31 May 2009

In2TV is a shadow of its former self.

I've long thought In2TV was one of AOL's most promising projects. If you've never heard of the site, you're not alone, but it is (was?) a site you could visit to watch classic television programs such as "My Favorite Martian" and "Scooby Doo, Where Are You!" Sounds like Hulu, right? Well, it was indeed like Hulu, except it had different content due to AOL's agreement with Warner Brothers. It was Hulu before Hulu was Hulu, and when it launched it was promoted by a television advertising campaign. That's actually how I found out about the site! Anyway, I've long thought In2TV was a nice complement to Hulu; while Hulu had fewer technical issues and was easier to nevigate, In2TV had content that Hulu didn't. Unfortunately, that just isn't true anymore.

Current visitors to In2TV will find a very plain list of viewable classic shows there. The problem is these are shows you can find on Hulu, Fancast, and other sites online. The unique stuff just isn't there anymore. AOL is still a force in the online video business, but it has increasingly become an aggregator, a site where people can go to find videos that can also be found elsewhere. The (essential) demise of In2TV may have been caused by the expiry of AOL's licensing agreements, but the redundant nature of the site seems to fit well with AOL's overall aggregation strategy. There's no particular reason to go through AOL for your video content, though, unless you're already used to using AOL. The old In2TV had unique content that could actually draw new people in...I don't think the new version has anything to draw people in with. Ultimately, In2TV seems like it will be remembered as a "What if?" site. It could have been where Hulu is today: near the top of the online video world. Why didn't it make it? Maybe it's the Internet's fault...not enough surfers used the darn site. The blogosphere didn't seem to cover the site like they should have; certainly Hulu got far more attention. In2TV was excellent in terms of content while it lasted, though; I really wish many of the old In2TV shows were still available somewhere online. Some of them aren't even available on DVD ("Head of the Class" is one example)!

This hasn't been a very good year for AOL. They've basically killed the three sites of theirs I happened to use the most: XDrive, In2TV, and P&G Classic Soaps. If we accept the giants as equal solely for purposes of this analogy, that would be like Google killing Google Search, Blogger, and Gmail. OUCH! Luckily, my favorite Google sites are more popular than my favorite AOL sites were so hopefully they'll stick around for a while. I may not have any sites left to use before long if the giants keep killing their sites like this, though.

Yahoo 360's long goodbye is finally over.

Yahoo 360 has had a strange history. To this day, many otherwise well-informed web surfers have never even heard of the site which was Yahoo's free blogging platform and early foray into social networking. It never became a notable competitor to Blogger or Wordpress or mySpace or Facebook when pageviews alone are considered. However, it attracted a loyal group of users, including many avid bloggers, who tended to think that 360 was a pretty amazing service. Yahoo didn't quite agree and in fact has been plotting the service's demise for the past couple of years -- someone even had the bright idea that all 360 blogs should be merged into Mash (a more "pure" social networking site) in 2008, but ultimately Mash died before 360 did. Just recently, Yahoo announced when exactly 360 would finally pass away: July 13th, 2009 is the date it will finally leave the Internet forever according to the official blog. I doubt anyone is really surprised that Yahoo is killing the service after the Mash fiasco, but many 360 fanatics still held out hope the service could be saved. Those 360ers always been a rather vocal and opinionated bunch of folks; if you don't believe me, just check out the thousands and thousands of comments on the older posts of the official blog. They have the right to be disgruntled considering that Yahoo is taking away a service they loved and replacing it with another service that is only a partial substitute.

While Mash didn't prove to be the successor to 360, Yahoo is now hoping many of its 360 users will move to its revised Yahoo Profiles service, which does allow blogging in much the same sense that mySpace allows blogging. Based on the 360 blogs I've visited over the years, I tend to think many did use 360 as a social networking tool so it is possible Yahoo will hold on to a good chunk of their more social 360 bloggers. Still, though, I think it's a mistake to to consider blogging synonymous with social networking or a subset of social networking. Google would be insane to try to merge Blogger with Orkut even though more social-type features have been added to Blogger of late; posts about international politics, the insurance industry, and Picasso's paintings just don't belong next to your vital stats and relationship status and I doubt that will ever change. While there are a few decent blogs on mySpace that I've come across, they tend to have a journal type feel to them...they're often deeply personal, and just the sort of thing your friends on a social network would want to read because they care about you personally. You probably wouldn't click over to Doug Dingleberry's mySpace profile to read his blog about the history and culture of southern Germany; you just might click there to read about what's happening in Doug's life, though. Obviously, the line between blogging sites and social networking sites is to a large extent cultural, but it is real for many. I predict that those who had the blogger mentality and used 360 just aren't going to like the social networking feel of Profiles.

What I find myself wondering is why a company like Yahoo ultimately couldn't have separate blogging and social networking platforms. I think their reasoning is partly philosophical -- there seems to be a great drive to consolidate at Yahoo and bring diverse services together under one umbrella: "One profile to rule them all" seems to be the motto. You could argue that that might indeed be rather convenient. Beyond that, I think Yahoo's actions betray the position the company increasingly occupies: they are trying to keep up with an Internet that is changing without their influence. They were late to both the blogging and social networking moves and in 2009 they're still trying to get a foothold in those sectors. When the next big trend hits, Yahoo will probably have to revamp Profiles again and start another site or three to try to get a piece of that new sector. Yahoo could be a highly successful copycat if that's all they want to be, but I think they'll need to stand by their projects more and stop dreaming their perfect copy of another's idea is going to be the next big thing. 360, like some other Yahoo sites, didn't really die of natural causes...it was choked to death by management that just didn't believe in it and thought it a failure.

30 May 2009

Don't let your points expire at the Live Search Club.

I feel a certain twinge of pain after I view my stats page at the Live Search Club, Microsoft's free gaming-with-rewards site. It's not because I'm not proud of my exploits in the various word and other casual games at the Club -- I actually am -- but rather because at the end of my stats page there's a listing that shouldn't be there: Expired Tickets. Since tickets are the basic currency of the site, capable of being exchanged for such items as games, X-Boxes, and Zunes if you have them in sufficient quantities, it goes to figure that expired tickets are like money you can't use anymore. They totally suck, and I've got them. Oops.

A quick glance at the Live Search Club Terms & Conditions reveals what happened to my lovely tickets. Evidently, if you're not active on the site for six months (180 days to be exact), your preexisting points expire. Evidently, I wasn't active there for six months despite my big plans of winning an X-Box from the site. To be honest, that activity requirement is pretty reasonable as far as activity requirements go...I can't believe I went such a long time without playing the games there. It won't happen again, that's for sure, and I hope it won't ever happen to you. If you think you want to quit the site for a while, why not redeem your points for SOMETHING, anything, so they don't get the chance to expire? If I had done that I might at least have had some playing cards or a pen or something instead of all this sorrow and regret. Don't be me, people...use your tickets!

I believe the site is still doing well. There are some new (well, new to me at least...granted, I am expired ticket guy) games that I've been checking out lately...they're not all word games, either. "Discover the World", for instance, is a straight-up geography quiz and a lot of fun, while "Hidden Expedition: Titanic" is a find-the-image type of game that's strangely addicting. Given that Microsoft is going to be rebranding their search once again, I admit I do wonder a bit about the future of the site...but I'm hoping it will stay. It has plenty of good games and is one of the best ways to win (or, really, earn) electronics and other good prizes online -- in a world full of scams, the Live Search Club is a beacon of hope for Internet prize seekers.