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36 posts from December 2006

Google Blog Search Passes Technorati?

GoogleblogsearchI'm truly surprised.  Not that it happened, but that it took this long.  According to this Hitwise report, Google Blog Search recently surpassed Technorati in market share of visits.

I use Google's Blog Search almost exclusively, and not because it's conveniently linked to from other Google sites.  I just find it to be as fast, clean and full of relevant results as Google itself.  Technorati, on the other hand, tends to take a loooooooong time to generate results.  Then there's Icerocket; I sometimes try it out if I don't find what I'm looking for on Google Blog Search, which is rare.

Google may have a hard time chipping away at Microsoft's market share with their free web-based spreadsheet and word processor, but search is what their brand name is all about, so it's hard to go wrong with their Blog Search tool.


Microsoft Giveth then Taketh Away

Microsoft_3File this one under "What were they thinking?!" As has been reported all over the place, Microsoft had a great idea to seed the blogosphere with souped-up laptops running their new operating system, Vista.  The bloggers received these "gifts" in the hope that they would have something nice to say about Vista and help jumpstart the product launch.

FWIW, I agree with Robert Scoble on this.  It was a smart idea even though it was obviously going to lead to pay-for-post type criticism.  I tend to feel that if the blogger fully discloses the fact that they've been given the laptop, let them say whatever they want about Vista/Microsoft; if you've read the disclosure and don't want to read their review, go to another site!

But what started out as a good idea is rapidly crashing and burning.  After Microsoft originally told the bloggers they could keep the laptops, enough whining and complaining in the blogosphere (no doubt led by those who didn't get a free laptop!) is now causing Microsoft to change the offer.

According to this post on Marshall Kirkpatrick's blog, Microsoft sent a follow-up message to all the bloggers saying that "you either give the PC away or send it back when you no longer need it for product reviews."  I hope that message came with a nice Homer Simpson "doh!" sound.

Who's the genius at Microsoft who decided to make a somewhat good situation much worse?  My guess is they'll be laying rather low for the next week or so, hoping this whole thing blows over.


Author Wants Out of Amazon

Amazon_1Here's an unusual situation, and thanks to The Big Bad Book Blog for highlighting this one: According to this article in the Guardian, an author in the U.K. was horrified to see his book on Amazon.uk and wants it removed.  The author is a huge supporter of the independent bookstore channel and doesn't want Amazon to steal sales from the little guys.

That's a noble cause and all, but his comments show he doesn't quite understand how Amazon operates.  He is quoted as follows:

What they (Amazon) are actually doing is getting the independents to do their market research.  When a book gets a certain amount of attention, they will attempt to stock it and cut the independents out. Not with my book!

Huh?  First of all, I've never really noticed Amazon trying to copy anything from brick-and-mortar accounts.  If anything it's the other way around.  Secondly, thanks to its virtual nature, Amazon stocks pretty much every book, so they're not waiting for success at the independent level before taking on inventory of their own.  Again, my experience has been that certain books show early success on Amazon, resulting in stock-up opportunities at the brick-and-mortar accounts.  This author seems to think the opposite happens...


Amazon: Why No Embedded HTML in Reviews?

AmazonAnytime I review a book here on my blog I also try to (remember to) cut-and-paste that same review on the book's page on Amazon.  One of the biggest frustrations I run into when doing this is Amazon's policy against embedding HTML in customer reviews.

I figure there are two reasons why they don't want you to embed HTML in your review: loss of traffic and dead links.  Neither one of these are bad enough to warrant Amazon's policy against them.

The primary reason I'd like to embed HTML in my reviews is to offer links to related sites/pages.  Yes, those links will cause customers to visit pages outside the world of Amazon.  Big deal.  Is Amazon really that concerned that they'll lose a customer because of an outbound link?! If so, I think they're really underestimating the power of their own brand.

The dead link issue is equally lame.  Dead links exist on just about every site.  Would I think less of Amazon because I found a few there in customer reviews?  No.  Plus, Amazon tends to be pretty innovative with services and features -- couldn't they harness some of that energy to write a tool that periodically crawls their own site, stripping out dead links in customer reviews?

Embedded links in reviews will only serve as another feature for Amazon's customers.  These links will help customers with their purchase decision by providing additional information, much more than can possibly be squeezed into the actual review.  I think Amazon should consider these customer benefits and rethink this policy.


Michael Hyatt on (Inaccurate) Bestseller Lists

ThomasnelsonMichael Hyatt, President and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, offers this perspective on "inaccurate" bestseller lists.  He's absolutely right, and it's somewhat related to the earlier post I made about the definition of "bestseller."

Michael had dropped out of the blogosphere for a few months earlier this year but he seems to be back with regular posts this month.  I'm glad to see it -- I always learn something new when I read his blog.


Free Culture: The Nature & Future of Creativity, by Lawrence Lessig

Free_cultureYou might think a book about the history and future of copyright law would be painfully boring.  If the book is Free Culture: The Nature & Future of Creativity, by Lawrence Lessig, you'd be wrong.  Lessig does a fantastic job of framing copyright with terms and scenarios everyone can understand.  On top of that, he's a very engaging writer, the type that can probably make just about any topic interesting.

Lessig explains how large media companies like Disney got their start in an era of very relaxed copyright rules and regulations.  In fact, Disney's classic Steamboat Willie was nothing more than a knock-off of Buster Keaton's Steamboat Bill, Jr.  What would happen if you tried to do the same thing today and based your video on a Disney character?  You'd probably get a nice cease and desist letter from the folks at Disney.

One could argue that the IP policies that existed when Disney got off the ground needed some adjustments to fit today's content world.  Lessig points out where things have probably gone too far though (e.g., the ridiculously high financial penalties associated with peer-to-peer file sharing).  I'm not saying piracy isn't wrong.  Not at all.  As I've said before, stealing is stealing, but Lessig gives plenty of examples to show how the resulting penalties are more than excessive.

A main thrust of the book has to do with how Congress keeps extending copyright terms and that almost nothing is therefore allowed to move into the public domain.  He argued the case at the Supreme Court level but apparently lost because he couldn't show how the situation was hurting anyone.  He makes a good point that there are plenty of works in a state of limbo, not really in distribution but beyond the reach of the public domain because they're still covered by copyright term extensions.  I tend to agree with the Supreme Court though and find it hard to believe there are loads of derivative works opportunities that aren't being leveraged because of this.  That said, Lessig presents an interesting alternative copyright model where owners can opt in to extend the original term.

Lessig is also well-known for his work on the Creative Commons (CCL) initiative.  As I said in this post, I think the CCL is a valuable model and a nice alternative for certain uses.  Given Lessig's advocacy of the CCL though, I find it interesting that he doesn't use that model for this book.  That's a shame since there might be someone out there who wants to use portions of Free Culture to create a derivative work of their own.  (Although the CCL is more often associated with online content, it can also be used for offline works.)

Update: I got an from Lawrence earlier this morning explaining that Free Culture is indeed available under the CCL; there was an oversight and the printed book simply didn't reflect this fact.  You can access the content, including remixed versions, at this website.


outside.in: Yet another Newspaper Threat

OutsideinAs if the newspaper industry needed yet another upstart to threaten its very existence...  While reading the latest issue of Time, the one with "You" as the "Person of the Year", I came across an interesting article about outside.in, a site that describes itself as "a place to see in a single glance all the interesting things that are happening around you."

That sounds a lot like the local community focus most metro newspaper websites have yet to master.  They could learn a bit form outside.in.  The core idea is pretty simple: serve as an aggregator of blogs for cities across the country.  As of today, only 56 cities are represented, but it's pretty easy to add a blog or two for a missing city to get it on the map.  It's disappointing to see there are no entries for the entire state of Indiana, so I had to look up my original hometown, Pittsburgh, to see how outside.in works.

The current outside.in service is pretty useful although I can see plenty of opportunities to add more capabilities down the road.  Their aggregator functionality means you can have one RSS feed for all the blogs in a particular city.  Nice.  Keep an eye on this one as they expand and "come to your home town."  If you know of a blog with a local/community focus go to this link to add them to the outside.in service.
 


Peter Drucker Wisdom

DruckerOne of the handful of books I'm currently reading is Lawrence Lessig's Free Culture: The Nature and Future of Creativity.  Great book so far...I'll do a full review when I finish it.

The reason for this post is to point out an excellent Peter Drucker quote that Lessig mentions:

There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.

Simple yet brilliant.  And oh, how I feel the pain and reality of this statement far too often in my day-to-day life!


Amazon Fun Times Two

Lifehacker_1 Secondlife_1What a treat it's been the last couple of days as I watch two books from my group climb the Amazon Computers & Internet bestseller list.  (Are they really "bestsellers"?...  Well, they're on the list right now, so I think it's fair to use that phrase!)

The books I'm talking about are Lifehacker, which is just now hitting brick-and-mortar stores, and Second Life: The Official Guide.  Tonight they are #15 and #20 respectively on Amazon's list, outselling books like iWoz and Seth Godin's Small is the New Big.  How fun!

(Btw, yet another book from our over-achieving editorial team, Search Engine Optimization: An Hour a Day, is not too far behind them at #36!  It all feels like an early Christmas gift.)


The Tipping Point for Print on Demand?

Ondemand_1Print on demand (POD) systems are on the verge of revolutionizing the book publishing industry.  Of course lots of people have been saying this for the last 10 years or so, which means it rivals the notion of convergence on the over-hyped scale.  Without getting too excited though, I think we might finally be closing in on a significant event in the world of POD.

According to this story on CNN.com and this blog post, a company called OnDemandBooks is about to release a POD system called Espresso that could radically change the rules.  Imagine your local bookstore suddenly having every book in print in stock.  With a price tag of $50K the Espresso system isn't exactly cheap.  But, like any other type of technology we can probably expect that price to drop as volume/demand increases.  The article notes that the manufacturing costs are around a penny a page -- that's pretty darned good although still more expensive than traditional offset printing costs.

If I'm the head of B&N or Borders I'm anxiously trying to figure out how to economically roll this out across my entire chain.  Why?  If one of these babies is available in all my brick and mortar outlets I magically neutralize one of Amazon's competitive advantages ("the world's largest bookstore").  In fact, I wind up tipping the scales in my favor by combining my local presence (e.g., instant gratification) with as large a virtual inventory as any online reseller.

This has enormous potential.  Now will it finally live up to all the hype?...