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Monthly Archives: September 2006

Monopolies on the web

Myspace controls 80 percent of the social networking sites. Google has 50 percent of web searches. eBay, PayPal, Flickr, etc. The web, for all its range and unlimited information, enjoys anointing single sites as the rulers of that particular genre. For all the discussion of media consolidation and big business in the physical world, online seems to have an eerie effect. Even when options appear, web users prefer to join/stick with the leaders in each field.

The reason for this appears obvious. The most popular web sites thrive on user-generated content, from eBay’s auctions to Myspaces my-spaces. Why join Faceparty.com when all my friends are already on Myspace. With Google, YouTube, Wikipedia, and other sources of information, users want all their information in one place. But this presents a difficult business and advertising challenge.

First, how do companies expand and/or start-up in this monopoly based climate? New social networks and search engines keep popping up against the Myspace and Google juggernauts (even Microsoft is having trouble here). Does this mean every new business is going to have to be an original, home grown idea. And if so, how many standard sites can I fit into my daily schedule.

Second, how, if at all, can web monopolies hurt/help business and users? Already, Google is the lord of web advertising. High placement on popular search terms can guarantee a website’s success, with similar results for paid Google ads. But YouTube and Myspace have yet to find real business models, still in the experimental stages, so their place as a controlled market force, like Google, remains to be seen.

And lastly, how does this happen? For any web start up, the question can no longer be, how do I make a new search engine. It has to be about how do I make something completely new. Then ask, how do I get everybody to use it. How, if at all, can this viral marketing be manipulated. Myspace, YouTube, Flickr all work without any advertising and are monsters in their genres.

A few exceptions, to note. Job sites are quite plenty. Craig’s List appears a decisive leader in all things classified, but HotJobs and Monster compete on pretty fair ground (and HotJobs has the backing of Yahoo!). Yellow pages and dating sites also do not seem to suffer from monopolies. At first glance, there seems to be a link in the need for local or specialized information, but many of these sites offer very redundant information (with similar features as Google Maps compared to MapQuest, both with yellow pages, and even Myspace for dating sites).

Cuban’s more bark than bite

Mark Cuban, Image from Wikipedia Billionaire Mark Cuban, a maven of web starts ups, said anyone who would buy the video web site YouTube was a “moron.” He says the potential of lawsuits due to copyright infringement will destroy the company.

From such a brilliant businessman, this seems shortsighted. YouTube has made it apparent it is aware of the threat, but has also show surprising resilience in the piracy fight. Particularly the target of television stations, YouTube has gone from being asked to remove video to putting it right back, with a blessing. Just this week, Fox News had YouTube remove video of the controversial Chris Wallace/Bill Clinton interview, only to say they were “thrilled” to have it on the video site the next day.

The reason YouTube and other video sites will last is because the site provides the best mix of advertising and entertainment. Users upload movie trailers and watch them over and over again. Fan video edits of trailers and music videos are having a profound influence on the subject matter influencing them. X-Men 3 and Snakes on a Plane both added lines to their movies that were originate in fan videos broadcast on YouTube and other sites. The Colbert Report has encouraged fans to use green screen film of Steven Colbert using a light saber to create original videos, but they only got the idea after fans started without the invite.

This presents a huge money maker (unless MySpace can get there first). Media companies are going to have to grow a thicker skin when it comes to fan involvement. Rabid fans, the kind who will makes these videos, are the kind who will spread the love of a new movie, song, or game. The challenge is how much are media companies will to give away in power and control to attract the wider audience.

All cartoons, all the time

Memory and bandwith concerns aside, this is a new age in streaming video. The website DailyEpisodes.com offers the entire runs of the Simpsons, South Park, Futurama, Family Guy, and American Dad on fast streaming video in slightly better than poor quality. This barebones site with a slew of Google Ads makes impressive use of third-party video hosting to offer hundreds of gigabytes of video. Before getting into piracy concerns, this is quite impressive.

As for the piracy, this is a concern. The best file-sharing programs, like BitTorrent, can be cumbersome for the casual computer user. But these Dailymation hosted videoes are so simple to use, most people are apt to use it. In this sense, I would guess the site’s no-effort layout hurts the masses from visiting (helping to keep the media companies from finding out, possibly). But the simple fact this site can exist is as exciting as it is worrisome for the use of this technology.

Business models for P2P

At first glance, it would seem peer-2-peer and file-sharing programs seem more about the controversially good service they provide than to profit making. And while Wall Street may not be paying attention, file-sharing is growing in new ways.

The new ASUS WL-700gE Wireless Storage Center provides 160GB of memory, allowing you to keep your BitTorrent downloads going even with your computer turned off. BitTorrent is a file-sharing system designed to distribute large files without a costly central server.

This expensive wireless router offers an interesting glimpse as to new ways software manufacturers will attract consumers. Even the 60GB and other large capacity MP3 players have an unspoken interest in the file-sharing crowd. Research company Ipsos Insight found that 19 percent of music on MP3 players came from illegal downloads, 6 percent from copying someone else’s CDs, and 44 percent from the person’s own CD collection. Only 25 percent came from download-to-own services.

And these numbers take some consideration, especially as downloading music legally proliferates. These high capacity MP3 players (and hard drives) allow users to download more music and movies then we logically have time to listen to or watch.

As a result, these products, in a sense, inspire more file-sharing (or just sharing of hard drives) to fill up all this space. Why spend the extra money for the 80GB iPod if you aren’t going to fill it up. That’s approximately 26,000 songs or 250 TV shows or 100 movies.

And anything you’re not watching, you can keep on your wireless router.

Portable Playstation

PC-based emulators, programs that allow console-based games to be played on computers, have provided various options for Playstation emulation. DCEMu Yoshihiro has released a Playstation emulator for the handheld PSP.

The amazing thing here is not the program itself, which technically limits portability since you have to plug your PSP into a computer to play the CD-ROM. But the interesting this is the jump in technology: a small, hand-held system can play the games that broke all limits for graphics and 3D worlds. Sony, and Nintendo DS, are both hosting games updated from older games that were, in many ways, state of the art when released, as in Mario 64 now crammed into a small cartridge for your DS. And Final Fantasy III’s cute pixilated 16-bit world just can’t muster the glow needed for the PSP, as the game comes re-released in all-new 3D graphics.

The added benefit of these imports is that hand held systems are finally enjoying some console styled game play with rich storytelling and cinema-styled visuals. This will make those long plane rides much more fulfilling, but your train ride to school might start to limit game choices. This will be the trade off to consider, between the quick hits and full immersion.

My Pitch: YouTube Advertising

The massive, and occassionally copyright infringing, user content of YouTube makes advertisers nervous if not downright confused how to reach users. So here is My Pitch for YouTube to attract advertisers without allienating its independently minded users.

Have a company, or several companies, sponsor biweekly or monthly contests where users are to create their own commercials for these companies. The commercials, or short films, must feature that company’s product. The company(ies) then offer prizes: money, video equipment, coupons. Users then vote on their favorite videos, providing constant views who will watch several “commercials” featuring said product. The company will also pay YouTube a certain amount, in a sense, paying to advertise the contest. One contest can be the “Featured” contest of the month with two or three smaller ones for additional revenue (and fun).

Users keep control of the content while advertises get very inexpensive yet addictively interactive commercials.

My Pitch is a semi-regular column where I propose a possible solution or idea for evolving media and business in the new media.

Book Review: Long Tail by Chris Anderson

The Long Tail looks at how technology is helping change business, spreading focus from a few blockbusters to broader niche interests. Anderson, an editor of Wired Magazine, explores how Amazon, Netflix, iTunes, eBay and other online services are helping consumers find new items for purchase as alternatives to the best sellers in stores.

Anderson’s effective argument presents a large problem for the entertainment industry who’s survive thrives on a few choice blockbusters which are now commanding less of consumer dollars. This problem is even more prevalent in the music industry where file-sharing has offered a nearly unlimited source of music to explore, all for free.

What Anderson missed was a conclusion of what to do about this change. How can the entertainment industry, for example, adjust its reliance on blockbusters in the new media age. File-sharing spreads as do broadband and improved compression methods. More downloading services appear offering greater choice, convenience, and price competition with brick and mortar stores. Several services, like Rhapsody for music, GameTap for video games, and cable’s OnDemand for movies offer unlimited viewing of a large library for a monthly fee. Certain items will likely be more popular than others, but with a monthly fee, blockbusters just don’t register.

I believe the entertainment industry will gravitate to monthly services, especially in video games where updating technology and options have higher value. The popularity of massively multiplayer online games is only a beta preview of what’s to come. Now, video games and the systems running them become obsolete. Why play Civilization 2 when I can play Civilization 4? But with Civilization: Online, my small monthly fee allows for a constantly updating and evolving game. But game companies will have to create a balance of games for the casual gamer who doesn’t want monthly fees for each game compared to the avid followers who will pay. Rumor has it, Marvel Comics’ long-in-development MMO will explore this changing world scenario, allowing the game to change as the comic books change.

Allan Heinberg Q&A

Allan Heinberg gave me an exclusive interview for Gay.com in advance of his run on Wonder Woman. Here’s a little taste:

From the O.C. to the Amazon, a new scribe takes hold of the golden lasso and magic bracelets. The Amazon Princess, Wonder Woman, returns after a year of tragedy in an all-new series penned for DC Comics by Allan Heinberg, the out gay writer of such hit television shows as “The O.C.,” “Sex and the City” and “Gilmore Girls.” His “One Year Later” will chronicle the new adventures of his favorite superhero starting in June as she looks back on her annus horribilis.

“Basically, in order to save the earth, [Wonder Woman] had to essentially commit murder,” Heinberg said. “And so the world at large and the superhero community at large are very ambivalent about her.”

Her gods “have retreated from the astral plane, as have the Amazons,” he said. “She’s left all by herself, sort of orphaned and trying to decide whether or not she’s going to continue.”

Batwoman exclusive

Check out my article on Out.com premiering exclusive images of the new Batwoman. I also got the lowdown on Batwoman’s plot line with her ex-girlfriend Renee Montoya. Montoya, primarily, follows Intergang as they invade the Bat-less Gotham City.