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Amazon, Google, L’Oréal and Gucci have applied for basic Internet domain names like
.beauty. In some cases, they don’t intend to share. Unless you use Google’s Blogger service, for instance, you won’t be able to get
your-name.blog. Google aims to own that domain and every address in it.
Prime Internet Real Estate
Internet domain names are controlled by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. This U.S. company gets to decide which unique, top-level addresses (like
.org) will take you somewhere when you type them into your browser. And it can invent new ones and sell them to whomever it wants. Last year, it decided to do so to the tune of $185,000 a pop.
ICANN’s monopoly limits the market for generic top-level domains (gTLDs, in the unwieldy acronym) to a rarefied crowd. While some of these top-level domains went to registrars that let anyone use them, much of the prime real estate will go to companies that plan to use them to boost their businesses.
Tech Titans Stake Claims
Google and Amazon are making big land grabs. Google applied for 101 new domains, Amazon for 76. Many of them are brands owned by those companies, and that’s understandable. Google should be allowed to own
Tellingly, as reported by Paul Sloan at CNET, Google and Amazon have applied for around 20 of the same domains (depending on how you count similar ones like
.kids), and they’re rather important ones. Both Amazon and Google want
.you and more.
These conflicts will be worked out behind closed doors, but one way or another, a single giant tech company will own invaluable Internet property that its competitors want, to say nothing of private individuals or small businesses.
Some words fall into a gray area. Google has an application called Google Earth. Does that mean it should own
Google’s application for the
.earth domain makes for a revealing example. The applicant is listed as Charleston Road Registry Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Google. It contains no mention of the product Google Earth. Rather, Google says it wants to use
.earth to “provide a dedicated domain space in which registrants can enact second-level domains that extend the amount of information available on the Internet about Earth.” Google wants to dispense domains for campaigns like “
helpthe.earth,” according to its application to ICANN.
Similarly, Amazon’s application for
.book says its proposed “.BOOK registry will be run in line with current industry standards of good registry practice.” If that means it’s open to the public for registration, there’s no harm there.
But not all applications for generic top-level domains are so innocuous. As Dave Winer, one of the pioneers of blogging itself, has pointed out, Google’s application for
.blog makes clear how the company intends to use it:
“The purpose of the proposed gTLD, .blog, is to provide a dedicated Internet space where Google can continue to innovate on its Blogger offerings… The mission of the proposed gTLD is to simplify the Blogger user experience. Users will be able to publish content on a unique .blog domain (e.g., myname.blog) which will serve as a short and memorable URL for a particular Blogger account.”
If you want
your-name.blog for your WordPress blog, you’re out of luck.
A Beautiful Domain
As noted in a comprehensive post by Michele Neylon, tech is far from the only industry implicated here. L’Oréal has applied for
.beauty. Unlike Google and
.earth, L’Oréal gave special attention to its own products and “select licensees and partners” before saying it would “evaluate expanding the operations of the .BEAUTY gTLD” to outside registrants.
While taking pains to avoid saying that L’Oréal wants to own the Internet’s concept of
.beauty, the company’s application makes clear that it wants to control the namespace. If you run a beauty parlor and want the coolest website address on the block, don’t hold your breath for the chance to register
Naming locations in the Internet’s expanding universe is a tricky problem. For now, domain names are the most important way for people to remember and access sites and apps on the Web. We don’t want to be confined to
.com forever, since we can theoretically have whatever kinds of memorable names we want. But creating new TLDs can have nasty side effects.
When ICM Registry opened up the
.xxx domain for registrations, businesses large and small complained of a “shakedown.” Companies felt they shouldn’t have to register
their-name.xxx just to protect themselves from bad publicity.
And now we have the opposite problem, in which big companies are buying up valuable domains and refusing to let competitors or even users register their addresses there. Some of the big ones, like
.book, will be opened for public registrations, but they’ll still be under the control of companies with a vested interest in boxing out competitors.
And with others, like
.search, the business opportunities for the applicants are just too great to open up the domains to competitors. Google would have a whale of an antitrust case on its hands if it privileged
.blog sites over WordPress blogs in search results. But the next most important index for website addresses is in people’s memories. That’s where these companies want their expensive, new top-level domains to stick.
Facebook views itself as more than a social network. It aspires to be an operating system for the Web, or a platform in the mold of those built by Apple, Google, Amazon and Microsoft. So as the computing world shifts toward mobile, Facebook would be foolish not to claim as big a stake as possible. That means more than just apps: It means a Facebook phone.
Why Facebook Must Make a Phone
The main argument for a Facebook phone is this: With a bunch of mobile apps and half a billion mobile users, Facebook is already one of the biggest mobile services. But to become a mobile platform – exponentially more valuable than a service – it needs more. Thus, the recent reports that Facebook is trying to figure out a phone.
Facebook’s PC-based platform has helped drive huge increases in its membership, value and revenue on the plain old stationary Web. It has given Facebook the power to force big developers like Zynga to exclusively use Facebook’s payments service for in-game transactions. And it has enticed thousands of media and technology companies to build their own membership bases on the back of Facebook’s login system.
In the mobile environment, though, Facebook is only part-way there. Some aspects of its platform work fine on mobile devices. Some, in theory, work great, like quickly shooting and uploading photos without a computer (thus, Facebook’s new photo app and pending Instagram acquisition). But developers aren’t building huge games on Facebook’s mobile base. They’re using Apple’s iOS, Google’s Android, Microsoft’s Windows Phone, Amazon’s Android-based app platform and their respective payment tools.
To become one of the top mobile platforms, Facebook then needs to compete with Apple, Google and Microsoft for the attention of phone buyers, carriers and developers. It needs to build a phone platform that’s significantly better than its competitors. And it needs to do this despite having little experience with operating systems and mobile platforms.
It’s a big problem, but pretending Facebook isn’t ambitious enough to tackle it would be selling Mark Zuckerberg short. If Zuck is today’s Bill Gates, why wouldn’t Facebook build the next Windows?
The reward, by the way, could be huge. The smartphone market is still less than one billion units per year and set to grow dramatically over the next decade. It’s unrealistic to assume that Facebook’s phone business could be nearly as profitable as Apple’s, but if it were to generate even $100 in profit per device, a tiny percentage of the mobile market could amount to billions per year. And if Facebook hits the jackpot and creates the next big thing in mobile, device sales could easily outpace Facebook’s advertising business.
The odds of this happening are low. But given Facebook’s size and ambition, why not try?
How Facebook Could Make a Great Mobile Device
Cloning the iPhone with Facebook blue everywhere is probably a bad idea. But I’d like to believe that someone at Facebook, or someone Facebook hired, could come up with a novel and useful idea for a mobile device that people would pay for and use.
One idea I like is the notion of a connected, social camera, floated by Dave Winer. Why a camera? Winer writes, “Because that’s really what it’s about, photos and videos. And that’s a much more wide-open, and still largely untapped[,] market… I don’t doubt that the guys at Facebook see this too. And if they see it, how could they not be making it.”
Amazon’s Kindle is a huge hit and has sold millions of units because it does one thing – delivering e-books – better than anything else. If, somehow, Facebook could build a social, connected camera that’s so good it’s worth owning in addition to a phone, that could be a hit. This isn’t obvious, but it’s not impossible, either.
Think of other things people buy and own that aren’t phones and could be more connected and social. Watches? “Quantified self” exercise wristbands? What could Facebook do here?
Or, taking a different tack, how could Facebook be disruptive on the service side of the mobile equation? Could it offer cheaper smartphone service than Apple or Google phones have access to? Free texting to your Facebook friends? Free access to all Facebook services? The carriers wouldn’t let Facebook get away with anything too crazy, but perhaps there’s room for something interesting enough to justify buying a Facebook phone for your kids.
Why Facebook Will Probably Fail
I am optimistic enough to think it’s worth it for Facebook to try, and keep trying, to do something in the mobile platform industry. Facebook is big enough that it can experiment in important new areas. Especially in a market that’s as big and lucrative as mobile. As long as Facebook isn’t reckless with its spending, it should try.
But what you always hear about hardware, that it’s such a tough business, is true. It’s one thing to develop a nice, functional mobile product. It’s another to build a great business on it. Ask the folks at Palm, whose Pre was arguably the second nicest phone after the iPhone and nonetheless forced Palm to sell sooner and for less money than it would have liked. (Also: Imagine if Palm were for sale today. Wouldn’t that make a great little acquisition for Facebook?)
Apple is so successful in mobile because it is the best in the world at software, hardware, apps, media, marketing, retail and the supply chain. Facebook lacks expertise in all of these areas. A few of them alone won’t generate the right balance. It takes all of them to thrive.
Another challenge: Facebook is accustomed to making many small, incremental changes over time. It is constantly redesigning its products, rolling out updates here and there to batches of users. In hardware, it doesn’t work that way. You need to build something that is rock-solid, ready to ship and will last a long time, and then update it infrequently.
Perhaps this is why Apple has been less successful than Facebook with Web- and social-based products: It’s not constantly tinkering with them. But it’s also why Facebook could have a tough time designing a mobile platform.
The One to Watch
Mobile will be a particularly interesting and meaningful challenge for Facebook. The company is already discovering that mobile advertising is very different than Web advertising. It could be a much bigger opportunity for Facebook than the PC, or it could be much smaller. If Facebook can crack the mobile hardware or platform world, it could really pay off.
Mobile has the potential to make Facebook far more relevant than it is today, or it could be Facebook’s great equalizer. The next few years will tell the tale.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
Today, April 20, marks the 9th birthday of ReadWriteWeb. Much has changed since 2003! The World Wide Web was not very mobile or social back then. There were no smartphones or mobile Internet (and no I don’t consider WAP as proper Internet!). There was no Facebook, or even MySpace. Twitter was a few years away. The iPad was a full 7 years away. But all of those amazing developments are why ReadWriteWeb exists: to experiment with and explore the latest in Web technology. There’s no way I could’ve foreseen Twitter or the iPad, back in April 2003. But I, along with my super smart colleagues at ReadWriteWeb, have had a wonderful time discovering those and other new tools, platforms, apps and websites over the past 9 years.
Usually we’re all about exploring the new and trying to explain the future, but in this post I’ll allow myself some nostalgia. Here’s a look back at ReadWriteWeb’s history.
Like a self-titled debut album, the first post on April 20, 2003 was simply titled The Read/Write Web. The first words I wrote were: “The World Wide Web in 2003 is beginning to fulfil the hopes that Tim Berners-Lee had for it over 10 years ago when he created it.”
When I started in April 2003, ReadWriteWeb sported the default template of Dave Winer’s blogging software Radio Userland.
Like many enthusiast bloggers, then and now, I started out doing everything myself – including the design work. The first proper design I did was in September 2003 and it was, believe it or not, green.
Even greener! The version below is circa May, 2004. Not my best tagline work…
This version is an iteration from January, 2005 and featured giant pencils. Those were from one of my favorite artists, John Baldessari and his exhibition READ/WRITE/THINK/DREAM (not where I got the name of the blog btw, that is explained in the debut RWW post).
RWW went red sometime around November 2005 – and that’s been our color ever since. The image below is a later iteration of this:
The foundation of our current design went live over Christmas 2007:
For posterity, here is today’s homepage design. And yes we will be doing a re-design this year, thanks to the amazing designers at SAY Media.
Thank you to all our readers, sponsors and supporters over the years. It continues to amaze me how many great people I meet through blogging, all over the world!
Source: Happy 9th Birthday ReadWriteWeb!
Just ask the man who signs my paychecks… or at least, go back to October 2007 and ask Richard MacManus, the founder and EIC of this publication. He would tell you directly and succinctly that ReadWriteWeb is not a blog. That is, by the definition of that time, it’s not a one-man show. “ReadWriteWeb has evolved,” Richard wrote at the time, “into something different than a blog, which is traditionally thought of as the voice of a single person.”
Over the years, the complaints I’ve received from readers (we all receive some) center around the notion of bias – a tendency to interpret a story with the appearance of a certain slant or, perhaps more accurately, from an angle somewhat askew from the angle most others use in their interpretations. If a blog were truly by and about one person, then the appearance of bias would be impossible to avoid. Typically with publications, it is plurality that enables the reader to see the complete picture of subject matter. Plurality, for any organization, requires organization. And at a time when the Web publishing industry’s definition of what we do evolves faster than our ability to do it, organization has been difficult to achieve.
A sea of one-man bands
What Richard was saying back in 2007 was something I believe we can still appreciate today: A great publication evolves beyond the voice of any one person. Specifically, his comment came in response to his own surprise at finding RWW placed #6 on the Techmeme Leaderboard. He cited RSS pioneer Dave Winer, who in May 2003 – in an effort for his readers to distinguish a blog from a wiki – defined a blog as something that is unedited.
“Assuming a Wiki is a weblog-like system that allows anyone to edit anything (I know some don’t) then a Wiki represents an interesting amalgam of many voices, not the unedited voice of a single person,” wrote Winer. “On my weblog no one can change what I wrote. In contrast, having written for professional publications, pros have to prepare for their writing being interfered with… Weblogs are unique in that only a weblog gives you a publication where your ideas can stand alone without interference. It gives the public writer a kind of relaxation not available in other forms. That might mean that in some sense the ‘quality’ of the writing is different, but I would not say lower, assuming the purpose of writing is to inform, not to impress.”
Thus the notion of freedom as “exemption from ever being edited” may have been born. Readers are developing a notion of blogs as self-service operations, minimally administered content management systems from which unaltered streams of observations are broadcast in their raw and unencumbered form.
Or as one reader put it to me in an e-mail last week, “No one wants to consume a ‘package’ of content any more. The Web and blogs in particular have freed us from all that… [You] reminded me of the old magazine editors I know who don’t like the Web because it has taken away their power to pretend they know what is best for the reader.”
In his October 2007 post, Richard also cited an October 2007 claim from prominent blogger Robert Scoble that the infusion of journalism was, in a way, poisoning the art of blogging, as evidenced by his estimate that only 12 of the 100 blogs on Techmeme’s leaderboard were single-person operations. “Most of the things on the list are now done by teams of journalists – that isn’t blogging anymore in my book,” Scoble had written. “TechCrunch just hired a professional journalist which is sort of funny cause when I started blogging I never expected blogging to become a business, just a way to share what was going on in my life.”
So perhaps in retrospect, one of the reasons why blogging has had such difficulty transitioning itself to a business model is because its leading practitioners had not expected it to be a business in the first place.
Last September, when the inevitable structural breakdown began between TechCrunch and its corporate parent, AOL, contributor M. G. Siegler defended the publication as a blog under the classic Winer definition, and in so doing, distinguished TechCrunch contributors from the body of practitioners called “journalists.”
“Journalists seem to think they can write about TechCrunch as if they’re looking in a mirror,” Siegler wrote. “That is to say, they think our operation runs in a similar manner to theirs and they use that as a jumping off point for misguided (but predictable) outrage… First and foremost, the concept of an ‘editor’ at TechCrunch is essentially just a title and nothing more. Generally speaking, neither Mike [Arrington] nor Erick [Schonfeld] (TC’s two ‘co-editors’) are overlords that dictate what everyone else covers. With a few exceptions (mainly for newer writers), no one person even reads posts by any other author before they are posted. Traditional journalists may be appalled to learn this. But this is a big key of why TechCrunch kicks their ass in tech coverage.”
Are we, or are we not, bloggers?
For those of you keeping score at home, ReadWriteWeb has slipped down the Techmeme Leaderboard to #41 in the four-plus years since MacManus rendered his initial assessment. The simple reason, I’ve tended to believe, was the same one I maintained in defending a different publication I used to manage: It’s not really a blog. “One thing hasn’t changed and hopefully never will – the best bloggers are passionate about the topics they write about, and they are informed and opinionated,” Richard wrote. “All the writers on ReadWriteWeb have those attributes. So even though we’re not a blog, we’re still bloggers.”
Fast-forward to last December, and ReadWriteWeb’s acquisition by SAY Media. At the time, SAY’s corporate blog trumpeted RWW as “one of the most popular and influential tech blogs in the world;” and Richard MacManus followed up by calling the publication he founded “one of the biggest blogs in the world.” He later added, “ReadWriteWeb is and always will be a team effort.”
The distinction matters because of that very phrase. Unlike a diary, a poem, a high school term paper, or any other one-person dissertation, a publication resulting from a team effort carries with it specific responsibilities. It must inform the public accurately, to the best of its ability. It should present a balanced and clear representation of the topics it covers. It should improve the lives and work of the people who read it.
Just as importantly, the law treats a publication differently because it is produced by a plurality.
Last November, a U.S. District Court judge in Oregon ruled that a blogger named Crystal Cox could not invoke the state’s Shield Laws for journalist protection in her defense in an anti-defamation case, stating specifically that one cannot proclaim herself a journalist the same way one can proclaim herself a blogger. In his opinion, Judge Marco Hernandez wrote:
Defendant cites no cases indicating that a self-proclaimed “investigative blogger” is considered “media” for the purposes of applying a negligence standard in a defamation claim. Without any controlling or persuasive authority on the issue, I decline to conclude that defendant in this case is “media,” triggering the negligence standard.
Defendant fails to bring forth any evidence suggestive of her status as a journalist. For example, there is no evidence of (1) any education in journalism; (2) any credentials or proof of any affiliation with any recognized news entity; (3) proof of adherence to journalistic standards such as editing, fact-checking, or disclosures of conflicts of interest; (4) keeping notes of conversations and interviews conducted; (5) mutual understanding or agreement of confidentiality between the defendant and his/her sources; (6) creation of an independent product rather than assembling writings and postings of others; or (7) contacting “the other side” to get both sides of a story. Without evidence of this nature, defendant is not “media.”
Judge Hernandez’ ruling triggered a measure of outrage, particularly at the notion that in this era of the 24-second news cycle, for someone to be recognized as a journalist, he or she must be associated with an established “media” organization. The EFF’s Matt Zimmerman and Trevor Timm wrote last month that laws should be changed to reflect an era where journalism is practiced by individuals with their own motivation and their own means.
“The proper approach to this question is to focus on what amounts to journalism, not who is a journalist,” Timm and Zimmerman wrote. “Journalism is not limited to a particular medium; instead, it focuses on whether someone is engaged in gathering information and disseminating it to the public. To the extent that laws are unclear or out of date – such as Oregon’s retraction statute which does not clearly include (or exclude) Internet journalism – legislatures should be encouraged to expansively update them to ensure the protection of individuals seeking to communicate information to the public.”
Of balance and choice
At one level, freedom from the burden of organization may be considered enablement, especially for practicing journalists who (like so many of us) have found themselves without a regular paycheck. But the moment we all become privateers, we journalists lose our capability to provide the one characteristic that readers continuously, adamantly, passionately, and rightly demand: balance.
A one-man show cannot be without bias; it is impossible. True, Web publishing has freed journalism from the stifling encumberments of bureaucracy. But it has not relieved journalists of the burden to contribute to a cohesive, complete, accurate picture of the world they cover; and no matter how many hyperlinks it can throw at the subject, the Web cannot substitute for coordination and organization. The editorial system provides journalism with the checks and balances it requires to fulfill its responsibility to the public for fairness and accuracy.
You can have freedom from bias or you can have freedom from oversight. You cannot have both.
So the browser is in no danger of disappearing. But as the Web expands into a delivery mechanism for all forms of applications and services, is a stand-alone, exclusive window into the Web, complete with bookmarks and toolbars and add-ons, truly the most sensible usage model for a system that may yet embrace all of computing? This is a question Mozilla began asking last summer, and whose answer remains inconclusive.
Either the new form factor is here, or it’s not
As Mozilla Foundation Chair Mitchell Baker announced last July, “I think of apps as a new ‘form-factor’ for the Web.
“The browser is no longer the only way people access the Internet. People also use more focused ‘apps’ to do discrete tasks, and often feel a strong sense of attachment to the apps and the app model,” Baker wrote. “This is an exciting addition. Mozilla should embrace some aspects of the current app model in addition to the browser model.”
But Baker’s announcement points to an evolving, wiki-like document elsewhere on Mozilla’s Web site, the latest version of which seems far less willing to abandon the browser-centric Web as Baker’s original inspiration. “The next generation of innovation on the Web,” it reads, “will be anchored by a browser that is an honest broker committed to the interests of the individual user and developer, providing amazing experiences that match those offered by proprietary platforms; and user control and developer reach and freedom that is superior to proprietary platforms. As Firefox has transformed the browser landscape before, it must do so again.”
To that end, Stephen Horlander, who rearranged the contents of the browser for Mozilla Firefox version 4 in 2010, has been busy rearranging them yet again for a future version, as yet unnumbered. Under consideration is an adaptation of menus to include captioned tiles, like the home screen on an iPhone.
While this goes on, the organization has renewed its ongoing deal with Google for the next three years, which had been the principal source of the free Firefox browser’s revenue. The deal retains Google’s place as the search engine of choice in Firefox’s search box, while Google continues to develop the competing Chrome browser that doesn’t even have a search box – its text search capabilities are shared with the address bar.
Though the notion of Google Chrome as an OS for laptops and netbooks hasn’t yet caught on with consumers, it has succeeded thus far at advancing the vision of the browser as an environment for real-world work. It’s like a guiding star for the product line, a clear direction. So one should keep in mind how clever Google has been with its product strategy when assessing its motives behind extending its default search agreement with Mozilla: an agreement which presumes that for at least the next three years, Firefox will maintain a prominent window adornment called a search box. This while Microsoft, in establishing its bold, new direction for Windows 8, begins publishing an entirely window-less build of Internet Explorer 10, exploiting minimalist design ideas ironically pioneered by Mozilla’s Aza Raskin (who will, incidentally, have officially left Mozilla at the first of the year).
If Windows 8 succeeds in the PC and tablet markets in 2013, the browser that most users will find themselves using will, once again, be the one that users start by default. (As some users would say during the heyday of IE5, “Isn’t the Internet the one with the blue “e?”) On the other hand, if Windows 8 fails, then the healthy and growing tablet market will most likely be led by iOS, followed by Android – neither of which have proven fertile fields for Firefox to flourish.
Are Web apps not really the Web?
The rise of HTML5 has advanced the myth that applications run outside the browser are somehow “not the Web.” Thus users find themselves defending the sanctity of the browser-based environment without really knowing why.
To be the Web, RSS pioneer Dave Winer suggested in December, one has to provide links. “I don’t care how ugly it looks and how pretty your app is, if I can’t link in and out of your world,” Winer wrote, “it’s not even close to a replacement for the Web.” (This from the fellow who, ten years earlier, advocated an all-out defense of Java.)
Winer’s argument holds some water in that no network is truly viable without connections. The Web was originally conceived as a network of contextual connections between related topics; it gave rise to a delivery system, HTTP, which became ubiquitous thanks to the popularity of the browser. That ubiquity opened up a path for a new class of distributed applications that was not beholden to any one company’s or organization’s proprietary strategy.
If that class of apps is not really the Web, though, as Winer suggests, then the browser truly does have a place in our future – just a limited one. Articles with hyperlinks are nice, but their utility is limited. The role that Mitchell Baker foresees of an “honest broker” of functionality sounds less like a newsreader and more like an operating system.
For the browser to truly evolve – to fulfill all of Mozilla’s many goals and obligations simultaneously – it could conceivably become a kind of language platform. Think of an “inner iOS” or “inner Android” inside the operating system (I believe someone once coined the term “virtual machine”), within which the role of reading articles in a hyperlinked web falls to just one of many “apps.” And here, Google search may be featured prominently in accordance with the agreement.
Can a browser be a reader?
HTML5 – the lingua franca du jour of the future Web – is already planning for a browser-less library, with its CSS Generated Content for Paged Media. This system envisions a Web without browsers alongside the Web with browsers, with the former being full of fine literature, long-form articles, and educational matter – a Web that speaks directly to the dreams of Dave Winer, full of links, references, and relationships.
But unlike a blog, and unlike the Web as it’s currently realized in browsers, W3C envisions more of a reader. “There is nothing in Web specifications that prevent browsers from adding a page-based mode today,” the draft reads. “However, most Web content is authored and styled with a continuous presentation in mind. This could change if it becomes possible to describe paged presentations in style sheets.”
For anyone who presumes that conventional browsers are the Web, the W3C effectively proves with the very drafting of this module for HTML5 that they are not. It foresees a Web beyond the browser, in a new and perhaps richer context, full of new research and discovery tools that simply don’t fit the old mold. While there are browser-based apps today for Amazon’s Kindle and other literary contexts, the books in that environment are worlds unto themselves, without any links in or out with which Winer may escape.
For Mozilla or anyone else to get ahead of the game at this point, perhaps it may be agreeable to concede that the Web, such as it has been, is only a segment of a broader, more functional, more usable realm of information.