I can only assume that someone at New York Press thinks that the only way to truly be punk is by bringing down punk idols. How else to explain the paper’s Hilly Kristal obituary, headlined “Club Killer Dies.” The gist of the short item is that Kristal—who ran CB’s for over 30 years— ”screwed up and let the club go under,” and that his death was therefore fitting in an O. Henry sort of way. This, you may recall, is the same paper that ran a “How should Tommy Ramone die?” contest a few years back. Such puerile attempts at humor might be funny to a handful of sixth graders, but for those of us who can remember both Hilly and the Ramones when they were in their gabba gabba heyday, it’s hard to find anything to laugh about.
Archive for August, 2007
I’ve spent way too much time recently trying to track down the following items that have mysteriously vanished in plain sight:
- A second-generation iPod shuffle.
- A 512MB Sony Micro Vault Tiny
- Several SD cards, including a 1GB version salvaged from my old Treo
Pundits have warned for ages that products like those listed above are too small to be practical, and I’m certainly living proof of that. And, of course, it was their diminutive stature that drew me to the shuffle and Tiny in the first place. But I’ve learned my lesson. From now on, the smallest form-factor I’m going to work with is CF, and when I want to listen to music, I’ll pull out my old Archos 6000. Sure, it weighs almost a pound, holds less music than the latest nano, and has about as much style as a first-gen Walkman. But there’s no way it’s going to get misplaced at the bottom of a junk drawer or the change pocket of a pair of jeans.
Props to HuffPo for catching Forbes.com getting just a little confused about the inspiration for CBS’ latest exploitation series. Great headline on HuffPo’s post, too—though if I remember correctly, it’s pronounced ass-mar.
The latest in my series mourning failed business models.
Remember back in the bubble era, when online greeting cards looked ready to make their paper cousins irrelevant, much as email had killed personal letters? Dancing, singing, tacky, tasteless ecards were so hot that zero-revenue startup BlueMountain.com sold for $780 million, all on the strength of its brand of ugly, annoying cards. Of course, when the bubble burst, buyer Excite unloaded the business for about $35 million. But the bubble isn’t what’s killing the ecard business today. In fact, post-bubble, ecards have continued to, well, bubble along. I still get a couple now and again from relatives who’ve missed the deadline to send a postal greeting. And many of today’s models are a vast improvement over the MIDI-laced, animated-GIF based cards of the 90s. So, why is the ecard era about to end? One word: Spam. As Bob Sullivan points out in a recent post:
Would-be spammers first send out fake greeting cards, which trick recipients into visiting Web pages that are booby-trapped with malicious software that allows visitors’ computers to be hijacked. Then those hijacked computers are turned into spam machines, and directed to send out attachment spam. The two-stage attacks are very effective.
So many fake greeting cards have flooded the Net that Sullivan is even recommending a blanket ban: “Don’t ever read electronic greeting cards. They have officially become more trouble than they are worth. If you think one might be authentic, and you just can’t resist, call the sender before opening it to make sure the card is real.” Sure, can you imagine that? “Hi, Uncle Joe. Did you really send me this ecard? Oh, and by the way, next time can you just send cash?”
While the spam-powered destruction of the ecard business may not bring tears to too many eyes (BlueMountain.com’s current owner, American Greetings, still makes its real money from paper cards), the broader implications aren’t pretty. After all, if spammers can bring down one industry so easily, what’s to stop them from doing the same by mimicking other online services? Indeed, as Sullivan points out, they’ve already moved on to sending PDF attachments. Will Adobe’s venerable format become the next victim? Or will email providers finally get serious about fighting spam and recognize that it’s not just a threat to BlueMountain or Adobe—it’s their business that’s on the line if they can’t find a way to beat the spammers.
Having lived through the first Internet bubble (without, alas, getting rich), I’ve been following all the “Bubble 2.0” talk over the past couple of years with some bemusement. After all, unlike the first bubble, we haven’t seen companies go public and watch their stocks soar to stratospheric heights not justified by their earnings (unless you count Google, that is, but they do actually make money). If this is a bubble, it’s a much more modest one, where a successful entrepreneur can cash out for $35 million, rather than the $350 million he might have made in a Bubble 1.0 IPO. And other exit strategies are even more modest; some companies have even sold themselves via eBay for a mere six figures. However, VMWare’s IPO earlier this week might just put the bounce in Bubble 2.0. The EMC subsidiary, which makes the eponymous virtualization software closed at $51 from a $29 open in its first day of trading, and shot up another 13% to $57 on day two. It’s enough to remind me of the early days of trading in Yahoo and Netscape, when I though those companies were overvalued at about $33 (silly, silly me!). So, is the company worth its current valuation of over $20 billion? Beats me. The company does have revenue—of close to $1 billion a year—which sets it apart from much of the Bubble 1.0 crowd. And the company makes some great software. But its business is threatened at least in part by Microsoft, which has limited virtualization under Vista’s EULA. And it faces a raft of competitors from giants like Citrix to credible players like SWSoft. Regardless, this IPO may well open the floodgates for a raft of new offerings. And maybe this time, I’ll be a little less circumspect about those first-day gains, and put a little of my own cash on the line. Maybe.
I’ve been thinking about adding a picture of myself to this blog, but I don’t have a big enough ego to actually add a picture that looks like me. So, I decided to get something a little stylized. My first choice was to go to Iconizeme, but they have a ridiculous waiting list, so I decided to do it myself. The image now in the upper-right of my sidebar was created using Paint Shop Pro and the amazing Alien Skin Snap Art plug-in. Actually, it was created with the Snap Art demo, but I’m ready to spring for the full version, now that I see what it can do. And given that it costs about the same as three Iconizme pics, it seems well worth it. Oh, the original photo is by Tom Biro, from WINstock 2005.
Major props to Radar’s Jeff Bercovici for his writeup on so-called greenies like Laurie David and Leo DiCaprio, who tool around in private planes while exhorting the rest of us to bike to work and use solar power to heat our homes. As Bercovici states:
It’s always galling to be exhorted to curb your consumption by people who are living the poshest lifestyle imaginable. But the problem here goes beyond aesthetics. Eco-hypocrites undercut the very message they’re trying to peddle. How desperate could the planet’s plight be if the people who present themselves as most concerned about it consider flying first-class commercial an unacceptable sacrifice? Why should anyone bother to carpool when Streisand requires her own convoy? Or forgo A/C for a fan when [John] Edwards is chilling in the largest house in his county? The implication of the hypocrites’ behavior is that we must take all measures to fight global warming short of those that would reduce our quality of life. But a reduction in quality of life—or at least a redefinition of it—is exactly what Americans are going to have to accept to make a meaningful dent in greenhouse gas levels.
Bercovici’s full article is well worth reading, as is his dead-tree-only profile of Laurie David. (Yes, I have a personal bias in favor of Radar, but I’d buy this issue even if I didn’t.) I’ve mistrusted her ever since I first heard her waffle when asked why she flies around in private jets. And, no, I’m not going to let the hypocrites stop me from making my own efforts to go green. But I hope this serves as a wake-up call for celebs who want to have it both ways. As Kermit said, it’s not easy being green. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.
At CR, we’ve been covering the ongoing issue of tainted products from China for some time. And many other media outlets have been doing so as well, from CNN’s Lou Dobbs, who warns of the dangers posed by products from “Communist China,” to the crew at Consumerist, who have dubbed the whole mess the “Chinese Poison Train.” But the Adam Smith award for economics reporting has to go to CNBC’s Erin Burnett, who last week said the following, with no hint of irony or satire:
I think people should be careful what they wish for on China—you know, if China were to revalue its currency, or China is to start making, say, toys that don’t have lead in them, or food that isn’t poisonous, their costs of production are going to go up. And that means prices at Walmart, here in the United States, are going to go up too. So, I would say China is our greatest friend right now.
Can’t wait to see what Erin has to say about global warming.
The much-ballyhooed people-centric search engine Spock just launched, and I’ve checked it out in the obvious way: with an ego-search. And, man, am I disappointed. While I could live with being in 5th or 6th place, a search for perton came up blank! Well, not blank blank. But I wasn’t there, which in ego-surfing terms is about the same thing. Victor grabbed the top two spots, and some of the others were filled out with dudes from the village. So, as far as I’m concerned, Spock is ready for the Vulcan death grip. Though I do have to give them kudos for including Uncle Marvin!
While some may gloat about the apparent demise of the fee-based TimesSelect service, I see no reason to celebrate the service’s inability to bring in enough subscribers to justify its continued use of a subscription business model.
The simple fact is that there really is (almost) no such thing as free content. Someone is always paying, whether it’s the subscriber handing over a credit card number, the advertiser looking to catch eyeballs, or a combination of the two. And there’s really nothing wrong with that. It costs money to create content, and even the smallest of publishers need to find ways to cover their costs. Sure, there are cases (like yours truly) where the information is essentially free (yeah, I’ve got some PPC ads on here, but I haven’t even earned a buck on them), but personal blogs (and Wikipedia) aside, most info on the web is paid content. Of the top 100 blogs on Technorati, for example, only a handful are ad-free (the leader is PostSecret, which, fittingly, bills itself as “the largest advertisement-free Blog on the web”).
While TimesSelect may not have worked out as a pay service, it doesn’t mean information “wants to be free” or that the Times is going to stop trying to make money online. It just means the numbers for a free, ad-supported site were more favorable than those for a subscriber-based version. For others (like my employer), a subscriber-based model works very well. Either way, somebody is paying, and if that ever stops, information won’t be free; it just won’t be.