Oh Canada — not too bad, eh?

I don’t want to get all patriotic on you or anything, but I came across a couple of tributes to our home and native land (okay — my home and native land anyway) and they were sufficiently funny and yet true at the same time that I couldn’t help but take note of them. One was a guest post on the Queen of Spain’s blog by Meg Fowler, and while it’s entitled “Ten Things That Are Better About Canada,” it isn’t really about why we’re better than the U.S. or anywhere else, I don’t think — just why things are pretty darn good. My favourites include:

— Our national bird is tastier than yours.

— We know the secret to feeling rich — turn all your currency into gold-coloured coins!

— Our national flag is a leaf and two bars — something you can find in any town we have, too.

— We have more trees than we have McDonalds. And more hockey rinks than Wal-Marts. And more donuts than cops.

Nice job, Meg. And the other piece was a guest column in the National Post by a U.S. executive named Dave Burwick, who is leaving his tour of duty in Canada to head back to the U.S. and came up with his own list of things he loves about this country, including some thoughts about how hockey is a metaphor for our culture (and no, it doesn’t have anything to do with Don Cherry, thank God). Some selections:

— Hockey Night in Canada: One of the last communal TV events left anywhere.

— Eating a peameal sandwich every Saturday at 7 a. m. during my son’s hockey practice.

— Raising a family right in the middle of the city, and knowing they’re safe.

— Surviving a minus-30-degree day in downtown Winnipeg, and how it made me feel more alive.

I took a bike ride this afternoon through the Rouge River valley and into Pickering, out to Frenchman’s Bay — where some people were sunbathing, some were kite-surfing in the shadow of the giant Pickering nuclear plant, and some were sailing or kayaking — and along the way I saw hundreds of people walking, biking, picnicking, playing football, throwing a Frisbee, and just generally having a great time on a beautiful day. They were many different shades, from pale white to off-white to various shades of brown and black; some were wearing shorts, some dresses, some salwar kameez and some the hijab and chador and even burqa. And they were all Canadian. Happy Canada Day.

Multiple-voting shares: good or evil?

Marc Andreessen has an excellent rundown on his blog of the issues and possible outcomes in the Microsoft-Yahoo takeover battle — something that virtually any newspaper I can think of would be pleased to run as an analysis piece. With the help of a couple of corporate M&A lawyers, he outlines the various strategies that Microsoft could use, and the defenses that Yahoo has available, including a series of “poison pills.” But one thing jumped out at me in Marc’s analysis — a reference to how Yahoo would have been better off if it had multiple-voting shares:

Would a dual-class share structure have been a good idea for Yahoo? Yes. If Yahoo did have a dual-class share structure, Yahoo’s cofounders would have been much better situated to block Microsoft from attempting a takeover. You can bet that this is being noticed by the founders of every technology company that might go public from here on out.

Marc points out that Google has a dual-class share structure, which gives the founders multiple votes (Larry Page, Sergey Brin and Eric Schmidt have shares with 10 votes each), the implication being that this is the way other technology companies should go as well. As much as I respect Marc’s point of view, however, I’m going to disagree. I think having multiple-voting shares — or any class of special voting shares that gives a small group of insiders control over the fate of the company — is a bad idea. And not just for investors, but for the company itself.

I think Marc is looking at this issue as a founder and CEO, which is fair enough — and from a founder’s perspective, multiple or special-voting shares seem like the Holy Grail: they allow you to raise money, but don’t require you to give up control. Unfortunately, they also cement control within a small group and make that group virtually impervious to hostile takeovers or any other form of shareholder activism. It’s a little like a dictatorship: a benevolent dictatorship is one of the best forms of government — but also very rare.

For every founder who uses his voting powers wisely, there is another who plunders the company and distorts the business in virtually every way imaginable. Canada has had a love affair of sorts with multiple-voting stock — in part because of a desire to protect broadcasting and media companies, but also because much of the foundation of corporate Canada consists of family-owned entities that pass control on from generation to generation (don’t get me started on Frank Stronach and Magna Corp.). For every example of a company that has been successful with such a share structure, there are a dozen of contrary examples.

For me, dual-class shares are an attempt to get around Darwin’s Law as it applies to the marketplace. Multiple-voting shares protect incompetent, complacent or simply unsuccessful companies that should be taken over and either remade or dismantled. If your company is agile enough and creative enough, it shouldn’t need them.

Disqus: Connecting the conversation

I don’t use Plaxo’s Pulse — a kind of aggregator for social information about you and your friends — but I think it’s interesting that they have integrated any comments posted through Pulse with the Disqus comment system, which I have been using on my blog for some time now and am a big fan of. As Daniel Ha of Disqus mentions on the company blog, the various threads of disconnected conversation that are occurring in different corners of the blogosphere is something that is crying out for a solution, and Disqus could be the one to solve it.

One of the most recent flash points in that area occurred when Shyftr showed up on the scene, pulling full feeds from blogs such as mine and allowing people to share them and comment on them. Some people were upset about the fact that their RSS feed was being used as the foundation for someone else’s business, but others were also concerned that comments occurring on Shyftr weren’t connected to their blogs any more. The same type of issue has come up with other aggregation-style services such as FriendFeed (which allows you to post comments back to Twitter, etc. but not to blogs).

Congrats to Daniel Ha — who Mark Evans recently interviewed for his blog — on taking the first step in helping to tie those loose strands of conversation together. It almost makes up for the fact that Disqus still doesn’t support trackbacks 🙂


Founder Nick Halstead pointed out to me that Fav.or.it — a feed aggregator that also aggregates comments — allows comments that are posted inside the service to be integrated with blogs as well, although Fav.or.it has not gotten rave reviews from some.

Blogs and the “phone-in show” effect

During a semi-desperate search for something — anything — not April Fool’s Day related, I came across an interesting post by Sarah Perez at Read/Write Web about the psychology of blogs and “bitchmemes” (as MG Siegler calls them) and comments, and I thought she really hit on something. Her jumping off point was a recent post by Paul Graham called “How To Disagree.” As befits a post written by a thoughtful geek, it describes a kind of taxonomy of disagreement, and I’m sure every blogger who reads the list has either engaged in or been the target of one or more of those options.

As Paul and Sarah both note, disagreement seems to be far more prevalent in the blogosphere than agreement. Why? They have their theories — as Paul describes it, agreement “tends to motivate people less than disagreeing,” in part because disagreeing takes you into new territory (sometimes). And as Sarah says in her post, this phenomenon makes its way into blog comments as well, with the number of positive comments generally outweighed by the number of negative ones. As she says:

“It could be that 90% of the readers think the author is correct in their opinion, but only the 10% who feel differently have made their voices heard.”

This is something that we’ve seen at the Globe and Mail as well (and I’m sure other newspapers that allow readers to comment on news stories have seen it too). I call it the “radio phone-in show” phenomenon. Whenever you listen to call-in shows — at least the really popular ones — there tends to be an overwhelming number of callers who disagree, either with each other or the topic. And even if they agree, they are often incensed about whatever the subject is, whether it’s government waste or some stupid move by whoever the call-in show happens to be talking about.

Why is this? A couple of reasons, I think. One is that agreeing with someone is a sort of ambivalent feeling at best. Violent agreement is an unusual thing to see, in most cases. But disagreement is almost always emotional — even if it’s couched in logic. And it’s a strong emotion. People who disagree with something are motivated to pick up the phone and call into a show, or click the mouse and comment. People who agree are much more likely to just nod their head in agreement and get on with their day.

This phenomenon extends to those reading and/or listening as well, and is related to the “car accident” effect. People enjoy watching or reading about disagreement and in some cases actual violence, or the threat of violence. They may say that they don’t — but all the evidence suggests that they do. Perhaps because it’s a strong emotion, perhaps because they want to feel superior to someone, or maybe just because it’s fun to watch. Why else would DVDs of hockey fights and car crashes sell so well? It’s human nature. And the blogosphere is a Petri dish for human nature.

Disqus and the comment-o-sphere

As a number of people — including Nick Gonzalez at TechCrunch, Dan Frommer at Silicon Alley Insider and Om Malik over at GigaOm (who I think broke the story first) — are reporting, the hosted-comments company known as Disqus has raised money and launched some new features. There’s a post by Fred Wilson at the Union Square Ventures blog, since USV led the $500,000 round. Disqus says it has about 4,000 bloggers using the tool now, and about 60,000 commenters in total.

I know that the “Comment 2.0” space has a number of players in it, including SezWho.com and Intense Debate, but I think that Disqus is a more interesting play in a lot of ways, so it’s probably not surprising that — as Adam Ostrow notes over at Mashable — I use them for the comments here on my blog. I like the interface, I like the fact that it handles spam almost effortlessly, and I like some of the new features like the “community page.” Most of all, as I’ve mentioned before, I like the fact that I can respond to comments as easily as I respond to an email (SezWho has a somewhat pissed-off response to the Disqus announcement).

As I mentioned in that previous post, there are a few quibbles I have — such as the lack of support for trackbacks, which CEO Daniel Ha has said they are working on a solution for — but overall it’s a solid service. It also supports OpenID (through ClickPass) which I think is important for any kind of centralized comment system. Some people don’t like the idea that the comments are hosted somewhere other than their own server, but I think that is actually a benefit in some ways, and in a comment on my earlier post Daniel said the service would soon support synching between your server and theirs, which would be a cool feature.

There are hints in Fred Wilson’s blog post about where Disqus might be heading with all this. For example, he says that he sees the company as doing for comments what RSS did for blog posts and other information, and that Disqus could be the one that “unlocks comments from blogs and brings them into the mainstream” and also “surfaces the most interesting blog comments and blog commenters.” All of that presupposes that everyone starts using Disqus, of course — a tall order — but it’s still an interesting glimpse of where blog comments could go in the future.