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Aggregation: It's the Zeitgeist
Just a quick question before I start a long weekend early — how do people learn in a networked world? George Siemens, a Canadian educator, has advanced a notion called connectivism that provides a conceptual framework for what changes when institutions are supplanted by ad-hoc teams. Let me thank unmediated.org for bringing the theory of connectivism to my attention. I noodled around and found a biography for George Siemens and an interview with him that will give you the flavor of his ideas. The piece referenced on unmediated had to do with Siemens’ observations on the breakdown of the old media gatekeeper system: “I no longer read newspapers or watch the evening news. I used to go to one source of information to get a thousand points of information. Now, I go to a thousand sources of information to get one point of information. I have become the filter and mediator.” This observation is reminiscent of the newsmaster concept that was floating around the web some months ago (if you haven’t seen the Googlezon (EPIC) video, take a five minutes to amuse yourself with a sci-fi "documentary" on how the Net swallows newspapers). And just this morning unmediated pointed to a related discussion about how top bloggers are becoming what are called newshubs -- tour guides of a sort in a world awash with information. Interesting times. I’ll post again Tuesday. Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy ‘Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media
The Dept. of Homeland Software?
Yesterday I speculated that local news was the best content market (include niche or affinity groups as well) and suggested that localized news could be the bread and butter of citizen journalism. I ended on this note -- we need to invent a way to make local sites pay at least a partial income. Here are some thoughts as to how. For arguments’ sake, let’s imagine that the citizen journalism site of the not-too-distant future is anchored around a column, or blog. It would presumably be the audience magnet. Around this blog would be arranged other feeds and inputs – a cartoon, photo or artwork for a quick laugh; the lead paragraph from other blogs on the same theme with links to more; news feeds, culled from mainstream media and delivered via RSS or through an affiliation with Topix; useful links to info resources relevant to the site’s theme (Peoria-at-a-Glance, or Guide-to-Food-Preservation). Think of this as a personal portal, a lens on the world that the “editor” shares with others. In recent blogs I noted how Dave Winer’s OPML would enable web publishers to grab other pages and, assuming templates or other software modules appear out of thin air, pour parts of that content into one of these imaginary personal portals. The end result could be an interesting destination. It could even draw enough traffic to create a supplementary income for the portal editor. At least that's my hope and expectation. But if the agglomeration of content helps to draw an audience, shouldn’t front page revenues be shared with the various contributors? I say yes, and offer this simple starting point as a framework for computing the shares – for each input record the area of the screen set over to it; record the time of each unique front-page visit and any click-thru activity that occurs while each constituent element is in place; divide total revenues or page-views achieved during each publishing period (which would change any time a constituent element changes); divide any revenues received during that publishing period by the area devoted to each element; apportion the pro rata share to an account for each contributor; tabulate these shares by week or month, and issue payments upon certain thresholds. In short, make a business out of sharing content instead of assuming that we are all tenured academics who post stuff for the greater good and our personal glory (think about it: Tim Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web and its predecessor, the NSFNet, were both academic constructs supported by academic money and labor; Web 2.0 has no such sugar daddy.) But where do I put this request? I can’t even paste a traffic counter into my Blogger profile (officially, my traffic is zero, which means not even I read my blog!). Perhaps some person with technological smarts (who is also not reading this) can point me to where such an accounting software already exists. Or if it is a novel request, then put the idea where it is likely to get constructive feedback or a prototype effort that could be tweaked and improved. It's way past time to put the new publishing modes on a path toward economic sustainability. Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy ‘Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media
There are two great floods in the news today, one in New Orleans and the other a deluge of media coverage of Hurricane Katrina. Pardon me for saying this is not an innovation, only saturation. Decades ago people would have sat glued to the radio. Today they're glued to the computer screen. True, new media offers new ways to help the survivors. But the more important, and perhaps unexploited power of new media is to enable us to get more information about what is happening in our backyards and on topics of interest to us, and not in being innundated by events a continent away. Thanks to an Anonymous poster for putting this thought in my head, and for pointing me to a lovely article on local coverage in Online Journalism Review. Today's posting must be briefer than usual. I've backed myself into a corner and have to rush out. So let me summarize as quickly as possible how OJR writer David LaFontaine put together some great ideas on how local coverage may be the unexploited niche in publishing -- and urge you to go there for details. He started with a focus on the Point Reyes Light, the plucky little Northern California publication that won a 1979 Pulitzer Prize for its investigation of Synanon. Faced in 2004 with a financial crisis, the Light asked readers for help and they said: we'll pay more. Wow! But why should that surprise us. I can get more than I cared to know today about Katrina but if there was a flood down the block, where would I go to learn more? The OJR piece connects this print example to some of the online efforts that seek similarly to drill down into communities, quoting former mainstream media executive Bob Cauthorn and newsman-turned-entrepreneur Mark Potts, a co-founder of Backfence.com. "National news? Piece of cake. Anywhere, everywhere. I can get Pope coverage pretty much anywhere," Potts told OJR, which goes on to write: "Potts and his investors are betting that . . . a site that tells you how to find a good local plumber, what the Little League schedule is, and what the City Council is doing to try to solve the traffic problem could be a real force." Exactly what I've been thinking of late, and with one addition that I hope to add in future posts -- how does a person go-local with some hope of earning at least supplementary income if not creating a replacement job. Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy Cause if you ain't Mass Media, you're Mini Media
Putting Politics in Command
Wikipedia is an Internet treasure, a publicly-composed encyclopedia kept constant by volunteers, and embedded with links for further research. It is my first destination on many new topics. Given its success, I've wondered whether it might be a template for what Dan Gillmor christened citizen media (aka citizen journalism). So I read with interest a 13-page essay entitled, “Wikipedia as a learning community: content, conflict and the ‘common good’.” The essay was written by Wikipedian Cormac Lawler, who is studying for an advanced degree at the University of Manchester. While I enjoyed his essay and am awed by Wikipedia itself, my short, brutal assessment suggests that its governance is not applicable to citizen journalism because the cataloging of knowledge requires a different intellectual temperament than the acquisition of new information -- which is, or should be, the throbbing heart of journalism. But I have jumped the gun and failed to offer a précis of the essay by Lawler or, as he is known inside the Wikipedia community, Cormaggio. Wikipedia had 2 million articles in over 200 languages at the time of Cormaggio’s writing in 2005. Co-founder Jimmy (Jimbo) Wales had receded into the background, allowing the group to organize itself and create its own ethos, conserving his founder’s prestige for rare intercessions if and when conflict threatens the core function. And conflict, Cormaggio writes, is central to the learning that occurs inside the Wikipedian community: “Conflict arises for many reasons in many guises, whether through differences of culture, ideology or belief or simple misunderstanding . . . These conflicts often spill over into flame or edit wars, sometimes with little or no discussion on potential solutions, but simple deadlock.” But such conflicts are obviously resolved and Wikipedia functions, to the benefit of us all. I wish I knew more about the composition of the user base: its numbers, whether it functions under the 80-20 principle (that 20 percent of the contributors do 80 percent of the work), and from whence its membership is derived. My sense is that the core group is comprised of academics, who perform this role out of mix of professional pride, public service and a desire for peer recognition. But this is an inference from Cormaggio’s essay and not an explicit finding. Some empirical data about the community would have been helpful. In any event, my quick journalistic take – arrived at by reading the essay last night and waking early to pound out this rant before I race off to a meeting – is that the Wikipedia model is inapplicable to journalism. “Wikipedia is . . . building a learning community where leadership is distributed and in so doing creating a new kind of academic community,” Cormaggio writes. And there's the nub. Journalism is not an academic undertaking. It is, or at least it should be, an irreverent, inconsiderate, in-your-face confrontation with powers that would like nothing better than to obscure their workings from people who might object. Journalism is short, sharp and rude when need be. Even in this Internet Age, when publishers can theoretically pour out words and images ad infinitum, journalism must boils the most complex fact-sets all down to a headline. Because journalism is the discovery of that which is new. And sometimes it has got to smack you –- or the powers that be -- upside the head just to get attention. So while I am grateful for the existence of Wikipedia, and the time that its participants spend in its composition, I do not think it is a template for what I hope will be the next Net-spawned revolution of citizen journalism. I like to think in terms of movie metaphors. They’re probably the one cultural reference that cuts across classes and even nations. And, maybe I’m wrong, but I just don’t see “Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf” meets “The Front Page.” Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy ‘Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media
Kudos for J-Learning
There is a saying in the martial arts: when the student is ready the teacher appears. In that spirit, last week I came across a desperately needed resource: an easy-to-read guide on how to build websites for online community journalism. The site is J-Learning.org, and it’s a free offshoot of the University of Maryland’s J-Lab. Let me tell you a little about both. The blurb publicizing the J-Learning site is succinct: “This how-to digital handbook offers 20 chapters and 60 subsections of basic skills training on how to plan a community news site, build it, use the latest off-the-shelf software to add online features, and then market it and track users. It was created for citizens’ media projects, small-market news organizations and journalism new-media programs.” The J-Lab is an interesting outfit, a group of university folks with do-good money to spur community journalism in new media formats. I’ve mentioned them in past blogs, such as when I noted their October 24th “Citizens’ Media Summit, and on another occasion, some prizes they’ve handed out to reward novel experiments in community media. This latest project, a collaborative effort with some folks out here in California, could not have arrived at a better time for me. I’m planning a real web page to allow me to practice some of what I’ve been observing and preaching about new media. I've never been terribly swift on the technical uptake. But in the new age, to be a publisher means having HTML running in your veins. The J-Learning material is written for people like me – communicators forced to learn some Internet plumbing. Having now gushed without artifice or reservation let me now make some suggestions that might make the site even more useful. (If any of these are things that have already been implemented and I have simply been too stupid to notice them, please point that out to me and I will point that out here.) Would it be possible to create a PDF version of the entire site? Or to otherwise enable folks to print out entire sections? (I find it easier to read paper than LCDs, and also want it as reference to share with others.) As for print outs, a page format designed for a 3-ring binder seems the way to go. Office supply stores sell pre-punched paper. I got some last week and manually printed out the sections of interest so I could read on the train, etcetera. Finally, a 3-ring format takes into account that stuff will change and pages will be updated, and since the J-Learning site is creating a newsletter, there is already a built-in system for alerting users of new information – and an easy way for them to insert the new page. Let me pass on two other references, written for non-tech types, while I’m at it. “The Unusually Useful Web Book,” by former HotWired executive June Cohen lives up to its name. It’s not meant to be read so much as referenced but things I’ve looked up I’ve been able to grasp. Finally in the free-AND-fabulous category, let me steer you to The Internet Digest, an e-zine created by Florida publisher Mario Sanchez. I’ve never met Mario and know zilch about him – other than that he seems to have much to teach, and concisely, on subjects such as web design, search engine optimization, and so on. Visit his archives and download to your heart’s content. Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy ‘Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media
Shorts, Woes & Mysteries
This week kicked my butt. Fortunately the workaday portion is over and an old Aikido training buddy found and passed on a few interesting bits, including an item about Amazon.com creating an iTunes-like service to sell short stories. Since he is too shy to take a bow by name, let me thank MysteryGuy for pointing me to a news article about a service that will let readers download shorts for 49 cents.
"Amazon Shorts will help authors find new readers and help readers find and discover authors they'll love," said Steve Kessel, Amazon.com's vice president of digital media. "We hope that by making short-form literature widely and easily available, Amazon.com can help to fuel a revival of this kind of work."I looked for but could not find information on how authors could get shorts listed with Amazon. (They may have a plethora of short printed material broken out of the works of established authors.) However, its publisher’s guide site does seem to be soliciting audio shorts. Interesting. MysteryGuy also pointed me to the journalists at Technology Research News, who run a clean, info-packed site, yet lament that they have been:
“publishing original news stories for over five years, but . . . have yet to find a way to cover our costs. We are fairly popular and well-woven into the fabric of the Web; we have over 200,000 unique visitors per month, we are well represented in Google, Yahoo and MSN search results, and we are regularly slashdotted and pointed to by Wired News, other media sites and countless weblogs.”The excerpt continues:
"We make money by selling subscriptions to a PDF edition, selling white-paper-like reports through our site and resellers, supplying other media sites with our content through a newswire, selling subscriptions to an off-line electronic edition through a reseller, collecting fees from Lexus Nexis and other online databases, and carrying Google's Adsense advertisements. Most recently we have begun a PBS-like fund drive. That's a lot of revenue streams, but they don't add up to enough. Our costs are modest: two full-time editors, one contributing editor and two part-time staffers."Sobering thoughts for anyone who aspires to make online publishing into a day job. I’m still searching for a self-supporting business model. Toward that end I took a long walk last night with my friend Tom Foremski, the former Financial Times reporter turned blogger at SiliconValleyWatcher.com. We hiked around San Francisco’s Presidio and caught the sunset over Alcatraz. We talked about some of the same business ideas as the Tech Research folks, and so their admissions are all the more meaningful. Shy of giving away all the particulars on which Tom and I might collaborate, our sense is that free information published over the web must be the lure to money-capturing enterprises such as consulting or compilations – monthlies or quarterlies – that package information already gathered. Packaging, Tom says, is the key. To which I would add, convenience, especially for information aimed at busy professionals. And that suggests audio delivery of capsule info. (Note that Amazon will accept such for its audio shorts program but not print shorts. A market signal?) Tech Research News seems to have tried some of these tactics. How come they aren’t working? Are there simple fixes to boost revenues? Publishers need to share tips and tricks. Add that to the to-do list: find or build such sites. Thanks, MysteryGuy! Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy ‘Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media
Mass Media: Take Two
Good writing is such a delight as I was reminded while reading the Hollywood Reporter piece earlier this month in which Diane Mermigas outlines the financial funk of old media, and lays out three broad rubrics for its renaissance: hire new blood, take more risk and embrace interactivity. Thanks to Rafat Ali’s Content for pointing me the Mermigas’s column, entitled “Balancing new media with old expectations,” as well as two subsequent bits that I will riff off today. My take is that mini media have a stake in mass media angst. Their mega-brethren are in such a panic about the future that their checkbooks are open. Old media purchases of new media venues will fuel the startup scene, for both good (VCs will fund smart business plans) and ill (VCs will eventually overreact and fund stupid business plans). Of course these latter thoughts are my opinions, and should in no way impugn the deft way in which Mermigas chides one current in media-land – the division of mass media and Internet firms, that had been united only recently, (ala AOL-Time Warner), in the hopes of creating properties with the allure of a Google or a Yahoo. (The cynic in me notes that only a few years ago we were advised of the synergies of such combination, but the scientist in me knows that fission and fusion both produce tremendous amounts of energy which, in mergers or breakups, emanate out in the form of fat fees for investment bankers and accelerated stock vesting for the execs.) The remainder of Balancing column is, in my opinion, a wise set of prescriptions for mass media self-revival without this fission/fusion thing, which you read in full if run or work for a big media company. In a more recent column, entitled “Landscape changing for broadcast licensing,” Mermigas zeroes in on television and notes that “For the first time, consumer consumption of all television is expected to decline over the next five years by about 0.8%, compared with a forecasted 7% growth in consumer consumption of the Internet because of broadband migration.” (Think about the deceleration effect after 50 plus years of growth.) Here is the money quote from Mermigas's Landscape column:
“In a world of diffused content offerings and fragmented viewing, the onus is on network-affiliated broadcasters to innovate and produce unique content from their local resources and connections that cable, satellite and other distributors will want enough to pay for. They can only partially rely on the appeal of broadcast- and cable-network generated programs on a fading promise of exclusivity.”Finally, in case you haven’t seen it, I direct you attention to the Wired Magazine with Jon (Daily Show) Stewart on the cover, and several stories inside along these lines of whither goest television. Wired asks Stewart about his infamous encounter with fit-to-be-bowtied pundit Tucker Carlson – which exemplified the new mediascape because far more people saw that bit online than via the original broadcast. “It was huge, phenomenal viral video,” Wired said, to which Stewart replied, “It was definitely viral. I felt nauseous afterward.” Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy ‘Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media