A Gadget Worthy of $300

Ipod Touch for less than $300, including free WiFi-enabled multitouch surfing.
Any of a number of new netbooks, sub-$400, that would also be WiFI-enabled.  These have much larger screens than iPods, are actually real computers and do everything computers do (including real keyboards), but cannot just be tossed in a pocket and last for many hours on a charge like an iPod Touch.
Last but not least, the mysterious Kindle by Amazon.  This is the technological wizardry that actually inspired this post, even though it's never been seen in person (by me).  I think I may actually get one, but for the price, the iPod Touch or a netbook may be wiser investments.  Hmmm...

One-Day Ad Experiment Is Over!

This blog does not get a large number of visitors.  On occasion, I'll run some AdWords ads to drive some traffic and see what happens to my stats (pages per visit and length of visit), and while doing so the night before last, I went out and set up an AdSense account.  AdSense is Google's way of having site owners open up their sites to Google ads and getting paid on a per-click basis for doing so.
Apparently Google is very secretive about how much revenue these ads can generate, and they don't allow us to disclose exact earnings amounts or other metrics.  Let it suffice to state that I spent between 50 and 100 times my ad revenue earnings on traffic acquisition costs yesterday.  The amounts we're talking about are really quite trivial, less than a hundred bucks on acquisition costs, but the amount of visitors and ads served were a pretty decent sample size.  Enough so that I have ZERO misgivings about removing the ads entirely, as they are likely to do more harm than good, at least on this particular blog.

Please forgive my experimental foray into potential revenue generation from this site, and know that I feel very priveleged to have each and every one of you visitors and subscribers!


Why Didn't I Know This About MS Live?

After reading a press release on Microsoft's huge marketing deal with Sun, granting the option to tens of millions of downloaders of Java to include an MSN toolbar in their download, the immediate thought was "why would anyone do this?  I thought MSN's search was still a cluttered mess, in stark contrast to Google's simple elegance and focus."  After a quick visit to msn.com, I confirmed my suspicion, but then dug deeper by clicking directly on the search link at MSN (see live.com screenshot, followed by msn.com screenshot):



In stark contrast to msn.com, the Live site is a study in cool simplicity.  Just like Google was and still pretty much is.  I've always wondered why someone hasn't tried to out-Google Google, and I believe www.live.com has accomplished that feat.  They've even got a shorter url to type in!
Now if all of us were aware of exactly what www.live.com was, then MS might one day be relevant again in the everyday internet citizen world.  Can its p.r. effort get out of the way of itself and somehow allow that to happen?  I hope so, because although the screenshot doesn't show it, the site actually has some gee whiz techiness to it that is earning it a bookmark in my browser bar as soon as this post is finished!

Why We Need Paper: Library at Alexandria Lessons

Have you ever heard of Project Gutenberg or the Net Library (www.netlibrary.com)?  Gutenberg is a massive effort to digitize the world's books and grant free access to them.  That's how I found the work I am going to reference in this post about the Library at Alexandria, a vast, ancient repository of the known and available works of writing that was established around 2300 years ago.  Fire and possibly earthquake/flooding destroyed many of its holdings on multiple occasions, which would be a primary reason to digitize and store all of our knows works on something other than paper, right?  Well, that's fine, as long as they are ALSO kept on paper, or stone, or metal, or other medium that does not require a device to know the contents of the work.  When we all destroy civilization as we know it, or when it happens via natural calamity (come on, you KNOW it's going to happen someday, just as it has on countless other occasions), what good will it do for a developing civilization thousands of years from now to discover a CD, or a PC, or an eBook reader from Sony?  None at all, because they won't be able to get to the stored content.  Paper, on the other hand, is instantly accessible without additional tools or technology:  just pick it up and start reading (or translating) with you naked eyeballs!  So keep multiple copies, spread across multiple locations around the world, so the next civilizations won't COMPLETELY be starting from scratch with re-inventing various wheels and re-discovering physical laws and technologies in the future.

In doing a little research on the Library at Alexandria with netlibrary.com, I came across something.  It's titled Alexandria and Her Schools, by Charles Kingsley, and has the note "These Lectures were delivered at the Philosophical Institution, Edinburgh, in February, 1854, at the commencement of the Crimean War." The DRM protection for these free, online versions of texts has prevented me from copying and pasting; all I can do is read on the screen or print out, page by page.  So I have typed in an excerpt from Kingsley's Preface as an example of the lost art of literary and scholarly humility, or at least lost in comparison to today's writers.  Not sure if this is an old British thing or what (G.K. Chesterton apologizes profusely for his lowly, pitiful output in the introductions of his works), but I find it amusing and gratifying to see such capable human beings being so keenly aware of their own  insignificance and smallness, while simultaneously being well aware of the greatness of their surroundings and the big picture.  If you can get access to it through Net Library or Project Gutenberg, read it (at least the Preface) in its entirety for some very relevant commentary from the perspective of a British scholar at the height of the Empire, touching on the history of the Empire, religious themes, subjecting others to foreign rule, the "hated" Turk, and all manner of other topics.  Here's the excerpt from the Preface:

I should not have presumed to choose for any lectures of mine a subject as that which I have tried to treat in this book. The subject was chosen by the Institution where the lectures were delivered. Still less should I have presumed to print them of my own accord, knowing how fragmentary and crude they are. They were printed at the special request of my audience. Least of all, perhaps, ought I to have presumed to publish them, as I have done, at Cambridge, where any inaccuracy or sciolism (and that such defects exist in these pages, I cannot but fear) would be instantly detected, and severely censured: but nevertheless, it seemed to me that Cambridge was the fittest place in which they could see the light, because to Cambridge I mainly owe what little right method or sound thought may be found in them, or indeed, in anything which I have ever written. In the heyday of youthful greediness and ambition, when the mind, dazzled by the vastness and variety of the universe, must needs know everything, or rather know about everything, at once and on the spot, too many are apt, as I have been in past years, to complain of Cambridge studies as too dry and narrow: but as time teaches the student, year by year, what is really required for an understanding of the objects with which he meets, he begins to find that his University, in as far as he has really received her teaching into himself, has given him, in her criticism, her mathematics, above all, in Plato, something which all the popular knowledge, the lectures and institutions of the day, and even good books themselves, cannot give, a boon more precious than learning; namely, the art of learning. That instead of casting into his lazy lap treasures which he would not have known how to use, she has taught him to mine for them himself; and has by her wise refusal to gratify his intellectual greediness, excited his hunger, only that he may be the stronger to hunt and till for his own subsistence; and thus, the deeper he drinks, in after years, at fountains wisely forbidden to him while he was a Cambridge student, and sees his old companions growing up into sound-headed and sound-hearted practical men, liberal and expansive, and yet with a firm standing-ground for thought and action, he learns to complain less and less of Cambridge studies, and more and more of that conceit and haste of his own, which kept him from reaping the full advantage of her training.

1st Taste of Facebook

Finally, a firsthand demo of the phenomenon that is Facebook. Thanks to my college niece who was visiting the house last night, I was the lucky recipient of a guided tour by a crusty veteran. For background, she uses MySpace as well as Facebook, but as she explained, "I used MySpace all the time and still do some, but once I got to college, EVERYONE was on Facebook, so that's what I spend most of my time on now."

Things that immediately struck me:

1 - pictures, and lots of them; the "walls" are just plastered with photos of the various people that are associated with you; I almost had a "peeping Tom" feeling as I glanced at all of these college-aged kids in various states of revelry with each other, knowing none of them, wondering what they would think about people they've never met seeing them like this. I don't see just plain old words having much of a fighting chance against all of that visual competition.

2 - the creativity of these kids is stunning. My niece, being 19 years old, obviously has her acquaintances mostly in that age range. She's in several groups, or "networks," which can be based on high schools, colleges, junior highs, even elementary schools, as well as places of employment or other commonalities, not to mention the multitude of special interest groups ("Causes" is, I believe, the terminology for these), sports teams, etc. One of the groups was called something like "I Will Go Slightly Out Of My Way to Step on That Crunchy Looking Leaf." And that's exactly what that group, or cause, or wall, or whatever it is, is about.  There are literally pictures of people  holding their foot above a crunchy looking leaf, just off the sidewalk for example, posing, looking back at the camera for the picture, as they go slightly out of their way to step on a crunchy looking leaf. But that's not the shocker, this is: that group has over 200,000 members. As for a "Cause" such as "Stop the Seal Hunt", there are open and easily visible stats, including how many members it has and how much money those members have contributed. Some have received hundreds of $, some thousands, and I'm not sure how high it goes - however, it's readily apparent that these are, after all, starving college students, and though their passions run wide and deep, they don't have the cash to back them up in the form of online donations!

Now that I've seen it firsthand, I kind of get it even less than I did before. Yet I can clearly and instantly see the addictiveness, the dependence, the kinship, the energy, the creativity, the openness that these millions of people seem to possess. It is not like anything I've come across or even imagined, and contrary to my previously-held opinions about it, it isn't going away and it isn't going to be easily duplicated or replaced. This company's founder has found and seized the holy grail of demographics, the college kid and everyone they've ever bumped into in any social setting in their entire lives; he knows it, and he won't be letting go of it anytime in the near future.

Staggeringly Relevant Site Metrics

Amidst the flurry of online metric news over the past couple of days, I would simply like to stand and applaud. This blog isn't an income source, yet I still give thought to increasing my readership, writing about topics that I believe other people might find interesting, and doing my utmost to avoid wasting people's time. If this were a revenue-generating venture, I'd REALLY be freaking out over metrics to an exponentially larger extent than I already do.

In the beginning, I looked at visits to the site, which was followed about 5 seconds later by switching to caring about unique visitors to the site, both of which were easily and cheaply accomplished with Google AdWords. However, while the 1st night of AdWords generated a vast number of purchased visits, an effortless drilling into the data revealed that a stunning percentage of them came from the myspace.com domain, and about 80-90% of them left after spending less than 5 seconds and clicking on no other pages or outgoing links at the site. Lesson learned on Night 1: visits and unique visitors are utterly meaningless if trying to effectively advertise on a site, because most of the visits could be nothing more than click-throughs that instantaneously click right back out.

Next, I started paying more attention to subscriber stats. Even these, however, can be meaningless, as demonstrated by my own subscriptions to other feeds.  There are many of which I simply glance at headlines from my Netvibes page (is "portal" still a word?), and there are some of which I visit their actual site and see actual ads if there are any. So sub counts can also be pretty misleading.

What I find most useful at my own blog as gauges of my writing effectiveness and interest level to readers are 2 things and 2 things only: time spent per visit and pageviews per visit.  When all visitors to the site spend, on average, 2 minutes or more per visit, and when pageviews per visit are 2.5-3.5 for all visitors on average, I feel good. People have bothered to read for a solid 2 minutes, and that's a long time! Better yet, they have been motivated enough to actually sample another offering or 2! If the metrics dip below those threshholds, I'll consider the subject of the post, how much effort I put in, etc., to see what went wrong.

My apologies for the mundane details I have subjected you to here, but I'm just psyched that companies will finally be focusing on more meaningful metrics. This, in turn, will hopefully lead to more interesting fare for our online consumption, as opposed to being sucked in by effective headline writers and then retreating to another site as quickly as possible (too late though - they've already logged you as a hit and can now charge higher ad rates or be sold for more millions). Under the current rules, I would think that audience-grabbing headline writing skills would be valued above all else, since visitor counts are all the ad rates are based on at this time. While valuable, it's plainly not (or should not be) the only thing that matters.

Google Wipes Out the Competition with Startup

In a startling move that goes against the grain of Google, Inc.'s recent buying binge, the company has rolled out an in-house developed disrupting innovation.   The spanking-new tech, purportedly developed under the utmost secrecy in Google's Guantanamo Bay skunkworks facility (one of a multitude of top-secret development locales spread around the world by the search engine Goliath founded by non-evil Stanford grads) is a new anus-cleansing offering that's been officially christened "Mr. Softie", after Google's arch-nemesis Microsoft (stock symbol MSFT).  Details on what exactly differentiates it from the likes of Charmin and Northern remain sketchy, butt pay-per-wipe ads are the mechanisms through which the new venture's product (based on nanomaterials developed jointly with an M.I.T. spinoff) will further pad the bottom line of the Mountain View Messiahs.

LongTail v. Network Effects

Two web buzz words, toe to toe.  One represents the spreading out to a thin tail of ever-overwhelming choice (such as movie title choices found at and, more impressively, actually rented from Netflix), and the other scientifically demonstrates the self-reinforcing power of concentration in the hands of fewer and more influential players (i.e. GOOGLE, Youtube, iPod).  Which is the better objective for a developing business plan?

That depends on how ambitious, realistic, risk-averse or embracing, etc. the founder is.  Almost by definition, an aspiring internet startup founder (or any entrepreneur for that matter) is the embodiment of a cup that floweth over with abundant ambition and appetite for risk, accompanied by a self-opinion, business outlook, and world view that is entirely unrealistic and skewed to the extreme.  This combination will naturally tend toward the predictions of Network Effects theory, which hold that if one can simply hook into (or, better yet, become) one of a handful of inordinately powerful influential nodes, the benefits of this happy occurrence will quickly cascade and accrue to the fledgling business, resulting in the absolute certainty of it being bought out for 10 figures less than a year after the plan is printed on the inkjet.  One slight problem with this strategy:  almost everyone has it.  Isn't there a better alternative?

Yes!  Thanks to Chris Anderson's observed and named Long Tail theory/phenomenon/syndrome, one has only to choose some obscure target to focus their passion on, then sit back while the other 8 people in the world who share that passion gobble it up!  If it's a book or musical output, then the budding Long Tailer can realistically count on 10's of $ flowing into the account, if not hundreds!  The downside (with this kind of upside, you KNEW there had to be a dark alternative possibility, didn't you?) is that the founder will never become rich, will never master the universe, will never have their face plastered on the cover of Wired (unless they, like I, submitted a digital pic a few months ago for my very own personalized cover of Wired, which should arrive in my mailbox any week now!).

As always, the choice is yours:  possible millions, or guaranteed tens.  Either way, you will be changing the world by the very act of your attempt to do so, and at least you'll get that "I gotta start a BUSINESS" bug out of your system once and for all.  My skepticism might be misguided, but the numbers for both theories are squarely with me, and who am I to argue with a good buzz word (or two)?

Suggestion for Mark Cuban's TV Prediction

Today's Blog Maverick post is a speculation on the futures of TVs and PCs as entertainment centers for homes.  Read it for the details and his thought process, but his theory is that TVs will start being upgraded every few years instead of PCs, since that's where the noticeable technology leaps will be occurring.  We will all go from 42 inch HD to 70 inch to 100 inch in our living or bedrooms.

I say perhaps, but via a different path.  What do you do with a 100 inch when some LCD pixels burn out, or the DLP mirrors break/misalign, or the plasma burns in, or other technical things that I don't understand happen?  Do you set it out by the curb for the trash pick up and go get another one (requiring store delivery, since it's not going in your backseat or trunk)?  And what becomes of these discarded 8+ foot wide behemoths that are not very environmentally friendly when disposed of?

One solution I can see is modular TV displays, interlocking/interconnecting "building block" displays of a manageable and super cheap production size (a 100 inch display costs FAR more to produce than 4x the cost of screen of 1/4 the size).  Take 17 inch displays and connect them by physically interlocking them together and plugging them into each other so that the size would be variable and customizable.  Link 3 across and 2 tall and you've got roughly a 60 inch display.  If 1 display has some issues down the road, you just replace that segment rather than the entire display.  There would also be the option of toggling to mutli-channel display mode so that you can view (in this example) 5 different video selections, 1 per module/display, if you don't feel like watching them all act together as 1 massive display.  Obviously the modules could be made available in different sizes as well, with smaller displays/modules giving you more flexibility/choices of total display size and lower replacement/disposal cost when something stops working.  It's also vastly easier to transport five 17 inch flat panels than it is to move one 60 inch flat panel, which involves a delivery truck, friends for moving it around the house, impossibility of negotiating tight turns in hallways or on staircases, etc. and is not practical to order online and have delivered to your door by brown truck.  And that's just with a 60 inch.  A 100 inch or larger?  Forget it.

The technology is already in common use to have multiple displays work together to produce 1 larger display; all that's required is the industrial design of making multiple smaller displays lock together in a near-seamless, simple, attractive manner.  "Upgrades" to larger sets would be a matter of starting with a few smaller displays and adding on as you see fit.  This would solve the dilemma of people like me, who want HD but can't justify the expense of a 70 inch right now, while at the same time being unable to settle for a 42 inch with the knowledge that a couple of years from now the 70+ inch will be the same price, but again not justifiable, because the 42 inch would be working just fine.   Apple or Sony (and I suppose Samsung needs to be added to this list) can work out the details of the appropriate module sizes and interlock designs and we'll be on our way.

What Kinds of Companies Make Money, and Which Kinds Don't

Individuals launch websites - sorry, I mean "potential multi-million or billion dollar ventures within the space of months rather than years" - every day.  Maybe it's a site that you can customize and become part of a larger community, or a place to upload videos or charts or pictures to, but they do all have something in common:  they make it easy for people/users/members/participants to express their creative sides while incurring massive financial hemorrhaging  for the investors in the company (of course there are investors, because the guy/girl who dreamed up the idea for the site in the first place couldn't possibly bankroll the server and development costs with a budget of zero dollars, based on realistic future projected revenue of zero).

I submit that the ONLY economically viable ventures are those which do one of two things:  allow people to be more productive, or provide entertainment.  Simply allowing an outlet for creative expression will not generate revenue; the only reason people use such sites is because they don't cost anything.  Ask these masses of Spielberg/Lucas aspirants to shell out for the right to display their worthless pieces of crap to the rest of the masses, and they would laugh.  Heartily.  "What?  You want me to PAY to distribute this garbage?  Are you INSANE?"  Sure, lots of people participate when it costs them nothing (who WOULDN'T jump on the opportunity to have their junk distributed to hundreds of millions of people for free?  What's the risk/opportunity cost to them?  It's exactly zero.).  But deep down, they know their effort is pure rubbish, and they're not going to spend a dime of their own on distributing it.
However, what people WILL pay for is entertainment and productivity.  Give them a better way to make money or get something done more efficiently or enjoyably, and they'll gladly open up their wallets.   Give them sustained entertainment (we're talking 10's of minutes here, not just a music-video length rib-tickler, or in the case of songs or video games, something that can be repeated ad nauseum without losing its luster), and they will likewise voluntarily de-shekel themselves with great vigor and regularity.
So if you're looking for a way to monetize the fruit of your love's labor (and face it, you realistically have a virtually infinitesimal  chance of generating anything more than several dollars from ad revenue unless you already have sort of existing forum or exposure to produce even more exposure to your offering), you need to give them a better way of doing something they're already trying to do or would like to try to do, or make them laugh, think, be amazed, or, preferably, all 3, on a regular and frequent basis.

Microsoft Excel 2007

This is not a full review, just a quick thought based on the specs of Excel 2007.  Spreadsheets and databases are different technologies with different uses, each with abilities to do things the other can't.  Every corporate environment uses Excel, as well as Microsoft Access.  Often times, however, the main (and frequently ONLY) use of Access is for dealing with datasets too large for Excel to handle with its 65,000 row limit.  So analysts get the data into Access, run some quick filters to get it to a manageable size, then take the filtered dataset back to Excel to analyze.
This is no longer necessary with the Office 2007 version of Excel, because Excel 2007 now has a 1 million row limit, plenty large for most dataset analysis.  Now, you'll need LOTS more RAM to run Office 2007 efficiently and to work with million record spreadsheets, but this should knock a broad swath of current, limited Access users right off the map.  The users with true, multi-table requirements to link data sources together will still need to stick with Access, of course (or FileMakerPro, whose latest release includes VERY cool web integration for mapping, among other goodies), and eventually may have some real alternatives with web 2.0-based apps such as DabbleDB, which are currently limited by their inability to work with datasets larger than several thousand records (but what these web apps CAN do in terms of ease-of-use and creative uses are well worth an exploratory effort if the datasets aren't too large).

Ethics of "Gaming" a System

A couple of articles openly spell out how to game 2 of the most high-profile communities today, Youtube and Digg.  One on Wired News is a confession, actually more of a declaration, of a successful "pay for Diggs" campaign, naming names, costs, and results, all in an effort to spur more effort to plug holes like this.  The other post was by Cuban over at blogmaverick (again - I'm going to have to stop reading this guy because I find myself coming around to his "'b'uck authority" mentality more and more often) and his advice to the Oscars on how he would game Youtube by overwhelming users with frustrating tease clips (you'll have to read his post to see what this is), along with what the logical outcome of that exercise would be - quite the opposite of the Academy Awards's typical old-school authoritarian response to users posting actual Oscar snippets from the broadcast.
So the question is, is it all just a game?  There really are no laws governing unruly or misbehaving users who would game such systems, as long as you're not stealing/violating I.P. laws; there's only individual sense of fair play and common decency.  Yes, it's possible to "cheat", and it's possible to profit from it.  And if it is all just a game with "winning" defined as beating the system and/or making money, is there anything wrong with trying to do just that?  Maybe it's like sex - all based on one's point of view:  if sex is viewed as "hey, this is great!  Let's do it!", then it can be exactly that; however, when viewed as "this is wrong, we shouldn't be doing it, I feel guilty", then once again, it is exactly that.  In the end, I would say it's "player's choice" in any of these games, until heavy-handed, over-bearing, liberty-infringing laws are enacted to make it officially not ok.

Prices for Adwords Keywords

On Feb.19, I created a new AdWords campaign for people searching for blogs so I could check the various bids for keywords.  What a difference 10 days makes for certain keyword prices!  On that day, almost every keyword I entered had a minimum bid of around $.15 per click.  Keep in mind that you would actually pay less than that, usually by several cents; that's merely your bid, your "not to exceed" price per click.  And you would obviously bid higher than the minimum for higher placement in the ads.  Out of 10-15 keywords, the ones along the lines of "tech blogs", "best tech blog", "business blogs", etc. were the cheapest, while "political blogs", "conservative blogs", "best political blog", etc. went for minimums of $.20-.25 per click, so quite a bit more (.25 is 67% more than .15).  Earlier this week, I checked again and noticed that several of the political keywords had gone up to $.50, and later the same day to $1.00!  Apparently the Presidential campaigns are discovering AdWords right this very week:  yesterday and today, "conservative blogs", "best liberal blog", and "political blog" are going for $1 (there are differences if you use "blog" or "blogs", so cover your bases - "best liberal blogs" with the "s" at the end is only .50 instead of 1.00 without the "s"), and SHOCKINGLY, "best political blogs" has a minimum bid of $5 PER CLICK.  It was $.25 8-9 days earlier, giving it a 20-fold increase in 8 days.  Wow - Google's going to get a HUGE boost this campaign season, which, amazingly, is already in full swing as of Feb. '07, making it a 21-month campaign.  Just think what the prices of keywords will be as the campaigns REALLY crank up.  Think it can't get much higher?  I saw bids for "residential moving companies", city-specific, for a friend's company increase from $2-3/click to over $14/click from around Dec '04 to Oct '05.  For 1 lousy click on a website.  Why didn't I go to Stanford and start a company?  Oh, I remember - I knew they wouldn't let me in, so I didn't bother trying.  Go Cardinal!

Can a 1-Person Startup Attract Serious VC Attention?

The short answer is yes, as this video at Guy Kawasaki's site shows.  Two of the startups featured at this VC panel over the weekend are single-employee ventures, so watch and learn, folks!  As for trying to get things done by yourself, from personal experience, you will need:

1. attention span and commitment to keep at it
2. energy
3. passion
4. resourcefulness
5. giving as much of yourself as you can in the form of freely participating and contributing to other people's successes
6. money helps, but I don't have any and am progressing nicely

My Data on Swivel.com

A dataset I submitted to swivel.com last week is currently the Spotlighted Data, front and center on their main page today.  The subject matter is blogs by political affiliation, which should be an ongoing indicator as to how effectively the parties are with their "netroots" campaigning.

Why Second Life Matters

Second Life is a virtual 3d world that lets players (and companies) create "avatars", on-screen representations of themselves in graphic form, as well as virtual "islands".  Real companies are investing actual money in building their Second Life presences, with total revenue to the site coming in at roughly a million dollars per day.  People and companies spend virtual money, which is exchanged for real money and vice versa.  With a registered "population" of over 3.1 million users in January 2007, the site has grown from just 124k users in January 2006, adding 900k in just the past month (these figures are from the the company's official blog).

Why does this matter?  Companies such as IBM, Dell, and Cisco are spending money creating virtual 3d environments, or islands, in Second Life, hoping to reach people and affect them in the virtual world with hopes of influencing their purchasing decisions in the real world.  Hey, if they'll spend millions on a funny 30-second commercial that people passively watch (maybe) during a football game, why wouldn't they spend large sums of money on building completely interactive experiences that people voluntarily visit and play with (Dell has an island, for instance, that allows avatars to fly through the insides of a pc).  Investor's Business Daily also had a front page mention of Second Life in yesterday's edition, along with a large spread complete with screen shots and interviews with some of the companies investing in their Second Life presences (I read it in my paper subscription and tried my hardest but couldn't find an online version of yesterday's story on today's www.investors.com website, but you're welcome to give it a go if you have a subscription to them).  Pay attention if you're not already, because whether this ends up being the company and environment that brings virtual reality to the mainstream or not, it IS coming and you WILL be participating.

Startup vs. Purchase

Youtube was started by 3 guys and sold a year later for 1 and a half billion dollars (give or take, depending on what Google's stock does) to Google.  Is that a smart move by Google, or sheer insanity?  There's no clear answer.  Youtube didn't invent web video, they just simplified the process of posting it to the internet in an easily watchable and sharable format.  Why didn't Google develop that process, you ask?  They tried.  And I would bet they had "smarter" people, more of them, and lots of money for equipment and technology at their disposal than those 3 guys did.  Granted, those 3 guys had some investment capital at their disposal at some point, but nothing on the order of the resources that Google brings to bear.  What's at work here is the unknown, little understood, much-studied process of how technology goes from zero to a billion (dollars, people, whatever) overnight.  As Microsoft is well aware, no matter how many brilliant people and virtually unlimited resources an entity passionately commits to a problem, the odds are against them finding the solution that will be embraced by the masses.  To Google's credit, rather than following MSFT's playbook and continuing to develop their own product and waging a deathmatch war of attrition against the product that the marketplace has already christened the victor, they simply took their medicine and brought the Youtube folks (and user base) in-house.  Google clearly remembers Yahoo not making a big enough offer for Google early on in their search engine war, and look where both companies stand today.  Google, if nothing else, appears to learn from history and is intent on not repeating the mistakes others in this arena have made.  I see the huge purchase offer for Youtube as the right move in this case, but time and media tie-ups will tell the tale over the long haul (Google/Youtube has already lost Viacom to Joost, and things look to be coming apart with CBS, but it's still early, and it remains to be seen whether the Youtube community will switch to Joost for content or stay loyal and continue to enjoy the network effects in place at Youtube).

MySpace in Japan - Why It Won't Win

Wired News has a story about MySpace invading Japan.  It details the current dominant player there, called Mixi, and ponders the cultural differences between the two social networking sites, as well as strategies that may or may not work.  The reason it won't work for MySpace Japan is the same reason why someone can't move into the U.S. and takeover:  MySpace already has network effects at work here that serve as the most effective barrier to new players.  Mixi has those same network effects already in place in Japan.  End of story.
The SMART play would have been to partner with Mixi, creating a solid foundation for a trans-Pacific social network.   That way, they're not re-inventing the cultural wheel that the dominant domestic player has already established and not wasting resources trying to break into something they won't be able to break into.  The partnership then approaches the dominant social networks in Korea and China, then spreads westward to India and Russia, then through Europe, building momentum all along the way.  You would not attack all fronts simultaneously, because if you have a strategic error, you'd want to work that out one partner at a time rather than dooming the whole concept to failure.

NETVIBES is Remarkable

Many of you who track multiple blogs and news sites may have heard of Netvibes.  It's like my old My Yahoo page on steroids (or Web 2.0).  If you're not already using it, do yourself a favor and click on the link to it.  Skip the rest of this post if you need to - it's that much of a web life-changer!  No, I don't get paid to push this (who would pay for an audience of 3 people, give or take?).  I had no idea how much time I spent visiting the various sites that I track throughout the day; I've got Firefox all tabbed up, RSS feeds lining the top of my browser, etc., but it still took a lot of time to visit all of the different pages and scan them for anything new since the last time I checked 10 minutes ago.
Now, as of a few weeks ago, my online life is all on one page:  my Gmail inbox preview, local weather graphic, automatically updating headlines in little boxes from every feed I track (several of which were already built into Netvibes, and the others were very simply and intuitively added manually by me).  All I do is maximize my browser window, quickly scan my whole Netvibes page for any new Washington Post headlines, Wired or Business Week or whatever articles, blog posts, emails, and every other site I track, and hit the ones I want to hit.  I'm done scanning in seconds, rather than taking several minutes to visit every site individually.
Do yourself a favor - go to Netvibes right now, and a few minutes later you'll have it customized just the way you want it (it's default settings are pretty comprehensive, too) and you'll wonder how you ever got by without it!

ZOHO Writer to Post to TypePad Blogs

I saw a Forbes review (print, not online), of the best web tools.  In the category that dealt with online productivity apps (word processors, spreadsheets, projects, presentations, etc.), it mentioned that Zoho Writer (free online word processing app) was great and could publish directly to blogs, TypePad being among them.  The great thing about this would be lots more formatting options for blog posts.  So here's the first post done using Zoho's Writer app.