Forum: How To Choose The Right Web Publishing Tool

In my partnership with BGV Media, I'll be helping out with a seminar at the Magazine Publishers of America next Tuesday in New York, being presented by Amy Webb of Webbmedia Group and lead author on our paper on Content Management Systems. She's great. Those attending the seminar also get half-off the paper.

Here's details, on the MPA site, where you can also register and pay.

A New Journalism Model - News in a ‘Search Economy’

Arianna Huffington, along with NYU professor Jay Rosen and others, are causing a buzz today with their announcement of a new HuffFund to support investigative journalism with $1.75 million in contributions from The Huffington Post (HuffPo) and multi-billion-wielding The Atlantic Philanthropies. “This nonprofit Fund will produce a wide-range of investigative journalism created by both staff reporters and freelance writers,” HuffPo chief Arianna Huffington writes. She writes, further, that this is an attempt to preserve investigative journalism and the crucial role it plays in democracy “during this transitional period for the media.”

It’s good she puts it that way - that the support is during a transitional period. It’s easy to fear that going hand-out to foundations becomes the way those working in the field come to think of as the natural way of things. Others have laid out some of the dangers: Foundations want control; they have specific missions that may be in conflict with the purity of purpose required of investigative journalism; they can be quasi-governmental, slow-moving and bureaucratic. Yet, one could raise equally challenging views of investigative journalism that’s sponsored by commercial interests. It’s hard to find any really good investigative pieces about real estate in any newspaper, reliant as they are on real estate advertising. It’s easy to find reporters and editors who will tell of pieces being tempered for reasons they believe have to do with the need to not offend a sponsor (a.k.a. funder). The ability to continue great journalistic work has relied largely on the strength of character of those doing that work, and their bosses -- anyone from executives of TV networks to the families that run great newspapers. Today, perhaps, that will include the Arianna Huffingtons, Atlantic Philanthropies and Knight Foundations of the world. (An aside: I haven’t seen much discussion of the Medicis and other benefactors who have facilitated creation of some of the great art of our civilizations. Perhaps there’s an analogy there.)

Within the foundation-supported model, the most powerful news organizations will be one(s) that move toward self-sustainability. Mixed revenue models-- without the need to call on the generosity of benefactors -- are surely the best for a number of reasons I won’t get into deeply here, but include everything from creating offsetting revenue streams that bring in different types of cash flows (advertising, subscription, products, events, etc.) to not relying on any one benefactor, so that even if one or the other revenue stream dries up or drops out the core project(s) can continue. Jeff Jarvis writes that what can make this work is the one-percent rule that works in a “gift economy”: If one percent of consumers will support a project, the project can be sustained, as for NPR and Wikipedia. If the one-percent can, ultimately, sustain the journalism without foundation input or control, great. But it doesn’t have to be a gift economy. I’d argue that the one-percent rule is analogous to marketing -- one percent or fewer of people who see a marketing message will take action that justifies the marketing spend. And in this instance the product, itself, is its own marketing message. There is not a need for a separate marketing budget or PR spend (see Fred Wilson's recent Tweet on Twitter and Etsy getting on CBS TV without PR agencies).

And just as the need for short-term profit should not drive a company to destroy its core businesses, the need for ad revenue should not allow a journalistic enterprise to gut its ventures. The effects of that kind of thinking and acting is evident today. We’ve seen weather and sports and tech news blown out while simple coverage of community school boards and local politicians languishes.

The structure of newspapers has not been born of editorial need or service to the communities that consume them but rather commercial convenience. While separate sections for Local, National, International and Opinion may be driven by news decision and interest, one could equally imagine a newspaper where clearly delineated opinion about any given topic appears next to the relevant news story (much as is done with links and feeds digitally) or in which car news and financial news appears on the same page, rather than in separate ‘auto” and “personal finance” sections that serve advertisers of those types of content. Sections have been created and blossomed in those way to support advertisers in each of those verticals. In re-imagining the news business, let’s also free our thinking, as Rosen has done, from the need to have news be created solely by “professionals,” and also from the need to structure news sections and pages according to preconceived notions of what a reader is interested in.

In a “search economy,” people will find and assemble what they want on their Facebook and DailyMe and Netvibes and Instapaper and whatever other pages according to their interests. Those interests create a powerful profile, and “opt-ins” that give clues as to what those folks might be willing to support through contributions, purchases, ad viewing and more. That can then support the journalism they want and need, and, for those willing to tap it while serving them, make the news self-sustaining.

Tweets R Me

I haven't been blogging a lot. I have been twittering (and doing stuff over at NakedMedia -

The tweets are on here, over in the right column.

Changes More Fundamental Than News

In Clay Shirky’s essay on what will sustain the news business, he writes this:

I don’t know. Nobody knows. We’re collectively living through 1500, when it’s easier to see what’s broken than what will replace it. The internet turns 40 this fall. Access by the general public is less than half that age. Web use, as a normal part of life for a majority of the developed world, is less than half that age. We just got here. Even the revolutionaries can’t predict what will happen.

Shirky goes on to frame today’s “experiments” -- Wikipedia, Craigslist -- as equivalent to experiments in the age of the Gutenberg bible that led to the reordering of civilization. (Widespread literacy ultimately led to the protestant reformation and doubts cast upon writings of the ancients, Shirky writes, quoting other scholars.)
Today’s experiments are many. We don’t often talk about the ones that have failed, though there are many more of those than the Googles, MySpaces, Craigslists or Wikipedias (assuming you’re willing to confirm them as successes, nascent though they may be). Even experiments that may prove to be economic failures -- there’s no guarantee that either Facebook or Twitter will become self-sustaining -- have been so disruptive as to rend the fabric of the previous media orders. They are bringing about new forms of communication, technology and interaction that are fundamentally changing human behavior. Those able to harness these forces are finding themselves armed with great power to sway people, and earn a few bucks. Just ask President Obama. LINK
We don’t know what experiments will bear fruit today. The foundation model, citizen-funded journalism, micro-payments to solo operators, advertisers, subscriptions for high-end information. We do know, as Bill Battino acknowledged as I held up the report his research team at IBM had produced that will be available Monday for free, that information may not want to be free but it is (genuflection toward Chris Anderson) moving in that direction.

I put this disruption of news against the backdrop of the severe disruption of a financial system whose reward system has for decades been based on scarcity, control of and limits to information (why do you think traders will pay $1,200 - $1,600 for a Thomson Reuters or Bloomberg terminal on their desks?). We see in the anger over the relatively paltry revelation of the AIG bonuses how clouded and guarded information is, how hard it is even for analysts poring over disclosure statements filed with the SEC to figure out exactly what’s going on. (A significant amount of my MBA coursework was spent on ferreting out the hidden morsels in annual and quarterly reports that corporate officers are legally bound to report but are trying through obfuscation to hide.)

Not only do I think the information disruption will be much farther and wider than to the news business, but I also think this pressure is going to lead to changes in the way we handle finance, perhaps business in general. Imagine if there were transparency in the investment banking, private equity and venture capital worlds. How much less of a margin would the people in those worlds make? How would it change behaviors if the arbitrage was open and visible to all?

When News Follows Advertising

Tune in tomorrow for live video of the media summit, with live interviews from Naked Media.

= = = = =

It was striking at the Media Summit in New York today how definitive the people on the future of advertising panel seemed compared to the more unsettled tone of the one on the future of news. The news people, from Vanity Fair writer and co-founder Michael Wolff (“We just don’t know how to fashion our product” for the new market of news consumers) to Michael Oreskes of AP and ex- of The New York Times (he said there’s a debate about whether there’s even such a thing as journalism) to Dick Meyer of NPR ex of CBS News (who quoted Clay Shirky’s recent essay on disruption of the newspaper business and said we "don’t have a clue" what’s next), were all candid about their grasp for a business model, let alone an editorial process and structure that works to produce news and satisfy an audience today. (Related thoughts on the disruption being much further than for news, here.)

Meanwhile, the advertising and marketing panelists sounded like they knew the solution -- engage consumers in a conversation, be part of a discussion, don’t just bombard them with ad messages -- and were convinced they simply have to lead others in the industry (product managers, marketers, media buyers) to think on their scale and not be locked into old methodologies. Bob Jeffrey of JWT said it doesn’t matter how much is spent on a campaign, what matters is how much it can engage an audience. Carl Fremont of Digitas called for more “active listening," then a “proactive, reactive strategy" of messaging back to consumers by joining in conversations they are having (presumably in places like social networks). He said old models of pushing ads at people weren’t going to work, and that there would be more development of social applications that provide real value and get consumers to opt in. The panelists all agreed on convergence, and also seemed to think TV would make a comeback as it became more addressable through digital technologies.

A later conversation I had with IBM researcher Bill Battino, who moderated the ad panel, said that the clients -- the companies buying the advertising -- were often leading the charge, had combined what were formally separate and segmented advertising and marketing budgets into a more unified whole from which they could then address the challenge of reaching audience through a holistic rather than silo’d media view (display ads, here, direct marketing over there...).

Whatever the state of play between clients and agencies, there was general agreement on the need for entering the “conversation” with consumers, rather than hitting them with messages, to get people to engage, to use technologies to know more about audiences, and to be genuine in messages, seemed to get general nods of agreement. One would think the same might hold for news ; after all, what better way to get at what a news consumers want than to ask them and have them contribute? I’m loathe, hesitant to say the advertising people are farther along in understanding the ways out of the current morass more than those producing news. But I can say I’ve seen it happen before, where the advertisers adapt and adopt a technology (behavioral targeting comes to mind) well before it’s talked about as a way of delivering content.

Media Summit, New York

Check out the live stream of Digital Hollywood's Media Summit from McGraw Hill building in NY. We will be grabbing on-camera interviews as can, as well, for Naked Media, most with host Dorian Benkoil.

Check out stream and catch the interviews, here.

To Save Newspapers, Don't Restrict Others

Nathan Richardson, CEO of ContentNext, writes that newspapers, with old thinking, could learn something from Silicon Valley, and their attitude of sharing both ideas and information. Well written, and a little inside peak at when he was at the Wall Street Journal. But one part of it gave me pause:


Finally had a chance to read and consider this piece. Nicely written and reasoned, and even has some smiles. One portion gives me pause:

“Portals should agree to show search results only for the original sources of news content, as opposed to outlets that have repurposed that content.”

That kind of restrictive thinking seems fair at first glance -- after all, shouldn’t the one creating the content be the one who reaps the benefit? -- but it goes against the grain of the way it’s been done not just for the past 10 years of Web journalism, but for the past 40-50 years, with broadcasters and others picking up information, and, if fairly, attributing it to the original source.

Today’s model calls more for incentive than restriction. Perhaps we could allow for some kind of prioritization in the search algorithm for the originator of the content. And some sort of additional revenue to the creator, where there is a shared revenue scheme.

But by highlighting only the creator (which will often mean the large player), Google and the other search engines would be alienating a significant chunk of their constituency, favoring one business over another, and potentially violating tenets of free speech. For example, commentary on a piece of journalism or even pickup of a small portion of it might be fair use, and thus deserve to the be linked to from the search -- and something the searcher would want to see. If the algorithm excludes those results, because they weren’t from the originator of the content, it might be a disservice all around. (Not to mention that the original’s SEO ranking would suffer because of fewer links and accesses to it.)

A final thought: Where would PaidContent be had the system of excluding repurposed content been in place?

Like Minded Joking, Jarvis, and Ford

(From )

When the Ford exec stood up and started talking all about social media at the Digiday Social conference, I tweeted a challenge to him: Sure, you’re tweeting with customers, and training your top execs who are learning all about social platforms, and relating personally with customers. But what about doing what Jeff Jarvis recommends in his new book, “What Would Google Do?”, namely, make cars a sort of blank canvas which every car buyer could customize?

Then he cracked the very joke I cracked on Naked Media’s “Shallow Thoughts” segment (which will be live on-demand soon), to poke a little fun at Jeff: The Homer Simpson vehicle, a really really expensive car with a jillion cupholders, would be the ultimate outcome. He sent me a link to a rendering of Homer’s dream-mobile. (My outline script is below.)

@DorianBenkoil We do listen to customers re car design, but we don't let them do design, or else:

Of course, if Ford were truly Googly, maybe you couldn’t have to pay for the car at all, but every time you drove to a mall, you’d get a windshield full of ads the car’s brain though was relevant. Drop your wife at the lingerie shop? Here’s ads for pantyhose! Bring your husband to the gun store? Want some cheap bullets? Just click HERE for directions -- or better yet, let our Googly-mobile drive you there.

But though I admire the conversational tone the exec, Scott Monty, has in his Twitter feed, and believe the story he told that he’d swayed a mom whose son had been killed in an accident in a Ford vehicle, not to love the company but to feel better by Scott’s openness, I also wonder how much effect he can really have, at least today. His Twitter feed on the he spoke had 800-some followers, and while he wanted to reach people wherever they are -- from Twitter, to Flickr to YouTube to Tripit -- and said the right things about respecting the community (“It’s not going to be authentic if I drop into a knitting forum” where someone has happened to mention the need for a car), I also though the way he was framing it all was a bit conventional: Ford would spread its message, open up opportunities for people to create impressions and blog about the vehicles, get more of Ford’s message.

Still, the company was number twelve on the Virtrue list of most-social companies, and it is a start. I hope I get the chance to ask Monty about Ford as a social media company -- perhaps on Naked Media.

The Script, which is really more a loose outline I try to follow (and there's some fun cuts in the video, if you get to watch):

'What Would Google Do'"?

The book's been making the rounds, and is on the top ten of a few lists, and Jeff's been flogging it mercilessly.

His basic idea: everyone, every company -- restaurants, schools, banks -- should be (FINGER QUOTES) "googly" -- should let customers decide what they want, be in perpetual Beta testing m ode, constantly be improving their algorithm. Every company, Jeff says, should behave like what's now the world's largest advertising company.

One of Jeff's big examples is car companies. They should ask us what we want and let us build the cars we want. So what would happen if GM was all "Googly" and made cars the way Jeff says?
Well, sometimes, maybe, the cars -- which are in Beta, after all -- would just turn left for no reason, or stop dead in the middle of the freeway. But don't worry, it would start up again soon.
Sometimes, after driving your spouse to a store in the mall, little ads would pop up on the side of your windshield for whatever it was that your wife or husband was looking for.
Everyone would have their car customized, and we'd get a whole bunch of Homer Simpson, $84,000 vehicles with dozens of cup-holders. NO, wait. The cars would be FREE, and supported by ADvertising!
Of course, Jeff, I'm teasing. And I'm helping you promote your book. And, heck, if GM does what you say, and it works, then, HEY, they'll be saved, and we won't have to bail them out!!!

Aside (I just happen to have written about Jarvis a lot recently. I am not a stalker and will try to ween myself from it.)

Change, Yes, and Fundamental. But Messy, and Slower

Jeff Jarvis writes of an economy that is completely restructuring -- from banks to government to education and more. I think he's right, but I also think he's painting things a bit too black and white. Here's what I wrote:

Jeff, I agree with your main assertions - -that this is a transformative moment, and things are being remade. But I think your vision seems more than a bit utopian and also makes it seem like this will all happen faster than is likely. The pendulum has surely swung, but it will swing back to a cash-and-grab economy, and those interested in profits will milk the system, whatever it happens to be.

I do believe, and this relates to your point about education, that the technologies and networking capabilities will ultimately break up the abilities of the schools that hoard knowledge to charge tens of thousands to let students obtain it. Many of the equations MBAs learn can be put in a widget (or an API, if you prefer) and spread virally, for example. Private equity’s margins, based on hidden knowledge and guarded relationships, will shrink. So, fundamentally, I agree with you I hope that what you’re writing is true (and that along with my intellectual excitement I’ll be able to feed my family well during the upheaval) — but I believe it will be a bit messy.

And even if youre predictions are true, there are still large swaths of humanity that will be outside the systems you’re writing about.

From a Knowledge- to a Relationship Economy

At the Digiday Social conference today, Alan Brody of iBreakfast conjectured that we’re moving into a “relationship economy” that’s replacing the current “knowledge economy.” (Made me think of Howard Lindzon’s Social Leverage -- his thesis, in a nutshell, that using relationships and “leveraging” their power is now beating the concept of “financial leverage.”) Brody talked of how relationships -- built up over years, with special people who can hire, do favors, etc. -- cannot be outsourced to faceless people overseas, while knowledge work can. He said there are MBAs and college-educated people walking around India and Zimbabwe with every bit of useful knowledge of the people with multiple degrees in the U.S. who used to be able to use that knowledge they’d acquired to make sure they’d “never have to dig a ditch.”

Still, even in a relationship economy, the technology speeds things up, adds leverage, power. Companies like Social Vibe, whose CEO Joe Marchese was also at the conference, have shortened the timeline for creating relationships from years to months. Its passionate users select ads to place on their social network pages (such as on Facebook and MySpace) and then designate charities to receive any funds they earn. Those users are passionate, and feel a tremendous connection -- a relationship, if you will -- with SocialVibe.

Still, unlike a purely transactional commercial relationship, this one, because it runs deeper is more easy for Social Vibe to violate. The company will have to treat their passionate users with extreme care and nurturing. The company, venture-funded, seeking profit, and having arrived at their current model more by accident than by grand plan, must trust its backers to not push for fast cash above all. Marchese assured me in a previous discussion (for the We Media conference), that the backers -- including VCs JAFCO and Redpoint -- won’t subjugate the need to develop and care for users to the need to turn a profit. At We Media conference there seemed something of a consensus that, in fact, by doing social good many now believe profits will be stronger over time.

Union Square Ventures as a Media Company

Reply to Fred Wilson of Union Square ventures:

Fred, Love how open you are about all this, let us see how you and USV are working w/ it all. One thing about the way you work w/ your projects is not just experimenting and using the stuff yourself, but also building an interlinking ecosystem. Not just using Twitter or or Tumblr but also looking for ways to have them interlinking and feeding each other and using that traffic and use to learn from each other. That can be a force multiplier you're helping create. (I could argue that USV, with its various projects, is becoming its own nascent media network -- especially if we can throw your blogs, Etsy, Boxee and other content you're helping create or manage in there.) You're using the capabilities of the technologies to help create your network, and get the eventual geometric leaps in traffic, usage, learning, etc.

Originally posted as a comment by DorianBenkoil on A VC using Disqus.

Amazon's Kindle Move Away from Kindle Device

David Pogue on Amazon's returning to its core software strength, by making Kindle books available on the iPhone -- obviating the need to own a Kindle to read Kindle books:

The true brilliance of Amazon's move is that you no longer need a Kindle anymore to read current bestsellers in e-book form. Amazon, like thousands of businesses before it (see also: iTunes store, console games), has shifted into selling the razor blades, not the razors.

Those $10 downloadable books—800K software files, with no physical material costs, shipping costs or warehousing costs—are surely where the profit is. In other words, Amazon, having ignited new interest in the whole e-book concept with its $360 Kindle reader, is already steering itself from hardware back to software, to e-books as a service, to the skills where it already excels.

Jon Stewart on Twitter

Gotta Love it. Previous post: How Twitter Plans to Make Money

How Twitter Plans to Make Money

I fell asleep the other night watching Twitter CEO Ev Williams on Charlie Rose (not his fault, I was tired), so am relying on PaidContent’s synopsis of what he said. He was apparently vague on how Twitter plans to make money. Co-founder Biz Stone was less so in a conversation he and I had for the We Media Game Changer awards.

Biz indicated they’re hoping to forego traditional advertising and instead quiz their power corporate users to find out what kinds of services or features they might pay for -- a way, for example, to officially verify that a Twitter account is actually from who it claims to be. From the Game Changer essay (PDF Format):

They plan to start creating revenues this year, moving up from their original plan of 2010, asking businesses like Whole Foods, Jet Blue and Comcast -- who use Twitter feeds to stay in touch with customers -- what new features and services they might pay for. He doesn’t, he says, expect you’ll see traditional Web advertising.

Biz said they don’t know what the services would be but is confident the companies they ask will have ideas that Twitter can then turn into something that will be paid for and help create a sustainable business. He said he wants it to be an easy-to-use tool (not one-off consulting). Another idea he hinted at was helping companies monitor mentions of their names, and turn that into a commercial service.

With Twitter’s open API, though, and thousands of mashups and applications, with more every week, I can’t help but wonder if ideas like what Biz is proposing will already be developed by someone else before Twitter gets to it. What’s to prevent a third party from making a powerful way for companies to scrape and find mentions of their name? Others have already tried to integrate ads. (Twittads is one example.) StockTwits is building a business off the Twitter platform. Dell has sold $1 million of equipment, it says, off its feed. So, if there is a way for Twitter to help Dell double, or quintuple that, sure, there could be a business. But will Twitter, itself, get there first? One of the very things that has made them so powerfully successful, their openness and ability of others to use and re-use the tool, may also be a challenge. On the other hand, pundits at first said Google had to way to make money.

They don't say that any more.

Cash is OK

I've worked with a number of companies whose owners agonized over having too much cash on the books -- and who were sometimes urged to take on more debt, get rid of the cash, reinvest, grow-grow-grow (beyond even a very high IRR -- a way of calculating returns with cash on hand).

Well, Activision apparently has $3 billion in cash and is ready to spend to shore up its video game line. Cash doesn't look so silly any more, does it?

Mossberg: iPhone Book App Beats Kindle

In two key respects, using the iPhone app seems superior to using a Kindle. First, the iPhone’s screen is brighter, and supports color, so book covers and illustrations in my test books looked much better on the iPhone than they did on the Kindle. Second, the iPhone is smaller and thus much more portable.

Exactly. And if someone delivers that with openness, Kindle will have a lot less success.

Walter Mossberg's Mossblog: First impressions of Kindle on iPhone

Check the "Kindle" tag below for more.