Paint peeling, weeds growing at Backfence

The local “citizen journalism” entity Backfence is closing the doors on its network of 13 sites, according to a post at PaidContent. Backfence CEO Mark Potts told PaidContent’s Rafat Ali in an e-mail that the investors are “continuing to talk to potential buyers or new investors, but have decided for business and operational reasons to shut down the sites rather than operate them without sufficient support.”

backfencePaidContent also links to a long piece in the American Journalism Review about local online journalism and Backfence, which has a troubled history. I last wrote about it in this post entitled “Backfence around a ghost town.” Peter Krasilovsky at The Kelsey Group has some thoughts about the closure, and so does my pal Kent Newsome. And Ashkan at HipMojo wonders whether it wouldn’t be better if newspapers took a stab at some citizen journalism themselves — but admits that would be a difficult mix of cultures (and I would have a tendency to agree).

Pete Cashmore says Backfence marks the death of citizen journalism, but gets taken to task in the comments section of his post. And one of those commenters — a former employee at Backfence — puts forward an interesting idea: what if started adding some aspects of “citizen journalism” to its local sites? A very interesting idea indeed. Any comment on that, Mr. Newmark? And Jeff Jarvis makes some good points in this post.

Best. Obituary. Ever.

(from the Telegraph):

“Count Gottfried von Bismarck, who was found dead on Monday aged 44, was a louche German aristocrat with a multi-faceted history as a pleasure-seeking heroin addict, hell-raising alcoholic, flamboyant waster and a reckless and extravagant host of homosexual orgies.

snipshot_e4dkuageslm.jpgThe great-great-grandson of Prince Otto, Germany’s Iron Chancellor and architect of the modern German state, the young von Bismarck showed early promise as a brilliant scholar, but led an exotic life of gilded aimlessness that attracted the attention of the gossip columns from the moment he arrived in Oxford in 1983 and hosted a dinner at which the severed heads of two pigs were placed at either end of the table.

When not clad in the lederhosen of his homeland, he cultivated an air of sophisticated complexity by appearing in women’s clothes, set off by lipstick and fishnet stockings. This aura of dangerous “glamour” charmed a large circle of friends and acquaintances drawn from the jeunesse dorée of the age.

Many of them knew him at Oxford, where he made friends such as Darius Guppy and Viscount Althorp and became an enthusiastic, rubber-clad member of the Piers Gaveston Society and the drink-fuelled Bullingdon and Loders clubs. Perhaps unsurprisingly he managed only a Third in Politics, Philosophy and Economics.”

full obit is here.

I’ll sing Arcade Fire while you paint

Please don’t ask how I came across this, because I can’t even remember what kind of circuitous route I took to get there, but somehow I wound up at The ListeNerd’s blog and he linked to a great video clip of someone known only as “Operation Bumblebee” singing an a capella version of a song by the band Arcade Fire, while an unidentified person in the foreground paints. It’s a lot better than my description of it makes it sound, I assure you 🙂

Incidentally, there is an actual Operation Bumblebee, aimed at preserving bee populations in Britain, and the same name was also used for a top-secret project involving missile tests by the U.S. Navy. Isn’t the Internet great?

The “A-list” — ’twas ever thus

snipshot_e4cr3te6kb5.jpgHugh MacLeod of Gaping Void touched off a small avalanche of blogosphere debate with his post about the “death of the A-list” today — an avalanche that was helped along by my blog pal Kent Newsome (who has written in the past about being on the “M-list”) with his hilarious “Declaration of Blogging Independence”. Other thoughts on the topic include those from Rex Hammock and Ben Yoskovitz, as well as The Last Podcast. But the best comments by far come from my friend Tony Hung at Deep Jive Interests, who makes the point that an A-list will always exist — it’s just human nature (Tony has also posted some further thoughts on the subject over at The Blog Herald). And it’s worth reading the comments on Tony’s DJI post and the ones at Hugh’s post as well. I think Hugh’s point is somewhat different than his headline implied. And if you need a succinct and, well… uncensored take on the whole issue, you could do worse than to check out Loren’s video at 1938media.

Should using the Web be a crime?

(cross-posted from my Globe and Mail blog)

I think it’s safe to say that the Internet is the greatest tool for the distribution of ideas ever invented. Unfortunately, that means it is also the greatest tool for the distribution of bad ideas — including the idea that people should be killed for their beliefs (for more on dangerous “viral” ideas, check out this video of a talk philosopher Dan Dennett gave to the TED conference).

But should posting those kinds of ideas on the Web be a crime? It looks as though it has become one in Britain.

snipshot_e414n6f4963t.jpgIn the first case of its kind, three young men in Britain have been sentenced to as many as 10 years in jail for being what the court called “cyber jihadis” — engaging in a sophisticated campaign to convince other radical Muslims that they should kill non-believers and conduct various acts of terrorism. The three ran a network of websites from London, and were found with CDs and other material that instructed would-be terrorists in how to build pipe bombs, as well as films that showed kidnapping victims being beheaded.

Inciting people to commit acts of violence, or fomenting hatred against an identifiable group, is seen as a crime in many countries (including Canada). But what constitutes incitement to violence or inciting hatred against a group?

There are literally tens of thousands of websites, blogs, e-mail newsletters, IRC groups and chat forums in which people spew all sorts of hatred towards identifiable groups — homosexuals, Jews, Palestinians, Muslims, you name it. Should all of those people be convicted of crimes and sentenced to prison time?

snipshot_e4r6ruo5m4t.jpgThe judge in the British case said in his decision that none of the men in question had even come close to carrying out any acts of violence themselves, although they did their best to stir up violent feelings among others and encourage them to engage in violence. Referring to one of the young men, the judge said that he “came no closer to a bomb or a firearm than a computer keyboard.” Two of the men involved in this conspirary had never even met. Early on in the trial, the judge admitted that: “The trouble is I don’t understand the language. I don’t really understand what a website is. I haven’t quite grasped the concepts.”

The charge against the men is also worded in an almost bizarrely roundabout way: they admitted to “inciting another person to commit an act of terrorism wholly or partly outside the United Kingdom which would, if committed in England and Wales, constitute murder.” In other words, they admitted to trying to convince someone to do something somewhere outside the UK that — if done inside the UK — would have constituted murder.

That’s a pretty large legal net, in which you could catch a lot more than just a few “cyber-jihadis.” Jailing the men in question didn’t require such a charge either: all three admitted to engaging in a $3.6-million conspiracy to defraud banks and credit-card companies to finance their operation, a crime that would have been enough to put them away for some time.

“Live-blogging” a military operation in Pakistan

This is fascinating: from via Sean Bonner comes a link to a blog in Islamabad that has been reporting live on the capture of a radical Islamic leader who tried to escape — disguised as a female relative of some young women — after the bloody siege of a mosque:

Update: 2:40

1. 600+ Students (male and female) came out of jameya and surrendered. Parents are outside Lal masjid in a huge number and are not willing to give 20-24 years of their upbringing in hands of the admin of lal Masjid. 2. Ghazi brothers are thought to be fled away from the Lal masjid – They cannot be contacted; neither any students who have come out could give an indication of their presence inside. Their families can’t be seen in as well, including Um e Hasan (Principal of Jameya and Wife of Ghazi Abdur Rasheed). 3. Deadline extended to 3 PM – relaxation given to have maximum number of students out from the Lal Masjid, before the REAL OPERATION.


1. 750+ Students come out and surrenders.
2. Dr. Amir Liaquat resigns (??)


APC’s are in action again; Media asked to get away as far as possible from the site. Deadline is extended till 4 PM. The Ghazi Brothers may be inside premises of lal masjid.

Eric Schmidt on Google and media

Google CEO Eric Schmidt talks to Pat Mitchell of the Paley Center for Media during the World Economic Forum in June. Schmidt talks about Google’s efforts to expand into newspaper advertising, radio and TV advertising and other areas, and discusses what he sees as the company’s successes and failures — including the first trial of newspaper advertising and the difficulty of striking partnerships with big media companies like Viacom.



(hat tip to Howard Owens for the link)

McAlister on media as a platform

Matt McAlister has a great post up about the idea of media as a platform, which I encourage anyone interested in the future of media online to read. He says that in his view it isn’t really about “openness” or “walled gardens” and other popular metaphors:

It’s not about stopping bad behavior or even embracing good behavior. It’s about investing in an architecture that promotes growth for an entire ecosystem. If you do it right, you will watch network effects take hold naturally. And then everyone wins.

McAlister says that the most successful media platforms, broadly speaking, are those that give their users the power to impact the experience for themselves and to improve the total experience for everyone as they use it.

“When you look around the Internet media landscape today you see a lot of successful companies that either consciously or subconsciously understand how to make media work as a platform.

MySpace created a fantastic expression platform, though perhaps unwittingly. Wikipedia evolved quickly into a massive research platform. Flickr and, of course, get the network effects inherent in sharing information…photos and links, respectively.

Washingtonpost and BBC Backstage are moving toward national political information platforms.”

There are lots of other good examples and smart thoughts from Matt. Go on and read the whole thing. I’ll wait 🙂

Newspaper of the past — and future

Jack Shafer of, a veteran journalist and all-around smart guy, has a great piece in which he looks at what newspapers were like decades ago — in terms of size, coverage, layout and staffing levels — and asks the provocative question: After the staff cuts, will the newspapers of the future look like the newspapers of the past? What you think of the answer may depend on whether you work at a newspaper or not:

“By my personal measure, the national and foreign news published in the summer of 1972 by the Times and Post matches the current product, even though it is less “featurey.”

That both papers did fine work with half the current manpower should encourage serious readers—even though it may depress journalists.”

(Thanks to Rob for the link)

Rolling Stone’s “most annoying song ever” awards

snipshot_e4d0mbwp706.jpgRolling Stone magazine has released the hotly-awaited (by me at least) list of the top 20 most annoying songs. Number one: My Humps by the Black-Eyed Peas. Yup, that sounds about right. Glad to see Who Let The Dogs Out and My Heart Will Go On in there as well, although I think Celine should have tied for first. The Crash Test Dummies (a fine Winnipeg band) also make an appearance for Mmm mmm mmm mmm or whatever it’s called, and so does Wham! for Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go (hat tip to ListeNerd for the link)