Category Archives: Web 2.0

Brief Note on Bartz’ Yahoo Ouster

I haven’t had much to say on Yahoo for a while, and I won’t be prolix in discussing the ouster of Carol Bartz as the company’s CEO yesterday. She apparently was relieved of her executive duties on a telephone call from the company’s chairman, Roy Bostock, and she promptly shared that fact with Yahoo staff in a brief, presumably valedictory email message.

As I noted nearly two years ago, Bartz seemed lost at Yahoo. She provided lots of sound and fury, not to mention abundant theatrics, but her reign was more sideshow than focused leadership. Yahoo didn’t need a sideshow. There’s not much money in that.

To be fair, though, Bartz was miscast in her role. Before she came to Yahoo, she made her name and reputation as the chief executive at Autodesk, a company that specializes in the development of 3D-design, engineering, and entertainment software.

As you might imagine, Autodesk’s software was (and still is) sold to and used by design professionals and engineers,  not consumers. On the other hand, Yahoo is a content, media, and communications company that serves a broad-based consumer market. They’re very different companies, and it’s not clear why the Yahoo board thought Bartz’ previous experience made her the ideal candidate to reverse the dimming fortunes of one of the Internet’s brightest lights during the wild 90s.

Anyway, the whole Yahoo saga of the last decade has been an unremittingly sad story.  Yahoo retains some valuable assets, but nobody there seems to know how to get the most from them.

Facebook Croons New Tune, But Song Remains the Same

Bruce Nussbaum, a former assistant managing editor at Business Week who now serves as a professor at Parsons School of Design, makes the argument that some of Facebook’s current privacy-related woes stem from its inability to remain attuned to cultural changes affecting its audience.

I’m not sure whether I buy the argument in its entirety, partly because Facebook long ago left behind its singular focus and dependence on college and high-school kids. Still, two brief sentences in Nussbaum’s blog post at Harvard Business Review are undeniably true:

At the moment, it (Facebook) has an audience that is at war with its advertisers. Not good.

No, it’s not good. But, as I argued early last year, Facebook was destined to be in conflict with its audience. The outcome was inevitable, resulting from Facebook’s inability or unwillingness to be transparent about the specifics of its business model and its exploitative relationship with its audience.

Facebook was neither forthcoming nor honest. Then, as now, Facebook continues to play a cynical game with those who use its service. It continues to lead them to believe they incur no downside for using a nominally free service. Then, as subscribers drop their guards, Facebook exacts a price, furtively dismantling privacy protections and trading on the sorts of sliced and diced demographic data that advertisers crave.

Now, as Facebook goes through another privacy overhaul, promising to make amends for what has become a pattern of deception and dishonesty, subscribers to the service ought to recall a hackneyed admonition about violated trust: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. (George W. Bush emphasized a variation on this theme, you might remember.)

The truth is, Facebook can’t change. It’s too late. It’s caught in the bind I described in that blog post back in early 2009. Still, even though Facebook is ensnared in a trap of its own design, its audience doesn’t have to go along for the ride.

Resisting Facebook’s f8

So, Facebook is opening its f8 developer conference today, and there’s some debate regarding how one should pronounce the event’s title.

Some say the pronunciation should be two syllables, as in the letter F and the number 8. Others, though, suggest that the pronunciation should be “fate,” as in the word denoting ” the development of events beyond a person’s control, regarded as determined by a supernatural power.”

Well, there are some big egos at Facebook, and I would imagine the reality-distortion fields in the company’s boardrooms and hallways have the power to scramble logical thinking and to engender delusions of grandeur. Facebook might actually believe that it is fated to conquer the world, or a least that portion of it that exists online.

Lately much debate has ensued about whether Facebook will render Twitter irrelevant. Like many others, I don’t see a close similarity between the two companies, the online services they offer, their subscriber demographics, or even their current business models. Given Facebook’s prodigious user base, however, there obviously is overlap between its subscribers and Twitter’s.

But the services themselves are very different. From my perspective, Twitter is about communication and information sharing. Facebook, though I haven’t been on it for a long time, seems to be about frivolity, triviality, a veritable online water cooler. It’s designed to be a place where people go for distractions, like television but more interactive.

That’s not surprising because Facebook’s real purposes is to serve as a giant consumer-analytics engine for advertisers. To the extent that it can cover the web, sucking information about what and where its subscribers do in their online existence, Facebook stands to make a lot of money.

But there’s not much to Facebook beyond that. It’s trying to transform its subscribers into an enormous database of likes and dislikes that can be segmented and sold to corporate marketers and advertisers. That’s always been Facebook’s game — as I’ve said here for a long time — and that’s why consumer and customer privacy just isn’t a priority for Facebook.

I’ve always enjoyed the delicious irony that Facebook originated at Harvard University. An institution renowned for erudition and scholarly achievement has produced a commercial entity that does its utmost to culturally impoverish the Internet, and to turn its subscribers into nothing more than data points for advertising campaigns.

Facebook is so malevolently vacuous that it reminds me of the corporate fascism depicted in RoboCop. Facebook is the online manifestation of Omni Consumer Products (OCP), the movie’s fictional, omnipresent megacorporation. Facebook probably would like nothing more than to have its subscribers function solely as consumers, focused only on their likes of dislikes of products and services that advertisers want them to buy.

Like the lecherous huckster in RoboCop who kept repeating the phrase” Ill buy that for a dollar!,” Facebook will try continually to dumb down and commercially condition online communication and interaction.

But I’m not buying what it’s selling, not for a dollar or for any other amount.

Murdoch’s Howler

You never can tell what strange verbal formulations will emanate from the mouths of babes or wizened, septuagenarian media magnates.

Rupert Murdoch, chairman and CEO of media empire News Corp., today told a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) workshop on the state of journalism that media organizations, if they are to thrive in the digital age, must persuade consumers to pay for news content online.

In of itself, that pronouncement might not rate as particularly newsworthy. We know that news-media organizations must adapt their business models to endure in an age of digital distribution, though there’s some debate as to whether that should be done primarily through online advertising or through subscription-based, reader-pay models. In my view, tapped-out consumers already pay to get on the Internet, and they will be passionately disinclined to cough up content tolls to every online publisher with an outstretched hand.

Murdoch’s howler, though, came in his justification for seeking money directly from his readers rather than from advertisers. The Australian media baron said online publishers must charge for their content because “good journalism is an expensive commodity.”

I consider myself a tolerant soul, but I must call bullshit when I see it. Good journalism? From News Corp? This coming from the philistines who bring us the UK’s Sun and News of the World, not to mention the New York Post? From the man whose publishing empire cheapened the UK’s Times and has rubbished the quality of the Wall Street Journal?

To paraphrase Martin Amis from his novel “Money”: Are Rupert’s publications, online or otherwise, any way to interpret the world?

Cripes, Rupert, why not just admit you’re a greedy sod who wants more money? That would at least have the virtue of honesty, and a certain twisted integrity. Don’t justify your grasping for our coin on the basis of “quality journalism.” You wouldn’t know good journalism if it hit you in the head in the form of a rolled-up newspaper — maybe a copy of the Wall Street Journal before you desecrated it.

Depressing Thought of the Day: Facebook as Web’s Main River

At TechCrunch, MG Siegler makes the following observation:

Facebook wants every site on the web to be a tributary. And it wants to be the main river.

Really, has the web come to this? What a crushingly depressing thought. If all roads lead to Facebook, it’s time to get off the roads, build new ones, or explore some other frontier.

With Redoubled Consumer Focus and Microsoft Deal, Yahoo Seeks Zimbra Sale

As Yahoo gears up for a major brand-marketing blitz directed at its core consumer market, it is aggressively seeking to divest properties that don’t comfortably fit within that mandate.

One of those properties is Zimbra, an open-source, web-based collaboration company that Yahoo acquired in 2007 for $350 million. To the extent that Yahoo could be said to have been promoting Zimbra, it had been pushing it as a white-label email service.

Interestingly ,that’s not necessarily how Yahoo and the rest of the world saw Zimbra when the acquisition occurred. Back then, Zimbra was perceived as a nascent productivity suite that had the potential to evolve into competition for Google Web Apps and Microsoft’s Office, which is spinning off its own web-based sibling in Microsoft Office Web Apps.

There also were imaginings that Yahoo, returned to the control of then-CEO Jerry Yang, might entertain a revivified emphasis on technological innovation.

Now, though, Yahoo has its eyes firmly fixed on consumers. It has no need for white-label collaborative-messaging offerings directed at SMB and enterprise customers. That’s especially true in light of its chummy search-and-advertising relationship with Microsoft.

As is well known, Microsoft’s Office and its web-based complement represent a powerful entry in the web-based personal-productivity sweepstakes. Notwithstanding Yahoo’s sharpened strategic focus on consumers, Microsoft could not have been thrilled about the ongoing existence of Zimbra within Yahoo. As soon as the Yahoo-Microsoft deal was struck, Zimbra’s days as a Yahoo possession were numbered.

Commentators are wondering about Zimbra’s next destination. Among the potential buyers are Google, Comcast (an early Zimbra customer), and Zimbra’s original venture-capital investors. One of those investors is Redpoint Ventures, the current professional home of Satish Dharmaraj, Zimbra’s founder and CEO.

Whoever buys Zimbra, they are not likely to pay nearly enough to allow Yahoo to realize a financial return on its investment. Like so many of Yahoo’s acquisitions, Yahoo’s purchase of Zimbra was poorly conceived and ineptly executed.

Valley Not the Place for America’s Young and Wealthy?

More than a few denizens of Silicon Valley think they reside in the center of American wealth creation, if not the center of the universe.

According a study from market-researcher Nielsen Claritas, though, America’s young and wealthy are voting with their well-heeled feet and congregating in the environs of Washington, D.C.

First the data-center investments went east, and now the young and wealthy appear to be making the same pilgrimage.

San Francisco held the top spot in Nielsen’s young-and-wealthy rankings back in 2000, but it has slipped to third spot, falling along with dot-com fortunes. No other county in the Bay Area cracked the top ten.