How Do You Like Google Fast Flip?

As you might have heard, there is a new application coming out of Google Labs, called Fast Flip. I’m not going to explain what it does, go and see for yourself. But I got exactly this question in my Facebook News Feed. So, here is what I think:

At the face of it, I’m not impressed. I use RSS feed reader to aggregate news feeds, including one coming out of Google News, not to mention Twitter, Facebook and Friend Feed. That’s pretty much all I need to keep my finger on the pulse.

On the second thought, however, it really does seem interesting. Not so much as a piece of technology (image browser? c’mon) but as an indicator of where Google is heading. Let’s put the pieces together:

  • Google has been at odds with the copyright owners for years now (remember Google News lawsuits and the recent discussion around Google Books settlement?). Finally, striking a deal with the publishers and stopping the legal battles might not be bad for Google after all. And could improve Google’s position vis-a-vis Amazon.
  • Google has also unveiled a plan to roll out a system of micropayments (as a part of Google Checkout) some time next year. This system will be well-positioned to become a standard for charging for content online. Apparently Google is reaching out to publishers and helping them to collect the pennies millions of Internet users might be willing to pay for copyrighted material. Google will get their share, of course. A hint: think of iTunes and Amazon Kindle…
  • Google Checkout will also be used for selling content via Google Books for which Google needs good relationship with the publishers anyway.

What this all says to me is: Google wants to help copyright owners in order to create symbiotic relationship in which everybody gets their share of profits. Using their scale Google will create an ecosystem for paid content in the Internet (or should I say the ecosystem?). Regardless of whether the book is sold for $10 or a news article for a penny. It is volume that counts. Which puts them on a collision course with Amazon, obviously but goes far beyond that. When it comes to paid digital content distribution the leaders today are Apple with iTunes and Amazon with Kindle. Here enters Google… without manufacturing, logistics, warehouses, etc. It’s going to be exciting to see how it develops, but expect there will be more digital content and less paper in your life soon.

How news media fight online parasites

HookwormMore often than not, today’s news from traditional publishing industries bring the picture of a hapless dodo bird in front of my eyes. No surprise there – difficult economic times usually expedite the natural selection process. Recent announcement from the Board of Associated Press however reminds me also about Xerxes, the king of Persia, who ordered the Hellespont waves to be whipped just because the storm destroyed his papyrus bridge over the strait.

NEW YORK — The Associated Press Board of Directors today announced it would launch an industry initiative to protect news content from misappropriation online.

AP Chairman Dean Singleton said the news cooperative would work with portals and other partners who properly license content – and would pursue legal and legislative actions against those who don‘t.

“We can no longer stand by and watch others walk off with our work under misguided legal theories,“ Singleton said at the AP annual meeting, in San Diego.

As part of the initiative, AP will develop a system to track content distributed online to determine if it is being legally used. AP President Tom Curley said the initiative would also include the development of new search pages that point users to the latest and most authoritative sources of breaking news.

While no details are available on those new exciting online initiatives that AP is working on, it is easier to guess who the AP’s executives have in mind when talking about “misappropriation”. Quoting WSJ editor Robert Thomson “Companies that aggregate mainstream media content without paying a fee are the »parasites or tech tapeworms in the intestines of the internet« and will soon be challenged”. He specifically pointed his finger at Google, which BTW is hard to understand, as Google apparently has a deal with AP since 2007. But that’s not only Google, although it would make sense for news publishers to go after the big guys who actually make a profit. It is easy to understand why they don’t like Google News but does this “misappropriation” extend to Digg, FriendFeed, Twitter or similar content sharing services? Are they supposed to be responsible or me? It’s me who posts the links, after all.
Just reading the news today I came across this story via Google News. But since I found it interesting, I visited articles on the topic in LA Times (I don’t remember if I have ever been there before), NY Times and The Australian (I never knew it existed, sorry). I generated my share of traffic to their websites. I created bookmarks to these articles on Digg and FriendFeed. Now, is it good or bad for the news industry?
Is it just because these guys don’t get it? Or is it to cover inability to reinvent their business model and putting a blame on somebody else?

Welcome IntelliConnect!

Wolters KluwerYesterday Wolters Kluwer announced the launch of IntelliConnect™, a first implementation of their Global Atlas platform. Global Atlas works now for CCH in the US but it is designed to provide the foundations for further expansion of Wolters Kluwer’s online business accross the globe.

Amsterdam and Riverwoods, Ill. (April 2, 2009) – Wolters Kluwer, a market-leading global information services and publishing company focused on professionals, today announced the first commercial implementation of its Global Atlas online content delivery and publishing platform, with the launch of IntelliConnect™ in the U.S. tax, accounting, legal, and business markets. IntelliConnect is an innovative research platform that introduces unprecedented ease of use into the professional research process where U.S.-based customers of the Tax, Accounting & Legal division will be the first to benefit. The research platform will be implemented next in the division’s Asia Pacific, U.K., and Canadian markets.

Global Atlas is an electronic content delivery and publishing platform for Wolters Kluwer’s products and services, integrating the company’s content throughout the customers’ workflow. Its leading-edge design in search and content publishing technologies will enable professionals to deliver innovative and superior solutions to their customers. […]

IntelliConnect™ and Global Atlas itself have been created by many great, customer-oriented people. Guys, this is really a great, rewarding moment to see Global Atlas in action. Congratulations. I wish IntelliConnect™ a great success.

I’m not buying this Kindle hype

Today I tried to order the famous Amazon Kindle 2. What I got, was the message “We’re sorry. This item can’t be shipped to your selected destination”. I wanted it to be sent to Warsaw, Poland. This is the place where I live, so this was pretty natural shipment destination to me. Sorry Amazon for the inconvinience.

Image courtesy of PlasticLogic

Image courtesy of PlasticLogic

Of course, I’m aware that there is no way I can get it to download e-books via Whispernet in Europe or anywhere outside the U.S. I’ve read that there are some mysterious “import/export laws and other restrictions” that are forbidding me to get a Kindle. On a second thought, however, I would actually appreciate Amazon telling me what actually those laws and restrictions might be. I’m not accustomed to that. But in fact, what I wanted to see is the way Amazon tells their regular customer that my interest in their superior product is not really appreciated. Plain and simple: I don’t like what I saw and that’s the reason I’m being sarcastic. But seriously now…

I really appreciate Amazon’s effort to bring the e-books to the main stream and I think Amazon’s shareholders need to be rewarded for that. I understand the strategy of Amazon leading ultimately to securing their return on investment. They are playing it by the book (actually taking a page from the Apple’s iPod book for dominating digital music). I’m not saying that all content should be free and I fully understand the complexities of the delivery channel for e-books with the DRM at the center. The publishing industry has been struggling with this for years if not decades. Actually vertical integration of the e-book distribution might have been the only way to create a real market for e-books. As a customer however, I have a feeling that this is getting too far towards Amazon’s market dominance. Today I can’t get a Kindle, tomorrow maybe some publishers decide not to publish paper books anymore and I won’t be able to get their content either. Maybe I’m overreacting. Maybe it is just an illusion of freedom of choice that I’m loosing, but still it feels bad. But it costs nothing to make my voice heard.

I heard Jeff Bezos saying “We try and figure out what customers want, and then give it to them”. Allright, here is what I want.

  • For starters, I would appreciate a freedom of choosing an e-book reader that works best for me. As excellent as the Kindle 2 might be, there are other options and there will be more of them coming soon. Some people might prefer Sony Reader, others might want to read e-books on their PC or Mac, iPhone or Android, etc. One thing I know is that competition works towards improving products and services. More importantly, lack of competition results in lack of innovation and ultimately, degradation of quality.
  • I would like to be able to choose a seller that offers the best price or service, according to my personal preferences. I see no reason to fork out $359 for a device that is hardwired to this or that particular retailer. Amazon, if you keep me happy with your service the way you do with paper books (yes, you do!), don’t worry, I will come over for e-books as well. But it is the freedom of choice that counts. Economists call that ‘the love of variety’.
  • I know that for a publisher it costs close to nothing to produce an e-book in one, two or more formats (see for instance O’Reilly e-book bundles). I think it is fair to expect that whatever e-book reader I choose, I will be able to purchase content from multiple vendors in the format which works with my reader. Someday I might want to read e-books from Google Books on the same device I read e-books bought at Amazon. Furthermore, I would like to be able to switch from one device to the other without loosing access to the content I purchased.
  • With the e-books coming into play, I tend to think of a book in a way that separates content and intellectual property associated with it from the delivery medium or “packaging”. Content might be wrapped in the form of paper or in some digital “wrapping” (ePub, PDF, you name it). While I will willingly pay for intellectual property, I would like to pay it only once (unless it is licensed under a kind of pay-per-use model), while I might want to have it in many different “wrappings”. I would gladly pay for the paper the book is printed on, shipment, handling and any reasonable price of the effort of all middlemen that make that possible. I see no reason why I should be restricted in my ability to have my content that I paid for available in print, on my e-book reader, PC and mobile at the same time.
  • I understand why complicating things with DRM is important to copyright owners and for that reason I’m not asking to remove DRM from the picture completely. I’m reluctantly agreeing to sacrifiy some utility in order for the author or publisher to feel more secure.  But I know that it can be designed in a way that it does not necessarily have to ruin my user experience.

I know that this wish list sounds a little naive. But I think that we – the customers – should be pushing industry players towards creating environment that encourages creativity and competition. A few decades into this digital era we have been there many times. We know that the answer is “open standards”. Without open standards there would be no Internet in the first place. Unfortunately, the party that should be most interested in opening the e-book technology stack – the publishers – are surprisingly quiet. Clearly, the ePub standard helps but does not solve the problem. In my opinion it’s right about time to do something about it.

What is your take on that? Am I missing something from my wish list?

Update:

Check out an account of Ian – a Kindle user whose Amazon account has been terminated.

Facebook Leapfrogs Rivals in France

We all got used to the hockey-stick growth of Facebook worldwide. However, the global figures don’t tell the whole story. What is interesting to me is the impact of global social networks will make on fragmented European markets and incumbent social media service providers. For those who do business on a country level here in Europe the key question is: to what extent the local copy/paste innovators will be affected by the global player entering their backyard? You might want to look at my previous article Will Big Fish In a Small Pond Survive? discussing LinkedIn facing Xing in Germany (check out the comments as well for insight from Russia and Poland). Yesterday TechCrunch published interesting figures from France regarding performance of Facebook vs. local competitors that shed some more light on this. The graph below shows total French uniques for popular social networks. Original source for the figures from comScore is here.

Image courtesy of TechCrunch

Image courtesy of TechCrunch

The story behind this picture is that in February 2008 Facebook launched localized French user interface. I would humbly say that this supports my argument that indeed there is a real language barrier to the expansion of global social media players in Europe. Believe it or not, in Europe it is not that everybody speaks English and particularily France is a good example of that. Second thought: there is an untapped potential in the European markets for the global players despite the fact that in every country there is one or more strong incumbents offering similar services.

The good news for the local service providers is that their users apparently are not eager to ditch their existing profiles and connections right away, which should be expected anyway. It is more likely that they choose to maintain yet another profile. But with this growth of Facebook I wouldn’t expect many new users joining local alternatives (are you cash-positive, guys?).

Who is going to win this battle for the local markets? I will rephrase my question from my recent post: If you wanted to integrate your local (say: French) product in some way with social networking service and if you had to pick one – would you now bet on Facebook or on Skyrock?

With these numbers I would dare to go a step further and suggest some hints: If something grows globally, then – language barrier removed – it has a good chance to grow in your local market. MySpace for instance is flat pretty much everywhere, so it is not enough to be “global” and speak the local language. After some time (I guess, there must be some connection between global and local dynamics) it is likely that most of the population actively using social media is there, although it might not be their primary host for online identity and social graph. These might be the arguments for going with the big guys.

ReadWriteWeb vs. Wikipedia or Why Web 2.0 Is Not Social Media

Yesterday I read Why Wikipedia’s Policy to Blacklist Blogs is Outdated and Wrong – a story of Richard MacManus on a quest for removing his higly popular and respected ReadWriteWeb blog from Wikipedia’s spam blacklist. Luckily I don’t have to take sides on this because apparently the dispute has been resolved in Richard’s favor. But it got me thinking.

Clearly for Wikipedia to remain a trustworthy, spam-free and reliable encyclopedia there must be rules and must be people enforcing those rules. The definition for reliable rource on Wikipedia is:

“In general the most reliable sources are peer-reviewed journals and books published in university presses; university-level textbooks; magazines, journals, and books published by respected publishing houses; and mainstream newspapers. As a rule of thumb, the more people engaged in checking facts, analyzing legal issues, and scrutinizing the writing, the more reliable the publication. Material that is self-published, whether on paper or online, is generally not regarded as reliable, but see this section of Verifiability for exceptions.”

I would say, that 17th most popular blog clearly falls under “the more people engaged in checking facts […] the more reliable publication” category. The problem starts when somebody reads the first sentence as saying “there must be a big-ass media corporation/university doing the verification of the source for us”. So, maybe the policy is not as outdated as I initially thought, maybe it is just the way it is applied. So here is my social-network-powered approach to verification of reliability of a source. My intention is not to criticize Wikipedia administrators but rather show how social networks can be leveraged (see also the section on Human-Powered Search in my Social Media: What’s Hot? post). But Wikipedians, you might want to reconsider your policies at some point.

A self-published source is not an abstract – it is an individual writing a blog post. Usually you can read who this person is in an “About” section of the blog. Likely you can meet him/her on this or that social network and for this purpose I think Twitter is the best. If there is like a few thousand individuals following this guy, chances are he or she is quite reliable. Especially if you find among followers the people that you personally know and trust (or people you can find on Wikipedia). Of course there is no way to automatically tell how trustworthy the person is. Impersonations and hacks happen everywhere.  But the networks heal themselves really fast and in many cases you can tell pretty quickly who is a good citizen. You can see how many times he/she gets retweeted. If this person writes posts from time to time, you can look for comments to see if the writing is controversial and how it is appreciated.

It could be difficult to put it in a policy today because the online society is fragmented into too many social graphs and the social media footprints of an individual are not that easy to track. But I think we are getting there. In order to benefit from it, you need to be a part of the network. One thing in this story I’m particularly uncomfortable with is that a group of anonymous administrators and editors was discussing reliability of the person who identifies himself under the real name. Is it that difficult guys to tell us who you are before you call somebody a spammer?

And this brings me to my last point. Richard said in his post:

“It’s also deeply ironic that Wikipedia – a poster child of the Web 2.0 revolution, the read/write user participation Web – fails to recognize the validity of “self-published” media.”

This is the reason why I object when people use “Web 2.0” and “social media” interchangeably. Web 2.0 is just a technical concept and finally a bunch of software components that enable creation of user-generated content. MediaWiki is one and there is plenty of other tools. You can plug them into your website. Yet they by themselves will not create this online community culture that Twitter or Facebook have. Social media is defined by the nature of the relationships between the individuals who have chosen to participate.

Just Read: NYT Article Skimmer

I buzzed a little in my Social Media: What’s Hot? post about the concept of using RSS feeds to aggregate online content and also mentioned Google News service as an example of dynamically created news site. I pointed out to the dire consequences these services might have for ad revenue streams of prime content sources and online media industry. The reason is that as long as you can get your eyes on a headline and a lead, you are very likely not to click through to the full article. If you are anything like me, you will maybe visit 1% of the original full-article pages for all the general news headlines you get in your RSS reader.

One service I found very inspiring yet didn’t mention in my last post is FeedChronicle. It is basically an RSS reader that presents the feeds in a newspaper-like format. I used this service as an example of aggregating content from various sources in user-friendly service.

Today I read the NYT Article Skimmer: Recreate the Sunday Morning Paper in Your Browser on ReadWriteWeb. What New York Times offers is actually that FeedChronicle/Google News feeling. It is this ability I was thinking about: to go through you daily newspaper in a way you like – by skimming. Whatever you say about the interface, I think it is great example of media company answering to real needs of people reading all sorts of information online. Instead of fighting Google News in court, NYT tries to reinvent themselves and offer new value to their readers. The whole mass media industry is struggling, but in my personal opinion the Article Skimmer is a little step in the right direction. Embracing the Web as it stands now with content aggregators, user-generated stuff and hyperconnected information consumers. Way to go, Times!