GigaOm launches a research offering

This is a just a quick note to congratulate my friend Om Malik and his team at GigaOm for launching a new service called GigaOm Pro — a for-pay research site that pulls together analysis on industry trends across a number of verticals, including mobile, green technology and so on. I think this is a very smart move (like most of the things Om has done), and there is more about the rationale behind the subscription service in this post. In the interests of full disclosure, I have written for GigaOm in the past, and hope to be able to do so again at some point in the future.

Islamic clerics consider issuing a fatwa against Facebook

As one of the top — if not *the* top — social-networking sites, Facebook tends to draw a disproportionate amount of criticism from those concerned about the effect the site has on young minds or the welfare of society as a whole. And no one is more concerned about those risks than the various religious groups who routinely try to ban, block or otherwise crack down on the scourge of modern social networking.

The latest to make this kind of move — or at least a threat in that direction — was a group of Islamic clerics who were meeting in Indonesia. They declared that they were contemplating a religious ruling that would issue a “fatwa” or declaration about Facebook, requiring observant Muslims to practice what amounts to “safe social networking” or suffer the wrath of their imam (priest).

In a nutshell, a spokesman for the group said that Facebook and similar sites could be used for appropriate purposes such as education about the faith or keeping in touch with one’s family and friends, but noted that they could also present a temptation.

“The clerics think it is necessary to set an edict on virtual networking, because this online relationship could lead to lust, which is forbidden in Islam,” said Nabil Haroen, a spokesman for the Lirboyo Islamic boarding school, which was hosting the event. The head of the council of imams said that the growing number of Facebook users in Indonesia was a controversial subject among Muslim leaders and that he favored a ban because of possible sexual content.

“People using Facebook can be driven to engage in distasteful, pornographic chatting,” said Amidan, who — like most Indonesians — uses only one name. Another spokesman for the clerics said that “spreading ill words about others, gossiping and other things that go against religious teaching on social networking sites in the virtual world are forbidden according to Islamic law.” Despite these protests, one Muslim group on Facebook has 48,000 members, while a Muslim fan page has 18,000 fans.

The Indonesian clerical group’s move would not be the first time the country has stepped in to block social-networking sites for religious reasons. Last year, the country ordered its largest ISPs to block YouTube and MySpace because they both carried an anti-Islam film called Fitna, created by Dutch filmmaker Geert Wilders, and the government said that seeing it might “disturb relations between faiths.”

And Muslims aren’t the only religious groups to be concerned about the Internet and the intrusion of social networking into the lives of the faithful. Although Pope Benedict and other senior members of the Catholic clergy have made positive statements about the benefits of the Internet — and even at one point created a Catholic version of Facebook called to appeal to young people — not everyone is quite so sanguine about these new services.

In a recent address to his flock, the Bishop of Paisley, Rt. Rev Philip Tartagliawarned the faithful that “In dialogue with others we need to be wary of the inane chatter that can go on in the digital world which does nothing to promote growth in understanding and tolerance.” He also raised concerns about who young people might contact through the networks, saying: “What parent has not wondered what their child is doing on the internet? What material are they accessing? Who are they talking to in social networking sites?”

Jewish groups have yet to raise any substantial concerns about social networking and its effects from a religious point of view — although there are Orthodox adherents that believe Facebook and similar sites can lure the faithful away from the path of righteousness — but they have become concerned about the use of Facebook as a tool to spread hatred about their faith, including a number of groups that deny the existence of the Holocaust. So far, Facebook has said that it believes the groups fall under the category of freedom of speech, and has resisted efforts to close them.

Chris Brogan’s vision of a new media entity

Chris Brogan isn’t — and as far as I know has never been — a journalist. He’s a new-media marketing consultant and the founder of Podcamp (his bio is here). When I saw that he had written a blog post about what a “new media” company of the future might look like, I confess that I was expecting something with a focus primarily on marketing (perhaps that was unfair, but there it is). What Chris came up with, however, is very similar to what I see when I think about the future of the online media business — a business that takes advantage of what the online world allows, rather than treating it as an afterthought. Among other things, Chris says such an entity would realize that:

  • Stories are points in time [and] don’t end at publication.
  • Curators and editors rule, and creators aren’t necessarily on staff.
  • Media cannot stick to one form. Text, photos, video, music, audio, animation, etc.
  • Everything must be portable and mobile-ready.
  • Everything must have collaborative opportunities.
  • Advertising cannot be the primary method of revenue.

Be sure to read the whole thing. A good debate is already emerging in the comments.

The golden age of data journalism?

Computer-assisted reporting or CAR has been around, well — ever since there were computers. Even when I was in journalism school (which was longer ago than I care to remember), we learned about databases we could search, etc. But the explosion of Web-based tools and ways of sifting through and sharing data has created something approaching a revolution, and the potential benefits for journalism are only just beginning to reveal themselves. If this movement has a patron saint, it is probably Adrian Holovaty, who gained renown while working on data-driven features at the Washington Post, then created the amazing as one of the first Google Maps mashups, followed by his fellowship-financed Everyblock, which aggregates local data about an area.

Another recent example of how data can drive reporting, and how Web-based tools can extend and enhance that reporting, comes from several British newspapers — primarily The Guardian — and their coverage of an emerging expense scandal involving British politicians. One of the really interesting things that The Guardian has done is to publish all of the expense info they have through a laboriously detailed and publicly accessible Google spreadsheet. As Paul Bradshaw points out at the Online Journalism Blog, this structure actually allows reporters (or in fact anyone who is interested in the info) to extract useful data simply by changing the URL. Someone has even created a page where you can run queries on the database with a simple click.

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

Bonus link:

See Adrian Holovaty’s definitive, two-part answer to the question “is data journalism?”

Facebook is making money on apps

By now, everyone seems to have become pretty comfortable with the idea that Facebook is a revenue-generating enterprise. Although originally there was a lot of skepticism about whether the social network would be able to produce much revenue, advertising deals with companies like Microsoft (which invested $240-million for 1.6 per cent of the company in 2007) have established that Facebook is definitely producing plenty — as much as $500-million in revenue this year.

What’s even more fascinating, however, is the amount of money that is being generated by the Facebook “ecosystem” — that is, the considerable number of applications, tools and games that are built using Facebook’s F8 platform. According to some estimates (and they are just estimates), app developers as a whole could bring in almost as much or possibly even more revenue this year than Facebook itself.

As Eric Eldon points out, coming up with an overall estimate of what Facebook app developers are making is difficult — if not impossible. Many developers don’t want to say publicly what they bring in, for competitive reasons. But some of the estimates that have appeared, particularly about the largest app developers, are accepted by most observers as being fairly accurate. Zynga, for example, which makes the Texas Hold ‘Em app, is believed to have a “run rate” that would produce revenue this year of about $100-million.

That’s a single developer (although it has multiple apps in its stable). About half of its revenue is estimated to come from its Facebook apps, and the other half from its MySpace businesses. Playfish is expected to make about $30-million this year. In all, Eldon estimates that the top handful of developers make about $150-million, followed by several other tiers of smaller developers who collectively make another $150-million or so. By the end of this year, several sources said that could hit $500-million.

Online gaming industry players told Advertising Age magazine the same thing, with many of them estimating developer revenue could hit $500-million or more. “It wouldn’t surprise me if apps on Facebook generate more revenue this year than Facebook,” LivingSocial CEO Tim O’Shaughnessy told the magazine. LivingSocial currently has the number one most popular Facebook app, “Pick Your Five.” Mark Pincus of Zynga recently wrote up some of his tips on how to make money through Facebook apps for the Facebook developers blog.

One interesting thing to note is that Zynga and several other developers make money in a variety of ways — not just through banner advertising, as many online media outlets do, but also through CPA (cost per action) payments, as well as the sale of virtual goods. In Zynga’s case, the company makes about a third of its revenue from the sale of poker chips for its Texas Hold ‘Em games. The virtual goods market is one that is already well established in other countries: in China, for example, gaming company Tencent made $1-billion in revenue from the sale of goods and services in its virtual world, including clothing for avatars.

Is there a lesson here for other companies such as Twitter, which is searching for revenue-generating opportunities for its fast-growing service? Clearly, there is. If you can build a social network that attracts the kind of devoted users that Facebook has, and in large enough numbers, you can generate substantial amounts of revenue both for yourself and your partners. And if Facebook is developing an integrated payment system (as it is rumoured to be), the revenue potential could be set to explode.

Newspapers and rules about Twitter

This is an update to a recent post about the Wall Street Journal and its policies on Twitter use by its staff. In that post, I essentially agreed with a post by Jeff Jarvis in which he argued that the WSJ policy “missed the point” of social media in general by trying to lock down the behaviour of reporters too much — by restricting them from discussing their stories, being too personal, etc. Both Steve Buttry of Gazette Communications, in a post at his personal blog and Gina Chen at Save The Media agreed with Jarvis as well, saying the rules were too restrictive and that the newspaper was in danger of missing out on much of the value of social media. Similar thoughts were posted by Pat Thornton at

Pat, who also writes at Journalism Iconoclast, quotes a Twitter post from John Robinson (editor of the News & Record in Greensboro, North Carolina) that also caught my eye, in which he said:

Twitter rules: I trust the staff to report the news. Shouldn’t I trust them enough to tweet? Is twitter that much harder than reporting?

Bill Keller, the executive editor of the New York Times (who recently joined Twitter himself) put it very similarly in a quote he gave to Editor & Publisher magazine:

“I have asked people to use common sense and respect the workplace and assume whatever they tweet will be tied to the paper. Even when they are tweeting personal information to their followers, they are still representing the New York Times.”

As both the Editor & Publisher piece and this piece in the New York Observer make clear, there has been a bit of controversy within the NYT about tweets that staffers (including @jenny8lee and @michaelluo) were making during a strategy briefing at the paper. I wondered at the time whether what they were broadcasting was an internal meeting or not, but assumed it was not. As it turns out, some editors were of the opinion that posting such things to Twitter should always be out of the question, and that even posting positive things from the newsroom shouldn’t be done by Times reporters.

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

Note: Fred Wilson has some worthwhile thoughts on this topic as well, although he isn’t a journalist. And be sure to check the comments, which feature a response from Peter Kafka of All Things Digital (which is owned by the Wall Street Journal) and — as usual — some excellent responses from Fred himself.

WSJ rules on Twitter: too restrictive

Staffers at the Wall Street Journal recently received an updated corporate conduct policy, including sections on how to behave when using social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. The response to the new rules of engagement, however, has been far from positive so far, with Jeff Jarvis saying the Journal was guilty of “missing the point.” Jarvis says the new rules don’t allow reporters to “make their reporting collaborative,” and that one of the benefits of such social networks is that they “provide the opportunity for reporters and editors to come out from behind the institutional voice of the paper … and to become human.”

The need to have a conduct policy is a reality for major newspapers, and it makes sense to deal with new areas such as Twitter and Facebook — the paper I work for is developing a similar policy. But I have to agree with Jeff about the Journal’s restrictions on reporter behaviour. Obviously, a newspaper doesn’t want to give away the store and tell everyone what stories it is working on, or tip its hand in a variety of other ways, and probably doesn’t want to go into detail about how certain stories emerged (especially if it was a fortuitous accident). But Jarvis is right that talking about stories that are under way can also have tremendous benefits.

The biggest point, however, is that Twitter is inherently personal — that’s why people use it, and why they enjoy it and become loyal to those they follow. The idea that you can maintain a strict division between the personal and professional just doesn’t jibe with the way social networks (or human beings) operate. Naturally, a newspaper like the Journal doesn’t want its reporters discussing every detail of their personal lives on Twitter, and no one would argue with that. A little taste of the personal can have a tremendous impact, however, and can build loyalty with readers. Media outlets like the Journal ignore that at their peril. Steve Buttry of Gazette Communications in Iowa has a good take on the new rules as well, and so does Gina Chen.

Europe protests the US control of ICANN

The popular perception of the Internet is that it is inherently global in nature, an international network that is just as open and accessible regardless of what country you happen to be in, or what language you speak. And for the most part (with the exception of some totalitarian states such as China) that is the case. However, the keys to this particular kingdom belong to one country: namely, the U.S., through its control of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.

Some critics don’t like that state of affairs, and are trying to change it — including the Information Commission of the European Union, Viviane Reding. The EU official said this week that ICANN should not be overseen by the U.S. government (the agency operates under an agreement with the Commerce Department), but should be run democratically by a group of states. While the U.S. has done a good job of managing the process, she said, “in the long run, it is not defendable that the government department of only one country has oversight of an Internet function which is used by hundreds of millions of people in countries all over the world.”

ICANN, as it is called, is the non-profit entity that controls the Internet’s entire domain name structure — including the creation of new “top-level” domains such as .xxx and .mobi — and is in charge of handing out domain names and IP addresses. It manages this process through a separate entity known as IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority), which controls the 13 root nameservers that translate domain names and URLs into IP addresses. Until relatively recently, these DNS servers were all located in the United States, in most cases inside government offices.

The EU commissioner said in her recent address that she hopes President Obama continues with the Clinton administration’s plan to privatize ICANN, and she suggested that a perfect opportunity for such a move is coming in September, when the agency’s agreement with the U.S. government expires. Among other things, Reding said that she would like ICANN to be regulated by an international tribunal (any legal disputes involving the agency are currently handled by the courts in California, since it is located there).

There have been discussions in the past about the United Nations taking over control of ICANN, and other EU critics have requested that the European Union investigate the U.S. agency for restraint of trade because of its control of the plumbing of the Internet. Consumer advocate Ralph Nader has also criticized ICANN.

Will the September expiry of the U.S. government’s deal with ICANN be the opportunity that Viviane Reding and others are hoping for? Will the international community — either the EU itself or the UN — take control over the reins of the Internet? There certainly seems to be increasing interest in doing so, and the Obama administration is ideologically a lot closer to the previous Clinton government, which had begun the process toward releasing ICANN from its government associations. All that remains is for the last ties to be cut, and for the agency to become as international as the Internet whose plumbing it manages.