I want my blog to be the aggregator

Loic LeMeur of Seesmic has a blog post that echoes something I’ve been saying for awhile: having cool services like FriendFeed or Twitter or Flickr or even Facebook is great, and they all serve a specific purpose and have a certain value — but it’s hard to keep track of what is where, and which conversations are going on with whom. A number of people (including me) wrote about this idea of fragmentation with respect to FriendFeed not long ago, but it applies to lots of other services as well.

That’s why I agree with Loic — and with Mike — that the best solution of all is to have a single portal to everything that matters about you, whether it’s your photos (Flickr) or your work history (LinkedIn) or your chats with friends (Twitter). For some people (like me) that portal is always going to be the blog, because that’s where we live most of the time and create most of our content. For others, it might be a Netvibes page or an iGoogle page with widgets for various services, or even their Facebook page — although Facebook isn’t customizable and adaptable enough, I don’t think.

I don’t think FriendFeed.com can be that portal, but it could be a component of that portal. I’m always looking for services that provide widgets and plugins that allow what they offer to be embedded somewhere else, which is why I like Google’s GTalk chat widget. If there was a Twitter widget that offered the same kind of functionality as Twhirl, I would definitely embed it here. And I’m hoping there will be a FriendFeed one as well soon, since Paul Buchheit and Bret Taylor seem to be moving at hyperspeed when it comes to new features. But it has to be a two-way widget, with data flowing in both directions.

I’m hoping that the Data Portability efforts that are going on, and Chris “Factory Joe” Messina’s DiSo project, can help make that kind of personal, customizable, widgetized portal a reality.

NAA to newspapers: advertise this

We’re long past the writing-on-the-wall stage for newspapers and advertising, it seems — the recent report from the Newspaper Association of America is more like a billboard, with one of those huge searchlight things they use for movie premieres and the opening of new car dealerships. And what it says is (pardon my French): You guys are totally screwed. Advertising has been declining for the past few years or so, but now the NAA is talking about the biggest decline since the association started keeping data — bigger than after September 11, 2001.

Some of that (full data here) is undoubtedly a result of the U.S. economic situation, which has everyone from banks to car dealers pulling back the reins and spending less. But the uncomfortable reality is that advertising in newspapers is declining for a bunch of other reasons as well, including the fact that newspapers appeal primarily to an aging population. At a recent meeting at one newspaper, an editor said that she felt a piece on hip-replacement surgery should be played more prominently because “that’s our core demographic.” Sad, but true.

But an even more important reason why paper ads are declining is that their cost-to-value ratio is way out of whack with what advertisers can get elsewhere, particularly the Internet. And it’s not just Craigslist.org decimating the classified business. Even traditional newspaper ads are difficult (if not impossible) to measure. Online ads can not only be targeted more specifically, they can also be tracked a dozen ways, and it quickly becomes obvious which ones are working — plus they are an order of magnitude cheaper than the paper version.

The NAA’s press release, of course, focuses on the much more positive news that online advertising for newspapers continues to grow at double-digit rates — but it still only accounted for revenue of $3.2-billion, compared with overall print revenue of more than $42-billion. It’s going to have to start growing a heck of a lot faster than that before it even starts to make a dent in the decline of print advertising. Update: Chris “Long Tail” Anderson doesn’t think it’s all that bad if you look at it properly.

Is PaidContent really a “blog” at all?

In a piece posted at the New York Times’ Bits blog, Saul Hansell pits Mike Arrington’s “vision of blogging’s future” against that of PaidContent founder Rafat Ali. One is personal and filled with lots of emotion (guess which one) and the other is more analytical and has more traditional journalistic integrity, at least according to PaidContent’s new CEO. Rafat quite freely admits that his model has very little to do with the rough-and-tumble of the blogosphere and more to do with the large trade publishers like Reed Elsevier and Informa, which cover industries like a blanket but don’t get into pissing matches about personalities.

I have nothing but respect for what Rafat and his team have built. He and Staci and the rest have doggedly pursued their model, and they have covered the media business within an inch of its life, and they should be congratulated for that. I think Rafat is totally right when he says he is going after the big trade publishers, and I have no doubt that one or the other of them will eventually come to their senses and just buy the operation outright, or Rafat might just buy them.

But I also find that PaidContent.org isn’t that… well, interesting. If I were a mid-level media executive, trying to figure out where the next layoffs were coming from, or who was rising up the ranks of whichever entity, then I might read it for information purposes. But it doesn’t have much in the way of colour to it — and to be fair, Rafat has never made any secret of the fact that colour isn’t what he’s after. I also notice that while PaidContent is set up like a blog, with comments and everything, there aren’t a whole lot of comments on the stories I read.

To me, however, part of the power that blogs have is that they are personal and direct, that they give you a connection of some kind to a person (or people, in the case of a blog like Gawker), and that they have a voice that either interests or amuses or enrages you. PaidContent doesn’t have that for me — it is pure information. That’s why it commands triple-digit CPM rates for its ads, no doubt. But while I wish Rafat and the rest of the team all the best, and I think they are doing a heck of a job, I hope that not all blogs are going to become just trade press in another form.

Musical interlude: virtual mixtapes

Maybe it was all the posts about the ISP music tax, but I started thinking about how one of the most important things about music is that we enjoy listening to it and want to share it with others — and that the Web is one of the best ways of doing that. Whether it’s emailing a friend an mp3 file, sending one through Pownce, or creating an mp3 blog and getting crawled by Hypemachine.com, there are lots of ways to do it. How do artists get compensated? I have to admit I don’t know. But having people share your music has to be good.

A couple of the newer ones I’ve come across are Muxtape.com and Mixwit — and I am indebted to Fred Wilson, the music-loving VC, for both of them, since I found out about them by reading his blog. As Fred has described, Muxtape is incredibly easy: fill in a few fields and upload some songs, and that’s it. The interface is also really stripped down, which is great (although I don’t understand why the typeface has to be so gigantic). Is it legal? Who really knows. It’s a great way to share music.

Mixwit.com is a little more complicated, but not much, and you can add an image of an old cassette, which is kind of cool for those of us who (like John Cusack in High Fidelity) remember when that was the primary means of music sharing. Plus, you can do one thing with Mixwit that you can’t with Muxtape (at least not yet) and that is embed it in a blog. To me that is a killer feature. My friend David Gratton of Project Opus has a Facebook app that is somewhat similar called Mixxmaker.

Is a music “tax” paid to ISPs the answer?

This is a big issue, with lots of sides to it, and I’m not going to try and get into them all right now, but it’s worth noting that Warner Music — the label run by Edgar Bronfman Jr. (who blew a few billion dollars worth of his family’s booze money on an ill-fated merger with Vivendi way back when) — has hired music-industry veteran Jim Griffin to create an ambitious, and possibly wrongheaded, digital music licensing entity that would see consumers pay their Internet service providers a monthly fee in return for the right to access music online.

Griffin outlines the idea a little in an interview with Portfolio magazine, and notes that it isn’t his idea but has been around a long time — it’s known as a “compulsory license,” and it was what helped the radio industry get out of the trouble it was in when it first became popular as an entertainment medium. Record labels argued that if people could listen to whatever they wanted for free on the radio, no one would buy albums and go to live shows. Sound familiar? Of course, radio play has sold billions of records and made the industry billions of dollars, but there you go.

In any case, Griffin wants to apply the same idea to downloading — and he’s not the only one. The Songwriters Association of Canada has proposed a similar thing, and so have other groups (the EFF has been proposing something similar since 2004). And ISPs are hopping on board this particular train in many cases, in part because they are being threatened with legislation in France and elsewhere that would hold them liable for policing their networks for copyright infringement. But does that make it a good idea? I don’t think so. And however Jim and others describe it, to me it sounds a lot like a tax. Mike Arrington goes further and calls it “protection money.”

Griffin says that “eventually” advertising might cover the charges, and those who wanted to surf without ads would have the choice to pay the fee. But it sounds like in the beginning the fee would be mandatory — even for those who don’t do any downloading at all. Does that sound fair? No. We have mandatory fees for things like education and road-building, but I don’t think music licensing falls into the same category. What about people who pay for songs legally through iTunes — do they get a free pass, or do they have to pay twice? Maybe Warner sees this as a way to put Apple out of business.

And what if such a fee is instituted — what about the movie companies, and other media companies? What about photographers? And what about the billions of dollars in software that is pirated online? After you add all the fees for those content creators, we’ll all be paying $100 for our Internet access (which of course the ISPs have started filtering and shaping because of all the downloading). And then there’s the goat rodeo that would be involved in figuring out who gets the money collected. Or maybe we could just let the ISPs and the music labels work all that out — I’m sure they would do it fairly, right?