Ready, Fire, Aim! - Mihail's Public Blog

Monday, April 25, 2005

Blogit vs publishing -- Philly Inquirer Book Editor gets it!

Frank Wilson, the Philadelphia Inquirer's Book Review Editor, talked about Blogit and blogging in his blog yesterday as we noted on our News blog.

Frank writes a blog titled, quite appropriately, Books, Inq. which he describes as a Behind-the-Scenes Look at a Book-Review Editor's World:

We hear all the time that reading is in decline. But anyone in my position has to be aware that there's something funny about that -- because more people than ever, it seems, want to write. And people who write are usually people who read.

This is exactly the reason why Blogit charges readers and writers. Frank goes on to compare how blogging is not only turning journalism upside down but will have the same impact on publishing. Vanity publishing of books was the first step where technology allowed writers to bypass the traditional high barriers (where a few gatekeepers decide what will, or will not, appeal to consumers).

There have been several instances of a self-published book being picked up by a more traditional publisher for distribution only after the author him/herself had made the book a success.

And now a blogging venue like Blogit bring you a place with a pre-existing readership where you can not only post your thoughts and essays but also earn money. You no longer have to head to a vanity press or write a complete book. Instead you the writer is in charge of what you write, when you write, how much you write and what, if any, interaction you have with your readers. Frank goes on to write:

What is interesting about Blogit is that it is a community of writers and readers. In fact, it is precisely the relationship between reader and writer that blogging can bring about that makes blogging worthwhile.

This direct-to-consumer age has already hit the music industry on multiple levels. For bands it means they can now see their music downloaded by their fans with or without a recording contract. For the creative consumer it now means that they can play the role of a DJ or music editor without the backing of a radio station creating and sharing playlists.

Blogit is a reflection of the power of the Internet in the hands of the writer like never before. Frank is totally right, and this is just the beginning!

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Identity in the age of the Internet

What is it with .com domain names that reflect our names? I'm still mad at someone (maybe myself) for having let mihail.com expire. I had especially registered that so that one day if I was no longer affiliated with a company (like I am with Blogit today), I'd have my own spot on the Internet. I'd have my photos and blog and online stuff on it.

We do all love our stuff. Our garage speaks to that. Our attic above the garage speaks to that. Our neighbor's garage (and even front yard!) speaks to their stuff. We're a nation (nah, world) of hoarders. We love to hold on to things that remind us (of a better time? our youth?).

But it is more than that.  I think it is also about our identity. In today's world, our Gmail email addresses (for some reason, not our Hotmail ones) and .com domain names provide that identity. Thus the rush to make sure you were the first mihail (I wasn't) or the first mihail lari (I am) on Gmail. People were willing to pay $100+ to get in on that in the first few days.

And now comes this news that before the Vatican could register www.BenedictXVI.com, someone else had. Although he's just being smart about it and getting his 15 minutes of web-based fame. Actually, does the idea of 15 minutes of fame even work any more if Google will keep all the news that's fit (or not fit) for print in its depths (Google's got a big attic in Mountain View) for the rest of your life? That is compression/extension of time like we haven't seen ever before.

Back to my initial reason for writing this. According to this Washington Post story on how one man beat the Vatican to registering the name of the new pope:

That's because a St. Augustine, Fla. man, Rogers Cadenhead, registered the address BenedictXVI.com on April 1, hoping that would be the name of John Paul II's successor. To cover his bases, Cadenhead, 38, also registered ClementXV.com, InnocentXIV.com, LeoXIV.com, PaulVII.com, and PiusXIII.com.

..."I never really registered it with the intent of making money, and I think to crassly auction it would be a sin of some kind. ... Whatever decision I make will be guided by the desire not to make 1.5 billion people mad at me...including my grandmother," he said.

Hmm.

Blogit announces its 1 million+ in content

Here's our first press release. Yep, first press release ever -- it is a nice change from the dotcom days when companies were putting out press releases every time their CEO sneezed (and even getting covered in publications like the Wall Street Journal when he headed to South Beach for New Year's Eve ;). 

It features some cool Blogit writers and highlights the fact that Blogit has surpassed one million blog posts and comments. Pretty darn cool! The rate of growth in 2004 has been significantly higher than the increase in 2003...as you can see from the number of posts and comments tracked on the Blogit Home page.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Next for Starbucks? Reach its potential

Sramana Mitra, a good friend, writes about what should be next for Starbucks. I responded that maybe Starbucks should figure out how to be Starbucks again, first. To reach its potential. Whey do I say this? Because Starbucks makes me feel warm and fuzzy whenever I see its green letters and logo. I don't even have to be close enough to read it. Even when I see just a blur of a logo from far away, I feel that emotion immediately.

But I've gone from spending $100-$300 each month at Starbucks across the Bay Area (and the world for that matter), to maybe spending $50-$100 each month. It isn't because I'm trying to cut back on calories -- my blended (only in CA as I found out in Cambridge, MA recently) wet venti cappuccino with Splenda does that quite well.

My problem with Starbucks is that it is becoming increasingly inconsistent. I first noticed it at their franchise non-owned store at the San Jose airport, for example. But over the last six months I've begun to find that inconsistency (and hit-or-miss service) at even locations owned by them. The best Starbucks around is the one on Santa Cruz Ave in Menlo Park. Their coffee is always good. The worst is by Stanford on El Camino Real.

I'm certain that this inconsistency is hitting them hard in same-store sales numbers. More on this when I come across those numbers. Nevermind, thanks to Google here they are in a Seattle Post-Intelligencer story:

Starbucks posted its smallest same-store sales gain in more than three years, reporting a 6 percent increase in March sales for the five weeks ended April 3, compared with a 12 percent rise for the same period last year.

So maybe Starbucks needs to improve the service and consistency of coffee, and make sure that the people who work there stay on as employees and get to know their customers -- then I'll be going back to Starbucks as often as I used to. Otherwise, I'm simply setting myself up for a 150+ calorie disappointment. And I'd rather head to an independent cafe with character that might surprise me with the quality (that is, if there are any left).

Howard Schultz, recently spoke at a leading Silicon Valley company who's board he's on, about community being so important for Starbucks...and how we all strive to connect with others (I believe he gave the example of the yellow Lance Armstrong band). I'd like to see that -- and other parts of their mission -- in action at my local Starbucks so that the "warm and fuzzy" feeling I have for the logo doesn't turn into resentment.

Using your blog to look for a job? Christian Crumlish is!

Christian Crumlish was one of the first bloggers I met in person. He's looking for a job by using a post on his blog.

If you think you can help me find my next job, please let me know. One way you can help even if you don't know of a specific opening or opportunity suitable for me would be to link to this weblog entry, with linktext along the lines of "Christian Crumlish is looking for a job" or "help xian get hired" or the equivalent.

Om, who needs LinkedIn and SimplyHired (no offense Reid) when you have your own blog/brand to use for your search?! :)

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Ever wondered how a wiki works?

Came across this great explanation/narration by InfoWorld's blogger Jon Udell that tracks how a Wiki changes over time in collaboration with dozens if not hundreds of contributors over a couple of years. Thanks to David Pogue's post in the New York Times.

Friday, April 8, 2005

Google Founders, CEO decline salary

I'm impressed. Reminds me of the days Steve Jobs returned to Apple and received a $1/year salary, I think it was. Don't see this very often at other companies that also went thru pretty heady days until very recently...and their top execs are worth hundreds of millions if not several billions. According to this Wall Street Journal story (subscription required)

Google also said in the filing it recently offered Messrs. Schmidt, Brin and Page an increase in salary and bonus for 2005 based on the company's continued strong performance and on their leadership. However, the three executives declined the offer and continue to receive salaries of $1, the filing said.

Google said it made no stock-based compensation awards to the seven top executives named in the proxy in 2004. The company said that stock-based compensation, however, remains a "fundamental driver of its pay-for-performance philosophy and achievement of long-term business objectives."

Thursday, April 7, 2005

A9.com CEO on the record

Washington Posts's Leslie Walker hosted an online discussion earlier today about the future of Web search with Udi Manber, the CEO of Amazon's new search service, A9.com. You can read a transcript of the discussion here. Among other things, he says:

I am a strong believer in developing communities on the web. In fact, the web is what it is today mostly because communities were encouraged right from the beginning. One example of what we are doing in this area is our OpenSearch initiative, where we allow anyone to publish and syndicate search results though an extension to RSS. As a result, more than a hundred different search columns were added by users to A9, and every user can select any one of them as part of their search results.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Netflix still leading

While we still struggle to figure out how to make TiVo work with Comcast HDTV some three months after we got the gosh darn gizmo, our Netflix deliveries appear like clockwise in our mailbox. And, according to this New York Times story (registration), Netflix is still leading the DVD-by-mail business:

Netflix (netflix.com) has the most subscribers, too: three million customers, versus 750,000 for Blockbuster. (Wal-Mart doesn't disclose its membership numbers.) And as it turns out, 800-pound gorilladom has its privileges. You'll find far more customer movie reviews on Netflix, which can shield you from renting duds. And Netflix's power in the industry occasionally translates into exclusives and early availability; Netflix had "The Incredibles" in my mailbox on the very day it was released by Pixar. (Blockbuster - no small industry player - says that it will soon announce exclusives.)

Google goes van Gogh

In celebration of Vincent van Gogh's birthday today, the Google logo has gone van Gogh for the day. The artist was born in a Dutch village in 1853.

Can't wait for the coffee table book on the Google logos celebrating just about everything!

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Blogs and ads have a long way to go

This Wall Street Journal story (subscription required) by Jessica Mintz pinpoints the problems facing advertisers who're eager to get started on advertising on blogs. I think the lack of control over the quality and content is a continuing problem which is why ads only on blog search-related pages may be the only current option at this time:

Gawker Media, one of the biggest brands in Web log publishing, launched a saucy urban travel blog called Gridskipper on Jan. 31. On that day, the logo of the site's sole sponsor, Cendant Corp.'s Cheaptickets, could be found in ads on each page. But by Feb. 3, the company had removed its banners and boxes, leaving empty spaces on some pages [because, according to the founder, the site may have been "too naughty" for Cheaptickets].

Very few of the millions of blogs today have sponsorships or pay-per-click ads, and the numbers aren't very promising:

Most bloggers, like Ronni Bennett, a former television producer who lives in New York's Greenwich Village and writes about aging on timegoesby.net, can't even offset the cost of her Internet access. Her site gets between 1,200 and 1,500 page views a day, bringing in all of $50 since December 2004.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Who bought Ask Jeeves? InterActiveCorp

Barry Diller who has been unsucessfully trying to build "synergy" amongst his properties such as Citysearch, Evite and Ticketmaster etc. has now added search to his InterActiveCorp empire by acquiring the #5 search company, Ask Jeeves (which I believe benefits immensely from a deal with Google...so I'm not sure where it stands on its own), that recently bought a friend's RSS company, Bloglines. According to this New York Times story (registration required):

Nielsen/NetRatings calculates Ask Jeeves' share of total Internet searches at 5 percent, compared with 47 percent for Google and 21 percent for Yahoo. No. 3 is MSN from Microsoft, and No. 4 is the America Online unit of Time Warner.

But Ask.com, the flagship site of Ask Jeeves, has a far smaller audience than those numbers would indicate, with only 1.8 percent of total searches. Ask Jeeves's remaining searches come from sites acquired last year as part of its purchase of Interactive Search Holdings, including Myway.com, Iwon.com and MySearch.com. Mr. Diller said the main focus will be on Ask.com. 

Counterattacking the email spammers

According to this Wall Street Journal story (subscription required):

The most-common spam defense used to date -- software filters that attempt to identify and block out the unwanted messages -- hasn't stopped the flood of Viagra pitches, cut-rate mortgage offers, and solicitations for foolproof investment schemes swamping many inboxes. Some recent studies say 50% to 75% of e-mails carried over the Internet are spam.

But now the practice [of counterattacking the spammer with return emails] is going mainstream. International Business Machines Corp. is expected to unveil today its first major foray into the anti-spam market with a service, based on a new IBM technology called FairUCE, that uses a giant database to identify computers that are sending spam. One key feature: E-mails coming from a computer on the spam list are sent directly back to the machine, not just the e-mail account, that sent them. The more spam that comes out, the more vigorous the response.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Majority of Americans pro-euthanasia

As Washington lawmakers and the President throw politics around the case of Terri Schiavo, this New York Times story (registration required) addresses the growing support for euthanasia in this country even though Orgeon is the only state to have an assisted-suicide law on the books (with only 37 Oregonians taking advantage of the law in 2004):

There are no precise figures for how many Americans enlist their doctors' help each year in ending their lives, and support in polls for the practice varies on how the question is asked. But surveys suggest that more than half of Americans find physician-assisted suicide morally acceptable. In a 2004 Gallup survey, 65 percent agreed that a doctor should be allowed to assist a suicide "when a person has a disease that cannot be cured and is living in pain," up from 52 percent in 1996.

Experts say support for assisted suicide is likely to increase as baby boomers, long accustomed to making the decisions that shape their lives, demand a say over their deaths, as well.

Big hit for Da Vince Code author

I must be the only person in the United States who hasn't read this book...although both my siblings have copies! According to this New York Times story (registration required) on Dan Brown, the author of The Da Vince Code:

Since its release on March 18, 2003, "The Da Vinci Code," Mr. Brown's fourth novel, has sold roughly 25 million copies in 44 languages around the world, including nearly 10 million hardcover copies in the North America. That is 10 times the average sales of industry titans like John Grisham and Nora Roberts, making the book one of the fastest-selling adult novels of all time. While most books move into paperback within a year of their original publication in hardcover, Mr. Brown's publisher, Doubleday, still has not scheduled a paperback release of "The Da Vinci Code."

Starved fans, meanwhile, have snapped up everything else Mr. Brown has written: his three earlier novels, which produced barely a ripple when they were published, have now sold more than seven million copies, according to Nielsen BookScan. Based on traditional rates of author royalties, Mr. Brown has probably earned close to $50 million in the last two years from sales of his four books in the United States alone.

All the news that's too fake to print

Frank Rich writes about the Bush White House presenting fake news-like infomercials to promote its agenda in this latest New York Times column (registration required):

That $97 million [paid to public relations giant, Ketchum Communications by the Bush Administration] may yet prove a mere down payment. The Times reported last weekend that the administration told executive-branch agencies simply to ignore a stern directive by the Congressional Government Accountability Office discouraging the use of "covert propaganda" like the Karen Ryan "news reports." In other words, the brakes are off, and before long, the government could have a larger budget for fake news than actual television news divisions have for real news. At last weekend's Gridiron dinner, Mr. Bush made a joke about how "most" of his good press on Social Security came from Armstrong Williams, and the Washington press corps yukked it up. The joke, however, is on them - and us.

USA Today reported this month that the Department of Homeland Security, having failed miserably to secure American ports and air transportation from potential Al Qaeda attacks, has nonetheless shelled out $100,000-plus to hire "a Hollywood liaison": Bobbie Faye Ferguson, an actress whose credits include the movie "The Bermuda Triangle" and guest shots on television schlock like "Designing Women" and "The Dukes of Hazzard." She will "work with moviemakers and scriptwriters" to give us homeland security infotainment - which is to actual homeland security what the movie "Independence Day" is to an actual terrorist attack.

Another propagandist with a rising profile is Susan Molinari, the onetime CBS News personality who appears regularly on news shows like "Hardball" and "Capitol Report." As she bloviates from the right about Social Security or the fake newsman Jeff Gannon, she is invariably described as "a former Republican Congresswoman" or a "CNBC political analyst." But her actual current jobs remain mysteriously unmentioned: C.E.O. of the Washington Group, Ketchum's lobbying firm, and president of Ketchum Public Affairs. Were the Ketchum link disclosed, perhaps some real NBC reporter might find the nerve to ask her what other Karen Ryans and Armstrong Williamses might be on the Ketchum payroll. Or not.

Zoom in on yourself

According to Larry Magid's blog, there's a new service that launched today that let's you control what people see about you (that is, if you're one of the 25 million people covered) when they type in your name to "Google" you, so to speak, on ZoomInfo.com...although it isn't quite Googling since it delivers the results as edited/censored by you -- a good thing when you're trying to get rid of stuff that's inaccurate, defamatory or out of date, but not so good if you're just trying to get rid of stuff you don't like.

The practice of typing your name into an Internet search engine and seeing what pops up is now common, but the results can be unpredictable. The Internet holds surprising amounts of personal information between its ever-expanding corners, and some of it may be outdated, inaccurate or embarrassing.

ZoomInfo's computers have compiled individual Web profiles of 25 million people, summarizing what the Web publicly says about each person. The service, launched Monday, allows Web surfers to search for their profile, then change it for free.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Newspapers start to consider fees for online access

According to this New York Times story (registration required), only one national newspaper (the Wall Street Journal which charges $79 for non-print subscribers) and some 40 smaller newspapers out of the 1456 daily newspapers charge for complete online access. Yet the New York Times is considering ways to generate revenue from its growing online readership which in the case of many newspapers is larger than their print circulation.

This migration of readers is beginning to transform the newspaper industry. Advertising revenue from online sites is booming and, while it accounts for only 2 percent or 3 percent of most newspapers' overall revenues, it is the fastest-growing source of revenue. And newspaper executives are watching anxiously as the number of online readers grows while the number of print readers declines.

...The New York Times on the Web, which is owned by The New York Times Company, has been considering charging for years and is expected to make an announcement soon about its plans. In January, The Times's Web site had 1.4 million unique daily visitors. Its daily print circulation averaged 1,124,000 in 2004, down from its peak daily circulation of 1,176,000 in 1993.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Contemporary art thriving in Berlin

We've been looking for some great contemporary art that builds on the Abstract Expressionists' work and there is very little work out there that makes you go "Wow!". Byron Kim is one artist that we've purchased and begun to follow since his retrospective at the Berkeley Art Museum and an accompanying exhibition at the amazing Hosfelt Gallery. Seems like a lot is happening when it comes to contemporary art in today's Berlin according to this New York Times story (registration required):

"Nobody works in Berlin," he said, picking up his book again. "Everyone's either an artist or a politician."

It's an old tune, bohemia, and Berlin has heard it before, notably during the Weimar Republic. Lou Reed and David Bowie lived in Berlin during the 1970's and sang about its degenerate charms, as Brecht and Weill had celebrated them in the 20's.

Yahoo to launch Google-like advertising network for smaller sites

According to this Wall Street Journal story (subscription required):

Yahoo Inc. plans to introduce a system to broker online advertisements for small and midsize Web publishers, according to people familiar with the matter.

The move will heighten its competition with Google Inc. and signals Yahoo's belief that there is money to be made through niche sites such as Web logs, or "blogs."

Under the planned system, Yahoo will match advertisements with relevant content on partner Web sites and share the ad fees with the site owners, the people familiar with the matter said. The Sunnyvale, Calif., company currently provides such a service under negotiated contracts with larger Web sites, such as CNN.com. Yahoo is expected to provide an automated online system for site owners to sign up, similar to the one Google has used since 2003.

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