on Open Source GFS Clone? entitled Why would Yahoo support an open source version of the Google File System? where he wrote

So why would Yahoo! do this? Why would they create open source versions of tools that could give them a short-term competitive advantage? I think Joel Spolsky said it best:
Smart companies try to commoditize their products' complements. [Joel Spolsky]
Yahoo! is not in the business of selling software. They sell advertising. Software is one of their biggest complements. The best way to commoditize software is to open source it.
I disagree that software is a complement to what Yahoo! sells which is advertising real estate on their online services such as search, email and news sites. Software is more of an input into the production process (i.e. a means to the end) than a complement of the finished product.

A complement is something that is purchased along with your product to make it useful. If you are a vendor of consumer operating systems, then desktop PCs are your product's complement and you want PCs to be as cheap as possible. If you are a manufacturer of gas guzzling SUVs vendor, then gasoline is your product's complement and you want gas prices to be as low as possible. If you are a software consultant, then shrink-wrap software is your product's complement and you want software licenses to be as cheap as possible. None of these examples is analogous to Yahoo! open sourcing a tool that makes it easier and cheaper for them to build online services and thus have more & better real estate to sell to advertisers.

I can see a couple of explanations for Yahoo! making this move. On the one hand, they could believe that distributed software development isn't their core competency and would like to outsource some of the harder bits by Open Sourcing it. The problem with that approach is that as the Mozilla project has shown, it may take years to get a critical mass of external developers working on the project and it would still need significant contributions from Yahoo! to stay afloat. Another justification, could be that Yahoo! realizes that even with technologies like GFS/Hadoop there is still a lot of hardware expenditure, operations expertise and infrastructure software needed to run a megascale service. These are often beyond the resources of most competitors and for the ones that do have those resources (e.g. Google) they already have similar technologies. Thus there is little to fear of a competitor using Hadoop against them. A third option could be that Hadoop may not be considered to be strategic by Yahoo! management which is why it has been allowed to be open sourced. In that case, management may either be underestimating the importance of technologies like Hadoop or may just truly think that their competitive advantage lies elsewhere.

Bah, I should probably get to work instead of engaging in idle speculation on a Thursday morning. :) 


The blog post entitled Our Beta is public! from the Windows Live Mail Desktop team announces that everyone can now get access to the Windows Live Mail Desktop beta. Think of it as the Windows Live version of Outlook Express. Some of the key features are described in the blog post and excerpted below

  • Junk and phishing protection
  • Support for RSS feeds
  • Photo email (share & publish your photos as slideshows to the internet!)
  • Blog it!
  • 3 pane view of email
  • Integration with Windows Live Messenger
  • Active Search
  • Multiple account aggregation
  • Instant Search
  • Free client access to your hotmail account
  • Lots more and with even more to come! 

More details on the various features can be found in blog posts such as Better Together with Active Search, A picture is worth a thousand words and Where did we come from? Where are we going?. I've worked with this team on a a few of their features and it's great to see that folks can now check try out the fruits of our labor.  

Sign up for the beta and let the team know what you think.



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