Posts about linkeconomy

Content, dethroned

Jonathan Knee uses Netflix to argue in The Atlantic that content is not king and that aggregators are better at capturing value. That will be raw meat to those who claim that aggregators are content kleptomanics.

Knee’s analysis is good but there’s a critical element that needs to be underscored: Aggregation itself is not sufficient. Netflix gains its advantage because it has a substantive relationship with its customers, which yields data about their desires that the company uses to superserve them, making highly relevant recommendations and filtering noise (give me the filter bubble!).

This business strategy makes us rethink where the core of value is in media: in the content or in the relationship and data. What is Facebook’s answer? Google’s? I address that in my link economy treatise here:

Rather than concentrating on total audience, we should concentrate on the net future value of each reader. Where does that value reside? That question raises a fundamental strategic—and religious—issue: We in news and media keep saying that our content has value. Well, yes; no one will disagree. But we need to ask whether the greater value resides in the content or in the relationships and data it can spawn. Yes, the content has value, but how best do we extract that value?

Over lunch recently a media executive repeated the accepted wisdom that “our content has value.” That often leads next to the contention that we “should be paid for it,” though I counter that “should” is never the basis of a business model. In news, of course, we have always extracted more value for our work through selling our audiences to advertisers than selling our content to audiences. Why would that change today?

This executive also complained that digital companies, such as Google and Facebook, don’t value our content. But look at this new media ecosystem from the perspective of Facebook, a company that by some reckoning could be valued at as much as $100 billion by the time it goes public within a year. What does Facebook itself value? Relationships. Data. Relevance.

As for content, Facebook doesn’t so much refuse to value it, as my media friend implied, but instead finds value in a much more expansive view of content. It finds worth in all that apparently useless blathering we do in what Facebook calls, to journalists’ derision, its members’ “News Feeds.” That’s not news, the news people say; news is what we make. That may have been the case in a scarcity-based content economy, when there was room for only so much news in the world’s publications and airwaves. Now content—like advertising—is abundant. The incumbent content companies are having trouble taking advantage of that growth because their definition of content remains limited and their models based on controlling scarcity. Facebook, like Google, sees content everywhere, made by everyone, and each in its own way is better than legacy content companies at finding value in it. Each uses content to gain more signals about users and to use that data to target content, services, and advertising.

My lunch companion said that media companies’ content is the “steel” that makes Google’s “cars.” That metaphor still assumes that content is a scarce, consumable, and perishable commodity. Digital companies’ ability to make money on the back any content—Facebook enables the creation of it; Google organizes it—irks the content makers. This is why Rupert Murdoch and his News Corp. lieutenants (in a list curated by Arianna Huffington) accuse Google and its ilk of being “parasites,” “content kleptomaniacs,” “vampires,” and “tech tapeworms in the intestines of the Internets” who “steal all our copyright.”

There are two problems with the Murdoch worldview: First, according to my thesis of the link economy, Google, Huffington Post, curators, aggregators, bloggers, and readers linking via Facebook and Twitter do not steal value but instead add value when they direct readers to content. In response to News Corp.’s accusations and epithets, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt said in Murdoch’s own Wall Street Journal in December 2009 that Google causes 4 billion clicks a month to news publishers, a quarter of that from aggregator Google News.

In an apples-to-pineapples comparison, only a few months later, Bit.ly, the leading URL-shortener used in Twitter, passed that 4 billion mark and a year later it doubled that (though not all that goes to news sites). There we see the rising power of the peer’s recommendation, the human link. In early 2011, the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism confirmed that social services were driving higher proportions of traffic to news sites, with Facebook coming in second or third in the list of referrers to five of the top 25 news sites.

The second issue with the Murdoch view of links is that it fails to take account of the new ways that digital companies mine value in content, links, and relationships. For them, content is not a product to sell but is more a device to generate information about users to increase their value. Content is a signal generator that reveals interests, needs, sometimes location, and more. Facebook can find out that you are a fan of Green Day if you read articles about it but also if you write about it or your friends are fans or you listen to or recommend its music. Then Facebook wants to sell you a ticket to the next Green Day concert near you (and Facebook knows where you are). In this example, content takes many forms—an article, a conversation, a song—and monetization comes not from advertising but from commerce. Does Facebook need a publisher’s article to make these economics work? Is it the steel without which there can be no car? Hardly.

A more extreme example: In 2010, researchers used a set of keywords to track aggregate moods in Twitter messages and found they could predict daily ups and downs in the Dow Jones Industrial Average with up to 87.6 percent accuracy. A hedge fund now uses the formula in partnership with one of the scientists. The content—very broadly defined—created by millions of Twitter users produces value, if you know how to look for it.

In our research, we will need to catalogue such additional sources of worth and revenue. For part of the lesson to content creators and link recipients should be that there are more ways to recognize value than the traditional way of selling audiences to advertisers. At the e-G8 conference in Paris in May 2011, Zuckerberg bragged that Zynga, built atop Facebook’s open platform, had just past game champion Electronic Arts in market capitalization. He said Zynga succeeded because it understood not only games but also people and relationships. He suggested that the next winners in music, for example, would similarly understand both (see: Lady Gaga). How will the similarly savvy news company succeed?

I’m not suggesting that editors call the people formerly known as the audience little monsters and don bodacious bustier to earn a buck. But I do believe we must challenge our every assumption about the role of content and its creators in a new media economy. Media’s role was to make and distribute content because it controlled the means of both. Now they do not. The former audience can make content and media’s role may be to support them in that with tools, platforms, aggregation, curation, promotion, training. The former audience has also taken over the role of distributor when they link, recommend, discuss, and embed content and so the question for media is how to take full advantage of that. Where do the former content controllers fit into this new ecosystem? How do we add and extract value?

The simple question—how do we increase the number and value of links and clicks for media—raises these larger questions. This research can hardly answer them all but perhaps it can inspire new ways to see value and new structures and methods to realize it.

Who’s afraid of Arianna Huffington?

The New York Times has been gunning for The Huffington Post lately, which makes me wonder what exactly Arianna Huffington has done to scare or anger them so. Or perhaps that’s the wrong question. Given that our enemies are often those we don’t understand, I wonder what The Times fails to grasp about HuffPo. That then leads to the question of what The Times can learn from this Post.

Felix Salmon has done a skillful job covering this one-way war, this schoolyard taunting in two posts. Times Executive Editor Bill Keller wrote two columns and a blog post going after Huffington—once directly; once without (as Salmon puts it) the intellectual honesty to link to and allow his readers to judge those he criticizes; and once defensively, after Huffington called his bluff. Times staff loyally picked up Keller’s spitballs to lob their own. Media critic David Carr wrote and then killed a tweet sniping about Arianna that he later conceded was “tasteless.” Andrew Goldman didn’t so much interview Huffington for The Times Magazine as he acted like a parody of a TV prosecutor trying to bait a cagey witness—or perhaps it is better described as a comic homage to Joe McCarthy trying to elicit confessions of leftness. Then Salmon points out that The Times snagged a HuffPo scoop without credit. Just now Carr delivers a glancing blow to Aol/HuffPo, reading into a defection a defeat.

What is The Times’ problem? I think it’s that they do not understand what makes Huffington Post successful and they lash out at the unknown. Here, I suggest, is what The Times and Keller don’t understand about HuffPo. Here is what they think is wrong with it:

* Huffington Post is not content. Content is what content people make; if they don’t make it, it’s not content. That, I believe, is The Times’ cultural view of HuffPo: It cannot be content because the likes of The Times have not made it (no matter how many Timesman Huffington hires). That, I theorized, is why The Times and other media temples did not start their own HuffPo’s or buy the original: It’s not real. Even if The Times were to give it credit for the one-third of HuffPo that is content—by dozens of journalists—they’d still say it’s diluted by the other third that is aggregation and the last third that is comment. And that leads to…

* Conversation is not content. When I had Henry Blodget speak with my class on new business models and disruption, he praised HuffPo for its understanding of the value of conversation. In The Times’ view, conversation is what they enable—no, tolerate—when readers chatter under articles once they are finished. As I learn in every damned meeting with news folks I ever have, comments have cooties. All they can ever hear from the vox populi is the voices of the trolls. Blodget and Huffington have a broader sense of the conversation. That was Arianna’s essential insight when she gave celebrities a place to speak; that is conversation. That was Henry’s insight when he learned to listen to what people were talking about so he could join in and add to their conversation. Which leads to…

* Aggregation is cheating. The Times thinks aggregation is not content. Worse, they are coming around to Rupert Murdoch’s view that it is theft. As Jay Rosen tweeted, seen from the readers’ point of view, aggregation is helpful; it adds value to coverage. Indeed, that’s why The Times does aggregate and curate. But when looking for enemies, it’s best not to look in the mirror. I talk (a lot) about the link economy and how there are two distinct creations of value online: the creation of content and the creation of a public (née audience) for it. Aggregators, curators, and commentators bring audience—and value—to content. If the recipient of those links can’t build a relationship of value with the people who are clicking, that’s their problem. At CUNY, I will soon finally have the time to start a research project on the value of links and how to optimize it. I’d like to see this debate about aggregation between The Times and HuffPo occur on economic rather than emotional terms and hope to inform that discussion with facts.

* Free is offensive. Here’s another area in which The Times is coming to side with—gasp!—Murdoch. Now that it has a meter—and without a proven economic basis for it (not yet)—Times people must put the case again, in emotional terms of entitlement: Readers *want* to pay. Readers *should* pay. Times content *deserves* payment. People who question the strategy are demonized. (David Carr attacked me on NPR over just this … we’ve since hugged and made up; this is what I really have to say about the Times’ meter.) Huffington created value—we know the exact amount, to nine figures—out of getting people to write for free (because they wanted to and found value in). She’s cheapening the valuable work we journalists perform, isn’t she? No, like her free writers, she’s valuing something else. She’s valuing the relationships she has with the people formerly known as an audience.

* Left is not right. Goldman’s desperate effort to get Huffington to admit—CONFESS, I SAY AGAIN, CONFESS!—that she’s—gasp!—liberal, taken with Keller’s paeans to himself and his kind of journalism, were as revealing as they were disingenuous. I find Arianna, too, disingenuous in her efforts to sidestep the word the way Roger Ailes won’t own right. All of them want to dump us, the people, in these two buckets, left and right, but they are above classification. The Times’ real problem is not that Huffington a liberal but that she is an advocate of a point of view. So she tweaks The Times for WMDs and upholding antiquated definitions of objectivity and balance.

* Fun is not allowed. Journalism is serious business. It’s no place for kittens.

In my class, I’ve had my students pick a target to disrupt with a new business (after doing that, they’ll turn around and act as the disrupted company to craft a defense—it’s a lesson in finding opportunity in change). The class picked their target: Huffington Post (when I thought they would have picked The Times). Last week, they presented research and what struck me was the difference in engagement at both sites. HuffPo users generate 18 page views per month on average. The Times is defining only a small slice of its uniques—10%? 20%?—as that engaged, at 20 pageviews per month. I say The Times would have better used the $30-40 million reportedly spent on its meter finding ways to better engage its public—multiplying pageviews (fourfold or more?) and consequent ad revenue—while finding new ways to exploit these deeper relationships (data, commerce, events….). The Times knows it needs to increase engagement; that’s the industry’s favorite conference buzzword. The irony of The Times’ meter is that when it succeeds at engaging a once-casual reader, their reward is a wall. That is an economic and strategic question.

How could The Times increase engagement? By learning from Huffington Post rather than snarking at it. Aggregation has value for readers. Conversation is engaging. Fighting for the people—which is what newspapers did, in their good old days—is the most meaningful way to engage with a community. Fun is fine.

I am reminded of the schoolyard, when the boy nasty to a girl and some sage adult would see that he really just had a crush on her and didn’t know how to say it. OK, Bill and Arianna, kiss and make up.

: See also Jonathan Stray, who calls for a paid content API. I’d broaden that (as above) into a means to exchange value for both content and audience however that value is then exploited.

Wrong battlefield

It’s kinda touching that Rupert Murdoch’s loyal lieutenants are trying to entertain the boss by starting an old-fashioned newspaper war (old-fashioned modifies newspaper). But it’s also ever-more revealing of their worldview.

And of course, the best way to declare a war is to declare it over and claim victory. “Nationally, there’s no contest now,” Robert Thomson, editor of the Wall Street Journal, said, according to the AP, “We’re more than twice as big as The New York Times. They’re not a serious competitor.” The AP goes on to tell us that the “Journal sold an average of about 2 million copies nationwide on weekends compared with the Times’ 900,000.”

OK, but that’s half the story. It’s more like 10 percent of the story. For now shift to the future, the web, and comScore tells us that in July, The Times reached 43.6 million people online vs. the Journal’s 16.1 million. By the time you add in pass-around readers for the paper and de-dupe the same readers for print and online, those numbers might change, but the moral to the story doesn’t.

The New York Times has roughly two and a half times more readers than the Journal. That translates to two and a half times more influence, two and a half times more relationships, a two-and-a-half-time bigger brand.

Murdoch has been willing to lose tens of millions of dollars on his New York Post for one reason: he wants a “bully pulpit” (his words.) He has certainly turned FoxNews into just that. So its kind of sad, if you’re feeling empathetic, that his Journal is losing so to The Times. That’s why Thomson doth protest too much.

That is the price of the pay wall. It may be a price worth paying. The New York Times is, of course, piling up bricks for its wall now. But off in the open field, no bricks in sight, stands Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger with 37 million readers online wondering whether he could soon run the largest newspaper site in the world.

Now I argue these days that brands are no longer magnets; they become labels when you find content through search, algorithms, and peers’ links. Murdoch cut off the algorithms when he pulled his Times of London out of Google News just as he put it behind the wall. That was not a business decision but an emotional but. But I’m even willing to stipulate that his pay wall could work — work in the sense that he gets satisfactory revenue (whatever the definition of that is) from readers rather than from advertisers.

But the real price is growth. It won’t grow. I see that not as victory in the war for the biggest bully pulpit — for the bragging rights to talking to more people. I see that as surrender.

The importance of provenance

News, like art, requires provenance.

I tweeted that today, joining in a conversation between Dan Gillmor and Jay Rosen as they tried to understand how the Washington Post could quote only unnamed complainers in its McChrystal story. Tweeted Jay: “We’re supposed to trust it because the Washington Post ran it. And that’s the problem. It gives us no other grounding for trust.” In the Post’s view, then, its brand provided all the provenance needed: it was the source for trust. But in our view, we expect to know where these opinions came from. We want to go to the source.

Provenance is becoming more important in many fields I’ll outline in a moment. Why? Because it’s possible. And because it’s possible, it becomes expected. The link enables provenance: click here to see the source. The web enables provenance: search here to find out where this came from. The link economy requires provenance: link to support journalism at its source. The link ethic demands provenance. Period.

The journalistic and conversational ethic of provenance I’ve learned especially in blogs is that one must link to one’s sources…
* So I show my work and so you may judge and understand it accordingly.
* So the reader may judge my sources: “Don’t take my word for it,” the link says, “click and see for yourself.”
* So the reader may dig deeper; provenance is also a service.
* So the source gets credit.
* So the source may find value in the traffic I send, through ads or relationships or however she likes (if the source is smarter than Rupert Murdoch and realizes there is value in those people to click to come).
* So we then support original journalism. (This is one reason why Google News now looks for citations to find the originator of a story: to give us a better source and give the source better support.)
* So the journalist proves that she added real reporting and real value rather than merely rewriting press releases.
* So the news organization may save money and use journalists for higher valued work (do what you do best and link to the rest).
* So the news organization may save money through collaboration.
* So responsibility is taken. I will trust what I read more if I know who says it; anonymity devalues trust — for the source who hides behind it and for the journalist who takes the easy route through it.

In content, as creation becomes overabundant and as value shifts from creator to curator, it becomes all the more vital to properly cite and link to sources and even to add value to those links, explaining why the click is worth the time and encouraging people to take the trip. Good curation demands good provenance.

But the new importance of provenance affects much more than journalism. It affects any company providing a product. See Rob Walker in today’s New York Times Magazine on our desire — he hopes — to know where our gadgets are made so we do not contribute to poor working conditions in Asian factories. This trend follows the same need in the fashion industry to demonstrate a move away from sweatshops (one of my entrepreneurial journalism students, Jenni Avins, is making a site and a business out of following the source of what you wear at Closettour.com). When it comes to products, we want to know:
* where it was made,
* by whom,
* in what conditions,
* using what materials,
* causing what damage,
* traveling what distance,
* with whose assurances of quality,
* with whose assurances of safety.

During the rash of dangerous products coming out of China, we want to know the provenance of everything from dog food to dry wall to know about its safety.

The transparent marketplace made possible by the internet reduces companies’ ability to profit through opaque pricing — we can always find the cheapest. So companies will increasingly need to compete on ethics. That will require that they open up their sources, supply chains, factories, and businesses so we may judge them. Given two equal products — two toilet papers — the provenance of the one — our ability to know where and how it was made — may give it the competitive edge. But we won’t take the company’s word for it — any more than we should take the Washington Post’s. We’ll demand that they show us. Publicness (I’ll argue in my book) becomes an asset.

But provenance can also be a mark of higher value. When we know where the grapes come from, we may pay more for the wine made from them. Jersey tomatoes, everyone knows, are worth more than Florida’s (ya gotta problem with that?).

Provenance is, of course, becoming more important in politics and government. We want to know the source of a politician’s funding and the influences on her. We want to know who created an earmark so we may hold them accountable.

Provenance has always been expected in the academe but now citations empowered by links have even greater value — not merely to give credit but to give students the opportunity to explore and learn on their own.

Finally, in a remix culture, one way to share credit and value is to link back.

This is why editors at the Washington Post and everywhere else must learn that it’s no longer good enough to think that the buck can stop at them, that they can be the validators of trust, that we shouldn’t worry our pretty little heads about where their news comes from. This is why we, the readers, must get better at accepting and valuing the results of more openness and be proficient at judging sources for ourselves. This is why companies must understand that they will be expected to open up their processes.

Provenance is no longer merely the nicety of artists, academics, and wine makers. It is an ethic we expect.

The right to link

My column in the Guardian argues that we have a right to link and that the link is the basis of freedom of speech online. The issues are important and so I’m posting the entire column here:

* * *

Linking is more than merely a function and feature of the internet. Linking is a right. The link enables fair comment. It powers the link economy that will sustain media. It is a tool for accountability. It is the keystone to free speech online.

But News Corporation has made good on its threat to fight the link, preventing the UK aggregator NewsNow from linking to several of its newspaper sites.

It’s true that internet protocols make it easy to block crawlers from search engines or aggregators; one simply adds a line to the robots.txt file on the web server. And News Corp’s rationale regarding NewsNow seems on the face of it to make sense: the argument is that NewsNow charges for its service, separating it from free aggregators such as Google News and Daylife (in which – disclosure – I am a partner).

But NewsNow has fought back, launching a campaign in support of the link at right2link.org. “Linking is not some kind of digital theft,” the NewsNow founder Struan Bartlett says in a video. Linking via headlines, he adds, “is not substantial reproduction of a newspaper’s intellectual property, so it’s perfectly legitimate fair use”.

Right. Linking is not a privilege that the recipient of the link should control – any more than politicians should decide who may or may not quote them. The test is not whether the creator of the link charges (Murdoch’s newspapers will charge and they link). The test is whether the thing we are linking to is public. If it is public for one it should be public for all.

We in the media tend to view the internet in our own image. But the internet is not a medium. Instead, as Cluetrain Manifesto author Doc Searls argues, it is a place. Think of it as a public park. You may not be selectively kept out because of your association with a race, religion … or aggregator. “Linking,” says Bartlett, “is a common public amenity.”

I fear that what is really in danger here is the doctrine of openness* on which journalism and an informed society depend. Pertinent are the arguments around Google’s Streetview, which takes pictures of buildings and the people who happen to be in front of them. Some object that these photos violate their privacy. But they are in public. What they do there is public.

I understand that people caught on Streetview might not want us to see them strolling into a drug den or brothel. But if we give anyone the right to restrict our use of that image or information, then we also give the mayor the right to gag us when we want to publish a picture of him skulking into that opium parlour.

What’s public is public – that is, we, the public, have a right to observe, point to, share, and comment on it. And the internet is public.

Mind you, neither NewsNow nor I are arguing that being in public gives anyone the right to copy and steal content. We both agree that copyright and intellectual property must be respected. But linking is not stealing.

Indeed, in the link economy I’ve written about here, linking is distribution; it is a benefit. That’s why I argue News Corp is a fool not to welcome, encourage and exploit links to its content. Links do not stop people from reading it; links bring readers to it.

As Google’s chief executive, Eric Schmidt, argued in a Wall Street Journal op-ed response to Rupert Murdoch on the value of search and aggregation, it’s up to the recipient of the link to take advantage of the relationship it creates – and Google creates 4bn such opportunities for publishers a year.

By trying to cut off links, News Corp is also endangering journalism. As an economic matter, the link is how our work will gain audience.

As a journalistic matter, we reporters depend on the ability to read and analyse public statements and documents – from government, corporations or newsmakers – and it should make no difference whether that reading is done by a person or their agent, an algorithm. We depend on the right to quote from what we find – and online, the link is our means of doing so. In fact, linking to source material – footnoting our work and the provenance of our information – is fast being seen as an ethical necessity in digital journalism.

In the end, this fight is over control. News Corp is desperately trying to maintain its control over access to and packaging and pricing of information that now flows freely from many sources. Thanks to the internet, it is losing it – in more than one sense.

* Note that in my draft, I wrote “publicness.” It’s not a word in the dictionary and so it was edited, changed to “openness.” I should have perhaps phrased it, “the public.”

* * *
Tim Berners-Lee on the right to link (via Thomas Stadler):
The ability to refer to a document (or a person or any thing else) is in general a fundamental right of free speech to the same extent that speech is free. Making the reference with a hypertext link is more efficient but changes nothing else. . . . We cannot regard anyone as having the “right not to be referred to” without completely pulling the rug out from under free speech. . . .It is difficult to emphasize how important these issues are for society. The first amendment to the Constitution of the United States, for example, addresses the right to speak. The right to make reference to something is inherent in that right. On the web, to make reference without making a link is possible but ineffective – like speaking but with a paper bag over your head.

The Golden Link

Thomson Reuters digital boss Chris Ahearn stands up in favor of the link economy (as opposed to someone else we know). It’s sensible talk and he suggests we have more such talk about how best to link. I agree.

As soon as I can, I’ll set a date in October to hold a symposium on the link economy and to present the work of the New Business Models for News Project at CUNY. Also I’ll set up a conversation space at CUNY’s site to discuss the link economy as Ahearn suggests; it will be up later today at wiki.newsinnovation.com. Stay tuned.

Here’s what Ahearn had to say (and I’ll bet he won’t mind my quoting a lot of it):

Blaming the new leaders or aggregators for disrupting the business of the old leaders, or saber-rattling and threatening to sue are not business strategies – they are personal therapy sessions. Go ask a music executive how well it works.

A better approach is to have a general agreement among community members to treat others’ content, business and ideas with the same respect you would want them to treat yours.

If you are doing something that you would object to if others did it to you – stop. If you don’t want search engines linking to you, insert code to ban them.

I believe in the link economy. Please feel free to link to our stories — it adds value to all producers of content. I believe you should play fair and encourage your readers to read-around to what others are producing if you use it and find it interesting.

I don’t believe you could or should charge others for simply linking to your content. Appropriate excerpting and referencing are not only acceptable, but encouraged. If someone wants to create a business on the back of others’ original content, the parties should have a business relationship that benefits both.

Let’s stop whining and start having real conversations across party lines. Let’s get online publishers, search engines, aggregators, ad networks, and self-publishers (bloggers) in a virtual room and determine how we can all get along. I don’t believe any one of us should be the self-appointed Internet police; agreeing on a code of conduct and ethics is in everyone’s best interests.

Our news ecosystem is evolving and learning how it can be open, diverse, inclusive and effective. With all the new tools and capabilities we should be entering a new golden age of journalism – call it journalism 3.0. Let’s identify how we can birth it and agree what is “fair use” or “fair compensation” and have a conversation about how we can work together to fuel a vibrant, productive and trusted digital news industry. Let’s identify business models that are inclusive and that create a win-win relationship for all parties.

This is not code for some hidden agenda – it is an open call for collective problem solving. Let’s do it wiki-style and edit it in the public domain. Let’s define the code of conduct and ethics we would all like to operate under.

My suggestion is we start with “do unto others” as our guiding spirit – I bet it would make all of our mothers proud.

How (and why) to replace the AP

The Associated Press is becoming the enemy of the internet because it is fighting the link and the link is the basis of the internet. From Richard Perez-Pena’s New York Times story today:

Tom Curley, The A.P.’s president and chief executive, said the company’s position was that even minimal use of a news article online required a licensing agreement with the news organization that produced it. In an interview, he specifically cited references that include a headline and a link to an article, a standard practice of search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo, news aggregators and blogs.

Them’s fightin’ words: quoting an article’s headline while linking to it would require licensing? This means we would have to get permission from and negotiate with sites before linking to them. That would kill the internet. It also would kill the Associated Press and the news organizations it cons into joining its dangerous crusade – make that its cartel – for no one will link to them and they will not be heard.

There has been much stupidity lately about how news should operate in the ecosystem in the internet – threats to try to extend copyright, the ominously named and ambiguously written Hamburg Declaration, the ACAP “standard” that would be a boon to spammers – but the AP’s shot across our bow is the most destructive and ignorant of them all. The AP doggedly refuses to understand the link economy of the digital age and its imperatives.

The AP would rather destroy the link economy. Oh, it probably won’t succeed, just because what it suggests is so impractical and illegal and ultimately undemocratic and unconstitutional. But like a bull in a knowledgeshop, it could do a lot of damage along the way, trying to rewrite the fair use that is the basis of the democratic conversation and rushing its members to even earlier graves by hiding their content from the readers it is meant to serve. Note well that most news organizations depend upon fair use every day when they quote somebody else’s story or comment on somebody else’s content. The AP is dangerous.

But that’s not the reason to replace it (it’s merely a bonus). No, the reason to replace the AP is because is that it is hopelessly, mortally outmoded for the digital age and its ownership structure – I blame its board of newspaper owners more than I blame its management – won’t let it be transformed for our new reality. We need a replacement that will better serve journalism and the public, not to mention the democracy.

The AP’s primary job is to distribute content. In a content economy, that worked well. In the link economy, what the AP does is a disservice to content because it cuts the links to the source by rewriting news. The AP also translates content from one medium to another, rewriting newspaper stories so they can be read on radio or TV; that, too, cuts the link to the source (and note that rip-and-read has been the worse enemy of original reporting since the invention of broadcast, long before the internet). And the AP adds some original reporting to the ecosystem but it can’t monetize that value in the link economy because to do so would compete with its owner/clients.

What we need is an infrastructure for a content marketplace online that rewards the creators of original reporting – not the copiers or the commodifiers (that is, the AP) – by exploiting the essential nature of how the internet operates, that is, the link.

I’ve called one fundamental example of this structure reverse syndication – and Politico has started implementing it. Look at it this way: In the old days – in the AP’s ways – Politico would have syndicated its story to other papers, which would have sold ads to earn the money to pay Politico. Now, of course, Politico’s story is just a link and a click away. So now another paper – say, the Chicago Tribune – can just link to Politico’s story. That rewards Politico for creating the story. But what about also rewarding the Tribune for adding value through the link, sending audience to Politico? It would be in Politico’s interest to pay the Tribune a share of its ad revenue for the article to encourage it to send more traffic and add more value. That is the missing piece.

Now imagine this Politico story sits out there on the internet with an ad on it and it is sharing that revenue with the Tribune proportional to the traffic the Tribune brings. Politico could sell that ad. But if the Tribune could get higher value, then it should sell the ad and share the revenue with Politico. Or a third party – oh, I dunno, Google – could sell the ad and share revenue with both. Whatever makes more money – that’s the question we should be asking; that’s what’s going to save the news business.

At the CUNY New Business Models for News Project, we are modeling the news ecosystem that we believe will emerge when a metro paper fades away. For our next project – when funded – I’d like to tackle this content marketplace infrastructure to look at what is needed: systems to track and pay and conventions to label content and draw audience to – and thus support – journalism at its source. With or without an AP, we need to improve the means by which original reporting is found and supported.

Another project I’d like to tackle is The New York Times’ favorite subject: how to support a Baghdad bureau in this new ecosystem. I don’t know that I have the answer or that there is one. Global Post is one try. There may be a need for support from charitable sources (the subject of my Monday Guardian column, which I’ll link to later). The AP and large, ambitious news organizations like The Times report from places where others can’t afford to go; we need to look at how to continue to do this.

That leaves the AP’s other role: translating content among media. Well, there’s an entrepreneurial opportunity. On Twitter, Reuters’ Chris Ahearn volunteered to step in. And online, there’s really no need to do that anymore; it takes all media.

Could the AP remake itself? Doubtful. Its owners won’t let it be run as a rational business – redefining rational for the link economy. It also isn’t structured to help its members remake themselves. I told the AP a decade ago, when I was still working for a client, that I wished it would start a national ad network for news sites, to help them succeed. But that’s just not the way they think.

I’ve also speculated with folks with money about buying the AP and remaking it for the digital age, without the handcuffs of its ownership structure. But every time, we come back to the gigantic wind-down costs that would entail, getting rid of parts of the operation that aren’t needed anymore. And that’s the problem: much of it isn’t needed anymore. Just ask the many newspapers that are canceling the service along with their $1-million-a-year bills. (See the Star-Ledger that was produced with a single AP pixel.)

So I think there are entrepreneurial opportunities to replace the AP and bring far greater benefit to content creators online – all content creators, not just the old news oligopoly. It’s time to break out the hammers.

(Disclosures: I am a partner at Daylife, a news aggregator. I was an advisor to Publish2, which also traffics in links. I was on the board of Moreover, which aggregates and creates feeds of headlines and links. I did all that because I see the potential of the link economy, by the way. I also wrote a book about Google – have I told you about that? – and have discussed many of these ideas with people there.)

: MORE: Note that the New York Times Company’s chief counsel does not think aggregation is a copyright issue.

: Note, too, that the “problem” of copyright violation is misdefined (a headline and a link is clearly not theft), and overstated (show me the millions of sites- other than spam blogs – that are copying whole articles), and wrongheaded in the idea that there’s a pot of gold here that will save the news business. It’s a big red herring. It’s a diversion from the real issue: the failure of the news industry to transform itself for the new economy. I guarantee you that if the AP goes ahead with this, it will pay lawyers more than it could ever earn. And it will hurt the industry and its brand in the process.

: Here’s a quick Marketplace story on the AP.

: TechDirt has some advice for Reuters: Go for it.

Politics makes….

When she pushed her dangerous agenda to change copyright law through Congress to protect her industry, company, and job, Plain Dealer columnist Connie Schultz got all huffy with me when I suggested that she should register as a lobbyist because she was trying to influence legislation in which she had a direct interest and benefit while being married to a U.S. senator.

Well, now she reveals in a puffy P-D video (at 4:50) that her husband will have to recuse himself from voting on her protectionist legislation – if, God and good sense forbidding, it ever comes to a vote – because he has a beneficial interest in it through her newspaper salary. Seems to prove my point, but nevermind. Note also that I asked her husband’s office to whether he was supporting the legislation and never got the basic journalistic (blogs are journalism, too) and governmental (they work for us) courtesy of a reply.

Schultz says that if she should have to register as a lobbyist, then so should I and other columnists and bloggers. Except, of course, I don’t have personal ties to Congress. Hell, I can’t even get them to answer questions.

At 20:55 in the video, Schultz says, “We’ve been hearing some things behind the scenes where the people who need to be paying attention to this proposal are.” Hmmm. Considering that this is legislation she’s trying to push and the people who matter in legislation are in Congress, one could be led to believe that she’s talking about lawmakers and one wonders whether she’s hearing these things, behind which the scenes. But she doesn’t say. So, nevermind.

Schultz also complains (at 23:40) that I didn’t pick up a phone to call her before commenting on what she said before all the world in her column. I didn’t see the need to call her; her opinions and relationships were clear. Again, I did try to report as I said in that post, asking her husband a question he did not answer. I’m told Schultz is writing her Sunday column on this and me again this week and she hasn’t picked up the phone, either. But nevermind.

Schultz is trying to say that I made this personal because I dared to bring up her marriage. That itself is a dodge. It’s not personal. It’s about our government and our laws – about our most precious law, the First Amendment. I believe she is proposing something very hazardous to the health of the First Amendment, the internet, and, ultimately, journalism as it must evolve online. I also think she should be scrupulously transparent not just about the fact that she is married to a senator – which she is – but also about every conversation about this legislation she has had with him and with other people in and around Congress – because she does have exceptional access.

Now, I hope we can return to the substance of the discussion and I hope she will respond to the my argument that the fundamental economics of media and journalism have shifted and that such attempts at protectionism would ultimately shut off newspapers and their journalism from the conversation that will distribute it. Let’s have a talk about the imperatives of the link economy.

(To repeat my relevant disclosures: I worked for almost 12 years for the parent company of the Plain Dealer, as president of Advance.net and, where I started the paper’s affiliated web site, Cleveland.com, gaining some resentment from staff at the paper because it did not control the site. I am a partner at Daylife, an aggregator but one of the sort – like GoogleNews – that Schultz has no problem with because it sends traffic to journalism at its source. I am directing the New Business Models for News Project at CUNY, where we are attempting to outline sustainable models for journalism. And I’m a blogger and twitterer who quotes from and links to journalism and believes that is a good thing.)

: LATER: Here’s Schultz’s next column, out through the syndicate. She doesn’t deal with the issues and discussion at all but tries to hide behind her own distortions to make this personal. She says I’m acting as if it’s news that she’s married to a senator. Of course, it’s not. But a columnist trying to push protectionist legislation to benefit her industry, company, and job while married to a legislator, yes, that’s news. And since I complained, it’s news that her husband will now recuse himself from voting on this dubious legislation. She and her idea are still dangerous.