Silly Stuff

Let me cap off a rough week with some passing thoughts on some items stacked up in my “to blog” file, beginning with a scholarly tidbit from London arguing that email distraction shaves 10 points off a person’s IQ, more than twice the damage inflicted by smoking cannabis.

Thanks to MediaDailyNews for pointing me to a brief article on VNUNet.com that says researchers at the University of London Institute of Psychiatry studied 1,100 volunteers to find out what made them goofier – the constant distraction of reading and answering emails, or going one toke over the line.

Cyber-distraction purportedly trumped cannabis. “This constant shifting of concentration makes the brain more tired and less focused, and causes the temporary IQ fall-off,” wrote VNU reporter Iain Thompson. I did a quick search to find a second source on the study but found nothing. An item like this would be called a “brite” in the newspaper biz, a story meant to raise a smile rather than to inform. And if it sounds too silly to be true, well, it probably is. But why let facts stand in the way of a good story?

Speaking of the newspaper biz, author Adam Penenberg recently wrote a piece for Wired News on the soul-searching going on at New York University, where he is an assistant journalism professor, about how to better prepare students for the media of the future. “In our classes, we discuss wikis and Wi-Fi, and invite bloggers and online reporters to share their experiences with us,” he writes. “We debate "citizen journalism" and journalistic ethics. We encourage creativity, but not at the expense of clarity.” New York University is also home to Jay Rosen, whose PressThink blog offers insightful commentary on new media.

Did I day new media? Well, shame on me because, as Jim Meskauskas notes in a recent commentary for MediaPost’s Online Spin, Web-based media are no longer “new” at least in the sense of being weak or untried. He cited a survey which found that “the Internet had a daily reach of 51 percent” exceeding that of magazines, which “only had a daily reach among general audiences of 42 percent.” I looked for the original study but all I could find was a lengthier article in MediaWeek that added details. Now I don’t know whether I’m losing my search skills (probably distracted by answering emails) or organizations are forgetting that one of the newest things about new media is the ability to lead people to the complete and direct information.

As long as I’m venting, let me take exception to a snarky comment in Paid Content noting that some “websites, especially consumer websites, are launching print magazines.” I’m miffed because I recently suggested that it made sense to pair print and online publications. So I felt miffed when Paid Content introduced its item by saying, “this thing (print offshoots of Web media) comes and goes in phases.” Of course, I was unaware of that this tactic had been tried and abandoned several times before until Paid Content pointed me to an article on the topic in MediaWeek. Is there anything more annoying than having to rethink a pet idea in the light of evidence to the contrary?

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


Side Doors

Today I want to add a few thoughts about drawing traffic to small Web sites, following up on the notion I advanced yesterday, that many visitors are drawn to sites by search pages that bring them past the home page. In short, people are finding sites they wouldn't normally visit. Yesterday's blog talked about the tactics big publishers are using to keep visitors inside their site once they arrived. So if site visits are occurring serendipitously, are there ways to aid that process alolng? I'm not qualified to discuss search engine optimizatioh, a separate art with many gurus, Instead I'm thinking out loud about what might make people spend a little more time on a site, or come back for more, once they stumble across it. My first thought is that every aspiring destination -- and that's what publishers should want to be -- should try to support a daily editorial cartoon appropriate to its target audience. This should be a featured item, visible when traffic arrives at the home page and, given the likelihood of side door visits, an item that flows to inner pages, pehaps as a small graphic that can be enlarged with a click. This may seem like a frill but think about life from the viewer's side of the computer screen. People are busy. When they visit a site they are grazing and restless. If your site can deliver a chuckle for a few seconds of attention, that may help you get remembered. If cartoons are hard to come by in your niche, or seem inappropriate to your material, would periodic photos accomplish much the same purpose of offering a quick visual surprise? Another traffic building tactic that occurs to me is the creation of regular features: every Monday summarize the conferences in your niche; every Friday recap big developments in the prior week; every Wednesday profile some person or product. Create regular islands of useful content. Whatever you can think of that is relatively easy to gather and yet valuable when assembled in one place. You are trying to make your site habit forming. Structure should help. Finally, something else I have yet to do in this hobby blog -- provide a link list or blog roll, or access to other data that makes your site a convient bookmark on somebody else's page. They remember that if they want to find such and such piece of information, the quickest way is by going to your site. When you start to create that sort of mind-presence then your site has developed a solid audience. I know that all of these are suggestions I need to follow myself, and that this post is even lamer than usual. I am traveling and using borrowed equipment, and have to run momentarily (or the dog will eat my homework). Be back tomorrow, from home, where my newly purchased Web page development package (SJ Namo toolkit) sits unopened on the desk of my home office, taunting me to follow my own advice. It's enough to make a MiniMediaGuy feel, well, even smaller. Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy Cause if you ain't Mass Media, you're Mini Media


(No One At) Home Page?

A majority of visitors come to big news sites by clicking on links that bring them directly to some story, bypassing the home page – and any advertising attached thereto. An excellent article by Editor & Publisher columnist Steve Outing documents the trend and suggests designs that can redirect visitors to other pages on-site. I want to add a few thoughts on how small publishers should factor this behavior into their page planning, and perhaps use this bypass behavior to their advantage.

“With home-page visits at most news sites coming in at between 25% and 50% of total vists,” web designers are coming to understand that every article should be presented as a gateway to the site, rather than as a destination, Outing writes. He notes that at CSMonitor.com (the Christian Science Monitor) “only 23% of its visitors' sessions (come) in via the home page.” The article quotes CSM’s Joel Abrams as saying "a shockingly high percentage of those sessions that start on a story end on that story."

Visitors brought to individual stories by “deep links” may bypass registration requirements. Outing points to a 2002 article in Internet News about how some publishers argued that deep links constituted copyright infringement, a claim which courts have generally pooh-poohed.

Outing suggests that, rather than fight the trend, Web designers acknowledge that visitors will enter their sites through side doors, and redesign their article pages as mini-home pages – walking the line between larding up the page with so much stuff that its loads slowly, while providing enough navigation links to encourage visitors to go elsewhere within the same site.

Outing’s favorite example of this was the Toronto Globe & Mail which presents articles alongside links to related pieces and clickable navigation tools. He quotes Globe & Mail website manager Angus Frame as saying:

“We turned every story into a mini hub . . . Literally overnight daily page-views increased by more than 25 percent, from about 2.3 million pageviews a day to 3.0 million pageviews a day. That works out to about one extra pageview for each daily unique visitor to the site.”

Outing’s article focused on Editor & Publisher’s constituents in the daily news biz, but its lessons seem to apply equally to small publishers. In fact I find it encouraging that visitors are being drawn to content by links. It suggests that viewers may judge content on its merits, rather than on its pedigree. Of course, all things being equal, branded content will have more credibility for now.

But if a visitor arrives at a small site in pursuit of some bit of knowledge, and finds the article well done, that’s a potential convert. By all means make sure the page layout suggests that there are other interesting bits to be found here, and offer easy ways to subscribe to periodic updates.

Of course, given my pathetic ignorance of HTML, I have no idea how easy or difficult it is to create templates that would accomplish such ends. If anyone can point to small sites that provide good examples of this, or can explain how much effort would be required, that would be most helpful.

Let me close today by thanking Paid Content for pointing me to Outing’s article. Tomorrow I want to pursue this thread further by suggesting how small publishers can use this side-door entry trend as a traffic builder.

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


Level Playing Field

Google’s plan to offer advertising based on impressions, in addition to clicks, gives a potential boost to small publishers that have developed a strong editorial focus. It gives them access to the same sort of advertising support currently enjoyed by newspapers and other media that get paid to deliver audiences -- not keywords.

Online Media Daily’s version of the story focused on Google’s reasons for the changes (the search engine will also accept flashier ads). I’ll look at this from the publisher’s view.

Getting paid for impressions means publishers can expect to collect a fee for every thousand visits to their site. This might be $2 to $20 per thousand, often referred to as $2 to $20 CPM (rough estimates). Publishers who get paid for clicks only collect a fee when a visitor clicks on an advertisement and follows the link to the advertiser’s destination. Pay-per-click rates range from a few cents to many dollars per click, depending on what is being advertised. Last time I looked in fall 2004 (for a business plan that I have since buried) the average pay-per-click rate was about 40 cents. And the click-through rate ranged from 0.5 percent to 2.5 percent (how many visitors per hundred clicked, thus triggering payment).

Much has been written about click fraud, “the practice of skewing pay-per-click advertising data by generating illegitimate hits,” as Wired News put it in one article. Again, that is a problem for Google and its advertisers. I have other concerns.

Click-through models force Web publishers to meet a higher standard of advertising performance than competing media. A radio station gets paid based on the size of its audience, and draws advertising based on the nature of that audience, which is linked to its programming. Ditto for newspapers and television. In the click-through world, Web sites must send audience members jumping through hoops to get paid.

If Google’s move toward impression advertising sticks, it will reward Web publishers for becoming brands that deliver content that draws a predictable following. CNet’s report on Google’s move quoted Kevin Lee, president of the search engine marketing firm Did-It: "Clearly, this is an attempt to get at brand advertisers." (CNet also offers a synopsis of how Google’s program, Site Targeting, will work.)

Large branded media sites are in the best position to capitalize on Site Targeting. But small publishers may be able to get a bigger share of the ad dollars being spent. Say you have a wine lovers site, and you notice that a big wine label is placing impression ads through Google on Big Media Sites. Do a little guerilla selling. Figure out who at the wine label makes or influences the advertising decision and get your content before them. It can all be done with e-mails. All the advertiser would have to do is divert a little bit of money your way to make a big difference.

Finally, I wonder if impression ads and click through models can be combined. After complaining that click through payments are unfair, it may seem hypocritical to observe that online advertising can be different than print or broadcast. People can interact (they don’t do so often, but they can). Is it possible that Web publishers can offer a hybrid ad model: a low base rate for the impressions that fuel the basic content engine (and give the advertiser visibility), and a second payment for that fraction of visitors who follow the link that says “click here for special savings today.”

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


Self-Correcting Media?

Over the weekend I corrected an earlier post that had confused two people with the same name. A good corrections policy helps small publishers by giving them some protection against lawsuits while bolstering their credibility. We can handle our own sites easily enough. But is there a technical way to notify readers and thereby actively correct errors propagated by our work?

My mistake involved a posting on emerging audio networks, specifically a reference to a non-profit group called the Real Public Radio Network formed by Scott Converse. I confused that person with an information technology professor of the same name. An anonymous comment alerted me to the error about a week ago but I only slowed down to correct the entry on Sunday.

Before doing so, I happened to read a posting by Sam Whitmore that referenced a prior note by Jonathan Dube. He had complimented Business 2.0 for correcting an error in plain sight – striking over the erroneous copy and making the fix visible – rather than rewriting the original post as if the entry had never been wrong.

That seems like a good idea. It allows readers to know the magnitude of the error as well as the correct information. I adopted the same approach though in a less elegant fashion (I didn’t know how to overstrike the text). In the future -- though I hope my correction will be few -- I will try this: fix the wrong sentences or paragraphs in the body of the blog and put an asterisk at the end of the line to reference the error, which I will place at the bottom of the posting.

Correcting errors can be a first line of defense against lawsuits. I’m not sure it’s an ironclad remedy, but if you get a valid complaint about libel or invasion of privacy, correcting the offensive material may solve the problem – or at least demonstrate your intent to act reasonably should the aggrieved party file suit. (Note: if you are correcting a false and defamatory statement, amend my suggestion in the previous paragraph and simply strike the wrong material and leave a note at the bottom of the page saying you have removed an error. Add a sincere apology.)

Okay, so we can do online what traditional publishers do in print. But can we do more? Can we track down people who’ve gotten the wrong poop and set the record straight? I may simply be exposing my technical ignorance, but I imagine it could be done like this.

What if interested readers left a marker on a site saying “ping me if you have follow ups on this topic.” A correction would be one form of follow up. So would a subsequent posting on that topic. RSS might be the vehicle to accomplish this. Rather than subscribe to the entire blog, people could limit their interests to themes. I don’t know if this would be practical, as it would require that publishers imprint individual postings with some unique marker. (Confession: my tech knowledge is so weak I still haven’t figured out basic RSS.)

My technical embarrassment aside, if there is a way to send out correction notices to readers, I’d like to know it. And if there isn’t such a utility, it seems worth inventing as a way to improve the credibility of e-publishers. Currently cyberspace has a reputation for unreliability as compared to traditional media. If e-publishers can create systems to actively correct misimpressions or misinformation, they could turn the tables on print or broadcast publishers who would have no comparable way to make their media self-correcting.

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


Le Funny Pages

Memo to self: for a glimpse at the likely future Web publishing, learn more about is and has been happening with Web comics.

I’ve been collecting odds and ends on this topic, including this lovely entry from Paid Content that bounced off a BoingBoing post about the French Web site and community, Gnomz, that now has an English-language offshoot where people can sign in, turn on their creativity, and ‘toon out.

There is sooooo much comic activity in the cyber realm that a dilettante like moi needs roadmaps like Yahoo’s directory page to point the way. Even my tourist-like stumblings disclosed a nascent trade organization, the International Comic Arts Association. But is it the only or the first such group, or did it rise out of the composted detritus of a struggle amongst competing factions of comic-dom that annihilated each other in pointless and bitter internecine conflict? I don’t know.

What I do know, or perhaps it's more accurate to say I suspect, is that Web comics are electronic heirs to those trailblazers of niche culture, the print Zines that flourished (still flourished?) in the recent past when the copier and fax machine were state-of-the-art in distribution.

I know even more certainly, because my eyes do not deceive me, that comic sites are visually powerful and organized in ways that can teach us things about Web design and layout. Take, for instance, Broken Frontier, a comic portal which I visited to learn a little more about Mike Bullock, who wrote about the comic trade organization referenced above.

I think Web comics may exemplify what Internet publishing seems to be about: short, sharp, powerful bursts of whatever form of communication is chosen to convey the point, arouse the emotion, or elicit the desired reaction.

Web comics may be a lowest common denominator art media form without necessarily being lowbrow. When I was a Navy sailor in the Philippines nearly 30 years ago, I saw comic novels published in Tagalog. More recently I see them being read in Spanish on the sidewalks of metropolitan San Francisco. To find evidence of comic popularity I need look no further than my living room couch, where my sons love to read book-form collections of strips like Boondocks. Hell, I’ve been known to pick up the Cartoon Guide to Genetics or Physics or for a quick brain dump on genes or quarks.

I came across a review of a short tract called The Rise of the Graphic Novel. The review suggested the book was only a primer on the topic rather than the last word. And there’s a convenient closing note because the same is true for this post.

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


Personal Subscriber Magazine

I recently came across the fascinating notion of a “personal daily magazine.” Let me explain what is meant by the term and then stand it on its head, aiming it toward external audiences – to give small Web publishers an advertising vehicle to supplement the cash they earn from clicks. First, credit where it is due. The idea for the personal daily magazine emanates from the Weblog bearing the name of Robin Good and edited by Luigi Canali de Rossi. I am not sure whether Robin Rood is a person, a pseudonym for Luigi, or a being from another planet sent to Earth to nudge humankind down a better path. In any event this site publishes notions that give me hope, such as the vision of the newsmaster, a professional of the future who filters and directs information toward the appropriate audience and is handsomely rewarded for this skill. But I digress. This is about the personal daily magazine, which Robin Good explained thus: “What if I could have a nicely printed and bound daily personal magazine of everything critical that went though my computer each day?” The posting went on to explain that this would be “a software/appliance that allowed me to check mark (or uncheck) any items that I did want to have in my daily magazine, and at the end of the day, printed out a nice, properly bound edition of my own interests, maybe with a good table of contents, and category dividers thrown in as a plus.” I grasped the obvious benefit of such a bound volume last night as organized the scattered papers I’d brought home from work while trying to play a board game with my family (Settlers of Catan for those of you who’ve already been hooked). But let me return to the point. Though it would be helpful to have a utility such as Robin Good describes, it seems like a great deal of technology aimed at saving a few moments for a relatively few busy folks. What if instead we turned this personal magazine tool into a publishing engine, that allowed a small producer to create a low-cost, high-quality print vehicle for the convenience of the site’s viewers – dare I call them subscribers? Here’s what I mean. The Web publisher could offer a utility that let viewers check articles or submissions that they would want to have sent to them, in print form, on say a monthly basis. It would come printed and bound as envisioned by Robin Good. (There are even hard-cover binding options that look like a million bucks but can be done in small runs and on the cheap.) What would be the point? For the Web publisher to make money by selling print advertising that would be interspersed with the material selected by the user. In this way the publisher would offer advertising clients a coordinated campaign – inexpensive page-view advertising on the website, coordinated with more costly, but more information-laden print displays that would go into a printed volume which the customer has specifically requested. I am not a great salesman, but I think I could sell that combo. Another point. I have moaned and groaned -- and repeatedly I might add – about the erosion of paid subscriptions as a source of revenues and an affirmation of the value of content, so I will spare you a repetition of that lament. Nevertheless, I believe Web publishers must create and enforce subscription mechanisms, so as to demonstrate that their work has value. And since I agree that it will be difficult, if not impossible, to make people pay for electronic information that they become conditioned to receive for free, why not offer them the convenience of storing and accessing their chosen content in printed form – while taking advantage of the fact that they are conditioned to pay for, rather than appropriate, printed materials. Just a thought. Tom Abate, The MiniMediaGuy Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media P.S. I was originally exposed to the idea of the personal daily magazine via Paid Content's meme watch.


Micropayments Update

Are micropayment systems gaining ground? A recent article on Internet Week.com suggests just that with the title “Big Bucks in Micropayments.” While acknowledging that itty-bitty transaction mania faded once, (and its resurgence is doubted by some) the article points to signs that this time it may be for real – not so much as a payment mechanism for content but as a coin replacement for vending machines.

Thanks to Paid Content for pointing me to Internet Week piece, from which I draw these three excerpts:

“Demand for so-called micropayment systems is growing quickly. Some 14 million Americans made digital-content purchases of $2 or less in 2004, up from 10 million in 2003, according to market-research firm Ipsos-Insight.”

“Merchants are depending on micropayment system providers to expand their customer base. It costs merchants $25 on average to attract each new customer through advertising and marketing; customers need to make 20 or so purchases of small-ticket items in order to be profitable.”

“For major credit-card companies, the micropayment explosion is an opportunity to boost transaction volume. Visa estimates that online micropayments totaled $3 billion in 2004, about half of it for music, says Billy Knupp, VP of product innovation at Visa USA.”

And there lies the potential for a micropayment explosion, at least as I read the article. It notes that “400 billion transactions of $5 or less are made each year, totaling $1.3 trillion.” This would include everything from a cup of coffee to a vending machine transaction. Radio frequency identification (RFID) technology apparently is the key. The article notes that credit card companies are experimenting with RFID cards that can debit by proximity.

I found another article, in the April 8, 2005 American Banker magazine, that also referred to the potential for moving micropayments into the vending realm. I could not find a link to that piece, however, so if you’re interested in reading more it may require a library trip. (Note: Internet Week and American Banker both rely on Mark Friedman, president of micropayment vendor Peppercoin, for the most enthusiastic comments in this regard and his firm is pushing offline micropayments.)

At risk of succumbing to hype, I think offline micropayments offer a convenience that may make it compelling to consumers and to the financial institutions that would have to make this happen. Would a micropayment system, perhaps incorporating RFID, be superior to debit card swipes? I don’t know enough about the technologies to even hazard a guess.

But it seems clear that online content will not drive whatever developments do occur in this realm. Content creators may simply have to adapt to whatever micropayment models do evolve. Content payments – outside of music – may not draw enough dollars to warrant consideration in the design stage.

Speaking of content dollars, the Online Publishers Association recently reported that “consumer spending for online content in the U.S. grew to $1.8 billion in 2004, a 14 percent increase over 2003.” Entertainment/lifestyles (i.e. music) surged 90 percent and is poised to surpass personals/dating. Sports and games also gained big. Paid news rose .4 percent and business/investment revenues declined 6.3 percent.

Content did fare relatively well in March on OPA’s index of how much time browsers spend online, gaining 1.1 percent in clock-share versus commerce, communication and search. Earlier in the week I lamented that content was devolving into nothing more than flypaper to catch eyeballs. Well, at least that business model is still working.

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


The Tragedy of the Content

Content seems to be moving away from the paid-subscription-plus-advertising model to an advertising-only mode, as was recently suggested by media magnate Rupert Murdoch. After Murdoch’s speech, Paid Content editor Staci Kramer reflected on the dynamic between news aggregators (also called portals) that assemble stories by crawling the Web sites of news gathering organization (incumbent media that support paid staffs).

“In the long run, it's in the portal/aggregators best interests to make sure the news producers survive -- and thrive,” she wrote.

It is true that without gatherers to create content, the aggregators could eventually have nothing to aggregate. But if the gatherers feel compelled to give away their content away to attract advertising, then why would the aggregators pay for it? And if the gatherers don't get paid, then why would they bother to continue gathering?

A recent report from the Pew Research Center suggests the gatherers are already cutting back: “Roughly half of journalists at national media outlets (51%), and about as many from local media (46%), believe that journalism is going in the wrong direction, as significant majorities of journalists have come to believe that increased bottom line pressure is "seriously hurting" the quality of news coverage. This is the view of 66% of national news people and 57% of the local journalists questioned in this survey.”

It all makes perfect sense if you’ve ever read the 1968 essay, The Tragedy of the Commons, by scientist Garrett Hardin. In it, he describes how herders who share a common field gradually, in their own self-interest, increase their herd size until the field is exhausted and their livelihoods are shattered. “Therein is the tragedy,” he writes.

The same metaphor seems to extend to media. Everybody has an interest in grazing the field (aka selling advertising). It’s harder to make the case for throwing down seed to replenish the field (by hiring costly content-creators like me).

It all gets back to the value of content. If content is destined to be free on the Internet, then who in their right mind would pay to gather it?

The Wall Street Journal has been one of the rare outfits that has successfully charged for its branded business coverage – at least so far. When NYU professor Jay Rosen, author of the PressThink blog, interviewed WSJ managing editor Bill Grueskin, the topic of free vs. paid content inevitably arose.

Here is an excerpt from that interview that begins with a remark from Grueskin:

“Well, information wants to be free, as the saying goes. But the saying goes further than that, it turns out. Here's the whole quote, from Stewart Brand's book, The Media Lab: Inventing the Future at MIT :

(Now Grueskin references Brand’s words) Information wants to be free. Information also wants to be expensive. Information wants to be free because it has become so cheap to distribute, copy, and recombine---too cheap to meter. It wants to be expensive because it can be immeasurably valuable to the recipient. That tension will not go away. It leads to endless wrenching debate about price, copyright, 'intellectual property', the moral rightness of casual distribution, because each round of new devices makes the tension worse, not better.

(Back to Grueskin to close the excerpt) It's hard to believe those words were published nearly two decades ago, because they so closely capture the essence of today's argument.”

I have only snipped a bit from an interview that contains many thoughtful insights on how one news gatherer envisions the new media commons that is taking shape. Do read the whole piece.

Meanwhile, the discussion continued at the Newspaper Association of America annual meeting. The San Francisco Chronicle filed this report on that event. (Disclosure: I am a reporter for the Chronicle but do not cover these topics; any views expressed here are my own.)

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


Advertising Uber Alles?

Today I’m catching up on the nail-biting at the American Society of Newspaper Editors convention last week as News Corporation’s Rupert Murdoch delivered an insightful speech warning that Internet publishing was poised to eat newspaper’s advertising lunch.

Murdoch referenced a prediction by Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates that “the Internet would attract $30 billion in advertising revenue annually within the next three years. To give you some perspective, this would equal the entire advertising revenue currently generated each year by the newspaper industry as a whole.”

A report in Paid Content, based on after-speech Q&A, quotes Murdoch as saying: “"I don't hold out any hopes for people to be paying for our Internet sites. They have to be popular enough to hold a lot of advertising.”

Thus one media mogul ranked content as less than a commodity, because even a commodity commands some payment. Content, it seems, is flypaper, valueable only if it catches eyeballs.

Those are some hard words for this middle-aged news-gatherer to swallow, but consider this other evidence, also gleaned from Paid Content.

The Financial Times is launching a free synopsis of its paid newspaper that will be delivered in the afternoon, both in print and online (PDF) versions. The Swedish newspaper chain Metro International, thus-far based on free distribution of easy-to-read print editions, is delving into free online publication through a new division Metro Modern Media.

Online advertising is clearly growing, and newspapers are seeing their websites deliver much larger percentage increases than their “mature” print editions. Paid Content noted that the New York Time said online advertising for the first quarter rose about 30 percent compared to flat or down performance for the print editions of its flagship New York and Boston papers. The paper’s chief executive sidestepped the question of whether the paper would charge for website access. Meanwhile the Wall Street Journal, the great exception to the no-charge rule, may be angling to boost $79 non-print subscription rate it has enforced since 2002.

So which way is the content pendulum swinging, toward Free Rupert or the the Way of the WSJ? More tomorrow.

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


Food for Thought: Three

Today I will focus on the political challenges of governing a producer cooperative. This follows my earlier posts, which suggested that content creators, being commodity producers, should imitate farmers and form producer coops. In a follow up to that post, I noted that these producer coops can be large and successful. Now I want to consider how a business cooperative, populated by media producers, might be governed in a way that balances principles and practicalites.

The principles of cooperative governance were established by the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society, twenty-seven men and one woman, who opened a store in the United Kingdom around 1884. “Members of primary societies should enjoy equal rights of voting (one member, one vote) and participation in decisions affecting their societies,” says the Great Bay Food Cooperative, a student run store near the University of New Hampshire campus. “This principle, probably more than any other, insures the continuing cooperative character of an organization. It contrasts with the practice in capitalistic corporations of voting by shares, not by people, where the more shares a person owns.”

Even at the risk of provoking an argument, I think this principle is problematic, beginning with the fact that most members don’t vote.

Consider this article published in 1995 by The World of Cooperative Enterprise (Plunkett Foundation). It referenced “the declining percentage of members who vote in cooperative elections … These years have seen the demise of hundreds of natural foods cooperatives and the death or significant downsizing of some of the oldest, largest and most successful of the country's cooperative supermarkets (Berkeley, Greenbelt, Ithaca, and Palo Alto).”

In my cursory search I was not able to find a participation rate. But I would guess it is in the single digits. An editorial written in 2002 by Paul Hazen, president of the National Cooperative Business Association, said “co-ops bemoan poor member participation” and “compete for the attention of busy members.” I do not know whether Hazen meant consumer coops only, or producer coops as well.

Here’s another admitted flaw in my argument. I not yet found anything I can reference on member participation in the governance of producers in agricultural coops (of which there are thousands). I assume the rate is higher because producer-members have a stronger stake in the health of the organization than consumer-members. I would also guess there are some politics around the differences between small and large producers, but again I’m shooting from the hip on that score.

All of this serves as a preamble to my expectation that a media cooperative, even one organized as a producer organization, will be more like a grocery coop than a farm coop when it comes to governance. Here’s why. It takes land and tools and investment to be a farmer. A media producer is anyone with a blog or a video cam or a podcast. A media cooperative should welcome and nurture these micro media producers. Yet in order to be successful in a business sense, this same media coop would have to attract and support small to mid-sized Web enterprises that have significant page traffic, revenues and paid staff. When push comes to show, how do you harmonize the interests of these hobbyists, who are likely to be more numerous, with the concerns of these fewer, larger (but still miniscule) media businesses?

I think the answer is to amend the one-member, one-vote principle in some way that acknowledges that size of ownership matters. I don’t know exactly what form that might take, but it’s not hard to envision two separate voting tracks – one based on the one-member, one-vote principle and another track based on the volume of business that the member – whether a person or a small firm – runs through this fictional media coop.

Let me end with this closing thought. The Internet enables new linkages between people. I believe that Net-connected small producers can and will form organizations of sufficient mass to allow their individual members to flourish in a world where only large enterprises seem to thrive. In order to build these new organizations, we will need to write new forms of social software. I think this social software will evolve in the same way as Open Source computer code. So if I’ve trampled on some principle of great importance to you, please be gentle in your critique. I’m just thinking out loud.

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


Food for Thought: Two

Yesterday I suggested that content is a commodity, and that small content producers might therefore be wise to follow the example of farmers and band together in producer cooperatives to increase their market clout. Today I’ll show that farm coops can become powerful market players. I will also add a hint that suggests this model might suit the needs of Mini Media.

Sunkist is one of the most familiar brands in the American refrigerator. It is a producer coop whose roots go back more than 100 years. In a casual Web search I came across a scholarly paper written in 1998. It said: “few companies can match the worldwide success that Sunkist has attained in consumer brand recognition, quality, and acceptance. Its sales of $1.075 billion in 1997 rank Sunkist in the top 40 food companies in food processing in the world.” That paper was written by a Jerry Siebert, who listed an affiliation with the University of California. A subsequent search disclosed that a Jerome Siebert retired in 2001 as the director of the University of California Cooperative Extension.

In the name of due diligence I looked up Sunkist’s current sales. The Hoover’s directory listing shows that the coop’s sales had declined to $941.9 million as of 2003, so this century-old institution may be getting some blowback from global competition. Nevertheless, its survival thus far, and even its likely struggle to adapt at present, contains lessons for media types. Siebert’s paper and the Hoover entry are convenient starts for those who want to learn more.

I contend that food producer coops are adaptable to new media, and specifically Mini Media purposes. I saw a hint of affirmation in a recent article in Online Journalism Review that discussed what happens when small publishers reach the point where they need to or wish to scale up their operations – without selling to a larger buyer if they are fortunate enough to have that option “These small publishers will often expand from a single newsletter to several newsletters published by various writers under a single media brand. The larger entity functions as a sort of publishing cooperative.” (Emphasis added.)

The article – worth reading in its entirety -- was written by Dawn Rivers Baker, publisher of the MicroEnterprise Journal and someone who has obviously thought a lot about little businesses (though I confess I only became familiar with her work through the link to the OJR article).

One last quick point. (Baby up earlier than usual, demanding attention, gotta blog fast!)

In a world where privacy and data protection are increasingly important, media cooperatives could have a competitive advantage over other publishing forms. The National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA) and the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) recently surveyed 2,031 adults and found thatconsumers, by and large, considered cooperatives more trustworthy than other business forms. That survey did focus on consumer-owned coops, so there's an issue of whether the finding is extensible to a group of publishers in a producer coop. And self-serving surveys are always suspect (try saying that three times, fast).

Nevertheless, it seems reasonable that if a coop, with a broadly dispersed ownership, promised not to resell personal data all over creation, viewers might consider that a credible guarantee. Of course the whole issue of broadly dispersed governance raises other issues – but those will have to wat for another day.

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


Food for Thought: One

I’ve been thinking lately of the similarity between food and content. Both are commodities. What is more fungible than a wheat or orange? True, the occasional InstaPundit or Gawker may create a branded identity. But the Skirkys of cyberspace are largely correct when they observe that, under the present system, content must be free and only A-list bloggers can expect to draw advertising. It’s almost enough to make me shut my laptop and crawl back into bed.

Then I think about farmers, and how they managed to prosper in years gone by, in part, by banding together to form producer cooperatives. They aggregated themselves to overcome the problem they faced as commodity sellers – the railroads upon whom they depended to carry their wares to market were far more powerful than the lone farmer. In fact, the power struggle between farmers and railroads resulted in the passage in 1887 of the Interstate Commerce Act, which made railroads America’s first regulated industry.

Anyway, that's history. But modern content producers find themselves in much the same position of powerlessness vis a vis the railroads of the information age – broadband carriers and big portals. These institutions aggregate content – presumably under terms advantageous to themselves. Would it make sense for content creators to form producer cooperatives to increase their market power by aggregating themselves?

That’s a question I’ve been kicking around lately and before I lose the links that I’ve gathered to do my research, I'd better throw them up to make them easier to find. They include the National Cooperative Business Association and the University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives. An organization called Cooperative Life explains how to start a coop and offers some examples from history, including how Benjamin Franklin formed one of the earliest known coops in 1752.

There’s much more that could and should be said on this topic, but I have to get on with my day. I’ll pick up the thread at a future date.

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


Citizen(s) Can

In Citizen Kane filmmaker Orson Wells captured the capriciousness of a one media baron from an era past. The face of journalism to come may be symbolized by the emerging citizen journalist – a phenomenon known in business circles by a different name, user-generated content.

These are two ways of looking at the same act. Invite viewers to post words, pictures, video, audio, cartoons, data, tags or whatever. Ideally that material will reflect a freshness and spontaneity not found in traditional media. That material should also attract more viewers to post more material, building an audience around which one might create a business model.

Online Journalism Review recently took a look at the journalistic side of this equation in an article on “How to succeed as a citizen media editor.”

Author Mark Glaser focused on a handful of prominent examples from traditional media testing this new notion (as opposed to Web-grown efforts) such as MSNBC.com, VenturaCountyStar.com, NorthwestVoice.com and News-Record.com.

The article offers many lessons for anyone contemplating a user-centric content model. I will excerpt two issues – the role of what Glaser calls the citizen media editor (CME) and the question of libel.

“The CME wants to keep typical spelling and grammar errors out of copy, while also giving citizen reporters the freedom to tell their story and the motivation to continue to do the work for little or no pay,” he writes, describing a position that seems part copy editor, part recruiter, part ombudsman (and I’m doubtless leaving things out).

But editing copy puts the site owner in what Glaser describes as a Catch 22. “If any editing is done, then the news organization could be held accountable for any libelous statements made or any copyrighted material that was lifted from another source. But if no editing is done, the liability might go away (as it has in libel cases against Internet service providers), but the quality would plummet as well.”

I think this balancing act must tilt toward editing. Media should provide content, not merely catharsis. We create no value – either journalistically or financially – by posting screeds. And I think the libel fear is overblown. Most people are not libelous. If someone offers to post questionable material, edit the words. Most people will be thankful. They do not wish to look foolish in print. If a libelous assertion is missed and the site gets a valid complaint, take down the offensive post and write a sincere apology and explanation. That should handle most cases and create an acceptable environment for libel risk.

Glaser’s article had drawn one comment by the time I printed out a hard copy to read on the train. A writer complained when traditional media invite participation by citizen journalists, it is a form of “union busting.” The same writer also noted that animated cartoons are one of the livelier aspects of volunteer content creators and sites have been slow to accept these.

I heartily agree on the last point. The whole point of new media is media-mixing. If you don’t encourage that, it ain’t new media. It’s just cheaper media (by not requiring printing and distribution). As to the first complaint, let’s just call citizen journalism a form of outsourcing and acknowledged that media, like every other industry, will take that option to the degree feasible.

And some citizen sites will pay. Paid Content recently pointed to a citizen journalism site called GetLocalNews that has created a payment scheme. I didn’t have time to drill down for details. I am not a citizen journalist. I am the other kind and it’s time to quit blogging and get to work.

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


Downwardly Mobile Content

Powerful institutions are driving content and advertising to mobile devices. Will Mini Media producers will be able to profit from this new market, or will they be shut out by Big Content?

Just today, Rafat Ali's Paid Content points to several developments on the mobile. Time Inc. has partnered with FlyTxt to do things like send People Magazine celebrity news updates to mobiles, a tidbit derived from a report by ClickZ news. Elsewhere, a British advertising publication says the world’s largest advertising agencies are looking to buy or partner with firms that can deliver ads to mobiles. (Aside: whatever is happening in this space may be happening faster and stronger outside the U.S. because other cell systems are more hospitable to text messages.)

There's more. Last week CNN ran a piece entitled, “Some Sirius Competition: Cell phone carriers are eyeing the growing satellite radio market; Sprint launches new service.” Thanks to Paid Content for pointing me to that development, as well as for its continuing coverage of how Major League Baseball is angling to deliver sports bursts to cell phones – provided it can black out home coverage so as to accommodate its broadcast partner Fox Network.

And then there's this piece from Wired News suggesting that porn carriers are preparing to bring XXX material to cell phones. “Adult content has been available for a couple of years in Europe and Asia,” wrote Wired’s Daniel Terdiman, “but conservative U.S. carriers -- and an anti-porn administration -- have the adult industry taking it slow to put flesh on U.S. phones.”

Earlier, I tried to pull together bits suggesting how short bursts of television are being aimed at cell phones and other mobile devices like the Sony PSP. It seems clear that Big Content sees opportunity in niche markets and little devices (that’s the message of the Long Tail.)

I wonder, however, whether Mini Media producers will get a chance to inject their wares into whatever rivulets of content eventually rain down. Both the receiving devices and the transmission protocols create bottlenecks controlled by powerful firms with no idea how to deal with gnat-sized producers. And for the present, no real need to learn. If Major League Baseball is going mobile, can the NBA be far behind?

Of course, clever and lucky niche content may get carriage (that is, access and delivery). But the more I think of the emerging new media, the more it seems that licensing, not technology or creativity, will rule. Along these lines, an April 26 conference in Los Angeles, sponsored by the American Press Association’s Media Center, will explore how to create and sell innovative content to mobile audiences.

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


The Tao of Folksonomy

A recent posting reveals my efforts to understand how volunteers are using tags to categorize photos, blog posts, etcetera, a concept known as folksonomy. This week I attended a dinner where members of the tagnoscenti – including Tantek Celik and Mary Hodder -- discussed the system’s shortcomings, notably fake-tagging to drive traffic to sites, and the inevitable confusion that results when volunteers tag the same things in different ways.

I am obviously condensing a lengthy dialogue, much of which went over my head, but I do recall a suggestion that a reputation system might add clout to thoughtful taggers and reduce the noise. I’m not sure whether that was deemed unworkable or unwise because by that time everybody was antsy to go home and there was a lot of shuffling of chairs. Mary did mention she was discussing these issues with Marc Canter (of Ourmedia) in something called Open Topics which I briefly visited but bounced off as it is way too technical for me.

Afterwards, dinner host Jeff Ubois emailed his customary who-was-there, what-was-said, follow up, in which he included links to further the conversation. They directed me to a lengthy and illuminating essay in which Shelley Powers (aka Burningbird) reviewed much of the discussion about tags, their plusses, minuses and alternatives.

To make a long essay short, Burningbird seems to thinks that, when it comes to tags, we get what we pay for. In her own words: “I grant that tags (Technorati, Flickr, and others) and the other tools of folksonomies are better than having nothing at all; but is there a possibility that they are also worse than having nothing at all?” She softens the critique by adding: “I don’t want to denigrate Technorati’s efforts with this, because I feel in the end Technorati is going to play a major role in our semantic efforts. Still, no matter how many tricks you play with something like tags, you can only pull out as much ‘meaning’ as you put into them.”

The essay alludes to some alternatives or supplementary systems, which frankly require more thought power and technical insight than I can muster, perhaps ever and most certainly now when I have to get on with life.

But as the liberal arts guy eavesdropping on a technical discussion, it strikes me that generally speaking we do not deploy what might be called the best system for anything. For instance, how many people are learning Esperanto?

Instead we throw stuff out there. The stuff that gets momentum – whether good, bad or indifferent – becomes the main thrust. We then hasten to patch it up as it rolls along, and hope we fix it before it falls apart.

One more thought. My wife got me a can filled with inspiration sayings that come with peel-off backs. I stick a new one on my bathroom mirror each day (those says help prevent me from using the razor in a manner that might be harmful to myself). One of my thought du jour read: The world is ruled by letting things take their course. It was attributed to Lao Tzu. There seems to be a time honored tradition of just muddling along.

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


Tiny Tube

Tiny television is what I see when I sift through the news from the cable industry convention that just departed San Francisco. It’s a selective perception given the industry’s size and ambitions. But it’s exciting to hear big players talk about short segments, delivered via mobile devices -- themes we’ve heard before and which offer potential entry points for mini media content producers.

For example, former vice president Al Gore talked about his new -- is television even the right word? – network called Current. The San Francisco Chronicle reporter (my employer) wrote that Current “plans to air short-form, fast-paced segments and snippets called ‘pods” rather than shows. Tailored for the short attention span, they will be anywhere from 15 seconds to five minutes long.” The article quotes Current programming chief David Neuman: “This is an audience of media grazers, and we decided to create a network that didn’t fight that but facilitated that.”

All true and good, but here’s another guess as to why Current is focused on short stuff. The same article alludes to the fact that cable providers control the “carriage” or delivery of shows through wires to homes – and the fact that they generally like to own a piece of the content that flows through their pipes. The Chronicle quotes John Higgins, business editor for Broadcasting and Cable Magazine as saying: “The odds of any stand-alone network getting carriage are long.”

So here’s a surmise. If a new stand-alone network launches shorts, distributed via the Web, that reach people at their desks, it can create a grassroots audience that will give it more clout when it comes to negotiating for carriage to the living room.

And don’t forget the handheld devices – which may become end markets for shorts -- because industry heavyweights haven’t. On one panel discussion Comcast Chief Executive Brian Roberts suggested that the Sony Playstation Portable will be used to store and replay video clips. There’s going to be a very huge proportion of viewers that isn’t watching (TV programming) live,” Roberts is quoted as saying.

And doubtless you’ve heard that Google announced that it will begin archiving home-made video clips through Google Video, calling it an experiment in video blogging according to a ZDNet report.

It is relatively easy for hobbyists or aspiring professionals to produce video shorts. Systems to archive and search these clips exist. The Web can distribute them broadly. Handheld devices may extend their reach. So production is a done deal. The challenge for serious mini media producers is how to get paid for these short, or how to use them to get attention and land funding for more shorts or longer pieces.

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


Mini Media Meme

How delightful to see the “minimedia” notion amplified in a Media Post article that begins with a charming profile of Paid Content’s 30-year-old founder Rafat Ali (shown here to the right of Business 2.0 columnist Om Malik.)

The article by Cable Neuhaus notes how traditional, top-down media are being challenged by “a new citizen-centric media, a sort of me-to-you "minimedia," exemplified by Ali and his media e-zine.

Do read the entire piece but I will focus on this caveat: “One can easily envision big media rolling out literally thousands of blogs and discussion boards, launching its own podcasts, snapping up existing, high-profile sites, and trying, in essence to co-opt” consumer-generated media, another term used to describe the mini media phenomenon.

Neuhaus believes co-optation will fail because “minimedia, by its essential nature, resists control.” Really? Experience suggests that, in business as in nature, small things do not resist large things. Instead small things are drawn to large things. This will be fortunate for pioneers like Ali, who will be courted by suitors hoping to acquire the creativity that rarely exists within large bodies. When these large distributors – and that’s what big media have become – suck in small citizen journalists they will be able to spit much of their costly in-house payroll. So, yes, mini media will help change the way mass media does business. But mini media will change nothing of importance unless it aggregates to create mass and distribution and ultimately become collectively large on its own.

How small are most mini media types? The article quotes Anil Dash, a vice president of Six Apart, a top blogging firm as saying, "The majority of bloggers are writing for only five to 10 friends. Fewer than 100 blogs have 100,000 readers. Maybe 50."

And what sort of money is flowing their way. In another snippet from the article, “Henry Copeland, founder of Blogads, guesses that ad bookings are still exceedingly modest. "Somewhere south of a million dollars a month" is where he pegs the total figure.”

I would like to see the mini media path made broadly viable for many people, in the way that eBay creates thousands of opportunities ranging from the dedicated, prosperous full-time to the dabbler who picks up the odd buck. But I feel so inadequate even to participate in the discussion. Thus far I haven’t even figured out how to make trackback work! Oh, well. Take a deep breath. Technologically I am retarded. But at least my thinking is on track.

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



Roughly six million Americans have downloaded podcasts according to a Pew Internet survey that provides additional evidence that audio publishing is another natural niche within new media.

Pew has previously published research suggesting that 22 million Americans have iPods or MP3 devices. The latest finding goes further to ascertain how many of those handheld owners have downloaded a podcast. The margin of error on the habits of this subset is 7.5 percent because it is based on a sample taken from the whole. Therefore the number of Americans who have downloaded podcasts could range from a low of 4.7 million to a high of 8 million, according to the Pew data. That seems like a healthy range given that the phenomenon is just a year or so old.

Men and women were equally represented among those who said they had downloaded podcasts. But the sample skewed young. “Nearly half of those who own iPods/MP3 players between the ages of 18-28 have downloaded podcasts,” whereas the comparable figure for those 20 and above was 20 percent.

Pew made no effort to categorize what sort of content was downloaded. Nor did I see any mention of frequency. The respondents could have done it once as an experiment. Perhaps Pew will publish further details later.

I think audio publishing is a powerful trend that will enable publishers to shift written content to an audible form that is easier for busy people to consume. As I said yesterday when I wrote about comics, I think the best bets in Web publishing are techniques that add simple multimedia elements that provide a novel or necessary experience. I think comics offer new and extreme graphic visions. Podcasts are a convenient way to ingest need-to-know information, and a pleasurable way to consume material that is discretionary and/or represents a personality or point of view.

Along these lines I’m tempted to spend the time and money to attend a podcast convention in Southern California in November. I don’t know whether this is “the” conference or perhaps the only conference in this realm. At least it fits in my budget and is reasonably convenient. And I’m sure I would learn a lot if only because I still know so little.

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


Spurt City

The ultra-violent Sin City strikes me as a template for one strong niche within new media, and helps explain the relative commercial success of Web comics -- and therein may lie some lessons for other content creators. If you've missed the hype, Sin City is a film based on the comic visions of Frank Miller. Sin City is not so much a film as a passive video game projected onto the big screen. It is 126-minutes of gratuitous violence, glorified by association with sex and rendered horribly graphic with spurting blood and flesh smashed into jello. Two thoughts went through my mind as I watched: when will it end, and how many times will my teenaged sons see it? Of course the movie wasn't made for 50-year-olds like me. It is instead an outgrowth of the comic culture that flourishes on the Web for some very important reasons -- because comics speak to adolescent-minded; because adolescents have disposable income; because the Web is the ideal way to disseminate short bursts of visual information; and because niche audiences can easily and privately find content that others would find extreme -- until this extreme content breaks into the mainstream ala Sin City. I think comics are one of the most successful genres in amateur Web publishing. A few weeks ago Paid Content pointed to the essay "Money Matters and the Modern Webcomic" by T Campbell, a practitioner of the comic art and editor of the Web site Graphic Smash. Campbell recounts how Randy Milholland, creator of the Web comic Something Positive ranted "I FUCKING HATE MY JOB! I work in Medicaid billing so I bill poor people." Millholland promised his readers that if each of them forked over three or four bucks per reader he could quit his job. "I'd be your bitch for a year," he promised. About $22,000 in donations later, Millholland made good his pledge. Campbell details other examples in the same essay which is, itself, only the most recent installment of the nine-part History of Webcomics. So what makes Web comics particularly attractive? They are multi-media. The artwork makes them distinctive in a way that is very difficult to do for the most clever writer of prose. And they are not bandwith hogs like other multimedia, such as online video. What an ideal micro sale for a Web-enabled cell phone or PDA, such as I mentioned last week. I can imagine a whole new genre of pay-per-spurt entertainments, because Web comics can take advantage of darkness and crudity to create the allure of the forbidden -- a powerful marketing tactic when aimed at today's cash-carrying teens. Logic tells that Web comics and extreme violence of the Sin City stripe are the shape of things to come. The father in me bemoans it. I recall seeing Stanley Kubrick's Clockwork Orange when I was in high school. It left such a powerful impression that I don't think I ever saw it again. The film I saw in 1972 was slightly edited. The Film Site review says "Kubrick replaced about 30 seconds of footage to get an R-rating, as opposed to the X-rating" he would otherwise have gotten. It adds that, "Because of the copy-cat violence that the film was blamed for, Kubrick withdrew it from circulation in Britain about a year after its release." The Wikipedia entry on the movie notes that it was based on a book of the same name by author Anthony Burgess. "(The) book was inspired by an event in 1944, when Burgess' pregnant wife Lynn was robbed and beaten by four U.S. GI deserters in a London street, and suffered a miscarriage and chronic gynaecological problems," according to Wikipedia. In the climax scene from Clockwork Orange young protagonist Malcolm McDowell is cured of his thuggery by therapists forcing him to view images of ultraviolence. Fast forward 30 plus years, and we're building an industry to sell kids those same sorts of images. Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy Cause if you ain't Mass Media, you're Mini Media


Attention Deficit

Perhaps you’ve heard the saying, “in a New York minute.” Now some big thinkers from the Big Apple have asked for two – minutes that is – to develop a new type of television show.

Thanks to Online Media Daily for pointing me to the Two-Minute Television Network, “whose name pretty much says it all,” as writer David Kaplan quipped.

The five-month old startup is the brainchild of David Post who thinks “two-minute shows fit the format for what cell phone subscribers want to watch while on the go.” Online Media Daily says he is currently producing "Genius on a Shoestring," a two-minute reality series in which “men and women compete in creating the most innovative idea to sell a product. In the first episode, the assignment was to create buzz around a new portable media player.”

Do I hear you say, “Fugheddaboudit!” Well, think again.

CNet reported this week that Sony Pictures wants to do for films what Apple Computer did for music – create a distribution system to sell byte-sized chunks of video that would be aimed at both mobile and stationary markets.

Reporter Stefanie Olsen interviewed Sony Pictures senior vice president Michael Arrieta at the Digital Hollywood conference. Based on that interview Olsen wrote that “Sony plans to sell and make films available in flash memory for mobile phones in the next year.” A BBC online article suggests that Sony's real goal in the mobile space is to port these movies into their new handheld gaming system/media player the PSP.

The mobile component is just a slice of Sony’s wider plans to create storage and playback devices for the home. "The future is about creating an entertainment ecosystem,” as Arrieta said.

Ecosystem. Grrrr. I’ve already ranted on that, so let me simply suggest that “entertainment cocoon” would be the more accurate term.

Consider this March 28 briefing issued by the Center for Media Research, which summarized a study in which the Kaiser Family Foundation examined the media habits of kids aged of 8 to 18.

According to the Center’s summary, “The report concludes that young people today live media saturated lives, spending an average of nearly 6 1/2 hours a day with media. In a week, that amount is the equivalent of a full-time job. In addition, by using more than one medium at a time, they are actually exposed to the equivalent of 81/2 hours a day of media content, packed into less than 61/2 hours of time.”

In light of this, Post’s two-minute shows make more sense than Sony’s apparent intent to shrink the silver screen to fit a cell phone’s LCD. People, especially the young, may want to consume media. But who’s got the time?

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