Clever Title About Communication and Advertising


An interesting convergence of press in the past couple of days. Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal (and a number of other outlets) noted that Microsoft is getting more interested in behavioral targeting:

Here’s how it works: If someone types in “compare car prices” on Live Search, Microsoft’s computers note that the person is probably considering buying a vehicle. The computers then check with the list of Hotmail accounts to see if they have any information on the person. If they do, and an auto maker has paid Microsoft to target this type of person, the computer will automatically send a car ad when she next looks at a Microsoft Web page. As a result, people should see more ads that are of interest to them.

On today, we get Steve Ballmer’s thoughts on what will be happening with technology in 2007 and beyond, which included this thought:

In 2007, I believe that phone numbers and e-mail addresses will begin to give way to a single identity, and the desktop phone will merge with the PC and mobile phone. Messages will be routed to you on a device that will be smart enough to know whether you can be interrupted based on what you are doing and who the message is from. Instead of being ruled by e-mail and cellphones, we’ll have control over when and how we can be reached, and by whom. [emphasis mine]

Now just to make it clear, I don’t have any problems with behavioral targeting — as long as it’s done well and in a way that allows me to see and manage the data being used, I’d much rather have someone trying to show me ads that I’ll find interesting than someone just throwing totally random crap in front of me.

What strikes me as strange, though, is the implicit suggestion here that people should “have control over when and how we can be reached, and by whom,” but that companies should decide what advertising is most appropriate for those people. The tacit assumption that advertising is somehow qualitatively different from all other communication.

I’m probably reading too much into the correlation in time for these two articles, but it’s still interesting. And it’s also why I find VRM such an interesting idea right now…the “R” is for “relationship,” after all.

Let’s Call it a Movement


Ilya Grigorik adds his voice to a still (relatively) small but growing chorus with his post Reinventing RSS Readers.

While Dave Winer can reasonably claim that he’s been pushing this idea for years, more and more people are finally realizing that they need to free themselves from the tyranny of the RSS <channel> and move to a place where they consume the aggregate product, not the individual feeds.

Welcome, Ilya. I think you’ll like it here.

Because it would be expensive, impractical, and not fix the core problem…


…to answer my own question below, but you’ll come to that soon enough.

Doc Searls just posted on a topic that’s been coming back into my head in recent days, for some odd reason.

My response to the “defensive patent” argument is that a company holding “defensive patents” makes me feel almost exactly as safe as somebody keeping a loaded handgun in a cigar box under their bed for “self defense.” In both cases it’s possible that they know what they’re doing and nothing bad will happen, but the situation just seems like a bad one…somebody’s likely to end up getting shot, and everyone involved is likely to regret that shooting very soon after it happens.

So how about this: why isn’t there a mechanism for registering “prior art” with the USPTO in place of a patent application? Why couldn’t Doc and the folks that have been working on VRM, for example, write up the associated mechanisms and processes and submit them to a sort of “patent examiners look here first when reviewing applications” store that the USPTO maintains?

Rather than having to take out a defensive patent, which (regardless of good intentions) has the potential to be an offensive patent at the drop of a hat, you’re simply registering a statement of the work and thought that has been put into a particular area or idea. Every patent application has to be checked against this USPTO “prior art archive,” and a match means that the application is automatically rejected.

So, why doesn’t this exist? Because it would be expensive, impractical, and not fix the core problem with the US patent system. It’d be a halfhearted, partially effective band-aid applied in an effort to postpone the major overhaul that is so clearly required.

The Congress shall have the power to […] promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.

(Oh, and merry Christmas, everyone…the various kids are starting to pop up from their naps, so I’m going back to the fun.)

More on Counting the Internet


On O’Reilly Radar, Brady Forrest points to a couple posts that just happen to be exploring what forms of measurement make sense in a Web 2.0 world. Says Brady:

Instead of page views, Reel Pop is suggesting that we use “average time per user” on a site. This seems like a good metric for all of the content on a site, but what about distributed content? Sites are sending out their content via RSS and Widgets in increasing numbers. This is how many users interact with a site. RSS is becoming monetized; Widgets may become so in the future. How should distributed content from a site be included in a site’s ranking?

As you might expect based on what I’ve written before, I’m glad to see thought going into what kinds of metrics are actually useful on this evolving Internet.

Ceci n’est pas une Zune post


About eight months ago I proposed the creation of a “Microsoft clock” that would track the very public timeline predictions that Microsoft executives seem to love making. (Think “spam will be eradicated within 24 months,” “our search will be better than Google within six months,” or the classic “Vista will ship in Q<mumble> of 200<cough>,” for a few easy examples.)

The specific pronouncement that interested me back in March was Steve Ballmer’s answer to the question “think you can crack the iPod market?” To wit:

It’s going to take an innovative proposition. In five years are people really going to carry two devices? One device that is their communication device, one device that is music? There’s going to be a lot of opportunities to get back in that game. We want to be in that game. Expect to see announcements from us in that area in the next 12 months.

I’m a little surprised to be saying it, but Ballmer gets a pass on this one — it’s been only eight months and I already count three announcements in this area:

  1. July 21, 2006: “There’s going to be this Zune thing, and it’s going to be totally cool. Way cooler than the iPod.”
  2. November 14, 2006: “Here’s the Zune, and it’s totally cool. Way cooler than the iPod. Look — it’s brown!”
  3. November 28, 2006: “The tepid reviews and lackluster sales numbers are all part of our plan to dominate this market.”

I guess that MS spirits were buoyed by actually making this timeline, because they immediately followed up with a new prediction: one million zunes will be sold by June. The shocker? I believe that MS will make this million Zune march. You see, as pointed out on Blackfriars’ Marketing’s blog, there are lots of ways to count sales; by hook or by “sold into retail,” Microsoft will find a way to meet this timeline. So…I guess congratulations are in order?

Bonus Content
Ina Fried is getting a fair bit of attention for documenting her search for Zunes to share tunes with on CNET. All I can do is reiterate my thoughts from Zune: welcome to the gamble:

I’m really surprised that Microsoft didn’t do more to prime the pump on this. Give Zunes away to every street-level music fiend they could find. Pay people to take Zunes to public places and share their little hearts out. Build a “Zunebox” (think jukebox) that allows Zune users to pull down songs and then install one in every Starbucks, Borders Music, and Best Buy in key markets.

Anything at all, really, to give Zunesters as many opportunities as possible to think “damn this is cool” while they grab a new track out of the ether…anything to minimize the number of times that people look for the social only to get: No nearby Zune devices found, or nearby devices have wireless turned off.

Blaming the Messenger: Brand Presence in Explicitly Social Software


The link is a little dated now, but (via the Social Customer Manifesto) I just came across Wade Roush’s Technology Review piece: Fakesters – On MySpace, you can be friends with Burger King. This is social networking? Raush notes:

What’s sad about MySpace, though, is that the large supply of fake “friends,” together with the cornucopia of ready-made songs, videos, and other marketing materials that can be directly embedded in profiles, encourages members to define themselves and their relationships almost solely in terms of media and consumption.

This can’t be all that social computing has to offer.

While I’ll agree that it’s a little sad, I’m not convinced that it has a whole lot to do with social computing. Over the past fifty years a huge amount of time, money, and effort have been dedicated to the explicit goal of getting people to define themselves and their relationships in terms of media and consumption.

The design of explicitly social software plays a meaningful part in determining how its users will interact, but for better or worse, ESS mostly gives back what users put into it. If mySpace users didn’t want to be associated with that creepy-ass BK King guy, he would be alone and friendless; the fact, then, that a quick search of mySpace finds at least fifteen competing versions of the King, with thousands of “friends” between them, seems to say more about the human end of the equation than the software end. [And note that I only checked the first few pages of search results.]

Roush points to LinkedIn, Flickr, and Meetup as ESS with “missions” or “high ideals,” and that’s a key observation. All three are objective-focused systems: you manage your business contact network, manage photographs (your own and others’), or you manage social events. If you want to do something different on one of these platforms…well, you don’t. mySpace, in contrast, is objective-free: you aren’t expected to do anything in particular. (Sure, accumulating lots of friends might be considered an implicit goal on mySpace, but really just in the same sense in which that’s a goal in the offline world.)

mySpace shows what people do when you give them a social forum and nothing specific to do. And one of the things that people do, apparently, is make friends with corporate mascots. Fucked up? Sure, but I don’t see how that’s something that we can blame on mySpace.

Two Posts for the Price of One:
%s/mySpace/Second Life/g
In light of recent events and press interested readers should reread this post, substituting “Second Life” anywhere that “mySpace” appears above.

Administrative Note: oops


So I have this little problem. I tend to accumulate domain names, Web/email hosts, shell accounts, and what-have-you. This has, over the years, resulted in the evolution of a web of redirection, forwarding, mapping, and re-redirection between the services running on these various entities that Rube Goldberg would consider impractical and excessive.

Why am I sharing? Well, it seems that one of the mechanisms that I sometimes use to send personal mail (from has not actually been sending messages to the intended recipients…nor has it been bouncing messages to any mailbox that I can remember setting up. Hmmmm.

I’ll be cleaning up the whole system over the next few days, but if you’ve been waiting for a reply to a relatively recent email, it’d probably be a good idea to contact me again as I may think that I’ve already replied to you.

For what it’s worth, if you’re waiting for a reply to a not-so-recent email it’d probably be a good idea to contact me again; I still may think that I’ve replied to you, but I’ll have to blame that on absent-mindedness rather than technology.