Bloggies Showcase Talents, Styles

You have until February 3 to vote for the best blogs in 30 categories. I haven’t yet had time to scan all 150 nominees, but the ones I did click to left me humbled, amused and inspired. I’m talking of course about the Bloggies, which will be announced Monday, March 14 at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas. Here’s a few entries to whet your appetite. In the best-kept secret category, I visited Teaching the Indie Kids to Dance Again, the blogspot of 21-year-old Keith Causin of Queens, New York. He likes to upload and write about MP3. The day I visited, Keith began a review with these words: “Dick Valentine is a Hyper-Sexual Dance Cyborg on a mission to forcibly shake the ass of every man woman and child on this planet.” The posting linked to a butt-shaking tune. Amazing! Under best photography weblog I chanced on The Narrative, a photo-essay site by Matt O’Sullivan of Toronto. Not a lot of words there for obvious reasons, but lovely images and an inspiration for those who want to add a visual dimension to web posts. I was pleased to see Jane Perrone of The Guardian newspaper in London nominated under the best article about weblogs category for her piece entitled “Random Reality Bites.” The story talks about a British paramedic who blogs about his experiences and observations. A workmate alerted me to the Guardian’s Newsblog and I’ve bookmarked the site ever since and have used Jane’s how-to articles to get my own blog running. And I was utterly amused by Dooce, the weblog of Heather B. Armstrong, who was nominated for most humorous, best written and best American weblog. Heather’s bio reveals her to be a lapsed Mormon who drinks (or at least drank) tequila, curses like a sailor, has a boob fixation and was fired (dooced, says she) for indiscreet blogging. “I started this website in February 2001,’’ Heather writes. “A year later I was fired from my job for this website because I had written stories that included people in my workplace. My advice to you is BE YE NOT SO STUPID.” If you're feeling unappreciated at work read her post, The Proper Way to Hate a Job. For now the Bloggies are about glory, not riches. But in a media-centric society, starving bloggers must hope that fortune follows fame. On that note, Online Media Daily has a piece about New York blogging entrepreneur Nick Denton. He backs the well-known Gawker and Wonkette, also nominated for numerous Bloggies. The article says Denton will launch two new sponsor-supported blogs, “Gridskipper, dedicated to travel, and Lifehacker, which will examine software downloads and time-saving Web sites. Both blogs already have corporate marketers on board: Sony Electronics will sponsor Lifehacker, while Cheaptickets will likely sponsor Gridskipper” By taking the sponsorship route, Denton takes his cue from the early days of television, when advertisers such as Geritol sponsored shows like Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour. Of course Denton is not alone. More on the business of blogging, and the bloggies, tomorrow. Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy “Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re MiniMedia”


The First Inch

Looking back on my first month of blogging, I managed to achieve a degree of consistency, which is good; a focus on new media business models, or so it seems to me; but no readers, which is neither unexpected nor demoralizing at this stage, although it is a condition I hope eventually to change for philosophical and practical reasons. If the new media space is indeed in the midst of a conversation, then a monologue in an empty room doesn’t quite fit the bill. Besides, it gets lonely. So in the coming month I’ll have to give some thought to outreach. As for subjects, I’m going to continue exploring topics that either illustrate new media business models or may be useful in that regard. As should be apparent from last week’s postings on Linux and Slashdot, my definition of business model doesn’t necessarily involve profit (though I believe profits are ultimately necessary). My interest is in how people organize cyber-enterprises, with a particular focus on media. But today the boys are out of the house on sleepovers, and I’ve promised to take my wife to Sunday brunch. I plan to celebrate the “success” of this blog, which began as a New Year’s resolution, and has achieved at least a wobbly take off. Though blogging isn’t rocket science, every rocket scientist knows that the most difficult part of any mission is overcoming the inertia and lifting that huge payload the first inch off the ground. Tom Abate


This, That and the Other Thing

It’s a day of odds and ends and gathering bits that didn’t find a home earlier. Ultimately I will return to my recurring question – where is the money to support web media? First, browsers. Earlier this week I mentioned that Firefox has ad-blocking capabilities. There’s been lots of buzz about Firefox (on the open source aspect, not the ad-blocking). Wired News reacted by running a story in which Opera chief executive Jon von Tetzchner laments that his alternative browser is being overlooked. My takeaway -- when little guys try something new, they need shtick. Conversely, when you’re big, you get attention even when you’d rather cover your tracks. Thus Google’s hiring of Firefox engineer Ben Goodger has renewed speculation about its browser ambitions. Quickly, I came across a note that Kanoodle, the New York affiliate advertising firm, has elevated Lance Podell from president to chief executive (though when I went to their bio page today it hadn’t been updated). Skimming their news releases I found a link to a new ad sales system geared to bloggers, which may be of interest to some. With that segue into money land, a recent article in MediaDailyNews, citing data from AdZone research, suggests a “slightly lower rate of ad expansion during 2005 than in 2004.” A snippet on technology marketers, who are the biggest ad spenders, made me take note: In December, they spent roughly $148 million for over 17.6 billion impressions, down from October, when they spent $188 million for around 17 billion Web impressions. I’m not sure how AdZone defines impressions but clearly the price of ads has dropped as content enters the market faster than ad dollars. Must be tough for web-based ad sellers. Finally, getting personal, the Center for Media Research published a demographic profile of people who use dating services. In brief, they are slightly more male than female, but not absurdly so, solidly middle class, and generally in the 35 to 55 age bracket. I believe most of these are paid services. In light of the apparent downward pressure on ad prices, web publishers might start singing a different tune, more along the lines of finding match-making opportunities rather than push advertising. I’m not saying everyone should get into personals. Instead, look for ways to make money by linking people for something other than love. Post script: When I searched for the lyrics of Matchmaker, Matchmaker, because the tune was in my head, my first choice directed me to a site offering to sell me Zero Mostel ring tones for my cell phone. What a world! Tom Abate


Linux: Model for New Media?

The Business Week cover story, Linux Inc., got me thinking about the ways in which open source software development is a model for web-based new media – and how the differences between code-writing and content creation may make open source a difficult model to apply. The article was rich with tidbits about Linus Torvalds and his leadership style. But I focused on a quote from Harvard Law School Internet guru James F. Moore: “Linux is the first natural business ecosystem.” Actually, the Internet deserves that label. But if we agree that Linux is the business ecosystem with the cutest mascot, the question becomes what environmental factors enabled it to thrive. Business Week reporter Steve Hamm put his finger on it when he wrote “IBM, HP, and others capitalize on the ability to sell machines without any upfront charges for an operating system license” by installing Linux instead of Microsoft. In short – and this is my take – powerful firms took Linux under their wing because it helped them save money and humble Microsoft. To some extent, similar forces are in place to help grassroots web-media achieve some commercial scale vis a vis mass media. For instance, I’m blogging for free courtesy of Google which owns Blogger. I could use AdSense or some other affiliate network to bring in linked advertising (for latte money). And these affiliates are promising lower cost ad placement than mass media. But differences between software and media limit the transferability of the Linux model. For starters, software demands interoperability, and that enforces a certain discipline on open source software efforts. Stuff either works or it doesn’t. And even when differences in approach arise, I would think there are more objective criteria for picking one code strategy over another. With media, on the other hand, there is rarely a single right approach to any creative work. That leaves lots of room for disagreement. And while individual productions often require teamwork by specialists, I don’t see how individual productions will be packaged together in an orderly fashion so that people can find whatever content they want. Perhaps content will aggregate by affinity groups, in magazine-like formats, tailored to dog lovers or Christian Midwesterners, or lesbians. Content could also come together in regional, citywide or neighborhood collections that parallel existing media. Not to diminish the Linux phenomenon, but those folks had a relatively simple task -- make better software to run on existing computers. New media pioneers have to make better or at least different content. And they also have to invent new structures within which people can access their creations. That’s going to be a tough ecosystem to create. Tom Abate


A Snippet of Slashdot

Slashdot is one of the seminal Open Source sites and an object lesson in volunteer content creation. This post is a catch-up exercise on my part rather than a case study, but as it may be useful for others who are just joining the new media conversation, I’ll think out loud. Slashdot features news, comments and links on technology and politics. Items are posted and screened by volunteers. A 1999 article in The Economist said: "moderators rate comments from minus one (rubbish) to plus five (a gem). Readers can configure the site so that it shows them only comments rated, say, three or higher. If a registered Slashdot reader has made sufficient positive contributions, the service’s computers occasionally invite him to rate comments. To avoid abuse, the power of moderators is limited. They are on duty for only three days at a time, during which they rate just five postings.” According to the (also volunteer) Wikipedia encyclopedia, Slashdot was founded in 1997 by Rob Malda, who would then have been about 21. It quickly became a locus for free or open source software enthusiasts. In 2000, Slashdot tangled with Microsoft when a Slashdotter posted some Microsoft software code. Microsoft demanded its removal. A 2000 Salon article by Anthony Leonard said, “Asking Slashdot to remove posts is like asking a hacker to cut off his or her own hands.” But in 2001, when an anonymous poster uploaded some Scientology texts to the site, Slashdot had to remove the material, or risk losing a costly lawsuit. Malda (aka CmdrTaco) explained the decision: “This is the first time since we instituted our moderation system that a comment has had to be removed because of its content, and believe me nobody is more broken hearted about it than me.’’ In between these two episodes, Slashdot was sold in 2000, ultimately to VA Software, one of the early firms to create commercial spinoffs around Linux. (In an earlier post I noted how another of the Linux commercializers is experimenting with open source media.) Today Slashdot is part of what VA Software calls its Open Source Technology Group, a group of sites that also includes SourceForge, a forum for open source developers. The OSTG website says Slashdot gets 16 million unique monthly visitors, 96 percent of whom are male, with an average household income of $74,772. Given its focus on tech, I would imagine the site draws enough advertising to be profitable but I don’t know that. Other interesting things I don’t know include how the moderation system evolved, and how does it continue? Wikipedia alludes to trolling episodes, heated exchanges of postings, often coupled with pranks. I’m sure there’s a fascinating story in ethos of this community which strikes me as a Lord of the Flies meets cyberspace. But that would take a case study and is more than I can blog off today. Tom Abate


Aggregation, Navigation, Web of Confusion

When works of creation, information and entertainment are broadly dispersed, as is the case with web media, aggregating those works and their audiences is the sine qua non of business success. This has obviously attracted intense competition, as I alluded to in yesterday’s post, and I continue to stumble across more variations on the theme, such as the adMarketplace program of Conducive Corporation. FYI, this type of aggregator serves as an ad broker between dispersed publishers and advertisers. The apparent novelty in the adMarketplace program, as I discovered via MediaPost, is that the firm will pay web publishers a bounty for bringing in new advertisers. So if you have a site about kites, and bring a kite advertiser into the adMarketplace fold, you get a commission on all of that advertiser’s subsequent placements – even if they’re not on your site. What a salesforce multiplier! Intrigued, I poked around and found a ClickZ News article to learn more about Conducive. So, granted, aggregation is important, but what about navigation? It used to be that media products came wrapped, either in a physical objects like book, or a time-bound broadcasts. Hyperlinks rip open the wrappers, which is good. But it can also be bad because nowadays, the road to information is paved with distractions. Take last night, for instance, when I started thinking about navigation while reading a post by Susan Mernit on the Media Center blogsite. I followed it to some thoughts from New Zealand web designer Richard MacManus, who led me to an article by Joshua Porter from which I extracted this snippet: “Aggregators are promoting a shift in the control of content. They’re challenging the idea that we as designers control public access to information in our domains, that users must view things in the way we prescribe, and that our hierarchy is best to present our content.” By that point I felt utterly lost with the everything-is-everythingness of it all. Fortunately, Porter also directed me to New Yorker Jason Kottke, who has been blogging about “web technology, photography, media, network science, design . . . and rip/mix/burn culture” since 1998. A site that long-lasting and eclectic would obviously be huge, so Kottke provides instructions on how to use his site: “The front page is where it all happens. On the left is where I post new entries. You'll always find the newest stuff on the site right at the top and about 2-3 weeks worth of the most recent entries as your scroll down the page. On the right are some links to the more important pages on the site and a list of sites I like to keep an eye on.” We need more navigation assistance if web media are going to enlarge their audiences. It’s funny to see a baby open a book from the back, or hold a phone up in the wrong way. It’s not so cute to be an adult confronted with the bewildering possibilities of the infosphere, and not know how to get from need to knowledge. Tom Abate


Making Sense (and cents) of Adsense

The bloggers at SiliconValleyWatcher started a buzz last week with a scoop about changes to Google’s Adsense. I want to join the conversation about that newsbit, and couple it with an item about an ad shut-off utility in the Open Source browser Firefox that could give users a way to “Tivo” web ads. First things first. SiliconValleyWatchers Tom Foremski and Candida Kutz reported last week that Google was giving publishers greater control over “when, where and who” can view those little text ads that pop up on the pages of websites in Google’s affiliate network. (Foremski says Google had 1,800 ad people meeting in San Francisco last week!) He also had an earlier, insightful piece on Kanoodle, the New York aggregator that is challenging Google. (If you’re new to the conversation, affiliate vendors like Kanoodle, Chitika and others act as advertising brokers. They link advertisers that want to reach niche audience with MiniMedia web publishers (as I call them) starved for ad revenues.) John Battelle circulated the scoop and added an observation from Jupiter Research’s Gary Stein that Topix had enhanced Google Adsense in a way that gave “a 500% boost in click-through rate on home page ads.” (Again, if you’ve confused, MiniMedia types who depend on affiliate ads get paid when someone clicks-thru on an ad on their site. More clicks, more cash.) While all of this is good news for the cash-starved pioneers of cyberspace, a bit in Cory Treffiletti’s Online Spin email newsletter pointed me to several references like this how-to from weblogger Loren Hughes. It shows how to turn of all or most ads through Firefox. As Firefox catches hold, the question will be how many users opt for ad-blocking. A trend in that direction could pinch off one of the promishing cash capillaries nourishing the MiniMedia community. Tom Abate


A United Nations of Technology

Yesterday I ended by mentioning the launch of Ourmedia, a site involving California journalist JD Lasica and featuring collaborators such as the libertarian-sounding documentary maker The Lexington League (which promises to show individuals planning and carrying out acts of civil disobedience). While I wait to see what other creative types avail themselves of this new forum, I want to look at some of the technology and partnerships Ourmedia has announced to pull this community together. Ourmedia says it will be based on an Open Source content-management system called Drupal. Similar to Linux, Drupal seems to have been launched by a Belgian computer scientist named Dries Buytaert who is in his mid-twenties. From what I gather, Buytaert threw the software out there about four years ago and a community of developers formed around the code. Ourmedia's particular brand of Drupal will be provided by a Vancouver (British Columbia) technology firm called Bryght. Again, as was the case with Linux, although the Drupal source code is free, its implementation appears to be sufficiently complex to justify the creation of specialty firms to make the magic work. Other collaborators include the Creative Commons, which is popularizing new and less restrictive forms of intellectual property; Wikipedia, the astonishing Open Source encyclopedia and community (which I believe has recently spawned a real-time news posting offshoot, a sort of come-one, come-all wire service); and the Internet Archive, an effort to save and promulgate creative works in the public domain (the project was launched by netizen Brewster Kahle who, in addition to bringing people together in cyberspace, also holds regular salon dinners in his home overlooking San Francisco’s Golden Gate). A recent BusinessWeek article says Ourmedia is working with Yahoo, the Creative Commons and independent short-film distributor Atom Films to develop a video version of RSS, the technology that lets bloggers “broadcast” text to subscribers. Surely, I am just nibbling at the edges of the new media coalitions that are forming. It’s like a United Nations of Technology. I’ll nibble away some more, but later. Tom Abate


Feeling Buggy Whipped?

As someone who found his calling and living in newspapers, words like these make the gray hairs on my neck stand up: “If we are to preserve journalism and its social-service functions, maybe we would be wise not to focus too much on traditional media. The death spiral might be irreversible. We should look for ways to keep the spirit and tradition of socially responsible journalism alive until it finds a home in some new media form whose nature we can only guess at today.” So said newsman-turned-professor Philip Meyer in an essay in the Columbia Journalism Review. I found it while reading a blog post about how to inject new thinking into newsrooms. That post was written by Tim Porter, a journalist-turned-blogger who hired me for my first newspaper job. On behalf of the dwindling ranks of those who still hold these positions of pay and prestige, I welcome Tim’s efforts (then and now!). Meanwhile, I’m keeping an eye out for the launch this weekend of Ourmedia, a project involving JD Lasica, another former news guy who seems focused on the second half of Meyer’s prescription. The Ourmedia website says “our vision is to bring personal media to millions of users' desktops through playlists, video jukeboxes, visual albums, and built-in media libraries . . . that can be freely shared.” Lasica was an editor of We Media, the white paper that gave me the final push to create this blog, and also provided some of the how-to that helped me climb the learning curve. Among those expected to join Ourmedia is a small TV documentary group called called The Lexington League. That operation strikes me as Michael Moore with a libertarian slant. In their own words, “The Lexington League is a weekly half hour reality newsmagazine featuring true stories of individuals fighting for freedom against unjust laws, power hungry politicians, and abusive governments.” As Lasica wrote earlier this week: “A couple of years ago I might have reacted to subjective journalism like this by dismissing it as fundamentally flawed because of its imbalance, or because I didn't agree with the reporter's conclusions. Now I just marvel at the sophisticated ways in which people are joining the media conversation.” Tom Abate


Open Source Media Machines

One of my earlier postings referenced a study of how artists were using the Internet to sell their works. It elicited a reply from independent music promoter Bob Baker, who pointed me to three sites that were trying to help musicians produce and sell works. They are:

  • CB Baby!, a for-profit site in Portland, Oregon, that sells music online and links musicians with publicists or other resources;
  • eFolkMusic.org, a not-for-profit site with a similar mission but more specific focus;
  • Lulu, a North Carolina, for-profit site with the ambitious goal of providing “a better deal for authors, musicians, software developers, photographers and artists who want to publish and sell their work.”

Lulu sounds like an eBay-like venue for creative types to network and create virtual storefronts. It is run by Bob Young, who was one of the first entrepreneurs to commercialize Linux when he formed Red Hat software. A Salon article reveals a bit about Young and his adventures in commercial Linux-land. A North Carolina business paper, the Triangle Tech Journal, recorded the event in 2002 when Young bought a failing dot.com called OpenMind (which had intended to blow open text books) and begin its transformation into Lulu. Young has published his own views of what Linux and Red Hat were about in the University of Michigan’s Journal of Electronic Publishing. There is a brief bio on the Lulu website. Here’s another segment I clipped from the site: “Lulu is a tool for creators. It's also a business, to be sure. Lulu's commission on the sale of content through its site is 20%.” An interesting guy with an interesting model. There must be more outfits like Lulu and these other publishing aggregators. I will look around and report back. Any and all help appreciated. Tom Abate


Buying on Impulse, Not

The Merrill Lynch equities research team recently had more depressing news for newspaper publishers, “projecting an average ad revenue increase of 4.2 percent to 5 percent in each of the first three quarters” of 2005." An article in Media Daily News quotes the Merrill Lynch analysts as saying that newspapers with online presences are “experiencing strong double-digit gains” in that portion of their business. But “while the success is worth noting the dollar amounts are still small,’’ the analysts said. Advertising in non-traditional online media, particularly search engines, continues to be the Big Story. An April 2004 slide presentation from Morgan Stanley analyst Mary Meeker, though somewhat dated, lays out the prevailing assumptions. Slide 63 shows the dominance of keyword search ads among the mix of online offerings, garnering 31 percent of Internet ad dollars, to 22 percent for second-placed banner advertising. A more recent report from comScore Networks suggests some interesting results about how search ads are used by consumers shopping for computer and electronic products (which Meeker put at upwards of one-third of all online purchases). The report, encapsulated by the Center for Media Research, found that “25 percent of searchers ultimately purchased a consumer electronics or computer product and that an estimated 92 percent of these purchases occurred offline.” (Emphasis added.) If correct, that finding suggests it may be tough for Web publishers to increase their revenues by collecting transaction fees for completing purchases. If consumers actively shopping for gadgets exhibit a latent buying pattern, it’s tough to believe they’ll click and pay on impulse for other goods. Tom Abate

Customer Service 101

I’ve just spent a week in the hellish realm that is modern customer service. Several electronic gadgets pooped out at the same time, including my wireless router. That annoyance was cured Sunday when a service manager at my CompUSA let me swap out a defective unit even though the company’s normal return period had expired. Blessings upon the empowered clerk who untethered me from an ill-situated cable modem! My release makes me think about the customer service challenges that will face Internet media businesses -- especially those with a prosumer focus. The rationale of these businesses will be to aggregate thousands and millions of small transactions into big revenue streams. This does not always go swimmingly. A cursory search revealed an article on VeriSign’s problem in assigning domain names. Iin starting this blog, I had problems and questions which I dispatched to Blogger help. Their non-answers came back too late to be of use. This is not a complaint, because the software is remarkably robust and costs me nothing. But it makes me wonder how people would react to glitches if they were paying even modest fees for services or goods. In the brick-and-mortar economy customer service suffers because it is seen first and foremost as a cost center, says John T. Self, a professor at California Polytechnic University at Pomona, speaking of the hotel and restaurant world. “When consistent service takes place, whether excellent or horrible, it takes a relatively long time to take effect and produce results. This time delay makes it difficult to measure. Since most companies are still much more short term oriented than long term, service often takes a back seat. Pity.” The Internet is hyper-competitive. Transactions are smaller and alternatives a click away. Conventional wisdom touts customer service in high-tech. “Rising businesses aiming to excel in the real time arena have as their goal ubiquitous, non-stop and transparent service,” said tech icon Regis McKenna at one point. Okay, so why are call centers migrating offshore? I don't know how to deliver excellent customer service to large numbers at low cost. At least not yet. But I suspect Internet media firms will invent those systems, or perish. Meanwhile, I did find an ISO standard for handling customer complaints that must offer useful guidance. (I learned another thing from my quick perusal of the ISO site. The name "International Organization for Standardization" was derived from the Greek isos, meaning "equal,” so as not to offend national sensibilities outside the English-speaking nations – an interesting parable for any business that thinks global.) Tom Abate


Interplanetary flights and lying flies

I’m jazzed about the successful landing of the Huygens probe on Titan. San Francisco Chronicle science writer David Perlman, covering the event from Darmstadt, Germany, described the early scenes beamed back from the probe: “The black and white images, taken during the descent at 95 miles above the surface, then 10 miles above, and a final one at the surface itself, revealed solid, rough-sided hills with deeply shadowed drainage channels, most likely carved by liquid hydrocarbons flowing down from above; clusters of rough boulders, and what appeared to be a shoreline, possibly fronting a dark lake or perhaps a hydrocarbon sea.” The European Space Agency website downplays expectations that we'll discover life on Titan: “Titan is not a pleasant place for life. It is far too cold for liquid water to exist, and all known forms of life need liquid water. Titan's surface is -180°C. According to one exotic theory, long ago, the impact of a meteorite, for example, might have provided enough heat to liquify water for perhaps a few hundred or thousand years. However, it is unlikely that Titan is a site for life today.” Meanwhile, here on earth, I noticed this item worth a chuckle. Male flies offer females gifts of food in exchange for sex – but sometimes substitute fakes for edible treats. This bait-and-switch tactic may offer tricky males an evolutionary advantage, study author Natasha LeBas of the University of St Andrews in Scotland told New Scientist magazine. Males who hunt for food expose themselves to danger, while those who offer spoof mating gifts take fewer risks in the act of passing on their genes. Spoof gifts worked so long as the ruse was elaborate, UC Davis entomologist Steven Heydon told Animal Planet: "By the time the female finishes unwrapping her gift and discovers that it is empty, the male has mated with her." An article on the Animal Planet website noted that, when it comes to gifts, size matters: “The researchers also found a link between the size and quality of a gift and the duration of copulation. Impressively large, real food gifts presented before mating led to the longest copulation periods. Smaller, real gifts were next in line, followed by the big fake token presents and then small, worthless gifts.” Tom Abate


The (Global) Gift of Gab

Instinct and observation convince me that, when it comes to media products, the genius of the web lies not in delivery, such as movies-on-demand, but rather in assembly -- enabling the rapid formation and dissolution of creative teams. Another change implicit in the web is the transformation of the passive consumer into the participant prosumer, to borrow a term from futurist Alvin Toffler. Toffler popularized the prosumer in his 1991 book, Third Wave. When society moves past the second wave of manufacturing -- the first wave being subsistence – the economy is transformed. Wave two was about specialization to increase supply and distribution. In wave three specialization breaks down, and people blend the roles of producing and consuming. Writing more than a decade ago, Toffler used sales of building supplies and power tools to do-it-yourselfers as an example of prosumerism. Home Depot and similar outlets have prospered by tapping that trend. We already see prosumer activity when people download music and create their own play lists that disregard the structure of albums or CDs. Will do-it-yourself media give rise to creative depots? Toffler advanced the idea of prosumerism before the spread of the web, and now that it exists to actualize his theories, other thinkers have focused on the new organizational realities of a networked world. One such guidebook is the Cluetrain Manifesto, which boils down to the thesis that commerce has now become a series of conversations, in which many voices can join to provide the mother’s milk of markets, information. (That’s my first blush synopsis, subject to revision. At this point I’m merely finding interesting ideas, new to me at least, and making notes out loud to learn more). The Manifesto was created by several Internet visionaries including Doc Searls, from the Linux movement, who runs an off-cited blog. When I visited there, the topic that happened to be under discussion had a prosumerian ring: When Demand Supplies Itself, Part N. Another of the Cluetrain authors is David Weinberger, who also wrote Small Pieces, Loosely Joined: A Unified Theory of the Web. He explains the title and thesis. Web publishing has ripped apart books and rearranged the pages in a virtual realm. In similar fashion, this reorganization will affect and rearrange human institutions. Again, having not yet read the book, my distillation can hardly do justice to his ideas. Meanwhile, enjoy a laugh by visiting David's bio, which offers three entry points, depending on whether you’re a right-brain, left-brain or no-brain person. Tom Abate


When Good Ads Go Bad

Targeting is the future of online advertising -- or so I suggested yesterday when I cited a comment from Google CEO Eric Schmidt, and earlier mentioned a Yahoo ad campaign designed to target the advertising decision-makers who would might buy targeted ads (would that be meta-targeting?). But what happens when targeted ads are misdirected? Online commentator Evan Coyne Maloney recently said ads attacking President Bush and Vice President Cheney annoyed readers of his conservative site, and caused him to withdraw from Google’s AdSense program. AdSense lets bloggers and small web-sites get ads delivered to their pages. Publishers share in the revenues when people click on these ads. Maloney, a self-described “sometime political operative who also rode the dot-com wave from boom to bust” said too many pitches were misdirected and became were too insulting to his audience. His complaint to Google elicited this reply: “We understand your concern with the types of ads that are being displayed on your site. Please note that at this time AdSense only targets ads based on overall site content, not keywords or categories.” It would seem that the artificial intelligence crawler can determine that content is “political” but, not surprisingly, has trouble distinguishing left from right. On the flip side of Maloney’s complaint, advertisers must worry that misdirected ads would waste money or, worse, tarnish their brands by appearing alongside inappropriate content. One survey by AdRelevance, a service (division?) of Nielsen/NetRatings, studied 300 million web ads, worth about $10 million, directed at women and selling women’s products. “Regardless of this targeted approach, more men on average saw these ads than women,” the report said, adding, "Targeting ads is anything but an exact science.” The mission of AdRelevance seems to be helping big advertisers learn the art of placement. When into Maloney’s complaint, I tripped across a web site that helps small web publishers make use of AdSense. My sense is that everyone perceives that web ads are a fast-growing category, with huge potential, and many are rushing to embrace them. But the channel so novel that it still takes a pilot to help newcomers navigate past the sandbars. Interesting. Tom Abate


We Three Kings of Media Are …

Here are three snapshots of new and old media firm strategies in the wake of yesterday’s posting on EPIC, the futuristic info-net that humbled the New York Times. Google chief executive Eric Schmidt voiced two overarching themes in a Dec. 1, 2004 interview with Fortune Magazine -- serving communities of interest and targeted advertising. “There are an awful lot of communities that have never been served by traditional media,” Schmidt says. Apparently he doesn’t simply mean left-handed cat lovers. Google ad salesforce sells vertically into industries. “We would like customers to say to be able to say, ‘I’m in this industry, please help me.’,” Schmidt told Fortune, adding, “the real revolution here (is) targeted advertising.” Yahoo chief financial officer Susan Decker made a December 1, 2004 presentation at Stanford University. I missed remarks but tripped across her slides, some of which speak for themselves. What struck me was her global view of the Internet marketplace. European and Asian Internet users now outnumber those in the U.S. (slide 5) and Asians could be the most numerous netizens by 2007. She mentions personalization (slide 16), the flip side of targeting as seen from the user’s view. Internet penetration in key markets is now upwards 60 percent, says Decker, adding that when cable penetration reached that rate, use as measure in hours-per-week accelerated (slide 8). “Adults 12 to 64 now spend an average of 15 percent of their weekly media consuming hours on the internet yet only three percent of advertising spend is online,” she says in slide 20. A January 17, 2005, Business Week cover story on Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and The Future of the New York Times, says revenues have been flat for five years at around $3 billion, net income has fallen far below traditional newspaper expectations, and circulation losses inside the New York metropolitan area have been offset by national circulation gains. This national extension of the Times brand, says Business Week author Anthony Bianco, was partly driven by new business chief Janet Robinson, a former teacher who joined the paper in 1983 and worked her way up the ranks through advertising. The piece discusses the quandary facing all print media -- whether to charge for content over the Internet. Web veteran John Battelle observes that, so far, the print side of the business has produced most of the revenues that allow the Times (despite the occasional scandal) to remain a synonym for quality journalism. Orville Schell, dean of journalism at UC Berkeley, has the killer quote. “The Roman Empire that was the media is breaking up,” he tells Business Week. “It’ a kind of desegregation of the molecular structure of the media.” Tom Abate


Future Schlock, not

A workmate turned me on to a video clip that purports to be a documentary set in 2014. That’s the year in which the New York Times quits publishing online and reverts back to print only. This occurs after the Times loses an imaginary news war to Googlezon – a firm created by merging Google search with the Amazon suggestion engine. Together they produces EPIC – the Evolving Personalized Information Construct – a network of newsmasters who assemble data streams for specialized audiences. “EPIC is a summary of the world – deeper, broader and more nuanced than anything ever before available.” (Access clip and transcript.) EPIC has the look and feel of Apple Computer’s now-famous 1984 commercial. But it offers more than the shock value of that bit, by suggesting a future that seems plausible. One prediction will test EPIC’s prescience. In 2005, it says, “in response to Google’s recent moves, Microsoft buys Friendster.” The video's creators include Robin Sloan, a wunderkind with IndTV, an independent media company led by former Vice President Al Gore, entrepreneur Joel Hyatt. It fascinates me how the idea is circulating. My friend saw the EPIC bit on Sun COO Jonathan Schwartz’s blog. With that kind of uptake, I guess a newsmaster doesn’t need the Times’ circulation to enjoy clout (though, my bourgeoisie side wonders who will pay their health care bills and match their 401(k) contributions). Tom Abate


Are we having fun yet?

Wireless networking is great – when it works, which wasn’t the case at mi casa Sunday afternoon. One moment all was well. Next moment web access down! Call the parmedics, stat! I restored connectivity after some frustration. Seems my Surfrider web modem (from Comcast) shut out the D-Link wireless router. Went to bed connected. Woke up off-net. Again. Grrrrr. I wasn’t around 80 years ago, but this experience reminds me of what I've read about the early days of radio, when reception was unreliable for reasons ranging from broadcasters transmitting outside their frequencies to, quite literally, interference from sunspots. Broadband is great but it’s not an appliance. It breaks too often and costs too much. But that sounds like a rant. A change of mood is in order. Big excitement at CES over online advertising sales. Larry Marcus with the San Francisco-based investing firm WaldenVC told Media Daily News "Internet advertising is now a $10 billion industry. That's an incredible thing for content providers.” And Yahoo is set to unleash a campaign, directed at potential advertisers, touting its ability to target ads to specific demographic and behavioral groups. You may not see the campaign unless you work at a targeted ad agency or client. According to MediaPost “Yahoo! plans to use domain targeting with the campaign, which will involve displaying ads to visitors coming from Internet protocol addresses of specific companies--including ad agencies, clients, and prospective clients.” That should be a powerful demonstration of what online can deliver. But will the audience be there? In the off hours, I mean. Sure, my office network hums along thanks to the system guys who shield me from the complexity. But I'm not supposed to be shopping at my desk. At home, where I’m presumed to do all that personal stuff, those damn sunspots keep interfering. Tom Abate


Creatures of Habit

Here it is a lazy Saturday and my fingers are drawn to keyboard. I guess I’ve got a writing habit, which is probably a good thing for a blogger. But it feeks like a day to let my thoughts wander to the peculiar habits of the Monarch butterfly colony that spends its winters in my Northern California city of San Leandro. The Monarch is a lovely creature that has long fascinated naturalists and scientists. Among other noteworthy characteristics, it is poisonous. “Animals that eat a Monarch get very sick and vomit (but generally do not die). These animals remember that this brightly-colored butterfly made them very sick and will avoid all Monarchs in the future.” Other species of butterflies have evolved markings similar to those of the Monarch to ward off potential predators, a self-defense strategy called mimicry. Like many species of birds, some Monarchs also migrate from colder to warmer climates in the winter. Unlike birds, however, these short-lived butterflies cannot complete the round-trip in one lifetime. It takes takes more than one generation for a flock of Monarchs to make the round trip. It is the offspring of the Monarchs wintering right now in my town that will return here next January. Even more amazing, the Monarchs that make this intergenerational journey are not created equal. “Adults that emerge in early summer have the shortest life spans and live for about two to five weeks. Those that emerge in late summer survive over the winter months. The Monarch that emerge in late summer and then migrate south, live a much longer life, about 8-9 months.” I can’t imagine what mechanism, presumably coded into its genes, makes the summer-born Monarchs live fast and die young, while fall butterflies must hunker down for the long flight that became their lot through the evolutionary luck of the draw. I have always believed in free will and argued the nurture side of the nature-nurture debate. But thinking about the Monarch always makes me wonder how much of our own behavior is hard-wired -- and all the more grateful for the things about myself that I can control.


Blockhead, bloghead, whatever

What a week! One of my New Years’ resolutions was to create a blog and populate it daily with something useful. After week one, all I can say is TGIF! As I dragged myself out of bed this morning to make good my vow, I recalled the quote by famed writer Samuel Johnson: “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.” Apparently, blockheads are running rampant these days, given the popularity of blogging. The New York Times Magazine inflamed the situation by making bloggers the darlings of the 2004 presidential election campaign. To show how out-of-control blogamania has gotten, my sister, Tina Nocera, just started a blog around her Parental Wisdom website. I am the oldest of six in my family. Tina is second in birth order. Two blockheads down. Four to go? Meanwhile, in the business realm, blog-platform companies are consolidating. This week San Francisco-based Six Apart (home of Moveable Type) said it would buy the competing LiveJournal. Six Apart already owns TypePad. From a commercial view, such moves are probably necessary to create companies powerful enough become more than blockhead playgrounds in search of a business model. Because the sad fact, for bloggers who have no desire to remain blockheads indefinitely, is that despite the media interest in blogging, the advertising industry, which supports most professional media activity, has been leery of supporting the community. That’s the upshot of a recent Pew Internet memo on the state of blogging. A delicious writeup on the memo by MediaPost author Gavin O’Malley explained why advertisers are reluctant to funnel ads to blogs even when they generate a swell of interest, as occurred in the wake of the tsunami. "A company has to seriously ask themselves: 'Do we really want to associate ourselves with the greatest natural disaster of the last quarter century?'" But I think there are reasons blogs should find support. At least I certainly hope so. I’ll pick up that thread next week. For the time being, however, my blockhead could use time off from, as Samuel Johnson might say, such pecuniary ruminations. Tom Abate January 7, 2004


I Heard S/he Sang a Good Song

Ten million Americans “earn at least some money from their performances, songs, paintings. videos, sculptures, photos or creative writing.” I used that factoid to close yesterday’s blog about The Long Tail -- the article in which Wired editor Chris Anderson suggests that publishers slash prices on their backlist to allow this languishing content to find its niche audience. That’s classic economics. Drop price, boost sales, sacrifice margin, make it up in volume. But the Web is more than a distribution channel and it may enable a new economics. What if we could use the Web to drop the cost of producing and marketing amateur content? Could we double the ranks of money-making artists, providing lots of new content and growing many niche markets in the process? Those questions guided me as I read the Pew Internet report on Artists, Musicians and the Internet, which provided the estimates cited above. The report had a lot to say about artists views on digital file sharing and copyright issues. But I focused on the numbers. The 10 million people who earn some money from their creative works (for most it’s a sideline) are a subset of the 32 million who consider themselves artists or musicians but relegate creativity to a hobby. That suggests to me that if a Web business could provide the tools or platforms to make money from art, this would induce some of those 22 million pure hobbyists to become creative moonlighters. How exactly might that be done? Alas, I have more questions than answers, but here’s another market-friendly number for those in search of business models -- roughly 40 percent of artists order supplies or equipment online (a nice close to an ad sales pitch!). There are other encouraging hints in the report that many artists, and even more musicians, already use the Web to chat with each other, reach out to fans, sell their works – and that they want to use it more. The report quotes one musician lamenting the absence of a site to facilitate easy distribution of MP3 downloads: “If there were a site where I could post and charge others for downloads, I’d use it.” Interesting given Anderson’s observation in The Long Tail about the failure of the amateur-music download site MP3.com (I added a link to Goodnoise). Perhaps they were ahead of their time or perhaps these sites had the wrong marketing and sales expectations. Here’s what I mean. Say you’re one of the 22 million artists and musicians who now makes not one red cent from his or her art. And someone enabled you to invest, say, $100 to buy into a do-it-yourself art production venue on the Web. And in the first year, the person sold $400 worth of stuff – probably to friends, associates and family members, who would buy the content for the same reason that our office mates and neighbors buy Girl Scout cookies and fund-raising gimmicks. It’s not the dollars that matter to the artist involved. They have moved into a new status of deriving at least some income from their hobby. The better and more ambitious folks will grow their cottage content businesses. And if enough of these folks could be assembled, there might even be a business model in making all this happen. Tom Abate January 6, 2005


Dance to the (different) music

The premise of home-grown media is that the public wants content outside the mass taste. That premise was affirmed in an October 2004 article by Wired magazine editor Chris Anderson. Entitled The Long Tail, it suggests that web-based distribution systems like Amazon.com are selling lesser-known works that retail outlets, with limited shelf space, haven’t previously been able to carry or promote them. Anderson explains how Amazon’s recommendation engine -- people who like this book also liked whatever – made Touching the Void a new mountain-survival hit, by linking it to the coattails of the more heavily promoted Into Thin Air. He dwells on the economics of music distribution -- Wal-Mart can only sell 1 percent of CDs, because it carries only those with a certain sales threshold. Even online distribution is overpriced at 99 cents a cut, he says, because the real cost of digital delivery, including current profit levels to the creative folks, is about 79 cents. Online jukebox Rhapsody sold three times as many tunes at 49 cents than it did at 99 cents (but lost money on each sale because it paid 73 cents per cut by his figures!). Anderson uses that experiment to suggest that publishers of all stripes dramatically cut prices on their backlist – titles they own but no longer promote – and use the web to find the price point where the niche content finds its audience. Tomorrow, I’ll take the niche content idea to the next level, and ask whether we can create a peer-to-peer entertainment system. People once entertained each other. They didn’t outsource amusement. Anderson touches on this concept, citing the example of MP3.com, an online distribution label that tried to let bands bypass the record labels and got a reputation for peddling “an undifferentiated mass of mostly bad music.’’ Goodnoise made a similar effort. But I want to leave you with a number from the Pew Internet survey which found that 10 million Americans “earn at least some money from their performances, songs, paintings. videos, sculptures, photos or creative writing.” To me that suggests a viable market of some sort. Stay tuned. Tom Abate January 5, 2005


It shouldn't take a tsunami

The tsunami that killed thousands in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand and neighboring nations has shown the power of do-it-yourself media. Within hours of the disaster sites had sprung up to post eyewitnesses reports, upload pictures of the missing, or provide links to donate money or help. All of this is commendable but not surprising given the magnitude of the disaster. Yet each day thousands of minor tragedies go unnoticed. Children die of dysentery because their water is contaminated. I recently came across an initiative that focuses on these overlooked tragedies by linking donors in the developed world with tiny unmet needs. It’s called Giving Global. I tripped over it one day while searching for something else and thought, “What a great idea!” The non-profit group was founded in June 2002 by Pamela Hawley. Her bio says she did volunteer work in India around microfinance – making tiny loans to get individuals or families on their feet. In 1996, she co-founded VolunteerMatch, a non-profit that matches volunteers in the U.S. with groups in need. Now she seems to be taking that same concept global. I wasn’t able to find much written about the group, which is not surprising given that it’s new, so I don’t mean to suggest they’re the best or the only effect in this realm. In fact, when I mistakenly transposed the words in the group’s title to “GlobalGiving,” I found a website under construction by the Salvation Army. The point is that we shouldn’t wait for big events to take action. We need to do little things on a regular basis. Take water purification. The Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose recently honored a scientist who invented a way to kill bacteria and viruses using ultraviolet light. The inventor, Ashok Gadgil of Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, estimates it would cost $1.50 a year to provide clean drinking water to a single person. That’s less than I will spend on coffee today. Ultimatey, web-based matching systems will make it possible for me to forgo the occasional cup of coffee and donate a buck-fifty to provide someone with a year’s worth of drinking water. Of course I’ll hope most of that money makes it thru the donation pipeline, because there have been scandals. But web-based links and small projects may be less prone to problem. We’ll see. I’m just pleased that global giving via the web will continue after the current wave of interest recedes. Tom Abate January 4, 2005


One ring to find them?

Businesses thrive in central locations. Theater districts attract restaurants and bars. Malls and downtowns are predicated on concentration. Customers like to shop in neighborhoods. How do we create commercial neighborhoods on the Web? In the mid 1990s, a 17-year-old Oregonian named Sage Weil created the WebRing. It’s a technology that allows a group of kindred sites to insert a link on their pages that allows visitors to go from page to page without traveling back to a central site. I learned about rings when my friend George Butko, a 3-D photography buff, directed me to one such ring to explain the workings of a stereo camera that I had inherited from my dad. Investigating what seemed like a brilliant idea, I came across a December 2001 article in Salon that explained why webrings have not become as wildly successful as the current favorite way of finding content on the web, the search engine. The gist of the article is that Weil sold the technology to a small Oregon firm called Starseed, which was acquired by GeoCities, which was in turn acquired by Yahoo. Yahoo found the webring’s decentralized model incompatible with its own need to drive trafffic – and thus advertising -- back to its own site. After a rebellion by the old webring community, Yahoo sold the technology back to Tim Killeen, an engineer involved during the Starseed era. James Huggins, unofficial historian of the WebRing saga, taught me more. A posting on the Travel Notes e-zine pointed to sites where web masters can acquire different webring technologies. I couldn’t find a whole lot written about webrings recently. I guess they’re not “hot.” Yet many thousands of rings exist to connect web pages catering to all sorts of specialized interest groups. I wonder whether new ways to distribute advertising can give webrings greater commercial clout. This may already be occurring. I’ll snoop around some more and report back at a later date. Tom Abate January 3, 2005


Meet the MiniMediaGuy

Thank you for visiting my blog. Let me tell you why I started it. The Internet is changing how we work, communicate, organize, and relax. The essence of this transformation is the ability to find like-minded people and join them in some common task. By enabling people to form new linkages, the Internet has ignited a vast experiment in social re-engineering. I want to join this experiment. I step forward with gratitude and humility. Many people have come before me to create the tools I am using now. Many others have show by example how to use these tools to stir things up. I will try to build on their efforts. Because time and attention are precious, I will keep my postings brief and focus on areas where I might add something useful. I’ve spent most of my professional life working in and around media, and am eager to explore the new business models arising around Net-based publishing. To avoid monotony, I’ll point out noteworthy developments in science, technology and business. Sustainability and frugality will also be recurring themes. In each posting I’ll try to point to some useful resource. Today I direct your attention to a white paper entitled We Media . It focuses on what the authors call “participatory journalism,” and brings together a wealth of useful and inspirational material. It is well worth a look. Meanwhile let me keep my promise of brevity by ending here. We can resume the conversation later. Tom Abate January 2, 2005