After Chirp, is Twitter related investing still smart?

Robert Scoble cornered Ron Conway in the hallway at the Chirp conference yesterday and in the aftermath of Twitter acquiring Tweetie, and announcing their own URL shortening service, asked the big question. Is it still sensible to invest in companies seeking to expand or enhance the use of Twitter in some way?

Ron is unequivocal in his answer.

For what it’s worth I think Ron is right…. as usual 🙂

TechMeme Link here

In Defense of “nothing”

Columnist Henry Porter is generally considered to be a wise observer of the human condition. Today, in an article in the UK Guardian owned Sunday, The Observer, he blew it ….. badly. As a newspaper man he ought to have been aware of his almost certain bias and perhaps counted to ten before pushing “send”. And, given that he didn’t,  his editor should have saved him from himself after the fact, perhaps by asking “are you sure?” But then I would have nothing to say… and neither would others.

Mr Porter’s key contention is one that is being heard more and more from the seriously wounded media industry:

“Google is in the final analysis a parasite that creates nothing, merely offering little aggregation, lists and the ordering of information generated by people who have invested their capital, skill and time. On the back of the labour of others it makes vast advertising revenues – in the final quarter of last year its revenues were $5.7bn, and it currently sits on a cash pile of $8.6bn. Its monopolistic tendencies took an extra twist this weekend with rumours that it may buy the micro-blogging site Twitter and its plans – contested by academics – to scan a vast library of books that are out of print but still in copyright.”

Let’s take this apart:

“Google is … a parasite” – Well, clearly Google has a dependency on the existence of content…. it is, after all, a search engine. So, no content, no Google. But is this parasitic, or is Google more like a librarian… an essential organizer, making discovery of content within a vast mass of it, possible. Do I need to answer?

” Google ….creates nothing” – Nothing? What is the vast index and the algorithms that make the index produce search results. Is it nothing? Again… no answer required.

” Google is … merely offering little aggregation, lists and the ordering of information generated by people who have invested their capital, skill and time.” – “little aggregation”; “lists”; “ordering of information”. Mr Porter has clearly never attempted to crawl, index, and scale a search interface for hundreds of millions of people. He thinks it is trivial. Sadly it is not. And Google does it better than anybody else. How many of Mr Potters readers come via Google’s lists and ordering? Please tell us…. (hint, it is a lot).

“…On the back of the labour of others it makes vast advertising revenues” – This takes the biscuit. What work did any Mr Porter do to make his content discoverable by a vast and growing army of readers? The labour is all Googles. It places ads on top of its own canvas, the Google search engine. It also offers advertising to 3rd parties and according to its earnings reports, shares more than 75% back with the sites who use its advertising engine. The vast sums of advertising money flooding to the Internet are coming because of Google – because Google gave a way for an advertiser to spend its money effectively and measurably. Google makes advertising revenues for the entire ecosystem.

So.. what is Mr Porter really saying. Is it a cry for help? I don’t think so. He is way past help. Bitter, angry and lost in a new media world he finds unfamiliar.

At the root of it is the fact that the role of a media company, and its ability to serve its 3 audiences – readers, creators and advertisers, now rests almost entirely on technology. Specific technology at that… the ability to find, organize and understand data (content). Distribution and monetization are all about technology. Mr Porter’s employers – the Observer – (perhaps parasites on his writing, simply adding paper and print to his efforts) are not a contender to provide these services.

Google represents a company typical of the future of media. It brings technology to scale and serves consumers, creators and advertisers. If you want to be in the game, you need to grasp that content can not stand alone. It needs help to be discovered, distributed and monetized. Googles only fault is that it is better than anybody else at these tasks. Can it be bettered, absolutely! But not by clinging to the past. My advice – read Jeff Jarvis and his book What Would Google Do Mr Porter, you will learn a thing ot two.

Update:

Here is the TechCrunch take on the story.
Here is the updated techmeme discussion

RSS has peaked! – Forrester. Nope, it hasn’t! – Me

Forrester released a report today ($279 download if you want it). Titled “What’s holding RSS back?” it claims that only 11% of Internet consumers use RSS and that those who have not don’t understand it.

Steve Rubel at Micro Persuasion responds that :

“..while feed adoption may have crested the idea of online opt-in communications is just getting going. The Facebook newsfeed, Twitter and Friendfeed are perfect examples of opt-in vehichles that bring content you care about to you. In each case, you’re total in control. You can unsubscribe from individuals or groups and tailor the stream so that what you want finds you.”

Whilst Steve is right about the adoption of technologies like Twitter, Friendfeed and Facebook, that really misses the point about RSS.

RSS is simply a form of XML, designed for allowing applications to syndicate, and others to aggregate. It is not a “consumer application. It is an enabling technology for consumer applications.

Somebody who reads a classified ad on Oodle.com is doing so because, in the background, RSS is being used to get the Ad from its source, onto Oodle. If you read the same ad on one of Oodle’s network partners like Yell, it may have gotten there via an RSS feed. Similarly, a Techmeme article arrives, partly due to RSS.

In other words, RSS is widely adopted and makes possible a wide range of applications that rely on aggregation (inbound data) or syndication (outbound data). Is the movement of data around the network, by applications, using RSS, going to stall. I don’t think so. Are the number of consumers who see data on the web, data that is only there because of the existence of RSS, going to grow? Hell yes!

It feels like Forrester may have been asking the wrong question. Not, how many consumers want RSS? But, how many Internet users want applications that can save them browsing and discovery time by aggregating their preferred content into one or more places? The former may stall (although I doubt that is true) but the latter will certainly not.

Having said that, the report does have a point. Giving consumers places to read about their passions, drawing on the work of many, via aggregation, has to be a priority for Internet publishers. But just as high a priority is hiding the complexities that go along with today’s “blog readers” and simply giving people the content they want. No argument there.