Spot.us brings crowdfunding to journalism

There are plenty of efforts at “citizen journalism” underway in various places, including CNN’s iReport and Vancouver-based NowPublic, but Spot.us is a little different: In this case, the citizens aren’t the ones doing the actual reporting (although they can potentially do so under Spot’s model). Instead, they’re being asked to finance the reporting, by contributing to a kind of virtual tip jar. Founder David Cohn is a tireless young journalist who has been active with several leading citizen-journalism experiments, including Jay Rosen’s NewAssignment.net and the Off The Bus election-reporting joint venture with Huffington Post. But is “crowdfunding” really a viable model for journalism?

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YouTube to get MGM’s also-rans

According to the New York Times, the rumours about YouTube adding full-length movies are about to come true — sort of. The paper says that MGM will announce a deal with the video site on Monday to run some full TV shows and also some movies, with ads appearing alongside them. But the content isn’t really much to write home about:

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios will kick off the partnership by posting episodes of its decade-old “American Gladiators” program to YouTube, along with full-length action films like “Bulletproof Monk” and “The Magnificent Seven” and clips from popular movies like “Legally Blonde.”

Wow — the chance to watch old episodes of American Gladiators and Bulletproof Monk. Hold me back.

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Can YouTube even handle movies?

Greg Sandoval at CNET had a story today saying that he heard from a couple of sources close to YouTube that the company will soon be launching full-length movies. This led to a raft of posts echoing the story, most of which mentioned that this seemed like a plausible rumour — since YouTube now offers full-length TV shows from a couple of networks, and also has a “theater” setting that offers a wider viewer and slightly better quality. But only a couple of blogs that mentioned the story raised what I think is the most important issue: Can YouTube’s infrastructure even handle the real-time streaming of full-length movies?

Robert McLaws, for example, mentioned what I think is a pretty routine occurrence for most people when watching YouTube videos, and that’s the “buffering” message (I get that a fair bit even though I have an 8-megabit connection). John Brandon at Computerworld mentioned the crappy quality of most YouTube videos, and Nick Carlson at Silicon Alley Insider noted that YouTube videos aren’t actually streamed, but are downloaded to the user’s computer — meaning they can easily be copied.

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United Features sets its comics free

I came across the news earlier today that United Feature Syndicate, which distributes about 150 comic strips to newspapers and other publications, has opened its doors and set its content free on the Web. As described by the comic blog Drawn.ca, the site run by United Feature — which has the great domain name comics.com — used to restrict access to the strips it syndicates, and even RSS feeds only included links to the panels. Now, users can sign up for a feed of their favourites and get the entire strip. The site has set free its entire archive of comics as well, which means (among other things) all 50 years of Peanuts comic strips, which Drawn says is more than 20,000 comics. Even better, they have embed codes for their strips so you can plop them into your blog or webpage. Very smart. On a related note, if you enjoy comics at all, Drawn.ca is worth bookmarking — it was created by Canadian cartoonist John Martz, creator of the excellent Robot Johnny strip, and some other leading cartoonists, including Adam “Ape Lad” Koford.

Gary Vaynerchuk vs. Howard Stern

Gary Vaynerchuk of Wine Library TV may have started getting into video and Twitter and other social media to push wine, but he has become a leading proponent of using social-media tools to build your personal brand and sell whatever it is you want to sell (including yourself). In the video clip embedded here, he takes on Howard Stern — who should probably change his name from the King of All Media to the King of Old Media — who launched into a tirade about the uselessness of blogs and Facebook on a recent episode of his satellite radio show. I think Gary is probably onto something when he says that Howard (to whom he gives a lot of props for succeeding wildly at the conventional radio game) sees social media and the Web as a threat to his empire in some sense. Howard’s original rant is here.

Update:

Fraser Kelton says that Gary V is wrong, and makes a fairly persuasive case in a post from a couple of years ago that Howard is actually using social media and community a lot better than some people think — although in his own way. Not being a Stern listener, I’m going to take his word for it, and the fact that Loren Feldman, Howard Lindzon and Chartreuse all posted comments agreeing with Fraser makes it even more likely that he is right. Drama 2.0, who started this whole thing, has a not-safe-for-kids response here.

Ze Frank knows about community

At some point during a long night of Twitter responses to the U.S. election, Ze Frank posted a simple message saying that he was looking for people to post where and what they were doing when Obama was elected president. “Gimme snippets of your night,” he said. And about 130 people did just that, some of them just a few sentences, some of them long messages of 800 words or more. Here’s a few samples:

— “I was the girl who ran up and hugged you under the gigantic American flag. One of the most surreal moments of my life. Thank you.”

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Law: Kal Raustiala on intellectual property

Kal Raustiala is a law professor at the University of California in Los Angeles, and talked in a recent video interview about piracy, intellectual property and the “fashion paradox” for the website Big Think. The term “fashion paradox” was coined to describe how the fashion industry has very little protection for intellectual property — new designs are copied almost the instant they hit the runway — and yet there is no shortage of creativity, or money, in that business (supporters of strong IP protection laws usually argue that without them, many artists would no longer create).

Raustiala also talks about how industries often assume that technology such as the VCR will decimate their business, only to find out that they can actually make far more money with such technologies than they did before. The video is definitely worth a watch if you have some time. The site that it comes from, Big Think, is a kind of intellectual version of YouTube, featuring one-on-one interviews with leading thinkers and authors. Co-founder Victoria Brown — a Canadian — started the site earlier with support from Lawrence Summers, the former president of Harvard University, and Facebook backer Peter Thiel.

(hat tip to Hypebot for the link)

Yahoo: We are so totally screwed

It’s not exactly a huge surprise, given the anti-trust brouhaha that the proposal caused in Washington, but Google formally announced that its search deal with Yahoo is over, kaput, deceased, pushing up the daisies — it is an ex-agreement. It wasn’t just the anti-trust concerns either; some advertisers were apparently worried about a lack of choice as a result of the tie-up, and not without reason. So how badly is Yahoo screwed right now? On a scale of one to 10, I would say Yahoo is now at 11.

As John Paczkowski notes at All Things D, this deal was supposed to generate as much as half a billion dollars worth of additional cash flow in its first year, money Yahoo could definitely use. But more than that, this deal was a way of trying to stand on its own two feet (albeit while leaning on Google for support), and that is now gone. Microsoft, which had its takeover bid for Yahoo derailed by the Google arrangement — among other things — is no doubt doing the math on another bid.

The only problem for Yahoo is that instead of a $45-billion deal at $31 a share, Microsoft is more likely to bid about half that, and that’s if it even makes another bid for Yahoo at all. Nice job, Jerry. How many failed Hail Mary passes can one CEO throw?

Update:

VentureBeat’s Matt Marshall is reporting that an internal Yahoo memo says to expect “a major historical announcement” later today, and the rumour is that Jerry Yang will step down as CEO. Kara Swisher at All Things D says that is dead wrong, and so does the New York Times DealBook blog. VentureBeat has now updated its post and quotes a Yahoo source as saying there is no truth to the rumours.

Geek alert: CNN builds the Holodeck

Apart from the historic nature of the U.S. election (which I will let others discuss), the coverage on CNN set new records as far as the coolness factor goes. Not only did the channel have the Magic Wall — which until recently was the height of geek-dom, with its multi-touch input and other features — but then the network whipped out a couple of holograms just to up the stakes a little. Like Mike Arrington at TechCrunch, even though part of me realized they could have done exactly the same thing with a remote camera, a much larger part of me was thinking: “Those holograms are cool.” Plenty of other people seemed to disagree, however, calling the hologram “creepy.” I was less enamored of the virtual Capitol building, which looked kind of cheesy, but the Will.I.Am interview (which is embedded here) was just extremely cool. Yes, I agree that the Jessica Yellin interview had more than a touch of Princess Leia about it, but it was still damn cool. That is all.

Update:

According to a professor of theoretical physics and an expert in holography, what CNN used were not really holograms, since they didn’t project a 3-dimensional image into the studio — they projected it into the camera feed, which is what viewers saw, while the actual hosts were talking to empty space. Okay, not quite as cool. More here.

Personal note: A job change for yours truly

As many people who have been reading this blog for awhile probably know, I work for the Globe and Mail, a daily newspaper based in Toronto, where I’ve been working since 1994 or so. I’ve written about the stock market, the rise of the Internet, moved out West to write about oil and gas, and then came back in 2000 to be the Globe’s first online columnist and its first blogger (before anyone — including me — really knew what that meant). For the past year and a half or so, I’ve been the newspaper’s “new media” reporter, writing about all the ways in which the Web and social media are changing the business of online content for newspapers, magazines, authors, musicians, actors, artists and just about everyone in between.

A little while ago, I was offered an opportunity at the Globe that I got pretty excited about: a position that we’re calling “Communities Editor.” What does that mean exactly? To tell you the truth, I’m not quite sure.

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