HST 1937-2005

I knew the second his picture flashed on CNN "American Morning" that he was gone. I knew the only way that bubbly chucklehead Soledad O’Brien was going to put Hunter Thompson on CNN was if he was dead. The NYT didn’t have the news, so I suffered through a half-hour of banter between the cheery morning hosts because my cable modem was null and void for some reason. Finally the crawl confirmed the news.

 Dr. Gonzo at the Wheel


I met Hunter Stockton Thompson in the Tosca — my favorite San Francisco bar — during the Democratic Convention in 1984. He was drinking heavily with Warren Hinckle, columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, stacking little brandy snifters into a pyramid, keeping score and warning the bartender to leave them alone. I was in my 20s, covering the convention for a New England newspaper. I was too shy to introduce myself and Hinkle was doing a good job warning autograph seekers away, so I plugged some quarters into the juke and selected some opera arias — the only jukebox in America that I know to be filled with arias — and returned to my table. While taking a piss I found myself standing next to the man. "Hey," I said. "Boring convention?"

Mondale was a lock, the most boring man on the planet, and the only excitement was the nomination of Geraldine Ferraro.

"Don’t talk to strangers taking a piss. The vice squad will bust you."

I took his advice and continued to empty my bladder. I was wearing my press pass. A big impressive thing with a holographic on it. He noticed it and asked: "Who you write for?" I told him. He said, "Cow town?"

I’ve never asked anyone in my life for an autograph, but this was my chance. Both Fear and Loathings had scarred me as a teenager, I had to do it.

"May I have your autograph?" "Let me wash my hands first." He toweled off. I handed him a pen, and he signed the pass. I thanked him, he returned to the bar, I returned to my table, and that was that.

The next day Dennis McNally, the publicist for the Grateful Dead, asked me if he could borrow my press pass so he could sneak Jerry Garcia into the Moscone Center. I was worried the Secret Service would confiscate it and screw me out of my ticket, something I didn’t want to explain to my clueless editors back in Massachusetts, but in exchange Dennis offered me backstage passes for the Dead shows at the Greek Theater in Berkeley. That was a great trade and Jerry was very honored to get into the convention wearing a pass that had Hunter’s signature scrawled on it.

I am very sad today. As sad as I was that August day when Jerry took the dirt nap.


Patrick Spain comments

Patrick Spain, the founder of Highbeam, emailed:

Probably the last thing you wanted was another HighBeam person weighing in, but I thought I would anyway and you can ignore it, if its not helpful to you.

Most of the differences in the business models of Factiva and HighBeam are apparent from looking at the sites. I leave you to say what you like about them. Their individual model is an annual fee and then payment on a per article basis. Ours is monthly or annual subscription that provides unlimited access to our resources. I am the first to admit that Factiva has more and deeper sources than HighBeam, though I would question whether most people need or will pay for “perfect” answers rather than just “excellent” ones.

The real difference is that Factiva, at least on its site for individuals, is still selling content. We aren’t. We think the time for selling content online is past. We are selling access to a research environment that has tools, content, and an easy to use interface. If we do it right, you get an excellent answer quickly and easily. Howard Schultz at Starbucks would call this selling the “experience” rather than just the coffee.

Furthermore, we give a lot of the tools and some of the content on HighBeam away for free and support it with advertising. The user base of the free part of our site is many, many times the size of the paying user base. We make money from both.

Another more fundamental difference is that our only focus is to serve the research needs of individuals in a variety of business environments. Factiva sells primarily at the enterprise level. There is a pronounced, yet underreported, shift toward employees purchasing the goods and services that they consume directly from the vendor, rather than through a central corporate purchasing entity. This trend, made possible by the Internet, is most evident in the purchase of travel services, which has almost entirely devolved to individual employees. But it can also be seen in in the information business and the software business. Salesforce.com will sell a single employee a seat at $50 a month.

We think that individuals within companies purchasing exactly what they need, when they need it, is the future. The old model of selling large ticket goods and services to central purchasing entities (many of which are now outsourced or gone altogether) with an expensive direct sales force is increasingly broken. Within this fundamental and irreversible shift lies immense business opportunity.


Patrick Spain
Chairman & CEO
HighBeam Research, Inc.

Testing Highbeam Links

As part of the ongoing discussion between Highbeam and Factiva on the relative strengths of each service, I received some feedback from Highbeam on my earlier recommendation that they integrate into Office 2003’s “research” function so I can search from within Microsoft OneNote.

Highbeam points out that they are integrated, but under an old name, “E-Library”.

I tested a search via Highbeam into the Forbes archives to pull out an old story I wrote in the early 90s about the impact of Internet-based search tools such as WAIS and GOPHER on the professional search market. The search failed, pointing me to an InformationToday article. So I needed to go directly into Highbeam, declare I only wanted to search Forbes, and voila, I hit the piece.

Highbeam gives me an option to link to the article. So, this is a test of that function to see if I can direct readers deep into their archive.

We’ll see if it works.

1. Hmm, it seems to have befuckticated my WordPress style sheet.
2. Removing the link cleared up the problem — a strikethrough of all text on the blog.
3. Let’s see what happens when the link code is restored. Nope it’s messing me up. The link works, but it trashes the CSS template.
4. Okay, time to email Highbeam and ask what’s up.

Here’s the problem


Here’s the code that’s killing me:

Good-bye, Dewey decimals. (Internet and Wide Area Information Servers)

Hmm. Now it works. Ghost in the code of something. The problem probably lies in WordPress then. It’s been flaky recently. Maybe time to upgrade.

Anyway, interested in whether a user other than myself can deep link into Highbeam’s archive and see the fulltext or if they get a come-on. I’ll test from a different, uncookied PC

The Times Buys About.com for About $400 million+

The New York Times Company Investor Relations

Tip of the hat to Rafat — I found this news at paidcontent.org.

Whoa. Active M&A season in the world o’content. First Dow pays a big price for Marketwatch, now the Times snatches up About (nee’ The Mining Company).

I’m not, and never have been, a big fan of About.com. (the guides don’t add that much value and the click-throughs are irritatingly framed) But there’s no fighting the reality that guides have always been a big draw for the masses. They made Scott Kurnit wealthy, and About.com was Tom Rogers big Hail Mary acquisition when he was helming Primedia. How this integrates with the NYT.com and Boston.com hasn’t penetrated my thick skull yet. In any case, it is a big step up to the plate for NYT Digital and signals aspirations far beyond making a buck off of their morgue and ad impressions.

It’s all beginning to feel very 1996 all over again. The interesting thing, Google IPO fever aside, is the action is in the acquisitions, not the offerings. With About.com done, what’s next on the M&A radar?

Forrester Magazine Launches

Forrester Magazine
A tip of the hat to Jimmy Guterman and the staff at Forrester Magazine for their launch this month. I’m proud to be a contributor to the first issue with a piece on Innovation Networks, along with former-Forbes colleague Adam Penenberg and Inside.com co-founder Richard Siklos.

Jimmy and I go back to PC Week in the 80s (when I used Norton Utilities to forge higher scores than his on our shared copy of Tetris), then Forbes.com where he helped us get off the ground with some excellent writing.

Jimmy is a great rock writer, the man who made The Industry Standard’s Media Grok a must-read, and an excellent editor as evidenced by the quality of Forrester Magazine. The debut is an auspicious one and sure to be a hit with its audience. It’s tough to break out of the tech magazine cliche, but this one manages to.

You can follow the link above to request an issue. No ads. Not a party organ for Forrester, just really good technology coverage that breaks out of the tired pack (aside from the obligatory Larry and Sergey photos on the covers).

Daily dump

Assorted mind junk

Some good stuff:

First: John Battelle pointed to O’Reilly’s Make, a new quarterly magazine for the DIY crowd that likes to do things like aerial photography with kites, replace Ipod batteries, and build desktop Gauss rifles. At the sample table of contents I found a series of links to nice stuff like:

Gmail hacks
, a collection of add-ons and plug-ins which make Gmail even better to use. My new favorite gets ride of the annoying systray notifier and puts an icon into the menu of Firefox which shows how many unread messages are waiting in the account.
Gmail notifier

My second link o’ the day is courtesy of Jerry Michalski, who, in a discussion of Wikipedia, linked to a very cool “screencast” demo of how a Wikipedia entry evolved. It was built using Camtasia by Jon Udell at Infoworld. Definitely something I want to check out myself. Camtasia was developed by Techsmith, the same people who developed my favorite screen scraper — SnagIt — and is available for a free trial download. Otherwise it costs $300.

Finally, this winter’s personal obsession has been fixed-gear bicycles. Bikes that have one gear and don’t coast. These are essentially track racing bikes — some don’t even have brakes — and are favored by urban bike messengers. They’re also great winter training tools for racers who use them to build length strength and smooth out their pedalling stroke. Basically you never, ever stop pedalling. Try to stop and it’s like being on a rolling ejector seat.

I built mine out of an old frame and some spare parts and a few new parts ordered from Harris Cyclery in Newton, Mass. The guru there is Sheldon Brown, the man of all things bicycling.

Anyway, fixed-gear is one of those subcultures within a subculture which appeals to my current zen bent towards minimalistic technology. No gears. No brakes. No fancy materials. I like things stripped down to their essence and fixed-gear bikes represent the ne plus ultra of human powered transportation in my opinion.

Here’s a link to a picture of my ride — “The Snotrocket” — at the wonderful Fixed Gear Gallery collection of bike porn.

Lucas Brunelle's NYC Drag Race
For a very cool video of a messenger race down 7th Ave. in Manhattan, check out Lucas Brunelle’s 50 mb flick. It is worth the download and receives my vote for best use of a Guns n’ Roses soundtrack.

Michael Wolff – WSJ.com ceased to be relevant when it charged

Michael Wolff – I Want Media

Michael Wolff — not he of McKinsey’s Media Practice, but the one who wrote Burnrate — spoke at the SIIA summit in NYC at the beginning of the month.

He weighs in on subscription vs. free models:

I think the fact that the Journal felt that it was powerful enough to charge, and for a long time everyone regarded the Journal’s activities online as the ultimate. They had unlocked the puzzle. In fact, I don’t think they did. I think they locked themselves into a puzzle.

While the New York Times on the other hand became this ubiquitous information brand. It became finally the national information brand. And it did this, I think, because it was free. So free is the word. And free is what I want to talk about — free information, which in the media industry is now the topic, the theme. This is the thing that is unavoidable, that everyone has to deal with.

In the mid-90s, Neil Budde (now running Yahoo News) was THE man for subscription models and posed a massive challenge to overcome within Forbes and other publications that were wrestling with the inclination to lock their words down behind a subscription model. “Well the Journal is kicking butt by charging!” was thrown in my face every time I tried to argue that the game was about reach, not subs. I was banging the give-it-away-and-get-massive model and lo and behold Jim Cramer tries to nuke the plan with this 1997 screed.

Dark days indeed when we trying to argue the point that even simple registration was enough of deterrent to cause users to shift to friendlier destinations.

Anyway, now comes Wolff saying that the Journal trashed itself by charging and the Times (which is rumored to be mulling a paid model) went global by being free.

I’m a little surprised the paid vs free debate even lingers in this day and age. My read on the Marketwatch acquisition was it was Dow throwing in the towel and admitting they were leaving a lot of money on the ground by choking their pageview inventory behind the subscription wall at the Journal (which I pay for and have paid for since it launched).

Check out Jack Shafer’s “Unbundle-Rebundle” at Slate to see how the winds of give-it-away are blowing through the newspaper industry.

Bill Gates and other communists | Perspectives | CNET News.com

Bill Gates and other communists | Perspectives | CNET News.com
Richard Stallman responds at Cnet to BillG’s comparison between opensource and commies: “The IETF rejected Microsoft’s protocol, but Microsoft said it would try to convince major ISPs to use it anyway. Thanks to Mr. Gates, we now know that an open Internet with protocols anyone can implement is communism; it was set up by that famous communist agent, the U.S. Department of Defense.”