Posts about interactivity

Cause and effect in a two-dimensional world

I got an email from someone writing about the suicide of an adman and those who say that nasty blog comments about him had a role in it. The question to me was the ethical responsibility of bloggers regarding their comments. My response:

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First, I think you’re making a leap that is, unfortunately, frequently made when it comes to media and tragedy: the implied causality of song lyrics or a game or a movie and, say, a young person’s act of homicide or suicide. The implication is that there was nothing else wrong in this person’s life that may have caused this tragedy and that it could somehow be brought on by one song or scene and that that media is wrong or even evil. Clearly, that’s absurd — and offensive. It’s convenient to try to find such an easy cause and an easy answer. But it is shallow and dangerous to not look deeper.

I don’t know anything about this case beyond what I’ve read in stone-skipping-water news stories. But I would caution against making this same presumption here. In doing so, you’d also be indicting and convicting the commenters in a serious act. This is a tragedy and I imagine there are more causes than we can see, just as there will be more effects than we can see.

So please don’t be quick to condemn interaction online on the basis of this one tragedy. One effect of that would be to dismiss and devalue so much of the good that comes from the ability of everyone to speak today.

As for a blogger’s — or publisher’s — responsibility regarding comments: That is up to them. Under Section 230, a publisher is not legally responsible for content not created by them. That was necessary to insure an open forum for dialog and as a nation we are privileged to have it; it is our online First Amendment. I know you’re asking another question: the ethics of it. I don’t think there is a blanket rule. I say on my blog that I will kill comments that are patently offensive in their use of hate speech or in personal attacks. I’ve been attacked often in my own comments, of course, and I’ve killed only a few of those; I’m more likely to kill comments attacking others, but even then, there’ve not been many. Part of the problem is that there is a falling bar on the definition of offensiveness; we live in an age of offense and political correctness when someone can be offended by anything said and someone can insist that that speech should be silenced. There’s danger there. In a free democracy and an open market, we must value open discussion and the exchange of views and ideas. So who’s to say what goes too far? There is clearly no one standard.

Now, of course, I’m not defending gratuitous and anonymous attacks on people. I value civility in my blog comments and in the forums I used to run for publishers. I ran operations to kill the worst of those comments. And the communities were grateful for that effort. But I also would have fought any effort to take some number of comments or some event attributed to them to shut down all that discussion. That, too, would be a tragedy.

I urge you not to fall into the media trap of making this a simple cause-and-effect story. Note well this from the New York Times story on the event:But a colleague and friend of Mr. Tilley’s, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said, “There’s no way you or I will know why he did this, but it’s certainly not because of blogs.”

“I know it bothered him,” the colleague said, referring to the public criticism. “However, he was very intelligent, with lots of talents and skills, and this was not his whole life. Pointing to blogging and the media just trivializes a man whose life was not trivial.”

On the Media: Open up

I’m a fan and loyal listener of On the Media. They devoted their entire show this week to the fate and future of the book and though it had plenty of good segments, I was frustrated listening to it because I knew of other interviews I wish they’d done that I could have suggested — if only they’d asked.

And so it struck me that On the Media should open up the process of making its show. When they decide to make an entire episode about one media topic — which I encourage to forestall the show’s slide into becoming just another politics and public affairs show — why shouldn’t they tell the audience — media-savvy, by definition — and ask them who they know and what they want to know. They could tell us what they’re thinking of making and we could beat that. If the BBC can publish its rundown for a daily news show to ask for input, why can’t OtM?

I would have told them about the Institute for the Future of the Book, which is doing fascinating work about not only the form of the book but the process of writing. I would have suggested that they report more about the new benefits being digital brings to books — being searchable, linkable, lasting. I might have liked to have heard a debate about John Updike’s screed against digital at the booksellers’ convention a year ago. I could have sent them lots of links about all this (and I’m not pushing to be interviewed myself… though it has been awhile). I know that many members of their audience would have had more more good suggestions.

OtM did invite listener participation. They asked us to submit 12-word novels and they read the 12 best. They were amazed at the response; that should tell them something. They asked us to design their T-shirt. And that’s cute. But it’s just a tad — albeit unintentionally — condescending: ‘Go play there, listeners, but we won’t let you in to affect the real show.’

I’m not blaming OtM’s crew. They’re operating under habit, the way it has been done forever, the only way it could be done, before the internet. But if any show should shake things up and change the way a show is made, shouldn’t it be this one?

Brian Lehrer’s public-radio show is mobilizing its audience to report. I’d like to see show’s enable their audiences to create.

I’m not dating your cookie

The click-through will soon be dead or at least seriously wounded. Here’s a case in point:

In this morning’s NY Times, Stuart Elliott writes with unquestioning, even breathless acceptance (yet again) about another advertiser’s idiotic idea: a social site based around a cookie.

Now why the hell would anyone with half a life go to a site from a cookie company telling her how to make friends? Why, once there, would such a person tolerate such drivel as this:

10 tips for connecting…. 3 Practice random acts of connecting. Make an acquaintance more of a friend by inviting someone you want to know better for tea and cookies… 4 Make a friendship file. Just as you might for travel or shopping, clip and save items that remind you of a friend or activity ideas for future friend dates, and then refer to it when plan time comes…. 7 Have a laugh. After an ear and a shoulder to cry on, the gift of comic relief is one of the best you can give a friend in need. If humor’s not your forte, just commit one silly joke to memory to break out on these occasions. (Here’s one: Question: What do you call a boomerang that doesn’t come back to you? Answer: A stick.)

Oh, beat me with it.

But the ad agency made a fortune convincing the advertiser that they needed to get social. And the advertiser spent a fortune — $2-3 million, says Elliott — licensing this claptrap content and making this stupid site and advertising their advertising. And their PR company made a fortune writing press releases about it. And Elliott made, if not a fortune, then probably too much money yesterday rewriting that press release.

But it only shows the absurdity of such social brand advertising. Of course, this goes back to advertisers saying that they want their brands to be associated with certain attributes (cookies=connections) and so they advertise next to certain content; that is the brand advertising that makes the magazine and TV businesses churn. God bless it. Then advertisers wanted more control over content and so God the devil created advertorials. Then came the internet, where advertisers believed they could avoid all that damned media and expense by creating their own content: cookie sites and alleged underwear humor and chicken soup Goldfish for the soul, all linked today in Elliott’s story. And then came social: another buzzword, another revenue stream. Says Elliott:

Ad spending on Web sites like Bebo, Buzznet, Facebook and MySpace — by companies like Blockbuster, Circuit City, Coca-Cola, Microsoft and Sony — is expected to total $1.2 billion this year, according to eMarketer, a research company, and climb to $1.9 billion in 2008.

But think about it: You’re on one of those social sites, already being social with your friends, and so why are you going to follow a link and click to a cookie site to tell you how to be social? You’re not. And so the cookie company is, I predict, going to flop at its cookie site (once today’s rush of Times traffic subsides) and then it will declare that social doesn’t work and isn’t worth anything and it will return to buying upfront TV.

But, of course, they are doing this the wrong way — trying to make us come to them, and for a stupid reason — and they’re measuring the wrong thing — the act of coming to them: the clickthrough. Yes, that’s how all advertisers measure their the performance, the return on investment, the value of their marketing (whether or not they pay on clicks, they measure the value on clicks).

But now we move past the internet-as-a-bunch-of-sites to the internet as a place where people connect. Sorry, cookie company, but the people do this just fine without you and your silly advice. In fact, the internet always has been a place where people connect, only we — and I include me — in media and marketing were to egotistical to see that. So rather than trying to make people come to you and rather than trying to make them go to media sites where your brand is associated with the content there, you now need to go to where your customers are and not to irritate them with advertising but to help them with service, not to barge in but to be invited in. That’s what makes Facebook’s new recommendation advertising engine so intriguing: once you see your friends like something, what better advertising than that? Why click through; that’s already ad nirvana, right?

So the story about the cookie connection site is not that another clever advertiser has discovered social. The story about the cookie connection site is that it is the last absurd gasp of a dying media model, the idea that you can create advertising so compelling that people will want to click to come to you. Come now.

Cleveland’s ditch

I thought I was done writing about the Cleveland kerfuffle, but reading Poynter’s coverage — which, by the way, didn’t include bloggers’ perspective; too bad — I can’t help but think that the paper is digging itself deeper into a trench that will be hard to climb out of later.

They are making what a friend called a Jesuitical distinction that the issue here is all about money: once the paper paid the bloggers, then the bloggers had to live by the paper’s (unspoken) rules. So what happens when and if the paper decides, as I think it should, to start an ad network across local blogs and sites? Do they all have to live by the paper’s rules? It’s just an ad network, after all. It’s not a case of putting the bloggers’ content on the paper’s site. Is that, too a distinction? And what are the rules? The paper now admits that it didn’t discuss its rule about campaign contributions with the bounced bloggers before they started to blog under the paper’s roof. What other rules are there? Is volunteering for a campaign just as bad? Attending a rally? Putting up a lawn sign? Wearing a button? Telling friends to vote for someone? Or is this just about money — the paper’s money going to the bloggers and then to the campaign? Does the paper now have to check on the behavior of all its syndicated sources of content to make sure they live by the Cleveland Commandments? Now what happens if the pay an op-ed writer; do they have to do a background check?

The paper is going through this Talmudic toenail clipping, I think, because they’re trying to argue that this is about some rule obvious only to them about contributions and not about political pressure. The paper sided with a politician’s definition of ethics without giving the bloggers the opportunity to express their view of ethical behavior. And now they’re digging that trench. I think they’ll come to regret that.

: LATER: And I meant to mention that it’s amusing to hear the paper say that they expect to restart the blog, only this time they won’t pay. I can’t imagine any self-respecting blogger going for the deal. if you’re going to abuse them, you should at least pay them, eh?

Turn up the heat in the kitchen

One more on the Cleveland kerfuffle. See Howard Weaver’s advice:

Are you feeling uncomfortable yet?

If not, I’m worried about you. If you’re not squirming in uncertainty from time to time nowadays, you must not be close enough to the edge. In response to a question in the Sacramento Bee newsroom last week, Melanie Sill said, “If you’re in a newsroom and the editor doesn’t say that change is needed, you should leave.” I think that same sentiment applies to our need to loosen up, let go of some control and learn to play by the changing rules of the new game we’re in.

See also Jay Rosen’s comment on the politics of this.

Zuckerberg on OpenSocial, ads, and friend lists

I’m at Foursquare listening to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg in the one on-the-record session. Asked why Facebook chose not to be involved, Mark replies, “Who says we didn’t choose to be a part of it? We didn’t really find out about it until right at the end there.” When? “Maybe an hour after it launched.” Will Facebook be involved? Mark said they’ll see how it works and then evaluate. If it add values to users then they would be involved, he said.

He’s also talking about his new ad system, announced yesterday. I haven’t gotten my head around the full implication of the system but it seems like a customer advocacy platform without the conflict of paying those advocates (see: Pay Per Post). This is an extension of what I wrote about in my Business Week piece on Dell: customers as the best marketers. The recommendations of peers matter more than the spam of advertisers.

Jeff Pulver asks whether we’ll be able to segment business v. personal friends. Mark says they are trying to map out all the connections and that will get more and more granular; some will be manual and some will be agorithmic. He says that “realtive soon” they’re going to release things that help people organize. Soon, that will be lists of friends you can make so you decide what to share with what groups. He also said that they are considering raising the limit on friendships.


I just wrote for my column about the Networked Journalism Summit that I see sites seeking a new paradigm of interactivity built more on quality and reputation than on quantity of comments. Well, here’s one attempt: The Economist is running the first of three Oxford-style debates online with a pro and a con giving their best shots and the audience voting for the winner. I’m reminded of the ill-fated LA Times wikitorial, which made the mistake of thinking that the public would collaborate on a single editorial about Iraq — ha! I suggested then that they should have turned this into an Oxford debate with a resolution and two sides giving their best and most persuasive arguments. At the time, Jimmy Wales tries to fork the wikitorial — his term — but it was too late. Collaboration had died with civility. We’ll see whether the Economist and restore both.

If only one could edit conversation

Tonja Deegan blogs about a new job opening at the local paper:

Our local paper, the Detroit Free Press, has an opening for a “Community Conversation Editor.” The description is described in these not-so-subtle terms: “The job is critical to the Detroit Free Press’ future.” Even more revealing is that when the newspaper described itself, it barely mentioned the word “newspaper” but instead called itself the state’s leading news source.