Posts about distributed

The problem with trying to fix the world

I’ve been thinking about the suit against Craigslist and why so many forms of regulation just won’t work in a new world of control at the edges. The Times reported:

If the lawsuit, filed by the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, succeeds, Craigslist will be forced to follow the same rules newspapers do in their classified advertising listings, screening each ad to make sure no antidiscrimination laws are violated. That means ads like the ones the lawyers’ group said it spotted on Craigslist in a six-month investigation would be banned.

But here’s the problem: When we had a small number of centralized repositories of ads — gatekeepers — it was easy to impose this kind of regulation. It is possible, though expensive and ineffective and inefficient, to do so with online gatekeepers.

But it is impossible to clamp down on such speech the distributed world, where I can post an ad on my blog and it can be found via Edgeio or Oodle or Google. Then who are you going to sue? The search engines for finding it? The enablers for providing the functionality to me? Or me for exercising free, albeit inappropriate, speech? The control is at the edges and it’s much harder to regulate the edges.

(Full dislosure: Craig Newmark is a personal investor in the news startup I’m working on.)

Edgeio and the distributed world

I got a preview of Michael Arrington’s Edgeio — the classified system for the distributed future — and I think it is more important than it looks.

Edgeio as it stands is pretty simple: You tag a post on your blog “listing” and Edgeio will spot it and add it to its data base. You add more tags (e.g., “for rent” and “vacation”) and your post/ad will appear in the appropriate categories. Edgeio will allow you to come in and claim your blog to be able to get direct communication from respondents and, eventually, to upgrade your ad via typography and graphics and preference (I hope I got that right). This is just a start but it is a proof of concept of a new world. I’ve been waiting for someone to do this. Arrington has.

I’ve been writing for a long time that the future of classified advertising — and more of media — is distributed. That is, you won’t need to go to a centralized marketplace — the newspaper or even Craigslist or Monster — to let the world know you want to sell or buy or find something. Instead, you’ll be able to put your listing up anywhere with proper tags and then specialized search engines, like Edgeio and Oodle, will find them so buyer and seller can find each other in a distributed marketplace with far less friction and far more control at the edges.

Note well that Arrington is also setting the early standards for tagging ads so they can be found. I believe that he also needs to concentrate on putting data within ads, not just on top of them (e.g., “languages spoken = German, C++”) so more effective searches and matches can take place. Google Base may do this, but for it to be effective, the tags need to be open. What we’re really headed for is microformats and a structure in which people swarm around tags with efficiency so they and their stuff can be found. It works in Flickr and Del.icio.us and will certainly work in marketplaces where money matters.

As friction is taken out of the marketplace — as newspapers, Realtors, car dealers, eBay, and others who have controlled our information are undercut by free and open standards — there is a need to add value back into transactions. Craig Donato of Oodle — the other Craig, the one who will cause more change in the newspaper industry than the first one — is eloquent on this, pointing out that the marketplace still wants such things as anonymity to enable transactions and authority to vet ads and promotion to market them. Edgeio and Oodle — not to mention Indeed and Simply Hired and even eBay and many other comers — will try to add back some of these functions. I argued the other day that we will also need some physical-world functions, like concierges to handle house tours for far less than real-estate agents charge (cue defense wailing by Realtors here.)

: OK, but this is bigger than classifieds. It’s bigger in two ways:

: First, this is really about control. Realtors and multiple-listing services act as if they own our for-sale listings. But the truth is, that’s our information; it’s data we create and we own that we lend to these agents if they perform a service for us (or because they hold a monopoly on that service today).

I was talking about this with Seth Goldstein of AttentionTrust and Rootmarkets the other day: We own not just our attention data — what we look at, what we do, the things that Seth works in — but also have an even greater proprietary interest in the transactions we create. This holds if we are a prospect to buy a house and if we are selling a house.

The natural state of the marketplace should be that we control that information at the edges — buyer and seller — and that others join in that transaction only when and if they add value, such as the functions I listed just above. This will make for less friction and a more efficient marketplace.

It will also make for a lot of unemployed middlemen. The newspapers and Realtors that charged us too much for too little for too long will be knocked aside at the first opportunity.

: Second, this is also about content … and about people. Everything Edgeio does for classified ads, it — or someone — could do for, say, local restaurant reviews. Rather than relying on one restaurant critic for a paper to tell us what’s good and rather than trying to get all the diners out there to come to a centralized marketplace of reviews (see the late Abuzz et al), we should be able to write our reviews on our blogs, under our identities, and have them found with all the other reviews. That can occur thanks to tagging. This is what I hoped (incorrectly) that Dinnerbuzz would do, though I explained my wishes here.

It’s about people because identity matters: We want to know who is reviewing the restaurant or selling the house or seeeking the job. Verified identity and trust, I believe, will be the next huge frontier of business online. More on that later.

And it’s about people because such means of tagging and searching as Edgeio enables will also help people find each other. I wrote about this long ago, inspired by David Galbraith’s one-line-bio tag. See also Consumating.org, where people tag themselves.

See, this tagging thing is about more than bookmarks and coolness. They help reorganize the world and its relationships.

That’s why I say that Edgeio is a big deal, because it begins to enable this new world.

: A few of my posts are here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here….

: [DISCLOSURE: Michael Arrington and I are each aiding a startup. I gave him my two-cents about Edgeio. He once gave me a Techcrunch T-shirt. We link to each other. He held a spot for me at the lunch table at Web 2.0 And aren’t these disclosure statements getting a bit ridiculous?]

: SPEAKING OF TECHCRUNCH: I see that Arrington will critique presentations by 10 companies at Supernova.

: LATER: Note good comments, including one from none other than Craig Newmark.

Yo, Amazon: Have you heard of the iPod?

Amazon starts a show with Bill Maher. Good idea. Amazon only streams it and doesn’t let us download it. Bad idea. Why the hell not, Amazon? If you put it out on iTunes and Bittorrent, you’d get many times more viewers and much more promotion for you and your sponsor. Streaming is to video as bookstores are to books.

Beware the Googeyman

Business Week media maven Jon Fine sent me a link to his latest column and said I wouldn’t like the idea presented there. He’s quite right. He proposes a vision of the future that is really just a long-dead dream of the big-media past, back before the internet and before big, bad Google, when the big companies controlled content and thought they controlled the world:

What if 2006 is the year big media players take aim at Google’s kneecaps? No, not with more lawsuits; the Authors Guild, the Association of American Publishers — on behalf, in part, of BusinessWeek’s parent company, The McGraw-Hill Companies — and Agence France-Presse have already sued the search behemoth. Rather, picture this: Walt Disney, News Corp., NBC Universal, and The New York Times, in an odd tableau of unity, join together and say: “We are the founding members of the Content Consortium. Next month we launch our free, searchable Web site, which no outside search engines can access…. From now on we’ll make our stuff available and sell ads around it and the searches for it, but only on our terms. Who else wants to join us? Membership’s free.”

Well, that would be hugely stupid. And though huge companies can be stupid, I don’t think they’d be that self-destructive. For the truth of life today — like it or not, lump it or not — is that Google is everyone’s front page. And, yes, that can make life difficult. Google kills brands; Google commodifies everything. But that’s not Google’s fault. That comes part-and-parcel with this new, distributed world where we control the entry to the content we want and where there is no longer a scarcity of content that lets a few big players control it and us. Wishing this weren’t so won’t make it not so.

So when AFP sues Google to stop it from quoting and linking to its stories, it is cutting off its nose to spite its face. When newspapers put content behind pay and archive walls, they are killing their own Googlejuice and thus their audience — that is, the audience are not now attracting to their print products and their brands. When book publishers try to stop Google from indexing books so they can be found, they are killing the words and thoughts in them and cutting them off from the world.

Meanwhile, the smart guys are hiring search-engine-optimization experts and trying to figure out how to get more people to their stuff thanks to Google. See the post below: Walled gardens are no more. Or, if they do exist, they are lonely places populated only by their few, cranky proprietors.

Fine raises the ghost of the last effort at a content consortium: The newspaper industry’s New Century Network. I had the bad fortune to have witnessed and suffered through that clusterfuck. It was a disaster not just because newspaper people can’t get along, as Fine hints, but also because they tried to solve their problems, not the public’s.

: At the same time, we have the self-annointed usability “expert” Jakob Nielsen (didn’t anybody ever tell him that reading lines of text three feet long isn’t very usable?!?) also goes after Google and search engines, calling them leeches because they create an open marketplace that suck more profit out of transactions as they get bigger and more efficient. His sequence sounds right but not his solutions. What we need is competition. What we need is an open ad marketplace. More on that in time….

: LATER: James Robertson has a blunt response. Mark Evans says Google-trashing is just jealousy.

: Seth Godin understands what Jakob is really saying:

Jakob, on the other hand, inadvertently explains why keyword advertising is such a brilliant invention.

Hey, Amazon: Think distributed

Amazon has started authors blogging on its site, which is a fine thing. But they could do so much more. Though it is a leader in innovation on the internet, Amazon is not keeping up with the distributed nature of the beast. It is still building what it builds on Amazon. It is thinking like a big, old store with walls around it, albeit virtual ones. But Amazon could be doing so much more to take advantage of the fact that its customers are in control. Especially because they don’t depend on ad revenue in their environment, they could find many more ways for customers and authors to help push product from wherever they are online. And so I’ll make a few suggestions. But first, on the blogs themselves:

The Times blurbs the author blogs today, leading with Meg Wolitzer’s. So I go try to find her blog from her book page and it’s camoflauged a bit under a new “Amazon Connects” brand, where they say she “sent the following post to customers.” They don’t use the word blog here (though they do on the blog itself).

These author blogs aren’t promoted on the service. Why not link to them from the books and home pages and link to a directory of author blogs from any of them? When I search for “blogs” on Amazon, I find nothing. So if readers see this post or the Times story and want to go find which authors have blogs, there’s no way to do it.

And, for God’s sake, give us RSS feeds of the blogs. If I care about what an author’s going to say and want an alert when there’s something new (because I’ll just bet these guys won’t be doing it daily), then what better way to keep me coming back? The entire point of this blog project is to develop more of personal and loyal relationship between writers and readers. Well, how better to do that than to let readers subscribe to authors? RSS was made for that. And Amazon is already good at using RSS elsewhere.

The Times also points out that these aren’t blogs as conversations; they’re still one-way endeavors — like books.

The Amazon blogs are, at least for now, intended as a one-way communication, with writers talking to readers. But some authors have already found a way around that: Anita Diamant, the author of “The Last Days of Dogtown” and other novels, guides readers from her Amazon blog to her own Web site, where they can write to her directly. Other authors post their e-mail addresses on their profile pages.

But, of course, lots of authors do have their own blogs. So that leads me to a few suggestions for how Amazon can take advantage of the distributed world:

No. 1: Amazon should link out to authors’ blogs. I should be able to get to the Freakonomics blog from the Freakonomics book page, or to Instapundit from Glenn Reynolds’ book page. Amazon shouldn’t be thinking like big, old media companies, who have been reluctant to link out (even though they should and even though they are slowly learning that linking out is both a better service to their readers and a way to get in the conversation and get new readers). In Amazon’s case, the goal is to get people more engaged with authors, and where better to do that than on the authors’ own blogs? And who better to sell books on Amazon than those authors?

No. 2: Amazon has created the permalink of products — the new UPC, really. When bloggers want to refer to a book or most any product, they’re often in the habit of linking to an Amazon page. That means that conversation is sparked around those products and Amazon should work with Technorati or another player to gather and expose those links: Here’s what people are saying about______. Amazon would find that this is a virtuous circle: Bloggers will link to be linked and both benefit. Of course, some of the links will be negative. But Amazon has long since crossed that bridge.

No. 3: I’m one among many who wish that Amazon would allow reviewers to export their reviews to their own blogs or even allow readers to subscribe to favorite reviewers’ latest posts. This, too, is a virtuous circle: If I can leave a review on Amazon, adding to its content, but also add it to my own blog, then I’d be more likely to write reviews. And if I distribute those reviews on my blog, then those create more links to Amazon.

No. 4: Enable communities to form around authors and products. Do a deal with Meetup to enable, say, Stephen King fans to get together and scare each other.

What else?

: LATER: Damien Mulley suggests:

If I were Amazon I’d approach people like Bookslut and ask their permission to link to them from some main book section on Amazon and offer to host them if there is a dramatic traffic increase. They should be doing the same with other maven type sites too.

I wouldn’t bother to ask their permission; what blogger wouldn’t like that? Hosting is a good idea. S

It would also be a good idea for Amazon to help create ad networks across appropriate, targeted sites — an extension of its existing affiliate network. The more people in the more places who sell the more stuff, the better it is for them.

: Kirk H in the comments suggests:

I’d like to see Amazon do the Metacritic normalization of interviews from mainstream reviewers. They have starred reviews from customers but sometimes I wonder if a bunch of the author’s friends are writing them. In other words it’d be nice to see something like:
Readers gave it 4.5 stars
Critics gave it 1.5 stars
I use this http://www.metacritic.com/books/ for book reviews as well as the Amazon member reviews. It would be nice if I didn’t have to visit both but I’m not sure if there are software patents involved.

Yes, I’ve long liked that idea. When I started Entertainment Weekly, I stole one of the best ideas from the Berlin city magazines Tip and Zitty: a box called critical mass that quantified, into grades, and summarized the opinions of a handful of critics on a handful of current releases. The hard part was that interns had to contact the critics to get them to give the products grades, since too few critics issued stars or other ratings.

Amazon, however, could set a data standard for reviews across the internet. I like that idea: It creates a microformats or tag standard to let people rate products from their own blogs (so long as it can be protected from spamming).

Commerce is conversation

Having read through the eBay-Skype PowerPoint justification, I guess I should be ashamed of myself that I didn’t get the deal before. It’s the Cluetrain, baby: If markets are conversations, then enabling the conversation enables the market and eBay is the new market. And if trust is king, then being able to talk to the person who’s trying to sell you something enhances trust and increases value. So I finally get the theory. The practice is another matter….

Well, finally

At last someone in media is learning that Bittorrent can be your promotional, marketing, branding, distribution friend:

But ADV Films, the largest distributor of anime in the United States, has decided to make the best of a bad situation. To publicize its new series “Gilgamesh” and “Goddanar,” it is releasing promotional packages – not in stores, but via the dreaded BitTorrent. “BitTorrent has been used extensively in a kind of underground environment up until now,” said David Williams, a producer at ADV, in a telephone interview from the company’s Houston headquarters. “There’s a large group of people who have it on their systems. Since this core group already exists, we figured why not give them legitimate material to download that would help them learn about some of our products.”

Exploding advertising

Here are a few news items that reveal the real change occurring to newspapers and it’s not in the newsroom: It’s in the advertising department.

But note well that these changes also have a big potential impact on Google if it doesn’t pay attention (and Google is getting awfully big for its britches).

Quigo announced deals with 130 newspapers to open up ad avails on their sites for auctions…

…turning each site into an auction marketplace where ad placement is up for grabs….

Michael Yavonditte, CEO of Quigo, said, “We’re beginning to see a radical shift in the way newspapers are assessing the competitive landscape of content and online advertising. They’ve quickly grasped the idea that it is the newspapers, not the ad network, who should own the advertiser base. Our auction-style pay-per-click is a great way for the newspapers to become relevant to their local advertisers who have been buying keywords from Google and Overture for years now.”

In short: Newspapers will compete with Google’s AdSense and try to grab the auctioned pay-per-click advertising that is going there. Newspapers are trying to hold onto local in this new ad universe. They are also hoping to grab new advertisers at a lower cost: The bet in hyperlocal is that the small advertisers who could never afford newspapers could now take advantage of ads that are affordable because they are highly targeted and have next-to-no cost of sale and production. Will these ads replace revenue lost in classified? Will advertisers leave print retail for online hypertargeting? What will the total revenue of papers look like in this new world? Who knows?

Separately, read Fred Wilson on his investment, along with The New York Times Company’s [see my Times full-disclosure here] in job search site Indeed.

So, why did we make this investment, beyond the fact that this was one of the sectors that has always interested us?

For one, we are big believers in the fragmentation of the Internet. We don’t believe that there are going to be several large “destinations” where employers will go to list their jobs in the coming years.

I’ve been beating that drum for well more than a year now: With search and tagging, buyers and sellers can be anywhere on the internet and can be found and put together; when you bring organization to our new, distributed world, the need for centralized marketplaces fades. (More on this, probably later today.)

We are a believer in what some of us are calling “sell side advertising”. That’s the idea that advertisers will put their ads on the Internet for anyone to find and display. And if the advertiser gets clicks back, they will pay for the clicks.

Been banging that drum, too.

Job search is one of the first places that sell-side advertising is going to happen because most employers already put the jobs they are currently looking to fill on their web sites. Those jobs are the “sell side” ads. Indeed and others are crawling the Internet, grabbing those “ads” and displaying them.

For newspapers, it’s already clear that the classified marketplace is being replaced. But this also has big mplications for Google. Last drumbeat: I’ve been arguing that specialized search engines — organizing and taking advantage of the distributed world via tagging structure — will do a better job than Google in their areas (perhaps even riding on top of a Google API).