Sound Familiar? NYO Apparently Looking To Ex-Employee For Inspiration

Anyone who needs reminding of how jagged the ironies of cost-cutting can get ought to hotfoot it over to The New York Observer’s homepage.  There, amid a quartet of articles centralized under the rubric “Today’s Top Stories,” you’ll find the wryly titled “My Town of Kind!” by Meredith Bryan.

Be warned: depending on the depth and genus of your news-addiction, “My Town of Kind” may also induce sensations in the realm of déjà vu.

Conceptually, “My Town” is a flashy number.  It postulates, and then analyzes, an epidemic of politeness sweeping the nether regions of the web.  Blogs, comment-boards, Twitter – until recently, these places were little more than steam-rooms for pissed-off subliterates.  Now, Ms. Bryan observes, “wide swaths of the Web have become bastions of support and earnest civility.”  So “My Town” has that in its favor already: a good idea.  To boot, the author wields a brisk and able prose-style.  Lightly jaded, unflaggingly urbane, her tone is pure Observer.

Yet “My Town” is also mortifying, in its way, and a sign of The NYO’s quickening decline.

Here’s why.  Chronic readers of classy-glossy NYC weeklies may have noticed a piece in New York Magazine’s “Daily Intel” section last December.  Its title was “The Warm-Fuzzy Web”, and it was written by Doree Shafrir, formerly of – wait for it – none other than The NY Observer.  It’s about the epidemic of politeness sweeping the nether regions of the web . . .

To say the two pieces bear something of a resemblance to one another would be a little like saying Michael Haneke’s “Funny Games” (2007) bears something of a resemblance to Michael Haneke’s “Funny Games” (1997) – an understatement flirting with mental illness.

Aside from the basic sameness of their gist (and The NYO piece, damningly, neither nods nor links to its “Intel” precursor), the articles follow gravely parallel trajectories.

Both quote media consultants about how cynicism and sarcasm flop online.  Both comment on the obsession, bred by social media, with hoarding friends and followers.  Both note how this M.O. has superseded the anonymous shit-flinging of the Internet’s teen-years. Both express a certain nostalgia for these bygone anonymous shift-flingers.  Both quote David Karp going on rather mind-numblingly about how well-behaved everybody is on Tumblr, which he founded.  And both pause to note, catalogue-style, the ingenuity with which social media stymie the visitor who wishes to vent his displeasure.  Here’s Shafrir:

On Facebook, we can only “like” things that people post; on Tumblr, there’s likewise only a “heart” button to indicate our approval. Twitter has a star. When people write things on Facebook or Tumblr or Twitter that we disagree with or simply find disagreeable, we can block them without their knowledge of our disapproval, and we never again have to see their posts about how much Going Rogue speaks to them.

And here’s Bryan:

To “like” someone’s post [on Tumblr] is to click on a heart-shaped symbol—an easy, “friction-less” gesture, [Karp] said—but there is no way to express the opposite if you find the post vaguely illiterate. (Similarly, on Facebook, there is no thumbs-down symbol.) There is however plenty to gain in terms of followers for your own blog if you opt to re-post people’s posts and add your own witty, positive commentary. Unlike many vicious Web commenters, users of these social-media platforms can be de-friended, unfollowed, ignored and potentially silenced by the platform itself.

This isn’t plagiarism, of course.  What it is is evidence of an idea-drought compounded by a near-total evaporation of pride.  Not a year after wrapping up one of the more sanguinary house-cleanings in recent memory (even the cleaning-lady got sacked), The NYO has been reduced to running slavish retreads of articles penned months earlier by writers they once employed.  And not just that: The NYO is affording these retreads marquee placement on their website.

Even the steeliest connoisseur of comeuppance has to find this sadder than funny.  From rags to riches, and back again, the bass-ackwards fairy-tale of a highbrow broadsheet . . .

Facebook Deals With More Privacy Breaches: You’ve Got (Someone Else’s) Mail!

If you were one of several hundred users on Facebook last night, your Inbox may have been flooded by some strange messages, none of which were intended for you. During a routine coding update, some users noticed what at first appeared to be a hack, as they began receiving messages from people they didn’t know…some of them personal in nature.

The news quickly spread on Twitter:

The weirdness lasted for less than an hour, and a spokesperson for Facebook quickly acknowledged the problem. In the meantime those who received mixed messages will not only be unable to access their own mail, but won’t even be able to log onto the site:

“During our regular code push yesterday evening, a bug caused some misrouting to a small number of users for a short period of time. Our engineers diagnosed the problem moments after it began and are working to get everything back in its rightful place. While they fix the issue, affected users will not be able to access the site.”

This glitch has brought up some privacy concerns for the site, which unfortunately follow right on the heels of its last media firestorm for a similar issue, when profiles defaulted to a public setting (so anyone could see all your information) after changes were made to the system. As it turns out, we don’t have as much to fear from Big Brother watching us so much as our parents and potential employers.

Media Genius Sarah Palin No Longer Taking Questions From Reporters?

This is one of those times where you have to wonder whether Sarah Palin is truly a media genius. Or merely a sign of things to come. Or both. Yesterday, Palin’s longtime spokesperson and “adviser” Meg Stapleton announced she was resigning her position to spend more time with her family.

Stapelton’s competence as Palin’s spokesperson has been consistently questioned since Palin arrived on the national stage in late 2008, mostly recently during the whole Rush Limbaugh/”retard” debacle. Also, for a spokesperson she was reportedly rather hard to reach. Says Politico’s Michael Calderone:

[G]etting a comment or sometimes even an acknowledgment from Stapleton could be difficult. I tried several times in recent months on Palin-related stories, and Stapleton never responded, while her voice mail was repeatedly full and unable to accept messages.

But here’s where it gets really interesting. Apparently, Palin has no plans to hire another spokesperson! The Palin family is apparently “comfortable speaking in their own voice.” Per Calderone:

So as of right now the only contact seems to be through Palin’s PAC, which provides a phone number which goes right to an answering machine and an e-mail address with no specific person to contact (

Crafty or crazy? Palin is, obviously, one of the most talked-about women/politicians on the planet, and a lot of that talk is not nice. I suspect “responding in her own voice” actually means one of two things. Palin has decided that answering questions from actual reporters is very last decade and is either going to let a combination of her Fox analyst appearances and the take-no-prisoners Fox News PR team speak for her (one can dream). Or! She has concluded, and not without good reason, that her one-way Facebook mouthpiece is all the public access she requires. It’s worked so far. Why bother with the fourth estate at all when all you need is a catchy Facebook note to derail an entire health care bill.

Sarah Palin Is Really Enjoying The Olympics

If you are a Facebook friend of Sarah Palin’s and/or you follow her on Twitter it’s hard to miss her enthusiasm for Team USA. Now that we are more half way through the Games (the closing ceremony is this Sunday) I thought it’d be a good time to look back at her Olympic Games thus far:

YES, Team USA!
Sun at 10:42pm
Congratulations to Team USA’s men’s hockey team for a sensational game this evening. We needed this! It made us so proud to be fans of this team, this sport, and this great country. America’s Olympic team of hard working, selfless team players – with no individual superstars – is an inspiring story for all. Now on to the next chapter in this great sports story… Go Team USA!

Facebook, Blogosphere Take On “Traitor” Scott Brown

Sen. Scott Brown is making his mark as a legislative maverick whose yet-untainted heart is his compass. Too bad it’s not 2008, the Republicans don’t have anywhere near a majority in the Senate, and Republican mavericks are passé. Brown ruffled his party’s feathers as he joined fellow Republicans Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, Kit Bond, and George Voinovich in voting for a Democrat-backed job stimulus bill, but despite not being alone, Brown is taking most of the hit for being the “41st vote” that never was. His vote – and the reasoning behind it: “I’m not from here; I’m from Massachusetts” – was not taken very well by a significant chunk of his supporters, and some of the biggest names on the American right are tripping over themselves to call out “told you so!”

The Facebook reaction – all too important in the post-Palin world – has already been catalogued extensively elsewhere, and it is not positive. There are all-caps and typo-laden tirades (“WE ARE NOT GOING TO TAKE ANY MORE RHINO’S LIKE SCOTT “TRAITOR” BROWN!”) and mixed capitalization typo-laden tirades (“VERY disappointed by your vote for another Stimulus Bill! Jobs Bill, a bill by any other name etc. etc. etc. Have any of you heard we are BROKE??”). There are a few “thank yous” here and there, but mostly from self-described liberals. Oh, and fan art – tons of fan art. The betrayed Brown team took their show to Ayla Brown’s fan page, too, though they were much better behaved commenting on her latest TV appearance. Even outside of Facebook, on the ScottBrownPres Twitter (the one that gives out free “Scott Brown for President” bumper stickers), his fans are questioning their allegiance.

The blogosphere and major conservative media outlets are reacting, if not with less despondence, at least without surprise. After all, it was precisely them who elevated him to the status that justifies the outrage of all his “fans” on Facebook. While some of the more extreme corners of the right-wing blogosphere, like World Net Daily, were busy uncovering the true liberal menace to bother with a know resident of Massachusetts, others were all too happy to point out that Brown was destined to be a traitor.  National Review’s “The Corner” contrasted Brown’s behavior with Glenn Beck’s Republican-bashing CPAC speech. Greta Van Susteren, who was slightly more enthusiastic about Brown, asked her blog readers to “check out the way Scott Brown is voting.” The Drudge Report showcased a dramatic close-up of Brown in bright red to give readers even more uneasy sleep last night. Michelle Malkin, on her end, was “not surprised. And I pointed out Brown’s moderate record several times on Fox and on this blog during the campaign.” And since it was so clear to her he was a liberal, she argues, the liberals owe Brown an apology for labeling him a conservative.

Not all of his conservative followers have counted Brown out, however. Laura Ingraham seemed willing to give him a second chance this morning on Fox and Friends, noting that, while she took issue with the fact that he considered himself the “first step to bipartisanship” (“that’s having a pretty big opinion of yourself”), he at least never lied about what he stood for. Ingraham distanced herself completely from the bill, but still noted that “he said from the beginning he was going to be his own man and forge his own way.”

Many people on the right, especially those that are not necessarily Massachusetts or even New England voters, expected Brown to be the savior of the Senate Republicans, eliminating the supermajority and existing solely to make the lives of his Democratic colleagues miserable. Shockingly, he also happens to have opinions of his own, not to mention those of his constituents (who, again, live in Massachusetts). He should be in the clear with Massachusetts voters as long as he is the 41st vote against health care – the one issue that propelled him to office. And while out-of-staters and major media personalities can have a profound effect on an election, he has a lot more to fear from his constituency.

Vudu Convinces Walmart to Pay Up: Why an Also-Ran Web Movie Service Sold for More Than $100 Million

As I wrote in January, Walmart is indeed interested in buying Vudu, the online movie service. I was off about one thing, though–the price.

Walmart (WMT) will be paying more than $100 million for the service, people familiar with the deal tell me. That’s much more than the $50 million I had previously heard Vudu was seeking and much more than industry observers thought it would get.

At this point I need to advise skepticism about reported sales prices, since they’re often inflated or include theoretical but seldom achieved “earnout” clauses. But my source tells me this will be a cash deal when it officially closes, which it hasn’t. No money has changed hands yet.

Vudu is an also-ran in the online movie business, which isn’t that much of a business to begin with. So why would the world’s biggest retailer pay a premium to get in?

Because Vudu’s management has convinced Walmart that its video-compression technology is something special, people familiar with the transaction tell me. Apparently, others think so, too: Vudu was able to attract multiple bidders. I’ve heard, but haven’t been able to confirm, that one of them was Cisco (CSCO).

Vudu has licensing deals with all the big movie studios as well, but that’s of secondary importance to Walmart, which has way more leverage with Hollywood than Apple, Netflix or Amazon (AMZN): The studios need Walmart’s physical reach much more than Walmart needs to get into the digital movie business.

Still, doesn’t hurt to make nice. Walmart and Vudu have been briefing the Hollywood studios today in advance of an official announcement, which could come later today.

Here’s some more background on the piece, from my January story:

After trying for two years to compete with Netflix’s DVD-by-mail business, Walmart gave up in 2005 and agreed to send its customers directly to Netflix (NFLX). In 2007, with the backing of all the big studios and tech help from Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), the retailer tried to launch a download service, a la Apple’s (AAPL) iTunes. But it abandoned that effort in less than a year.

Meanwhile, sources say Vudu has been seeking a buyer–in the form of either a big-box retailer or an electronics manufacturer–for some time without success. Internet executive Mark Jung ran the company for a year but left in November 2008; founder Alain Rossmann became interim CEO when Jung left and has kept the title since then.

Santa Clara, Calif.-based Vudu has raised at least $21 million from Benchmark Capital and Greylock Partners.

UPDATE: Walmart has officially announced the deal, noting that it is expected to close within a few weeks. No word on price except that it won’t be material.

Walmart Announces Acquisition of Digital Entertainment Provider, VUDU
Company takes next step to enhance home entertainment and information delivery options for consumers

BENTONVILLE, Ark., Feb. 22, 2010 — Walmart announced today a definitive agreement to acquire VUDU, Inc., a leading provider of digital technologies and services that enable the delivery of entertainment content directly to broadband high-definition TVs and Blu-ray players. The deal is expected to close within the next few weeks.

VUDU is a revolutionary service, built into a growing number of broadband-ready TVs and Blu-ray players, that delivers instant access to thousands of movies and TV shows directly through the television. Customers with broadband Internet access and an Internet-ready TV or Blu-ray player can rent or purchase movies, typically in high-definition, without needing a connected computer or cable/satellite service. New movies and features will be added continually, enabling customers to enjoy a product that continues to become more robust long after they have left the store.

“The real winner here is the customer,” said Eduardo Castro-Wright, vice chairman for Walmart. “Combining VUDU’s unique digital technology and service with Walmart’s retail expertise and scale will provide customers with unprecedented access to home entertainment options as they migrate to a digital environment.”

VUDU has licensing agreements with almost every major movie studio and dozens of independent and international distributors to offer approximately 16,000 movies, including the largest 1080p library of video on-demand movies available anywhere. Via their broadband Internet connection, users have the ability to rent or buy titles and begin viewing them instantly.

VUDU will continue developing entertainment and information delivery solutions such as VUDU Apps, a platform that delivers hundreds of streaming Internet applications and services to TVs and Blu-ray players with built-in Internet connectivity. VUDU has partnered with some of the leading names in Internet and media entertainment to offer applications on its platform including Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, The New York Times and The Associated Press.

“We are excited about the opportunity to take our company’s vision to the next level,” said Edward Lichty, VUDU executive vice president. “VUDU’s services and Apps platform will give Walmart a powerful new vehicle to offer customers the content they want in a way that expands the frontier of quality, value and convenience.”

VUDU, based in Santa Clara, Calif., will become a wholly-owned subsidiary of Walmart. The company is not disclosing financial terms of the agreement as the acquisition is not material to its first quarter earnings for fiscal year 2011.