Skiing, Snow, Media and Mobile

About 15 years ago, during another big New York snowstorm, a Japanese TV crew caught me skiing up 8th Avenue from my then-apartment toward Central Park. I wouldn't have known about it, except one of my best friends, who is in Japan, asked if that could have been me skiing. (When he described it, I knew it was.)

Today, in another big snow dump, I had a very different, more communal, less surprising, and much more shared media experience. Skiing down Broadway then in Madison Square Park for a work break, I must have had my picture shot about about a dozen times. One couple told me they were from Barcelona. A Finnish man who MMS'd me the photo noted that Helsinki was similar in look to New York today. A blond woman who said she wasn't from New York shared another photo via email. An Indian mom and daughter chatted me up, asking if I was afraid to damage the skis on pavement.

It occurred to me how the image of my skiing on NY streets was shared to a wider group, geographically, with greater ease, and how easy it was for me to get a copy. How a larger number of people likely saw the video on Japanese broadcast TV, but that it got on the air that time through the filter of a cameraman who decided to shoot it, and a separate editorial chain all the way until air, and that the only personal connection happened when my friend happened to be watching, and gave me a call.

It occurred to me how much more communal the experience was today due to the media technology in everyone's hand and how I am now at least nominally connected a couple of them. Seeing those folks shooting my picture gave me a reason to talk to them, and them to me.

New world. I kinda like it.

Answering Kramer on the Future of Media

While I could quibble with Larry Kramer (@lkramer) on some of the finer points in his Seeking Alpha essay The Future of Media Gradually Coming Into Focus I agree with what he's saying.

When Larry says "media," he means largely text and non-fiction media. He says that editorially digital media are moving toward finding quality and authoritative voice and that there's no one business model, that there need to multiple revenue streams.

I would add that it's even better if there are multiple, offsetting revenue streams that represent different kinds of cashflows, work better in different conditions such as a strong or weak ad market and so on. There also has to be vigorous understanding and control of costs, with a willingness to spend on what really matters. For example, your coding operation today is as, if not more, important than your printing plants and distribution systems ever were. So are folks who can do great journalism that is honest, open and involves the community. And journalists and editors who understand a bit of how to market their work (social media, of course, is the 800-lb gorilla right now).

I would also add that media organizations have to have the skills of entrepreneurs: nimbleness, a willingness to try new things, a willingness, above all, to ask what Ken Auletta, in his book on Google calls, the engineer's way: Asking why things have to be the way they are. Can they be improved? For example, why does or should even a news organization make most prominent whatever happens to be most recent, in typical bloggish fashion. Can't, as Gawker and others Larry notes are now doing, they show some judgment and curation? On the revenue side, what is appropriate separation of editorial and commercial content? How far can you go to let advertisers into the mix, while still being transparent to users about what's happening (such as the "ad/slants" advertorial copy of True/Slant, now Forbes; or some attempts at Tina Brown's Daily Beast).

The big question I have -- and one I work every day to try to solve -- is whether the mix of new revenue streams and decreased costs of production and distribution can meet at a breakeven model. Every moment, there is downward pressure on ad pricing, and it has yet to be proven subscriptions can work. The landscape is flooded with events. Technology is relatively easy to produce but harder to sell. But there is, surely a bright side and we're starting to figure it out. I took a lot of grief (and was nevertheless happy for the "engagement" ) when I wrote on PBS MediaShift that journalism is getting better in many ways. I'm glad Larry sees hope as well. Now, I'm going to have to get his book, C-Scape, and see what prescriptions he gives.

ProPublica and Jay Rosen Team Up

"NYU media guru Jay Rosen is announcing a new partnership between his Studio 20 graduate students and ProPublica. Their goal is to research the most effective ways to unravel complex problems for an online audience, and then build new kinds of explainers to illuminate ProPublica’s research into issues like the foreclosure crisis, finance, healthcare, and the BP oil spill.

"It’s an ambitious project, and one that fits Rosen’s goal of transforming journalism schools into the R&D labs of the media industry."

iPad, PBS MediaShift and “Word of Mouth”

Sparked by my story on client @PBSMediaShift about the #iPad (”Are Magazine iPad Apps Profitable in the Long Haul?”), New Hampshire Public Media’s “Word of Mouth” program is to, on Tuesday, Nov. 30, feature Dorian for about 10 minutes talking about the latest in mag apps, technology and the like.

Links, more info and a Marie Claire iPad app video with an oddly masculine hand are here, on the Teeming Media site:

Geo-Location Services Provide New Opportunities for News

"News organizations will want to play attention and be ready to provide the content the location services need and want -- restaurant reviews, event information, real estate listings, even hard news -- relevant to the spot a user happens to be. While services like Yelp and Craigslist have already grabbed some of the review and listings share, news organizations still have a strong brand presence and ties with local businesses they can exploit in the community.

Newsrooms, meanwhile, can monitor the services to see what trends, news or events might be getting attention in specific locales, and get a new layer of information and sources in addition to what they glean from social media like Twitter and Facebook. As one example, people may check in at a local performance or other event and become eyes and ears the news desk can reach out to for content.

On the business side, news organizations can structure deals in which local advertisers' ads on a website are enhanced with information on loyal customers provided by a geo-location service, and rewards are offered online to encourage more of the same."

Are Magazine iPad Apps Profitable in the Long Haul? | PBS

My latest on PBS MediaShift begins:

"Magazine editors and publishers are excited about tablet devices like the iPad.

In them, they see a chance to give consumers the best that digital media can offer -- and to be able to charge them for the content.

But does the profit from the apps justify the expense of building and marketing them? And even when the apps are profitable on their own, can they ever bring in enough revenue to sustain a sizable portion of the business?"

HTML5 vs. Apps Is Not a Contest. Each Has Advantages

Joe Monastiero (@appmobijoe) pointed out to me at #AdTechNY today that while HTML5 adds a lot of new functionality to browsers previously handled by plugins -- things like video and flash graphics and certain kinds of interactivity -- it doesn't account for the functionality mobile devices bring to the table: GPS, the "accelerometer," motion sensors, a contacts database with ability to connect to the contacts natively, certain kinds of touch screen swiping, and so on. True, there might be software workarounds or plugins for some of this (connect your address book through the browser, or open APIs that allows sharing of your email database). But the browser today doesn't generally allow those kinds of functionality that apps do. To add the functionality to the browsers would require that they become operating systems. (And, I'd add, that the machines that carry the operating systems become considerably more sophisticated.)

Then again, on the desktop, as this Technology Review story points out, HTML5 will allow for assembly and mashups of images, including video, with databases to create, as the story notes, a personalized image of someone running through a neighborhood when you put in an address. We can imagine all kinds of database mashups and functionality done on the fly to create new application-like experiences in an HTML5-compliant browser. We can assume the same kinds of functionality will come to mobile devices.

True, there is the nascent Chrome OS, and we could see the day when Safari has the functionality of Objective C. But for now, I'd say, Joe has a point for mobile devices. Not that HTML5 won't take hold, and not that a lot of functions will be handled by browsers on mobile devices, and not that you shouldn't have a good mobile site if a lot of your user base accesses your site via mobile platforms. But don't expect to be able to give them all the functionality through the browser that you can through an app. (And, as an exec at Ad Mob pointed out, you can sometimes access HTML5 browser functions through an app, anyway.)

Internet Privacy Legislation Still in Offing

If you think that legislation to protect consumer privacy (PDF) on the Internet is dead now that its author, Rick Boucher, has been defeated in Congress, think again.

A key member of the Interactive Advertising Bureau's privacy committee noted to me at the Ad:Tech conference in New York yesterday that the desire to protect consumers is bipartisan, a sentiment the Washington post notes: "A key Republican lawmaker indicated Wednesday that Internet privacy could be a legislative priority in the next Congress, as a growing number of data breaches draw increased attention from federal regulators." Technology site Nextgov concurred that Republicans plan to deal with privacy.

The legislative language, I was told, can pretty much be copied by another lawmaker, who will put his/her name on it. It's also hard to ignore the FTC's moves to explore privacy issues such as behavioral targeting (sending ads to consumers based on their previous Web surfing) and other uses of cookies and identified databases. A salesman from Casale media today proudly told me at Ad:Tech that his ad network had just closed deals with Nielsen and MRI Research, and that they could now send ads to their database (of 65 million, I believe), targeting ads down to the household level.

At the IAB's Ad Ops conference earlier this week, the IAB’s Vice President of Public Policy, Mike Zaneis, and Chuck Curran, Executive Director of the Network Advertising Initiative, talked of how they industry was working to regulate itself. (Here are their proposed principles for behavioral advertising.) But as I've written before, and any scholar of Corporate Social Responsibility knows, to get ahead of a curve once the legislative process has begun requires an industry to take bold steps that leapfrog the efforts underway to place limits.

Notice how Google CEO Eric Schmidt is very cautious to specify all the services Google can give you if you share information while also being very careful to specify user permission in this recent Charlie Rose interview (at 1:47, and again at 20:21).

More Coverage:

Ethics in Journalism

The @TerryHeaton blog essay "New media ethics: TechCrunch, a case study" raises issues of journalistic ethics today, asking (then answering) the frequently asked question of whether someone like TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington can be a journalist in good conscience.

Yes, Heaton says, because he discloses his interests, and it's no secret he's a player, not just a coverer. It's a good read, and worthy of discussion. It's nearly impossible to be ethically pure. Those who cover the news are also human beings. Reporters have opinions, families, interests. They shop, vote, invest, buy homes and cars. Yes, it's easy to avoid the obvious ethical lapses, such as buying a stock of a company you're covering directly, but what about the more subtle ones? If you're covering environmental issues, do you buy recyclable products, bring your own bags to the supermarket, shop "green"? Or do you not care and use packaging as it's provided with pleasured abandon?

I'm serious. Disclosure is not only the best disinfectant, it also helps those reading, watching, participating in the journalism decide for themselves how and whether to weight what they're reading. The Wall Street Journal reporters try extremely hard to not be biased. But they are. In favor of growth, capitalism, SEC-style oversight and regulation. Not to say any of that is wrong. But it's impossible to be truly objective, to give equal weight to all sides and concerns.

Fairness, yes. But objectivity?

During my Fulbright fellowship in Japan, I compared Japanese vs. American coverage of specific news events, during an era when US-Japan frictions and fears were making the front pages, covers and lead stories of newspapers, news magazines and evening news shows. I came away thinking that there is no objectivity. Even a photograph or video is not an objective portrayal. The camera person decides how to frame the shot, how tightly to zoom in, and makes other decisions that can affect the way the images are perceived. (One famous example was supposed riotous anti-US protests in Tehran for which one cameraman zoomed out and showed a nearly empty plaza, rather than the more popular shot of some 300 screaming protestors.)

Redesign as Psychotherapy

I like this post from @Jason_Pontin, editor and publisher of Technology Review on their print, Web and other interface redesign, led by @rogerblack. He's right: a redesign is a chance to think through your whole strategy, and should flow from there. Everything should. (Not that it's easy!)

"It's more interesting to think about our redesign as a form of institutional psychotherapy: it provided us with the opportunity to re-examine how we publish our journalism. The new designs are the formalization of a strategy I announced in a column (and elaborated upon in a blog posting), 'How to Save Media,' in May 2009. Part of that strategy was to expand our number of publishing platforms to include tablets and smart phones. If you've not tried reading Technology Review on one of these electronic devices, do: I am sure you'll like it."

GigaOm Confirms NY's Tech Renaissance

There's often talk in NY (@FredWilson is for one) about how NY is growing quickly in tech (@Betaworks a great example). It's nice to see the quintessential left coast media outlet, @GigaOm, weigh in positively as well:

"In order to keeping our content top notch, we keep bringing top-notch people. The latest to join us is Ryan Kim, who, until recently, was a reporter for San Francisco Chronicle. He’s joined us to be our New York correspondent, and has moved to the Big Apple to cover what’s turning out to be an incredible technology renaissance in my spiritual hometown. Needless to say, we have plans for New York."

Models, not Model

I've said that multiple incremental revenue streams are the way to build business for news (and other media), and in today's Poynter Online - NewsPay Bill Mitchell says that one newspaper has learned that "The most promising path to the future of newspaper business models begins with the 's' at the end of the word 'model.'"

The paper he's writing about, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, has set up a revenue stream by charging subscription rates for content "not previously found on the paper's website" and has found that it can make a profit by doing so. While the single stream isn't large, it is profitable. Multiple such streams would mean more profit -- and more ability to fund operations. (What streams, you ask: how about, in addition to ads an subscriptions, things like apps, events (something the P-G is doing), services (use those idle printers!), e-commerce, affiliate or distribution partnerships, digital-to-print and so on. Previously, newspapers have been able to sell for higher end versions of sports stats, or inside information on teams.

Curious that the company president says the paper will decide whether to continue the experiment. If it's profitable (and assuming it's not a huge distraction and fits w/ the larger strategy of the company) why not?

How Denton and Hearst Chief Are Alike

The standard wisdom in publishing is to hold onto the existing crowd while gaining new audience. But Gawker mogul (NY Mag this week says he is one) Nick Denton (that's @nicknotned to you) says he doesn't give the blog network's well-publicized bonuses to writers for just any old traffic. He is "encouraging writers to produce stories, entertainment, video, that will bring in new people." Going for new visitors is a curious strategy, but perhaps valid one.

Because if you concentrate on new visitors:
* You'll be going for more traffic spikes (and scoops like the iPhone prototype imbroglio -- which Denton said is 10 or 10,000 times more valuable than any old blog post)
* You can presume a certain number of the new visitors will stick around and become regulars (or retained or "loyal" as we say in industry parlance)
* You're getting some repeats, anyway -- a number of people log on from different computers or browsers or clear their "cookies" and so show up in analytics as new visitors.

It could be the spikes that he gets is just what he wants, and he figures that the spikes are the way to build the big traffic over time -- from the 1 million a month they used to have, he said Monday at the IAB MIXX conference, to the 20 million or so monthly Gawkers nine blogs get today.

In other words, do what works and don't worry about common wisdom. (A point he also made when he talked about Gawker Media not having the luxury of pursuing "important" journalism over what people are interested in.)

That's also, in a nutshell, what much older and more traditional media-experienced Hearst CEO Frank Benack Jr. said in an interview with IAB President and CEO Randall Rothenberg (that's @r2rothenberg to you) about an hour earlier. Asked what he recommended to a young executive he answered they should "be open minded." Do what works. "Don’t fall in love with any particular approach to delivery of content and media." Don't be wedded to any one idea. Someone in their early 30s looking to be a leader needs to be flexible in their thinking, know that the answer that works today may not be the one tomorrow -- and presumably, the one that works on one publication won't be the one that works on another.

I also believe that's just the right attitude. So many in digital media stalwarts come in with an answer, and it's often based on polemics or the desire to sell one particular product or idea or ideology, or at least what I'd call a "thought brand". Be open. Be closed. Be ad supported. Charge for subscription.

Bennack said Hearst would be looking for dual revenue streams (or, I would prefer, multiple -- even if they're incremental), along the lines of the cable TV model, which gets money from the cable operators and from ads.

Denton also said 75 percent of the company's ad buys include sponsored posts, that its nine sites now get about 20 million visitors per month, and his readers now are much more interested in Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg than in Paris Hilton. The stars they're interested in today tend to be from reality TV, he said, citing the cast of Jersey Shore as a popular subject.

Blockbuster vs. Netflix: A Bullet Point Analysis

I was putting together discussion points for my e-business class this evening on why Blockbuster is filing for bankruptcy, and what has done them in. Blockbuster as a "click and mortar" business vs. Netflix' online business (and some competition from Cable TV and other distribution systems as well.) Thought I'd share those thoughts here:

- Convenience. Efficiency of the Netflix model. DVDs come quick and easy. (no need to go to store. Reaches all geographic regions. Keep as long as want).
- Statistical modeling on back end with efficient distribution systems/operations.
- No need for retail/physical plant
- Easy to understand and use pricing plans with flexibility. Convenience.
- High availability of all kinds of movies (long tail)
- Continual improvement and drive to keep pricing to low as possible with efficiency, algorithms, etc. (holding to theory that Web efficiency drives incremental costs, and therefore pricing, to zero)
- including the recommendation engine and reputation (aka customer reviews)
- Continual improvement of Netflix service
*ondemand to multiple devices (computer, Roku box, Wii, IPad/iTouch, etc.)
* improved recommendation engine
* customer interface online
* Back end statistical modeling

Ultimately, the success of Netflix stems from the fabulous execution as an online business in all aspects (user interface, back end, fulfillment), and systems operations. There is a Harvard Business School case on them from 2007 I have used in the past.

(side discussion: What other implications Netflix ? What other industries could it impact? What business challenges are there for Netflix?)
- Didn't match Netflix online in pricing, plans, availability
- Didn't keep easy to understand pricing and convenience
- Didn't user "bricks" advantage with high value-added services
- Didn't give enough incentive (or penalty) to keep customer base, convert them to online, etc.
- Moved slowly into online space.
- Competition from other sources for entertainment consumption/mindshare (cable TV on-demand, gaming, YouTube, etc.)
- Financials: high debt obligation,
Blockbuster itself was highly disruptive when it started -- studios tried to block use of VCRs in the home.

From DigiDay Mobile: Focus on the Consumer Not the Device

From my friend and colleague Brian Reich, who attended DigiDay Mobile on Teeming Media's behalf:

It seems obvious to me -- a digital communications strategist and heavy user of all-things digital -- that mobile devices are a game-changer in the context of marketing. The simple fact that consumers can now access information wherever and whenever they choose, means that brands, media, and anyone else with something to sell have a whole new set of opportunities to explore. And yet, as I listened to the discussion at last week's DigiDay Mobile conference, I couldn't help but get the feeling that most marketers haven't figured out how to fully leverage what smart phones, tablets and other similar screens make possible.

The organizers of DigiDay Mobile framed their day-long discussion saying: "As more and more people consume content on their mobile phones, media companies and marketers need to quickly determine how to best reach and engage with these audiences." I couldn't agree more. However, as the conversation unfolded, across a series of panel discussions and case study presentations, the focus was clearly on what advertisers and agencies needed and wanted, not what audiences value or have come to expect when seeking information about products and services.

Some observations:

1) There was significant focus on the technology and not the different kinds of experiences that new and emerging mobile devices make possible. Presenters routinely cited apps, ads and the challenges of 'discovery' but spent little time exploring what is required in a mobile-enable society when the goal is to establish a relationship or support a consumers interests beyond a single, basic transaction. In my experience, it is far easier to determine the best ways to use technology to engage consumers if the behaviors of the audience dictate the options as opposed to letting the features or functionality that different platforms and channels make possible drive the decision-making.

2) While there seemed to be agreement that handheld screens, regardless of size, are what is driving the change in consumer behavior, and thus the need to adapt marketing strategy, the focus in terms of where to focus execution was mostly on smaller screens and more basic ways that mobile phones can be used. That makes sense if you are basing your marketing choices on data about mobile usage -- the statistics show that consumers do a lot of text messaging, for example. But, when you consider how tablets are influencing the way consumers think and act (whether they own an iPad or not) this focus is unnecessarily limited. To realize the full potential that mobile devices offer, it will be necessary for marketers to think beyond how to measure an initial transaction and instead strive for deeper, more meaningful interactions that extend across multiple screens.

3) I would suggest brands and agencies focus their attention on creating new and compelling ways to market their products and services and not on hating Apple. Despite evidence to suggest that apps are popular with consumers, many of the presenters dismissed apps as a viable marketing tool in favor of mobile-web based options claiming that consumers were more interested in searching for information than establishing a direct connection with something that interests them. In reality, marketers hate apps because its hard work to create and support an app that a consumer will find valuable, and use every day, but far easier to dismiss the whole concept in favor of something that provides more options (even if they aren't as compelling to consumers). For similar reasons, there was a lot of anger directed at Apple and the iAd platform they have developed. I suspect that the control that Apple has over the market causes frustration because it means marketers no longer have as much control over how their products and services can be presented -- and that makes them uncomfortable.

Marketers and media companies absolutely need to determine how to best reach and engage mobile-enabled audiences... and fast. My suggestion, with the discussion from DigiDay Mobile still very fresh in my mind: focus more on the consumer interest and behavior than on the platform that delivers your message. Most adults in the U.S. now have cellphones and one in four are using smartphones. With their rich features and capabilities, these devices are driving more than just a mobile app economy, mobile web revolution, or marketing explosion. They are changing behavior.

It will always be challenging for consumers to navigate through the mass of marketing messages and options that are being pushed by brands and media companies. New platforms and formats will emerge and different standards and best practices will be uncovered. But what has always been true, and what mobile devices of all sizes and kinds will enable in ways that we haven't been able to imagine until recently, is that people will seek out what they find valuable, and expect to get access to what they want, when they want it, and on terms that they dictate. If brands and agencies focus on that as a starting point for their mobile marketing decision-making, many of the other challenges will seem far easier to address.

Ray Kurzweil: A university for the coming singularity | Video on

Again watching this video from Ray Kurzweil at TED last year, while prepping for my class Monday. All the ways in which we're ramping up, growing exponentially -- capacity, productivity, power per price, per space. As startling as the shrinkage in cost and condensation of power to a room to palm of a hand is, will be just as startling over next 20-40 years.

Ray Kurzweil: A university for the coming singularity | Video on

Journos Hack the Seating Plan

Pro PR Tips: "Tip #151: No�clumping
At a working dinner (like an awards banquet or evening panel discussion), don’t seat all the journalists together. You’ll get more coverage if you actually put us in proximity to the people we get paid to talk to.

That said, the good journalists will ignore or hack the seating plans anyway. So, never mind."

Twitter as a Media Company

."Twitter is a media company: It gives you cool stuff to look at, you pay attention to what it shows you, and it rents out some of your attention to advertisers." from Twitter COO Dick Costolo On Ad Sales and the New | Peter Kafka | MediaMemo | AllThingsD

True enough. But don't forget the way Twitter is defining "media" at least openly in their news conference today, included YouTube and Flickr. In other words, platforms that put forth media others have created.

For more on Twitter's new .com overhaul see previous post: Can Twitter Seize the Desktop?

Rafat Ali On News

"As for the larger news industry, I think the economic challenge is too high for both startups or even established companies. ... I think the macro-economic conditions in the news sector, all of which are obvious to us, are too difficult, in general."

Can Twitter Seize the Desktop?

Twitter is, I agree making a play for the desktop, but I'm not sure that Mashable’s Jennifer Van Grove is right when she contends the new interface “effectively makes Twitter desktop clients irrelevant in the long run.”

By making richer, for example adding the ability to view media like photos and video right on rather than going to the place the media live, Twitter wants to see more traffic to, see more people use it on the Web through a browser. The move has been characterized as a way to compete with Facebook. It would also, as Grove asserts, mean people use the browser instead of clients like Seismic or Hootsuite or Tweetdeck.
But is being more like Facebook the way to take it too Facebook? And will users give up their use of Seismic or Tweetdeck or Hootsuite?

Part of the brilliance of Twitter's launch and spread has been its open API, that it isn't a Web service that requires someone to even open a browser, but allows so many other applications and interfaces to attach to it. Each of the three interface applications above -- and a bevy of others -- provide special functionality and ways of using the service. Twitter has effectively crowdsourced product development, what businesspeople might call brand or line extensions of Twitter, coming up with new offshoots that enhance and update the product, and even (unlike a line extension, usually) make the original more valuable.

Many have already learned these clients, and come to rely on their functions. A Twitter exec, in making the announcement, noted that there is still not a way to manage multiple accounts with different logons from their interface, which is a significant business use of Twitter. My company often manages multiple accounts, and people working with us are in multiple locations. We sometimes want to cross-post, sometimes keep things separate. Services like Hootsuite and Co-Tweet also allow different kinds of permissioning, so someone can be allowed to Tweet from an account without having administrative access, can be centrally tracked, and also be de-permissioned.

OK, "the long run" pretty much gives an out. You can always say "we're not there yet." (I've done that myself, truth be told.) Maybe Twitter will incorporate the juiciest functionalities in its Web interface, or even buy some of the popular clients, and weave it all together. Maybe they'll somehow limit functionality of the API or take more control of it. Was it Biz Stone (I was listening, not watching) at the news conf yesterday who said that Twitter was also updating its back end functionality.

I don't doubt the validity of what Twitter is doing from their own business perspective. More people will use Twitter on, giving Twitter more access to their users, more ability to control the experience, and more ways to -- as others have noted -- serve them advertising. Twitter sees ads as being within the content stream, not separate from it, which is also smart from a business perspective. If I were a publisher or a marketer, I would pay attention, and make sure my material were showing up correctly on But I would also continue to keep my eye on the popular Twitter clients.

The "Serendipity Value" of Networks: Beyond Metcalfe's Law

Reviewing the syllabus and prepping my eBusiness course for MBA students at Baruch's Zicklin school of business, I again read the piece by Joe Weinman on GigaOm asking "What If Metcalfe’s Law Is Wrong?".

It, and a companion PDF linked from the piece, posit ways in which the network effect posited by Metcalfe -- that the value of a network goes up by the number of connections squared, or n(2), and the number of possible connections in one-to-one network is n(n-1)/2.

Weinman writes that while the theory of ever-expanding value may be theoretically true, there are real-world limits to humans' ability to capitalize on the network. We cannot all connect to all the hundreds of millions of people on Facebook, or the billions who have phones. Even with an average of 130 "friends" on Facebook, we tend to relate to only a few of them. We cannot possibly consume all the content offered; there's not enough time, not to mention interest or stimulation.

Yes, the true value of Metcalfe's law may be less than is sometimes supposed, and there are real-world limits. But something that seems to be ignored in the article is the value of what I might call "the serendipity factor".

Weinman assumes the value of connections is derived from the ability to communicate bi-directionally, or even consume information from that connection in one direction. But that abilty also begets new sources of information, and new connections to which one might not have been, likely would not have been, previously exposed. Just some examples:

- The Retweet on Twitter lets a user not only see something that someone else forwarded with minimal effort, but also something from a new source he might never have connected with or become aware of. That person can then connect with that new source. New value in two ways.

- Facebook walls allow similar kinds of serendipity. A friend of mine run content through her wall I never would have seen, or have a conversation with someone I never would have connected with.

- LinkedIn connections: You can reach into companies and organizations and to individuals through connections in a way that was not possible before -- you may not have even known that your "friend" was connected to this other person you were trying to reach, and via that connection you not only gain entree, but also authority. You skip boundaries.

- Mass sharing. There is surely value in the ability to let everyone on my network know at once that I have new photos to share, have an achievement, an article, etc. True, I may be actively connecting with only a few of them. But allowing more than those immediate connections to keep track of me, know something of me, gives both them and I more social currency should we choose to interact, need a favor, etc.

- Technological ease. Again, the network effect gives me the ability, combined with technology, to share content, information, sourcing, thoughts, etc, at a much broader rate and level than I could have otherwise. I benefit by gaining power from the power of network, a multiplier effect. I not only drop my content and ideas onto the network, but may gain new followers, have that content and ideas forwarded further, gain new inbound ideas and connections and inquiries, and further hone my thoughts and ideas.

More on Content Vs. Control

"Apple loves to maintain tight control of things. That’s been a hugely successful approach for its hardware business. It’s even a defensible position applied to software. But it’s a lousy model for a newsstand."

Social Media, Segments and Search

  • "Stories that appeal to the tech community go bananas on Twitter--and barely register on Facebook
  • Stories that appeal to the mass market do much better on Facebook than they do on Twitter.
  • Stories aimed at our Wall Street and finance readers have enormous readership--but much lower Twitter referrals than our tech stories do." Here's Twitter's Big Problem: It's Not Going Mainstream: by Henry Blodget

Well, yeah. Right. And that's part of the drill -- knowing your market segment, and figuring out how to reach them, specifically. You can't just get the right traffic by using Facebook, or Twitter or anything else. You have to use the right means to reach the right people. Sounds pretty obvious, but it's so often forgotten.

Thinking about it a bit, Google (and other search) is one place you can reach across the demographic, psychographic and other barriers. Everyone searches. And if they find what they like they click through, regardless of their social network or who's doing the referring. So, yes, social has taken a chunk out of search, but search can have validity and impact for referrals in different ways than social media.

The 2010 Web2 Summit Theme: Points of Control - John Battelle's Searchblog

"While the Web was once considered to be an open distribution platform, access to content is increasingly becoming a key point of control." - John Battelle

The Web Is Dead? It's Open vs. Closed

Updates in bold.

= = = =
The Web is not dead and Chris Anderson knows it, though as editor of Wired, he can't claim that someone else chose the headline on his piece The Web Is Dead. Long Live the Internet. I say he knows it, because he knows at the very least that it's via the Web that people access the apps he mentions that are growing in popularity (Netflix streaming, iTunes, Facebook, etc.), at least to get the app, if not operate it every time. And in a later debate with John Battelle and Tim O'Reilly he clarifies that the piece is about the Web as a business application, not in general -- business is moving to apps and platforms, but not all users or content creators.

He also must know, as is pointed out on BoingBoing, that bandwidth, alone, can be a poor measure of value. In fact, many of the most valuable and often longest-lived applications take the least bandwidth proportional to their utility -- that's part of their value. Email, Twitter, audio, IM. In fact, the utility of an application improves if the bandwidth it requires comes down over time as it becomes more efficient.

Battelle is right that it's wrong to say of the Web and apps that "one kills the other," but in a broader sense than he posits. The battle comes in the context of the larger one that has been, and will be, going on for years, perhaps decades to come: Open vs. Closed systems. The benefits of control vs. scale.

There's room for both, and both are growing.

Everywhere I go these days, I see traditional publishers excited about their ability to control the environments in which their content appears and charge for that content. Most recently I saw that excitement from Hearst and National Geographic at the DigiDay Apps conference Monday in New York (Tweets here).

It may be that magazine publishers have the understanding and mindset of how to offer, and make a profit from, their content on controlled platforms and devices like the iPad. They, after all, made money for decades with niche content provided to niche audiences interested in anything from food to fishing, fitness to foreign policy. And in the new environment, they won't have to bear the costs of printing, paper, postage and distribution.

Yet, the new environment provides new challenges. There is no standard magazine size that will fit on all newsstands, no way to produce something once and have everyone be able to buy or subscribe. The magazines, like anyone pushing their content through an app, will have to provide it multiple times to reach niches within niches. Those interested in a particular type of fashion may or may not have iPhones, iPads, Kindles, Blackberrys, Androids or other tablets or devices. How small can the universe be before a profit will be made? It can cost tens, or hundreds of thousands of dollars to develop for every different platform, and the platforms require constant change and update. Not that it's as high a cost as printing and distribution, but it is a cost, and a real cost that's not borne on the open Web.

A core challenge to those who wall content off will continue to be what it is today and what it was before the app and platform world exploded a few years ago: Those who do provide content that appeals to a niche audience can find that niche further diced into sub-niches and picked off by those who can outdo them because there are so few barriers to entry. Want to do a smartphone publication? Well, someone concentrate on the iPhone and do a blog on just that. And, presumably, if that blog gets an audience, some of the ad dollars that would have accrued to the larger Smartphone publication go to the sub-niche. This holds true into all the niches I named above and many many more. Why will someone pay for an app that gives them a publication about food, in general, if what they're really interested in is Asian cuisine, and there's a blog that covers it just as well or even better than the general interest publication?

The Open Web Supports the Closed, And Vice Versa

The open Web also can't die because it is interfacing with the closed in new and creative ways, as well. Facebook has come out of its shell with Facebook Connect, Open Graph, new "like" and "activity" feed buttons that all can be placed on Websites and make them interlace better with Facebook (and other social apps, in some cases). The platform is often the biggest driver of traffic to any given blog post or Web page these days, and Facebook's new media page is cultivating outreach to publishers.

At the DigiDay Apps conference, a new company called AppMobi said they were providing a way for anyone with decent Web developer skills to use Javascript to write an app that AppMobi would translate to the various popular app platforms. No need to learn Objective C or other iPhone intricacies, or Blackberry or Android or any of the others. That's an example of someone using the open Web toward proprietary platforms the way it's been used in other walled instances: breaking down barriers to entry, lowering costs, and increasing access.

We are in a constant tug between free and paid, open and not. The battle will go on, with 800-lb gorillas on either side of the equation. Maybe if the niche you want to reach is a very specific group that has similar habits of consumption and provides a high enough return -- say Wall Street Stock brokers -- that you can develop just for certain popular smartphone apps, charge for your content, and get away with it.

The communication theorist Ev Rogers, whom I was lucky enough to study with at Stanford, taught how new communication inventions inevitably flow first to the monied, then to the masses, over time. If he's right, and his lesson applies today, society becomes the loser as the freshest and best technology goes behind app-laden and other walls that seal off access to the less-resourced. Let's hope libraries, at least, are able to level that playing field and provide those without the financial means, but who do have the drive and interest, to get the best of what's out there.

Publishers Should Hedge Their Bets

Meanwhile, the battle will rage, and I don't see either side winning just yet. I would suggest publishers large and small hedge their bets -- provide content in various ways to reach their target audiences. It's a fallacy to think, by the way, that "open" means unpaid. I sometimes buy the digital version of books from O'Reilly's company specifically because I can access them so many different ways -- computer, iPod, Blackberry and more. I'm very glad the Kindle has followed suit and wish it would make it easier to get content I haven't bought from Amazon. There are kinds of openness that come after the wall has been leapt. Whether the Web is the instrument may be immaterial, but the open ethos makes a difference.

Yes, Chris, "idealism is giving way to pragmatism," just as the idealism of the 1960s has given way to the pragmatism of now; yet, that 60s idealism infuses today's pragmatism with corporations promising social and community responsibility and even top MBAs choosing where to work based on the values of a company, not just its bottom line. I believe that the idealism of the open Web, while fought against in some quarters, will continue to infuse much of the media that's produced, and by virtue of its production and consumption, tug other more closed models into levels of openness they may have previously rejected. Even Apple, I would note, opened recent versions of its operating systems to others' applications in ways it resisted just a few years ago.

More links:
What's Wrong With 'X Is Dead' The Atlantic (Anderson likes this rebuttal)

More Sophisticated Use of Google's Keywords and Adwords

To use Google Keywords tool, you should be logged in to get decent results, writes Malcolm Coles (@malcolmcoles) in his post Why you shouldn't use Google's keyword tool for SEO. He offers other tools he says are better.

Some people use Google's AdWords tool as a help as well, but there, too, you need to have some sophistication in understanding it. While the suggestion tool seems straightforward, offering terms that people search for and offering volumes and cost, it's useful to be a bit skeptical, and suspect that Google is offering you as many words as possible to try to get you to buy them. The more you bid on, the more they make, of course. I'm not saying they're dishonest, just that you have to apply some brain power. For example:
- Is past volume an indication of future volume, at least in your target audience for time period you want?
- How much competition is there for the word or phrase they're suggesting?
- Do you have content that will match the word or phrase well and give you a good score in Google Ad words, and therefore help keep your position high and cost low as people click through?

Coles, whom I was referred to by @PerfectMarket, writes that for SEO purposes "I tend to use a combination of Google Insights, Google Autocomplete for web searches and Google Autocomplete for News." He goes on his post, linked above, to describe issues and link to other tools.

Can you Convert Search Users?

Search Engines Newspapers: Perfect Market’s Delivery System Aims To Please Both: "“You can’t transform those who come in from search into ‘name brand’ users,” said Tim Ruder, Perfect Market’s chief revenue officer, a former Washington Post digital media exec."

Really? That's kind of a radical thought, but it may be true. Ruder is certainly known for being smart, but if you -- as Perfect Market does according to the article linked above -- strip the publication's branding, 'related' links, sharing options and other material in favor of ads for the person who comes into a news site via Google, are you giving up future revenue, further spread, higher engagement, for the sake of higher immediate dollars? It's easy to see on a spreadsheet now -- more and better placement of ads will mean more immediate money, and publishers like that.

But what's the long-term revenue trade-off, I wonder? I'll ask the CEO when I see her later this afternoon, and if she answers on the record will say here.

What Web Analytics Can - And Can't - Tell You

"A lot of sites fixate on what their Web analytics, packages like Google Analytics and Ominiture, tell them. They look at stats on 'page views,' 'visits' and 'unique visitors' and measure their progress in terms of how much traffic increases over time.

"They might look at 'engagement' stats like 'time on site' and 'page views per visit' to glean how much people are enjoying the site after they come in for their visit.

While those stats can be a fine way to get a handle on relative growth, they're not true measures of the number of people coming to a site. And they're also measures that many advertisers won't accept."

Poynter Online - E-Media Tidbits: What Web Analytics Can - And Can't - Tell You about Your Site's Traffic and Audience (by Dorian Benkoil)

How To Money In Media

Don't give it away. Don't even make it available without pause forever.

Those were two of the edicts Richard Picard, a media theorist and lionized expert, gave Thursday at the Monetizing Online Business (or M.O.B.) conference. The conference was all about how to make money with media -- what the business models were, and more importantly, are or at least may be.

Picard said that the business models for media have moved from going for reach across a wide audience or targeted media to a select audience at a high price to the world we now know of fragmentation, audience control, virtually unlimited distribution and what are other conundrums for traditional media companies used to the high-profit margins and easy money of yore. No longer are any media companies even in the top 150 largest, Picard said.

And, he called the Long Tail theory into question.

How to Follow Internet Week

With Twitter on the fritz here are 8 Ways to Follow Internet Week, including not Twitter, from Mashable.

AOL's New 'Newspaper' (or Portal?) Strategy #iabiw #iwny

@PaidContent is reporting that AOL, under new exec (and former Googler) David Eun, is refining the company's content strategy into "Super Network" categories like news, life, health and so on. Paid Content likens it to a "newspaper" strategy, but I can't help but think of a portal. After all, isn't that how the portals were conceived and designed -- as big swathes of content against which relevant advertising could be placed?

One important difference here being, of course, that AOL is producing much much more of its content and not primarily aggregating others'. That's a point that CEO Tim Armstrong made (even as the Paid Content piece was being sent around) at the IAB's Innovation Days conference (#iabiw) at Intennet Week (#iwny) in NY. Armstrong said that on AOL (sorry guess it's Aol now ;) ), "youi'll see us more and more doing the originating of the journalism. There's a lot of original journalism" already he said, citing religion, health and other categories. Armstrong a number of times mentioned high-profile names in journalism that AOL had snared. (Armstrong said this to Slate's Jacob Weisberg, a high-profile journalist himself.) UPDATE: Dora Chomiak, friend and sometimes colleague also at the conf. points out that one reason AOL may lag in search optimization is because of their history as walled garden. Though, they have been in the audience attraction and aggregation biz for a lot of years now.)

Armstrong did say AOL may not "get there" completely in having all its content be original at the absolute highest level, but said "You could drive a Mach Truck through the opportunity right now in terms of getting back to the basics in journalism," which is being cut back so many places.

He also said AOL still had work to do in SEO, surprising (to me) for a company that had bet so much of its former fortunes on aggregating content and attracting audiences that way. He said AOL had to find consumers wherever they were "open" to receive it, using a football passing analogy. He said, too , it's incumbent on those creating and distributing content to reach the consumers of it on whatever platform they're using, and continue to use going forward -- whether the Web, mobile, iPad or anything else. (True that, if obvious and said many times before).

And pardon the tags in the head and lead. Twitter's not cooperating today, so want to try to get this to Twitter via the blog.

Recalculating the Top 50 a Different Way

Traffic, alone, is really just one brute-force measure of how much power, influence, traction, revenue, potential and any other positive can be assigned or attributed to a company or digital property. (For example, you can hardly say that Twitter's influence is measured by its traffic, alone, as so much of what happens through Twitter is not registered at, but rather passes through third-party applications via its APIs and such. Companies that serve billions of ad impressions -- like a DoubleClick -- may not show up on any list of top Web sites, but they certainly have huge influence and sway.

Still, traffic, the number of visitors a site gets in a month, says something about a site and its influence. Appearance in the top 50 means you're a "player."

And while looking at's list of the top 50 for March, I found myself wondering who, among the players, had the most unique visitors, by company. Yes, Google's on top, Facebook is #2, etc. But I started noticing that Microsoft had a number of properties in the list, as did Yahoo, and wanted to aggregate all of them to see how much Web traffic fell under their umbrellas. I quickly did this spreadsheet and found:

That while Compete puts the order of the top 10 as

that when you group the sites by owner, you get a bit of a different picture:
News Corp

It's a way of looking at how much real estate a company controls on the Web, not separating their URLs out separately. I might liken it to a consumer products goods company's power as being an amalgamation of its powerful brands. Now, again, this is not a true measure. Someone can come along and give me a bunch of URLs below the top 50 that would put one or more of these companies higher up. I also confess that, because I did this quickly and somewhat from memory I might have made a mistake here or there -- and I would be grateful for your help in correcting the list.

But it's a little bit of fun, and education.

Oh, and The Children Are On Email, Too

I've been sending around (and I apologize if anyone considers it flogging) my recent article on PBS MediaShift (where I've also been consulting in audience and revenue development) titled "Email Is Far From Dead."

The point, in a nutshell, is that email, in the words of one source, is still the single most effective marketing tool in digital media, even if social networks like Twitter and Facebook have started to take some of the share and the glory. The point is that as a business communication tool email still rules, and if you're a publisher or a marketer you can't afford to ignore it, if you want to reach and build your audience and/or customer base; it's by definition a loyal audience or customer base that has opted in to receive your messages.

One thing I didn't include in the piece was examples from my personal life to show that email isn't going to die among the young, either. Yes, my teenage daughter is on Facebook and AIM and instant messaging, and she may use other chat and social tools as well. But she also has an email, and in fact uses her email at times as her chat interface, for example on Google's Gchat service either for text, voice or video. On her Blackberry (yes, she has one), she uses email, and she also uses computers and an iPod Touch but will access email on all of them. Our younger nine-year-old also uses email, and through her Gmail does chats. I have seen that my children's friends are using email, too.

Another point is that the social networks are a stream, and tend to push anything older down. Whenever someone logs into Facebook or their Twitter client they see what's current, and may not bother scrolling very far down. In email, on the other hand, people tend to scroll all the way back to the last message they've seen. Even if something you sent is days old, there's a good chance it will get at least glanced at. (I see the results here in clickthroughs from emails for days, sometimes weeks, after we send one out from various sites I help.)

True, there are dangers in extrapolating from personal experience to larger trends, and email is not at the crux of at least my older daughter's personal communications. Email is not her main way of communicating, but it's still an important tool and as she gets old enough to start being a more educated consumer, email will probably still be a way to reach her with one-to-one communications, one of the important channels.

The New Truth in Advertising in 2010

I was surfing recently on one of the tech sites I visit when I saw this ad from Microsoft purporting to show a live stream of people thrilled with their Windows 7 installs:

I thought, "Wow, really?" So I quickly searched the Twitter stream for Windows 7 and Win 7. The results are a lot more like what I would have expected. Some "nice," yes, but balanced with a troubles, dislike and the unintelligible.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Gordon Crovitz on NYTimes' Metering Strategy

I asked Gordon Crovitz, co-founder of Journalism Online and former Wall St. Journal publisher (who helped lead the charge there to find the model to charge for their content online) what he thought of the NY Times' announced move to go to a "metered" model to charge for access to their website. Simply put, users who access the paper a lot would pay after a certain number of views (per day/week/month or other is not yet specified.), as of 2011.

Here are Crovitz' thoughts:

"The metered model is a smart application of the freemium strategy. Publishers can keep free access for their less frequent readers online while seeking a reasonable payment for full access from their most engaged readers, who value the brand and content the most. The metered model is the most popular among the publishers planning to launch using the Journalsim Online e-commerce platform."

Journalism Online, which I wrote about for Poynter's e-Media Tidbits among other places, is developing technology and working with publishers to help them find the optimum mixes online of subscription, advertising, a-la-carte and other pricing and revenue models for their content.

Twitter 'Phenomenal' for Traffic Says Rafat Ali

Rafat, founder, publisher and editor in chief of Paid Content and its Content Next network, talks about how the site is playing with Twitter and real-time news feeds, using the tools as a reporting resource and business tool.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]