Can Google make print work this time?

In newspaper boardrooms across the United States, the news that Google wants to get into the print advertising business is probably causing a mix of emotions — a combination of those old favourites, fear and greed. Fear because newspapers are afraid that Google might somehow make it even less profitable to run a paper than it already is, and greed because Google is so ridiculously successful that it’s natural to wonder whether some of that might spill over.

Forgotten by many in their excitement to board the Google party train, however (typical newspaper guy: “Does this mean we all get Segways and free candy?”) is the fact that the search behemoth has already tried this particular strategy once, and more or less… well, failed. Google ran a trial project involving a couple of dozen high-profile magazines, and before too long it became obvious that it just wasn’t working. Google said it was just an experiment, and that it learned a lot.


Why didn’t it work? Mike Masnick at Techdirt had a few clues: For one thing, Google doesn’t really bring any kind of competitive edge to the print advertising game the way it does to Internet search-related advertising, where its giant algorithm machine spins a web that drags Internet surfers in like flies and practically forces them to click on ads whether they want to or not. In magazines (and newspapers), there’s no algorithm-powered search, and no search-related ads.

If nothing else, meanwhile, Google’s desire to move into newspaper ads — which it apparently thinks are a better fit than magazines — is yet another signal of its unquenchable thirst for ad inventory of any kind, so that it can keep growing at those triple-digit rates the stock market is so enamoured with. And let’s face it: the newspaper business needs all the help it can get. Although Scott Karp of Publishing 2.0 points out that one of the unintended consequences of the Google experiment could be that it only reinforces how disconnected and hard to measure print advertising really is.

Is Robert Scoble stealing or marketing?

To me, one of the most important developments of the past few years from a Web 2.0 perspective was RSS, the “really simple syndication” format that allowed any blogger and in fact any website period to become their own newswire, just like Associated Press or Canada News Wire. Sure, it’s plumbing, but it’s important plumbing. Which is why it’s important that we decide what people are allowed to do with RSS feeds and what they’re not.

For example, taking all of someone’s feed and putting it on a website and then selling ads around it is clearly wrong, it seems to me. This is called “scraping,” and it is flat-out stealing. Then there’s taking someone’s full feed and putting it on a site but not selling ads around it, and pointing people to the originating blog, which is kind of what Top Ten Sources got in trouble for awhile back (more on that here). That’s in kind of a grey area.

Then there’s what Robert Scoble is doing, which is using the “share” feature in Google’s Reader (which I also use) to highlight certain items in the feeds that he reads. Google gives you what amounts to an instant blog, or at least a distinct URL, where all your shared items show up (mine is here) and they are the full items from anyone who has a full-text feed.


That got someone named Andy Beard — whose website says he is involved in keyword research and affiliate marketing — kind of upset, because he said RSS is meant to be private and therefore Scoble was helping to ruin RSS. This makes no sense whatsover, of course, since RSS is by its nature a syndication mechanism. But in the comments on Scoble’s post, it became clear that others, including Duncan Riley of b5 media, think what he is doing is stealing.

To Scoble, however (and to me as well), it seems more like helping — since a link to a post in Scoble’s shared items is almost certain to drive people to the blog in question. Is that not a good thing? And there are no ads in the reader blog, so he can’t be accused of making money from it. And it isn’t a full feed, although it is full-text posts.

As Techdirt has written before, this seems like someone complaining because someone else made their content more valuable (be sure to check the back and forth between Mike Masnick of Techdirt and Jason Calacanis of Netscape in the comments on the Techdirt post). And Fred Von Lohmann of the EFF and others have pointed out that publishing an RSS feed implies a license to reuse that content.

What happens to attribution in social media?

(cross-posted from my media blog)

Muhammad Saleem, who writes a blog I recently came across called The Mu Life, has an interesting interview with Matt Sparkes, who works for New Scientist magazine and is in charge of managing the relationship between the magazine and social media, including blogs and “social bookmarking” sites such as

Matt talks about how the rise of blogs and distributed media of various kinds makes it hard to track things back to their original source. And if you work for a magazine (or newspaper) that is trying to keep its head above water online, that’s the kind of thing that makes a big difference — i.e., blogs or bookmarking sites giving you the credit you deserve for a story or post.

Content just falls into peoples laps now. Whereas 5 years ago the legwork of finding great content was replicated by every reader, it’s now centralized. That’s great for users, but if you’re a content producer you need to start worrying.

As Matt points out, a magazine with a large staff and relatively high costs is obviously looking at ways of monetizing its online content, and one of the ways to do that is through page views — but if someone posts something to Digg or or Netscape and links to a secondary source like another blog, then the original creator of the content usually gets bupkis.

The overheads required to produce that content are huge, and we obviously rely on traffic to recoup that cost… When another blog covers that story and links to that first blog, the percentage of readers to reach us lowers significantly. In the same way, if an aggregator such as Reddit links to a blog post about one of our stories, it is not particularly useful at driving traffic.

Journalists are trained to go back to the original source, bloggers and social media users are not.

As Sparkes also makes clear in his interview, social media is simultaneously a threat and a great opportunity. The challenge for traditional media is to find a way of balancing those two things.

Hey Kevin — what’s with the silent treatment?

It seems that Kevin Rose is in the news again — the blogosphere news, at any rate — and this time not for being on the cover of Business Week. It appears that Digg has been doing some more algorithm-tweaking, and has pissed off a bunch of its top contributors, because the filters it is using are preventing them from getting on the front page with as much frequency. Two top contributors write:

Why then, we wonder, does Digg continue to snub its most prolific community members, rather than reward or even encourage them? With the latest change in Digg’s promotion algorithm, it seems that the message you are sending to the site’s most active users is that its time for them to quit.

My first response to this complaint, I have to admit, was something along the lines of “So quit, already. Who needs you? Go submit stories somewhere else if your poor little ego is bruised.” As Markus Frind of PlentyOfFish points out, the top contributors to just about any public forum or site often become egotistical maniacs and troublemakers. And what does being a top Digger consist of? Being the first to post links to things you found online. Not exactly rocket surgery.


My friend Tony Hung at Deep Jive Interests makes a good point, however, which is that Kevin can be criticized for more than just tweaking an algorithm to deny top Diggers their moment in the sun — apart from a blog post during the last algorithm crisis, one which came long after the fire had started, there has been little or no response from the Digg gang to any of the concerns raised by their most frequent submitters, and little or no consultation with them.

As Scott Karp notes at Publishing 2.0, this whole “social media” thing is a delicate dance, not to mention something that we are all pretty much having to make up as we go, and it requires more than just sticking a “Web 2.0” or bloggy label on something. As Edelman has found with the Wal-Mart fiasco, it is not enough to talk the talk — you have to be prepared to walk the walk. If Kevin Rose wants Digg to be social media, he had better start getting social.


BloodJunkie, a Canadian who is in the top 10 Digg submitters, says in the comments on the Mu Life post: “The change they made to the algo was so obvious (and drastic) that I expected to read a blog post about it on digg’s blog all week. But that never happened. At the very least, they should explain what they have done and how it makes digg better.” And Drums ‘n Whistles points out that Flickr is also taking flak for changing its algorithms.

Update 2:

Kevin Rose has posted a very brief comment on the changes to the algorithm — one which isn’t likely to soothe any ruffled feathers in the Digg-osphere.

Deconstructing the newsroom

(cross-posted from my media blog)

There have been plenty of announcements over the past few months of newspapers merging their print and online operations (like the London Telegraph) or pushing their staff to do other things such as multimedia, blogs, etc. (like Business 2.0 magazine requiring all of its writers to start blogging). Now Gannett has said that its newsrooms will now become “information centers.”

What does Gannett mean by that? Although the term is sure to be the subject of much derision from newsroom veterans — and it definitely has a kind of 1984-ish feel to it — the idea seems to be to get away from the newsroom as the place where news is created (which has never really been the case) to looking at it as a place where reporters and editors filter all kinds of information that readers/viewers/listeners might want, including information that comes from “the people formerly known as the audience,” as Jay Rosen likes to call them.


This latter concept was dubbed “crowdsourcing” by Wired magazine (which has a story about Gannett’s move here), and involves being open to contributions from non-journalists, whether those contributions are stories, pictures, contacts or just opinions. This is the kind of thing that many outlets, including the BBC, dabble in from time to time. But Gannett wants to make it a staple of its news-gathering process, and has already seen the benefits.

According to the Gannett memo announcing the initiative, pilot projects in a number of locations have seen positive feedback in a number of ways:

What they found is remarkable: Breaking news on the Web and updating for the newspaper draws more people to both those media. Asking the community for help, gets it – and delivers the newspaper into the heart of community conversations once again.

As Doug Fisher describes it in his excellent post: “The palpable arrogance in too many modern newsrooms — that somehow we are above it all and are indispensible to our readers/viewers/users/customers — has got to go. We aren’t, and they could care less. We squandered much of that public support long ago. We continue to do so.” Gannett is trying to find a different way, and they should get some props for doing so.


Jeff Howe, who wrote the piece for Wired on Gannett’s move to crowdsource news, has more details on his blog about crowdsourcing. Hat tip to PaidContent for the link. And Tim at eBiquity says (quite rightly) that this kind of initiative is great, provided it isn’t just an excuse for getting by with fewer journalists. Greg Yardley wonders whether such a system wouldn’t be open to “gaming,” and my friend Rob Hyndman notes that in some cases he would rather have Pulitzer Prize winners on the ground reporting a story rather than “pyjamas media.” And Drums ‘n Whistles says there are risks to crowdsourcing too.

YouTube, meet PhilTube

If you spend a lot of time cruising around the Interweb, you may have come across a site called, which — apart from looking an awful lot like YouTube, to the point where the trademark lawyers are probably salivating — hosts a bunch of videos featuring a guy named (you guessed it) Phil, doing things like sitting at his desk in a non-descript office somewhere, asking people to hold his calls because he’s busy blogging, or telling his staff to film ordinary objects around the office and upload the clips to YouTube, which they do.


Kudos to the gang over at Huffington Post’s great Eat The Press site, who tracked down the back story (or meta-story) behind PhilTube. As it turns out, the site was created by Hart+Larsson, a New York ad agency that is represented by PGM Artists. And the CEO of PGM Artists just happens to be a guy named Phil McIntyre — yes, that Phil. Phil apparently asked the agency to put together a parody site with some clips for a big commercial advertising summit.

In that inside-out way that things in New York and Hollywood sometimes turn out, Eat The Press says there have already been feelers put out about getting PGM to produce content for some sort of Web TV venture. First it’s a joke, then it’s reality.

Note: Eat The Press correspondent Rachel Sklar (a Canadian) has a great feature piece on Saturday Night Live in the latest issue of Village Voice magazine.

Hey — who you callin’ frantic?

frantic: (adj.) excessively agitated; transported with rage or other violent emotion

Like my friend Paul Kedrosky, I find myself somewhat bemused by the recent story from the Financial Times, in which Google is described as being engaged in a “frantic” round of negotiations with content providers for licensing rights. Paul notes that in another story, Google’s quest is described as a “slog,” which leads him to wonder whether it’s even possible to be in a frantic slog (and then to suggest that “frantic slog” would be a great band name, which it definitely would).


This is one of those cases where the choice of a single word can twist the perception of a story almost irrevocably, especially when it appears in the lead paragraph. The folks at the pink paper, as some Brits calls it, aren’t normally known for cranking up the rhetoric the way some of the tabloids do, but I think this time they let their enthusiasm get the better of them. The rest of the story is a relatively straight-forward look at what Google is trying to do, but the word “frantic” is all out of proportion and that ultimately hurts the story.

As the ever-perceptive Cynthia Brumfield notes at IPDemocracy, sometimes it’s just more exciting to think of a gigantic multibillion-dollar behemoth like Google getting “frantic” about something, or facing a “potentially crippling” round of lawsuits, in the same way that financial reporters like to talk about an earnings “bloodbath” or how a company is “hemorrhaging” money. It makes it sound more interesting. Unfortunately, it’s also hyperbole.

Listifieds — Web 2.0 lowers the barriers

Here’s a Web 2.0 story for you: I got an email pitch from a guy named Kevin the other day, letting me know about the Web-based classified ad service that he and his buddy Chad put together in their spare time. Called, it’s based in the thriving metropolis of Bowling Green, Kentucky (which I remember primarily because it’s where John Prine says his grandmother taught school in the great old song Grampaw was a Carpenter).

Kevin says he and Chad at first planned to focus their service on Bowling Green exclusively, but then they got lots of positive feedback and decided to take it national. Of course, the first thing that came into my mind was how crowded the national classifieds market is, what with newspapers fighting to stay competitive, Craigslist dominating in dozens of major cities and newer entries such as going after the Web business aggressively.

Is Kevin worried about any of this? Nope. He says “we realize it’s a crowded market but believe we can stand out with our combination of clean design, usability and feature list. We’re not looking to get rich off of it.” He figures they will sell featured listing spots and maybe banner ads to local businesses. In other words, putting together the site — in relative terms — probably didn’t take that long or cost that much, and scaling it larger probably won’t either (here’s a tip, Kevin: check out Amazon’s S3 and EC2 services if you start to get a lot bigger).


I asked Kevin in an email about Craigslist and eBay and Edgeio and others, and here is what he said (some sections clipped for space):

Clearly we don’t have the brand awareness, the marketing resources, or the money that these other sites have. But I also think the market is fragmented and in transition right now.

I think craigslist isn’t that well known outside of the big cities it operates in. I think eBay is almost always associated with auctions, which some people don’t like… I don’t put Edgeio in the same category as the other sites because I believe it has an identity crisis, isn’t that well known beyond the web 2.0 crowd, and in my personal opinion, it is confounding to use.

In my opinion, we have the cleanest, clearest, easiest to use interface; We aren’t limited to big cities like craigslist; We have longer listing run times — up to 180 days for certain listing types; We offer plenty of photos and ways to describe your listing; We offer some nice tools… rss feeds, listing alerts, saved listings, recently viewed listings, website widget.

We think we have something good to offer, so we intend to give it a try and have fun doing it. If nothing else, we can say “our service is free too, why not list with us also?”

If I were being brutally honest, I would say Kevin and Chad’s service doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of becoming a major force in classifieds nationwide. However, it could probably become a pretty good little business in some smaller regional markets, and there is nothing wrong with that at all — and Kevin and his friend should be congratulated for giving it a shot. What do they have to lose? That’s Web 2.0 in a nutshell.

What does MobiTV need $100-million for?

Am I the only one who is slightly gob-smacked at the amount of money that mobile television company MobiTV has collected in its recent round of financing? (Looks like Down The Avenue shares my amazement). Just months after getting a whopping $70-million — which already seemed a little excessive — the company has been handed another $30-million. Is MobiTV really that great, or is there just so much money sloshing around in the Valley that people can’t get rid of it fast enough?

mobile tv

I expect it’s probably a little bit of both. As more than one person has noted, Web 2.0 companies (or whatever you want to call them) in many cases require a whole lot less financing than traditional technology companies, and that combined with a conspicuous lack of IPOs has left VCs with truckloads of cash backing up and effectively going to waste. And there’s no question that MobiTV is cool — or rather, still cool, since it’s been around since 1999 — although I question how big the market for watching TV on a cellphone really is.

In any case, $100-million is a gigantic pile of money. I just hope that MobiTV can find something worthwhile to do with it. Greg Sterling wonders if MobiTV is becoming the next Webvan. Let’s put it this way: If they start having rooftop parties with free drinks and performances by hot bands, look out. Rafat Ali at PaidContent is also bearish.

No, Mike — TechCrunch is not different

As my Toronto blogging friend Tony Hung writes here, Mike Arrington is venting some anger over the shots that he and TechCrunch have been taking over issues of conflict and impartiality, with a long post about how he feels like he is under attack. The first thing I would tell Mike is that he should be glad he’s coming under fire, particularly if it’s coming from the traditional media — it means he is successful enough to be making people worried (Jeneane is afraid he is channeling Dave Winer).

At one point, Mike says that TechCrunch is “a new kind of publication” and that it doesn’t “fit into a neat little box like traditional media, who refrain from financial conflicts of interest with their readers and feel that they are therefore above reproach.” He says that his site is different because it’s “all about insider information and conflicts of interest. The only way I get access to the information I do is because these entrepreneurs and venture capitalists are my friends.”


I would certainly agree that TechCrunch is different, but not in those ways. Traditional journalism is full of columnists, commentators and beat reporters who are every bit as close to their sources, friendly with them and conflicted by those relationships as Mike. As Mitch Ratcliffe notes at ZDNet, there are lots of other online journalists in the same boat too. Nothing that TechCrunch is going through is different in that sense from dozens of investment newsletters.

As with any type of publication — online or off — the relationship with readers is by far the most important thing, since that is the foundation on which the rest of the business (if it is a business) is built. Most of Mike’s readers know that he hangs around with VCs and startups and the like, and that many of them have likely become friends. Provided he discloses obvious conflicts when they arise, most people are probably going to be perfectly happy with that.

As many people have argued before and likely will after me, journalistic objectivity is pretty much a fiction — or at least an unattainable goal in most cases. What journalists and bloggers should strive for if they want to be taken seriously is fairness, balance and honesty. All else is secondary. As my friend Scott Karp said recently, trust is the only asset we have.