Jay Rosen’s new project: Beat blogging

I’ve been meaning to mention this before, but Jay Rosen, the brains behind NewAssignment.net and its various spinoffs — including OffTheBus, the citizen-journalism political reporting venture with Huffington Post — has a new project that he told me about when we met for a drink while he was in Toronto for the Online News Association conference (he told the conference about it too).

In a nutshell, Jay’s idea is this: take social-media tools such as blogs, wikis, social-bookmarking and so on, and use them to help “beat” reporters at newspapers improve their coverage of that beat, by allowing sources to contribute their knowledge in a variety of ways. As Jay describes it:

“Maybe a beat reporter could do a way better job if there was a “live” social network connected to the beat, made up of people who know the territory the beat covers, and want the reporting on that beat to be better.”

I think this is a great idea, and I hope Jay finds enough reporters (and newspapers) who want to participate. He says he has 7 or 8 of the 12 he is looking for already signed up. As I said to Jay when we met in Toronto, my only reservations are that some sources may not want it known that they are sources, and reporters may not be comfortable opening up about how they do what they do.

That said, I think it will be a fascinating experiment in Journalism 2.0, just as Assignment Zero (the joint research project between NewAssignment and Wired magazine) was.

Mark Cuban is lazy, and so are you

Basketball-team owner and billionaire TV dance-show star (what a mouthful that is) Mark Cuban has some thoughts about Google’s OpenSocial effort and the competition with Facebook. Among other things he says in his post — such as the fact that he suggested to Yahoo that they convince Facebook to license its API — Mark says Google may well be too late to the social-networking party.

Why? Because people hate entering their personal info into a bunch of different sites, he says. And if Facebook makes its API much more open than it has already, allowing the data it already has to move freely both in and out, then it will effectively be in the driver’s seat as far as its 50 million users are concerned — regardless of what Google and its OpenSocial partners do. I’m paraphrasing, but I think that’s the gist.

Joe Duck thinks that Mark is being too harsh, and that he’s just being lazy. Which may be true. But I would argue that most people are similarly lazy. Not because they literally can’t be bothered to type things in, but because they may not see any benefit to doing so — and some may even be approaching “social-networking fatigue.”

Would Facebook try to go it alone, and open up its own proprietary API rather than join the Google train? I don’t really know. But if it did try to do that, laziness — in effect, inertia — might keep many of those Facebook users and their data right where they are. Tim O’Reilly has some thoughts about the social Web and how best to make it work, and as usual they are well worth reading.

TV ads as annoying as Web ads

I haven’t decided whether to go and see Jerry Seinfeld’s Bee Movie yet, but I expect I probably will, considering my kids really want to see it. But I don’t really feel much desire to see it, even though I loved the old Seinfeld TV show and I think Jerry is generally very funny.

So why don’t I want to see the movie? Because the non-stop advertising and marketing for it has driven me up the wall — and according to the Movie Marketing Madness blog, I’m not alone. The stunt back in May with Jerry in the big bee suit at Cannes was kind of funny (although I didn’t need to see the clip a thousand times), but it’s been an unrelenting parade of Jerry and the bees for six months now.

Like TV Squad, the final straw for me was when NBC went Bee Movie-crazy and changed its on-screen logo to NBeeC, and dressed various cameramen and other staffers in bee costumes, and generally just went insane. New York magazine isn’t impressed either. I realize that Jerry is a much-loved comedian, but really — let’s get a grip.

It reminded me of the incessant popups and flashing banner ads I associate with really cheesy websites. So is that NBC’s fault or Jerry’s fault or the marketing team’s fault? It’s everybody’s fault, as far as I’m concerned. And I think it has probably hurt the movie rather than helped it.

Gphone: Third time lucky for Andy Rubin?

Fascinating piece in the Times on Andy Rubin, the guy behind the Gphone project — about which we are supposed to be getting some details on Monday (although actual devices running the Google mobile OS won’t be coming until next year sometime, supposedly).

Along with the requisite geek-lord toys (retinal scanner at the door, giant remote-control helicopters, robotic hand that bangs a gong instead of a doorbell, etc.), we get some history on Rubin, who joined Google after it acquired his mobile startup, Android. That was his second attempt to change the mobile device business — with the first being Danger Inc., the company that made the Sidekick smart-phone.

Although the Sidekick was hip and achieved a certain geek cred, it never really took off (Ionut Alex Chitu has more on the Sidekick at Google Operating System). Why? I wish I knew. I tried out an early model and really liked it. It was a little bulky, but the flip-out screen was pretty cool — and better still, it was a device that was designed for instant messaging and web surfing. Maybe it was just ahead of its time.

If it was ahead of its time, then so was one of Rubin’s other big projects: WebTV. Although lots of people are talking about the convergence of the television and the Internet now, putting the two together just didn’t work when WebTV tried it. Why not? I wish I knew. I came across a number of older people who liked it a lot, because they could sit on the couch and write emails or look at websites, but it never really took off.

Maybe Rubin will have better luck with the Gphone. This time (from the sounds of it) it’s just software and not hardware — although Joe Duck thinks that Rubin’s presence suggests otherwise — and it is designed to be as open as possible. And that means it is following what I believe to be a universal law, namely: Open wins.

Study: Music downloads don’t affect sales

Michael Geist has a post about the results of a recent Canadian government survey of downloading and its effect on music sales, and the study (full text of which is here) came to two conclusions: one was that, in the case of those who download music, there was a slight positive effect on their purchases of CDs — in other words, they bought more than the average.

The broader conclusion of the study, which was commissioned by Industry Canada and done by two researchers from the University of London, was that when looking at the entire Canadian population, downloading (which is, after all, still a fringe activity) has no perceptible effect on music sales whatsoever. Michael has the money quote:

“The analysis of the entire Canadian population does not uncover either a positive or negative relationship between the number of files downloaded from P2P networks and CDs purchased.

That is, we find no direct evidence to suggest that the net effect of P2P file sharing on CD purchasing is either positive or negative for Canada as a whole.”

This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone (except perhaps those who believe the PR campaign waged by the record industry). As far back as 2004 there was a study by the wonderfully-named Felix Oberholzer and Koleman Strumpf, which found that the impact made by downloading on music sales was “not statistically distinguishable from zero.”

Yochai Benkler: An antidote to Andrew Keen

Jason Kottke of kottke.org has been taking some well-deserved time off and having guest writers post things to his blog, and one of the most recent ones was an interview that Joe Turnipseed (aka writer Joel Hernandez) did with thinker Yochai Benkler, author of The Wealth of Networks. Among other things, Benkler talks about the diversity of voices that the Internet makes possible, and how that can be both a good thing and a bad thing.

In that sense, his comments are a great riposte to the gloomy views of Andrew “the Internet is killing culture” Keen, who has been on a bit of a roadshow since his book came out. There are others who also make great anti-Keen arguments, including David “Everything is Miscellaneous” Weinberger — who did a great one-on-one dismantling of Keen’s viewpoint in the Wall Street Journal not long ago — but Benkler is among the best.

Turnipseed asks about the discussion of Benkler’s book that has been taking place at the website Crooked Timber, and says that his understanding of the author’s arguments was helped by reading some of the commentary and debate at the site. Benkler responds:

“I thought the discussion on Crooked Timber was in fact excellent, as good a discussion as you would get in a thoughtful seminar, whether academic or whenever you get a collection of thoughtful people in a book club.

There should be nothing surprising about this, any more than there should be anything surprising about there being blogs that are utter nonsense.”

Benkler makes the point that the “networked information economy” allows a billion people to produce and communicate information and knowledge, and so it effectively widens the range of viewpoints and knowledge levels that are available — which can be both good and bad.

“The probability that any newspaper, however well-heeled, will be able to put together the kind of legal analytic brainpower that my friend Jack Balkin has put together on his blog, Balkinization, is zero. They can’t afford it.

On the other hand, even the Weekly World News is tame and mainstream by comparison to the quirkiness or plain stupidity some people can exhibit. The range is simply larger. That’s what it means to have a truly diverse public sphere.”

And Benkler’s next comment on the topic seems an almost direct shot across the bow of people such as Keen — and his partner in crime, Nick Carr — who argue that an intellectual and cultural elite should continue to dominate media and culture (for our own good, of course):

“If you want to find evidence of nonsense — as of course it is important to people whose sense of self-worth depends on the special role traditional mass media play in the public sphere — you will easily find it.

If you want to find the opposite, that too is simple. What’s left is to wait and see over time whether one overwhelms the other.”

I would agree with Benkler that the evidence of both is plentiful, and that when it comes to which will win, I am firmly on the optimistic side. As he puts it, his ultimate conclusion in the book was that:

“While the networked public sphere was not the utopia some in the early 1990s would have liked it to be, it was certainly an appreciable and important improvement over the industrial, mass media structure of the public sphere in the century and a half that preceded it.”

The whole interview is well worth a read, and it can be found here.

Don’t despair — okay, maybe just a little

It would be funny, if it didn’t hit quite so close to home for a long-time newspaper guy like me. Aw, what the heck, it’s still pretty funny, even if it does hit pretty close to home — kind of like when someone makes a crack about your weight and you find yourself laughing along with them, despite the fact that they effectively just called you a lard-ass.

225626046_a2bf5db0dc_m.jpgWhat’s so funny? Before I had a chance to read AP chief executive Tom Curley’s closing speech at the Knight-Bagehot dinner on Thursday, I read Henry “I used to be a famous Wall Street analyst” Blodget’s summary and rather pointed annotations of the speech at Silicon Alley Insider. Many of the jabs that Blodget took were well-deserved, including the ones that seemed to suggest an inspirational talk such as Curley’s might be coming, well… a little bit late in the game, shall we say. At the same time, however, it’s nice to hear the senior executive of a news organization — any organization — saying some of the things he says, including these tidbits:

“I’ve been inside many major news organizations the last couple years, and, invariably, I hear the same refrain. We know what to do, but we can’t get it done.

Or, sadly, we’re in worse shape than we were two years ago because we’re spending even more proportionately trying to keep the old model functioning.

More than a few persist in trying to make their online sites life rafts for newspapers or newscasts.”

At one point, Curley says “we who rule the content,” which is a little much — but then you have to consider the audience he’s speaking to. No one would have even flinched at that phrase. He also talks about how AP and other news providers have to “get control” of their content, which I would argue is a losing battle — and it’s an odd statement given the deal that the AP struck with Google to host stories at the Googleplex.

But a little later the AP chief almost makes up for all of that by saying “The first thing that has to go is the attitude. Our institutional arrogance has done more to harm us than any portal.” If only saying it would make it so. Rafat Ali has more coverage at PaidContent, and NYT tech editor and blogger Saul Hansell has some thoughts as well.

Facebook open to OpenSocial, VC says

Peter Kafka at Silicon Alley Insider and Erick Schonfeld at TechCrunch are reporting that Facebook board member and investor Jim Breyer said at an event last night that the social-networking site is open to working with Google’s OpenSocial project. The money quote:

“Nobody’s going to beat us because they are more open,” he said.

Breyer also reportedly said that the rumours of another $500-million or so being invested in Facebook (in addition to the $240-million that Microsoft put in recently) are not true, and that the site has no plans to do an IPO until sometime in 2009 at the earliest.

So I guess Facebook is either going to jump on the OpenSocial train, or we’re going to have a war in which it and Google both try to “out-open” the other. That would be fun, wouldn’t it?

Looking a Google gift horse in the mouth

To say that there has been a lot written about Google’s announcement of OpenSocial, the social-networking standard it developed along with MySpace and others, would be more than a bit of an understatement. There have been some excellent posts — including one by Joe Kraus at the official Google blog and one from Marc Andreessen that has a recap of the festivities at Google’s campfire-style launch of OpenSocial.

But while there is a lot to be excited about — and don’t get me wrong, the prospect of a unifying standard that makes interoperability between social networks easy is definitely a good thing — one of the posts that stuck with me was from Marshall Kirkpatrick at Read/Write Web, entitled “Open Social: Three Big Concerns.” I think Marshall is asking some good questions about OpenSocial and what it implies, questions that I hope will get answered at some point. His questions are:

1. Is Google exercising leadership or control?

“It’s not possible that one of the largest companies in the US and the largest in this consortium would act entirely out of concern for the world at large. You know they bullied everyone else involved into accepting their terms of openness.”

It’s Google’s consortium, so they probably set the standard, right? Even if they didn’t do any bullying, that gives them a lot of control over what the standard allows or doesn’t allow.

2. Are the APIs Write-Only?

“The OpenSocial APIs might be capable only of allowing widgets to be published from one network to another. Will one network be able to pull in bio, friend and interest data from another? That’s not being discussed at all.”

If all OpenSocial allows you to do is make widgets that run on different networks, without allowing data to be pulled out of and injected into those widgets from all networks, then what good is it?

3. Will Official Sanction Kill It?

“Why couldn’t this all be based on microformats and other existing open standards? Perhaps the culture of control… is the only thing that the big players participating could comprehend. In that case it’s probable that OpenSocial will likely be more closed and more anti-social than many of us would like.”

A fair question. Why couldn’t this be accomplished using XML and other formats that people have been working on for a long time to allow data portability and so on? Why did Google have to come up with something to solve that problem? Those are just some of the questions hovering over OpenSocial, and I think Marshall deserves some credit for asking them.

There’s more skepticism from Tony Hung at Deep Jive Interests, Don Dodge at The Next Big Thing and The Stalwart at Seeking Alpha.