The blotter: Week ending 31 October 2010

Business

Loosecubes matches independent professionals with co-working space. Whitney Hess joined the startup as product experience lead, so you know it’s going to be worth a look. Hess also hints that the company is expanding its mission “to be a community for the self-employed, and I am tasked with leading the product strategy shift and site relaunch.” What’s especially impressive is that Hess condensed the research and strategy phase of her user experience process — which ordinarily takes two to three months — into five days. If you’re self-employed, Loosecubes is something to watch closely. Saint Paul’s CoCo is listed. And remember, co-work space is great for team conferences and events.

Coordinated with the launch of his latest book, Steven Johnson has a great article on innovation in the New York Times. Johnson divides innovative breakthroughs into one of four quadrants: Solo entrepreneur, individual amateur, private corporations, and a space of collaborative, nonproprietary innovation (most recently exemplified by the internet). Common wisdom says that market forces drive innovation, but Johnson’s extensive research (300 of the most influential innovations in commerce, science, and technology) revealed that the fourth quadrant “turns out to have generated more world-changing ideas than the competitive sphere of the marketplace.” This fourth quadrant, according to Johnson, “creates new platforms, which then support commercial ventures.”

Internet

Firesheep is a Firefox extension that lets you eavesdrop on — and masquerade as — users of unsecured networks. The most popular unsecured networks are open Wi-Fi networks (like the one ARTS & FARCES runs, gulp). It works by stealing cookies from computers on unsecured networks and then using that cookie to masquerade as the user of the computer from which the cookie was stolen (technically, the process is known as session hijacking). Firesheep — by default — identifies cookies from Amazon, Basecamp, bit.ly, Cisco, CNET, Dropbox, Enom, Evernote, Facebook, Flickr, Github, Google, HackerNews, Harvest, Windows Live, NY Times, Pivotal Tracker, Slicehost, tumblr, Twitter, WordPress, Yahoo, and Yelp. Glenn Fleishman’s write-up for Boing Boing is the best I’ve found.

Media

Hey, you there. You’ve only got until midnight tonight (Halloween) to submit your entry to Dan Pink’s “What’s Your Sentence” project. Describe yourself — who you are, what you’re about, and what you hope to accomplish — in a single sentence recorded in a 15-second video.

Politics

When a MoveOn.org activist attempted to present teabagger candidate for US Senate from Kentucky Rand Paul with an Employee of the Month award from Republicorp representing the merger of the US Republican party and business interests controlling political speech, the candidate’s supporters held her down and stomped on her head, neck, and shoulders. The curb-stomper’s helper, apparently without irony, wore a “don’t tread on me” button.

John Stewart and Stephen Colbert held their Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. Jason Linkins, writing for the Huffington Post, has the video and transcript of Stewart’s closing monologue (scroll down), likely the most effective bit of the three-hour rally. Jeff Jarvis has the most cogent analysis I’ve found (corporate media were, predictably, dismissive; after all, corporate media — like vampires — fear the mirror). And this image, by philliefan99, from the top of the Washington Monument, puts the scope of the event in perspective.

Privacy

Emily Steel, writing for the Wall Street Journal, profiles identity aggregator Rapleaf. It’s disturbing to learn how extensive this one company’s dossiers on ordinary people are. And how cavalier it treats its privacy policy and transmitting personally-identifiable information to its business partners. Rapleaf uses voter-registration records, social networking, and shopping histories just for starters. It knows real names, real email addresses, household income, political proclivities, and the like.

In response to the Obama administration’s push for expanded surveillance powers, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed a lawsuit against three US Department of Justice agencies, “demanding records about problems or limitations that hamper electronic surveillance and potentially justify or undermine the Administration’s new calls for expanded surveillance powers.” As reported earlier, the Obama administration seeks expanded surveillance powers for all communications devices. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has claimed, repeatedly, that these expansions are necessary because technology advances “erode” the agency’s ability to intercept communications. The EFF has filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), and the Criminal Division of the Justice Department for information related to specific incidents where such “erosion” has taken place.

Publishing

The business model of web publishing has so far disappointingly followed in the footsteps of print publishing. That is to say, web publishing has been a mirror image of print publishing. The thinking around business models has been limited to “more of the same.” As David Carr, writing for the New York Times, reports there are several tiny glimmers of a smaller, more sustainable web publishing model with sponsorships at its core. Among the brightest of these glimmers is The Awl, editorially driven mostly by Choire Sicha and Alex Balk with David Cho handling the business side. Instead of writing for a group of vertical markets, the trio focuses on producing the kind of content they — and the people they know — would want to read with “strong voices and a literate sensibility.” Revenue for the independent site will be more than US$200,000 this year and, as Cho tells Car, “can realistically expect to be in the low millions in terms of annual revenue in the next 18 months.” As Carr explains, “the owners don’t have to get rich — The Awl has no investors — they just have to eat.”

It’s simultaneously exciting and frustrating to read Kevin Nguyen’s “On Editing: A Look Inside The Morning News, McSweeney’s, and The Awl.” All three publications rely extensively on email and manual processes. At The Morning News, one of three principal editors oversees each article from start to finish. McSweeney’s is edited completely by two editors who receive about 200 submissions each week. Similarly, The Awl, is edited by two. Surprisingly, all three publications have a decidedly low-tech workflow: Email, instant message, and the occasional tweet. Backpack (The Morning News) and Campfire (The Awl) are as high-tech as it gets.

Scott Rosenberg’s Knight News Challenge-winning fact-checking project, MediaBugs, is ready for its close-up. Initially focused on correcting media errors in the San Francisco Bay Area, MediaBugs has gone national. The MediaBugs widget is available for any page on any website, allowing users to easily report errors or problems. I’ve installed it on Hasten down the wire, but it’s not quite working yet. Stay tuned.

Technology

Here’s a taste of what’s probably coming from Apple’s Mac App Store. Remi Denis-Courmont is one of the primary developers of the VLC media player, free software distributed under the General Public License (GPL). VLC was accepted in Apple’s App Store. But Denis-Courmont explained that distribution terms of Apple’s App Store — specifically, prohibiting users from sharing the program — contradict the GPL’s terms. When confronted with this issue in the past, Apple has elected to drop the product from the App Store, instead of working to find a compromise. Think it will be any different when Apple gets its Mac App Store up and running?

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