Are media consumers mostly couch potatoes?

Scott Karp, the managing director of research and strategy for Atlantic Media, seems to have a way of writing things that get under my skin. First he said that bloggers have it all wrong when it comes to the “new” media, and that the vision of people choosing and even helping to create their own media was fatally flawed. At the end of the post, he responded to some of the criticisms from the blogosphere, and then wrote another post that was more conciliatory, discussing the idea that old and new media should work together.

That was fine. And then he wrote another one more recently entitled “Web 2.0 is not Media 2.0,” in which he returns to his previous theme — which is that sites like and and and so on are not helping anyone except geeks, and that this is all a symptom of the problem he has described before, which is “too much media.” He says Newsvine is way too much work for the average person, and that what consumers want is someone to filter and synthesize for them. Jeremy Wagstaff of the Wall Street Journal says the blogosphere is a bit of an echo chamber.

I’m not saying Scott doesn’t have a point, or that Mitch Shapiro at IPDemocracy doesn’t have a point when he says the tools we use need to evolve. Obviously they do — and they likely will. And yes, people need filters and synthesis. But I’m not sure they need to be led by the hand quite as much as Scott seems to suggest they do. Yes, reading a newspaper is easier than going to — but not much. You have to buy the paper, for one thing, and then flip through a bunch of crap you have no interest in. How hard is digg? You go to and click on something. Don’t want to tag? Don’t tag., which Scott uses as an example of an easy and successful Web 2.0 app, is just as hard as, if not harder — if you want to tag, and join groups and so on, which plenty of people clearly do. Anyone who has tried to actually buy or sell something on eBay knows that it’s no picnic — and yet millions of people do that. Readers also show a huge interest in carrying on a conversation, either with each other or with writers, as we’ve found at my newspaper the Globe and Mail, where readers can comment on any story. That is a huge part of the draw.

Yes, people need filters, and they are time-pressed. But they will go where their interest lies, and they don’t need as much hand-holding as I think Scott is suggesting they do.

A Barenaked Lady makes sense on copyright

Rob Hyndman, who has been following the tangled tale of Sarmite Bulte — the parliamentary secretary to the Heritage Minister, who is responsible for copyright laws in Canada, and is even now attending a fundraiser financed by the entertainment industry — notes that musician Steve Page, the singer for the band Barenaked Ladies, has posted a comment on the subject.

Page says that he’s been trying to think of a way of expressing himself on the issue, but that founder (and Canadian) Cory Doctorow said it best in his recent opinion piece in the Toronto Star. Page says:

“we can’t expect to tell our fans “see you in court” and then “see you at Massey Hall next fall” – we have to choose one, and I choose the latter. This current litigious atmosphere is simply a product of the record business trying to prop up a dying, obsolete business model.”

The singer says he is in favour of new copyright legislation, but “not at the expense of the creators,” and that the bill Ms. Bulte supported “did not look forward to the new frontiers, but only helped industry maintain their business model, which is not the responsibility of the Heritage Ministry.” Another artist who has spoken out is Matthew Good (who coincidentally enough helped redesign Rob Hyndman’s new website), whose post on the topic gets props from Page as well.

Meanwhile, Bulte told the Globe and Mail’s Roma Luciw that she is considering a defamation lawsuit against Michael Geist after the election is over. This story just keeps getting weirder.

Newsvine takes the high road on Gather

Mike Davidson, the CEO of Newsvine — a kind of news aggregator/blog hub — has a nice post up on his site reacting to some of the recent commentary about, to which Newsvine has been compared by many (including me in this post) . Rather than take any delight in a competitor getting weak early reviews — for the record, I think it still has potential — Mike makes a few good points in his post, entitled “The Proof Is In The People.”

Among other things, he says that being a media darling isn’t necessarily an indicator of future success, and that many great things were originally greeted with skepticism. Mike also points out that “an entrepreneur who always thinks along the lines of everyone else will produce a product or service just like everyone else’s. That’s usually a bad thing.” And he is right. He also says that the Newsvine team is going to keep their heads down and “keep learning from our users and admitting we only know half of what we think we know. The moment you think you understand everything about the market you’re entering is the moment you exit it.”

Words of wisdom, Mike. And for what it’s worth, I like the service a lot (I’m beta testing). I haven’t been seeding as much as I probably should be, but I do like it — particularly the commenting. Not sure about the live chatting, but time will tell.

The Top Ten Sources debate continues

If Berkman Center director John Palfrey wanted a debate on RSS and the future of Web-based media, which he hinted at almost two years ago, he has certainly gotten his wish. The debate over what his website, Top Ten Sources, is doing with RSS feeds continues — and while the debate has evolved somewhat, as Adam Green describes at Darwinianweb, there are still some strong feelings on either side.

Shelley over at Burningbird, for example, has a post about what Top Ten Sources is doing, and she is a lot less wishy-washy about it than Om Malik is. She says it is wrong, plain and simple — and her position isn’t tempered at all by the fact that John Palfrey runs Harvard’s Berkman Center on Internet and Society. She accuses him of trying to “wave the Web 2.0 wand” and change copyright law.

There is some interesting discussion in the comments about what is implied when you “publish” your blog through RSS, and whether Top 10 using it is just like Bloglines or anyone else. Dave Winer (who is a fellow at the Berkman Center) has a post in which he argues that Top Ten Sources is a good thing, but as lawyer Denise Howell of Bag & Baggage points out, the law is far from clear.

For what it’s worth, I think if you publish an RSS feed, then someone like Top Ten Sources should be free to run it on their site, provided they source it properly, link to it and don’t sell ads (which they don’t). I think it would be better if they didn’t do full feeds, but that’s debatable. I think Shelley’s position is overly harsh. Like coldcoffee says, if you don’t want people to run your stuff, then don’t publish a feed — let your friends come to the site, or subscribe via email.

John Palfrey has a post in which he seems open to continuing the discussion (as he should be), and he points to Susan Mernit’s post as making a valuable point — which is that bloggers might be a lot more open to such aggregation if they saw some benefit coming back to them. Lots of food for thought.

When does an aggregator become a splog?

Hey, who said blogging wasn’t cool — after all, how often do you get to use cool terms like “aggregator” and “splog?” Those terms have come up recently because Om Malik and a couple of other A-list bloggers have raised the issue of whether a new site called Top 10 Sources is doing something unsavoury or not. The site essentially pulls together the RSS feeds from the 10 blogs it feels are leaders in a particular field.

Om and Mike Rundle of BusinessLogs (a 9rules blog) aren’t saying Top 10 Sources is a “splog” or that the site is plagiarizing their content. But they have raised the question of whether aggregating their feeds — without asking first — is stepping over the bounds of civilized behaviour, particularly when some of the pages include the full post, not just an excerpt. Adam Green of Darwinianweb has also written about this thorny issue.

But what makes this even more interesting is that it turns out that Top 10 Sources is backed, in part, by John Palfrey — who happens to not only be a law professor, but the executive director of the prestigious Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard, where Dave Winer (one of the inventors of RSS) is a fellow. In other words, not your run-of-the-mill aggregator, let alone a splogger.

Professor Palfrey, as it turns out (thanks to Adam Green for the links) has not only thought long and hard about this issue, he wrote about it on his blog as far back as 2003, when he wondered whether the increasing interest in RSS feeds would lead to just this kind of debate. As he notes, the attempt to exercise too much control over one’s feed can become — if taken to the extreme — the same kind of desire for control that the record industry has tried to exert by suing downloaders. However, he does admit that maybe full feeds isn’t the right way to go.

An interesting debate, that’s for sure. For the record, I think Top 10 Sources is doing something that makes sense, it isn’t selling ads all around everyone’s content, and therefore I would put it in pretty much the same camp as Google News. Let a thousand aggregators bloom.

How do I click an ad on the radio?

Google hasn’t made many billion-dollar bets, except for the recent one on AOL (which was more of a hedge) so the deal announced for dMarc Broadcasting is notable if only for the potential price tag. Up front costs are only $100-million, but the potential outlay for Google if certain performance targets are met is $1.1-billion over three years (eBay’s acquistion of Skype has similar terms).

Although Google has been reaching its tendrils into “offline” for a little while now, including a deal to run ads for its AdSense partners in print publications, I think it’s safe to say that for many people, saying the word Google does not make one instinctively think “radio.” After all, how do you click an ad that’s on the radio? Mark Evans says he finds the deal a little odd. However, Henry Blodget — the former Merrill Lynch brokerage analyst — says he thinks this could be the beginning of a big business for Google: namely, replacing big ad-buying agencies who place ads in all kinds of media.

Search Engine Roundtable says if we have AdWords and AdPrint, and now AdRadio, it’s likely only a matter of time before we get AdTV, and Google starts running ads on television. And Danny Sullivan says any dispute about whether Google is a media company or not can be put to rest. Ross Rader of Tucows seems to agree, while Eric Schoenfeld of the Business 2.0 blog says there is potential for serving ads based on tracking your digital radio listening habits. As usual, Good Morning Silicon Valley has a great headline: “Sorry officer — the last thing I remember is trying to click on an interactive radio ad.”


Staci over at PaidContent points to a comment by a reader who has some expertise in the radio advertising business, and doesn’t see how Google is going to make much headway in the industry.

Blogs level the journalism playing field

Say what you will about whether blogs are better or worse than traditional media, or just different. One thing is for sure: they certainly have a way of levelling the playing field between journalists and the people they write about. The latest case in point is a recent online battle between Patrick Byrne — the notoriously eccentric CEO of — and a reporter for BusinessWeek magazine named Tim Mullaney.

According to Mr. Byrne (who prefers to call himself Dr. Byrne), the BusinessWeek reporter emailed him a long list of questions about the company, which has been the subject of critical comments from Wall Street brokerages and investors — including billionaire entrepeneur, sports-team owner and blogger Mark Cuban. Among other things, Mr. Byrne has said that he believes he is the victim of a conspiracy that involves elements of the Mafia underworld and a group of short-sellers who want to drive down his stock price.

Although he said the piece was only going to be 1,200 words, the BusinessWeek reporter sent what appears to be three pages worth of questions, including some bizarre ones — such as who the CFO was involved with, whether they got married, and whether they are still together. At one point, the reporter asks Mr. Byrne whether he has gained weight as a result of stress (to which the Overstock CEO says he has gained weight because of a heart ailment). The reporter also asks whether he has been diagnosed with any mental illness.

At one point, Mr. Byrne makes fun of his interviewer’s questions, such as when the reporter says that he is “recognized as an online travel expert,” and at another point when he says that he is an attorney, and that he also “keeps a Web stock model portfolio for BW that beats the IIX pretty consistently.” Mr. Byrne posted the questions in full as well as a version with his comments interspersed — before the article ran in the magazine. According to the Overstock CEO, the reporter phoned his office and yelled at a receptionist.

As a journalist with feet (or arms) in both the world of traditional media and the world of blogs, I’m well acquainted with the reputation that journalists have — and this exchange doesn’t do anything to help that. It’s ironic that a man who has been described by Mr. Cuban as “a paranoid fool” actually comes off looking better than a reporter from a respected newsmagazine.

Ironically, the approach Mr. Byrne took by posting the email and his comments has been used before by his nemesis Mr. Cuban. These examples are a warning to journalists everywhere — you no longer have the high ground (if you ever did), so you had better tread carefully, or your flaws will be exposed for all to see.

for more on this topic, please see my full column at

BellSouth drops the gloves on neutrality

My friend and fellow Canuck blogger Mark Evans points to a story from Marketwatch about BellSouth following through on its promise (threat?) to start charging service providers such as Apple or MovieLink extra to ensure that their content gets through to users reliably and quickly. This is an issue that has been coming for awhile.

According to BellSouth chief technology officer Bill Smith, the company is justified in content charging companies because they use the telco’s network without paying for it. “Higher usage for broadband services drives more costs that we have to recover,” he told Marketwatch. Is this a justifiable cost-sharing exercise by a phone company, or what Russell Shaw of ZDNet calls “a shakedown?” Are BellSouth and other telco leaders — such as Ed “Google better pay up for our pipes” Whitacre of AT&T — just trying to make a living, or are they robber barons, as Jeff Jarvis calls them?

Mark Cuban, in his usual contrary fashion, says we need the telcos to do this because we are running out of bandwidth, and besides, it’s going to happen anyway. I find it hard to believe we’ve run out of bandwidth already, given the millions of miles of fiber-optic cable that Level 3 and 360networks and Global Crossing laid during the last tech bubble, but I’ll give Mark that one. What I don’t get is how the telcos keep telling everyone how great high-speed is, and charging them an arm and a leg for it (while trying to get them not to use it) and then start crying poor. Is it jealousy, as Fred Wilson says? Whatever — it’s wrong.

For more, check out a long treatise on the subject by Doc Searls, and another (shorter) one by Mitch Shapiro at IPDemocracy — who has another one here. My friend Rob Hyndman has also commented many times on this theme, including this recent post, and Om has some thoughts as well.


Jeff Pulver has come out with a couple of pointed posts on this topic, including one about neutrality in general, in which he calls on Google to shut down BellSouth in an OK Corral kind of maneuver (which my colleague Mark Evans applauds), and another responding to Mark Cuban’s post, in which he takes the billionaire to task for his views — and Mr. Cuban responds in the comments.

Update 2:

It may not be the aggressive gesture Jeff was hoping for, but Om Malik notes that Google has said in no uncertain terms that it has no intention of paying telcos for enhanced service. “Google is not discussing sharing of the costs of broadband networks with any carrier,” a spokesman told

Is blogging just writing with a cool name?

Simon Dumenco has a column in AdAge magazine entitled A Blogger Is Just A Writer With A Cooler Name, which takes issue with what he feels is the trumped up division between blogging and just plain old writing. “It occurred to me that there is no such thing as blogging. There is no such thing as a blogger. Blogging is just writing — writing using a particularly efficient type of publishing technology,” he says. Bloggers just want to think of themselves as something different because it’s cool, Simon says. Others agree.

Simon has a point — although I think it’s stretching it to say bloggers are writers with a cooler name, since the word “blogger” is actually pretty stupid (thanks a lot Jorn). Writing is writing, whether done on a blog, or in a newspaper, or at a magazine. Just different lengths, different deadlines, different styles. Some use their blogs as a platform for ranting, and some use their newspaper columns for the same thing. Some blogs do better reporting that the Times.

It doesn’t do anyone any good to play up the divisions between the two, nor does it serve any purpose — as Simon notes — for the Times or anyone else to make a big deal out of what is a blog and what isn’t. At the same time, however, I wouldn’t want to erase the divisions entirely, because what makes a blog different from traditional media is important. In a nutshell, that difference is interaction — which turns plain old writing into something Amy Gahran calls “conversational” media.

And that is something the traditional media could stand to learn a little more about, a point I was trying to make in the post just before this one as well. Steve Rubel is right — it isn’t just writing, it’s a dialogue.

It isn’t blogs vs. media — it’s blogs as media

Scott Karp, the managing director of research and strategy for Atlantic Media (which publishes Atlantic Monthly, among other things) gets on a bit of a rant about bloggers and the “mainstream” media. For a guy whose blog is called Publishing 2.0, I find Scott’s vituperation about blogging a little over the top. Yes, it’s true that the blogosphere can be a bit of a funhouse-mirror sometimes, and it’s also true that some zealots take the open-media, everyone-is-a-content-creator thing a little too far.

Scott is right when he says that many people are drowing in media, and are looking for filters and ways of sorting out what is necessary or useful to them and what is not — and he is also right that tools such as and RSS are not easy enough to use for the novice (not yet). It’s also true that many people will continue to use newspapers and other traditional media as filters in that sense — I hope they do, since I work for a newspaper. The media outlets that succeed will be the ones that seize that opportunity most aggressively.

At the same time, however, I think blogs are becoming — and will increasingly become — the filters for people on subjects they are interested in, whether we (or they) call them blogs or not. If you’re interested in dogs, or childbirth, or local news about mountain biking, are you going to seek out the traditional media to find resources or points of view? Unlikely. What will probably happen is someone you know will mention a blog that is written by someone who is equally obsessed with that topic, and which gathers all the information and links you might want.

That is competition for the newspaper, and the radio and the television — heck, it’s competition for books and needlepoint, for that matter. And as Lloyd of the Guardian points out, there’s opportunity there for traditional media, something Matt McAlister has some thoughts about too.


Just came across another of Scott’s posts on his blog, which indicates that his views are actually fairly close to mine — in other words, that “new” media such as blogs and traditional media need to collaborate, intermingle, cross-pollinate etc.

His post addresses an interesting discussion by Jeff Jarvis of Buzzmachine, who wonders whether a BusinessWeek magazine cover story would have been better if it had been open to contributions while it was being written.

I would argue that it would have been better in almost every way — not just as an article, but in terms of the long-term, spinoff effects of the process as well, although Stephen Baker says we aren’t quite there yet and there are reasons why media outlets need to keep stories secret.