Techmeme’s new ad model — I like it

Gabe Rivera over at Techmeme has introduced advertising on his blogosphere buzz-tracker/feed-aggregator, and it consists of posts from bloggers that are featured in a right-hand column, a privilege for which they pay several thousands of dollars per month. I think this is potentially a great idea — and much better than just running Google’s AdSense or those annoying pseudo-hyperlinks that some bloggers like.

The ads integrate well with Techmeme’s overall feel, and they are a great way of appealing to blog-centric companies, although my friend Mark Evans wonders just how many of those there might be for such a program. Jeff Jarvis likes it too — and he’s a hard man to please. Cynthia Brumfield at IPDemocracy is a fan as well, and points out that this type of ad has the potential for a lot more engagement with readers than traditional ads (Squash likes it too).

I think Dwight Silverman makes a good point on his Houston Chronicle blog, however, which is that this type of advertising isn’t for everyone or every company, and will only succeed to the extent that those who get involved in the program actually try to become part of the conversation. If those sponsored posts are just lame PR releases disguised as blogs, they will quite quickly fade into the background.

Update:

John Tokash raises an interesting point, in that he wonders how much the featured posts — which are effectively advertising — will wind up “polluting” the overall techmeme aggregation function (admittedly, “polluting” is kind of a loaded word). Just before I came across his post, in fact, I noticed that on my Netvibes feed-reading page, one of the featured posts was listed as the latest addition to Techmeme. Should they not be flagged somehow as sponsored, or advertising? Just wondering.

Dave Winer seems to be suggesting that Gabe should auction off those spaces instead of setting a price for a month, which is probably not a bad idea (makes it hard to forecast revenue though). And Erick Schonfeld wonders if featured posts might actually get less attention than if they just appeared on techmeme normally.

Gabe Rivera has a response to some of Tom Foremski’s quibbles with the model here.

Can Google engineer chaos?

The picture of Google that emerges from a recent Fortune magazine article depends a lot on your point of view. Some will focus on the fact that the Googleplex is all free cafeterias and young people whizzing around on scooters. Others will focus on how the gigantic cash-spewing machine that fuels the company gives its managers unprecedented freedom to think in different ways — to try and fail, and in some cases not even to worry about making money at all.

Is that a good thing? It might be. On the other hand, Google might be fiddling while Rome burns. It’s interesting to contrast Google with Microsoft. Even when the software giant was young, the entire company was focused on extending the dominance of Windows and Office. Do you think Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer gave employees 20 per cent of their time to work on new things? Dream on. Even with the internal think-tank work that Microsoft has done, it has still wound up getting side-swiped by the Internet, the iPod and plenty of other things.

Does Google’s flexibility mean it is any less likely to get a nasty surprise? That’s hard to say. For my part, all the stuff about “engineering chaos” and giving employees the right to fail and so on is great — and don’t get me wrong, it is definitely great, and I think more companies (including mine) should encourage it — but the piece of the puzzle that rang the truest for me, as it obviously did for Richard at Read/Write Web, came at the end, when Eric Schmidt was drawing on the whiteboard talking about the Internet:

The gist of the illustration is that there’s practically no money left to be made in computers, not in hardware or software. The money, instead, is all in Web applications, a trend Schmidt had been predicting since his days as chief technology officer at Sun a decade ago. Users won’t always be traveling to the Web on the PC.

Can Google manage to take a commanding presence in that future world? Google Calendar and Google Spreadsheets and Google Notebook are interesting, but as far as I’m concerned they are baby steps along that road. Maybe a little less chaos and a little more focus wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

Why is there no Grand Theft Auto MMPORG?

An idle thought for a Sunday afternoon: virtual worlds such as Second Life, The Sims Online and World of Warcraft are hugely popular online games, in part because they manage to combine elements of the real world with fantasy and the unreal, and also because they allow for all kinds of behaviour (good, bad and in between) to find a harmless outlet. Such behaviour includes malicious acts known as “griefing” in Second Life, adults pretending to be children for sexual purposes, and even the rise of what amounts to a virtual Mafia in The Sims.

gta san andreas

The game Grand Theft Auto has also become hugely popular by allowing game players to engage in all kinds of nefarious behaviour, including theft, murder, assault and battery, prostitution, drug-dealing, and so on. So why isn’t there an online version of Grand Theft Auto, where people can form gangs and beat other players up, steal their virtual money, blackmail or extort other players, set up prostitution rings and so on? It seems like it would be a slam-dunk.

Obviously, there would be a risk of real-world violence being blamed on Grand Theft Auto, but that already happens. I’m only half-joking here. I think watching people’s behaviour inside such a game would be like an incredible real-world psychology laboratory in action.

Social networking and media isn’t all good

Social networking and social media — sites such as MySpace.com and YouTube.com — are often written about as though they are universally a good thing. And there’s no question that it’s great to have places where kids can socialize online, so to speak, and share blog posts and photos and music, or where they can go and watch video clips of people trying stupid bicycle tricks or kittens trying to get out of Kleenex boxes or whatever. But as my friend Scott Karp of Publishing 2.0 is fond of pointing out, there is a dark side to these kinds of networks.

A couple of stories I came across recently reminded me of that. One was actually fairly comical: a university student posted a picture of a teacher’s dog on MySpace, along with a note saying that he planned to kill the dog — which got animal rights activists and others all in a lather. However, it turned out to be part of a media assignment in which students were asked to do whatever they could to make the teacher’s dog famous (I would have said the student should have won hands down, but threatening the dog was not allowed).

Another story involving students and teachers saw some high-school students set up a MySpace page that they pretended had been set up by their teacher, confessing that she was a lesbian, etc. She is suing two students for defamation and libel, and one of the students is facing criminal charges. And another story that just recently broke in Toronto involves high-school kids videotaping each other having fist-fights and then uploading them to YouTube.

Obviously, these kinds of stories are just the tip of the iceberg. Others have written about adults trolling for sex with children on MySpace, and the social-networking site has been sued by the family of a 14-year-old girl who says she was sexually assaulted by a man she met through MySpace. And some critics of YouTube have argued that having a forum to upload video of people fighting or engaging in other questionable behaviour can encourage that kind of behaviour.

True? Who knows. It’s possible that YouTube and MySpace and VampireFreaks.com (the social-networking site for goths and emos that was associated with the recent shooting in Montreal) are just making it easier to discover things that have always existed, but were harder to come across before the Internet. In any case, I expect we’ll be seeing more of these types of stories — but the potential liability of MySpace or YouTube in such events remains a big question mark. And if you’re a parent, think about what the parents of Amanda Wenk went through — a high-school senior, she uploaded racy photos of herself and her friends and they spread around the Internet like wildfire, until she had become a quasi-celebrity.

Update:

Pete Cashmore at Mashable says Bebo — which is even more popular than MySpace in Europe — is cracking down on bullying and other behaviour.