The Internet Services Puddle

What Ray Ozzie’s strategic memo really says.


Ever the master of public relations, Microsoft has always been able to figure its way out of a tight spot with the use of a judiciously leaked memo.

Remember when AOL merged with Netscape back in 1998? Time to take a leak. Remember 2000, when Symbian was stealing the thunder from Microsoft’s cellphone strategy? Time to take a leak. Remember when the antitrust settlement talks had hit a sticky patch? Time to take a leak. Remember when Microsoft’s security woes finally became an issue? Time, once again, to take a leak.

The purpose of these releases is to bolster morale and focus the staff – Microsoft always seems to need a No.1 Enemy – and inform the press that it’s on the case.

(The memos Microsoft doesn’t want you to read such as this one and these two, are always more entertaining and enlightening.)

And so it goes. We know you’re very busy people, so in the spirit of the excellent 500-word “digested reads” offered by some of our better newspapers, we give you the précis of the latest Gates and Ozzie memos.

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Web 2.0: It's … like your brain on LSD!


My invitation to define Web 2.0 – Tim O’Reilly was clearly struggling – biggest postbag at The Register, ever: five a minute for 24 hours. You’ll see from the suggestions that even before most people had heard the buzzword, they already knew what it portended: a consultancy racket.

See the original here, and the many witty entries here.

The Blooker Prize: small pieces, partially digested

The Bible, for example, was originally produced as a scroll
– Cory Doctorow

Some press releases are so simply, staggeringly indescribable, we print them without comment. These are most often related to corporate makeovers or rebranding exercises, which is quite appropriate in this case.

We’ve tried to be faithful to the original’s unique typographical qualities where possible.

And we’d better warn you: there’s a lot of SHOUTING at the start, and odd emphasis throughout – but that’s very much its charm.

So sit tight – and here goes:




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Meg Whitman's $2.6bn spam goof?

“eBay looks less fearsome when you’re upside down,” says the young CEO behind the online auction house’s great Chinese rival Jack Ma. To encourage new hires at his, Ma asks them to perform handstands. Maybe that won’t be necessary for much longer, as eBay is a lot less fearsome – and a lot poorer – after splurging $2.6bn on Skype (and $4bn in total if Skype hits the numbers).

Couldn’t eBay have done something more sensible with $4 billion – like give the money back to its shareholders – or to the Katrina relief fund?

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A Microsoft employee has won the Oscar of bad prose – and no, he isn’t even a weblogger.

Every year the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest honors the best attempts to parody bad fiction. It’s judged by Professor Scott Rice at San Jose State University in California, and is now in its 22nd year.

It’s an impressive achievement, as the bar has been pushed ever higher over the years. For example, it’s hard to imagine anyone topping 2002’s winning submission from Rephah Berg:

On reflection, Angela perceived that her relationship with Tom had always been rocky, not quite a roller-coaster ride but more like when the toilet-paper roll gets a little squashed so it hangs crooked and every time you pull some off you can hear the rest going bumpity-bumpity in its holder until you go nuts and push it back into shape, a degree of annoyance that Angela had now almost attained.

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Are you trying to be funny? If so check [ ] this box

The return of the irony tag

After ten years of the net, few amongst us have yet to realize that computer networks can be a lousy communication medium. Against all the good things that we’ve gained – such as the disappearance of physical distance, traversed by very slow moving postal workers – we must stack up the losses. And top of that list is the fact that most of the delicious ambiguities of language that we enjoy in everyday life simply aren’t conveyed online.

While today’s hive-minded tech evangelists view their digital exchanges as a kind of telepathy, it’s more like a stuttering Morse Code tapped out on a keyboard where the dash key isn’t working.

So all kinds of hilarious misunderstandings ensue. Factor in the frightful earnestness and literalism of some participants, who seem to be disproportionately represented online, and huge swathes of meaning are guaranteed to go undetected.

This is one of our favorite examples.
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MIT invents computer that runs away

MIT has taken the unfriendly computer interface to its natural conclusion: and created a computer that runs away from you.

We’ve all had experiences with user interface elements that run away from us: toolbars in Windows, or the drive icons on the Mac OS X desktop, for example. But “Clocky” goes all the way – it’s an alarm clock that has wheels. If you hit the snooze button, “Clocky” rolls away and hides. To make life doubly difficult, it will try and hide in a new place every day. And if you live in a 1970s sitcom, it poses a third challenge. Since it’s covered in thick brown nylon shagpile carpet, Clocky might never be found. For now, it’s simply described as an “academic” exercise, but a fully-blown fugitive PC can’t be too far away.

Clocky: inspired by kittens
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'We must now embrace the tele-phone' – dotcom pundit

A year ago Intel demonstrated a small contraption that allows people to talk to each other – even if they’re not in the same room, without using wires or string. At the time we saw no possible use for such a device. Dogs, as we know, love fetching sticks – but this seemed to be much too fragile for robust outdoor activity. Intel called this the portable ‘tele-phone’.

But now we must mend our ways, shift our gears, and adjust our paradigms once again – for the concept has received a powerful endorsement from one of the era’s most lauded “thinkers”.
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Hungover CNET wakes up next to

What a night out that was. It must have seemed like a good idea at the time…

On Friday morning CNET woke up to find it was sharing a bed with, and couldn’t quite recollect how the pair of them had got there. We’ve all had nights like this, but yesterday CNET staffers were puzzling over how the mothership found itself tweaked into an improbable and very hastily arranged relationship between two hugely unlikely partners, both apparently lured to sin by the glamor of latest Silicon Valley goldrush: copy-protected music downloads.

Some poor, unwitting business development executive at CNET must be rubbing his forehead this morning, asking himself “what did I do?”

CNET has decided to buy some “specific assets” of the company that Michael Robertson founded in 1998 with the intention of forming a marketplace for the exchange of music. CNET won’t inherit the sprawling archive of music that has accreted there, however. has never been less than a mess, but it does represent a hefty social archive. And at some point (and we shall endeavour to find out who, and where) two drunken business executives decided to flush the chain on the whole lot, and strike a deal. CNET has acquired the domain name, to add to its existing treasures, such as “” and – stop laughing, you folks – “”. The music archive, however, gets it in the neck.

Musicians received this announcement on Friday.

“Your personal information, music, images, related content or other information will not be transferred to CNET Networks, Inc. or any other third party… Please note, however, that promptly following the removal of the website, all content will be deleted from our servers and all previously submitted tapes, CD-ROMs and other media in our possession will be destroyed. We recommend that you make alternative content hosting arrangements as soon as practicable.”

A verbose way of saying, “piss off”…

“It has been a privilege to host one of the largest and most diverse collections of music in the world. wishes to express its sincere thanks to each of you for making our website an important part of your musical journey. We wish you continued success.”

… and, goodbye.

Whoops Acquisition

Not since the Great Leap Forward has there been such a destruction of the commons. Back then, for political reasons, millions of books were burned. Now, for very sensible commercial reasons that we must not question, millions of MP3s will be lost to the commons. You have precisely seventeen days to grab the good stuff (and, Steb Sly – we hope you have a backup)

Punters and musicians alike will have until December 2 to retrieve the goods. After that, the future isn’t too difficult to predict.

CNET will follow Wal-Mart, Real Inc. and Apple Computer into the DRM business, infecting as many computers as they can with restrictive software controls that close what for a brief period has been an open computer platform. They all hope that this tentative business model, the terms of which are set by the entertainment “industry”, will somehow turn them a profit. Or at least give the illusion of doing so, until a better idea comes along.

One such idea is the tremendously popular notion of ‘compulsory licenses’ – a flat rate fee to be levied by some rich nitwit, somewhere (as a society we can choose who and where at our leisure) – but which potentially provides us with free music private sharing and a way of ensuring the creators are recompensed. It’s handicapped with a Stalinist name, right now, but even the libertarian Electronic Frontier Foundation has thrown its weight behind the idea.

And with this war of the ideas imminent, we expect no less than to see some creative disclaimers appear at the end of CNET news stories. Back when Intel invested in the advertiser-friendly portal, CNET used to run disclaimers detailing INTC’s stake (six per cent, if you must know).

Can we expect to see a news stories about music downloads tagged with similar conflict-of-interest disclaimers? There’s something indecent about this prospect and we hope Register readers can formulate it more stylishly and succulently than we can.

Meanwhile, CNET’s acquisition of the domain leaves it with all sorts of delicious headaches, best encapsulated by the great American one-man band Hasil Adkins – familiar to you Cramps fans – who pondered:

I went out last night
And I got hitched up
When I woke up this morning
Shoulda seen what I had in the bed with me.

“This MS Antitrust story was created by a computer program”

Google’s News service is remarkable: and the most astonishing thing about it is that it is generated automatically.

” The selection and placement of stories on this page were determined automatically by a computer program,” says a note at the foot of each page.

But why stop there? Why not use Perl scripts to generate the copy, too? You don’t need messy human wetware – foul drunken journalists – and it’s much more of an “end-to-end” solution, whatever that may be. It could revolutionize the industry, because once you’ve done away with journalists, there’s no need to employ expensive PRs to buy them drinks (or in Apple’s case, “decline to comment”.)

We’ve been secretly testing our own story generator, and here we shall reveal exactly how it works. Google keeps its algorithms and weighting secret – but we’re delighted to share them with the world. But be patient: it’s a work in progress.
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