Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Kidd vs Kindle

Cover designer Chip Kidd's short and sharp takedown of Amazon's Kindle e-book reader is worth a visit.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

What is Google's core business?

Over the last few months, I've found myself in repeated conversations about Google (I guess living a few miles from their headquarters effects the gravitational pull) and they usually boil down to one core question: What is Google's core business?

"Search!" is the answer commonly spit out, it's the obvious one and the one that the standard narrative wants you to believe: Google is the leader in internet search, so that's gotta be it, right? But that's not it, hence the second question that comes up in conversation: How does Google make money?

The answer to that one is the answer to the first one as well: Google is an advertising company. Yes, it started in search, but search, maps, blogs, and everything else it does (and it does a lot) is secondary to ads, which bring in over $10 billion a year. For most of the Internet, Google is advertising.

So then comes the third question: Then why do they do so many other things? Rough Type's Nicholas Carr posits a very good answer:
Google’s protean appearance is not a reflection of its core business. Rather, it stems from the vast number of complements to its core business. Complements are, to put it simply, any products or services that tend be consumed together. Think hot dogs and mustard, or houses and mortgages. For Google, literally everything that happens on the Internet is a complement to its main business. The more things that people and companies do online, the more ads they see and the more money Google makes.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Holy crap, someone's making sense!

Jaron Lanier can be excused for the white-boy dreadlocks after penning a hell of an op-ed for the New York Times.
There’s an almost religious belief in the Valley that charging for content is bad. The only business plan in sight is ever more advertising. One might ask what will be left to advertise once everyone is aggregated.

How long must creative people wait for the Web’s new wealth to find a path to their doors? A decade is a long enough time that idealism and hope are no longer enough.

And it just keeps getting better from there. Xerox this and stick it up around Mountain View.

What do you do when Al Qaeda understands the Internet better than the New York Times?

While the major media companies continue to wallow in the idea that Internet publishing can be a mass-audience game, a new study shows that Al Qaeda--yes, that Al Qaeda--fully understands the concept that Internet publishing is no longer about broadcasting, but instead narrowcasting. Take a page from the terrorists, folks, because that's the future of the industry (not the blowing-up part, but the different-audiences-want-different-things part, duh).

PS. Thanks to Paul M. Davis for the link!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Kindling for the fire

Amazon took the wraps of their attempt to "improve" the book, the Kindle. It's an awkward looking device that seems to take its design cues from a misinterpretation of the iPod's--if it's white, it's simple--when it should have been looking at some of the more successful cell phone designs for creating the illusion of simplicity while offering just-in-time functionality. The result is a device that looks overly complicated and doesn't forefront its main use: reading. It's main competitor in the nonexistent market, Sony's Reader presents a much more elegant shell, even if it's still the answer to a problem that nobody seems to have.

It's also, for a book retailer, a surprisingly limited understanding of why people like books. In Amazon chief Jeff Bezos's open letter on Amazon's front page, he essentially defines a book as words you can hold. The Kindle takes that definition and runs with it, offering no individualized design, no color, no real visual cues that Moby Dick is different than the latest Harlequin romance. Everything's set in the same limited typefaces (though the typographer in me does appreciate that they're elegant), in the same monochrome way. Yikes.

The Kindle of course marks the latest folly in the attempt to give print its "iPod moment", the introduction of a piece of consumer electronics that would make people care about the written word again. Of course it's a search that already has an answer (the Internet, stupid), but it's also a search based on a false premise: Yes, the iPod made people care about music again, but it didn't do much for the music industry. If anything, the iPod was the music industry's "Internet moment": the final battle in a losing war. Searching out a device that will deal the final blow to your industry seems a bit counter-intuitive, if you ask me. Plus, walk around a college campus or wander through the business district of your city at lunchtime and you'll see that that device is already here and guess who made it.

Which brings up the real question: who the hell wants this thing? Yes, we all know that print is a medium in flux, but is anyone really sitting around saying, "You know what would bring me back to paying for content? Another goddamn electronic device to lug around with me." Amazon seems to be betting that someone is, tying the Kindle to their own webstore and requiring all content downloaded to the machine to be authorized by Amazon (yet another misread from Apple's success). Sure it can read blogs, but only blogs approved by Amazon, not any old RSS feed you subscribe to. Sure it can read books, but only books you purchase from Amazon's store, not PDFs downloaded elsewhere or HTML loaded in through the many public-domain book projects. And yes, it can subscribe to magazines and newspapers (for money! once again! thank god!), but only the ones on Amazon's list, which means that you're stuck with the usual tired collection. It's the kind of overly-controlled, extremely-limited collection of the usual suspects that businesspeople think make sense because the numbers add up, but never actually works because even though most people make the same boring choices, they also like the possibility of choosing something new. The Kindle is another closed system in a world that's gone decidedly open.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

You got your good idea in my social network! You got your social network in my good idea!

So apparently someone at Google is reading Paul Davis' blog Is > Than because almost a month to a day after his post Social Media Needs Open Standards (which is a barn burner), does Google announce OpenSocial, a method for sharing social applications (and, as a result, content and data as well) across sites. This is the start of something much larger, the social web itself as a platform. Now if only someone could figure out how to make a living from it.