Posts about newarchitecture

Google Wave and news

Never underestimate Google. That should have been my 41st WWGD? rule. Just as I was thinking they were behind the curve on the live web – and argued they should buy Twitter – Google attacked it from the left flank with Wave.

In Wave, I see more than a new generation of email cum wikis cum Twitter cum groupware. Because it can feed blog and web pages and Twitter, I see a new way to create content, collaborative and live. I see a new way to make news.

Imagine a team of reporters – together with witnesses on the scene – able to contribute photos and news to the same Wave (formerly known as a story or a page). One can write up what is known; a witness can add facts from the scene and photos; an editor or reader can ask questions. And it is all contained under a single address – a permalink for the story – that is constantly updated from a collaborative team.

Here, I speculated about the topic becoming the new atomic unit of news, supplanting the article with wikis that contained a snapshot of what we know now, blogs that treat news as the process it is, links (do what you do best, link to the rest), discussion, and media of all types, some even live (Twitter, Marissa Mayer also gave journalists advice on the new form of news, telling them they needed to maintain updates under a permalink for the story so it could be searched and found.

Wave takes this to the next level. It combines the notions of a process as people add and subtract and update; it has the benefit of a wiki – a snapshot of current knowledge; it can be live; it can feed a blog page with the latest; it can feed Twitter with updates; it is itself the collaborative tool that lets participants question each other.

Wave isn’t just the email we’d invent if email were invented today, as was Google’s goal. Wave is what news can be if we invent it today, as we must.

Wave is the new news.

: LATER: I just got email from Jay Parkinson, who is remaking health care at Hello Health. He, too, was impressed with the opportunities in Wave.

Replace news story with “disease you suffer from” and reporter with primary care doc and editor with specialist and photos with lab results, etc, and you can see its potential.

What about your line of work?

The embeddable newspaper

About a week ago, I met with Tristan Harris, founder of Apture, which enables sites to create rich link boxes that display media of all sorts. As we talked, it occurred to me that he had something else in his hands, something I’d talked with the Guardian about over time: the ability to make a newspaper embeddable.

That is, imagine if any content in a paper or news site could be shared on this blog via YouTube-like players that could display not just video but also text, photos, audio, graphics, anything. Imagine if, rather than having to cut-and-paste a quote from a news story, I could quote it here in a box that also delivered the context of the entire story, along with the source’s branding, links, and even advertising.

I’ve argued that newspapers need to think distributed, that they need to go to where the readers are rather than expecting them to be attracted to news sites like magnets; this is a key lesson of What Would Google Do?.

And then I saw Google Web Elements, which lets me embed content like this:

It’s a start. Gillian Reagan in the NY Observer says that perhaps this is a way for newspapers to get distribution and branding from Google; PaidContent agrees.

But I hope for something broader, something any site (even BuzzMachine) could implement to make itself embeddable without having to go through Google’s funnel. That’s what I think Apture might be able to do.

The Guardian, NY Times, NPR, and BBC are on the right road, of course, with their APIs, which enable other sites to embed their content and enables the news organizations to, in the words of the Guardian, weave themselves into the fabric of the web. Daylife (where I’m a partner) also has an API. But the limitation of an API is that it needs developers and that means time. A toolset such as Elements (or Daylife’s new Select) enables mortals such as me to embed content or create pages.

Note well that this is the opposite of locking content behind pay walls. Becoming embeddable is a way for a site to act like Google and go with the flow of the internet, to be distributed by its readers, to take its content and branding and advertising out into the web.

The new news

Josh Young writes a fascinating and nicely written essay about the shape of news and competition around it in the Google (read: internet) age, but I think it badly needs a clear lede summarizing his point to prove his point.

So I’ll summarize: He’s saying that Google is causing news to be reshaped so it can be found, now that it has been unbundled from the products we used to have no choice but to buy: our newspapers. He says that news is an “experience good” we can’t really know until we taste it. He says we need a new experience of news and it ain’t Google. I will argue, though, that this very post, the one you are reading now, is the antidote to what he sees, for I experienced his essay and I recommend it to you without Google while also giving you the search-engine-and-browsing-friendly summary – a reason to read – that we now expect before investing in content online. And there’s my point.

Young argues that Google causes the structure of news to change. We agree about the change but we disagree about the cause. Even I don’t think that the all-powerful Oz Google is behind everything that happens on and because of the internet.

In fact, news is one of the areas where Google has little influence – despite the wails and whining of newspaper people – for Google is bad at current content, at the live web, at news. It needs content to ferment with links and clicks and context before it can figure out what it is. There’s no time for that in news. And GoogleNews itself isn’t an answer for it only makes the vastness of news vaster. We don’t find the latest news through search. We find it through recommendations, still, either from editors (going to a packaged site, a [cough] or from peers (in blogs and RSS for years now and more lately in Twitter; this is why Twitter matters and why Google recognizes that it complementary).

So I’ll argue that we already have the beginnings of the news experience Young wants. Through this quote (which comes at the end of Young’s essay but would have been better as his lede, I think… I often find that to be the case when I write a post), please replace the word “search” with news, for “search” has become synonymous with Google and that’s not what we’re talking about. Young writes:

“We need a What we need is a search [news] experience that let’s us discover the news in ways that fit why we actually care about it. We need a search [news] experience built around concretely identifiable sources and writers. We need a search [news] experience built around our friends and, lest we dwell too snugly in our own comfort zones, other expert readers we trust…. We need a search [news] experience built around beats and topics that are concrete—not hierarchical, but miscellaneous and semantically well defined. We need a search [news] experience built around dates, events, and locations. We need a search [news] experience that’s multi-faceted and persistent. Ultimately, we need a powerful, flexible search [news] experience that merges [automation] and human judgment—that is sensitive to the very particular and personal reasons we care about news in the first place.

I think we’re seeing the beginning of what Young wants in blogs, Twitter, aggregation, better automated targeting, geotagging, and the move to human curation and I hope we’ll see people build other pieces of it in the ecosystems of news that will replace the papers that die (or don’t). I’m working with folks who are trying to build that now – with beats and organization and social recommendation – associated with the New Business Models for News Project. It’s just starting to come together, I think, and Young will be glad to know it’s not from Google; Google’s only a part.

Something like that, Young and I agree, will be the structure of the experience of finding – searching, broadly defined – and using and spreading news. As I said, we also agree that the structure of news will also change – but not just because of Google.

I argue in this post and in slides 6-11 here that the basic building block of news will no longer be the article – a creation and necessity of the means of production of newspapers – but instead the topic or the flow with many elements: process (think: blog), updates (feed), snapshot of current knowledge (wiki), perspective (comments, links), curation (links), and narration (the article still has its place). Yes, it is SEO-friendly. And, yes, Marissa Mayer gave a similar vision to John Kerry’s Senate hearings – of a “living story” that is updated at a permalink – but that doesn’t mean she decreed it. The greater functionality of the internet is shifting news to this structure because it is also link-friendly, blog-friendly, Twitter-friendly, feed-friendly, conversation-friendly, distribution-friendly….

If we invented news today – and we are – this is how it will look, not because Google replaces paper as the medium but because we are not limited to either.

(By the way, I’m probably wrong about Young’s lede. Even without it, because his essay was so deftly written, I read through to the end and took the trouble of reacting to it and recommending it to you here. I’ll also confess that I found it through Google search but only because Young kindly linked to me and mentioned my book. So the link was human, conversational, contextual, targeted, everything Young wants. Google just helped.)

: LATER: Another neat essay today, this one by Kim Pearson, on bringing computational thinking to journalism. I think it stretches the point just a bit (I don’t see how slideshows are particularly compuational) but the larger point is intriguing.

First, stop the lawyers

There’s some dangerously wrong-headed lobbying from media lawyers in today’s Washington Post arguing for new laws to protect old media from new technology. Bruce Sanford and Bruce Brown of Baker Hostetler argue that Congress should:

* Change copyright law so that “the taking of entire Web pages by search engines, which is what powers their search functions, is not fair use but infringement.” This would be downright suicide for not only the media companies that I assume are their clients but for every business that wants to be discovered on the web. Not being able to analyze an entire page would mean that search engines could not reliably send searchers (aka customers) to relevant pages and that would mean that the owners of those pages would not be discovered. It would tear about the very essence of the web. This is so dangerously ignorant of the architecture of our new world and how it operates as to be stunning. It also is ignorant of the new link economy of the web. Why the hell do they think that companies hire SEO firms – so that Google will do a better job of analyzing all their content. (Who hires these people?)

* Enact as law the “hot news” doctrine to protect against “taking the guts of the content.” Today, you can’t protect knowledge. The fact that, for example, GM has cut 1,100 dealers is just a fact and it is spread – all the more efficiently online – via conversation. You can’t sue me for learning that in a newspaper and repeating it. That is key to the functioning of a community, a market, and a democracy. But these guys are following an effort by the Associated Press to call on the so-called hot-news doctrine to argue this knowledge is somehow theirs. Once again, this exposes shocking ignorance of the speed of the knowledge economy. Bloomberg and Reuters understand this: If they can deliver knowledge faster to their clients so they can exploit that knowledge more quickly than others, then they have value. That is, indeed, hot news. But they are well aware that the unique value of that heat expires in moments – seconds – and once knowledge is known, it is a commodity. But these lawyers want to make business by getting Congress to extend copyright to enable publishers to sue for compensation of sites that practice what they call “linkspoitation” (that is, putting ads around links, which could be defined as every decent commercial page on the internet). How long, I’d ask them, is news hot? A minute? A day? A week? How long before others may repeat that knowledge? Incredible, eh?

* Use “tax policy” (that is, tax dollars – i.e., our money) to “promote the press.” Which press, gentlemen? The press you represent or the press we the people are creating? We out here don’t actually need such a subsidy because we’ve been smart enough to take advantage of the new, free press and we are not saddled with the costs of an old press. Why should we then have to subsidize the market failure and anti-strategic stubbornness of the owners of those old presses? “Congress,” they write, “could provide incentives for placing ads with content creators (not with Craigslist).” That’s just plain payola. They also want “allowances for immediate write-offs (rather than capitalization) for all expenses related to news production.” Except we in the new press don’t have capital expenses for presses and buildings and trucks. Can we write off our PJs?

* Give news companies antitrust exemption so they may collude and form cartels to wall off their content and fix prices together. “As noted in the Kerry hearing,” the lawyers write, “publishers need collective pricing policies for their Web sites to finally break out of the expectation of free content that is afflicting the industry. Antitrust immunity is necessary because most individual news sites can’t go it alone by walling off their content for fees — readers will simply jump to sites that are still free.” That’s called capitalism, gentlemen. The market. I’d rather protect that open market than the failed monopolists who are finally losing control of it.

* They also want to take off ownership restrictions on media companies. There, we don’t disagree. Let the dinosaurs huddle together against the cold wind of change if they want. Well, except such a strategy of consolidation hasn’t worked so well for Tribune Company or McClatchy or Clear Channel or Time Warner or The New York Times Company, has it? (Is anybody hiring this firm for business strategic advice?)

Add it all up and their lobbying is ignorant of the architecture and workings of the internet economy and, for short-term gain for dying companies, willfully destructive to fundamental principles of the law.

Somebody stop these guys.

* * *

In the comments under the Washington Post piece, Dale Harrison makes a great response, which I’ll quote almost in full (hoping he doesn’t sue me):

This is a shockingly misguided analysis and set of recommendations!

A lesson worth remembering is at the turn of the 20th century people had a transportation problem…and the solution turned out not to be a “faster horse”…but a Ford.

And one should note that the Ford didn’t arise out of the “Horse Industry Revitalization Act”.

I think the future of the media business will look as different as Ford and Toyota’s operations look from horse traders and blacksmiths.

Imagine what the passage of such ill-conceived legislation would have done to the car industry a century ago.

It would have strangled the nascent auto industry at birth, postponing it’s inevitable rise while sheltering a dying industry, only postponing it’s inevitable demise…doing great damage to both. Newspapers need to be encouraged to adapt to the future, not retreat behind legislative walls hoping the future will go away.

The newspaper industry’s troubles go to the very core of their historical business model.

What’s historically given value to editorial content is the relative scarcity of distribution versus readers. Newspapers have historically enjoyed natural localized economic monopolies that allowed each of them to exercise monopoly control over the amount of content (and advertising) they allowed into their local marketplaces.

Monopoly constraint of distribution and supply will always lead to prices (and profits) significantly above open market rates. Newspapers then built costly organizational structures commensurate with that stream of monopoly profits (think AT&T in the 1970’s).

The dynamics of content replication and distribution on the Internet destroys this artificial constraint of distribution and re-aligns advertising (and subscription) prices back down to competitive open market rates. The often heard complaint of Internet ad rates being “too low” is inverted…the real issue is that traditional ad rates have been artificially boosted for enough decades for participants to assume this represents the long-term norm.

An individual reader now has access to essentially an infinite amount of content on any given topic or story. All those silos of isolated editorial content have been dumped into the giant Internet bucket. Once there, any given piece of content can be infinitely replicated and re-distributed to thousands of sites at zero marginal costs. This breaks the back of old media’s monopoly control of distribution and supply.

The core problem for the newspapers is that in a world of infinite supply, the ability to monetize the value in any piece of editorial content will be driven to zero… infinite supply pushes price levels to zero!

What this implies is that no one can marshal enough market power to monetize the value of content in the face of such an infinite supply and such massively fragmented distribution. Pay-walls, lawsuits and ill conceived legislation won’t allow the monopoly conditions to be re-constructed.

There are certainly ways to make online news profitable…and many of us are working to develop such approaches…but I can assure you they don’t involve inventing a “faster horse”…

* * *

In Twitter, Howard Weaver asks an excellent question: Wonder who hired them? If newspapers are lobbying Congress, that lobbying should be – must be – transparent.

Getting past newspapers’ past

Dean Singleton’s memo decreeing his strategy for Medianews is unbelievable. I swear it could have been written – hell, I read it and wrote memos arguing against memos exactly like it – in 1996. It’s as if nothing has been learned since then. I was also depressed reading Howard Kurtz’ eulogy to print but not for the same reason it depressed Howie – that is, because papers are dying. What bothered me was that, not unlike Singleton’s forward-to-the-past exercise in self-delusion, it kept all the old assumptions about news and media intact.

If we haven’t learned anything else, isn’t it that the change that has overtaken newspapers (and TV) is radical and complete? Haven’t we at least learned to throw out the old assumptions?

Apparently not.

So let’s try….

* Newspapers are no longer magnets that will draw people in. Newspapers must go to where the people are. Repeat after me: “If the news is that important, it will find me.” Think distributed.

* Newspapers online are still selling scarcity to advertisers: just so many banners presented to just so many eyeballs. Google instead sells performance and that is what motivated it to create AdSense and to get more and more targeted and efficient and relevant ads all around the web. Think abundance.

* Newspapers are inefficient. I spoke with an editor the other day who broke down the 300-person newsroom of yore and conceded that only 50 of those people created journalism. I would add that when working with a much larger network in a new news ecosystem, the news organization can be even smaller and still see as much news reported. That’s what no one ever talks about when whining about how to support news: the other side of the P&L. Think efficiency.

* Newspapers are no longer monopolies. They have new competition. That’s why they can’t set the price for content or ads anymore. The market will. Get used to it. Think like capitalists.

* Newspapers are no longer factories. Not of paper, not of content. The new news organization will add value by organizing news, enabling it to be made elsewhere, helping it to be made better and bigger in a larger ecosystem. Think collaborative.

* Newspapers are stale. The minute – minute – they say anything, what they say can – if they’re lucky – become part of the conversation and then that knowledge is a commodity. The value to the old product disappears. It’s not the product that’s valuable. Think process.

* Newspapers aren’t conversations. And conversations are the new distribution. If you can’t be searched and linked – if you close up behind a wall – you won’t be found. Think open.

* Newspapers can no longer be about control. They have to be about enabling the community to share its own knowledge and succeed doing so. Think platform.

* Newspapers aren’t paper. That’s what’s killing them. Think digital.

Think. Just think.