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?

I still like magazines!

Post ImageDon Dodge asks whether newspapers and magazines are dying. I’ve been in this discussion before, at least for newspapers:

I hate almost everything about newspapers. I don’t like the size of the paper. I don’t like the way it makes everything black. I don’t like that every page has to be jammed full of stuff. I don’t like that the pages are not full color. I don’t like that once I find something interesting, I can’t do anything with it (like send it to a friend, or blog about it with a link, etc).

Needless to say, I think newspapers are a dying breed. Or if not dying, at least drastically changing (I still read newspaper websites online, for instance). The physical newspaper as we know it, won’t be around too much longer.

Magazines, on the other hand, will be around for a while I think. I’ll give you two pieces of evidence to support this. One is Chris Anderson’s mainstream media meltdown which shows that while newspapers, television, music, and others are losing eyeballs and subscribers like crazy, books and magazines are somewhat mixed. This suggests to me that people find magazines more valuable than say, a newspaper. Not the content itself (I am not suggesting that people don’t find a TV show valuable) but the medium – I think people like physical magazines and books.

Which brings me to my second piece of evidence – the magazine itself! Despite still not being able to do anything with the content in a magazine, the size is usually comfortable, and the pages are cleanly laid out and colorful (and don’t make my hands black). I often will refer back to a magazine article (and the articles themselves are usually longer and more indepth than your typical newspaper story). Don thinks the outlook for magazines might be worse than newspapers because newspapers are local focused. Perhaps he’s right, but I think it takes longer for a magazine article to be out of date than a newspaper story. There’s hope for magazines yet.

Don also asks: “What are your reading habits? How do they compare to your parents reading habits?” Probably not fair for me to answer that question, as my parents are fairly young and very tech savvy. My Dad subscribes to the Edmonton Journal online, and I doubt they read any other physical papers except the local “Inuvik Drum” (which I think is probably the norm in towns of only 3000 people).

Bottom line – newspapers will disappear and I won’t be sad to see them go. Magazines may disappear too, but it will take longer, and until we have digital books or magazines*, I’ll be sad to see them go.

Note: I’ve never actually subscribed to a magazine. I’m very a much a “buy on the spot when I see one that looks interesting” kind of magazine shopper.

* – by this I mean a physical book or magazine that looks like one today, except that it wirelessly connects to the Internet to update the content to be whatever I want to read. So pages don’t have “print” on them per se. This gives you the full benefits of say, a laptop, but with a form factor that is more natural and easy to read. And believe me, it’s coming.

Read: Don Dodge

REVIEW: Windows Media Player 11 Beta 2

Post ImageThe second beta version of Windows Media Player 11 has been released. I downloaded and installed the update yesterday, expecting to see something amazing! I was thinking, “ah beta 2, let’s see some great new features!” Alas, I got nothing.

With the exception of a few minor UI details, beta 2 looks a heck of a lot like beta 1. I can only hope this release contains some under-the-hood improvements to justify it’s existence. Performance seems pretty much the same as beta 1. Features look pretty much the same as beta 1. And beta 2 is still missing the things I want most:

  • Why can’t I add a single file without playing it? Give me a damn “Add file to library” menu option that lets me select a specific file! Sometimes the folder monitoring takes a while (especially when you have as many songs as I do) and I just want to add a file. Why this was removed from version 11 is beyond me (it existed in v10).
  • My favorite visualization, Plenoptic Vox, is still missing.
  • Statistics! I liked how in v10 I could click “All Music” and eventually it would show the total number of tracks in my library. That feature is now gone (or if it does exist, I can’t find it). Why not give us a great statistics view that tells me everything about my library?! It can’t be that hard, seriously.

Podcasting is also nowhere to be found, as a few people have noted.

If you’d like, you can read my review of beta 1 here. My advice remains the same – despite the fact that I am running beta 2 pretty much 24/7, I still recommend you wait for the final version (or at least a release candidate).

Read: WMP11 Beta2

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!

Google passed on MySpace

Post ImageThe July issue of Wired includes a feature on News Corp.’s Rupert Murdoch, and what might be his current crown jewel, MySpace. The main value that MySpace provides the company is “the power to make hits.” Ever hear of Dane Cook? He’s a really popular comedian probably because of his MySpace page. The Arctic Monkey’s are becoming popular in North America with help from their MySpace page. Lots of celebs have them now. MySpace is huge, and shows no signs of slowing down.

Of particular interest to me, Murdoch claims that Google passed on the opportunity to purchase MySpace, for about half the price News Corp. paid (which was still a steal). Murdoch says:

I like those guys, but theres a bit of arrogance. They could have bought MySpace three months before we did for half the price. They thought, “Its nothing special. We can do that.”

This, dear readers, is what happens when you’re a media company that thinks you’re a technology company. I’m not sure it’s arrogance, so much as it is this incredible desire to be a technology company that blinds them from making any rational decisions. Google’s big three (Larry, Sergei, and Eric) all have technology backgrounds, yet Google is very clearly a media company. Almost all of their revenue is derived from advertising, and they increase that revenue with more eyeballs, not necessarily great technology.

As Om Malik points out, Google really, really, should have bought MySpace when they had the chance:

As widely reported, MySpace is now the largest source of search traffic for Google, accounting for over 8% of their inbound traffic as of early May. That essentially means that MySpace is responsible for about $400 million of Google’s annual revenues. Knowing this, MySpace is trying to capitalize by holding an auction for its search business. If Google wins, it will end up sharing a significant percentage of that $400 million with MySpace… John Battelle thinks the split to MySpace will be close to 90%. And Google would need to pay it every year. Needless to say, had Google acquired MySpace, no such payments would have to be made.

Om also points out that Google+MySpace=Largest-Site-on-the-Web. Or at least, that’s what could have been. More eyeballs than anywhere else. A media company thinking like a media company would have purchased MySpace, no question.

News Corp. doesn’t have any such delusions. They’re a media company. They purchased MySpace.

[In case you’re wondering, my very plain, very boring MySpace page is here.]

Read: Wired

Commercial Free CBC?

Post ImageVia iloveradio.org, I came across a post on the Canadian Journalist blog which explains that a recent senate report on Canadian media is recommending an ad-free CBC:

A Senate report on Canadian media recommends that CBC-TV become a commercial-free broadcaster. The report also recommends measures to prevent private media conglomerates from dominating newspaper, radio and television audiences in a single market.

The CBC proposal would mean the federal government would have to boost the corporation’s almost $1-billion annual budget to make up for the loss of advertising revenue.

First of all, have these people not heard of the Internet? There’s your solution to one media conglomerate dominating a single market. And then more importantly – more money for the CBC?! I don’t think so.

The post also mentions that the senate committee spent more than three years travelling the country, hearing from witnesses. I find it hard to believe these people gave them the idea that CBC needs more money. Maybe more money to produce something worth watching, but certainly not to have more of the crap we currently find on CBC. Seriously, there’s sports, crappy CBC shows, and decent BBC shows.

Here’s my recommendation: keep the radio and Internet properties, and get rid of CBC television. I’ve been thinking about this for a while actually, especially since CBC lost the contract for curling (there, even a cbc.ca link!). Here is my reasoning:

  • I don’t think a publicly-funded organization should be allowed to compete with private companies for contracts such as curling or the NHL broadcast rights.
  • I don’t agree with a publicly-funded organization running a for-profit entity, like Country Canada.
  • There is no compelling reason for CBC Television to exist. CTV, Global, City, and the other stations are all quite capable, and often cover news and events far better than CBC does anyway.
  • We could probably do far more with the budget currently spent on CBC.
  • We could get rid of Don Cherry and those other idiots, and Ron MacLean could move to TSN!

Okay that last one isn’t really a serious reason, but it would be awesome! The only time I ever watch CBC is for the hockey, and I don’t think I’m alone.

My only other suggestion would be to make CBC Television an entirely, 100%, Canadian-content channel that is not allowed to bid on sporting broadcast rights, play Hollywood movies, etc. No budget increases either. Then we could relax the requirement that Canadian broadcasters make sure at least 30% of their content is Canadian-created, and we might actually have some competition for American networks.

However, with our media becoming increasingly global, I wonder if we need television stations like CBC. I’m of the opinion that private enterprise will do a far better job of providing local and national content in the long run anyway.

Read: Canadian Journalist

Edmonton Oilers Fan Content

Post ImageUnfortunately there are lots of negative stories in the media about Oiler fans, but we’re not all bad. There are so many amazing fans in Edmonton, I am just continually amazed at the things they create! If you’re looking to get pumped up, there’s lots of fan created media online.

Bruce Thiessen aka Dr. BLT sent me a link to a song he wrote for the Oilers, called “Oilers on Ice“. Bruce describes himself as a “Canadian-born and raised prairie boy” and he does the Oilers proud with his song.

Still on the topic of music, 91.7 The Bounce has seven different Oiler songs for you to enjoy, including one with Georges Laraque! Not to be outdone, The Bear created a song for Fernando Pisani using the music from Abba’s “Fernando” track. Unfortunately it doesn’t appear to be online yet, but I’m sure it will be eventually.

What about the vehicles? If you live in Edmonton, you’ve no doubt seen the trucks driving around with oil derricks on the bed, and other vehicles similarly decked out in copper and blue. Even our public transit system, ETS, is showing their Oiler pride. There’s lots more pictures on Flickr too.

Want to see the antics of crazy fans? Look no further than YouTube. As of the time of this post, there are 276 videos that show up in a search for the Edmonton Oilers. Unfortunately there are quite a few videos of Don Cherry too 😉

Here’s a small list of some of the other stuff out there:

There’s lots more great stuff, just do some searching! Go Oilers Go!

The Media Delayed Windows Vista

Post ImageI’ve been reading a lot lately about why people think Windows Vista has been delayed so many times. There tends to be a set of consistent theories that always appear in a discussion, which I’ll summarize here:

  • The software is too complex, with too many interdependencies that are confusing or not understood very well.
  • There is too much bureaucracy and too many levels of management which slows down the development process.
  • Microsoft started sharing information about Vista far too early which led to unreasonable expectations for the end product.

I think there is definitely some truth to all of these different theories, but I have another one. I think another significant reason Windows Vista has been “delayed” is the media. With all of the media coverage everytime there’s a change in the Vista release schedule, one can’t help but think that something must be horribly wrong for the operating system to have been delayed. I mean it makes CNN for crying out loud! Consider the following two things:

  • The average user still doesn’t really have a clue what Windows Vista is. They are pretty happy using whatever operating system they are currently using. I see this all the time when I help people with their computers and start talking up a feature of Vista. (And no, this doesn’t mean that we don’t need a new version, for the same reason that Ford still manufactures a new version of the F-150 every year.)
  • Despite all of the fanboys, the other operating systems haven’t done anything particularly special since Windows XP was released. The various Linux distros are still emulating Windows. Mac OS X has some excellent eye candy, but doesn’t stand out in any other way. Of course those last two statements are just my personal opinion, but proof is in the numbers – neither Linux nor Mac OS X have taken market share away from Windows (at least in the consumer space). People are not breaking down the doors of Best Buy to purchase a Mac.

Which means what? Basically, I would argue that if the media didn’t report on every single schedule change, most people could care less if Windows Vista was released in 2006 or 2008. With no pressure from rival operating systems, and the only loud customer request being security (which was the reason XP SP2 was such a big deal) there really isn’t a huge reason for Vista to be delivered right away, and thus no reason for anyone to be up in arms about it being delayed.

Keep in mind that this theory about the media being a reason that Vista has been delayed is largely focused on the consumer/business side of things. Developers, hardware manufacturers, and of course Microsoft’s shareholders all have good reasons for wanting the OS to come faster. I think I have a valid point though.

REVIEW: Windows Media Player 11 Beta

Post ImageAs I mentioned a few days ago, I recently downloaded and installed the new Windows Media Player 11 beta to test it out. I use WMP almost all day, every day, so it’s an important application for me, and I’d say I am somewhat qualified to offer a review.

Let’s start with the bad shall we? Importing the 20,000 or so items from my WMP10 library took a very long time, so installation wasn’t incredibly quick. The installer also offered to setup a music store, so I chose Urge, the brand new MTV-sponsored service. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work outside of the United States (when will companies launch things for Canada and the US simultaneously, I mean seriously!). Missing from this beta are the visualizations that would not support full screen controls, thus my favorite (“Plenoptic Vox”) is nowhere to be found. Also missing is the ability to browse for a single file and add it to the library – the only ways to do this now are by monitoring folders, or playing a file and setting the player to automatically add played items. All of the auto-playlists I had in WMP 10 are gone, except the ones I had created manually, and they are now combined with normal playlists in the tree. Album art is everywhere in WMP11, but it seems to be quite slow at downloading it.

Some of those things are really annoying (such as not being able to add a single file) but they aren’t deal-breakers as far as I am concerned. And fortunately, the good is well, really good. I would upgrade to WMP11 for the new search capability alone – it is light years beyond previous versions! As soon as you start typing, WMP11 finds matching artists, songs, and albums (in the Music tab anyway) and displays them instantly. In WMP10, any search would take at least a minute to complete, it was brutal. Aside from the search, the new UI is absolutely beautiful. I love the layout, the colors, the graphics, all of it! The look of the player is a huge improvement over previous versions. The organization is better too – there is a really defined distinction between Music, Video, Pictures, Recorded TV, and Other. The most beautiful part of all: icons for albums, artists and songs, meaning you can display items in a details list, or with tiles. It looks great! I like the black mini-player on the taskbar too.

Here are some other things to note:

  • Synchronization with my Zen Touch worked flawlessly, and no settings were lost from WMP10. I really like the new Sync UI too, much more clear.
  • Using the player effectively really means using the search functionality. I find myself going to the tree on the left to find an artist, only to realize they aren’t listed there anymore! Once I get used to typing in the search box, I’ll probably find I navigate much more quickly than with the tree anyway.
  • I haven’t tested ripping or burning in the new version, but I would expect them to work very similarly to previous versions.
  • The visualizations seem really buggy on my three display setup. Sometimes they work fine full-screen, other times they jump to a different monitor, it’s very strange.
  • The player has crashed on me maybe three or four times so far. Sometimes it seems to slow up for a second or two, but it’s fairly solid for the most part.
  • I am not sure if WMP11 updated Windows Media Connect or not, because the service uses an insane amount of memory. Maybe I just didn’t notice it from before? WMP11 itself only uses about 25 MB when I have music playing with the window open, and even less when minimized.

Some people, notably Todd Cochrane, are upset that WMP11 does not contain any podcasting features. I don’t think it makes a big difference – podcasting is going to grow with or without Microsoft baking support into WMP. And I would argue that Todd would end up using something else anyway, as any podcasting support in WMP11 would probably be incredibly basic.

My verdict: wait for the final release. There’s still too many bugs in this beta for most people to use it, but I think WMP11 is going to be awesome. I’ve been using the beta nonstop for a few days now, and overall I am quite impressed. I’d love to see it on Windows Vista too, but that will have to wait for another day.

Read: WMP11 Beta

Maybe an Overdose?

Post ImageAs Dickson mentioned earlier, CanWest MediaWorks has decided to stop publishing the print edition of Dose, and focus instead on the online properties. The decision certainly comes as a surprise to me, and probably to most people, considering CanWest said just two months ago that Dose readership was growing:

Dose’s total readership among 12-to-64 year olds in late January was up eight per cent from three months earlier, the survey found, and now sits at 270,423. Daily readership of those aged 12 and over was 292,000.

“These results show that Dose is really resonating with its audience,” said Noah Godfrey, publisher of Dose. “We’re really pleased with the continued growth of our readership base and Dose’s strong brand awareness.”

Evidently not pleased enough! Though I don’t think the decision was Mr. Godfrey’s. Maybe the higher ups needed to run this little experiment called Dose to realize that their target audience spends far more time online than with a paper. And actually, anyone who has looked at an issue of Dose will know that it was simply an onramp to the Dose websites anyway. Urls and “more online” were scattered throughout the publication.

CanWest said it was ending the publication of Dose, but would continue publishing content to its online service, dose.ca, as well as on cellphones.

The company said 50 people would lose their jobs.

Oh well. I kind of liked the Sex Advice (so funny), and sometimes they had some great articles on blogging or some other tech topic, but for the most part, I didn’t read that regularly. I hope they do some work to make the website better now that they are focusing on the online product.

The last issue was published today.

Read: CBC News