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Scripting News, the weblog started in 1997 that bootstrapped the blogging revolution.

Is Google/Microsoft/Twitter in the news business? Permanent link to this item in the archive.

A picture named lesPaulGuitar.jpgYesterday the earth shook, and at first glance you might think it just shook in Silicon Valley, but I think a few years from now we'll look back and realize that the earth was shaking just as hard in the media industry.

I've had this really strong feeling ever since I got enamored of Twitter in 2006 that it was something the news and entertainment world would jump on if it had leadership that was as bright and ambitious as Steve Jobs and Bill Gates at their prime. Alas, those days must be long gone, because they busily tried to litigate peace in the old war, which they lost long ago, looking for the reparations that are due the loser who manages to make the victor feel guilty. (In other words the crumbs left on the table after the meal is over and after the cleaning people have made their first pass.)

"Look over here!" I've said over and over. "You should be competing here."

"We don't see why," they respond.

Here's why.

Twitter got Google and Microsoft to pay for the content that the media industry should have been hosting instead of Twitter. There was money here. And as we all know, the media industry can't find enough money to keep going. They're looking for handouts from the government. Meanwhile there was money everywhere. They just had to evolve.

I'm not saying this payday means Twitter has it made, they don't. Google and Microsoft are sharks and Twitter may be a goldfish. It could be that Evan Williams and his team have the competitive instincts of a Gates or Jobs, if so, they certainly have a few tricks up their sleeves, or they wouldn't have done these deals. They better, because Google and Microsoft are almost surely executing an Embrace & Extend. What that means for Twitter is that they have clones of Twitter in development. The race is certainly on. Have they cross-licensed their streams? In other words, does Twitter have reciprocal rights to any realtime content generated by users of Google's TwitterLand? Microsoft's? Even if they do, could they handle the load? My guess is that both Google and Microsoft will quickly take the search function away from Twitter. Now everyone has the Twitter stream. What streams can Microsoft and Google add to differentiate theirs?

A picture named funnel.gifAnd what business are they in now? I believe they're in the news business. This isn't tech anymore. This is what the Times and CNN should have become, what CBS, NBC and ABC should be. What Jay calls a pro-am system where everyone collaborates to create the realtime stream of news on all levels, national, international, local, broad coverage and specialized stuff. Everything from newsletters to nightly news. Everything flows through the same pipes, and curators pick off the good stuff and route it to people who are interested. This is the way news is done from here-on. We're not talking about the future, we're talking about now. And the moguls of the media industry, without a single leader thinking in advance of the wave, are sitting on the sidelines, hoping someone will give them some money because they're such great writers or whatever it is they're so great at. Soon they'll be looking for reparations.

They should own the platform.

And it's bad for the rest of us that they don't because the moguls of Silicon Valley have a very crude understanding of what news is. Witness the longevity of the 140 character limit and the inability of Twitter to carry any type of content other than text. The horror of the Suggested Users List. I don't expect Google or Microsoft to do much better, but they'll probably have the sense to hire a few news pros to advise them on how to build a system that works for news. The Twitter guys are fumbling around, and in doing so, holding all of us back.

And FriendFeed. Oh man what a wasted opportunity that was. If they had an ounce of competitive spirit they would have noticed that the news industry wasn't seeing their way into this space, and they would have gotten on a plane and camped out in NY and found someone, anyone, with a good flow of news to partner with, to guide them toward creating the fantastic news system that Twitter wasn't building. They had the technical ability to do it, but they were too much of homebodies, they enjoyed the comfort of other engineers too much.

This is what we still have to do -- create the connections between people with technical knowhow and people who can make the news flow to create a safe harbor for the millions who want to participate in news to do so, without being owned and controlled by the titans of tech.


Last update: Thursday, October 22, 2009 at 7:30 PM Pacific.

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Leon Winer

A picture named dave.jpgDave Winer, 54, pioneered the development of weblogs, syndication (RSS), podcasting, outlining, and web content management software; former contributing editor at Wired Magazine, research fellow at Harvard Law School, entrepreneur, and investor in web media companies. A native New Yorker, he received a Master's in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin, a Bachelor's in Mathematics from Tulane University and currently lives in Berkeley, California.

"The protoblogger." - NY Times.

"The father of modern-day content distribution." - PC World.

One of BusinessWeek's 25 Most Influential People on the Web.

"Helped popularize blogging, podcasting and RSS." - Time.

"The father of blogging and RSS." - BBC.

"RSS was born in 1997 out of the confluence of Dave Winer's 'Really Simple Syndication' technology, used to push out blog updates, and Netscape's 'Rich Site Summary', which allowed users to create custom Netscape home pages with regularly updated data flows." - Tim O'Reilly.

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