Archive for July, 2007

Case Study on Wallstrip at Startup Review

July 31st, 2007

I wrote a case study on Wallstrip that has just been published on Startup Review. Wallstrip is a really interesting little “test balloon” for what can be done with online video. Producer Adam Elend is also one of the brightest, most web-savvy guys anyone could hope to meet. His theme about “putting content where the audience is” is one of those things that sounds so elementary that once you’ve heard it you don’t understand why people aren’t constantly repeating it every day, all the time. The trick is that the simple phrase belies the difficulty of doing that properly.

Case in point is that the same idea was behind Paul McCartney’s Starbucks-released CD, and Prince’s distribution of his new CD through England’s Mail on Sunday newspaper.

To me, both of these efforts seemed like weak attempts to think outside the music distribution box. Yes, consumers are in Starbucks and they read the newspaper, but getting to them requires a bit more than just putting the music in front of them. These efforts lack authenticity, somehow- they seem like clumsy publicity stunts. Wallstrip’s genius is in being candid about foisting product on you, but being open enough, and entertaining enough in the process that lots of people don’t mind the pitch.

Intimacy, authenticity and getting to the audiences where they already live on the web- Adam’s insightful blog piece covers it all.

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Politics of the 2.0 Meme Courtesy of Wikipedia

July 25th, 2007

Just when “Web 2.0” lost all meaning and people stopped saying it, along comes “Enterprise 2.0”. Brad Feld grudgingly acknowledged that the latter term has become entrenched, but not everyone agrees, as shown by a really interesting piece in Harvard Business School’s Working Knowledge e-newsletter both about the term and the mechanics/politics of Wikipedia itself.

Harvard professor Andrew McAfee used (coined, says Working Knowledge) the term Enterprise 2.0 and a reader posted a stub about it on Wikipedia. Someone else nominated the stub for deletion as a “neologism of dubious utility” (as if that’s ever stopped anyone).

The stub was deleted by an administrator, then re-added as a longer article. That article was also tagged for deletion despite conforming (again according to HBS) to Wikipedia’s editorial and content standards. After heated discussion among Wikipedians during which Prof. McAfee came to believe that the pro-deletion camp simply didn’t like the 2.0 name, an administrator determined that the article met all standards and should be kept.

We can hope that Enterprise 2.0 avoids the pitfalls of Web 2.0, because the end result was that after re-posting, a Wikipedian heavily truncated the article and changed the title, saying to McAfee “It’s a free-form, open environment. If you don’t like my changes, make your own”.

Enterprise can certainly benefit from the wisdom of crowds approach (check out Atul Gawande’s book Better for an example of what happens when a hospital asks its staff how to enforce hand-washing practices), so the “2.0” approach makes a lot of sense. It’s still a tired name, though.

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Peak Technology- and You Thought Peak Oil Was a Problem

July 25th, 2007

First came Peak Oil– the idea that we are at, nearly at, or past (depending on whom you ask) the point where more oil has been removed from the ground than there is let to extract. Shortly after came Peak Gas, Peak Coal and Peak Uranium before someone put the pieces together and pointed out that the common factor among all these “peak” theories is that the world produces energy for the most part by using finite resources- and called the whole concept “Peak Energy“.

Follow the idea downstream and you start to wonder about the underpinnings of modern society, and technology in particular. Never mind that a Second Life avatar uses as much electricity as the average citizen of Brazil- check out Data Center Knowledge for a glimpse at how important a consideration energy is to web-centric businesses. Yesterday’s PG&E outage in San Francisco certainly shows how even local disruptions can affect the web in a big way.

Writer James Kunstler posted a recent polemic in which he points out that technology has led us to this point in history, and yet we put our hopes in technology to lead us out again. To paraphrase, the question he asks is “where will we get the energy to build hybrid cars, solar panels and wind farms” when oil costs skyrocket?

Global warming activists have started talking about “stabilization wedges“- numerous varied efforts each designed to reduce or replace a portion of CO2 currently being emitted through fossil fuel use, and using currently available technology.

I think this idea is right on- or at least more realistic than saying we need to return to localized economies- but it’s going to be a close race. If we can’t bring together enough wedges it’s going to be tough to maintain a technology-based society- and then there’s the question of how to rebuild a society where all the readily-available energy resources are tapped out.

I hate to end this on such a glum note. I’m certainly hopeful, but as I said, it’s going to be close.

Google vs. the Wireless Carriers- No Question Who the Audience Favorite is

July 23rd, 2007

The FCC is putting up for auction next year a slice of radio spectrum that will go dark when analog TV is shut down net year, and is due to set the rules for the auction in the next few weeks. To the great pleasure of many, Google plans to bid on a portion of that spectrum, with the intent of providing carrier-neutral cellphone service. In other words, consumers with phones that use the spectrum could freely jump around to any carrier. No more 2 year contracts.

Google’s bid depends on the FCC approving this use along with other conditions that go along with it, like (somehow) requiring handset makers to make phones using the new 700mhz spectrum. The network would need to be built out as well, so I guess the handsets go, err, hand in hand with cell site relays that can handle the traffic, etc.

The major carriers were up in arms about Google’s bid at first. They claimed that Google was stifling competition by imposing these conditions and that the spectrum should simply go to the highest bidder- no conditions, just whoever can pony up the most cash. More recently, AT&T had an about-face and endorsed the FCC’s proposed rules, which largely accept Google’s proposal, but also impose a reserve price so that if the bids aren’t low enough the FCC can re-run the auction.

Phew! So the carriers are slamming Google for being anti-competitive, Google says its conditions are necessary in order to allow anyone other than the major carriers to compete in the space, and some third parties are lambasting the FCC’s reserve bid rule as anticompetitive insofar as it prevents startups with shallow pockets, like Cyren Call and Frontier Wireless from making a bid.

Here’s my take. People are wary of Google and more and more seem to take the “don’t be evil” motto with a big grain of salt. On the other hand, consumers hate their wireless carriers about as much as they love the convenience of their mobile phones. So when Google and the carriers start slinging “anticompetitive” mud at each other it’s no big surprise which side wins and which gets told to ease up on the chutzpah.

Personally, I think “wireless network neutrality” will fill a niche in the industry, especially for early adopters (such as iPhone buyers) willing to pay more for handsets. If consumer ability to jump carriers easily pushes carriers a bit then that would be great as well- maybe they will stop charging more to buy a ringtone than it costs to buy the whole song on iTunes. It will be a great experiment, if nothing else.

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“Copyjacking” legal meme- a gem of a term

July 20th, 2007

Intellectual property lawyer Erik J. Heels coined a new term that I really like: “copyjacking“. More commonly known as “hotlinking”, it refers to the practice of embedding content from another website in order to use the content, but save on bandwidth charges.

I like it because hotlinking isn’t necessarily bad and it is useful to distinguish the bad kind of hotlinking from the good kind. YouTube (and loads of other video sites) encourages users to embed video content on non-YouTube domains. As an example of the bad kind (i.e. copyjacking) Erik takes Freakonomics to task for habitually linking inline to images hosted elsewhere without attribution or apparent permission.

I love this term. What I love even more is that unlike many legal issues there is a sure-fire way to get people to stop the practice- change the image on the host end to something less desirable, such as happened to John McCain last spring.

My (Wished-for) Social Network Dashboard

July 19th, 2007

I wrote the other day about how I long for a unified invite process for social web applications.  I realized that wouldn’t satisfy me, though.  I really want a social network dashboard where I can manage not only invitations, but contacts, avatars, profiles, etc. from a single place.

The new Plaxo comes closer than anything else and may turn out to be useful.  Thanks to it my iCal and Mac Address Book are now sync’d with my Gmail account.  I only use that as backup email, so I guess that it’s a good thing but I’m still not totally clear.

It would be nice to have Linkedin contacts sync automatically too, but I have to pay $49.95/year for that feature.  For $50 I can upload my contact list manually.  Still, the fact that Plaxo is “pass-through” is great.  Users can view info on Plaxo or just use it as a conduit for other services.  I like that, though it makes we wonder how they make money.

Parallels Here I Come

July 18th, 2007

When I started my business I decided to switch from PC to Mac.  It’s been a very happy transition generally, but there are a couple of applications I haven’t been able to adequately replace on the Mac platform.  One is a Word redlining-on-steroids program called DeltaView that is tremendously useful for comparing documents.  The other is billing software.  I just haven’t found a satisfactory legal billing program for Mac.

I’m also start to use contractors and QuickBooks online holds out great promise of easy remote data entry.  That sounds good to me- I hate entering my own time notes, never mind someone else’s as well.  Unfortunately, QB online only works on Internet Explorer for PCs.

Enter Parallels.  It looks really amazing.  I’m excited to see how it works in real life.

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IP Protection for Contractors

July 17th, 2007

I wrote a piece for Found|Read on how contract professionals can write service agreements that let them develop specific work product without handing over their their toolsets to clients.  I have definitely worked on both sides of this issue and it can be sensitive.  “Residuals” and generalized tools and methods are pretty fuzzy concepts.  It takes care and specificity to be sure each side understands what is being delivered to the client and what isn’t.

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“Widget Law”, Privacy and Did You Really Mark that Photo “Friends Only”?

July 13th, 2007

Internet law presented an interesting set of new challenges for lawyers around privacy, permissions, click-wrap contracts, etc. Recently I have seen a new set of issues arise around widgets and the interactive web generally. It’s very interesting, though my clients wish there were clearer answers.

Client confidentiality stops me from talking much about issues I am working on, but here are a couple of public matters within the same sphere.

Virgin Mobile is apparently in a spat with a Flickr user over a photo Virgin grabbed for an outdoor advertising campaign. As reported, Virgin complied with attribution requirements of the Creative Commons license under which the photo was posted, but the photo contained an image of a minor, whose parents say they did not consent to use of the likeness.

Somewhat related, here is a series of posts from employment lawyer George Lenard on the legality of using social network sites for background checking on employee candidates. The conclusion is that it is legal, but don’t take everything you see as verified truth, and be aware that many profiles contain age, ethnic background and other personal data that employers are allowed to know, but need to handle carefully.

The common thread here is that information posted in one context can be used ever more easily for others. More to the point, permission to one use does not mean permission to others, but the technical tools can’t always recognize these distinctions. A friend can give me special permission to see his/her semi-private Flickr photos. Do I violate my friend’s copyright or privacy rights if I stream those photos to my own blog- with unrestricted access?

Probably yes, is the answer. Given how easy it is to do that, what are the consequences and how can we address it? Good questions- no sure answers.

I Want a “Make Friends” Widget

July 11th, 2007

I have and regularly use accounts on LinkedIn, Facebook, Last.fm, Flickr and a couple of other social internet sites.  It’s awkward and I find it almost embarrassing to send out a bunch of separate emails from each service to link up with people I know in the real world.  I want a widget that will let me send a single message to someone offering to connect on all of the services at once. 

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