Posts about distributed

A distributed strategy for news

I’ve been talking with folks lately about the need to develop distributed strategies for news, which includes:
* Widgets that enable people to embed your news (and links and brand) anywhere.
* A platform strategy enabling people to build on your content, data, and functionality.
* A network strategy that includes blog networks (a la Glam).

The objection always thrown up is that Comscore/Nielsen/ABC et al won’t count that. I say we need to count differently. Rather than counting page views from users on a destination, we need to count relationships with people wherever they are.

A few things to note in this context:

* Google (which, by the way, now has more traffic than Yahoo — even though its real traffic should be counted via its distributed strategy with ads and widgets everywhere) accounted for two-thirds of search traffic to U.S. newspapers, which increased a third from 2006 to 2007. I assume that universal search — that is, the inclusion of news headlines in standard searches — has and and will continue to have a huge impact on traffic to news sites. Google is the new newsstand. (This, by the way, makes Mark Cuban’s silliness look even sillier.)

* Reuters has opened its content up via an API. It’s thinking like a platform. This will distribute Reuters news anywhere and everywhere by enabling people to build value themselves atop it.

* Note again TripAdvisor’s use of Facebook as a platform to gather (free) content more than distribute it.

News cannot continue to think of itself as a destination. It has to think of itself as a feed that goes to where you are. Remember that momentous quote Brian Stelter got from a young person in the NY Times: “If the news is that important, it will find me.”

A new Yahoo?

Last night, I got to crash a snazzy dinner thrown by Yahoo to talk about social media with London geekmedia. I came away wondering whether we will start to see a new Yahoo.

Two of their executives engaged in what I argued was continuing portalspeak. “Yahoo’s where the activities are,” said one, who talked about “properties.” Another bragged about owning consumers because they do their email there and talked about Yahoo’s continuing “aspiration to be the starting point for consumers and advertisers.” That is the definition of a portal.

But then John Linwood, a vp of engineering, talked about opening up Yahoo as a platform. The other day, Yahoo boss Jerry Yang talked about this, too, but I was concerned that he was still looking at this as a media and portal model, trying still to get people to come to Yahoo rather than following Google’s open and distributed model. But Linwood said that, indeed, they plan to provide tools and content that developers can use to build new businesses away from Yahoo. Then he also talked about putting controls on that.

BBC tech correspondent Rory Celland-Jones asked pointedly whether Yahoo knows it has missed out and it is just slapping the social label on its rhetoric to try to catch up. One of the Yahoo execs tried to insist that the internet is still “at a very early stage” (read: Google has not won yet, he wishes).

I think what we witnessed last night was the debate the company is having within: portal or platform? Even if platform has won at the top, we need to hear stronger confirmation of that and see strong action and the question remains whether it’s possible to change Yahoo’s culture to make the shift. It’s already big and old. But it’s not too late to change and I think I finally saw the seeds of that change.

The architecture of content and comments

The posts below about GoogleNews’ comments and this Fred Wilson post about centralized comments on distributed content coincidentally raise the same challenge about the strings that tie together content over time — and not just comments about it but also corrections, updates, and further reporting. Is there a better way to do this in the ever more distributed and atomized architecture of content online?

Fred says, and I agree, that content will become more distributed — see Edgeio’s content widget — and Howard Owens talks below about the necessity of reporters following up on their readers’ and subjects’ reaction to their articles wherever that reaction occurs. What can do that? I think that was the promise of Technorati and the wish of Cocomment. I prefer the emergent strategy: rather than trying to organize everyone to do the same thing or centralize at the same place, which isn’t going to happen, it’s best to try to discover the organization that already exists. But Technorati won’t deal with, for example, YouTube videos that are embedded with comments on them in blog posts everywhere. So the strings start unraveling.

What I want is something that maps all the relationships among pieces of content. This reminds me of a map Stuart Butterfield of Flickr once showed that visualized every interaction within the service: Person A comments on a photo from Person B and a line is drawn; person C tags that photo of Person B’s and a line is drawn, and so on; soon, you see collecting points around content and people. This is one of the elements that allows Flickr to find its influencers and to see what content they’re interacting with and that adds into the service’s algorithm of interestingness. This is possible inside Flickr because it is a contained and controlled content environment. It’s much more difficult in the open environment of the internet.

The problem is, in part, the architecture and use of the URL, the assumption that every piece of content has its home and everyone goes to that home to interact with it and that’s the way to organize the discussion around it. Not in a distributed world. I was goint to enter into a discussion of URN (uniform resource names) but quickly found myself over my head. So I leave that discussion to more knowledgeable folks than me, I hope.

Besides that map, I also want some qualitative view of what kind of content each piece is: an article, a comment, a correction, and so on. This would enable me to subscribe to just one sort of follow-on content: Show me when and if a correction is posted, by the original article’s author or by anyone else (which now means that I also want to map authorship and identity on this, making this more complex). If I blogged about that original piece of content, I could also automatically publish any corrections that are made. I wished for this in a Guardian column last year:

The internet can be better at corrections than old media. A fix can be attached to an error where it occurs, and many online denizens pride themselves on confessing missteps faster than their print and broadcast counterparts. But the internet can also be worse – online, errors can spread wider faster and take on a longer half-life. I wish we had a technical solution – that everyone who linked to an incorrect article could receive an alert and correction.

Similarly, I’d want to map the discussion that is occurring here, among many other places, around a controversial LA Times editorial about GoogleNews’ plans to add to the conversation with comments there. The LA Times piece appeared there and, for all I know, it could have been syndicated elsewhere and certainly was quoted in lots of blogs and sites. Then the author of that piece left a comment in the discussion of that article here at Buzzmachine and someone else left a reaction in turn. At the LA Times, I want be able to see those comments — and Technorati would enable that so long as each comment and post linked to the original article at its home URL. But it gets more complex if we were discussing something in a widget or video; we need to see not only links to original content but embeds of it. And it gets more complex again if we add this desire of mine for more qualitative identifiers: author or content type and also timing. On top of all that, I not only want lists and feeds, I probably need visualizations so I can see where the hot discussions are or where the original author is.

All of this enables the conversation and, as Howard Owens points out, can also improve the journalism.

Site or network? Own or join?

I think it’s wonderful that The New York Times did a deal to bring Freakonomics under its wing — hosting it, selling ads on it, promoting it, but not buying it or hiring its creators and not treating it like so much freelance fodder to go through the Times’ editing mill. That’s new. This follows my somewhat similar deal at PrezVid with the Washington Post and another big-media outlet to be named shortly, in which they also leave PrezVid as an independent entity (in this case, we keep our site and URL) but take up some of the content onto their sites.

What I like about this is that we see big-media services starting to act like members of networks. They are beginning to realize that they can’t — and don’t want to — do everything themselves. They are also recognizing that creators want to keep ownership of their creations and so hiring or buying isn’t always the best option.

But so long as these services still want to serve content from their own sites, there will be issues. In my deal, the sites pick the posts they want; if they don’t like something, they just don’t take it. But in the Times’ case, all of Freakonomics is now served under the Times umbrella but without the usual Times process. I think that’s a good thing. But some folks didn’t a few days ago when the Freaks started a discussion speculating about the best ways for terrorists to attack America, something that quite a few commenters and bloggers thought was dangerous and just stupid and unbecoming the Times.

And this leads me to suggest that syndication is still not the best relationship for big services and the new independent players. I’m delighted that there’s marryin’ in the air. But I think the independent guys are better left independent. And the proper relationship, I think, is a network. Imagine, instead, if the Times declared Freakonomics part of its quality blog network. It could sell ads there, telling its advertisers that it had found the best of the blogs just for them. It could direct its readers to lots of great new content. By promoting that content, it also increases its ad value: a virtuous circle. But there remains a distance that defines independence: The blog is free of the worries of what happens under the Times address and brand — though if they go too damned far, they can be dropped. And the Times has a certain deniability — it is clear that this content was not a product of the Times, though, again, if advertisers don’t want to be on that blog, it will be dropped. The further advantage for the big guy is it can grow much bigger much faster by becoming a member and enabler of a much larger network. The Times doesn’t have to create or pay for or host or be responsible for all the best content around. It can find it and help support it and bring that new, larger world to its readers and advertisers.

Be a network more than a site, that’s my advice.

This is what Glam has done, creating an ad network across independent sites and growing hugely, bragging that it is the no. 1 women’s site (service, network?) with 19.1 monthly uniques, growing faster than MySpace and larger than iVillage, AOL Living, and all of Conde Nast combined.

At TechCrunch, Mike Arrington ridicules Glam’s claims, saying: “A minimal amount of research into their business shows that the company is an ad network, not a content site.” With respect, I disagree

I say that’s what makes Glam so smart. As the web becomes more and more distributed — more widgetized with tchotzkes of content and functionality spread everywhere — the idea of measuring size by just measuring a site becomes obsolete. And here’s the fringe benefit: it’s better and cheaper to take your content to the people rather than marketing to bring them to you. This is the essence of CBS’ audience network strategy.

This is, dare I say it, the essence of 3.0: join and enable a network instead of trying to buy content and eyeballs on a site.

WWGD. What would Google do? Google would network.

There are still issues of quality. As both Arrington and VentureBeat point out, a network can grow too big by including junky traffic; that is why networks have gotten less respect and thus lower value.

But now let’s return to the Times and Freakonomics. No junk there. It’s quality, albeit sometimes controversial quality. The Times wouldn’t have embraced it otherwise. Its advertisers and readers know that. So there’s a power in the Times and the Post (which also runs a travel blog network) and a major wire service that’s about to launch a network of its own and other of the big guys growing bigger not by hiring and buying and building but by networking.

And by the way, I’d like to hear the Freakonomics guys explore the power and value of networks vs. closed content systems.

Nerds promote nerd show

CBS continues its enlightened relationship with distributed media, putting up a bloggers’ kit with links and embeds for some of their new fall series. Here’s the upfront pitch for the Big Bang Theory, a sitcom about geeks and sex — or geeks who wish they could have sex with their gorgeous neighbor:

Smart. The only thing that would be smarter would be to go ahead and put the preview up on YouTube so it can be discovered there. Two fans already did it — one of them pleading, “no copyright infringement intended” — here and here. This is a show about geeks so you know geeks will promote it with geeky tools.

NBC lets you watch and link to the previews. Embedding would be wiser. Here are ABC previews; each show has a page so it’s linkable but not embeddable. I’d show you Fox’s perviews, but the link off their home page is broken; it goes to Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader? Guess not.)

Smartest media quote of the year

“We can’t expect consumers to come to us. It’s arrogant for any media company to assume that.”

Quincy Smith, president of CBS Interactive, said that in today’s Wall Street Journal explaining CBS’ smarter-than-most strategy for a distributed media economy.

This is the way all media executives should be thinking: Go to the people, don’t make the people come to you. That’s expensive for you and inconvenient for them and it’s just not going to happen — or, it’s no way to build a media business model anymore. Says the Journal:

A year ago, CBS Corp. announced the creation of Innertube, an entertainment channel on CBS.com designed to make the company a player in online video. It streams video of sporting events, news reports and reruns of shows such as the hit comedy “How I Met Your Mother.”

CBS’s new chief Internet strategist now jokes that the Web address for Innertube should be “CBS.com/nobodycomeshere.”

CBS, after a year of experimenting with various Web initiatives, says that forcing consumers to come to one site — its own — to view video hasn’t worked. Instead, the company plans to pursue a drastically revised strategy that involves syndicating its entertainment, news and sports video to as much of the Web as possible. It represents a stark departure for the TV industry. . . .

Starting this week, an expanded menu of CBS’s video content will be available for free to consumers on as many as 10 different Web sites ranging from Time Warner Inc.’s AOL to Joost Inc., a buzzy online video service that is just rolling out. The company calls its new venture the CBS Interactive Audience Network.

Importantly, they’re also going through services that let us embed and distribute their stuff. That’s the greatest win of all. Why not encourage your audience to recommend and distribute your good stuff. It’s free marketing. It’s the endorsement that matters most. It’s only wise. But media has always been about control, about selling scarcity. So it’s damned hard for these guys to shift their mental map of the world and realize that they are not at center, we are. What they defined as inside is outside. This requires them to turn their world inside out. CBS is doing that.

Meanwhile, see the Stuart Elliott column in today’s Times all about networks trying harder to keep viewers in, how to keep them from changing the channel or TiVoing. What they should be asking is how they can take their stuff out. Think distributed.

Note also that NBC is shifting an inch by airing one of the Law & Orders on USA first, then on NBC. That says that NBC isn’t the center of the universe. But this doesn’t go quite far enough. Why not air it online first? If you don’t, NBC, Dick Wolf will someday. That’s what the studios of the future are doing now.

Yahoof!

Yahoo announced disappointing ad revenue growth for automotive and financial services today, kicking its stock in the groin.

This comes as Yahoo also announces a big and expensive marketing push: Dunkin’ Donuts for all.

I’ll say it again: Yahoo is the last old-media company. It is dependent on the same dynamics — good and bad — as other media companies: the high value but difficulties of direct sales to agencies; the cost of acquiring users; the vulnerability to larger market trends; the high cost of owning content.

Google, on the other hand, just rides atop the waves, wherever they go. So far, at least, it does not tie itself to the old models of owning (or licensing) content or getting value only out of bringing people to its site.

The successful media companies of the new age will be the ones that enable media wherever it wants to be.

The problem with portals

The problem with portals is that they aren’t portals at all. The windows are nailed shut. They’re traps. They want to lure you in and then not let you leave. I said this in my Monday Guardian column (which I’ll put up then):

When Yahoo was young, cofounder Jerry Yang told me that his site’s job was to get you in and out as quickly as possible. That certainly changed. Now Yahoo licenses and creates content and services to keep you in front of its ads as long as possible; it is known for collecting and not sharing traffic. I say that Yahoo is the last old-media company – still trying to get viewers to come to it – but it is successful because it is unencumbered by presses, towers, talent contracts, and other media legacies.

Sure enough, Gawker just left its Yahoo deal. Didn’t generate much traffic. Says Nick Denton:

The bald truth is that the deal, which we announced in November, garnered way more attention than we expected, but less traffic. A few new readers probably discovered Gawker, or one of the other four sites that we syndicated to Yahoo. I doubt many of them stayed. Yahoo has a mass audience; Gawker appeals to a peculiarly coastal, geeky and freaky demographic. And these people are more likely to come to our sites through word of mouth, or blog links, or search engine results, or Digg, not because of a traditional content syndication deal.

I go on to say in the Guardian column:

Contrast this with Google, which does still try to get you in and out quickly. It makes a fortune by putting targeted ads on many of the sites it sends you to. Thus its potential is unlimited, for the more content there is, the more Google has to organize, the more we need Google to find what we want, the more its ads can appear everywhere, and the more it earns. Yet Google still satisfies both traditional roles of the old networks in the content industry: It takes in money by aggregating audiences for advertisers, while it also pays out money to support content creators. Google is network 2.0.