Posts about reboot

The craigslist (read: internet) witchhunt

The internet – in the form of the latest kerfuffle over craigslist – is exposing an anachronism of law in society.

I’ve seen reference lately to attorneys general and law-enforcement officials saying that the craigslist community policing itself isn’t enough. Said the Wall Street Journal: “Some large Internet communities are coming to a controversial conclusion: the Web can’t always police itself.” That’s why, they argue, they need to swoop in to save us from sex.

But the truth is that this episode only shows the gap between the law and the community. Craigslist’s community does police itself against the things that matter to it: fraud, spam, trolls. That’s how craigslist’s founder, Craig Newmark, spends his days, in customer service: policing against the things that bother and matter to his community. But sex? Who gives a damn? Clearly, the community doesn’t think it needs to be protected from that. So who are these cops protecting and from what?

That’s a fascinating aspect of the culture of the internet: It shows what really matters to a community and what does not matter and that, in turn, reveals how out of touch laws and those who make and enforce them can be. Craigslist is a society and it has its own laws and means of enforcement.

Can the law, like media, still be one-size-fits-all? Well, of course, to some extent, it must be. We need consistent laws across society that define everything from fraud to murder; tat is the foundation of society. But within a society there are other societies. And so, in the U.K., there have long been religious courts that deal with disputes in the Jewish and Muslim communities. The laws of society still stand over them (thank God) and members of the community retain the right to call on those laws. Online, we also have communities that cut across borders and have their own rules of behavior. Indeed, even games become societies with laws and consequences. As Lawerence Lessig famously said, code is law, for it prescribes behavior exactly. Laws come into conflict with laws.

And so, once again, the internet becomes a threat to the control and power of an elite and they are exploiting craiglist – and the murderer who used it – to reassert their control. But it has the marks of a witchhunt. Craigslist’s blog this weekend writes about the attorney general of South Carolina going after it even though craigslist promotes these supposed sins less than others. The blog says: “And FWIW, telephone yellow pages and other local print media have both companies beat hands down as adult service ad venues for South Carolina. Any interest in targeting them for criminal prosecution? Didn’t think so.” This weekend, I was also glad to hear craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster go on the offensive against the offended on On the Media.

I’ll be writing more about the law after the internet soon. I have lawyers on the brain.

(Disclosure: Craig Newmark is a friend and an investor in Daylife, where I’m a partner.)

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.

What (or who) is your value?

I’ve had a half-dozen conversations lately with companies that want to answer the question, What Would Google Do? I start by asking where they think their company’s value is. One key answer is usually left out. It’s about who your real value is. And that’s often not just your staff and leaders but your customers, your public, your crowd. What they know has great and too-often unrecognized value.

A few weeks ago, at the beginning of a torturous string of travel, I visited the indefatigable Jeffrey Gitomer, who sells untold thousands of books and seminar tickets about successful selling. G’bless him, Jeffrey was the first to call and tell me that he liked my book and that he wanted to inject some of its ideas and rules into his business: the beginning of a beautiful friendship and the opening of a fascinating laboratory.

I went to Charlotte to spend time with Jeffrey and his staff in one of the many lofts from which he operates and lives. I started by asking them where their value was. Their answers included Jeffrey himself, their content, their brand and reputation, their infrastructure. All those answers were right. But there was one more I thought they’d left out: the value of Gitomer’s customers and what they know. They are salespeople who have their own tips for success, solutions to problems, experience with techniques, and more. It wasn’t hard for Jeffrey’s staff to agree with that.

What does that mean for the business – especially if they try to live by one of the key WWGD? principles: succeeding by building platforms that enable others to succeed? The staff started brainstorming about the ways they could enable their customers to build and succeed. Perhaps they could enable the best of them to become authors and speakers themselves. Perhaps the best presentation makers could make businesses sharing their skills. Maybe within Gitomer’s corp of customers are stars ready to be recognized. The discussion continued and I’ll fill you in on what happens as Gitomer’s staff continues to meet weekly on their transformation. But that’s the start.

* * *

When I was in Amsterdam, Maurits Martijn, an editor from an established and respected – but shrinking – magazine called Vrij Nederland decided to turn our interview about the debut of the Dutch WWGD? (aka WZGD?) into a free consultation for the magazine: what should it do? (Here’s a Google translation.) I started by asking them to imagine a day after print so they could ask what their real value is.

The magazine then started a blog and asked its readers where they thought Vrij Nederland’s real value lay if not on paper. (Google translation here.) One commenter replies that the magazine owes its existence to its readers and they must feel at home with it. I like that. Another said (if Google translates correctly) that the initiative itself made him go buy the magazine because, I infer, it showed a new openness.

Maurits emailed me: “Well, Jeff, what happened is quite amazing. There is a lot of covering here in Holland. Not just in the bloogosphere and on Twitter, but also in a big Dutch magazine and on the radio. It is great. Al kind of new media experts are writing quite interesting and extensive ‘advises’ and a discussion is going on as well. We are a little bit flabbergasted: we are only online for 30 hours!” He offered up the magazine as a lab (the name of their blog): “As a case to think about the future of magazines.”

Maurits promises to keep us up to date on the ideas and what the magazine does with them. Note well that the ideas are coming from the readers, now partners.

* * *

Then this week, I had coffee with TR Reid, Dell’s new vp of corporate communication. He was in Asia for the company during Dell Hell and came unarmed. It was fascinating listening to him talk about how to extend Dell’s success with blogging past a blogging team and into the culture of the company.

Then I asked about extending it even farther: Would Dell deputize customers to also speak for it? They already do, supporting each other in technical forums. I asked when researching the book whether Dell could set some of them up in their own support businesses. How could Dell act as a platform for them to build and succeed? TR started brainstorming about ways to enable and empower independent bloggers. What could Dell offer them? I asked. It could give them information, promotion (i.e., respect), ad revenue, and more.

Going too far, as is my habit, I wondered whether Dell could even enable other technology companies to start. Should it compete with Amazon and Google in web services (don’t buy the computer, buy the power). Should it manufacture the TechCrunch Tablet?

The point remains: Any company’s unrecognized and untapped value is the crowd around it: its knowledge, its effort, its willingness to invest time, effort, and money. Google recognized that value. How can every company, from publisher to manufacturer?

I’m not the only doomsayer

Warren Buffett would not buy newspapers “at any price.” From Paidcontent, he said (according to Fox Business):

The current environment is accentuating problem in newspapers -but it’s not the basic cause. Charlie and I read five a day. We’ll never give them up. We would not buy them at any price. They have the possibility of going to unending losses. They were essential to the public 20 years ago. Their pricing power was essential with customer. They lost the essential nature. The erosion has accelerated dramatically. They were only essential to advertiser as long as essential to reader. No one liked buying ads in the paper – it’s just that they worked. I don’t see anything on the horizon that causes that erosion to end.

This from the owner of the Buffalo News and a board member of the Washington Post Company.

And they call me a doomsayer.

Now add to this what Jeffrey Cole of USC said in his latest valuable report:

We’re clearly now seeing a path to the end of the printed daily newspapers — a trend that is escalating much faster than we had anticipated,” Cole said. “The decline of newspapers is happening at a pace they never could have anticipated. Their cushion is gone, and only those papers that can move decisively to the Web will survive.

I wondered whether Vanishing Newspaper author Philip Meyer — who’s often quoted as predicting the last paper rolling off a press in 2043 (though as you’ll see, that’s not quite right) — had updated his prognostication. Last year, he wrote this:

Judging by the Google alerts the book’s title has accumulated since then, readers took away the wrong message.

This reference from The Economist is typical: “In his book ‘The Vanishing Newspaper,’ Philip Meyer calculates that the first quarter of 2043 will be the moment when newsprint dies in America as the last exhausted reader tosses aside the last crumpled edition.”

That’s a clever image, and it is true that extrapolating the recent linear decline in everyday readership would show a zero point in April 2043. But newspaper publishers are not so relentlessly stubborn that we can expect them to continue churning out papers until there is only one reader left. The industry would lose critical mass and collapse long before then.

Moreover, straight-line trends do not continue indefinitely. Nature throws us curves.

His superb piece was written probably just before last fall’s crash — one helluva curve.

Add this all up and it keeps getting clearer and clearer: It makes less sense every day to try to preserve and protect – to invest in – what is obviously a failing model. Every day that papers keep printing is a day that they haven’t reinvented themselves for a new reality.

The same can be said of the auto industry, retail, banking, education, and many other sectors of society. But those will be the subjects of upcoming posts (and maybe more).

This isn’t doomsaying, though. It is a reality check. It is nothing more than observing what is obviously and inexorably happening in the economy and society. The insane response to this change is to resist it and mourn it. The sane response is to find the opportunity in it.

Don’t bail. Build.

It may be too late for newspapers to find that opportunity. But others will find it. That’s not doomsaying. That’s optimism.

: LATER: I find it interesting – that’s all – that Romenesko’s angle on the Buffett quote was partner Charlie Munger’s lament that the erosion of papers is tragic. For me, that’s the color. For him, Buffett’s tarring of newspaper investment is that addendum.

Defining the new economy

I’m collecting links to thinking that tries to identify the essence of the new economy. In a stream-of-consciousness flow about just this, Brian Frank argues that we’re moving from an industrial to a venture-capital economy where supposed scientific precision gives way to the imperfection that is inherent in innovation:

[Paul] Graham compares this to the Industrial Revolution, which is a fair comparison in terms of scale, but I think we should recognize that these current changes are a kind of reversal, or inversion, or undoing of the Industrial Revolution.

Through the Industrial Revolution the economy itself gradually became like one big machine — or at least that’s how most economists tended to see it. Everything could supposedly be quantified, reduced, and rigorously predicted.

Silicon Valley represents something else entirely. . . .

Rather than expanding control and diminishing variations, the emerging attitude will be about expanding variety and accommodating the unknown. It inverts all of our intuitions and assumptions about doing business and managing the economy… Know your ecology and complexity science.

(My favourite books on this are The New Pioneers by Tom Petzinger, Surfing on the Edge of Chaos by Richard Pascale et al, and Bob Sutton’s Weird Ideas That Work… I haven’t read Jeff Jarvis’s What Would Google Do? yet — I have it on-reserve — but I think it might make my list too. Orbiting the Giant Hairball has been on my reading list for a long time as well.)

So far Silicon Valley is the best model we have for going forward. It addresses the two big defects of industrialism: the one pointed out by Roger Martin, that employees and customers are turned off by rigorous efficiency, and the one pointed out by Nassim Taleb, that the unexpected is inevitable.