Uncommon Mojo

Cheers to Yahoo for creating a special search utility to find content published under the flexible licenses of the Creative Commons. I hope this is a precursor to subsequent initiatives to marry this find-engine to a market that can for return payments to creators who seek recompense.

A little background.

Led by Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig, the Creative Commons has sought to cut intellectual property red tape by evolving licenses that allow graduated protections for creative works. For instance, an author, musician or videographer can allow free use by others, providing they acknowledge the creator. A different license allows similar freedoms, but only for non-profit uses, etcetera.

These flex licenses respond to the frustration of creators who find their own works rendered non-commercial because of copyright restrictions, such as occurred with the documentary Eyes on the Prize. The Commons approach also speaks to users fed up with efforts by old media publishers to keep content on a tight leash.

But as a creator who believes my works deserve payment, I want the community building around the Creative Commons to become the nucleus for a new market for new media. The licenses are a good start by allowing collaboration and building upon works. The creation of media is increasingly a collaborative act. Even the lone author needs an editor (whether the writer admits it or not). And when we think of new and emerging media such as video blogs, podcasts, etcetera. I think it highly unlikely that one person will have every skill from the turn of phrase or the eye for camera shots, to the technical skills to edit or code content for Web distribution. New media people need to work together. And I said work to distinguish that act from labors of love, such as represented by this and most other blogs. Work implies payment and payment implies mechanisms. There much more needs to be done.

To cut a long rant short, the Yahoo search beta simplifies and mainstreams the collaborative engine arising around the Commons. But I’m sure everyone realizes this is a step and not a destination.

In a blog entry thanking Yahoo for “giv(ing) the net tools to make its community come alive,” Lessig described the Creative Commons as “just a piece -- a component -- designed to remove the uncertainty around what creators mean . . . . Our component helps people be clear about the freedoms they intend to give, and the freedoms they can rely upon.” I read into that a recognition that other components are still needed.

Yahoo’s endorsement and embrace of new publishing models has won it kudos from Business 2.0 writer Om Malik. He recently said Yahoo has regained its mojo after living in the shadow of that other Stanford-spawned search site with the quirky name. Malik credited Yahooligans Russell Beattie and Jeremy Zawodny with “spreading the open media religion at Yahoo.”

Let’s hope they continue to spread that religion in the way most important to the starving artists of cyberspace – by creating new and more efficient means to pass the collection plate.

Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media


Simply Del.icio.us

I’d rather be lucky than smart, or so the saying goes. Luckily I got up to speed on tags and folksonomies just in time to notice that del.icio.us has received an undisclosed sum of venture capital to grow its shared bookmarking service from a hobby into a business. Thanks to Rafat Ali for pointing to the blog entry in which delicious founder Joshua Schachter says “I am excited to finally be able to devote all of my energy to working on and improving this site, and I'll also be able to acquire some much-needed infrastructure.” Delicious lets people tag websites with single-word descriptors, such as java or firefox, and then share these tag lists with others. Schachter was interviewed in January by Dow Jones columnist Jeremy Wagstaff. At the time Schachter estimated that delicious had 50,000 users and was adding users at a rate in excess of 15 percent per month. He also explained how he thought tags facilitated the finding and recalling of data: “I want to split storing and recalling into two separate actions with the help of the computer, so that when you tag things you store, you can recall them more easily. In doing so, I have also made it easier for you to recall things that other people have stored. Tags facilitate and amplify this. Search is more associated with the recall, whereas tagging is more associated with the storage. Does that make sense?” Now the question is how this social bookmarking service will evolve from a freeware project to a business enterprise – and whether profit creation can coexist with community development. Meanwhile, doing this follow up on folksonomies gives me a chance to mention a development that I should have included yesterday but omitted for lack of time and mental bandwidth. David Galbraith, co-author of RSS 1.0, recently launched a visual tagging utility called wists. Think of wists as the marriage of icons and tags. David has created a blog to explain the service, which he has launched with backing from Gawker Media’s Nick Denton. I met David a couple of months ago at a dinner in San Francisco hosted by Tom Foremski, founder of SiliconValleyWatcher. Foremski, Galbraith and Denton are all former employees of the Financial Times, which has apparently graduated more than its share of talent to new media. I met Tom years ago when I was a high-tech reporter and we’ve been friends ever since. Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy Cause if you ain't Mass Media, you're Mini Media


Tags, Folksonomies & Metadata

What’s in a name, Juliet once exclaimed from her balcony. In the evolving mediascape, that which we call a rose has become a tag – a naming convention that makes content more accessible while simultaneously building online communities. These tags are a form of metadata – capsule descriptions of larger data sets. Increasingly such metadata are being created by online volunteers, giving rise to the concept of the folksonomy.

I should not feign expertise on these topics given that I only noted the term “folksonomy” in a recent edition of Paid Content. The word intrigued me and I decided to learn more. Here’s what I found.

Wired News quoted Thomas Vander Wal, the information architect who coined the term “folksonomy.” He described the phenomenon as “people tagging information so that they can come back to it themselves or so that others with the same vocabulary can find it.” Salon has a primer on the use of tagging, which evolved from sites like del.icio.us – which created a convention and community for sharing bookmarks – and flickr – which allows users to tag photos with descriptive words like cat or dog.

A scholarly paper by library scientist Adam Mathes describes some of the strengths and weaknesses of folksonomies. The strengths, particularly in the photo context, are obvious if you’re looking for cat rather than dog photos. The weaknesses include the fact that, so far at least, tags are single words that do not distinguish singular from plural nor recognize synonyms. So “rose” would not lead to “roses,” nor would “Mac” yield “Macintosh.” And if you say “Palestine” and I say “WestBank” we have a meta-disconnect.

Tags are nevertheless one of those useful and magical tools that arise from the ability to knit together communities in which a little effort from many hands can lift heavy loads. I stand in awe of such wikipedian efforts. However, my blog is supposed to explore new media business models and viewed in that lens I see folksonomies as a community-building tools with a dual payoff.

Allowing people to enhance the value of a shared database creates a sense of ownership among those who contribute. It’s like joining a cool and useful club. New initiates probably love to show friends what they've learned. Folksonomies thus extend the outward reach of the community while building the inward depth of the underlying data – which seems very businesslike to me.

Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media


Just Gawking

A Center for Media Research briefing says Gawker Media ranks10th in advertising impressions for the current events and world news segment, with 2.1% of all impressions in the category. The Center cited a February survey from Nielsen/NetRatings as its source. In light of my recent rant about Web domination by incumbent media, I felt obliged to mention the impressive showing by Nick Denton’s upstart brand.

Of course in the current environment, Gawker’s success could simply lead to its assimilation by bigger media but even so it would still show that it’s possible to build prominent new media sites from scratch.

There are many other interesting bits in the Center’s daily briefing for March 25 – age breakdowns of the 79 million U.S. world and local news viewers, size and types of ads, etcetera. I would love to link you to their note but their links and website have been malfunctioning. I recently sent their web administrator a fixit note but so far I have observed no change.

Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media


The Meme Matrix

We hear more and more about Web business ecosystems, the latest example being Paid Content, which pinged off a bit from ZDNet's Dan Farber. “Business and technology ecosystems, like their biological counterparts, can be fragile,” Dan wrote. And as I observed earlier this week, even groovy Web ecoystems can be as lopsided as the relationship between whales and krill.

Paid Content noted that “ecosystem” has less buzz than “the long tail,” the term Wired magazine editor Chris Anderson uses to describe how niche content can be effectively sold over the Web (at least by giant distributors, if not by niche producers themselves.) Both terms were featured in a new and thought-provoking section entitled “Meme Watch.”

Meme is itself a word with Web appeal. How it differs from “idea” is not entirely clear, though it does carry the connotation of modernity and a sense of active purpose. Think of a meme as an idea that is proactive.

Whether we call them memes or ideas, concepts thrive on the Internet. Never has it been so easy to spread a thought, find like-minded individuals, and coordinate their activities. Not long ago I interviewed UC Berkeley political science professor Steven Weber for a story on his book about the Linux movement ("The Success of Open Source''). He said something that stuck in my head though I didn’t mention it then. As I recall it, the gist was that every revolution in communications is followed by a revolution, or revolutions, in politics and commerce.

Take the Protestant Reformation. Syndicated columnist Terry Mattingly has described how, thanks to Gutenberg’s printing press, “Luther did more than nail his convictions to a church door -- he published them.” Ever since, new media have been used to spread ideas. Of course they have also been abused to maintain orthodoxies. But powerful ideas -- those with relevance to the times -- seem to trump media control. The success of samizdat publishers during the Soviet era attests to that.

So do good memes always triumph? Do popular ideas reflect the spirit of the times?

In general, the freer the flow of ideas, the more likely that sensible thinking will prevail. At least that appeals to the Darwinist and the democratic in me.

But my inner contrarian wonders whether we are rewriting the rules of human behavior. Ours is the most heavily mediated society that has ever existed. We go from cradle to grave in a cocoon of ideas. We are seldom alone with our own thoughts. Electronic devices whisper to us while we jog or drive. Much of what we hear or see includes messages from our sponsors. In fact the promise of Web publishing today is the better targeting of ads to address our unspoken, and perhaps even unrealized desires.

Myths may one day be written about a people who had so much and yet were always wanting. We may be living in a hall of memes, but then how would we ever know it?

Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media


Mobiles (plus Topix)

One quarter of U.S. households now have web access through mobile phones, creating a large new potential market for downloadable content. That’s my reading of a statistic buried in a Media Post article that excerpted bits from some research done by the Kelsey Group and ConStat. The article said: “Nearly eight out of 10 households--79 percent--have wireless phones, up from 71 percent 17 months ago. And almost one out of three households--31 percent--have Web access via wireless phone, up from 26 percent in October 2003.” If I did the math correctly, just shy of 25 percent of households have a web-enabled cell phone. That metric explains the why behind a Mobile Content News report that Major League Baseball’s advanced media division plans to deliver baseball action and ticket sales to cell phones. A March 23 summary from the Center for Media Research, entitled “Mobile Phones are for more than phoning,” offers these insights into content downloads via mobiles: “13 percent of mobile subscribers reported accessing news and information via a mobile browser in the previous month.” The most popular categories were weather (57 percent), sports and national news headlines, (44 percent), maps and directions (41 percent), and movie and entertainment listings (40 percent). I'm guessing all of this is repurposed major media content but as mobile devices grow as a download platform I would hope it offers licensing opportunities for mini media producers. Separately and briefly, I’ll point to a New York Times report that three large newspaper chains, Gannett, Knight-Ridder and the Tribune Company, have taken a 75 percent stake in the Palo Alto startup Topix.net. Rafat Ali says “funding was less than $5 million” and that “the deal is non-exclusive.” I find Topix very interesting but don’t know nearly enough about the outfit to add any insights. This is just a placeholder to remind me to learn more as time permits. Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media.


The Great Web Whales

Ecosystem is a term often used to describe Internet business models. Given all the Web sites being acquired recently – including About.com, Bloglines, AskJeeves and Flickr -- I wonder if we're developing an Internet ecosystem populated by whales and krill.

The recent deals all seem poised to harvest advertising visits through the large Web sites that control most of the traffic on the Web. They would be the whales.

Whether you produce some content or merely consume it, you are probably krill. Some Internet whales, or wannabe surface feeders, are cycling some cash back to the more ambitious krill through programs like Google’s Adsense and competitors such as the Revenue Science behavioral system for linking ads to content.

Omar Tawakol, vice president for marketing at Revenue Science, recently noted that on the Web “you get one or two sites with a ton of traffic (like MSN or Yahoo!), and then 10 or 20 sites each with one tenth the traffic of those two, and 100 or 200 sites each with 100th of the traffic, etc.” This is not so bad, he wrote, because “if you add up all the traffic at the end of (the Web), you get a lot of traffic -- and more importantly, a lot of very rich, specific user behavior.”

Revenue Science will need a very efficient seine to catch and process enough krill to allow it to swim with the whales. Say the company wanted to capture 44 million unique visitors per month from krill-sized publishers. Say we definedthese “small” publishers as those who generate 10,000 unique visitors per month. It would take 4,400 of these krill sites to generate the traffic equivalent of an AskJeeves. Serving 4,400 Web publishers would probably require much handholding, even assuming a high degree of automated account processing.

As for the krill side of the deal, that depends on the average value per unique visitor. Using a ballpark starting point of 20 cents yields a gross of $2,000 per month on 10,000 visits. Not bad but don’t quit the day job.

P.S. Let me close with two bits from the Center for Media Research.

1.) Final figures from TNS Media Intelligence put total 2004 advertising spending at $141.1 billion up 9.8 percent from 2003 (roughly twice as fast as GDP growth). Internet advertising rose 21.4 percent to $7.44 billion, to 5 percent of the total, and was the fastest growing category.

2.) A CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll said three out of four Americans use the Internet, but only one in four are familiar with blogs, and 56 percent knew nothing of them. The highest concentration of blog readers (47 percent of the sample) were persons in the 30-49 age group, which makes up 41 percent of the adult population.

Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media

Consolidation Prize

So it’s official -- IAC/InterActiveCorp. will buy AskJeeves to acquire 42 million monthly users in the continuing competition for search-based advertising. Yahoo also acquired the photo-sharing site Flickr (to match Google’s Picassa picture management software) as the Internet consolidation accelerates.

After I mentioned a report last week lamenting the dominance of large sites over Web-based activity, Andi Silver dropped me this comment on Sunday: “I question whether the internet (or "online") ever was the "people's medium" . . . domination of the Internet passed directly from academic geeks to big media . . . A "people's medium" is still in the future.”

Apropos of Andi’s last remark, I got a note yesterday announcing the launch of the grassroots content site Ourmedia. I urge you to visit it. At the moment, however, access is tough. An announcement on Slashdot apparently drove so much traffic to Ourmedia that its servers were overwhelmed this morning. I’ll return when I can. Meanwhile you might look at a few comments that I made about Ourmedia while awaiting its launch.

Returning to the Jeeves news, I wonder where all these high-level combinations leave Mark Fletcher’s Bloglines, whose accomplishments are summarized in a 2005 Wired Rave Award?

Rafat Ali at Paid Content was justifiably pleased with his observation, made back in February when Jeeves acquired Bloglines, that the deal made Jeeves “a more palatable acquisition target...but who would buy it? IAC?” Yesterday he quipped, “I either need to stop making predictions, or become a soothsayer and charge money for it.”

Though I searched for more about Bloglines, I found nada about its future in the expanded family of IAC. I did learn, however, that the first hint of its sale to Jeeves in February came from a posting by online and grassroots media author Mary Hodder . Perhaps she or some other bloggers will provide some insights into whither goest Bloglines.

Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media


360 Degrees of Personalization

Yahoo 360 exemplifies the genius of the big websites in building audiences and expanding traffic to continue dominating the Internet. The stories written about 360 last week billed it as an experiment in social networking. But I think it's more useful to consider it an attempt to push the frontiers of personalization. According to the Associated Press report, “The service is designed to enable Yahoo's 165 million registered users to pull content from the Web site's discussion groups, online photo albums and review section to plug into their own Web logs, or blogs, the Internet shorthand used to describe online personal journals.” Yahoo director of community products Paul Brody told MediaPost Publications last week, “users (will have) the choice to show as much or as little of their personalized content . . . as they like.” Perhaps it’s splitting hairs to argue over whether this is social networking or personalization, and if it builds traffic then the name doesn’t matter. But the discussion may be instructive because other sites (Topix for example) are taking a different approach to personalization by using algorithms to mold news to fit user tastes. I like the Yahoo way because it uses people to create small islands of content that lure others. In essence Yahoo is empowering a group of opinion leaders who will draw others. This is not to say that algorithms won’t be useful at personalization – especially if you’re trying to build a business without the advantage of a Yahoo-sized user base. And the two techniques can be used together. But given the choice between algorithms or personal pages, the personal pages seem to have the built in advantage of coming with their own marketing agent – the person who will serve as editor to pull in a group of friends, family and associates, large or small. Paid Content recently highlighted an ongoing Google experiment in personalization that follows the path of customizing the news to fit the beholder. That piece also pointed to an 18-month old interview with Google news director Krishna Bharat that offers insights into his thinking. Call it customization, or social networking, but I think personalization is the new Holy Grail of media outfits from large wire services to cutting edge entertainers, like Major League Baseball. According to Mobile Content News, MLB’s advanced media division plans to announce a series of initiatives to deliver baseball action and ticket sales to phones. “The launch is on hold until geo-location services are in place that will allow MLB to implement blackouts where games are broadcast on local television.” This is personalization by device and interest. There are some media people will choose to consume in larger volumes, provided it is convenient. Take music. As for information, I think people will choose to personalize by following trusted voices – Yahoo’s 360 is creating new set voices to inspire trust This will spill way past news areas like culture, sports and lifestyle. Meanwhile, the last institution to jump on the bandwagon, whether it’s social networking or personalization, may be newspapers. Paid Content last week pointed to “A nice and comprehensive story (in Online Journalism Review) on how news and newspaper sites are not utilizing the full potential of social networks.” Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media


The New (Media) Concentration

A new report entitled State of News Media: Online by the Project for Excellence in Journalism points out that the new media, just like the old, are already concentrated when it comes to owning audience attention and the advertising dollars that follow the eyeballs. I was pointed to the report by a recent edition of Paid Content, which suggested special attention to sections on ownership and economics. I have excerpted some factoids apropos of my Mini Media interests. The ownership section begins by asking “Has the people’s medium been taken over by big media?” In short the answer is yes, if that means large and meaningful traffic flows. “The big are getting bigger, something we saw a year earlier,” the report notes. CNN, Yahoo and MSNBC are the Big Three with more than 20 million unique visitors a month. There is a big drop off to fourth placed NY Times digital at just above 8 million monthly visitors, followed by what was a stranger to me, Internet Broadcast Systems, an amalgam of local television stations and other traditional media outlets. The two newest sites among the top 20 destinations were the Associated Press CustomNews Service and Google News. The ownership section concludes by noting that more than half of the top 25 online news sites are owned by the 20 largest media companies “so the data point to the heavy concentration of ownership of the news the public is getting online.” The economics section focused on advertising. It confirmed other suggestions that online advertising continues to grow at rates faster than dollar growth on competing media but still accounts for only four percent of total ad spending. Search ads increasingly dominate the mix, accounting for about 40 percent of the total as of second quarter 2004. Display ads, or banners, slipped to 20 percent of the mix, down from 21 percent in 2003 and 29 percent in 2002. Classifieds were a flat 17 percent in 2003 and Q2 2004, up from 2002’s 15 percent. One piece of information new to me at least was a chart showing online revenues as a percentage of total revenues for 10 publicly traded newspaper chains led by Knight Ridder, which earned about 3.7 percent its gross from Web sources, up from 2.5 percent in 2003. A chart shows how the growing share of local ad spending (a projected $2.7 billion in 2004, up from $2.1 billion in 2001) goes mainly to newspapers (39 percent) followed by online verticals (26 percent) which the report did not define, and I can’t think of a representative example in the category. Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media


A Larger Context

Competition is heating up in the contextual search arena, with Microsoft joining Google and Yahoo among the big brands offering the service, Rafat Ali's Paid Content alerts us. Meanwhile a recent ClickZ article finds that smaller challengers offer advantages in comparison to Google & Yahoo-style context. Microsoft announced its plans at a March 16 "advertising summit" attended by Google CEO Eric Schmidt and Yahoo search President Terry Meisel among others. According to a Microsoft news release, Yusuf Mehdi, corporate vice president of the MSN Information Services & Merchant Platform division, demonstrated a "pilot program (in paid search that) will begin within the next six months in Singapore and France" and will seek to "provide keyword buyers with in-depth audience intelligence including geographic location, gender, age group, lifestyle segment and time of day." Meanwhile the ClickZ article by Hollis Thomases, which came out before the Microsoft announcement, notes that neither Google nor Yahoo give advertisers an easy way to control the dispersal of their ads to the sites that have signed up for their contextual programs. She references an earlier ClickZ piece when she says, "No wonder marketers are still split on contextual advertising effectiveness." Thomases then goes on to write: "Enter true, advertiser-controlled pay-per-click (PPC) contextual ads. Networks such as Quigo's AdSonar Exchange, IndustryBrains, and Kanoodle's ContextTarget and newly launched LocalTarget, plus smaller providers such as ContextWeb and BidClix all offer advertisers far more control over their contextual ad campaigns and contextual ad dollars. These networks, still in their naissance, address the advertiser's need for more and better control." The piece gives one-pagagraph comparisons and contrasts between these offerings. Publishers and advertisers not already expert on the topic would learn from her summaries, as did I. However, I do not yet know enough about the topic to say whether her list is complete or the comparisons on point. If you have any additional thoughts please post a comment. Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy Cause if you ain't Mass Media, you're Mini Media


Blogus Interruptus

An unexpected emergency has taken me out of town for a few days and disrupted my schedule for postings. I snuck onto a guest machine this morning to make my regrets. I may be able to post intermittantly, but for the next week or so I will be off my regular routine. P.S. InfoWorld says Burst will get $60 million from Microsoft to settle a patent infringement suit involving video-on-the-web technology. The Santa Rosa company said it would use the money to pay debt, extend its technology and licensing efforts and reward investors. That's a good chunk change for a Northern California new media pioneer. Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy Cause if you ain't Mass Media, you're Mini Media


Viva Editors!

At a cybersalon in Berkeley last night, a couple of dozen people discussed how programmers and writers can expect to get paid in an age where information can increasingly be had for free. Familiar themes were raised including micropayments, and don’t quit the day-job. The conversants included people who remembered the tough-to-categorize Ted Nelson and his ill-starred Project Xanadu, which was written about a decade ago by then-fledgling Wired Magazine. But perhaps the most useful suggestion was that the notion that editing would pull material together on the Net in the same way it has other media, and perhaps establish habit-forming info-packages to which people might be willing to subscribe.

The featured speakers were security expert and long-time email newsletter editor Jon Callas; Philip Zimmermann, who is best-known for writing and releasing the Pretty Good Privacy encryption program; and Paulina Borsook, author of Cyberselfish and other works.

The roughly two hour session was more of a discussion than a presentation, and the discussion was mainly a series of laments, that freelance writers are still getting paid the same per-word rate today as a decade ago, that copyrights and other intellectual property laws are ensnaring information without returning support to creative people. Toward the end of the discussion Michael Quinn (that much I know from reading his name tag) said something that stuck in my head.

There had been a discussion prompted by Phil’s suggestion that rather than micropayments, people sign up for groups of articles, 20 for a buck. Was this practical, was this where RSS feeds were headed, would people buy an article based on a summary tease, etcetera. Quinn said people will buy goods online because they can return them if not satisfied. That isn’t the case with info-wares. He suggested that the reason people pay in advance for the New York Times or other branded media is that they have a rough sense of what they’re going to get – not article by article but generally. He called it editorialship, or was it editorship? Either way I believe he used the word trust. Subscriber trust they’ll get what they paid for in terms of information quality. This struck me as not that difficult to replicate in the online world. Perhaps it is already happening. The comment also reminded me of the Googlezon bit that’s floating around and is worth viewing if you’ve not already seen it.

In any event, one of the chief pleasures of the evening was that my nearly 16-year-old son Julius wanted to attend. Anything that a middle-aged dad and his teenage son can do together is good. But there are limits to the family togetherness. Before we left, I asked my 12-year son Aeneas whether he’d like to come to a cybersalon. He gave me a puzzled look and said, “Are you and Julius going to get you haircuts?”

Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media


Keyword, Context, Behavior

Keyword searches are the hot commodity in Internet advertising. Advertisers bid to be placed next to the words they consider linked to their product. Contextual advertising has come up to supplement and rival keyword placement. As defined by Webopedia, “if the user is viewing a site about sports, and the site uses contextual advertising, the user might see ads for sports-related companies, such as memorabilia dealers or ticket sellers.” The next, but not entirely new, frontier is behavioral targeting. I think it’s still being tested by large publishers and not yet broadly dispersed to small publishers as are keyword and context. But presumably they are coming and so today I’ll give a précis of what the behavior buzz is all about.

First, the definitions. Behavioral advertising vendors target ads based on the publisher’s knowledge about the page viewer’s demographics – age, gender, etcetera presumably gleaned from registration data – and habits while on the site – what type of content they view on the site. It strikes me as a ménage a trios of demographics, data mining and advertising placement.

I was alerted to the behavioral phenomenon by relatively recent articles in MarketingVox and ClickZ that referenced a behavioral targeting program by Tacoda Systems. A cursory search turned up a CNet article that said, “Tacoda is not the only company jockeying for attention in the market. Companies including Revenue Science, 24/7 Media, Advertising.com and aQuantive are all selling similar behaviorally targeted advertising.”

I make no competitive assessment of these players, or any others that may exist unbeknownst to me. I’m just trying to get my mind around the phenomenon.

A related article by CNet reporter Stefanie Olsen, also inspired by the Tacoda buzz, reminds us that behavioral targeting was initially tried during the dot.com era, and aroused complaints of invasion of privacy as well as doubts about its effectiveness. Olsen quotes Richard Smith, an Internet privacy and security consultant: "During the Internet bubble, hundreds of millions of dollars were wasted on the holy grail of profiling as a method to make more money off of Internet advertising. No one could make it work then, and I don't think it will be any different this time around."

The CNet piece is about a year old. Only time will tell whether Smith’s doubts on privacy, efficacy, or both, will be borne out this time around. A recent article in WebProNews makes clear that it’s still early days for this niche: “Behavioral marketing, despite its five year lifespan, had really just gotten off the ground in terms of product evolution

Meanwhile, contextual advertisers like Kanoodle continue to expand their reach and programs, while those on the buy side of the advertising equation wonder whether – or under what circumstances -- buying context is cost effective.

A March 10 article in ClickZ said: "We've seen a shift in perception and performance. We were bullish on the idea originally, but disappointed with the results out of the gates," said Ron Belanger, VP of search marketing at Carat Interactive. "We expected traditional search conversion rates, but what we got was much lower." The article goes on to say that Belanger plans to continue using contextual ads to create awareness, support product launches or branding campaigns, but “suggests avoiding the technique for newer campaigns or keywords that are ultra-competitive.”

Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re MiniMedia


Niches Rule

Today I will excerpt some business chestnuts from a report sponsored by the Media Center. My focus will be on the limits of advertising driven business models. This is just a slice taken from a report about the nature of the media transformation underway. I encourage you to download a pdf or view the html version.

Several comments in the chapter entitled economics and investment smacked me upside the head: “If a business plan is based on an advertising model, the recent hype over Internet advertising growth must be tempered by the realization that only a few large Web sites generate a majority of the advertising and that the growth is limited to only a few formats, such as keyword searched . . . The top 50 websites generate 96 percent of all Internet advertising spending, leaving little room for the remaining hundreds of online companies.”

That realization follows this fact: “New media, such as the Internet, command less than five percent of total advertising.”

So while Internet advertising is growing far faster than competing media, it is a big leap off a small base. And past history suggests that the growth may be concentrated in a few outlets – the Googles, the Yahoos, the Kanoodles, the Feedburners and other RSS aggregators. How, when and whether meaningful cash will make its way to the Mini Media folks furnishing new content, as I lamented yesterday, is as yet unknown.

A couple of other thoughts caught my eye. Consumers continue to spend an increasing amount of disposable income on media. There is a chart (find it by searching “disposable income” in the html version) that shows we now spend above two percent of disposable income on media, up from just above one percent 30 years ago. But this spending includes home video, satellite, cable TV subscriptions, video games and other hardware or delivery systems. Again the money seems to support the distribution pipe. Content is the slurry that runs through the pipe, and as the report notes, there is “consumer hesitancy to pay for new media content.”

Not to end on a down note, the report cites “specialty media and marketing services” as one of the promising new media business opportunities. No examples are offered to clarify what falls into the category, but I infer it means things like dating services, where the content and the connection between people – whether it’s a date or a sale – is the business. According to the report: “Anecdotal evidence suggests that those companies first to the market survive, second to market struggle, while all others fail.” The positive spin is that new media entrepreneurs who follow their passions and develop some new niche may live long and prosper.

Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media


Economies of Scale

I’ve given a lot of thought to what types of new media ventures may be supportable by traditional venture capital and have come to conclude that advertising plays are the best bet. Editorially-driven startups, on the other hand, may have to rely on angel investors – or haul themselves up by their bootstraps. Venture investors want deals that grow large and fast, so that an investment of $5 million would, in about five years, spawn a company with sales on the order of $30 million, good gross margins, a defensible market position, and the prospect of going public or being acquired. The example of Advertising.com shows how businesses that follow the money can achieve these high-growth prospects. Advertising.com was incorporated in Maryland in 1998 by former Proctor & Gamble executive Scott Ferber who teamed up with his brother, a technologist, to create a system to place and track Internet ads. From what I can glean from the prospectus the company filed in April 2004, it was an arbitrage play. It bought ad space at wholesale rates, placed ads on well-trafficked sites, and made money on the spread between what it cost to nail down the placement and what it was paid by the advertiser. Revenues grew rapidly to $132 million in five years. After backing out the $90 million it paid to buy the ad space, that still left a $42 million gross profit (before expenses) and a $12 million net profit in year five. AOL acquired Advertising.com in June of 2004 for about $425 million. Contrast that with the editorially driven online magazine Salon, which has achieved much critical acclaim over the last 10 years, but whose most recent financial statement reveals that it has an accumulated deficit of $90.7 million. And while it enjoyed revenues of $2.15 million in the quarter ended Dec. 31, 2004, and managed a tiny pro forma profit, it “may not be able to sustain or increase profitability on a quarterly or annual basis in the future.” Not all ad-centric businesses will repeat the success of Advertising.com. And future editorially-inspired startups will learn many lessons from Salon. But for investors to make money, the smart play would be to follow the money, which is in advertising aggregation. It is much harder to discern the profit path in supporting content creators. Ad aggregators can make money by sprinkling dimes over tens of thousands of disparate content creators – and keeping a fraction of a penny. But most of those content creators will get only beer money. Though I consider myself businesslike, my core interest is in helping evolve systems that would allow creative types to be more than info-sharecroppers on these advertising plantations. The path is obscured but I will continue looking. By the way, this general theme will be discussed at a Cybersalon Sunday night entitled "Information Wants to Be Free, But Programmers Want to Get Paid." It will be held at the Hillside Club in Berkeley. It may provide ideas, or at least a forum in which to commiserate. Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media


It's Getting Personal

Two of the world’s biggest news gathering organizations have recently announced plans to deliver news in new and varied formats – and in one case to go directly to consumers. This suggests the mass media “get it” and are trying to evolve, an effort that bears not only on their survival but on the prospects for Mini Media publishers. Paid Content pointed me to a speech last week by Associated Press President Thomas Curley and another talk this week by Reuters CEO Tom Glocer. Curley spoke to the Virginia Press Association. According to a report in the Hampton Roads Daily Press, the AP chief said “instead of offering news in its traditional list format . . . (AP) would start searchable Web-based databases that would tell subscribers (i.e. newspapers, radio and TV stations) whether stories are available, along with video, audio, graphics and photos.” "If we don't make it available, someone else will," Curley said. "We're concentrating on what it is you need and what you want to serve your readers." The story says (unspecified) prices to member news outlets won’t change for a year. By way of contrast the Financial Times reports that Reuters plans “to supply news and information to retail consumers on mobile phones, iPods and other new technology platforms.” The FT provided this tease of Glocer’s speech: “If the 19th century was the age of the newspaper and the 20th century the age of radio and television, this century will be defined as the age of media personalization. The news you want, when you want it. The concept is simple - forget the old media that decided what was news and when and how you would consume it. Personalization is all about supplying news to the individual.” It sounds like Reuters which, as the FT says, has “traditionally sold its news services . . . to other news and media organizations” plans to disintermediate its former media subscribers. This may not be terribly painful because Reuters says “more than 90% of our revenue derives from our financial services business.” The Associated Press, on the other hand, is a cooperative owned by its members -- the leading U.S. media. From Curley’s remarks and the internal politics of the AP, it would not appear that it will try to end run its customers – who are also its owners. Incumbent media are trying to move as far and as fast as their circumstances allow. Aspiring new media publishers will obviously have to make bigger and more daring leaps. Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media


400 Years of Content Piracy?

The Center for Media Research pointed me to an international newspaper website that says 2005 (not 2009) is the 400th anniversary of the newspaper – and that complaints about content piracy are just as old. The same item also contains a hint to new media publishers looking for ways to adopt up-to-the-minutes tool & techniques – follow the money. These insights come from the World Association of Newspapers, which sponsors an editor’s forum where “senior newsroom editors (can) share ideas, experiences and new initiatives on how to defend editorial excellence in the face of shrinking budgets and the onslaught of new media, new technologies and changing readership lifestyles.” The group also supports a blog with a section on revenues and business models in which I learned that Le Monde has been losing readers and money and is looking for a 50 million Euro bailout and newsroom layoffs to right itself. The international editors' website credits The Gutenberg Museum in Mainz, Germany, with pushing the debut of printed news back to 1605, the year that a formerly hand-copied newsletter named Relation converted to the then-new technology of block printing: “Martin Welke, founder of the German Newspaper Museum, who is also the ’father’ of the discovery, together with Professor Jean Pierre Kintz, a Strasbourg historian, told WAN that the publisher of Relation was a certain Johann Carolus, who earned his living at the turn of the 17th century by producing hand-written newsletters, sold to rich subscribers at very high prices, reproducing news sent to him by a network of paid correspondents.” The item, which contradicts earlier assumptions putting 1609 as the birth date of newspapering, goes on to say that “In October that year (1605), Carolus wrote a petition to the Strasbourg city council asking for "protection against reprints by other printers". So the more things change the more they stay the same. (Or, in deference to any French readers, La plus ca change, la plus c’est la meme chose.) Other than the satisfaction of knowing this, I note that long-deceased media pioneer Johann Carolus began by adapting the technology of his day to the most valuable information first. I’m not yet sure how to act on this lesson but it’s worth bearing in mind. Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media.


Clicks plus Bricks

Earlier this week I discussed the business opportunities involving time-shifting audio devices. I followed with a look at Web sites that collect, license and disseminate independent content. Today I’ll argue that Web-based collaboration and marketing sites will work best when online systems encourage and facilitate face-to-face contact.

This is a gut instinct based on personal experience in media and online forums. I wish I had better evidence, but let me sketch out my thoughts.

In the 1970s I ran a closed circuit radio and television station aboard a U.S. Navy ship. It was Mister Roberts meets Good Morning Vietnam. I was the only journalist aboard. My one-man television operation was sterile. I would punch in the camera focused on an empty desk, tiptoe over, take my seat and begin reading the news. The radio station was livelier. It was easy to run and I scheduled a succession of guest DJs who offered multi-cultural fare before the word came into vogue. Having made “mass media” inside this steel fishbowl, I got a strong sense of how people consume media – as social events, in the Super Bowl party model. (As I think of it, this was an all-male sample but are women different in this regard?)

Between then and now I’ve worked in staff and freelance settings, generally in print media. For several years during the mid-1990s I moderated an online forum in an earlier incarnation of SFGate. Regular forum visitors wanted to meet for periodic dinners. We did. Okay, so that was then and the forums never really caught on. But nowadays I notice that outfits like job-network MediaBistro get positive buzz from creative folks by sponsoring gab-fests. IndyMedia, a politically-inspired activist group, works through physical locations that supplement its electronic forums.

As Aristotle said long ago, “human beings are by nature political animals, who naturally want to live together.” I think social animals is the better term. Creating and consuming media are social acts. We can do both alone. But it’s more fun and less isolating when make it a group activity. Consider this thought from the Grotto, an office park, if you will, for writers in San Francisco: “The hypothesis is that working writers will be more productive (and have more courage to pursue the kind of writing they really want to do) if they work in a community of writers.’’

New media are still fluid. The great strength of the movement is the empowerment of individual creators, who can publish globally through electronic networks. But the strength of new media, and the sanity of its pioneers, will be enhanced if their networks find ways – profitable ways, like training classes -- to bring people together in the face-to-face forums that we have always enjoyed.

Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media.


License This

Yesterday I wondered aloud whether new Tivo-like audio recorders, capable of downloading content via satellite broadcasts, could evolve into personal or niche radio networks. Today I’ll look at one of the downstream developments that would have to occur first -- gathering content into manageable pools in order to present big distributors – whether wired or wireless – a place into which to dip their pipes. Let me briefly point to several developments. I recently stumbled across Audio Network Plc., a British startup that seems to act as a clearinghouse where musical artists can register and display works for subsequent licensing to film, television and multimedia buyers. To give a sense for the scale of the enterprise, in January the firm announced that it had sold a 7 percent stake for a venture investment of 250,000 pounds sterling. Another interesting model in the audio realm is PRX.org, which might be described as a collection point for producers and buyers of radio documentaries of the style exemplified by National Public Radio. PRX has four classes of membership: free peers, paid individuals and groups ($50 & $150 annually) and stations which are asked to buy into this content repository on a sliding scale based on listenership. Stay in touch with developments at PRX through its blog. Just the other day I discovered the Real Public Radio Network, or RPRN, which describes itself as “a community of content creators and consumers using a Java driven, Internet based content management, licensing, distribution (system), (featuring) member rated content, discussion, collaboration, accounting and value distribution ... wrapped in an easy to use web based interface (and) formed as a non profit, non partisan, free speech driven corporation.” That mouthful is extracted from the synopsis posted by RPRN architect Scott Converse, an Apple Computer veteran (turned academician // ERROR corrected 24 April 05 // confused this Scott Converse with another person //) who has some interesting theories about disruptive technologies – in addition to creating such a disruptive event through RPRN. Scott posted his mission statement on the Omidyar Network, the incubator site instigated by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar – who is worth many stories but not by me, at least not today. My point is that developments such as these and others previously noted, such as Lulu.com and Ourmedia.org are important steps on the road to creating focused markets (even non-profits need markets!) for what I call Mini Media content. Tomorrow I want to suggest that one of the future steps along grassroots media’s current evolutionary path may be the rediscovery of brick & mortar. (PS: Earlier this week I met Ourmedia co-founder Marc Canter at a dinner organized by Web TV thinker Jeff Ubois. Marc said Ourmedia's launch is late but looming) Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media


Shush! People are Listening

New software makes it possible to download satellite radio broadcasts into an iPod. When I consider that alongside research showing the pervasiveness of radio, I wonder when satellite vendors will decide to upload content from Mini Media producers to augment their fare and serve new niche audiences. Thanks to Paid Content for reporting that “TimeTrax, the "TiVo for radio" app designed by Candian programmer Scott Maclean, has matured into the backbone of TimeTrax Technologies, a seven-person startup . . . The software doesn't take the place of a (satellite) subscription but is designed to help XM and Sirius subs make the most of the pay services by letting them record and timeshift.” Engadget has a photo and writeup showing the TimeTrax docking station that allows the iPod to download satellite content. There has been some angst about whether TimeTrax opens new avenue for digital music piracy but I am interested in other things. What if the licensing mechanisms existed to sell works into the satellite cloud and then distribute them back down to mobile listeners? Media Post columnist Tom Hespos recently wondered the same thing: “Picture, if you will, an explosion of niche content delivered via audio to your portable device, such that you're listening to an interest-based "narrowcast" on the train on your way to work. Your portable device has a time-shifting function much like TiVo, such that it recorded a program about rare stamp collecting while you slept and saved it for playback during your train ride.” (Download requires free registration.) It requires a lot of “ifs” to follow this line of reasoning but I think there is a payoff at the end of the conjecture. The Center for Media Research recently distilled some findings from Arbitron’s Radio Today report for 2004: “On average, Americans spend almost 20 hours per week listening to their favorite stations. These numbers have remained relatively steady across recent surveys, despite a growing number of consumer media options … 35- to 44-year-old men spend the most time listening and represent the largest share of listeners …. 35- to 44-year-old women represent the largest share of female listeners.” So the audience is listening. And it is a good audience that has, so far at least, sustained itself against the encroachment of other media because we live in a commuter culture when there are times you can’t do anything but listen.. More on this later. Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media.


A Self Indulgence

I just returned from a weekend at our second home in the Redwoods of Northern California and the glow of the visit is still fresh. My wife and I lived in the Eureka-Arcata area from the summer of 1980 through the summer of 1990, in an old Quonset-hut style mobile home on five acres of wooded land. Last summer my eldest son, who was born on that land, helped me complete a project we had been planning since February 2000. We hired a crew to scrape the old home off the hillside, and then to dig a new foundation for a manufactured home built in Oregon. It was trucked to our hillside in two halves that were joined together atop the foundation. My son and I did some of the site work, notably the plumbing. We also built a 60-foot long boardwalk over a wetland area that separates the house from the roadway. Two years ago the wetland was a headache. Its existence threw off the timeline for the project, greatly inflated our costs and could have derailed the construction entirely. But I stuck with the permits and the paperwork and last weekend we enjoyed the reward. Weeks of heavy rains had left the hillside breathtakingly green. Frogs croaked. Rivulets of water streaked over the gravel that lined the main watercourse. The purpose of the visit was to get a final inspection by the biologist we had hired to supervise construction. He gave us a clean bill of health and some suggestions for native plants that would add variety to the landscape and control erosion in a couple of placed where the slope was settling. The wetland was not our only water feature. The rear of the house is about 30 feet from an underground streambed. So the house sits perched between a wetland about 50 feet deep and a streambed that forms a moat-like separation between the human habitat and the forest. The house itself is unimposing. It is a rectangle 27 feet wide and 47 feet long, undistinguished except for the covered porch that look due west over fog-shrouded Humboldt Bay. I called it our second home but that implies it is vacant when we’re not there. In truth we have rented it to a family who used to live down the road, in another soggy old Quonset-style mobile. They enjoy the place in our absence and help cover the costs of the building loan. We got some work done. My son used a machete to clear the thicket at the entry to the property. I had carried him there as a baby before we moved away in 1990, my heart heavy with the sadness of leaving. It was a joy to see him back, man-strong. When it started raining again the tenants invited us in to play a board game called Settlers of Catan, a sort of Sim City played with cards, cooperation and competition. My son took them up immediately. (Did I mention they have a daughter his age?) I lingered out of doors for a while, transplanting native grasses to the wetlands, coming in only when my clothes were soaked through to the skin. Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media