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Drop Acid, Get Googled, Get Turned Away By The USA

By - May 14, 2007

You have got to be kidding me. From the NYT:

Andrew Feldmar, a Vancouver psychotherapist, was on his way to pick up a friend at the Seattle airport last summer when he ran into a little trouble at the border.

A guard typed Mr. Feldmar’s name into an Internet search engine, which revealed that he had written about using LSD in the 1960s in an interdisciplinary journal. Mr. Feldmar was turned back and is no longer welcome in the United States, where he has been active professionally and where both of his children live.

Mr. Feldmar, 66, has a distinguished résumé, no criminal record and a candid manner. Though he has not used illegal drugs since 1974, he says he has no regrets.

Thanks, Hugo!

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HP's HALO: Now This Is Telepresence

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Halo 1

Last week I got a chance to test drive HALO, Hewlett Packard’s super high-end telepresence application. And all I can say is …. Oooooh, I want one. In fact, I want everyone to have one.

Of course, that’s pretty impractical. HALO is, in essence, an extraordinarily expensive television studio cum virtual private network, and I can only imagine the cost of building one of them is in the low seven figures. For now, only large enterprises with serious budgets can afford to install such a system.

But man, after you use it, you really, really want to use it again.

I was invite to a HALO meeting by VJ Joshi, the fellow who runs HP’s Imaging and Printing Group (IPG), and HALO is one of VJ’s many products. IPG is best known for its printing business, but VJ has a larger vision for printing as a platform, and he wanted to bounce it around with me. (HP is a marketing partner of my company FM. Am I guilty of writing glowingly of a partner’s products? Yes, but I only do that when, in fact, it’s worthy.) VJ is also on the board of Yahoo, so I knew we’d not run out of things to talk about.

I came unsure what to expect – I’ve done video conferences before, and I was worried that all the usual glitches – latency, crappy video quality, poor audio – would make it hard to really connect. And I wanted to connect with VJ, I had heard a lot about him, and I was eager to pick his brain.

All that fell away when I walked into the rectangular HALO meeting room. The room was paneled in soft, light brown fabric, and dominating its left side was a board room table of sorts – well, half of a board room table, really, an arc of sorts from the stem to the stern of the room. On the wall to my left as I walked in were three 42+inch HD monitors, arranged at table level. Above them was a fourth screen, the same size.

Halo 2

And it was looking at the image on those screens where the mindbender came in: sitting at the table on the “other half” of the room were four people from Hewlett Packard. They looked jarringly real – but in fact, they were sitting in three different locations. They smiled and said hello when I entered, and I got this eerie feeling that I had triggered a family of Disneyland-esque automatons – they weren’t reacting to me, were they? Maybe I triggered some kind of response system a la Haunted Mansion, where the ghost starts speaking to you as you pass by?

But nope, these were the folks assembled from various HP locations around the country, ready to meet with me. VJ sat in the middle, in HP’s Fort Collins offices. Others were piped in from New York and Vancouver (I was in HP’s Palo Alto offices). But as I viewed them, they were all sitting across the table, as if we were all in the same room. It was, as I’ve said before, really cool.

VJ gave me a brief tour of HALO’s features – the fourth screen at the top allows you to manage the experience, share computer screens, and even share images of physical objects (a square light appears on the table next to you, and anything you put in the light can be seen by everyone else). By the time he had finished giving me the nickel tour, I had quite forgotten we were not in the same room. Our subsequent conversation was as nuanced and, well, as human as most meetings I’ve had face to face. The sound was superb, there was absolutely no latency, and the system adjusts for eye contact – people know when you are looking at them, allowing for the full gestural language of conversation to flourish.

After experiencing HALO, I asked VJ if he thought it was practical to get one of these into every Kinko’s in the world. He smiled and shrugged his shoulders as if to say “Why not?” I’m sure that day is a ways off, and because of that, I feel like a got a test ride of the future. Telepresence for me was some kind of Jetsonian fantasy, a silly, far off concept that I understood intellectually, but discounted entirely because it struck me as unrealistic and impractical. But after experiencing it first hand, it strikes me as the kind of impractical idea – like the telephone or the automobile – that will end up changing the world someday.

Of note: Cisco has a similar product in the market, recently featured on Fox’s 24 (see here for more, and Charlene Li’s site has a write up of it here).

Ask Launches Mobile Widgetry

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Ask has launched “Ask Mobile GPS“. From the release:

IAC (NASDAQ: IACI) today announced the availability of Ask® Mobile GPS™, a GPS-enabled lifestyle application featuring the best of Ask.com, Citysearch, and Evite.com, along with instant location finder and turn-by-turn navigation powered by the Global Positioning System. The service – the first ever to combine local content, social networking and GPS navigation – is now available for download at gps.ask.com.

Danny has more here.

A (Former) YouTube Star's Rant: We'll Go It Alone, Thanks

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Youtube-2

Last week YouTube announced a new partners program (TC coverage here, Om’s first coverage here). The program elicited a fair amount of negative response – see the comments in that partners program post – and a lot of head scratching as to how YouTube chose its partners, and what the Terms of Service might be. I happen to be friendly with a number of well-known YouTube “stars” and I emailed one of them for a read. What I got back was quite a rant. Below is a response that I can verify is from a well-known video blogger, who has a very large audience, but who asked for anonymity.

I have spoken to the folks at YouTube about this and suggested that they be given a chance to respond to this post, once it goes up. That certainly seemed fair to me. Should they wish to, I’ll post their response here. Meanwhile, read on, in the first person words of a former YouTube star….

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I’m a YouTube star, but YouTube wishes I wasn’t. They would like to pretend I don’t exist, rather than admit there are several roads to financial and critical success that don’t lead through their corporate headquarters.

If they could, YouTube would love to become the next gatekeeper, the next network. And in fact they have, they’ve gently plucked their stars and anointed them with advertising dollars. And someday you too can be touched by their magic wand and granted the status of weblebrity if you pass the test.

Our site has won a lot of awards, been seen tens of millions of times, and is one of the most subscribed to around. But somehow, it was left out when “YouTube Elevates Most Popular Users to Partners“. Okay, that’s cool.

We were approached last year, sure. They talked all about how we should shut down our personal domain and run everything through their site, and how that soon they were going to add a podcast feature to the site. They asked us if we’d heard of podcasting?

“Um, yeah, we’ve created two of the most successful video podcasts,” we responded.

So that’s the You in YouTube. They couldn’t even be bothered to spend five minutes on our website to find out anything about us. Sweet.

The biggest point of friction has been their opacity and lack of communication. I know they were in startup mode, but seriously, you’d think they’d want to foster good relationships with the people that were supplying the only legitimate content to their sites. We were the ones that were the new way — the new media creators.

And the big question for everyone was how are you going to make money? Well, we certainly were not making any green from YouTube. And until the last three months, they weren’t publicly promising any cash to anyone. So what were we supposed to do? Just pray really hard that YouTube would someday pay us? That’s sorta irresponsible. So we did what anyone would do, we started evaluating the opportunities that presented themselves and then took advantage of some of them.

So when YouTube finally got its act together and offered us an advertising split, it was too low an offer. We were doing better without them. And with less strings.

But seriously, why was that the first time they talked to us? Well actually they did ask for our mailing address early on, to send us T-shirts (they never arrived).

If we had a dialog from when we really started to take off, this situation probably could have been avoided. But they talked to us once, knew nothing about us, and expected us to just be so pleased to be in business with them.

Get over yourselves.

Right now YouTube has a three tiered system, the top, or big media, the middle, indie content creators with audiences, and the bottom, random user submissions that get small numbers of views.

At the top they’ve got some deals in place, but they’re also getting sued in a big way. And the new company from Fox and NBC is also going to give a lot of competition.

The bottom is pure long tail. The only money there is in the aggregation of content and selling ads against the massive volume of vids with low views. YouTube will continue to be king here.

The middle is where our site lives, the indie content creators. This is the space that YouTube could just own, if they invested really heavily in terms of ad splits and career development. The terms that YouTube offers to these middle players will set the floor for what every other site has to offer the talented upstarts that create fun and entertaining shows.

They need to be aggressive in identifying the new talent the people that can get more than 50k in views on their vids. And then bring them into the fold, help them. Let them know about podcasting, help them build a good merch operation, sell high value advertising against their content.

This involves much more than they are doing now. Now they just elevate these indies into Partner status. Which means they give cross promotion on the site, the future promise of preroll/postroll ads, and a split of the advertising that appears on the page views on their site.

What they are doing now is a short term play to get and keep the eyeballs of those indie shows. But what happens when those contracts are up? And the creators haven’t really developed their careers?

Some shows will stick with YouTube, but the savviest and the most commercial ones will move to other video sites that can provide better splits or signing bonuses. Creators will start to realize that their storytelling talents are rare and valuable.

I don’t know the terms this round of authors were guaranteed by YouTube, but I do know that we were offered was okay money, but something that we’ve already surpassed. And then when you factor in merch sales, and the value of having our own users and pageviews on top of that and controlling our own brand, we’re coming out miles ahead of a typical YouTube power user.

So what happens next? I dunno. I mean I know YouTube’s got deep pockets now, but I also know that their technology is pretty commodity ( http://www.jeroenwijering.com/?item=Flash_Video_Player ), and I know if these deals aren’t that successful, that the creators will flee to some other deep pocketed competitor.

My biggest hope is that these creators can walk away. How many of them have a good lawyer reviewing that contract?

Whatever YouTube is paying will be the marker. I expect Microsoft, Yahoo, and other players will follow suit, but with better terms to attract the top talent.

Also I think that new kinds of media services companies – smaller and more focused than YouTube – will continue to cherry pick the best and most commercial properties to sell ads against at a much higher dollar value than what YouTube is able to do.

###

Thanks for starting the conversation, and now, let’s continue it ….

My thoughts: I’m guessing that this partner pilot is just that, a pilot, and the terms are not totally nailed down yet. I’m also hoping that YouTube does *not* act like a typical media company and require that its monetization partners sign exclusive distribution and intellectual property deals. That’d be a big mistake, I think. My caveat is this: My company, FM, works with a limited number of well known video bloggers. Clearly, I have an interest in this debate.

What do you think?

OK, OK. Wedding News.

By - May 13, 2007

I don’t do gossip here. I tend not to write about folks’ personal lives. OK, OK, though. Yes, I did hear that Sergey got married (scroll down.) OK?

And…

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Yahoo integrates flickr even more, Thomas Hawk reports

…and, the shareholder vote on China and censorship fails. It would, given it seemed black and white – either go into China, or not.

Oh, and btw, Google is talking about data retention, privacy, and policy again here. This is tedious, seemingly. But not worth ignoring.

Yahoo's MyBlogLog to Rebrand, Other Changes…

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Mybloglog-1

Thanks to reader David for this:

At SOBcon yesterday in Chicago, Robyn Tippins, who was recently hired as the MyBlogLog community manager, spoke about several major upcoming changes with MyBlogLog.

There are several changes in the works:

1) The biggest news is that there will be a rebranding of MyBlogLog. The exact timing and new brand were not revealed. (YahooBlogLog or MyYahooLog? Time will tell.)

2) A complete site redesign is on the way!

3) A new “Widget 2.0″ is coming with some hover features.

4) Yahoo! is hard at work to remove the offensive photos so that MyBlogLog would be palatable to more conservative business blogs.

5) Some sort of method to turn off your presence for some types of sites will be added.

Cool New Search Referral Widget Live on Searchblog

By - May 11, 2007

Finally! One of the ideas we bounced around in my blog merchandising post is live on Searchblog. Folks who come from search (I call them hummingbirds because they come via a very specific search, read one post, and leave) now get a box greeting them and giving them some search-driven options on the site. Big thanks to Jonathan and Ivan at FM!!

Here’s what happens when you do a search for “sea dragon” on Google blogsearch, and land at Searchblog:

Sblog Refer

Check out this one for “steve ballmer throws a chair“! It works for Yahoo too…though not MSFT or Ask yet…

I love it! What do you think?

Updated: It works now for Ask and Microsoft. Thanks guys!

Google Says: No Dow Jones For Us…

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….or any other news organization, Reuters reports. Makes sense to me, in terms of the “we’re not in your business” stance the company clearly is taking toward Big Media.

My earlier suggestion on Dow Jones and Google here.