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May 14, 2002

The Web, Arabs, and The Trust Equation

Dave Winer, whose weblog software I use and who knows a thing or two about online community, is less impressed with Tom Friedman's column of this past weekend than I am. He says:



Now with all due respect, they shouldn't believe everything they read in the NY Times either.


Well, that's certainly true enough. The thing is, Dave, what the Net helps do is put random content on the same footing as The Times. This is what terrifies Big Media, which has invested bazillions of dollars into establishing a trust equation with readers. Here's what I wrote about that, nearly six years ago to the day (what -- you thought this was a new issue?), in NetGuide:



The camcorder approach to information has its place, and is where a lot of the excitement about the net comes from. Always be asking yourself about what you're reading and why it was put out there. And remember that good information always has a price.


What Friedman, Winer, and I are talking about is a subtle and complex issue. This is my full column, from the August 1996 issue of NetGuide, and I've seen no reason in the intervening years to change my mind.


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August 20, 2002

Is Blogging Journalism?

I've been futzing with that question for months, and I think I finally got it down in one place.



Is weblogging journalism? The question confuses the technology with the act it supports -- not something that technologists have ever done before, oh no no no. Just as the equipment doesn't make me a musician or a programmer, blogging doesn't mean you're a journalist. But what makes today's blogging tools exciting is that they're building an infrastructure that allows the rapid and broad dissemination of information. It's an infrastructure that's a natural for building a journalistic enterprise around.


 


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February 9, 2003

French to Deploy E-Cash Universally

Electronic cash and universally usable stored value cards are coming to France, according to the AP.


There's a ton of reasons that stored value cards are a good idea, some of which I outlined in this piece from netWorker magazine about five years ago. There's also a ton of reasons that they're a bad idea; the most compelling one being that people have demonstrated several times all over the world that they don't seem to want them.


But them wacky French, they pushed Minitel on their country, then let the Internet run right over it. This story seems to be saying that the trial phase is over, and that the French banks are simply going to push e-cash on the country. It'll be interesting to see how the French central bank deals with non-currency currency.


 


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March 29, 2004

Hey, You!

Maybe the worst-kept secret in publishing has been Time Inc.'s plan to launch a newsstand magazine exclusively distributed through Wal*Marts. (Why Wal*Mart? Because it sells 15 percent of all newsstand copies in the U.S.)

Name of the magazine: All You.

Oh-kay

In the interest of providing some free consulting to Time Inc., here are some proposals for local and demographic editions of All You:


  • All Youse, for the Brooklyn/New Jersey market


  • All Y'All, for the southern demo


  • All Ewe, for the rural/agricultural market, and general Arkansas readership


  • All Me, for actors, performers, and other celebrity readers


  • All You People, for bigots


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  • April 2, 2004

    Launching Magazines

    About 20 years ago, I'd decided that I wanted to launch a magazine. Though I had lots of experience in the wire service business and had written for many magazines, I'd never actually worked on staff anywhere.

    Not being a total idiot, I realized that I needed maybe a little more information before diving in. That's when I found Jim Tobak.

    Tobak is pretty much the World's Leading Expert about magazine launches, and I spent a couple of days in a seminar room with him at a Folio: magazine show. Tobak has been consulting for something like 50 years; I've forgotten details of his background, but he's successful enough that he lives up in Connecticut and apparently manages to stay true to his stated goal of never having to wear long pants again. He wore shorts to my seminar, and it was not a warm day.

    Tobak's advice about how to launch magazines hasn't changed much in the 15 years since I first met him. I've learned a ton about the process since then, and I can only say that he's as right now as he was then.

    Here, from the current Folio: are his nut grafs:

    The basics have changed little: Despite technological advances, we still print magazines en masse and get most of them to readers via the mail. And most mags still depend on advertisers who target certain readers....

    A magazine exists because people have an interest. If that interest is strong enough ヨ and a magazine satisfies it ヨ the magazine will be profitable. If you can't see that a magazine will be highly profitable, you shouldn't be in the business.

    Wishful thinking about what interests people remains the biggest cause of failure in new magazines.

    Tobak was not impressed by my projections or ideas, which didn't stop me from getting a pretty serious look from Rupert Murdoch. Some 15 years later, though, the magazine I had in mind has finally been launched : the intriguing Tracks. At the time, though Tobak was right: I couldn't prove that a) there was an audience, b) that I was the right guy to find it, I still have our exchange of memos, and I prize them.

    Tobak was right about a point c), too: that a big company was almost certainly not the right place to publish it. Simon Dumenco writes, also in this month's Folio:, about the difference between a BigCo launch and a LittleCo launch -- and why the latter is better from pretty much everyone involved.

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    April 6, 2004

    Blogging as Journalism Redux

    There's been a recent flare-up in BlogSpace regarding the evergreen question of whether weblogging is or can be journalism. I do try to avoid excess navel-gazing, but there are so many otherwise smart people spinning their wheels on the subject, that I feel like I have to weigh in briefly.

    The short version:

    Don't confuse the tool with the result. Is blogging journalism? It can be, if the people committing journalism use weblogs.

    Weblogs are tools. What people do with those tools is up to them. Weblogs themselves are no more journalism than compilers are programming or automobiles are commuting.

    Tool. Function. Result. They're different. Why is that so hard to understand?

    (For newcomers to this site, I have some small expertise in the area of journalism and technology.)

    One thing that we know weblogging isn't (except in a vanishingly small number of cases) is a paying gig, which leads to my next point.

    There's been some foaming in the last couple of days about the Pulitzers, which were announced yesterday. The question has arisen: will Pulitzer-level journalism ever come out of a weblog?

    Sure. Why not? But first, the business case of weblogs has to be established. Journalism costs money and time -- and excellent, in-depth journalism takes lots of both. The resources required to cover a state-wide wildfire, or a major corporation covering up an unsafe workplace, or events in a 40-year-old war half a world away, are more than considerable.

    You want this kind of journalism coming out of the world of weblogs? Excellent. Figure out a way to make it pay for journalists and the businessmen who support them, and only then will you see serious, top-flight, finished-work reportage.

    Weblogs allow a different kind of storytelling than we've seen before, just as radio and television tell stories differently than newspapers. That's going to be exciting to see happen. Asking whether weblogging is journalism is the wrong question. The right question is asking how weblogging can be used to tell news in a different and, (one hopes) more informative way than ever before.

    For more reading on this, check out Jay Rosen's weblog. He's a media critic and j-school professor at NYU, and appears to have a pretty good, nuanced handle on the question.


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    April 8, 2004

    John Evans, 66

    Unless you were deeply, madly, hopelessly deep into the worlds of online media and magazines, you probably don't know John Evans, who passed away the other day at the age of 66.

    Evans spent a lot of years an exec for Rupert Murdoch, which makes him sort of an odd person for me to have liked. When Murdoch was trying to figure out the US magazine business, he put Evans in charge. The result was some excellent titles that made it, like Automobile, and some that didn't, like Men's Life. At its peak, Murdoch Magazines also ran TV Guide.

    When Murdoch got out of the magazine business, he became interested in the Internet, and was one of the very first Big Media people to dip much more of a toe into it. Evans ran Murdoch's Net business in the early-to-mid 90s -- Delphi and a bunch of companies I no longer remember -- and spent an ungodly amount of money on noble experiments in content that never amounted to much but employed a lot of my colleagues. (Murdoch set up his Net shop in a desolate and underdeveloped area of Manhattan: 6th Ave in the low '20s. That the neighborhood is now so vibrant is due in no small measure to Murdoch's bet on those few blocks.)

    My own affection for Evans came from his magazine days. I wrote a few days ago about John Klingel and my attempt to start a music magazine in the '80s. By making a few selected cold calls and exhibiting perhaps more nerve than sense, I got a meeting with Automobile's David E. Davis Jr., an editor I greatly admire, where we spent a couple of hours bouncing ideas around. Without my knowing, Davis passed my stuff along to Evans, whose assistant called shortly thereafter to set up a meeting. It took several days after that call for the blood to return to my head.

    Evans turned down the project, but I remember his courtesy and insight, and the seriousness with which he considered the pitch. I thought him an uncommon gentleman with an adventurous spirit, and never saw a reason to change my mind.

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    January 31, 2006

    Newspapers and The Net

    What print has been good at, historically, is gathering communities of like-minded people. If you read Flying, you're probably a private pilot. If you read Popular Science, you probably care a lot about tomorrow. If you read The Economist, you most likely have a business with a global view. If you read a local newspaper, you care about the community that newspaper covers.

    Traditional publishing, however, is a one-way conversation; the editors and advertisers tell readers what they think the readers want to know. The Internet facilitates multi-directional conversation -- and the people who used to be called "readers" have discovered that they like controlling the conversation as much as the editors and advertisers do.

    The good news is that existing media has the edge on gathering readers -- and let's call them that because that's what we've always called them -- because they're already in the business of attracting them with professionally generated content and sometimes-effective (though always expensive) circulation marketing. The bad news is that readers are more willing than ever to abandon old habits and go wherever other readers similar interests are hanging out.

    The worse news is that most print media has been actively driving away previously loyal readers, allowing them to find other places online where compatriots lurk. You all know -- or ought to know -- the statistics that show how younger readers are turning to pretty much anyone other than newspapers
    for their news.


    Newspapers aren't dead. They just need to learn a few lessons that their readers have been telling them for the last 20 years or so.


    By rights, a city's newspaper should own its readers. After all, it supposedly knows the local ground better than any other medium, provides focused local content, and through its highly profitable Classified pages gives readers the opportunity to talk to each other.

    Craig Newmark has not so much stolen the readers and revenues as much as he has gratefully accepted them as they wandered away. Local newspapers failed to understand that they are themselves the entire Town Square, where people gather to commune, and not just the monument in the middle.

    For the moment, Craigslist is mostly a marketplace for goods and services. If you want to know what's going on in a town, rely on the newspaper and TV.

    But what happens if Craigslist begins being a weblog aggregator -- a hub for citizen journalism? What happens if people can turn to Craigslist for reasonably accurate and self-correcting news and feature coverage of a town? There's scant reason that couldn't happen: the cost is low and there may be a critical mass of readers already there.

    What happens? Game over for newspapers.

    One problem is that local newspapers aren't so local anymore. More and more, they're owned by media conglomerates based far away, and carry mostly wire service copy and only a scattering of real local news. It's even worse for local radio, which doesn't even bother with hiring local announcers anymore -- and doesn't even carry news, now that the FCC doesn't require it.

    Fortunately, there is still time. Local newspapers are still valuable brands with long traditions of trust. But defending that brand by building ever-higher walls is 180 degrees from the right answer. Instead, local media should embrace the lessons of Craigslist and the weblog revolution of citizen journalism. Let your readers join and even drive the conversation. Let them commit to their communities by providing and encouraging a Town Square. Newspapers need to act locally, as though they were part of their communities, and not mere profit centers driven from Denver or Chicago or New York.

    I'm not suggesting that newspapers simply turn over the Web site or news pages to any random Joe. Newspapers have editors. Use the citizen journalists as though they're stringers. If the contributors are that interested, let them deal with a newsdesk, answering questions, refining the reporting. It's hard to imagine that the vast majority of interested people could be any less skilled  than some kid six months out of J-school getting paid $16,000 to do night cops.

    Compuserve and The Source set the explosives on the news cycle by making wire service feeds available to the public. CNN pressed the plunger, the same way that the Six O'Clock News detonated afternoon newspapers. Craigslist is the bulldozer that will knock over anything still standing.

    But the Internet is a wonderfully level playing field. It's proven true over and over: Let people be part of a community -- give them the tools and a reason to come and stay -- and they will be yours for a long time.


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    February 17, 2006

    End of the Blogs?

    Slate's Daniel Gross gets all meta today with a fin de siecle article claiming that blogging is dead because Big Media is noticing it and wants to play.  Like an good trend piece, he picks four data points and extrapolates:

    • Whatever trend gets on magazine covers is immediately dead.
    • Early entrants sell out
    • Big Media buys in
    • Gullible VCs buy in 

    A close reading, however, shows that the four points are really just two: The Sports Illustrated Curse, and Money Changes Everything.

    Is all the corporate money spent on blogging being spent wisely? Of course not; that's why it's called venture money. Money in media goes where the audience is and it's insanely valuable to find an audience that already exists, as opposed to one that you have to try to create.

    The problem isn't that online media valuations are out of line. The problem, which Gross never quite gets to, is that big valuations expect big returns. Ad money is flowing out of print and out of mass media and into online media. The returns will be there, at least for a while, because the technical investment -- servers and bandwidth and whatnot -- is long since sunk.

    The trick, as it always is, is to find a way to converse with this audience in ways it finds appropriate. And what's different in 2006 than it was in 2001 is that the audience is much bigger now and that it grew by itself.  The other difference: marketers have five years' experience in figuring out how to converse with an online audience -- Slate's own valuation notwithstanding.

    And if they blow it? The audience will stop listening and find some other place to congregate and talk amongst itself. At which point the cycle will begin again.

    The New Newspapers

    A long Salon article that starts out unpromisingly by repeating old news about the dumbed down free tabloids aimed at young adults gets suddenly exciting at the end of the third take. (You'll have to watch an ad to get that far, but it's worth it.) That's when Farhad Manjoo introduces us to Rob Curley, the new media editor of the Naples (Fla.) Daily News.

     Curley gets it -- completely and profoundly:

    The Curley method is to convert small regional newspapers into powerhouses on the Web and make them indispensable to their communities -- as indispensable as print newspapers once were, or should have been, to the regions they served. He counsels newsrooms to focus their resources on gathering local news. With the Web, national news has been "commoditized"; you can get national news anywhere, and local newspapers aren't going to beat out bigger papers -- or other news sites, such as Yahoo -- that provide national coverage.

     and...

    When papers embrace their mission to provide local news thoroughly, efficiently and in any manner people choose -- in print, online or whatever other device people may want to start using tomorrow -- audiences will flock to them, Curley says. He points to his efforts in Lawrence, Kan., where the three Web sites he created for the Lawrence Journal-World became the center of that college town's daily life.

    Can this business model stand on its own? No one's proven it yet. But this is where newspapers win -- by divorcing themselves from the medium and focusing on the information and the audience.

    Ten years ago, when I was editing NetGuide, we'd review hundreds of Web sites a month. My publisher once asked me what our criteria were. We ask ourselves, "Is it useful?" I told her. Does the site have good information presented in a way that its readers want? The publisher, expecting a detailed and weighted punch list of features, was puzzled by the response, which may be one reason NetGuide ultimately failed.

    Ten years later, the answer's still good. Own your market. Be useful. People will come.

    Let me be clear: I want to either work for Rob Curley or be Rob Curley. This is a guy who knows the answer.

    February 22, 2006

    DJ Reorg Puts WSJ Print and Online Together

    I don't know any of the players so I don't know the inside baseball, but the Dow Jones reorganization announced today feels like most of a right move. It puts the online and print versions of the WSJ under the same management, so all those horses have at least a chance of pulling in the same direction. The NYTimes has the same idea, combining print and online into a common newsroom. (The NYT's locution of its "Continuous News Desk" has always bugged me though; isn't the very nature of news continuous?)

    Sticking the DJ wire in a different group, along with the stock averages and other market services, first struck me as a little odd but has a strong logic. The wire and market services are, essentially, reseller services and are available to be repackaged. Not so much the Journal or Barrons. The client bases for the newspapers and the information services are just different.

    The Ottaway newspapers are an entirely different business and need their own separate management.

     

    March 27, 2006

    Failing with a 20 percent margin

    I love Molly Ivins, but I wouldn't go to her for business advice. Still, her column today reminds anyone who's interested of a very good point about the recent sale of Knight-Ridder newspapers: that far from being failing businesses, the papers had a 20 percent profit margin.

    Lots of business would kill for that kind of margin. Then why did the KR board bail? Because newspapers are seen as a "failing" business, one "in decline." It's true that they're losing circulation, but that could be perfectly good thing: why spend oodles of money reaching the N+1th reader who doesn't see the value in your product? (Propping up circulation, by the way, is what killed Life magazine; circ acquisition and retention was costing more than the marginal rate increase the ad sales people could charge per reader.)

    Of course, seeing a newspaper as a local branded information resource rather than a bunch of pulped pine trees might extend profitability. But that would require looking at a financial enterprise as more than a quarter-to-quarter business. As Molly says:


    Continue reading "Failing with a 20 percent margin" »

    April 4, 2006

    The Slush Pile

    In the Old Media model, writers would submit articles to a magazine, get them rejected, stick them in a drawer and move on. In the New Media model, the articles are still rejected, but now writers can whine about it publicly and post them online.

    Why the hell not? I mean, it's not like the writers are getting paid for the piece, anyway... 

    April 14, 2006

    I Got Laid Though The New York Times

    Is this something new? Buried in the redesign of the NYTimes's Web site, I just spotted this: personal ads from the New York Times, powered by Yahoo.

    I guess it makes sense. Maybe Times readers aren't likely to be as kinky as the bohos who scan the Voice -- and with Net, why else would you bother with the print paper? -- but that's probably just my own prejudices speaking.

    But maybe the real answer is that the paper wants to provide cradle-to-grave (so to speak) relationship services. You meet through The Times, feed your story to the Weddings and Vows pages, maybe register your wedding at a NYTimes bridal registry sponsored by NYT Magazine advertisers.

    And if the relationship goes badly? Hey -- the Metro desk is always looking for good crime stories....

    April 18, 2006

    Another Nail

    It's increasingly difficult for me to describe what I do for a living. When I was a wire service reporter, that was easy. When I was a free lance writer and a newsletter publisher, that was pretty easy, too.

    When I became a magazine top editor, it got harder because the job was more complex than most civilians understood. The job is more custodian of the brand than it is assigning and editing copy. (As my friend Louise Kohl used to say, managing is harder than editing because when you tell a sentence to move, it doesn't tell you to go fuck yourself.)

    More to the point, a magazine in the year 2006 is a very different thing than it was 10 years ago. It's not the words on paper meted out every month or week anymore; a magazine is the audience that reads it. Smart editors and publishers will use a magazine's brand and interest cohort to address its readers using any appropriate media: SMS, Web, RSS, wireless, fax, whatever. As readers fled print for other media, advertisers at first ignored the move. Not anymore.

    According to AdAge, Merrill Lynch is saying that 2006 is the first year that the Net will collect more ad dollars than print magazines. Not good news for print, but not necessarily bad news for publishers. At least, not the ones who understand what it is they publish.

    This, of course, is important. It means that if you have a print publication and you're not online in a big way -- and that doesn't mean just putting your print content on the Web -- you're leaving money on the table. You're simply not in business.

    So what do I do for a living? I still edit magazines. The thing is, a "magazine" is a different critter than it used to be. Which -- as someone who's been playing in "new media" for 20 years -- is just fine by me. The job's still more complex than most people understand but in different ways than it used to be. Not a problem: It's always more fun inventing the future than replicating the past.

    April 26, 2006

    The New Old Hands-On Generation

    One of my oldest friends grew up a gearhead/theater tech, then became a computer magazine editor, then evolved into a stay-at-home mom. I remember visiting her and being astounded at her heretofor unsuspected talent for making things like adorable frogs out of edible fondant.

    Where do you learn things like that? I wondered. I knew her mom and her dad; she sure didn't get it from them. I was pretty envious, because I've never been good at arts and crafts and this looked like it was just a ton of fun you could have with (and for) your kids.

    I read today about a coming-soon magazine called CRAFT: Make Cool Stuff, from the people who publish the excellent Make. But where Make is about doing hands-on hardware techie project things, Craft looks like it'll be about fondant frogs and finger puppets and maybe toilet-paper-roll cars.

    O'Reilly, which also publishes tons of *very* detailed books for techies and more less-detailed books for people who wish they were techies, has made the world safe for geeks. Now they're making the world safe for stacking frog sock puppets. Yeah, I'll subscribe to that.

    May 15, 2006

    "Exhibits Grace Under Pressure"

    Some poor production assistant at the BBC put the wrong guy on the air. Rather than Guy Kewney, tech pundit, they grabbed an IT interviewee who was waiting at the Reception desk and put him on a live program instead.

    After something of a rocky start, he apparently did quite well -- which kind of underlines how low the bar is for punditry.

    Kewney himself, waiting in the green room, had no idea this was going on until he looked at a monitor and saw someone who was not himself.

    From the AP, via the NYTimes:

    In fact the man was Guy Goma, a Congolese man applying for a technology-related job with the British Broadcasting Corp. Goma followed an employee to the studio after a mistake at a reception desk, the corporation said late Monday.

    *snip*

    Producers apparently realized by the end of the interview that something had gone wrong -- and, after they had gone off the air, asked their ''expert'' if there was a problem.

    ''He said: 'Well, it was OK, but I was a bit rushed,' Kewney wrote on his blog.

    Goma told the BBC his interview was stressful, but added he was prepared to return to the airwaves. He said he was ''happy to speak about any situation,'' the BBC reported. Officials at BBC declined to comment on whether he would get the job he was applying for.

    June 6, 2006

    I Just Can't See Cronkite Saying "Sneezles"

    Leaving aside the fact that the idea of "one-day potty training" is, well, so much ca-ca, this clip from Good Morning America illustrates just how sexist people are being about Katie Couric taking over the CBS Evening News.

    If Charles Gibson, who himself just ascended to the anchor chair at ABC, gets off scot-free for this piece, no one can reasonbly complain about Couric's gravitas.

    Cute kid, though. And you've gotta love the crew's reaction at the end.

    June 7, 2006

    Digital TV Business Models Emerging

    Every time the RIAA or MPAA file a lawsuit, they're only proving their intellectual bankruptcy. You sue to protect your rights when you haven't figured out any other way to make money. The TV networks and TiVO this week are looking like they're smarter than the movie or record businesses.

    When YouTube made stars out of SNL's Andy Samberg and Chris Parnell by carrying the show's wonderful "Lazy Sunday" clip, NBC threatened a lawsuit, never mind the spectacular publicity bump for the net and the show. Now, well aware of YouTube's buzz-making power, NBC's cutting a deal that will let put ads for NBC on YouTube and let the site carry NBC promos. The network continues to threaten Bolt.com for doing the same thing as YouTube. From the WSJ:


    Continue reading "Digital TV Business Models Emerging" »

    June 13, 2006

    The Perils of Food Journalism

    So it seems that a carry-on bag belonging to a writer for Saveur magazine caused authorities to shut down the Tallahassee airport.

    The bag has audio and video equipment, honey, an oyster shell, and rub. Somehow, a screener mistook all this for something far more sinister.

    As a freelance writer, I especially like this graf:


    Coleman had come to Tallahassee to visit his parents, who live here, and do a story on the food of nearby Apalachicola, Florida's oyster capital.

    Nothing like getting to write off a visit to the folks...

    July 19, 2007

    Meckler buys Mediabistro

    It was no secret that the media trade site mediabistro.com was for sale, and the asking price of $25 million was reported so widely that it was easily believable. But yesterday's word that the buyer (for $20 million now and maybe $3 million maybe later) was Alan Meckler and Jupitermedia was, well, pretty surprising.

    Alan's a legit internet pioneer and visionary. He parlayed a print newsletter about library IT systems into the Internet World magazine and tradeshows -- one of the most successful expos of any kind in the world. He sold them at the peak, keeping the internet.com domain, then got into the stock photo and imagery business, where he's now one of the world's most successful purveyors of art. Alan's been quite forthright and pleased about the crazy-high profit margins in the stock art business, but his recent business activity shows a continuing affection for tech and the trade show business.

    Then he went and shelled out $23 million for mediabistro -- big money for a site that pulls 50,000 unique visitors a month. The online consensus is that he's lost his mind.

    I worked for Alan and I've competed with Alan. I like the guy. But Alan has never spent a nickel more on anything than he absolutely had to. I don't know what he saw in mediabistro that was worth that kind of money. I'm sure he likes the busy job board and the likelihood that a trade show or industry association could coalesce around the site. I'm certain he likes the seminar business. I doubt that he cares about the buzz that mediabistro's blogs work so hard to generate, with the probably exception of TVNewser, which is a must-read in that business and probably drives tons of traffic.

    Alan's careful but not shy about posting on his blog (by the way, one of the first CEO blogs), and he's been silent about the purchase as of this writing. I'd like to know what he's thinking....

    January 15, 2008

    Blown up in Iraq

    From the Middle Eastern Times:

    I was blown up last Tuesday. Luckily I can write about it. Many others who've shared the experience can't. They're dead, or their bodies and brains are so messed up by shrapnel or concussion they can't remember the details.

    It takes a special kind of person to be a war correspondent. I know three: Jon Landay of McClatchy, Marie Colvin of The Times of London, and Robert W. Worth of the NYTimes. I'm glad I know them -- and proud to have worked with the first two early in my career -- but I'm even gladder I'm not one of them.

    But if you're going to cover the war in Iraq, and Lord knows we need good coverage, this is a hell of a way to do it.

    January 28, 2009

    There goes Plan B...

    So now comes word that Starbucks will close 200 more U.S. stores (in addition to the 600 already slated), putting another 6,700 people out of work. I guess all my friends in publishing will now need a new "last-resort" job option.

    One wonders if the severance benefits include a high-value Starbucks card and free Wi-Fi. And it this is related to yesterday's counter-intuitive decision to stop brewing decaf in the afternoons....

    January 30, 2009

    A distinct lack of cumulative learning

    Note update after the jump...

    A bunch of Big Thinkers got together recently to chew about the intersection of Big Media and Social Media,and concluded the following:


    The overwhelming flow of information, crap, or junk cannot be stemmed, [NYU Journalism professor Jay] Rosen noted. "The way to make yourself valuable on the Web is: you edit the fucking Web," he emphasized, sending smiles across the crowd's faces. Journalists should serve as intelligent filters and middlemen if they hope to keep their jobs, Rosen added.

    Now, I love Jay Rosen, but this makes me nuts. The idea of editors as filters of new media is not, like, new. That last link dates from 1995, and includes this:

    Continue reading "A distinct lack of cumulative learning" »

    January 31, 2009

    Do URL shorterners pass page authority?

    This is something I've got to experiment with: do URL shorteners like TinyURL and bit.ly hurt a targeted page's authority? And if they do intercept the authority, is the added traffic they drive worth the loss?

    Services like TinyURL are extremely useful for sending pages with long URLs to people over e-mail or Twitter, where you only have 140 characters. But bloggers use them, too -- because shorter URLs are just easier to deal with.

    But how do those services redirect the traffic? When search engines find TinyURL and bit.ly URLs on the Web, where do they assign the authority: to the TinyURL URL or the underlying page? Because I don't recall seeing bit.lys or TinyURLs in search results -- and I look at a lot of search results -- I suspect that they pass the authority just fine. But it would be a big deal if they didn't; a few good backlinks can be difference between a non-existent search position and an excellent one.

    February 2, 2009

    Nice Algorithm You Got There

    Google would like you to believe that it's all automatic, that there is this army of search spiders that digs out every last page and image on the Web and decides which is "better" for any given search term. It's true, as far as it goes, but the company tends to carefully elide the human element that goes into its search result. Until something goes horribly wrong, as it did Saturday morning. For an hour, Google said every site on the Net was dangerous -- itself included.

    Continue reading "Nice Algorithm You Got There" »

    February 3, 2009

    Not all Lego constructions have to be complicated

    Very cute. Minimalist Legos about New York.

    http://niemann.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/02/02/i-lego-ny/

    More and more, I love the NYTimes's blogs. Great writing and imagination, in a form and format that's not right for print but perfect for online.

    February 9, 2009

    Newspapers cut 9 percent of staff in 2008

    Ow. Ow. Ow.

    From AdAge:

    The U.S. advertising and media industry slashed 18,700 jobs in December, bringing industry job losses in this recession to 65,100...

    Continue reading "Newspapers cut 9 percent of staff in 2008" »

    February 23, 2009

    MPA cans annual magazine conference

    One of the more glittery events in the consumer magazine business has its plug pulled for this year. The Magazine Publishers Association has canceled its annual American Magazine Conference.

    Given that Hachette, AMI and New York all pulled out of the MPA recently, and given that tens of thousands of people got axed in the magazine business last year, this might be a bad time to be planning a big-ticket shindig. Maybe by the time the AMC season comes around this fall, all the remaining publishers can just have lunch in a phone booth somewhere in midtown...

    February 25, 2009

    Newspapers are fine. Their owners, however...

    Fascinating piece in AdAge this week. It turns out that newspapers, as a business, are doing quite well -- kicking out 10 to 20 percent returns, which ain't chopped liver.

    On the other hand, the companies that own newspapers are debt-laden swine. They took on too much debt in fat times, as national chains swept up local owners. If you can keep using cash flow to pay off debt service, you're cool. But anyone who's played Hot Potato knows what happens when the buzzer goes off.

    Compare and contrast Hearst and Philadelphia Newspapers. The latter went Chapter 11 recently -- too much debt -- while saying operations are fine. But Hearst's apparently imminent closings of the San Fransisco Chronicle and the Seattle Times, shows that media companies will have a choice: kill the papers or restructure their overall operations. Since the latter runs the risk of wiping out equity, expect far-flung media companies to impose pain on their newspapers. But smaller companies, focused on their own papers, may turn out just fine.

    February 27, 2009

    RIP, Rocky Mountain News

    It's not news anymore when a newspaper closes. But it's especially sad that Scripps has killed the Rocky Mountain News. Today was its last edition.

    (I'm not going to link to the RMN, because God only knows how long the links would be live.)

    For many years, it was the strongest newspaper between the Mississippi River and California. It was the scrappier and more fun of the two papers in Denver, an energetic voice of the Rockies. It was 156 years old, and Scripps -- the one-time owner of UPI that did so poorly by its crown jewel -- decided it wasn't worth the financial drain. The thing is, the RMN wasn't even the weaker of the two papers.

    After the jump, there'll be two pieces from RMN writers. Full text, because the links will probably expire sooner rather than later. The first is from a sportswriter. The second is an awfully good obit, explaining why newspapers are important -- and how a great paper gets that way.

    Continue reading "RIP, Rocky Mountain News" »

    Computer Shopper Goes Online-Only

    You could have seen this one coming a mile away. Computer Shopper, once the biggest and one of the most profitable magazines in the United States, announced today that it's going online-only.

    The days of 1000-page tabloid-sized issues are long past; Shopper went to a slick paper and normal trim years ago. Back in The Day, I was a senior editor there, responsible for about 100 of those pages a month. That's a lot. And while Shopper may not have been the best thing I'd ever done professionally or the most fun or the most formative, it was undoubtedly in the Top 3 for all of them. It's surely where I learned the magazine business and where I started to learn how to be a manager. It's where I met my best man. It's why I moved into New York City.

    And it's where I forged personal and professional relationships that have lasted decades. I'm sad to see it go. Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, a friend and once one of my writers, wrote a tribute in Computerworld. Read to the bottom.

    There are too many Shopper stories than can be told here; you'll have to buy me a beer or two -- and I know that my short time at Shopper is only a thin slice of a very long story.

    There's an old poster that shows a genealogy of British blues bands. Every band that's worth a damn could trace its way back to the Yardbirds, for one member or another at one point or another. In the tech press, Shopper was the Yardbirds. Glad I got to play

    March 3, 2009

    Is the flexible touch screen here?

    The folks at E-Ink -- who make the clear high-contrast screen for the Amazon Kindle -- appear to be prototyping the first flexible computer touch-screen. You know: the digital paper that's been hyped since forever.

    This article from Technology Review gives a neat overview of portable flat-screen technology, and why it's so hard to combine both flex and touch. First applications will be, unsurprisingly, military. God only knows how much it'll cost.

    May 28, 2009

    Media cabal meets secretly to discuss charging for online content

    Top newspaper execs closeted themselves in an O'Hare airport hotel meeting room today, trying to figure out how to charge for their online content. Note: antitrust counsel was in the room; no word about whether he was bound and gagged.

    As a consumer, I like free. As a content pro, I know that "free" has cost many of my friends their jobs -- and that "free" would not have produced journalistic accounts of this meeting. I'm uncomfortable when industry groups convene in private to discuss whether and how to charge for their products. (Imagine if Exxon, Texaco, and Chevron had a meeting where pricing strategy was discussed.) That's why there were lawyers there.

    But on balance, I guess I'm rooting for them. Reliable, curated information has a commercial value. I'm just not sure I trust them to set the right price on that value.

    June 12, 2009

    SEO is where marketers should start

    If you want to sell something, tweaking your organic search is a great place to start. That's the conclusion of a new study (PDF) published by Forbes.

    The study found that:

    • The tools seen as most effective for generating conversions were SEO (48 percent) email and e-newsletter marketing (46 percent), and pay-per-click/search marketing (32 percent).
    • In the coming six months, respondents expect that ad networks will see the biggest declines in allocation of marketing spend; viral marketing and SEO will likely see the biggest increases. Behavioral Targeting is the category that is least likely to see any changes in spend.
    Note that "effectiveness" is defined here as generating conversions, not mere page views -- and that SEO is half again more effective than PPC. Notice also that SEO campaigns exceeded expectations of 45 percent of respondents; the next most satisfying tactic -- PPC -- exceeded expectations of only 25 percent of those surveyed.

    And one more encouraging thing: the companies Forbes surveys understood that the important thing about search isn't traffic (37 percent) or SERP position (34 percent.) It's conversions: 70 percent.

    Organic search = money. Remember that.

    June 15, 2009

    Dan on SEO

    Rob Kelly, as best as we can put it together, is a guy I didn't quite get to work with CMP. He was a senior adviser to the SEO out on the West Coast while I was editing NetGuide in New York. Now, he's off building building a bunch of interesting sounding new companies.

    Rob interviewed me the other day about SEO, and it came out pretty well, although I was talking a little faster than he could type. Click through for the whole deal, but here are a couple of pullquotes:

    Ranking in the SERP (Search Results Page) is meaningless. Anyone can get to the first page for something. What I always watch for is traffic, and changes in traffic. I care about the conversion of what happens once someone hits my page…clicking the buy button or the ad. I can rank #1 on a search of “cellphone”…but if they come to my page and don’t convert, all I’ve done is cost my company money. If I can generate meaningful traffic to my reader, to my customer…that’s the win.
    SEO isn’t an event, it’s a process... Too often, employers aren’t emotionally equipped to understand what SEO really is — it’s a quality process… that involves the entire company. When Toyota decided they were going to out-quality Detroit, they didn’t hire a quality guy and stick him in a cube. They hired someone who would come in and look at the operations of the entire company and build a process that baked quality in. And the best companies that do SEO, bake SEO in.

    July 1, 2009

    What's new about Bing?

    Not long ago, I gave an interview to Betanews, which (who?) wanted to know what Microsoft's new Bing search engine was up to.

    A white paper from Microsoft didn't provide much detail about Bing's algorithm, but was forthcoming about why and how its user interface got that way. Interesting stuff.

    But what's even more important is that Bing (like Google) is presenting ever more of a web site's content before users go to a web site. If you're a site owner who tries to monetize eyeballs, you should start getting the message that you're less and less in control of the presentation of your information. That's not a good thing.

    August 26, 2009

    Google and Bing as a threat to content

    Bing has now been around long enough for people to start looking for referrers in their server logs. Most people aren't seeing a ton of traffic from Bing so they think it's not a big deal.

    It's a dangerous and possibly self-deluding conclusion for any content provider. Remember: you -- the content provider -- are not the search engines' market. You are, in fact, the product that they're selling.

    Bing is not innovating in search, as far as anyone can tell. It gives some very different results than Google; in many cases, it presents much deeper results than Google's while missing other stuff.

    Where Bing (and Yahoo) are innovating are in user experience. The goal of all these search engines is to give their users as much information as possible without their leaving the SERP. You want them to click on your URL to see your content and ads. But the search engines would just as soon that their page be the final word. That's why Google is relying less on Description tags and more on page scrapes and microformats for its snippets. It's why Bing has page excerpts pop up next to the URLs on the SERPs.

    Bing has looked at the heat maps of what people look at in SERPs and is innovating around that upper left quadrant of the window. Google is making more options more easily available to searchers. But what kind of business model would your site have if it only existed to send people away? Right: none. The search engines are ever more in the business of helping people stick around, showing your information on their pages, and building environments where they let people leave only if they really want to -- but would rather have them stick around, thanks.

    December 7, 2009

    Google Real-Time Search: some questions

    Google today announced its inevitable reach into real-time search, instantly adding results from Twitter, FriendFeed and MySpace. As cool and useful as this may be, I've got a couple of questions about it.

    How do they assign relevance to tweets? Google's search algorithms are based, in large measure, on the number and quality of backlinks -- relevant links to a given page. How is Google assigning relevance to tweets? By hashmarks? By the number of followers on an account? That's obviously problematic, given the triviality of manipulating it. By the number of relevant followers? Then what determines relevance?

    Is more weight given to official pronouncements from known or trusted entities? How do the entities get to be known or trusted? And if "official" sites do get preference, isn't that contrary to the whole idea of Twitter?

    What about a common situation where a reporter for a publication tweets about a story that's about to break on their site or in print? How is that differentiated from an unsubstantiated rumor that some celebrity has died? It's not Google's place to be judging the truth value of tweets or posts, but I worry (as often) that this will only accelerate a race to the bottom.

    And one more: Tweets are 140 characters long. Google snippets are 156. By presenting tweets on SERPs, Google is preempting one possible means for Twitter to monetize: ads. Why click through to a Twitter page when you get all you need on Google's?

    March 22, 2010

    Kawasaki on Management

    I've been around the Macintosh world since about 1985, so I'm real familiar with Guy Kawasaki. Guy was the software evangelist for the Mac -- the guy who went around persuading software developers to write for this unusual and innovative computer. In the intervening years, he wrote a couple of books about what became known as guerrilla marketing; those books are still on my shelves. In certain circles, he was (and is) quite famous. In certain circles, he became sort of yesterday's news. Now, he runs a venture company and a news aggregator Alltop.com.

    But there's an excellent interview with him in this past Friday's NYTimes, where he dispenses some pretty insightful advice about careers and marketing:

    Sales is everything. As long as you’re making sales, you’re still in the game....

    They should teach students how to communicate in five-sentence e-mails and with 10-slide PowerPoint presentations. If they just taught every student that, American business would be much better off... Because no one wants to read “War and Peace” e-mails. Who has the time? Ditto with 60 PowerPoint slides for a one-hour meeting. What you learn in school is the opposite of what happens in the real world. In school, you’re always worried about minimums. You have to reach 20 pages or you have to have so many slides or whatever. Then you get out in the real world and you think, “I have to have a minimum of 20 pages and 50 slides.”

    ...In the end, success in business comes from the willingness to grind it out. It’s not because of the brilliant idea. It’s because you are willing to work hard.

    Most people who graduate from college think they have to make a perfect choice.... They think that their first job is going to determine their career, if not their life. Looking back, that’s absolutely incorrect. By definition you cannot make a mistake in your first job... Let’s say you join a start-up, and it implodes. You would learn more about leadership inside a company that crashes than you would inside the next Google. Specifically, you will learn what not to do. You can’t make a mistake as a college graduate.
    Jobs for college graduates should make them gain knowledge in at least one of these three areas: how to make something, how to sell something or how to support something.

    It's a quick read. Worth the time.

    April 23, 2010

    Auto-captioning YouTube

    I somehow missed the news that YouTube is now automatically captioning all videos in English. That's awesome news for the accessibility crowd. It's a little problematic for the content industry.

    Think about it. There's about 20 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute. For every one of them, Google's now generating text. This text is not created on the fly as the video is played back; it's presumably built as part of each video's preprocessing and is made part of the video's metatext. Which means it's being indexed, which means that the videos are now competing directly with more traditional textual information.

    It's true that the Google voice-to-text technology is not exactly accurate. (My Google Voice transcripts are generally pretty incomprehensible.) But this is all the more reason that serious content competitors need to be looking more than ever at using YouTube to protect their brands.

    May 23, 2011

    Wuz LinkedIn Robbed?

    There's a provocative column by Joe Nocera in today's NYTimes about LinkedIn's IPO last week. Nocera thinks that the investment banks Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch -- which LinkedIn hired to take it public -- essentially stole hundreds of millions of dollars that should have gone to LinkedIn's treasury.

    Here's how it works. The investment banks gauge demand for the shares, which are sold by the company's treasury, and set what they believe is a fair-market price. Proceeds of those initial sales go to the company. In LinkedIn's case, Morgan and Merrill set a price for the shares three times, the last and highest being $45. LinkedIn took in $352 million for 7.5 million shares. The investment banks get 7 percent of that.

    But once the shares are out, they can be -- and are -- traded freely. On its first day, LinkedIn traded as high as $122 per share, closing at $94.25, more than twice the initial price. LinkedIn got none of that money.

    Who did? The people to whom Morgan and Merrill sold the initial shares. That's usually their best customers, people with connections, or other BFFs. A 100 percent gain in one day is a nice day's work.

    Nocera says it's a scam. It's the investment banks' job to know what the market sentiment is, he says, and it's their fiduciary duty to price the coming-out shares as close to what they think the market will pay. And at the end of the day (literally), the market was apparently willing to pay $90. LinkedIn should have collected not $352 million but $700 million, Nocera argues. And their investment banks should have been paid $49 million, not a mere $25 million or so.

    Why would the banks leave $25 million on the table by underpricing? After all, taking a company public is hard work. Maybe they traded some of their own stock and gained more than that. Maybe they were willing to chalk up the $25 million as a cost of doing business to appeal to their best customers. Promotional expense, you know.

    Is this something that should be -- or can be -- fixed? I'm not so sure. I don't know that it's an investment bank's responsibility to take into account a market gone nuts. Maybe a best effort is all that's truly called for. though how you'd judge that is a mystery for smarter minds than mine. I know I don't want the SEC putting its thumb on the IPO scale.

    Maybe a Dutch auction, which is how Google went public, is the right anwer. (The Street hated it, but it doesn't seem to have hurt Google's prospects any.) Maybe there should be a rule that a percentage of all first-day sales -- say, 7 percent, same as the banks' take -- be funneled back to the company issuing the shares. It might make for a more orderly coming out, or it might just move the madness to Day 2.

    This may just be one of those things that Just Isn't Fair. One thing Nocera's inarguably correct about: it looks like hell at a time when the financial business ought not to be resorting to Old Tricks of the Internet Bubble.

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