Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Google buys Feedburner

The unconfirmed has become the semi-confirmed. On Monday, I listed Feedburner as one of the companies that Google was after, and TechCrunch is now reporting that the deal is done. The damage? (Little finger to edge of mouth) $100 million. And the funding up to now? $10 million. This is going to throw more fuel on the VC-funding fire. And I was a little concerned today to learn that a start-up I hadn't heard of had gone through a successful IPO. Oh no, here we go again...

I started using Feedburner a little while ago, by the way, so I could track how many vistors were reading my postings via RSS. After all, for all I know it could be millions and millions! If you subscribed over a month ago, and you like the idea of my fragile ego expanding as I learn how many readers I have, just delete my feed from your reader and re-subscribe using this link. Oh go on, you know you want to.

So I'm actually quite pleased about the Feedburner acquisition. I currently use Google Analytics to track vistors to my web pages, but most of the people I know who read this do so via RSS - which can only be tracked by Feedburner or something similar. So I can now look forward to all my traffic being amalgamated and handled centrally. Nice!

But it all begs the question; how are Google going to get back their $100 million? There are no ads on my Google Analytics page. Would they start adding adverts to RSS postings going through Feedburner? Maybe some kind of revenue-sharing scheme a'la AdSense is in the offing? Interesting....

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Industry Downturn?

Yesterday, I talked about how I thought the acquisition of tech companies by Google, Microsoft and Yahoo! could be good for the end user (so long as competition remains strong). My thoughts are now turning to whether it's healthy for the industry as a whole and, especially, for innovation.

Having survived the dotcom bubble and subsequent crash, I've been considering how our current climate compares to the late '90s. Start-ups are two-a-penny, and huge amounts of venture capital are flowing around Silicon Valley and beyond. Some of these ventures, such as Joost (rasied $45m) appear to have a strong business model and revenue stream, and I think they'll succeed. Others, such as Meebo (just raised $9m to go with their $3.5m first round of funding) are entering a crowded market, with less chance of success. And there are many like them. Funding of Web 2.0 startups last year approached $1bn. I haven't heard of half of them.

The obvious difference between the dotcom boom and bust of the late '90s is that, back then, companies grew as quickly as they could - and were invested in at equal speed - in the hope of a bumper IPO. This time round, at least so far, there don't seem to be many IPOs, and perhaps the main hope or aim is to be bought out by one of the major players. I can easily imagine Meebo being bought by, say, Amazon, or maybe by eBay to complement their Skype acquisition. Or maybe not. But these start-ups are bound to run out of greater fools some time.

The big question is: what happens next? I'm no financial expert (obviously!), but I would've thought the appetite for funding start-ups would gradually reduce as the chance of a buy-out gradually decreases. The value of the big players shouldn't be affected as their business models don't rely on funding. If the volatile stock market remains unaffected, the "markets" can't crash and hopefully the tech market can remain buoyant. The only people that lose money are the VCs.

I'm probably wrong about all this and would welcome being corrected by someone more knowledgeable about how these things work.

But an interesting question remains; does the changing climate damage innovation? Michael Arrington - founder of TechCrunch and therefore highly influential and well informed - has just published this breathless attack on the industry. This is a surprising and important article, and it's well worth reading the comments which follow too.

Now, I'm not based in Silicon Valley, but I don't think innovation will starve just because there is money out there. Maybe the atmosphere does suck - and certainly Arrington's crying CEO story is a little alarming - but so long as there are people at the grassroots playing with and improving technology it really doesn't matter whether the market is up or down. All you need is a computer and an idea - everything and everyone else is on the web. And if we see less look-ma-I-built-this-website-in-ten-minutes-using-Flex start-ups, that can't be a bad thing.

There is one more interesting question (sorry!). If a geek has a truly great idea, and manages to get it into the public domain during a financial recession, won't he or she need funding to build the infrastructure around it, to make it grow and fuel adoption? Maybe. I expect if the idea is really any good, then the big boys will be sniffing round pretty quickly. Which in turn would interest the VCs again. Maybe this is just one big cycle?

What do you think?

Monday, 21 May 2007

Google, Microsoft and Yahoo! do battle

The level of acquisition in the tech industry over the past few weeks is astonishing. Let's recap:
Rumoured (byo grain of salt):
So what does this mean for the average user? There's a reasonable piece here, but my take on this is that it's a very good thing for the consumer - so long as the competition remains hot.

Ignoring the ad related acquisitions for a moment, my experience of similar situations has been good. Blogger were acquired by Google and, not only did my Google username and password work, but a lot of investment on Google's part means that site performance has improved and integration with Google Reader (so I can show my shared items on my blog page) is seamless. Just last week, Google proved the value of buying YouTube last year for $1.65bn with the introduction of their Universal Search - Robert Scoble explains the importance of this move very well. That's good for the consumer too. And Yahoo have continued with incremental performance improvements since they bought Flickr - they daren't do anything too drastic. If it ain't broke...?

In this day and age, there is little point spending this much money on an acquisition, only to make significant changes and marginalise your new customers. And you need to continue to innovate to stay ahead of the crowd - which means continued investment after purchase is practically guaranteed. Which is good for customers - so long as competition is still there. I doubt whether Microsoft or Google will run out of money any time soon, but I think it would be bad news for users if one of them were to buy Yahoo, for example. Unlikely? Maybe not.

Hopefully the bad old days of acquiring and killing the competition are dead and buried. The days of one company dominating the landscape are, hopefully, behind us. It's a good time to be in this industry.

Footnote: Companies acquired by Microsoft, by Google and by Yahoo.

Friday, 18 May 2007

Flickr and Censorship: Update

It turns out that Yahoo (who owns Flickr) has apologised for the debacle I wrote about here. Although, so far no sign of the original photo being restored, with the all-important comments.

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Flickr and Censorship

Although I'm not a major user of Flickr (preferring to host my photos elsewhere for less money), I'm a big admirer of the service. Many of my friends swear by it, and not many other photo sites can make the claim that they are best in class.

So I was astonished to read this story. A photographer called Rebekka Gu├░leifsd├│ttira discovered that a gallery had been ripping off her work, complained about it on her Flickr blog (with photographic evidence), and received hundreds of supportive comments.

The kicker? Flickr decided to delete the photo and all the comments, citing that:
Flickr is not a venue for to you harass, abuse, impersonate, or intimidate others. If we receive a valid complaint about your conduct, we will send you a warning or terminate your account.
Amazing! No trial, no jury. Didn't Flickr realise there would be a backlash? Haven't they learned anything from the recent Digg debacle? In this day and age, you simply cannot and should not try to silence people who are simply exercising their right to free speech. It should be supported and celebrated - to a point, of course.

I now sincerely hope that the photo and comments are reinstated - you can check yourself here to see if it has when you read this. And Rebekka herself has blogged about it, so at least her voice (and those of her supporters) are being heard.

Monday, 14 May 2007

I trawl the web, so you don't have to

I love a good statistic. And was therefore pleased to find that Google Reader has been diligently tracking my habits and had a bunch of stats ready for my consumption.

It turns out that, from my 44 subscriptions, over the last 30 days I have read 1,502 items and shared 119 items.

1,502 articles in 30 days! I had no idea!

If you're relatively new to my blog, you might not be aware of the items I'm sharing. By my estimates, my feeds return about 20,000 articles a month. I scan the headlines and, it would seem, click on and read about 1,500 articles. And when I see something particularly interesting that I think people might like, I click on 'share'.

I'm usually thinking of someone who reads this blog when I click 'share'. It may even be you. So if you want to see which articles represent the very best of all the feeds I subscribe to (top 0.5%!), you can do so by following my shared items page here, or subscribing to an RSS feed here. The link will always be on the right hand side, and the latest shared items are headlined on the right as well.

If you use Google Reader, do you share? Let me know!

Friday, 11 May 2007

Unconference

My colleague (Mr. barbd) has bought this interesting concept to my attention - the "Unconference". It's actually pretty well established, but new to me - and so I thought I'd mention it here.

The general idea is that the structure of the average conference allows people to learn from leaders in their field, but an opportunity to learn from your peers falls by the wayside. Some of this happens in a social context around a conference, but its too random and therefore theres a good opportunity there to be taken.

As I've mentioned here, I love the idea of the quieter members of the group being encouraged to speak up. They wouldn't be too timid, otherwise they wouldn't be there (knowing the rules about participation), and it would be have a small-but-open forum in which to challenge pre-conceptions and share experiences on a topic that everyone involved is passionate about.

Strong mediation would be essential though. The worst thing that could happen in this situation is where someone takes it upon themselves to educate the group. The shared knowledge of our peers is surely far more useful than that!

Pale Blue Dot

In an idle moment, I clicked on the Stumbleupon button and found myself at this site (do click through), showing the relative size of the planets in our solar system and some of the stars. I love illustrations like this. I know how small the earth is compared to other heavenly bodies, but it never fails to inspire wonder when I see a direct comparison. They've got a similar, but more amazing, 3-D exhibition of the Scales of the Universe at the Rose Center in New York; if you get the opportunity, I highly recommend a visit.

This also reminds me of the Pale Blue Dot picture and narrative, concerning a photo of Earth taken from 4 billion miles away . Money quote:
We succeeded in taking that picture [from deep space], and, if you look at it, you see a dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you've ever heard of, every human being who ever was lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every hopeful child, every mother and father, every inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every superstar, every supreme leader, every saint and sinner in the history of our species, lived there - on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
Awe inspiring stuff, eh?! Puts a lot of things in context, and well worth reading the rest if you have the time.

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

The steady rise of Twitter

Interesting article here, plotting the growth of Twitter vs the growth of Blogger. Obviously this isn't a fair comparison, but it's interesting nonetheless, mainly because I partly expected Twitter's popularity to level off by now.

We've noticed some interesting usage here at LBi, where we've been using Twitter for a mixture of social commentary, idle musings and some work stuff as well (particularly letting people know when we'll be late, or where we can be found if we're not at our desks). The initial honeymoon period has passed, and a few diehards are persevering and still finding it worthwhile and / or enjoyable. Well, I am anyway..! Here's my twitter page showing my friend's comments as well.

As I anticipated when I first wrote about Twitter back in March, the success of the service (from my perspective) was all based around how I would interact with it. The nature of the information is transitory and non-critical, and in my head I have a slider setting for how interested I am in other people's comments at any point in time. If I'm busy, I want to turn that slider right down. But I'd still like the option to catch up later.

In spite of my previous comment, I decided to read people's twitter comments in my RSS feed reader, and it turns out this has been more manageable than I expected. Also I've been using Twitterrific, which is an app that runs on Mac OS X, and the latest beta version (2.1) integrates nicely with Growl. Which is very nice indeed, as it provides just the right amount of interruption (i.e. not much at all).

And as for public twittering, there are some interesting feeds out there. Industry commentators Robert Scoble, Michael Arrington and Jason Calacanis sometimes have something interesting to say that doesn't appear in their blogs - and it's nice to see their human side too. Sean McMinn's Tales of Dismay story - being written one line at a time - is more engaging than it sounds. Senator John Edward's twitters haven't fulfilled their potential though - he just says where he is, most of the time, rather than anything particularly insightful. It isn't good enough to just use the technology, John, you're not just ticking boxes y'know. Not that I have a vote to give you...

Anyway, here we are, two months in and still going strong. Go Twitter!

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Update 11.05.07: It turns out some of the data was incorrect (see update here). But the upsurge appears to be correct.