Reuters: An editor-in-chief Twitters

David Schlesinger, the editor-in-chief of Reuters News, has a fascinating post up at his blog, Full Disclosure — a fitting title, given the topic of the post. Schlesinger writes about how he has been Twittering from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland and how his Twitter messages (or “tweets,” as people insist on calling them) actually beat his own wire service, as described in a post at Silicon Alley Insider. The news? That billionaire financier George Soros believes the current economic downturn could be worse than the Great Depression, and that as much as $15-trillion might be needed to save the banking system.

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What Would Google Do? My review

Jeff Jarvis doesn’t come right out and say it, but it’s pretty obvious why the former media executive, blogger and journalism professor chose to call his recent book What Would Google Do? It’s safe to say that Google isn’t just the flavour of the month, it’s the flavour of the decade, and possibly even the century. Known only to geeks a few short years ago, it has quickly become the sine qua non of modern technology companies, a multibillion-dollar colossus that for many people is virtually synonymous with the Internet.

In his book — which the front flap refers to as “one part prophecy, one part thought experiment, one part manifesto and one part survival manual” — Jarvis says he set out to “reverse-engineer” the principles that have made Google great, and then apply those lessons to other companies and industries, from restaurants to car companies. Despite the title, however, this book isn’t really about Google at all. It’s really about the Internet, and the disruptive effects that the Web in all its various forms is having on businesses and even society itself. Like so many others, it seems that Jarvis is happy to use Google as a stand-in or proxy for the Web itself.

(read the rest of this review at the Globe and Mail book site)

The Policy Wiki: A social experiment

After about 15 years writing about business and technology for both the print and the online versions of the Globe and Mail, I moved into a newly-created job a few months ago as the Globe’s “Communities Editor.” It’s still evolving, but in a nutshell my job involves thinking about, developing and implementing new ways of interacting with our readers online, as well as helping to improve some of the ways in which we already do that — such as the comment feature on our news stories, which we were one of the first newspapers in North America to offer, but which needs some additional features in order for it to be truly useful.

As part of that mandate, I helped launch a site called the Public Policy Wiki several weeks ago. A joint venture between the paper and the Dominion Institute (a non-profit agency dedicated to improving the dialogue about public policy in Canada), it’s a combination of a traditional wiki — that is, a publicly-editable resource similar to Wikipedia — and a public discussion forum, with comments and voting features as well. In many ways, it’s a kind of social-media mashup aimed at pulling in suggestions from readers and other concerned Canadians about public policy issues (the Obama administration has also experimented with this kind of idea).

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As one experiment ends, a new one begins for the Policy Wiki

With the tabling of the federal budget, The Globe and Mail’s first experiment in merging public-policy debate and social-media tools – the Public Policy Wiki, a joint venture with the Dominion Institute – comes to a kind of conclusion, although the discussion we helped to start will continue as long as Canadians have ideas they wish to share. We collected the data on the federal budget policy proposal that our contributors and readers most supported, and will send it to the Finance Minister.

But the budget portion of the Policy Wiki will remain available for contributions, even as we begin a new chapter aimed at discussing Canada’s policy toward Afghanistan later this week. During the two weeks it has been open for business, the Policy Wiki attracted more than 100,000 page views. The policy proposal that received the most support – as measured by a combination of page views, comments and votes – was the idea of a 100-per-cent GST rebate for non-profit institutions such as charities, hospitals and universities.

The next-most popular briefing note was a proposal to create a Green Infrastructure Fund, which would see Ottawa spend $6 billion for upgrades to the power grid, energy-efficient building renovation, switching to renewable energy sources, and improvements to public transit and the highway infrastructure to reduce pollution. For more on the specifics of the briefing notes, and a look at what the next phase of the wiki will involve, please go to either the wiki itself ( or my blog, Ingram 2.0 (

Yahoo buy the New York Times? Puh-leeze

As everyone waits to find out how new Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz plans to resuscitate the struggling Internet giant, in the meantime, the stress of watching Yahoo bungle one thing after another — such as coming within inches of a merger with Microsoft, only to blow the deal at the 11th hour — seems to have taken its toll on some otherwise perceptive stock analysts. Take Gene Munster from Piper Jaffray, for example. As described by Barron’s blogger Eric Savitz, Munster recently wrote yet another “open letter” to Bartz (man, she must be getting sick of those) in which he suggested that Yahoo buy the New York Times. And maybe Gawker Media as well. Oh yes, and Twitter too. And maybe FriendFeed. And maybe some other stuff.

Is this a strategy, or a laundry list? With all due respect to Munster, rattling off a bunch of names as possible acquisitions doesn’t amount to a realistic strategy for the company at this point. I get the idea — Yahoo needs quality content, and the NYT has that in spades; Yahoo needs to get bloggy, and Gawker owns that territory in numerous key market niches; and Yahoo needs to get more social, hence Twitter and FriendFeed. But isn’t this just going to spread Yahoo’s peanut butter even thinner? It’s already gotten so thin that even peanut-butter manifesto writer Brad Garlinghouse is gone. More importantly, gobbling up Twitter or the New York Times doesn’t actually make a whole heck of a lot of sense.

(read the rest of this post at GigaOm)

The Policy Wiki: An end and a beginning

With the tabling of the federal budget this afternoon (which we are live-blogging), the Globe’s first experiment in merging public-policy debate and social-media tools — the Public Policy Wiki, a joint venture with the Dominion Institute — comes to a kind of conclusion, but the discussion that we helped start about the economy will continue as long as Canadians have ideas they wish to share.

We’ve collected the data on the two policy proposals that our contributors and readers supported the most, and we’ve sent that information to the Finance Minister as we promised. But while the budget process is now complete, the economic portion of the Policy Wiki will remain available for contributions, even as we begin a new chapter aimed at discussing Canada’s policy towards Afghanistan.

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GateHouse-NYT deal: A bad precedent

It’s going to take some time to think through the implications of the settlement (PDF link) announced today between the New York Times Co. and GateHouse Media, over the issue of NYT’s site aggregating content from local sites belonging to GateHouse, but my first instinct is that it is almost unrelentingly bad. Why? Because while the settlement is not a legally-binding precedent — the one piece of what might be called good news — it still involves the New York Times voluntarily refraining from what many would argue is perfectly defensible behaviour. As Joshua Benton notes in his post at the Nieman Journalism Lab, that could well embolden other publications to launch similar cases, on the assumption that if the NYT caved then someone else might too.

The Times tries to argue that this settlement does nothing to change the way it approaches linking to or even quoting from external sources on its websites, but that clearly isn’t the case at all. It completely changes the way the paper does that, but only when the content involves a GateHouse website. The NYT claims that it will continue to link to and quote from external sources whenever it wants, but will no longer do so with GateHouse content (under the agreement it can continue to link, but can no longer aggregate content in an automated way, and has agreed not to quote from a GateHouse site).

(for the full post, see the Nieman Journalism Lab blog)

Britannica tries to eat a little of Wikipedia’s lunch

After years of more or less ignoring its open-source competitor, the venerable Encyclopedia Britannica will soon be taking a page from Wikipedia’s playbook and allowing members of the public to contribute to articles and other content at That’s according to Jorge Cauz, president of the 240-year-old institution, which at one time was synonymous with knowledge in many Western households and schools. The Britannica head told the Sydney Morning Herald in Australia and The Times in the UK that Britannica plans to offer the new features on its website soon.

Mr. Cauz made it clear, however, that anything submitted by users will have to be vetted by one of the encyclopedia’s staff of paid researchers before it appears either on the website or in the actual print version of the EB. “We’re not trying to be a wiki – that’s the last thing we want to be,” he told The Times. “Britannica doesn’t offer that voyeuristic benefit. Users won’t be able to write anything they want and have it published.” The changes — which are just part of the creation of a larger Britannica community portal — were first described last June, and it was made clear then that Britannica didn’t plan on letting the whole “crowd-sourcing” thing get out of hand: “We are not abdicating our responsibility as publishers or burying it under the now-fashionable ‘wisdom of the crowds,” a blog post said at the time.

Of course, the Encyclopedia Britannica head probably knows that in many cases, users can’t just write anything they want and have it published in Wikipedia either. There are dozens of moderators and editors working for the open-source encyclopedia (although they are unpaid volunteers) who check page changes for accuracy and to make sure they uphold the Wikipedia principles of fairness and a “neutral point of view.” While there are some pages that can be edited freely, where mistakes might not be noticed quickly, other pages (including the one about President George Bush) are “locked,” and can’t be edited by anyone but a Wikipedia-sanctioned moderator. A well-known comparison between Britannica and Wikipedia found that the error rate in each case was roughly equivalent. Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has also recently proposed changes that would restrict editing even further.

It also seems pretty obvious from the Britannica president’s comments that he is a) more than a little jealous of Wikipedia’s traffic numbers (the open-source encyclopedia gets about 6 million visitors a day, while Britannica gets about 1.5 million a day) and b) irritated that Google features Wikipedia links so prominently in the search results for many common terms that people might otherwise go to for. “If I were to be the CEO of Google or the founders of Google I would be very [displeased] that the best search engine in the world continues to provide as a first link, Wikipedia,” Cauz told the Sidney Morning Herald. “Is this the best they can do?” He also made it clear that he sees Wikipedia as the fast-food version of knowledge, saying many people turn to it for answer, but that many people are also “happy to eat McDonalds every day.”

Britannica isn’t the only one to try and take the Wikipedia model and blend it with the authoritative voice of the expert: a project called Citizendium, which started up a little over a year ago, was created by Larry Sanger — a former co-founder of Wikipedia — as an attempt to create a “crowd-sourced” encyclopedia, but with input from subject-matter experts rather than just anyone. Google has taken some steps in that direction as well, with a service called Knol (derived from “knowledge”), which encourages experts to create Wikipedia-style entries on specific subjects. But neither Knol nor Citizendium have gotten much traction, and are certainly nowhere near challenging Wikipedia for the title of “the people’s encyclopedia.” Whether Britannica’s changes can put it back in the race or not remains to be seen.

Are you a friend of mesh?

As part of the lead-up to mesh 2009 — taking place at MaRS on April 7th and 8th — we’re pleased to announce a new “micro-sponsorship” campaign that we’re calling “Friends of mesh.” We’ve had a number of requests over the years from both individuals and companies who aren’t interested in a traditional sponsorship arrangement with the conference, but who would like to be able to show their support for mesh in a smaller way, so we came up with FOM. All you have to do is register through InviteRight and sign up as Friend of mesh, and for $1,500 you get a ticket to the conference, your logo on our home page and on screen at the event, plus a pass to an invitation-only VIP social event — and of course the eternal gratitude of myself and the other four mesh co-founders 🙂

Papers are healthy — owners, not so much

Amid all the doom and gloom about newspapers laying off staff and closing bureaus and even — as in the case of Tribune Co., parent company of the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times and Baltimore Sun — filing for bankruptcy, there has been very little attention paid to one of the main reasons for those cutbacks and business failures. And I’m not talking about a decline in journalistic principles or the sudden departure of advertisers for other online properties, or anything as apocalyptic as that. One of the main reasons has very little to do with journalism and everything to do with the world of mergers and acquisitions.

That reason, as several astute observers have pointed out (including former newspaper exec Alan Mutter at his blog Reflections of a Newsosaur, and most recently a commenter at the political blog Talking Points Memo) is debt. In the case of Tribune Co. — acquired by corporate raider Sam “Grave Dancer” Zell — and several other major newspapers as well, acquisitions and corporate financing have created the conditions that led to much of the pain they have inflicted on the papers they own. Tribune Co. has built up a staggering debt load of $13-billion, and and chains like McClatchy have accumulated their own unwieldy debts over the past few years, by acquiring newspapers from family firms and smaller chains.

(read the rest of this post at the Nieman Journalism Lab blog)