пятница, 27 июня 2008 г.

Bigger Bucks for The Blogosphere

Over the past decade, John Battelle has shown a flair for creating innovative media properties. In the 1990s, he helped found Wired magazine. During the dot-com boom, he launched The Industry Standard. And in late 2005, he published a book on Internet search technology just as Google Inc. blasted into the stratosphere.

Now, Battelle is at the forefront of a movement attempting to answer one of the Web's most vexing questions: How do you turn blogging into a day job? Millions of people publish blogs and other niche Web sites, but they struggle to make a living from their passion.

Battelle thinks his new company, Federated Media Publishing Inc., can be part of the solution. The Sausalito (Calif.) startup is signing up hundreds of the best sites and selling their ad space to brand-name advertisers such as IBM, Absolut, and Hewlett-Packard. Federated Media doesn't own the blogs, as do other blogging networks such as Gawker.com, but it keeps 40% of the ad revenue and gives the rest to the site's owner. "It's kind of like a music label, except we don't control their intellectual property and tell them what to sing," says Battelle.

Federated Media represents just a drop in the advertising ocean. But the venture is off to a promising start. Last year, it sold more than $10 million in advertising for about 90 Web sites. This year, Battelle says it is on track to turn a profit and increase sales fivefold.

On Feb. 5, Federated got a boost by announcing it had signed as advertisers Cisco Systems, Nissan, and Nike, and 20 new sites, including video blog Rocketboom. It also re-signed Boing Boing, Digg.com, and a few other larger sites to long-term contracts. "It's a very compelling idea," says Daina Middleton, director of interactive marketing for Hewlett-Packard's imaging and printing group, which is working on an online campaign aimed at graphic artists. "You are able to enter a community of bloggers in a unique way."

Battelle's biggest challenge may be managing growth. Last year some sites grumbled that too much of their ad inventory went unsold as Federated Media focused on signing new properties. Jason Calacanis, the former owner of Web Logs Inc., a blogging network bought by AOL in 2005, says the big limitation is that Federated Media doesn't own the sites: "The second you build your client's business past $500,000 a year, they hire their own sales force."

Battelle believes the relationships he is building with advertisers will help it clear that hurdle. "Boing Boing is never going to get into the offices of General Motors," he says. "But Federated Media does all the time."

Unblock Bombay

The world's largest democracy is seriously mishandling the most freedom-enabling part of the Internet. We're talking about India's ill-advised clampdown on Internet blogging in the wake of last week's train bombings in Bombay that killed 182 and wounded more than 700. This is neither fitting of a free society nor, as it happens, a particularly useful tool against terrorism. The opposite is probably true.

For the last several days, the Indian government has blocked access to blogspot.com, typepad.com and other popular sites in what is reportedly either a clampdown on Web-savvy terrorists or a muzzling of inflammatory anti-Islam sentiment from Indian bloggers. Whichever it is, it's the wrong policy. Not only does this strip Indians of their democratic rights, but it also has robbed the city of Bombay of arguably its most useful emergency information system. Mumbaihelp.blogspot.com began tracking the bombings moments after they occurred; the near-constant updates on blocked rail lines, traffic and hospital information and, in time, a list of the dead were a lifeline to a frightened and confused public. Web sites like Mumbaihelp are now blocked.

If the worry is anti-Islam sentiment, the government should admit that it has little recourse. A democracy cannot presume to censor its people and much less should it burden itself with trying in the chaotic aftermath of terrorism. It has better things to do.

If the concern is blocking terrorist communication, the move would be self-defeating here, too. As anarchic as the Internet may seem, in reality it is becoming home turf for government intelligence agents and for law enforcement. In last month's foiling of a major terrorist plot in Canada, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service's Internet surveillance of the 17 alleged terrorists reportedly headed off a plan to detonate truck bombs, storm parliament and behead Prime Minister Stephen Harper, among other top officials. In Canada, Internet chatter was a gold mine of useful information. India's best option is to act like Canada. Of course, if it turns out that India shut the blogs in a panic, this only proves that it lacks the capability.

Speculation that the government would reverse itself began late yesterday as criticism within the country and without began to mount. If India unblocks the blogs, we at least hope government leaders would have learned something from the experience. When a democracy approaches the Internet as China and Iran do, the result is neither justifiable nor useful.

Is Dr. Blogger telling too much?

As the rage of Internet blogging spreads across professions, doctors' observations and opinions about patients _ some expressed in graphic detail _ are now ending up on the Web for all to see.

Hundreds of doctors across the country are writing Internet diaries that sometimes include harsh judgments of patients, coarse observations and distinct details of some cases.

Critics say the blogs cross into an ethical gray area and threaten patient privacy while posing liability risks for health workers and their employers.

A popular medical blogger, for example, wrote this in discussing an 18-year-old who on Christmas Day had her third baby:

"I don't mind it so much when a young single woman comes in with her first pregnancy, because anyone can make a mistake. But when that woman gets pregnant repeatedly, time after time, she degrades herself and her children, by condemning herself to a lifetime of dependency and irresponsibility."

The writer, who identifies himself as a neonatologist working in a U.S. urban area, writes about his practice at www.neonataldoc.blogspot.com.

The anonymity provided by blogs has proved to be a powerful lure for doctors and other medical professionals, who, sworn to strict rules of confidentiality regarding patients, have few outlets to speak their minds.

Although many bloggers stick to innocuous subjects that don't involve patients, others make patients the focus of their writing. The risks are far-reaching and ultimately could damage the medical profession, critics say.

"One of the fundamental aspects of medicine is that patients have to feel free to tell doctors everything," said Dr. David Stern, who teaches professionalism at the University of Michigan Medical School. "They're not going to tell us everything if they're asking themselves when they come in to see their physician, `Is my doctor going to blog about me?'"

TJ Bucholz, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Community Health, under which the state's medical licensing board operates, said he thought neonataldoc's blog stayed inbounds.

"I don't see a lot of blatant HIPAA violations," Bucholz said, referring to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, which established national standards to protect personal health information. "They're using first names ... but from my perspective, if someone were to identify themselves in this blog, he is looking at very serious charges, not the least of which is losing their license."

Medical blogging is so new that medical boards, schools and professionals disagree on what is acceptable.

The doctor who posts on neonataldoc.blogspot.com spoke to the Detroit Free Press on the condition of anonymity, saying the blog was a place for him to say things he does not otherwise get to express.

"I wanted to say what I wanted to say," he said. "I have many thoughts about single moms. I know of no other forum for doing this.

"I mainly wrote it for my own self," he added. "I had no idea it would take off like this or that the comment section would become what it has."

His blog, which includes comments on specific cases in dated entries and periodically mentions information about his hospital such as what food is offered in the cafeteria, can get up to 800 hits a day.

Posts often draw two dozen or more responses from readers.

Some of neonataldoc's posts seem crude. In December, he wrote about defecation during birth and, separately, a 17-year-old who was giving birth in the nude.

"`She doesn't have any clothes on!' I said to (the nurse), and we both started giggling." The doctor went on to describe for Internet readers some characteristics of the woman's breasts: "She had the hugest ... nipples I had ever seen."

Other blogs are equally candid:

"I got called to the ER to deal with a man who had placed a piece of plastic tubing (an aquarium pump tube to be exact) up his urethra, and it was now stuck inside and neither the patient nor the ER physician were able to retrieve it."

(That's from urostream.blogspot.com.)

"I informed a patient's parents that we would call them when their child was off the heart bypass machine and back in the intensive care unit. That went down like a lead balloon as the child was in fact having spinal surgery. Oops."

(From mediblogopathy.blogspot.com.)

At scalpelorsword.blogspot.com, the writer generated controversy for a post poking fun at a gay patient: "He wouldn't let me probe the wound, so we had to be satisfied with the tiny amount of pus that was expressed. He tolerated the procedure like, well ... John Edwards, " an apparent reference to conservative commentator Ann Coulter's use of a homophobic slur to refer to Democratic presidential candidate Edwards.

Critics find the trend troubling, not only because of the risk of compromising patient privacy but also because of potential liability for hospitals.

"We're talking about professions that have legal and ethical obligations regarding privacy that are governed by federal statutes," said Terry Bonnette, a labor and employment attorney with the firm Nemeth Burwell. "You should assume when you're blogging that your anonymity is not absolute.

"Employers should be very careful about this. They are the ones who have the most to lose, really. A hospital has every right to protect its image and reputation."

Some blogs give advice on how to comply with HIPAA. The site www.geneticsandhealth.com has an honor roll, led by Dr. Hsien Hsien Lei, listing blogs that do well at abiding by privacy laws and disclosing biases.

"I just felt sites were not up front about their affiliations," Lei said.

"The line is very fuzzy," Lei added, when it comes to maintaining patient privacy. "Every single doctor who blogs kind of defines it for themselves."

The author of bulgingbag.blogspot.com said he stopped blogging because he wasn't sure exactly what constituted breaking the law.

"There are no real guidelines, and I just felt I couldn't talk about the things I wanted to talk about without feeling like I was crossing some line," he said.

(EDITORS: STORY CAN END HERE)

The only acceptable way to blog safely about patients is to ask for their consent, University of Michigan's Stern said.

"Absent that, you're on shaky moral ground," Stern said. "The only way you can totally protect confidentiality is to not say anything."

Marie Doherty, an administrator in charge of nurses at Royal Oak, Mich.-based Beaumont Hospitals, said she was alarmed at the amount of patient information on some doctor blogs.

"There are a lot of patients who don't want any kind of information about them on the Internet, and that's their choice," said Doherty, whose primary role is that of a patient advocate. "Each case has to be dealt with individually. If a patient is concerned with blogging, they should definitely ask their doctor if they have a site."

(EDITORS: STORY CAN END HERE)

Down the hall from Stern's office, Dr. Robert Ruiz, associate director of admissions at the University of Michigan Medical School, said some flexibility is acceptable.

Ruiz supervises medical student blogs.

Students are allowed to write about patients if they obtain permission. If the entry focuses on the student rather than the patient, the student can write without the patient's knowledge.

"We ask that they change nonrelevant factors," Ruiz said. "If the gender isn't an issue, we tell them to change the gender, or we ask them to mix up the stories. They might write today about something they experienced months ago."

That fuzziness doesn't cancel out the good that has come out of medical blogs, said Lei, the genetics blogger.

Blogs disseminate research and opinions quickly and can give patients access to doctors, many times on even ground.

"Patients forget that doctors are people," Lei said. "There's a tendency to think that they're either God or people who just want to shove pills down your throat. When you're reading their blogs, you see that they're real people.

"Also, on these blogs, comments are open," she added. "If you have a concern, you can easily leave a comment. It's a wonderful way for patients to have access to doctors."

An Irishman's Diary

When Marshall McLuhan predicted the rise of a "global village", wireless microphones and the electric typewriter were the cutting edge of communications technology. Silicone chips had just been invented. The touch-tone telephone was on the way. But the world-wide web was still decades over the horizon, and the mobile camera-phone was science fiction.

So when McLuhan warned that electronic media would forge humanity into a collective identity with a "tribal base", it was mainly television he had in mind.

Genius as he was, he can hardly have foreseen the rise of "internet vigilantism", in which wrongdoers and social deviants would be censured or "blogslapped" online. Yet this form of community policing has helped make his global village a reality. And in enforcing rules of behaviour, it can be as effective as the actual village used to be.

There was a time when most people lived, if not in villages, in small societies, where an important controlling mechanism was fear of what the neighbours thought. A sense of shame kept you in line and prevented you from committing crimes, such as losing the run of yourself. Then more and more of us moved to cities, where we didn't even know who the neighbours were, never mind what they were thinking.

The anonymity of urban living set us free. But before we knew what we had, along came the internet, blogging, and the picture phone. And now we're back in the village. It's a much bigger village these days: the neighbourhood watch scheme spans the planet and the parish pump has been replaced by the internet. But if you commit a transgression, your shame is just as liable to be village news.

The shape of things to come appeared on the floor of a Korean subway carriage in mid-2005. It was left there by a dog, whose owner - a young woman - declined to clean the mess up. When handed a tissue, she used it to wipe the dog rather than the floor, at which point relations between her and the other passengers degenerated.

Naturally someone took her picture and later posted it on a website. Others added details of her identity and past. The case of "Dog Poop Girl" (to use the coy American translation of her Korean nickname) soon attracted national headlines and sparked debates about online persecution. But the naming and shaming had worked. According to the Washington Post: "Humiliated in public. . .the woman reportedly quit her university."

Korea's pioneering contribution aside, the US leads the way in policing the village. There are websites there devoted to exposing everything from bad parking (caughtya.org) to irresponsible childcare (isawyournanny.blogspot.com). Last month, I developed a grim fascination with a site devoted to America's ugliest Christmas light displays, if only to see what we could expect in Irish front gardens next year (answer: lights and music, synchronised!).

No transgression escapes sanction from the web's pulpit. The Wall Street Journal recently reported the case of a Californian whose home-delivered newspaper disappeared from his porch several nights running. He stayed up late one night and, when the paper arrived, attached a note to it saying "I'm watching you". Then he waited, hidden, cameraphone at the ready.

When the thief proved to be his next-door neighbour (who read the note and walked away), you'd think the watcher might have put down his phone and had words, man to man. But no: that's so old-village. He did the new-village thing, by secretly filming the culprit and posting the evidence on Youtube, where by yesterday it had attracted 1,715 viewers.

In the old village, provided you weren't suspected of being a witch or something, the worst you often had to fear was being talked about behind your back. In the new one, thanks to sites such as ratemyteacher, not only can you be talked about behind your back - and among a much larger group of people - you're also allowed to eavesdrop on the conversation.

Collectively, the people of the new village know more about you than the people of the old village ever did. The WSJ also reported the case of a New York SUV driver who deliberately hit a bicycle blocking his path. A pro-cycling blogger posted the registration number and, within minutes, other contributors had added his name, address, licence details, occupation and job title.

As a thoughtful extra, somebody even supplied an aerial picture of the man's house (courtesy of the village library, Google Earth). No doubt this was to facilitate any bicycle militants who planned to retaliate with fighter planes.

The thing is, over-the-top as these tactics may be, you can understand the temptation. Even well-adjusted people like you and me seethe inwardly at the man occupying two spaces in the multi-storey car-park or the woman yapping into her phone in the restaurant and saying "Oh my God!" about everything. It would be so nice to exact some sort of revenge, if only we weren't so mature.

Marshall McLuhan himself lampooned the desire when, late in life but still before the internet, he played a cameo role in Woody Allen's film Annie Hall. In the scene, Allen's character, Alvy Singer, is oppressed by a college lecturer next to him in the cinema queue, who is trying to impress his girlfriend with a misinterpretation of McLuhan's work.

A modern-day Singer would furtively have filmed his neighbour's dissertation and posted it on pretentiousdrivelinmoviequeues.com. But this wasn't possible in 1977. So instead, he just told the guy he was wrong and, miraculously, produced the real-life McLuhan to clinch his argument.

Whereupon Allen stepped out of character to sigh at the camera: "Oh, if life were only like this."

How times have changed

William the Conqueror, Macbeth and Canute Beowulf, the epic poem telling of a fight against a dragon called Grendel who devours men in their sleep Scotland was ruled by one man after King Malcolm of Scotia, king of the Scots and Picts, defeated the Angles of Lothian in the Battle of Carham in 1018 Wolves, wild boars and beavers roamed the countryside.

THE 21ST CENTURY - THE AGE OF ...

Celebrity Love Island and Vicky Pollard Internet blogging, gangsta rap and -the highest form of art -sharks pickled in formaldehyde.

Scotland, in a nod to self-rule, is governed by 129 squabbling politicians in a parliament built to resemble an upturned boat.

Chavs -or "neds" in Scotland -roam the streets looking for fights.

Blogs, journalism: Different factions of the write wing

The difference between traditional journalism and Internet "blogging" couldn't have been clearer Monday morning at the Hilton Boston Back Bay hotel.

"How can we trust you to blog if we don't know who you support" in the presidential election, David Weinberger asked veteran Associated Press writer Walter Mears, who won a Pulitzer prize for his political reporting in 1976.

"Because I'm objective," replied Mears, 69, who has come out of retirement to team with two colleagues on AP's first attempt at a political blog, an online diary of news and commentary, from the Democratic National Convention.

"That's the way you make your living" in journalism, he said. "The good ones learn to be dispassionate and straight."

For Weinberger, 53, Mears' answer underscored the dividing line between most of the 15,000 journalists covering this convention and the 35 bloggers who've been given press credentials by the Democrats. Weinberger writes JOHO The Blog, an eclectic site where he comments and reports about blogging, technology and politics.

In the blogging world, anyone producing an online diary or Web site that collects commentary from around the Internet is supposed to let everyone know his or her politics. The theory: Web surfers need to know bloggers' biases to understand their motivations. Presenting both sides of an issue in the interest of fairness isn't required.

"Objectivity is a worthwhile objective, but it needs to be recognized that it can't be reached," Weinberger said.

The arrival of the bloggers is perhaps the most overcovered media story of the convention so far. Chosen by party officials from about 200 bloggers who applied for media credentials, those now here have been welcomed by organizers as full-fledged members of the press. It's the first time online commentators and diarists have been admitted to a political convention. Republican officials are considering doing the same at their convention in a month.

On Monday, Democratic convention organizers put on a high-profile "breakfast for bloggers." Keynote speaker Barack Obama, the party's candidate for U.S. Senate in Illinois, told the bloggers: "Although I can't match faces to blog sites, you guys have just been doing a fantastic job. . . . One of the most exciting things is how you're energizing young people."

Del Sandusky, who served with John Kerry in Vietnam and has been campaigning for the presidential candidate all year, told the group: "Bloggers are a great idea. . . . We need this other news and route for the most creative" to spread their opinions.

The bloggers gave a standing ovation to Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor and presidential candidate. In 2003, Dean's presidential campaign used the Internet to promote his bid for the White House.

"I feel somewhat responsible for the fact that everybody got credentials," he told the bloggers.

Dean said the group shouldn't worry about the reception it gets from "traditional" journalists. "If I were you, I would not be insulted if someone refused to acknowledge you as a real journalist," he said. He said the "mainstream" media is far more biased than it will admit.

Some of the bloggers said they wouldn't even pretend they're traditional journalists.

"I'm a commentator," said Jessamyn West, 35, of Bethel, Vt. Her blog, librarian.net, focuses on issues such as library policy and whether the USA Patriot Act is eroding civil liberties.

"You need the big media because it's important for everyone to hear about the big stories," West said after the breakfast. "But the blogs are the corrective mechanisms that can set things straight."

One high-profile blogger didn't make it to the breakfast because she was busy getting ready for a report she'll do from the convention this week on MTV. Ana Marie Cox, 31, produces wonkette.com, an irreverent and gossipy blog that has caused a sensation in Washington, D.C., in part because of stories it ran about a woman who detailed her active Capitol Hill sex life.

"I'm glad there are news organizations that feel they should be objective and sober," she said Monday afternoon. "But I have no less respect for journalists who say, 'This is where I'm coming from.' "

Mears, the old-school wire service writer, said after the breakfast that he agrees "no one can be totally objective."

"But that doesn't mean you can't take your personal opinion out of a story," he said. "This is all a testament what a different world the other bloggers are in from me."

Media-savvy Sea Shepherd on top in PR war

THE heat between Japanese whalers and environmental activists reaches far beyond the icy Southern Ocean: it's in the cutting edge battle to harpoon public opinion.

Satellite up-links, webcams, around-the-clock internet blogging and dragooned reporters are the weapons of choice in this struggle for hearts and minds.

Sea Shepherd's images have been plastered on the front pages of metropolitan newspapers and in television news bulletins, often without right of reply by the whalers.

The man supplying the pictures, Sea Shepherd's volatile Paul Watson, is accessible by satellite phone. Between playing his increasingly high-stakes game of bluff with the Japanese whaling fleet, he makes time to regularly update his blog from the MV Steve Irwin.

The nerve centre of the media operation is a one-room office in Melbourne where Watson's American sidekick, Jonny Vasic, downloads dispatches from the Antarctic and punches them on to the Sea Shepherd website. Watson's satellite number is given to any reporter who asks.

Aboard the Steve Irwin -- the 53m cutter bought from the Scottish fisheries service in 2005 and rebadged after its British maritime registration was revoked -- there's a dedicated photographer and separate video camera operator.

Space has also been made on the cramped ship for a six-strong documentary crew from the US Discovery Channel.

``Media is one of our main tools,'' said Vasic, who has flown from the US with wife Christine to manage the on-shore operation from Sea Shepherd's office in inner-Melbourne Fitzroy.

``We are not delusional that we can solve this problem on our own.

``At best, we can be a spark, a catalyst, and we have to get this out to the world so people know what's going on down there with Paul and the crew.''

Sea Shepherd includes Lonely Planet, outdoor gear retailer Patagonia, and Swiss-based Save Our Seas Foundation among its sponsors, supporters and partners, which number almost 30.

More than 3000 volunteers and staff have worked for the organisation since the original Sea Shepherd's first voyage in the late 1970s, according to its website.

The media saturation tactic has worked. Kevin Rudd, his deputy, Julia Gillard, and Foreign Minister Stephen Smith all fronted the media yesterday on the whaling dispute.

Former journalist Greg Smith, who lectures in public relations at Edith Cowan University, said the media's remoteness from the action, and reliance on activists for photos, risked pushing the debate ``out of balance''.

``We fall for the cute and cuddly animal story, and having it on the high seas adds to the drama,'' Smith said.

But ``when they're strong pictures like that, the other side doesn't have much chance''.

Australian National University marketing lecturer Andrew Hughes said it was not just awareness Sea Shepherd had created. The organisation was generating ``a lot of money'' by linking its powerful images, blog updates, and promise of instant action to online donations.

It has even converted former Howard government environment minister Ian Campbell, now on the Sea Shepherd's board of advisers. When he was a minister, Campbell slammed Watson's verbal offensive against whalers as ``deranged'' and hinted at legal action against him.