Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Rock, Paper, Web 2.0

As a Reston resident and sometime contributor (photos) to Backfence I am curious about the implosion of the company.

When it launched I thought it would not succeed because it was dependent entirely on UGC and I couldn't fathom how they could monetize nothing but neighborhood chatter. It quickly became little more than a new delivery system for local politicians and "reviews" of local businesses and services too few in number to have any faith in.

Is there a lesson here on how newspapers can fend off what many regard as the inevitability of online supremacy in hyperlocal?
So Backfence just plain never caught on, and Scott Karp may have it entirely right that established web 1.0 sites were too much competition for this web 2.0 wannabe to disrupt. He notes that a Google search for "Reston" would not necessarily yield Backfence hits even on the first page, which effectively means that nobody would see them -- but an older, established hyperlocal site, RestonWeb, was front and center.

[There is now also what can only be called a hyper-hyperlocal site that serves only a section of Reston known as South Lakes; operated by a local realtor, it invites contributions of recipes and tips and the sort of neighborly tidbits Backfence and others also solicit.]

Karp also notes that "In the age of Google, you no longer have to guess what’s on people’s minds regarding a particular topic — Google’s database is all-knowing, all-seeing" and displays this chart to illustrate.

But Karp doesn't raise one point which may makes this just all a little more interesting: Reston is remarkably well served by three (count'em, 3) local weekly newspapers (That's right. Dead trees) -- The "Reston Observer," "Reston Times" and "Reston Connection." They do all the things you want local papers to do and are delivered free to every homeowner. They both have decent online presences and Google Alerts for "Reston" pull in their content.

So, did video kill the radio star, or vice-versa? Is there a lesson here on how newspapers can fend off what many regard as the inevitability of online supremacy in hyperlocal?

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Monday, July 2, 2007

Never Steal Anything Small

What makes the commutation of "Scooter" Libby's sentence so appalling is that it perpetuates the appearance at least of a conspiracy that now reaches the Oval Office. Even the mother of all presidential interventions, Ford's pardon of Nixon, bears up better: at least it helped to expedite a national healing process.

A Bad Boy, But A Good Boy

Yes, President Bush said in his statement that Libby had been a bad boy and had to be punished, and the fine and probation
Is this proof that the Bush White House has devolved into a collection of dead-enders, slogging through their last throes?
were left untouched. But Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff is family. He was a part of a what looks very much like a big
effort to spread the administration's war propaganda by attacking critics with smears and dirty tricks.

Political crimes are particularly heinous because they are about stealing power. They are
ideological and self-justifying. By ensuring that Libby would not be deprived of his liberty Bush has rewarded a subordinate who broke the law on his administration's behalf, even if the president was not directly involved in the wet work (much as Nixon was not involved in the Watergate break-in but approved and helped coordinate the cover-up). Showing Libby any favoritism would seem to be a toxic move unless accompanied by the punishment of far more guilty parties who, in part because of Libby's laconic testimony, have avoided indictment.

Libby is a patsy. He was uncooperative and sentenced in a way that was meant to deter others and motivate him to cooperate. One of the ironies of this strange affair is that there may not be an underlying crime, per se, but rather a sleazy political conspiracy that probably didn't even require the vice president -- who has the power to declassify anything he wants (reg. req) -- to break any laws or direct anyone else to break any laws. What happened may be embarrassing, it might alter histories view of the Bush years, but it may not be criminal.

An Unhappy Medium

With a judge's ruling that Libby had to report to prison pending appeal his incarceration was suddenly certain and imminent. But after steering clear for so long, ostensibly to allow the judicial process to play out, and not merely granting Libby a respite that could have postponed Libby's prison start date pending appeal, why does Bush
take a position on the merits now, and compound his problems by refusing to rule out a pardon?

It's a basic truism that pragmatism, not principle, rules the day in politics. How much worse would things have been for the White House without commuting Libby's sentence today and leaving the door open for a pardon tomorrow? Is this the final proof that the Bush White house has devolved into a collection of dead-enders, slogging through their last throes?

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