eBay and Craigslist: A fox in the henhouse

A week or so ago, eBay filed a lawsuit against Craigslist, alleging that the controlling shareholders of the classified site — namely, founder Craig Newmark and CEO Jim Buckmaster — had taken certain steps to dilute the auction provider’s minority stake in the company, and thereby had breached their fiduciary duty and injured eBay as a shareholder. Craigslist has now made the statement of claim public, and it reads like a corporate version of a divorce court filing. These two parties are married, but they really don’t want to be, and each one is trying its hardest to get out of the relationship without losing everything.

According to the statement (which obviously has only one side of the story) eBay says that Craig and Jim got mad when Kijiji — the eBay subsidiary that competes with Craigslist — started up operations in the United States, so they took a number of steps to dilute the company’s stake below 25 per cent (including issuing themselves a bunch of shares), and thereby removed a bunch of rights that eBay had as a shareholder. They also, according to eBay, instituted a “poison pill” that threatened to flood the place with cheap stock.

In other words, they did (or are alleged to have done) pretty much what Valleywag and others, including yours truly, thought they did when the lawsuit first emerged. Of course, what eBay is talking about isn’t really a poison pill — pills are typically designed to prevent hostile takeovers, but no one can take over Craigslist because Jim and Craig control it. This pill isn’t so much designed to prevent someone from buying as it is designed to prevent someone (namely eBay) from selling.

Can Craigslist do that? Obviously eBay is arguing that it can’t. And while you might think that the classified site is a private company and so Craig and Jim can do whatever they like, it’s not quite that simple. Ebay does have rights as a minority shareholder — and it argues that even if it did engage in competitive activity, the clause it triggered did not give Craig and Jim the right to prevent eBay from selling its stock to anyone but them. This could get ugly.

Facebook, Wikipedia better in emergencies

According to a study that is to be published in New Scientist magazine tomorrow, Facebook and Wikipedia are better at getting crucial information out during emergencies than either government agencies, emergency services — or the traditional media. The study, done by researchers at the University of Colorado, looked at how Facebook and Wikipedia were used by students during the Virginia Tech shootings, and how Twitter and other social media were used during the forest fires in California. As the Telegraph story describes it:

“During the Virginia shootings, they found the emergency services were slow to update their reports on the latest situation and the names of those killed. Within just 90 minutes of the first deaths, however, a web page accurately describing the events appeared on Wikipedia.”

The study found that dyring the fires in California in October, web users on various websites and those using Twitter were keeping their friends and neighbours informed of their whereabouts and the location of the fires on a minute by minute basis, and were also posting links to Google Maps with which others could track the progress of the fire and mark areas where schools and businesses were shut down as a result of the threat. The media weren’t so useful, however:

“The mass media were unreliable… as they struggled to access remote areas from which website users with an internet connection could easily report. Media sites also focused on the ‘sensational’, such as fires close to celebrities’ homes, which distorted the overall picture.”

Some interesting lessons there, for both emergency services and the media, about information delivery on the Web.

Radiohead: No more free stuff for you

Just as Radiohead’s “pay what you want” download model is being adopted by more musicians and artists — including Nine Inch Nails, Coldplay, The Charlatans UK and others — the band that launched the model says it doesn’t plan to do it again, calling the release of In Rainbows “a one off.” In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, frontman Thom Yorke said that the offering last year arose out of a particular set of circumstances. “I think it was a one-off response to a particular situation,” Yorke told the magazine. “It was one of those things where we were in the position of everyone asking us what we were going to do,” he said.

Although the band hasn’t confirmed it, there was speculation at the time that Radiohead chose to release its new album online first because it knew that leaked tracks were going to make their way onto the Internet soon anyway. A number of other artists, including Gnarls Barkley, have been either moving up their release dates or offering free samples for the same reason. Yorke also said that he wasn’t sure such an offer “would have the same significance now anyway, if we chose to give something away again. It was a moment in time.”

The band may also have been underwhelmed by the number of people who chose to actually pay for the album: according to a survey by the Telegraph of 5,000 users, about 25 per cent either paid nothing or only a small amount (as little as one pence). Thousands of fans also downloaded the album for free using the BitTorrent peer-to-peer network, although some said they only did so because the official Radiohead download site was crippled by a flood of requests.

Coldplay experienced a similar phenomenon after the band released a track from its new album Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends as a free download. According to several reports, the site crashed under the strain on Tuesday. More than 600,000 people downloaded the song in less than 24 hours, according to one report. Other artists have also announced plans to experiment with online delivery in some form or another; even Metallica — the band best known for its vocal criticisms of Napster in the early days of downloading — has said that it may look at offering new music directly to fans instead of using a traditional label.

Despite Radiohead’s statement about not offering “pay what you want” downloads any more, Yorke said the band was going to build on its online connection with fans. “We are about that direct relationship (now) because we are big enough to establish that,” he said. Among other efforts, the band has set up a music ‘mashup’ site where people can upload their own versions of one track from In Rainbows, and also has a social network based on Ning.com called W.a.s.t.e. Central, which has about 12,000 registered users.

Marvel: Please don’t watch our movie

Update:

Apparently this was all the result of a misunderstanding involving Oracle, who talked to Marvel and was planning a similar screening, and a lack of communication with Paramount. Too bad — I was hoping to see Mike and Marvel go toe-to-toe on this one 🙂

Original post:

In yet another example of how not to do customer relations or PR of any kind, Mike Arrington has a stunning exhibit from a lawyer representing Marvel, the comic powerhouse whose Iron Man character has become a major motion picture. Mike wanted to put on a social event for TechCrunch fans, so he booked a theatre and planned to show the movie for free — although he asked for $1 per ticket to cut down on the no-shows. Wham! That is apparently verboten, according to Marvel’s lawyer.

“You have not been authorized to exhibit, sell tickets to, nor invite the public to an Iron Man screening.”

As Mike points out, the whole process began with a phone call to the number listed on the official Iron Man movie website for “group sales.” So what is the Marvel guy’s problem? Hard to say. Obviously, movie studios and content companies like Marvel have an interest in holding publicity premieres, etc. and also have relationships with movie-theatre chains, who don’t want to see just anyone rent a theatre and go into competition with them. But still — is that any way to handle such a thing? It just makes Marvel look stupid, and mean.

mesh 2008 and meshU: Schedules are live

An update for anyone who might be thinking about heading to mesh ’08 or meshU (the one-day workshop event just before mesh): to help you make up your mind and plan your day, we now have the schedules up for each event. There are still some panels that have to be firmed up with our speakers, but we will be filling those in soon. The sched for mesh ’08 is here, and the one for meshU is here.

On the first day of mesh, we have panels like the Future of Music panel with musician and social-media fan David Usher, as well as Jeff Remedios of the Arts & Crafts label and Graham Henderson of the Canadian Recording Industry Association, moderated by David Gratton of Project Opus. Then there’s the panel on the New Front Page, with Pema Hagen of GigPark, Daniel Burka of Digg and Candice Faktor of OurFaves (moderated by yours truly).

We’ve also got a panel on the idea of Private vs. Public with Nancy Baym from the University of Kansas and the Online Fandom blog, University of Toronto philosopher and author Mark Kingwell and Elizabeth Denham of the federal privacy commissioner’s office. That one is moderated by the lovely and talented Rachel Sklar, who writes the Eat The Press feature for Huffington Post. We also have a panel on Video and the Web with Dana Kaplan of Bliptv, Andre Gaulin of CTV and Guinevere Ortis of the CBC, moderated by video-blogger extraordinaire Amber MacArthur.

Michael Geist will also be doing a presentation about how to use Facebook and other Web tools to build grassroots campaigns. And of course we have two stellar keynotes by Ethan Kaplan of Warner Brothers Records and Matt Mason, author of the book The Pirate’s Dilemma.

On the second day at mesh, we have panels like the Measuring Social Media panel with Alan Chumley, Sylvain Perron and Katie Delahaye Paine (moderated by mesh founder and Tripharbor CEO Stuart MacDonald); a panel about Cultivating Community with George Tsiolis of Agoracom, Derek Szeto of Red Flag Deals and Christopher Jackson, moderated by Jen Evans; a look at Building a Brand Online with Rohit Bhargava, Maggie Fox of Social Media Group and Michael Garrity of CommunityLend (moderated by mesh founder Mark Evans); and a look at some Founder’s Stories with Julia Johnston of mEgo, Leah Culver of Pownce and Ryan Carson of Carsonified, moderated by Paul Kedrosky of Infectious Greed.

We also have a presentation by Mike Masnick of Techdirt about the “economics of abundance,” and two excellent keynotes from Garrett Camp of StumbleUpon and Lane Merrifield of Club Penguin.

meshU has some outstanding speakers as well, including John Resig of jQuery, Avi Bryant of Dabble DB, Kevin Hale of Wufoo, Reuven Cohen of Enomaly, Alistair Croll of BitCurrent and the excellent tag team of David Crow from Microsoft (and DemoCamp) and Leila Boujnane of Idee Inc. You can book your ticket for mesh here, and your meshU tickets here.