Jason Calacanis escapes from AOHell

Erstwhile Weblogs Inc. supremo and Netscape revamper Jason Calacanis has confirmed on his blog that he has left AOL, in the wake of the departure of Jon Miller, whom he described as his “mentor.” As he told the New York Times in a brief interview: “I’m not inclined to start over with a new guy.” Mike Arrington had the news first on TechCrunch — except it wasn’t news, it was only a rumour. I wonder if Mike is a little bent about the fact that Jason gave his first official comments to the Old Grey Lady. And I thought Jason was all about the new media. I wrote about what I think Jason should do here, and my friend Rob Hyndman has some thoughts here.

Jason Calacanis has left the building

Yes, ladies and gentlemen — the Jason Calacanis era at AOL appears to be over. Although the only response from the great man himself has been a terse “no comment,” the writing is on the wall. The rumours first started to fly after the news that AOL exec Jon Miller, whom Calacanis has described as a “mentor,” departed the Time Warner soul-sucking vortex unit.

Personal prickliness aside, I think Jason has been doing his best to remake Netscape into something substantial, although I still don’t know whether bribing paying the top posters at Digg and Reddit to work for him was really the best strategy. But hey — it got lots of press, both real and blogospheric, and that’s something.

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That said, it was essentially a copycat approach, and my sense is that it hasn’t really been going all that well traffic-wise. Muhammad Saleem, a top Digger and Netscape poster, has some thoughts, and so does my friend Tony Hung. Nick Denton, who only recently seized the helm at the listing Valleywag, tastefully posts his thoughts about his old blogging nemesis under the category “obituary.” Nice.

I for one will be interested to see what Jason comes up with next. I think he should get some VC money together and convince Mike Arrington and Om Malik to set up shop together as a blog/advertising network, and maybe roll some other sites in there too — like Techdirt for example. Slam dunk, Jason. Call me.

Yes, blogging can be a business

I’d love to know which journalist Jason Calacanis of Netscape was emailing with recently when he decided to post a big chunk of the interview and his responses on his blog (something Megaphone Mark Cuban has been known to do from time to time). Was he frustrated by the dumb questions about whether blogging can be a business or not, or was he just trying to share his thoughts with the blogosphere? Hard to say with Jason. In any case, his comments about the blogging business are pretty much to the point, and worth a read. Here’s an excerpt:

We are an eight figure a year business today. In terms of profitability the blogging business is better than the magazine or newspaper business in two main ways: 1. there is no distribution cost to blogging (i.e. printing, shipping, and postage), and 2. we don’t have the large management cost structure because our bloggers are not edited.

Jason goes on to say that blogging is “the most profitable media business today” and describes a good blog as being almost as hard as working at CNN, because the pressure to produce never stops. And then he tells the journalist this:

I think so far you’re looking at blogs are one big thing, and they are not one thing — they are many things. There are blogs done by companies to promote their products. There are blogs done by friends and family to keep in touch with each other. There are “faux blogs” created by unscrupulous marketers to abuse the public. There are blogs that are run as publications in order to make a profit.

And Jason adds that blogs have become “a vital part of the media ecosystem,” in that bloggers are interacting with journalists and “helping them build their stories.” He says the media business has moved from a handful of people speaking on their pedestals, to dozens of folks at hundreds of tables having conversations about an issue. Not a bad description. More chaotic? Definitely. Far from perfect? Absolutely. But in my opinion, still an improvement.

Iotum hooks up with AIM Phoneline

Ottawa-based Iotum, whose software allows phone networks to offer “presence”-based services, announced a partnership this morning with AOL’s voice-over-Internet service AIM Phoneline — details are here. Iotum CEO Alec Saunders, who blogs at saunderslog.com, says that being part of AIM Phoneline will give Iotum access to the more than 43 million U.S. AIM users through AOL’s developer program. The Ottawa company worked with AOL on an API that will allow software developers and device manufacturers to easily build support for Iotum’s software into their applications.

In a email, Alec told me AOL will promote its partners’ applications and devices at an on online store users can access by clicking the “Shop” link in the AIM Phoneline dashboard. And next week at Jeff Pulver’s VON conference, AOL will be showcasing their new platform with their first three development partners, of whom Iotum is one. Interestingly enough, Alec also told me that the AIM Phoneline development team is located in Halifax. As he put it, “telecom seems to be part of our DNA in this country.” I wrote a piece for the Globe and Mail about Iotum earlier this year.

Iotum’s software is designed to function like a personal assistant, learning which calls go to which device and when, and which calls should be re-routed to voicemail (or the waste bucket). Iotum won a coveted “DEMO God” award at the last DEMO conference organized by industry guru Chris Shipley, and has signed deals with PhoneGnome — the VOIP device company — and others in the telecom sector. I wrote about Iotum and Tello (another presence-related venture) here. Congrats to Alec and Howard and the rest of the Iotum team.

Is Jason Calacanis a troll?

Amid all the commentary about Steve “Crocodile Hunter” Irwin that I came across on the Web over the past day or so, one blog post stood out: a post by Weblogs Inc. founder and current AOL employee Jason Calacanis, who is now running the Digg-style Netscape news portal. His commentary — which he cross-posted to Netscape.com — was entitled “The Discovery Channel killed Steve Irwin.” In it, he makes the argument that the network, in its shameless drive for ratings, helped encourage Steve Irwin to do ever more dangerous things, and therefore it is culpable in his death.

As more than one of Jason’s 81 commenters noted, this is a load of bollocks. For one thing, it’s obvious to anyone who has had a look at Irwin’s history that he would have done all the things he was filmed doing over the years whether he had a TV show or not, including dangling his child in front of a crocodile. And two, he died in a freak accident while filming a documentary for a kid’s show, and wasn’t even doing anything that dangerous (stingrays are not violent, and deaths are extremely rare).

The only conclusion I can come to is that Jason deliberately posted his commentary with the inflammatory headline in order to get comments, traffic and votes on Netscape. Isn’t that like insider trading or something?

Update:

Jason has responded in the comments, saying he isn’t interested in traffic and that he stands by his point that the Discovery Channel encourages dangerous activity. I should note that he’s not the only one who feels this way: Ray Mears, a TV documentary producer, told the Telegraph that Irwin “clearly took a lot of risks and television encouraged him to do that,” and that “The voyeurism we are seeing on television has a cost and it’s that cost Steve Irwin’s family are paying today.” Cultural figure Germaine Greer also criticized Irwin, saying in her Guardian column that “the animal world has finally taken its revenge on Irwin.”