NY Times in your face this weekend

Over the past couple of days I’ve found myself reading a lot of NY Times stories – through listings on memetrackers ([1] and [2]), but also links from blogs I read and even del.icio.us popular.

“Hmmm”, I thought as I realised I was on my 3rd NYT story of the day… but then discarded it – even though I’m not a regular NYT user. “Must be luck.”.

However, Valleywag has picked it up too – so maybe NY Times are doing something interesting to get their stories out?

I’d like to think it’s “writing better stories” but I wonder whether they have anything going on to, well, maybe not ‘game’ the memetrackers, but perhaps ‘put their best foot forward’ so to speak?

Anyone else noticed this or can put an explainer on it?

Google would love to buy Yahoo! (so would Fox, AT&T, Microsoft…)

“I’m sure they would”, you might say.

But the reason for mentioning it is that (technically and financially) they probably could.

Looking at Google – it would be a smart buy for them – although perhaps not for us consumers. Not only would Google wipe out their nearest competition they would also bolster their many floundering and under-performing non-search properties. If YouTube is the magic ingredient Google needs for video, Yahoo! offers a veritable smörgåsbord of delights – including two different takes on photo-sharing, significant email userbase, design skills, social networking skills… the list goes on.

Down to business

The reason these noises are beginning to surface is simple: Yahoo!’s shares have taken a tumble since the beginning of the year – currently being traded at mere $24.42. That’s way off the year-to-date high of $43.66 and not much lift above their bottomed-out price of $23.57.

The reasons for the slump are numerous (Google, ironically, has a nice price-to-pressrelease chat to check out on its finance site) but anouncements back in July that new search/advertising platform ‘Panama’ would be delayed gave an already falling YHOO stock a heavy beating.

With a market cap. of just $34.15B and an annual cash flow of $2bn, Yahoo! is becoming a potential take-over target… and the vultures might be beginning to circle.

Some have mentioned access providers as potential suitors, others Microsoft (for whom Yahoo! would also be potentially a good market fit). However Google – with it’s massive revenues, generally well accepted competitiveness against it’s nearest rival, and of course it’s cash in the bank – would perhaps be the King Vulture in this instance… ever hungry despite just tucking into the fresh meat that was YouTube.

Anti-competitive and Anti-trust: welcome to the EU Effect

Alas for Google, rejoice for us (the consumer), and probably rejoice for most/all of the Yahoo!’s in Sunnyvale, it’s very unlikely to happen. Resistance, it appears, is not always futile and the Borg-like Google may not be able to assimilate this time around.

Over on the other side of the pond, my Europeans brothers can’t help but get involved in such matters. Welcome to the world of monopoly commissions and anti-competitive/anti-trust investigations.

You see Yahoogle! wouldn’t go down well in Brussels (home of the European Commission). Yahoogle! would control practically of the search market, and perhaps more importantly to the EU Trade people, most of the online advertising market.

Despite neither Google or Yahoo! being ‘European companies’, they both operate significant amounts of their business in the in the EU and have listed businesses in many EU countries – so it all applies under the EU Trade Treaties. Just like Seatle based-Microsoft and it’s Anti-Trust cases in Windows (including recent events with Vista on this front), Yahoogle would come under the same investigation.

So where do we go from here?

If a Google/Yahoo! deal is off the cards, clearly that doesn’t stop someone with deep pockets and little over-lapping (read:little perceived anti-competitive) business interests with from taking a look at Sunnyvale’s finest.

I think most people would baulk at the thought of an AT&T owned Yahoo! – but it could happen (AT&T already have a connectivity co-brand deal with Yahoo!, of course).

What about Fox Yahoo!, anyone? Yahoo! want to be a media company, and maybe Rupert Murdoch can make their wish come true?

Or what about Microsoft? Bill’s off because he knows that the page is turning on the software of his day – and now the rest of the MSFT execs need to embrace the new chapter. Can the Live.com crew be their saviours – or would the amalgamation of Yahoo!’s social and online acumen with Microsoft’s software heritage produce the definitive response to an Eric Schmidt-facilitated Google/Apple onslaught? (Schmidt now sits on both boards, don’t forget)

IMHO Yahoo! will remain strongest if it’s left on it’s own: not playing to the whims of a master who sees it as an advertising cash-cow, and neither fully understands or fully cares what Yahoo! is trying to do in the rest of the market.

But in order for Semel and Co to be fully assured of that independence they need to get cracking to make sure the stock doesn’t fall any lower – and if anything, it rallies back closer to it’s original form.

Meanwhile, it might be time to call the broker to buy some YHOO stock… Terry Semel is probably doing everything he can to get the stock price out of harms way, meanwhile a take-over offer above market rate would also yield a nice ROI.

And if you think I’m all wrong, at least I ain’t advocating cancer-stick merchants Phillip Morris buy Yahoo! “to confuse the hell out of Google”!

The fascinating tale of the pro-feminist male blogger and the porno sell-out

(seeing as everyone seems to have a bee in their bonnet about good blog writing style, particularly headlines, how’s that for a blog title, eh?)

This is the intriguing story of the (male) owner of a popular multi-author pro-feminism blog, who hits hard times and needs to make some money quick. Enter the cunning SEO agent who has panache for improving the hit rates of his porno-peddling clientele…

Barry Deutsch is a political cartoonist who also runs the blog “Alas” which specialises in a pro-feminism view point. Recent posts include “Another Gender Essentialist Study– on Clothes and Ovulation”, “In Defense Of No-Fault Divorce” and “Protecting children from their depressed, working-class parents”. Interesting and thought-provoking stuff.

So it seems slightly odd that on the same site, one can find promotional links and write-ups of the latest porn sites, including Amateur Allure (NSFW) and MILF Next Door (NSFW) (whose review includes the line “These smokin’ hot moms aren’t taken care of at home, so they look elsewhere to satisfy their needs” – maybe this is the flip-side of all these depressed, working-class parents that the Alas bloggers are examining? :) ).

The explanation given as to why these explicit reviews sit awkwardly with the pro-feminist prose (albeit on a marginally separate part of the site) is as follows…

“…I was in real financial trouble – we were paying all our bills, but by a slimmer margin each month, and if things had kept on going that way it was only a matter of time before we’d come up short. Plus, one person in the house hadn’t been able to pay his rent in a long time, while another seemed on the verge of being unemployed (although as it turned out, that was a false alarm)…”

Barry also reveals that his web host was informing him that due to the popularity and functionality of his blog he really needed to pay for a (more expensive) dedicated server account.

…”a buyer approached me offering to purchase amptoons.com, so he could use it to improve search engine rankings for his clients (how that all works isn’t something I have any knowledge of). He offered a substantial sum of money – not enough to erase my money worries, but enough to ease the pressure for a while. Plus he offered to provide a free dedicated server for ‘Alas’.”

It’s a shame Barry didn’t understand what he was getting himself into. The sneaky SEO’er was essentially buying the PageRank generated by the goodwill linkage that his domain had received. It’s disappointing that the opportunity to continue to blog one the same domain (post-sale) was sadly seen by Barry as a kind favour – when in fact it was a cunning ruse to keep those in-bound links pointing to the domain when the blog would have otherwise disappeared.

Barry does concede however:

“I kept the [porn] links off of ‘Alas’, but I knew that he would be putting links to porn on his own pages [on the domain].”

I’m still dumb-struck that a pro-feminist would knowingly give up control of his wider webiste (albeit not the blog itself) to someone who was openly going to paste porn links across it.

There was pretty much a furious response from the pro-feminism community, as one would expect. Many cited particular issues not only around the sale of the domain but also that the expectation that a pro-feminism blog would continue to be served right next to this kind of linkage/content.

Hugo Schwyzer writes:

“Amp has been one of the most important voices in the pro-feminist men’s blogging community; indeed, he might well be the best-known male feminist blogger.

All of us, however, are concerned with the impact that the male-dominated, male-centered commercial sex industry has on our lives. All of us are concerned with the impact on the women who work in the ‘industry’. Alas, A Blog was a forum for discussing this very topic. But it is impossible to see Amp’s blog as ‘safe ground’ for that discussion when it is sponsored and supported by pornographers.”

Dr. Violet Socks (I couldn’t confirm the exact nature of her docterate) wrote more bluntly:

“Barry didn’t bother to tell any of his readers about this until someone discovered the links and asked him what the fuck was going on. Even now I’m not sure most of his readers are aware of it, since Barry’s explanatory post didn’t allow comments and so rapidly sank to the bottom of the list.

I think this is absolutely vile.

There is a large contingent of feminists who oppose pornography on explicitly feminist grounds, so it’s definitely a feminist issue. It’s not like Barry’s just linking to stock-car racing sites or something that is of no concern to his feminist readers. That’s why it was dishonest of him, I think, not to be upfront about this. The pro-porn feminists who are fine with XXX BangBros can continue to patronize Alas, but the feminists who don’t want to support that kind of thing deserve to be aware of what the site is linking to.”

It raises all sorts of questions that the pro-feminism blogosphere needs to address – which are beyond the scope of my blog post. However, there are some interesting and important issues for the wider blogosphere to think about and digest.

The main point for me here is that having ran a fairly long-term and established blog on a niche topic, the ultimate value of the site was only realized when it was turned into a porno link site – what gives? Why did the owner of what looked like a pretty well written, interesting and valid blog end up having to sell out to a pornography SEO merchant? Did he exhaust all of his more traditional monetization opportunities (link adverts, etc) and if so, why was his content not felt valuable enough by advertisers to provide an income that at the very least could off-set the technical serving needs of the site (a $100pm dedicated server in this instance)?

Where were the site’s community in all of this – were they aware of the financial issues and given an opportunity to donate/help find funding, etc?

There is also the important issue of the integrity of blogs when the sites/domains they live on are sold to third-parties who have an alternative (often ulterior) motive for the site. By having Barry continue to blog on the domain, the SEO guy was setting up something very smart (albeit negative). I can see this model occuring elsewhere, because on the face of it it’s a win-win for both the blogger and the SEO merchant (but undernethe bad news for both the blogosphere and the blogger concerned).

It’s a shame, however, Barry couldn’t or wouldn’t see that his editorial independence – and thus his credibility in that expert community – was being flushed down the toilet by accepting this offer. I’m sure this could apply to many other bloggers given hard times and a golden cheque being waved in their face. But in this case, he not only soiled his own reputation but potentially those of the co-authors of the blog.

Barry makes the point in a response to the critisism that what he has done is no different to being hosted on blogger.com, where you have no control over who else is blogging on the wider site – and of course there are probably more spam blogs on Blogger than anywhere else.

The response to that, of course, is that you have no control of what others do on Blogger.com and they have no control on you. Your own independence is not jeopardized and maybe only your credibility as a blogger is dented (slightly – if you’re blog is really worth something you might demonstrate that by paying for some hosting but that’s not true for every good blog)

Finally, perhaps the saddest thing of all for Barry is that he’s actually been cheated in his contract. He says that he was promised to be hosted on a dedicated server but alas some technical IP lookups show that he is actually being served from the same box that hosts such bastions of bad taste as FistMyWifePlease.net, CastingCouchTeensOnline.com and BabyGotBoobsOnline.com.

15 sites are hosted from this box, which probably makes it no different to the shared hosting environment amptoons.com (Barry’s old domain) was hosted on before.

I’ve given Barry a hard time on this blog post – my one wish is that if he reads this post he can use the technical evidence I’ve ended on as some kind of leverage away from his original for-porn deal.

OpenRightsGroup seeks full-time Executive Director

My good friend Suw Charman is seeking a full-time Executive Director for the Open Rights Group (ORG). Suw is of course the current ‘non-full-time’ Executive Director, however she is unable to take a full-time role which presumably the organisation now needs.

The ORG is a non-profit advocacy group funded by small grants and donations that raises awareness of issues such as privacy, identity, data protection, access to knowledge and copyright reform. ORG is interesting in participating in both education and policy reform in this areas.

The specifics of the job are as follows (full job spec):

Job title: Executive Director
Organisation: The Open Rights Group
Location: London/Online (must have home office)
Salary: Neg
Type: Full-time
Start date: ASAP
Closing Date for Applications: 13 November 2006.

ORG now needs a full time Executive Director (ED) to build our supporter numbers and expand our activities. The ED reports to the ORG Board, and has the support of an Advisory Council of digital rights experts.

The ED will be a passionate, professional and decisive self-starter who can prioritise a substantial work load, manage staff, lead volunteers and talk eloquently to the media. She/he will be responsible for:

* Maintaining a sustainable organisation in terms of numbers of members and staff, participation, income, public profile and reputation.
* Preparing and executing ORG’s strategy based on a balance of media work and policy influence.
* Increasing the public’s understanding of, and engagement with, a range of digital rights issues.

Desired skills and experiences include:

* Management experience, preferably for a NGO/not-for-profit or start-up.
* Expertise, or the willingness to acquire expertise across the full range of digital rights issues.
* Media, public communications and campaigning work.
* Knowledge of law or public affairs strongly valued.
* Experience of internet-based communications and management tools (including WordPress, MediaWiki and Socialtext) highly beneficial.

The ORG has a fantastic mission – so if it sounds like the type of thing you’d be interested in, check out the ORG website for more details.

Carphone Warehouse buys AOL UK

Carphone Warehouse, parent company to the much criticised ‘free broadband’ play TalkTalk, has announced it is buying AOL UK. The deal was agreed at £370m/$687m – with last year’s profits coming in at $14.1m and gross assets as of last December valued at $77.9m. AOL UK has 600k dial-up users and 1.5m broadband customers.

AOL’s parent company TimeWarner wanted to off-load the access business in what I guess is a generally unimportant territory for them.

Interestingly AOL UK will stay branded as ‘AOL UK’ and not be merged into the TalkTalk brand. Further more AOL and CPWH have agreed an advertising deal across both the TalkTalk and AOL UK portals (does anyone use ISP portals anymore??).

I’m not sure what to make of the news – CPWH is in dire trouble with the free broadband’ aspect of it’s TalkTalk business but it sounds like it’s going to keep AOL’s platform separate rather than use it to improve the service for it’s existing ISP customers.

AOL launched FreeOpenRide last week – a ‘browser’ (well, actually a new skin for Internet Explorer) that brings together browsing, multimedia and IM to the same window (much like Flock). This is one of the first publicly launched examples of AOL’s new direction, which is effectively getting out of the access business altogether.

Les Blogs III: Dec 11 + 12 2006, Paris

Loic Le Muer informs us that Les Blogs III will be returning to Paris on December 11 and 12.

LesBlogs 2 conference

I’m not going to be going, before anyone asks. I’m, er, busy…

Actually I fly home to the UK on Dec 19th from San Francisco. It’s already booked so the dates just don’t work. Also Paris was really cold last year. Also… er…

But I genuinely wish SixApart, TechCrunch, NetVibes, Jeff Clavier and everyone else organising the event the best of luck with it.

If you’re in the area do check it out. Loic has even promised better food, with last year’s famously being described by a good friend of mine (who will remain nameless… Kevin) as “a culinary experiment in nano-technology”. I’m sure the French cuisine will be much better this year…

Investment opportunity: buy shrink-wrapped Win XP now!

An interesting + valid perspective about the value of Windows XP in a Vista-realm.

Windows XP in a box Windows Vista

When Vista is launched, Microsoft will take XP off the shelves. You won’t be able to buy a (ahem, legal) copy of Windows XP for love nor money.

Most business’s don’t migrate to a new OS version overnight, so they’ll be wanting legal copies. ‘Pro-sumer’ users who buy new systems may want to dual-boot Windows XP if Vista isn’t compatible with their existing software or hardware. And with such radical changes, there may even be ‘normal’ people who just prefer to stick with what they’re used to and thus will want to downgrade their new systems to XP.

The answer, the original blog poster raises, might be to buy shrink-wrapped Win XP now, and sell it on at a profit when Vista ships. Interesting.