by Mike Masnick
Wed, Nov 11th 2009 7:45am
by Mike Masnick
Fri, Aug 14th 2009 1:36am
from the so-close... dept
Now, as a first pass, this is actually not a bad idea. Creating compelling topic pages that become the main source for people to go to is a good strategy. The problem is that it's just not that easy. A bunch of other sites have tried to do the same thing and have failed miserably. Many of these are startups, obviously, but even Google itself tried to do something similar with its Google Knol offering, and that's been a massive disappointment. And it has the inside scoop on how to get good PageRank.
Even worse, as Felix Salmon points out, the AP seems to think that these pages should be autogenerated! Yes, the AP seems to think the way to take on Wikipedia is with a computer spitting out spam SEO-trap pages. Wow. The biggest asset (and yes, it's a huge asset) that the AP has is the wealth of knowledge in the heads of all of its reporters. They could actually create some very useful definitive content pages... but instead they're going to hand it over to computers to autogenerate? Talk about missing the point...
by Mike Masnick
Mon, Apr 27th 2009 8:40am
from the think-about-it... dept
With all that happening, Rob Hyndman recently wondered if Twitter's much more "laissez-faire attitude towards its trademarks has helped it grow fast," noting that "there's just no question that people feel more warmth towards the brand because of its openness." And, it's true, there are a number of services built off of Twitter that the company could potentially go after if it were feeling legalistic. Twitpic? Stocktwits? But the company has (at least for now) taken an approach of letting those services move forward (often promoting them itself). And, as Rob notes, that's part of Twitter's success as a brand.
This is a key lesson that big companies and trademark lawyers really should pay attention to. As people always like to point out, trademark law requires you to "protect" your mark to keep it from being declared generic, but that does not (as many assume) mean that you absolutely have to sue or threaten anyone who makes use of your mark. Especially in cases where it's clearly not making the brand generic, but simply building off of the brand, it can be a much smarter move to let it live on. People (often lawyers) seem to think that just because you can block a business for using a trademark, that it's a good business decision to do so. But, seeing how much damage has been done to Monster's brand (and now Wikipedia's brand) for taking the legal stance, in addition to the positive way in which people view Twitter's brand, these examples should (hopefully) make some of those trademark protectionists think twice.
by Mike Masnick
Wed, Aug 13th 2008 4:11pm
from the section-230-isn't-user-editable dept
by Timothy Lee
Tue, May 20th 2008 5:24am
from the too-little-too-late dept
Jacob Grier points out the launch of Britannica Webshare, a service that will allow bloggers to access the Encyclopedia Britannica for free, and even to provide links that will allow readers to read individual articles -- but not the whole encyclopedia -- for free. This is a fine step, as far as it goes. But it's a comically small step given the challenges Britannica is facing. The site apparently still won't be available to non-bloggers, and presumably that means it also won't be available on search engines. And that means they're throwing away a huge chunk of their potential audience. But the more fundamental problem is that Wikipedia is already a much better encyclopedia, and it continues to improve rapidly. Wikipedia is roughly as accurate and it's an order of magnitude timelier and more comprehensive. I wouldn't use Britannica much if it were freely available; I'm certainly not going to waste time applying to be a part of its "Webshare" program.
We write a lot about old-media companies that are struggling to adapt to the Internet. We usually suggest business models that will help these business cope, and maybe even thrive, in the new technological environment. But I think Britannica might be a rare exception where the situation really is hopeless. Most old media companies, including Hollywood, the record labels, newspapers and magazines, and comic book producers, have a ton of content that people want, and that provides a foundation for their business models. In contrast, Britannica doesn't have any significant advantages over Wikipedia, and in some respects -- especially breadth and timeliness -- it's markedly inferior. As a result, it would be unlikely to get significant traffic even if it did everything else right. So I think there's a good argument to be made for laying off everyone involved in creating new versions of the encyclopedia and just leaving in place a skeleton staff in charge of selling the current edition to the dwindling number of people willing to pay for it.
The last time we wrote about the challenges facing Britannica, a representative from the company suggested a lot of people thought that Britannica hadn't yet made the transition to the web. But that's not my point at all. The fundamental problem is simply a matter of manpower. Wikipedia has tens of thousands of volunteer editors who collectively donate millions of hours of labor to the project. There's simply no way that a commercial encyclopedia edited in a traditional, hierarchical fashion, can compete with that. Britannica has to pay its editors, while Wikipedia gets its editors for free. Britannica likes to emphasize that its articles are written by credentialed experts. But this misses the point in a couple of ways. In the first place, while experts aren't given formal authority on Wikipedia, there are plenty of subject matter experts contributing to Wikipedia articles. More importantly, Wikipedia's editing process is based not on the authority of any one expert, but by citing reliable sources that anyone can check to verify the accuracy of the information. This kind of distributed peer review has allowed Wikipedia to produce a lot more content, with roughly the same accuracy, without hiring professional editors. There's just no way that a traditionally-organized commercial encyclopedia can keep up.
One valuable asset they do still have is their brand name, and I can see a couple of ways they might leverage it. One would be to simply auction it off to a totally different company that could put it to a better use -- the same way that the new Napster had no real connection to the old Napster. There might be a company out there with a different business model that would gain increased visibility with the Britannica brand. Another approach would be to turn lemonade into lemons by publishing a paper version of Wikipedia under the Britannica brand. This is one place where the established brand name would still be a big advantage; anyone who still wanted to buy a paper encyclopedia (it's a mystery to me why anyone would, but I'm sure they're out there) will probably prefer a Britannica-branded one, even if the content is identical to what you'd find on Wikipedia. Similarly, a lightly-edited, Britannica-branded web version of Wikipedia could generate some nice advertising revenue without requiring a big staff to produce new content. But I don't think there's any way a traditionally-produced encyclopedia can compete with Wikipedia, and programs like Webshare are too little, too late. The company needs to take some much more dramatic measures.
by Mike Masnick
Thu, May 8th 2008 8:31am
from the manufacturing-controversy dept
Now we're seeing yet another such case. Ethan Bauley writes in to point to an article suggesting that somehow Wikipedia authors are being ripped off because Bertelsmann is going to publish a paper version of Wikipedia for profit. But, again, it's the same thing. People who contribute to Wikipedia clearly felt that giving their labor away for free was a fair transaction. Bertelsmann is now trying to make Wikipedia valuable to a different audience by putting it into book form. They're taking on the risk of printing the book (building the house), and to have the various writers go back later and demand payment is equally as ridiculous. Luckily, it seems like most people recognize this -- and many comments on the ReadWriteWeb article point this out. It's just a few agitators, who apparently want to change the terms after the fact, who are having trouble getting this.
by Mike Masnick
Mon, May 5th 2008 1:01pm
from the you-don't-get-to-edit-the-law dept
That said, it seems doubly wrongheaded to sue Wikipedia for this. First, as we've discussed many, many times, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) protects sites from the actions of their users. She has every right to go after whoever put up the page in the first place. But she shouldn't be blaming Wikipedia for it -- and any lawyer who would file this lawsuit should have known that and made it clear to her as well. Furthermore, this is a pure Streisand Effect situation. Before this, chances are that almost no one had seen the Wikipedia page. It was not up very long before it was deleted, and there probably just weren't that many people searching for her. Yet now, thanks to this, her name will forever be associated both with the claims she's trying to hide from the various news stories about this case, but those searching on her name will also see that she's filing lawsuits like this one. Again, this is something that her lawyer should have known. Of course, there are Wikipedia pages on both Section 230 and The Streisand Effect. A quick look around Wikipedia may have helped to avoid this unnecessary lawsuit against Wikipedia.
by Mike Masnick
Tue, Apr 8th 2008 3:38pm
from the and-gets-called-on-it dept
by Mike Masnick
Fri, Dec 14th 2007 4:09am
from the so,-please,-put-your-info-online dept
Squidoo has been around for quite some time without getting much traction and Mahalo is too early to call. So, it's certainly reasonable to question whether or not knols will really take off beyond spammers (which, Google insists it will keep out). If it were any other company doing this, it would make sense to be quite skeptical of how well it would catch on, but you have to provide Google at least the benefit of the doubt in terms of being able to leverage its brand to make this take off in some form or another. Certainly, Google has had its fair share of failed projects -- and I'm not yet convinced that people really want to create pages of info just for the hell of it. However, of any company trying this sort of thing, Google probably has the greatest chance to make it work.
Of course, no discussion on Google's knol project would be complete without comparing it to Wikipedia (as many smart commentators are noting). However, in looking over the details, this doesn't seem to be a Wikipedia "competitor" so much as another reference for static information. It seems that the goals of this project are quite different than Wikipedia's -- which is focused on narrowing in on a clear, factual description of something. The idea of knols is almost completely antithetical to that concept. It's about recognizing a single individual's perspective on things, and allowing multiple people to put forth their perspective. Google is even hoping that people will create knols based on opinion, rather than trying to create factual pages. That's quite different. Neither approach is necessarily "better" -- they just serve different purposes, and assuming these knols catch on, what may be most interesting is to see how useful the combination of knols and Wikipedia are together. I've always believed that a Wikipedia-type approach works well for factual information, where you have to zoom in on a single point -- but it runs into trouble when you want opinion, insight and analysis, where you want multiple separate opinions rather than a merged one. That, at least is the theory behind our business as well, so it's nice to see Google appears to have a similar perspective. However, much of the work that we've done with the Techdirt Insight Community has been in aligning various incentives for people to provide useful analysis and insights (rather than useless or meaningless ones) -- and it will be interesting to see how much Google has thought through the various incentives at play.
by Timothy Lee
Tue, Nov 6th 2007 3:53pm