Cleaning up the mess over at MyBlogLog

mybloglog.JPGMuch has been written about the “Shoemoney Affair,” in which the blogger known as Shoemoney wrote about a MyBlogLog hack that allowed unscrupulous types to spoof their identities, and was subsequently banned from the service, despite the fact that — as Tony Hung pointed out at Deep Jive Interests — MyBlogLog didn’t have a terms of service agreement that said anything about banning people (it has since developed one). The banning also happened despite the fact that, as Eric Marcoullier of MBL admits here, someone else had posted something about the same exploit over a month earlier (although it was on a French blog, and therefore might have been missed).

This all comes in the wake of several other MyBlogLog stumbles involving spam, which I wrote about recently. And while lots of people seem to enjoy taking shots at MyBlogLog CEO Scott Rafer and Eric Marcoullier and others, as though they were some giant evil corporation, I for one have been impressed with how quickly and honestly the team at MBL have responded to their various missteps and the resulting onslaught of criticism. In his latest post here, Eric says:

“A lot of people I respect immensely have written in to tell me that I screwed up, and after a point, it becomes impossible to avoid the truth. We banned Shoemoney originally to keep him from updating his list of User IDs on Wednesday night, which I think was the right thing to do. But after fixing the exploit, I should have unbanned him and thanked him for finding it. But I didn’t. I screwed up.”

Although there is still debate about whether Shoemoney should have been banned in the first place (like Steve Poland over at TechCrunch, I would argue he was just showing off, not being malicious, although Andy Beard doesn’t agree), Eric’s post is the kind of thing I like to see. With a small startup — albeit one that is now part of the giant Yahoo empire — it’s inevitable that mistakes are going to happen, as Caterina Fake points out in her post on the whole affair.

We can’t applaud startups for their gung-ho attitude and then slam then when they screw up. I think Eric and the rest of the team at MBL deserve a lot of credit for admitting their mistakes openly and clearly. Let’s move on.

Yahoo gets a copy of Eric’s Plan B

Like many shareholders of Yahoo — whose stock has climbed somewhat in the past few months, but is still well below where it was at the beginning of last year — blogger and management consultant Eric Jackson has been less than pleased with the company’s performance over the past year or so.

Yahoo-logo.jpg Although the Internet “portal” and search company has finally rolled out enhancements to its search-related advertising system, in an attempt to compete with the more successful platform run by you-know-who (hint: it starts with a G), Yahoo is still seen by many as lagging when it comes to its online strategy, or perhaps lacking one altogether. But rather than just complain, Mr. Jackson wrote a blog post back in January in which he tried to rally other disgruntled shareholders to his cause.

He described a refocused strategy for Yahoo that he called Plan B (including the removal of Terry Semel as CEO), and posted a video of himself outlining the idea to both his blog and to YouTube. As he put it in his original post

“Yahoo! is drifting; and its board and management have been too slow to act to this fundamental problem. As shareholders, we don’t have to sit by and watch this. Activist Investing has principally been the domain of hedge funds — well, no longer. With the help of the web, blogs, and wikis, I’m asking all current and future retail investors in Yahoo! to join me in pushing for a change.”

Eric’s campaign has been written about at TheStreet.com and the Internet Outsider blog, which belongs to former Wall Street technology analyt Henry Blodget, as well as Red Herring magazine.

And over the past couple of months, he has gotten a substantial amount of support from other Yahoo shareholders, including a couple of fairly large institutional shareholders whom he says would rather remain anonymous. In all, he says he has $29-million worth of Yahoo stock behind him, and recently filed the required papers to be nominated for the company’s board of directors.

“Some have told me I will need $200,000 to run a “proxy contest” to get elected to the Yahoo! board and — even with that — the odds are stacked against us, as most institutional shareholders tend to be “pro-management,” he says on his blog. “I don’t have $200,000, but I have a love for Yahoo!, the great employees who work there, and we have a plan that has merit — thanks to your input.”

Best of luck, Eric.

Newspaper software: pretty but dumb

The New York Times Reader, a piece of software you can download to read the NYT on your PC, came out in beta last fall and I immediately downloaded it for a few reasons — including the fact that I am a geek, a newspaper journalist and a big NYT fan. And I have to admit that it was (and is) pretty slick. Thanks to Microsoft’s presentation software, it replicates the look of a newspaper, but updates itself when connected to the Web, etc.

prison.jpgNow the company has announced several similar readers for two British papers, Forbes magazine and a Seattle newspaper (PaidContent has more here). And like several other people, including James Kendrick of JKOntheRun, David Rothman of TeleRead and Bob Russell of MobileRead, I am left scratching my head and wondering what the hell any of these publications are thinking. Why on earth would anyone download multiple pieces of software — all of which are based on the same rendering engine from Microsoft — to read different newspapers? It makes no sense. (John Dowdell says that it might appeal to someone who only wants to read one newspaper, which I will admit is a possibility, but it still seems overly limiting to me).

I think it probably makes sense to the executives at the NYT, who approved the idea, or to similar executives at Forbes and Associated Newspapers — after all, the lure of such an idea is that it has the potential to replicate the same kind of physical control that newspapers enjoy in print, but in digital form. No cutting and pasting, no linking from the outside, no messy webpages or RSS feeds or any of that nonsense. Just a very pretty, very appealing, Microsoft-controlled walled garden.

There’s already magazine-reading software from Zinio.com that does quite a good job of replicating the look of a magazine on a PC, and is quite handy for reading offline on airplanes and so on. But a single piece of software allows you to download dozens of magazines, not just one. Will any of these publications agree to be bundled all together into a single reader application? Unlikely. That would make too much sense for readers.

Further reading:

David Hunter at HunterStrat shares my bemusement at the whole idea of a dedicated app for a single publication, as does my friend Rob, and James Robertson. And Don Dodge disagrees with me and points out that “the business of software is about business, not technology.” I would agree — but the business of software (or the business of business, for that matter) should also be about serving the customer.

Will a dedicated application just to replicate the look of a particular newspaper be enough of a service to make these readers fly? I don’t think so. The newspapers in question might want you to think that they came up with this idea to help you as a reader, but I think the real reason is that they are trying desperately to think of a way to maintain their control. And my experience is that that kind of motivation tends to make for a crappy product.

Papers do video, with mixed results

As the word “paper” becomes less and less a part of the newspaper world, things like video are becoming more and more common. While there are some exceptionally well-designed video efforts out there — such as the Washington Post’s OnBeing, which I wrote about recently — there are also some that are, well… underwhelming, if that’s a word.

video-camera.jpgPaul Bradshaw of the Online Journalism blog says that his hometown newspaper in Bolton is one of those that seems to be struggling with the whole concept. In fact, Paul says its efforts are “the worst attempt at online video I’ve seen so far.” And Kurt Anderson has a piece at New York magazine in which he writes about some of the video work that the New York Times has been doing — including film critic David Carr’s Oscar blog Carpetbagger. He also mentions David Pogue’s tech videos, which I have to confess I find exceptionally irritating. But maybe that’s just me.

“In the online archives of U.S. papers are thousands of videos, among them dozens of exceptional short docs, more like miniature Frontlines or public-radio-with-pictures than like network-news segments, available anytime. This is video-journalism-on-demand.”

In other recent newspaper video news, the New York Times just announced that it is going to dip its toes into the “user-generated content” field by allowing couples who want to be featured in the wedding announcements to send in video talking about how they met, or a clip from their wedding. Fittingly enough, an NYT staffer describes the effort in a Google video interview, and says that the paper decided to do it as a way of experimenting with video.

Update:

In a followup post, Paul says he came across some video at the Eastern Daily Press website that fits his definition of really well-done video content.

Dude, blogging is just so over

Every now and then some ancient blogger will post a world-weary, “been there, done that” missive about how blogging is tiresome, bordering on useless, and so they are giving it up, etc. The implication being, of course, that blogs are a kind of juvenile pursuit, like skateboarding or body-piercing, and that eventually everyone grows up and puts such things behind them. The latest entry in this genre comes from Dee Rambeau of the Marcom blog, which I got pointed to by Student PR blogger Chris Clarke.

blogging.jpgRambeau is apparently one of a number of PR professionals who contribute to the blog and teach PR at Auburn University in Alabama, in the school of communications and journalism. Number one on his list of world-weary reasons for quitting the blog game? Because he was “in early” (he started posting in 2004). Why this means he has to stop now isn’t clear, at least not to me — except perhaps that he has run out of things to say. Rambeau then veers into whether corporations should blog, and says that he has come to the conclusion that blogging “is not a positive thing for business, rather it is a negative.” In fact, he says, for a public company with shareholders, blogs are “useless and irresponsible.” Personal blogging is fine, he says, but they don’t really matter because blogs are primarily “an exercise of EGO.” Then he says:

“I’m tired of blogging. I’m done. What I have to say…I’m going to keep it to myself. There is soooooo much noise out there. I’m tired of contributing to it.”

“I will contribute to MarcomBlog in the future but I’ll not be adding to my own blog. My writing is going to be private and I hope to publish a book.”

I have to say this whole post rang false for me in a whole bunch of ways. Should public corporations be careful about blogging? Obviously. But useless and irresponsible? That’s a bit much. I guess it was useless and irresponsible for JetBlue’s founder and CEO to post a video on YouTube apologizing for the way his company has treated customers. No PR value there, I suppose. Or for a company to use their blog as a way of responding to customers, like Dell has — no value there, I suppose. Good lesson.

What it reads like to me is that Dee Rambeau has lost interest in blogging, and/or has run out of things to say, and that what he does have to say he will keep to himself (the point of which is what exactly?) and/or publish in a book — the implication being that doing so is a much more civilized and worthwhile effort than writing a “blog” (and books aren’t about ego, I guess). To which I would say: Thanks for leaving, Dee. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

Update:

Please see the comments below for some responses from Dee Rambeau and from Robert French, the Auburn PR teacher who runs the Marcom blog.