Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Gatehouse sues NYTCo (Boston.com) over aggregation: But do they have a point?

Things have been buzzing over here about the news that Gatehouse has sued NYTCo, the parent company of Boston.com, for aggregating headlines its headlines on Boston.com's new hyperlocal sites....

Now, in hyperlocal-land, getting aggregated is a good thing--(theoretically)it's supposed to drive traffic to the smaller, lower ranked site. But is that always the case--and is it the case in the Boston media landscape? I put in a call to my good friend Dan Kennedy, who is perhaps the *one* guy who really knows the Boston newspaper scene. In his post "How the Gatehouse Suit Looks from Both Sides", Dan looks at both sides of the situation. I would suggest to anyone reading this that they go directly to Dan's post, which is full of a number of important links....<Update Dan adds more resources in this post from 12/24/08)

However, here's a few insights I gained from my conversation with Dan: even though Gatehouse's viewpoint may be arguing from a point of weakness, maybe they have a point when it comes to which pages Boston.com uses Gatehouse headlines. Dan explained to me that Newton, the first page Boston.com launched their hyperlocal initiative, is chock full of hyperlocal media. So, Boston.com has a number of resources to aggregate content from. However, when it comes to a place like Waltham, Dan explained, all Waltham has is Gatehouse's content. So, what ends up on Boston.com's page is all Gatehouse headlines. That, IMO, isn't so great. From the position of someone who's interested in the diversity of the local media landscape, if I go to a site and see headlines from *only* one or two major media sources (as I'm likely to see on many of the Topix.com pages) I find the site a waste of my time. If all I'm getting are the headlines from other mainstream sites, then either someone at the aggregator isn't doing their job, or the region has nothing to offer me but msm content. So, why should one paper be the one-stop-shopping site for all the msm content in one region?? If one major paper wants to be the one-stop-shopping site, then aggregation isn't about revealing anything or being a guide, it's potentially a land-grab for ad dollars.

What Boston.com *should* do is aggregate in areas that are content-rich--not just roll out whatever they feel like rolling out for whatever reason. By not aggregating in areas that are content rich, it is not acting as a guide to local media--which I believe is the reason for their hyperlocal pages (IMO, they're a dumb idea anyway, as I feel the hyperlocal aggregation should be done by other hyperlocals...just call me a purist...)

Boston.com also may want to re-think selling ads against aggregated content. Yes, I work for Placeblogger.com, which is an aggregation site--but we do not sell ads. We are trying to figure out a revenue model that won't rely on ads against aggregated headlines. However, two other hyperlocal aggregation sites, BlogNetNews and Outside.In, have ads against their aggregated hyperlocal headlines. (BNN also offers a widget--which may end up sending pageviews back to the BNN site rather than to the blog where the headline resides. Don't know for sure.)

Still, Gatehouse's case may have a "chilling effect" on aggregation sites overall--including news review sites like NewsTrust.net , Digg, and any other site that might want to share news with others and be supported by something other than grants or V.C. money. It may end up that, unless a site is willing to forego making money, or that it comes up with some other way to make money than by selling ads against other aggregated content, then shared-news sites and other aggregators (sadly) might not be long for this world.

Update: Check out Danny Sanchez's post that gives a view from the tech side of the newspaper.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Taking the "Social" out of Social Networking

Over a period of a couple of months, as the word has been spreading about how to market oneself or one's company through various forms of social media and social networking, I've noticed a few disturbing and rather anti-social networking trends. IMO, these spam-handed techniques seem to have evolved out of ham-handed f2f networking practices.

I started to notice the changes when a flurry of people I didn't know started following me on Twitter. Now, I've got nothing against the random following, but I do have a problem with being the social media marketer for someone's "personal brand message." So, there were lots of folks I never followed back.

Then, the blog comments started getting spammier than usual. I'd noticed it awhile back when spammers were latching on to the comments sections in online versions of print magazines the way leeches clung to Humphrey Bogart in "The African Queen." It was pretty ugly--sadly, there was no Katherine Hepburn blog moderator there to apply the salt to get rid of those nasty things...

Soon after, I started to see people leaving links to their blogs in the comments section of prominent blogger's blogs. Sure, the people sounded rather sincere: "great post! I've responded to you on my blog..." IMO, these comments weren't there because their intention was to converse with the blogger. Rather, these comments seemed more, to me anyway, to have been made simply to generate traffic back to the commenter's blog...

In a kind of sycophant-y, fanboy kind of way.

Recently, I've noticed a rise in social media marketers sending out minions to connect with bloggers. Hysterically, two guys from the same social media marketing firm, "commented" my post on community building! The first comment seemed ok and non-spam-like--but the second one, from the same company, felt most certainly like spamming. In both cases, neither person is a blogger, and neither person has any information that I can connect back to a true identity. They are, essentially, anonymous comments and hence spam--not social media marketing at all. To me, and maybe I'm old-fashioned in this, blog comments are a way of meeting other people. You comment on someone's blog because you want to connect with them, not because you want to leave your marketing message (in your "social media signature"--talk about marketingspeak! sheesh!) Even if you *do* want to leave your marketing message, you should at least try to be honestly and transparently social first!

Now, it would be easy to say that this kind of spam-handed stuff online is the result of a flaw in the ethos of social media, the influx of poorly-trained marketers, and a number of other excuses/factors that are Internet based. Then on Saturday, Chris Brogan wrote When Not To Sell Me Something a short but sweet post that expresses something I'd been thinking--about not being "sold" to when you meet someone either online or f2f.

Then it hit me that this is one reason why I don't always like business networking events. Too often I feel like I'm being sold something--or that because many don't quite understand what I do, that I'm not a potential prospect. There doesn't seem to be a desire just to chat and create a relationship first. For some it's all about whether or not a person is useful at that moment...not that they're a potential relationship that may yield something great over time. It's made me very jumpy around "business networking" situations--even though I'm a fantastic networker in so many other situations. But I can't blame the people at the events because I know they got their networking advice from some networking professional somwhere. I've heard "professional networkers" promote strategies that rank people according to whether or not they are prospects and even encourage adding those who aren't prospects to mailing lists and other spammy devices that don't build relationship or community.

Analogous to these old-time spammy devices are the kinds of stuff we're now seeing on blogs and on social networks...The spam-handed is a reflection of the ham-handed...

Seriously: how often do you genuinely connect with someone to whom you've recited your "30 second elevator pitch"? How many "unsubscribe" requests do you get from the people you plunked into your Constant Contact account without their permission? Have you ever got a good return from spamming someone's blog or direct-messaging a bigshot on Twitter?

I will never forget the women who spammed me with an offer to help me start a blog, after I'd met her at a conference where I was a speaker . Oddly, the same thing happened with a different company at the last big conference I attended--where I moderated two panels. I really didn't appreciate the sharp CEO passing my business card along to his "marketing guy," who then proceeded to try to sell me his blogging platform.

IMO, if I meet a CEO, I expect to hear *from* that CEO, not from someone in his organization. And I also expect that person to go to my blog, and my online resume, and my LinkedIn profile, and find out who I am before I get "networked" in a very un-social kind of way.

When we start to teach people--from the CEO to the Marketer to the Job Prospector-- new ways to network face-to-face that are meant to create relationships, we might begin to see a change in how people network online. "Social Networking" is about being open and genuine when meeting new contacts--not a contest to see how many new prospects we can get from that stack of business cards or how many new "friendings" we can generate on the various social networks. If all your doing is playing a numbers game, rather than exercising a friendmaking skill, then don't be surprised by the results.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Twitter: potential terrorist tool, mainstream media marvel, or still just web wankers wasting time

For some reason, mainstream media's got some kind of cyber-woodie on for Twitter with several stories appearing in the mainstream in the last two days. This got me wondering why there was so much ado about Twitter and if our mainstream media outlets just might be jumping on a new Twitter hype bandwagon. But why?

It started innocuously enough with this crazy little article in the The Wall Street Journal that declared "Twitter Goes Mainstream." Funny thing about the article though--it's pretty much San Francisco-centric in its view of what constitutes "mainstream," esp. as it tries to advocate business uses of Twitter. For instance, both Zappos and cable service provider Comcast are discussed. O.K--these are like the "early adopters" and in one case, Comcast, it's a no-brainer why they would early adopt, since they provide services to the San Francisco Bay area!

For Comcast, it makes great business sense to be in the medium where a lot of your customers just might be complaining--esp. if the complaints start after they cannot get through on your regular telephone-based customer service feature!

Still, just because an online shoe company (who might want to put some resources into their website as well--bad time on it last time I was there) and an SF based cable provider are on Twitter, it's a bit of a stretch from there to the "mainstream..."

Yet it may be even more of a stretch to claim that Twitter has the potential to be a tool for terrorist attacks--or so it's claimed in a recent draft report from Army Intelligence, and reported in Spy Fears: Twitter Terrorists, Cell Phone Jihadists on the ABC News Science and Technology page (after it appeared Friday in Wired.) According to the report, military intelligence has been monitoring "chatter from Al-Qaeda-affiliated online forums" and finding that these potential/would-be/wanna-be terrorists have been trying to figure out how to use GPS devices, cell phones, and other electronic goodies to commit terrorist acts....

But the weirdness comes in when the report states that: "Twitter was recently used as a countersurveillance, command and control, and movement tool by activists at the Republican National Convention," the report notes."The activists would Tweet each other and their Twitter pages to add information on what was happening with Law Enforcement near real time."

So, now activists at a convention are now the same as Al-Quaeda affiliated terrorists.

Let's just call this one Twitter Stretch Number Two then. You'll have to read the article for the scenarios where Twitter might be used effectively by terrorists (hint: it might have more to do with cellphones than Twitter itself...)

So, of course, when I woke up yesterday, and saw this report on the CBS Early Show, I really had to think about what the heck was going on with mainstream media and why it's now rushing out to do these goofy little reports on Twitter:

Watch CBS Videos Online

Which really didn't impress me all that much, albeit that it does manage to make Twitter look like everybody might be doing it--if you're a marketing executive or some other media person (hint: lots of people really don't have time for 20 tweets a day about minutia.... or for "lifecasting" something else that the report mentions...)

One glaring thing that appears to have been left out of all these reports: Tweets are public record. Not too many people understand this aspect of social networking....

Wading in among these whacky reports was Simon Dumenco's insightful (yet slightly cranky) Twitter, R.I.P.? Or Is There Gold Buried in Them Thar Tweets? The opening salvo:
As the future of Twitter gets cloudier and cloudier, I keep thinking that it'd be really sad if Twitter died, because there'd be no way to Twitter its funeral.

Dumenco points out that even though it enjoys great popularity (albeit perhaps still among only a particular set of people) its business model remains among the missing--and what's being offered by Twitter's new CEO is a revenue model that may be based, in part, on charging companies to have Twitter streams for conducting customer service. To this, Dumenco sez "Oh, really, now? Cash-strapped companies are going to want to pay to annoy their customers? Customers are going to want to be monitored? and I have to agree. There's definitely the potential for a Facebook-style backlash among customers, and a dismissing of Twitter by businesses (which will just find a way to get around this...)

And what if Twitter can't make any money? What if, in these bad economic times, the idea of generating revenue from some kind of ad scheme, is now a dream that isn't going to come true? Dumenco brings up another point that plays to the old "we'll monetize UGC!" revenue generating (or not) model: What if not everything that flits across our screens -- computer or cellphone or whatever -- can be contorted into serving as a profit center? As I've said before: I don't think every tweet or blurp or bloop or fart that emanates from a human can or should have ads sold against it or be otherwise monetized.

Which makes me wonder: what might the CPM be on a Twitter page? How many followers must one have in order to generate sufficient return for Twitter? Will Twitter then be supported by power users who have scads of followers, and the rest of us will have to rely on their largess? Then will there be more hype about how we have to get every single connection we've ever made in our entire lives on Twitter to help support Twitter?

Or, when all is said and done, is Twitter, perhaps, just the world's biggest, geekiest online cocktail party where they forgot to charge for the drink tickets?

Just a thought....

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A Few Late Words About BlogWorld Expo

Blogging conferences used to be a big thing for me. Over the years, as I've made connections with people I only see at conferences, I have less time (or is it less desire?) to blog about the conferences themselves. Lots of times I don't even mention where I've been and I've left that section of my sidebar rather untended. One of the events I attended in September was BlogWorld Expo in Las Vegas--and I was very glad I did!

Ok...I'll 'fess up: I was there, in part, to moderate two panels--you can check the schedule here to find the panels on The State of Citizen Journalism (with Jan Schaffer and Mike Tippett) and Who Needs Hyperlocal?--and both went very well....

There was a super-enthusiastic group in the Who Needs Hyperlocal? panel, asking all sorts of questions on whether or not to start a hyperlocal news venture, how one can make money from such a venture, and a number of comments about how money doesn't need to be the main goal of a hyperlocal site. In fact, if the hyperlocal region has a very small population, it might be difficult to earn money from standard click-through advertising rates. Debbie Galant, Mark Potts and Ruby Sinreich had a great deal to share with this group about their extensive hyperlocal experiences....

And yes, I did get to meet up with lots of folks I know from my version of what the "conference circuit" happens to be (my version takes in marketing and tech cons, not just journalism.) So I got to see the likes of Chris Brogan, and Toby Bloomberg, and Liz Strauss, and got to meet Connie Bensen and a few other folks from the "social media" scene--which tends to overlap with marketing, which overlaps with "community development."

And as I hung around BWE on Sunday, taking in some of the panels (I missed a lot on Saturday due to "moderator's anxiety" which shouldn't haunt me any longer) I got to thinking about all these overlapping fields of blogging--from journalism to marketing to public relations--what the various practitioners think about what they're doing, what outside observers think about what the pundits and practitioners have to say, and how, for all this communication, there's too little communication between disciplines and across conferences.

It's as if conferences become their own little bell-jars, their own closed communities where messages bounce around and many times are never heard beyond the confines of the conference...

I've been thinking about this a lot, as there were some philosophies about blogging floating around in BlogWorld that are not necessarily heard out in many of the groups of bloggers I know. I always think of an email conversation that was had about "under-represented" blogging groups, and how one group of people with one political leaning might find gay and transgendered bloggers an "under-represented" group, others with a different political leaning may find military or god bloggers to be "under-represented" groups. And both would be right. There are many small groups that are under-represented at conferences, which still seem to be geared to particular elites (and I've been an "elite" at times--or just play one at conferences ;-) ) and BlogWord tries to give some of these groups a place to gather, meet, and share info on how to be more effective.

Overall, BlogWorld tries to do a lot, and I believe it does its best to bring a great deal of information to the folks who are attending. Yes, much of the conference focuses around "how to make money" from blogging, or how to blog for maximum audience, or how to get more readers to business blogs, or how to explain one kind of blogging ROI metric to potential clients who don't believe blogging even *has* an ROI, but IMO, this is information that a lot of people are looking for. Blogging's potential isn't just as a vehicle to empower the aspiring "citizen journalist" who will struggle for pennies and on principle--blogging's potential extends into so many media-related disciplines it's staggering.

And, when it comes down to it, making money really isn't a bad thing....

I also got to meet conference organizer Rick Calvert, who, over the time leading up to BWE, I'd shared some great telephone conversations. It was a little odd, as my appearance had changed from my pic (hence my change of pic when I got back from BWE) but it was great to make that f2f connection finally.

Perhaps my only disappointment was not being able to sit in on David Perlmutter's Citizen Journalism Bootcamp sessions on Friday. I really didn't want to get the certification--just wanted to hear some of the info and meet Prof. Perlmutter. Oh well, maybe next year....

Check out more BWE info: BlogWorld headlines on NowPublic, Miss604's liveblogging of the State of Cit J panel and a plethora of blog posts and tweets listed on Technorati...

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Can Twitter, Flickr, and Facebook Replace the Humble Blog?

Wired used to be cool--at one time it interviewed guys like Linus Torvalds. But today, it kinda sunk to a new level of link-baiting with Paul Boutin's declaration that blogging is over and how everyone who's anybody will be sharing bits and pieces of oneself all over a variety of social networking sites....(yes, I'm going for the link-bait...)

Paul goes on a bit about how new voices just can't get heard over the din of professional blogs: When blogging was young, enthusiasts rode high, with posts quickly skyrocketing to the top of Google's search results for any given topic, fueled by generous links from fellow bloggers. In 2002, a search for "Mark" ranked Web developer Mark Pilgrim above author Mark Twain. That phenomenon was part of what made blogging so exciting. No more. Today, a search for, say, Barack Obama's latest speech will deliver a Wikipedia page, a Fox News article, and a few entries from professionally run sites like Politico.com. The odds of your clever entry appearing high on the list? Basically zero.

Uh, no. This never was the case, really, with the possible exception of guys like Mark Pilgrim and others in the tech world, which has always been its own Private Idaho of sorts. What Paul doesn't seem to remember is how Google used to *not* pick up blog posts from small bloggers, usually because the SEO was pretty awful. A lot of that changed with Google's acquisition of Blogger and Wordpress's crackin' good SEO. Both have helped to bring more blogs into search.

Including this humble little blog....

On the whole notion of blog traffic, I'd like to point to Darren Rowse's wonderful graph showing how a group of bloggers he surveyed get most of their traffic directly from Google vs. from other sources (see this post as well):

Even though this was a self-submitted group, you can bet that many of these bloggers aren't "A-listers" in the traditional sense of the word. Many may indeed be niche bloggers, who enjoy very good traffic and feedback from a particular group of readers. The idea of who is or isn't an A-lister has changed and is relative to who among the myriad of niche bloggers you're speaking to on any given day. There are A-listers with huge traffic that traditional Silicon Valley "A-listers" have never heard of, and have Google page ranks lower than 3. I've met some of them....

Overall, more people are reading more blogs these days than they were years ago--because more blogs come up in search, and because many people don't really recognize that they're reading a blog. Some think blogs are "websites." Further, if you cultivate good keywords and solid posts in a particular niche, you will come up in search more often....AND you will knock out the transparently bad marketing blogs and splogs....

In order to continue his point, Boutin goes on to invoke the old incivility bugaboo (reminding me a bit here or Andrew Keen): Pour your heart out in a post, and some anonymous troll named r0rschach or foohack is sure to scribble beneath it, "Lame. Why don't you just suck McCain's ass." But think of the irony here: a Valleywag writer declares that most blogs get only uncivil comments, when Valleywag itself is known for erroneous and somewhat uncivil commentary on the tech industry--kind of like Keen was accused of "trolling" with his book "The Cult of the Amateur."

So, pot, meet kettle...if one is going to decry incivility, one must take responsibility for one's own contributions....

Which makes me think: the whole civility discussion is now fraught with such irony that it risks becoming a non-conversation--or a bit on the Daily Show.....

The other two statements that have little bearing on the majority of bloggers have to do with Calacanis and Scoble. As many of you may already know, Jason Calacanis stopped blogging awhile back and has moved everything to a subscriber-only email list. Which, when it happened, was decried as a rather retro and non-social move. If we follow Boutin's logic, it's now hip to be retro--cooler to have an email list for friends only than it is to publish for everyone. So only your friends can read your thoughts and you don't have to deal with those awful "incivil" people (or worry about Valleywag misquoting you...)

When invoking Scoble, Boutin admonishes us to "get a clue" and just microblog, post videos, etc. What Boutin doesn't acknowledge about videos is that many of the comments on videos, esp. those on YouTube, are rife with troll-like comments, not to mention that most comments are never responded to by the folks who post the videos (I'm not sure what Scoble does. I don't follow his video work. Too time consuming. I have friends and a life...) So videos are in many ways and for many people just another form of broadcasting and the commentary is...well....(more on video and communities in another post...)

As for microblogging and using Facebook--those are great for keeping up with people you already know, and maybe for finding another "fan" or two here and there, but many folks do not use those tools to search for information. Occasionally on Facebook, if our friends are discovering cool things and posting about it, we might check out whatever. What friends discover, though, are often other pages within Facebook, so we never really leave Facebook.

What fun is that??

And microblogging, for the most part, is still a niche activity. Most people who don't live in the Silicon Valley, and have real jobs, and perhaps real-world, face to face relationships, don't use microblogging all that much. Of those who do, they're not necessarily going to use Twitter or other microblogging platforms to search for information. Twitter's there for lots of reasons, but unlike Scoble, who has thousands of "fans" who hand on his every tweet, and is essentially a disseminator of a particular kind of gossip and information, most of us are just regular folks who are exchanging personal info and a few bon mots with friends while we get on with the business of our workdays...

We're hardly using Twitter to search for information or to read the news That's why lots of us use Google (and some use Digg, Reddit, or other "social news" sites--something Boutin doesn't mention at all...but we might not use "social news" to be social either...many just read and never register, keep a profile, or comment.)

So, what then for blogs? Is the blogosphere, as Boutin contends, now so fraught with bad marketing blogs and high-powered magazine style blogs and so rife with incivility that those of us who aren't Big Guys should just give it up? I'm not so sure someone who writes for Valleywag--where a writer has to churn out a huge amount of daily posts to earn a living and in its own way courts trolling--quite understands how the folks beyond the Silicon Valley, beyond the friends of Calacanis or the worshippers of Scoble, beyond the realm of blogging-for-a-living use the medium, how even a humble blog can end up in search, and how even a marketing blog can help a company connect with customers who don't use Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. Blogs, for tech insiders, may not be some kind of cutting edge social tool that they were back in 2002, but they still have the ability to reach many people--people who might never find their way to Facebook, who have little reason for LinkedIn, who have no time for Twitter, and value their privacy too much to post on Flickr and YouTube.

And, if you think about it, if blogging's dead, isn't Boutin writing the obituary for his own blogging career?

Just a thought....

Friday, October 10, 2008

Local Band Releases New Album for Free

Perusing the local scene thru my Facebook account, I found this interesting tidbit: local band The Figments have released their new album "Twelve Belles" for free.

The Figments are a bit on the down-tempo side for my taste (what can I say, I grew up too close to NYC where everything's a bit hyper), but I know there's a whole bunch of people who will enjoy their music...

You can download it here

Magnify.net Curates "How To" Videos

Just found this great announcement from Steve Rosenbaum at Magnify.net: they're going to start curating "How to" videos. Check out Steve's announcement here:

Steve's already spotted a trend in "how to" videos--and with the economic downturn, I'm sure more people will be entering the realm of DIY (do-it-yourself.) Magnify's made some strategic partnerships with some of the biggest repositories of how-to videos, which will save anyone looking for that info a whole lot of time finding it.

Cool idea Steve!

Web 2.0: It was all great fun till Johnny lost his V.C. funding

So, the folks at Sequoia Capitol, one of the leading VC firms in the Silicon Valley, put together this absolutely fabulous presentation that basically tells us why there ain't gonna be a whole lot of cash for start-ups any time soon....(thanx Eric Eldon @ VentureBeat)

Pretty bleak stuff, wouldn't you say? And maybe it is the end of a particular zeitgeist or sense of Web 2.0, and the entrepreneurs who fueled its particular excesses(see "Arrington's rumination and, if you can, the video, which I recall seeing somewhere else and being unplussed...) but is it really the full and unequivocal death of Web 2.0?

Or are things going to get more "lean and mean"? and what might or might not survive?

I was talking this a.m. to the organizer of a Hartford-based women's conference, where I've been asked to submit a proposal for a workshop. The organizer found me because there was some info about me online from a presentation on social networking and personal reputation management at Bay Path College last spring.

Yes, she Google'd me.

And the Googl'ing of others isn't going to stop any time soon.

Essentially, we are getting accustomed to using the Internet to find lots and lots of information about one another, even before we ask a person to present at a conference, or even before we hire someone for a job. We look online for ads to buy stuff, for job ads, to network, to leave little messages for friends.

We do a heck of a lot of social stuff online, using "Web 2.0" and "social media" an "social networking" tools. And because of a lot of great hype preached far and wide by tech enthusiasts, we've come to love a whole bunch of these new tools, including some (like Twitter and Facebook) that don't have any known business model.

Which makes me wonder: will these tools we've come to know and love and use to excess still survive? Is it only the new stuff, the iterative stuff that runs the gamut from "merely an imitation" to "a complete rip-off" be the stuff that no longer gets a share of the dwindling VC pie?

And what about the "dying" business models of traditional media (newspapers and tv especially)? Will the downturn and lack of money for innovative (or imitative) stuff bring a ray of hope to the "obstructionist demographic" and cause them to sing a chorus of "I Will Survive?" Or will we keep our slouching toward one man's Gomorrah and another's Bethlehem?

On a personal level, I'm wondering if it's time for me to give up my own social media journey, suck it up, buckle down, grow up and get that degree in Library Science (or something just as practical.) Should I spend more time on all this social media foolishness or consider it to all have been a fun time till Johnny lost his VC funding....

I have a lot to think about, I guess. But right now I have a proposal to write up, a few leads to follow, class materials to prepare, a product to test, and another presentation to polish up. Guess I'll just keep going, keep my eyes, open, and hope for the best.

Check out Kara Swisher and John Furrier for some good perspective

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Start-up death could foster hope for innovation in hyperlocal media

I'm sure that Jason Calacanis has certainly spooked a lot of start-up folks with his latest prediction (reprinted on Silicon Alley Insider) that 50-80% of start-ups will fail. Yet whenever I see this sort of thing, I have to wonder if it's something of a Chicken-Little prognostication, or just bad news for a lot of iterative app and widget builders...but not for online communities and hyperlocal bloggers as a whole... (Update: apparently, as of sometime Sunday evening, the SAI re-print, along w/comments, has been pulled. Good thing this post does not rely on it to make my point..)

From where I sit in community and hyperlocal circles, I still see a great deal of untapped potential roaming around on the Internet. Certain types of Internet business that are banking on community (in the broadest sense), though, will indeed take a huge hit. Alan Patrick notes that businesses based on "FreeConomic principles" (those that use other people's money rather freely)will need to mature into real businesses with solid business models if they're going to stay afloat. That is, unless they've tapped the deep pockets that haven't been impacted by the financial mess.

The "short runway" of limited funds might finally slow the development of all those little social networking sites that don't appear to promise me all that much other than another way of keeping up with contacts I've already kept up with on other sites (and then won't allow me to delete my account later when their network dies.) It might stop the wide-eyed app builders who see their first million made $1 at a time through ephemerial tchochkies or by spamming our friends. Perhaps with a slowdown in development, Open ID will catch up/catch on and we won't have to continually create new profiles when a new social network or community opens up.

That "short runway" may also have an impact on how much grant money is given for a variety of experimental journalism projects. Lots of the folks I know, who are working on grants and fellowships to develop new strategies for journalism are probably safe for the moment, as long as the foundations didn't take too much of a hit in their endowments. New grants may be harder to come by in the future, depending on the endowments.

Marketing folks, on the other hand, may be a little harder hit, depending on the client and the degree of panic the client feels about the economy. Social media might become an even harder sell in these tough times, depending on the reputation of the agency, and the understanding of social media they can impart on their clients.

Stowe Boyd (who I had the pleasure of meeting up with again at BlogWorld) came to a similar conclusion about not really needing so many more social networking apps/widgets/communities. Yet Stowe looks beyond Calacanis with his examination Tom Freidman's call for a need to re-trench and re-invest in America's future, not just clean up its present disaster. From Friedman:
We need a buildup. We need to get back to making stuff, based on real engineering not just financial engineering. We need to get back to a world where people are able to realize the American Dream — a house with a yard — because they have built something with their hands, not because they got a “liar loan” from an under regulated bank with no money down and nothing to pay for two years. The American Dream is an aspiration, not an entitlement.

Stowe believes the smartest entrepreneurs will move into green technologies for everyday life, but that the "green fields" won't be in media. I have to agree that green technologies will need to grow if we're going to make the world we live in clean, healthy, and sustainable. But we've still got media. It won't go away....

So, what might happen in media? As our economic world gets smaller, local media companies, being pinched, will look more at hyperlocal content producers and online communities. A strategic battle between local TV affiliates and the local newspaper may develop. Whomever will be able to build the best relationship between the independent hyperlocal content producers and their tv affiliate or newspaper will be the one who gets the bigger, and better slice of local eyeballs (and local advertising revenue.) I'm thinking in terms of "media outlets" because we no longer have just "newspapers" and "television stations"-- regardless of their presence in the offline world, online tv and newspaper sites contain all different kinds of media and information. People surfing these sites don't care whether they're going to the TV station's website or the newspaper's website. They're just looking for information about their communities....

Whoever has the best community info, and the best relationship with community, will win.

Personally, I don't care exactly which one it is--tv or newspaper. I care more about how they treat the community and they hyperlocal media producers. The independent hyperlocal producers will need to receive fair treatment--not the "harvesting" of their content with nothing more than the promise of traffic. The conversational communities (forums, comments sections) will need better moderation. The current adversarial attitude of those at media outlets towards online communities will have to stop, but can only be stopped thru investment in people to interact and moderate community fairly and justly. If there is no cultivation of both community and hyperlocal content producers, there's a chance that, in some regions independent hyperlocal outlets --because they can manage their communities well and are trusted sources of information--may grow to replace the name-brand media outlets.

So, how can these media outlets pay for the people to moderate? Well, they can work with IT folks to use open source platforms, rather than shovelling huge amounts of money into costly proprietary back ends. They can do things to help businesses in their communities understand how advertising on the web might help their business better than standard yellow pages or print. Media outlets can come to fair, polite aggregation agreements with hyperlocal content providers. And there are probably interactions between hyperlocal and established media that the folks on the inside would know better about...

We may be heading into rough economic times, but no one seems to be cancelling their broadband--and may even be spending more time online. Online life, hyperlocal content, and our desire for community in this space isn't going away any time soon.

In the meantime, as Bette Davis once said "Fasten your seatbelts folks, we're in for a bumpy night."

Further Reading Steve Rubel has some great suggestions on how to Recession Proof Your Job With Web Based Tools.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

I just flew in from BlogWorld Expo and boy! are my arms tired! ;-)

But seriously folks....I did indeed just get back from BlogWorld Expo which was held in Las Vegas this past weekend. I'll have more to say about that in another post, but the "just flew in" thing is kind of how I feel about coming back to blogging after taking most of the summer and part of September away from the medium.

Part of that distancing was a need to mentally re-group--to figure out what I'm doing here in blogging and social media, as well as to try some new things I didn't seem to have time to try. Subsequently, I've been posting on Twitter (@tishgrier) and testing Facebook, most notably starting the Placeblogger group page.

I also attended Andy Sernovitz's fantastic Word of Mouth Marketing Crash Course (lots of y'all might think of attending that one) an event at the Berkman Center, a sales seminar conducted by one of those uber-sales guys who tries to get you to buy his stuff, and, as mentioned, BWE....

Oh, and beyond beyond blogging, took on a Board position at PACE to begin to root myself a bit more in the real world of Easthampton, and am also serving on the Advisory Board of blog diva Toby Bloomberg's new venture (will have more on that soon. I'm so excited!)

There's also been lots of thought here about business names and being more of a business entity, as well as a few calls from headhunters and such...

But I guess most importantly, this time away from blogging has shown me that working at home with most contact through email, IM, Twitter and other social tools, can be a lonely and isolating experience. Social media is a wonderful thing, but it must be coupled with real-life interaction. For someone like me, who loves to be social, being alone all the time is very stressful and to some degree disorienting. When Toby asked me what social media meant to me, I answered that it was indeed the combination of social and media. Yet, by working in social media, I've found that there has to be a balance between the media and the social. If I'm too media--too much at home in front of the screen, then I need to leave for the real world of social. Sometimes that's not easy, but I have to find the time as well as the places to go.

The upshot of all this is after as summer-plus of exploration, I'll be back to regularly blogging. Perhaps a bit differently than before, but I think that will be for the better....

Friday, September 05, 2008

Futurist Rogers leaves NYT, CNN gets Twitterized, CNBC links up with LinkedIn

Two years ago, new media guru Michael Rogers joined the NYTimes Company as its "Futurist in Residence." It was supposed to be a one-year appointment--and turned into two. This a.m., Jeff Bercovici in Conde Nast Portfolio reports that Rogers is now leaving NYTCo to go back to consulting

What did Rogers find out about the newspaper biz in the two years he was at NYTCo? Well, he's pretty sanguine on newspapers continuing: "I've been doing this for 20 years now, and the longer I do it the more it seems like a really good medium that's going to be around for quite a while longer." Although he admits that there will be a huge shakeout over the "next five to eight years" and that the Times, more than other papers, has been doing the right things and is in the right position.

I'd have to agree with Rogers (who I met in Feb '07 at the first Miami-based We Media conference) that NYT is indeed positioned to succeed--but not because it is a newspaper. Rogers says:"I think the Times is doing more than most any other media company I've worked with in the past."

The New York Times--without owning any TV stations and, according to Wikipedia, only one radio station and a limited number of newspapers--has indeed positioned itself as a media company, with lots of different kinds of online only media available through its homepage.

Perhaps NYTCo saw the future in Internet properties earlier than other newspaper companies, and wisely kept its resources focused on newspapers and the Internet--rather than dabbling heavily in cross-media ownership like Tribune. That focus could be what has enabled NYTCo to be far more than just an big ole newspaper with a lukewarm online presence. As a media company, NYTCo could conceivably compete with other growing media companies *and* keep a print edition going.

Meanwhile cable TV's news behemoth, CNN has delved further into social media. As I learned last night from Jack Lail, CNN is making some smart moves on Twitter, and Mashable reported that CNN anchor and editor Don Lemon was on Twitter fishing for replies after segments....

I decided to follow Lemon--and you can too at @donlemoncnn. I may have to start thinking politically if I want to converse with Lemon. I hope my head doesn't explode ;-)

And speaking of media outlets (like cable tv) getting "social": CNBC announced on Wednesdaya partnership with LinkedIn
Under the agreement, CNBC will become LinkedIn's preferred business media provider and will offer CNBC text, articles and blogs, financial data, and video content selected from its nearly 100 on-air interviews broadcast each day to LinkedIn's large, growing, global user base. Conversely, community-generated content from LinkedIn will be broadcast on CNBC including survey results and on-air Q&As with CNBC guests and reporters. In addition, CNBC will integrate LinkedIn community and networking functionality into CNBC.com, enabling users to share and discuss news with their professional networks.

Now, this makes me wonder--will CNBC be trying to make some dough off of User-Generated Content by doing the whole niche thing? And do LinkedIn users want to be mingling with CNBC and handing over UGC for CNBC's use?

But this isn't the only "strategic" partnership LinkedIn is making with big media: Wired Mag's Chris Snyder mentions briefly that LinkedIn is also partnering with BusinessWeek on BusinessExchange (which I blogged about here) Funny thing about what Snyder says about BusinessExchange--that "a community of readers can create and discuss various business topics, wiki-style." Business Exchange has been said to be many thing, and now it's adding wiki-style to the description. I'm beginning to feel like I'm a character in the story of the blind men elephant when it comes to Business Exchange. Guess we won't know exactly what it is until our media blindfolds are off.

Monday, September 01, 2008

My Twitter Stream is NOT the Place for Your Personal Brand Marketing Message

Lately, I've had some people I've never met add me to their lists of people they're following on Twitter. Some of those "people" aren't really people at all, but are commercial ventures, start-ups mostly. Like @ignighter which is a group-to-group dating service that's come out of TechStars, and probably started following me because of People's Software or @ideablob which is a really cool "community of ideas" that hands out funding prizes for ideas their community votes worthy....

Or they're something I don't fully get: like Cavenger. And I'm not totally sure why Cavenger is following me.

Some, like @ignighter and @ideablob, I'm following, while others I've decided not to follow.

As for the real people, I wonder whether what they are doing is some form of personal-brand marketing. Some post only their links, while others re-tweet their Brightkite info. There doesn't seem to be a clear way to communicate with these people, even through Twitter, as they're not really responsive to direct or "@" messaging.

So, I wonder about the value of these marketing-based Twitterers and Vanity-Tweeters (that's what I'd call the folks whose tweets are along the lines of "look at me! look what I did! look where I am! aren't I cool!") What do these people mean to me in my network? I am I on one of those tracks to boasting 1,000-plus followers, just to say that I have them?

I don't need to be the Girl With the Most Cake, if most of the cake consists of stale Hostess Twinkies.

Now, I hadn't thought about this too much before I read Liz Strauss' 10 Reasons Why Twitter Folks Unfriend You where she makes some very good points about why people do and probably should un-friend. Twittering should be a social pursuit--not where I'm following someone like a fangirl (one of the reasons to un-follow someone.)

Although I'm sure there are lots of people who are following big-names in the hopes of one day having a small Twitter conversation with them. Yes, I have a couple of them in my list, but not many. If I don't think the bigwigs will answer me if I "@" them, then I'm really not all that interested in following them. I can keep up with them in my RSS reader, too.

Liz's list got me thinking more seriously about the people who are following me and why I might be following them as well. I pruned my list of followers yesterday, as some appeared to be using my list to tweet about links to their blogs. In some ways, I'm territorial of my "space" on Twitter, and don't want wholesale advertising or "personal marketing" there. I'm glad that you think that I might find your blog posts cool, but if that's your only reason for following me, then maybe we don't need to be following each other. My page is not a place for you to advertise your coolness.

That sounds an awful lot like a break-up statement, doesn't it? How funny!

Perhaps, in the world of social networking, maybe I'll end up saying the equivalent of "It's not me, it's something you did" in order to end something that's wholly unsatisfying for me.

But what do you do when you find that one of the people who's following you is *only* following you? Maybe this is flattering--like the whole "secret admirer" thing. To me, it felt creepy. So, I blocked this person. Sorry if it was a "secret admirer." Again, like in dating, I'm just not into that kind of thing any more than I'm into personal-brand marketing messages.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Businessweek's Soc. Media Strategy--What's in it for the community?

Could social networks run by media companies be nothing more than ways of herding all of us into little niches so we can receive targeted marketing? That's the question I asked myself this a.m. after reading in the NYT about BusinessWeek's new hyper-niched social media strategy. The brief summary in the Times:
The core of Business Exchange is hundreds of topic pages, on subjects as broad as the housing market and as narrow as the Boeing 787. Plans call for the number of topic pages to grow quickly into the thousands. (The first one created, which may or may not be in the public version of Business Exchange, was “BlackBerry vs iPhone.”)

Now, there's nothing that says this won't work....but it does leave me feeling a bit like a goose being prepared for foie gras--like I'm going to be herded into the right stall so that I can then be force-fed the right kind of ads that will make me click.

Naturally, BusinessWeek wants to find some way to monetize User Generated Content. That's every publisher's dream. Shoving more ads in the faces of consumers--or, in this case, "members" of BusinessWeek's branded social network--may (not) be just the right kind of social media strategy to get UGC to pay off.

But is this just another "if we build it, they will come" kind of thing that seems to happen with stunning ubiquity out here? Here's the gist of how Business Exchange going to get users to generate content:
On Business Exchange, a user can post new material to a topic page, or even create a new page, choosing the subject and the title, and write a brief introductory description. This is hardly a revolutionary idea in the wiki era, but for a mainstream publication, it represents a significant loosening of control. (But not too loose — new topics require editorial approval, promised within 24 hours, and objectionable posts will be taken down. . .)

. . .The site also works as a kind of social network, letting friends, colleagues and rivals track one another’s interests — or, say, Warren Buffett’s interests, if he chooses to play along.

Each user has a profile (photo optional) that contains a personal description and tracks the user’s reading and posting habits. It allows the reader to create a network among other readers, and to import information from a LinkedIn account.

The user can also choose to make the profile public, with all of that information visible to anyone on the site.

Ok...so we can, one more time, upload a profile, with a pic. We can track one another and see what we--or some celebs--have contributed. But can we link our BE content on something like FriendFeed or even through Facebook? Will BE ask to get in our address books so we can "invite" others into our *new* social network? Or will all of the info we enter on Business Exchange be proprietary information, locked inside Business Exchange's niches? If so, then it would be one more place that people would have to visit regularly to make it "work" for them.

It's pretty unclear how this network will work for its community members. Yes, they will know who's there, but how will people interact with each other? How will they build community with each other? Who will be in charge of fostering good will and helping the community grow?

So far it seems like Users/readers/us give Business Week content. What, though, other than ads, does the community get in return?? What will be the advantage to harried businesspeople who may or may not already use other social networking sites?

From the article, it sounds like the community is there to serve the marketing needs of the magazine--and the article's focus on the *potential* ad revenue from this venture makes me think that ad revenue generation is the sole purpose of the network. Perhaps there's some "secret sauce" community strategy that BusinessWeek brass weren't about to give away, lest another publisher crib their strategy.

Or maybe there's no clear community strategy at all.

Social networking platforms and social media strategies ultimately aren't about the company, the brand, or the business. Social networking and social media gets successful by serving particular needs of a group and, in some cases, by having some great people involved to help the company achieve these goals honestly, genuinely and transparently. It's more about customer service than about directly generating revenue.

Perhaps it wasn't in the best interests of BusinessWeek and Business Exchange to blab to their readers--or in this case users who will just love to generate content for them--that the main purpose of the new network is, essentially, to monetize their freely contributed content by herding people into little pens of common interest...

Oh, I'm sorry, I meant niches. The Long Tail--that's all about niches, you know.

Yet will the users-who-generate-content formerly known as the audience, now known as The People, really want to be part of a network where the give-back and value proposition seems more of a benefit to the publication than to them, their interests, and their businesses.

Just my $.02

Thanks to @jayrosen_nyu for the tweet on the NYT article and to @chrisbrogan who's quoted in this great piece in American Executive on social media.

Update 12:15am BW's Spencer Ante gives the clearest explanation so far of Business Exchange:
Anyone can post a link to a story or blog post or video, whatever content you want from whatever source, and it will appear on the topic page. If the concept takes off, the site will really tap into the wisdom of the Web crowd, providing a powerful filter that will help people stay on top of their most important issues and discover new ideas and information.
Read Spencer for more info--which gives me the impression that BE is more of a site-specific content aggregator or something along the lines of Mahalo. Yet Mahalo's editors, from what I gather, are paid for their work. Once again: what's the return for the folks who use Business Exchange?

Update 11:45pm Steve Baker blogged this rather curious explanation of Business Exchange. In Baker's view, Business Exchange is less of a social network and more a "distant cousin to Wikipedia, and a much closer one to Digg and LinkedIn." Still, Steve gives no info on how the community will be managed, leading me to think BW may be using the "if we build it, they will come" line of community development. Further, the idea of separating "objective" news reports from blogs, which BL Ochman commented on is something we did at NewsTrust.net and was very popular with our readers--many of whom also blogged. Yet on NT, we separated news editorials from objective news as well, and would sometimes include blogs in objective reporting when the blogs presented balanced coverage.

Also important on BE is Tim O'Reilly's questioning Business Exchange from the perspective of linking:
When this trend(ed:linking within a site to its own content) spreads (and I say "when", not "if"), this will be a tax on the utility of the web that must be counterbalanced by the utility of the intervening pages. If they are really good, with lots of useful, curated data that you wouldn't easily find elsewhere, this may be an acceptable tax. In fact, they may even be beneficial, and a real way to increase the value of the site to its readers. If they are purely designed to capture additional clicks, they will be a degradation of the web's fundamental currency, much like the black hat search engine pages that construct link farms out of search engine results.
via this tweet from @jayrosen_nyu

Monday, July 07, 2008

Taking a Breather to Find Something Lost

I have been doing a lot of thinking....and the last four days I spent in Lake Placid has helped me get my head around a few things, including what I'm doing with various projects, including what I'm doing (or not) with this blog....

Recently, Heather Brandon of Urban Compass announced an hiatus, as did David Eisenthal at the Eisenthal Report in May, when he was elected to a post as selectman in his hometown...and there have been a few others here and there....and I've been thinking that an hiatus sounds like a wonderful idea.

A number of circumstances have, for me, have been something of a signal to step back and re-evaluate what's happened over the past 2 years, where things are going, where I want to be going...

Some of where I've gone has been in a direction I wasn't sure I wanted to go. It just sort of happened....and at times, not too well...which really isn't all that good....(although I will always say a big thank you to the people who made all sorts of things happen...they know who they are...and they mean a great deal to me, whether they know it or not...)

There have also been some life-issues that have raised their ugly heads--things I've put on the back-burner, or thought could "keep" until I figured things out with career. But they've cause their own level of discord....

And then there was the kidney stone in March. Something of a wake-up call there, too...one I wasn't able to totally listen to...but it was the culmination of a number of wake-up calls....

So, by taking the summer off, shutting things down here, I'm putting the focus more on my life--on taking a look at where things are going, and where I want to be. Looking at my future, rather than just in-the-moment...and trying to find my Center again. Like a piece of clay on a potter's wheel, things about Me got pulled off-center in the zeal to create something special....

There are a few places I'll be:

  • there will be some photos on Flickr (some new ones not uploaded yet)

  • a tweet or two on Twitter (@tishgrier)

  • LinkedIn and Facebook

  • and popping up at a conference here and there (try Bizjam Seattle and PodCamp Boston next.)

  • Update I'll be at Andy Sernovitz's Word of Mouth Marketing Crash Course. Thanks for the scholarship, Andy!

  • But I'm not going to be online all the time, nor worrying about getting my $.02 in before the news turns to fishwrap nor whether or not I'm the Girl with the Most Tweets.

    There's work to do for some others to help them get started, and I'm glad I can do that for them. They've got very worthwhile projects and I'm glad to be part of that.

    But no big whoopie announcements of grants or fellowships or anything of that sort. That's not quite where I wanted to be anyway...

    And then there's getting back to the me that exists beyond blogging. Since college (98-01), there have been many changes in my life--from a traumatic divorce and all the identity loss that comes with the territory, a weighty degree and no clear goal afterwards, my Mother's death, a distancing from faith, and a few more things best left unsaid here. The easiest way to say it is that I have been finding things about me that I lost years ago. And in the process, slowly clearing out the underbrush of anger and disappointment, understanding what love is about, and acknowledging when I missed it and why...

    and in all of this, slowly beginning to see a path into a very different future....

    So, for now, things will be...well...quiet here. It's for the best....enjoy the summer everyone!

    Things to do on your summer vacation...WOM, Widgets and Writing Notes

    So, you've got some time to spare this summer? A few of my friends are doing some cool stuff you might want to check out:

    Word-of-Mouth marketing guru Andy Sernovitz will be hosting a small-group w-o-m crash course in Chicago on July 30th. Andy'd also like me to let you know they're offering a $250.00 discount (use the code "welovebeelinelabs" when registering.)

    RSS widget-building just got easier with Grazr 3.0 I just went in and in 5 minutes created a very attractive black widget titled "Springfield Reading List" which you can see in my sidebar. There are a whole host of new features in Grazr 3.0, so check out the info tour and some of the cool sample streams, including Top Twits
    a special stream from Twitter
    (disclosure: I did some work for Grazr...)

    And awhile back I had a chance to test out Evernote which "easily capture information in any environment using whatever device or platform you find most convenient, and makes this information accessible and searchable at any time, from anywhere." I've given it a test-drive, and it's great for taking notes in various formats, sorting the info, etc. And it even reads the terrible scribbles of whiteboard writing!

    Now, go play!

    Tuesday, July 01, 2008

    The Death of Blog Comments and the Rise of the Commentosphere (??)

    Something strange has been happening in the blogosphere--lots of people have noticed that blog comments aren't as plentiful as they used to be. This lead Robert Scoble to declare blog comments dead and Duncan Riley to say "no they're not, they're just someplace else"....like on Disqus, FriendFeed, etc...

    This is something a Aldon Hynes and I recently discussed both online and off--we'd noticed something quite similar...and it's something that other friends have commented on in phone conversations....as in "where have all the bloggers gone?"

    So, no longer can we judge a blog by its comments section--because depending on the blogger's involvements, the comments may be aggregating in other places.

    Monday, June 30, 2008

    Hearst Digital Media's Daily Green gets an "F" in LinkLove

    You know how Big Media is constantly harping on the blogosphere about how bloggers always "steal" information, when the fact of the matter is that by linking we send information *back* to the original source? Well, this afternoon, I was directed by the Yahoo front page to this post on The Daily Green a new Hearst Digital Media blog. And guess what? The first paragraph mentions a Los Angeles Times article yet fails to link to the original source! Here's a screenshot....check the first paragraph to see the lack of linklove for the L.A. Times

    Heaven forbid a regular old, non-MSM blogger do something like this--then he/she becomes the thieving devil incarnate whose dastardly plan is to take away newspaper revenue!

    When in fact, it's an MSM "blogging" property that's taking from another MSM property without sending one single link back to them.

    Just in case you'd like to see the original, here's LAT staffer Nicholas Riccardi's article: High gas prices hobble cities nationwide

    Just my $.02...

    Friday, June 27, 2008

    Friday Vintage Video: Bruce Lee Naked!

    Well...kind of....in possibly one of the best fight scenes ever in a film--which happens to be 1973's Enter the Dragon--which will be shown at MassMoCA tomorrow in a special program with music by Karsh Kale. But it's great just as is!

    Tuesday, June 24, 2008

    Looking to Google to Help Us Define Obscenity

    Back in 18th century New England, what was considered "obscene" was determined often by the leader of the local community church. Beginning in New York City in the 19th century, the Courts were put in charge of defining obscenity for us. Courts had to consider a mish-mash of local customs, notions of free speech and criminal libel, access to appropriate medical information on sex, where and whom was writing the "obscene" material, etc..** But a lot has changed, and where are we now to find the local customs to help the courts determine what the community--not one special interest group or another--determines to be obscene? The NYTimes points today to a case in Pensacola, FL where an enterprising attorney thinks Google search could help us figure out community thinking regarding the nature of obscenity...
    In the trial of a pornographic Web site operator, the defense plans to show that residents of Pensacola are more likely to use Google to search for terms like “orgy” than for “apple pie” or “watermelon.” The publicly accessible data is vague in that it does not specify how many people are searching for the terms, just their relative popularity over time. But the defense lawyer, Lawrence Walters, is arguing that the evidence is sufficient to demonstrate that interest in the sexual subjects exceeds that of more mainstream topics — and that by extension, the sexual material distributed by his client is not outside the norm....

    “Time and time again you’ll have jurors sitting on a jury panel who will condemn material that they routinely consume in private,” said Mr. Walters, the defense lawyer. Using the Internet data, “we can show how people really think and feel and act in their own homes, which, parenthetically, is where this material was intended to be viewed,” he added.

    This is pretty ingenious. By using Google Trends, Walters hopes to demonstrate the accessibility and interest in "obscene" material in the jurisdiction of the First Circuit Court for Santa Rosa County, where the trial is taking place. This supports the notion that Pensacola folks are looking for obscene material at a certain rate determined by search results, and thus have voiced a community opinion on what they think is obscene.

    However, it does raise concerns about the collection of personal data, how that data might be used, and if that data could, in another context be used against someone in, perhaps, a divorce proceeding (search results mined for the ISP of a particular person to "prove" unfitness or "cheating.)

    Florida state prosecutor Russ Edgar believes that the popularity of sex-related websites has no bearing on whether or not Mr. Walter's client violated community standards. "How many times you do something doesn’t necessarily speak to standards and values,” Mr. Edgar said.

    I would think, though, that a high number of search results for particular terms could indeed show what a community wants to know about a subject. In some ways, a parallel could be drawn between the selling of obscene materials in 20th century stores and search results. Think about it: in the 19th century, one would only go to a particular shop and ask for particular books if one was going to buy. There little regular "browsing" of obscene materials. However, with the rise of porn shops in the 20th century, lots of (mostly) men could go in and "browse" various titles, movie boxes, products, etc. The fact that many shops could stay in business--regardless of whether we like them or not--in some way demonstrates that there's a market for obscene materials. Nowadays, rather than going into some skeevy pornshop located in a very bad part of town to view obscene material we can "browse" the Internet for obscene materials in the privacy and safety of our homes.

    That we have privacy and safety to view obscene material may indicate a broader tacit acceptance of obscene material than what people are willing to admit to in openly and publicly. If we think about it, this kind of harkens back to the private and public "face" ideal of Victorian England (slightly different from 19th c. America.) Are we, through search, revealing far too much of our private "face"--and could this end up impacting our laws?

    Think about it though: do Google Search Results really see into the minds of men and women? Or are we getting some sort of false positive or narrow world view by considering Google Search results? Perhaps search results should be considered along with other factors and information, as a way of dealing with the private and public faces of a community to help determine what a community deeply thinks is obscene.

    Just as long as they don't reveal our ISPs....

    **See Helen L. Horowitz's explanation of sex and the courts in her book "Rereading Sex: Battles over Sexual Knowledge and Supression in Nineteenth-Century America."

    Monday, June 23, 2008

    Don't Scoop Before We Tell You To: When Social Networking and MSM Worlds Collide

    When it comes to "the news," getting a scoop used to be a good thing. Now, not so much. But what can the mainstream do about it when scoops leak out through social media--get you fired or delete your posts perhaps. The New York Times reports on how a "junior employee" at Internet Broadcasting Services updated Tim Russert's Wikipedia entry before the story of Russert's death was revealed by NBC and MSNBC. The Times calls the junior employee's actions "instinct" and "a flash of idealism" that may have cost the junior his/her job--that's what NBC was told.

    Scooping the wrong moment in history simply by trying to keep the public record current can have some serious consequences. But these consequences are the further consequences of the quickness of information dissemination. We now have many unchecked-by-msm-channels, that reach many people. We can "get the word out" to our communities as quick as we can get out a disaster video. Dissemination of information through simple social media channels can be something of a can-of-worms for participants in the social side of local media as well:

    In July '07, Springfield, MA resident and social activist Michaelann Bewsee (who blogs at Michaelann Land), and is a regular contributor to the conversation at Masslive.com Forums, made a forum post that her nephew had been sent home from his job at the local Wendy's and the store closed "for good." When Michaelann posted this item, she had no idea that she might be scooping the local press on a really huge story: the the closing of all 12 Wendy's stores owned by Robert Burda of Ohio, who had not paid State taxes in years and was bankrupt.

    All Michaelann was doing was relaying some very important information. Yet her post may have been deleted because of this very action. Her account was also deleted--for a reason unknown to her. It is my understanding that it took her several weeks to get a rather terse reply from a Masslive.com staff member regarding her account, which was eventually restored.

    Yet, this may not have been the first time that Masslive.com's forums and blogs were the source of scoops or original reports. Michaelann's post on the Wendy's closing, however, was first time I'd heard that someone's account, not just a post, may have been deleted because she quite possibly scooped the newsroom.

    Now, Masslive.com's editors may have deleted the post to head off possible heresay on a matter that might have had a negative consequence against a local business. Masslive's editors might also say that Bewsee is a thorn in their side and that her account was deleted for other reasons. But, if she *did* scoop the local media bigtime--well, we may never know the answer to that....

    Between both incidents, social networks through social media are conveying timely information before it hits the msm. This, however, raises some questions: how do we know if the source of the information is trustworthy? Should the persons disseminating the information be penalized? and, is this original reporting/an act of journalism or divulging privileged information ? Perhaps this is a kind of "flash journalism"--the text version of the cellphone camera videos of disasters. Since it is text, though, we may have to consider the trustworthiness of the person disseminating the story. With the IBS employee, if we know that IBS receives reports before they hit most msm affiliate outlets, then we can be sure that IBS is a reliable source. If we know that Michaelann's nephew really does work for Wendy's, and/or that she is trustworthy and credible within the community (regardless of what is thought of her politics), then we can be sure that she's a reliable source of a story needs further investigation.

    Yet in both cases, employee or poster should not be penalized for their actions if they have no knowledge of policy regarding the dissemination of certain kinds of information. It is not just that they are conveying information in a similar way to an on-the-spot cellphone film of a disaster, but that they are credible sources for that information, and that they are doing a public service by disseminating that information. If IBS considered that information to be privileged or time-sensitive, it should have informed its employees in some way. A company cannot expect its employees to "just know" information like that. Likewise in Michaelann's case--she should have been informed that her post may be considered heresay and that the reporters were going to investigate further. That could easily have been done in a post to the thread on the forums by a Masslive editor.

    Expecting employees and forum posters to "just know" is something akin to Transgressing the Unwritten Law of Dinsdale Piranha.

    In other words: make a policy, make people aware of it, and don't fire/delete people before a policy is set in place.

    Further: JD Lasica raises the notion that this kind of action is "generational"--I'd say that it's not generational, but cultural. It just so happens that the IBS employee was "junior"--but Michaelann isn't. There are many, many folks in middle-age and even older that are online and are *very* social, sometimes in place young people are, sometimes not. These are the "early adopters" who have been active online before many young people ever got a computer. We are, unfortunately, not a glamorous demographic that's suitable for marketers and are often overlooked. Let's not mistake cultural shifts, nor forget the folks who've started the shift, because of the glamorous nature of generational politics. Also see Tameka Kee's "Step Away from the Computer, Kids: Baby Boomers Embrace Social Media: When it comes to social media, some 70% of consumers age 50 and up said that their online community was "very" or "extremely" important to them. So much so that almost 70% of them log on daily or several times a day. In contrast, just about half of all social network members under age 20 said the same.

    Friday, June 20, 2008

    Friday Vintage Video: More Christopher Lee

    Did you know that Christopher Lee reprised many of the great roles of Boris Karloff--only cheezier? Here's the preview for "The Face of Fu Manchu":

    Lee played Fu Manchu in a series of really bad Fu Manchu movies. Karloff was spared repeated Fu Manchu'ing, but Lee was spared the role of Mr. Wong, Detective.

    Lee also played Frankenstein (in a less cheezy '57 production--you can see Lee in this trailer for a '58 follow-up in which he did not star as The Monster)

    and the Mummy (oh, the spectacle!)

    But he's the best (and longest-running) Dracula ever (in need of some Visene here in 1968):

    Curiously, Lee shares the role with both Karloff (the original) and Lugosi. Lugosi replaced Karloff as Frankenstein in 1943's "Frankenstein Meets the Wolf-Man." :

    Not as good as Karloff, but perhaps just as gruesome as Lee.

    Next week--something non-Christopher Lee. ;-)

    Tuesday, June 17, 2008

    Seven Traits of Highly Effective Community Developers

    Note: this post first appeared last friday in Poynter.org's E-Media Tidbits column. Much thanks to Amy Gahran for the great editing job!

    Getting back from the New Pamphleteers conference, I considered how many news organizations sites that, one way or another, are doing some sort of community building. This can mean anything from using Topix Forums to implementing a custom-built community tool (with the hopes of repeating the success of Bluffton Today.

    More often than not, most of the attention and money for community sites gets spent on a tool -- specifically, the community-building content management system (CMS). It's as if the person who will actually develop and manage the community is an afterthought. I recommend flipping this around: make your top priority choosing the right person for this new job.

    A lot will be riding on this person -- more so than which tools are used. Your community manager should understand people well and be good at creating and maintaining relationships and ability to create relationships, regardless of which tools are available.

    Here are seven things to look for in a community manager:

    1. Commitment to "the cause." A community manager should be personally committed to the site's mission or reason for being. This commitment makes it possible to authentically evangelize the community members. Your community manager must spot and engage community members who will feel comfortable participating on the site. Consequently, if your site's mission is primarily to drive traffic to your site, you should rethink creating your online community in the first place. Site traffic tends to be driven more by better site design and search engine optimization than by getting all interactive on the citizenry. A community manager cannot fix your news org's bad site design or help staff write-keyword rich headlines.

    2. Love people. Good community managers have an innate ability to interact with all kinds of people, both face to face and online. A good candidate might be someone in your newsroom is great at cultivating contacts and knows many people know well, then they are a potential community manager. But be sure to consider whether this person is good at developing contacts for her or his own purposes, or more generally good at cultivating a variety of contacts across a wide spectrum of individuals and personalities. (For this reason, and others, be sure you broaden your search beyond current newsroom staff.) Also, your potential community manager should be open, congenial, and can handle difficult situations with tact and diplomacy (not like a cop or Marine sergeant).

    3. Must enjoy technology. These days, the tools of digital media are (or should be) easy to learn. Your community manager will understand -- and be able to adapt quickly to -- upgrades in tools. She or he also might suggest new tools, and will learn new tools pretty quickly. However, don't confuse liking technology with loving it beyond everything else. A community manager's first love must be people -- because sometimes their job might be to help those pesky, complaining, people learn to use these tools effectively.

    4. Must understand online culture. Internet communication is very different from face-to-face interaction. It can even be compared to moving to a new culture where you often lack vital interpretive clues like body language and vocal intonation. Someone with ample experience participating in a variety of on communities (not just Facebook and MySpace will understand the nuances of online communication and thus can distinguish between trolls, disruptors, and people who may just be having trouble expressing their point of view. A strong knowledge of emoticons is required.

    5. Powers of observation. Good community managers are astute observers of community interaction and interpersonal relationship dynamics. Don't be surprised if your community manager knows exactly what a prompted a seemingly mysterious traffic boost or decline. Over time, your community manager will know what works for your particular community. Listen carefully.

    6. Flexibility. Your community manager might also be your community news editor, or your blog editor, or some other kind of editor. If a special community feature has been designed for a big report or investigative story, your community manger might be able to help your reporters talk to the community -- especially walking reporters through this experience for the first time. However, any editorial work or reporting should be secondary to the community, because community work can be very demanding.

    7. Life experience trumps youthful enthusiasm. Do not dump community management on your interns because they work cheap, know Facebook, and the rest of your staff is overworked and stressed. Enthusiasm is great, but it cannot replace knowing the local community, a variety of tools and trends, and human nature. Communities can be quirky and change quickly, so community management requires commitment and dedication -- not just for a summer or semester, but over the long haul.

    For further reading: Scott Moore added some great points to my seven habits. Thanks Scott!

    And Howard Owens adds two great posts to the discussion of care and feeding of newspaper-based communities: Tips for newspaper people new to community management and News site participation is not a 'set it and forget it' venture

    Also see Jake McKee's Hiring a Community Manager post--which I might write some more on in the near future (it's *that* good)

    Monday, June 16, 2008

    Good night, Online Journalism Review...Thank you, Robert Niles...

    Sad news from Robert Niles at Online Journalism Review: after 10 years, USC Annenberg School of Communications is suspending publication of Online Journalism Review...

    This does mean that Niles is leaving USC, but he's not leaving online. He's started a new site, SensibleTalk.com--and I wish him the best of luck in this new endeavor :-)

    I had a brief history with OJR, where I wrote a couple of articles for them. It was a wonderful feeling to see my writing in OJR, and I really do have Bob to thank for that...

    The new Knight Digital Media Center, which is headquartered at USC Annenberg, now has a new blog, News Leadership 3.0 with Michele McLellan (my former colleague at Assignment Zero) at the helm. I'm glad to see Michele doing this! She really knows her stuff and, from what I've seen so far, is doing a great job with this, gearing the posts to her particular audience. The community, so far, appears slow in commenting (as per usual--always more lurkers/readers than commenters) but I'm sure in time she'll get responses.

    In the meantime, I'd like again to say a huge thanks to Bob Niles, for giving me a bit of a boost when I needed it....

    and a fond good-night to Online Journalism Review

    Saturday, June 14, 2008

    Social Networking's Tipping Point and the Sub-Cultures of MySpace and Facebook

    Yesterday, a friend told me about an NPR report on how MySpace is doing a re-design to try to compete with Facebook. Darned if I can find that NPR story today, but I was able to find something about this in Businessweek. As we were talking about this, I brought up how I think that, no matter what it's re-design, that MySpace couldn't gather the Facebook business crowd due to the nature of the MySpace culture....

    Sure enough, Eric Eldon has written this insightful piece in Venture Beat on the differences between the MySpace and Facebook cultures:
    “At first we were worried about MySpace, but then we realized that people use it differently from our site,” an employee at social network Facebook told me over a year ago. What he meant is that Facebook is a place for people to put their real lives online, providing factual information about themselves and having trusted interactions with their friends. Meanwhile, rival MySpace is more of a place for people to live out their fantasy lives online, borrowing celebrity photos for their profile pictures, adding far-fetched biographical information and such — MySpace uses the term “self-expression” to describe this behavior.

    Now, I'll agree with Eric that this is something of a generalization, but there's a great deal of truth in it. As I explained to my friend last night, I've seen some really strange things on MySpace--women Of A Certain Age leaving highly suggestive illustrations with messages like "Kiss, Kiss!" on the profile pages of men Of A Certain Age. Pages are very messy and weird-looking with all sorts of flashing and sparkling things, with random people "friending" one another. And what can you say for a site that has, as one of its most popular people, a chick whose popularity was built on not-so subtle sexual suggestion? MySpace is very much, like Eric suggests, a place where people create personnas and behave in ways the buttoned-down business world might not.

    Facebook, in comparison, is fairly tame--if you take into consideration that most of the excessive drinking and wet t-shirt photos are on profiles of college-aged people. Most of my Facebook friends are business associates, many of them marketers, and even though there's a conviviality between us, there's nary a wet t-shirt or beer bong photo. Among the Business Class of Facebook users, there's pretty much a buttoned-down, family man kind of mentality. When I first put up my profile, I said my relationships were "complicated" and my religion was "lapsed academic Catholic" (or something of that sort.) Fairly tame--but a friend told me I had the most interesting profile he'd read! Which, of course, made me laugh.

    Being interesting on Facebook doesn't require posing in black lace underwear and stripper shoes. It takes just a bit of innuendo and perhaps a book list that includes the Russ Meyer biography....

    Then again, the purpose of Facebook is different. When Facebook opened its doors to the general populace, last May, the marketing and tech industries flocked to it--because Facebook profiles allowed us to have personal information that LinkedIn, its rival at the time, didn't. Construct a profile with a pic and *some* personal information, find affiliations, and create groups. This has been great for the marketing community, with great groups like Marketing 2.0 and Social Networking Analysis: On-line Roles, Community & Network Weaving

    I can't see the folks who comprise my sector of the marketing community flocking to MySpace, no matter how clean the interface and how much more "professional" it might look. Many within the marketing community are cognizant of the culture of MySpace and don't look to infiltrate it to be social there. Yes, they are interested in how it works, and how marketing can be brought into MySpace, but the big agencies are more than willing to hire someone young enough who knows the culture--not try to retrofit our 40-something buttoned-down selves into that culture.

    And what of the tech folks I know, who are burnt out on social networking and all that stuff? Well, tech-blogger friend Jason Karashino seems to be really into social networking tool Friendfeed--and from what I can tell, he's not alone.

    And I've also heard of some young people, once they get to college, migrating most of their social networking profiles to Facebook, taking out most of the MySpace info, and leaving MySpace only to connect with those friends who haven't crossed over into college (or who still feel most comfortable on MySpace.) Yet many of this group of young people have no idea that they need to groom their Facebook profile before the decide to join the professional world....

    So, while MySpace may still have captured the minds (and ears) of a particular group of people, and that marketers will always want to find a way to tap into that space in a social networking way, I doubt that there will be a rush from the overall business community into MySpace. The rush to Facebook happened in part due to particular weaknesses in LinkedIn. Yet since its upgrade, I imagine LinkedIn has seen something of a rise in usage--actually, I've seen more messages from LinkedIn connections in my Inbox recently than I have in the whole 2 years I've had that profile....

    Then again, maybe the whole social networking thing, in the U.S. anyway, has hit a tipping point. Om Malik notes how Monster's Tickle, Conde-Nast's Flip, and a tiny, virtually unknown Verizon social network (of 18,000 users) are being shuttered. Maybe we're all tired, are taking our balls and going home...or at least consolidating our home field advantages.