Why Newspapers Shouldn’t Allow Comments

I read the comments on SFGate.com and for the most part they are insipid, obtuse, and alternating between insane and incomprehensible. Despite some well meaning efforts by the editors to remove comments that rise to the level of being patently offensive, the bulk of the user generated comments are worthless and only serve to reveal frightening insights into the fringe elements of our society.

As Mike rightly points out, the problem also lies with the fact that newspapers don’t provide incentives for posting good comments, or promote social signals to improve the quality of discourse. I’d take it a step further and suggest that simply because nobody calls out people for posting nonsensical and offensive comments, there is no disincentive to wasting bits on stupid shit.

I get enough “community” elsewhere online, I’d prefer that newspapers just ditch comment systems altogether at this point.

Comments are thought to be an added value to a newspaper’s site—providing another reason to read. You come for the article, and stay for the interesting discussion. The only problem is, there is no interesting discussion. Almost never. Not even from the mythical supersmart New York Times readers.

[From Newspapers: Why Newspapers Shouldn’t Allow Comments]

Zigbee and Smart Appliances

I hadn’t written about Zigbee is so long I had to go back to my old blog to search for it. I remain pretty bullish on this category of technology but am pragmatic about medium term results for several reasons.

Commercial power users have a lot of incentives to retrofit facilities with energy saving technology and smart monitoring solutions, while residential users have less directly connected incentives and tend not to behave according to market conditions because electricity markets are price regulated and respond less dramatically than, for example, gasoline. It takes 4-6 months for electricity rates to rise in response to global commodity markets, and for whatever reason that seems to condition homeowners to price increases.

More on point, home retrofitting for technology like this is expensive and that why the vast majority of the market won’t do it. Even with tax subsidies, which btw remain a terrible strategy that does nothing but encourage higher prices to consumers, the payback period for technology like this exceeds the threshold most homeowners will absorb. Exhibit A is solar retrofitting, which despite significant improvements in the technology and large tax subsidies is but a niche market.

Until these technology make it into new construction we won’t see significant movement in the market. With new home construction all but at a standstill for at least the next 18 months, this is obviously not a winning strategy for these companies.

In the final analysis though, it is these incremental savings that will likely “fuel” our next generation power marketplace along with renewables, clean coal technology, transmission technology improvements, and better battery technology.

ZigBee is on the verge of becoming the Wi-Fi of home power management, thanks to its inclusion in smart electric meters. But multiple wireless control technologies may coexist, as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth do. For both consumers and utilities, it’s like “going from an odometer to a speedometer,” says Paul De Martini, vice president of Edison SmartConnect, Southern California Edison’s next-generation metering project. It intends to introduce smart meters to its 5.3 million customers by 2012. This project is expected to help reduce peak power demand by 5 percent – about the output of an 1,100-megawatt power plant – and overall demand by 1 percent. That would cut carbon dioxide emissions as much as taking 79,000 cars off the road, De Martini says.

[From New meters find power hogs and limit how much they use / Technology on verge of a boom, some analysts say]

Why I’m Cool to Cuil

A company couldn’t ask for much more mainstream coverage than Cuil received today. It was featured on local news broadcasts this morning and none other than Drudge himself linked to it above his headline. Here’s why it won’t matter.

You don’t beat Google just by being marginally better than Google. I tried the service and came away unimpressed by the results, yeah it was largely accurate but no more so that Google is. On many searches it didn’t return anything at all so despite their claim of indexing more content than Google they missed some of the time, and on a rather obvious terms, so my immediate concern is reliability.

Their strategy to promote privacy policies with regard to user data is smart but it won’t make the difference because you don’t hear a hue and cry about user data privacy on Google (or Yahoo or MSN) today. The average user just doesn’t care, and even though I argued in favor of this strategy about a year ago the reality is that it is not a competitive differentiator that rises the level of influencing search users.

Lastly, their presentation of search results may be more appealing than Google but that doesn’t translate into more effective. If anything, my seat of the pants feel is that they have degraded effectiveness through the use of the magazine page format simply because it forces the eye to unnaturally scan results. If they persist in believing this is better, what they should do to test that is run A/B comparisons against a traditional search results page and see what leads to both the fastest action time and lowest bounce rate.

The end result is Cuil, pronounced “cool.” Backed by $33 million in venture capital, the search engine plans to begin processing requests for the first time Monday.

[From My Way News – Ex-Google engineers debut ‘Cuil’ way to search]

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RedLasso and the Networks

I have to admit that I find it uncomfortable to be in the position of defending television networks, but in the case of RedLasso I don’t think the networks had any choice but to sue the site. Current copyright law requires that a copyright holder enforce their copyrights and not do so arbitrarily or capriciously, it’s a use it or lose it proposition as far as the courts are concerned.

It may well be that RedLasso was operating in a fully legal manner but in the end it will likely be the courts that make that determination. To continue to operate the site would have exposed the company to substantial risk in the event that a court decided their use was not within the constraints of Fair Use… remember Napster?

Earlier this week, NBC Universal (NYSE: GE), Fox News Network and Fox Television Stations filed a lawsuit, alleging RedLasso hadn’t been licensed or authorized by the networks to reproduce copies of their news and entertainment programming.

[From RedLasso Suspends Open Access To its Site, For Now; Appeals To Bloggers | paidContent.org]

PETA Unleashed

Batman is a hater, just a big mean superhero hater… I’m just too choked up, have to end this post now.

But to really show Batman the error of his ways, the animal rights organization removed him from its list of Top 10 Animal-Friendly Superheroes. Ouch. There’s also some great lines in the rant: “They didn’t need to make Batman into a dogphobic man!” True poetry. Then PETA asks, “Doesn’t the man with the James Bond gadgets know anything about peanut butter treats and deflecting devices?” Um, PETA? Did you even see the movie or are you simply unaware of how dumb you sound?

[From PETA Has A Problem With Batman / Mollygood]

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I Can’t Drive 55

I don’t know why I should care… in the Bay Area you can’t drive more than 35mph most of the time. Actually, this isn’t entirely true, on most days you can whip up and down i280 at 65mph, which means you are in the slow lane because the average speed on that freeway feels like 80mph… which only adds further evidence to the notion that if drivers will routinely disobey 65mph then they will certainly disobey 55mph.

Mr. Warner may be willing to drive slower to save gas. The vast majority of Americans surely are not. The original 55 mph speed-limit law, enacted in October 1974 after the OPEC oil embargo as a way to save energy, was probably the most despised and universally disobeyed law in America since Prohibition. In wide-open western states, driving at 70 mph or even 80 mph on miles upon miles of straight, flat, uncongested freeways is regarded as a God-given right. In the 1970s and ’80s, the federal speed limit was a daily reminder of the intrusiveness of nanny-state regulation.

[From The Insanity of Drive-55 Laws – WSJ.com]

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Maybe Blogging Is Just a Loss-Leader?

But I doubt most bloggers are trying to be the next Arrington. Most of them just want to support themselves blogging, right? This post reminds me of the phenomenon a few years back as the open source movement was taking off.

[From SarahLacy.com: Maybe Blogging Is Just a Loss-Leader?]

I get asked a lot why I don’t run ads on my blog. The simple and honest answer is that I while I have a desirable audience with a tightly banded demographic, the fact remains that I don’t have enough of an audience to generate the level of display ad impressions that an ad network wants to serve. I could go out and sell house ads and sponsorships but then I’m in the business of blogging and the economic model starts to matter.

Let’s say I quit my day job and started going to all the conferences, focusing on the breaking news style of blogging, and throwing up some detailed and well researched analysis. I’m basically a hybrid journalist analyst, something that blogs actually are well suited for.

For the sake of easy math, let’s say that I can get up to 50k pageviews a day on average, and because of my audience I can generate a relatively conservative $8 CPM. That’s a paltry $12k a month in display ad revenue.

So I’m a year into this and I realize that blogs are actually ill-equipped to generate meaningful display ad revenue because the format does not lend itself to driving leveraged pageviews that way that traditional media sites do. What I mean by that is with a blog you get relatively few pageviews per site visitor because they are either coming in through a search engine to a specific page or hitting the front page and not clicking through because all the content is front and center.

Then there is that issue about RSS not being easily monetizable. I could use Feedburner to drop Adsense into my feed, but experience suggests that there is not a lot of cash to soak up with that route. With that in mind, RSS becomes leakage in my business model, something I have to deal with but don’t profit from.

At this point I have in inflection moment. I can degrade the readability of my site by putting full content behind a “click here to read more” link, in which case I am theoretically doubling my page inventory but because not everyone will click through I am really more likely to grow it incrementally by some factor less than 1, let’s say 1/3. I also decide to put out partial text RSS with the objective being to draw feed subscribers back to the main site, thereby increasing my pageview count.

I also decide to add a few writers but because I don’t have the traffic to support dedicated staff I decide that syndicated content is a better path to follow. I also expand my blog, adding additional sections and feature areas, in effect becoming more and more like a media site than simply a blog. After all that work I manage to triple my pageviews and because I have better analytics on my demographic data I am getting a few dollars more on a CPM basis, resulting in a nice revenue ramp.

So now I’m making real money on my top line and my wife compliments me on my decision to jump in with both feet, but as I put on my green visor and crunch the numbers what I learn is that because I’m paying for a SEO consultant on retainer, a graphic artist/coder, an ad sales person, syndicated content, my own benefits and expenses, a small increase in hosting costs, and most likely hiring some offshore research assistants, well now my bottom line is looking a lot less impressive. In fact, I may be supporting myself but not nearly as well as I could by doing something else…

I may still run some ads or sponsorships in the sidebar but before I do that I really need to refresh the design templates and probably focus in my content as well and quite honestly I’m not sure I want to be in a position where I can’t write about some of the things I care about. Adsense is an easy choice but it’s really just loose change for a site like this so that’s why I haven’t made the effort to run ads.

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Fannie and Freddie

What is going on right now with regard to the Federal government and the credit industry represents possibly the single greatest realignment of the role of government in private sector finance since the Great Depression.

I, for one, am terrified of what Congress is doing and what they aren’t doing. You won’t hear this story told in the mainstream press because, as my good friend Harriet points out, it’s complicated and doesn’t explain itself graphically. Furthermore, it’s not partisan so there is no natural protagonist/antagonist to root for.

The GSEs got into an enormous mess because their special status allowed them to take an unsafe chunk of the market, its executives were rewarded for risk-taking, and its management was excessively entangled with the government, which made it hard for them to say no when the regulators asked them to take on even more loans. Congress’s plan is . . . more of the same.

[From Megan McArdle (July 23, 2008) – Neither fish nor fowl nor good red herring]

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