Sunday, April 12, 2009

Things I hope we can talk about now [Setting myself up for disappointment]

It's far from Christmas and it's not my birthday but I'm going to ahead and make a wish anyway. Here are the thing about which I'm really excited to see intelligent analysis following the drama of #amazonfail

1. The massive gaps/fails (loooove NiemanLab's use of #mediafail in reference to this debacle) that came to light. Author Craig Seymour says that his book was de-ranked back in February, and media outlets weren't interested. Will they only be interested now because it's had a day of internet madspin? How much of it has to do with the Easter holiday? How much to do with less reporters reporting? How much to do with the subject at hand?

2. Amazon is consistently pointed to as one of the kings of predictive search, behavioral targeting and general keyword mastery. What does this massive fail say about that? Does it make us question who, if anyone (besides Google), really is a leader in this area? Is it scary that someone who supposedly uses it so well screwed it up so royally, making it clear that the knowledge gap in this arena is even wider than a casual glance makes clear? Are we all even on the same page about how important this type of technology is to the next phase of making $$ on the web?

3. Twitter as a news-breaking entity. I know. I don't really want to talk about it either. But here we are. Not talking about it is silly. There will likely be a lot of whining and complaining and disagreeing and "but how will the monetize-ing," but it would be nice to see discussion on how the power of Twitter (I can't believe I just typed that) can be harnessed and used by traditional outlets on a regular basis - if at all.

And what remains to be seen, is what Amazon will do. While a Publisher's Weekly report that a representative called is a "glitch" crashed their site, an LA Times blog reports that indeed, they're trying to play this off as a mistake.

Best of luck with that, Amazon.

(And ps, I found the link to the LA Times through following the trend topic "glitch" on Twitter.)

When Twitter breaks news [This hurts me more than it hurts you]

Apparently, late last week, Amazon started stripping rankings from books it deemed "adult" in nature. Not surprisingly, there seems to be a lack of rhyme to their reason - or some would say, definite rhyme to their reason - suppress books that have gay themes; ie: Brokeback Mountain's ranking has been removed, Playboy's The Complete Centerforlds still has its ranking.

I found out about this just because I randomly decided to look at the top trending topics on Twitter. One was #amazonfail. I had to read a few tweets to see what that meant and I was able to quickly discover it had something to do with some new policy. So I went to Google to search "Amazon policy" and came up with nothing. Went to Google News search and found nothing. So back to Twitter (ugh), where after reading more tweets, I was lead to this blog entry, which seems to be where it all started, a mere 12 hours ago.

Then I went to Amazon and checked out some titles. Seems to be true.

So I went back to Google and searched "Amazon.com adult policy." Nothing. Searched Google News. Nothing. Also haven't seen anything show up within my usually-on-this-type-of-thing Facebook network.

Regardless of right or wrong, this will be a PR nightmare for Amazon, and will eventually make it to the mainstream. The question is, how long will it take? And I guess the more interesting point here is that Twitter beat everything else for timely delivery.

Oy.

Note: At the time of this posting, there are only 6 Google results when I search '"Amazon Follies" Mark Probst' (the name of the blog post and blog author of the incident that started it all). Twitter is showing up about 10 new results every 30 seconds.

UPDATE: More here - #Amazonfail and the politics of anti-corporate cyber-activism

And a Google-bomb attack attempt is already underway.

Still no Google News results. The top Google web results belong to aggregators, keyword hoarders and twitter-bots.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

And then I put a band-aid on his severed neck [The press is falling]

A friend posted a link on Facebook tonight to the Reuters article about the senate bill introduced today that would allow newspapers to restructure as nonprofits.

Pause.

Now, I clearly work for a nonprofit news source, so I believe in the concept.

But riddle me this: says the article "Cardin's office said his bill was aimed at preserving local and community newspapers, not conglomerates which may also own radio and TV stations."

Oh, really?

The Reuters report later lists the papers that have ceased or reduced publication -

Seattle P-I - owned by Hearst (28 TV stations)

Rocky Mountain News - E.W. Scripps (10 TV stations)

Baltimore Examiner - part of a media group of newspapers, but the owner also owns stakes in a number of professional sports teams, movie theatres, radio stations

SF Chronicle - see Hearst

He then mentions Gannett, Advance and Tribune.

Seriously?

Community newspapers, according to the National Newspaper Association's 4th quarter 2008 results, are outperforming the industry at large by 14%. Larger metros were down 20%, the industry 21% and community papers - 6.6% (Full NNA report >).

Forest, meet trees, trees, meet kettle, kettle, meet - oh, nevermind.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Seattle Post-Intelligencer goes online only [The press is falling]

It was announced today that the Seattle Post-Intelligencer will print its last edition tomorrow, March 17 and shift to online only publication. This leaves Seattle with one daily newspaper, The Seattle Times.

While many saw this coming, it will be interesting to see it actually play out - how will seattlepi.com change and grow and will it truly embrace the medium it now calls home? Will it innovate and problem solve, or continue to try the same old tricks?

Here's hoping that having the staff of this large and this prominent of a publication fully focused on an online model will uncover a thing or two. Or ten. And help illustrate the common sense that many are missing.

Because, really.

In Denver Times [Striking while the iron is hot]

Former Rocky Mountain News staffers announce online venture called In Denver Times based partially on subscriptions.

Now, while I thoroughly believe that unless you have highly specialized content, subscription models don't work, I'm going to go ahead and say that I think they have a pretty good chance of reaching their goal (50,000 pledged subscribers by April 23rd). Why? Because their business model has little to do with the circumstances under which they're kicking it off: the perfect storm of passion, drama, incessant "death of newspapers" coverage (oh wait, is that the same as drama?) and a city that just lost an institution. It's very Mickey and Judy "let's put on a show" and that is never to be underestimated.

And the logo design is good.

Now, whether its sustainable or not will have to do with a whole different set of details - how good is the subscription-only content? How is the business structured internally? See all previous questions regarding seattlepi.com.

But I personally think we'll get to the place where these questions get the chance to be answered. This, in itself, is almost more a viral campaign than the launch of a new form of journalism. 'Twill be interesting to watch indeed...

Update: I like the logo, less so this video, but in general the right idea...

iTunes SchmiTunes [This thing isn't that thing]

Why bother breaking down why you can't compare micro-payments for news to iTunes (duh) Clay Shirky has done it so well?

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Aggregated realtime keyword search results = local news? [Getting there from here]

In an interview, Twitter CEO, Even Williams said (translated by Google from German): "We are currently thinking about an extension that notifies the user what is happening in its immediate vicinity is happening. Depending on where I am staying, I could then learn about that a few streets away a fire is burning."

TechCruch writes an article titled Twitter To Start Serving Local News To Users?

*Sigh*

This morning, there was a fatal and shocking shooting incident at a church near my hometown. More specifically, the church is 2 small towns over, the victim is from my hometown and the perpetrator is from 3 small towns over. The shooting happened around 8:30am. I heard about it for the first time around 11:30am via Facebook. Once it was brought up, my mom mentioned that it had been announced in church - probably around 9:30. By the time I checked Twitter around 12:30pm, Maryville (the name of the town where the shooting happened) was the 3rd trending topic (popular keyword). The first appearance was around 9:30am.

All this to say that as much as I am still mostly annoyed by most things surrounding the existence of Twitter, at its core it has its uses - and if understood and harnessed correctly, maybe even the majority of the press wouldn't be able to miss them.

If Twitter had a tool that "notifies the user what is happening in its immediate vicinity," I would have known about the national news that happened a few miles from my hometown within an hour of it happening instead of 3 hours later. A good number of the early tweets in the Twitter search string link to CNN, the local CBS station (KMOV), etc. - actual news outlets. So I'd get to the local news via Twitter, and I guess I'd technically have received "news" of it from Twitter, but the actual reporting come from where I'd expect it to.

Am I arguing semantics? Some may say yes, but in this environment of the constant overblown discussion of whether or not bloggers will replace reporters, the TechCrunch headline is worth calling out, the semantics are worth being understood.

Within 3-5 hours after the shooting, the tweets started to get less helpful. Tweethounds were using the keyword with truncated urls that would appear to be to a news story but really led to their Twitter profile. Aggregators got in on the keyword by reporting its rank in hopes of newbies deciding their feed is "the place" to keep up with what's trending. Random people were using the keyword just so their account would show up in the search string. Basic Twitter uselessness.

But now, some 12+ hours later, interesting links are starting to show up in tweets - pastor responses, personal accounts, etc. Takes a little more mining to get to the interesting stuff, but it's there for the seeker.

And there you have the data rainbow of Twitter. Harness the first hour or so of that into an alert and that's a service I would find useful. Would I want it to serve as my "local news?" No. Would the alert be as useful without the links to local news stories? Maybe not? Would local news reports get more (free) play if there was an alert system like that? Likely.

See kids? Appropriate usage and teamwork. Fabulous concepts.

Monday, March 2, 2009

That's sooooo nine days ago [Questionable allocation of resources]

Over a week ago (Saturday, February 21st, to be exact) Michael Ian Black declared the first ever Twitter war on none other than LeVar Burton. Hilarity and odds on BetUS.com ensued. Many tweets later, it was all over by Wednesday, February 25th (truce was called, everyone won).

Today, I repeat TODAY Michael Ian Black tweets that he "just got off the phone with the AP who [is] doing a story on LeWar."

There are two possibilities here:

1. AP is doing (yet another) story about Twitter in general (because OMG there aren't enough of these ill-informed missives clogging up our news day already) and referring to LeWar as an illustration of something or other.

2. AP is doing an actual story on the actual LeWar a full NINE DAYS (and counting) LATER proving that it isn't that journalism is dead, but that, well, I don't even know what to say.

Perhaps some questions will help me verbalize:

- Given the immediate and viral nature of Twitter, is there a point to a traditional one-to-many story covering something that you kind of have to experience to get and a full NINE DAYS (and counting) LATER at that?

- Would not a shorter story, during the event be more relevant? Maybe even some sort of app that tracks progress, or a mock-serious blow by blow (in the same spirit as the BetUS post)?

- In the midst of, oh, I dunno, lots of real drama going on in the world, is LeWar truly worthy of an actual thought out story NINE DAYS (and counting) LATER?

I hope I'm wrong and jumping on my soapbox too quickly. I hope that the AP is working on a story about actual effective uses of Twitter, and using LeWar as an example.

I hope. Because, really.

Michael Ian Black on Twitter
LeVar Burton on Twitter

Friday, February 27, 2009

Spotted [Portable offices]

Man in a 3-piece suit in the middle of the Maryland/Euclid pay lot conducting a conference call over an earbud.

And it's 38 degrees.

Can someone explain the drama? [Substitute paranoia for reality]

I can barely bring myself to comment on this, but I'm going to try.

Newspaper publishers are all up in arms because Google is now serving ads on news search results.

Can't do it. The reality is too bright. I can't even find the words to state the obvious.

Ok. I'll try harder.

Google ads, as any blogger will tell you, make pennies. They only make many pennies if you have many stories. So, if any of the single news sources returned in any said Google News search were to make the amount of pennies owed it based on the fraction of the result for which it's responsible, it would not be many pennies. Not to mention that the search is only being done where it's being done because of the promise of many scattered results.

Each publisher is more than welcome to develop their own intelligent search ad serving software and site-crawler and do exactly what Google's doing.

What's that? Oh, right.

ExACTly.

Gawker's Owen Thomas apparently has the energy to intelligently break this down with a little less snark.

Hey forest, meet tree [Missing the point]

In this TVNewsday article, Harry Jessell asserts that the "demise of the papers" leaves the door wide open for "TV stations . . . to become the dominant local Web sites."

*Sigh*

Well, let me take that back. In theory, I could agree with this. However, in practice, without completely re-defining what it is that a TV does, this is simply moving around the FAIL.

The advertising model is broken. This was a discussion in broadcast with the rise of the DVR, then we got distracted by the newspaper implosion. And let's not forget that one of the most popular websites in the world (Facebook), cannot make money off of advertising.

In the article Jessell brings up the recently announced ESPN website focused on Chicago sports, as "plunging into the local online marketplace," which is technically correct. But the real key here is that they are using online to deliver highly desired, in-depth content to a proven audience that happens to be localized. Because it's ESPN, this can be a 360 dive - web, print and broadcast - all leveraging each other to likely support a number of monetizeable products.

Local TV stations are not poised to replicate this unless they take a step back and approach things in a completely different way - which Jessell points out. He also points out that they can't do this alone. Partnering up with other entities will be key. But the really what this would take is a mind shift - a shift away from chasing advertising dollars and a shift back toward the basics. Because, really, content is king.

Spotted [It's cold outside]

SLU student in flip flops with wet hair walking to class.



Because, really?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Which part of "not the WSJ" is confusing to you? [Grasping at straws]

*Sigh*

Newsday thinks is can charge for its web content.

I truly don't understand how people make these decisions. Because, really.

Ken Doctor has the energy to verbalize why this is a bad idea here.

Is some communication too much to ask in these already frustrating times? [Piling it on]

My husband, within a week of being laid off, interviewed for a mid-high level job in his field. The organization had been looking to fill this position for a while, and because the local paper is bleeding jobs, had interviewed quite a few likely capable candidates. So by no means was my husband a shoe-in - especially since the job specialized on a subject my husband isn't familiar with. After the interview, they said they'd let him know either way.

After a few weeks without hearing anything, he followed up with an email. No response. That was two weeks ago.

Today, on craiglist, a posting for said job.

I know folks get busy and take forever to make hires, but if you say "let you know either way" and you're hiring for a semi-senior position in an industry where everyone knows everyone and the walls are crashing in, let a brother know.

Craigslist?

Because, really.

Live and in virtual person [The press is falling]

Though everyone's on edge and continuously waiting for the other shoe to drop, it's still horrifying when it happens, especially when we all remember, as humans, that all this drama comes home to roost at the doors of actual people, with families. And even more so when technology allows us to get a front row seat. It was announced today at noon that Denver Rocky Mountain News would publish its last edition tomorrow. How's that for short notice?

Denver Rock Mountain News liveblog of the actual announcement >
Denver Rocky Mountain News newsroom Twitter account >

Because, really.

Give me my notes back [The Book that is Face]

My response to a Tangelos posting about the abundance of note-memes on Facebook as of late:

---

I admit, I got sucked into the 25 things note. At first I was annoyed, but then I started reading them and they were actually really entertaining and sometimes touching and insightful. I was entertained enough to feel guilty not giving back, so I even wrote my own. People who would NEVER participate in things like that were participating. In my circle, the titles gradually changed to “If [insert name of person who wouldn't be caught dead participating in a chain email] is doing this, I guess I have no excuse… 25 things about me.” Some of the material was so good I made a “top 25 25 things” post where I mixed up a list of all of my favorites from different friends. It was a “chain letter” by nature, but the content and inspired interaction felt like the rest of the Facebook experience.

But now it’s out of hand.

I’ve always taken great pains to explain to the Facebook-resistant that Facebook isn’t like MySpace. That if you choose to only add friends you actually know and avoid 3rd-party applications, the majority of interaction is actual interaction and not just clutter. But this whole note thing is threatening that, as notes are a native app and removing it means you miss out on actual notes. I wish they’d develop a “note game” app so this phenomenon can stop cluttering the note-sphere. And now the album game is encroaching on the photo-sphere.

I want my native apps to work like expect them to - when someone writes a new note I want to get excited about reading something substantive, random or at least original. When someone tags me in a photo I want it to be an actual photo of me, or of something specifically representative of me. Now I’m starting to ignore notes, and I’m glad my favorite American Idol re-capper has taken to the blogsphere so I don’t have to worry about missing his weekly wildly funny and original recap note in a sea of “My First Born” or “One Word” notes.

The thing I loved most about Facebook was the ability to control my experience. Until now, the expected user behavior has pretty much matched and remained consistent within each app. When there were variations they were at least in the same spirit. But this notes thing… it’s like the masses have found a way to work SuperPoke into a standard wall posting. Annoying.