Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Aussie web 2.0 apps

Ross Dawson's Top 60 Australian web 2.0 applications went up on Read/Write Web yesterday.

It's a fascinating list and shows just how robust local new media initiatives are. I hope Ross repeats this exercise in a year's time. It will be intriguing to see how that list evolves and expands.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Web 2.0 in the newsroom

Robert Scoble, Google Vice President Marissa Mayer and Web Strategist Jeremiah Owyang discuss the effect Web 2.0 will have on journalism.

Here's $1.1m to kick start your business ...

Congratulations are due to Adrian Holovaty for scoring a US$1.1 million Knight Foundation grant to develop a new business "that focuses on making local news and information useful".

There were a stack of other worthy winners, but ever since Holovaty came to prominence with he has been watched closely by anyone looking for clues as to where the combination of software and data might take journalism.

And now that he has quit you can bet his new venture EveryBlock will be the focus of a lot of interest.

Web 2.0 in Australia

In early June Ross Dawson is hosting a one-day conference on Web 2.0 in Australia that promises to be a very interesting showcase of current local initiatives - as well as a discussion on future trends and funding opportunities. There should be more of these sorts of events to help promote some of the excellent ideas that are fomenting via tech and media startups in this country.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Hitchens' tribute to Falwell

Jerry Falwell died on Tuesday, and Christopher Hitchens was ready with a wonderful spray of invective. Check this out ...

Friday, May 11, 2007

Fairfax considers pay-per-view

In this week's B&T Pippa Leary, Fairfax Digital’s director of news and information says Fairfax would move to a user-pays system "in a flash" to reduce the company’s dependence on classified advertising if the appropriate unique content could be found.

"At this point in time when we look at our current online set, we don’t see anything that is unique. But that said, if we were to bundle certain information together, we may be able to create an offering that people would be willing to pay for, we are constantly looking at and testing that concept," Leary says .

This is an interesting admission that reveals a number of the structural problems, in organisational terms, Fairfax Digital suffers from at the moment. And despite an apparently strong commercial position those problems are inhibiting Fairfax Digital's ability to really address the challenges they face in the longer term.

As Director of news and information Leary is responsible for content. She is a very smart operator but she doesn't have an editorial background, and that's part of the problem. She was responsible for bringing the discipline of the ninemsn product development strategy to (then) f2's commercial team which was a significant achievement and led to her being promoted from running the product development team to effectively managing the market facing strategy of the two major sites (plus Brisbane).

This is consistent with Fairfax Digital's view that the newspapers are the content engines for the web sites so uniquely produced online material really only needs to be marginal in volume. The majority of material comes from the papers and is shovelled on to the web sites by the online editorial teams at and

Despite making some noise about the few dedicated online reporters Fairfax Digital has painted itself into a bit of a corner here. By sidelining editorial input, and focusing heavily on commercialising newspaper content at the expense of creating online environments that are adapting to and evolving with the new digital space, they are fast approaching a showdown with the newspapers over who actually "owns" the masthead web sites.

It's worth remembering that Fairfax Digital is a separate company from Fairfax Media. What that means in practice is that the web sites of The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald are not the responsibilities of Andrew Jaspan and Alan Oakley but rather of Pippa Leary. The fact is that the online teams under Simon Johanson at and (until recently) David Higgins at are proud of their associations and work hard to maintain good relationships with their print colleagues. But when push comes to shove it's Pippa who has the final say.

So her statement above, about not seeing anything unique in "our current online set", is really an admission that the strategy of separation - of print and online - is not working. Right now Fairfax's approach is to tell print journalists that they have to "adapt or die", give them a few gadgets and a couple of days training and tell them about the wonderful integrated newsroom they'll soon be working in.

However, the ongoing separation of the two businesses - print and digital - means that the newspaper journalists have every reason to stay suspicious about the way their efforts will be treated online.

When the Director of news and information at Fairfax Digital is betting on bundling certain information together "to create an offering that people would be willing to pay for" you can be sure those supplying the information will be sensitive to how that bundling process is being handled, particularly if they're told there's nothing unique about their material.

If, on the other hand, the editors of the newspapers were given full responsibility for their masthead sites - notwithstanding the economies inherent in shared technology and other resources - then the print staff could reasonably be expected to take a more positive view about their own activities online.

Structural remedy needed

Since the late nineties Fairfax has more or less copied the in all things digital. For a while that was OK as was clearly one of the early leaders in online news. But ever since the failed registration strategy at and - based, as it was, on the successful registration format - it's been clear that simply aping your favourite US newspaper site is not a long term option.

As far as organisational structure goes, even the New York Times has adapted to new imperatives. In 2005 they rolled the former New York Times Digital business into the New York Times company rather than keeping them as two separate businesses.

The lesson is that the fanciest, most high tech integrated newsroom is not enough on its own. The company's organisational structure needs to reflect the mantra of "integration" in a comprehensive way that encourages staff to feel an ownership and attachment to the digital products in the same way they do to the print product.

But there's one other missing element here. Leary's statement to B&T is focused very much on static content, packaging that content and selling it. In other words trying to attract specific demographic groups to traditionally produced material and wrapping advertising around it.

What's missing is community. Where is the vision at Fairfax Digital for new modes of publishing? Why are we just hearing about re-packaging content and charging users, as if this was the smartest way to grow an online business?

I don't suggest that Fairfax should give up serious journalism, but while some people may read Pippa Leary's search for unique content in order to charge readers for access as an implied need for investment in journalism and journalists, I think it just illustrates the failure of imagination and leadership at Fairfax Digital.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Web 2.0 going mainstream

A recent article in a US trade publication pointed to a Hitwise study showing that "Web 2.0 websites accounted for 12 percent of all US web activity for the week ended April 7".

The article quotes Bill Tancer, Hitwise general manager of global research, as saying, "It's the participatory aspect of Web 2.0 that is still in a very nascent stage. When online participation goes mainstream, we can expect an explosion of new content on the web."

But here's the rub. What exactly is web 2.0 and when does nascent become mainstream?

The debate over a definition has been going on for a while. In fact, I'd argue it has become more a debate about what the definition applies to. In other words, what is the user experience on engaging with a so-called web 2.0 site that encourages meaningful interaction?

As far as the other question goes, 12 percent strikes me as something more than nascent. Of course, this is only US traffic and so not representative of all markets. I'd like to see a similar study for Europe and Asia. I suspect the percentage would be lower at the moment, but the growth rate strong.

Networks and the News Corp approach

Rupert Murdoch is cleverly positioning News Corp to take advantage of the trend networking and social media ahead of the competition. Murdoch's dinner guest Jeff Jarvis has a bit of an insight into the recent News offsite in California, and he adds this point about the culture at News:
"The good and the bad of News Corp., I’ve long said, is that they fly by the seat of their pants: They make decisions quickly and decisively and some are brilliant and some are not but at least you can get a decision and move on. Now, of course, you can disagree with those decisions. But I would reassure the people at Dow Jones that this is not the News Corp. of fable. Murdoch is not an ogre. He’s a gracious and charming mogul. And the reason his people like working there is that he leaves them to operate more independently than I’ve seen in other companies — so long as they succeed, of course."
Having attended some Australian company conferences, and seen the Chairman in action, I couldn't agree more. The bottom line is always the bottom line for News. To succeed means to make money. And why not? It's a business, after all.

And that's one of the fascinating aspects of the current state of the media industry, one which Murdoch recognises. As he writes in the current issue of Forbes, "Companies that take advantage of this new meaning of network and adapt to the expectations of the networked consumer can look forward to a new golden age of media."

The issue, of course, is how do you deliver anything like the same margins in a digital publishing environment as was previously available in a print environment?

Monday, May 07, 2007

All tip and no iceberg

And while we're in a Red Symons mood, here's another. Former PM Paul Keating in fighting form:


Red Symons has been displaying his talents on Youtube to hilarious effect. This piece is from last year but given it's Budget week I thought it appropriate.

The journalist 'besieging' the Treasurer from behind in this clip, adding a couple of nicely timed eye-rolls, is Dan Silkstone from The Age.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Murdoch has Dow in his sights

But so far his US$5 billion offer has been rejected. No doubt that won't be the end of the story.

It may be that the Dow Jones' internet properties are the main attraction to News as The Oz reports today, but it's interesting that this comes at a time when Rupert Murdoch has assembled senior editorial staff at his California property to map out the future of News Corporation's online news delivery.

"It's really focused on what the newspapers are doing online and how they adapt to the new world," News Digital chief executive Richard Freudenstein said of the conference.

The subtext being that the newspapers need to do a better job of digitising their businesses. Video is a major focus, and getting journalists to work across multimedia formats. But more than that developing new commercial models is a major challenge, one that needs to go hand in hand with refined editorial approaches.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal has its own view on what life as a Murdoch-owned paper would be like.