Weekend Update, 02.07.09
What spreads faster than economic gloom and doom and is more infectious than professional anxiety? That phenomenon known as “25 Things.” Just in time for Facebook’s fifth birthday, the record-breaking waste of time may have reached critical mass this week. It’s certainly been the topic of much conversation, including on BoomTown. Elsewhere this week:
BoomTown provided continuing coverage of the Yahoo (YHOO) merry-go-round. This time, PR head Jill Nash announced her departure. As the company’s chief communications officer, she’s had a challenging two-year run. New CEO Carol Bartz definitely has some PR ideas of her own, including offering cash prizes to employees who provide info on their colleagues who leak information to the press. Not a huge deterrent yet, apparently–it didn’t take long for BoomTown to get info on both Nash’s farewell memo and Bartz’s bounty system. Next, New Networks, the publisher behind BarelyPolitical and its hugely viral Obama Girl videos, has widened its purview to include the tech sector with BarelyDigital, which the online network has envisioned to include regular shows, tech news remixes and the like. It’s rumored that Obama Girl will be making a cameo appearance or two. If the first two features are any indication, the future looks pretty funny. In another round of executive musical chairs, Time Warner’s (TWX) AOL ad head Lynda Clarizio will be leaving the online service, to be replaced by former Yahoo ad exec Greg Coleman. Microsoft (MSFT) is launching a slick new celebrity site on MSN called Wonderwall, created, designed and produced by BermanBraun Interactive, a Hollywood company run by former Yahoo media chief Lloyd Braun. And speaking of musical chairs, MSN is clearly upping its content ante–earlier this week, it hired Yahoo’s recent media head Scott Moore, who used to work at Microsoft.
MediaMemo asked: What happens when one of the world’s richest men lets loose a swarm (a small swarm) of mosquitoes at a high-end conference? Nothing too exciting, really, but when you consider that the stunt was the publicity-generating part of Bill Gates’s talk at TED, which was a discussion of malaria and some of the problems the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is facing head-on, it gets pretty compelling. Kindle 2.0, the new generation of the device dubbed the “iPod of the book world” will be unveiled Monday at a New York press event, but how many of the devices have been sold thus far? Amazon’s (AMZN) not telling, but Citigroup analyst Mark Mahaney estimates the number at 500,000–and believes that the Kindle will be a $1.2 billion business next year. Obviously, a lot will depend on Monday and the new device’s reception. MediaMemo also took some time out this week to wish Facebook a happy fifth birthday, and to stack its track record next to Google’s at the same age, with interesting results. Even the pros are getting hit hard these days–in its quarterly earnings report this week, News Corp. (NWS) missed its estimates, recorded an $8.4 billion write-off and lowered its guidance. CEO Rupert Murdoch admitted that the downturn is worse than he thought. He also admitted that he spent $2.8 billion too much for Dow Jones. (News Corp. is the owner of Dow Jones and this Web site.)
Digital Daily followed the trial of four Google executives this week on criminal charges of defamation and breach of privacy after a much-publicized two-year investigation. Google (GOOG) insists the charges are unwarranted and “akin to prosecuting mail service employees for hate speech letters sent in the post.” Clearly, the ultimate outcome will have a huge impact on the future of a free, open Internet. MySpace said this week that it has identified and ousted 90,000 registered sex offenders–and those are just the ones brilliant enough to use their real names. There’s no way of knowing how many are actually using the service or how to prevent them from re-registering once they’re deleted. A free an open Internet, indeed. DD also pondered the future (or lack thereof) of the Motorola (MOT) handset division. Co-CEO Sanjay Jha says the company is committed to making the business work, but its products are looking boring and outdated, and a turnaround would be prohibitively expensive to execute. In the words of one analyst, the company’s problems are “gruesome.” On the other end of the spectrum, Microsoft continues to vehemently deny reports that it’ll be producing its own smartphone. In a report this week, analysts from Broadpoint.AmTech speculated that the device could be uncrated later this month at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Meanwhile, it’s been up in the air for two years whether or not iPhones will ever be uncrated in historic Georgetown. Apple (AAPL) has been around the table a few times now with preservationists wary of the architectural impact of an Apple store, no matter how much the business traffic is needed in the neighborhood. Looks like perseverance may have finally paid off, though–Georgetown’s Apple store could open later this year.
In Personal Technology this week, Walt Mossberg took a look at a program called Foxmarks, which sets out to synchronize bookmarks among all of your browsers and all of your machines. Sound a little too handy to actually work well? Walt found it does a pretty good job, with a few caveats. In Mossberg’s Mailbox, Walt responds to readers who want to know more about doing “techie” maintenance on their PCs to keep them running well, whether or not to buy a 15-inch MacBook Pro, and options for email within Windows 7, which won’t ship with a built-in email program. In the Mossberg Solution, Katherine Boehret tests Google Latitude, an opt-in program that lets users track one another’s movements on their smartphones using GPS, Wi-Fi, and cell towers. Kind of like Gawker Stalker, only with permission and without Lindsay Lohan (unless you happen to be Lindsay Lohan).
Last but not least, Silicon Valley lost one of its own this week. The widely admired and much loved Mike Homer, whose rare, severe illness was a rallying point for many over the past months, passed away last weekend and was laid to rest on Thursday.
More next week.