Google: Why not make the cloud free?

Kevin Kelleher has a post up at GigaOm with an interesting proposition: he says Google should duplicate the kinds of cloud-based services that Amazon has — the S3 storage business, the EC2 virtual server business and so on — except do it all for free. He rightly argues that this would be an easy way to eat Amazon’s lunch (the idea stems from a post by my old friend Dave Winer, who wrote about a pig coming up to his car and talking to him, which may or may not be some kind of metaphor).

I’m not saying Google should make its cloud services free because I want free storage space and a virtual disk drive that is 100 gigabytes and free blog hosting that doesn’t go down for an hour or two every few days, the way my current host does — well, okay, that’s part of the reason I think Google should do it. But I also think it makes perfect sense for the company. Offering things like Gmail and Google Docs and Google Calendar for free is in their DNA. Why not use the spare space on those 500,000 servers to the maximum? It’s a slam-dunk.

Look ma, my docs are in the cloud!

Nice to see that Google has finally launched offline access for Google Documents — or at least for text documents anyway (apparently presentations and spreadsheets are coming later). I guess we should be grateful, although I still have to wonder why Zoho has had offline capability for its document-sharing service since way back in November sometime, which is based on Google Gears. I thought having inside knowledge of features helped companies triumph over their competitors — or is that the kind of thing that only works for Microsoft?

Late to the party or not, I still think Google is the one to beat. Zoho’s services are great, and I use Zoho Show in particular a fair bit, but when it comes to trusting a company with my data I would have to come down on the side of Google. Doesl being a multibillion-dollar company mean that they won’t be vulnerable to outages that take down the cloud? Hardly. But I expect them to have some pretty mean backups and redundancies, thanks to those 600,000 servers they have in warehouse farms around the world (or however many they are up to now).

Some — including Frederic of The Last Podcast — say the sharing part of Google Docs doesn’t interest them much, and that they need features that only an offline or desktop version of a word processor can offer. I have to say I don’t need the latter, and I think the former is a critical feature, especially as companies try to make it easier for their employees to collaborate and become more creative. (Note: Rafe Needleman at Webware points out that Mozilla is planning to build this feature into its browser).

Virgin volunteers to be Big Brother

According to a piece in The Telegraph this morning, Virgin Media — the Internet service provider run by Richard Branson’s Virgin conglomerate — has volunteered to play copyright cop and yank the Internet account of users who share infringing material. Virgin and the British Phonographic Industry are apparently working out the details, which will likely involve the “three strikes and you’re out” approach.

Under this system — which has been proposed by several copyright enforcement bodies as either a voluntary process or one that could be legislated — Internet users would get a letter from their ISP after the first “offence,” then their account would be suspended (no word on for how long), and after a third infraction they would be disconnected completely. It’s not clear whether Virgin is going to play ball with cutting people off, but the story says that “remains an option” (although Torrentfreak says there could be a silver lining to the Virgin move).

As more than one person (including me) has pointed out, this approach sounds like a great idea right up until you try to imagine how it’s going to work. Would users be cut off for a single shared file — and if not, then how many? Would they be cut off for days, or weeks? What if the account holder isn’t the one sharing the files? How is the BPI going to track activity? How will the money be shared? Determined pirates won’t be the ones caught by this plan — only the unwitting or stupid.

As I mentioned in my previous post on this topic, not only would turning ISPs into Internet police open up a giant can of worms — especially since Virgin would be voluntarily turning over the names and addresses of users suspected of engaging in illicit behaviour — but criminalizing copyright infringement on such a massive scale is all out of proportion with the damage that is allegedly being inflicted on the music industry. And yet, we seem to be facing either an ISP cop or ISP extortion.

The more I think about it, the more it looks like this could be the beginning of Act Two of the music industry’s ongoing self-immolation, with the lawsuits by the RIAA as Act One.

Publish2 gets Series A financing

Congratulations to Scott Karp and his team at Publish2, who just announced that they have closed a $2.75-million round of Series A funding from Ross Levinsohn’s Velocity Interactive Group. Scott was one of the most perceptive writers about the future of digital media while he was with Atlantic Media (which publishes The Atlantic magazine), and last year he left that job to pursue his vision of how traditional media can use social tools — such as the Publish2 social bookmarking platform — to improve and extend their reporting onto the Web.

I’ve been trying out the beta for awhile and reading what Scott has written about the trials he has done with U.S. papers, and I think he is definitely on to something. I’m looking forward to finding out what else he has up his sleeve. There are some more details at VentureBeat and Jeff Jarvis (who is on Publish2’s board) has a post as well. Steven Hodson at Winextra thinks that by focusing on journalists, Scott has turned his back on the blogosphere (but see Scott’s comment on Steven’s post for clarification).

Update:

Om Malik (a former journalist himself) says he thinks Scott is a smart guy, but he doesn’t see the business potential in Publish2. Mike Arrington also seems skeptical — or maybe it’s just because he didn’t get an invite to the beta 🙂

The blogosphere as high school, part XVII

My friend Mark Evans has a post about the lack of original thought in the blogosphere — or at least the pressures that tend to keep original thought from appearing — and as the closest thing to what MG Siegler calls a “bitchmeme” this weekend, it has grabbed a bunch of links. Dave Winer sees this as a sign that the end is near, and says he’s heading for the hills (we should all be so lucky), and lots of others have chimed in that Ed Bott was right and Techmeme is an “echo chamber” with no value whatsoever.

I know the “conversation” metaphor has kind of been beaten to death, and I apologize in advance for trotting it out again, but I think it’s the best one we have. To some, the clusters of “me-too” posts are a sign that there is no value in Techmeme.com — to which I would respond that value is where you find it. Yes, there are a lot of people posting things that just repeat what someone else said. But at the same time, there are also new bloggers coming along all the time who do add value.

In that sense, Techmeme (and the blogosphere in general) is a lot like a party or a crowd gathered at a bar. Some times there are people who are either boring, or have nothing of real value to say, or who are drunk and disorderly, or curmudgeons who sit off in a corner muttering to themselves and shouting from time to time. Does that mean you leave the party? Maybe. But you could be missing out on some great conversations, or meeting some interesting people.

Guys like Dave talk about how it’s all the insiders and the rest are hangers-on, and all that reminds me of is kids in high school, complaining about how they’re not in this or that clique, or how so-and-so always hangs out with the jocks or the geeks instead of them. The blogosphere is the closest thing I can think of to a meritocracy, and I would argue that for the most part Techmeme is as well — yes, there are cliques, but if you write a good post, it can hit the top and get links just like anyone else’s can. No one cares whether you’re tall or thin or pretty or athletic.

As I’ve mentioned before, in the clusters of me-too posts and bitchmemes and so on at Techmeme, I have found great bloggers like Frederic from The Last Podcast, MG Siegler from ParisLemon (and now of VentureBeat), Steven Hodson of Winextra.com, Jason Kaneshiro of Webomatica and others. Did I have to do some digging through useless echo-chamber posts? Yes. But that’s what some conversations are like. I’m not ready to give up on the whole party, that’s for sure.