It's hard to say these days

Reality Check: Treasury Bailout

clock September 22, 2008 04:39 by author Tom

Though the U.S. Economy clearly affects Tech as much as any industry I don't think it's really in the purview of this blog.  That said, I did want to say one thing about this bailout proposal.

I'm seeing a lot of debate online asking "should we be doing this" or "is this too much money" and I'd like to make one quick point to those people: We have no choice.

These banks are FDIC insured which means we either give them a little money to keep afloat now or they default and we end up covering all their debts.  So while the specifics of the plan are up for debate the need to do this is a given. 

In other words, debating whether the country should do this is pretty much pointless because we'll end up paying either way and the bill is much bigger if the banks go out of business.

The End Result of Hacking For Revenge

clock September 20, 2008 15:15 by author Tom

So Bill O'Reilly's web site was hacked in response to his attacks on the people who hacked Governor Palin's e-mail a little earlier this week.

From Wikileaks (where the proof was posted)...

The file provides proof that the Fox News demagogue, Bill O'Reilly, has been hacked.

Wikileaks has been informed the hack was a response to the pundit's recent scurrilous attacks over the Sarah Palin's email story--including those on Wikileaks and other members of the press. Hacktivists, thumbing their noses at the pundit, took control of O'Reilly's main site, According to our source, the security protecting O'Reilly's site and subscribers was "non-existent".

One of the ongoing themes on this blog is the idea that it's very important to think through exactly what the end result of your actions is going to be.  On that note I'd again encourage the folks doing this hacking to consider what they're trying to accomplish and ask themselves "Does what I'm doing accomplish that?"

Does this hurt Bill O'Reilly?

Not Really.  The screen shot shows there were 205 subscribers to the site which, at $50 a year, comes out to about $10,250 total.  Assuming every one of those people turns around and leaves the site it still wouldn't mean much to O'Reilly being he makes $9 million per year. 

You could say it was an embarrassment to him and that might be slightly true.  But lets look at the end result  of things.  He'll have to apologize which everyone will pretty much accept because "being hacked" has become one of those things that people accept these days.  What he'll get in return is a huge audience tuning in to see how he reacts and a chance to endlessly plug the fact that "he was right" and that these evil hackers are "the scum he said they were" (see more on this below in "Does this hurt the Hacking Community?"). 

Does this hurt the Hackers obvious Political Agenda?

Yes, to be blunt it does.  This, and the hacking of Governor Palin's e-mail earlier, has nothing but a positive effect on the victims of the hacking.

First, it will hurt the Democratic cause (who will be unfairly grouped with the people who did this hacking) by giving Republican's something to flame on.  Mark my words, in the coming weeks Mr. O'Reilly will go on and on about how "liberals are immature" and "this is just proof of that" while using all that to support "do you really want these people running your country?" 

I don't think I need to tell you a lot of people will answer "No" to that questions

Second, it generates sympathy for those being hacked.  Maybe not O'Reilly because he's so loud and belligerent but definitely for Palin (which this hacking refers back to and hence reminds people of).  I'd bet that sympathy will be worth a bump.

Does this hurt the Hacking Community?

Yes.  This type of hacking used to have a noble goal.  It was to demonstrate to the world that pretty much all current computer security is woefully unprepared.  It was a calling and while I didn't agree with the people doing it I respected them for doing what they thought was necessary.

But the O'Reilly thing is just petty.  "He called me names so I ruined his website" comes across as childish and greatly diminishes the reputation of the people doing it (and all those who get grouped with them).

Moreover, it actually does damage to the cause of computer security.  As more and more of these little hacks take place the end result is to diminish them.  Now "being hacked" has become synonymous with "being in an Earthquake" or "being his by a hurricane." 

People don't blame the victim anymore in a hacking and that's the exact opposite of what they should be doing (since it was the security of the so-called victim that lead to the hacking in the first place)

What's My Point?

My point is a simple one.  These people set out to hurt Bill O'Reilly and maybe hurt Conservatives while they are at it but in turn ended up doing exactly the opposite.  More importantly, had they given the end result of all this a little thought they would have seen that for themselves. 

Feed Dreaming (or Compromised Privacy vs Useless Marketing)

clock September 19, 2008 19:57 by author Tom

Fred Wilson has a post today entitled "It's Time To Open Up The Feeds To Marketers".  In it  he says the online experience is increasingly being built around "feeds" like the one found in Facebook and that marketers should be allowed to exploit that for highly targeted Ads.  He further believes these marketers won't want to do business with each individual feed provider which opens an opportunity for a company to step in and be an "Ad broker". 

Here's a quote from Mr. Wilson...

So what we need to happen is the web services that render these feeds for us; google reader, netvibes, friendfeed, twitter,, facebook, etc, etc need to provide api accesss to these feeds to services that will serve marketers who want to get their messages targeted into them.

The targeting is the key and I am not entirely clear how this should work. In the case of search driven feeds, it should clearly be keyword based. In the case of geo feeds like, it should be zip code or neighborhood based. In the case of things like facebook or google reader, I think the targeting is more likely to be behavioral.

Mr. Wilson concludes his post by saying his venture firm would be interested in funding a company that provided such a service. 

Here's the thing, if someone really wants to try this than more power to you.  But in my opinion, it's a waste of time and resources.  Here's why...

The inherent problem is that both the Feed Generator (Facebook, Twitter, whomever) and the Advertisement Provider have conflicting interests.

These "feeds" that Mr. Wilson refers to aren't like web pages that use Adsense.  They often contain very personal information and because of that they represent a trust between a feed generating service and the people who use that service.

Handing that personal information over to a 3rd party ad provider would certainly be a violation of that trust (as has already been proven).

That brings you to the Ad provider.  They could, in theory, allow the feed generator to submit just the information needed to customize ads.  Then an ad could be created based on that info.  But in doing so they'd have to trust the Feed Generator to provide accurate information which puts a huge question mark on their service.

How effective can a service that tailors Ads be if that service doesn't control a vital part of their process?  More to the point, how can they hope to sell Ad space if they can't guarantee a certain level of accuracy?

It becomes a no win situation in the end.  Either the feed provider has to compromise privacy or the Ad provider has to compromise effectiveness. 

In my opinion this is a situation where people are turning to tech for a solution that business people are more qualified to solve.  Better to let each feed provider control their own Ad policy and allow advertising firms to sell that space in various packages (like is done with Print, Radio and TV now).  Then would be advertisers still wouldn't have to deal with every provider.

I love tech but it isn't necessarily the solution to everything.

For the Record...If I was going to do this (try to be an Ad Provider) I'd probably make a Javascript library that could be given to the Feed Generators to run internally.  That way they could run it themselves and not have to compromise their user's privacy while still using my algorithm to generate the results on which ads would be based.  With that said, this approach still leaves a question mark (since the process can't be verified by the Ad provider) and forces the Ad provider to give key Intellectual Property to their customers (who could then pick it apart if they so desire). 

Questioning Free

clock September 19, 2008 02:10 by author Tom

For those who don't remember, Facebook's Beacon was an advertisement service created by Facebook that kept track of user's online activities and then used them to sell products (violating all kinds of privacy along the way).  Facebook users understandably objected and the idea was shelved.

Or so we thought...

Tom Kincaid, a top Facebook developer and blogger mentioned in the Facebook Developer Forums last night that Beacon seems to be rearing its ugly head once again.

According to Kincaid, he signed up for CBS Sportsline and got a Beacon-like pop-up, which he thinks may have used a Facebook cookie.

“I signed up on CBS Sportsline and joined fantasy football,” he wrote on the forum. “I got a pop-up on the bottom right. It looks like the old beacon stuff. I thought that didn’t work anymore, but it published a story to the homepage. I didn’t go through any kind of connect log in, it must have used the Facebook cookie somehow.”

I have to admit a bias here.  I've never been a fan of "free" applications like Facebook.  I like paying money for stuff.  I know it sounds antithetical, but I do. 

Here's why...

When something is free people tend to go with the attitude of "why question a good thing?"  Which would be great if anything was actually free.  But...

Nothing is really for free.

You have to pay for everything in life...Somehow.  Sometimes that's with Ads, sometimes it's with fees, and sometimes it's by more nefarious means.  But in the end nothing comes for free. 

That's why I appreciate paying for stuff.  There's no ambiguity.  You ask for some money, I give you some money, we're done. 

The exact opposite of that situation is what's going on with Facebook.  Facebook doesn't know how to make money.  They can't survive an attempt to charge a fee and they can't seem to make traditional ads work.  So now they need to make money but can't seem to do it in a traditional way. 

Enter the aforementioned "more nefarious means"

We don't know to what extent Facebook is bringing the original Beacon concepts back but I can almost guarantee you things will get worse as time goes along.  The longer Facebook can't find a way to make money the more it gets into the "wounded animal trying to survive by any means necessary" mentality.  That means looking for value in everything they have, including data collected from their users.

Facebook will not close it's doors just to protect their user's privacy.

What they will do is push every boundary of privacy until they find a way to save themselves.  The question of how much they violate your privacy will be decided by how far they have to go to make a profit.  That means every Facebook user is left with a big question mark as to what they'll eventually end up paying for the service. 

I don't know about you, but had I known the cost of Facebook might be playing Russian Roulette with my privacy, I probably would have just given them a little money instead. 

Fiorina Followup

clock September 19, 2008 02:02 by author Tom

Well, I guess this is my moment of weakness coming back to haunt me.  I've gotten several e-mails on my Carly Fiorina post (I think it might have accidentally gotten onto the Huffington Post since they post Google Blog Search items apparently). 

The e-mails look something like this.

You are completely wrong [on your post].  That's not what Carly Fiorina said and her actual quote wasn't trying to insult Palin at all.

The whole quotes was this.

“I don’t think John McCain could run a major corporation. I don’t think Barack Obama could run a major corporation. I don’t think Joe Biden could run a major corporation. But on the other hand a major corporation is not the same as being the president or vice president of the United States,” Fiorina said.

“It is a fallacy to suggest that the country is like a company. So of course to run a business you have to have a lifetime of experience in business, but that’s not what Sarah Palin, John McCain, Joe Biden or Barack Obama are doing,”

So she wasn't saying Palin was incompetent she was saying she didn't think any of the candidates could run a company.  Next time try to know what your talking about!

Well, ok.  I posted this for accuracy but let me explain something (since the people who are sending these e-mails obviously aren't readers of this blog). 

I don't post on the actual politics of things.  I will sometimes post on political strategy but I make very sure to leave any discussion on actual candidates and issues out of my posts.  I don't believe that stuff has a place here. 

So Governor Palin wasn't my point. 

My post was focused on Carly Fiorina.  My point with that post was (a) I don't like her (Fiorina not Palin) and (b) she's SO arrogant that she sacrificed her role in the campaign to make herself look big ("oh, I ran a corporation, but they couldn't").  So the fact that she also said McCain, Obama and Biden couldn't do it just bolsters my point: That she's arrogant to the point of incompetence. 

'nuff said.

The Karp Strikes Back

clock September 18, 2008 02:12 by author Tom

Scott Karp's back with a follow up to his post on aggregators (a post I responded to here).  In it he says...

OK, so here comes the really counterintuitive part — a news site does NOT have to choose between being a pass-through content publisher and a starting point aggregator.

A news site can be BOTH.

Imagine if the put above the fold on its homepage a continously updated list of links to breaking news around the web — and then set the homepage to auto-refresh, like Drudge and Techmeme.

Instead of checking once or twice a day, I’d probably start checking it constantly… obsessively.

And each time I came… I’d notice any new NYT content, along with new links.

I think this approach is a lot more realistic than what he seemed to be suggesting before.  But I still think it's off-base.

The problem with this theory is that he's assuming the role of aggregator is an easy one when every bit of evidence we have suggests otherwise.  I mean, how many other sites have tried to steal Techmeme's audience away from it?  I can think of at least 5 off the top of my head.

But none of them succeeded because, though it appears deceptively easy, being a good aggregator is actually a fairly hard thing to do.  In fact, I'd argue that its appearing so simple is exactly why it's so very difficult.  Because there's no set rule to what does and does not make a great aggregator.  It's an instinct (or in the case of sites like Techmeme an algorithmic imitation of an instinct).

Ironically Mr. Karp acknowledges this in his post (though probably without realizing it) when he says...

P. P. S. It just occurred to me after posting this why Drudge has such a huge audience — because Drudge has NO COMPETITION!

Geesh. You’d think some highly trusted traditional news brand would roll up their sleaves and take on Drudge.

Well, why do you think that is?  You really think it's because no one ever thought of it?  Or could it possibly be that what Drudge does actually requires a great deal of skill?

Again I say, aggregation is a skill.  Once you accept that fact, the idea of news agencies just "tacking on" aggregation starts to look unrealistic.  It would be like me walking into my local auto shop and telling them they should write software because there's more profit in it.   It's silly because they don't have those skills available to them even if they wanted to do that.

And Now, A Quick Word From My Unpleasant Side

clock September 17, 2008 02:10 by author Tom

Looks like Carly might have cost herself whatever advisory role she had in the McCain campaign (and possibly White House)...

Carly Fiorina, a key surrogate for John McCain on economic issues, said on Tuesday that Sarah Palin does not have the experience needed to run a major company like the one that Fiorina formerly headed.

"Do you think [Sarah Palin] has the experience to run a major company, like Hewlett Packard?" asked the host.

"No, I don't," responded Fiorina. "But you know what? That's not what she's running for."

For those who don't know, Carly Fiorina is the ex-CEO of HP who spear headed the merger of HP and Compaq and in the process came close to running them both into the ground.

I know it's pety but I hate this woman.  Hate, Hate, Hate, Hate, Hate, Hate, Hate her. 

As mentioned in my previous post I have a real love for the history of the technology industry and this is a woman who pretty much single handidly brought two of the industry's most iconic companies to their knees and ended up destroying one completely.

There is no reason, no reason on Earth, this woman should be able to get a position higher than food service and though I'm ashamed to admit it I delight in her continued failures. 

Oh, and Just to put this out there I don't have a problem with Republicans or Female Tech CEOs.  Meg Whitman (ex-CEO of Ebay and both a Republican and a Female) is like a god to me

Change Agents and the Posers that Want To Be Them

clock September 17, 2008 02:02 by author Tom

I generally agree with Seth Godin but I've found that, on the rare occasions he is wrong, he's really wrong.  This is one of those times. 

In a post entitled "The small-minded vision of the technology elite" he says...

Take a look at the geek discussion boards and you'll see an endless list of sharp-tongued critics, each angling to shoot down one idea or another. And then take a look at the companies that show up at the various pitch shows, and you'll see one company after another pitching incremental improvements based on current assumptions.

The reason is simple: technologists know how to make things work.

When an engineer has a proven ability to ship stuff, to keep things humming and not crashing, it's easy to fall into the trap of rejecting anything that hasn't demonstrated that it can work, that hasn't proven itself in the market.

He then goes on to link to an article he wrote for Fast Company, the gist of which is that the tech industry is filled with "competent" people who resist change out of fear for the disruptions in might cause...

In fact, competence is the enemy of change!

Competent people resist change. Why? Because change threatens to make them less competent. And competent people like being competent. That's who they are, and sometimes that's all they've got. No wonder they're not in a hurry to rock the boat.


In the face of change, the competent are helpless. Change means a temporary or permanent threat to their competence. But among the competent, the smart ones realize that change is inevitable, that shift happens -- and thus that they are doomed. Hence the tremendous discomfort among our happily competent population.

Here's the thing.  I spent my childhood reading books on the technology industry.  I love and make a point of knowing even the minuet pieces of trivia in regards to the history of the tech industry.  Given that I can tell you there is one basic truth that almost no one knows...

Very rarely do things actually change.

90% of what happens on computers today is done by technology that people have been using for decades.  Spreadsheets, Word Processors, E-Mail, etc... Every few years something new comes along but it almost never realizes it's potential as a "change agent"

A perfect example of this is Instant Messaging.  IM was, at one time, the death knell for E-Mail.  Everyone talked about how, when and why IM was going to crush this stupid old technology of e-mail and bring about a new era of Technological greatness. But it never happened and while IM is certainly still around no one thinks of it as an e-mail killer anymore (though Twitter is filling that role of "wanna be e-mail killer" to many right now).

When you get right down to it the technology industry hasn't changed that much over the years despite it's reputation to the contrary.  There are game changers like GUIs or the Web but they are few and generally very far between.  More importantly, when those game changers do come along they are pretty obvious. 

Which is where Mr. Godin's theories fall apart.

Real change is self-evident.  No one looked at a GUI and said "naah, I'd rather stick with DOS instead".  People might have taken a while longer to realize what the Web was but once they "got it" everyone was on board.  That's how you know something's a change agent. 

When comprehending something becomes synonymous with adopting it that is when you know something is going to really change the world. 

Everything else is either a fad or a niche market (Instant Messaging).  Part of being good at doing a technology based job is realizing that and acting accordingly.  Not jumping on every new fad like Mr. Godin would have us believe.

A News site and an Aggregator go into a Bar...

clock September 16, 2008 02:51 by author Tom

Most of what Scott Karp has been posting lately seem to be thinly veiled ads for a new software package he's trying to sell to news organizations.  I don't have a problem with that but it makes it hard to criticize him because I know he's tied his livelihood to his point of view. 

The problem is, I think that point of view is dangerously misguided.  A good example of this is his most recent post entitled "Drudge Report: News Site That Sends Readers Away With Links Has Highest Engagement" where he says...

There are two main reasons why news sites are reluctant to send readers away by linking to third-party content. First, you shouldn’t send people away or else they won’t come back to your site. Second, a page with links that sends people away has low engagement, which doesn’t serve advertisers well.

But if you actually look at the data, both of these assumptions are completely wrong.

Drudge isn't what I would call a "News Site" in that it doesn't produce original material.  It's an aggregator that hunts down valuable links and presents them to it's reading audience.  So it's primary goal is to "send people away" and it's good at that. 

But Mr. Karp is making a huge leap when he then tries to apply that rule to news sites. 

A site like the New York Times produces it's own content and in doing so is competing with other sources for that information.  So to send people away means to send them to their competitors because their business model is completely different from that of a site like Drudge.  They sell their knowledge and quality writing while Drudge sells his ability to find other people's knowledge and quality writing. 

These are two completely different businesses with two completely different skill sets.

Essentially Mr. Karp is comparing an Apple to an Orange and saying the Orange should be eliminated because more people like Apples.  The contention is ridiculous on it's face.

Again, apologies to Mr. Karp who is betting his business on the strategy of turning news organizations into aggregators but it just makes no sense.  People like having multiple view points to choose from and it's just insane to suggest a site like the New York Times would stop producing original content and just provide a link to someone else instead. 

That's just not what they do. 

His argument does make one important point and that is the value of the aggregator.  As information gets more and more overwhelming we're going to see quality aggregators of that information become more and more valuable. 

But that fact doesn't mean that everyone should or even could become an aggregator. 

Addendum: Mr. Karp has been cagey about all the details of his startup so anything said above is my impression of what it is based on my very limited knowledge.  I could be completely off base on how his startup works.

2nd Addendum: A couple of e-mails encouraged me to explain myself a little further on one point.  I said I thought Mr. Karp’s philosophy is “dangerously misguided” but I didn’t really explain why I thought that was the case. 

Essentially, if I understand Mr. Karp’s philosophy right, he’s trying to encourage media outlets to not write on topics that have already been written.  This is a variation of his “Content Conservation Movement” idea from a while back. 

The problem with this is that writers, by their human nature, are (a) not as objective as they think they are and (b) not as thorough as they think they are.  I know I often have to read several news stories to get the whole picture on a given issue because writers choose to leave things out.  In a world where everyone is aggregating to one or even just a few content sources you lose those multiple voices and in doing so you start to lose the whole picture.  Mr. Karp’s best case scenario is one in which people are flat out denied the clearest picture because there aren’t enough content sources to provide it.

That is something I consider dangerous.

iPhones and Platforms: Same as it Ever Was

clock September 15, 2008 02:13 by author Tom

I've been reading the dustup caused by Apple rejecting Podcaster (an iPhone app) because it duplicated the functionality of iTunes (which is apparently a no-no).  After the developer posted on his blog that Apple had rejected the app a bunch of other bloggers jumped in and claimed they'd "never develop for the iPhone" because of the policy. 

Though I fall more into the Michael Arrington camp of "You'll all keep developing for the iPhone no matter what you say" I do have to admit to an increasingly sour taste in my mouth being left by Apple's policies.

I should preface this by saying I come to this topic from "a negative place" if you will.  I was really excited about the iPhone and iPod Touch and bit hook, line and sinker into the idea of developing applications for it.  I even went out and bought a Macbook Pro to do it on.

But almost instantly I started to fall out of love with the idea.  There just seemed to be a lot of hassles involved in it all.  The kicker was when I realized I couldn't share anything I wrote.  Apple limits distribution to either phones in a corporate group or the App Store.  So if I write an application I can't even give it to a friend and say "Hey, try this out and let me know what you think" because Apple won't let me. 

Eventually I decided to go with an iPhone Web App instead (which did 90% of what I wanted anyway)

Back to the topic at hand I don't have a huge problem with what Apple is doing.  I certainly don't approve but it's not that much worse than what Microsoft, for example, has been doing for years. 

I mean really, what is the difference between Apple turning down your app so it can't be on the platform and Microsoft spending a million dollars to create an identical app and giving it away for free?  The end result is the same, you don't make any money for your hard work. 

If anything, Apple is probably doing developers more of a favor (in a "better of two evils sort of way").  At least when they turn you down you don't spend thousands of dollars trying to compete in a battle you have no chance of actually winning. 

So really this is the same old song and dance.  The only difference is that Apple doesn't care what people think so they don't sugar coat their iron fisted tactics like other companies do. 

About Me

Not really relevant right now. This blog is on hiatus. I really haven't decided if it is an indefinite hiatus yet

For the record if you've tried to e-mail me over the last 4 to 6 months I didn't mean to ignore you. The e-mail forwarding isn't working and I didn't realize that until months worth of e-mails had been deleted on forward. The address still won't forward to the postmaster account and I don't know why because it's provided by the webhost. But if you're one of my old blog pen pals I would always welcome an e-mail from you at the address


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