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The newswire of the future

Jackie Hai has a nice way to describe what follows the AP (my emphasis):

The AP syndication model works in an economy of information scarcity, whereas the web represents an economy of abundance.

Second, what the AP has failed to grasp is that the evolution of the participatory web has blurred the line between content producers, distributors and consumers to the point where everybody can be any and all of the three. The news wire of the future will not be centralized and top-down, but rather distributed and bottom-up.

Inefficient print

We already knew that newspapers’ classified business was as good as gone, but even so I found these stats from the Wall Street Journal this morning devastating:

Last March, Baylor Health Care System, a large Dallas-based nonprofit, began purchasing keywords on Google, Yahoo and employment-related search engines SimplyHired.com and Indeed.com. The search-engine ads generated more applicants, at less cost, than the other recruiting methods, says Eileen Bouthillet, director of human resources communications.

In the first six months of the program, Ms. Bouthillet says, the search-engine ads delivered 5,250 applicants, at an average cost of $4. By contrast, Baylor paid an average of $30 for each of the 3,125 applicants who came via job boards, and $750 each for the 215 applicants who replied to a newspaper or magazine ad.

As a result, Ms. Bouthillet says Baylor has reduced spending on job boards and print ads. . . .

UPS says it received more than 150,000 applications from [its holiday hiring] campaign, at an average cost 75% to 80% cheaper than print ads. “We’re cutting newsprint wherever we can and trying to move more to online media,” says Matthew Lavery, corporate work-force planning manager. “Google is outperforming other online media.”

If this is true of job advertising, it will be true of other categories – including papers’ last hope: retail – especially local ones as mobile makes Google even better at targeting. Google has the mechanism to serve small, local advertisers who were never served by papers; papers don’t. I think this probably means that the best opportunity local outlets have is to help local advertisers with their SEO – to place ads on Google for them. (See Fred Wilson’s tweet on this model at CUNY’s New Business Models for News Summit.)

Print has always been inefficient. Now advertisers are learning just how inefficient as online becomes more efficient. This is another reason to develop the strategy to drop print now.

A Googley lawyer?

In What Would Google Do?, I argue that lawyers can’t be Googley, mainly because they have to do what clients want and can’t be transparent. In Twitter, lawyer Kevin Thompson said he disagreed, so I tweeted back asking him to define a Googley lawyer and he taped his reply:

I do make the point in the book that lawyers, like their ungoogley brethren, PR people, can improve their business with Googlethink and with a flow of information afforded by the internet. But Thompson pretty much agrees with me that lawyers can’t hand over control as the internet demands.

In honor of lawyers, here’s today’s 30 Days of WWGD? snippet from the section on law:

* * *

When I suggested on my blog that there were three industries immune from rehabilitation through Googlethink, my readers disagreed about one—insurance, which spawned an earlier chapter. But nobody disagreed about PR and law. I won’t turn this into a joke about flacks and lawyers—there are plenty of those already (go to Google, search for “lawyer jokes,” and enjoy). Instead, I’ll use this opportunity to examine a few of the key tenets and prerequisites of Googlification through the exceptions that prove the rules.

The problem for public relations people and lawyers is that they have clients. They must represent a position, right or wrong. As they are paid to do that, the motives behind anything they say are necessarily suspect. They cannot be transparent, for that might hurt their clients. They cannot be consistent, for they may represent a client with one stance today and the opposite tomorrow, and we’ll never know what they truly think. In a medium that treasures facts and data, they cannot always let facts win; they must spin facts to craft victory. They must negotiate to the death, which makes them bad at collaboration. It’s not their job to help anybody but their clients. They are middlemen. They won’t admit to making mistakes well; clients don’t pay for mistakes.

Having said that these folks can’t be reformed according to Google’s ways is not to say that they can’t use the tools we’ve reviewed to their own benefit. Some already do. Many lawyers blog (see a selection at Blawg?.com). Like venture capitalists, they find value in talking about their specialties, giving advice, attracting business, branding themselves, and sometimes lobbying for a point of view. Some can be counted on to cover legal stories with valuable experience, background, and perspective. Lawyers are a smart bunch who—surprise!—can write in English instead of legalese. Still, when a law blogger advises me to check my made-in-China tires for problems, I’m also aware that he’s on the prowl for class-action clients. Law is business.

Some lawyers have taken advantage of online networking capabilities to create virtual law firms, eliminating the cost of offices and reducing the overhead of office staff. According to the blog Lawdragon, Virtual Law Partners uses these savings to give its partners 85 percent of billing revenue vs. the usual 30–40 percent. Virtual PR and consulting firms also operate loosely, bringing in members of their networks as needed for clients and communicating and collaborating without offices. . . .

I’m sure lawyers and PR people—like real-estate agents—will be glad to tell me where I’m wrong and I welcome that discussion on my blog: Let’s have at it, and if there are ways to Googlify these trades, then congratulations. In the meantime, both fields need to watch out, for the tools of Google and the internet enable others to disintermediate, undercut, and expose them.

The law and its execution are aided by obfuscation. The internet can fix that. A small number of volunteers could, Wikipedia-like, publish simple, clear, and free explanations of laws and legal documents online. All it takes is one generous lawyer—not an oxymoron—to ruin the game for a thousand of them. I’ve seen a few such sites. They’re not very good yet—none worth recommending—but they’re a start.

Another trend that helps both lawyers and clients is the movement to open up laws and case law online, making them searchable and free. It is a scandal that the work of our own legislatures and courts is often hidden behind private pay walls. Westlaw and Lexis, the so-called Wexis duopoly, have turned our laws into their $6.5 billion industry. They add value by organizing the information, but others are now undercutting them. Forbes told the story of Fastcase, a start-up that uses algorithms instead of editors to index cases so it can reduce costs and lower fees to lawyers. Better yet, public.resource.org is fighting to get laws and regulations online for free. Patents are online now, and Google has made them searchable (go to google?.com/patents and, for entertainment, look up pooper scooper—aka “Apparatus for the sanitary gathering and retention of animal waste for disposal” or “perpetual motion machine” or Google itself). Laws, regulations, and government documents are prime meat for Google’s disintermediation.

Sometimes lawyers are employed merely to intimidate—but now the internet’s power to gather flash mobs enables those targeted by attorneys to return the intimidation. I’ve seen many cases of bloggers pleading openly for help against big organizations that are threatening or suing them. They received offers of pro bono representation from lawyers, often thanks to the Media Bloggers Association. The intimidators then received floods of bad PR. The internet doesn’t defang lawyers, but it can dull their teeth or bite them back.

I would like to see an open marketplace of legal representation—present your problem and take bids from lawyers who have handled similar cases, with data on their success rates. Legal representation can also be open-sourced. People who’ve been in cases can offer free advice and aid to others: Here’s how I dealt with my landlord and here are all the documents I used; feel free to copy and adapt them.
The goal is to free the law—our law—from the private stranglehold of the legal priesthood. Between putting laws and cases online and making them searchable, creating simplified legal documents anyone can use, holding weapons to fight legal intimidation, and creating a more transparent marketplace, we would not replace the legal profession with all its faults but we could create checks on its power.

Gatehouse link stupidity reaches settlement

Thanks to a commenter, here’s a link to the PDF of a settlement letter between Gatehouse and The New York Times Company over Gatehouse’s inane suit over links. The Times agrees to take down its links and not put up links to content that has a Gatehouse label attached (in the legal wording, a technological solution to prevent copying of its content and RSS feeds). Yet they still agree they can link and deep-link to each other.

I’m glad that this idiocy led to no precedent. Pity, though, that Gatehouse proves to be such a fool.

Diggnation in New York

Last night, son Jake and I went Diggnation’s first New York — first East Coast — show. It is amazing, just amazing what these guys have built. Jim Louderback, the nicest CEO I’ve met in media and the head of Revision3, which produces the show, said that 2,000 people showed up and hundreds of them waited outside in the rain for the chance to get in. For these guys, Jake included, I think it is their generational and geeky equivalent of getting into a small club when the Stones came to town for my generation.

And I am of a different generation. I was no doubt the oldest guy there, which either made me very hip or very out of place. I was also apparently the tallest guy there. White hair sticks out at 6’4″. Some illogical geek behind me kept poking my back until I turned around and he told me to move over so he could see, which of course would only block some other short geek’s view. And there was absolutely nowhere to move; it was jammed up there in the Digg mosh pit. But you’re tall, the complainer said. Genes, dude, I said.

But I didn’t feel out of place. I watch Diggnation and know enough of the shtick. I’m a fan.

Diggnation NY

Before the show, Jay Adelson, president of Digg and chairman of Diggnation, came on stage to talk about Digg, not for very long. They said they are getting (as I remember) 26 million uniques a month. There are one million Digg users in New York alone. Last night’s crowd was a tiny but enthusiastic fraction of them. Though, of course, the media and circumstances are quite different, for comparison’s sake, that’s about the circulation of the New York Post or Daily News, both of which are bigger in New York than the Times.

Rose and company have built a real media enterprise from nothing but technology. What’s notable to me, more than its size, is the passion and loyalty of its audience, which was what was most evident last night. Could you imagine 2,000 fans standing in the rain for the chance to watch your local anchorman or hear your local editor? Is it possible for old media to inspire this kind of passion? I’m not saying it’s impossible; indeed, I’ve suggested that the Guardian should hold meetups and events in the U.S. to demonstrate to other media and marketers just how loyal their audience is.

And beer helps.

On the ride to Brooklyn, Jake and I listened to the latest TWiT podcast. Louderback was also on that and he and host Leo Laporte reminisced about their days on TechTV and how, from the closet in his home, Laporte is also building a media enterprise that rivals their old company in audience and is certainly one helluva lot cheaper to produce. Louderback also talked about the economics of internet TV vs. basic cable and the ability to focus in on a smaller and better audience and serve them well. That’s what these shows do.

During last night’s show, Zadi Diaz and Steve Woolf also announced that they are moving their Epic Fu show from Next New Networks (which is still a long way from its goal of 100 networks) to Revision3. It’s turning into a media empire. And Kevin Rose is its Rupert Murdoch.

Blogs then and now

Steve Baker at Business Week is reprising and revising his cover story from three years ago about blogs. The editors have asked some of us bloggers to talk about the past and future of social media and they might excerpt some of the discussion for the story. So as I was thinking about what to say, I realized that Business Week itself is a good illustration of the changes. I witnessed that three weeks ago when I was asked in to hold an all-morning blogging workshop with 60 staffers at the magazine/site.

Three years ago, blogs were still a curiosity to a business audience, new enough to warrant a cover story, strange enough to require explaining. But now, blogs and social media are not only better understood and accepted but they are coming to be seen as a necessity in media and more and more in business. I’ve written three stories in the magazine about business using social media to rebuild relationships with customers — Dell blogging and collaborating with customers and Starbucks opening a platform for customers’ ideas.

Business Week itself has a score of blogs and when I went there for a blogging workshop, what struck me most was that I did not hear the usual objections to blogging that are thrown at me when speaking with a group of media people: that blogs are not professional and thus not reliable. One staffer who came late did fret about the amount of crap out there but her fellow staffers argued her down; I didn’t have to. The meat of the discussion was, instead, no longer about why journalists blog but instead about how to blog better, how to be more involved in the conversation.

Next, I think, Business Week’s writers and readers will move beyond the conversation to see that social media are changing their fundamental relationship with customers to be less about serving and more about collaborating. No, I don’t mean that every product will be the product of a committee. But customers who want to talk will and smart companies will not just listen but will engage them in decisions. This will have an impact not just on PR and image but on product design, marketing, sales, customer service — the whole company.

Three years from now, I predict that Business Week’s cover won’t about about blogs or tools but about companies as communities.

: ALSO: Forgot to mention that the magazine is moving to collaboration. See online editor John Byrne’s blog that asks readers for their story ideas; he promises to cover some of them. It’s very MyStarbucksIdea of them, wouldn’t you say. I’ll be watching this process with interest. For I do think that the readers should be able to tell the journalists what they want to know. As my students have asked, why shouldn’t the public assign us?