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, 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.