RIP Breaking News Online App: You Were the Best Way to Get News Fast

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One year ago this month, the best iPhone app for finding out what’s happening around the world, fast, launched to the public. Breaking News Online (BNO), the incredible team lead by Dutch then-teenager Michael van Poppel and funded by revenue from van Poppel’s bizzarre sale of an Osama Bin Laden video to mainstream media outlets, built the sophisticated app to deliver push-notification alerts of breaking news with Iowa based development shop BitMethod.

The app was a favorite of news-junkies and reporters around the world. Even members of the RedCross said they used it to find out about natural disasters before any other channel alerted them. Then in November, Breaking News announced that it had sold control over its wildly popular Twitter account to MSNBC. Today the organization announced that its iPhone app will be shuttered. BNO will now sell access to its news exclusively to the corporate media clients it had originally disrupted with its innovative nearly-free service to consumers.

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BNO, as the organization is often called, performed a mysterious but powerful mix of news aggregation and original reporting. It was the kind of thing that many young news geeks dream of – finding the most important news online and delivering it to the world faster than anyone else.

It was a beautiful thing. I’ll always remember the day I was eating lunch with a friend and got a push notification sent to my phone by BNO reporting that Bill Clinton had freed web journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee from captivity in North Korea. We both celebrated and I was thankful for finding out right away.

The app pushed a much higher volume of updates out than other news apps do, but also allowed what was when it launched a novel degree of granularity: users could determine which categories of news they wanted pushed to them and between what hours of the day.

When BNO sold control of its popular Twitter account to MSNBC, the difference was immediate and for serious news-hounds, disappointing. It felt less personal, there was no MSNBC branding on the Twitter account, but a substantial number of the links posted went to that company’s site. It was still pretty cool, but not nearly as cool as the independent organization that it had been before.

Below: Sales of the BNO app in iTunes spiked dramatically, then dropped off when the organization gave up control of it’s 1m+ follower Twitter account.
BNOSales

There was still the iPhone app, but its sales dropped substantially once it was no longer promoted on Twitter. BNO began making deals with other news organizations to provide them with feeds of breaking news that the ultra-lightweight international team consistently finds before anyone else.

Then this week, it abruptly came to an end. “The BNO News app is over. A PR is expected later today,” BNO EVP Rodrigo Javier Aguiar said on Twitter last weekend. It wasn’t until today that the company issued a press release. Van Poppel explained:

“As our wire services are growing, our content is expanding, and our company is quickly expanding, we want to give our clients the full advantage by only offering services directly to them. Unfortunately, only offering services to our clients also means we have decided to end our iPhone services.”

What that means is this: BNO changed the media by proving that a tiny distributed team of talented young journalists could beat the world at breaking news around the clock. Then the world’s media began giving BNO money for a piece of the action. Now the media establishment will no longer be challenged from the outside by an independent source, because Van Poppel’s team will no longer compete with it. “We want to give our clients the full advantage,” he wrote. And with that full advantage will come the discretion regarding which of the news updates will be published, how many of them and how fast. The media landscape returns to normal, it just may be a little faster, and van Poppel and his team have reputable, if unusual, jobs now.

So much for disruption. Everybody’s got a right to make a living.

The app has already been pulled from iTunes and Bitmethod, the contractors that built it, will soon send out shut-down notifications to app buyers. That company says it may offer refunds to people who bought the app in the last few months. Bitmethod offered enthusiastic and supportive statements, but frankly – I’m bummed.

I wish I could see inside that news room, and get some idea how they break so much news first. I don’t think any of us are likely to learn such things now.

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Google and Associated Press Make Content Licensing Deal

Mashable!

Google has inked a deal with the Associated Press to keep the news organization’s content on Google News, an issue that was very much in doubt for a time earlier this year when the news aggregator stopped posting AP content as the two sides worked on a new deal.

In a brief statement, the AP says that the companies “have reached a new agreement on the continued licensing of AP content by Google. Under the agreement, AP and Google will also work together in a number of new areas, such as ways to improve discovery and distribution of news.” The AP signed a similar agreement with Yahoo back in February.

In the past, the AP has taken a strong stand against content aggregators (of the non-paying variety) and at one point somewhat infamously introduced a policy of charging $2.50 per word for using excerpts from AP content (a policy they quickly said was misinterpreted). The AP also toyed with the idea of charging news outlets for priority access to breaking news.

For now, it appears the AP has gone in a more conventional direction, however, taking an undisclosed sum of money from Google for the rights to host its content.


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FTC Finds Paid Reviews Defy “Truth In Advertising”

In a win for consumers, the Federal Trade Commission settled today with a video game company that hired a public relations firm to post reviews of its app in the iTunes App Store.

The FTC found that the reviews, which did not disclose the relationship of the reviewer with the company or product, constituted a form of false advertising by hiding facts that “would have been relevant to consumers who were evaluating the endorsement and deciding whether to buy the gaming applications”.

I’d actually really love to see a little more regulation of this kind of thing; many bloggers and pundits are very above-board with disclosing their connections, but at the same time, many are not. Tools like Twitter, and these iTunes reviews, which allow company spokespeople to register for what appear to be unconnected consumer accounts is just a lie of omission. I’m glad to see the FCC is holding unscrupulous advertisers to a higher standard, in print at least.

Tough Questions for YouTube: How to Handle Videos of Human Rights Abuses

Citizen video is one of the most powerful ways to spread a message. But it’s also very scary, especially with new technology that can identify faces in a crowd. Online video can increase the effectiveness of a protest, but it can also increase the risk of retribution against those who are involved.

YouTube is soliciting ideas about this delicate issue for future blog posts examining the role of online video in human rights.

YouTube is asking users to consider questions such as:

How can uploaders balance privacy concerns with the need for wider exposure?

How can we stay alert to human rights footage without getting de-sensitized to it?

Does human rights content online require some kind of special status?

Submit your ideas and answers to the Google Moderator.

I love that YouTube is aware of the impacts simple information sharing can have across the world – and they don’t maintain some Zuckerberg-fueled rehash of the hippy philosophy of “sharing automatically makes the world better”. It’s an important element of social responsibility for the new media makers to be aware of, and plan for, their eventual impact on human culture. McLuhan would be proud.

RIAA: The DMCA Isn’t Working

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) isn’t happy with the U.S. copyright law. Speaking at the Technology Policy Institute’s Aspen Forum, RIAA complained that the DMCA “isn’t working for content people at all.

The RIAA is authorized to speak on behalf of all the content people in the nation? I don’t think so. It should read, “The DMCA is making it easier for people to excercise their rights to share and view content they’ve already paid us for, and we find that unacceptable!”

Apple Files for Patent to Disable Jailbroken iPhones

Although the U.S. government has legally authorized the jailbreaking (i.e. running code that gives users access to extensions and themes that Apple has not approved, as well as use carriers that are not supported by Apple) of iPhones and other electronic devices for “educational purposes,” it seems that Apple is determined to gain further control over said devices.

Ownership is a fuzzy thing these days.

Viral Videos and Flickr Photos Could Help You Circumvent Censorship

A group of researchers at Georgia Tech may have an answer to the epidemic of government censorship we’ve seen marring communications in many international spheres of late: a system they’re calling “Collage” that will allow people to hide messages in user-generated content, to be disseminated via platforms like Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. That’s right, Keyboard Cat could become a harbinger of covert news.

So how does this process work? Sam Burnett, one of the researchers involved in the project, described the system to us in layman’s terms: “Someone uploads pictures containing hidden messages to Flickr (), then someone else comes along and downloads them and decodes the message.

NCIS beat them to it by about 6 years. Still, this technology is really exciting, if for no other reason than the eventual arms-race that will follow as governments attemnpt to crack down on these encoders, is that the populace will always in. In an environment like the Internet that allows content creation in un-indexed sites, it would be an impossible task for censorship officials to find and delete every site without turning off the whole internet.

What Is It About 20-Somethings? – NYTimes.com

We’re in the thick of what one sociologist calls “the changing timetable for adulthood.” Sociologists traditionally define the “transition to adulthood” as marked by five milestones: completing school, leaving home, becoming financially independent, marrying and having a child. In 1960, 77 percent of women and 65 percent of men had, by the time they reached 30, passed all five milestones. Among 30-year-olds in 2000, according to data from the United States Census Bureau, fewer than half of the women and one-third of the men had done so. A Canadian study reported that a typical 30-year-old in 2001 had completed the same number of milestones as a 25-year-old in the early ’70s.

So societal norms established in the 1950′s heydey of depression and repression are crumbling. I dislike the implication that waiting until you’re emotionally and financially ready to take on the burdens of a private residence, marriage, or dependent is somehow retarding American culture, though. Turns out the entire global economic and educational system is a bit different, too. Maybe that has something to do with it.

MediaShift: Who Owns Your E-Book of ‘War and Peace’? Probably Not You

If we are talking about an e-book version of the latest translation that was bought online and downloaded to an e-reader or other mobile device, then the question of ownership of the copy is not so simply answered. Unlike works published in print, electronic works are typically sold subject to agreements, in transactions that look less like an outright sale and more like a limited license.

I can’t wait to hear where sites like this one fall in terms of ownership and copyright law; Is curation an artistic process subject to some of the same privileges? My gut says so; I am adding value and perspective simply in the act of collection and filtration. Not sure about the courts, though.