Online publications and social media companies are struggling desperately to find business models. Some are considering charging for content or services. Others are aggressively going down the online advertising path.
I personally prefer the latter – online ads – as a means to generate revenues for websites. The rationale is simple: People have grown to expect free things from the Web. We can fight it and groan about it all we want but at the end of the day, people will still free content and services. That will never change.
Yes, some people will pay for some niche content (WSJ.com is an example and so is Economist.com, which I subscribe to) but on the whole people expect free content. So, what do you do? Advertising.
Traditional banner ads are passe. There needs to be new kinds of ads. Digg has decided to try an innovative new scheme called Digg ads. This is basically how it works: The more an ad is “Dugg”, the less the advertiser has to pay. Conversely the more it is buried, the more the advertiser is charged (yes, eventually it’ll be too costly to the point that the advertiser drops out).
This encourages advertisers to be more creative and come out with ads that are not only eye-catching but relevant and useful for the reader. It’s not true that people hate ads. Many people buy the print version of The Star just to get the ads. People used to buy Malay Mail for the classified ads.
I certainly don’t mind the recommendations that Amazon.com gives me – those are a kind of ad. Why? Because they are relevant to what I want.
According to the official Digg blog, the goal is to give advertisers a way to present content related to their brands and get immediate input on whether it’s relevant to the Digg audience, or not.
Our goal for Digg Ads is to create a better experience by giving you more control over advertising content that appears on Digg… This is an exciting step for Digg as we work to create a compelling, innovative advertising experience for our community and the industry at large.
Will this work? Of course time will tell but I like it. It’s advertiser-friendly and it’s reader-friendly. Advertisers who are successful pay a lower rate and readers obviously don’t mind those successful ads because they are the ones who are litterally “Digging” them.
1/ Google gets square, but not hip
Fresh out of the Google labs is Squared, their latest initiative to provide users with structured results in a way that can best be described as Wolfram-Alpha goes Bing. For example, if you were to search for “Zombie Movies”, you’d get results such as Title, description, release date, and movie ratings all neatly laid out in a spreadsheet-like structure. You can then have the option to add more columns of data categories (e.g., cast members, runtime, etc), which Squared would automatically suggest or you could manually add in.
It’s an idea that’s great on paper, but far from perfect, as reviewed by ReadWriteWeb. Not only does Squared not allow you to sort the data within columns but the data that it pulls into each column is unreliable. The description for Return of The Living Dead, for example, reads: “Contact: View contact information for The Return of The Living Dead on IMDB Pro…”
It’s a good counter to the recent developments made by Bing and Wolfram Alpha, but Google is better off just acquiring Wolfram Alpha than developing Squared. Until it gets better, Squared wouldn’t be more than a novelty.
2/ YouTube creeps into the living room
Also making its way out of Google was the quiet rollout of YouTube XL, their latest effort to move YouTube videos from the computer monitor and onto the living hall TV. A response to Hulu’s move to encroach into the living room with its desktop client (Update: Jonathan Miller, News Corp.’s newly-installed chief digital officer, on Wednesday suggested that some of Hulu’s TV shows and movies would be put behind a paywall), YouTube XL displays a much cleaner interface, stripped of ads, suggested videos, and comments — very much like a MegaBlocks version of the regular YouTube. As to how one would control YouTube as they would a regular TV channel, TechCrunch writer Jason Kincaid suggests that Gmote, a remote control app that runs on Android phones, could be used. The app, which sends signals over Wi-Fi, is limited to Android at the moment, but because it’s an open source project, it can be developed for other devices as well.
3/ Palm Pre’s buzz
Stealing whatever limelight possible before Apple’s WWDC on June 8, the Palm Pre was launched on Wednesday and Twitter was positively abuzz with Palm’s long-awaited saviour. The folks over at gadget blog Engadget is falling in line with what most reviewers are saying:
“Some of the ideas and concepts at play in webOS are truly revolutionary for the mobile space, breaking down lots of the walls that separate the experience of using a dedicated PC versus using a handheld device. One feeling that we were constantly stuck by while testing the phone was a kind of revelatory, ‘Hey, this actually feels how a computer feels.’
It was an experience not completely unlike our first encounter with the iPhone — that little light that goes on that tells you that things can really be different than how they’ve been before.
For more screenshots of the Pre, visit CNET here.
4/ Steve Jobs returns
Not satisfied with iPhone 3.0 hype alone, the Wall Street Journal today reported that Steve Jobs is “on track to return from medical leave this month”, citing such credible sources as those “familiar with Apple”. Officials within Apple have yet to confirm on this rumour, but if Steve does return before the month’s end — and possibly, though unlikely at WWDC — it would mark a stunning comeback for the pancreatic cancer survivor who took leave in January, citing “health problems:.
Following his announcement to take leave, the price of Apple stock tanked, and speculation was rife that he would not return to play an active role within Apple. Events at the last MacWorld, in which he did not appear, seemed to indicate that Jobs was preparing Apple for a life without him, leaving it up to the likes of senior VPs Jonathan Ive and Phil Schiller to run the show.
The US markets haven’t opened yet, but news of an upcoming iPhone, together with Jobs’s return could push the stock up above the US$146 mark (Keep abreast on the movements with StockTwits here.)
1/ Thin is in
June started off with the good news that chip sales in March are up 6.4% from February (Up US$15.6 billion from US$14.7billion) and looks to have a bright future in the months ahead, especially with news that Intel and AMD are going head-to-head for the CULV (Consumer Ultra Low Voltage) market.
In conjunction with Computex, Intel today announced a new ultra-low-voltage (ULV) processor (given the part number SU2700), along with three new Core 2 Duo mobile processors and a new low-power mobile chipset. The SU2700 chip would enable Intel’s customers to create laptop entrants to create more thin and fashionable televisions, media players and smartphones — and cost less. ‘Thin is in’ has finally caught up to computers,” said Uday Marty, Intel’s director of product marketing in the company’s Mobile Platforms Group, adding that “very thin, very light systems are now going to be available worldwide for consumers [at] price points for you and me and people we know.”
So buyers could expect the “full PC experience” at prices ranging from US$499 (RM1,800) to US$1,200 (RM4320) — more affordable price points than the MacBook Air’s $1,799 (RM6,500) and Dell Adamo $1,999 (RM7,200).
But wait! Hot on the heels of Intel’s announcement was AMD’s response, which didn’t come in the form of a lawsuit. The Intel rival announced that its dual-core Athlon Neo — also aimed at the CULV market — was now available in bulk. The company has yet to release the specifications of the dual-core chip, codenamed ‘Conesus’, but The Register has speculated that it would have a higher clock frequency than 1.6GHz and integrates the company’s Radeon 3200 core, which is an improvement over the Radeon 1200 graphics processing unit (GPU) incorporated in previous Neo-oriented parts.
2/ 10-22: Win7’s release day
If that wasn’t enough buoyant news for the tech sector to float on, Microsoft today announced that the much-anticipated Windows 7 would be due out on October 22 — well before its initial projected 2010 release date — in the hopes of catching the Christmas shopping wave. Seeing the pent-up demand for something better than Vista, Win7 looks to be a big hit. The OS has garnered good reviews with following the RC’s release on April 30, 2009 and it could well be Microsoft’s finest product yet. Writes MarketWatch columnist John C. Dvorak:
I believe that Windows 7 will be a blockbuster. It has all the earmarks, including excellent prerelease buzz. Vista did not have good prerelease buzz and suffered in the marketplace as a consequence.
An on-time rollout of a glitchless Windows 7 should ignite personal-computer sales at the end of the year, and boost the business deep into 2010 and beyond.
Optimistic much? Microsoft definitely is.
3/ Binging for Porn
Microsoft’s new “decision engine”, Bing, may be getting good reviews, but it’s the bad news — especially those that involves porn — that gets the publicity. Shortly after Bing’s launch, Seesmic founder Loic Le Meur discovered that the service can be used to surf for porn without visiting the site itself. As Loic describes it: “Now try sex in bing, deactivate safe search and go to video. You are now on a porn site without leaving bing. Amazing. No I won’t link or publish a screenshot, you have to try for yourselves!”
We do not recommend that you do this if you’re reading this story in the office.
4/ Fast thinking
Even though Firefox 3.5 — “more than twice as fast as Firefox 3 and 10 times as fast as Firefox 2”, so claims Mozilla — is not even is out yet (it’s due out in mid-June, following news of the delayed release of its RC1), plans are afoot for Firefox 3.6, codenamed Namoroka. According to Slashweb, the new version would have increased performance in startup time, opening a new tabs, and responsiveness with the user inferface. It would also emphasise on more support for web-based applications, allowing users to save a page as a web app and improve the user interface for sending files to websites.
5/ Advertising is so 2008. Facebook wants to be a payment system in 2009.
Forget Beacon and social marketing. According to TechCrunch, Facebook, in its ambitious plan to have a year-on-year revenue increase of 70%, is aiming to become the Web’s new currency in testing out a new payment system developed by GroupCard. According to the article, spending $2.99 would get you 30 Facebook Credits, or roughly 10 credits for a dollar, which you could then use at vendors that accept Facebook Credits. This way, says FastCompany’s Chris Dannen , Facebook would act as a go-between for users and merchants, and charge a small fee for hosting the transaction.
(A screenshot of GroupCard’s interface, courtesy of TechCrunch)
However, writes Dannen, Facebook is stepping into a dangerous territory with this latest move. “With Facebook Credits having different exchange rates all over the world, users will be able to hedge currencies, gain currency advantages, and buy and sell according to the currency markets,” Dannen writes. “Should Facebook Credits gain real gravity and the marketplace expand to real goods and services, there will be money to be made. But by making itself a marketplace and an issuer of scrip, Facebook may have invited a more complex economy than it ever intended.”
He also adds that given the number of worms and phishing schemes that have proliferated on Facebook before (Koobface, for example), heavy resources need to be devoted to beefing up the security. “PayPal manages over 70 million active accounts, and safeguards the financial information for another 100+ million inactive ones. With 200 million users of its own, Facebook is going to need an internal PayPal of its own, and that’s a hard department to conjure from scratch.”
Is another flop ala Beacon brewing?
1/ Bing bongs
Microsoft and Google are the two biggest headline makers this week with product announcements, but there was only one winner at the end of it. Despite being the more optimistically named product, Microsoft’s latest foray into search, Bing!, created a small splash in the tech world before rippling away into a collective “meh” heard across the Web.
Initial reviews on the “decision-making engine” (as they call it) have largely been positive, with critics pointing out that Bing delivers results more contextually, and gives the user a deeper look into the page without leaving the search page — say, for instance, that you’ve Binged Mandy Moore (heh), and her videos would pop up on the search results page, which you can play without going to the source site. However, many are doubtful over Bing’s effect on the search market, seeing the Goog’s dominance in search. To paraphrase a saying: “If a search engine launches but no one is around to query it, does it exist on the Interwebs?”.
Bing, much like its namesake Chandler, tries too hard to get something out of their league.
2/ Waving goodbye to e-mail
While Microsoft gets the mehs, Google Wave gets the w00ts. The product — due out at the year’s end — can be roughly described as a cross-breed between Instant Messaging and e-mail. The thinking behind the project is this: “If e-mail was to be invented today, how would it look like?”
The answer, according to lead developers Lars and Jens Rasmussen — the brothers who created Google Maps — was to restructure electronic communication into a thread-like structure, as seen from this chart that Mashable drew up:
Which translates into the Wave page like so:
Seeing how e-mail is becoming shorter, and how users are attuned to Facebook’s and Twitter’s message structure, Google Wave is a step in the right direction in re-inventing Web communication — if it does what the pitch says, it would change the way we organise projects, converse, and share documents. Wave’s functionality goes beyond being a re-invented e-mail system: With the combination of third-party applications being developed for Wave, it could be whatever you want it to be.It could be a bulletin board, an assignment board, a tool for media companies to discuss with their readers… the possibilities are endless.
On top of that, Wave also enables real-time communication, so instead seeing the “John is typing a message” line as you would on an IM client, you get to see what the other person is typing, letter-for-letter, as if you were conversing in a Sesame Street cartoon. Very cool. Except during the times when others can see how bad your train of thought is. (Thankfully, Google has given you the option of switching off that function.)
Here’s Lars to demonstrate to you the potential awesomeness of Wave, due to make e-mail irrelevant in 6 months time, if not sooner.
3/ Obligatory Apple rumour
Of course, it wouldn’t be a tech-roundup without an Apple rumour as the WWDC gets closer. Gizmodo has scoured the web and found a Hong Kong-based blog with photos of a new iPhone that it says are “very real”, featuring compass and auto-focus functionalities that will get fanboys drooling until the new phone is announced, which is almost a certainty.
“I would be absolutely shocked if there is no announcement regarding the iPhone 3G refresh at WWDC,” writes Ed Oswald from the Technologizer. “Everything we are seeing — from the shortages, to the ever-building rumors, to those ‘leaks‘ all point towards it. ”
4/ Microsoft’s hard times
We have also learned this week that EU Comptetion Commissioner Neelie Kroes is one hard woman to please, especially where Microsoft is concerned. Though the EU has stacked up more than $2 billion in fines against Microsoft, the outgoing commissioner — who has called out Microsoft as not compliant and more than doubled the original penalties — plans to hit Microsoft further by forcing them to incorporate other browsers into Windows. According to the Wall Street Journal story:
People close to the case say EU regulators are inclined to demand a so-called ballot screen that would present a new computer user with a choice of browsers to install, and the option to designate one of them as a default. Regulators have also signaled that they may require Microsoft to ensure contractually that computer manufacturers keep the ballot screen on machines they ship.
5/ The Web does not like Scientology
As we’ve seen before with Project Chanology — a protest movement against the practices of the Church of Scientology — the Internet is not Tom Cruise’s friend. Last week, Wikipedia banned contributions from the Church of Scientology, ending a long-running dispute over the editing of Scientology-related articles on the site. Wikipedia ruled that all IP addresses owned and operated by the Church of Scientology and its associates are to be blocked as if they were open proxies.
According to the Guardian article, the disagreement stems from the “edit-warring” between the Church of Scientology and its followers and critics in trying to portay the belief in a positive or negative light; Wikipedia maintains a strict policy on being neutral.
So the New York Times launched its Times Reader 2.0 . Big Whoop. Frankly, I don’t understand the obsession with media companies trying to emulate the print experience online by creating an E-reader. There have been numerous efforts to launch these e-publications — Monkey Magazine, Wired, and PC Magazine are just three examples — all of which have yet to become used on a regular and widespread basis.
I remember being impressed when Monkey Magazine — a digital lad’s mag — was launched by Dennis Publishing, immediately signing up the day after. As a concept, it was great: I could turn the pages like I could a regular magazine, there were embedded video clips, the ads were interactive, content was media-rich, etc. But I ended up ditching it after two weeks because it felt like a gimmick and didn’t justify replacing the conventional web-browser. Essentially, I felt like browsing through an all-flash website. Read the rest of this entry »
In America in the 1950s, the music industry had the Payola scandal where DJs were paid by record companies to play certain records.
Now, we have Blogola. It’s inevitable that companies would start paying bloggers to write glowing reviews about their products. But is it wrong?
It could be if the American FTC has its way:
… such back-scratching endorsements could become tougher under a coming set of Federal Trade Commission guidelines designed to clarify how companies can court bloggers to write about their products. This summer, the government agency is expected to issue new advertising guidelines that will require bloggers to disclose when they’re writing about a sponsor’s product and voicing opinions that aren’t their own. The new FTC guidelines say that blog authors should disclose when they’re being compensated by an advertiser to discuss a product.
My personal view is that it’s fine to receive payment or products from companies as long as you disclose it. Over the years, I’ve received sponsorship in various ways (usually in the form of products) from different companies and I’ve always disclosed such cases, whether I’m writing for print or for my blog.
Full disclosure is the way to go to avoid a conflict of interest situation.
They say you can’t teach an old dogs new tricks, and for several years now Rupert Murdoch has been seen — rightly or wrongly — as a forward thinking media maven with a bag o’ tricks, especially after the $580 million dollar purchase of MySpace in 2006. If there was someone with a New Media plan, it had to be Murdoch, so went the thinking.
As it turns out, however, the truism about dogs and tricks still holds true. His plan to save newspapers going online has been revealed, and the answer has turned out to be as anti-climactic as it gets: “Micropayments“. Not the innovative, ground-breaking, industry-shattering solution most were hoping for at a time when newspapers are at a loss of where to go next. So Murdoch decided to turn back the clock to a time when the New York Times was thinking, “Hmm. Pay walls. Now that’s an idea!”. Read the rest of this entry »