Facebook bows to the Beacon haters

Nick O’Neill at All Facebook has the news that Facebook has backtracked on its Beacon feature (as I expected they might), and will now present the data for a Facebook user to approve before it is added to their news feed. In other words, you could now prevent the information about the Christmas present (or Christmakkah present) you bought from being broadcast to the person you bought it for.

Will the statement from Facebook placate all of the Beacon critics? That’s pretty unlikely — I think some people have the knives out for anything that they see as an infringement on their privacy, even if they have to agree before their privacy even gets infringed. I know that my friend Leigh, for example, feels very strongly about the Facebook tracking idea, but I honestly don’t see what the big deal is (Update: I’m glad to see that Fred Wilson agrees with me).

Hopefully now that Facebook has made it even more obvious for users what is being tracked, and they have to explicitly approve it before it’s added to their news feed, some of the complaints will die down. Just to be clear, users have always had to approve the disclosure, but many have complained that it was too confusing, or they weren’t paying attention, or the opt-out notice disappeared too quickly, or whatever.

So now, as I understand it, Facebook will present you with a notice about the shopping or other behaviour it has tracked through a partner site like Amazon, and if you click OK then it will be added to your news feed. And then Facebook will let me know that you bought “Chicken Soup For the Heartless Bastard” or whatever, and I will promptly ignore that just like I ignore most of the things in my feed.

Pirate Bay: Find new music, and steal it

You have to hand it to The Pirate Bay. No, really — you have to hand it to them, because they’re just going to take it anyway. (sorry, just a little peer-to-peer humour there; is this thing on?) The BitTorrent site, which has made a career out of thumbing its nose at just about every legal authority, regulatory body and government from here to the Swiss Alps — and not just thumbing its nose, but occasionally dropping its pants — is now in the music recommendation business.

In an irony so twisted that members of the RIAA are likely to get whiplash just thinking about it, site has added some new features to its site that show you similar artists when you search for a particular song or album (which, of course, you plan to download without paying for it). They even have a Last.fm player that will stream music from those related artists — which makes you wonder if there isn’t someone over at Last.fm’s media-giant parent, CBS, who hasn’t been reading his memos carefully.

Snapshot: comments on Google News

I was looking around at some of the blog posts and news articles on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, including one at Compete about traffic flows on Cyber Monday, and as usual I wound up at Google News doing a search for the term Cyber Monday. What came up was a cluster of almost 700 articles with one from CNet at the top.

Directly underneath the story cluster, however, was a comment balloon, indicating that Google News had added a comment from someone involved in the story, as the site started doing earlier this year in an attempt to add balance to the news that it presents (a curiously journalistic approach for a search engine). The Cyber Monday comment was one of the first ones I’ve come across “in the wild,” so I took a snapshot of the page. As it turned out, there were actually three comments:

google-comments.png

One comment is from the chief retail analyst at NPD Group, a research firm, a second is from the executive director at Shop.org — where they have put together a page with hundreds of Black Friday deals, and a third comment comes from a retail analyst at Forrester Research.

What purpose does this serve? I’m not sure. The NPD analyst is actually quoted in some of the retail stories I came across, but his comment on the Google News page is substantially longer than any of his quotes in news stories; does that add value? Perhaps. The Shop.org comment seems fairly blatantly promotional, which makes you wonder why Google bothered. And the Forrester comment — which is quite short — arguably adds something to the story, but not a huge amount.

Will many people read those comments? And if they do, will it add to their understanding of the story in a way that a simple quote in a news article wouldn’t? I wish I knew.

Warner Music: We’re totally screwed

I’m paraphrasing a little, but that seems to be the general thrust of Edgar Bronfman Jr.’s comments about the company’s latest financial results. In a nutshell, Warner — which Edgar Jr. maintains is not a record company at all, but a “music-based content company” — is selling less and less of its bread and butter (i.e., CDs), and not nearly enough new things to make up for the declining sales of old things.

According to a rundown of the news and the related conference call at PaidContent, Warner’s revenue was essentially flat, while earnings fell by almost 60 per cent to just $5-million — and that’s on total sales of almost $900-million, which works out to a profit margin of about .5 per cent. In other words, virtually non-existent. And the near future looks as though it’s likely to be as bad or worse.

Digital revenue climbed by 25 per cent, but at $130-million it is still only about 15 per cent of the company’s business, and that proportion is unchanged from the same quarter last year. Is it any wonder that Edgar Jr. seems to have finally gotten religion about the record industry’s futile war against new business models? It’s just too bad it happened four or five years later than it should have, and Warner is now sliding down the slope of a curve it could have been ahead of.

Is Google crowdsourcing? Not quite

As described by Phil Lenssen at Google Blogoscoped and at Google Operating System — and apparently first spotted by Haochi at Googlified — Google is experimenting with a customized search function that allows users to “vote” search results up or down, or even suggest sites that match their search better than the ones Google has come up with. So is Google going to start “crowdsourcing” its search function, and letting people vote on search results Digg-style, as some are suggesting? Unlikely.

Duncan Riley at TechCrunch may be surprised, but this just sounds like just another step in customized search, which Google has been experimenting with for some time — as Google Operating System noted, there have been earlier experiments in letting you suggest new pages, change the order of results and even remove results. It makes sense to let you sort the results yourself, and then if you search for the same keywords again, you’ll be more likely to find pages that meet your needs.

So does that mean Google is going to start letting people vote on results in the Google index as a whole? I think the odds of that are approaching zero. After all, PageRank already effectively does that — people vote with their links. At some point, if there was enough usage of the experimental features, Google might allow some of that voting to influence whether it shows a link or how high it ranks (particularly with pages that are repeatedly removed), but I can’t see it affecting things that much.

If it did, one commenter on Flickr said, it would mean “another job for out-of-work gold farmers,” those poor souls who toil day and night completing virtual quests in World of Warcraft in order to earn gold for their employers. They could just switch to voting on search results.