Posts about dld08

DLD08: My Guardian column

Here‘s my Guardian column about the DLD08 conference and the social theme I heard through it. The lede:

We natter on these days about how people are becoming social online. But we have always been social; the internet merely provides more ways for us to connect with each other. What’s truly new is the opportunity for companies, especially media companies, to be social. I spent much of last week in the company of a social corporation: Burda, the German media giant (where I have consulted). In Munich, New York, and Davos, its chairman, Hubert Burda, throws parties where he delights in bringing together the most interesting, creative crowds. I’ve seen his company benefit from bringing in new experience, talent, ideas, and relationships.

Last week was Burda’s biggest party, the Digital Life Design conference in Munich, with 1,000 media people trying to figure out their future. And the theme I heard strung through much of their discussion was about how to rethink media in social terms.

And here‘s David Kirkpatrick’s column in Fortune on the same event.

DLD: The network model

I heard vindication for my advocacy of the network model of media online in today’s DLD panel on ad exchanges (aka networks) with Samir Arora of Glam, Christoph Schuh of Burda, Magid Abraham of Comscore, and others. Randy Rothenberg was moderator.

One of the most controversial posts I’ve ever written — politics and Dell aside — was about Glam and its network model of media, arguing that in the connected internet, this will be a major factor. Some agree. Some disagree. The ones who disagree are generally from big, old media and it seems they find the network model threatening. They sell their premium on being brands and destinations and they fear — but shouldn’t, I say — this opening up of their space. See my spat with the Times’ Martin Nissenholtz at the Online Publishers’ Association in which I argued media should be asking “what would Google do?” — WWGD? — and thinking distributed while Martin argued this his brand is worth our trip to it. Those folks argued with me that only they could sell quality because they owned their content; Glam owns little of its. One wonders, then, why the Times is now selling Freakonomics.

In today’s discussion, networks are critical to the future, Comscore argued, because without them, even the biggest online brands don’t reach that much of the audience that much of the time. The top four sites, the search monsters, have only 5% share of page views on the internet and 7% share of their users’ page views. So networks extend them. That is why AOL, Microsoft, Google, and Yahoo have been buying big ad networks.

But Glam is different. It is a content and ad network that curates blogs and sites for women and sells ads and shares revenue on them. Some say that because it isn’t produced by big media, its quality is low. But I heard today that Arora insists on no automated, Googly ads; they only deal with agencies. Networks online are often remnant space filled with dancing monkees. So he wanted to avoid that. When he took over Glam, he asked, “What would it take for advertisers to act on the internet as they act in traditional print?” He also asked: “What is the definition of media going forward?” His next frontier, he says, is to define prime time and prime placement on sites.

OK, so that’s his pitch. That’s just one network. My problem is that there aren’t more of them and that big, old media don’t sell them. Oh, they get involved in networks like Tacoda. But they don’t curate and enable and encourage outside distributed networks. That’s what I want to be a part of.

DLD: Wales v. Calacanis

Jason Calacanis makes the case for human v. algorithmic (SEOed or spammed) search and then shows off his apple pie and his new social network. Jimmy Wales says what we need is more transparency and openness in search. “This is something that has benefited us across the internet,” he says. David Kirkpatrick, the moderator, says that given Google’s incredible growth, people are satisfied with search. Calacanis mentions a study that says 60 percent are dissatisfied (anybody have that citation?). Jimmy says that the leading search engines — Google, Yahoo, Ask — return essentially equivalent-quality results. So he argues that they compete on brand.

Marissa Meyer of Google is sitting in the front row right in front of them. I’m betting she’s not scared. She’s the fourth member of the panel just by her presence.

Jimmy says that Wikia will have not only the functions Jason’s Mahalo has but also user-submitted algorithms. This goes to yesterday’s theme of software being content — and open software requires open algorithms. Jason says he doesn’t think Jimmy will be unsuccessful trying to “jump in front of the Google train” in algorithms.

Jason says that he has a “pretty good suspicion” that Google is using people to clean up results. Marissa shakes her head no.

Jason says he has 60 fullitme people and 400 freelancers. “I believe in paying people for work,” he says; his zing on Jimmy. “I’m a writer by trade and I take offense when people try to devalue writing.” Do you think this way about Wikipedia, Kirkpatrick asks.

“There’s a very strange element to it, cult-like some people would say, that they want content to be free.” Jimmy responds: “Nobody works for free… What people do for free is have fun…. We don’t look at basketball games and people playing on the weekends and say these people are really suckers doing this for free.”

Jason has his teeth in the leg. He says it’s hypocritical that “everybody in the Web 2.0 industry should become millionaires and billionaires except for the writers.”

Jimmy: “To me this like the debate we got over a long time ago because it was so stupid that open-source software is communism.”

Yes. It’s about aligned interests.

Kirkpatrick pushes Jimmy and says he has a chicken-egg problem: Wikia is getting “terrible reviews” and he needs people to build the product but he needs the product to attract the people. Jimmy agrees about the chickena and the egg and says the bad reviews also hatched ore audience.

“If you’re going to come in the search space you need to invest at least $50 million to do this… This is not for the faint of heart. A major of search companies fail.”

Jimmy says it will take at least two years to get to industry-standard results.

Marissa from the front row says that it’s a mistake to return to the human-created directory. she agrees with them that there’s a false-dichotomy to look at this as all algorithmic or all human and, as Jimmy pointed, out, Pagerank is edited by humans — engineers, he says, but humans. She pushes back on Jason’s model of trust and says that may not be the right model; expertise matters.

“I agree with everything you said,” Jason says. “Can I go work for you?”

Esther Dyson says the problem with their model is the long tail. If she were starting a company she’d do somethign else. “Ok, I’m going to kill myself now,” Jason said. Punch line. He says that the fat tail will be human, the medium tale social, the long tail algorithmic. And he says that the advertising interest is in the fat tail.

Michael Arrington says he was very tough on Wikia when it started but has “promising aspects.” He returns to the playing basketball for fun question and says “that there are very few examples of for-profit companies getting people to do their work.” Not sure I buy that as a rule. He acknowledges Digg. I’m seeing networked journalism. I do believe in sharing revenue (a better model than staff work given the business realities today). Jimmy responds that “if we ask people to do work we will fail” but if he provides tools they want to use for their purposes they will succeed.

At the end, I ask about advertising and whether they will concentrate on the fat-tail brand, display ads and Google will have the scale to do automated advertising. Turns out that Jason will likely turn over all his inventory to Google to start and then, as with similar companies, will grow sold advertising. As the last word, Jimmy says, amazingly, that he hasn’t thought about advertising.

DLD: Life as information

A star panel at DLD: Richard Dawkins and Craig Venter on the future of the gene.

Dawkins says that the gene “is pure information.” Venter proved this by taking a gene out of one organism and put it in another and causes the second to change into the first — your cat becomes your dog, as moderator John Brockman explains. So Dawkins says this demonstrates clearly that a gene is information that can be put not just in an organism but on a disk. So Venter explains that we are at the start of “the design phase” of biology. “I’m looking at genes at the design components of the future.” His example is “biological machines” that could take carbon out of the environment and create fuel. “We can make anything in the lab that comes out of the ground in terms of carbon.”

Venter says he’s concerned that because the price of oil is in the hands of a few people, they can artificially lower the price to take away incentives for scientific development of alternatives. This is why he favors carbon taxes.

He says that evolution is already open-source; it happens all around and in us. The microorganisms living in each of our lungs are different as they adapt to our immune system. He says that we need to take more of a hand in that evolution.

On evolution, Venter also says that genes do travel back and forth among species via viruses. So the ladder view of sequential, serial evolution is thrown out. It’s more of a stew. Dawkins also complained about the “schoolboy howler” view of evolution as species replacing each other; it’s also not that serial and extinction is a separate process.

Dawkins says that he is, of course, not disturbed by fears of scientists playing god (there being none). But he says we should fear — this is my phrase — scientists playing devil if they do destructive things. He warns that the accusation of them playing God is a case of crying wolf, deafening us to the works of devils vs. gods.

Venter says this “certainly changes the definition of an internet virus” since the code for a virus can be spread around the internet and built.

A fascinating next question is consciousness and its form. Is it data that also can be captured? A questioner asks where the soul resides. Dawkins says he does not believe there is a soul and says the brain activity we have defined as the soul dies when the body dies. But I’m courious whether, given a hard drive, the information that is brain activity and conscousiness can similarly be extracted and transferred and altered.

I’m fascinated with the idea that information becomes the building block of anything including life. Data are alive. Life is media.

DLD: Social & worldwide Facebook

At a Day 2 starts with the session on social: Matt Cohler of Facebook, Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn, Lars Hinrichs, Joanna Shields of Bebo.

Cohler announces that Facebook’s multilingual translation is in private beta as of Friday in French, German, and Spanish and will be released soon. Had discussions last night at a Munich blogger meetup about whether Facebook will make inroads in Germany. StudieVZ is the killer social site here; it concentrates primarily on students but it has the long headstart and it is local. Social is, after all, essentially local. Cohler says that Facebook’s internationalization depends on both the translation and on developers making local applications on the platform. He also says that though they will translate some of Facebook with professional translators, they will depend instead on a translation application — that’s what went into beta Friday — that enables the users to translate the service: translation as a platform play. That is a fascinating strategy: giving your users the tools to rebuild your application.

Before Facebook opened up past colleges, it was almost all American. Now, Cohler says, it’s 37% U.S. and a third European.

The econ editor of FAZ, a leading German paper, asks Cohler to expand on their international ambitions and whetehr they’ll buy StudieVZ. Of course, he doesn’t take that bait. But asked about whether they’d see acquiring some social networks in Europe, Cohler says “it’s certainly possible.”

Michael Arrington asks about the impact of Yahoo’s announcements at CES about social email and such. Sean Parker says the switching costs are enormous. Yes, I wouldn’t bet on this as Yahoo’s salvation (given that they’re making tough decisions, as PaidContent reports).