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February 23rd, 2007

Blogging no guarantee of book deal

Blogging no guarantee of book deal

The front page of this week’s Sunday Times carried the news that 42 year old Judith O’Reilly has received a GBP70,000 advance from Viking Penguin for a book based on her fledgling blog, www.wifeinthenorth.com.

Two things stand out about this tale. Firstly, it’s doubtful that Mrs O’Reilly’s six-week-old blog would have received quite so much attention from agents, publishers and the Sunday Times if she had not been, until recently, Education correspondent on – you guessed it – the Sunday Times. Proof that even in the supposedly democratic world of Web 2.0, it’s not what you can do, but who you know…

Secondly, it perpetuates the myth that blogging is a good way for wannabe writers to score a book deal. In truth, very few blogs have so far been turned into books. Notable exceptions include Girl With A One-Track Mind, whose no-holds-barred sexblog made a successful transition to dead-tree media last summer, and Random Acts of Reality, the fascinating and frequently harrowing blog of London ambulance driver ‘Tom Reynolds’, which was bookified last August by Friday Books.

While blogging remains a fantastic way for budding writers to practise their craft, raise their profile and make industry connections, the participatory web also offers quicker and surer routes to getting published. Take lulu.com, the self-proclaimed ‘premier independent publishing marketplace for digital do-it-yourselfers’. Lulu lets you publish and sell your book yourself, by printing just the quantities you need.

It’s vanity publishing and there’s no quality control, but if selling your work is your goal, you could do worse than to publish through lulu and promote your book through your blog, rather than waiting for an agent or publisher to spot you.

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February 21st, 2007

Obvious flogs Odeo to focus on Twitter

Obvious flogs Odeo to focus on Twitter

On December 29, we said:

Twitter‘s 2.0 credentials are impeccable: it’s a by-product of the Obvious Corporation, a company run by Blogger founder Evan Williams, and whose primary product is Odeo, an aggregator of podcasts and web radio stations. Expect the by-product to have eclipsed the main product by this time next…week, probably.

It may have taken slightly more than a week, but this is what Obvious Corp. had to say on its blog on Monday:

In the last few months, we here at Obvious have been increasingly focused on Twitter. As a result, our original product, Odeo, has not gotten the attention it deserves.

If you’re interested in Odeo and can make a serious offer – either in cash or the ability to invest in it while we retain some equity – email me (ev AT obvious) for more details.

How much more 2.0 can you get than trying to sell a web 2.0 platform through a blog post? For anyone interested in buying a prime mp3 and podcast aggregator site, Evan Williams has more info about Odeo’s potential value on his own blog.

If I were to lay bets on who might buy it, I might be tempted to put my money on the Hype Machine, the mp3 aggregator seemingly most beloved of music fans. Although two correct predictions in a row would be just spooky.

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February 16th, 2007

YourSpace or mine?

YourSpace or mine?

I saw your face in a crowded place, and I don’t know what to do‘, whined squaddie-turned-popstar James Blunt in the inexplicably popular ‘You’re Beautiful’.

Oh, James. Did no one tell you about MySpace? As this San Francisco Chronicle article notes, Web 2.0 has somewhat altered the playing field regarding affairs of the heart.

It would only have required a little light stalking on Blunt’s part to find out the girl’s name. A quick Google search might turn up her MySpace page, which would inform him of her likes and dislikes and who she likes to hang out with.

Assuming she’s a classy chick, her MySpace page might link to a proper blog, perhaps written with Blogger or LiveJournal. Here the hapless James could find out what she eats for breakfast, what she watched on telly last night, and what her cats look like. He might scour her Flickr stream for photos of her laughing in sun-dappled meadows, and check out her last.fm profile to see what music she’s listening to right now.

(Hopefully not his!, you cry, sensibly.)

Having absorbed months or even years of her personal history, our hero might start to engage the young lady in conversation via witty, delicately flattering blog comments. After a suitably decorous period, he might email her at the address in her sidebar. At length they might move to instant messaging, for hours of unchaperoned flirting.

After weeks or months, they might arrange to meet up to see if they like each other in real life. She might no longer be quite such a mysterious angel, but there might be half a chance of it leading to something meaningful. And half a chance that Blunt might not inflict any more icky lovesick maunderings on the music-buying public.

Which, frankly, would be for the best.

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February 9th, 2007

Home Office out of touch with online life

Home Office out of touch with online life

Statements made by the Home Secretary this week reveal that the government is frighteningly out of touch with the way people use the internet.

As part of the government’s drive to crack down on paedophilia and other sex offences, offenders may be forced to list their ‘online identity details’ – such as email addresses and chatroom usernames – on the Sex Offenders Register, John Reid said.

“If we did that we would then be able to set up mechanisms that would flag up anyone using those addresses or those identities to make approaches and contacts through some of the very popular internet spaces which are used by kids,” Reid told the BBC.

Any regular internet user will recognise this as nonsense. One person can have many email addresses, and can create a new one in minutes. Inventing a new username is as easy as thinking of a word and typing it into a box. A recent BBC story revealed that kids think nothing of creating a whole new online identity if they can’t remember the password for the old one.

Online identities aren’t unique, either. I share a username with a teenage MySpace user in Kansas, among other people. If he commits a crime, I don’t want to be punished for it. I’m sure he’d say the same about me.

Identity on the internet is a very fluid and unstable thing. Using screen names and email addresses as a basis for identifying people in real life should not be enshrined in law. Instead, the government should focus on helping young and vulnerable people to recognise and deal with suspicious online behaviour. However, I very much fear that young people are far more clued up about online life than anyone at the Home Office.

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February 7th, 2007

DRM is killing music

DRM is killing music

Steve Jobs is urging the record companies to start selling music without DRM. Good move. If they stop adding copy protection to downloads, I might start buying them.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not a pirate. I’ve never used peer to peer networks and my spend on music is probably my top entertainment expense. But it’s all CDs.

I’ve never bought a song from iTunes because of the digital rights management (DRM) that stops me from using music how I want. Music bought from iTunes has controls that stop you from playing it on portable digital devices not made by Apple. Even though I use an Ipod, I don’t want my music to be tied to a single device. Jobs argues only 3% of tracks in Ipods are sold via iTunes and so doubts the lock-in effect. But when it comes to music, you can’t argue quantity over quality. It’s not about whether I’d sacrifice 3% of my collection to switch providers. It’s about whether I can play my favourite songs when I want them, or whether I’ll have to pay twice for them.

I still play some CDs that I bought in the 80s. In 20 years’ time, I might want to play today’s new music for a nostalgia trip too. But if it can only be played on Apple devices, and they’re all kaputt, I’ll have to buy my music all over again, assuming someone is still selling it. Downloads are poor value, particularly when you add in the cost of having to buy an Apple device for playback.

It isn’t just downloads that are affected: near the office in Chiswick we have a branch of Fopp and I’ve seen quite a few ‘best-of’s being released at a bargain £3. The catch is that they include copy protection that stops you playing the music on an iPod. That’s no use to me either. They even had a CD for a pound I might have bought if it didn’t have DRM. But with DRM, it’s broken. It’s rubbish.

For anyone who wants to copy music, the restrictions are ineffective. The so-called ‘analogue hole’ means that there’s always a point where the music can be re-recorded. But for music fans who just want to buy music and listen to it on their choice of device, DRM deters sales.

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February 1st, 2007

Google and News Corp square up over web video

Google and News Corp square up over web video

There’s been more jostling for position this week in the unpredictable world of online video. Google said it plans to pay users for original content uploaded to YouTube, in the same week as it got into a mighty battle with Fox over illegal uploads. Meanwhile, Fox’s parent News Corp. quietly entered the online video fray itself, acquiring a stake in Australian video-streaming outfit Roo.

Google’s plan to remunerate YouTube users emerged at the high-level talkfest that is the World Economic Forum. There are no details of payment schemes yet, but it suggests that Google may be concerned about users defecting to rivals like Revver, which pays its users a share of ad revenue. While Google has yet to crack the challenge of monetising user content on YouTube, its threefold revenue increase announced this week shows that it knows a thing or two about online advertising.

Meanwhile, there was a clash of old media and new media titans as Twentieth Century Fox subpoenaed Google into providing it with the name of a YouTube user who had uploaded new and unbroadcast episodes of The Simpsons and 24.

While Google mulls the threat of mega court action, it appears that this isn’t the only step the Murdoch empire is taking to gain control of online video sharing. Twentieth Century Fox’s parent, News Corporation, quietly bought a 5% stake this week in Australian online video firm Roo, which provides video streaming technology for News Corp websites like the UK’s Times Online and Sun Online, as well as the website of Fox News. Could Murdoch be gearing up to take on YouTube on his own terms? Watch this space.

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