Portland Press Herald mention

Yes, I did return from my blog vacation just to post a self-referential link!

Seriously though- thanks to Justin Ellis, who wrote a great article introducing the citizen journalism landscape- not just in Maine but nationwide- for the Portland Press Herald a couple weeks back. I get a brief mention, along with a couple of other Maine bloggers including my friend Lance Dutson.

Exclusive: Bangor daily paper preps its entry into citizen’s journalism landscape

Following several recent efforts to create a more interactive website, the Bangor Daily News is on the verge of launching a new user-generated content section, jasonclarke.org has learned.

“We are launching a brand new community publishing platform”, Online Services Manager Tim Archambault said in an email interview. He gives the timetable for the launch as “the next couple of days.”

The new community section will replace the News’ soon-to-be-former community.bangornews.com, a collection of staff-written blogs presented as a separate website and promoted sparingly on the bangordailynews.com homepage. Archambault describes traffic for the outgoing community site as “not overly strong.”

emilyrockblogster1.gif

Rock Blogster, one of the current Bangor Daily News blogs

Though he won’t disclose specific plans for the new section, Archambault says that it will “hopefully [include] any and all content the public deems important.” Given this description, the News’ new “community” platform is likely to expand upon the current crop of staff-written blogs to invite contributions of text, photos, and potentially video from people in the News service area, which stretches from north of Bangor to the coastal regions and into central Maine towns like Newport.

The revamped section will be the third incarnation of blogs in some format for the paper since September 2005, when it launched blogs on Hurricane Katrina and energy issues. In its most recent incarnation, the community.bangornews.com domain features corporate-produced blogs on Maine politics, personal advice, area music, and the Red Sox spring training season, “all of [which]” will be carried over into the new community website, according to Archambault.

“This platform is all about
community involvement.”

-Tim Archambault, Bangor Daily News

If it opts to expand its interactive components beyonds blogs to accept user-generated content, the News will follow a trend many national newspapers are pursuing in the wake of falling advertising revenues and subscription counts. But it faces stiff competition from two other Maine papers that already have a head-start publishing a variety of content submitted by readers. Both the coastal region Village Soup website and Blethen Maine Newspapers’ My.MaineToday.com feature a variety of user-generated content ranging from comments on articles to local events listings to photographs of local happenings. Up-ending the traditional “top-down” model, content in the My.MaineToday.com site, for example, is not written by reporters or newspaper staff but rather uploaded and managed by website visitors.

Inviting local citizens to help create the content of a local or regional news site is a bold strategic move for media outlets struggling to grow readership, but it can also be a risky proposition. One of the emerging “citizen’s journalism” movement’s early leaders, Backfence.com, opened to great fanfare in 2006 only to struggle mightily throughout its early existence. Earlier this year, the Washington Post reported that one of the company’s founders had left amid struggles with investors over how best to expand the organization, which had struggled to attract contributions from people even in heavily-populated suburban areas such as Reston, Virginia.

That said, the Bangor Daily News is not dealing with the exact same challenges as Backfence.com. While the News readership is comprised of less population than the suburban areas targeted by Backfence.com, it covers a wider geographic footprint and competes amidst a less-crowded media marketplace. However, the News still faces other challenges inherent in launching any user-generated news venture, such as “will people care?” and perhaps more importantly, “will they even visit?”

To meet these challenges, Archambault says the BDN will “absolutely” give the new community section more visibility on the bangordailynews.com website. He also hints the News will “hopefully” cross-promote the people’s contributions by re-purposing online content for the printed paper. If that’s the case, Maine could be the home to a third major community-driven news venture as early as this summer.

Looking back on my predictions for 2006

Just over one year ago, I posted “7 things to look for on the web in 2006“. Now that 2006 is over, let’s take a look at how I did!

Here’s my original post, and here’s a summary of my predictions, in order of what kind of impact I predicted them to have:

7. Hyperlocal (or “Ecosystem”) social software
6. Distributed advertising networks
5. Identity
4. Attention
3. Delivery & Organization (RSS, OPML, SSE, and others)
2. User-Organized Media and Content
1. Open-source video / Videoblogging

7. Hyperlocal (or “Ecosystem”) social software
Grade: B / I think I did pretty well with this one. While corporate-engineered hyperlocal sites faired well in terms of quality and quantity– and the space grew quite a bit in terms of players– it was probably the expansion of homegrown hyperlocal that made this prediction a moderate success.

6. Distributed advertising networks
Grade: D / Sorry, me. With this prediction, I hoped online advertising networks would expand, making the monetization of online content more democratized. Sadly, that wasn’t to be. Despite the success of PajamasMedia and the Federated Media ad network, this space took more steps back than forward. For one, both Pajamas and FM are both closed networks, with high bars to entry. Secondly, Google Adwords faced no stiff competition from Microsoft or Yahoo!, and finally, the most well-known new addition to the space in 2006- PayPerPost– became known as an ethically-questionable company, enraging many of the most well-known bloggers for its approach to advertising (which, for the record, I am strongly opposed to).

5. Identity
Grade: C / As 2006 rolled on, this prediction became more and more important to me, yet I saw little or no indicators that it would ever take off, at least during the calendar year. With some moderate adoption of OpenID, I predict that I was one year off, and that 2007 will mark the year that identity really breaks through with early adopters, while in 2008 it will see adoption across major platforms in some form.

4. Attention
Grade: D / Sadly, attention didn’t break out big in 2006. Though some strides were made, I predicted it to become part of the online conversation much as RSS did in 2005, and I was sorely mistaken. Although there are some attention tools built into services such as YouTube, we as creators are still not benefiting from any sort of serious effort to capture and provide attention details to us. Let’s hope my prediction was one year ahead, and 2007 becomes the year for creators to earn more information about their productions.

3. Delivery & Organization (RSS, OPML, SSE, and others)
Grade: D / In my opinion, 2006 was a major down year for the promise of RSS, OPML, SSE, and related innovations. RSS continued to be beset and marginalized by the lame implementations of personal homepages, while Microsoft’s promising SSE gained zero traction, and OPML, which finished 2005 strongly, floundered and struggled without any major breakthroughs during the year. Although Google’s Reader product made a big splash, no other power tools emerged, and as far as innovative uses, I saw only one power-user product- 30Boxes‘ calendar- which truly showed me that RSS can continue to be grown.

2. User-Organized Media and Content
-AND-
1. Open-source video / Videoblogging

Grade: A / A I think it’s safe to say I scored big on both of these. It’s my belief that online video was the big story on the web in 2006. From Time magazine naming YOU its Person of the Year (because of your contributions online), to Google’s $1.6 billion dollar purchase of YouTube, to the breakout videoblogs Rocketboom and ZeFrank, to the success of big media video in the form of MSNBC’s record video stats, to the number of sordid celebrity stories told online and enhanced by video (Michael Richards’ meltdown, DeVito on the view, many more), to MSNBC and CNN’s record video streaming numbers, video was the single most explosive online sector last year. 2007 promises to be a huge year for video and user-organized content as well.

Overall grade: C And coming soon- my predictions for 2007!

Lance Dutson making history as credentialed blogger

Lance Dutson

Photo: John Patriquin for the Portland Press Herald

Lance Dutson

More great and well-deserved press for my friend Lance Dutson, who will be making history next week as one of the first ever bloggers credentialed to cover a federal court case.

According to the Portland Press Herald, Lance will travel to D.C. next week to cover the trial of former Bush administration official Scooter Libby. The credentials for two bloggers– a rotating stable that will include Dutson and at least three others– were arranged by Media Bloggers Association, for which Lance serves as web developer. MBA president Robert Cox, who brokered the deal, told The Washington Post “The history of where blogging is going to go is not defined. It could go in a very positive direction or it could go in a very negative direction,” Cox said. “We have to do more than just sit on our hands and see what happens.”

This is great news, as anybody who follows the business of blogging can easily recognize. Best of luck to Lance and the other bloggers covering the trial.

Disclosure: Lance is my good friend and podcast co-host. I am former web developer and Board of Directors member for Media Bloggers Association.

2006 Citizen’s Media Sites of the Year

Last year, I named my “2005 Blogs of the Year“, and without even reaching it’s second anniversary, I’ve changed the format of this award. Instead of limiting its scope to blogs, I’m expanding this list to include all types of citizen’s media sites- from blogs to podcasts to video blogs to anything that might be similar to any of those. So here we go…

5. Bloggingheads.tv – Robert Wright, Mickey Kaus & Friends -AND- HotAir – Michelle Malkin / These two unique political video blogs are strange bedfellows for a tie on my list. While Bloggingheads is long, talky, and akin to eavesdropping on policy wonks in the hallways of a political conference, HotAir shines because it is short, sharp, and decidedly in the personality of its host, acerbic political blogger Michelle Malkin. Though they’re different, they’re both my picks for best political videoblogs out there.

4. Rocketboom – Andrew Barron, Joanne Colan (partial), Amanda Congdon (partial) / The intelligence quotient of NPR, the snark of The Daily Show- Rocketboom is an acquired taste that I find occasionally fascinating, occasionally annoying, but always interesting and, without a doubt, the gold standard for video blogs in terms of production value and an overall unique voice.

3. TV Squad – Contributors / From show episodes to industry news to rumors and innuendo, TV Squad is the only, essential, indispensable site for anybody who cares about the TV industry or loves to watch. Updated frequently, but never too much, they’re fun yet blissfully unsnarky.

2. Instapundit – Glenn Reynolds -AND- The Glenn and Helen Show – Glenn Reynolds & Dr. Helen Smith / Yet again, the most prolific, and bereft, thinker on the web is #2 on my list. The best blog of all time is now complimented nicely by the addition of an excellent podcast, The Glenn and Helen Show. Reynolds and his wife, Dr. Helen Smith, are a relaxed, witty duo behind the microphones, and their A-list guests and wide range of timely topics are some of my favorite

1. Maine Web Report – Lance Dutson / Yes, Lance is my friend and co-host on Maine Impact, our podcast on Maine issues. But those things have nothing to do with my decision to name Lance’s Maine Web Report my citizen’s media site of the year. Beginning with his pointed, relentless coverage of Maine’s Department of Tourism back in the early winter, through the travails of the lawsuit filed against him, and continuing on through his freedom of access requests and reports, as well as his coverage of a myriad of other issues affecting the people of Maine, Lance put the bite back into Maine media and showed by example truly how deeply the explosion of citizen’s media can effect the status quo.

2006 Best Tools of the Web

Following up on last year’s post, here are my picks for top 5 websites, tools, and/or services of 2006:

5. Dreamhost I switched to this highly regarded web host in February, and haven’t looked back since, despite a series of public troubles during the summer. But if the measure of a company is how it deals with customers during adversity, Dreamhost rose to the challenge and then some with is transparent and extremely honest chronicling of its own troubles via its status blog. Combine that with insane bandwidth, disk space, immensely handy one-click installs, and a set of power features that can’t be matched, Dreamhost is the ideal backbone for anybody working on the web.

4. Google Docs & Spreadsheets If I could find a suitable online PowerPoint solution, I would uninstall Microsoft Office in a heartbeat thanks primarily to Google’s excellent Docs & Spreadsheet solution. While the product needs to improve its import and formatting tools, you can’t beat the convenience and ease of a centralized, tag-based repository for your documents. A shout-out to Writely, the word processing tool purchased by Google and adapted into Docs & Spreadsheets.

3. Google Calendar -AND- 30Boxes – Yep, it’s another Google tool on the list. Although I started out a devout Yahoo! user this year, I had to break away after experiencing 30Boxes excellent, game-changing calendar solution. And while I loved 30Boxes and their commitment to RSS and an open web, I ultimately made the switch to Google Calendar. It’s not the product that 30Boxes cal is, but I expect the product to improve in some great ways in 2007.

2. YouTube What else can you say about YouTube, other than the fact that it helped to usher in the video evolution, made embedded video the standard, further encouraged the open, sharing nature of the web, and played nice with both corporate producers and independent voices? It’s a nostalgia factory, a citizen’s media platform, and a distribution model, and then some, and although many other video sharing sites are out there, YouTube’s cultural influence makes it the clear leader of the pack, and an easy #2.

1. Mozilla Firefox 2.0 #2 on my list last year has risen to #1 with the release of its version 2.0. Firefox 2 adds some excellent features- notably a spell check and tighter RSS integration- and with the advent of the Web 0S thanks to Google and others, maintains its significant role at the very center of the human side of the web.

Maine blogger free of lawsuit; Maine not yet free of corruption

As I wrote yesterday, Maine ‘Pay-per-Gate’ blogger Lance Dutson has been relieved of a multi-million dollar lawsuit brought against him, thanks in part to his attorneys, Maine State Rep Stephen Bowen, and the public relations and legal work of the MBA (disclosure: I’m on the board of the MBA).

So at least nationally, this sad, sordid saga is over. But as this story began locally, I believe it’s still active locally. Warren Kremer Paino may have buckled under the pressure of the blogosphere, national media, and a lone brave state rep coming to bear on them, but I believe you can also make the argument that by dropping the suit, they win in a different way.

After all, with this decisive victory in Lance’s favor, national attention will turn away and onto other matters of importance. I haven’t heard anything different from our silent state government, so I can only assume that WKP will be back at work Monday spending our tax dollars to sue our residents.

The full story goes beyond WKP, as well. The fact remains that some of the most bizarre and inept behavior committed against Lance was never even raised on the national scale. And unfortunately, while Warren Kremer Paino has learned it cannot intimidiate a Maine resident while acting on behalf of our government, the sad reality remains that Dann Lewis, Maine Tourism director, still has his job. And Nancy Marshall, head of the PR firm representing the state agency, is still retained as official flack. Both have yet to be held fully accountable for their actions to date.

I trust that Lance will continue to follow these issues, and if he does (and I know he will), it will nearly impossible not to uncover further and greater incompetence. Now that he knows he has the full weight of a million other bloggers, plenty of legal help, and at least one state rep behind him, I hope that Lance’s efforts to hold those in power accountable is helped by more of his own fellow Mainers.

We owe it to Lance to support him, as he has come a long way to make it here. But we also owe it to him to help in any other way we can. There is still much left to be done.

Andy Baio sticks up for freedom of expression online

If you care about freedom of speech and the future of the Internet as a distribution platform for original content, you should care about Andy Baio’s willingness to stand up to the powers that be.

Baio, a popular blogger at waxy.org, has been hosting the files of a popular homegrown series, House of Cosbys, since November 2005. Last week, Baio received a threatening cease-and-desist letter from attorneys for Bill Cosby demanding he take down his copies of the series, which parodies Cosby’s voice, mannerisms, and some of his catchphrases (but not, in my view, in a mean way).

The series of short films originally appeared on Channel101.com, where it became extremely popular. After Cosby’s attorneys got Channel101.com to remove the videos, Baio began hosting them, he says, because they “deserve to be seen” – and he’s right.

In his announcement that he’ll fight the scare tactics of Cosby’s attorneys, Baio gets to the heart of the issue:

But I’m not removing House of Cosbys. House of Cosbys is parody, and clearly falls under fair use guidelines. I’m not taking it down, and their legal bullying isn’t going to work….Sorry, but the First Amendment protects satire and parody of a public figure as free speech. Also, the right of publicity only applies to unauthorized commercial use, and not a work of art or entertainment.

More than anything, this strikes me as a special kind of discrimination against amateur creators on the Internet. Mad Magazine, Saturday Night Live, South Park, The Simpsons, Family Guy, and countless other mainstream media sources have parodied Bill Cosby over the years (see growing list below).

I’m not saying Cosby has to love the fact that his likeness is out there being parodied for anybody with high-speed internet and a unique sense of humor to appreciate. But Baio shares some pretty damning evidence with a list of popular, mainstream avenues where Cosby has been parodied before without resorting to what amounts to legal scare tactics, and I’m betting that many of those shows in the list treated Cosby with much less admiration, no matter how off-kilter House of Cosbys is.

On this issue, Cosby should take a page from Chuck Norris’ book. The legendary actor recently became aware of the popular “Chuck Norris facts” meme travelling throughout the web, and rather than calling his lawyers, he instead reached out to his audience on the web with this message:

I’m aware of the made up declarations about me that have recently begun to appear on the Internet and in emails as “Chuck Norris facts.” I’ve seen some of them. Some are funny. Some are pretty far out. Being more a student of the Wild West than the wild world of the Internet, I’m not quite sure what to make of it. It’s quite surprising. I do know that boys will be boys, and I neither take offense nor take these things too seriously.

After that, Chuck proceeded to spin the message into a sales pitch for his latest book. He obviously realizes that you can’t spend your time trying to stifle the open distribution channel of the web- you can only hope to come off well, and maybe sell a few of your widgets in the process.

Unfortunately, Bill Cosby has done neither. Maybe he’ll reconsider if peole stand behind Andy Baio’s small act of courage and send a message that the web will not be sued into submission.