Forbes "Attack of the Blogs" is surprisingly accurate
Alright, I'll admit up front, this article is deliberately going to take the opposite tack to the vast majority of bloggers who are, predictably, jumping to the defense of the blogosphere after Forbes Magazine published a feature by Daniel Lyons entitled Attack of the Blogs.
Lyons doesn't hold any punches in his piece, with the opening passage setting the tone: "Web logs are the prized platform of an online lynch mob spouting liberty but spewing lies, libel and invective. Their potent allies in this pursuit include Google and Yahoo."
It's no surprise that bloggers are reacting with passion. A quick Technorati search shows that there are already almost 800 blog articles about the story, including The Daily Pundit, Chris Locke, Steven Streight, Boing Boing, Nathan Weinberg, Instapundit, Neville Hobson, Shel Israel, Steve Rubel, and on and on and on...
But getting past the aggressive tone of the article, there's a lot to think about in what Lyons has written, and a lot that's neatly demonstrated by the reaction of the blogosphere to his piece.
Let's try to do just that...
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Are character blogs fundamentally a bad idea or just inherently boring?
The latest incarnation of this debate in the business blog community revolves around the Def Perception weblog written, ostensibly, by someone named Tosh Bilowski on behalf of Panasonic Corporation. The tag line of the blog reads "Tosh Bilowski focuses on high-def pro video - brought to you by Panasonic."
So far, the blog community seems to be enjoying some detective work (see for example Amy Gahran's article Who Is Tosh Bilowski: Corporate Blogs and Authenticity) and engaging in its typical criticism of any corporations trying to do something new with weblogs, at least in my opinion.
But I want to bring this topic to the business blogging crowd because I suggest instead that Panasonic deserves some significant credit for having the courage to try something new and interesting. Yes, a quick Google of "Tosh Bilowski" reveals zero matches, which seems darn curious for someone who is a blogger, but I don't think that's really so important. Indeed, for Global PR Blog Week II I wrote an article on this very subject, entitled Fake Blogs: New Marketing Channel or Really Bad Idea?
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Thinking about the X41 Tablet PC one month later...
I've been evaluating a Lenovo IBM X41 Tablet PC for about a month now and while I still have concerns about performance and occasionally am baffled by the subtleties of Windows for the Tablet PC, I'm finding that it integrates nicely into my workflow.
This morning when someone commented on my X41 Tablet PC entry with the question:
"Dave, interested to know whether you think its the hardware or the OS that is letting you down. Seems like its mostly the OS. Let me know please as I am looking at the x41 vs other Tablet PCs."
I thought it would be useful to move the answer into its own weblog entry, as a logical followup to my two previous articles on the X41 and Windows for Tablet PC: Lenovo IBM X41 Tablet PC: I'm Not Impressed and, a few days later, Windows for Tablet PC Handwriting Recognition is Superb.
To me, the key question is whether the cost and hassles of managing with yet one more piece of sophisticated technology is outweighed by the benefits of the unit. And at this point, I'd have to say yes, the X41 Tablet PC is a good solution. Let me explain my thinking, though...
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Two interviews, separated by a decade
In an interesting coincidence of timing, I have had two different interviews published today in the blogosphere, one a delightful retro look at the Internet as it was a decade ago, and one that we wrapped up just yesterday. Ten years ago, my friend Bob Rankin interviewed me for the now vanished magazine Boardwatch, a piece entitled Internet Innovators: Dave Taylor.
Here's a classic segment:
Boardwatch: Is it true you still use a vintage XT with a 300 baud modem?
Me: Actually it's a Mac Plus with 512K but I'm thinking of upgrading to a Fat Mac. No really... I currently use a Mac Centris 650 with Radius color monitor and a Courier V.34 modem to go online.
Ahh, modems. I'm sure glad to have left those things behind years ago, in favor of broadband!
Randy: Why do you blog?
Me: I've always been passionate about writing, communicating, and helping explain how things work. I've been writing for over twenty years now, actually, and have been quite literally been published in magazines well over a thousand times at this point. Writing is second nature to me, and the fact that there's an audience who are interested in my views and perspectives is simply a pleasant surprise!
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Solving the University to Industry Tech Transfer Dilemma
One of the greatest challenges in the innovation economy is the successful transfer of research into the commercial realm. I experienced this firsthand when I spent a few years working at HP's R&D Labs: while we were creating the future, none of the product divisions were interested in helping "productize" our inventions. There's no better example of this dilemma than the story of Xerox PARC, of course, and it's a fascinating topic, but let's just note that it's very difficult to turn invention and innovation into a successful business.
Starting with the emergence of the dot-com era, the modern approach seems to be having students and professors duck out of the university environment and spawn their own firms, hoping that their R&D skills are useful in a more mainstream business setting. While this accomplishes the transfer, it commonly fails and, without the backing of the university or research facility, there's an unnecessary disconnect and a dangerous break between creating a hotbed for innovation and enjoying the upside of the commercial opportunity.
But what if there was a better solution to technology and innovation transfer?
The Technology Transfer Office at the University of Colorado think they've hit on a better approach, one that lets the University retain partial ownership of innovations produced on campus while pairing up the researchers with local investors and business entrepreneurs.
That's how I ended up spending this morning in a room with about a hundred other entrepreneurs and business people at the Esprit Breakfast Technology Forum, listening to some very smart research teams pitch their vision for future companies built around their own inventions...
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Debbie Weil asks: What Can You Do With A Blog?
In doing research for her book, The Corporate Blogging Book, my colleague and friend Debbie Weil asked a half dozen or so of her blogging colleagues if they wanted to comment on her proposed list of categories for blogs. As she explained it:
"I'm trying to be more creative than saying blogs can be used 'for marketing and PR and thought leadership, as well as internally for project and knowledge management.'"
Her proposed list includes blogs as a complement to traditional PR, conference blogs, customer evangelist blogs (what today's NYTimes calls branding blogs), etc.
Where this gets interesting is that I didn't respond with a expansion of her categories, I responded quite differently, and the subsequent email offers some good insight into how blogs have evolved from a simple system to a proscribed technological communications platform with many specific requirements. I'll let the email talk for itself.
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Rethinking business blogs as online stores
I work with a variety of different companies on business blogging strategies, but almost all of them are focused on how to get their message into their marketplace, rather than selling specific products or services. But there's really no reason that a weblog couldn't be used as a storefront, and with one of my clients, Waldorf in the Home, we've experimented with doing just that, as exemplified by the Waldorf in the Home Online Store.
The introductory section is obviously unique to this area of the site (and yes, it's dynamically generated so that new blog entries cause the intro listing to change too). You can see the more traditional blog view of things by going to the blog store categories, like Online Store: Parenting.
Now I'm helping my sister out with her splendid Art Dolls.info site and she's moving from just talking about how to make soft sculpture art dolls to actually selling them, based on reader demand.
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Can Narus single-handedly kill VOIP telephony?
"devised a way for telephone companies to detect data packets belonging to VoIP applications and block the calls. For example, now when someone in Riyadh clicks on Skype's "call" button, Narus's software, installed on the carrier's network, swoops into action. It analyzes the packets flowing across the network, notices what protocols they adhere to, and flags the call as VoIP. In most cases, it can even identify the specific software being used, such as Skype's."
If, like me, you're just getting into the entire world of Voice over IP or Internet Telephony, this story should be pretty disturbing.
The IEEE Spectrum writes that this solution from Narus isn't expected to affect within-VOIP-network calls (e.g., Skype to Skype) but rather VOIP calls that are redirected out onto the existing telephony infrastructure (Skype calls this "Skype Out" and Vonage makes it a cornerstone of their VOIP offering, for example). The IEEE Spectrum, however, might not be entirely correct...
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What we need is a great metaphor for RSS
Over on my Ask Dave Taylor Q&A blog, I received a most interesting question that I believe is a good example of just what's wrong with the state of RSS and, perhaps, is one of the great challenges facing the blogosphere too:
"I know this is a really stupid question, but how do I go about subscribing to your blog? Does subscribing to your blog mean that I would be subscribing to an RSS feed? If so, how do I get hold of an RSS feeder? I have Internet Explorer 6. Can I handle an RSS feed with IE6? Or does subscribing to your blog mean that I would receive an email from you every time there is a new entry to your blog?"
There's a lot about this question that I find interesting, not the least of which is that it reflects the never-ending exclusionary aura of the tech savvy and "tech stupid". But even in the more mundane world of the Web as it exists today there's a lot here to chew on.
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Is David Cronenberg's latest effort a blog, or not?
I'm privileged to be part of the Business Blog Consulting team, sharing weblog space with fellow experts Rick Bruner, Jim Turner, Debbie Weil, Tris Hussey, Paul Chaney, Rich Brooks, BL Ochman, Des Walsh and more. It's a darn smart group.
Our shared weblog - and individual efforts - comprise much of the best thinking on the state and future of business blogging, but behind the scenes it turns out that we also have a mailing list where we volley about questions, ideas and our thoughts on specific topics (yes, it's true. Even the most hardcore business bloggers sometimes don't blog every thought in their heads).
Recently on our list we had a long, thoughtful discussion about the "Free Movie Blog" for A History of Violence, a new movie directed by David Cronenberg and starring Viggo Mortensen. Cronenberg has directed over twenty films, including eXistenZ, Crash, Dead Ringers, Videodrome and Scanners. For his own part, Mortesen was splendid in Lord of the Rings and many other films.
But our discussion wasn't about the actor and director, it was about their ostensible blog and whether what they had up at the A History of Violence site really qualified as a weblog or whether it was co-opting the name and surrounding buzz unfairly.
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Does Google's Gmail discriminate against overseas customers?
I've read all about the challenges that Google has with its search engine and news results in foreign countries, and I've even written about how Google's Orkut social networking solution is attracting Brazilian drug dealers, but I'd always blithly supposed that the Gmail service was at least country neutral.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I received the following email from a correspondent, reporting his investigation when he started to read about the new auto-save feature in Gmail, but not seeing it when he logged in...
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Credit where it's due: Tablet PC handwriting recognition is superb
As I wrote about a few days ago (in Lenovo X41 Tablet PC: I'm not impressed), I have been evaluating a brand-new Levoro X41 Tablet PC and while I am more and more dismayed by the performance of the unit, I am getting into the groove of working with the Tablet OS (Windows XP for Tablets) and specifically with the handwriting recognition system.
In a word: Wow!
I have used other handwriting recognition systems in the past, and even learned to modify my writing to match the Palm "Graffiti" system, but none of them gave me the sense that they would modify to match my rather sloppy handwriting rather than vice-versa, until now.
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After all this time, Gator was the killer app after all
Years and years ago I worked with the team that produced a very slick little downloadable application called Gator. Gator would watch what Web sites you visited and pop up contextually relevant adverts and coupons in its own window, along with easy form auto-fill and a digital "wallet" for payment information. Gator was vilified by the online community and paraded about as the ultimate triumph of commerce over information, of the evils of capitalism crushing the eager egalitarianism of the mythical "open network".
Gator, the company, still exists today, and still garners controversy, albeit under its new moniker of Claria Corporation and Gator, the application, has spawned two progeny, Gator Wallet and Dash Bar.
Today my colleagues at LinkedIn told me about a new system, LinkedIn JobsInsider, and rather to my surprise it's another standalone app that keeps track of where you surf and pops up useful information based on what you're viewing in your Web browser.
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... and so the Merck Vioxx lawsuit spam begins
I've been writing about the massive threat of the impending lawsuits against Merck due to its apparent reluctance to pull its blockbuster Vioxx medicine off the shelves once there were indications that it had harmful side effects. It's a huge liability problem and I believe will change the very face of Big Pharma, with some significant consequences for health care in the long term. You can read about some of my earlier musings on this subject in Merck's Vioxx Liability: The Death of Big Pharma?
I also thought that, of all things, the John Grishman pulp novel The King of Torts offered some interesting insight into the cut-throat world of tort and class action lawsuits, albeit in a fictional world.
Continue Reading "... and so the Merck Vioxx lawsuit spam begins"
Lenovo IBM X41 Tablet PC: I'm Not Impressed
There's a lot about write-on-image technology and Tablet PCs that I really like, and watching tablet enthusiasts like Robert Scoble and Steve Gillmor rave about their Tablet PCs makes me feel distinctly ancient with an actual hinged-screen laptop. Mine is a recent model Apple PowerBook with a gorgeous 15" screen and cool aluminum finish, but still, having to type on a keyboard, and figure out the logistics of angling the screen "just so" for the best view are really just amazingly user-unfriendly. We don't notice because, of course, we've just come to accept that it's part of the user experience.
Further, a true confession: while I masquerade as a businessman, I'm still secretly a geek at heart, and so when I recently talked with the market relations team at Lenovo, the company that bought and absorbed IBM's PC Division, I couldn't help but ask if there were eval X41 Tablet PC units available. There were, I got on the list, and I received my loaner system this afternoon.
My out-of-the-box impression, something that used to be all important to the industry, was excellent. This baby is small and light, weighing in at just over 3 pounds with an approx. five hour battery life and bright 12" LCD screen.
Then I started trying to actually use the system...
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Business Blogging Tips for the QuickBooks General Manager
Welcome to the interesting world of business blogging, BSmith4664. I've had a chance to read your first posting to the Quickbooks Team Blog, entitled View from the General Manager and would like to offer up a few thoughts and pointers...
First off, whether you're an executive or using a spade in the trenches, I do think that it's quite helpful to tell us who you are. "BSmith4664" sounds a lot more like a Hotmail or AOL address than the General Manager of the Quickbooks team, doesn't it? I realize that 60 seconds with Google reveals that you're "Brad Smith" and that Intuit's CEO Steve Bennett has said "We've been searching externally for a while and determined that Brad Smith is the best person - inside or outside Intuit - for the QuickBooks leadership role. He's proven his ability to lead a team to win decisively in an intensely competitive environment."
Very impressive. But why make me do the work?
A good metaphor for business blogging might well be having five minutes in front of a professional networking group or conference roundtable. Certainly your name, your title, your responsibilities, some comment that indicates you're paying attention to the discussion and the interaction style that's become the norm in the group, and so on. Bonus points for something amusing about yourself.
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My book is "set dressing" for the upcoming movie "You, Me and Dupree"
Much to the surprise of everyone on our end, Universal Studios just sent in a letter to the permissions folk at O'Reilly Media, asking for permission to include my book Learning Unix for Mac OS X Tiger in their upcoming film!
Here's exactly what the letter says:
"Universal Pictures is in production on a theatrical motion picture entitled "You, Me and Dupree". Joe and Anthony Russo (TV's "Arrested Development") are set to direct Owen Wilson, Kate Hudson and Matt Dillion in the lead roles."
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Comprehensive business VOIP solutions are too complex
As I wrote about a few weeks ago (Is VOIP Ready for Small Businesses?), I've been testing out the Vbuzzer VOIP solution, using a Sipura Ethernet to phone interface box and a cheap old telephone I had in the closet. So far, it's working well and I'm impressed with it and quite pleased with VOIP overall.
But trying to figure out how to integrate it into my existing office setup is making my head spin, and it's really a great example of the cost and challenges of people who are early adopters or even mainstream adopters. Sure, I can sign up for Vonage and get a "free" box similar to the Sipura, but what I really want is to transfer my existing business line to a VOIP system, transfer my fax line to a VOIP system, and then have a two line hybrid telephone where line one was a standard phone line, and line two was the VOIP business line.
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