Weblogs.com Sold, Ping Outlook Bleak

Verisign, which does not have a particularly good history in the blogosphere, has purchased Weblogs.com. This leaves Ping-O-Matic as the only large-scale and independent ping relay service left. (Blo.gs was sold to Yahoo earlier in the year.) I can definitely see why Dave did this, he has probably found as I have that keeping up with the spammers exploiting the service requires a fair amount of daily effort, and I’m sure he has more interesting things to work on. People have been talking about this for months now, and while I was skeptical before I suppose it shouldn’t come as too big a surprise.

I’ve been trying to pin down in my mind why this deal just feels sketchy, like when you find out that nice girl you went to school with is engaged to the class bully. It just doesn’t feel like a healthy, long-term relationship. When blo.gs was sold to Yahoo it was an open-source and technically robust service being supported by a growing company full of smart people who really get the Web. The transition of blo.gs has had some bumps along the way, but it’s obvious that Yahoo is operating it for its intrinsic value to their other services, not trying to move their bottom line or impress investors with the buzzword “blog” in their next quarterly report. (Look at how all the press is saying things about RSS, even though it is only tangentially connected with RSS. Not an accident.) Weblogs.com is an older service that has stagnated for a while being lost to a company with a history of evil and a declining business with plans to embrace, extend, and monetize what should be a public service.

We should have been better prepared for this. Earlier in the year Verisign had the Boston Consulting Group calling people in the space trying to pick their brains, while at the same time refusing to reveal who they were working for. (Shady.) The “real time web” group also took me to dinner at one point and outlined their view for a “value-added” ping ecosystem (with Verisign in the middle, of course). Every major content producer and every company relying on the ping stream should be very worried about this move.

Other people have gotten so frustrated with the ping mess they’ve abandoned the existing ping community and standards and decided to produce their own feeds in a corner and let everybody come to them. In a format different from the over-hyped Feedmesh, no less, and with no discussion on that group. (As an aside, if the Livejournal stats match what their front page says, which looks like it would be 5-15 pings per second, that would be well within the means of Ping-O-Matic to handle in addition to its current load.) The state of the ping community is fairly bleak

What do we need to keep a BigCo from exploiting this space? A free, open, non-profit, and stable alternative supported by a consortium of organizations who understand that value should be built on top of pings, not in front of them. Ping-O-Matic is not this today, though the seeds of it are there in the servers and services Textdrive and Technorati to make the service 1000% more reliable than it was. Getting competing services to work together is never easy, but I fear if we don’t Verisign is going to successfully exploit the situation.

28 thoughts on “Weblogs.com Sold, Ping Outlook Bleak

  1. I know exactly what you mean about dating the class bully. Like, man, couldn’t there be a nicer company to sell to?

    On the other hand, I have to say that anyone offering $2M would be awefully tempting especially if there were not other competing offers (I don’t know if there were or not…)

    Dave is like the grand poo-ba, openly sharing a lot of stuff, quietly doing things in the background. Gotta give him some props for starting the ping ecosystem (I believe…) and for… selling out when the opportunity arose.

    BTW, ping-o-matic rocks and I really like the direction you’re thinking of going with it. Though, what if someone offered you $2M for it? Like, couldn’t it be built again after you sold it to BigCo? Dunno…

    Keep up the great work.

  2. I don’t think anyone can really blame Dave for taking the money, it’s understandable. Also like you said, he got this whole thing started. There have been some non-trivial monetary offers for Ping-O-Matic, but they’ve all been turned down. I want to get it under a formal non-profit so that’s not even a temptation any more.

  3. The infrastructure is already there for the replacement, the hardware is installed and provided by pretty much all ISPs in existence, we just haven’t taken advantage of it.

    What’s wrong with Usenet? Register alt.weblogs.pings or whatever, define a standard format for the ping, and instead of submitting an HTTP request to ping, send an RFC 2822 message to your ISP’s server. They take care of the propogation, all listeners have to do is read the newsgroup from their ISP’s news server.

    There is no need to rely on a centralised service when a decentralised one has been operating for decades. It’s not even difficult – pretty much every language in existence can read and write RFC 2822 messages, it’s just email.

  4. I wouldn’t play it this way Matt (and I didn’t of course).

    Set the expectations high, give them the chance to do a good job for the blogosphere, and at the same time, make sure that a route-around is in place if it becomes a problem. And get to know Mike Graves before you start out this way. He’s a solid guy, I’ve known him for almost 20 years (he was at Acius working for Guy Kawasaki in the 80s). And I don’t think Verisign’s track record is any more spotted than the companies that are consuming the feeds produced by weblogs.com, none of whom ever offered to help with the free service, I might add. Pretty shitty community if you ask me. Did you notice that I was never invited to the feedmesh meetings? I did. I wonder why.

    Anyway, weblogs.com isn’t, in the state it is currently in, a solution to anyone’s problem, it can only get better. It was very good as a bootstrap for the blogging world in the late 90s and early 2000’s, but it’s got to be run by an entity with the resources and ability to command respect among the tech companies it serves. Yahoo didn’t offer anything for weblogs.com, never called me, so I don’t think they’re such great guys like you do, btw. But it’s getting better, I think. We’re all just beginning to wake up to the idea that we need to be cooperative, I’m still here, and happy to help.

  5. One more thing, I don’t think it’s cool to throw these kinds of rocks while ping-o-matic is only a non-profit in your mind. At this point, you’re a competitor of theirs. You’re a class act Matt, this isn’t the right way to play it even if you are a non-profit.

  6. Dave, when I read Matt’s post, I saw nothing but understanding on his part towards your actions. Why are you taking it as a personal attack? It’s quite clear that Matt’s concern lies with Verisign’s motives, not with attacking you, and yet you come back with insults. No wonder Feedmesh people, Yahoo, et al prefer to keep their distance from you. Your claim that you are “happy to help” sounds completely insincere when it comes directly after lobbing “shitty community” remarks around.

    Please, read this:

    “Odds are that they probably didn’t set out to offend you on purpose, so try taking a deep breath and counting to a nice high number if you feel a rising sense of offense. If, after this calming break, you still feel you must say something, e-mail the poster directly (and not on the list) to explain your feelings calmly, reasonably, and above all clearly without attacking them. They may be unaware of the effect of their words, so this is your chance to educate them.”

    http://www.meyerweb.com/eric/css/discuss/info.html#offensensitivity

    The world isn’t out to get you, Dave.

  7. Dave,

    Yahoo offered to help back around the time you stopped hosting a bunch of blogs on weblogs.com. I still remember discoving that I already had your number on my cell phone when I went to make that call.

    Jeremy

  8. I didn’t take anything here as an attack, far from it — people have been very gracious and I certainly appreciate that. What I said stands at face value, it doesn’t require an explanation, at least I don’t think so.

    Jeremy, I appreciated the offer at the time, hosting the blogs wasn’t the issue this time around, as you know blo.gs does something altogether different from what we were talking about then, as does weblogs.com.

  9. If that’s the case, then I retract my remarks and apologise. I hope, however, you can see that it’s not unreasonable to reach my conclusions based upon what you wrote though (“throwing rocks” in particular).

  10. Right. We discussed both.

    We first offered to help with the weblog hosting (since that was the big deal that made CNet and had a lof of folks angry) and you said that was already covered. Then we talked about helping with the ping server, but you said it wasn’t necessary and mentioned that other folks have offered at various times to buy it. We weren’t looking to do that, though–just help keep it running.

  11. Jeremy, I don’t want to argue with you about this, esp not here and now — and it’s not really a big point. I find these kinds of things are much better discussed face to face, maybe next time I come down to Yahoo we can meet and talk about this and other things.

    Jim, the rocks were being thrown at Verisign.

  12. “One more thing, I don’t think it’s cool to throw these kinds of rocks while ping-o-matic is only a non-profit in your mind.”

    It’s not just in our minds, it’s non-profit in reality. Just not in the legal sense. Though, as Matt said, we’ve had offers before, and we came close to taking one of them. But so far, Ping-O-Matic has never made any money for either Matt or me.

    Oh, and I’ve never been invited to a feedmesh meeting either. Though, even if I had been, I’m sure I couldn’t have gone anyhow, unless somebody else was footing the bill for my travel, lodging, and time off from my day job. I’d love to be able to attend events like SXSW, Web 2.0, Foo Camp, or whatever the cool gathering of the week may be. But I’m not going to fault anybody because they don’t invite me.

    And I don’t think that Matt faults you for taking the money. If somebody made us an offer like that for PoM, I think we’d be hard-pressed to turn it down, no matter who the buyer was. Sometimes I think that high ideals are reserved for people whose bills are already paid 🙂

  13.  
    …Getting competing services to work together is never easy, but I fear if we don’t Verisign is going to successfully exploit the situation.
     

    …Or as it now turns out, it will be eBay. Get your Skype phone ready for bargaining.

  14. Whether we have an “independent” ping service almost seems beyond the point when both Dave and Matt are talking about the ping spam problem they have experienced. I’m actually surprised any the open ping servers are surviving. If they are open to anyone to ping, a small number of people will abusively ping for marketing gains.

    We’ve had 10 years of history knowing this with web search. Web search engines could long ago have had instant add facilities. Indeed, Infoseek and AltaVista even did for a short period of time. They found that without barriers, a small number of people would flood them with garbage. That’s why they don’t take content in rapidly. It’s not that they aren’t smart enough to take pings or let website owners flow content in. Instead, it is that they’ve learned you can’t leave a wide door open like that without being abused.

    There’s absolutely no reason for anyone to have assumed that RSS/blog/feed search services were going to be immune to the same problem. If the ping outlook is bleak, it’s not because Verisign or Yahoo has purchased some service. It’s because you simply can’t leave doors open on the web like this for search, not for any search that’s going to attract significant traffic. Blog search is gaining that traffic, and you can expect the spam problem will simply get worse and worse until some barriers are put into place. You also cannot expect that you’ll simply come up with some algorithmic way to stop ping spam. Again, 10 years of web search engines diligently trying to stop spam has simply found it’s a never ending arms race.

    I don’t know what the solution is. I suspect that for the major search players, the Googles & Yahoos, they’ll eventually move to a combination of rapid crawling, trusted pings and open pings as a backup. Remember, they get news content very fast. If they have a set of trusted sites, they can spider and hammer those hard. They’ll know to keep checking Boing Boing, Scripting and maybe 1,000 other major blogs that really, really matter — and that when you check them, you quickly discover other links from blogs you may want to fetch quickly.

    They’ll also likely let people enroll to provide trusted pings. Sign-up, tell me who you are, and I’ll take your pings in and nab you hard if you abuse me. Maybe, maybe Yahoo and Google might also redistribute their trusted ping feeds, but I sort of doubt it. They don’t share web crawling data, so I ultimately think they’d see it as competitive.

    Yahoo, Google, Technorati and so on — any of the major blog services you care about, they’re likely to go trusted. After that, then they might continue to take pings from a third party server. And maybe Matt or Verisign will struggle onward to not put some barriers in place as part of being a third party. Then again, maybe you’ll better survive if you do.

    Put it this way. It would be a very nice world if there was a store where people could walk in, take what they want and leave the right amount without having to have checkout stands. But that’s not reality. Nor is it the web. If you leave things open, you’re going to get abused. Web search tells you that. Email tells you that. Even Wikipedia tells you that, since you have to have others in the system constantly policing. Pings aren’t some protected world where abuse won’t happen. It will, it does, and that abuse seems a far larger problem. If people are abandoning the “ping community” and “standards,” it’s no surprise since the real surprise is that open pinging has even survived this long.

  15. My concerns (blogged) more or less coincide with Matt’s. Danny’s analysis make a lot of sense, but I think is overly pessimistic, and mostly focussed on a different issue, I think spam is a red herring, introduced to make VeriSign’s actions more community-friendly. I could be completely wrong in second-guessing, but their history suggests they prefer central control (and profit) over anything to do with community.

    Let me try an analogy. Imagine weblogs.com as a reservoir. People have volunteered the outlets of their little private streams (pings) into that reservoir because they know they can get water for their crops from it – exposure for their blogs, access to 3rd party news tools and so on. The spam problem is analogeous to people polluting the reservoir from upstream. The VeriSign issue is someone buying the whole reservoir, and gaining the ability to pipe the clean water where they like.

    Remember that weblogs.com has no value in itself except for what pingers – bloggers – put into it. Given that VeriSign have also bought Moreover, it seems likely that they’ll want to use the freshest water themselves, the community just getting the overflow (maybe delayed pings, maybe dirty, spammy water).

    Matt’s right to criticise the Feedmesh group for what’s happened so far, but I think opening that up fully is the best chance open ping has. There *are* ways of tackling spam, Wikipedia demonstrates that it can be done socially, there are lots of ways it can be reduced using machine learning algorithms and the like. Open the pings up to the community, let the community fix the bugs.

    Basically Matt got it in nutshell: “What do we need to keep a BigCo from exploiting this space? A free, open, non-profit, and stable alternative supported by a consortium of organizations who understand that value should be built on top of pings, not in front of them.”

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