Posts about guardian

Guardian column: a new news platform

My Guardian column this week reprises the discussion from my post about Google as the new pressroom and then adds some thoughts about news organizations sharing open-source platforms. Snippet:

The Guardian is spending a few years building its own platform, but can every news organisation afford this? No. And will technology ultimately differentiate one news provider from another? I doubt it. So why not share a platform with many sites, sources and voices? In the UK, I have suggested – naively, I know – that the BBC should provide that platform for all news efforts (professional and amateur). Isn’t that a proper definition of public-service publishing?

A shared platform for news organisations wouldn’t be anticompetitive: it would be pro-efficiency. If any paper, station or site could pluck software from the cloud and freely use and adapt it to perform essential functions then it could concentrate its resources on what matters – journalism.

At the Guardian’s seminar, I asked what the paper is if not a manufacturer, distributor or technology company. “Fundamentally, it’s courageous, independent, liberal journalism,” was one editor’s reply. “That’s the essence of the Guardian, or should be.”

Exactly right. But this also treats the Guardian as a product and I asked – in the spirit of Roussel’s effort to reimagine a paper – whether online it should be something else, with a different relationship to its public: a platform, a network, a community, a collaboration. Should the Guardian strive to be the world’s leading liberal voice – or voices?

Thanks again to Edward Roussel and Bob Wyman for inspiring the discussion.

Guardian column: Down to the wire

My Guardian column this week reprises the talk of the last two weeks about The Associated Press — not so much the blog kerfuffle but the clash of media models and the fate of syndicates. The end:

Wire services, like all news organisations, must reinvent themselves. Reuters is building a consumer brand, competing with some of its customers; that’s one answer. Others: a syndicate could become a network of links to original content, a curator of the best, most reliable original reporting from any source. A syndicate could also become an advertising network supporting the best of that content. It could become a cooperative – which is how AP was founded – to report that which isn’t being reported already. It could become a platform and marketplace for reporting, enabling anyone to contribute to a larger network of news.


Identity just got more complicated. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has decided to open up top-level domains to most any suffix we can imagine — from .com, .net, .org,, etc. to .anything. So there will be an explosion in what we nerdily called the internet namespace.

On the one hand, this means we don’t have to all fight and scrape to grab any brand followed by a .com. But it also means there’ll be a land rush to create and sell every possible combination of words —,, amazon.everything (and Amazon will be faced with having to buy them all to protect its brand).
We users trying to find things could end up with an exponential rise in confusion as we try to remember more combinations of names: Where is that guy who drones on about media —, jarvis.pundit, jarvis.blather, jarvis.blahblahblah?

Who could win in this? Who always wins these days: Google, of course. I know many people who never bother to type in internet addresses; they find it quicker to just enter a Google search and click from there. All roads lead from Google.

Well, with more confusion in names, we’ll all end up having to search Google more often. That makes search-engine optimization even more critical as sites strive to make sure they are on the top page of search results for any relevant term. I, for example, am proud to be the seventh “jeff” on Google and I’m plotting ways to eliminate the other six. I believe that companies and brands will soon be valued not just on their cash flow and EBITDA but also on their Googlejuice.

The real limitation in namespace has been language. We have taken just about every word and pronounceable syllable in every tongue and already glued them together and tacked them onto a .com. That is why new web 2.0 companies inevitably end up with silly, made-up names these days: Dopplr, Zivity, Flickr. The internet has been killing vowels, syllables, and spaces in our languages. So it would stand to reason that this need no longer happen: can live peaceably beside, Flicker.snapshots, even

But no. The truth is that when we depend on search, we will depend more heavily on unique names so those names don’t get lost in searches for common — commodity — words. So we’ll still mangle the language to create names.

Indeed, I predict that we’ll do this not just for our companies but also for our kids. For everybody needs a little SEO these days. If the internet had been around when my children were born, I shouldn’t have given them common names — Jake and Julia — but would have followed legendary rebel-rocker Frank Zappa’s example — he named his children Dwezil and Moon Unit. That way, there’d be no fight over owning and anyone searching for Dwezils would, I hope, find my offspring at least second on the list. Yes, in world where unique names are valued, Icelanders are screwed.

In the early days of telephones, it was assumed that we’d be bad at remembering numbers, so phone companies in some countries used words to help us recall the first few digits. KNickerbocker 5 500 became 565 500. That quaint system was dropped as phones stopped having letters printed on them and as phone numbers exploded to absurd lengths with the number of devices.

Well now imagine a world in a few weeks when you own a score of devices connected to the internet — phone, computer, TV, refrigerator, car, heating system, security system, game — each with its own unique address. Namespace will implode again. So perhaps we’ll return to the earliest system of names when John who made horseshoes in the blacksmith shop down on the high street became John Smith and that will be the Google search that finds him.

[Commissioned by and crossposted at Comment is Free; discussion underway there.]

OD on me

The Guardian asked me to finish off their Future of Journalism series of lectures and discussions with a talk about the 10 questions we should be asking now. Talk about intimidating. These people are asking and answering questions about the future better than any news organization I know. But I never pass up a chance to visit with folks at the Guardian, and so I went and tried to come up with my list. They videoed it and I can’t imagine why anyone with a life would watch 90 minutes of me but in case you are on a desert island with internet access (can I come?) here are parts one and two (not embeddable, sorry to say). For those with lives, here’s a blog write-up of the session. And here’s my Keynote:

: OD on me X 3: Good god, I’ve been translated into Norwegian. By the way, other posts are going to be translated regularly into Spanish. There’s no escaping a blogger’s blather.

Guardian column: The blown-up BBC

My Guardian column this week comes out of a tour of the reorganized BBC newsroom with its head, Peter Horrocks. Snippet:

As we stood there, one of many tours of the space was being held for online employees. “They keep asking who’s won,” Horrocks said – did TV take over because they are in TV’s space under a TV person? It had better not be that simple. If newsroom reorganisation – at any news operation – is about nothing more than shuffling desks, then it might as well be an exercise carried out on the deck of the Titanic. Later, Horrocks gave the real answer: “We’ve had to blow up BBC News to totally remake it.”

Guardian column: Facebook’s choice

My Guardian column this week (a last-minute substitution for the BBC Newsroom column, which delayed to the next time because of an overdose of BBC news) is about Facebook’s momentous choice — control v. openness — and how Google maneuvered them into it.


That is the essential choice Facebook faces: openness v control. That quandary is not unique; every media company is now facing the same choice in the Google age. Google values openness so it can search you and send audience to you.

Whoever succeeds in mapping the social graph will better understand how society operates: who is friends with whom; who is influential; what we like; what we do. The winner in the social war will understand how we behave and interact and it can bring that knowledge to commerce, advertising, media, even government. That is the real prize.

Twitter as the canary in the news coalmine

Here’s my latest Guardian column about Twitter as news (it got trimmed in print — damned scarce paper — and so here’s my draft):

Last Monday, when an earthquake struck China’s Sichuan province, word of it spread quickly from witnesses on the shaking ground via Twitter, the mobile-and-web microblogging service where users share brief, 140-character-long updates with friends. Prolific blogger and Twitterer Robert Scoble at insists he saw news of the quake on Twitter minutes before the US Geological Service posted the temblor and an hour before CNN and other news sites reported it.

Twitter is becoming the canary in the news coalmine. It stands to reason: If you’ve just gone through such a major event, you are sure to want to update your friends about it. If enough people are all chattering about an earthquake at the same time, that’s a good and immediate indication of a major news story.

Developers at the BBC and Reuters have picked up on the potential for this. They are working on applications to monitor Twitter, the Twitter search engine Summize, and other social-media services – Flickr, YouTube, Facebook – for news catchwords like “earthquake” and “evacuation”. They hope for two benefits: first, an early warning of news and second a way to find witness media – photos, videos, and accounts from the event. This is clearly more efficient than waiting for reporters and photographers to get to the scene after the news is over – though, of course, they will still go and do what journalists do: report, verify facts (which can be wrong from witnesses in the heat of news), package, and take their own pictures (which they then own).

These social services are also a source of witnesses for journalists to interview. After the Chinese quake, user “casperodj” reported his experience – “it did feel like the earth was going to split. literally everything was shaking” – and what followed – “CREEPY! while i’m typing, there’s an aftershock hitting!” – and the mood on the street – “the shitty concrete buildings around me are still ok though. people seem to be going back to work again” – and also told his readers when he’d gotten off the air with the BBC and Dutch broadcasters.

All this comes from a platform that does nothing more than enable anyone to tell anyone what they’re up to. But this is fundamentally new. We online citizens are living in public, revealing small details of our lives with our updates and our content. It’s in the smallness of this personal news that we can keep in touch with friends in ways we have not been able to since we lived in small towns, able to watch our neighbors’ every move. So perhaps this is not new at all but a return to the old ways: the electronic village, indeed.

London blogger Leisa Reichelt at has a name for this: “Ambient intimacy is about being able to keep in touch with people with a level of regularity and intimacy that you wouldn’t usually have access to, because time and space conspire to make it impossible.” We get to see what our friends had for lunch and with whom, hear about their trips, see their new haircuts. The mundanity of it is the message.

“Isn’t this all just annoying noise?” Reichelt asks and answers: “There are a lot of us, though, who find great value in this ongoing noise. It helps us get to know people who would otherwise be just acquaintances. It makes us feel closer to people we care for but in whose lives we’re not able to participate as closely as we’d like. Knowing these details creates intimacy.”

I have speculated in this space that our new publicness and permanence online will change even friendship, as we no longer need to lose touch with old acquaintances. Just last week, I met up and caught up with my high-school sweetheart after (gulp) 33 years and that was made possible only because she Googled me.

Now it’s also become clear that this publicness and immediacy is yielding both a new relationships and new value: ways to find and report news for a start. Perhaps our chattering will also reveal our collective mood (for that, go to and see all Twitter posts that include the words love, hate, think, and wish). Companies are now monitoring Twitter, as the smart ones have been watching blogs, to see what is said about their brands (the cable giant Comcast saw powerful blogger Michael Arrington of complaining about an outage in Twitter and quickly dispatched a repairman).

When we start putting our lives online, it’s now possible to take our pulse in new ways. And that’s news. For what is news, after all, but what is happening to us?

It’s about aggregation

One theme that came out loud in and clear, to me at least, from the panel on the internationalization of media brands that I ran at OPA this morning is this:

Top brands with international traffic should be banding together to sell that traffic and audience as a group. No one of them has successfully and fully exploited the value of this audience now and, as Martin Nisenholtz of the NY Times pointed out, each of those audiences is relatively small. But together, I say, they represent a powerful, smart readership. I’ve suggested this in the past to the UK brands: Guardian, Telegraph, Times, even the BBC outside the UK. At today’s panel, Chris Ahearn of Reuters — which just agreed to represent ad sales for the Guardian in the U.S. (full disclosure: a introduction I helped make) — said that all these brands are undersold. Of course, there’s self-interest there: Reuters would be happy to sell them. But I do think there’s potential there.

Later: From Jemima Kiss’ report (blogging from the front row):

The BBC’s sanction of advertising on its international website was “enormous state-funded intervention in the international news advertising market”, the Guardian’s director of digital content warned today. was beginning to impact on international news sites as UK web publishers moved to monetise their overseas audiences, Guardian News & Media’s director of digital content, Emily Bell, told the Online Publishers Association conference in London.

“The BBC funds the biggest online news site in the world,” she said.

“It will be interesting to see how the New York Times and everyone else reacts. This is not our problem – it is everyone’s problem.

“The BBC is going to be an enormous state-funded intervention in the international new ad market.” . . .

Bell said today that advertising inventory on Comment is Free, the Guardian’s discussion site, was fully sold out because advertisers want to reach its audience of high-end, opinion formers.

Get that: ads sell out on a site with interactivity.