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Odeo Gets “Bought”, Vox Goes Live

Odeo’s Buyback Rodeo
Yesterday the news came down that Odeo (the fun little podcast startup) is shifting gears bigtime and transitioning to greener pastures and bigger/better things. In what’s got to be the most interesting “Web 2.0″ industry story of the past few weeks, Ev Williams used (I estimate) a few million dollars of his own money to buy back the shares he originally sold to VCs when the company started. Now, Odeo.com is owned by Ev’s new company Obvious Corp. and he’s psyched because he now has the control he wants to experiment and produce services that don’t have to be tied down by his investors’ wishes. Damn, if that doesn’t show Ev’s enormous conviction then I don’t know what does. I’m excited to see what Odeo morphs into and what new products they’ve got coming. It just goes to show that as soon as the investors come in, your control goes out, and Ev wanted it back.

Update: Investor Mark Evans posts his thoughts and I think he misses the point completely, saying that the reason it happened is because the VCs had little interest in Odeo and that they were low on money or about to run out. Mark, this isn’t Ev trying to save a sinking ship, it’s him using 7 figures of his own money to buy back control and do what he wants to do, not what his investors think will make the best exit strategy. My comment over there goes into a little bit more detail.

VoxVox… You Know… For The MySpace Kids
Wednesday also marked the non-beta launch of Vox.com, Six Apart’s new blogging-photo-video tool that not-really-but-yeah-it-kinda-does compete with another Six Apart product, TypePad. Vox is billed as “a free personal blogging service for sharing your experiences with friends and family” but it’s definitely 6A’s product that hopes to allure MySpace users, the kind that have been sharing songs, pictures, and video for awhile now.

I’m not sure exactly why 6A chose to create a totally new product rather than just give TypePad a Vox-like makeover, but maybe Vox is based on a totally new codebase which is something that TypePad desperately needs. As a previous TypePad customer I was constantly frustrated by the slowdowns associated with the service — by the end it took nearly 30 seconds for the stats page to load up, 1 minute to list my recent entries, etc. etc.

I do like Vox from a design and interaction point of view as it’s very well polished, but I just have to wonder what Six Apart is really trying to do here. Their Movable Type publishing software that was the Big Man On Campus just a few years ago is now all but eclipsed by open source WordPress and the thousands of free themes that are offered. TypePad, their once-novel hosted blogging service, now goes up against WordPress.com which offers similar features, greater reliability, and a better price tag of “completely free” which usually makes people happy. Now they release Vox which is positioned up against MySpace and Facebook for the “create your own space on the web, put happy shit in there, meet new people” social publishing/networking niche. In case they haven’t noticed, MySpace is already a noun (“Hey have you got a MySpace?”) and I suspect a lot of paying TypePad users will be defecting to free Vox, so they’re 1) taking on MySpace, and 2) losing their own customers?

Vox is a very cool service but its positioning within the 6A lineup just isn’t clear to me yet. Here’s how I wish 6A’s product lineup looked:

  • A free version of Movable Type (or another app) that is as easy to theme as WordPress, can import/export blog entries flawlessly for easy switching, and can easily switch to dynamic publishing without any hassles.
  • A “Pro” version of Movable Type that has the features listed above but can also have modified data fields to store/output anything you want and a publishing workflow system built-in, aka, a mini CMS.
  • No TypePad, just Vox. Give Vox the same capabilities as TypePad and implement a paid tier that lets you drop your own CSS and templates in. Free for regular users, power users pay $10/mo or something.

It’s nice to dream :)

About Mike Rundle

Comments

  1. seanrox says:

    Evan Williams has an interesting history in the technology World. I did a pretty in depth post about him back on July 14, 2006.

    The cliff notes version, he has a ton of cash from selling Blogger to Google back in 2003 and also from Twttr.com, so it was easy for him to buy back shares from the VC’s.

    It will be interesting to see if he once again sells off another brain child of his.

    You have a pretty detailed post here. I could go on and on but I don’t want to leave a comment the size of a post ;) but one other thing I did want to touch on is Vox and Six Apart.

    I agree that they should be adding features to their Movable Type publishing software or even Livejournal. I’m still a little sideways that Brad sold to SixApart. I was on the development team with LJ was Open Source. So many features were in the works and they got moth balled.

    Anyway, great post and insite… I’m moving along now :)

  2. Jackson says:

    I don’t agree that Vox and TypePad are competing against each other. There are a large number of professional and corporate users on TypePad, and for them Vox would be a terrible choice. I totally agree that TypePAd could learn a lot from Vox, but I see Vox as a replacement/sidekick for LJ.

  3. Mike D. says:

    seanrox: That’s about the least “in-depth” post I’ve ever seen. Also, no money has been made has been made from twttr.com.

    The bottom line in all of this, to me, is something I’ve said since the beginning of “podcasting”: there’s not as much money in it as people think. There’s room for plenty of people to make a few bucks and express themselves, and a few tech companies to enable this, but it’s not a billion dollar business for 99.9% of the world.

  4. seanrox says:

    Hi Mike.

    Ultra-technically you’re correct in that I could have gone into more depth with my post but it does cover the important points about Evan Williams making a nice chunk of change from who he’s worked with or who he’s sold off his various projects too which is why I referenced it in my comment.

    I agree with you that there isn’t a ton of money to be made in podcasting unless you are in the 1% like you mention but from what I know and have read about Evan, he isn’t hurting for money, so buying back the shares he originally sold to VCs isn’t a big deal… unless he’s blown his cash from the previous deals?! Who knows for sure.

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