Posts about guardian

Guardian: The value of this blog

For my Guardian column this week, I put a price on my blog:

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Some people think I’m nuts for blogging when I could be doing real work (as if writing newspaper columns were the only real work). They ask me how much money I make directly from my blog and the answer is: not much. But to me, the blog is worth a million dollars – or more – for it brings me value in many other ways. So I thought I’d give you an accounting of that worth.

Last year, Buzzmachine.com, which has been in business, loosely speaking, since 2001, made $9,315 (£4,655) from two blog ad networks, $1,866 from ads on my RSS feeds, and $2,674 from Google ads, for a total of $13,855. Though I’ve written many a blog post and column lamenting that there aren’t better, richer ad networks to support grassroots media, when I add that up, I’d say it’s not too shabby. Nonetheless, you’d still be forgiven for thinking I shouldn’t have quit my day job.

When I did quit that day job – as president of an online division of Condé Nast’s parent company, which I left in 2005 – I got my next job thanks to the blog. If I hadn’t been pontificating about the state of the news in the internet era, I wouldn’t have come to the attention of the City University of New York, which appointed me to the faculty of its journalism school – a job I love. But I must confess that my teaching post pays a fraction of my prior salary. So you may still think me a fool.

To make the money I don’t make teaching, I consult and speak for various media companies and brands. The only reason I get those gigs is because companies read the ideas I discuss at Buzzmachine and ask me to come and repeat them in PowerPoint form and explore them with their staff. I’ve also been asked to teach executives how to blog (a class that should, by rights, take about two minutes). That work and the teaching get me to a nice income in six figures. So I’m not looking quite as idiotic now, I hope.

It was also because of the blog that I got this column. The MediaGuardian editors asked me to take some of the topics I write about online and turn them into columns; the newspaper is an aftermarket for the blog. It pays a bit, a few hundred dollars a column, but that’s not why I do it. I enjoy the discipline of taking the lumpy clay of a blog post and moulding it into a column. I like discussing column ideas with my community before I write them. And I quite like having you readers as an audience. So please don’t tell my editors that I like doing this so much I would do it for free.

I just got a book contract because of a notion that began in the blog and that I kneaded over and over for about a year. As I write What Would Google Do?, I continue to explore ideas on my blog, helping me to think them through. The US contract roughly doubled my consulting income last year; international contracts may add more.

If I add all that up over the past five years and the five to come, to me the blog is worth a few million (dollars, not pounds, sadly). But it’s worth even more than that. Buzzmachine has taught me about the new architecture of media; I wouldn’t have learned that without jumping into the new world myself. The blog has stoked my ego, getting me on TV and on conference stages to blather to audiences far and wide.

It has also checked my ego, as my readers never hesitate to challenge and correct me. It has forced me to be more open to new ideas. It has given me a second career playing with new toys; professionally, it keeps me young. Personally, it has made me countless new friends and reconnected me with old ones, owing to a blog’s ability to give a person a strong identity in Google searches.

People ask how I have the time to blog on top of everything else. But the real question is, how could I not blog when it leads to so much more? Finally, for a proper accounting, I should also give you the other side of the ledger: the blog costs me $327 a year for hosting. So this is one web 2.0 venture that is profitable.

An open ad network opens for business

OpenX is building the start of a new, more open ad network infrastructure.

My Guardian column this week starts with a recast of my blog post about Google Ad Manager and then breaks a wee bit of news:

OpenX (nee OpenAds, nee phpAds) is putting together the elements of what I hope can become an open ad architecture that could compete with Google and create a more transparent marketplace that will support the creation of many more sites (I’ve been wishing for this for more than two years). OpenX is already serving about 200 billion ads over 30,000 sites each month with its free software. What I’ve been urging that they do is tie that together into a network that advertisers can pick and choose from for ad hoc networks of quality sites.

Today, I was told by OpenX founder and CTO Scott Switzer, they will have the first piece of that puzzle: an ID structure that will cookie users across any participating site.

Next, in the second quarter, they plan to deliver a bidding infrastructure so agencies and networks can buy ads on any of those sites. Thus an agency could put together an ad hoc network of great mommy blogs, or an existing network like Federated could augment its own sites with others sites that are using OpenX. And a site can take high-value ads from one network today and another agency tomorrow and backfill with ads from a remnant network — including, apparently, Google itself. So both the publisher and the site recognize higher value and that, I believe, is what can propel sites of any size to put together highly targeted and flexible networks that reach critical mass and offer greater quality than portals, which are merely collections of eyeballs.

And next will come a hosted ad serving service, which is now in beta; this would enable any site without benefit of a 16-year-old son and webmaster to serve ads from most anywhere.

What they’re really creating is an open ad call, since any other network or server can serve ads through OpenX. That, I believe, is the keystone to creating a new and more open ad architecture. That, I hope, is what will enable most any advertiser to place ads on most any site.

Switzer told me that they are being advised by a panel of sites, agencies, advertisers, and networks large and small.

Here’s where I hope this goes next, from my Guardian column:

Once we have an open ad network, we’ll also be able to expose data about sites and ad performance. We would establish the true value of our new medium, especially when we can track new metrics: behaviour, interest, influence, authority, the timing and spread of ideas, and so on. As an ad blogger once said: instead of measuring impressions, we’d measure the impressed. Or to twist another ad cliche: let’s stop reaching eyeballs and start reaching brains.

My hope is that an open infrastructure would encourage the creation of many new companies. Let’s start with a wealth of new content sites: niche interest blogs, hyperlocal blogs, innovative services, new, small-scale journalism. Next we’ll see new analytics companies that would help advertisers find their ideal buys. And we’d see a host of networks spring out of ad agencies and media companies to help us poor bloggers make a living.

The Guardian started such a network gathering green blogs. The Washington Post put together networks for high-value content areas such as travel. And last week in 13 US markets, CBS TV launched a network that places widgets containing news and ads – with promotions for stations – on local blogs.

So now the battle is on. Will big media brands, Google’s ad network or an open network win more of the online ad market? The stakes are growing ever bigger: last week, General Motors announced that it will move half its $3bn ad budget online. I’m just hoping that one of these networks will bring a few of those dollars on to my humble blog.

There goes the neighborhood

(CommentIsFree asked me to write this post about AOL acquiring Bebo.)

Poor Bebo. I feel for the residents of their hip and convivial apartment block. It has just been bought by a slumlord.

AOL — which is paying $850m for the social networking site, the other Facebook — is where innovations go to die. Remember Netscape? Bought for $4.2b and now dead. AOL bought a mess of advertising platforms — Advertising.com, Quigo, Tacoda — and can’t make them to get along; the New York Times reports on continuing warfare that has resulted in AOL firing the business talent it just acquired. Back in 1998, AOL bought the pioneering instant-messaging platform ICQ and though AOL’s IM went on to become huge and though ICQ lives still, it was never the leader again. And then there’s what AOL did to Time Warner and its stock (which I bitterly regret holding onto from my days working at the magazine publisher).

In its purchase of Bebo, AOL — like Yahoo, Time Warner, Microsoft, and no end of media companies — is trying to buy the strategy it doesn’t have. And that’s a strategy that rarely works.

The terrible irony is that if anyone should have understood community and how to support, nurture, and profit from it, AOL should have. The problem is that AOL never understood its real value. At various times, it thought it was an internet service provider and then a portal and then an ad network. But all along, AOL’s greatest asset was the community of people under its nose: millions of enthusiasts in countless niches meeting and enjoying each others’ company in forums and chat and personal pages, the platform for community that AOL created.

AOL should have been Bebo before there ever was a Bebo. It should have been the Google of people. It should have been Facebook. Instead, having killed the golden goose of its own community — one it created as the social pioneer of online — it is going to the market to buy a tin gosling.

So what will become of Bebo? I shudder to think. These acquisitions rarely work well. We can look not just to AOL but also to Yahoo, which bought the wonderful photo service Flickr and bookmarking service Del.icio.us. Both live on but without the rush of innovation that made them so valuable and Yahoo has saddled each with its own klunky membership structure.

If history is any guide — and in AOL’s case, it certainly is — I fear that Bebo’s talented, visionary founders will leave in frustration or firings; AOL will bury the service inside its outmoded portal; and AOL will treat the people inside not as people but as ad inventory.

But then, maybe I’m just a pessimist.

Guardian column: Fess up, journalists

Oops, I forgot to subject you to my Guardian column this week about SNL, Obama’s honeymoon, and the election. If that’s not enough of me, here’s the transcript of my appearance on the same subject on Howie Kurtz’ Reliable Sources.

And for good measure, I give you Will Bunch of the Philly Daily News and James Poniewozik of Time, all of us agreeing that it’s time for journalists to fess up and tell us whom they’ve voted for.

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In a time of blogs with their ethic of transparency, how long can journalists continue to hide their opinions? I’m a believer in the British newspaper model, in which print journalists join a tribe, Guardian left or Telegraph right, and then invite the public to judge them not on their hidden agendas, but on the quality of their journalism. British broadcast and all US news organisations, by contrast, expect us to believe journalists are devoid of opinions: half-human hacks, roboreporters.

That fiction is falling apart in the US presidential campaign, where news media have failed to cover one of the essential stories of the event: media’s own love affair with Barack Obama.

The story has begun to attract attention, with comedy show Saturday Night Live twice skewering the press’s roughing up of Hillary Clinton and fawning over Obama. In one skit, the show’s faux Clinton complains: “Maybe it’s just me, but once again it seems as if a) I’m getting the tougher questions and b) with me, the overall tone is more hostile.”

The real Clinton picked up the punchline at the next debate and said: “If anybody saw Saturday Night Live, maybe we should ask Barack if he’s comfortable and needs another pillow.” Some believe this played a role in her victories last week.

In the other skit, a reporter gushes to “Obama”: “I just really, really, really, really want you to be the next president.” And the Fauxbama responds that journalists are “tired of being told, ‘You journalists have to stay neutral, you can’t take sides in a political campaign’. And they’re saying, ‘Yes, we can. Yes, we can take sides. Yes, we can.'”

So why don’t they? The question of journalistic objectivity is the stuff of endless journalism-school seminars. But what’s different this year is that the journalists’ opinions are related to the quality of coverage of the campaign.

I’ve seen reporters complain Clinton doesn’t give them access or is aloof; I’ve seen journalists quoted (anonymously) saying that they don’t much like her. Of course, that shouldn’t affect their coverage – since when do we see crime reporters whine that murderers are mean to them? – but it does. Obama is on an endless press honeymoon. He breathes rhetorical cumulus clouds – “Change we can believe in”, “Yes, we can”, “We are one” – without reporters challenging him or his supporters to define what they mean. I’ll wager that if a pollster asked 1,000 Obama fans what “change” means, there’d be 100 different answers.

There’s another new factor in the objectivity debate: weblogs. Reporters are now writing them. And they’re learning that if a weblog is successful, it is a conversation held at a human level. That conversation demands frank interaction and openness. As one online executive puts it: blogs are a cocktail party. I’ll add that if you talk to friends at a party and refuse to give your opinion while demanding theirs, someone will soon throw a drink at you, as I have been wanting to do to many a TV pundit lately.

I’ve heard TV news executives say that to have on-air personalities writing blogs might present a conflict because, after all, TV people are impartial. But they already live with that conflict by presenting TV journalists as personalities and then cutting off that part of the personality that enables opinion. If these people want to join the discussion on the net and reap its benefits, they have to give something of themselves.

The more journalists tell us about their sources, influences and perspectives, the better we can judge what they say. So I should tell you I voted for Clinton. You probably could have guessed that. But now you don’t have to.

Pity the big, bad wolf

A post written for Comment is Free on the Microsoft fine; crossposted here. Interesting comments already underway over there.)

I have a theory about the regulation of companies that get too big and too powerful: by the time government notices they really are so powerful, they are usually already in decline, having grown too big.

The EU today levied a record €899m (£680m) fine – adding up to a total of €1.7bn in the past four years – against Microsoft for charging “unreasonable” prices for access to its code.

The EU competition commissioner, Neelie Kroes, wanted to pile on even more: another €600m for good measure. Take that, big, bad Microsoft!

Except, in my mind, Microsoft is turning into a bit of a laughing stock these days for trying to buy Yahoo, which itself is a company in rapid decline.

The reason Microsoft is desperate to do this is that, even after all these years, it still does not have a successful internet strategy. So it is trying to buy one.

But I say it is buying the wrong one, a strategy based on an old-media worldview in which we are all masses that can be bought and sold. Microsoft – like too many advertisers and media companies – thinks we think of the internet as just another TV. It believes it can own content and technology when, in truth, we own it now.

Microsoft just yesterday released some of its code under a new “open source interoperability initiative” that offers open interfaces, support for standards, data portability and cooperation with third parties.

Of course, a cynic might say that doing this only a day before its record fine was Microsoft’s way to suck up to the teacher and avoid punishment; the cynic would have a fair point.

But it’s also true that Microsoft needs to open up to play in the internet or it will continue to be left behind by the open and free movements that are taking over operating systems, browsers and – with Google’s goosing – office software.

One could also see the move as a mark of desperation. Poor Microsoft.

In the US, regulators and activists continue to rail at media companies that they say have grown too big. But these media conglomerates, too, are pathetic shells of their former powerful selves, shrinking in audience and advertising at ever faster rates. The internet is killing their mass models, and they don’t know what to do about it.

Their response, like Microsoft’s, has been to buy up competitors, to grow bigger. But that strategy is not working: witness the collapse of the radio giant Clear Channel into a private company and the tragic gobbling up of the newspaper chain Knight Ridder and the cross-media synergy giant Tribune Company.

It might make more sense for the conglomerates to invest, like Microsoft, in new companies, or even in their own innovation. But they have lost the touch. Poor conglomerates.

Looking back, I could even argue that the breaking up of telecoms companies that grew too big only presaged the inevitable opening up of communications that led to the decline of the split-up telcos and their desire now to reconsolidate.

This should be a children’s story, in which, at the end, we discover that the big, bad, scary monster is actually a pussycat inside, and a sad and lonely one at that. Paint these giants as dinosaurs with tears in their eyes.

And their regulatory conquerors? Are they knights in shining armour or are they the real bullies?

Either way, I’m not scared of Microsoft any more.