NYT on blog comments as conversation

An interesting piece in the New York Times today (although it was in the Fashion & Style section, which I thought was a little odd). I’m not sure if the topic signals some kind of evolution in the way the Times looks at the blogosphere or an evolution in the blogosphere itself — or maybe a bit of both.

It’s about people who have become known — “Internet famous” — not for having a popular blog, or for being a YouTube star, but for commenting on other people’s blogs and content (no doubt an academic somewhere will call this “meta-blogging.”) As the Times piece puts it:

“Since many blogs have a readership of one — or, at best, the writer, his mother and some guy he sat next to in seventh grade who found him on Google — piggybacking on a more popular site offers a wider audience for a keyboard jockey’s gripes and quips.

Not everyone is up to the task of creating a blog with the kind of consistent tone and provocative topics that attract visitors.”

The Times piece profiles a Metafilter commenter known as DaShiv, as well as Seth Chadwick, who posts on a food-related site called Chowhound. But my favourite quote comes from Marshall Poe, a professor of new media at the University of Iowa, who describes the motivation of commenters in this way:

“You are one of the millions of people who sit at a computer all day… every hour you have 10 minutes where you’re not doing anything productive at work, and you can’t look at porn.

So you make a comment and fulfill this desire to show yourself off as a smarty-pants.”

The Times piece also talks about a commenter on Gawker, where the site picks and chooses who will be allowed to comment, and so a competition has developed where people try to post the wittiest comments so that they can join the club. Now that’s social networking. And DaShiv explains why he prefers to comment at Metafilter rather than starting his own blog:

“It’s easier to join in on a conversation than to start one,” he said matter of factly.

And it takes both kinds to make the blogosphere tick.

Apple: What happened to thinking different?

picture-134.jpg Hats off to Erick Schoenfeld — ex of Business 2.0, and now the Numero Duo over at TechCrunch — for his post about Apple and the iPhone. At the risk of getting flamed again (or having my server melt down from the Digg-storm), I have to say that I think he has put his finger on one of the main things that bothers me about the whole iPhone/iBrick episode: namely, that by locking down its device and crippling it when anyone messes with it, Apple is acting just like every other phone company and device company. That is likely to come as a disappointment for many Apple fans — or at least those who believed that the phrase “Think different” was more than just a marketing slogan. As Erick puts it:

Apple, of course, is free to try to lock in customers to its partner AT&T and to control what software will work on the phone. That’s just the way the cell phone business works. Right? It’s all about customer lock-in and reducing churn.

More than one commenter on my previous Apple post made the exact same point: Why should we criticize Apple for cutting off that guy’s Internet access because he was uploading code from his iTouch? Why should we give Steve-O a hard time just because Apple wants to control what people do with his phone? After all, that’s what companies do.

The only problem with all of that (as some other commenters on my earlier Apple post pointed out) is that I think people have grown used to the idea of Apple as a different kind of company — the company that makes things easier to use, not harder; the one that actually cares what people want and tries to give it to them. Was that idea just an illusion?

Nick Carr says it’s because Steve sees Apple products as works of art, and doesn’t want people to mess with them, which I think is probably pretty close to the mark. According to the accounts I’ve read of Apple’s birth, he didn’t want to let people fiddle with the first Apple PCs either.


Peter Ha has some videos that also make the point over at CrunchGear.

Interview: Spiral Frog CEO Joe Mohen

(This is a story I wrote for globetechnology.com about Spiral Frog, based on an interview I did with founder and CEO Joe Mohen. I’m cross-posting it here for anyone who might have missed it. You can listen to the audio of our interview here. And my colleague Ivor Tossell has a look at the service here)

Delivering entertainment for free — paid for by occasional ads for cars and toothpaste — has worked pretty well for TV and radio all these years. So why not use the same model for music that gets delivered over the Internet? That’s the idea behind SpiralFrog, a new service that launched in Canada and the United States earlier this month. It’s one of a number of services that are trying to make a business out of giving away ad-supported music.

With Spiral Frog, users must watch a video advertisement or take a survey while a song is downloading. Two-thirds of the income from those ads is then passed on to record companies and others who hold the licensing rights to the music. Spiral Frog founder Joe Mohen, a former U.S. software industry executive, says that while the idea seems simple enough, the reality of putting together such a service has been “the most complex project I’ve ever undertaken.”

The company has been around for almost five years, but only opened to the public a couple of weeks ago, in part because the technical issues involved were so complex. The service was originally scheduled to launch last year. SpiralFrog has also undergone a certain amount of executive turmoil. Several senior executives left the company abruptly in January, including CEO Robin Kent, the former chairman and CEO of ad agency Universal McCann.

Continue reading