FryUp: No longer in the dark

The bag of many colours, bright broadband beams, and a tale of three T's

A bag more colourful

Infamy for the FryUp! This year’s Tech Ed bag isn’t in fact merely blue-black, Microsoft NZ's developer lead Scott Wylie says. Red, green and yellow interspersing the black backing were the other options apart from blue, Wylie informs. Many appoloogies to all in case the monochromatically challenged review caused confusion. What was in the colourful bag though? We’re dying to know. Looking at the Tech Ed rate card, Silver and Gold Partners were allowed one and two items respectively in the bag, for their $25,000 and $35,000 investment respectively. That money bought a fair bit more than just bag stuffing, of course and if that was the only thing you were after, the cost was a facile $1,000 for a single item. Assuming 2,000 attendees as expected, that’s cheap bagvertising at 50 cents each, plus production and associated costs. Given how important The Bag is to Tech Ed delegates, the cost of filling it seems rather low. Tech Ed: Registrations slower in 2009 Tech Ed kicks off with a bang and a thump Tech Ed: Start-up shootout Tech Ed: Express Couriers adds geospatial smarts Tech Ed: Powerco rips and replaces Oracle, server fleet

No longer in the dark

Minister Joyce has spoken, and the word is not favourable to the big telcos. Telecom, Vodafone and TelstraClear have now been relegated to the Legacy Basket for refusing to come to the public optical fibre networking party. The telcos don’t want to play a game based on cheap, ubiquitous technology that enables people to set up whatever services they like over fast, un-metered conduits, and who can blame them? It’s a very different business model altogether and it’s one that isn’t likely to meet with shareholder approval, so expect further resistance and stalling tactics from the telcos in this area. At the same time though, the benefits of fast networks with the clever stuff at the end points cannot be overlooked — New Zealand business can ill afford to carry on with sub-standard and costly broadband, even if it does help prop up telco bottom lines. The broader business view will have to be the government’s main consideration, as it tries to balance the two opposing interests and it’ll be curious to see what the result is in this high stakes game. So far, Joyce seems to be saying the right things, which include open access, increased competition and avoiding re-monopolisation. He now needs to ensure the plan swings into action without further delays, to stop us falling even more behind the rest of the world. Telecom, TelstraClear man the dark fibre barricades Access seekers locked out of dark fibre Government finalises broadband investment proposal Play ball, or we will overbuild networks, says government Forum: When the status quo blocks innovation ICT industry welcomes government broadband plan Rod Drury: Broadband really is the silver bullet

Tale of three Ts

Right, Telecom’s having another go at the video on demand market after failing to get anywhere for years. Will it succeed this time, with bed partners TVNZ and TiVo? Who knows, but I suspect the $899 to $920 TiVo box will be a hard sell in tough economic times, competing against cheaper Freeview devices and digital programming delivered directly over the internet. Do people want to watch digital TV that much? Telecom gets exclusive TiVo deal for New Zealand Telecom launches New Zealand’s first Video-On-Demand Trial Public Address: what the TiVo deal signifies

Job lot

Recruitment firms with few exceptions specialise in sending unsuitable candidates to jobs they don’t want. They do it in the hope that employers and job seekers are silly enough to make mutual mistakes and thus, earn the recruiters fat fees. Many large organisations like Google refuse to have anything to do with recruiters for that reason. There’s a lovely, fine irony in recruiters warning that their candidates these days are in fact “over-qualified” and desperate enough to take jobs several rungs beneath their current position on the career ladder. Sure, some of those job seekers will be peeved by being in that spot, and will just sit out their time until something better comes up, but some will appreciate having a job that’ll provide security and maybe even a new look at their career. I’m sure those people will appreciate it if employers heed recruiters’ cautionary advice on experienced candidates’ suitability for jobs. Job scene forcing senior IT staff down market

XKCD

Cartoon: www xkcd.com

Robert X Cringely Can Google save your local paper? Not likely

The search giant's 'experimental' Fast Flip interface is supposed to breathe new life into ailing publications. Cringely isn't exactly flipping over it

I may post a blog entry three times a week, but I'm still an old newshound at heart. My soul is covered in newsprint. Scratch my skin and I bleed Indian ink (mixed with finely aged Scotch whiskey). As print publications keel over left and right, that makes me a member of an endangered species.

But Google has a plan to save the print industry — at least, that's what it'd have you believe. The search mandarins have diagnosed the ailments currently plaguing the online appendages of the country's top newspapers and magazines and decided the problem is that the online publications' websites are too slow.

(That's like telling someone who's just been run over by an 18-wheeler that he's suffering an allergic reaction to rubber tires. But I digress.)

To address the "slowness" problem, Google Labs has unveiled Fast Flip, an experimental interface that displays thumbnail images of the publications' pages when you do a news search, instead of the usual headlines and summaries. Kind of like how you can flip through album covers on iTunes, only not quite as groovy. Clicking on the thumbnail image brings you to the website where the story actually appears. Per IDG News' Juan Carlos Perez: "The idea is to try to replicate online the ease with which people flip through the pages of print magazines and newspapers in the offline world. This could motivate people to read more online, which Google argues will help publishers attract more readers and increase their revenue." Let me see if I have this straight: It's not just a lack of speed that's killing the print industry, it's a lack of reader motivation. So if you just display pretty pictures of magazine and newspaper websites, everything will be right again. Do I have that right?

I'm not the only one who's scratching his head over Fast Flip. Cnet's Rafe Needleman calls it "the platypus of news readers" (thus insulting yet another endangered species):

"In Fast Flip, you can only scan left and right (page by page). You can't read down the page. If you click anywhere on the page, you leave Fast Flip and go to the web. Links don't work. And multimedia doesn't work on the page either. ... On the mobile versions of Fast Flip, zooming in on a column is likely to leave you with text at a readable size but displayed on a column that's too wide to read without scrolling back and forth, making the feature rather useless. Hey Google, wasn't HTML invented for a reason?" He concludes: "if your brain is stuck in 1969 and you want to pretend that new-fangled computer in front of you is a microfilm reader, it'll feel natural to use." Oh, snap. Next, they'll be installing hand cranks on keyboards to make it easier to scroll left and right through the thumbnails. It's amazing to me that otherwise savvy people like Google — and its three dozen online content partners, including the New York Times, Washington Post, Esquire, and Salon — can say Fast Flip is likely to make any real difference and still keep a straight face. The print industry has several major problems, but the biggest one is that ad revenues have dropped like a bowling ball though wet newsprint. You can blame an economy that's still wobbling like a punch-drunk palooka, but the real reason is advertisers pay only a fraction as much for web ads as they once did for print ads (which means print ads have been severely overpriced). And when Craigslist is giving away listings, turning the newspaper industry's cash cow — classified ads — into hamburger, that only makes matters worse. Here's the other problem. In the pre-web dark ages, when a reporter for the New York Times or the Washington Post or Esquire wrote a great story, you had to read it in the pages of the New York Times or the Washington Post or Esquire, right next to those overpriced print ads. They had a monopoly on that content, and that monopoly kept them in steaks and 12-year-old Scotch.

Today, of course, you don't have to spend a dime to read those publications online. You can usually find a fairly detailed summary of that story on Google News or Digg or the dozens of other aggregators. And you'll find anywhere from a few dozen to a few thousand blogs repeating the story — in some cases, simply lifting the entire thing. But the sites that get the most traffic from that story aren't necessarily the same sites that did the hard, sweaty, Scotch-fueled work of producing that story. I'd wager the majority of people encounter that story from sites who got it for free. The publication that actually spent money to create the story gets a fraction of the traffic and the ad revenues.

The reason the repeaters get more traffic than the reporters is Google. When a half-baked summary of a story is ranked No. 1 in Google News results, while the original source for that story is buried near the bottom, that's just wrong. It happens more often than you'd think, and it's something Google could fix, if it chose to.

Google says it plans to share ad revenues from Fast Flip with the news sources themselves, which might actually help — a little. But if it really wants to save the print dinosaurs — or what's left of them online — the company would find a way to pour more Google juice over the publications that are creating original content and deserve the lions' share of the traffic. That would truly be something worth flipping over. When the last print publication disappears, will you shed a tear? Post your thoughts below or email me: cringe@infoworld.com.

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