Bayosphere becomes part of Backfence

Dan Gillmor’s Bayosphere, one of the first sites to try and organize a “citizen journalism” effort — or whatever you want to call it — has been absorbed by Backfence, another attempt at creating a regional user-generated media network. Dan’s effort, while well intentioned and flush with funding from eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and former Lotus Notes inventor honcho Mitch Kapor, didn’t really work very well, and Dan effectively shut it down in January.

He later wrote an excellent overview of what he tried to do and why he thought it failed. Tim Porter also had an interesting analysis of why it failed, and included on his list of things to remember that “community can’t be forced.” In other words, you can’t just set up a nice site and wave a magic wand and create a network of passionate citizen journalists.

Now, Backfence has made Bayosphere one of its regional startup sites, and Dan is now working with the Center for Citizen Media, which he helped set up. But will Backfence have any better luck than Bayosphere did? That remains to be seen. Liz George of Baristanet took a look around in November and said it seemed a little like a ghost town. Backfence — which is also funded by Pierre Omidyar — says it plans to launch several new regional sites and has 100,000 unique visitors a month.


Christine Herron, who works with the Omidyar Network and also blogs at, has a pretty comprehensive list of some of the commentary in and around the blogosphere relating to the Backfence/Bayosphere deal.

Is Google Travel the next to launch?

Just posted something to my Globe and Mail blog about Google’s possible entry into the travel game, which stemmed from a recent post by Russell Shaw over at ZDNet. Seems he noticed an ad on for “Google: Senior Account Executive, Travel Vertical.” Among other things, it said that the successful applicant would:

“Drive new business revenue growth with our Fortune 1000 advertisers in a specified vertical in one or more regions… work collaboratively with your team to grow revenue with new and existing vertical customers [and] utilize strong knowledge of vertical client base and agencies in your region(s) to develop high-level relationships.”

One former travel industry insider told me recently that he figured it was only a matter of time before Google got into the travel game, since it is a classic example of a business in which timely information is the key to getting a good deal — and one in which the travel agents and airlines used to control the information flow. and helped “disintermediate” the industry, and in a sense the entry of Google would just extend that process even further.

“A lot of the value that a reseller adds is shopping around for the best deal, which is to a large extent search — and Google can search the pants off just about anybody,” said this former travel exec. For Google, being a search-engine company doesn’t just mean helping people find websites. It wants to help you find just about any kind of information, anywhere — including in books and real estate.

Against that kind of backdrop, searching for flights and hotels seems like a no-brainer, and Yahoo is already moving in that area with its FareChase service (which the NYT has an article about). Russell says that he thinks Google might strike up a partnership with Orbitz, since Travelocity is partners with Yahoo Travel and Expedia is owned by Barry Diller’s Interactive Corp., which also owns


My friend Stuart MacDonald, an ex-travel guy himself, has these thoughts.

Branded RSS readers or IE 7?

Newsweek has announced a branded version of NewsGator’s RSS feed reader that is designed to make it easier for readers to sign up for and read RSS feeds — including, of course, those from Newsweek itself, which come pre-loaded in the reader. NewsGator is pushing this kind of thing as part of its “private label hosted solution,” a kind of micro-publishing system for “old” media like Newsweek and SFGate, the online arm of the San Francisco Chronicle. There are others out there too, like the downloadable reader application The Guardian has developed, called Newspoint.

While the NewsGator reader seems like a smart move for Newsweek, it’s not clear to me that a branded reader is the way for most people to go. For one thing, as Scott Karp at Publishing 2.0 points out, the version being offered by Newsweek isn’t all that easy for “newbies” to wrap their heads around. Sure, you can read Newsweek feeds, but it doesn’t make it easy to find or add new ones (The Guardian’s app comes with a directory that includes a lot of popular newspaper and media feeds). I know Steve Rubel likes the idea of branded newreaders, but to me that makes it seem even more like a naked attempt by Newsweek to piggyback on the buzz around RSS and get people to read its feeds, without really helping them get any further ahead in terms of understanding how to get anything else.

That’s why — much as I hate to suggest it — Internet Exploder 7.0 might be one of the best ways for RSS newbies to get involved in it. It finds feeds and makes it easy to add them, and then you can see them in a sidebar and read them that way. Scott and some others said when IE7 first came out that the RSS implementation is lame because it isn’t that different from old-fashioned bookmarks, but in a way that’what part that makes it easier for people to get their arms around it, conceptually speaking. Before all you Firefox fans flame me, I know the Fox can do the same thing, but the reality is that most people still use IE and will for the foreseeable future.

Whatever people use, it’s important to find ways of making RSS easier for people other than geeks, or the real advantages of it as a micro-publishing format won’t be achieved. A friend of mine shared with me recently an email from a senior executive from a major retailer asking what RSS was, and why people were suggesting that his company should have some feeds — and even after my friend described what it was for, and how it could help his customers, he still didn’t get it.

In other words, there’s is still much work to be done. Cynthia Brumfield of IPDemocracy has some thoughts too.

Canada’s regulator gets one right

Call it an occupational hazard: being a regulator, the CRTC (the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission”) tends to like to… well, regulate things. Satellite TV and satellite radio are good examples. Why do you have to buy a Canadian XM satellite radio box when the U.S. one receives all the U.S. and Canadian channels? Because of the CRTC. As the office in charge of making sure you listen to enough Bryan Adams and watch enough episodes of Corner Gas, that’s kind of its job.

With that in mind, it was refreshing to see the CRTC deciding not to regulate something, particularly something TV related like television on cellphones. Charles Dalfen, the chairman of the broadcast regulator, said in an interview that “It’s too early stage to want to clamp a regulatory regime on it.” He went on to suggest that since much of the content that Telus, Rogers and Bell Mobility are streaming to their phones is short clips, “At this stage, it’s not even clear what a mobile program is.”

Has someone been sneaking in to the CRTC offices and giving them reality lessons? First they decided not to try and regulate the Internet (another smart move) and now we can all watch clips of Paris Hilton’s new video or whatever on our phones, safe in the knowledge that we won’t have to watch a certain number of Avril Lavigne video clips at some point to compensate. Life is good.

Matt Mullenweg sells a stake in Automattic

As you may know if you’ve been reading my blog at all over the past little while, I find it fascinating to look at the various business models being pursued by Web 2.0 startups, and the debate over which route is better — such as the question of whether blog networks need VC money, which a recent post by Jeremy Wright raised, or whether startups should build themselves specifically to be bought by Yahoo or Google or Microsoft, and try to duplicate what did.

For the latest perspective on all this, we can look to Matt Mullenweg of, the creator of — the blog software this blog uses, and many others — as well as the blog-spam tool Akismet and lots of other cool stuff. On his blog, Matt writes about selling a minority stake in the company to what he describes as “to a few select partners who I think are going to bring a lot of value to the business far beyond mere dollars.” Matt, who is an extremely nice guy — even if he does look like he’s about 15 years old (he’s 22) — puts it this way:

“This isn’t going to change how the business is run, or the people involved with it, but it will allow us to take better advantage of the opportunities before us and also for us to keep our promise to every one of you to maintain a fast, stable, and innovative platform in the long term.”

Matt says the company “isn’t going to get fancy SoMA offices, throw huge parties at SxSW, or “get big fast.” Instead, it’s going to spend the money on sharing “everything we can back to the community, like all of the code behind in WordPress MU, the spellchecking feature we sponsored, free Akismet for 99.9% of users, and a few other goodies we still have up our sleeve.” A smart post and a smart move by a smart guy. Well done, Matt — and good luck.


VCMike, one of the guys at Polaris who acquired the stake in Matt’s company, has a description of why on his blog, and Automattic’s CEO talks about it here.


I don’t want it to seem like every post I write is somehow about our conference ( but it just so happens that Matt will be on a panel at mesh on May 16th. Mark Evans ran into him at iSummit and asked him if he would, and he very kindly said yes. Maybe we can talk a bit about his decision and how it came about.

Get your 15 minutes of mesh fame

Another quick post related to mesh, only because we’ve added something I think is cool to the lineup of speakers, panels and workshops — we’re calling it “15 minutes of fame,” and it’s a chance for anyone with a great Web 2.0 idea to get up on stage in front of all the mesh participants and talk for five minutes about their idea or their project, in front of all the VCs and marketers and journalists and other interested folks who are going to be at the conference.

There are going to be three of these spots during each day of the conference — hence the “15 minutes of fame” tag. And we (that is Mark Evans, Mike McDerment, Stuart MacDonald, Rob Hyndman and I) saw it as a chance for us to help shine a spotlight on some of the hard-working Web 2.0 startup types out there.

As Stuart describes on the mesh blog, we’re even going to spring for a full-day pass for anyone who gets selected to take part. And how do you get to be among the chosen? Just tell us in 250 words or so about you and your idea, and why you should get the chance to speak at mesh.

Coming to mesh? We’ve got a hotel

If you’re planning to come to mesh (May 15th and 16th in Toronto — more details at, have we got a deal for you: The Delta Chelsea has given us a deal on rooms, and the hotel is just a 10-15 minute walk from MaRS where the conference is being held. Not only that, but on Monday night we’re having an after-mesh party at The Drake, one of Toronto’s ultra-hip hotspots.

Thanks to Stuart MacDonald, who started way back when, the travel company (which has grown just a little since Stuie whipped it up in his living room) has donated one of their bright yellow airport buses to take people from the conference to The Drake, and then shuttle back and forth from there to the hotel until 10:30. If the Delta just isn’t cool enough for you, The Drake has some rooms too — and if you’d rather stay somewhere a bit more upscale, the Sutton Place Hotel has a deal with MaRS that includes a limousine to take you to the venue.

Just a note for out-of-towners — tickets for mesh are going quickly, and so are rooms at the Delta, so head over to and get your reservations in before it’s too late.

Do blog networks need VC money?

Looks like our mesh conference in May might have stirred things up a little in the blog network marketplace, to judge by a recent post from Jeremy Wright. Jeremy is part of b5media, a multi-national blog network with principals in Australia and Canada (Jeremy lives in beautiful St. Stephen, New Brunswick), and in an earlier post about the schedule at mesh being finalized he mentioned that he was particularly interested in the keynote by Infectious Greed blogger and VC advisor Paul Kedrosky and a panel on whether Web 2.0 startups need VCs or not.

Jeremy said he was interested because “b5media is about to announce we’re going after funding.” This set off a small bombshell, it seems — and a cross-continent one at that. Paul Montgomery of Tinfinger wrote about it, and so did The Blog Herald and alarm:clock. John Evans, who runs a British-based blog network called Syntagma Media, also wrote a post about how b5media was going after VC money, and he gave the impression he didn’t think that was a good thing to do.

He wrote that:

“After a buccaneering but bootstrapping beginning, it seems b5media has decided to go down the venture capital route after all, with a round of VC funding. But you have to read between the lines of a Toronto conference agenda to find the reference.”

He goes on to say that he’s not in favour of this approach because:

“The sheer effort involved in raising money… and the complexity of contractual arrangements, deplete your time and energy which should be concentrated on selling value to customers.”

In Jeremy’s post in response (he also responds to John Evans in the comments on Syntagma’s blog) he says that is looking at a couple of offers, but he doesn’t want to get into it in public.

“Yes, in the last few weeks 2 key opportunities have come our way. Opportunities that we’ve decided to open the door to, to see what’ll happen. We’re not going to put the business on hold. We are not going to chat the way we do business day to day. Yes, we’re looking at the funding options available to us (including early stage, obviously) in order to see what makes sense for our bloggers, readers, partners and the future of the industry.”

Sounds like plenty of fodder for some interesting discussions at mesh — and just to add one final plug, tickets are going quickly so get in there and get one. Or two. Or 12.

Items that might grow up to be blog posts

Here’s another selection of things I’ve come across but haven’t had time to write full posts about (but might if time allows):

  • There are plenty of video-sharing sites out there, and more every day given the success of, but Revver is different according to Rafat over at PaidContent: It inserts ads into the stream and shares revenue with the creator — and it just got $8.7-million in second-round financing. Interesting idea. Sidenote: one of the co-founders is Ian Clarke, founder of the Freenet Project.
  • Do you love Apple and everything it stands for? Then you might want to read a bit more about Jason O’Grady, the guy behind PowerPage and Apple Insider — Apple rumour sites that are being sued by the computer company for divulging “trade secrets,” otherwise known as rumours about future products. Jason has written a piece at ZDNet, and some of the responses in the comments are worth reading.
  • Benjamin Cohen is a former teenage dot-com millionaire (former teenager, I assume, not former millionaire) who has had his account with Google’s AdSense repeatedly cancelled for click fraud, but the search company refuses to say how it determined he was “guilty” or what the evidence consists of, citing “proprietary algorithms” and rules against disclosure.
  • David Kirkpatrick, an editor at Fortune magazine, has some thoughts about “old” media’s self-flagellation over its own failings and the superiority of “new” media. His point is that content wins, regardless of where it appears, and old media has as good a chance as new media, if it smartens up.
  • Samuel Freedman is a journalism professor at Columbia who writes on the CBS blog Public Eye that the whole concept of “citizen journalism” devalues professional journalism and that it ignores the skills and attributes that make professional journalists worth having. My friend Stowe Boyd disagrees rather strongly and I can see his point.

Disney stakes a claim for online TV gold

If online delivery of video – including streaming and downloadable TV content – is the current version of the great Internet gold rush, then Disney/ABC has just jumped into the lead by staking a major claim. The news about its free, ad-supported streaming TV show plans, which was broken by the Wall Street Journal on its website, is a substantial move forward from a major network – exploding the TV, Jeff Jarvis calls it – and has instantly become the standard by which all the other networks will be measured. As the story describes it:

“On April 30, ABC will unveil a revamped Web site that will include a “theater” where people with broadband connections can watch free episodes of “Desperate Housewives,” “Lost” and other hit shows… Episodes will be available the morning after they air and will be archived so people can eventually view a whole season. A Disney Channel version with five shows will start in June, and an ABC Family version is also planned. Disney’s Soapnet cable channel will start offering programs free on its Web site on April 17.”

Notice that it’s not downloadable episodes, but streaming content that you have to watch in the online “theatre” on Disney/ABC’s website (later in the article, someone from the network says that they are contemplating offering downloads at some point, for $1.99 without ads, or 99 cents with ads). Still, VC Fred “Microchunk your media” Wilson says it is “big, big, big.” It’s interesting to see, however, that Umair “Edge Strategies” Haque at Bubblegeneration disagrees, and thinks that Disney/ABC has done it exactly wrong.

The main reason ABC wants to keep you on the website is because the TV episodes have been specially formatted with three minute-long ads each, all from a single advertiser such as Ford or Proctor and Gamble. And while you can fast-forward the content, you can’t fast-forward through the ads. The story says:

“The ads won’t look like typical TV commercials. For starters, instead of five commercial breaks during an hourlong episode, there will be three breaks lasting a minimum of one minute each — all of them from the same advertiser…. viewers will have a choice of what type of ad to watch — for instance, a traditional video commercial or an interactive “game” commercial.”

That’s a smart move, and obviously crucial to the success of this effort – which at the moment is a two-month trial – with advertisers. But lots of questions remain, not the least of which is how many people will watch these streaming shows, as Jeff Pulver notes. And how will ABC’s local affiliates react? They make a lot of money by being the exclusive providers of those hit shows in their regional markets. The WSJ story also mentions that retailers such as Wal-Mart make a fair bit of coin selling DVD versions of those episodes – how are they going to react? Those with TiVos and PVRs will also likely be unimpressed, says Dwight Silverman.

Fun times in the TV business. And all part of the upheaval that we’re planning to take a look at as part of the “Future of broadcasting” stream in our mesh conference in Toronto May 15th and 16th – tell all your friends 🙂


Staci at PaidContent grabbed a few minutes to chat with Anne Sweeney of Disney/ABC about the deal.