Spreed News tries to redefine reading

A Toronto company called Spreed Inc. launched its mobile newsreader for the Apple iPhone today, and if you’re interested in how written content gets consumed on a mobile device I encourage you to take a look. Spreed co-founder Anthony Novac and head of technology Suhail Mirza gave me a demo of the software recently, and I tried out an early version of the software on an iPhone in the company’s downtown office, and I have to say (and I told Anthony this) that I’m not convinced Spreed is going to be the right solution for everyone. That said, it is an interesting approach, and the mobile app is just the first in what the company hopes will be a series of services for mobile and desktop.

Anthony is a former co-founder and CEO of several online gambling companies, including Trident Gaming and 1x1inc, which developed a peer-to-peer gambling service called Betbug (his partner in that venture, John O’Malia, is now managing director of industry leader Partygaming). Spreed, however, evolved from discussions that Novac had with a childhood friend who taught himself how to speed-read, and along the way taught Anthony — who is dyslexic — how to read faster too. Based on research into reading and comprehension, Spreed developed a kind of “flashcard” approach to reading on a mobile device, with groups of words flashed on the screen in discrete bunches.

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New Yorker cover sparks blog firestorm

Traditional media can still generate some political heat, it seems, at least when it’s aided and abetted by the lightning-fast response time of the political blogosphere. The latest issue of the New Yorker magazine only hit newsstands this morning, but the cover image has already stirred up a firestorm of protest and indignation on the Internet, after it was circulated on various blogs and political websites yesterday. The drawing (by Barry Blitt) shows Barack Obama and his wife Michelle in the Oval Office doing a celebratory “fist bump.” Barack is dressed as a Muslim, while Michelle has an Afro and is carrying a sub-machine gun. There is a painting of Osama Bin Laden on the wall and an American flag burning in the fireplace.

The cover title is The Politics of Fear (although the title doesn’t appear on the actual cover of the magazine). New Yorker publisher David Remnick said in an interview with the Huffington Post’s Rachel Sklar that the cover was meant to be a satire of all the Republican fear-mongering about the Democratic presidential candidate, but plenty of Obama supporters didn’t see the humour. Within hours of an article about the cover being posted at the HuffPo, there were more than 800 comments from outraged readers. By this morning, there were more than 3,000 comments. On the Daily Kos blog, one of the leading left-wing blogs run by Markos “Kos” Moulitsas, a post about the cover had over 2,000 comments by this morning, many of them taking issue with what they saw as a conservative attack on Obama and his campaign. On the Politico story about the cover, there were 1,827 comments.

When asked on Sunday via email whether in retrospect he regretted doing the drawing given the outcry, the artist replied: “Retrospect? Outcry? The magazine just came out ten minutes ago. At least give me a few days to decide whether to regret it or not.” You’d better hurry up, Barry — the political blogosphere waits for no man.

Jason’s long goodbye: Give me a break

I know that the goodbye post written by Mahalo supremo Jason Calacanis for his blog is supposedly heartfelt, and full of what he no doubt believes (or hopes we will believe) is authentic human emotion, but it still feels all wrong. Is it the fact that it reads like a bad script? Perhaps. And the fact that the photo Jason uses is from Michael Jordan’s retirement press conference (his second, I have to note) probably doesn’t help. Or maybe it’s the fact that in the script, Jason’s PR rep says that the great man is “fighting back his emotions” and asks the (theoretically) attended throng to “respect the privacy” of his bulldogs.

Or maybe it’s the idea that Jason — a man who uses Twitter, and his blog, and every other social-media tool he can think of, to relentlessly pump Mahalo — is giving up blogging because he craves something more “acoustic and authentic.” That part stretches believability to the breaking point. If anything, an email newsletter is a step backwards into megaphone and pulpit land; which makes sense, I suppose, since I have a hunch Jason much prefers the one-way pulpit to the two-way blogosphere. And when Jason promoted his new email list on FriendFeed, he said it was an “insider” list and was for: “insiders only, please — no casual folks.” Seriously, who talks like that? Not even Jason could be so totally without even a stitch of self-awareness.

But the real giveaway is comments like this one, made on FriendFeed about his departure, in which he says that “Your dignified questions and responses are appreciated during this very emotional time for me.” That’s just too much — even for someone like Jason. That hasn’t stopped some people from taking his comments about blogging very seriously, including some who usually know better, but I am calling BS on this one. I refuse to believe it — and if it is true, I refuse to care 🙂

Guardian buys PaidContent = Smart

I’ve been off most of this week on a family-related trip, but (thanks to the Wi-Fi at the trailer park) I had to take note of the deal that Guardian Media just did to acquire PaidContent, a story broken by the ever-resourceful Kara Swisher of All Things D. Rafat Ali, the former journalist who founded the company several years ago, is a smart guy — but I would argue that Guardian Media is even smarter. They have seen how quickly and relatively easily Rafat and his team of writers have been able to build a powerful digital-media company with a reputation for quality reporting and coverage of the media business — and not the showbiz personality side, but the actual nuts and bolts.

In effect, Rafat has built something that in an earlier time would have been a magazine — a trade mag perhaps, not unlike something Ziff-Davis or CMP would have owned. But he was able to do it substantially cheaper and faster, and I would argue that the entity he created is infinitely more flexible and adaptable than any printed magazine (and when I say that he did it quickly and easily, obviously it took years of hard work and vision by Rafat). Kudos to him and the rest of the team. Jemima Kiss at the Guardian, who knows Rafat well and has written for PaidContent, has some more on the deal. PaidContent will become part of the trade-press and professional services division of Guardian Media. My friend Om Malik has some worthwhile thoughts on the deal as well.


Kara says she’s been asking around to see who else in the online space might get snapped up, and apparently TechCrunch has been talking to AOL about a deal in the $20-million to $30-million range. I’ve got an email in to Mike Arrington to see if he has any comment.

Protests over Verizon deal with 1938media


Verizon has apparently dropped 1938media’s content from its Vcast service and the distribution deal is off. Some people are happy with the decision while others think it is hypocritical. What do I think? Obviously, Verizon is a private company that gets to do whatever it wants, and this kind of controversy isn’t good for business. But those who argue that this isn’t a free speech issue are making a mistake, I think. It’s easy to stand up and defend speech when we agree with it — harder to do so, but just as important, when we don’t.

Original post:

A video that controversial video-blogger Loren Feldman of 1938media did almost a year ago has come back to haunt him, it seems. Several civil-rights groups and media watchdogs are protesting a decision by telecom giant Verizon to add 1938media’s video clips to its mobile Vcast service, saying Loren’s “TechNigga” clip is demeaning to black people. Project Islamic Hope, for example, has issued a statement demanding that Verizon drop its distribution arrangement with 1938media, which was just announced about a week ago, and other groups including the National Action Network and LA Humanity Foundation are also apparently calling for people to email Verizon and protest.

The video that has Islamic Hope and other groups so upset is one called “TechNigga,” which Loren put together last August. After wondering aloud why there are no black tech bloggers, Loren reappears with a skullcap and some gaudy jewelry, and claims to be the host of a show called TechNigga. He then swigs from a bottle of booze, does a lot of tongue-kissing and face-licking with his girlfriend Michelle Oshen, and then introduces a new Web app called “Ho-Trackr,” which is a mashup with Google Maps that allows prospective johns to locate prostitutes. In a statement, Islamic Hope says that the video “sends a horrible message that Verizon seeks to partner with racists.”

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The Canuck iPhone: Apple doesn’t care

Just for the record, I think the Rogers data plans for the new Canadian version of the iPhone are crap, and I’ve said so a number of times. I’m not here to apologize for the company, or anything like that, and I would love it if someone could wave a magic wand and produce a better plan. But at the same time, I think the idea that Apple cares enough to step in and threaten Rogers by promising to delay shipments of iPhones or send them elsewhere is… well, ridiculous. Do I know for sure whether the report at Smithereens is true or not? No. But I just find it hard to believe that Apple cares much what Rogers charges for the iPhone at this point.

Does Apple care what providers charge for the Jesus phone? Sure it does, because it wants to generate as much demand for the handsets as possible. That’s why it negotiated so hard with AT&T before the launch in the U.S., and no doubt negotiated pretty firmly with Rogers as well, in advance of the Canadian launch. But don’t you think the two companies would have come to an agreement about what Rogers would charge? The two sides have reportedly been negotiating for months. (Update: A Rogers spokesperson says inventory levels haven’t changed).

For Apple to start yanking shipments at this point would be a bizarre move for the company to make, and would likely open the company up to legal claims by Rogers, depending on the terms of their agreement. I know that the popular mythos about Apple is that Steve Jobs gets to do whatever he wants, and strides around the globe dispensing goodies — or lumps of coal — at his whim, like Santa Claus in a black turtleneck, but I just don’t think that’s how things really work. At this point, I think that would-be Canadian iPhone users are on their own.

Yahoo: Night of the Living Dead

I think even infamous zombie-movie director George Romero would have felt outmatched by the ongoing Yahoo takeover saga, which has gone beyond drama into farce, then back into drama, then taken a right turn into the bizarre, and now threatens to become The Takeover/Merger That Wouldn’t Die. Microsoft wants to buy it, then it doesn’t, then Carl Icahn gets his fingers in the pie, then Microsoft wants to buy just the search operation, then it wants the whole company again, then it wants to team up with someone like News Corp. in order to dismantle the company — and meanwhile, Yahoo is talking with everyone but your Aunt Sally about a merger to thwart Microsoft.

The latest twist is that Microsoft and Carl are apparently still working on a takeover deal for the company. Icahn has sent a letter to Yahoo — and Microsoft has released its own similar statement — saying the two would be happy to discuss a takeover of some kind, but only if Yahoo’s current board gets the axe — the implication being that either the company gets rid of them, or Carl’s alternate slate is voted in at Yahoo’s annual meeting. In both statements, the potential for a full takeover is outlined. Microsoft’s release says that following a replacement of the board, it would

“be interested in discussing with a new board a major transaction with Yahoo!, such as either a transaction to purchase the ‘Search’ function with large financial guarantees or, in the alternative, purchasing the whole company.”

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Denton: Evil genius or just plain evil?

If you’re any kind of online publisher — a traditional outlet looking to learn about online media, or a blog network looking to grow — you could do a lot worse than to follow the career of Nick Denton, a former traditional journalist (or at least the British version of same) who has become a new-media mogul thanks to the Gawker Media network of blogs. Nick has been conducting a kind of ongoing media workshop for the past couple of years, right out in the open (more or less). In the latest installment, the Dark Lord of the blogosphere has chopped the pay rate for bloggers at Gawker, for the second time in the last six months.

It’s not quite as bad as it sounds, however. Since the beginning of 2008, bloggers at the various Gawker properties — the flagship celebrity-obsessed blog, geek oracle Gizmodo, gossip rag Valleywag and so on — have been paid in part based on the traffic their posts attract. But that’s not their only pay; they still get a salary. The traffic-based payment is effectively a bonus — an incentive program (although whether it encourages bloggers to go for the cheap and titillating is the subject of debate). In other words, bloggers have to “earn back” their base salary first, and then whatever traffic they get after that is a bonus. And even with the cuts, Gawker bloggers still do pretty well.

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BoingBoing: It’s our blog, and our rules

It’s an old-media adage that if you can find three things that are similar, you have a trend on your hands, and can therefore write a big feature on the rise of the “hand-washing” trend or the “shoe-tying” trend. Well, after the Loren-Israel grudge match and the Jakob Lodwick flame war, we recently got the third in a spate of blogosphere bitchmemes: BoingBoing, the counter-cultural tour de force blog run by Cory Doctorow, Xeni Jardin and the rest of the Happy Mutant gang, came under fire recently for deleting any trace of the sex blogger Violet Blue.

Why did the Boingers do this? No one is saying. Violet doesn’t seem to have any clue, unless she’s being coy. It doesn’t seem to have anything to do with something she wrote, or anything she can remember doing, although theories abound about personal relationships getting in the way of a continued relationship with BoingBoing. So what, you might ask? Well, one of the things that makes this spat a bit more interesting is the fact that Cory Doctorow is a prominent free-speech advocate and former Electronic Frontier Foundation staffer. And the site didn’t just remove some posts about or by Violet — it went back through the archives and deleted any reference to her whatsoever.

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Judge to YouTube: Cough up those IPs

In the long-running Viacom vs. YouTube case — one that falls into the “desperately trying not to adapt” category — a judge has ruled that the Google-owned video site has to turn over a record of every user who has ever watched a YouTube video, either on the site or embedded in another site (a database that the judge’s ruling estimates would amount to 12 terabytes). Viacom is apparently trying to prove that copyright-infringing video clips from its shows are among the most popular content in the YouTube universe, and therefore YouTube should have to pay more in damages as a result of the infringement.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation makes a fairly persuasive argument that the judge’s order is a legal error, based on a U.S. law (the Videotape Privacy Protection Act, believe it or not) that prevents the publication of information about which videotapes a customer has rented. Unfortunately, Google’s own legal arguments appear to have worked against the company this time: its data-retention policies are based on the idea that IP addresses aren’t really personal data because they aren’t attached specifically to a single person, and in his decision the judge specifically quotes Google’s view that “in most cases, an IP address without additional information cannot [identify a user].”

As the EFF notes in its discussion of the issue, the AOL privacy breach of a couple of years ago is ample evidence that an IP address and some other user information can be used to quite easily track down individual users. Is that what Viacom has in mind — and if so, are individual lawsuits a la the RIAA the next thing on the agenda? If so, then the judge’s decision effectively emasculates the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which is supposed to protect hosting companies if they abide by takedown requests. Mike Arrington says the judge is “a moron.”