Roland nails the Globe and Mail on Web 2.0

Post ImageFellow Canadian and photoblogger extraordinaire Roland Tanglao posted some harsh words about a recent Globe and Mail article. The article includes a fairly negative quote from Albert Behr, who says, “you’ll notice that there are no Web 2.0 companies on the [Technology Fast 50] list — they just cost too much to be profitable in this country.” I have to agree with Roland:

The prognostication that “Web 2.0 companies cost too much to be profitable in Canada” will turn out to be just as laughable as the 1990s predictions of Apple’s demise. The whole point of Web 2.0 (the read write web or whatever you want to call it) especially with affordable infrastructure like Amazon S3 and EC2 is that anybody with a great idea and great implementation skills can build a web service anywhere in the world (not just in Silicon Valley) that is useful and scalable.

Roland offers some examples, including Flickr and bubbleshare. I’d add Podcast Spot to the list. Even though we just launched last night, a lot of what Roland says resonates with me. We use Amazon S3, and I would say we have a great idea and a great implementation. Now we just have to work on becoming profitable 🙂

Perhaps it is fair to say that Web 2.0 companies are harder to do in Canada, but a little challenge never hurt anyone right?

Read: Roland Tanglao

Wired News gets Odeo all wrong

Post ImageI think the staff at Wired News must have missed the memo about Odeo. In a list of Web 2.0 Winners and Losers published today, they included Odeo on the winners list. They praised the service, saying that Odeo “breezed in and de-mystified the podcast.” Huh, is that really what happened?

Not according to Odeo co-founder Evan Williams, who when giving a talk last week said Odeo failed for five main reasons:

  • “Trying to build too much”
  • “Not building for people like ourselves”
  • “Not adjusting fast enough”
  • “Raising too much money too early”
  • “Not listening to my gut”

De-mystified the podcast? That would explain why the vast majority of the population doesn’t know what a podcast is. They certainly know what MySpace or YouTube is though, yet MySpace appears on Wired’s losers list.

In some ways, the list that was voted on by Wired News readers is much more accurate – Odeo doesn’t appear on either list. This is the wisdom of the crowd at work! I don’t think they can be described as winners or losers yet, because Odeo seems to be finding their way still. I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, to wait and see if they can turn it around.

The funniest part of the Wired article is this:

In the interest of brevity, I’ve chosen five sites from each category. The web services industry certainly has more than five winners and five losers, so we’ve only highlighted the exemplars.

I’m not exactly sure what reporter Michael Calore considers the definition of “exemplary” to be, but I am quite certain it’s different from my definition. And probably different than the dictionary’s definition too. The first five that came to mind for me certainly didn’t include Writely or Odeo (mine would be Flickr, del.icio.us, YouTube, MySpace, and digg).

Read: Wired News

Has TechCrunch lost its edge?

Post ImageI’ve been subscribed TechCrunch for quite a long time, and I rather enjoy reading about the various companies and technologies they profile. Lately though, I’ve noticed that TechCrunch seems to be reporting on “big company” or “big media” things far more than the little stuff. A good example of this is what happened today. I opened up my aggregator for the first time today, and there were five posts in the TechCrunch feed:

  • Live.com and Yahoo! bulk up for local search brawl
  • Zune Unveiling Tomorrow
  • NBC to put new primetime shows online for free
  • Major Google/Intuit Partnership
  • Skype Video For Macs Launches Today

See what I mean? These look like headlines from CNET News.com, not TechCrunch! Now don’t get me wrong, these are all very interesting posts, and TechCrunch always has some inside information or extra analysis which is worthwhile, but they didn’t get to 113,000 subscribers by covering the big guys. They got there by finding and sharing the smaller companies and products that no one else could find.

Which begs the question – is TechCrunch becoming more like a mainstream business news site? Can we expect more of the “big company” type posts? Has TechCrunch lost its edge?

How can a company use podcasting?

Post ImageI came across this post from Karl Long today, titled “Uncommon Uses: Podcasting” in which he suggests some interesting ways that podcasting might be used. The basic idea is that we tend to use new technologies in similar ways as the old ones (using a podcast like a radio or TV show) because it seems natural, but that there are far more creative ways to take advantage of the new tech.

Karl focused mainly on individual scenarios, like learning a language or taking an audio tour, so I thought it would be interesting to come up with some company-focused ideas:

  • The most obvious use is public relations…audio-visual press releases!
  • Replacing a conference call with a podcast (IBM has already done this, for example)
  • And a related item…use a weekly podcast to cut down the number of emails that are sent, by summarizing the important things in audio form
  • Keeping your customers up-to-date on new product releases
  • Setup a podcast (or ability to track podcasts) so that potential job candidates could post audio-visual resumes
  • Keeping project members up-to-date on recent developments
  • Company training materials could be turned into podcasts, with the idea that all employees subscribe and information is added and updated over time
  • Certain meetings could be podcasted, like an AGM or shareholder’s meeting
  • In larger companies, new employees could be required to add an “introduction” to the internal “new hires” podcast – great way for people to find out about “the new guy/gal”
  • In a company like Google, employees could post a “pitch” for an idea they came up with or project they have in mind to an internal podcast

You’re limited only by your creativity! Any scenario in which information might be distributed over time is probably a good candidate for podcasting. Can you think of any other ways?

Telus finally upgrading broadband network

Post ImageDickson sent me this story today about Telus. I recently got rid of my Telus landline and while I am not a big fan of the company, I have been pretty happy with their mobile phone service, and until a couple years ago when I lost my static IP, I was happy with their ADSL service too. That said, the Internet offerings have always been truly “North American”, and by that I mean slow and expensive relative to the rest of the world. Finally though, Telus is going to make some changes:

Telus Corp. says it is investing nearly $800 million over the next three years to beef up its broadband network so it can offer its customers a wide range of new services, including high-definition television.

The company said its proposed infrastructure will allow it to double internet access, to speeds of 15 or 30 megabits a second.

That’s still a far cry from the 100 megabits/second you can get to your house in Hong Kong, for example, but it is markedly better than what we have now. Apparently the entire project will be completed by 2009 (at which time, the rest of the world will probably be faster still).

Read: CBC News

The 2 Biggest Problems With Web 2.0

Post ImageOkay, I admit, there are far more problems with Web 2.0 than simply two, but there are two in particular that bug me. The first is the general idea that it’s okay to not have a business model from the get-go. The second is the idea that Web 2.0 will be funded almost entirely by advertising. I think both of these things are very wrong.

1. No Business Model? No Problem!
This one drives me nuts every time I see it. Dead 2.0 nailed it today when he ripped apart an interview with venture capitalist Paul Graham. In fact, I think it might be Dead 2.0’s best post yet. Anyway, I don’t understand why so many people think it’s okay to figure out a business model later. There can only be one Google, can’t there?

I’ve been to countless seminars, courses, speeches, and other events with really incredibly smart business people, and I’ve never heard any of them say it’s okay to figure out how you’re going to make money later. If we had taken that approach with Paramagnus, there’s no way we’d have made the finals of VenturePrize or won the Wes Nicol. At no point in the training sessions did we hear “make something people want first, then try to make money off it later.” Like Dead 2.0 says:

Great. I would like a flying car, and a lasergun. Also, a Web site with all the news, music, porn, and copyrighted videos I want, and it should all be free. I want that. Please build it.

I think this is the single biggest problem with Web 2.0. I look at it this way: the original bubble burst because you had lots of companies with no products (seriously, there were lots of companies who did something, but you weren’t sure what) and no revenue streams. With Web 2.0 thus far we have lots of great products, but we’re lacking in the revenue stream department.

I think both are required to be successful.

2. We’ll just sell advertising!
I don’t know when it happened, but somehow the world thinks that advertising will be the key to monetizing all of the new Web 2.0 products. Scoble said this as if it were plain fact today: “Web 2.0 is largely funded by advertising.” Maybe that’s true right now, but will it be true in the future? For some reason, I just have a gut feeling that advertising is not the key. Scoble’s right, advertising is an audience business. So what happens if your livelihood depends on advertising and your audience is dwindling? You’ll probably do some stupid, desperate things to keep the audience. That can’t be good for consumers.

I’m reading James Surowiecki’s The Wisdom of Crowds right now, and advertising in Web 2.0 reminds me of the section where he talks about plank roads. He uses it as an example of an information cascade. Basically what happened is that in the 19th century, a couple of entrepreneurs came up with the idea for a plank road, it seemed to solve all of the major transportation problems of the day. This led others to copy them, and soon there were hundreds if not thousands of these plank roads. Everyone thought plank roads would change the world! They were a panacea! The problem is that they did not last nearly as long as the original creators expected them to. Plank roads weren’t really a panacea. They simply covered up the real problems for a few years.

Is advertising the same? I mean, Google ads are great, because they are usually relevant to what I am looking for. But you can’t put them everywhere can you? Once you leave the web page, you’re screwed (unless Google comes up with some amazing new technology, which they might).

Still, I can’t help but think that advertising is the plank road of Web 2.0 – covering up the real problem (no business model) for a few years. If someone isn’t willing to pay for your service or product, is it really worth offering?

Conclusion
So there you have it, the two biggest problems with Web 2.0 according to me. I’d love to be proven wrong, but I don’t think its going to happen. To say that you’ve created something of value, you need a way to determine whether or not it has any value. Having someone pay for what you’ve created has worked for hundreds of years – why should it change now?

AMD to drop ATI brand

Post ImageYou probably heard a couple weeks ago that number two chipmaker AMD was purchasing Canadian graphics manufacturer ATI. I was a little surprised by the deal, but I guess it was a strategic move for AMD, and hopefully it will result in better products for all of us. Anyway, just came across this article that says AMD has decided to drop the ATI brand:

Chip guru AMD has announced that it’s going to drop the ATi brand name following its takeover of the Canadian graphics underdog. Gareth Cater from AMD told Custom PC that ‘the new company will be called AMD,’ meaning that we could shortly be seeing AMD-branded Radeon graphics chips.

[Richard] Baker [from AMD] said that ‘the company is being bought, so it’s fairly standard that the name should go, as it’s becoming a part of AMD.’

No word yet on whether or not they will keep the other brand names like Radeon for sure, though I would expect they would. I am thinking the next video cards we see will use the AMD Radeon brand.

Hope you weren’t attached to the ATI brand name!

Read: Custom PC

Libsyn Pro?

Post ImageI just went to take a look at Libsyn’s site tonight, and came across Libsyn Pro. Oddly there is nothing about the service at their blog or in the forums yet. Here’s the brief description:

Built from the ground up, we took the best features of our very popular Libsyn personal system and added the elements businesses demand: World class distribution network, 99.99% Service Level Guarantee, Turnkey, ultra-simple workflow .

Sounds interesting. Judging from the website, I am guessing that it also will not be cheap. I am really curious to know what the pricing is like. Two of their current clients include NPR and National Geographic. The website looks nice, but it’s hard to tell what the service is like simply from the screenshots. It does appear, however, to be focused on businesses only. It also appears to be strictly a storage service, like the regular Libsyn, meaning they don’t create a website for the podcast.

I find the timing a little strange. Just days after they had some major problems with file distribution, they launch a service for businesses with a “world class distribution network”? Either it’s a completely separate system, or that copy was written a long time ago (though Libsyn has had problems for quite a while). And if it is the former, I can see their existing user base being pretty upset. I know I would be.

I’ll be watching this one with interest.

On a slightly related note, we’re going to start testing Podcast Spot next week. Over the next month or so, I’ll be posting little tidbits about the service here and on the Paramagnus blog, so stay tuned.

Read: Libsyn Pro

Why are there no Canadian brands in the top 100?

Post ImageBusinessWeek recently released the 100 Top Brands for 2006, using data provided by Interbrand. Of the 100 brands on the list, not a single one is Canadian and I found myself wondering, why not? First, let’s look at how the list is built:

To even qualify for the list, each brand must derive about a third of its earnings outside its home country, be recognizable outside of its base of customers, and have publicly available marketing and financial data.

Interbrand doesn’t rank parent companies, which explains why Procter & Gamble doesn’t show up. And airlines are not ranked because it’s too hard to separate their brands’ impact on sales from factors such as routes and schedules.

Considerations include market leadership, stability, and global reach—or the ability to cross both geographic and cultural borders. That generates a discount rate, which is applied to brand earnings to get a net present value. BusinessWeek and Interbrand believe this figure comes closest to representing a brand’s true economic worth.

Are Canadian companies failing on each of these points? I set about to find out. The first thing I did was google top companies in canada. The first result is the website for Canada’s 50 Best Managed Companies, and the second is the 50 best companies to work for in Canada. Maybe that’s a clue already! Do the same search for the United States and you get results like “North America Best Companies Lists”, “Top 200 companies in the United States”, and “World’s Best Companies”. Perhaps the stereotype is true and we’re too nice to each other, so we don’t have lists of top companies, but lists of people who we think are nice and just happen to run companies.

Anyway, I altered the search to be for the largest companies in Canada, and I found a Forbes list, compiled in November 2005. Here’s a rundown of the top ten:

  • Five of the companies are Canadian banks, which almost by definition (and no thanks to our government) fail to derive a third of their earnings outside the country.
  • Two are insurance and diversified financials, which I assume fall into the same trap as the banks.
  • Two are oil and gas companies, one of which is actually controlled by an American company (ExxonMobil owns around 70% of Imperial Oil’s stock). The other is EnCana, and I can only assume they focus mainly on Canada as well.
  • Which leaves us with BCE, a parent company, thus failing to be considered for the list.

The rest of the list is very similar – lots of financial and oil and gas companies, and most of the rest are firms I haven’t even heard of, which suggests to me they are parent companies or conglomerates. Perhaps the only three on the list that I think might have a chance are Bombardier, Nortel, and Research In Motion.

And yet, they aren’t on the list. Bombardier surely earns some coin outside the country – it’s even the subject of their latest ad campaign. I guess they don’t count as a market leader? Nortel was once a market leader, but perhaps cannot be considered one anymore. I guess they also fail on the “stability” requirement. And Research In Motion simply isn’t big enough.

There are probably many reasons that the top 100 brands don’t contain a single Canadian brand. Maybe we’re too focused on selling inside Canada and not abroad. Maybe Canadian companies simply can’t get big enough to get on the list due to our rather small population. Maybe most of the big companies in Canada are actually owned by foreign investors. I’m not sure, but if you have an opinion, I’d love to hear it. Regardless, it seems odd that we don’t make the list.

Here’s the “Nation’s Cup” final score for the top 100 brands:

  • 51 are from the United States
  • 9 are from Germany
  • 8 are from Japan
  • 8 are from France
  • 6 are from Britain
  • 5 are from Switzerland
  • 4 are from Italy
  • 3 are from South Korea
  • 2 are from the Netherlands
  • 1 is from Finland
  • 1 is from Bermuda
  • 1 is from Sweden
  • 1 is from Spain

Nothing against the fine people of Bermuda, but if they can get on the list (at number 49 no less), why can’t Canada?! Something isn’t right here. If you ignore the ever recovering and economically troubled Russia, Canada is the only G8 member to not make the list. That’s not the only surprise though – there’s more:

  • Of the top 10 countries by GDP (nominal), only Canada and China are not in the top 100 brands list. (Interesting how the brands list more or less follows the GDP list too, in terms of order). I’m fairly certain that China will be on the list in the next five years, but will Canada?
  • Canada is ranked higher in the 2006 World Competitiveness Yearbook than every country on the list except for the United States, yet we don’t have a top brand.
  • We’re behind only Finland and Sweden in the 2005 Environmental Sustainability Index (pdf), yet we don’t make the top brands list.
  • Only Switzerland, the United States, and the Netherlands are ranked higher than Canada in the 2005 Globalization Index, yet we don’t crack the top 100 brands.

Maybe the problem is population density? Of the top ten countries by total area (so the largest in the world), the only country to appear on the top 100 brands list is the United States. Perhaps population density is really important in building a strong brand? The next country is France, which is the 48th largest country by area. In terms of population, Canada isn’t too bad. We’re larger than five of the countries in the top brands list. Maybe our geographical size is a detriment? It’s as good a guess as any at the moment.

I want to believe that Canada has some excellent, world-class companies, but lists like these make it hard to do so. I know we’ve got a lot of bright, talented business people here in the north, so why aren’t our companies making it on the world stage?

Sonic 102.9 FM acquired by Rogers

Post ImageAny Sonic-heads out there? Big news regarding one of Edmonton’s newest radio stations! It appears that Sonic 102.9 FM has been acquired by Rogers Communications. Details from Broadcaster Magazine via Tod Maffin:

Rogers Communications, long seeking a radio presence in Edmonton and northern Alberta, has found its channel, with a $39.8-million acquisition of OK Radio’s Sonic Radio 102.9 FM and World Radio 101.7 (CKER FM).

The deal also includes two stations and a transmitter in Fort McMurray, a station in Grande Prairie and transmitters there and in Peace River and Tumbler Ridge, B.C.

The deal will be heard by the CRTC on September 11th, though it is expected to be approved. This has got to be some kind of record! I mean Sonic only launched in 2005, and now it has been sold. I guess their former owner, OK Radio, was founded a long time ago though, back in 1973.

Hopefully the new owners don’t change too much…

Read: Broadcaster Magazine

UPDATE: You can find Sonic 102.9 on the web at http://www.sonic1029.com.