A lonely planet for newspapers. As newspapers world wide bleed money, often the first luxury to go is foreign correspondents. But what do newspapers do when they have no one on the ground in a foreign land and desperately need an Australian angle to supplement their recycled wire coverage? They turn to the forums of the travel guide publisher Lonely Planet, as did The Herald Sun on April 13, when they posted to this thread:

Are you an Aussie in Bangkok at the moment and want to briefly speak to the Herald Sun in Melbourne about yourself and the situation there? Email us now with your name and phone number and we’ll give you a call back… kap!

[email protected]

To be fair, at least they are trying to value add to the wire feed, their competitors at Fairfax often don’t bother.

Don’t follow our leader. Amazon suffered the ultimate dog’s breakfast over the Easter break when they failed to adequately respond to the mysterious disappearance of gay and lesbian books from their sales lists. The story first gained attention on Twitter Saturday (all times US) and by Sunday was a full blown Twitter storm. It took until Monday in the United States for Amazon to finally come up with an adequate answer, but only after the damage was done, and the story had gained widespread mainstream media coverage.

The big question is why weren’t they monitoring Twitter so they could have dealt with this before it got out of hand? There’s a good case for all large companies to monitor Twitter, but you can understand the occasional one that isn’t. Amazon however has no excuses: one of the biggest investors in Twitter is Amazon founder, Chairman and CEO Jeff Bezos through his Bezos Expeditions fund.

Twitter Twitter Twitter Twitter Twitter. In case you’ve been living in a cave, or don’t read your daily Crikey emails (or read News.com.au or the Fairfax sites) Twitter is hot at the moment. Twitter has its redeeming qualities, but the coverage has become way over the top, spawning a tech version of celebrity tabloid coverage.

Among a dozen leading Twitter related stories Thursday was one that at least for serious tech coverage pushes new boundaries: Ashton Kutcher (husband of actress Demi Moore) vs CNN in a quest to be the first to have 1 million followers. This morning the coverage had switched to Oprah joining Twitter and Ted Turner endorsing Kutcher’s effort to be the first to 1 million. I’ve spoken to a number of writers in the tech space, and they all say the same thing: Twitter coverage has gone overboard, and unless it’s a serious story (like Amazonfail) they’re passing on them.

It is easy to sit back and snark, but blogs and sites like news.com.au wouldn’t be covering Twitter if they thought they wouldn’t get traffic from the coverage. The bubble though can’t last for ever.

eBay buys and sells. eBay has taken a hammering over the last 12 months, at a time that people wanting to offload items cheaply and quickly are thick on the ground. A botched implementation of a new fee structure saw Amazon become a bigger marketplace for the first time (Amazon also supports third party sales), and power sellers flood to other sites.

Also dragging eBay down was their interesting purchases of internet voice service Skype, and social page sharing site StumbleUpon during the peak of the boom. Unlike the acquisition of Paypal in 2002, neither service offered real synergies to eBay’s core business.

StumbleUpon this week is no longer an eBay subsidiary, having been purchased by a consortium of StumbleUpon’s founders and venture capital firms. The purchase price was not disclosed, but is believed to be less than the US$75 million eBay originally paid to acquire it.

The founders of Skype attempted to buy back the company, but with less success. eBay is believed to have rejected an offer considerably less than their US$2.6 billion original acquisition cost, but higher than $1 billion. Instead eBay has announced that it will float Skype as a separate company in 2010. But like a good member, eBay itself buys and sells. eBay has taken a stake in South Korean online retailer Interpark Corp for US$350 million.

Touche Mr Rudd. The NBN from the beginning never made sense financially. $5,000+ a connection, assumptions that most Australian’s would sign up, and even at 50% of Australian’s signing up, costings of $150/ mth and even more to cover the cost of the rollout that Malcolm Turnbull rightly pointed out would mean that the NBN would need to deliver a bigger profit than Telstra.

But what if it was all a huge ruse? The theory that started on blogs and made its way to the media suggests that the NBN was Rudd and company attempting to push Telstra into a corner, from which they’d have no choice but to roll over and play ball.

The remarkable thing is that Telstra is doing exactly that. The Oz reported on Tuesday that Telstra will consider a voluntary separation of its wholesale and retail arms, and that it would consider selling its existing fibre network to the NBN. In context, that’s 2.5 million connections available now, not by the 2018 date the NBN was striving for, connections that at least in Melbourne (1 million connections) were priced at $300 million to upgrade to the NBN spec of 100mmbs. Delivering structural separation of Telstra’s network could deliver cost savings by increasing competitive access to Telstra’s copper network and related infrastructure.

Could the NBN be the biggest bluff in Australian political history? If it is, the Rudd Government will go down with Joe Hachem (Australian world poker champion) as the best card players Australia has ever had. We still need to sort out the censorship issue, but credit where due.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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