Monday, March 26, 2007

More doom and gloom for newspapers

More news on the problems with newspapers. The latest patient, apparently, is the San Francisco Chronicle. The problems are not new, and neither is the debate. Doc Searls recaps. Scott Karp reckons it's a problem of a lack of imagination from newspapers. And he's right, but that's sort of stating the obvious, really. Dave Winer, I think, puts it best:
"[T]he MSM guys love to hear Jeff Jarvis's message of gloom and doom, but feel threatened by my prescription for embracing the new media, a message of hope, of finding new relevance for the skills and experience of professional journalists."

iRack and iRan

OK, I'm on a bit of a Youtube bender here, but this is pretty funny. MadTV's take on Steve Jobs' product presentations: IT theatre as social commentary ...

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Cold Chisel - Standing on the outside

It's Sunday, so no media industry stuff - lets get into some music. In fact, I think I might start doing a bit more of this ...

Cold Chisel were a great Aussie band who broke up in 1983. Here's a clip of my brother-in-law's band with their version of the Chisels' Rising Sun for a soon-to-be-released tribute album.

I remember seeing the Chisels a number of times at Festival Hall in Melbourne (OK two all ages gigs, I was only a kid), shows that are still up there with the best I've ever seen. The LTE boys have nailed this song beautifully.

And here are some of the other Aussie artists on the album talking the Chisels' songs and legacy.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Changing media

Roy Greenslade and Jemima Kiss are covering the Guardian's Changing Media Summit. Unfortunately, Greenslade's blog doesn't use tags so the posts will likely drop off the page soon, but until then ...

Kevin Anderson and Suw Charman are also covering the conference. (Now why doesn't Anderson blog this event for The Guardian, given he is their blogs editor?)

The problem with content

Scott Karp asks: Is content still a business? (ie. content creation.) And concludes that content aggregation and distribution is really the only media business left.

His conclusion is based heavily on the problems being faced by the music industry, specifically around CD sales.

Problem here, I think, is that this is more a format issue than a content creation issue, per se.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Wheat or weed?

As a country music fan ... gotta love this: Stephen Colbert interviews Willie Nelson.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Where are the wikis on news sites?

Despite the LA Times failed experiment back in June 2005 the potential of wikis for news sites has always been there. As was pointed out many times, the problem was largely the choice of editorial material and subsequent lack of oversight.

But since then no one has been willing to follow the LA Times example and give it another shot.

Jimmy Wales makes the obvious point that "The LA Times experiment with a wiki really pretty clearly failed because it didn’t bother to first cultivate a community of users".

I've always thought that a wiki could work really well properly directed at, for example, a fans' view of their sporting club. The history of, say, Collingwood Football Club as written by its supporters would be a great read. The Wikipedia version is OK, but a bit sterile. If an Australian news site could get its act together to encourage Magpies or Rabbitohs fans to tell their stories through a wiki you could get something really powerful working.

Same goes for local history. The old whaling town of Port Fairy on the Victorian coast has a page managed by its historical society and an entry in Wikipedia. Both are unsatisfactory, but a news site could encourage small regional and suburban communities to tell their stories via a wiki. Over time this would develop into great content, as well as being a great way for building engagement with the news brand via a community service.

As Wales says, "if [news sites] think of a segment of the community that it isn't serving well and which it can't serve well because the economics don't work out then this new method of production means they can actually provide a new service."

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Blowing up the Web 2.0 bubble

So, we're definitely in a bubble. The evidence?
"According to VentureOne, a research firm, nearly $500 million in venture- capital money was pumped into social-media companies in the first nine months of 2006. [...] As in the last bubble, sites blossom out of nowhere and quickly fade. The average user of Xanga, the buzzy social-networking site of the early Aughts, spent 15 minutes on the site in December, down from around an hour and a half in October 2002. Friendster, the massively VC-funded social-networking service whose demise is being hurried along by the more free-wheeling MySpace, topped three hours per user last February, only to drop to a quarter hour in December."
Right. Well, I suppose that does it then.

Problem is, the rest of the piece is more or less opinion based around the author's observations of a select number of web sites.

I love The Atlantic, but it's really very conservative on new media.

These earlier social media sites, like Friendster and even Myspace, are, I think, too narrowly focused on specific types of functionality, eg.: video sharing, bookmarking links, sharing music, photos, blogs, and customising RSS feeds into a personal page. The "whatever" features Hirschorn refers to.

And they often have a pretty horrid user experience, or the set up process is incredibly complicated. That's no problem for the teenage, geeky types, or the older long time web user, but it's not very attractive to the general user.

So in broadening out the application of social media the user experience needs to become simpler, more mainstream, if you like. And the offering needs to become more practical. Which it inevitably will. In other words there needs to be a good mix of useful functionality and meaningful community interaction, with professionally produced content alongside user generated content. As this happens the use of social media sites will expand, not contract.

In commercial terms, all of this needs to be underpinned by an opportunity to transact. Users need to be able to easily evaluate and ultimately purchase the products advertised within that social space.

The three elements are:
  1. Content - professional and user generated
  2. Community and interactivity - honest engagement and real, practical functionality
  3. Commerce, or transactions - the next gen social media site enables a market place for commercial clients to connect directly with users.
As a business model it's more commercially robust than slapping display ads on static pages, even if they do have a comment box at the foot.

Another aspect of the current social media hype is non-related businesses thinking they can get on the bandwagon. Hirschorn refers to Doc Marten's new social networking site That strategy didn't work for Walmart. And I suspect it won't work for others like Nike, either, despite their CEO's confidence at the recent WEF. Nike as a social networking community just doesn't do it for me.

It all seems a bit narrow. Sure, it's a good thing that companies want to engage more with their customers, but I don't think it that has to be, or even can be, via a social networking strategy.

You have to approach these things as publishing ventures, not just add-ons to existing businesses. They need to operate successfully in their own right, and users are pretty good at sniffing out frauds.

The key as far as timing goes, is the commodification of technology, the boom in web based applications, and the rise in online populations via broadband uptake and better awareness of the web and the concurrent migration in advertising dollars. These are significant differences from the situation in the lead up to April 2000.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Web TV

Current TV launched in the UK last week. It's an interesting idea aiming to produce community generated short form video. They have a distribution agreement with BSkyB. In the US, where it's been running for longer, the same deal is covered by a string of cable networks.

In the UK they need to generate enough quality content via the web to populate a channel on the pay TV network. They're focusing on students and young people and have 25-30 facilitators or producer-type crew educating, encouraging and working with these communities to generate the videos.

The reverse broadcasting formula back into a TV network is understandable, but it seems to be a bit of a backward step. If nothing else, the Current TV content that makes it on to BSkyB will inevitably have to conform to general broadcasting standards, not just in production values but also in terms of content style and type.

18 Doughty Street, on the other hand, doesn't have any pretentions to being old fashioned TV. It wants to break the mould. This is uncompromising right wing stuff, but the structure, and the way they go about engaging their audience, is very clever.

The company is owned and funded by Stephan Shakespeare, the co-founder and Chief Innovations Officer of YouGov Plc. who has put in US$2 million. It's advocacy TV and at this point they are not trying to make money, which sets them apart from Current TV which does have a defined business model.

Their audience is still small, but they are getting a fair bit of coverage in the UK media. This recent piece posted on Youtube has been viewed 250,000 times and has reportedly had a strong flow-on effect in traffic to the site.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Black v Fitzgerald, week 1

He's taken to speaking French outside the court. That'll do him a world of good.

Anyway, week one was all about jury selection, with segues into Barbara Amiel's dress selection. The Globe and Mail is taking a predictably close interest. And the New York Times has a fair bit to say too.

Here's part of the view from blogland.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

(US) Media report 2007

The fourth The State of the News Media report from the Project for Excellence in Journalism has just been released. This is the annual report that inspired a pale imitation from the Australian Press Council last year.

You can read the full 160,000 words, but here are the seven new trends identified in the report:
  1. News organizations need to do more to think through the implications of this new era of shrinking ambitions.
  2. The evidence is mounting that the news industry must become more aggressive about developing a new economic model.
  3. The key question is whether the investment community sees the news business as a declining industry or an emerging one in transition.
  4. There are growing questions about whether the dominant ownership model of the last generation, the public corporation, is suited to the transition newsrooms must now make.
  5. The Argument Culture is giving way to something new, the Answer Culture.
  6. Blogging is on the brink of a new phase that will probably include scandal, profitability for some, and a splintering into elites and non-elites over standards and ethics.
  7. While journalists are becoming more serious about the Web, no clear models of how to do journalism online really exist yet, and some qualities are still only marginally explored.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The trial of Conrad Black

The British papers are eagerly anticipating, celebrating even, the Conrad Black trial that starts next week in Chicago.

Lord Black's plunge into ignominy - The Daily Telegraph

Dining out on defiance - The Times
"Instead of keeping a low profile before his trial, the former press baron is dining out on his notoriety and fending off female attention."

Read all about it... The trial of Conrad Black - The Independent
"The son of an embittered Toronto businessman whose ousting from the family business he vowed to avenge, Lord Black was an aggressive operator who quickly found the role of media baron suited his desire for an entrée to high society on both sides of the Atlantic."

There's nothing in today's Guardian, but they had a piece on Wednesday that focused on the Committee for Lord Black hoax that Canadian satirical magazine Frank ran: Been to court, got the T-shirt: fallen press baron defiant as trial looms

Lord Black had a brief, and not altogether happy, association with Fairfax in the early nineties. Here's a bunch of former Fairfax editors and senior executives (and one Governor General) making nice with the then boss.

From left: Les Carlyon, Alan Kohler, Conrad Black, Michael Hoy, Stephen Mulholland, Bruce Guthrie, Zelman Cowen, Stuart Simson, Michael Smith, Greg Taylor, Creighton Burns and Robert Gottliebsen in 1993.

And there's more ...

Not to be outdone, the Sunday's weighed in with their own pieces. Most notably The Sunday Times with a feature by Black's most recent biographer, Tom Bower. Next to the picture of Black dressed as a cardinal (above) the extended headline reads: "Is this man a greedy, flamboyant crook who stole $83m to feed the insatiable materialism of his harridan wife? Or is he the innocent victim of a monstrous conspiracy and defamation by 'poltroons'?" (Black has protested loudly against Bower's biography of him in the form of a US$11m libel action.)

But, hey. Some headline?

The Independent chose to focus on what Barbara Amiel may wear to court claiming this will speak volumes about how the trial is progressing for the defendant.

First sign of barrel scraping, perhaps?

The Sunday Telegraph, meanwhile, does a bit of scene setting with a Circus comes to town piece listing the main cast and supporting characters.

It's sure to be a good show.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Coming soon: Myspace news

Terry Heaton reports that Myspace is about to launch a news service the with launch due in the middle of the year.

According to inside sources and the company's own sales materials:
  • MySpace News takes News to a whole new level by dynamically aggregating real-time news and blogs from top sites around the Web
  • Creates focused, topical news pages that users can interact and engage with throughout their day
  • MySpace is making the news social, allowing users to: Rate and comment on every news item that comes through the system; Submit stories they think are cool and even author pieces from their MySpace blog
  • MySpace users previously had to leave the site to find comprehensive news, gossip, sporting news, etc. With MySpace News, we bring the news to them!
This sounds not dissimilar to Google News. It is very logical for a company like News Corp and will give them real distribution grunt for their existing content. It will rattle a few cages, no doubt, but only with those who already struggle with Google News. For everyone who views Google news as an opportunity - Myspace is about to provide another one.

Thursday links
  1. Traditional media companies are beginning to understand that the audience can, and should, become part of the editorial process, but it's early days yet. What's working and what's not? A report from the Center for Citizen Media.
  2. Paul Brannan, the Deputy Editor of BBC News Interactive, interviewed on the state of public broadcasting in the UK and the US and the progress of integrated media (podcast).
  3. Who's the parasite? Bloggers or reporters, asks Dave Weiner.
  4. PBS' Frontline investigation into the Future of News.

Ron Walker visits the Daily Telegraph

The weather has turned in London, and while it ain't exactly warm at least the sun is out which makes the transition from summer in Sydney not as tough as it was in January when I was last here.

This is something of a fact finding mission. A few chats with the right people, organising bureaucratic stuff for our new business which will launch here mid-year; looking at office space etc etc. In the process I've been fortunate to visit a number of media shops. One of the most interesting has been the Daily Telegraph's newsroom. I gotta say it's impressive. A lot has been written about it in the UK media, so Google it.

A bit of gossip: the day before I was there Ron Walker had been in the building, sitting in on news conference, touring the floor, hobnobbing with the big cheeses. Does this have something to do with the imminent newsroom moves at the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age? Is it about digital integration or commercial real estate (the Telegraph has a uniquely large floor space, something which is hard to come by)? Or perhaps he was just dropping in on some mates?

There's a fair bit that Fairfax could conceivably learn from the Daily Telegraph's experience, but I wonder if the Chairman of the company is the right person for Fairfax to have on the case?

Fairfax pushes pixels north

I'm in London this week, and so have missed a couple of blogworthy media things from Australia.

The main one is the news that Fairfax finally launched Brisbane Times, the online news site that had been mooted for some time.

Crikey initially speculated that "Fairfax’s entry into the Brisbane market via a back-door website will only be phase one until the brand is established. Then, when the Rural Press takeover of Fairfax Media is complete, John B. Fairfax can “Trojan Horse” The Brisbane Times into full print production from Rural Press’ presses in south-east Queensland."

We'll see. It would be brave of David Kirk to take on News in south-east Queensland via print. Online is one thing, but the News Ltd machine would come out with all guns blazing at the sniff of a daily paper.

After the initial speculation on strategy coverage has settled down to critiquing the product. Mark Bahnisch writes, "The opinion content is just the Smage stuff, and indeed the venture might be more about competing with News for traffic by putting a local spin on the usual Fairfax fare, than anything more substantive".

And a friend in the communications industry in Queensland says "It's MX online. Fairfax claim 200,000 online readers of their publications south of the border as justification for this? Maybe Brisbane just doesn't have enough news even for one daily paper, and certainly not enough of the cultural/political/social substance that underpins the SMAGE. Anyway, needless to say, I'll be looking at it every hour or so and comparing the lag in event-to-news. So far, it is streets ahead of the courier mail, but that aint hard."

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Local search and review

"The substantial growth in Yelp's traffic indicates that the social networking/local search combo is an effective means of engaging users around local content."

The project I'm currently working on has a major component related to local reviews, so it's extremely interesting to watch how similar models such as Insider Pages, Yelp, Trusted Places and the Sydney-based Rave About It are travelling.

Leanne Prescott at Hitwise has some stats on the US based sites. The top line is that Yelp's traffic is up 91%, and Insider Pages up 34% in the past six months.

Trusted Places is a smaller concern concentrating on food in the UK and Europe, and Rave About It is too new to register much in the way of traffic (or listings) yet.

But for Yelp and Insider Pages, despite being smaller UGC-focused review sites compared with the bigger players in local search such as Yahoo! Local and Google Maps who received more than ten times the market share of visits of Insider Pages in February 2007, the future is bright.

In Australia the local directory and online marketplace, has seen a few trends emerge in recent months. Gumtree, dLook and TheTrove are three particularly interesting cases.
The overall effect of the entrance of these and other smaller players is a shift in the traffic distribution to the online Classifieds industry. While the top 10 Classifieds websites accounted for 83.1% for the week ending 21 January 2006, they now comprise 75.3% for the week ending 20 January 2007. The decline of 7.8% in combined market share for the top 10 players means we're seeing a more competitive industry

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Reuters plans Myspace for financial services

Seems like everybody is doing it. Latest cab off the rank is Reuters.

The news agency is hoping to draw from the 70,000 subscribers of its messaging service as a starting point for a foray into the social media sector.
"You will see us, later in the year, launch a version of MySpace for the financial services community," said the chief executive, Tom Glocer. "It won't have the latest hot videos and the 'why I am into Metallica and the Arctic Monkeys' blogs. Instead we are going to give our financial services users the ability to post their research or if they are traders, their trading models."

The website will also be exclusive to Reuters subscribers. "People don't want to have 100 friend requests from teenage girls in Florida if they are trading the credit derivatives market, but they probably are interested in being able to share research," said Mr Glocer.
Well, I don't know about that. You could probably argue there are quite a few traders and fund managers who would love 100 friend requests from teenage girls in Florida.