Those of you wondering about the new gig….

Those of you looking for pearls of wisdom about the new gig, be aware. I’m imposing a strict firewall between the “work me” and the “me me”, partly because it’s the only way to keep things sane and remotely tidy, and partly because I’ve learned the hard way that too many folks have trouble understanding the difference between “the guy who blogs and happens to work for foo” and “the foo blogger”. Since I’m now going to be both, the only way to avoid some inevitable and painful commentaries is to not go there.

Which doesn’t mean we aren’t going to be talking about that stuff. Just not while “off duty”. Which if you understand these things at all, you’ll know makes endless sense. Not that common sense was ever a strong point for me…

So if you’re interested in the work stuff, you need to head over here:

We’re working feverishly to start delivering new and interesting content and “other stuff”, and when it’s ready, that’s where it’ll show up. And I’m trying to pull together the other things we want to help build the developer community and give t what it needs to thrive and make us all rich and happy.

I’ll meet you over there. I’ll be the one in the red carnation.

Posted in About Chuq

Does anyone still wonder why no free agents want to play in Montreal?

Last night during the Sharks/Kings game I was checking headlines during a break in action, and ran across James Mirtle’s piece on the (at that time) breaking crisis in Montreal.

It got my attention, because it seemed to be a lot more than “gee, this kid likes to party”. Looking at the quotes from the French press, like Jaques Demers ” I swear to you, I thought about Mr. Beliveau tonight … and I just hope I’m dreaming.” or Michel Bergeron’s “it looks like the foundation is going to be shaken. Not just for the Quebecois but for anyone who wears the Canadiens sweater around the country” had me wondering just what was going down. (if you haven’t seen the details, Mirtle’s got a good overview, including how the information flowed out into the public eye, so you can get a sense of how this evolved over time).

My first speculation, honestly, was some kind of legal problem involving claims of non-consensual activities between the players and some “friends”. Maybe it’s unfair of me, but honestly, with the rumors of the partying and the history of complaints against pro athletes about unwanted companionship — whether it’s the players from Duke or Kobe Bryant or any number of quietly handled incidenents — it’s always something I worry is going to end up in the press.

Then word started to come out that a mobster was involved and the police were meeting the team at the airport. Invovled with drugs? Were the players playing mule with their gear bags? Oh, the mind wanders after a couple of coffee-and-Bailey’s… But I was expecting the worst here.

Silly me. I should have remembered that this was the Montreal French Press and stopped worrying. For all Quebec professes to love it’s Canadiens, there are far too many there who aren’t afraid to use them to grandstand and use as a target for their public rants (thereby making sure the journalists get plenty of attention, which they seem to crave). The press isn’t alone here — the police have been known to grandstand and time things to maximize the pain of the team, and let’s not forget the politicians that have been happy to jump on the Canadiens and hockey players when people aren’t paying enough attention to them (just ask Shane Doan).

So I guess I should have really expected that the real problem, the one that caused Bob Hartley to claim he was going back to Atlanta (he was kidding, but that’s the level of rhetoric here, folks) was that a couple of the Canadiens players liked to party and liked girls.

Oh, and one of their party pals happens to have organized crime connections, but there are no connections known by the police beyond partying, girls, and some bootleg vodka the guy brought in for them.

Oh, the horrors.

Yes, the French Press is at it again. We can all stand down and stop paying attention for now. Next time, we should maybe be smart enough to not pay attention to begin with.

Does anyone still wonder why the Canadiens have so much trouble keeping free agents or attracting them to the team? Who other than Saku Koivu is insane enough to want to play in a city with newspapers this hostile? And better, they’re hostile because they love the team. Ah, the irony. the bullshit, the insanity.

Now, am I saying that this is not an issue at all? No — there are some significant issues here. The players are associating with someone they should know better than be around. This kind of “not thinking clearly” seems endemic in Montreal — remember Jose Theodore? There’s a problem with players enjoying the joys of the city of Montreal a bit too much there.

That’s a tough nut to crack; you can only talk and lecture so much. Ultimately it comes down to knowing the personality of the players and only bringing in those that know how to handle the situation appropriately. Montreal has to find a way to help players learn to avoid these problems, but ultimately, this is up to the individual players themselves.

Especially in a town like Montreal, where the players not only live in a fishbowl, but one wher ethe fishbowl has a 24×7 webcam and paparazzi waiting for an unprotected moment, and writers and broadcasters who seem to want to make their names by putting these people up on pedestals and then using them for target practice.

In reality? There’s a whole lot of “nothing to see here”, other than a bunch of press and broadcasters taking a molehill and turning it into a ski resort. Here’s hoping that it stays a molehill and there aren’t more and dirtier details to be found out at the investigation continues, but right now, it seems like this whole “foundation is going to be shaken” disaster scenario is a figment of the overactive imaginations of the French Press (again) insisting on proving there’s nothing they can’t turn into front page headlines.

No wonder nobody wants to play in Montreal. With “friends” like these, would you want to?

Posted in Hockey and Other Sports

Will paid content work?

But can we learn anything from paid content attempts in the past? After all, this has been tried at varying levels before. Until The New York Times opens the books on its mothballed Times Select service, which kept certain content — mainly columnists and archives — behind the pay wall, these two examples, from 2003-2005, will have to serve as examples

via Will paid content work? Two cautionary tales from 2004 » Nieman Journalism Lab » Pushing to the Future of Journalism.

Here’s one more. A long, long time ago in a Galaxy far away, one of my first jobs in Silicon Valley was with a startup (see footnote 1) doing interactive services for cable TV. We’re talking almost 30 freaking years ago, folks, and teletext-type technology, which was state of the art then. And the goal of all of this was — ta da — value added services. Online banking, news tickers, weather, etc etc. And of course cable companies wanted customers to pay for them.

But every pilot test failed miserably. 100,000 people in Ohio were given the services free for six months, and surveys showed very positive responses to it. They liked what they saw. And when they were asked to pay even a nominal fee for it (a couple of bucks a month), about 2% signed up for it.

Nothing new under the sun.

This long predates the “consumers have gotten used to things being free on the net” problem. Hell, for the most part, it predates the net (at the time, I think it’d just been renamed the Internet from Arpanet, but USENET was still modem-based.

Thinking about it, the reasons for this problem go deeper than “we expect it for free”.

One is that both television and radio have made people think this stuff is free. Yes, there are commercials — advertising subsidizing the cost so the consumer doesn’t have to pay anything. That’s likely one of the strongest reasons there’s resistance to paying for things, a multi-decade history of things being “free”.

And with cable? well, consumers are already paying for cable. Any surprise people resist paying for things that come on the thing they’re already paying for?

Advertising long subsidized the true cost of that newspaper or magazine, making them artificially cheaper to the end consumer.

Circle those ideas back to to the internet today — and people pay for their internet connection, so are we surprised they resist paying for stuff they get off of what they already pay for? Those of us on the distribution side of the equation understand the details of how this all works, but should we be surprised that the consumer only sees it as a double-dip? And we’ve seen this resistance to this pay-again mentality going back decades. Look at the resistance we see today to the airline’s tacking on fees for things like checking bags. Consumers see this stuff as bait and switch (and in some cases, I’m not sure they’re wrong). Perhaps one problem we’ve had here is we’ve done a bad job of teacing the general consumer how all this works and why the ISP charges don’t pay for things.

But the bigger issue is that issue of “free”; and that goes back to the early days of commercial radio. 80 years, mulitple generations of “this is free”. It’s really not — the cost is watching/listening_to commercials as part of the programming. And now advertising isn’t paying the freight, we’re trying to shift the burden on the consumer after decades of subsidizing content (long before the internet!) — and the consumer resists it.

Surprise.

Just a thought: I’ll bet, and I have no data to back this up — that if you do a study of people who primarily watch network television and compare that to people who contribute to PBS or NPR, that the PBS/NPR crowd is a lot less resistant to paying for content online, because they’ve already made the decision to pay for content rather than sit back and take what the advertisers are willing to pay for and have them watch “for free”. And amybe down that road lies some answers, not in technology or micropayments or nag walls or whatever, but in working to educate users why what they (and their parents, and grandparents) were used to: free content, with commercials they used to go to the bathroom during…

(footnote 1: the startup was founded by Paul Baran, one of the people who invented packet switching networks. Which is the underpinning allowing you to read what I’m typing. It didn’t make it — but in the back room was another startup called Telebit, which invented the first modems that did data compression and error correction, and which ended up playing a key part in the growth and success of USENET and Email back in the days before everyone was hooked up to the net, and basically allowed for the growth to critical mass that eventually made the internet mainstream. This just reinforces my view that Silicon Valley is really just six people, but they all moonlight….)

Posted in The Internet

Fighting sockpuppet reviews on the App Store

App Store reviews have been controversial from the beginning — while they can be helpful for buyers, you often have no idea just who’s leaving comments or what their real agenda is. Njection, the makers of Nmobile (which we played with a while ago) are having a huge problem with what they’re calling “sockpuppet” reviews on the App Store.

Someone (they believe this person is in cahoots with their competitor) is posting bad reviews on their app and trying to trash them and their product elsewhere (including in a comment here on TUAW). And unfortunately, as they say, they don’t really have much recourse against this behavior — they’ve appealed to Apple, who’ve replied that they’ll leave comments up, unless they’re offensive or extremely false. Apple’s own guidelines for reviewing apps asks that the reviewers deal with apps on their own merit rather than attacking competitors, but that seems to be more of a recommendation than a firm rule.

Njection says the comments have kept consumers from trying out their apps, though it seems difficult to actually track how many people haven’t tried your app (and why). It’ll be interesting to see if Apple makes other changes to the review system if this sort of thing rears its ugly head more often. At this point, it seems devs just have to deal with it by doing damage control when necessary and making their app good enough that “sockpuppeting” doesn’t strongly affect public opinion.

via Fighting sockpuppet reviews on the App Store – The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW).

I guess I’m not convinced. Looking at the app in question, there are a total of twelve reviews, seven of them 4 or 5 stars, only 3 gave it one star. Since others have the ability to rate the usefulness of each review, there’s some feedback going on with the reviews themselves, and so it’s not until the ninth review that you get a rating of less than 3 stars when sorted by “most helpful”. that seems like some fairly positive reviews overall.

Given that Apple only allows one review per store account and that account has to have bought the product, it’s rather hard for me to see a significantly organized turfing attack here. I don’t know which is reality, but my gut feel is that the turfing worries are overblown.

You could also think maybe it’s a developer looking for a way to explain away bad reviews. And it presumes that the developer didn’t have their friends all log in and report the five star reviews, too. Turfing can go both ways, of course. Not that we’d ever do that — and not that I’m implying the developer did. Definitely saying they shouldn’t, FWIW.

Having said that — there are some ways to limit the impact of turfing if it exists.

First: free limited versions. If users are hesitant to pay for the App because of some bad reviews, then give them a way to trial the app before paying. That’s been very successful with me trying out various free versions of apps on the store and then buying the full version. there’s really little reason to NOT do this, and yes, Apple really needs to formalize support for this in the store in some way, but until then, Lite versions rock, and remove the worry of buyer remorse.

Second: Yelp has this same problem. One way its gets solved is via high numbers of reviews. The larger the set of comments on something, the less impact any individual or turfing campaign can have. So a simple way for developers to limit the impact of turfing attacks is to encourage the users to submit their own reviews. Something as simple, perhaps, as when they fire up the app after having used the app for some period of time, putting up an alert encouraging them to review the app and explain how. add in a couple of buttons (“take me there”, “not yet”, “stop annoying me”), and make it as easy as possible for them to put the review in.

If you think about it, if your users are happy with you, a percentage of them will go and say so. And that stream of reviews will blow out any impact of a turfing attack.Of course, if the users aren’t thrilled, you might get buried, but you wrote a great app, right? aren’t afraid of some criticism, right?

There are other things you can do — a lot of it boils down to giving users information about the person writing the review so they can evaluate the reviewer and decide how much to trust them — and I went into some details on my ideas on that a couple of months ago. Most of that would be relevant to upgrading the App Store reviewing system. Honestly, though, I don’t think it’s all that bad these days. Could be better, but the big missing piece is the ability to do free demos. I expect Apple to solve that at some point, but developers can do something about it on their own.

I can’t think of an app I’ve used that suggested I go to the store and review it, though. Why the heck not? Free advertising, folks. Do it in a tactful manner, and I’ll bet a good chunk of the users will cooperate. Seems to me the BEST advertisement for an app isn’t a five star rating, but that 500 or 1000 users reviewed and recommended it. That’s what you want to aim for.

Posted in Community Management

Chicago 4, San Jose 2. Ouch

Chicago nicely beat the Sharks last night. Good game for the Hawks, one of the teams that’s is always impressing me. The Sharks looked sluggish, but in reality, the Hawks outplayed them, I give more credit to Chicago than I take away from San Jose. I think the Sharks really missed Boyle’s ability to carry the puck last night, but the real issue was the Hawks aggressively pursuing the puck and aggressive breakout. the Sharks fought to deal with it all game.

Weird game; Hawks lost a goal to a double-minor high stick called by a linesman in the first. Since Linesmen can’t stop play for that, play continued until a whistle, that whistle happened to be after a goal. Confused the heck out of the Sharks broadcasters, but they finally sorted it out. The refs actually hauled Cheechoo back out of the locker room to examine the damage — they were lucky he didn’t have a needle and thread in his face being stitched.

So the refs got it right. Well, mostly. They were supposed to announce what was going on to the crowd and didn’t. It is also unclear if they adjusted the clock; Laurie and I watched the game from home (I caught her cold, we both kept our sniffles to ourselves) and Drew mentioned the clock at one point as not being fixed, but I don’t know whether or not they caught it. The clock definitely should have been returned to the time of infraction.

Amusingly enough, the Sharks announcered talked a lot about how they didn’t know the rules and and never seen something like this before. Kind of marvelled at the refs ability to know things to this level (well, that’s their JOB). I knew the rule (because I have no life and I spend it reading rulebooks, I guess) although I couldn’t have quoted number and page out of the book.

Then, later on NHL network Larry Murphy talked about this and did the “maybe the NHL needs to fix this” because of the play going on and then the goal being called back.

Um, Larry? the system worked. It’s a situation that pretty much everyone agrees is quite rare; I’ve probably seen it once before over the years, maybe twice (maybe). The refs got it right (except for the “explain it to the crowd” part). So what’s to fix? And why is the first reaction to anything that “something has to be done”?

Seriously — if it’s a situation that nobody can remember the last time it happened, a situation where the refs got it right, and the end result was appropriate, and nobody died, what’s to fix? And why the kneejerk reaction that it has to be?

I don’t get it. And in general, I think Murphy does a good job on NHL network, but this is a classic symptom of an attitude in the hockey media I think the media needs to step back and think hard about. Edge cases and weird things happen. When they do, if the system worked, it’s not a reason to change the system.

One more home game and on to the big sharks road trip.

Posted in Hockey and Other Sports