Sometimes face to face is good

As noted by both Mark Evans (who writes for the National Post) and lawyer/blogger Rob Hyndman, a few of us lonely Toronto bloggers got together for a little face time at The Paddock last night — a group that included Tyler Hamilton (who writes for the Toronto Star) and Mike McDerment, founder of 2ndSite and a principal in web development company Anicon.

Mark makes the point that this was no Om Malik-style Silicon Valley meetup — for one thing, it was freezing cold — nor was it the kind of day that Dave Johnson of Vancouver describes in his comment to my post about Om’s day, in which Dave says he often runs into Paul Kedrosky while biking along the seashore, or goes skiing with Dick Hardt or runs into Tim “ongoing” Bray.

Still, it was a lot of fun — plenty of stimulating conversation. Sometimes it’s good to get out from behind the keyboard and actually see people in the flesh 🙂 Hopefully, more of that will be coming in the future.

Don’t bother searching for “Tianenmen Square” (updated)

As many expected, Google has launched a Chinese version of its search engine (NYT link) in an attempt to grow in that massive market, and to compete with local search providers such as Baidu.com, and it has agreed to filter its results to comply with government restrictions — or what several wags have referred to as the “great firewall of China.” The service will also not have Google e-mail or blogs.

This isn’t terribly surprising, given some of the activity by Google and other tech giants when it comes to China — such as the shutting down of a noted dissident’s blog by Microsoft’s MSN, and the identification of another dissident (who was later arrested) by Yahoo. And Google has been accused of at least helping to filter results before, including in this Harvard study.

It’s obvious that companies such as Google see such activity as part of the cost of doing business in a country like China, and no doubt they would make the argument that if they didn’t comply then someone else would. It’s still a sad development, however, and it certainly throws into sharp relief how the search company’s “don’t be evil” mantra can be modified when necessary to fit the needs of the business.

John Battelle says Sergey Brin told him on balance Google figures it’s better to be in China than not. I’m not sure I agree. Danny Sullivan says it’s more complicated than that, and Philipp Lenssen says Google should come clean about what they censor and where. Good Morning Silicon Valley says it’s like “watching little Anakin grow up into Darth Vader,” and the Mercury News says Google should change its motto to “Don’t be more evil than necessary” (thanks to IPDemocracy.com for pointing me to that one).

Update:

As I said in the comments, after Stuart mentioned that this is just part of doing business, I’m willing to admit that companies have to do certain things in order to grow their business, and I would even agree with Sergey that Google being in China is probably better in the long run than not being there — but what I think all this points out is how problematic it is to have a motto like “Don’t be evil” when you’re a gigantic multinational corporation. It’s a lot easier to pull off when you’re just a little startup. You’ll notice that the oil industry and the U.S. government don’t have a motto like that 🙂 In that sense, Larry and Sergey have made their bed, and now they have to lie in it.

Well done, Dan — failure is educational

As an admirer of Dan Gillmor and what he has done in the past — and what he tried to do with his “citizen’s media” venture, bayosphere.com — I felt more than a twinge of regret when I read his open letter about the demise of Bayosphere. But I think Adam Green of Darwinianweb.com has the right viewpoint: Dan should be proud of what he tried to do, not ashamed because it didn’t work (neither should Mark Evans).

As Adam notes, failure is almost a prerequisite when it comes to trying new and challenging things. He says he asks almost every executive of a startup to describe a failure from their past, and is suspicious when they don’t admit to one. Adam also congratulates Dan for providing a “sincere and thoughtful analysis” of what happened at Bayosphere, and I would like to echo that thought as well. At this point, everyone is making their best guesses about what is happening with Media 2.0 or whatever you want to call it, and (hopefully) trying to learn what works and what doesn’t.

Dan’s post definitely helps in that regard, but it also raises plenty of questions — as it should. Was Bayosphere too local? Were the restrictions on who could be a “citizen journalist” too strict? Would a model like Newsvine.com, which is both broader in scope and more open, work better? What about one that incorporates both “old” media sources and new media, with a voting system — a la digg.com or reddit.com — built in? What about a system that compensates citizen journalists based on their articles, which Gather.com seems to be trying to build? Kent Newsome thinks Bayosphere is a sign of how hard building an audience in Media 2.0 is.

Anyway, congratulations on a valiant effort, Dan. You have nothing to be ashamed of.

Update:

Tim Porter has a thoughtful discussion of some of the issues raised by Dan’s experience at Bayosphere, one of which is that “community can’t be forced.” (hat tip to Online News Squared for pointing that one out).

Steve Jobs gets a new job at Disney

When it comes to Steve Jobs, most investors and even non-market watchers probably think of a single word: Apple. After all, Apple is the company that Mr. Jobs co-founded in the 1970s, when he was just a cocky twenty-something (as opposed to a cocky fifty-something). It’s also the one he has been chief executive of twice — once during its early years of success, and then more recently as the architect of Apple’s stunning metamorphosis from computer industry also-ran into personal-electronics titan. And of course, whenever Apple introduces new products to its worshipful fans, the guy at centre stage in jeans and black turtleneck is Steven Paul Jobs.

Apple’s turnaround has been an incredible success story — right up there with the rise of Google — and it has had a similar effect on the company’s share price, which has gone from a little more than $10 (U.S.) a share two years ago to a recent close of almost $80 a share. That gives the company a market value of more than $65-billion, which — as Mr. Jobs noted recently in an internal e-mail to employees — puts the company ahead of Dell, whose CEO once said Apple should close its doors and give all the money to shareholders.

Obviously, having the company you run increase in value by 700 per cent in two years has to make you feel pretty good — and Mr. Jobs has also seen his bet on Apple’s future pay off financially. Although he has taken a salary of $1 and no bonus for the past three years, he exchanged some worthless stock options for shares in the company in 2003, and those shares are now worth upwards of $800-million. Not a bad return.

Even compared with his success at Apple, however, the story of Mr. Jobs and Pixar, the digital animation company that created such movies as Toy Story and A Bug’s Life, is an eye-opener — as Paul Kedrosky points out in his own succinct way. The company Jobs bought from film-maker George Lucas for just $10-million two decades ago — the one that media conglomerate Disney has just announced it is acquiring — is worth roughly $7.5-billion, and Mr. Jobs owns 51 per cent.

He may not be as closely associated with it as he is with Apple, and Pixar may not have splashy events like Macworld where Steve shows up in jeans and a turtleneck, but he is clearly in the driver’s seat at the animation company (ironically, he is also far better compensated at Pixar, even if you exclude the value of his stock: his salary at Pixar in 2004 was $52). And he will soon be pulling a considerable amount of weight at Disney too. How will that work out, and how will it affect Apple? Interesting times are definitely ahead.

Note:

Please read the rest of this column at the Globe & Mail website.

Tello and Iotum do the “presence” thing

Reading about the launch of Tello, a software application aimed at the idea of “presence” — in other words, helping people figure out where you are and then helping them reach you with the appropriate phone or other device — reminded me that I wanted to blog about a chat I recently had with one of the co-founders of another “presence” company, Ottawa-based Iotum. I’m planning to write more about the company for globeandmail.com, but here’s a taste.

Howard Thaw, a serial entrepeneur who started the company with former Microsoftie Alec Saunders (one of a small group of CEOs who blog), told me a bit about the company and its solution, which Iotum calls a “relevance engine.” Essentially, it is a kind of personal assistant that learns through heuristics, which Howard knows well from a previous venture, Thunderbyte anti-virus software. In effect, it is designed to learn what phone calls or voice messages or IM pings or VOIP calls to put through to where, based on your past behaviour and a set of rules it develops.

Iotum has just recently come out of “stealth” mode, and has been selected to present at the DEMO conference in February, a fairly exclusive conference run by Chris Shipley and aimed primarily at startups and early-stage venture capital. As Howard described it, the API for the Iotum engine will be open for developers to add functionality, and so that other companies and applications can “plug in” to the software and add features — something Alec says would apply to a product such as Tello. Coincidentally enough (or not), VOIP pioneer Jeff Pulver, who is one of the founders of Tello along with John Sculley of IBM and Apple fame, is on the Iotum board of advisors.

Will such “presence”-oriented apps catch on with a time-pressed and increasingly fragmented consumer? Mike at TechDirt remains skeptical, as do VOIP blogger Tom Keating, Oliver over at MobileCrunch and Stowe Boyd, but Iotum and Tello — and some high-profile finance types, in the latter case — are banking on it.

Update:

Andy Abramson has a nice overview post in which he discuss Tello and Iotum (whom he works for as a communications consultant).