Posts about wwgd

Google goes local

TechCrunch reports that Google is in negotiations to buy Yelp. Makes perfect sense. Google is ready to make an assault on local with its Place Pages and QR codes on local establishments and augmented maps and directions and mobile…. This turf was newspapers’ and phone companies’ to lose and lose it, they will.

Or as I put it in a tweet: “Yelp + GoogleMaps + StreetView + PlacePages + GOOG411 + Google Goggles + Android + AdSense = Google synchronicity”

Content farms v. curating farmers

Tweet: Content farms v curating farmers: Deeper insights in Demand Media’s model & finding opportunity in finding quality.

I spent an hour on the phone the other day with Steven Kydd, exec VP of Demand Studios, to understand their model—using algorithms to assign content creation based on search and advertising demand and to minimize cost and maximize revenue—because I wanted to learn a deeper layer of lessons than I think we’re hearing in the discussion of Demand’s allegedly evil genius.

The talk thus far misses their key insight and the opportunities they create. Much of what I see online is fear that Demand Media—with the slightly rechristened “Aol.” following fast behind—will cheapen content and flood the internet—that is, search results—with crap that’s just good enough to fool algorithms. Some also fear that while putting content creators to work they will put better content creators out of work: the dreaded deprofessionalization and deflation of media.

Michael Arrington marks the end of “hand-crafted content” (somewhere I hear Nick Carr and Andrew Keen cackling maniacally). And Read Write Web’s Richard MacManus worries that the web’s quality will suffer.

They may be right. But then again, the internet has always been filled with crap. So the challenge has always been how you find the cream. That’s where opportunities lie. That’s what Google saw. The new question is whether Google can keep ahead of the content farms and continually find new and better ways to find better stuff. I’ll bet on Google over crap-creators. But they better get cracking.

This is why, when I proposed an X prize to solve media’s key problems at Yale symposium, Clay Shirky responded with a call for work on what he called “algorithmic authority.” A few of my students’ proposals in my entrepreneurial journalism class tackled just this problem with discovering and prioritizing content for us: one using humans aided by algorithms, one using algorithms aided by humans; neither operated like a one-size-fits-all search engine (but then, soon, Google won’t either).

I think we may see search fall as the sole or even key means of discovery and filtering of quality content. I see three rings of discovery today: search (Google); algorithms (see: Google News, Daylife); and humans (see: Twitter). Note again that Bit.ly alone causes as many clicks a month—one billion—as Google News. Human power rises again. That’s what Fred Wilson says today when he argues that social beats search, because “it’s a lot harder to spam yourself into a social graph.” As search becomes more personal and no longer universal, SEO as a dark art and as the fertilizer for content farms will diminish and the social graph — our own circles of authority — will become more important in search as well. So I have faith that there are solutions to stem any rising tide of crap.

This is how I put it in a tweet: “algorithm-aided human writing will meet human-aided algorithmic curation; quality will rise.”

In all of this, I caution us not to miss Demand’s key insight: that the public should assign the creators, including journalists. The public often knows what it wants to know. I learned this lesson when I consulted at About.com and saw how they monitor search queries to see where there are questions for which the don’t have answers. When that happens, they go write answers; Demand automates the process. Makes sense.

This is not how we have operated in media: We decided which questions to answer because we asked them. What hubris! Today, I teach my students to find conversations on the internet and add journalism to them in the form of answers, corrections, reporting, explanations. In 2007, my students in a seminar at Burda in Munich and in my class at CUNY asked why the public doesn’t assign us and my entrepreneurial students in two classes have worked on that problem. Jay Rosen just started playing with this notion at ExplainThis.org, creating a platform for the public to ask reporters to report their questions. Demand and About are doing the same thing, only through search queries. Jeff Sonderman compiles some more examples. Where appropriate, reversing the assignment pipe is a good idea.

Demand is also creating a system they say will find the best writer for each assignment. We are free to disagree with their methods and results, but there’s insight here, too. Two students in my entrepreneurial journalism class won a grant to create a platform to do just this with local and hyperlocal news assignments (note that Kydd told me Demand isn’t touching news); I’ll report more on their project as it gets closer to launch. Can’t news organizations learn and steal some lessons from Demand? What if you wanted to create a content asset — say, a complete travel guide — and you opened up the process and its discreet tasks to a marketplace of paid contributors, enabling you to do larger projects at lower cost than before?

I always tell my students: Wherever you see a problem, look for the opportunity. That’s Arrington’s point: The next generation of content creation is here; deal with it. If you don’t like what Demand et al are doing, see the opportunity in it to surface quality content and to create competitive quality stars whose creations rise not just through algorithmic search cynicism but through human recommendation. Dig to the next layer.

* * *

I got lots of details from Kydd about the Demand method. In their view, they have combined content-creation and social-media platforms to enable content creators with “spare cycles”—his nerdy words—to earn money.

Kydd says 11 community members contribute to each article by fulfilling the discreet functions Demand identified: writing, copy-editing, copy-chiefing, reviewing titles, managing topic pages, checking facts. That is done by freelancers. The staff directs, edits, curates, and manages them. The algorithm makes all this more effective as it tracks content and ad demand and writes headlines for pieces it says will get traffic and earn money. Editors are 1.5 times more effective in creating assignments that will generate traffic, Kydd said, but the algorithm is 4.9 times better than creators.

Kydd said Demand pays from $0 (with revenue sharing) to $100 per piece; it averages at $20. Copy editors make $2.50-$3 per piece, which works out to $15-20 an hour. He said these people like to wake up and know there’s work they can do—there are 100k assignments waiting for takers right now—while they wait for old, human editors to respond to pitches. He said they also like being paid twice a week. Kydd said Demand employed 4,500 creators (text and video) and 400 copy editors in the last 30 days.

What amazed me most is that Demand uses its method not only for service content but for jokes at Cracked.com. Could an algorithm and social network replace Jay Leno? Easy.

: LATER: See also Doc Searls on junk food and chefs.

: Paul Marcum tweeted today: “Prediction: increasing clutter from algo content farms + mobile app convenience will have even @jeffjarvis paying for news by 2011.” I responded seeing the irony here: that value will come from aggregation and curation of quality content. But imagine then if the aggregators become more valuable than the creators and start charging; the creators (i.e., Murdoch) will go batshit. I’ve argued that in the link economy, there are two creations of value around content: from those who make the content and from those who bring together the public around it. Where is there greater value? We’ll see….

: LATER STILL: See Upendra Shardanand (founder of Daylife, where I’m a partner) on the need for new tools to create new handcrafted content. Problem is, he says, we’re using old text tools. See my related posts on storytelling and post-page media.

The new divide: Walled v. open

Tweet: The new divide in media is walled v. open. Here’s why I think walls are bad for the builders and us all.

In the discussion about news, there’s always a divide – because news loves divides. The splits have been old v. new, MSM v. blogs, professional v. amateur, institutional v. entrepreneurial, and lately paid v. free.

But I fear another divide we’re beginning to see develop is walled v. open. The legacy players – in what I believe is their last-ditch effort to save their old ways, models, and empires — are threatening to put up walls. News Corp. is forever rumored to be putting up both pay walls and more walls to keep Google’s hordes of Huns (aka us useless asshats) out.

Some say: Fine, digital suicide couldn’t happen to a better mogul. But I say we should fear the precedent, the balkanization of the web into isolated worlds. It’s true that all the data on the web is not today available via search — content trapped in data bases, in Flash, in comments, in video — though I see continuing efforts to bring that content into the tent. The momentum is toward including ever more data. But now come Murdoch and Microsoft, threatening to take their balls and go home. It’s their right to do so; as Google always points out, it’s also easy to do so.

But I would hate to see walls go up just as we are tearing them down. That’s how Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridger began his road show on the mutualization of news for my students a week ago: showing the wall between the press and the people coming down. But then, Rusbridger recognizes that the future of news – any industry, really – is about handing over control. That is what Murdoch et al fear most.

I fear balkanization. I fear stupidity, too – that others will follow Rupert the Pied Piper over the cliff. And I fear the impact on democracy.

At some events lately, I’ve heard it argued that information needs to be free to be democratic. I don’t agree. But I do say that when information is free, it becomes more democratic. Or put it a better way: the cheaper news and information is, the more people can be informed and the better that is for democracy.

Rusbridger reminds us that advertising freed newspapers from ownership and control by political parties and special interests who exercised that control via patronage. Advertising gave journalism independence. Advertising also subsidized news and reduced its cost so more people could get it. Surely the mission of news is to serve as many people as possible and so things that serve that end serve the mission; things that don’t, don’t.

I’m accused by those who don’t listen to what I say of arguing that – in the too-often paraphrased half quote – news (information, content) wants to be free, as if that is my cause, my religion. No, I say that I want to support news in the most sustainable and profitable way possible — and I believe today, that’s still advertising, which will work better in the open. I want to make news more efficient and less expensive so it can, again, be more sustainable — which will also work better in the open as networks, collaboration, and links serve that efficiency. And I want news to be as open as possible so as many people as possible can use it — that’s as close as I get to a cause: not that information wants to be or must be free but that it is better to be open.

Murdoch thinks Google is doing evil — kleptomania — because he doesn’t understand the new realities of media. Microsoft knows better. Its alleged attempt to woo old-man Murdoch is an act of deepest cynicism. It’s evil.

I believe that the next wave of virtue in society will flow from openness: from government transparency, from corporate transparency, from personal publicness and an ethic of openness that will bring greater accountability, deeper connections, and meaningful sharing.

Walls used to contain value; that’s why it’s the reflex of the legacy powerful to want to build them. They don’t see that today, in an open society and economy, walls no longer preserve value, they diminish it.

So I’m not rooting for Murdoch to build his walls as good sport. I really wish he wouldn’t, for his sake and ours.

Worthless readers

Tweet: Worthless readers. And what to do about Murdoch et al’s whining about them.

One response publishers make to my argument that Google drives value to them and their content in the link economy is that the readers Google sends are worthless.

Worthless readers. WIliam Randolph Hearst, Joseph Pulitzer, Joseph Medill, Katherine Graham, and C.P. Scott are rolling (with pained laughter) in their graves. Since when did readers become worthless? Since when did a newspaper have enough readers?

“We can’t monetize those readers,” the hapless publishers whine. What’s the problem with these readers? “They read just one article and then leave,” is one complaint. “We can’t sell enough ads,” is another. And how is that Google’s fault?

No, this is the publishers’ failure and fault, not Google’s. Only the publishers can fix it. That they would rather complain than try is only evidence that they have given up on growth, on optimism, on the future. Rupert Murdoch and his son, James, have said they would rather shrink to more valuable (read: paying) customers, but then James has also said that News Corp. is no longer a news company but a TV company. It’s one matter to get rid of readers who cost too much because your trucks drive too far to deliver newspapers to them or you bribe them too often with bingo/wingo or sneakerphones to get them to subscribe. But online, more readers costs you nothing but bandwidth, which keeps on costing less. So Murdoch pere et fils have surrendered.

I choose not to. I say there is plenty they could do:

1. Relevance. Publishers should provide more relevant links and content to satisfy and serve these readers. I learned at About.com, where I consulted, that the most effective means of driving more traffic into the site, rather than away, was relevant links. Readers may come via search but may not find what they are looking for, so offer them more. If someone came to your restaurant for the crab cakes, wouldn’t you also offer slaw?

2. Context. I want to suggest abandoning the article for the constantly updated topic page (a la Wave). The problem with an article online is that it has a short half life and gathers few links and little ongoing attention and thus Googlejuice. It’s for this reason that Google’s Marissa Mayer has been advising publishers to move past the article to the topic. Abandoning the article for some living, breathing news beast yet to be defined may be a bit too radical for today’s publishers. So instead, I suggest, at least place the article into a space with broader context – archives, quotes, photos, links, discussion, wikified knowledge about the topic, feeds of updates; make the article a gateway to anything more you’d want on its subjects. Daylife (where I’m a partner) is working on something like that.

3. Sell. When someone comes in from search without a cookie attached, you know this person is not a regular reader. Yet you give her the same page you give to your constant readers. What you should do, instead, is sell the wonders of your site. Show off your best and most popular stuff. I’ve heard and used the phrase “every page a home page” for years, but I’ve never seen a publisher mean it, except for Stockholm’s Aftonbladet. Go to the site, click on most any store, and scroll down and you will find the entire home page replicated. Insane? Like a Swede.

4. Sell ads. OK, so this search-driven reader may not be local and so you can’t serve an ad for the hospital up the street. What sites do instead is place remnant network ads there at terribly low CPMs; that is why they complain about the value of readers who come from Google, Drudge, et al. But Dave Morgan’s Tacoda solved – at least until it was swallowed up by AOL [pardon me, Aol.] – by using data points across sites to maximize the value of ads served (e.g., someone who visits a travel site is served a high-CPM travel ad even after leaving and going to a harder-to-target local site). I’ve been arguing for reverse syndication as a means of maximizing ad value and even suggested that papers should link together to sell their national inventory (oh, that’s right, they tried to in the New Century Network but couldn’t get their act together … surprise!).

5. Kill commodity news and cost. Focus. Part of the problem is that papers carry commodity content that draws audience – via search – that is hard to target with local advertising. That commodity content also costs money to produce. A key imperative of the link economy is that one must specialize – to draw the “right” audience and to find the efficiency that comes from doing what you do best and linking to the rest. The better job a paper does focusing, the more it can create appropriate content to attract appropriate audience and advertising and the more economically it can operate.

6. Stop whining. It’s unbecoming. It makes you look weak and wimpy as if you have no strategy and no control over your vision and have just given up on adapting to new realities and growing by finding new audience and building a future but only plan to milk the last drops out of your dying business. Or maybe that’s all true.

: See Danny Sulllivan, who beat me to writing this post.

This is round two against Google. In round one, some publishers said Google steals our content. Google’s response was that it sends them millions of visitors for free. So in round two, it’s time to make out like those visitors aren’t worth much. That’s especially important if you’re an executive who, after floating the idea of dropping Google, comes under attack as stupidly cutting your own throat.

Me, I see visitors as opportunities. This is the internet, where you can tell far more about a visitor to your web site than you can in print. . . .

Do something. Anything. Please. Survive. But there’s one thing you shouldn’t do. Blame others for sending you visitors and not figuring out how to make money off of them.

See also Umair Haque: “Blocking Google is about as smart as eating a pound of plutonium.”

: On Twitter, Steven Johnson asks: “unless they’re “worth less” than the cost of serving the page, what’s the harm since Google delivers them for free?”

Murdoch madness

(I double-posted the Murdoch Madness post but won’t kill this entirely because there are comments now attached….)

Newspapers want enemies, not friends

On today’s On Point, Michael Wolff, Steve Brill, and I talked about Murdoch and Google and the show’s blog quoted me thusly:

But News Corp isn’t the only one making the mistake here. I think the mistake that Google has made in this – and I’m an admirer of Google, I wrote a book to that effect – but I think that Google thought that they could become friends with the newspaper industry. And the newspaper industry isn’t looking for friends. They’re looking for enemies they can blame for the problems that are actually their own from the last fifteen years of inaction in the face of this dying light. And so it’s impossible for Google to become friends with the newspaper industry.

Gained something in the translation

Tweet: A tweet paraphrased my link-economy line and showed me I’ve been saying more than I thought I have. **

In Twitter today, one @rpaskin paraphrased something I’ve been saying – and said again in my talk at Web 2.0 Expo Tuesday (generously covered in that link by Aneta Hall). My line has been that in the link economy, value comes from the creator of the content and from the creator of a public (formerly known as an audience). That is, Rupert’s wrong with he says that Google takes content; it gives attention.

Anyway, @rpaskin tweeted this: “In a link economy, there are values from creating content and linking to content. There’s no value in just reproducing content (Jeff Jarvis).”

I didn’t say that exactly but I think it better expressed what I have been trying to say. Or at least it added a perspective and raised a fundamental and important question, namely:

Is there value anymore in reproducing content? Is the six-century-long reign of Guttenberg and the industries he created really over?

Wow. Maybe so. In my discussions of the link economy, I had been concentrating on explaining and defending the side of the value equation brought by Google, aggregators, blogger, Twitter, et al rather than on the loss of value brought to those who reproduced – rather than created – content. But in looking at the entire equation, what @rpaskin says stands to reason: There is no value left over for the copiers. Indeed, online, if one copies, one is considered a thief because it’s only the thieves who copy.

The problem is, of course, that it was through the making and selling of copies that monetary value was extracted and that is why it is so upsetting to those who did so that they can’t do it anymore. It’s upsetting that they don’t see other ways to recognize value. It’s what makes folks including Murdoch say silly things that betray ignorance about the workings of our new world.

I’m sure Rupert knows exactly how the scribes Guttenberg put out of business felt.

ALSO: Speaking of speaking of Murdoch, you can hear me doing so – along with Michael Wolf and Steven Brill – on Murdoch’s tilting against Google’s energy-efficient windmills.

** Once again, I’m experimenting with using tweets about posts as subheds summarizing those posts.

Nose, face, cut, spite: Blocking Google

There’s been a swine flu of stupidity spreading about the Murdoch meme of blocking Google from indexing a site’s content (to which Google always replies that you’ve always been able to do that with robots.txt – so go ahead if you want). I love that The Reach Group (TRG), a German consulting company, has quantified just how damaging that would be to Google: hardly at all.

TRG took the content of the 1,000 domains controlled by the 148 German publishers that signed the so-called Hamburg Declaration (a veiled shot at Google) and analyzed how critical they are to Google search results. TRG asked the question: “How empty would the first 10 Google search results be if one could no longer find anything from the 148 German publishers?”

It’s quite another matter if Wikipedia were not there. It appears on 13% of first-page results. That is, one entity – Wikipedia – is on the treasured first page almost three times as often as all of Germany’s top publishers. How does one say this in German? Yow.

This chart shows that sites of the Hamburg Declaration publishers have 5% share of a position on the first page of search results:

GermanGoogleTRGchart

This chart shows that Wikipedia has 13% share of the No. 1 position in search results:

googlegermanchart2

TRG further notes that Wikipedia represents only 0.01% of pages in the Google index – vs. 4.01% for German publishers – yet even so, Wikipedia pages clearly get more clicks and links and thus, Googlejuice.

RELATED: Jason Calicanis fantasizes about Microsoft paying The New York Times to leave Google’s index for Bing. Let me explain why that would never happen. 1. The Times is not stupid. 2. Times subsidiary About.com – the only bright spot these days in the NYTimesCo’s P&L – gets 80% of its traffic and 50% of its revenue from Google. 3. See rule No. 1.

Michael Arrington then joined in the fantasy saying that News Corp. could change the balance by shifting to Bing, but ends his post with his own reality check: MySpace – increasingly a disaster in News Corp’s P&L – is attempting to negotiate its $300 million deal with Google.

Microsoft can suck up to European publishers all it wants – even adopting their ACAP “standard,” which no one in the search industry is saluting because, as Google often points out, it addresses the desires only of a small proportion of sites and it would end up aiding spammers – but it won’t make a damned bit of difference.

As Erick Schonfeld reports, also on TechCrunch, if WSJ.com turned off Google it would lose 25% of its web traffic. He quotes Hitwise, which says 15% comes from Google search, 12% from Google News – and 7% from Drudge (aggregator), and 2% from Real Clear Politics (aggregator). From HItwise:

hitwisewsj3

But so what if News Corp does withdraw from Google? So what, indeed? Will other publishers join? No, they’ll celebrate the chance to grab more juice. If I saw any publishers pull out, I’d run at the chance to create topic pages to grab the little juice they have.

SEE ALSO: This analysis from The Internet Marketing Driver showing the importance of Google, Facebook, and Yahoo in driving audience to many sties. What they then do with that audience is then up to them. According to the imperatives of the link economy, it is up to he or she who gets the links to monetize them.

[Hat tip to friend Wolfgang Blau for twittering the TRG link. If I mistranslated, please corrected me.]