Bono leaks his own tracks accidentally

If a story in the British tab The Sun is to be believed, U2 singer Bono (aka Paul Hewson) is responsible for leaking new tracks from the band’s upcoming album — by playing the new songs so loudly at his French villa that someone walking by heard them and recorded them. The Sun being the kind of newspaper it is, it’s difficult to tell whether this report is 100 per cent true or not. There are no links to any actual files, and no quotes from this alleged passer-by, nor are there any details about what he or she recorded the music with (a cellphone?). And as TorrentFreak notes, the sound quality of the files is likely terrible. But if true it’s more than a little ironic, given how vocal U2’s manager Paul McGuiness has been about copyright violations and the like.

Twitter as a news tool: A case study

Examples continue to emerge of Twitter being used as a journalistic tool. And not just the “hey, there’s an earthquake” or “hey, my house is on fire” kind of tool, but an integral part of the reporting process. One of the more recent ones comes from the Chicago Tribune, which quite smartly has an official Twitter account that someone in the newsroom monitors. As Poynter Online describes it, people started noticing crowds in Daley Center, and overheard staff from offices there talking about some kind of danger, so they posted something on Twitter.

Eventually, someone contacted “Colonel Tribune” — the Trib’s official Twitter persona — to let them know, and whoever monitors the Twitter account let the news desk know, at which point the traditional reporting process took over. The paper then reported the results of its reporting (a bomb threat) on Twitter, and users re-posted it, spreading the story farther and faster than it might otherwise have gone.

It’s not like it was a huge story, but as Mike Masnick at Techdirt notes, the way it unfolded is an excellent example of how Twitter can be incorporated into the news process — and of how the feedback loop that is created when that happens can benefit traditional media. Another recent example, although somewhat different in execution, was the Brian Stelter story about getting around NBC’s Olympic blockages, which started on Twitter and wound up on the front page.

RushmoreDrive = Dumb idea

Not sure why the Los Angeles Times is writing about RushmoreDrive, the “black” search engine owned by Barry Diller’s IAC conglomerate, considering it originally launched back in April sometime. Maybe it was a slow news day today. In any case, it’s worth pointing out again what a bad idea this is — in my opinion at least. I’m not black, obviously, so I’m sure some people might argue that I don’t really deserve to have an opinion on the subject, but I feel compelled to write about it regardless. Do we really need racially-segregated search engines? Even after reading RushmoreDrive founder Johnny Taylor’s rationale for the service, I just don’t see what compelling purpose this serves.

Is it really that huge an inconvenience if someone searches for the word “Whitney” and gets something that is allegedly “white” like a museum of art, and what they were really searching for — Whitney Houston — is in fourth place? (Let’s ignore for the moment the possibility that they might actually search for “Whitney Houston” in the first place, or that they might even be looking for the Whitney Museum of Art) Do we really need a dedicated search engine so that black people can get results from “soul food” sites like higher up than they might be in a “white” search engine? (I am not making these examples up, by the way — these are Johnny Taylor’s examples).

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Zucker is wrong to be so smug

Predictably enough, NBC head honcho Jeff Zucker — the guy who previously ranted about how he’d rather have TV dollars than a few measly “digital pennies” — is crowing about how the massive viewership numbers for the Phelps… er, Olympic Games illustrate the dominance of network television and the relative irrelevance of the Interweb when it comes to video. After all, don’t the numbers show that 97 per cent of all Olympic content-watching took place on the tube? (Let’s leave aside the fact that watching anything online at NBC requires you to use Microsoft’s Silverlight, which only works on Windows). So the Internet, in other words, is nothing but a rounding error.

It’s natural enough that Zucker would put things in that perspective. After all, his salary comes from network television advertising, of which he just finished pulling in a billion dollars worth, so it’s understandable that he would be a little smug. But I think Jeff would be wise to remember one thing: the Olympics aren’t like regular television. They come along once every four years, and they are a massive social phenomenon unlike almost anything else that you can think of when it comes to TV viewing, as Cory Bergman at Lost Remote also points out.

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AOL buys SocialThing — but why?

As lots of people are reporting this morning (and as TechCrunch speculated a couple of weeks ago) AOL has bought the “lifestream aggregator” known as Socialthing, which came out of Colorado-based venture capital outfit TechStars. It’s an interesting move by a company that has so much else wrong with it, but at the size of deal we’re probably talking about — as far as I can tell, Socialthing was built by a couple of guys in a matter of months — it’s not likely to move the needle much in either direction. Is it a sign that AOL is suddenly getting with the whole Web 2.0 social-media program? Perhaps.

From a usability point of view, as someone who has been beta-testing for awhile (post your email address in a comment if you want an invite) there are a couple of key differences between it and Friendfeed, which I’m a big fan of (my feed is here). While Socialthing is well-designed for the most part, one of the biggest differences that becomes obvious is that Socialthing groups activity in your “friendstream” by individual — so next to each friend’s avatar you see what they have done on Twitter or Flickr or whatever, grouped together. In FriendFeed, however, you see a river of activity based around the events themselves, so that you see a stream of whatever your friends are doing that is grouped by time rather than identity.

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Chinese blogger detained, live on Twitter

Twitter often gets a (somewhat deserved) rap for being shallow, filled mostly with people’s thoughts about the weather or what they had for breakfast. But every now and then something important happens, like an earthquake or a forest fire, and the service shows its true potential. The most recent example was the Twitter stream from a Chinese “citizen journalist” or blogger named Zhou “Zhuola” Shuguang, who got a visit from some government officials after he showed up in Beijing to blog about the Olympics. They said they were there to talk with him about a breach of the government’s “one child only” rule (which is more than a little odd, considering Zhou is childless), but it became obvious that what they really wanted was for him to leave Beijing.

Global Voices, the excellent global blogging project founded by Rebecca MacKinnon and the Harvard Berkman Center for the Internet and Society, caught wind of the detainment and started posting translations of Zhou’s Twitter messages, updating the post with each new message as it came in. Not only did several officials put Zhou in a car and drive him back to his hometown, but others also apparently went to visit his parents, saying they wanted to take them out for tea (one of the officials who detained Zhou was an executive with the Changsha Mining Group, the company that Zhou’s father worked for). In his last update the blogger said that he was unharmed, and that he was planning to return to Beijing accompanied by a journalist, in defiance of the authorities.

A fascinating story — or at least the core of a fascinating story — and all told entirely via Twitter. The “first draft of history” indeed.

Music and the Web: One band’s experience

Shane Richmond, the technology blogger for the Telegraph newspaper in the UK, took some time off and asked several guest bloggers to fill in for him by writing about the Internet and the future of the music industry. One of the most recent posts was by Mark Kelly, the keyboard player for a band called Marillion, who described the group’s experiences as they moved from the traditional label relationship to an independent model. It’s well worth reading, if you’re at all interested in the future of the music business and how artists are dealing with the Web.

Mark says that the band was effectively dumped in 1995 by their label (EMI) after one of their albums only sold 300,000 copies, and then tried to work with an independent label but didn’t have much success. Starting in 2000, the group got its fans to pre-order a CD — having built up a list of more than 20,000 fans — and used that money to finance the recording of the album. The band did its own distribution online and through independent record shops, and over the next six years released three more albums the same way. Although Kelly doesn’t say how the band did financially, he says:

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Apple: A better stock than Google?

As John Paczkowski at All Things Digital has noted, Apple’s market capitalization passed Google’s today, closing at $158.8-billion to Google’s $157.2-billion (as Senator Everett Dirksen is reported to have said, “a billion here and a billion there, pretty soon you’re talking real money”). Of course, as my friend Paul Kedrosky notes, Apple’s market value has eclipsed Google’s (albeit briefly) several times in the past year. Will this one last? Google’s business is arguably under more pressure as a result of the weaker U.S. economy and advertising market, but then Apple could always stumble (yes, friends, it could happen).

It’s become so commonplace now to think of Apple as a consumer products star — given the success of the iPod, iTunes and the iPhone — that I think we sometimes forget how far this company has come in just the past four or five years. Google has grown a phenomenal amount in that same span of time, with a share price that has increased five-fold, going from $100 to the current $500 level, and revenues that are now at $20-billion. Apple, however, makes Google’s growth look almost anemic by comparison: its shares have grown 10-fold, from about $16 to more than $170 at their current level, and revenue is at $30-billion.

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Disqus: Blog comments just got better

I’m late on this news, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention today’s update to the Disqus hosted-comment service, which I’ve been using on this blog for some time now. As I’ve said before, I think Disqus is one of the best comment systems going, and now it has gotten even better. One of the main criticisms of the service up until today was that the comments made on a blog post were hosted by Disqus and therefore not available to the blog publisher should something go wrong. The update to the service makes it truly two-way, with a synchronization process for WordPress and the ability to export comments.

Disqus has also made it easier for bloggers to administer their comments, integrating the admin panel right into the WordPress admin dashboard. The initial version of the Disqus 2.0 plugin caused some problems for me and some other WP users, but within a matter of hours there was a fix — and the whole time it was being pushed out to users, founder Daniel Ha was responding on Twitter and through the Disqus support forum, and keeping users updated. That was one of the first things that impressed me about Disqus, actually: Daniel’s dedication to remaining in touch and both responding to and fixing problems quickly.

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No one actually “follows” 2,000 people

There’s plenty of discussion out there (and I use that term loosely) about Twitter imposing limits on the number of people users can follow. This seems to have gotten started by a post from Brent Csutoras saying he ran into a 2,000-follower limit and was surprised by it, even though co-founder Evan Williams described the rationale for the limits on the Twitter blog in a post last week — including the fact that there is no hard-and-fast number for how many followers you can have, something he expanded on in a comment on GigaOm.

When I first saw these reports, I wondered the same thing that Erick Schonfeld at TechCrunch does in his post: namely, who the heck can follow 2,000 (or more) people on Twitter? I realize that Loic LeMeur of Seesmic and the Scobleizer and others have tens of thousands of people they follow, and claim that this enriches their lives greatly, but I don’t think they mean the same thing by “follow” that any rational person would (and Loic’s argument seems to boil down to the fact that it’s polite to follow people back if they follow you).

If I recall correctly, Scoble has said that with 20,000 people on his follow list, he gets a tweet every second, or more. I would argue that’s just white noise at best — like having the radio on while you’re doing something else. It’s certainly not actually paying attention to someone. Twitter’s limits seem like a sensible response to “follow spam,” which has been on the increase, and I hope they don’t cave in just because some people want to brag about how many people they’re following.