Posts about newarchitecture

Attention + Influence do not equal Authority

In the dustup over whether it is a good idea to sort Twitter posts by authority – defined as the number of followers one has – John Naughton rises above the cloud to see a larger fallacy in the discussion: The number of followers one has does not equal authority. It stands for influence (or I’d say, it is a proxy for attention – and then, in some cases, influence).

The problem Naughton sees is the same one that plagues analysis of online discussion using media metrics. In mass media, of course, big was better because you had to be big to own the press: Mass mattered. We still measure and value things online according to that scale, even though it is mostly outmoded. Indeed, we now complain about things getting too big – when, as Clay Shirky says, what we’re really complaining about is filter failure. That is why Loic Le Meur suggested filtering Twitterers by their followers; he’s seeking a filter.

The press was the filter. And the press came to believe its own PR and it conflated size with authority: We are big, therefore we have authority; our authority comes from our bigness.

But the press, of all parties, should have seen that this didn’t give them authority, for the press was supposed to be in the business of going out to find the real authorities and reporting back to what they said. This is why I always cringe when reporters call themselves experts. No, reporters are expert only at finding experts. Now to put this back in Twitter terms: Reporters don’t have authority. They have attention and possibly influence because they have so many followers. But that doesn’t give them authority. There’s the fallacy Naughton pinpoints.

“So we need to unpack the concept of ‘authority,’” Naughton argues.

One way of doing that is to go back to Steven Lukes’s wonderful book in which he argues that power can take three forms: 1. the ability to force you to do what you don’t want to do; 2. the ability to stop you doing something that you want to do; and 3. the ability to shape the way you think.

In my experience, the last interpretation comes closest to describing the authority of the blogosphere’s long tail. It’s got nothing to do with the number of readers a particular blog has, but everything to do with the intellectual firepower of the blog’s author.

Naughton argues that the number to manage on Twitter is the Twitter_index – that is, the proportion of followers to (what?) followees. He believes it ought to be 1.0 – that is, equal – “otherwise one gets into the online celebrity, power-law nonsense that Le Meur describes.”

I wouldn’t go quite that far, but I’ll go halfway there. When I wrote for TV Guide and People, I supposedly had an audience northward of 20 million. I’ll hasten to say that was utter bullshit on many levels – the idea that one could trust syndicated research to count readers (as opposed to purchasers) and the presumption that every reader read every page (or ad – which is the real bubble in old media). Still, those were the numbers we bragged about, as if they gave us authority.

Dare I say that this blog gives me more authority – in Naughton’s and Lukes’ terms – than those publications did? My hackneyed example of Dell Hell reached more people in a more meaningful way than any review of Babylon 5 (though I still get in trouble for panning it).

But note well that the authority in Dell Hell was not me. I didn’t have authority (I didn’t write about PCs or pretend to any expertise in customer service). It was my message that had authority or at least relevance, as that was the reason it was passed around. And it was the passing around that invested it with authority.

So to that extent, Le Meur’s not wrong when he tries to find a way to express and calculate the idea that it’s not the author who holds authority but his or her audience. But his critics are also right when they say that number of followers won’t get him there. I think there is no easy measure, but if it exists it will be found instead in relationships: seeing how an idea spreads (because it is relevant and resonates) and what role people have in that (creating the idea, finding it, spreading it, analyzing it) and what one thinks of those people (when MrTweet.net tells me that John Naughton follows someone, I’ll see more authority in that than, say, whom Robert Scoble follows – no offense, Robert – because Naughton is so highly selective). That is what the totality of the press-sphere will also look like as various players add varying value to add up to a whole (and in 3D, the sphere will look different to each of us, so one-size-fits-all measurements will become even more meaningless).

Part of the problem in the Twitter discussion is also that the number of followers is, in the end, a proxy for celebrity while links – which Google PageRank and, for better or worse, Technorati value – come closer to measuring at least relevance. As old media faced more and more competition it became more and more about fame (and that was when access to the celebrity became more valuable than access to the audience). The internet’s value is that it is more about relevance. So I think the reason some people reacted so much from the gut against Le Meur’s suggestion is that it unwittingly corrupted the new world with the crass celebrity of the old. The last thing we need or want in the web is Nielsen ratings.

: LATER: Case in point: Tim O’Reilly kindly retweets my link to this post and then I watch it get re-retweeted again and again. That happens because it’s O’Reilly retweeting and he has authority not becauase he has the most followers – though he has many – but because he’s smart and respected (he has authority); it also happens, perhaps, because my post is relevant to a discussion. Message + spreader (or author) comes closer to authority than mere reader ratings.

It’s not just an era; it’s a new world order

Fred Wilson says what I’ve been thinking: That we’re in more than a financial crisis, we’re in a fundamental restructuring.

Clearly the economic downturn is the direct cause of most of these failures but I believe it is the straw that broke the camel’s back in most cases.

The internet, now closing in on 15 years old in its mainstream incarnation as the world wide web, is in many cases the underlying cause of these business failures.

Bits of information flowing over a wire (or through the air) are just more efficient than physical infrastructure….

This downturn will be marked in history as the time where many of the business models built in the industrial era finally collapsed as a result of being undermined by the information age.

Fred outlines fundamental changes in retail, banking, and auto sales, to name three industries, and then is kind enough to plug my book for more.

I also argued in a recent Guardian column that not only will specific industries be overtaken by this change but so will the structure of the economy as – post-crisis, post-Google – companies and sectors will no longer grow to critical mass through vast ownership funded by vast debt but instead, Google-like, by building networks atop platforms. Industries will change and so will the structure in which they operate.

The point in any case is that it would be a mistake to think that we will come out of this financial crisis soon wounded but still seeing the world the way we saw it before. In the graveyard of camels with broken backs, we will see a new world newly structured and we’re only beginning to figure it out.

In this sense, media – music, newspapers, TV, magazines, books – may be lucky to be among the first to undergo this radical restructuring. Communications was also early on because it – like media – appeared close to the internet and Google (though, as I say in the post below, it’s a mistake to see the internet strictly as media or as pipes; it’s something other). Other industries and institutions – advertising, manufacturing, health, education, government… – are next and they, like their predecessors, don’t see what’s coming, especially if they think all they’re undergoing is a crisis. The change is bigger, more fundamental, and more permanent than that.

Hope

After a yo-yo of hope and no hope below, now we move to the only discussion that really matters: What to do about it. Edward Roussel, head of digital at the Telegraph in London, writes an inspired essay telling newspapers what they should do – if it isn’t too late.

The best approach for battle-weary media executives may be to let the fire run its course—however counterintuitive that might seem. That’s partly because there is little the newspaper industry can do to stop the advancing flames. But it’s also because today’s obsession with saving newspapers has meant that, for the most part, media companies have failed to plan adequately for tomorrow’s digital future. The economic downturn has added to the urgent need for a change of direction….

He makes 10 strong suggestions (my links added):

1. Narrow the focus.
“…[M]edia companies need to invest more money in their premium content—editorial that is unavailable elsewhere but that is highly valued by readers. Go deep, not wide.

2. Plug into a network. “…Media companies will increasingly see themselves as part of a chain of content, as opposed to a final destination. Journalists will act as filters, writing with authority but also guiding readers to sources that add depth to coverage. The future of journalism is selling expertise, not content.”

3. Rolling news with views. “Newspaper deadlines suit publishers, not readers. News is a continuum…. It’s not simply about serving breaking news—the AP and Reuters can handle that. The role of a newspaper company on the Web is to add value: look at a story from a number of angles, engage your audience, add multimedia.

4. Engage with your readers. “The explosion of blogging and social media Web sites has created a culture in which consumers of news expect to be included in the news publishing process….”

5. Bottom up, not top down. “The reporters on the ground are closest to your readers. They are therefore best placed to conceive, create and nurture community Web sites….”

6. Embrace multimedia.Train editors to see video, photo galleries, graphics and maps as equal storytelling forms to text….”

7. Nimble, low-cost structures. “About 75 percent of newspaper costs have nothing to do with the creation of editorial content…. Newspaper companies are bad at technology, so a digitally minded chief technology officer will be able to get cheaper and more effective services by outsourcing. Newspaper sales teams don’t do particularly well at selling ads on the Internet; too often they sell ads that are irrelevant to a reader’s interests in an era when Google has made relevance key. If your sales team can’t beat Google, then outsource to Google.”

8. Invest in the Web. “Don’t try to suck too much revenue from your fledgling network. Your Web site needs investment before it can fly… A Web revenue-growth model cannot simply be a mirror image of the decline in your newspaper sales.”

9. Shake up leadership. “…If the people who run your newsroom aren’t passionate about your digital future, it’s certain not to materialize.”

10. Experiment. “…Don’t be afraid of failure. Try new projects, see what works, and build on success.”

A danger to journalism

The more I think about it, the angrier I get at Gatehouse for its dangerous and hypocritical crusade against links.

Links are the bloodstream of the web, carrying its oxygen. Links are how original journalism will get audience, traffic, branding, attention, credit, and monetization. Links are a gift and a courtesy. Links are the means to better-informed communities. Links tie people together with each other and the information they need. Links are necessary. Links are good.

But Gatehouse (like the AP before it and the French often) is fighting links from Boston.com. That’s a case of cutting off its nose to spite its face: Gatehouse is turning away traffic and audience. Suicide. But it’s also attempted murder: If on the very slight chance that an equally clueless judge lets this suit proceed, it could put a chill on linking just when we need it most. That’s what’s dangerous. That is irresponsible on Gatehouse’s part.

Indeed, we need more links to more journalism at its source, as I proposed to the Associated Press in the midst of its aborted antilink crusade. Links are also the key to specialization and efficiency; they will allow a local publication to do local well and link to other stories rather than rewriting them: Do what you do best, link to the rest.

In the comments on my post yesterday, Brian Cubbison (of Syracuse.com) pointed out the irony – make that hypocrisy – of Gatehouse’s link policy, as – just like Boston.com – it started a hyperlocal blog in Batavia – where, unlike the Globe, it has no paper – and it links to papers owned by other companies. See this post on the blog’s very first day. I’d say what it does is far worse for both readers and the competition: It summarizes stories (arguably making it unnecessary to click through; Boston.com instead quotes ledes that should entice readers to read more) and it links only to the home page and not directly to the stories (which is downright rude and inconvenient to readers who then would have go do digging for the content). This is closer to stealing content and journalistic value than what Boston.com does. See also this Batavia post today, which summarizes and quotes a competitor’s story – more than Boston.com has done – and links to it. And look at this post from a blog at Gatehouse’s Wicked Local – the alleged victim of Boston.com’s linking – which quotes news from Boston.com and doesn’t link to it. I’d say that is theft.

So what should happen here? Should Gannett sue Gatehouse? Should we all just sue each other for lnking to each other – for doing what the web is all about? As Mark Potts says:

This sort of nonsense really has to stop. Companies like GateHouse need to understand the medium they’re playing in, and how best to play in it, rather than trying to turn back the clock to some sort of imaginary time when they could keep their garden walls tall and stout.

If you can’t stand the links, Gatehouse, get off the web.

Gatehouse’s market cap is a measly $2.1 million. Why don’t we put together a fund to buy it and put it out of its misery and get rid of this ridiculous suit. Or let’s all appeal to Michael E. Reed, CEO of the embattled Gatehouse: Stop this dangerous and destructive suit.

: MORE: Henry Blodget mocks Gatehouse: “We hereby give the New York Times permission to aggregate any or all of our headlines and ledes anytime they feel like it. We’ll even give GateHouse Media the same permission. We can’t wait to welcome their readers to our sites.”

Journalistopia says:

If GateHouse were to have its way with its deep link argument, it would create a legal precedent that makes the act of linking to a copyrighted article illegal. It could mean a crippling of sites such as Romenesko and the Drudge Report, which can bring in enormous amounts of readers while being primarily built upon links to someone else’s expensive-to-create content. But, if enforced, it would also cut off the voluminous flow of readers who arrive to news sites via search engines and aggregators. That, too, has an effect on the bottom line.

In the end, we could see a long list of media companies flinging short-sighted lawsuits at each other, while suicidally pushing their content into black holes guarded by copyright law.

[Disclosures: I have an interest in the link economy as a partner at Daylife and a board member at Publish2 and an advisor to Outside.in. I am involved with those companies because I believe links are the foundation of news in the future.]

: LATER: Matthew Ingram has a v good response to the dustup:

With David Carr’s argument that newspapers should ignore the Web only a few days old — not to mention Joel Brinkley’s suggestion that anti-trust violations are a viable business model — I thought the market for stupid newspaper-related activity was pretty well saturated. But apparently I was wrong….

GateHouse apparently doesn’t like the way the Internet works. That puts the company in the same category as the World Newspaper Association and forward-thinking types like Chicago Tribune owner Sam Zell, who have repeatedly criticized Google for linking to news stories from its Google News search engine, or the Belgian newspapers that sued Google over similar tactics. All of these groups are trying to turn back time, to play King Canute with the rolling wave that is the Web, instead of trying to find ways of using that wave to their mutual advantage….

When did Gatehouse become clueless?

Gatehouse has been a smart if small – and getting smaller (stock=$0.04-$0.05; down 99.05% in a year; market cap=$2.1 million) – local media company. It is, for example, going into competitors’ markets to compete with them online with hyperlocal blogs. So I just can’t wait to hear their explanation and justification for following the Associated Press down the rabbit hole to sue Boston.com for daring to link to its sites.

Here‘s Boston.com’s version of the story; here‘s Gatehouse’s. As near as I can tell, Gatehouse’s gets it way wrong accusing Boston.com of copying whole stories. “Boston.com has posted as many as 30 stories per day of original GateHouse content on its Newton site,” the Gatehouse story says. But here‘s Boston.com’s Newton hyperlocal site; all I see are headlines, ledes, and links directly to complete stories on Gatehouse’s Wickedlocal with clear branding. The links are all the stronger because they include headlines (I argue in my book that online, your product is your ad).

Gatehouse should be sucking Boston.com’s toes begging for more links, not siccing lawyers on them as the AP did when a blog dared to link to its stories from headlines.

The move is not just brain dead but dangerous, for it threatens the ecology of links that I believe will be the underpinning of news online. Links are how original journalism will be supported.

Boston.com and its parent, The New York Times Company, need to fight for the right to link. Gatehouse needs to get a clue.

Eyewitness news, indeed

Henry Blodget points to another milestone for Twitter: a passenger tweets a plane crash (after getting out, one hopes) — including a consumer relations moment (Continental won’t give the survivors a drink).

An ecology of accuracy

John Naughton’s Observer column this morning recounts the shitstorm the Wall Street Journal brought on itself with its innacurate and ignorant story on Google and content cashing (v. net neutrality) and concludes:

You might think this is all a storm in an online teacup, but in fact it’s a revealing case study of how our media ecosystem has changed. What happened is that reporters on a major newspaper got something wrong. Nothing unusual about that – and the concept of “network neutrality” is a slippery one if you’re not a geek or a communications regulator. But within minutes of the article’s publication, it was being picked up and critically dissected by bloggers all over the world. And much of the dissection was done soberly and intelligently, with commentators painstakingly explaining why Google’s move into content-caching did not automatically signal a shift in the company’s attitude to network neutrality. Lessig was able instantly to rebut the views attributed to him in the article.

Watching the discussion unfold online was like eavesdropping on a civilised and enlightening conversation. Browsing through it I thought: this is what the internet is like at its best – a powerful extension of what Jürgen Habermas once called “the public sphere”.

He continues on his blog:

This was about as far as you can get from the LiveJournal-OMG-my-cat-has-just-been-sick media stereotyping of blogging. It was an illustration of something that has always been true — that the world is full of clever, thoughtful, well-informed people. What has changed is that we now have a medium in which they can talk to one another — and to newspaper reporters, of only the latter are prepared to participate in the conversation….

My complaint about the WSJ’s reaction to the blogosphere’s reaction is that it evinced a refusal to participate. The errors made by its reporters were serious but for the most part understandable; journalism is the rushed first draft of history and we all make mistakes. The tragedy was that the Journal saw the blogosphere’s criticism as a problem, when it fact it was an opportunity.

The journalism of filling space and time

Election days are — next to the days after Thanksgiving and Christmas — the worst days of journalism on the calendar. They are “yeah, we know” days. People shop. People vote. Tell me something I don’t know. Please. This is the journalism of filling space and time. We have to print an edition or fill airtime and this is what’s happening today and you’re going to come to us anyway so we’re going to tell you about it even if we have nothing — nothing — new and informative to say.

The journalism of links, on the other hand, would dictate that it’s not worth using resources to tell people what they already know because no one will pass that on and passing on is the new distribution chain for news. (People won’t just come to you anyway anymore.)

I’m not suggesting that news judgment should be determined just by what is passed around. We know how silly the most-emailed lists are; they’re the wacky stories, water-cooler journalism. Instead, I’m suggesting that if you can’t imagine anyone linking to your coverage — if you can’t imagine anyone saying “this was new,” “this is good,” “this was valuable,” “go here for more,” “I didn’t know this,” or “you should know this” — then chances are, it’s not worth saying and in the link economy it won’t get audience, and so it’s not worth making.

In that link economy — in the Googleverse — you stand out above the level playing field by creating something uniquely useful, informative, compelling, or valuable. As other news organizations cut back, they will more and more point to good work done elsewhere. So another way to ask this question is, “have I contributed something to the press-sphere (and will I get attention as a result)?” For elsewhere in the sphere, others are doing what they do best and linking to the rest.

At the Telegraph, online editor Marcus Warren just told PaidContent: “We are doing what we do best, main content, but also linking to the rest, as Jeff Jarvis would put it.” Or as Marcus Huendgen just said in Der Westen, “Do the fucking links.” Yes, I’m gratified at the spread of that meme. It’s not just advice. It’s a recognition of the new architecture of news and media.

A few years ago, the Associated Press did a lot of research among young people as it prepared to create a news product for them. One meme they heard again and again: “Don’t tell us what we already know.” Don’t waste their time — and your dwindling resources.

So I come to you today over-informed about how many people are standing in a random line or about a random machine that broke down and got fixed — because that’s where the reporter was standing and she had nothing else to tell me. Don’t bother.