Has Dotcom missed his moment?
Has Kim missed his moment?
Dotcom might be on the front foot in his legal battle with the US and NZ governments - but the wrangle might have already cost him too much time, and content support, as he pursues new projects.
2014 is shaping up as a big year for the giant German in a number of areas.
In March, the High Court will hear his $6 million damages suit against the GCSB and Police over the bungled January 2012 raid on his rented mansion.
August could see his extradition case finally get underway.
And at some point he’s pledged to launch the Internet Party which, although targeting his nemesis John Key, could end up chipping a vital couple of percent off the Labour-Greens vote (no wonder Russel Norman visited Dotcom late last year in a bid to talk him out of launching the party).
But beyond those dramas, how is Dotcom going on the product front?
Megaupload was huge. Dotcom and the FBI both talk up its size (albeit for different reasons), but there seems little doubt it was one of the world’s top 20 sites. It was a key player popularising the concept of an online locker for storing and sharing files.
Last year, on the first anniversary of the raid, Dotcom launched Mega.
Where Megaupload was a leader, Mega has been a follower in a number of areas, slowing plugging feature gaps (mobile apps, desktop sync, sharing business files) that, at launch, made it look so basic next to the likes of Dropbox.
Mega does have two big advantages.
One is its 50GB of free storage. That’s why I signed on, after getting frustrated at the miserable 5GB to 7GB offered by Dropbox, Apple, Microsoft etc (all offer more storage with various product bundles and promotions. I have a paid, 80GB Google Drive account as my main personal cloud, but don’t want to have all of my eggs in one basket).
However, I suspect this advantage is fleeting. We’ve already seen Yahoo offer a terabyte (1000GB) for Flickr users. And if Microsoft cloud division boss Satya Nadella becomes the company's new CEO, as rumoured, look for a lot more action on that front. It's coming from all contenders anyway.
Mega also encrypts your files. Personally, I don’t particularly care if Uncle Sam – or Uncle John – snoops on photos of my cat. And in fact it’s an annoyance in that the encryption means you can’t choose a simple reset if you forget your password – forgetting it means losing all your files [UPDATE: Google has added encryption to its mass market Drive service].
Still, I can see why it’s a draw to many in this age of well-justified paranoia. It will prevent fishing-expedition snooping, if not hide all your stuff in Swiss Bank Account fashion (Mega says it will comply with the law. Numerous copyright-violating files have been removed from the service; Mega says it’s more proactive than others on this front).
And if Mega launches encrypted email, as it’s promised, I can see that having equally strong appeal – although Dotcom will also have to convince users he can rebuff back-door requests from intelligence authorities in NZ and around the world while still staying within the law.
It’s harder to see a place for Dotcom’s music service Baboom, which soft-launched January 20 – or rather no-launched, offering his Good Times for download or streaming, but no other content, and no buy option.
The actual launch is promised for ‘late 2014” (or mid-2015 in Web Developer time).
But is there a place for a service that Dotcom describes as a cross between iTunes an Spotify? We already an iTunes and a Spotify (and indeed most services now offer both streaming and download/buy options – as iTunes does in the US with iTunes Radio).
Baboom will also offer a plug-in that substitutes its own ads as you surf other sites on the web. Install it, and you’ll qualify to get some songs for free. I’m not sure of the appeal of this feature. I buy songs from iTunes and Google Play, but when I want one “free” I just search for it on Spotify to hear it streamed (and of course man are still Torrents to download services for free). And many won’t want to install an invasive plug in.
But perhaps the biggest problem for Baboom will be content. These days, record labels tend to spray their content everywhere. Any new download or streaming service quickly builds a library of millions of tracks as the record companies and the big content aggregators come onboard. But given the bad blood, it's hard to see the likes of the multinationals letting any of their artists list on Baboom.
Down the track, Dotcom has promised MegaMovie, which would see the Baboom model applied to video content.
Again, he's got to get his skates on. Again, using an ad substitution plugin to supply a degree of free content will hold a degree of appeal, but established over-the-top services like Netflix (soon to launch in Australia, by all accounts ... getting closer) are gaining momentum. Netflix is cheap, all-you-can-eat and offers a good range of content.
On the download front, the likes of Apple iTunes and Amazon Prime offer a great range of TV series and films (not in NZ admittedly, but we're an exception in the global market MegaMovie will play in). But it's hard to see film studios lining up to sign content deals with a Dotcom venture. Rightly or wrongly, they hate him.
Dotcom is quite correct the Hollywood studios have to do more online. But they are no longer slouches online (the Sky-dominated NZ market excepted). Online options have proliferated since Dotcom first talked up MegaMove three years ago. And when the studios do more online, it won't be with Kim.