Has Apple really muzzled the lawyers?

One of the new faces at The Daily Beast — the online magazine launched today by former New Yorker and Vanity Fair editor Tina Brown — is actually kind of an old face: Nick Ciarelli is the former teenaged blogger behind Think Secret, an Apple rumour site he started when he was just 13, and he has written a piece about how the tech company’s approach to rumours seems to have changed. Just a couple of years ago, Apple was happily suing sites like Think Secret (which shut down after the lawsuit), as well as Apple Insider and PowerPage for posting rumours about new products. Now, Ciarelli says such behaviour doesn’t seem to draw as much attention.

“There are signs that Apple … has thrown in the towel on fighting leaks. This year, advance details about a number of Apple products spilled onto the web, including photos of the iPhone 3G and the latest lineup of iPod nanos. In the past, Apple would’ve fought like hell — including threatening legal action — to get the leaks off the web. But when I spoke to many of the sites that published the images, all of them said that the company’s lawyers had been strangely silent.”

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Steve Jobs and the licence plate mystery

Every once in a while, a mystery comes along that seems bizarre but is just too powerful to resist. The twin mysteries of Steve Jobs and his car are just such a case. According to dozens of reports from Apple insiders over the years — reports that have surfaced in various ways on the Internet, and turned up again recently — the mercurial Apple co-founder and design visionary has a passion about two things when it comes to his car: Number one is driving without licence plates, and the other is parking in handicapped parking spots. Why does he do this? You might as well ask why there is gravity, or why the moon revolves around the sun.

According to some reports, Jobs routinely gets his licence plates stolen, and so he either a) has special dispensation from the California authorities to drive without plates; b) drives with a licence plate either on his dashboard or in his glove compartment, or c) doesn’t worry about the whole licence plate thing and just pays the tickets when they come along. According to some, the California government doesn’t go around handing out special permits, so it has to be either b) or c). There were reports that he had a special bar-code licence plate, but these have also been debunked.

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Nick Denton: Master of deception

Maybe it just makes for a great headline. Or maybe Nick Denton’s powers of deception are so advanced, like Steve Jobs’ legendary “reality-distortion field,” that he can get people to focus on what he’s holding in one hand, and ignore what’s in the other. How else to explain why so many people focused on Gawker Media’s 19 layoffs, while downplaying the fact that Gawker is hiring 10 new staffers at the same time? (Joe Weisenthal at PaidContent was the only one to get hiring into the headline).

For the math-challenged, that’s actually 9 layoffs, not 19 — and at the end of the day, it’s not 14-per-cent reduction in staff either (yes, Peter Kafka at Silicon Alley Insider reported on the new hires, but he still had a headline about 19 layoffs). This is classic Denton. As he himself admitted in his lengthy memo — which in typical fashion he encouraged his own employees to leak — he has done this several times before: battening down the hatches for a downturn, cutting staff and/or pay levels and selling underperforming titles, moaning about a decline while making money hand over fist.

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Steve Jobs: Citizen journalism didn’t fail

Taking the train to work this morning, little did I know that I would get sucked into a blog- and Twitter-storm over the essence of journalism, social media, “citizen journalism” and a bunch of other topics. That’s how things roll in the blogosphere: one minute you’re reading Twitter, and the next minute you’re trying to defend journalism, or being attacked for not defending it, or some combination of the two. My mistake — and I do think it was a mistake — was to post a Twitter message after seeing a report on CNN’s iReport “citizen journalism” portal about Steve Jobs having a heart attack (a link I got from a Twitter post by Loren Feldman).

I said there were reports of a heart attack, but that they were unverified. A minute or two later, I said that the sources were iReport and a comment from someone at Digg who said they heard it on the news. A few minutes later, I said that it could easily have been a troll, or someone trying to move the stock price (which did drop as a result of the news). A few minutes after that, someone pointed to a report at Silicon Alley Insider, that said Henry Blodget had called Apple and gotten a denial, as others subsequently did. All’s well that ends well, right? Well, maybe not (Henry’s justification of his own reporting of the rumour is here).

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Is the link economy really broken?

It happened amid the stream of Twitter messages about the vice-presidential debates between Sarah Palin and Joe Biden, so a lot of people probably missed it, but Allen Stern of Centernetworks said something that really caught my eye: “it’s clear the link economy is broken.” Why did he say that? The link in his message went to a post at CNET’s “The Social” blog by Caroline McCarthy, about how Friendster now supports Facebook apps — a post that contains nine links. Of those nine links, two-thirds are internal only; in other words, they link only to CNET articles. The other three link to the Friendster website, the Facebook website and the Bebo website, which means they add zero value (or almost zero) to the overall post.

This is an issue that comes up periodically (one of the last ones to bring it up was Tim O’Reilly, in a great post). It’s fueled by the desire on the part of sites like CNET to prove how authoritative they are by making it look as though the only stories worth linking to are their own. I have nothing against CNET as a news site, and I think Caroline does some fine blogging, but to say that their internal links are better than anything else they could possibly link to is just ridiculous. It seems obvious that they either didn’t even bother to look for other information to link to, or there’s an internal policy to promote their own material. Both of those things are wrong.

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Obama campaign: Now on your iPhone

No matter which side of the political fence you’re on, there’s no question that the Obama campaign has been light-years ahead of the competition when it comes to taking advantage of social-media tools, whether that means blogs or YouTube or Twitter or pretty much anything that comes along. Now it’s the iPhone: users of the Apple device can download a free app through the App Store that turns their phone into an Obama campaign office, including sorting friends into the states they live in, to make it easier to call people and get out the vote when election day comes around.

This is a slick little app, even if it could have used some other features, as TechPresident notes (more GPS integration would have been cool, for example). At the same time, however, it’s even more impressive that this app was put together not by a company hired by the Obama campaign, but by a handful of passionate supporters who put their own time and resources into doing it. The campaign was then smart enough to recognize it as being a great opportunity, and gave it the official blessing. Smart.

Google: Should Techmeme be worried?

After years of barely changing at all, Google has unveiled a major change for its Google Blog Search tool. As a whole bunch of people are reporting, the site now provides a kind of “meme-tracker” view of what’s being written about. It’s much like Google News, but next to the main headline there’s a little box that says “92 blogs over 15 hours” or words to that effect, telling you how many other blogs have written about the topic. When you click on that text, you get taken to a page with all of the various blog headlines and a cool little graph that shows the activity on a timeline.

More than one person is calling this a “Techmeme-killer” (because of course new things always have to kill old things or it’s just no fun). But is it? I don’t think so. For one thing, I like the fact that Techmeme.com is kind of dynamic — even if I don’t really understand how it operates. Blog posts go from being a sub-link of a sub-link to being a headline post, then disappear altogether; others form their own sub-group and then get reabsorbed, and some form headlines without any links at all, which makes some people mad. It may be a black box, but I kind of like that. Fred Wilson says that he likes it because it’s more personal than just an algorithm.

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Publishers: Don’t use crappy ad links

As a reader, and as someone who cares about online media in all kinds of other ways, I would like to second the opinions that David Churbuck expresses in a post on his blog about “The blight known as Vibrant Media.” In a nutshell: those double-underlined links that generate pop-up ads or affiliate links to a variety of craptacular sites, which companies like IntelliText specialize in, are an abomination. They make your site look like ass, and what’s worse, they try to trick readers. As David says:

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The seamy side of “citizen journalism”

Came across another nice story by Michael Learmonth (who also writes for Silicon Alley Insider) at Advertising Age: this one is about some unfortunate holes in the “citizen journalism” experiment over at CBS, which is called CBSeyemobile. Apparently, one ad agency executive who downloaded the app — which allows anyone to upload newsworthy photos and video from their iPhone — was surprised to see photos of a woman bent over a kitchen sink with her skirt up, as well as a video clip of three women fondling each other while leaning up against the back of a car.

Among other things, this raises the question of what CBS means when it says “newsworthy.” You could argue that three women openly fondling each other in a state of undress in what appears to be broad daylight would constitute news — of a sort. For CBS, however, it’s not so much about news as it is about advertising. As Learmonth’s story notes, the ad agency exec who found the photos and video said he wouldn’t recommend advertising on the site to any of his clients, and AdMob (which was carrying ads from Google on the content) seemed concerned as well. CBS said it had controls to prevent such occurrences, and that it would “redouble” its efforts.

CBS: Caught between a rock and… another rock

Unless you’ve been in a coma or backpacking through Mongolia recently, you’ve probably already seen the clip from Late Night with David Letterman, in which the host of said show laces into Senator John McCain — not just once, but over and over — for skipping out on an appearance on the program. The presidential candidate said that he had to fly back to Washington because of the banking crisis, but instead showed up on TV doing an interview with Katie Couric. It was classic Letterman, and it was clear that the talk-show host wasn’t just having a laugh — McCain’s behaviour in suspending his campaign seemed to really irk Dave.

That clip has been watched more than 3 million times on YouTube, which is a big plus for the network. Except that the video that’s getting all of the views wasn’t uploaded by CBS — or was it? As Michael Learmonth describes in a piece for Advertising Age, the clip was uploaded by a user named 1970oaktree, and doesn’t have any CBS pre-roll advertising or anything like that. It also wasn’t uploaded to the official CBS channel. But 1970oaktree has only been a member of YouTube for about a week, and the Letterman video is the only thing he or she has ever uploaded.

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