Posts from April 2, 2004

Ink-stained entrepreneurs

Ink-stained entrepreneurs
: It hit me a few months ago, when I was working on a proposal for the Citizens’ Media Center:

For the first time in memory, a journalism student can act like an entrepreneur. Before, if you wanted to write or publish, you had to go to the guy who owned the printing press (or the broadcast tower). Now, thanks to easy, inexpensive publishing tools (read: blogs) tied to history’s best distribution network (the Internet), anyone can start publishing to the world and even make a business of it (see Gawker or PaidContent).

All of this is a long intro to a comment Rafat Ali left on the Northwestern/Advance blog investigating hyperlocal citizens’ media:

I do think besides the potential of citizen media, it is time for journalism education to wake up to the facts.

It is time that journalism schools taught some real skills just beyond the actual writing and reporting…

It would be great if a cultural movement based on blogs leads to entry-level journalist starting their own sites/blogs which develop into independent and profitable ventures. Maybe only a few of these would end up becoming into a sustainable enterprise, but I do believe this is the moment for the individual journalist-entrepreneur. The so-called “Free Agent Nation”, a concept which became very trendy during the 90s boom, could finally become a reality for journalists. What is needed is the passion to cover an area you want to cover, and some amount of businesss acumen. Or at least plug into a business infrastructure (of the kind Jeff has written about elsewhere before) that would allow them to develop great editorial products…

Yet more for the Bloggercon session on Making Blogs Make Money.

Citizens’ what?

Citizens’ what?
: Doc likes “citizens’ media.” I did, too, until Doc said that David Weinberger said that it’s not a medium, damnit, it’s a conversation. And I agree.

But I have synonym fatigue. It’s not an audience. They’re not consumers. They’re not readers; they’re writers. They’re not them; they’re us. Anyway, Doc says:

I love that term, citizens media. It’s so perfect. From one Jersey guy to another, F*****’ A, Jeff.

Remember CB radio? Unlicensed, low-range, junk wattage. All but useless in the beginning for everything but making hobby noise. The truckers did a helluva job putting it to work. Still do, far as I know. And I’m sure there are still a few good uses for it, around firefighting, civil defense or whatever.

My point is, CB is about all the feds ever wanted us ordinary citizens to have. It’s not their fault. They could hardly have imagined a platform for citizens media

Hyperlocal: The project

Hyperlocal: The project

: I spent a couple of days in Evanston this week to work with Rich Gordon’s graduate class on a joint project that explores the potential of hyperlocal citizens’ content.

That link goes to the class’ blog and I encourage you to go read and add any helpful information — for example, to good examples of local citizens’ media. (Just please remember that this is the class’ blog, not mine, so there’s no need to go into Howard Stern rants there!)

The class picked one town — Skokie — and will investigate all the possible kinds of news they can find. I encouraged them to broaden the definition of news as much as they can. If it’s useful information to people in Skokie, it’s news.

They will also slice the community in many ways: politics, government, schools, sports, congregations, immigrant groups (they’ve found many Eastern Europeans, Filipinos, Indians, and Koreans). They will look at the kinds of information that may be available, what form it’s in, how it can be gathered, how valuable it is. And they’ll look at how this could be presented.

I’m one of many who believe that the real frontier of blogs and citizens’ media is local; it simply takes time before there is a critical mass of content and readers there. This project, we hope, will explore just how big this can grow, just how useful it can be.

I also believe this is critical to the future of the news business, for it provides new sources of news and information that news organizations just can’t afford to gather on their own; it provides new sources of marketing and advertising revenue; it builds a new relationship between newspapers and their communities and their citizens.

The course will continue through May and I expect big things of this smart and dedicated cadre of students; they are inventing the next generation of news. I’ll keep you informed as it moves along. Again, please do check into the class blog and help out if you have something interesting or useful to add to the comments (or leave it here and I’ll share it there, as I already have).

GMail

GMail
: I’m disappointed that Google’s next big thing is just email. This is only another step in the portalization of Google. It happened to Yahoo (where Jerry Yang once said that it was his job to get you into and out of his service as fast as possible; he stopped saying that). It will happen to Google. They call themselves a media company. They’ll start adding content. They’ll start competing with the content companies from whom they gather content and on whose sites they’ve started selling ads. They’ll add more services, like mail, aimed at trying to get you to stick on Google longer. Very predictable.

I was hoping for something unpredictable. For example, I’d love a Google search application that would do a better job of searching my laptop and my favorite sites and such; that would be true to Google’s organizing-the-world mission. But, instead, they just did what everybody else has done but they tried to do it bigger.

: Drudge tries to make hay out of Google “reading” your email:

Privacy advocates are concerned that there’s one big flaw with Google Inc.’s free e-mail service: The company plans to read the messages.

LA TIMES reporting on Friday: The Internet search firm insists that it needs to know what’s in the e-mails that pass through its system — so that they can be sprinkled with advertisements Google thinks are relevant….

The TIMES adds: The electronic letters won’t be read by Google employees; computers will handle that chore. Nonetheless, the spector of seeing an ad for an antacid beside a message from a friend complaining about stomach pain is enough to make some people nervous about the e-mail service.

Uh, well, Matt, under that view then every spam filer “reads” my email. AOL “reads” my email. Yahoo “reads” my email. No big.

The world changes in nine years

The world changes in nine years
: The Drudge Report is nine years old today.

The Daily Stern

The Daily Stern

: SINS OF COMMISSION: Yesterday, I fisked National Nanny Michael Powell’s speech to the National Association of Broadcasters. I didn’t have the time — or courage — to dig into the truly frightening mind of FCC Commissioner and Would-be Ayatollah Michael Copps, the dangerous democrat. Ernie Miller did fisk him. Says Copps:

We are here because millions of Americans have made it convincingly clear that they no longer will tolerate media

A Google Declaration of Independence

A Google Declaration of Independence

: Google announced today that it is lowering the price it pays to content sites for the AdSense ads it places there. Advertisers have been demanding this and they’re getting it.

Mind you, Google still does not make clear to the sites on which it places ads what share of the revenue they’re getting. Now they’ll just get less. And there’s nothing they can do about it.

Rafat Ali at PaidContent says this “shows what I have belived in: contextual ads are overblown, in terms of effectiveness…Google AdSense is not a business model for publishers in the long run. Period.” Well he’s half right.

AdSense is not a path to success for online publishers — whether big guys or bloggers — because the program isn’t terribly effective and because they are hostage to Google, as this move proves.

But I do believe that contexual ads are quite effective. The problem with AdSense is that the ad placement is barely contextual; it’s coincidental: If a word like “host” happens to appear on a page, then Google plops a web hosting ad there. That’s about as low on the ad value chain as you can get.

Look at Fred Wilson’s blog. Fred is an influential venture capitalist who sometimes mentions RSS so AdSense slaps RSS ads on his page and he gets a few, very few bucks (which, by the way, he donates to charity). What a waste. If Fred used Henry Copeland’s BlogAds, people could use his site to reach an amazing audience of VCs, entrepreneurs, and corporate executives. If I were, say, a venture lawyer, I’d pay big bucks through BlogAds to reach that audience.

And that is just the beginning. If we in citizens’ media can get our collective act together, we can offer marketers so much more value than Google does on our sites. That is Topic A at the Bloggercon session I’m putting together at Making Blogs Make Money: Start by cataloguing the value we provide. We offer not just word coincidences; we offer not just context; we offer relationships and trust. I’ve talked with three big-media machers recently about how they can underwrite blogs appropriate to their products and through that they can sell subscriptions, extend their reach, promote their brands, build a relationship. That’s just one example. I hope that everyone will come to Bloggercon armed with a list of the ways that blogs can bring value to marketers or make money directly (by selling art or books or even content). Then I hope we will look at what it means to get our act together (what do have to have to do this: statistics, networks, standards…?).

Mind you, I’m grateful that Google’s AdSense has done some very important things: It proved that you can advertise effectively on content created by citizens and not get cooties and, conversely, it proved to bloggers that they can take advertising and not get scabies.

But we can provide more value and get more value than we do through AdSense and we need to have alternatives.

We need to get our act together to declare our advertising independence from Google.

Scrape unto others as they would scrape unto you

Scrape unto others as they would scrape unto you
: Well, ain’t it ironic that Google is stopping others from scraping its “content” when it’s “content” is nothing but that which Google scraped from others.

That is, a guy started to scrape GoogleNews to create RSS feeds and Google is blocking him — even though Google makes GoogleNews by scraping the headlines of news sites. What if those news sites did what Google did? Ah, you say, but they wouldn’t because they want Google links and traffic. And that puts Google in the seat of power. And now Google is flexing its power against the little guy.

Sounds evil to me.