Light posting alert

Since I am at the Ingram family homestead in the wilderness of northern Ontario, where cellular service is spotty and Internet access is of the dial-up variety, posting will likely be light — possibly even non-existent — for the next couple of days. If you look at the picture below and concentrate really hard, you can probably imagine me lying in a hammock somewhere.

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Facebook appears to be down

I haven’t been able to log in to the site for the past few hours, and it seems as though some other people have had trouble too. Growing pains?

and… we’re back. Life can return to normal πŸ™‚

Update:

Just got an email from Matt Hicks, who’s in communications with Facebook, and he said there was a power failure at one of their data centres this morning, but everything is back to normal now. That’s pretty fast — not the server repair, but the PR response. Impressive.

Can MySpace change its spots?

In an interview with the Financial Times, one of the founders of MySpace — Chris DeWolfe, the one who isn’t everyone’s friend as soon as they sign up (that’s his partner Tom Anderson) — hinted that the social network might open itself up further to developers, in the same way that Facebook has with its F8 Platform initiative. Among other things, his comments have sparked a heated debate (some of which is visible at Mashable) over whether MySpace is copying or following Facebook, or vice versa.

snipshot_e41fxbgdht9o.jpgHere are the facts: MySpace came first, and is still substantially larger than Facebook in terms of unique visitors, users, page views (about 3 billion a day) and pretty much any other metric you want to use. MySpace has also had widgets that can be embedded in MySpace pages for some time — in fact, it was that ability that helped YouTube develop such a large following so quickly (maybe Chris and Tom should ask their pals Chad and Steve for a little of the excess cash from the Google transaction, instead of trying to squeeze $50-million or so out of Rupert Murdoch).

However, MySpace has not had an open API, nor has it allowed widget developers to build in ways of monetizing the traffic they get — in fact, when Photobucket tried that, MySpace gave it the smack-down and then after it was weakened, acquired the company. Facebook, by contrast, has said that developers are welcome to monetize their apps, and that the social network would be happy to help them do so.

Whoever is running MySpace would have to be a moron not to see how much traffic — and attention — Facebook has been getting since it opened up and became (or tried to become) a platform. But as Marc Andreessen has pointed out, what Facebook did was a lot more than just an open API. Can MySpace turn over a new leaf and stop acting like the network is a dictatorship? That remains to be seen. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that the company was making it sound like widget developers were the enemy.

Murdoch shoots from the lip on WSJ

snipshot_e41fq5c7raj8.jpgTime magazine managed to land an exclusive interview with Rupert Murdoch (maybe it was by promising him the cover and a cover line like “The Last Tycoon”), and — as is typical for the blunt-spoken Australian — he holds nothing back. While some of the reporters for the illustrious Wall Street Journal took some unauthorized time off to protest Murdoch’s acquisition of the paper, the billionaire came out with jewels like this:

— “They’re taking five billion dollars out of me and want to keep control,” Rupert Murdoch was saying into the phone, “in an industry in crisis! They can’t sell their company and still control it Ò€” that’s not how it works. I’m sorry!”

— “The price of the Journal,” says Murdoch, “is $60 plus vitriol.”

— “When the Journal gets its Page 3 girls,” he jokes late one night, “we’ll make sure they have M.B.A.s.”

and finally:

— “What if, at the Journal, we spent $100 million a year hiring all the best business journalists in the world? Say 200 of them. And spent some money on establishing the brand but went global Ò€” a great, great newspaper with big, iconic names, outstanding writers, reporters, experts.

And then you make it free, online only. No printing plants, no paper, no trucks. How long would it take for the advertising to come? It would be successful, it would work and you’d make … a little bit of money. Then again, the Journal and the Times make very little money now.”

Classic Murdoch. Kevin Maney says in Portfolio magazine that he hopes Murdoch starts a bidding war for journalists.

Is Facebook really “the new AOL”?

Update:

Jason Kottke has expanded on his one-liner (referred to below) and agrees with Scott Heiferman’s comparison to AOL’s “rainman” platform from days gone by. Steve Rubel has also written a post about the same topic that is well worth reading. And Jeff Jarvis disagrees that Facebook is the new AOL.

Original post:

It’s probably inevitable, given how quickly Facebook has been growing and infiltrating people’s lives, that it would start to get criticized for all sorts of things. But one of the criticisms that strikes a real chord — at least with me — is the notion that Facebook might be “the new AOL.” The latest mention of this meme came in a squib at Jason Kottke’s blog, but there have been other mentions of the idea in various different places recently (including the comments on a post at Brad Feld’s blog).

snipshot_e41cbcmv3pdv.jpgWhat does that phrase “the new AOL” mean? Maybe for some people it means that Facebook is going to eventually merge with Time Warner, thus destroying about $50-billion in market value, but for most it means that Facebook is in some sense a “walled garden.” In other words, it has some nice content and features, but it tries to maintain those in some sort of segregated way, in a location that is part of the Internet but at the same time not part of the Internet. I wrote about this particular issue as it pertains to Facebook in this recent post but it’s still on my mind. In the comments on that post, Nav and Joe Thornley make the point that Facebook simplifies things that people could otherwise do on the regular Internet with blogs and Twitter and Flickr and so on, but don’t have the time or the inclination.

Scott Heiferman, co-founder of Meetup and Fotolog, says in his post on the subject that Facebook’s Platform project reminds him of AOL’s “rainman” platform — a set of API-like tools people could use to build the Web 1.0 version of widgets. Marc Andreessen says Facebook platform is smart because in any fight between a platform and an application, the platform wins. But what happens if there’s a fight between a platform and the Internet?

Obviously, you don’t have to dial up to a special phone number to use Facebook, or install special software, or pay a monthly fee. And you can pull in content from elsewhere (Flickr photos, etc.) using the API and various widgets. But you still have to do things like click on an email to go to a page where you log in (every time), and then click somewhere else to read a simple message, which I have to say is a gigantic pain in the ass.

Is Facebook just a stage in the evolution of the Internet, the way that AOL was — a kind of democratizing force or “Internet kindergarten” of sorts, that will eventually give way to a truly open platform? Don’t get me wrong, I like Facebook a lot, and I totally see the value of the news feed and the photo-sharing and so on, and I think the F8 platform is a brilliant strategy. I’m a big Facebook fan. But I really like the Internet too πŸ™‚

CBC’s Wish List: experiment or disaster?

There’s a story on the Globe and Mail site about the CBC’s Great Canadian Wish List project, in which the broadcaster set up a Facebook group and asked Canadians to vote on what they wanted for the country, with the winner to be announced this weekend in honour of Canada Day (if you have a Facebook account — and who doesn’t by now — the group can be found here).

The story notes that the project is seen by some as having been hijacked by conservative religious groups and turned into a debate on issues like abortion and gay marriage. But is that really the case? And even if it is, does that mean the experiment was a failure?

snipshot_e4h1tgvfn5p.jpgThe top three wishes as of Thursday were: 1) to ban abortion; 2) that Canada remain pro-choice and 3) for a spiritual revival in our nation (below that were wishes including “restore the traditional definition of marriage,” as well as “I wish tuition fees would be either lowered or eliminated,” and “it’s time for drastic measures to save our environment.”) The group had 18,572 members and 546 discussion topics, with more than 5,360 comments posted on the group’s “wall.” The top three wish groups have from 4,000 to 8,000 members. The story also mentions a piece of commentary by Elaine Corden on The Tyee, a B.C.-based website, in which the author criticizes the CBC for launching the contest, and says it is “laughable at best, contemptible at worst.”

Corden says the fact that the wish list was hijacked shows that the broadcaster’s attempts at populism are inherently flawed. “ItÒ€ℒs like when Sanjaya fans perverted the American Idol vote,” she says, except that “instead of watching talented singers being kicked off a crappy reality show, IÒ€ℒm watching state-sanctioned homophobia.”

Describing the CBC’s Wish List as state-sanctioned homophobia is a little over the top in my view — especially since the second wish is that Canada remain pro-choice. There is less than a 10-per-cent difference between the two.

Still, there’s no question that the CBC project became a magnet for a variety of interest groups, and it’s not the first online survey to do that. Several commenters on the Globe story note other contests that have been hijacked, including Time magazine’s poll on “Person of the Millennium” and a poll in Hungary that was ultimately hijacked by comedian Stephen Colbert. One commenter even mentions the Globe’s own polls on various topics, which occasionally are influenced by political parties and interest groups.

But does that make what the CBC did worthless or unwise? No. An interesting experiment? Yes.

If you look at the wishes in the list, once you get past the top three there are plenty of other wishes that got large numbers of votes, including wishes that have to do with the environment, getting Canada to help with aid to Darfur, pulling troops out of Afghanistan, and recycling Tim Horton’s cups. Thousands of Canadians got to make suggestions and vote for the issues they care about.

To me, focusing on the top two or three misses the larger point. Yes, religious groups clearly feel strongly about the abortion issue, and they obviously tried to get their supporters to join and vote — but the second wish more than balances that. Why is that not a valuable contribution to the debate? The whole point of “social” media is to let anyone who wants to say something have an opportunity to do so, including people with unpleasant views, or those whose opinions we disagree with.

Google funding widget incubator

Google appears to be setting up a kind of widget incubator program — like a Y Combinator/Startup Camp for widgets — according to a post over at Read/WriteWeb tonight. Marissa Mayer apparently announced the windfall… er, program at the Searchonomics Conference in Santa Clara. There’s a brief description of it here, and a FAQ here.

snipshot_e4iie0mvp6j.jpgThe program (Danny Sullivan has a good overview) is aimed at “bootstrapping an economic ecosystem around gadgets,” and involves two kinds of monetary offers to developers: the first gives Google Gadget developers a chance at a grant of $5,000 to develop their gadgets further (those with gadgets that have at least 250,000 page views a week are eligible), and the second is a “seed investment” of $100,000 to developers who want to build a business based on the Google platform. This second stage — which sounds a little like an angel round — is open only to those who have already had a grant.

The upshot? As Richard puts it: “It’s Christmas for third-party developers.” I would expect to see companies like Slide.com, the Max Levchin-owned developer that has several popular Facebook widgets and has been buying others, jump on board this gravy train. It will be interesting to see whether Google Gadgets spread farther than just the Google ig page. There’s a post about it on the Google blog, and one at the Google code blog.

Studio to YouTube: Yippee ki-yay, motherf…

I have to confess that I was somewhat skeptical — okay, really skeptical — when I read in the New York Times about a deal between 20th Century Fox and a group of guys who had put together an “homage” video about the Die Hard movies. As the story describes, the original video was a compilation of action sequences from the three movies, with a rock-style song as a voiceover, including the immortal words “Yippee-ki-yay, motherf***er” as the chorus.

die-hard.jpgThe movie studio forced YouTube to take the video down, since it uses a whole pile of clips from the copyrighted movies, etc. etc. Standard bone-headed movie industry activity, in other words. But at some point, a light bulb clearly went on over someone’s head (either that or a studio executive under 30 attended a meeting) and Fox approached the group and offered to not only let them post the video again, but offered to pay them as long as they included some clips from the upcoming movie (which is in theatres now). In other words, turn an homage into a preview.

When I read the NYT story, I thought “Well, that’s going to wreck it — it will no longer be a tribute, but just a paid ad for the movie.” And when I read a quote from a Fox executive saying “Why should something that people enjoy be any less Γ’β‚¬ΛœcoolÒ€ℒ because it is supported by a film studio?Ò€ I thought to myself that he must be a moron. Obviously, having the studio involved would ruin the whole “user-generated” nature of the thing.

But I think I might have been wrong. Not only has the new clip been viewed more times than the original, lots of commenters on YouTube like it better — and you know what? It’s actually pretty good. The studio left the creators alone, and obviously didn’t even mind the “motherf***er” chorus, which is a crucial part of the both the movie and the tribute video. The whole thing kind of works. (the clip is not for childish ears, obviously).

A new Web icon: Islamic Rage Boy

If you’ve been reading news about India or Pakistan, or the Middle East, Salman Rushdie being knighted by the Queen, you may have seen photos featuring a young Islamic man who has come to be known (at least in some circles) as “Islamic Rage Boy.” In almost every photo, this bearded man is clearly agitated, yelling into the camera, waving his fist in the air, etc. And it’s not until you look at a site like SnappedShot that you realize he shows up in picture after picture, about different events, always with the same expression.

snipshot_e4bukwgiqif.jpgPhoto-journalists like nothing better than to have a photo of riots or protests, and whatever group Rage Boy belongs to seems happy to oblige. There’s a recent photo of him in a group of Islamic protesters during the recent worldwide “Day of Rage” against Salman Rushdie being honoured (since the author is still the subject of an Islamic fatwa, or death sentence, as a result of insults to the Prophet Mohammed contained in his book The Satanic Verses). Last fall, he was striking almost the exact same pose during protests over comments that Pope Benedict XVI made about the Prophet during a speech. There are also wire photos of what appears to be the same man protesting the publication of anti-Muslim cartoons in a Danish newspaper, and the use of the Prophet’s face on a playing card, and a visit by President Bush.

Rage Boy has become such a popular icon of Islamic fundamentalism that author Christopher Hitchens uses him as a metaphor in his latest column at Slate.com. In true Web icon style, he even has his own T-shirt. And blogger Mike Elgan of The Raw Feed compares Rage Boy to Everywhere Girl, a young woman named Jennifer Chandra, whose stock photo has become ubiquitous in online advertising, as chronicled by The Inquirer in Britain and several other outlets. Her blog is here.

(Note: Just so we’re clear, this is not meant as a judgment of any kind — positive or negative — about the validity or sincerity of any specific Islamic or Muslim protest, cause, or viewpoint. I just thought it was interesting. If anything, it’s a comment on the laziness of wire-service photographers and/or editors)

Update:

Mike at The Raw Feed notes that Islamic Rage Boy has now been unmasked as Shakeel Bhat, a 31-year-old former armed militant.

A market develops in Facebook apps

It’s interesting to see that a market for Facebook applications — or widgets — is developing, although the prices are still small. In one of the latest transactions, Inside Facebook notes that Slide.com (run by PayPal co-founder Max Levchin) has bought the app Favorite Peeps for a reported $60,000. Another site, FaceWatch, has also written about the purchase — and Josh Catone has a look at the phenomenon at Read/WriteWeb. Update: Fred Wilson has a good post up about it as well.

snipshot_e41cliqw0fja.jpgFavorite Peeps apparently has over one million users and was developed by Dennis Rakhamimov, a software engineer at a company funded by Peter Thiel — another PayPal co-founder, who is also an investor in Facebook. Inside Facebook notes that the deal values each user at less than five cents, compared with the $25 per user paid by Viacom for the Xfire gaming site and the $36 per user paid by News Corp. for MySpace. Another Facebook app, Extended Info, was recently bought by a travel company called SideStep — although no purchase price was disclosed. The creator of the app, Trey Philips, just finished his third year of university and said he put the widget together in a few hours at the Facebook F8 hackathon. Within days it had 60,000 users. VentureBeat has also noted the rise of the Facebook app-buying market.