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March 30, 2007

Newspaper PDFs: I saw an e-reader, in the wild!

I've seen it! In the wild!

I was just on a flight to Chicago and, sitting next to me, was a guy with a Sony Reader flipping though the pages of The Da Vinci Code.

I've been following the progress of E Ink and other displays/ e-readers without much real enthusiasm. In theory, I love the idea - I read lots of books and would love a practical, iPod approach to filing and using them. In practice, though, the concept of an e-book reader hasn't really caught on Stateside.

So I asked him: Are you using that thing voluntarily?

He handed me his reader and showed me how easily he can change the font and colors to best suit the light. Says there's no eye strain and that he genuinely enjoys using it. I had a problem with the size of the screen, which was big and bright but only allowed me to view one page at a time. I read quickly, and I think that in my case, constantly clicking on the reader to turn a page might get annoying.

In Sony's case, there's an online store a la iTunes called CONNECT where books can be downloaded. True to Sony style, the platform and product are both proprietary, so you can't browse for titles without the Sony Reader.

Still, I was stunned to see someone using an e-reader, after the years of hype and hoopla. He was a very normal, non-techie guy, choosing to read his books electronically... But also says that he'd never flip through PDFs of a newspaper on it.

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My (USA Today) Friends

Now here's something from USAToday.com's relaunch that I really, really like: the newly-released Reporter Index.

All (at least, I think all) reporters at USA Today now have online profiles with links to past stories. Some - not nearly enough, as it looks like a voluntary system - have also uploaded bio information with a headshot, an "about me" section and, if that reporter keeps one, a link to his or her blog. Better yet, the Index allows users to leave public comments and messages about/ for that reporter. (Users can rank reporters too, though the rankings don't seem to do anything except display a number within that reporter's profile.)

The system is powered by Pluck, a social networking app that plugs in neatly to most content management systems and is also used by washingtonpost.com, foxnews.com and one of my favorite online news sites, chron.com, website for the Houston Chronicle.

It may seem a little My-Spacey for some, but I think the Index is accomplishing the important task of making the folks in newsrooms as transparent and as reachable as possible. Kudos to USAToday.com - this is a good start.

Now how about upper management's profiles? Where's Kinsey Wilson?

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Citizen Journalism Contest: $1,000 for the most popular story, news or not

This morning, GroundReport.com announced a new incentive for users publishing stories, video and photos to its site: $1,000 for the top-rated entry every month.

GroundReport.com is a cit-j site allowing anyone registered to self-publish just about anything. It was created by Rachel Sterne, a former United Nations intern, and launched officially this month. Her idea echos what the Jimmy Wales of the world are arguing: follow the wisdom of crowds and democratize the news.

From the site:

On GroundReport, anyone can reach a global audience, create a personalized newsfeed and get a free, hosted press portfolio...GroundReport's mission is to [empower] everyone to get involved. We think that government censorship, media politics and money should not determine what you see on the evening news...At GroundReport everyone participates in the news, and stories marginalized by the mainstream media are the focus.

GroundReport's business model seems pretty clear: It's free to upload and users are encouraged to carry advertising with each story. Users get 50% of any ad revenue and the rest goes back to GroundReport. Authors retain all rights to their work.

No word on traffic, but it doesn't look like that many people are posting -- or ranking -- stories just yet. The most popular so far seem to be opinion pieces, though they're categorized as news. For example, the top story right now is a video entitled "The Gospel of Propane". From the accompanying text:

Minister Steve spends most of his day bringing much needed propane, food, and clothing to these homeless enclaves from his blue school bus. "Right now, the political system is against a shelter in Ocean County. I think they want the impression that we've got a suburban utopia here," Minister Steve says. "Y'know, we don't have a homeless shelter, we don't have a problem."

Also isn't clear that stories are being edited or vetted.

I don't know that I would call this a destination for my morning reading, but I will say this: It ain't easy to launch a website, to let people know about it, to develop a community and to harness content. In theory, Ms. Sterne's heart is in a good place. In practice, I don't know that anyone has really figured out yet how to give equal weight to a wide variety of stories and equal access to the news.

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March 29, 2007

Weather Or Not: How to increase your web traffic

A report this morning from Nielsen//NetRatings shows that 15.4 million unique visitors came to TV station sites hosted by Internet Broadcasting last month, setting a new record for the company. This is a 12% increase from January, which held the previous high.

Internet Broadcasting is the largest publisher of local news for broadcast affiliates and serves such sites as NBC10.com in Philadelphia, NBC4.com in D.C. and Telemundo47.com in New York. This company provides both a content management system and content to populate local TV web sites. I know that in many cases, sites are populated by an IB employee and not a journalist hired by the local affiliate.

What's behind the spike? IB says the weather. Users are visiting these TV sites for meterologist blogs, where they can get immediate, interactive information from their local weatherpeople and comment directly back to them. As part of the weather blog microsites, many of IB's stations also solicit and publish user-generated photos and videos during storms.

This absolutely dumbfounds me. I lived in Philadelphia for three years and was always surprised at the amount of local air time devoted to storm coverage. I'm from Chicago. We're no strangers to snow storms, tornados and record heat -- sometimes all in the same week. And yet in Philly, I remember watching a nightly newscast devoted almost entierly to Glenn "Hurricane" Schwartz's announcement of the impending weather apocalypse.

On the NBC10.com site, the weather plays a very prominent role: forecase, news, media, features, blogs, and plenty of user generated content.

Now here's the kicker. I think that a lot of publishers and editors think they know what users want: lengthy, heady stories about political corruption, videos of community events. More white space. Less clutter.

The top-ranked websites in terms of traffic continue to be search engines/ aggregators and social networking sites. Of the top 25, only four differ: Microsoft (#15), CNN.com (#16), Mapquest (#24) and...wait for it...Weather.com (#23).

Maybe all we really want is a good search platform and the ability to know what it's like outside while we sit in our windowless offices.

More on this issue:
WeatherBug from Steve Rubel's Micro Persuasion
Weather-o-Rama from the American Press Institute

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Pirate Bay: Sealand refuses offer to sell island to torrent provider

Many of you, I'm sure, still download mp3 and video files from a filesharing network. (I can only hope that you're not continuing to use Limewire.)

You're likely using a torrent server to get your latest episodes of Lost or hard-to-find tracks off of an old Coltrane album. You would have downloaded something like BitTorrent to connect and then used a torrent search engine such as isoHunt or Torrentz.

Problem is, sharing copyrighted material is illegal.

So one popular torrent site, The Pirate Bay, attempted to move operations offshore. Way offshore to Sealand, a Principality founded in 1967. From the official government site:

Sealand was founded on the principle that any group of people dissatisfied with the oppressive laws and restrictions of existing nation states may declare independence in any place not claimed to be under the jurisdiction of another sovereign entity. The location chosen was Roughs Tower, an island fortress created in World War II by Britain and subsequently abandoned to the jurisdiction of the High Seas. The independence of Sealand was upheld in a 1968 British court decision where the judge held that Roughs Tower stood in international waters and did not fall under the legal jurisdiction of the United Kingdom. This gave birth to Sealand's national motto of E Mare Libertas, or "From the Sea, Freedom".

The Swedish-owned Pirate Bay announced plans to purchase Sealand and to create an island-nation without any copyright laws where users from around the world can upload and download all the Dawson's Creek episodes they want, and watch the sun set to pirated copies of Even Now and Mandy. They had raised USD $20,982.

Sealand recently said no to the plan. Sealand Prince Michael Bates told the CBC that for now, he's keeping the pirates at bay.

Still, the momentum behind Pirate Bay's bid - and the obvious user support - is a sharp reminder that many Internet users still expect their content to be free. They demand it. As we begin to think about new business models for news survival, publishers should keep this in mind...

(Thanks to Sam Benesby for the links.)

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Introducing the book...

A reminder that our current move to digital publishing isn't the first time we struggled. Video originally posted on YouTube.

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March 28, 2007

RadiusIM: Another use for geotagging

Here's an interesting geotag mashup: RadiusIM is a web-based service that displays all currently-online instant message users on a map. (You have to sign up for the free service first, of course, and so do your friends.)

But you can also trace your friends via their mobile phones. For example, when I'm not online, all of my instant messages get delivered directly to my Blackberry. If I had a RadiusIM account, my phone could then be used to help my friends and family locate me as I shopped, went out for dinner, sat at the beach...

I wonder if there's an application in here for news reporters. I'm thinking about Live8 and how that coverage was handled by Philadelphia media a few years back. It might have been interesting to send out reporters to live blog the event. In what should be a contained online space, there could be a live blog, streaming video or audio clips, and a map showing where reporters are to give users better perspective. Same goes for covering disaster reporting, giant sports events, political conventions...

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March 27, 2007

Knight Citizen News Network Launches

The Knight Citizen News Network launched yesterday. The project is a free web portal to help cit-journalists and professionals create and populate local news sites.

From the press release:

KCNN.org was created to help citizens use digital media in ways that enrich community, enhance public discourse and enliven democracy, said Jan Schaffer, director of J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism, which manages development of the site. It also seeks to open doors for traditional news organizations seeking to embrace user-generated content.

"Above all, the site seeks to impart an understanding of the qualities that make for responsible and credible community news and information," said Schaffer.

KCNN.org so far offers:

  • a database of U.S. citizen media sites, searchable by keyword, town or state and displayed on a Google map.
  • a "Things We Like" feature, starting with more than 20 cool ideas from sites around the country.
  • an interactive overview of the "Principles of Citizen Journalism," with more than 40 audio and video interviews and scores of resources.
  • the latest citizen media research.
  • mini case studies on how to train citizen journalists and resources to start reporting.

The project was developed by Amy Gahran and Adam Glenn of I, Reporter and by Dan Gillmore from the Center for Citizen Media and was funded by the Knight Foundation.

There are still some components coming -- the site isn't quite finished yet. But I encourage you to have a look through what's there. KCNN isn't just meant for stay-at-home bloggers. The way in which we gather and disseminate information has changed because our expectations for content delivery are being shaped by YouTube and digg. I think that every reporter in the U.S. should visit this site regularly.

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March 26, 2007

Launched: The MyDigimedia Toolbar

I've cobbled together a digital journalism toolbar that you can install right into your browser (Firefox recommended, though IE 6 or above should also work).

The toolbar will give you access to digital journalism resources, such as professional organizations, how to's, downloadable tipsheets and RSS (blog and podcast) feeds about/ for digital journalism. Just for kicks, you'll also get your local weather. You can customize it to some extent as well...

Once you've installed it, all of the links will be automatically refreshed when you launch your browser. I'll be adding more resources in the coming weeks. Speaking of new resources, give me a shout if you think something should be added!

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March 24, 2007

Heading to New York...

This weekend, I'm in New York at Vision Expo. (This conference is an international confab for optometrists and opthamologists -- and the technology on display is wickedly cool!)

On the off chance that you're at the conference or in New York, give me a shout.

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March 23, 2007

MyDigiCheatSheet: Keep track of your computer accounts

The Apple site has had a Cheat Sheet buried on it for some time, and it asks users to fill in the information required for an Apple Care customer service rep to take a call. My sister's computer recently crashed, and while she had some of that information at her fingertips, we later found that she had dozens of bookmarks and sites saved with her usernames and passwords attached. "How can I get on to my Flickr account if I can't remember anything about it because it was saved to my computer?"

Say what you will about the folks who lose or forget their account information...but I'm guessing that most of us have been in that very same situation at least once.

A while back, I retooled Apple's form to keep track of everything that I'd need to know for the various computers I use. Now, you can too...

Here's a PDF version of the MyDigiCheatSheet for Macs and PCs. (Hell, the Linux amongus can use it too.)

An obvious caveat: I wouldn't actually save this thing on your desktop. Fill it out, stash it wherever you've secured your Social Security card and other important documents. (Unless you're one of the many fools carrying that card in your wallet, of course.)

If you think I've left anything out and want an alterable copy in Word, shoot me an email and I'll send it straight away.

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Whoisn't: Blocking identities on the Whois database

This past week, a Whois task force met to discuss whether or not to keep registration information private. The current system started back in the 1980s when the Internet was used primarily by a small group academics and government researchers who already knew each others' personal information. (You've likely used Network Solutions, which maintains a slick interface to the Whois database, to search for registrants in the past.)

An international task force is now lobbying for a substantial change that would completely hide registrants' information. Blocking personal information would obviously make it much more difficult for journalists -- not to mention police officers and lawyers -- to contact web site owners.

Hearings are scheduled next week in Lisbon before the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, which is the international organization that oversees Internet addresses.

Resources:
ICANN's most recent announcement on the proposed changes
Summary of previous Whois announcements made by ICANN

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March 22, 2007

News Corp./ NBCU Internet Video Service Just Announced

News Corp. and NBC Universal just announced a new online video sharing service to meant to challenge GooTube for visitors and, ultimately, advertising.

Initially the service, which has yet to be naned, will be stocked with TV shows and movies, and users will be able to modify and share clips with others registered with the service. It's slated to launch this summer.

From the announcement:

“This is a game changer for Internet video,” said Peter Chernin, President and Chief Operating Officer of News Corporation. “We’ll have access to just about the entire U.S. Internet audience at launch. And for the first time, consumers will get what they want -- professionally produced video delivered on the sites where they live. We’re excited about the potential for this alliance and we’re looking forward to working with any content provider or distributor who wants to take advantage of this extraordinary opportunity.”

“Anyone who believes in the value of ubiquitous distribution will find this announcement incredibly exciting,” said Jeff Zucker, President and CEO of NBC Universal. “This venture supercharges our distribution of protected, quality content to fans everywhere. Consumers get a hugely attractive aggregation of a wide range of content, and marketers get a novel way to connect with a large and highly engaged audience.”

This is big news, because News Corp and NBCU have established relationships with Yahoo and Microsoft, and will now be able to feed content directly into AOL and MySpace. Together, this massively multiplayer multimedia partnership claims 96% of the monthly U.S. uniques on the Internet.

At the same time, last week Viacom, Inc., which owns MTV and a host of other networks, slammed YouTube with a $1 billion lawsuit for unauthorized distribution of copyrighted material.

And yet, I think that GooTube will succeed. I pray that you read the following carefully.

Young people are ad averse. The reason for YouTube's extreme populatiry is because of its open nature. People can upload, mash, share and explore video, for the first time, without real control or barriers to entry. It's not just that we want to watch sitcoms online. For God's sake, most of what's available is hard enough to watch on a TV set that doesn't depend on bandwidth or a fast Internet connection.

I'm not going to watch Borat or 24 on my computer as streaming video unless I'm on my T3 at home. And I probably won't even do it then. (To be fair, our house has a killer home theater with a movie screen that's 10 feet wide.)

I may be premature in saying this, but I don't think the News Corp./ NBCU streaming service will necessarily succeed or proliferate in a way that challenges YouTube.

Parental control hasn't been a proven method to herd youth in the past. Control + advertising might equal avoidance, but I might be wrong...

Read what folks are saying at Bloomberg, Reuters, Forbes (but you'll have to suffer through the ad first).

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How To: Install a social networking widget on your site

This little tool is social networking on steriods. The new ShowYourself widget, developed by Dustin Bachrach, allows you to very easily build a widget for your website that will show all your online identities and locations.

Essentially, you tick the services you use, add your username and -- presto! -- code is generated for you to put on your site. Far as I can tell, this should work with any web template, including most content management systems and social networking platforms.

Here's a sample. (Note: these aren't real usernames.)

 

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How To: Make a dynamic calculator for your news site (using AJAX!)

Have a look at this AJAX tutorial, posted last Sunday by Harry Maugans on his blog. He offers directions, step by step, how to create a simple, dynamic calculator -- and in the process, gives a good explanation on how (and when) to use AJAX (asynchronous JavaScript And XML).

If you have the ability to upload new multimedia files or code to your newsroom website, I'd recommend using this tutorial as a way to get started. You could potentially use this tool to create property tax calculators, income calculators, real estate calculators...useful interactive journalism for your news company's site.

 

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March 21, 2007

Product Placement: Coming soon to a news site near you...

Let's hope not.

Today, Google announced a new (beta) ad format that will allow publishers to hyperlink ads within stories. In essensce, someone might write about the virtues of French Press coffee, and mousing over text that says "French Press coffee yields a bolder, richer flavor than standard automatic drip" would display an ad for Bodum, which produces French Press pots with an "Ads by Google" display.

I think that this poses a serious problem not necessarily for large news sites, such as USAToday.com or CNN.com, which (I hope, I pray) would not engage advertising in this way.

However what of citizen jurnos, producing reported content? There is indeed a fine line between external linking for more context and content and including links to generate ad revenue.

I fear that this might confuse editorial with advertorial content in a way that will make it increasingly difficult for end-users to understand what they're reading.

Michael Arrington posted a very thoughtful criticism on TechCrunch, but so far I see few others debating this issue...I'm hoping that will change, and fast.

March 15, 2007

Philly.com names Eric Grilly as online prez

If you haven't yet heard...

Erick Grilly has left MediaNews Group, where he was the top online executive and a senior vice president, to become the president of Philly.com, which publishes content from the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News.

Grilly had been vp for interactive media at the Denver Post, one of MediaNews Group's papers, and had previously worked for McClatchy's online group. In his most recent position, Grilly had been earning roughly $350k a year.

He'll oversee what's left of Philly.com's site overhaul, which is costing $2 million and is expected to launch early summer.

I'll be very interested to see what Grilly does with Philly.com, which has contracted with Clickability for its site architecture and new cms.

One of the major problems facing newspapers owned by corporate chains is the inflexibility of a corporate cms that must fit the needs of all its properties. In the case of Tribune Co., which is in the process of streamlining all of the newspaper websites within the chain, I can't imagine that a template that's been customized to work for the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Newsday or the Baltimore Sun will also work for the Hartford Courant, Morning Call and Hoy.

What Grilly is inheriting is a website that hasn't taken advantage of new web tools and a company that hasn't even begun to coax its reporters into thinking as multimedia reporters rather than newspapermen and women. On the other hand, he need only worry about two newspaper properties. And that means that if all the money spent to redesign philly.com results in a website that enables platform-agnostic sharing, user generated content, true multimedia features, a site architecture that makes sense and smartly-used advertising (read: no more floating pumpkin ads!)...then I think Grilly may be poised to challenge the traditional way in which newspapers are serving content on the web.

Now I'll leave you with a gripe: This is one more top-level position in digital journalism that went to a man. At a paper that ushered out Amanda Bennett, one of the only female Executive Editors in the country, and the woman who initiated blinq and the Inky's other blogs. I'd be very keen to learn how many women were brought in to interview with Brian Tierney for this job...methinks zero.

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March 14, 2007

AssignmentZero: Investigating for innovation

Jay Rosen launched NewAssignment.Net earlier this year as a possible way to build on the citizen reporting model. (The project is nonprofit but has received $100k in funding so far from Reuters.) Last night, he -- in association with Wired.com and Newsvine -- unveiled its first editorial project.

It's called Assignment Zero, and its purpose is to learn from other open source communities and apply that knowledge to journalism.

From Jay, in an email earlier this morning:

It's distributed, pro-am, social trend reporting with a Big Media partner.  The platform we've created could be used for any big sprawling trend story.  The big sprawling trend story we're starting with is right in the center of Wired's beat: the spread of crowdsourcing itself, also called "peer production," also called the open sourcing of everything.

We're going to investigate--with lots of help from volunteer contributors--different ways people are collaborating online to produce stuff-- from the intelligence community, to new products with better designs, to peer patent review, to arts and crafts that have gone open source.  That's a story where readers know way more than we do, so Assignment Zero is an attempt to actually collect that distributed knowledge.

This is a fascinating project, one that has the possibility of moving ahead of the simple user-generated video or blog that's currently standard at newspaper sites across the country. (The beta might be Washingtonpost.com's self-indulgent, ripped-from-Apple cit-interview series "onBeing" that recently launched.)

I'd invite every journalist (and every would-be jurno) to spend quality time at Assignment Zero as it unfolds. Too early to comment on content, but there may be more to learn in the application of Rosen's idea than in the editorial stories themselves.

More information:
The Assignment Desk
Example of someone filing a tip
Jay's welcome letter

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State of the News Media: New report

The Project for Excellence in Journalism released its fourth annual report on the state of the news media on Monday. This is a lengthy, detailed analysis of how our media is evolving - and more importantly, how people are reading/ viewing/ listening/ browsing/ sharing/ collaborating with us in journalism.

From the Digital Journalism chapter:

What are those news sites like that are original on the Internet — sites that were not added on to some legacy TV network or newspaper? Do they have a personality profile? Do they have different emphases and strengths from those connected to another media? Or are they varied among themselves, an emerging platform with no fixed traits yet?

To try to help users sort through all that is available, the Project conduct a close study of 38 different news sites, those from different media sectors, and those that are Web only, including some with a distinct citizen-media-based flavor.

Researchers looked at six criteria, including customization options, multimedia, branding, depth of info, interactivity and business model success.

I'd be interested to learn more about how the 38 sites were selected, since at least two were aggregators rather than providers offering original content.

You can view the report at stateofthemedia.org. Also see:

Digital Journalism: A Topography of News Websites
Newspapers
Online
About the study...

More about the Project for Excellence in Journalism

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Search Engine Optimization Tips

Last night in Philly, PANMA hosted a search engine optimization education event meant to help folks learn more about how some sites' traffic break servers and other sites never get found. Believe it or not, SEO isn't always about content and headlines.

Some of the presenters offered a hit-list of web resources to learn more about SEO. I would offer that online editors have a look through these links and begin to think about how to apply some of these techniques to optimizing their news sites...

Some of my favorites:

See if URLs have been cached (or not) by Google
Keyword analysis

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March 10, 2007

Morning Call's Pet Widget: Finally, a newspaper site enables sharing

Congrats to Chris Krewson (the just-named Online Editor at the Morning Call newspaper in Allentown, PA.) and staff for launching some neat digital tools to accompany an investigative project that's scheduled to run in tomorrow's paper.

Here's what Krewson had to say about the widget in a recent email:

On Sunday we're following in the Inquirer's footsteps and investigating the state's puppy mill reputation. To do that, we used the Right to Know Law and obtained 20,000 inspection reports from the state, and assembled them into a database.

Today we launched that database on our Web site for users to search, days before the story's running.

But that's not the coolest part.

At the bottom of that search widget on our homepage, there's a link that encourages users to put our database search tool on their own Web pages, in the same way YouTube lets people embed videos on their pages or blogs.

What I like best about this project is that the Morning Call has enabled users to replicate and share it on virtually any other website.

Terriffic job...now, I'd like to see this model applied beyond pets (which are cute, yes) to more serious subjects like housing and wage disparities, public employee compensation, etc.

More coverage on the project at: E-Media Tidbits

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March 09, 2007

Girls Gone Wireless!

Girls Gone Wireless!

For those of you too impatient to wait for the the 2007 Spring Break edition of Girls Gone Wild, have a look at Sway's latest project: Spring Break Shots. Users can upload photos directly form their cell phones to the site, which is now playing a continuous slideshow. It also allows you to save any photo to your own computer.

The site launched hours ago, and I've been passively watching it since I got up to work this morning. So far, there are only a dozen or so pics that have been uploaded, and they're very diverse...so it looks a bit like the site might have been populated with selected photos ahead of launch.

The first thing I found myself wondering is whether 5:30 am is too early for a mojito. (I determined that it is.) The second, and perhaps more obvious, is that Spring Break Shots isn't showing the debauchery that I remember vividly from both my own trips down to Florida during college and the early days of MTV's Spring Break broadcast.

Looks like they're using cellblock to implement mobile-to-web photo slideshows. This is a possibility for newspapers asking users to send in content in crisis situations...

But the question is whether cellblock offers filters. I find it odd that the photos on Spring Break Shots are...how do I put this politely...tasteful.

Sway is a company that works with corporate marketers to create social media campaigns. They offer a Social Media Map, which is a "research based plan that outlines our recommended strategies for delivering results on client expectations and goals. We determine where your targeted audience 'lives' on-line, how they behave, and what influences them." They're using all the standard Web 2.0 protocols (blogs, podcasts, etc.) to accomplish this, according to company site.

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March 08, 2007

Citizen Journalism: Here's what I know about Chris Noth

I'm writing this from the window seat of a plane, en route to Chicago. While I was standing on line back at the terminal, a man who looked enough like Christopher Noth to make me stare uncontrollably, boarded the flight. And as luck would have it, I wound up sitting right next to him. (Seriously, he's reading a copy of USA Today right now - I'm watching him!) This is a situation, a Mr. Big Moment!

It's now been an hour, and the flight attendand came by to ask what we'd like to drink. His order, for a decaf coffee with a little water added and also milk which she should add because we've hit a skosh of turbulence and he has a very important meeting, led me to determine three things. First, and perhaps most importantly, this guy ain't Chris Noth. Secondly, a pair of Coach sunglasses and shiny leather bag do not a savvy businessman make.

The third thing I realized is this: the Internet is the great equalizer. That because of this medium, my children may never have their own Mr. Big Moment. Let me explain how I arrived at this point...and I promise, what I'm arguing will also impact journalism.

I'm fascinated with Chris Noth, partially because I'm attracted to him, partially because I associate him with the role he played on Sex in the City. And so I'll often sit through TV shows or movies featuring him but that aren't particularly good. Same goes for Clive Owen (my crush happened in "Closer"), the guy starring in "300" (because he reminds me of Clive Owen) and Rufus Sewell, a tremendous U.K.-based actor who America has yet to really discover.

I've seen these men with and without their clothes, in cineplexes and in my home theater. They're special because I've seen them on a big screen, and only a fraction of people ever appear in larger than life like that. My friends and family recognize these men, their images, their names...Chirs, Clive and Rufus...so they're Big in real life.

And yet I mistook the guy next to me for one of them.

Before the Internet, they only way to cultivate that kind of celebrity - because there were only a few, unattainable venues like theaters and televisions - was to appear in a movie. And now we have inexpensive video cameras and digital recording devices. We can upload video without really having any programming skills. We can spread that video virally without spending a penny, and ensure that millions of people around the world will see us.

I wrote yesterday about Paltalk, and I just can't stop thinking about the myriad ways in which we collect and perceive information is about to dramatically change.

There's nothing preventing the guy next to me from crafting a sitcom-style program and launching it on YouTube except, perhaps, for his whiny voice and drink ordering fetish. (On the other hand, Meg Ryan made a mint...) Hell, enough people appear to be watching network shows, 90% of which I think we'll all agree are terrible. So why not him?

And so let's say that he does launch a show, something akin to Lonelygirl15's YouTube adventures except with a more straightforward plot. And let's say that the show is uploaded to YouTube and that he also keeps a blog, a sort of personal diary, about the show. The blog and show are tagged and spread around the web using Slide, Stumble Upon, bebo.

Now, this average guy is suddenly a celebrity, recognized for real in the airport. And maybe people start mistaking Chris Noth for him.

Unlike filmmaking, which costs a lot of money and requires deals and relationships to get a movie produced, distributed and ultimately seen by people, there are no barriers to entry in the digital world, save for a few hundred bucks to buy equipment and the ability to think creatively. And so now there are movie star doppelgangers running all over cyberspace.

But when something unattainable and special becomes ubiquitous, it becomes ordinary. With all this access to both produce and receive media, won't the playing field eventually equal out? Sure, fantastically talented or attractive people will always command more widespread attention than others, but the field itself will be larger than ever before, with limitless players and possibilities.

Barriers are falling down everywhere. Some companies, such as Anheuser-Busch, are already taking advantage of this. I'm referencing bud.tv, which so far has been a commercial success. You already know my feelings about Paltalk.

Now consider the career trajectories of the men behind PerezHilton and Daily Kos. Neither Entertainment Weekly nor People magazine was banging down Mario Armando Lavandeira Jr.'s door asking him to report for them. Markos Moulitsas was a consultant, not a Woodward or even a Bernstein for the Washington Post.

We're still in the early stages of this media transition, but I'm starting to believe that as services and access become more widespread - and it may take a generation or so - more people than probably should will become content providers.

That brings me to journalism. There are more publications right now than any point of our global history, if you include blogs and websites. Enough people understand the basic way you craft a story: call a source up, ask him a few questions, call another source up, ask a few questions, repeat. Check notes, write story, repeat. Check facts. Publish.

Journalism's silver screen is gone, and gone forever. Yes, most people look to recognizable brands such as the New York Times and Washington Post for news. But more people, especially millennials, are open to PerezHilton and Daily Kos and the thousands of other topic-specific blogs out there. Citizen journalists have access to people, companies, government sources, etc. to do their reporting.

Will the old cache journalism once held evaporate? Working for Newsweek, I'd make a call for an interview and was never, ever told no, because, well, it was Newsweek. I can't say that 10 years ago I had the same success writing for Japan, Inc. Magazine.

My perception, even as a journalist, has changed. If the New York Times called me up wanting an interview on digital media, I'd be pretty stoked. But if I got an email from Michael Arrington or someone from Boing Boing...that would knock my socks off.

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March 07, 2007

Paltalk: The world's largest chatroom you've probably never heard of

Everyone remember when chat rooms first became available? You could sign up and sign on to have inane 10-word conversations with strangers from around the world. I certainly joined in the fray...and quickly learned that when people are offered a no-holds-barred anonymous system of speech, they use the privilege to talk about, what else?, sex.

Enter Paltalk, a Manhattan-based video chat service founded in 1998 that streams live multi-person chats. There are more than four million active members using the online service, and Paltalk World's list of media and advertising partners would make most Web 2.0 companies drool. Using your webcam, you can join in ongoing chats, set up your own private room and even purchase upgrades to ensure a smoother video feed.

If you're a journalist but not covering tech, you may not have heard of Paltalk. The general audience skews young, at least from what I've seen. While businesses and others may be using the service, they're likely doing it privately.

In the past, Paltalk has hosted celebrity sessions featuring folks like the Rev. Jesse Jackson and New York Times best selling author Douglas Preston.

And the latest celeb to join is CNN Radio Bureau Chief Gary Baumgarten, who's left CNN to become Paltalk's Director of News and Programming. The announcement was made this morning.

Wait, you say. I didn't get that. A chat service provider -- not a broadcast news station -- nicked a Peabody Award-winning journalist with 38 years of experience in the field away from CNN?

Yes. And yes.

Baumgarten is going to head the development of original programming on Paltalk and will host News Talk Online, which is a daily interactive program allowing guests and the audience to interact wit heach other. Guests include, and I'm not making this up, Dave Koz, Arianna Huffington, and Kenny Kramer. (Sadly, I can't seem to be able to play archived shows.)

I just don't know what to do with this information. How does someone in media, who's worked within a very confined context and whose industry has always followed a certain paradigm, begin to understand the changes that are afoot?

I teach a class at Temple University about how to report and gather information using Web 2.0 tools. But the curriculum at that school, as it is at all journalism schools around the country, is really based on the idea that trained reporters will go to work for a newspaper, magazine or broadcast station. S/he may work for the online division, but practicing journalism means doing it at one of these places.

Clearly if Baumgarten succeeds in developing news programming and talk show-style interactive shows at Paltalk...and why wouldn't he?...this would represent a true paradigm shift and a cause to rethink our multimedia strategies as journalists. This isn't just some newspaper throwing video up on the web. It's interactive, live news talk allowing guests and users to see and hear each other as well as to use and share websites and other electronic information as part of that show's content. It's a new editorial product, delivered electronically.

Yahoo! has a very active, productive team of journalists. Seven years ago, Yahoo! was simply a search engine that listed categories like News and Culture to help you "surf the Internet." Paltalk is poised to be a serious news content provider. And there are others.

Anyone else feel goosebumps?

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Another Apple Innovation: iLaunch

"Get ready for the future of product introduction," said Jobs, looking resplendent in a black turtleneck and faded jeans. "The iLaunch will be able to make announcements from this, or any other stage, making human participation in generating consumer awareness almost entirely unnecessary.

The Onion has the full details...

(Any other Chicagoians remember when the Onion was still an obscure print paper you could pick up for free downtown?)

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March 06, 2007

AuctionAds: Gannett, McClatchy and Tribune Co., I've got an idea for you...

AuctionAds just launched and combines two elements now ubiquitous with the Web 2.0 frenzy. First, it's a meta-ad program, meaning that it aggregates content on one site and automatically serves it to another. Second, it solves the "how else might I monetize my content" quandry for which we're all desperately seeking an answer.

Mostly, it's the first player (and still ahead of Yahoo!, no less) to deliver a keyword-based service since Google - and that has some folks out west talking.

AuctionAds works the same basic way as Google's AdSense program. Users register, denote a space on their websites and formats a set of code that generates an ad within a certain set of size and color parameters. Except that all ads are about current eBay auctions.

For those of you who've sold items on eBay, especially the newbies, you've likely been roped in by the for-less-than-a-dollar add ons such as a colorful border or prioritized listing position on the page. I say this because a few years back, I attempted to sell relics from the Republican National Convention I was covering and, thinking the swag would harness untold riches, I enhanced my listing with just about everything available. It wound up costing me $14 to list an item that never sold...but I was caught up in the fantasy of my RNC program going for hundreds of dollars. Would I have purchased an eBay ad to raise the possibilities of a sale? Absolutely.

I think this is a very smart idea, a potentially lucrative one. And I'm wondering what application this might have to journalism.

Might there be a way for newspaper conglomerates, such as Tribune Co., Gannett and McClatchy to perhaps steal this idea? If there was a TribAds service created that would do everything Google does - enable tracking on click throughs, serve ads based on keywords, enable users to set color and size - if if that service was offered only online (users could buy Tribune-offered keywords), and if ads were served to websites across all Tribune online properties, wouldn't that be a potential cash cow?

Think of all the revenue Google is making from AdSense. AuctionAds has figured out a way to use the same basic idea to collect and serve ads. So we have three proven factors: (1) People like and use online keyword-based ad servers; (2) This is a system that absolutely generates big returns; (3) The technology isn't out of reach - someone else is doing it too.

I know...I absolutely know that this is a good idea. And here's something else to think about: At least for right now, the following domains are available...

GannettAds.com
GanAds.com
McClatchyAds.com

TribuneAds.com is registered to a Howard Goldstein of Trading Dynamics. Oddly enough, TribAds.com is sitting on these servers: CHISUN2.TRIBUNE.COM, LATSUN6.TRIBUNE.COM (you see where I'm going with this...) but there's nothing on the site. It's been registered since 1997 and expires this November, but isn't really being used... Knock, knock, Tribune Company. Anyone home?

In all seriousness, if you're interested in talking about how a localized system might work across a corporate network, email me. Give me a call. I know how to make it work, and you can hire me to show you.

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March 05, 2007

Warren Buffett Makes It Official: Print is (mostly) dead

According to Warren Buffett, the halcyon days of high profit newspapering is over.

Buffett's group, Berkshire Hathaway, owns the Buffalo News. And in a letter to shareholders last Thursday, Buffett raised some interesting points about the future profitability of news.

What Buffett has to say will undoubtedly be painful to hear: "Simply put, if cable and satellite broadcasting, as well as the internet, had come along first, newspapers as we know them probably would never have existed...We are likely therefore to see non-economic individual buyers of newspapers emerge, just as we have seen such buyers acquire major sports franchises. Aspiring press lords should be careful, however: There’s no rule that says a newspaper’s revenues can’t fall below its expenses and that losses can’t mushroom."

I say painful because this comes from a man that many look to as a weath-building oracle, and a lot of times folks don't heed warnings until Buffett announces an edict.

Painful? Yes. But I won't say original. Buffett isn't announcing anything I'd call new. In fact, we've been discussing these issues within our industry for years. I do think he makes a compelling case for newspapers moving, potentially, to hyper-local models. As much as I want to know what's happening back where I lived in Japan, I'm not turning to the Baltimore Sun, my local newspaper, for that information. I'll look at the wires or at the Times or even CNN.

Perhaps the newspaper model for the future involves micro newsrooms and hyper-local online communities. If print is still absolutely necessary, rather than one big newspaper, how about micro-sized local editions akin to the Metro?

Buffett is right in saying that sports desks will always drive circulation and online traffic. But I think that news...explained as it affects me, an individual with very specific interests...could easily be monetized.

The challenge, of course, is to change the way we think about the American newsroom.

An excerpt Buffett's most recent letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders, dated Feb. 28, 2007 (see pages 10 and 11):

...When an industry’s underlying economics are crumbling, talented management may slow the rate of decline. Eventually, though, eroding fundamentals will overwhelm managerial brilliance. (As a wise friend told me long ago, “If you want to get a reputation as a good businessman, be sure to get into a good business.”) And fundamentals are definitely eroding in the newspaper industry, a trend that has caused the profits of our Buffalo News to decline. The skid will almost certainly continue.

When Charlie and I were young, the newspaper business was as easy a way to make huge returns as existed in America. As one not-too-bright publisher famously said, “I owe my fortune to two great American institutions: monopoly and nepotism.” No paper in a one-paper city, however bad the product or however inept the management, could avoid gushing profits.

The industry’s staggering returns could be simply explained. For most of the 20th Century, newspapers were the primary source of information for the American public. Whether the subject was sports, finance, or politics, newspapers reigned supreme. Just as important, their ads were the easiest way to find job opportunities or to learn the price of groceries at your town’s supermarkets.

The great majority of families therefore felt the need for a paper every day, but understandably most didn’t wish to pay for two. Advertisers preferred the paper with the most circulation, and readers tended to want the paper with the most ads and news pages. This circularity led to a law of the newspaper jungle: Survival of the Fattest.

Thus, when two or more papers existed in a major city (which was almost universally the case a century ago), the one that pulled ahead usually emerged as the stand-alone winner. After competition disappeared, the paper’s pricing power in both advertising and circulation was unleashed. Typically, rates for both advertisers and readers would be raised annually – and the profits rolled in. For owners this was economic heaven. (Interestingly, though papers regularly – and often in a disapproving way – reported on the profitability of, say, the auto or steel industries, they never enlightened readers about their own Midas-like situation. Hmmm . . .)

As long ago as my 1991 letter to shareholders, I nonetheless asserted that this insulated world was changing, writing that “the media businesses . . . will prove considerably less marvelous than I, the industry, or lenders thought would be the case only a few years ago.” Some publishers took umbrage at both this remark and other warnings from me that followed. Newspaper properties, moreover, continued to sell as if they were indestructible slot machines. In fact, many intelligent newspaper executives who regularly chronicled and analyzed important worldwide events were either blind or indifferent to what was going on under their noses.

Now, however, almost all newspaper owners realize that they are constantly losing ground in the battle for eyeballs. Simply put, if cable and satellite broadcasting, as well as the internet, had come along first, newspapers as we know them probably would never have existed.

In Berkshire’s world, Stan Lipsey does a terrific job running the Buffalo News, and I am enormously proud of its editor, Margaret Sullivan. The News’ penetration of its market is the highest among that of this country’s large newspapers. We also do better financially than most metropolitan newspapers, even though Buffalo’s population and business trends are not good. Nevertheless, this operation faces unrelenting pressures that will cause profit margins to slide.

True, we have the leading online news operation in Buffalo, and it will continue to attract more viewers and ads. However, the economic potential of a newspaper internet site – given the many alternative sources of information and entertainment that are free and only a click away – is at best a small fraction of that existing in the past for a print newspaper facing no competition.

For a local resident, ownership of a city’s paper, like ownership of a sports team, still produces instant prominence. With it typically comes power and influence. These are ruboffs that appeal to many people with money. Beyond that, civic-minded, wealthy individuals may feel that local ownership will serve their community well. That’s why Peter Kiewit bought the Omaha paper more than 40 years ago.

We are likely therefore to see non-economic individual buyers of newspapers emerge, just as we have seen such buyers acquire major sports franchises. Aspiring press lords should be careful, however: There’s no rule that says a newspaper’s revenues can’t fall below its expenses and that losses can’t mushroom. Fixed costs are high in the newspaper business, and that’s bad news when unit volume heads south. As the importance of newspapers diminishes, moreover, the “psychic” value of possessing one will wane, whereas owning a sports franchise will likely retain its cachet.

Unless we face an irreversible cash drain, we will stick with the News, just as we’ve said that we would. (Read economic principle 11, on page 76.) Charlie and I love newspapers – we each read five a day – and believe that a free and energetic press is a key ingredient for maintaining a great democracy. We hope that some combination of print and online will ward off economic doomsday for newspapers, and we will work hard in Buffalo to develop a sustainable business model. I think we will be successful. But the days of lush profits from our newspaper are over.

References:
Read the 1991 Letter to Shareholders.
Wikipedia on Berkshire Hathaway

(Thanks to Andy Cassel for sending me the letter.)

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.Mac (Apple Computer, Inc.)

Data360: Makes me want to mine 24/7

This weekend, I spent some time speaking with Tom Paper, who is the Founder of Data360 and is a finance consultant based in San Francisco.

Data360 is one-part Swivel, which I talked about last week, one part chicagocrime.org and one part global operating report. It's a software tool, available online, that enables users to cull data from public records and databases, arranges that data in a readable format, and updates the data on the fly. According to Tom, it's "Your data dashboard for a democratic society."

Tom started Data360 three years ago as a way to create and share charts about population, interest rates, economic issues, pollution and the like to his network of about 1,500 people. The charts, which he distributed as Excel spreadsheets quarterly, could help everyone gain a better understanding about the interconnectedness of things. As a former CFO, Tom always wanted key metrics for his business, but as a citizen he wanted metrics for what was happening in the world.

Tom says: I have been asked, “Why even try to put together objective information?” My response is that while a person can argue that “objective” does not exist, I continue to believe that responsible citizens must strive for objectivity when thinking about issues. (See his lengthy manifesto outlining the details of Data360.)

Right now, Data360 is being populated and vetted by Tom and a small team in California. In about four weeks, they plan to release an updated version allowing for easier data uploads by users, and they'll have strict rules on sourcing and accuracy.

But that's just the start. He's looking to eventually launch multiple channels, like crime.data360.org, politics.data360.org and more. He wants to get local - to report on city halls, property foreclosures, performance in schools. Issues they cover so far range from public opinion (belief in evolution) to holidays (Christmas trees in the U.S.) to global economies (perceived most/least corrupt countries).

Tom's hoping to collaborate with journalists, academics, businesses and others to build civilization reports that can be shared and discussed with anyone who's online. (Course, that'll mean incorporating Web 2.0 article tools to enable visitors to share, blog, tag, email and rank the information...but I'm sure site enhancements are also in the works.)

I love, love, love this geek-meets-granola approach to data.

Data360 is only seeing about 1,000 visitors a day right now, but I have to think that will change during the coming months. We all seem to have a voracious appetite for data when it's in print -- otherwise, why would U.S. News, Time, Wired, the Washington Post and others bother with lengthy computer assisted reporting projects?

How cool will it be to contribute, browse and access datasets online? The Asbury Park Press launched Data Universe, and the Center for Public Integrity has been at it for years. Also fun to play with: opensecrets.org, guidestar.org.

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.Mac (Apple Computer, Inc.)

March 04, 2007

Thoughts on USA Today's Redesign

USAToday.com just went live with its much-anticipated redesign.

First impression: It's clean. Tabbed browsing within the site, lots of nice, white space, easily identifiable interactive elements and ads off to the right nav. I think these are tremendous, positive changes.

Photos are bigger and ... I can't begin to explain how pleased I am to see this ... not reliant on Soundslides. Areas to recommend content, tag and share. Users can create their own content pages and, this I think is silly, an avatar.

You have to log in to use some of the features, which folks so far seem to loathe. Actually, most of the initial comments after the new site launched were very negative:

Switchnow wrote:

Count me among the many who registered only to complain. But note that this will be the last time anyone at USAToday.com hears from me. Because my boycott starts right now. It's clear from this reaction that USA 2.0 is a tragic misfire that didn't take into account the wants or needs of the original site's loyal core audience. However, complaining about the new site is a waste of all our time. The only logical action is to leave it now and leave it completely...See you all at CNN.

acruda wrote:

I think you messed with something that was already good. The most common fatal error in business is to take a good idea and change it. There was no need to worsen the look of your site.

I am gone. Bye Bye.

hszott wrote:

Hi--
USA Today has been my homepage for several years and for several years I have enjoyed the format --until now. Your new format makes it hard to skim for information quickly (now I have to mouseover thumbnails rather than get info at a glance or see rotating news items). It also incorporate too much white space at the top. Ug! I was so disappointed when I checked the site this morning that I am considering switching my homepage to cnn or salon. Your new site sucks. Otherwise, thanks for seven great years.
Heather

But swellman and others congratulate the efforts:

The change is far greater than I would have imagined. But I like the cleaner, easier to navigate experience. And while commenting on stories is not for everybody, i think having this option will make it a more interesting site. Congrats to everyone who worked to make these changes, and most importantly, had the guts to go through with it. (And don't worry to much about those "earth is flat" people.)

I'm wondering why content isn't easier to share. I've been looking for an article toolbar to help me blog stories to my site, to share bookmarks and links, and there doesn't seem to be anything. Also not seeing links within stories, and I'd like to know why the practice of external linking remains so taboo in our industry.

I don't see major leaps or innovation so far with this redesign, but you gotta start somewhere, right? Congrats to Kinsey Wilson and team for evoking change within a big corporate organization, where even small site fixes can lead to large political battles.

PS: A question for my copy desk readers. Shouldn't it read "but more importantly" ???

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Tubes, Scribd and Scrbl: Three new Web 2.0 players

Here's the skinny on three new Web 2.0 players with apps that are helping users to store and share information.

And, as is now required of all super hot next-gen startups, all three have very sleek logos.

Tubes, still in beta, allows users to share multimedia files online. It's like having a an open FTP site with a MySpace user interface. Absolutely not. Then again, I also won't let most people look at my iTunes playlists. (The few who have laughed at my mega George Michael section. It hurt.)

Tubes is emblematic of a burgeoning trend towards eliminating the need for an operating system, downloaded software and even personal hardware altogether. Lots of software engineers, including one of my partners at MyDigiMedia, are developing tools and applications in this direction.

Scribd is a "free online library where anyone can upload." Users are invited to contribute any kind of document or photo, and Scribd will export the file via its embeddable PDF player that can be published and viewed within any web browser.

I may not be getting the broader concept...this service essentially looks like it allows you to create a web page that's hosted on the Scribd site. It can be tagged, commented on, added to social networking sites, etc. Here's a popular example, a slideshow, about taking photos.

Skrbl, also still in beta, is an interesting concept. It's a digital whiteboard, allowing users to brainstorm and collaborate. Information can be saved so to that businesses can use the whiteboard over a period of time and invite different contributors. I don't see a business actually using this tool and giving away its company secrets, but you never know...

Seems more likely that individuals or even news orgs might use it as a way to invite user participation.

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March 03, 2007

I Bought Votes On digg

I bought votes on digg.

Well, I didn't, but Annalee Newitz, writing for Wired News, did for her blog about pictures of crowds:

It was Tuesday, 1:22 a.m. on the West Coast, and influential news recommendation site Digg was hopping. A new story about a blog dedicated to showing photographs of crowds had just gotten enough diggs to make the "popular" list on the tech/design page, and several people were commenting on it.

"How the hell did this get to the front page?" Pawperso wondered.

I can tell you exactly how a pointless blog full of poorly written, incoherent commentary made it to the front page on Digg. I paid people to do it. What's more, my bought votes lured honest Diggers to vote for it too. All told, I wound up with a "popular" story that earned 124 diggs -- more than half of them unpaid. I also had 29 (unpaid) comments, 12 of which were positive.

Newitz used a service called User Submitter, paying a buck a digg and a $20 signup fee.

This story is all over the blogosphere, but I have to wonder about everyone's surprise...There are bots you can order to subvert eBay bids, ones that you can use to snag domains the second they go up for renewal. Googlebombing, self-clicking...Doesn't it seem natural that and enterprising businessperson would develop a tool to manipulate social ranking services?

(Ironically, Newitz's Wired News story got a record number of diggs.)

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Alibris

Widget Wonderland: Another example of alternative content delivery methods

Another customizable, downloadable, platform agnostic widget was released yesterday, WootAgent, which "sits nested in the user’s system tray and will automatically pop up as Woot places a new item for sale on their website."

(Woot is an online store that started out selling pre-market electronics and is now hawking limited numbers of gadgets at discounted prices. I haven't ever shopped there, but from what I understand, new items come and go before many prospective buyers have a chance to see them, which is why they released the widget.)

So now, WootAgent offers alerts, product specs, prices, etc. The interface isn't as slick as some I've seen, but users can customize it. I do like the tabs and the graphics, and I can see various applications for this on a news website.

Again, I ask, why aren't newspapers taking advantage of this concept? It's been tried. It's been tested. And people like it...

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March 02, 2007

I (heart) Data: My afternoon snuggling up to instacalc

More Data!

I'm in a numbers mood and have been playing with this calculator, which might be a model for a widget. I could see a newspaper site developing something like this, monetizing it with a GoogleAd and inviting users to create new hyper-local calculators and saving them to a shared section.

Meet instacalc: a sharable calculator tool that enables users to enter data and get fast answers. Data can be shared and charted, to boot. As an example, you can use instacalc to figure out your site's bandwidth:


Ideas for hyper-local calculators for use on newspaper websites:

  • Property taxes
  • Tax rates + city services
  • High school sports stats
  • Public employee salaries vs. your salary
  • Body mass index
    • BONUS! Keep track of zip codes, aggregate with a Google map and tally the BMI of your reader area
  • Holiday sales vs. interest rates
  • Diet/ calorie counter
  • Grade keeper (how well you'll have to do on upcoming tests to score a certain percentage)

I like it, I like it!

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Apple iTunes

March 01, 2007

The (New) New Yorker: Portable, digital and chock full of DRM

Here's an interesting concept. The venerated New Yorker, which was nominated for a Best Online Magazine Webby Award the same year we were at Dragonfire, has launched a new product: The Complete New Yorker Magazine USB Hard Drive.

I'm not making this up.

From the site:

In one of the first digital publishing initiatives of its kind, we are proud to announce the release of The New Yorker’s entire archive, February, 1925 - April, 2006, on a palm-sized portable hard drive...Over 4,000 issues of your favorite magazine now sit, ready for you to search and savor, on an 80G incredibly light-weight and travel-friendly drive...Use it at home, on a plane, at the office — anywhere you can find a computer. Simply install The Complete New Yorker program (installation CD provided), then connect the drive to a USB port on your computer and have instant access to every article, poem, short story, and cartoon (and every advertisement) that has appeared in the magazine since 1925.

The announcement was made about six months ago, but I'm now so frustrated with the NYker site that I'm going to comment on what this gadget means.

You've got to be kidding me. The biggest digital leap I've seen on newyorker.com in the past two years has been the addition of (surprise) audio-photo slideshows. And they haven't even managed to pull that off well. I'll reference a recent piece about origami by Susan Orlean which sounds like it was phoned in on a late Sunday morning and looks like it was illustrated by a couple of NYU interns who didn't know how to use the scanner settings properly. I won't even go into how many steps it took me to get there, but I will say this: the slideshow isn't embedded on the site.

So here's what I'd like to know. Why spend so much energy and effort in producing an external hard drive loaded with a limited amount of NYker content (no word on updates post-April 2006) when this magazine, which I love, is suffering so greatly online?

At $299 a pop, I can't imagine that the drive is a fast seller. And here's the kicker: You can't share any of the content. That drive is locked down with DRM code in a way that would make Sony drool. You can't select any text, can't blog it, can't share it...I'm surprised that the damn drive isn't demanding a complete STD check before I stick the cable into my machine.

There are so many problems with the NYker site that are easily fixable: It could, at the very least, use an article toolbar at the end of stories. Link internally to authors, references, performances. Allow users to comment.

I'm not saying that the NYker needs to add YouTube or Flickr user-generated content, but eschewing smart Web 2.0 tools in favor of an encrypted hard drive? I won't cancel my subscription to the print edition, but I'll feel a little less warm and fuzzy when it arrives in my mailbox this week.

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.Mac (Apple Computer, Inc.)

Says Cuban: "OVERWHELM!" YouTube

Mark Cuban had some interesting comments on how networks are using -- or refusing to use -- user-generated television content. His most recent blog entry references the Oscars, and how its head honchos demanded that YouTube remove videos of the show.

Cuban argues -- and I agree with him completely -- that it would have been smarter for the Oscar folks to upload snippits of content (comedy bits, speeches) themselves and then redirect users back tothe Oscars.com site for the full footage. And not just a few clips here and there, but dozens and dozens of them.

To capture Youtube viewers, the first step would be to OVERWHELM Youtube with partial clips of full length that tease Youtube users and point them to Oscars.com. For this Will Ferrell clip, I would have created a video that showed the first 10 secs of the clip, then had 4 minutes of a billboard that said " Great videos from the Oscars telecast and exclusive behind the scenes videos are all available at Oscars.com"

IN addition to the billboard in the video you would have an active link to Oscars.com on the Youtube video page. I wouldnt post this video 1 time. I would post this video 100 times.

And i would do the same thing for EVERY moment and segment in the Oscars.

According to Comscore, Oscar.com got 139,000 hits on Sunday when the show aired. No word yet on YouTube traffic to video clips of Jack Black/ Will Ferrell or Jennifer Hudson.

(Is it appropriate here to say that, for the love of God, I'm tired of hearing that woman's name?)

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Alibris

Washingtonpost.com + Apple = Slick Marketing

In case you haven't seen the WaPo's Apple promo... It's a slickly-produced, highly-Appleified inside look at washingtonpost.com operations in Virginia.

(HT: Cyberjournalist)

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