In a World of Share-It-and-Forget-It Sharing, Is There Still a Place for Delicious?


The more I think about the Delicious acquisition by YouTube founders Chad Hurley and Steve Chen, the less sense it makes to me. Delicious was one of the staples of the Web 2.0 movement – a time where everybody was talking about sharing and tagging. In reality, however, Delicious didn’t just linger in Yahoo’s care without many updates because Yahoo didn’t care, Delicious’ concept of bookmark sharing simply wasn’t an idea that seemed very appealing to Yahoo’s mainstream audience and hence probably didn’t justify the expense of developing new features.

For most users, bookmarks live in the browser and thanks to built-in or third-party sync, the only problem Delicious solved for these users (having a central repository of your bookmarks) hasn’t been an issue for years now. If anything, apps like Instapaper, as Gigaom’s Mathew Ingram also notes, have jumped into this niche with features that actually solve a problem for their users.

Update: While I wrote this, Delicious’ own founder Joshua Schachter told CNN that he himself also thinks that the service’s time has passed.

Share More – Bookmark Less

It’s a strange phenomenon, though: On the one hand, we probably share more today than we ever did thanks to services like Twitter and Facebook. The thing there, though, is that these are share-it-and-forget-it services. We send a link to Twitter and Facebook – maybe have a short discussion about them with our friends – and move on. Need to find something again? Just Google it.

There still seem to be some niche users for Delicious (sharing links with students, colleagues etc.), but for the most part, there are plenty of other solutions for this now as well, especially when you want to curate content and not just share some bookmarks.

My personal feeling then, is that there really isn’t much use of services like Delicious on the Internet today – mainstream users never cared in the first place and advanced users have moved on to other, better tools. That, of course, doesn’t mean that Delicious’ new owners couldn’t turn the service around by making it useful once again. Pure bookmarking services, however, have outlived their usefulness.

1:37 pm

Facebook Gets a "Send" Button: A More Targeted "Like"


Facebook today announced a number of new features for Facebook Groups. Group admins, for example, can now pre-approve members and Groups now also feature a Q&A and photo-sharing section. More importantly, though, Facebook also introduced a new new button that publishers can put on their site: the Send button. This button is a close relative to the Like button, but with the added twist that it allows users to selectively share a webpage with one or more of their Facebook Groups or use Facebook messaging to email it to their friends.

According to Facebook, the Send button is meant to be used alongside the traditional Like button. Facebook partnered with sites like the and the Huffington Post to launch this new feature, but if you’re currently using a Like button on your site, you can easily add a Send button by just adding send =”true” to the Like button code. You can also create the code for a stand-alone button here.

If you want to give the Send button a try, you can find one right underneath the Facebook logo at the top of this post.

Private Sharing on Facebook

The Send button is a natural evolution of the Like button. Given the public nature of Like (it’s posted to your wall for everybody to see), adding the ability to share content more selectively only makes sense for Facebook. Given that Facebook now hosts over 50 million groups, it’s clear that users want more selective ways of talking to their friends, so making it easier to also allow them to easily share content more selectively fits right in there. Most users now have a very diverse set of friends on Facebook and quite a lot of content they want to share is likely not of interest to all of their friends.

2:08 pm

Cord Cutting: It’s Easy if You Try


Cord cutting, that is cancelling your cable or satellite contract in favor of going Internet TV-only, isn’t as hard as it sounds. Chances are, unless you are a real TV addict, you can easily live without cable these days and switch over to an affordable set-top box from Roku or Boxee with a subscription to Hulu Plus and Netflix.

My Experiment in Cord Cutting

While the pundits are still discussing whether cord cutting is real, I decided to see what life without cable would be like and cancelled our cable subscription about two months ago. Since then, I’ve used nothing but a basic Roku box to watch TV shows. Indeed, if you’re already somewhat picky about the shows you watch, cutting the cord turns out to be pretty easy.

Today, for a total of $16 per month, we subscribe to Hulu Plus and the most basic Netflix plan. We still watch virtually all the shows we looked at before and when news breaks, we can watch Al Jazeera’s live stream, which more than makes up for not getting to see the talking heads on CNN, MSNBC and Fox.

Before I cancelled our cable subscription, we were already watching virtually all of our TV from a DVR anyway, so the idea of time-shifting shows was nothing new. Unlike with a DVR, Hulu Plus doesn’t let you fast-forward through ads, though. Given that it only shows one ad at a time (often as short as 15 seconds), however, these interruptions are far more bearable than the 5-minute blocks you find on regular TV.

A few words about my experience with the Roku box: It just works. Its user interface could react a bit faster and its animations could be smoother, but I have not complaints about the video quality (which is the only thing that matter in the end) and thanks to a fast Internet connection, I haven’t run into any issues with degraded video quality or buffering streams yet. The Roku, in my opinion, offers more flexibility than an Apple TV at this point (which doesn’t support Hulu Plus) and is also the cheaper option in the long run.

Missing Shows

There are major holes in the Hulu and Netflix lineup, though. There are barely any CBS shows available, for example, which means that if you are addicted to all 15 franchises of CSI, you are out of luck (same if you want to see 60 Minutes). While many Fox shows are available on Hulu Plus, American Idol is not (but you can still get your reality TV fix thanks to ABC’s Dancing with the Stars). Oddly enough, some shows (like Fox’s Fringe) don’t stream on Hulu Plus but are available for free on Hulu’s free website. Missing in action, too, for the most part, is live sports, though that is rapidly changing and you can now see both NBA and MLB games live on the Roku. I couldn’t care less about watching sports on TV, but at least it’s good to know there are options.

Filling the Holes

Of course, just because you broke off your relationship with your friendly neighborhood cable TV provider doesn’t mean you can’t get free, over-the-air TV anymore, so most of these holes are easily plugged by a simple antenna (though you would actually have to sit through the ads and be in front of your TV at the right time – just like people used to do 10 years ago…).

You Can Do It if You Try – But Know What You’re Getting Into

That said, though, cutting the cord is obviously not an option if you just need to see Oprah, Dr. Phil and every show on the Food Network. It is easily an option, though, if your TV diet mostly consists of watching the Daily Show and a few select programs that are available on Hulu and Netflix streaming. Indeed, I’ve watched uncounted hours of interesting documentaries on Netflix instead of vegging out in front of yet another mindless show on Home and Garden TV.

My advice for those who want to cut the cord: do a test run before you cancel your cable subscription. If you can switch over without the constant urge to turn on your cable box again, you’re probably good to go.

11:30 am

Why Google’s +1 Can’t Compete With Facebook’s Like


Google just launched it’s +1 button this morning. This new feature allows Google’s users to like sites and ads right on the search results page and which will soon also come to a site near you in the form of a Facebook-like “-1” button. Quite a few pundits are already proclaiming this as a Facebook competitor, but I have my doubts. For now, the benefits of clicking the +1 button simply aren’t there for users to bother clicking on them.

The +1 button will be a great new signal for Google to improve its search results and add information to its Social Search feature, but for it to really take off, Google will have to syndicate these results to places where people really want to send them. In its introductory video, Google says that it wants users to use this for sites they want to recommend, but don’t want to “want to send an email or post an update about.”

For Now, Your +1’s Disappear Into a Void – So Why Bother?

The real problem right now, tough, is that there are only so many buttons users can click on on any given site and unless they know where their recommendations go, chances are they won’t bother using this feature much.

With +1, your friends will see your “likes” on search results pages and on your Google Profile. I doubt that there is a lot of traffic to anybody’s Google Profile today, so why would I feel inclined to add more content to it? Instead, when I send a recommendation to Facebook or Twitter, I know exactly where it goes and who sees it.

Chances are, too, that my friends aren’t always looking for the same thing I do, so the chance of them actually seeing my +1 recommendations are pretty slim – making me even less inclined to use the button.

Until Google actually allows users to syndicate these +1’s to other sites and services like Facebook and Twitter, I doubt that this will take off in a major way.

That said, though, chances are that this is only a small step in Google’s overall social strategy. Maybe +1 could become part of a larger Facebook competitor in the long run, but given Google’s general failure to make any dent in this market, I doubt it (Buzz, Google’s last major foray into competing with Facebook doesn’t even get the courtesy of being allowed to aggregate +1’s, which is quite telling, I think).

12:16 pm

Proposed Update Will Make Color Even Less Useful


Last night, Color, the photo-sharing app with $41 million backing from major Valley VC firms, launched to much hype and an even greater backlash. There is no point in rehashing the discussion about it, but my personal opinion is pretty clear: the app’s concept may do well at conferences and other events (and hence I’m surprised it wasn’t launched at SXSW), but the current user experience is bad and the concept just doesn’t sound appealing to a mainstream audience. Now, however, Color’s CEO Bill Nguyen has told Mashable that “his team has heard the criticism loud and clear, and is moving fast to make changes to the app to fix its biggest problem: that people feel lonely when they use the app all by themselves.”

Here are the proposed changes:

1) if you launch the app “in the middle of nowhere,” the app simply won’t do anything – you’ll be locked out. That solves the problem of people opening the app and not knowing what to do, but it also means that 99% of potential users will face this locked down mode when they first open the app. And guess what they will do: close it and forget about it. The fact that Nguyen thinks that’s a good solution makes me doubt the future of the app even more.

2) Instead of just grouping together photos that were taken in close proximity to each other and linking the people that took it into an “elastic” group, the app will now “dynamically calculate the distance required for somebody to be considered ‘nearby.’” This, of course, waters down the whole concept of the app to the point where it’s nonsensical. If the dynamic network suddenly has a radius of half a mile instead of 150 feet, I will most likely care even less about the people who took the pictures. Sure, this will solve the “loneliness” problem – but at what cost?

The update should hit the app store by the middle of the week. The app currently has a two-star rating in Apple’s store (many users complain about crashes and – as expected – the fact that they can’t figure out what the app is supposed to do).

7:37 pm

Did Color Botch Its Launch by Launching at the Wrong Time & in the Wrong Place?


Color, the new photo sharing app from the brains behind the online music service Lala, launched last night. There are some ingenious algorithms behind the app, and while I wrote a rather scathing review of it last night, I think the app’s reception – which quickly turned from hype to backlash within a few hours – could have been very different if it had launched at a different time and in a different place.

Color was made for events, so why didn’t it launch at one (or at least earlier in the day)?

As The Next Web’s Martin Bryant rightly points out, the “natural home” for Colors is events. The app only makes sense when there are other people around you. So why wasn’t the app launched at SXSW? As an event, SXSW was almost made to launch an app like this (and where it could have easily blown all the group messaging apps out of the water this year)? At GigaOm, Matthew Ingram comes to virtually the same conclusion and wonders why “an app based on something so real-time and social seems almost perfectly matched to that kind of social environment.”

color_reactionsAlso, why was the app launched on a weekday night? If it’s meant to to be used in groups, launching it while people are most likely sitting at home just means its potential users won’t get the point of the app and move on. Most apps are never opened more than once, so unless you can immediately grasp someone’s attention, you’ve lost them. Launching on a Friday morning or early afternoon, so that people are excited to try out when they go out at night would have made more sense. That way, they would have gone out, told people about the app and could have had the experience the app was designed to deliver.

It also doesn’t help that there are no help menus that explain the app and that the only indication of what it actually does is the opening screen which tells you to “take photos together” – not exactly a phrase that highlights the point of the app. The service’s homepage on the Web also does little to explain its functionality (“Simultaneously use multiple iPhones and Androids to capture photos, videos, and conversations into a group album. There’s no attaching, uploading, or friending to do. “).

Also: Why make VC funding a part of the story?

Most people in this world couldn’t care less about how much funding an app got, but by announcing their massive $41 million funding round, the story suddenly almost became more about why it would take this much money to develop this app. Given that kind of money, any app is going to disappoint.

9:05 am

The New York Times Idiotwall


It took the New York Times almost two years and close to $40 million dollars to come up with its paywall scheme and the results neither reflect this huge investment in manpower nor money. It’s a mess that was designed by committee. I actually believe that most people would be more than willing to pay a reasonable amount for access to the NYTimes’ generally excellent reporting. The problem is, it almost feels as if the paywall was designed to scare away just those readers who would be willing to pay.

These are at least two major issues with the current system: [list type=”arrow”]

  • The current pricing scheme is utter nonsense. $15 per four weeks (not per month, mind you) for access to the website and smartphone app; $20 for the website and tablet app (but not smartphone); a whopping $35 for unlimited access on any device. Chances are, the majority of today’s readers aren’t willing to pay $15, let alone $35. Also, as long as it’s cheaper to get a Sunday-only print subscription (which includes unlimited access on all devices) than a digital-only subscription, you know that the NYTimes is still beholden to its legacy print ways and looking backwards instead of forwards to the inevitable day when the last print edition rolls off the presses.
    The New York Times building in New York, NY ac...

    Image via Wikipedia

    If the NYTimes charged $5 or $10 per month without the device restrictions currently in place (they could learn from Hulu and Netflix here), the number of additional subscribers would easily make up for the smaller revenue generated per reader (just look at the iOS App Store for how this works in practice).

    In the days of Times Select, the NYTimes’ first paywall project that only blocked access to opinion pieces, bloggers would simply republish the articles on their sites. Unsurprisingly, some enterprising hackers have already found ways to route around this new system (three lines of JavaScript is all it takes, by the way). As John Gruber notes, if you want people to pay, keep your pricing simple. For $5 per month, nobody would bother routing around the NYTimes paywall, but given how confusing it is, it will likely be easier to route around it than to pay.

  • The system for giving limited free access to all readers is highly confusing. Most NYT readers will never quite understand when and why they are running out of their monthly 20 article allotment. Links for Twitter, blogs and search engines are free – but for some reason still count towards the monthly allotment anyway. So you could run out of your 20 free articles long before you even navigated to the NYTimes homepage. Of course, you can still read more articles through blog and social media links, but you won’t be able to really use the NYTimes homepage anymore.What about those times when you click on a link and don’t even know where it’s taking you? Bad luck. You just used another of your 20 monthly articles.

    It’s also worth noting that in this system, the long, expensive and exclusive Sunday magazine article is worth just as much as the news piece that you could find in virtually the same form on a dozen other sites.

    The idea behind this porous paywall is to ensure that “drive-by” visitors, which supposedly make up 80% of the site’s traffic, won’t have to pay and will continue to drive ad impressions on the site. As word spreads that the NYTimes is now a site you have to pay for, though, fewer and fewer people will click on links as they won’t understand how the paywall works in the first place. [/list]

Overall then, this is, as Danny Sullivan so eloquently points out, not a pawyall but “an idiotwall. Designed by idiots to get money from idiots, the idioci.

That’s quite a shame, because there is no reason to believe that a simplified pricing scheme with cheaper prices and without device restrictions couldn’t work.

Confusopoly 1

9:59 pm

What Twitter's 5th Anniversary Video Tells Us About Its Future


Twitter celebrates its 5th anniversary today. The company, which has recently taken to annoying its users with the #dickbar and is working hard on alienating its developer ecosystem, decided to mark its birthday with a celebrity-studded video featuring Piers Morgan, Snoop Dogg, Hillary Clinton and Serena Williams, among many others. In it, Snoop Dogg tells us why he follows Martha Stewart, Piers Morgan explains that his show prep largely consists of checking out what his guests are saying on Twitter (which explains a lot, I think) and a musician named Julian Perretta says that he uses Twitter as a way of “learning what [he] should do” (which also explains a lot).

Mainstream Twitter

More so than anything else, though, this video tells us something about how the folks at Twitter HQ are positioning their service for a mainstream audience. Twitter, according to this video, is about following celebrities. It’s a not a social network. It’s more about who you follow than what you share. In the blog post accompanying this video, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone notes that “the people who use Twitter have made it what it is today, and on our fifth birthday, it’s the people that make Twitter special who we are celebrating.” So who is making Twitter so special and who is worth celebrating? Judging from this video, it’s celebrities like Snoop Dogg, not the millions of regular people who use the service every day. When Twitter tells you that it wants to help you “discover your world,” it seems to assume that your world mostly revolves around Snoop Dogg and Hillary Clinton.

Losing Touch With the Early Adopters?

It’s hard not to think that Twitter is slowly losing touch with many of its users. First the useless #dickbar (which somebody at Twitter HQ must have thought was a good idea) then a notice to developers that it’s time to stop developing new Twitter clients, and now this anniversary video, which for the most part ignores all the typical ways in which Twitter’s core group of users uses the service.

Looking forward, we can probably expect more of this from Twitter, as it tries to gain a larger mainstream audience and continues to search for a viable business model. If Facebook is the site that helps you keep in touch with your friends and family, then Twitter wants to be the service that help you keep tabs on your favorite celebrities.

Compare that to this draft of a promo video Twitter (then still known as Twttr) commissioned in 2006:

10:22 am

A Few Notes About SXSW 2011


I just got back from Austin yesterday and after a day of recuperating from the craziness that is SXSW, here are my thoughts about this year’s event. Quite a bit has been written about it already, so the fact that it’s getting bigger (maybe too big), very commercial and without any real news value doesn’t come as a surprise, even to those who weren’t there this year. But none of these things are what SXSW is about – it’s about the people, the networking, and the new friendships forged in hallways and over free ice cream at Club de Ville.

The Startup Fetish

Before the event, GigaOm’s Stacey Higginbotham rightly asked if startups had become a fetish at SXSW, and after this year’s event, I think the answer to this is a resounding “yes.” Supposedly, this year was the year of group messaging apps. Indeed, I did see quite a few of those in use this year (though I didn’t use a single one myself and didn’t feel like I was missing out), but there really wasn’t a standout hit that everybody was talking about. Actually – as Charlie O’Donnell points out so well – Twitter’s breakout year at SXSW in 2007 was an exception. Counting in Foursquare’s semi-hit at SXSW last year, these are rare exceptions and “not enough to keep watch for it every year.”

This year was also completely devoid of any real news. The keynotes were interesting enough and didn’t turn into total disasters like last year, but they also didn’t offer anything worth writing about from a news perspective.

Some Additional Observations:

Leaving all of this aside, here are some of my thoughts about this year’s event:[list]

  • I thought Yobongo would hit it big, but I did not see a lot of people using it. Beluga, on the other hand, seemed to get decent traction.
  • there was no real breakout app – indeed, there were too many services clamoring for attention to even try them all before getting to Austin.
  • the LiquidSpace bus behind the convention center was very cool. Great place to just kick back and work a bit away from the craziness.
  • the lines to get into parties are getting ridiculous. No wonder the hotel bars are now the best place to meet people. No lines, good drinks (though not free), no advertising and no loud music that prevents you from actually talking to people.
  • the spread out campus system kept me from going to quite a few interesting sessions.
  • the quality of this year’s panels and presentations was higher than last year’s (though maybe I was just lucky).
  • the trade show was a good source of free t-shirts, but generally not that interesting. Props to WordPress, though. The WP Genius Bar was a great idea.
  • the Interactive Awards show was a lot of fun (I had never been before). Host Chris Hardwick kept things on track and the surprise performance by the Gregory Brothers was the icing on the cake (though some in the audience were apparently not familiar with the Bed Intruder song…).[/list]

Bonus: The good folks at Adobe did a nice video with audience members after the panel I moderated:

11:10 am

Twitter's Updated iPhone App Annoys Users With Unnecessary Focus on Trending Topics


Twitter today launched an update to its iOS apps that brings lots of welcome new features (automatic shortening of links, autocomplete for usernames and easier photo uploads) but also puts far too much emphasis on trending topics in the iPhone app. Every time you scroll to the top of your stream on the iPhone, Twitter will now show you a trending topic at the top.

For Twitter, of course, this makes sense. After all, it sells promoted trends for good money (Google Hotpot bought a spot today, for example). For the most part, trending topics on Twitter tend to be dominated by celebrity gossip and Justin Bieber. It’s hard to see how this makes the app better, unless you really care about Charlie Sheen (trend: #tigerblood – no idea why…), the fact that it’s #Friday and that people care about #BYU, #iTunes and #Facebook.

Doing a search for “quick bar” on Twitter, it’s clear that most users feel this way. Sadly, Twitter doesn’t give users the ability to turn this “feature” off. In its own announcement, Twitter called the “quick bar” a “very cool update.” I beg to differ and hope that Twitter will either allow people to turn this off for free or sell an ad-free version soon.

2:30 pm

Is Apple Getting Too Greedy? Demands 30% Cut of In-App Subscriptions


After a lot of confusion earlier this year, Apple today finally clarified its rules for in-app subscriptions for magazines, newspapers, video and music. The rules are very straightforward: Publishers can continue to sell digital subscriptions on their own websites and give free access to existing subscribers. Apple will not take a cut from these transactions. Publishers who offer out-of-app subscriptions, though, also have to offer in-app subscriptions and the price has to be the same or lower than for subscriptions processed outside of the app. Apple will take a 30% cut from these in-app transactions.

This is a rather hefty fee for processing a transaction given that most credit card processors just charge around 2.5% and a small transaction fee (generally around $0.25). It’s also worth noting that it looks as if Apple will take this same cut whenever a subscriber renews a subscription, though this isn’t 100% clear yet. This new subscription plan will become mandatory starting June 30.

Steve Jobs: “Our Philosophy is Simple”

Just in case developers think they can just provide a link to their regular web-based subscription service in their apps and circumvent Apple’s system, the rules explicitly state that “publishers may no longer provide links in their apps (to a website, for example) which allow the customer to purchase content or subscriptions outside of the app.”

In the words of Apple CEO Steve Jobs: “Our philosophy is simple—when Apple brings a new subscriber to the app, Apple earns a 30 percent share; when the publisher brings an existing or new subscriber to the app, the publisher keeps 100 percent and Apple earns nothing.” That does sound fair, but in reality, chances are that the majority of new customers for subscription services will come from apps and given that developers aren’t allowed to route around the system, this 30% cut become a major issue for some publishers.

Can Publishers Afford This Without Raising Prices?

You can currently buy an annual subscription to Wired on Amazon for $10 and getting National Geographic for a year costs $15 per year. Will these magazines have to offer the same prices for the app-based versions of their products? (Or do these “promotional” prices not count?) If Hulu has to give Apple $2.40 of every $7.99 subscription it sells, can it still make a profit? Or will Apple’s move force them to raise their prices across the board?

It is, of course, a good thing that Apple is making it easier for consumers to buy subscriptions and helps publishers acquire new subscribers. Having to pay a 30% fee for these services does seem quite steep, though, especially given that Apple now owns the customer and not the publishers.

11:37 am

Why You Shouldn't Trust the uSamp Verizon iPhone Survey


Saturday’s are usually slow days in the tech news world, but thanks to a new survey (PDF) from online research firm uSamp that argues that 44% of Verizon Android users and 26% of AT&T iPhone users will wait in line to get a Verizon iPhone on the first day it goes on sale, we have something fun to chat about.

Here are the most interesting results of the survey: 44% of Verizon Android users are very likely (19%) or somewhat likely (25%) to buy an iPhone on February 10. About 26% of AT&T iPhone owners are either very likely (8%) or somewhat likely (18%) to get in line for a Verizon iPhone on day one.

Now, given the huge demand for Verizon iPhones, there can be little doubt that it will be a huge hit for both Verizon and Apple. I’m not doubting that at all. What I do doubt, however, are the survey results from uSamp. Here are some of the problems I see with this survey and the way it’s currently portrayed:


  • How does uSamp recruit panelists? That one was a bit harder to find out, but as far as I can see, panelists are recruited through Opinion Place – a service owned by the same company as uSamp that pays panelists in Paypal credits, Amazon gift cards and American Airlines frequent flier miles. Basically, these people take surveys to make a buck – not exactly a trustworthy methodology.
  • Opinion Place 1

  • If you read all the way to the end of the survey, you see that a lot of people have “second thoughts about switching.” Once asked about these second thoughts, the number of switchers from AT&T to Verizon suddenly drops from 26% to 15%. Same for Verizon RIM and Android customers. The number of potential switchers drops from 54% to 25% after the survey asks if they still plan to switch, no matter the cost of switching, concerns about network speeds and the possibility that lots of iPhones could slow down Verizon’s network. This once again makes me wonder of the panelists who took this survey.
  • Related to this: I never trust a survey that asks consumers about future purchase decisions (see the ChangeWave iPhone survey from January for an example and more explanation). Saying ‘yes’ about buying something in the future is very easy. Doing it is a lot harder (especially if early termination fees play a role).
  • as far as I can see, this is only the second survey uSamp’s published under its own name. That doesn’t have to be a negative, but one could argue that uSamp doesn’t have a lot of experience in running its own surveys. The first survey – about consumer sentiments ahead of the holidays – seems quite reasonable, but maybe those questions were more in line with topics the paid uSamp panelists knew something about…

I’m happy to be proven wrong here. As I said above, I’m not doubting that the Verizon iPhone will be a huge hit and that lots of people will switch. I just think this survey isn’t the best way to prove that.

6:45 pm

Hacker Shows It Doesn’t Take $8 Million to Clone Qwiki – Just 321 Lines of HTML Will do the Trick


Qwiki is an app that creates pretty slideshows based on Wikipedia entries. The service won the top award at the last Techcrunch Disrupt conference and just received $8 million in new funding from a group led by Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin.

Personally, I never understood why putting together a text-to-speech engine with a Ken Burns effect was disruptive. The VCs on the Disrupt jury thought different, though, and chose this pretty but ultimately utterly useless service over really disruptive ones like CloudFlare. Apparently I'm not the only one who thinks so. Now, just to show how Qwiki didn't merit the large new round of funding and how it doesn't deserve the constant hype on tech blogs like Techcrunch, an intrepid hacker who goes by the name of "Banksy the Lucky Stiff" put together Fqwiki, a workable Qwiki clone in just 321 Lines of HTML.

In the source code, the developer clearly references that the reason for this project was to show how easy it is to implement the basic functionality of Qwiki: "This code is not pretty, but it doesn't need to be. It's only been 6 hours, but based on funding patterns I should be able to raise a few million off of this ;)." The first demo of Fqwiki you see after opening the site is its rendition of the Wikipedia entry for "snake oil."

Fqwiki works best in Safari and Chrome, isn't quite as visually pleasing as Qwiki and is still quite buggy. As a smart critique of Qwiki and the hype around it, it definitely fulfills its purpose already, though.

Indeed, more so than a product, Fqwiki is a comment on the current state of VC funding and tech blogging. Qwiki is a very pretty product, but it's hard to see why it deserves the funding and attention it has been receiving. As of now, it only reads out Wikipedia entries and pulls matching pictures from articles that were linked to from the original Wikipedia entry. It's hard to imagine a situation where you would prefer seeing a Wikipedia slideshow (which, like all good slideshows, takes way too long) over just reading the article.

8:59 pm

Google Plays Catch-Up with Upcoming Groupon Clone


Groupon is the hottest thing on the Internet today. It doesn’t come as a surprise that Google is preparing to launch a Groupon clone of its own now after an unsuccessful attempt to buy the company outright – but maybe it should. After all, the daily deal market is already full of competitors in every possible niche and Google is only a few months late to the party. There was a time where Google was launching innovative products – now it’s just launching clones – and some of them, like Buzz, aren’t even able to make much of a dent in their market.

Google sent the following statement to a few media outlets, confirming that it plans to launch Google Offers soon:

“Google is communicating with small businesses to enlist their support and participation in a test of a pre-paid offers/vouchers program. This initiative is part of an ongoing effort at Google to make new products, such as the recent Offer Ads beta, that connect businesses with customers in new ways. We do not have more details to share at this time, but will keep you posted.”

There is nothing new here, though. This is not a new way for businesses to connect with customers. Thanks to Groupon, LivingSocial and their plethora of clones, businesses have been doing this for years now. Judging from what we know about Google Offers, this will just be a straight up clone of Groupon (down to the pithy write-ups).

There is nothing innovative about Google Offers as far as I can see. It’s just the same old concept, with the same old deals. Makes you wonder if Google is losing its ability to innovate.


Can Google Succeed?

So what are Google’s chances to succeed in this market? On the plus side, Google can quickly hire enough sales personnel to sell these offers and its name should give it enough clout to sign up lots of local businesses. Google could also show a one-time message to all of its Gmail customers to sign up for this with one click and immediately get a few million subscribers – but that could also land the company in hot water.

On the other hand, though, if it only offers deals that are similar to Groupon, will users really want to sign up for yet another deal-of-the-day email?

How long until daily deal fatigue sets in with consumers?

Image credit: Mashable

9:43 pm

Is There Still a Future for Google Knol?


Remember Google’s Knol? The company’s answer to Wikipedia? If you don’t, you are not alone. Indeed, it’s questionable whether Google itself remembers Knol. As the intrepid Google-watchers at the Google Operating System pointed out yesterday, not only does the site seem to suffer from major performance issues, but the site’s software hasn’t been updated for over a year now. Before that, Google updated the site’s release notes at least once per month.

While it started out as a product with lots of hype and some good activity from its users and even support from some scientific communities, Knol today is simply a mess. While the homepage shows a widget with the most discussed, top viewed and highest rated Knols, none of those links actually work. There are still featured articles on the site, but the fact that these receive fewer than 200 pageviews per week indicates the low level of traffic on the site today. The articles featured under the “What’s New” headline are often more than a month – and sometimes more than a year – old. The view count for these articles on the homepage is also completely off and just loading the homepage currently often takes close to a minute. As Frank Watson notes on SearchEngineWatch, the site also suffers from issues with its RSS feeds and from a steady influx of spammers.


There does seem to be a healthy science community on Knol, though, which could make it harder for Google to shut the site down quietly.

For now, it looks like Google has simply abandoned the site and whoever used to be in charge of upkeep has moved on. Keeping it up and running is probably so cheap that it’s easy enough for a company of Google’s size. With Google Notebook, it has set a precedent for keeping abandoned services up and running without developing them any further. Maybe that’s what the company is trying to do here as well.

6:18 pm