Homo homini rodentius est

There Will Always Be an A-list


All is not well in the Web 2.0 world. There’s a basic tension in the world of people who write online that has been brewing for awhile and has bubbled up once again. Until very recently, publication was a relatively limited option for most people who sought an audience for their writing primarily because of the costs involved. With barriers to entry high, the probability of being offered the opportunity to reach an audience was slim — but, if successful, was rewarded with a fair probability of being read. The internet promised to change that formula, and has. On the one hand, technology has reduced the cost of publication to near zero, which allows just about anyone to self-publish and seek an audience. On the other hand, somewhat ironically, the increased number of competitors for reading attention has effectively reduced the probability of any particular writer collecting a significant audience to near zero. What Web 2.0 offers with one hand it takes away with the other: the democratic, hierarchy-flattening promise of technology leads not to a Commons where all voices are equally considered, but rather a cacophony of voices, above which only a few are heard clearly.

Chris Anderson’s theory of [The Long Tail] could be seen as an article of the Commons faith — as with any other consumable, with technology providing even residents of the long tail of the consumption distribution access to readers, one could still hope to find at least a niche audience. But [recent work] out of Harvard suggests that the web actually acts to flatten the long tail and magnify the impact of the short tail. For those who are frustrated by the apparent inequities of the online publishing world, this will not come as good news.

For bloggers, the short tail is embodied in the “A-List” — whether in the tech or political worlds — the celebrity bloggers, like Robert Scoble and Arianna Huffington, who collect the most readers and who exert extraordinary influence over the public conversation. One regularly reads impassioned essays such as [this one] by Jim Kukral declaring war on the idea of the A-List or even, as in Krukal’s case, wishing it away entirely by decree. But there are reasons A-Lists exist that can’t be wished away. The principal one is: they provide value. A-List bloggers gain their authority because they enjoy advantages that most writers do not, primarily access. By dint of geographic location and professional history they are directly connected to sources of news and product information that are highly valued by their readers. Their connections make them valuable to their readers who, in turn, make them popular, more influential and better connected, hence, more valuable. It’s a “virtuous cycle” that benefits the A-List bloggers and their readers but not, alas, the millions of other bloggers scrambling to gain attention for their work.

Those who are unhappy about the elite status of certain writers need to be clear about who they are really unhappy with and why. The “who” is other readers, like themselves. The “why” I’ll leave to them to figure out.

Apple faithful line up for iPhone, oblivious to impending doom

Godzilla and the iPhone faithful
Hundreds of iPhone fans stand sweltering in 90° heat, oblivious to impending disaster.

Unless you spent the day on the Moon you’re aware that today was the day Apple rolled out the new iPhone 3Gs. Alas, the launch wasn’t quite ready for prime time and the faithful, who began queuing up early in the morning, spent most of the day struggling with failed activation servers and even credit card approval crashes. I walked over to the big new Apple Store in the Meatpacking District to find — even at this hour (4pm) — hundreds of people in a line that ran down 14th Street. Standing under black Apple branded heat collectors… er, umbrellas that were handed out by the store, they were quiet and a bit somber. As is only appropriate for religious pilgrims on their way to the shrine.

NYT Continues to Carry Water for Google

NYT: You’ve got a friend…

One of the hallmarks of an effective PR operation is the ability to get outlets with high prestige to write well of your client. To my mind, there is no more effective public relations operation going than the one at Google. Not only do they have the good will of Silicon Valley’s heavy hitters and “influencers” in their corner, but also thousands, perhaps millions of bloggers and early adopters. Their magical touch extends well outside of Silicon Valley, as well, all the way to the ink-stained hallowed halls of major news outlets, including the New York Times.

There’s a piece today in the Times entitled, [“Google, Zen Master of the Market”]. The article describes Google’s growing power in the online economy, calling on academic sources to describe the “indirect network” effects of their dominance that act to inhibit competition. And yet, the full implications of that dominance are not developed — are, in fact, blunted. Parallels to Microsoft’s dominance in the PC market are invoked, but not, as one might expect to describe Google’s ad platform as the advertising “operating system” of the Net — rather, the writer takes pains to point out how the cases are different. Elsewhere in the article, serious questions about Google’s transparency and the ability of regulators to assess its behavior are raised and then, instead of seeking input from Google’s competitors or the advertisers who are constrained by the ad monopoly, the writer goes to Google for a summation in which we are told, “Google looks at what happened to Microsoft, and we’re going to follow the rules.” Whew! That’s reassuring. End of article.

The style of the writing seemed familiar so I checked and, sure enough, it was written by Steve Lohr the same writer who penned a Google [puff-piece] back in December entitled, “Google Gets Ready to Rumble with Microsoft”, in which every talking point that the Corp Comm folks in Mountain View were floating about their (non-existent) competition with Microsoft for the enterprise space was trotted out in the guise of reporting. In both cases, Lohr, either through ineptitude or something else, buries the real story: in the enterprise piece, whether Google is being led over a cliff by an Ahab-like Eric Schmidt seeking that one last go at his white whale and, in the current piece, whether the remedy to Google’s dominance of the ad market is to insist that it be opened up to competitors. In other words, if Google’s ad network is the de-facto operating system for search commerce, should it be “interoperable” and non-exclusive the way Windows was forced to be?

I would’ve enjoyed seeing Hal Varian’s response to that question.

The Trojan Horse with a Touchscreen

The Trojan iPhone

The tech sites are all atwitter — [literally] — with the news from Apple that the second generation iPhone will soon be released with more speed and utility for fewer bucks (at least upfront). The big news from the announcement is that the new phone will be targeting enterprise customers by offering compatibility with Microsoft Exchange. But the bigger news, I think, is the announcement of a new platform called [MobileMe] that promises seamless, internet-based, synchronization of information across multiple devices and operating systems. It’s a pitch at developing a Software as a Service (SaaS) platform that will compete head-on with Microsoft’s Live Mesh and looks to leverage the Trojan Horse infiltration of the enterprise space by iPhone 3G to gain mind- and market share in this developing market. Very impressive.

A few days ago I [wrote about] my trial of the Live Mesh service and I was impressed with what they were offering. Still am, but not so much. Granted, MobileMe may not be as ambitious as Live Mesh — but it delivers basic services, for an honest-to-gosh fee (remember those..?), and it’s shipping now. Mary Jo Foley over at ZDnet [wonders] if Microsoft’s slow development pace on Live Mesh is due to the kind of internecine competition that Microsoft is famous for. Perhaps the sight of Apple getting the jump on them (again) will help settle those squabbles.

Well, of course, if there are potential winners in the zero-sum game of “Who’s on Top” there also must be losers. Who’s the biggest loser on the platform playing field? It’s not Microsoft. As Steve Gillmor and others have [noted], Microsoft’s market share in the enterprise is so formidable that they can actually benefit from competitors opening up new market possibilities for them. First mover advantage is more important to the also-rans. Apple can take a bite out of their market share — maybe even a big one — but time is on Microsoft’s side. For now. No, the big loser is clearly Google. Aside from that little matter of riding a one-trick revenue pony, the [biggest problem] Google has always had is that they depend on a competitor, Microsoft, to provide access to a majority of their customers (and income). They are channel-bound in the worst possible way. Hence their rush into mobile operating systems with Android. But, alas, Android is still vaporware and the new iPhones ship next month. Perhaps to drive the point home about the potential loss to Google from their platform push, the Apple [product announcement] hits repeatedly on the fact that, “MobileMe web applications are 100 percent ad-free“. That’s gotta sting those Stanford-minted egos in Mountain View — Steve Jobs, the Reed College dropout, and his company not only have a beautifully-developed channel to their customers that can take advantage of Microsoft but is not bound by them, they actually get customers to pay for their products!

What a concept.

Microsoft Live Mesh: Test Drive

Microsoft Mesh Live Desktop
Live Mesh opening screen (in browser)

I’ve been participating in the technical preview of Microsoft’s Live Mesh — their device and data synchronization platform that promises, in the company’s words, "to use the magic of software and internet services to connect and bring devices together into your own personal ‘mesh’… this new software-plus-services platform enables PCs and other devices to ‘come alive’ by making them aware of each other through the Internet." For now, the product is only for PCs running Vista or XP — but support for Mac and additional devices is coming. For those who haven’t been able to try it out, yet, I’ve detailed the mesh experience and some thoughts on how successful it is and where it might be heading.

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