Picks, Pans and Passes


Since there were so many interesting developments this week, we thought we'd
summarize some of them and grade them as either a "pick" (thumbs up), "pan" (thumbs down) and "pass" (it is what it is):

Someone at the Associated Press is one step closer to sainthood for signing an agreement with Google whereby Google will not only pay for AP content, but limit the way it uses it as well. Admittedly, there is precedent for Google licensing some limited amounts of content it couldn't easily spider, but this AP deal goes to the heart of Google's core business practices, and should help create some much-needed space between the terms "fair use" and "free use." This deal's a pick.

InfoUSA announces it is going to acquire Opinion Research Corporation, a major market research organization. It characterizes the deal as "compelling" and "strategic," but is short on specifics other than extolling putative cross-selling opportunities. The backdrop to this deal is an ongoing, public feud with a major shareholder over financial performance and management issues, and a recently negotiated standstill agreement with the company's founder who makes periodic noises about taking the company private. Who says it's dull in Omaha? Is this acquisition a good deal for infoUSA? Possibly. Is it a compelling and strategic deal? Sorry, no, and on that point we rate this one a pan.

Major League Baseball got shaken out of its fantasy world by a federal judge who told the organization that, no, it did not have the right to prohibit others from using the names and performance statistics of major league baseball players. Apparently, the Major League Baseball Players Association struck out on this case by not properly taking into account such inconveniences as the first amendment and the Supreme Court's decision in Feist. When data ownership claims move into the realm of silliness, they hurt even those seeking more modest protections for their data, which is why we rate this decision a pick.

TheStreet.com announced the acquisition of Weiss Ratings from Weiss Group Inc. Weiss Ratings, a 2004 Models of Excellence award winner, provides performance ratings on over 16,000 mutual funds and 6,000 stocks. It also rates the financial strength of more than 13,000 financial institutions. Weiss did a remarkable job building a ratings business from scratch, against a pack of strong and established competitors, but with the buzz from its often-controversial ratings starting to fade, it needed a second act to maintain visibility. What better partner than TheStreet.com, no stranger to using controversy to get attention, with a huge base of loyal investors, and a need to differentiate itself from other consumer investment sites. Now here is "compelling" and here is "strategic." This one's a pick.

Google's recently released white paper designed to smack down growing claims of click fraud qualifies as a white paper largely because it can be easily printed on white paper. With its j'accuse tone, it was designed to shoot down the methodologies of several click fraud detection services. Yet to make its case, Google repeatedly relies on such compelling proof statements as "their records don't match ours" and "yes it was fraud, but we didn't charge the advertiser for it." In response to one case where the same person appeared to visit an advertiser's site three time in the course of ten minutes, Google simply informs us that this is normal comparison shopping behavior. Well, with that kind of documentation, we know we will all be sleeping more easily. Despite making some valid points, you would think a huge corporation with so much at stake could have done a better job than this, which is why we rate it a pass.

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