If there’s one aspect of the media business that has been disrupted more completely than any other, it’s the whole idea of “breaking news.” Just as television devalued the old front-page newspaper scoop, the web has turned breaking news into something that lasts a matter of minutes — or even seconds — rather than hours. If your business is to break news, your job is becoming harder and harder every day, as legendary Deadline Hollywood blogger Nikki Finke is only the latest to discover. Finke’s company has accused a competing news site of stealing news stories, and seems to be trying to use the “hot news” doctrine of 1918 to bolster its case. But relying on laws from the turn of the century isn’t going to help make the web-based content business any easier, regardless of the merits of Finke’s complaint.
According to the cease-and-desist letter that Finke’s MMC Corp. sent to TheWrap — a blog run by former Washington Post staffer Sharon Waxman — that site has been “engaged in a continuous pattern of misappropriating content from Deadline.com, publishing that information on TheWrap.com, passing off that information as its own.” So far, the only response from TheWrap has been to post the entire letter, and to describe the criticism as “strangely worded,” since it notes that the allegations from Finke’s site don’t actually refer to any specific stories that have been copied or misappropriated. And while Finke criticizes sites that simply call a source to verify Deadline’s stories and then rewrite them, if this is illegal then virtually the entire traditional media industry is in danger of being sued at some point.
To add an extra layer of irony to the whole affair, Waxman herself complained last year about her site’s content being appropriated by Newser.com, the news aggregator run by Michael Wolff — and she sent a cease-and-desist letter making almost identical arguments to the ones that Deadline Hollywood is now making against TheWrap.
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As the race continues to find a reliable way of measuring influence in social networks and the “reputation graph,” Klout — one of the front-runners in that business, along with competitor PeerIndex — has launched an extension for Google’s Chrome browser that lets you see the Klout score of all the people you follow on Twitter when you go to the Twitter.com website. But is that a good thing? It certainly is if you like to keep score of how you stack up against your friends and followers — and plenty of people love to do just that, even if the score is based on something they don’t really understand. But at least for now, the Klout score is still somewhat of a blunt instrument, without enough knowledge about the people it is ranking to make it a must-have piece of the new reputation graph.
The company’s new Chrome extension, which came out of an internal hackathon, puts a big orange “K” symbol and a score right next to the name of the people in your stream on the Twitter website. You can achieve the same thing with other browsers as well, and if you use the Seesmic social-network platform you can also install an extension that adds the Klout rank to your Twitter stream. After I installed the Chrome extension, I caught myself — almost subconsciously — thinking as I watched the tweet-stream flow by: “Wow — he’s only a 61? I thought he would be more,” and “Holy cow, he’s a 72!” and so on. Human beings just love to keep score.
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Facebook has disrupted or helped to re-engineer many businesses and markets, including the photo-sharing market and the social-gaming market. But one thing it hasn’t really focused on so far is the news business. Plenty of media companies use Facebook as a news-delivery platform, and many users (including Gawker founder Nick Denton, according to a recent interview) rely on it as a news source. But Facebook itself hasn’t done much to capitalize on that. That could change, however, judging by some comments from chief technology officer Bret Taylor in an interview with the BBC — and it could pit the social network against Twitter in the race to become a social news platform.
While Taylor — the former co-founder of the social network FriendFeed — didn’t provide much in the way of details during his interview, he did say that he sees disruption coming to a number of industries as a result of social platforms like Facebook, much like it has to gaming, and that one of those disrupted industries is likely to be media:
If we had to guess, it’s probably going to be orientated around media or news, because they are so social. When you watch a television show with your friend, it’s such an engaging social activity. We think that there’s a next generation of startups that are developing social versions of these applications, where what Zynga is to gaming, they will be to media and news, and we’re really excited about that.
Taylor’s comments seem to suggest that Facebook isn’t looking to do anything news-related itself, but is hoping that developers will come up with social-news applications that can run on top of the Facebook platform, the same way that Zynga’s games like Farmville or Cityville do. One example might be an app like Flipboard, which takes a person’s Facebook stream and makes it part of a social-news service, and another interesting experiment is an app called PostPost. Facebook is also clearly continuing to push the open-graph plugin strategy that has helped sites like The Huffington Post drive massive amounts of traffic and comments to the site, and offering improved commenting as a plugin for media outlets appears to be a focus as well.
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