Ask impresses with new search

Microsoft, why couldn’t YOU do what Ask just shipped tonight?

A ton of bloggers are talking about the new Ask. I linked to the best of those posts over on my link blog. I gotta get some sleep. More on this tomorrow.

If you do a search on a blogger’s name, you’ll see his/her current blog at top. Really neat. It’s slower than Google, though. Photos show up on searches too. This competition is nice to see cause it’ll push Google to go further with its search too.

What do you think?

Google’s stance on Googlebombing

Google’s official blog today had an interesting post about its stance on Googlebombing (where a group of people get together and raise one result higher by linking to it). They specifically were reacting to how if you do a search on Google for “failure” you’ll find a page about George Bush.

UPDATE: this post originally appeared in 2005 (I didn’t remember it from back then). Turns out that RSS kicked out a new version of this post. Both Bloglines and Google Reader users saw it again (that’s where I saw it).

So, this is actually a bug in the RSS system.

Zooomr next big “inch”

Mashable reviewed Zooomr vs. Flickr today. Good review and covers the differences. Mashable wrote: “Zooomr is an impressive effort for a two-man team.” One thing the review didn’t cover is internationalization. Zooomr is ahead of Flickr there, many of its fans are outside the US. We’re so English-centric here in the blogosphere sometimes.

But, that all said, Zooomr has some significant challenges ahead of it. And that’s being kind to “significant.”

Disclaimer: Kristopher and Thomas are friends of mine. I don’t have any financial interest in Zooomr.

Why do we still care about Zooomr?

After all, any other Web 2.0 business that had been down for two weeks would just have been written off. One reason we still care is because Zooomr did pretty well over their two-weeks of hell (they were down for two weeks) by staying visible thanks to live video streaming on UStream.tv.

I can only speak for myself, but I love David vs. Goliath stories. And today Flickr is the one with all the cool branding and many of, if not most of, the coolest photographers. If you get some bloggers together they rarely talk about any other photo sharing site. Even Yahoo’s other photo service, that had more photos, was shuttered in preference to Flickr. It is the Goliath to Zooomr’s David. It +is+ amazing that a single developer got this far.

It’s romantic to know that Zooomr is really only one 19-year-old developer going against, um, Yahoo and CNET and MySpace.

There’s one problem with all of this: Zooomr is getting too good FEATURES WISE. It is starting to attract an audience and that audience means that Zooomr needs to move from an experiment phase to a real professionally-run business. Or, it needs to admit to itself that it can’t be run as a professional business and Kristopher needs to shut it down gracefully and go be gainfully employed elsewhere (he’s VERY employable at this point).

Even today, after being down for two weeks, it’s getting written up on many of the best blogs and is getting some decent reviews. Go back and read Mashable. Zooomr actually won in a few categories and is opening up a new business model: selling photographs for sub-$100 prices.

Flickr is still my favorite photosharing site and Zooomr is still a LONG ways away from gaining trust, not to mention gaining the necessary features to really be considered a top-tier service in the photo sharing game.

I can instantly think of thousands of pictures taken every weekend that’ll be attractive to a Zooomr business plan: wedding photography. When Maryam and I got married the photographer wanted to charge $20 for prints. Sounds like an interesting idea to take to the Web. There’s lots of photographers who are getting Digital SLRs (hundreds of thousands are sold every year worldwide) and many of these photographers are getting good enough to sell their photography online. Especially if you get lucky and get a news event or a celebrity in your lens.

But here’s the rub: Zooomr doesn’t yet have a real datacenter. If it’s really going to grow dramatically they are going to need to have someone running the datacenter and they are going to need big bucks to give a serious effort in the datacenter.

This is why Flickr sold out to Yahoo in the first place: keeping these services running professionally needs to be done by someone with a wee bit more experience than a 19-year-old. Brilliant as he may be. Kristopher himself realizes that, especially given that Zooomr’s datacenter is now inside Zoho’s datacenter (they have millions of dollars of equipment) which is inside a bigger datacenter that’s dominated by racks of Google’s computers (Zooomr’s few servers are surrounded on all four sides by stacks of Google racks).

Zoho just bought a new system made by Rackable that cost around $400,000 in order to compete (stay always up, and always give fast response times). Data center equipment is NOT cheap.

And we’re not even talking about the salaries (Kristopher and Thomas need to pay rent, buy food, etc.) and all the other costs of running a business.

So, why can Guy Kawasaki build a Web 2.0 site with just $12,000 and Zooomr needs a lot more? Well, a few reasons.

1) Zooomr has real value, real community, real users and a real business plan (selling photos could bring in some decent revenues, even though my VC friends are pretty darn skeptical and point to Getty and Corbis as examples of photo selling sites that don’t make much profit).
2) Truemors only has to deal with tiny text files. Get 100,000 users on that and you can run off of a tiny server. Maybe even a co-hosted server (my blog, for instance, is hosted along with more than a million other bloggers). Zooomr’s customers, on the other hand, regularly upload files that are more than 10MB PER IMAGE!! Huge in comparison.
3) Zooomr has tons of competition to compare it to. If it isn’t as fast, or faster, than Photobucket, Flickr, Smugmug, etc. you all will know it and will avoid the service. Heck, me too! Being fast and reliable requires a professionally-run datacenter (and excellence in other parts of the business too).

So, what now? Well, it’s been a nice experiment so far. They have quite a bit of love from the community. Which is why they got some free servers and help from a variety of companies (thank you Zoho!). But, that love isn’t going to extend to the next level necessarily (although it sure would be smart for a big company to use them as a testbed and show what the future of datacenters might look like — imagine if Sun Microsystems or Dell demonstrated its newest computers and showed how much more efficient a startup would be if it chose to use its computers rather than someone else. But that’s really not something I’d bet on happening, I think it’s time for Kris and Thomas to go to Sand Hill Road and explain how they are going to make a real business out of Zooomr).

My advice? You have something like 56 days of free loan on that Sun Microsystems equipment. Make that your deadline. Keep Zooomr up, but spend your days working on a business plan (there should be lots of people who can help out there) and go to Sand Hill Road and get some funding.

One other thought I had: I wish I had the faith in doing the impossible like Kristopher has. He was really down in a deep hole the past two weeks — friends of mine told me that lesser people would have cracked and given up. I saw him off camera and he was really in a tough spot. I told him about when I was in a deep hole in my life and I just tried to make each day a little better than the last. Jeff Sandquist and Lenn Pryor used to tell us on Channel 9 “inch-by-inch.” He really has impressed me by getting the service back up. He could have cried “Uncle” and gone to work for a big company and collected a paycheck like the rest of us but he stuck it out and got those servers back online. The lessons he learned the past two weeks will prove very valuable to him later in life. I hope I live long enough to see him get the success I think is ahead of him.

That brings me to this speech, which is how I’ll end this up. It’s one that Jeff (my boss at Microsoft) used to play for us when it looked like we weren’t going to get our way, or things weren’t getting done. Dave Winer has sent this to me a few times too over the past eight years. Kristopher and Thomas: this is your video. Go for it! We’re cheering. Just remember, 56 days and counting…

YouTubing from the N95

I finally have a phone that can really run Shozu properly. Here’s my first “hello world” video. Programmers always test their programming tools by doing a “hello world” application: a minimal app that basically writes “hello world” on the screen. So, I had Maryam say hello to you all. Oh, I always call her “Goofy.” She calls me that too. Actually she says she’s “Goofy’s keeper.” Ahh, these are the depths we’ve sunk to: revealing our stupid nicknames on YouTube.

Shozu is a cool service. Lets you upload photos and videos to all sorts of different services without using email from your phone. Highly recommended.

This is great stuff cause now I can get video up from my cell phone immediately from news events.

What other mobile apps should I try on my Nokia phone?

Comics, is there any way to make a business here?

Another friend, Dawn Douglass, has been pitching a business for comic artists and those editorial cartoonists that I used to read on the editorial page of the newspaper. She wants to help newspapers (and the cartoonists who are rapidly getting laid off because newspapers are firing staffs) find a new revenue stream. She came up with the concept of the cartoons on this post, too.

I sat through a pitch she gave to a Sand Hill VC (got turned down) and saw first hand how tough it is to raise capital and start a business. It’s hype to say that it’s easy, even in today’s world where a lot IS getting funded. Last Friday I had lunch with Paul Matteucci, who is a partner at USVP. He told me they looked at about 300 businesses over the past year and funded less than 10.

Anyway, Dawn thinks she can make a business out of charging people for using cartoons. I think that might work in some limited situations (I’d be happy to pay $10 a month to be able to use cartoons like the one below on my blog) but I’m a weirdo, as Jason Calacanis told Loic Lemeur in a podcast about his new search engine.

Truth is, advertising is still the best choice for a new business like this. But how to do it? Google’s AdSense usually around only $.50 to $2.50 CPM (payment per thousand page views). Getting 1,000 people to visit your site is actually pretty tough as any Z list blogger will tell you and that’ll only get you $.50 in advertising. So, the numbers of people you have to get to visit your site to build a business is daunting. Cartoonists, she tells me, aren’t willing to do it for free. They want to get paid up front. That’s going to prove difficult.

I keep pointing her to Hugh Macleod who DOES give his cartoons away for free. He got so popular that now companies are willing to pay for him to draw cartoons for them. To me that’s the way to build a business, it seems. Give away something for free to get people to come and buy something else from you. But, we can talk about that another time.

She reminds me a lot of Zooomr’s founder. Idealistic and doesn’t exactly speak the language that the VC’s in the valley speak (they like to see Web 2.0 business plans that have a good chance to get to 10 million users in three years, with a good monetization strategy). I like that idealism of helping people move their work online and get paid for it (Zooomr is going to let people sell photos too). The VC’s, though, are skeptical. One I talked with yesterday about Zooomr said that Corbis and Getty hadn’t made much money selling photos, so he doesn’t think that a new model will be viable. I disagreed, pointing out that there were tons of wedding photographers who could never sell their wares on those bigger sites. But, anyway, demonstrates just how tough it is for some entrepreneurs to get funded.

Would you be willing to pay for cartoons? Especially to put on your blog, Facebook, MySpace, etc? If so, how much?

Photos from my Nokia…

My Flickr’s account is back. Zooomr is back too.

Flickr’s problems look like my own ineptitude in keeping my addresses up to date. Still needed to contact Yahoo’s tech support and have them send me a new password (I couldn’t do it from the Web site cause my address’s zip code was different than I remembered it).

Anyway, thanks to Heather Champ who helped out too.

In the meantime, the photos I just uploaded to both services are ones I took over the weekend with my Nokia N95.

Zooomr is a little slow, but check it out. Kristopher needs some traffic to optimize the servers. More on the challenges still facing Zooomr tonight. The chat room has been a lot of fun to hang out in, though.