Posts about bestof

After the page

In my Guardian column this week (nonregistration version here), I argue that we need to explode the home page — and our notions of the page and the site, for that matter. This is about the new architecture of content and media and the internet. The column is a shorter version of the post below:

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After the page

It’s time to ask what comes next in the design of online news sites: What is the next home page? What is the next page, for that matter? Do we even need either anymore?

Every online site I know puts undue effort into its home page, even though in some news sites as few as 20 percent of users ever end up there. The rest, the majority, come directly to pages deeper into these sites instead through search, links, and bookmarks. Or sometimes they don’t go to the sites at all but read their content via RSS feeds or email or hear or watch it in podcasts.

And now that ajax, Flash, et al can make pages endlessly dynamic, infinitely deep, and utterly individualized, it is time to rethink the page itself. After all, Nielsen just decreed that it will stop measuring page views — because, with ajax, the page is being made into a meaningless unit of media. Instead, Nielsen will measure audience and engagement.

But engagement with what? Where? I’d argue that in Google’s distributed model — which makes this very page part of the Google empire, thanks to its ads here — even the site is an outmoded concept that is being kept alive artificially by the measurements that advertisers understand. That already-antiquated standard of measurement — who’s the host with the most? — forces sites to stay big — too big — under one brand and address, when I’d argue that they’d be better off breaking themselves up into a score of more viral — that is, more directly linkable — sites, brands, and addresses. That is, do you really want to have to dig into to find Page Six? Do you want to have to mine to find Howard Kurtz’s bloggy articles?

Finally, note that many news sites have now come to a common visual voice and grammar: Compare the recently redesigned Guardian, Washington Post, USA Today, the New York Times, the Times of London, the Telegraph,; they are all graphic cousins with equal proportions of white space and blue type. They all look good and work well because they learned from each other. They have settled on a common if unspoken standard of the home page. Have we now arrived at the end of this process? Will the home page — like the newspaper page — now look essentially the same for decades to come? I hope not.

It’s time to break out of the old page and its now-common interpretations. But to what? I see a few possible models for a new architecture of the home page, the page, the site — hell, of the web itself. These models are not mutually exclusive, nor are they comprehensive.

THE VIEWER: So imagine if a site had only one page. You come to that and you can get anything you want there without ever clicking off to another page. Yes, this marks the welcome death of the click and its delays and uncertainties. Now you can get many things on this infinite page. It is a gigantic menu of media. Over here, I’ll put a video of live sports. Then I’ll replace it with a video of a news story. Up with it comes a list of related links and background. Over there, I’ll put a feed of headlines from elsewhere. Down there I’ll have discussion about what’s going on in what I’ve just pulled together. In another dimension of media, I have a separate soundtrack — perhaps my friends talking about the game, maybe music, maybe news. When something new happens in any of these, it will pop to the front and alert me; when it goes stale, it fades into the background. It can all be about one thing — every angle on a story — or it can be about many things and can morph from one view to the other. (And of course, somewhere in all this, there’ll be some new forms of advertising to support it but one hopes that is relevant to me more than my content.)

But, of course, why should all this come from just one source? Why couldn’t I get these things from any number of sources? It’s my screen, right? Who’s in charge of this page: me or the media outlet? That’s going to be a crucial question. But even if it’s the media outlet that gives me this — as it can today, on a page — it would be wise to give me the opportunity to include anything I want from anywhere in it. And that means that every media outlet must make itself ready to be included in anyone else’s page. Widgets gone wild.

FEEDS: Almost all media is a feed. Certainly news is. So’s broadcast. So’s adverting (a feed of commercials, a feed of billboards, a feed of classifieds). When I was at my last real job, as I’ve mentioned here before, I wanted to rearchitect my news sites around feeds: feeds of our headlines; outside headlines; blog headlines; prospective searches (that is, tell me when something new on a topic comes across the sources I specify); classified ads (but just the ones I want); photos; podcasts; vodcasts… and on and on. None of this is static, of course; it’s all fresh and dynamic.

Once you have everything made feed-ready, this allows a site to very easily construct new pages with any of these feeds on them. It means, for example, that a local news site can automatically construct a town page with feeds of inside and outside news and ads and more.

But then it’s a very small step to making this personalized: a page with my feeds on it. And then it’s just another small step to taking this out of the page and into a new application: a new browser — AKA, an RSS reader. This can feed any device, live or on demand. All it needs is for media to convert everything they do into feeds. (There are lots of sites I never read anymore because they don’t have feeds.) Those feeds can be raw — Dave Winer’s river of news — or they can bring smarts with them: prioritization, context, comment, ratings, rankings, freshness, expiration….

NETWORKS: But let’s not assume that media organizations own all content in the future. They don’t already. They will, I’ve been arguing until everyone around me is blue in the face, that wise news organizations must learn to work collaboratively. So coverage of the Virginia Tech shooting, for example, will not be just what has been brought onto a news site but also a collection of links to witness-reporters’ own sites with their own live news, soon even live video.

But this, too, can be a two-way pipe. The witness-reporter’s content can be made into widgets and feeds and included on a news site (with branding, attribution, vetting, caveats). Or the media organization’s content can be included on the witness-reporter’s site. Or everything can be inside our user-controlled space: a new browser or aggregator or reader.

Consider, too, that advertising and sponsorship will be networked as well: Google is not but every other dot com with Google on it. The web and its support becomes massively distributed.

SHOWS: Maybe I want you to make a show for me; maybe I want a more passive experience: Feed me. But I don’t want to be fed what everyone else is fed. See Dave Winer’s request to get news without the story he has tired of. See also Facebook’s news feeds, which Mark Zuckerberg says are algorithmic, giving you news the system thinks you want based on your network, your stated preferences, your use, its smarts.

Now mash all this together: In one corner of my screen, I have a show; Along the side, I have lots of feeds. On the other side, I have dynamic, constantly updated widgets. This stuff comes from anywhere and everywhere — from my own network of news sites, from friends, from friends of friends. It can be fed through any device. In fact, it may not even have a screen; what if it knows I’m in my car and can only talk to me? when the system knows my only tether to the net is a phone, it sends me just what it knows I need to know and when I get back home it catches me up on what I missed. While at home, it projects what I need to know on screens or walls, and This isn’t just beyond the home page, it’s beyond the page, the browser, the screen, the computer.

And if I haven’t blown your brain enough — I keep trying — consider that I may be adding myself into this, bookmarking, tagging, annotating, saving. And all that adds more information to the information; my friends can get feeds of what is fed to me and all our feeds together become a kind of passive Digg. My act of consumption become acts of creation. The antisocial act of watching becomes a social act of sharing.

OK, let’s get real. But this is real — today. Any news site can do any of this today. It can make feeds and widgets and shows on what we still know as pages and it can operate inside larger distributed networks. Importantly, none of this requires what we have always thought reinvention required in the past: new systems, new backends, new infrastructure, millions of dollars and lots of consultants and deadlines that never come. You can do most any of this today with a little bit of coding — html, ajax, Flash (but not too much now), RSS — on what we still archaically call web pages. Now.

Many years ago, in about 1995, when I saw the odious Pointcast — the screensaver that ate office networks and gave you news when you least needed it, when you want to the bathroom — I left the demonstration telling my boss to go nowhere near investing in or using it. I went back to my office and worked with my team to deliver every bit of Pointcast’s value using nothing more than a refreshing web page that once a minute checked on the latest from the AP wire and included it. Newsflash, we called it, was dynamic, extremely popular, and elegantly simple. Now we can do much more.

So someone needs to break out of the sameness that has become news home pages, pages, sites, and services and start the next wave of reinvention.

Who will it be?

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YET MORE: See also Seth Godin lighting dynamite under the home page:

Do you really need a home page? Does the web respect it?

Human beings don’t have home pages. People make judgments about you in a thousand different ways. By what they hear from others, by the way they experience you, and on and on. Companies may have a website, but they don’t have a home page in terms of the way people experience them.

The problem with home page thinking is that it’s a crutch. There’s nothing wrong with an index, nothing wrong with a page for newbies, nothing wrong with a place that makes a first impression when you get the chance to control that encounter. But it’s not your ‘home’. It’s not what the surfer/user wants, and when it doesn’t match, they flee.

You don’t need one home page. You need a hundred or a thousand. And they’re all just as important.

: Here’s an E&P feature about three recent newspaper redesigns.

Amazing Facebook

I have spent this weekend in awe of — and devoting too many hours to — Facebook.

I joined sometime ago, as soon as I got an .edu address at CUNY, back when that was still required. But it was a lonely and pathetic existence, reminding me all too much of freshman mixers at my then-men’s college. I had no Facebook friends. It was all the worse because I wanted to explore the phenom of Facebook and couldn’t without links to people. It’s a people place. I wanted to stand on a virtual campus corner with sad and wide eyes asking whether anyone would be my friend. But that would have gotten me arrested.

Then Facebook opened up to the rest of us. And last week, it announced its platform, which seems to have caused lots of people to suddenly dive in (at least in my geek/capitalist/media circles).

So I asked appropriate people — that is, people I actually know — in my address book to be my friend, which for some reason on Facebook seems to feel less like human spam than on LinkedIn. And then as people agreed to be my friend — they like me, they really like me — I found connections to more friends. And a few people I don’t know befriended me. In a little over 24 hours, I had 187 friends.

What’s significant about that is not that I’m so popular but that Facebook is. This demonstrates clearly that those 187 people are as addicted to the service as I’ve quickly become. They were online using it on a holiday weekend and responded instantly. I’ve never seen anything like it. Of course, there’s nothing new in this; people have been amazed at Facebook since it started. It’s just that I finally get to join the in crowd.

What is new is the platform and its is quickly proving to be remarkable as well. As I said yesterday, my son, Jake, has created a few applications and the response has been impressive: As of lunchtime Monday, 6,500 people were using his ap and because it’s not yet on the approved list, that means it grew strictly from being on TechCrunch — no small promotion — and then virally. Interesting to watch the reaction of the two companies he apped. LastFM users were impatient that they didn’t have an ap so they started using Jake’s, gratefully. Then along came LastFM the company and they were nice but asked him to take off their logo. Meebo, on the other hand, was nicer; they said they’d promote his ap. Which one passes the 2.0 test? Meebo, I’d say. The more your users use you — the more you are an API — the better. Then a few other companies and even two VCs contacted him to ask for help or just to compliment him, which is all very cool. (/dad bragging)

And no wonder there’s such interest: Facebook becomes a platform for viral distribution of actions. I can think of a dozen companies that out there that out to be doing three dozen things here, and I’ve emailed a few of them. Keep in mind that this isn’t just about putting some damned widget on a page, it’s about interacting with the content and the person behind it in more than one way: You can put content on my page for me and my friends, but that’s just the starting point. Or you can use what I’ve said about myself on my page to serve me better. Or you can interact with other applications in smarter ways. Or you can expose the action around my page to say more about the people here. If your ap’s any good, thousands will use it. If not, no one will.

As impressed as I am with the platform, I still wish it were more open. I want to combine my presence on Facebook with my presences on my blog,, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, iTunes, Daylife, Amazon, eBay, and lots of other places — that is beginning on the platform — but I also want them to interact with each other and with my friends’ presences in those places to see what surprises result. Maybe I start to see that my friends are buying the same books. Or I put together a Twitter group for an event. Or I find that my blog readers who are in my same group are going to the same event.

It’s said that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has a vision for his service to become the social operating system of the web, the Google of people. Mark talks about bringing communities elegant organization. I say the internet already is a community of communities and there’s a winning strategy in bringing it elegant organization. But that’s different from making everyone come to you and join your service behind your closed walls. Granted, those closed walls have an advantage when it comes to people: I’m not friends with the world, only those I say are my friends (and only if they agree). But I need to be in charge of my identity and my relationships. Facebook started down that road. But it hasn’t yet arrived. At Davos, I heard Zuckerberg tell a big-time newspaper publisher that he couldn’t build a community; he had to serve a community that is already there and bring it, again, elegant organization. One more time: The internet is that community.

This also has big implications for publishers, portals, governments, and companies that interact directly with customers. This is about more than “widgetizing” your content in hopes people will publish it on their pages — though that’s a smart strategy as far as it goes. I’m writing about this in my Guardian column this week, which I’ll put up soon. It’s also about going to people instead of expecting them to come to you. And it’s about thinking beyond content to functionality: How can you turn yourself into an API? Shouldn’t news be something we use in new ways?

I’ve only begun to get my head around the possibilities of the Facebook platform — and I think that Facebook has only begun to open it up. This points to a new architecture to the web, an architecture built around people instead of content, the public instead of the companies. It’ll be exciting to watch and I’m glad I’m finally on the inside to watch it.

: LATER: Mediapost reports on Washington Post and Slate’s political applications on the Facebook platform. (I just tried to add one of them but high use overloaded the Post’s servers.)

A pro’s advice for the candidates

I asked Fred Graver — who makes real TV at VH1’s Best Week Ever and Acceptable.TV — what advice he has for the candidates and their online video and got a smarter answer to that question than I’ve gotten yet. And funnier. Because Fred knows funny. Enjoy:

(Crossposted from PrezVid)


I’m on my way to Cambridge to be part of a panel at the international confab of ombudsmen. The topic: Is There a Shared Watchdog Role for the Public, the Blogs & Ombudsmen? As is my practice, I’ll share with you my notes, hoping for some of your wisdom on the topic:

* We need to see the news story as more of a process and less of a product. And once we do that, we open the door for collaboration with the public. So that relationship need no longer be solely about complaint and fault. It can be about cooperative effort, asking for each others’ help, networked journalism. So now, before the story is done, we can ask the public what they know that we don’t; we can ask them what they want to know; they can ask us to find facts. This profoundly changes the relationship between news organizations and their publics.

* Consider our ethic of the link. I’ve been arguing that news organizations should do what they do best and link to the rest. That is part of looking at news as a process: newspapers should link to others’ reporting and others’ criticism (and they are beginning to). This says that they are not the be-all-and-end-all and that the less they put themselves on a pedestal, the less that criticism and correction are seen as extraordinary events.

* Everyone’s an ombudsman inside the paper. Every reporter and editor has the responsibility to interact with the public over matters of fact and misunderstanding. I actually don’t suggest that every reporter respond to every letter. I remember a columnist who’d said something ridiculous — arguing, as I remember, that bicycle racing is not a sport — and he got scores of angry letters, of course; his editor bragged that he’d personally answered each one. I thought that was rather a waste of time; a blog or forum conversation would have kept the discussion going much more efficiently and openly.

* Everyone’s an ombudsman outside the paper. Is there a shared watchdog role for the public? Of course, there is. There always has been. Only now those watchdogs have a voice via blogs.

* Why should ombudsmen necessarily come from within the community of journalists? Yes, they may be able to understand the ins-and-outs of newspapers, all the better to dig into the organization and to explain it. But wouldn’t it also be better to have members of the public in the role? I argue that of the reasons Dan Okrent was such a good ombudsman at the Times — besides intelligence and orneriness — was that he came from outside newspapers (though not far outside).

* Stipulated: There are asses in the world. But we should not judge communities by their worst. That is cultural redlining. Yet that is what I hear news organizations do when they dip into blogs, forums, and comments: They obsess on the asses. But we all know who the asses are. It would be a much more valuable service to concentrate instead on finding the smart things smart people say, encouraging them to say more.

* And, by the way, when you confront the asses, they will generally back down like the bullies they are. If they don’t, then they are trolls in need of meds and it’s best to ignore them. But also remember that people dislike walls and especially dislike shouting at them. So don’t be shocked if they get mad speaking with no response.

* I think the best ombudsmanship comes not just from criticizing or justifying the actions within one organization but instead from reviewing and commenting on the broader context: Why shouldn’t the ombudsman talk about the habits of journalism in a broader sense, as practiced by competitors and by community members? When the ombudsman acts more as a critic than as a spokesman for either the community or the institution, the conversation is more compelling.

WWGD: What has Google done?

Today’s announcement that Google is changing its search to integrate video, photos, text, and news with results that used to list just text on web pages is, I think, more significant than it at first seems.

This promotes other media to the exalted rank of text. And it tells publishers that they’d damned well better do the same. This is the mark of true agnosticism coming to media: You should be using whatever media best communicates information in the form the user wants.

Oh, publishers are trying. That was one of the rationales behind the Guardian’s home-page redesign last week: They want to serve video. And those publishers are scrambling to make it. But I think we’re still putting too high a wall around each medium. One thing I’m starting to learn doing the PrezVid blog is that one can use different media strung together to tell a story: text, then an embedded video, then an original video, with links all about. It’s not having text here and video over there and audio up there. It’s about using all the tools appropriately at all times.

So once again, even as we make our own articles, we should be following Google’s example and asking WWGD.

Next, this announcement throws a heavy monkey wrench into many a publisher’s SEO strategy. Until now, you structured your pages and metadata in certain magical ways and — if you were hip — got yourself linked a lot by linking out a lot and — voila — you rose into Google heaven. Now you have to figure out how to put some Google helium into your videos and photos and news headlines — all of which can now appear on the blessed search-result page.

And you also have to figure out what people get when they click on those things: where are your brand, your ads, your links? If you distribute your stuff onto more sites out there — if your video becomes a hit on YouTube and on bloggers’ embeds — does that get it higher on Google? What does this do to destination and portal strategies?

Big media people should be reaching for the gin tonight.

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Make that a double:

For Google’s pages also include maps. They’re local. Very local. Like the ads. Search on Mexican restaurants in Hoboken and you get web pages and the map with listings and much more: details the business can update, reviews, links. As of now, you won’t find an ad for Baja Mexican — but that won’t be long in coming. Look at Google’s FAQ for its local business ads. Here’s how to target to regions and cities.

So if you’re a local newspaper, you ask WWGD and what’s the answer? I’m not sure. But I think you need to have better distributed as widely as possible — across a large network of very local trusted brands (read: neighbors’ blogs) with better advertising performance and service. The more local you are, the better. The better known and trusted you are, the better. The more complete you are, the better. The more searchable you make your world, the better. The more addictive you are, the better. And then you’d better do everything you can to have your ads be found via Google whether they are on your site or others’ because not everybody’s going to come to you just because they used to. (See the smartest media quote of the year.)

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Bartender, another please.

But, of course, this isn’t just about traffic and retail and directory ads. It’s about classifieds. Remember them? See today’s announcement that and its former mortal enemy and now partner,, are coming out with their joint job channel in June. Says PaidContent: “The move also reflects the increased competition for revenue from online classifieds, as typified by the dozen entities involved in the Yahoo Newspaper Consortium, which began as co-branding with Yahoo’s HotJobs, and rival CareerBuilder, owned by Gannett, the Tribune Company, McClatchy and Microsoft, which purchased a minority stake in it earlier this month.”

What it really represents, I say, is not just the further collapse of newspapers’ hold on classifieds but the crumbling of classifieds as a form of advertising itself. The monsters are huddling together for warmth. With better search, we’ll be able to find each other, buyer and seller, without having to go to a centralized marketplace.

It won’t be long before we see classifieds coming up in Google searches. In some ways, we do now. Search for new homes in Tampa and you’ll see ads next to that map.

So WWGD? Well, I think the best opportunity is to target not words but people. If you know that lawyers in New Jersey read this New Jersey law blog, then you have a better chance of reaching people who work in the field. You have a relationship — or rather, that blogger does and you want a relationship with him. If you know that neighbors in Montclair read this blog — and they do — then you have a place to put house and restaurant ads you sell, if you’re in a network with that blogger (who can also sell ads on your pages, by the way). But can you afford to start blogs for every town and job description in your state? Of course, not — especially not now. But it’s in your interest for them to exist. So you need to support them. How? Well, for starters, sell ads for them and promote them and figure out what else you can do for them. That’s what Google would do. Hell, that’s what Google is doing.

: LATER: Matt Law, a veteran of who knows whereof he SEOs, adds in the comments that I rushed past one important impact of this:

It’s not just an issue of getting more of their “multi”media stuff to show up in the listings. They now have to worry about how all this new stuff pushes their regular web page rankings further down the page.