Monday, June 26, 2006

The new phone books are here!

Federated Media's concept of an "author" has been bugging the hell out of me.

Like many people who work (or worked ...) in the publishing industry, I developed the quaint idea that an "author" was a person who wrote articles or books - or maybe plays and movie scripts. Since the weblog explosion, it's easy enough to stretch the definition of author to include people who post items on their blog.

Battelle's venture seems to share this non-controversial definition, at least on the Federated Media (not the real one) website:

An FM site has influence not because its author is well known, but because the author has earned the trust of an influential community.


Good! So what are some of the top FM sites, as far as traffic?

Beyond the Boing Boing enterprise, the handful of popular sites include Fark, Digg, Metafilter, Newsvine, Reddit and PopURLS ... all sites based on either news links submitted by readers or robot-submitted news links.

In other words, where's that author again?

Battelle's name made its weekly Mainstream Media appearance in a June 23 article in the San Francisco Chronicle about Digg.com -- one of those "author" sites championed by the brave speculators at Federated Media.

I couldn't care less if Battelle's latest Bubble Machine sells ads for a Pat Robertson BBS or some pedophile picture-trading site run by Pentagon staffers, but it is simply dishonest to trumpet "authors" when your main business comes from selling ads on pornography message boards like Fark.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

I can quit whenever I want

A former colleague in the Bay Area sent me a note last week with a grim accusation: I had become a "blog addict."

Really?

The evidence is limited to my previous post. Apparently I've been spending too much time examining this new Battelle scheme. Otherwise, I wouldn't be mentioning "InstaPundit or Daily Kos or Engadget" as if I knew what they were.

I'd like to claim an amazing ability to identify the "top blogs" and critique their qualities based on my sudden, disturbing and intimate knowledge of this world. But that wouldn't be honest. In truth, all I did was click on this Technorati.com website.

It tells you anything you would like to know about the blog world. Top 100 blogs? Right here. (The No. 1 blog appears to be a Chinese site; No. 2 is Boing Boing, which is Battelle's prize client.)

So don't worry about me. While blogs are certainly cheaper than all the books and DVDs and vacations I'll never be able to afford again, they're still not very interesting. Once Battelle's latest folly goes down the toilet, I'll find a new hobby. Birdwatching, perhaps.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Blogical Mystery Tour

Federated Media is not competing with Google AdWords, according to Mr. Battelle ... or, it's maybe competing in a small way, but it's not important. Just an tiny, itty bitty company, as he says.

Even after all the devastation, that's a remarkably modest comment coming from Mr. Battelle. I thought I'd take a tour of his "author partners" and see what this tiny little bitty company is doing.

There's one called Search Blog. It's actually Mr. Battelle's own site, where he writes about the great search company called Google. Search Blog claims 1,300 unique visitors a day. Hey, there are tiny rural weekly newspapers that survive on 1,300 readers ....

(The math is tough to decode. Most commercial websites sell ads based on page views, and there's a known advertising model based on "impressions" and the cost per thousand of those impressions. When you see an ad, that's an "impression.")

A premier Federated Media site is Boing Boing. It seems to feature a group of tech journalists writing about the great new articles they've written for other publications, as well as some blurbs about quirky computer news. It also has big traffic for a blog, reportedly some 70,000 unique visitors a day. No Drudge Report, or even Gawker, but it's good traffic. My newspaper website friends say that's a decent number for a smaller city's newspaper site. Boing Boing writers are regularly featured on "old media" programs such as the NPR news, so this property has potential.

(I've visited Boing Boing about 20 times this month at various times of day. Maybe I've been targeted as an undesirable consumer, but I've never seen anything but house ads in the Federated Media spots ... along with a number of "button" or "badge" ads promoting various Battelle products such as his book about Google. There are also some ads for Internet-freedom "pet causes" of the Boing Boing writers and an advertisement for a watch company that seems separate from the Federated Media space. Perhaps there's a busy time of day I've missed when many Federated Media ads appear.)

Battelle's operation seems especially proud of a blog called Dooce.com, which is written by an "alternative" mom, as far as I can tell. The blog claims a daily "unique visitor" count of 26,000 people. That's a lot of people reading a blog! Again, it's no InstaPundit or Daily Kos or Engadget, but pretty good for the content.

The content is hard to describe. The woman writes about her friends getting jobs, a child (her child?) getting a sinus infection, not being able to locate a pair of shoes, a dog sleeping and other concerns. As she still has AdBrite text ads and "begging links" for PayPal and Amazon donations, I am wondering how the Federated Media advertising is working out. Also, I've never actually seen a Federated Media ad on the Dooce.com site, just blank spots that say "Advertise here."

Then there's Fark.com, which a few of my younger nephews think is "the shit." It seems to be a collection of pornography, sports and "wacky news" links submitted by readers. It leads the pack with some 173,000 unique visitors each day. I got a Howard Stern feeling from this site, if on a much smaller level. And the ads reflected that: There's an ad from a sports-news website dominated by pictures of young girls in skimpy outfits, an ad for a lesser Howard Stern knockoff called "Opie and Anthony," and some house ads from Federated Media about website tracking software.

It smells of the Rush Limbaugh/Dr. Laura talk-radio problem: There are many listeners, but they aren't considered to be especially attractive to advertisers. The nightly news on television may have a much smaller audience than Rush, yet the commercials are for high-ticket items such as SUVs. The advertisers on talk radio seem to all be selling dubious precious-metal schemes and suspicious health-food appliances. (The talk-radio business may have low-end advertising, but the scale is massive. Limbaugh claims 3 million listeners per day.)

Maybe Battelle has actually been humbled by his disastrous past and really does consider his Federated Media to be a little tiny company. It's hard to imagine this roster of publications attracting luxury-goods advertisers you see on NYTimes.com - or used to see on the glossy pages of the Industry Standard -- and it seems more difficult than the automated Google AdWords system that places relevant text ads on sites large and small.

In other words, so far this looks like an oddly humble enterprise for some hype-whore like Battelle. What's really going on here?

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Google shill is Google's competition!

One of the most perplexing realities of this young century is how a businessman who flopped so terribly gets re-made as ... a businessman incapable of screwing up.

That the businessman in question isn't actually a businessman at all - you could fairly describe him as a Fad Slave who flits from one geeky revolution he doesn't understand to the next geeky revolution he really doesn't understand - is just one of the stranger aspects of Mr. Battelle's curious "journalism" career.

Today, the hype-addict propagandist of the worst aspects of Silicon Valley is not remembered for the glossy technology magazine he inflated into the most vulgar Internet Bubble on record. True, he is vaguely remembered as the editor of the Industry Standard trade journal, but it's a strangely empty memory. (WikiPedia entries are known for extensively covering the Silicon Valley industry, yet the Battelle entry is comically terse and the Industry Standard entry refers only to a 1982 "progressive rock album.")

Imagine if Richard Nixon was remembered as a president (a very important job) but not as the man who stained the American presidency more than any other man who ever held that august office.

Mr. Battelle apparently re-emerged as the expert chronicler of Google, the search company. He wrote a book about Google Inc. and launched a "blog" that seems to speak of nothing but Google. The short items on the blog are almost exclusively about the glories of Google and the wonderful advertising business of Google. His book was reportedly such a celebration of all things Google that the huge Silicon Valley company bought thousands of copies to hand out to Google employees as inspirational reading.

Yet during the past year or so of this very public proselytizing for Google and especially its advertising business, Mr. Battelle was launching his own advertising business to take advantage of the very world he found through his Google studies.

The apparent revolution wrought by Google was to offer advertising revenue to those small websites that couldn't ever get a deal with the Internet Bubble-era online ad agencies such as DoubleClick. Suddenly, anybody with a website about Star Trek could make a few bucks (or a fortune) just by letting Google place advertising there.

Is there something unseemly about Battelle remaking himself as a Google cheerleader while simultaneously launching an advertising company preying on that exact same market?

Mr. Battelle has the answer, and he thinks he's quite innocent:

"I'm a big fan of AdSense and I don't think we're directly competitive. You could make the argument, but you could make the argument that everyone's competitive with everyone in the publishing business," he told Forbes magazine in March. "You could certainly argue there is potential competition that might be posited in the short-to-middle-term future."

The Forbes reporter pressed on. Isn't anyone at Google concerned about your scheme?

"Very large company, Google. We're a tiny, itty, bitty company. I don't think we necessarily merit a lot of consideration."

More on this fascinating subject, later ....

Monday, June 12, 2006

The World According to Battelle

Making his regular appearance in the New York Times' technology section, Mr. Battelle fondly remembers his years as an online pioneer ... back when he was an old-school hacker.

It was a simpler, more innocent time:

"[W]e assumed the digital footprints we left behind - our clickstream exhaust, so to speak - were as ephemeral as a phone call, fleeting, passing, unrecorded."

This gem apparently comes from a weblog post he wrote "a couple of years ago," according to the NYT.

The writer of the article, Tom Zeller Jr., should be credited for using simple language to describe the growing problem of employers, lawyers and the government tracking your online activities.

It is left to Mr. Battelle to expound on his old blog post with new poetic comments delivered to the New York Times via electronic mail:

"We are living online, but have yet to fully realize the implications of doing so," Battelle wrote, according to Zeller. "One of those implications is that our tracks through the digital sand are eternal."

Ah, eternity!

He doesn't have any idea what he's talking about, again. (His prose is stinky as usual.) What online pioneers knew all too well - and they've said this often, as I've interviewed dozens of the clever geeks - was that the authorities and telecoms were always watching.

Hacker horror stories were common in the media many years before regular Americans were signing up with AOL in the mid-1990s. It was this very fear of someone watching that kept the first consumer Web users paranoid about credit-card theft or (in the Waco days) Clintonian surveillance of any message-board commenter with a vaguely anti-governmnet view.

One could say with some authority that it wasn't until this century - the past few years - that online activity became comfortable for the general public. Not that there's any reason for people to be comfortable online today; it's simply that "everybody's doing it."

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

'Biased and Apologist'

It seems young Mr. Battelle has a convenient double standard when it comes to lifting other companies' names.

As you may recall, dear reader, Battelle didn't feel any moral tug when he named his latest bubble venture "Federated Media" - which happens to be the name of another U.S. media company that has been in constant business for three decades.

You see, Battelle is part of this "Web 2.0" trade-show business with a tech publisher. They put on these events at hotel convention halls to promote "Web 2.0" - generic jargon for the latest Internet revolution that will magically make Battelle even richer.

Like "information superhighway," the phrase "Web 2.0" is just another silly moniker used by countless nerds to describe something that may or may not exist.

(The website Wikipedia has this impossibly vague description: "As there are no set standards for what Web 2.0 actually means, implies, or requires, the term can mean radically different things to different people.")

In brief, some computer geeks in Ireland held a local, nonprofit, apparently casual conference called Web 2.0, and Battelle's vultures over at O'Reilly Media and something called CMP Media took legal action.

Red Herring, another Internet Bubble 1.0 magazine which seems to at least still exist as a website, had this to say:
A trademark dispute over the phrase “Web 2.0” ignited harsh criticism of publisher O’Reilly Media, but it appeared to be amicably resolved Wednesday ...

People who commented on a placeholder explanatory post by O’Reilly VP of Corporate Communications Sara Winge were angry and sarcastic.

“People don’t take well to heavy-handed corporations throwing their legal team on a not-for-profit,” said one comment.

“It is completely anti-Web 2.0 attitude to protect Web 2.0,” said another.

Bloggers were also harsh in their dissections of posts by Boing Boing blogger Cory Doctorow and Federated Media head John Battelle, both work associates of Mr. O’Reilly, calling the two “biased” and “apologist.”

Battelle is a biased apologist?! Shocking, simply shocking.

But is Battelle also a shameless hypocrite who happilly lifts the corporate name from a real media company that has been in business for 30+ years yet justifies his own gang cracking down on a non-profit group of Irish computer geeks for using the generic term Web 2.0?

The answer is Yes 2.0.

Monday, June 05, 2006

'Maybe I'll go look for the next big thing'

It's August 2001. The "country club" magazine you ran has collapsed.

All the people who worked for you are staggering around like WTC employees after the first plane hit. Their lives are ruined, at least for the short term, maybe forever.

The San Francisco newspaper calls you. Most likely, it's a business reporter who was hoping to jump ship and start working for your luxury operation. Now he's glad he stayed put.

Nonetheless, he figures you'll slither back to prominence one way or another. Best not to cross you. Best to bury the voices of the ruined.

"His associates offer differing opinions of Battelle's role in the magazine's rise and fall," was all the S.F. Chronicle reporter could manage to report. The future, who knows where it goes?

But then Battelle is offered a chance to say something to his suddenly unemployed colleagues and underlings. He can take the humble path and tell all those people with worthless Industry Standard stock options and crushing house payments: I'm so sorry. From now on, I'll try to do something good. I'll spend the rest of my life working for those who were destroyed by atavistic railroad men like myself.

Did he? Of course not. And we shouldn't expect anything better. It's the old story of the frog giving the scorpion a piggy-back ride across the stream. ("You stung me!" cries the frog. The scorpion replies, "Well, you knew I was a scorpion when you gave me the ride.")

So the reporter asks Battelle about "long-term plans."

Young Mr. Battelle replies, "Maybe I'll go look for the next big thing."