Posts about newarchitecture

Google: Drop the AP first

Forbes quotes AP head Tom Curley sabre-rattling in negotiations with Google: “Curley warned that if Google doesn’t strike the right deal with the AP soon, ‘They will not get our copy going forward.'” This is more than mere negotiation. The AP has been making noise about trying to force Google to favor it and its members in the search engine’s algorithms.

Forbes explains:

The AP, a 163-year-old cooperative owned by news organizations, won’t discuss its talks with Google, but plans to create landing pages and Web-based “news maps” directing users to original AP stories (and away from secondary sources who post material “borrowed” from the AP). To do this, the AP needs Google’s help. Most likely that means Google creating search protocols similar to those created from the licensing deal the AP inked with Google in 2006.

Since that deal was struck, Google has paid the AP undisclosed fees to carry AP content on the Google News section of the site. Search rankings on Google News give priority to recognizable news brands like the AP. But Google applies no such algorithmic discretion to general searches. The broader search rankings spread AP content out across the Web, says Curley, encouraging misappropriation by other sites. Curley wants Google to “protect content from unauthorized use and pay us for the longtail.” By “longtail,” Curley refers to the thousands of small sites that collectively drive vast herds of traffic using AP content.

THe AP is trying to play victim here, saying that Google is pointing to sites that steal its content. Name two. When I search for news, I can’t remember being taken to a thief. I’m often taken to the AP, which rewrites news and cuts the links to original journalism and thus cuts off the value of links. But not reputed thieves.

Now, apparently, the AP wants to start to rectify its role in the link economy by creating these news maps. OK, I’ll agree that there must be more linking directly to journalism at its source. But I don’t know why Google needs the AP to do that. It could improve its algorithms not to favor certain brands but to favor original reporting wherever it occurs, at the AP, at newspapers, or at blogs.

So it’s in the sense that I’ll suggest Google should cancel the AP contract first – not as retribution but as a service to journalism. Now GoogleNews runs full AP stories it licenses from the wire service, taking traffic away from AP members’ sites and pointing to rewrites of reporting rather than original reporting. If what we want is an ethic of linking to original journalism, then Google should consider no longer presenting full AP stories and, for that matter, linking to AP rewrites. That would serve original reporting. But we have to wonder whether serving journalism or the AP is the AP’s real strategy in these negotiations.

Danny Sullivan links us to an explanation of the AP’s tactics at AllThingsD earlier this month:

This has been construed in some quarters as a plan to create a search engine or news portal. But it’s really just an attempt to upgrade the AP’s search engine optimization strategy — that is, trying to get its stuff to show up higher on Google’s (GOOG) search results. It will do that via “search pages,” or “topic pages,” which are par for the course in the Web world….

If the search page plan works, the pages will be generating plenty of page views when people land on them, and it’s possible that the AP will sell ads on that inventory, Kennedy says. But their real function is to shuttle searchers to the original source material from the AP’s members.

So Google could cut out the middleman – the AP – and just link to the original journalism itself. But being bullied into linking to the AP and its members is not the way to go.

Sullivan explains:

Google’s web search quality team — which has nothing to do with Google’s business folks — generally does not take well to people suggesting they’re somehow going to own the search results. AP content probably will start ranking well for some things, but if it started showing up Wikipedia-style for everything, people outside the AP would start complaining about favoritism.

That’s what makes the Forbes piece so puzzling. AP chief executive Tom Curley (who the AP told me was “unavailable” to talk; nor after nearly two hours, does anyone else seem available) sounds naive enough to believe he can force Google into a deal that would give AP preferential treatment in regular search results….

Google News doesn’t give “recognizable news brands” a boost. I’ve never seen them say this, nor have I seen it actually happen in real life. Google News includes large and small news sites and lists a diverse collection of stories. I know lesser-known news sites do well because I run one of those. At times, I can have a headline story that beats the AP or other mainstream outlets in Google News….

Certainly if Google starts ranking brands better than other content, they’ll have issues. Brands do not equal trust. Enron had a brand; AIG has a brand — being a brand doesn’t mean that you are more trustworthy or deserve an automatic ranking boost. From my perspective, Google’s algorithm has continued to change over the past few years to reward trusted sites. Many brands have sites that Google has decided are trustworthy, but some don’t.

Curley is foolish if he thinks he’ll browbeat Google into somehow changing its algorithm in web search to reward AP as part of this deal. Google’s search quality engineers wouldn’t stand for that, any more than a journalist would stand for a newspaper CEO marching into a newsroom and demanding that certain advertisers get favorable stories written about them.

There’s the irony: Journalists would never stand for what the AP is allegedly trying to do on behalf of journalism. If an editor walked into a newsroom and told reporters: ‘I want you all to quote only big-company and government officials from this approved list and stop quoting little people,’ there’d be a proper revolt. Google’s engineers will protect the authority of their algorithm just as self-respecting journalists would protect their own independence and reputation.

So, Google: Resist the bullying and blackmail. Drop the AP. Perfect ways to link to and thus support journalism at its source. That is the better service to the public and news.

(Full disclosure: I’m a partner at another aggregator, Daylife. As I’ve blogged before, I’ve discussed both there and at GoogleNews the need to link to and thus support journalism at its source, wherever it occurs.)

: LATER: In the comments, Paul Colford of the AP corrects me:

AP sells only a selection of its staff-generated international and national news stories to Google and other commercial customers. A very small slice of this — less than 2 percent of the mix — comes from member newspapers, typically scoops that are credited to the papers.

Stories from member newspapers make up a much larger piece of AP’s state wires — but the state wires are not available to Google and others outside the AP membership.

I stand corrected. But then I would also say that the AP now has an unfair advantage over its members by selling its content to Google to distribute in full. Google does this only for wire services, not for anyone else. And I don’t want it to do this for others, because someone will get left out of the mix. So I still think Google should link instead, and link directly to original journalism.

GeoCities = MySpace = newspapers

It’s fate that GeoCities dies at the same moment that MySpace reshuffles and reboots its management in the face of no growth (which, on the internet, is the same as shrinkage). What they have in common, of course, is that they are platforms for creating content.

But content is not king. What is? Well, the junta in charge of growth online is Google, which is about search; Facebook, which is about social; and now Twitter, which is about live and social.

There’s a lesson here for newspapers because they’re about content. And they’re not as open as GeoCities and MySpace, which are (or were) at least platforms for others to create content. Newspapers create and control their own content and then allow others to comment on it (but enough about you….). Every effort newspapers have made to bring their content online and to update it with new ways to make it – audio, video, Flash, or the next flavor – still leave them in the exact same spot. That’s why they seem to be spinning their wheels. They still define themselves as content.

Newspapers must define their value differently – not as paper, for God’s sake, and not even as content but as a platform. But a platform for what? Content? No, there go GeoCities and MySpace. I think they should follow the advice of Mark Zuckerberg, member of the ruling junta, that their job is to bring communities elegant organization. In a sense, they always have done that; they helped communities organize their knowledge so they could organize themselves; that’s the essence of an informed democracy.

But now there are so many more ways to organize ourselves and we naturally use those tools to do it. As Clay Shirky teaches us, we don’t need organizations to organize. We need tools and maybe support. That’s what Google, Facebook, and Twitter provide. Should newspapers create such tools? No. They’re not good at it. But they should use the tools that exist to help communities organize themselves. They need to figure out how they add value to that.

Or else the will go the way of GeoCities and MySpace.

Journalists: Where do you add value?

Every day, with everything they do, the key question for journalists and news organizations in these tight – that is, more efficient – times must be: Are you adding value? And if you’re not, why are you doing whatever you’re doing?

Sitting in a hotel room, cruising by CNN the other day, I caught a behind-the-scenes segment that wanted to show us just how cool it is to be a reporter dashing from story to story. It did the opposite for me. I was disturbed at the waste.

The correspondent – I won’t pick on him; it was just his turn to play show monkey – stood in front of the new Mets’ stadium to tell us that there’s controversy about naming it after a sponsor. It was just a stand-up. There was no evidence of reporting as he was standing alone in a parking lot. The knowledge was a commodity. Anybody could have read it. But they wanted to scene and invested a correspondent and crew to get it. Then he dashed to the UN because there was a vote happening. But he didn’t run to report. He ran to the bureau to do another stand-up with another background. Again, what happened in the vote was commodity knowledge. Anybody could have read it.

So there is a reporter not reporting. But, of course, that is hardly unique to CNN. How much of the dwindling, precious journalism resource we have – on national and local TV, radio, newspapers, and magazines – goes to original reporting, to real journalism? How much goes to repetition and production?

Journalism can’t afford repetition and production anymore.

Every minute of a journalist’s time will need to go to adding unique value to the news ecosystem: reporting, curating, organizing. This efficiency is necessitated by the reduction of resources. But it is also a product of the link and search economy: The only way to stand out is to add unique value and quality. My advice in the past has been: If you can’t imagine why someone would link to what you’re doing, you probably shouldn’t be doing it. And: Do what you do best and link to the rest. The link economy is ruthless in judging value.

The question every journalist must ask is: Am I adding value?

Look at a service such as PaidContent. They have a small (though growing) staff and they choose carefully what they do, whether it’s worth it to send someone to a conference, whether they can add reporting to a story that’s already known, how they can curate links to the best of coverage that already exists. They fire their bullets carefully, economically, to contribute maximum unique value. PaidContent doesn’t – and can’t afford to – record stand-ups or rewrite others’ reporting for the sake of rewriting it or waste money on production and design niceties.

That’s the way that journalism will have to be executed in the future: efficiently.

I’ve been wanting to get funding to perform an audit of the journalistic output and value of the entire legacy structure of news in a market. It’s not that the current state of news should be the model for the future but it is where the discussion begins: ‘How do we make sure we’ll maintain this level of reporting?’

Once journalism becomes efficient, I think it can do much better than maintain what we have now. When we cut out all the incredible waste – those standups and rewrites and frills and blather – and when we have an ecosystem that rewards unique value, as the internet does, then I think we could end up with more journalism, more reporting.

Bloggers have had to learn that, too. Just linking to and commenting on others’ reporting won’t get you much attention. Every blogger who does original reporting and tells the world something it doesn’t know but wants to know learns that this is how to get links and audience. Arianna Huffington told Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger in London months ago that she was hiring reporters because their stories get more traffic; it’s enlightened economic self-interest. This is a lesson we teach our journalism students at CUNY, when we have them add reporting to the conversations that are going on online.

Whether you’re a blogger or a new form of news organization, you’re going to have to ask with every move whether it will add value to the news ecosystem. If it doesn’t, you shouldn’t do it.

In the link economy, the value given to original reporting will rise. The ability to waste money on old practices of egotistical journalism will plummet. And what is left standing, I think, is more efficient and valuable reporting.

Death of the curator. Long live the curator.

For a long time now, I’ve been pushing hard the idea of journalist-as-curator. It appears that curators are looking at journalists and worrying about their loss of control, as evidenced by this post about the death of the curator, inspired by journalists – the Guardian – and curators – the Saatchi Gallery – enabling the great unwashed to help curate a show:

Museum curators and print journalists have a lot in common, in that it is their skills that turn an amount of information into something worth giving a damn about. There are plenty of other places to find out about the DefCon of journalism, especially the ever increasing problem of how to get paid. At this current moment in time, the museum curator is “safe”, got nothing to worry about. “It will all blow over”. The fact that there is a gallery in London who are going to offer thousands of people, many without art history degrees, the ability to choose what goes on the wall. The first step new media did to try to kill old media was to make the skills unimportant under the banner of “democratising”. “Everybody can get involved!” also means “It doesn’t matter what you know!”. Suddenly, your art history or archaeology degree isn’t looking so important, your museum post-grad may not be enough and your years of experience don’t mean much in the world of facemuseumtube when your job can be done by a thousand unpaid contributors. Curators may be safe now, but they would do well to look over their shoulders to their destitute journalist buddies.

Every priesthood, it seems, is having a fit over loss of its centralized control: How dare people pick what they like without history degrees or share what they know without journalism degrees! The nerve!

Except the irony in this comparison is that journalists need to learn better curatorial skills. Yes, in a sense, they’ve always curated information, collecting it, selecting it, giving it context in their stories. But now they have to do that across a much vaster universe: the internet. I hear all the time about the supposed problem of too much information online. Wherever you see a problem, I advise, seek the opportunity in it. There is a need to curate the best of that information (and even the people who gather it). We have many automated means to aggregate news (including Daylife, where I’m a partner). Curation is a step above that, human selection. It’s a way to add value.

I think that curators have things to teach journalists and that’s why I’m planning a symposium on curation at CUNY, bringing together museum curators, event curators, possibly even sommeliers to share their views of the value they add to collections of things, people, information – or wine. Note that one of the suggestions I make in What Would Google Do? is to capture the data of dining room – which wines went well with which dishes, according to diners – to crowdsource the job of the sommelier. Yes, every priesthood is vulnerable to the crowd.

[via Das Kulturemanagement blog]

Defining the new economy

I’m collecting links to thinking that tries to identify the essence of the new economy. In a stream-of-consciousness flow about just this, Brian Frank argues that we’re moving from an industrial to a venture-capital economy where supposed scientific precision gives way to the imperfection that is inherent in innovation:

[Paul] Graham compares this to the Industrial Revolution, which is a fair comparison in terms of scale, but I think we should recognize that these current changes are a kind of reversal, or inversion, or undoing of the Industrial Revolution.

Through the Industrial Revolution the economy itself gradually became like one big machine — or at least that’s how most economists tended to see it. Everything could supposedly be quantified, reduced, and rigorously predicted.

Silicon Valley represents something else entirely. . . .

Rather than expanding control and diminishing variations, the emerging attitude will be about expanding variety and accommodating the unknown. It inverts all of our intuitions and assumptions about doing business and managing the economy… Know your ecology and complexity science.

(My favourite books on this are The New Pioneers by Tom Petzinger, Surfing on the Edge of Chaos by Richard Pascale et al, and Bob Sutton’s Weird Ideas That Work… I haven’t read Jeff Jarvis’s What Would Google Do? yet — I have it on-reserve — but I think it might make my list too. Orbiting the Giant Hairball has been on my reading list for a long time as well.)

So far Silicon Valley is the best model we have for going forward. It addresses the two big defects of industrialism: the one pointed out by Roger Martin, that employees and customers are turned off by rigorous efficiency, and the one pointed out by Nassim Taleb, that the unexpected is inevitable.

The newswire of the future

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

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

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

Aim the gun the right way

The last time Paul Farhi and I disagreed, it was about who’s to blame for the fall of newspapers (he found journalists blameless; I didn’t). We disagree about the same topic again. This time, he’s arguing – in an incredibly long American Journalism Review piece – that it’s the Associated Press’ fault for selling content to portals.

I’m going to suggest that you compare his analysis to that of Joey Baker, who writes a heavy metal rendition of Clay Shirky’s already-legendary essay on the economics of news.

Inherent in what Farhi writes is every old assumption about the economics of media, unchallenged by others and by the reality of a new reality. The notion is that portals were empowered by having the AP’s news and that this made it into a commodity (not the AP’s homogenization of the news, not the fact that knowledge, once known, is a commodity). But as the AP’s execs and defenders say in the piece, if the AP had not been there, Reuters would have been. Indeed, Reuters was. A

nd today, Reuters has shifted to a reverse-syndication model in which it gives headlines to portals for links back, which Reuters then monetizes (sharing revenue back for the value of the links). The AP, handcuffed by its paper-owners, can’t do that. The papers should be following Reuters’ example by giving the headlines in exchange for links, which they then monetize.

The AP is, indeed, hurting papers, but not the way Farhi thinks. It’s hurting them by cutting off links to the original reporting. That is how the link economy works. (Oh, and by the way, the big bad portals are themselves crumbling. One wonders which will die first: the papers or their supposed killers.)

The fallacy in Farhi’s argument is this: “When you give away the news, it becomes a commodity. When something becomes a commodity, you lose your pricing power. And that’s where we are today on the Web.”

Now see Joey Baker shooting that through such arguments – aka “the kool-aid of the bass-akwards mind fuck that the ‘old media’ folks try to sell you” – like a machine gun:

“Our economy is based on the trade of IP, and yet, paradoxically, the internet has made information practically infinite. Therefore, attempting to make money by controlling the amount of information is doomed to fail. Put another way: controlling the scarcity of something that isn’t scarce can’t work.”

There are more bullets in his gun:

History is not a good guide here: The internet is a fundamental shift from anything we’ve experienced before. It’s as revolutionary as the printing press and as radical as the written word. It’s both asynchronous and instant two-way communication.

There are however, fundamental laws. We just don’t know them all yet. The idea that you can delay, or should delay the transition to an internet based economy is just stupid. We’re here. Welcome to the future.

We depend on competition in our economy (fundamental law), which means that the first person to figure this out is going to make a boat load of money. Delaying, will guarantee you’re not that person.

There are two camps out there: folks … who think that there is some way that we can charge users for content just because we’ve always done it (we haven’t). And folks like me, who are convinced that the internet is such a fundamental shift to the economy and information management, that charging for basic content is just asinine.

The first of these commentators writes about media for The Washington Post. The second is a student. The first lives in the old world and understands its rules. The second lives in the new world and understands its rules. Who are you going to listen to about the future? It seems obvious to me.

Heh

In Gatehouse’s anti-linking, anti-web suit against the New York Times Company, attorneys for the Times presented an email from Gatehouse digital head Howard Owens — who, of course, knows how the internet works — that says links with headlines and ledes are OK and are fair use. Heh.

I’d think Gatehouse would have better things to do with its spare resources and time than try to ruin the web. Let’s hope this suit dies fast.