I keep thinking over Jason Calacanis’ contemplation of hiring an ombudsman for his new service, Mahalo, and his kind (I think) inclusion of my name among the candidates (sorry, Jason; lots of irons in that fire). Though I agree with others that this is a laudable step — I think we can name the new-media sites with ombudsmen on no fingers — I still couldn’t help thinking that there’s something so old-media about this.

And then it hit me as I used Mahalo this morning. As my daughter and I started into our occasional German lessons, I went to Mahalo’s good speaking-German page, recommended on Jason’s blog. And I wanted to add something: Annik Rubin’s mellifluous Schlaflos in Muenchen and her new Slow German podcast. My choices were to send an email to the Mahalo guide, which I’m never crazy about because it’s so one-way, or start a forum discussion, which requires registration, a speedbump. Neither immediately affects the page itself. What I wanted, though, was a wiki. I wanted to contribute my knowledge then and there.

And so it occurred to me that the best ombudsman is everyone. Every one of your readers with an addition, correction, or challenge is an ombudsman. And every one of your writers, dealing directly with the people who know more, is an ombudsman for your brand and product. You have to have the faith in your public to do this. This is what I’ve been saying to newspapers: It’s not right to ghettoize contact with the public through one person so that the rest of the staff thinks that the public is somebody else’s problem; everyone needs to be responsible for conversation with the public.

So that’s my advice to Jason: Set up the systems to that every employee and every reader is your ombudsman. Fire me before you hire me.

  • The registration road bump is an issue we’ve been dealing with. You know how open comments without registration can be. You might not have taken the time to submit links, etc, but thousands of other folks have. So, I guess we have a situation where we get little to no spam because of registration, but less feedback. It’s an issue I struggle with all the time.

    Search is even worse then blogs when it comes to spam because there are tens of thousands of SEOs who have all the time in the world to spam indexes AND GET PAID FOR DOING SO. You take down registration and they would go wild on the system.

    So, that right there is an ombudsman-like discussion you’ve keyed off of… great first day on the job! :-)

    I agree that the world should be our ombudsman, and our discussion pages (which could be exposed more, and will be) and the open web are the platform right now.

    However, I look at the ombudsman role at a startup as amplifying the discussion already going on. So, if someone thinks we are not taking suggestions on the top seven in the travel section to heart, or not being fair, then the ombudsman could that that persons issue and blow it out. Get a discussion started about it in a safe, objective place (i.e. on this blog).

    It’s not an either or for me… I think open platform with 100% transparency + ombudsman is the solution. Imagine if Wikipedia had an ombudsman or two? That would be amazing… a flame come out in a newspaper or a persons blog and the ombudsman distills down the issues, themes, people, and solutions. Everyone keys off that open discussion.

    Anyway, it is a compliment as although we’ve had spirited debates about issues in the past, I’ve always felt you are a very deep thinker about important issues. When focused on a topic you tend to go much deeper than anyone else in the discussion. That’s the kind of obsessive dissection we’re looking for. Someone to obsess on issues so we can resolve them/deal with them.

    best, j

  • I think it is a great idea but I can see the Jeff’s point about this being old media and I suspect it will be hard to find someone of his stature with the time to devote to the role.

    How about a users´panel instead? Or sharing a team of ombudsmen with other media sites (Wikipedia, for example)?

    It might also be useful to use crowd-sourcing to highlight the key questions and priorities. My site, Yoosk, provides a model of how this could work.

    Yoosk ( is a crowd-sourced interview magazine. I realise that here is not the place to pitch the site, but in a nutshell, it enables the public to ask questions of public figures (politicians, business leaders and celebrities) which are then voted on Digg style. In partnership with pro-journalists, we will then do our best to get the answers to the highest ranking questions (in some cases we have prior agreement) and publish them.

    Our plan is to start a corporate section- a kind of crowd sourced ombudsman- where we retain an independent standing panel of bloggers or specialists in a particular area, as well as customers/users.

    So, for example, if Mahalo were to have a section on our site, the process would have the advantage of appearing independent and at the same time the most important issues would rise to the top, indicating users’ priorities. Other feedback mechanisms are also built in and can be easily adapted.

    You might be able to persuade the likes of Jeff and others of similar standing, as well as younger bloggers and new media users, to form a panel that could act as ombudsman for a number of other new media companies, thus sharing the cost while getting the benefits of a team approach and a variety of views (including flexible allocation of time of the ombudsman panel members-important for people like Jeff).

  • Calvin O’Conner

    No need for an obmudsman, its a ghost town.

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  • Hello,

    I wanted to let you know I’ve added in your suggestions to the How to Speak German page on Mahalo, thank you for your suggestions!


  • I still don’t quite get Mahalo (though the fact that I’m still occasionally trying to says something about either the concept’s inherent quality or Jason’s ability to generate buzz), but it seems your desire Jeff runs counter to much of the concept behind Mahalo. As I see it: Mahalo does not want to be open, it is a gatekeeper. But it’s an introductory gatekeeper, not an all-encompassing one, and those can be good.

    A best of both worlds might be an automatically generated page of submitted links that exists underneath/in-relationship to the main page. It can be toggled on or off. The good: you would see the submission immediately, which avoids the “it’s so one-way” Jeff doesn’t care for. The bad: it can be spammed, which is what Mahalo is fighting. By keeping it as a toggled on/off section in relationship to the main page, you would still keep the editorial control (and that’s certainly what Mahalo is doing), but would have a wild-west links page to reference if you want to dig deeper.

    Frankly, that would also be a boon to this potential ombudsman. Users see bias in how an editor is running their page. They call on the ombudsman, who has a reference/starting point for investigating the claim. Cheers.

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