Odeo giving up on podcasting?

Post ImageMaybe it’s time everyone stopped calling Odeo a podcasting company. I’ve been critical of Google’s apparent lack of focus and direction many times in the past, but they’ve got nothing on Odeo. I mean here’s a company with some very smart people working for them, some substantial venture capital behind them, and yet very little to show for it. Perhaps the last notable thing Odeo did with regards to the core offering was redesign the website – and that was in December 2005. I have to agree with what Alex Williams said – “These dudes must have some pretty mellow investors.”

That’s not to say they are standing still. Odeo recently launched two new products, Hellodeo and Twttr. The former is somewhat related to podcasting, while the latter appears to have absolutely no connection whatsoever. Hellodeo lets you record a video message from your webcam to embed on other websites, and Twttr allows you to stay up to date with your friends using text messaging. Notice a trend? Yep, moving further and further away from podcasting.

I think it’s fair to say that LibSyn has done far more in terms of getting people into podcasting than Odeo has, and somehow I doubt that Evan Williams and crew have any tricks up their sleeve. Odeo, quite simply, seems lost. It’s a shame too, because they had the opportunity to do something great with podcasting. Maybe they should just purchase LibSyn?

You might recall that in May of last year, Fortune magazine named Odeo one of their 25 Breakout Companies for 2005. I wonder what they would say about the company today? I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t make the list again.

Maybe Odeo will come out with something amazing and I’ll be forced to eat my words, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. I do however, think Odeo would be wise to read Dead 2.0 Skeptic’s 11 Suggestions for Not Being a Dot-Bomb 2.0.

Paramagnus in AlbertaVenture

Post ImageIf you pick up a copy of the July/August issue of AlbertaVenture magazine, you’ll find an article titled Entrepreneurial Idol, which is all about VenturePrize. While I think that title is better suited to the upcoming Dragon’s Den on CBC, the article is still really good. Indeed one of my favorite memories from the entire VenturePrize experience was talking with Marina. She has a knack for asking the right questions.

Here are a few notable quotes related to Paramagnus from the article:

“Sitting in the front row of Steier’s class are Mack Male and Dickson Wong, 22-year-olds who look like they’ve walked into the wrong classroom. But looks are deceiving; these whiz-kid computer undergrads at the U of A have already raised a hundred grand to fund their baby, Paramagnus Developments.”

“Last to go is Paramagnus which, because of Male and Wong’s youth, is the judges’ sentimental favourite.”

Marina ends the article with a quote from yours truly:

“I can’t believe how far we, and our business model, have evolved since day one of this competition. We’re going to go all the way.”

That sentiment is still true, even today. The story isn’t over yet though, not by a long shot. We’re inching closer and closer with each passing day to releasing Podcast Spot. And when that happens, we’ll really have something to be proud of!

Ken Lay dies after heart attack

Post ImageIt is being reported this morning that Enron founder and former CEO Ken Lay has died of a heart attack, suffered while at his vacation home in Colorodo. Thus far, the details are limited:

Lay, once a confidant of former President George H.W. Bush and dubbed “Kenny boy” by President George W. Bush, often appeared fatigued during the four-month trial, but there was no indication that he had suffered any adverse health effects.

“A coroner’s autopsy is pending. There will be no further information or press release from this office, until autopsy results are available later this week,” the county said in a statement.

My first reaction was, “heart attack? seriously?” – you must have done something remarkably awful in life to have people question whether or not you actually suffered a heart attack. Sounds terrible, but it’s true.

Read: CNET News.com

Communication with Podcasting

Post ImageLots of the podcasting-related discussion taking place in the blogosphere over the last week or so has been about whether or not you can build a sustainable business around it (or even just whether podcasting is here to stay or not). No doubt Scoble’s move to PodTech has fueled some of the discussion, as have comments like Larry Borsato’s:

People talk about podcasting as if it is some amazing new technology, forgetting that we’ve had radio and books on tape for decades. The only difference is that we store the thing in a digital file now.

To say that podcasting is an “amazing new technology” is far too broad a statement to make, I agree. I would argue, however, that podcasting is a great new communications technology (or more accurately, the repackaging of existing technologies (MP3, RSS, the web) to create a great new communications technology). I touched on this idea in my National Post article in May, but I actually developed the theory much more completely back in March of this year. During that month, Paramagnus was heavily into our two business plan competitions, and one of the things I wrote was a introduction to podcasting, which explained how the technology fits into the overall communications picture:

Podcasting is, at its heart, a communications technology. The essence of podcasting is creating audio-visual content for an audience to listen to or watch when they want, where they want, and how they want.

Around the same time, I wrote an essay for a class at the University of Alberta, which explored the impact of the diagram above:

Communication can be broken down into four main methods: real-time text, real-time audio/video, time-shifted text, and time-shifted audio/video. Until very recently, only the first three of these methods had been made available to the masses in digital form by modern technology.

Podcasting fills a great void in communications technologies by enabling everyone to communicate digitally using time-shifted audio and video.

In the diagram above I chose videoconferencing (because of the ability to include both audio and video, and the ability to communicate with more than one person at a time), but you could just as easily stick the telephone in there as well. You might find the diagram simplifies communication, but that was kind of the point. When the average person is going to communicate with someone else, they’re either going to see them in person, call them, email them, maybe instant message them, perhaps post something to their blog, or something similar. Until podcasting came along, it was really hard to use audio and video to do any of this.

As for sustainable business models around podcasting, I think they exist, even if they are hard to see at the moment. Unfortunately, everyone seems to be focused on podcast directories and podcast advertising, the two models I don’t see as being very sustainable (at least not for the incredible number of companies each segment currently has). Advertising is for content companies, which might choose to use podcasting as a delivery medium. I don’t think to be a podcasting company you need to have a strategy to sell advertising. Like most communications technologies, I feel the bulk of the money in podcasting will be on the creation side.

Basically what I am saying here is that podcasting is all about communication, and that’s why it is relevant/important/going-to-stick-around. I don’t think we’ll ever have too many solutions to the problem of communication. And what I said in my last podcasting post still applies – you’ve got to choose the right tool for the job. Sometimes, you’re going to use email or blogging or instant messaging. Other times, you’re going to use podcasting.

Gates to become part-time Microsoft employee

Post ImageBill Gates announced today that over the next couple years he will gradually move away from his full-time duties at Microsoft, after three decades of serving as the public face of the company. Not too surprising a move, as far as I am concerned. Gates is 50 now, with young children, lots of money, and the right people at Microsoft to take it forward:

Gates announced on Thursday that he will gradually relinquish his current role, ceding the chief software architect title immediately, while remaining a full-time employee for the next two years. In July 2008, he will remain as a part-time employee and chairman.

Microsoft’s Chief Technical Officer Ray Ozzie will immediately assume the title of chief software architect, Gates said. In addition, Craig Mundie, CTO for advanced strategies and policy, will immediately take the new title of chief research and strategy officer and will assume Gates’ responsibilities for the company’s research and incubation efforts.

If there was ever a question as to why Microsoft purchased Groove, that has surely been answered now. They didn’t buy the company, they bought Ray Ozzie. He’s clearly the strategy guy moving forward.

I think this is good for Gates and for Microsoft. He can spend more time with his family and his non-profit, while Microsoft can start to bring in fresh and different ideas. He won’t be gone entirely, which is good, remaining as company chairman.

Read: CNET News.com

Who is Google's worst enemy?

Post ImageIf you said Microsoft or Yahoo, you’d be wrong. I think the real enemy for Google is itself, which is kind of like Microsoft, but for different reasons. Microsoft’s worst enemy is itself because it has to find ways to get people to upgrade from the existing versions of Microsoft software they already use. Or to move their users to a subscription model. Google’s worst enemy is itself because they have done an amazingly good job of accomplishing nothing.

“But they have so many products!” you exclaim. Exactly. They have got a ton of products, including some like the recently released Google Spreadsheets that seem to target Microsoft applications (though Microsoft’s Don Dodge makes a good case that they target open source software instead), yet none of them make money. Honestly, Google must have the largest number of non-revenue earning products of any company in history. I say they have accomplished nothing because their core product (AdSense, not search) really hasn’t changed all that much since it was launched. Instead of improving it, and finding ways to deal with click fraud and the other problems, Google has blinded itself with these side projects that seem bent on competing with Microsoft. And don’t be fooled by their ad company purchases – none of them have come to bear any fruit yet.

When I first learned about it, I thought that Google’s policy of encouraging employees to spend 10-20% of their time working on non-core projects was a good one, but now I am not so sure. It has resulted in lots of interesting technology to be sure, but not much else. I really don’t see how Google would get any ROI out of something like Google Spreadsheets. I have no idea what Google’s revenue breakdown is, but I highly doubt there’s a gem, other than AdSense of course, to be found.

That’s why I think Google’s worst enemy is itself. They have grown so big, so fast, that they forgot to take care of the goose that laid the golden egg. They haven’t cut it open yet, but if they continue to focus on these other mostly unimportant side projects, they might as well have.

Entrepreneurial Genes

Post ImageBad news for the business associations of the world who try to foster growth in small business – genetics make the entrepreneur, not environment, according to a recent study:

A study of identical twins by researchers in Britain and the United States suggests family environment has little influence because nearly half of a person’s propensity to be self-employed, or entrepreneurial, is due to genes.

The rate of entrepreneurs among twins is the same as in the general population. [Prof. Tim Spector of St Thomas’ Hospital in London] and his team found that identical twins increased the odds of their twins following the same path more than nonidentical twins, which suggests genes are important.

I always knew there was some special about me 😉

While I find this study and it’s conclusions very interesting, I try to keep an open mind. I don’t want to fall into the trap of thinking that genetics determines everything. If they manage to isolate the gene(s) responsible however, I bet someone could turn that into a nice little business!

Read: CNET News.com

Yahoo hearts PayPal

Post ImageIn a deal announced earlier today, Yahoo and eBay are teaming up around advertising, e-commerce, and search. Yahoo becomes the exclusive provider of graphical ads on eBay, and will also provide some text ads. They are going to make a co-branded toolbar, and they’ll work to make their respective VoIP apps work together (Yahoo Messenger and Skype). The biggest thing of all though, at least as far as I am concerned, is Yahoo’s adoption of PayPal:

Yahoo will make eBay’s PayPal service the exclusive third-party provider of its online wallet, allowing customers to pay for Yahoo services from bank accounts, credit cards or balances associated with their PayPal accounts. PayPal will also be integrated into product offerings for Yahoo merchants and publishers, including the Yahoo Publisher Network, Yahoo Search Marketing and Yahoo Merchant Solutions.

Yahoo using PayPal essentially removes any doubt that PayPal is the de facto payment service on the Internet. It will be very hard for Google to successfully introduce a competitor now. Two of the largest sites on the net in Yahoo and eBay, plus the millions of other smaller e-commerce sites all using PayPal is an enormous hurdle for any rival payment service. PayPal is the closest thing we have to a truly digital wallet. Incredibly smart move by Yahoo, and excellent outcome for eBay.

Read: CNET News.com

Unmesh

Post ImageNow that Mesh is over, I’ll need to begin reviewing the things I heard discussed, the things I learned, and the different perspectives on things I already knew. Conferences like this one always give me so much to consider – I never leave empty handed or bored.

As I mentioned previously, the conference wasn’t quite what I was expecting. It was far less geeky than I had anticipated. Even the two “15 Minutes of Fame” sessions were not demos, but rather introductions or high level overviews. Things like Ajax or Javascript or Ruby on Rails were rarely mentioned, and even then only in passing. More people had paper notepads and pens than laptops for taking notes (there were still a lot of laptops, don’t get me wrong). All in all, the audience seemed much more “business-like”.

I think this conference was good for me. I got some interesting perspective on “Web 2.0”, and I met some very intriguing people. I also think the conference is good for Canada, we need events like Mesh to remind us of the talent and opportunity that we have – we don’t need to go to Silicon Valley. At the same time, Mesh reminds us of the areas that we could and should be doing much better.

Thanks to Stuart, Mark, and the entire organizing and planning team for putting on a superb conference! I look forward to next year’s Mesh (and yes I think there can be one, even if we no longer talk about “Web 2.0”, because the discussions held over the last two days are still relevant).

Is Web 2.0 Changing the Software Industry?

Post ImageThe last session of the day that I am attending is with Mike McDerment, Chris Messina, Matt Mullenweg, and Stowe Boyd, who will be discussing whether or not they thing Web 2.0 is changing the software industry. Here are my notes (my comments in italics):

  • Matt describes a web service as a web page meant for a computer.
  • Mike is confusing web services and web applications maybe? What Mike means is a service like Basecamp, where users pay a monthly fee to use the service.
  • Stowe likes the term/phrase, “the freemium model”, where base capabilites are free and you turn on a for fee model after some limit is hit. I like the phrase too, and the business model. It’s a natural way that people get hooked and then like a service so much they’ll pay.
  • Matt points out that a nice thing about these services is that you don’t have to worry about security, or upgrades, or any of that sort of thing.
  • The significance of consuming apps online instead of in a shrinkwrapped way, is huge, according to Stowe. Products will get much better, much more quickly. It’s like the difference between American Airlines and JetBlue.
  • Matt thinks the unsexy name for freemium is shareware, and it’s been around for a while. The difference now is that we have broadband.
  • Chris thinks wifi is also a huge change, and that we have laptops everywhere.
  • In three years, Stowe thinks the software landscape will look increasingly web-based. People will have connectivity all the time, on increasingly more capable mobile devices.
  • What Chris wants to see is interfaces and interactions with software that translates into something real.
  • People are the center of the universe, not data, not information. Stowe thinks the buddy list is the most important metaphor for the future. He says RSS aggregators follow the wrong model, we don’t need bits of information coming through a pipe, but instead we want to know what Chris has written lately, for example.
  • Good question from the audience about innovation exhaustion, what happens after the 38th signal? How do these web apps become useful for real people?
  • Stowe: another trend, small companies.
  • If you can make things intuitive, you wont have as many people bug you, says Matt.
  • Chis says microformats is an area he’s been doing a lot of work right now.
  • Matt says at the end of the day, formats and standards don’t matter. He says they should arise afterward as codifications of market trends. All of the great standards were not written first, but followed an existing market trend.
  • Stowe says we don’t need a replacement for Office on the web.
  • Stowe thinks apps with the social stuff built in will be the most successful Web 2.0 apps.
  • The “social architecture approach”, look at the social stuff during design.

Very interesting session, lots to think about after this one.