Blogs level the journalism playing field

Say what you will about whether blogs are better or worse than traditional media, or just different. One thing is for sure: they certainly have a way of levelling the playing field between journalists and the people they write about. The latest case in point is a recent online battle between Patrick Byrne — the notoriously eccentric CEO of — and a reporter for BusinessWeek magazine named Tim Mullaney.

According to Mr. Byrne (who prefers to call himself Dr. Byrne), the BusinessWeek reporter emailed him a long list of questions about the company, which has been the subject of critical comments from Wall Street brokerages and investors — including billionaire entrepeneur, sports-team owner and blogger Mark Cuban. Among other things, Mr. Byrne has said that he believes he is the victim of a conspiracy that involves elements of the Mafia underworld and a group of short-sellers who want to drive down his stock price.

Although he said the piece was only going to be 1,200 words, the BusinessWeek reporter sent what appears to be three pages worth of questions, including some bizarre ones — such as who the CFO was involved with, whether they got married, and whether they are still together. At one point, the reporter asks Mr. Byrne whether he has gained weight as a result of stress (to which the Overstock CEO says he has gained weight because of a heart ailment). The reporter also asks whether he has been diagnosed with any mental illness.

At one point, Mr. Byrne makes fun of his interviewer’s questions, such as when the reporter says that he is “recognized as an online travel expert,” and at another point when he says that he is an attorney, and that he also “keeps a Web stock model portfolio for BW that beats the IIX pretty consistently.” Mr. Byrne posted the questions in full as well as a version with his comments interspersed — before the article ran in the magazine. According to the Overstock CEO, the reporter phoned his office and yelled at a receptionist.

As a journalist with feet (or arms) in both the world of traditional media and the world of blogs, I’m well acquainted with the reputation that journalists have — and this exchange doesn’t do anything to help that. It’s ironic that a man who has been described by Mr. Cuban as “a paranoid fool” actually comes off looking better than a reporter from a respected newsmagazine.

Ironically, the approach Mr. Byrne took by posting the email and his comments has been used before by his nemesis Mr. Cuban. These examples are a warning to journalists everywhere — you no longer have the high ground (if you ever did), so you had better tread carefully, or your flaws will be exposed for all to see.

for more on this topic, please see my full column at

BellSouth drops the gloves on neutrality

My friend and fellow Canuck blogger Mark Evans points to a story from Marketwatch about BellSouth following through on its promise (threat?) to start charging service providers such as Apple or MovieLink extra to ensure that their content gets through to users reliably and quickly. This is an issue that has been coming for awhile.

According to BellSouth chief technology officer Bill Smith, the company is justified in content charging companies because they use the telco’s network without paying for it. “Higher usage for broadband services drives more costs that we have to recover,” he told Marketwatch. Is this a justifiable cost-sharing exercise by a phone company, or what Russell Shaw of ZDNet calls “a shakedown?” Are BellSouth and other telco leaders — such as Ed “Google better pay up for our pipes” Whitacre of AT&T — just trying to make a living, or are they robber barons, as Jeff Jarvis calls them?

Mark Cuban, in his usual contrary fashion, says we need the telcos to do this because we are running out of bandwidth, and besides, it’s going to happen anyway. I find it hard to believe we’ve run out of bandwidth already, given the millions of miles of fiber-optic cable that Level 3 and 360networks and Global Crossing laid during the last tech bubble, but I’ll give Mark that one. What I don’t get is how the telcos keep telling everyone how great high-speed is, and charging them an arm and a leg for it (while trying to get them not to use it) and then start crying poor. Is it jealousy, as Fred Wilson says? Whatever — it’s wrong.

For more, check out a long treatise on the subject by Doc Searls, and another (shorter) one by Mitch Shapiro at IPDemocracy — who has another one here. My friend Rob Hyndman has also commented many times on this theme, including this recent post, and Om has some thoughts as well.


Jeff Pulver has come out with a couple of pointed posts on this topic, including one about neutrality in general, in which he calls on Google to shut down BellSouth in an OK Corral kind of maneuver (which my colleague Mark Evans applauds), and another responding to Mark Cuban’s post, in which he takes the billionaire to task for his views — and Mr. Cuban responds in the comments.

Update 2:

It may not be the aggressive gesture Jeff was hoping for, but Om Malik notes that Google has said in no uncertain terms that it has no intention of paying telcos for enhanced service. “Google is not discussing sharing of the costs of broadband networks with any carrier,” a spokesman told

Is blogging just writing with a cool name?

Simon Dumenco has a column in AdAge magazine entitled A Blogger Is Just A Writer With A Cooler Name, which takes issue with what he feels is the trumped up division between blogging and just plain old writing. “It occurred to me that there is no such thing as blogging. There is no such thing as a blogger. Blogging is just writing — writing using a particularly efficient type of publishing technology,” he says. Bloggers just want to think of themselves as something different because it’s cool, Simon says. Others agree.

Simon has a point — although I think it’s stretching it to say bloggers are writers with a cooler name, since the word “blogger” is actually pretty stupid (thanks a lot Jorn). Writing is writing, whether done on a blog, or in a newspaper, or at a magazine. Just different lengths, different deadlines, different styles. Some use their blogs as a platform for ranting, and some use their newspaper columns for the same thing. Some blogs do better reporting that the Times.

It doesn’t do anyone any good to play up the divisions between the two, nor does it serve any purpose — as Simon notes — for the Times or anyone else to make a big deal out of what is a blog and what isn’t. At the same time, however, I wouldn’t want to erase the divisions entirely, because what makes a blog different from traditional media is important. In a nutshell, that difference is interaction — which turns plain old writing into something Amy Gahran calls “conversational” media.

And that is something the traditional media could stand to learn a little more about, a point I was trying to make in the post just before this one as well. Steve Rubel is right — it isn’t just writing, it’s a dialogue.

It isn’t blogs vs. media — it’s blogs as media

Scott Karp, the managing director of research and strategy for Atlantic Media (which publishes Atlantic Monthly, among other things) gets on a bit of a rant about bloggers and the “mainstream” media. For a guy whose blog is called Publishing 2.0, I find Scott’s vituperation about blogging a little over the top. Yes, it’s true that the blogosphere can be a bit of a funhouse-mirror sometimes, and it’s also true that some zealots take the open-media, everyone-is-a-content-creator thing a little too far.

Scott is right when he says that many people are drowing in media, and are looking for filters and ways of sorting out what is necessary or useful to them and what is not — and he is also right that tools such as and RSS are not easy enough to use for the novice (not yet). It’s also true that many people will continue to use newspapers and other traditional media as filters in that sense — I hope they do, since I work for a newspaper. The media outlets that succeed will be the ones that seize that opportunity most aggressively.

At the same time, however, I think blogs are becoming — and will increasingly become — the filters for people on subjects they are interested in, whether we (or they) call them blogs or not. If you’re interested in dogs, or childbirth, or local news about mountain biking, are you going to seek out the traditional media to find resources or points of view? Unlikely. What will probably happen is someone you know will mention a blog that is written by someone who is equally obsessed with that topic, and which gathers all the information and links you might want.

That is competition for the newspaper, and the radio and the television — heck, it’s competition for books and needlepoint, for that matter. And as Lloyd of the Guardian points out, there’s opportunity there for traditional media, something Matt McAlister has some thoughts about too.


Just came across another of Scott’s posts on his blog, which indicates that his views are actually fairly close to mine — in other words, that “new” media such as blogs and traditional media need to collaborate, intermingle, cross-pollinate etc.

His post addresses an interesting discussion by Jeff Jarvis of Buzzmachine, who wonders whether a BusinessWeek magazine cover story would have been better if it had been open to contributions while it was being written.

I would argue that it would have been better in almost every way — not just as an article, but in terms of the long-term, spinoff effects of the process as well, although Stephen Baker says we aren’t quite there yet and there are reasons why media outlets need to keep stories secret.

Shall we Gather at the (funding) river

It’s always nice to see startups — particularly those in the social-media, Web 2.0-type landscape — get some funding, so I don’t want to dump on, which has not only received $6-million in financing from Lotus founder Jim Manzi and VC group Allen & Co., but is also the subject of a laudatory article in the Boston Globe.

Still, I have to wonder what has that’s worth $6-million (or maybe I have an unrealistic view of how much $6-million is nowadays). I’ve checked the site out several times, and apart from a garish and cluttered design that I find hard on the eyes, I don’t see much to make it stand out from the crowd — and it is a crowd (Andrew Watson also seems skeptical, as does Ben Barren and Kent Newsome). Not only are there old standbys like (owned by the New York Times group, which also owns the Boston Globe), which also happens to be garish and cluttered, but there are dozens of startups from and to more elaborate ventures.

For example, there are sites like and a news- and blog-oriented site called — both of which I am beta-testing as a contributor. When it comes to design and layout, Newsvine wins hands down, and I find the way articles are contributed and voted on, plus the live chatting, to be very interesting features. Whether either one will last I don’t know. There are also local news ventures such as — which seems a bit like a vacant lot waiting for a party, in many ways — and others too numerous to mention, such as

Will any of these startups find success, or will they all? It’s a bit of a crapshoot at the moment. Fun to watch, but nerve-wracking to work in, I imagine. Steve Rubel says there is a Web 2.0 crash coming.


Mike Arrington of TechChrunch notes that — which has been through a bit of a remake after some bad early reviews — is also pursuing this model. And Jason Calacanis of Weblogs Inc. (not surprisingly) prefers a different approach. My friend Paul Kedrosky says Gather is “AOL-lite-lite for the blogosphere” and that it just might succeed because some people want that. I think Kareem has a good point about Gather too in his recent post.

The Canadian copyfight debate continues

As a patriotic Canadian, (somewhat) dedicated blogger and technology writer, and devoted digital-music fan, I’ve been remiss in not mentioning the furore that has erupted in the Great White North over the behaviour of a certain Liberal politician in the runup to our federal election. My friend Rob Hyndman has a great post on his blog which sums up the whole mess in one easy-to-read and link-rich entry.

The bottom line — as chronicled by blogger, columnist and law professor Michael Geist — is that Sarmite Bulte, parliamentary secretary to the minister responsible for copyright laws in Canada, is attending a fundraiser January 19 that has been organized by all the major lobbying organizations that are trying to toughen up Canadian copyright legislation: namely, the record industry, the movie industry and the publishing industry.

The fact that this, well… smells bad seems to have escaped Ms. Bulte. She has refused to acknowledge that such behaviour at least gives the impression that she is being unduly influenced by the industry she is helping to regulate. She continues to claim that she has the best interests of musicians and music fans at heart, although comments from noted blogger and musician Matthew Good and an independent record-store owner indicate otherwise.

We’re not a cultural or political backwater up here — it just looks that way sometimes.


John has pointed out that the fundraiser isn’t until January 19th (I had originally said it had been held already), and noted that one of the reasons the fundraiser is being held so close to the election is that Ms. Bulte has used up her campaign financing contributions for 2005 (something I haven’t confirmed yet).

The hunger for an Apple-Windows dual boot

I must admit that the first thing I thought of when the big Apple-Intel announcement came out was: “Great — now maybe I can have an Intel machine that will dual boot Windows and OS X!” Obviously I’m not alone, since one of the big debates after Macworld has been whether you will be able to run Windows on those new Mac-Intel machines.

Hopes were raised when an Apple spokesman said that Apple wouldn’t do anything to stop someone from loading Windows, but then Betanews said it wouldn’t work because Apple’s machines use the new EFI standard, which replaces the BIOS (the thing that runs before Windows), and Windows doesn’t support EFI. But now it looks like they might, since Intel says it ships a widget that lets older systems run with EFI, so if Apple uses that it would work.

Why the interest in dual-booting Windows and OS X? From my point of view it’s simple. There are things I like doing with Macs — mostly involving images and music — and there are things I like doing with Windows, mostly involving games and things my work forces me to do with Internet Explorer. I’d love to be able to do both. Admittedly, dual-booting is cumbersome (as mentioned here), but I already do it with Linux and it’s not a big deal.

Ideally, there would be an emulator you could run that would allow Windows apps to run on Mac or vice versa. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.


A reader mentioned Virtual PC, which I have used but found incredibly slow, even on a fast laptop. It also won’t work on the new Macs, although Microsoft and Apple have said they are committed to making it work.

Mike Arrington takes on Plaxo — twice

I know I’m coming a little late to this one, but a post on Rick Segal’s blog The Post Money Value pointed me towards a fascinating back-and-forth between Mike Arrington of TechCrunch, Charles O’Donnell of Union Square Ventures (a venture capital outfit headed by Fred Wilson) and Stacy, who works for Plaxo.

Plaxo is the “update your address book for me” company that just about everyone with an email address has probably received an irritating message from by now. Charles, a researcher at Union Square, apparently sent out Plaxo notifications to friends and acquaintances, and blogged about how he tried to make them funny so that people would do it. One of the first comments on his post was from Mike Arrington, who said he didn’t know Charles and wondered why the hell he had sent him a message about Plaxo — a company it turns out Mike has had a run-in with before, which led to a long and tortuous discussion.

Mike then blogged about his experience with Charles, at which point Charles and Stacy the Plaxo spokesperson start going at it in the comments section of CrunchNotes — with Stacy suddenly accusing Charles of breaking the terms of service for Plaxo by sending a message to someone he doesn’t really know.

By the end, I wound up agreeing with another commenter on Mike’s post, who says: “whoosh — that’s the sound of everything that anyone has said about Plaxo on the myriad threads I’ve just caught myself up on – the sound of all of it flying straight past Stacy. Stacy and, moreover, Plaxo, is like that senior citizen in the middle lane of the highway going 40 or the teenager that waltzes right past you to the front of the line at the coffee shop – they’ll never understand what it is they’re doing that’s so damn annoying because they. just. can’t.”

Google for BlackBerry — no talking

Got a BlackBerry and eager to use Google Talk for voice-over-Internet calls? Keep dreaming, friend. Russell Shaw, who blogs for ZDNet on IP telephony — and also happens to have a blog devoted to the BlackBerry handheld from Canada’s own Research In Motion — clarified something I was wondering about as far as the recent announcement that Google Talk would soon be available for the CrackBerry.

If you read the press release, you’ll notice that there’s lots of mentions of Google Talk, but no real mention of… well, actually talking. Russell explains why in his recent post: Because RIM depends on carriers such as Verizon and Sprint/Nextel to subsidize and market its handhelds, and the carriers would hit the roof if they found out that RIM was providing a way for BlackBerry users to get around the calling plans of the company’s partners. Russell posted something to his BlackBerry blog too.

Makes sense for RIM. Too bad for BlackBerry users — although it’s nice to see the handheld maker branching out.

News flash: Yahoo acquires proto-startup

As Jeremy Zawodny of Yahoo puts it, “if you ever wonder whether you company is getting a reputation, just wait for the blogosphere to make fun of you.” And so it has — Greg Yardley has a great faux news release about Yahoo acquiring an unnamed Web 2.0 company “three days before it was to be founded.”

He quotes Chris P. Bacon, Director of Hype Production, as saying: “Yahoo! is committed to generating mass quantities of free public relations by acquiring more pre-revenue, pre-business plan companies than any other global Internet company.” And Hugh Jorgan, newly-appointed Vice President of Pre-Business Development, says: “We’ve been acquiring companies earlier and earlier – before VC funding, before revenue, and in some cases before the completion of their products.”

It wouldn’t be as funny it if didn’t have a grain of truth to it.