The Right(s) Stuff

After sharing my pollyanna assessment of the Grokster ruling the other day, I thought I'd do something useful by revisiting the topic of digital rights management -- that is, securing content against unauthorized copying while creating easy ways to enable authorized uses. Think of DRM as an envelope sealed by (teenage magician) Harry Potter. Once Harry puts a message into a DRM wrapper -- be it text, multimedia or software -- the enclosed material knows by whom and under what circumstances it may be opened: only by people who pay a specified amount in precise way, or only four times, or whatever. (Harry delivers by owl; I prefer broadband.) If you want to get up to speed on DRM (or need a refresher) visit the Wikipedia entry. The American Library Association also has an excellent primer that contains links to interest groups that either want to preserve or change the status quo. If you're looking for a group generally in opposition to things as they are, visit the Electronic Frontier Foundation. I also found some interesting stuff from the Cato Institute that takes a libertarian view -- while the status quo needs shaking up, market mechanisms (like Harry Potter envelopes), rather than government rules, are the way to go. Those seeking a totally different approach to copyright have gravitated to the Creative Commons. This organization, started by attorney Lawrence Lessig, has created a set of graduated protections for content. Imagine a scale one to 10, where one allows unlimited copying and 10 means no copying without prior permission. There is a range of options in between, such as free copying so long as you include a link to the source. The Creative Commons has become the nucleus of a worldwide effort to build new customs and laws that would be truly magical. Calibrated copyright protections, working in conjunction with micropayment systems, are among the missing links in what we have to build -- a new media ecosystem that will coexist with the old order. In this regard, the Creative Commons is pursuing an evolutionary strategy toward change. It is building an alternative order, without necessarily being hostile to the status quo. This approach makes intuitive sense, not just in this context but in every aspect of life. Pour your energy into building what you want -- minimize the wasted effort of trying to tear down what you don't like. Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy 'Cause if you ain't Mass Media, you're Mini Media


An Hour a Day Makes the Adverts Pay

Today I’ve reached across The Pond -- British slang for the Atlantic -- to recapitulate the results of a survey suggesting that B2B websites are better advertising vehicles than print magazines. Among noteworthy findings, the survey found that business decision-makers spent “almost an hour per day online for work purposes,” and “more than half (54%) had bought a product . . . as a result of seeing advertising on a B2B website.” The survey was sponsored by the UK Association of Online Publishers, which conducted telephone interviews of 300 “business decision makers” in January. Though not wishing to be rude, the small sample size and self-serving nature of the survey require that the results be taken with a grain of salt. Nevertheless, it seems plausible that a B2B website, linking specialized news and targeted advertising, would make for a superior response and if I were selling ads, I'd have no hesitation in showing these results to a potential sponsor. Before I continue, let me thank Paid Content for pointing me to an article posted by the UK web publisher Netimperatives. Since the UK site did a fine job of summarizing the results, I’ll suggest you bounce back over the pond, after you finish reading this, to drill down into the survey. Meanwhile, let me point out something nifty that I noticed on this, my first visit, about how Netimperatives packaged the info. The first link from Paid Content pointed me to a Netincentives synopsis. A link in the synopsis pointed me to a longer article on the same survey. This tactic of creating low, medium and high-value versions of the same information reminded me of tiered-pricing notions advanced by thinkers such as UC Berkeley info-economist Hal Varian. Sure enough, some digging around the Netincentives site led me to offers for a free email newsletter (weekly or daily editions) and an annual paid subscription. I chose the free weekly to determine how useful future offerings may prove – before I clutter up my email with their daily spew, or spend 99 quid ( that’s pounds sterling in Yank-speak) for the premium offering. Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media


Thank You for Letting Me Share

Many opinions will be written today, arguing that the Supreme Court decision on Grokster is good or bad. I see no point in another such outburst. The justices have said copyright holders can sue technology firms that aid and abet illegal file sharing. It is the law. But the law is not the future. And the future belongs to those who not only allow but reply upon file sharing in their business models. And that’s not just me talking. In fact it’s a higher authority than The Nine. The entire fabric of the Internet is implicitly whispering “share.” There has never been a medium like the one through which these words are reaching you. The Net enables us to form spontaneous connections with people of like mind, whether down the street or around the world. These can be casual exchanges or lasting collaborations. Forty years ago, the Canadian scholar, Marshall McLuhan, called the world a “global village.” The term described the ways in which print, radio and television, tied disparate peoples closer together than ever before. The Web turns the global village into a global room, in which we keep bump into kindred spirits accidentally, perhaps through the use of a search engine. That’s how I found Joe Gratz, a law school graduate living in San Francisco. He provided links to the decisions and some of the news reports. Next time I’m curious about intellectual property rights, who would I turn but my new buddy Joe – who I’ve never met. The other thing about this global room is that when we do find someone or something we like, we pass it on – as I did above. The ethos of the Web reminds me of a folk song entitled “Magic Penny.” Writing about love, songwriter Malvina Reynolds writes: It’s just like a magic penny Hold it tight and you won’t have any Lend it, spend it, and you’ll have so many, They’ll roll all over the floor. Substitute information or entertainment for love and I think the same concept applies. Now I’ll be honest. I don’t yet know exactly how people – especially me – will turn this magic penny media distribution system into larger denominations. My current favorite dream is to get invited to do lucrative speaking and live performance events. I could tell jokes and stories, and sing. (Although the wisenheimer who sits in front of me at work insists that I’d better not quit the day job until I add plate-spinning to the routine.) So please don’t hold it against me if I don’t see the precise shape of the future. But I think you can see for yourself that the present is not like the past. So as Bob Dylan has said: For the loser now Will be later to win For the times they are a changing Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media P.S. Please share this will all your friends. Well, maybe not with all your friends 'cause that would be spam, and there's others laws against that!



Call it wishful thinking or rank speculation, but there’s a buzz that Google is gearing up to create some sort of (micro?) payment system for content. If true, this could help solidify the commercial basis for citizen media, a movement that seems to be populated mainly by PWDJs – that is people with day jobs. Thanks again to the indefatigable Rafat Ali for pointing me to the posting in which John Battelle carefully fanned the tiny ember of fact that has dribbled out about Google’s electronic payment plans. Or as John called it in his own (slightly adapted) words: “the Google e-pay system in the wings (that has been) the subject of much speculation and a tiny bit of confirmation in the last 10 days.” I’ve written at least once or twice before about micropayments – that is, collecting small amounts for content and/or services. And in those posts I’ve quoted prominent naysayers and proponents. My own feeling is that content must develop some value in cyberspace or else we are creating an environment that places absolutely no value on disciplined thought and creativity – except as fly paper for eyeballs. So it heartened me to see ClickZ columnist and web entrepreneur Kevin Lee write: “Good content is increasingly hard to find . . . (and suggesting that browsers) would pay for access to their favorite song lyrics or $.01 to read today's Al Franken or Rush Limbaugh blog post . . . Paying for music, video, and other content from a stored value payment system that processes low-value payments without huge transaction costs will happen. It's no longer a question of if, but when and by whom.” Which brings me back to Google and its growing clout. A recent MediaPost article, summarizing advertising market research by Outsell, Inc., noted that GOOG and rival Yahoo! “generated $6.5 billion in total revenue last year, compared to a total of $60 billion by the 10 largest companies (Reed Elsevier, Thomson, Gannett, Pearson, Tribune, Reuters, McGraw-Hill, VNU, Wolters Kluwer, and the Daily Mail and General Trust).” The same article went on to note that “when it comes to new revenue, Google and Yahoo! also have generated $4 billion--the same amount as the 10 largest companies combined.” So if Google does create a payment system for content, it could be a boon for independent creators. At this stage however, this is only conjecture and so I remain a PWDJ (in the singular that’s person with a day job). Speaking of which, let me get to it! Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media


Personal Digital Libraries

My eyes popped as I read a scholarly essay, written by a British librarian, exploring what it means to have so many people, storing so much in the way of pictures, stories, data and memorabilia, in digital form. The essay focused on technical and legal issues. But this digital shoebox phenomenon has an implicit business dimension. Thanks to Neal Beagrie of the UK Joint Information Systems Committee and the British Library for writing, “Plenty of Room at the Bottom,” in which he lays out a premise that is both obvious and profound – as we sock away gigabytes of digitalia, we create the challenge of preserving, protecting, and sometimes simply finding that bit we know that we once stored somewhere. Or, as Neal says: “Individuals have always used physical artifacts as external memory and reference aids. Over time these have ranged from personal journals and diaries, to photographs and photographic albums, to whole personal libraries of books, serials, clippings and off-prints . . . As personal collections shift from paper and analogue formats to hybrid and increasingly digital formats, personal digital collections are emerging.” New collection technologies raise new issues. Will the data format become obsolete and irretrievable? Will your hard drive crash and wipe out a lifetime of memories? “It is telling,” writes Beagrie, “that research on digital data loss has suggested that a substantial amount of personal data is not backed up and that, on average, 6% of data held on all PCs is lost each year (more for laptops and mobile devices because of the higher incidence of theft).” That made me wonder, how big is the opportunity for a backup industry, and is it possibly something that could evolve on a cottage or neighborhood scale, or is this a market that the Googles and Yahoos of this world have already staked out. (In a note of regional pride, I would point out that Neal calls the Northern California startup, Ourmedia.org, “the first . . . service to explicitly offer long-term preservation as well as hosting services for personal and community content.”) Okay, so you find storage and backup boring. How about what happens when a person dies without divulging the password to a database, as occurred when a Norwegian archivist went to that great data farm in the sky without letting anyone know how to get into a digital collection representing four years' work. “The case achieved world-wide publicity after . . . (authorities) . . . made an international appeal for hackers to help identify the password,” Neal writes. “It only took hackers five hours to crack the code and unlock access to the database.” (Of course, given the international attention, you knew this already. Here in San Francisco, the episode briefly drove the Michael Jackson trial off the front pages.) The essay also acquainted me with the concept of a “Generation C,’” that cohort of young people who take it as a God-given fact that people were created with portable communication devices that also snap pictures. (I remember one time, several years back, taking my second child, now 12, to a movie theatre, and having him tap me on the shoulder to ask if I could pause the screen and take him to the loo, aka potty.) In any event, do read the original which is full of useful information, and sans the colonial snarkiness. I found the essay fasciating because I’ve been trying to convince myself that the “business” in new media is the manipulation and manufacturing of content – not merely its delivery via broadband, an opportunity beyond the reach of Mini Media types anyway. I have thought the prime opportunity in this regard will be the creation of media artifacts. Neal’s essay dwelled more on the software and network-level implications of this digital shoebox phenomenon. It may be that the physical expression and the electronic accessibility of digital memorabilia will represent business opportunities of equal magnitude. But lest this difference cause any further friction between the English-speaking peoples (there is that whole Blair memo), let me concede in advance that, of course Neal knows better. He’s British. Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media


Fuzzy Media

I’m currently working with about two dozen high school and college students, in a program meant to give them a crash course in print and multimedia journalism – a gig that may be teaching me more than I’ve been able to pass on to my young charges. Last night, for instance, I sat in on a lecture in which San Francisco State University professor Andrew DeVigal offered these budding journalists a glimpse of where multimedia may be heading – toward game-like displays meant to provide not just information, but a dose of the experience, and toward a new style of non-narrative content buffet from which viewers can consume as much or as little knowledge as they wish. That may sound vague, but as a former sailor I’ve stood watches at sea, and I know that objects on the horizon always appear fuzzy. DeVigal keeps a website where he points to examples of what he means by cutting edge multimedia, and last night he offered some object lessons to our young students – some of whom will one day bring those objects on the horizon into focus. I know that what stuck in my mind was when DeVigal pointed us to a USA Today production called Dugout Dilemmas (requires Flash to view). As the title suggests, the site casts the viewer in the role of a major league baseball coach, posing situations such as runners on first and third, two outs, team down by two runs, power hitter up, do you tell him to swing for the fences or single to drive in the run? So imagine a room full of hormone-activated teens, tired at the end of a long day, and they’re all “lecture, lecture, yawn, yawn’’ – until the game comes on and they’re suddenly engaged. ‘Nuff said? Now baseball isn’t a topic that floats my boat, but what if this technique were applied to “Saving Social Security?” It would be a complex task – and by that I mean both the real-world problem and the act of modeling it in a game. But how better to involve people in a problem high on the national agenda. In the early 1990s, when the Clinton administration talked up a national health plan, the Markle Foundation created just this sort of “what-would-you-do” game around that issue. But in that pre-web era, the game had to be played on CD-ROM and that required what boiled down to a series of political Tupperware parties. I don’t think that effort went far. But the web would allow us to turn this game concept into a public policy version of eBay. And what if local media, using local programmers, started gaming local problems. Would that be journalism? The other things that wowed me out of DeVigal’s 90-minute lecture was a glimpse of the Theban Mapping Project (requires Flash to view). I would describe it as an online encyclopedia from which you can browse as little or as much as you’d like to know about one of the most important Egyptian archaeological sites. There is some introductory material but the site is meant to be explored as a self-guided tour. It is therefore not an attempt to convey information in a narrative style, with a beginning, a middle and an end. Rather it is a new information construct. You can spend hours there if you have a deep and abiding interest, or get a 10-second dose if your Egyptology has been satisfied by any of the many mummy movies set in Thebes. One last point. DeVigal pointed to the website of Noah Brier as a place where he goes to keep an eye on trends in this developing field, so I’ll just pass on that reference before I run. Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media


Not all Fun and Games

On Monday I mentioned the Supernova conference in San Francisco and this morning I dropped in (virtually-speaking) to read about computer game-play both as a market (per capita spending of $108 annually) and as a social phenomenon (no surprise to this parent of two teens). The per capita spending figure was offered by Stanford communications professor Byron Reeves, as reported by the well-known blogger JD Lasica. He was reporting on a panel called Connected Play that featured Raph Koster (Sony Online), JC Herz (Joystick Nation), Philip Rosedale (Linden Lab), and Dennis Fong (Xfire). (My note: I’m pretty darn sure that the per capita spend was all video games and not just the connected, i.e. online, variety.) I snipped this quote from JD’s account: “Society and media underestimate the importance of games to today's generation,” said Koster. “Games to today's kids are having as big as impact as rock 'n' roll, TV and radio to previous generations. That's the world now, the game world. "You non-gamers, you're the dinosaurs." That may be a bit of an overstatement, but possibly not by much, judging from the amount of time I see my own and other kids playing games. Literary and political types embrace the interactivity of the web as organizing tools. But it makes sense that play appeals to a larger demographic (ditto for sex and dating). JD reported another factoid (from Reeves’s talk) that struck home: “350,000 people are playing WarCraft at any one time.” (That estimate includes my 16-year-old son, whose dinosaur parents are forever trying to pry him away from keyboard and screen.) JD’s account offered a few words and a photo of Linden Labs’ Philip Rosedale, but a far more revealing account of its game, Second Life, can be found in a recent edition of the East Bay Express, a free weekly newspaper. To summarize a lengthy and fascinating article, thousands of people are exchanging real money to buy the game currency that is used to purchase the virtual artifacts that players create and exchange in their Second Life. So I can see that gaming is an important and growing segment of the new media marketplace. Nevertheless I have a somewhat saurian view of the genre. To me it’s like watching sports. Both are popular activities, but I get more satisfaction out of cleaning the garage. My disdain for virtual games is influenced by my reading of Snow Crash, the science fiction novel in which author Neal Stephenson paints a dystopian view of two sick worlds, one real and the other virtual. Meanwhile, in the face of technological, social and demographic trends beyond my control, all I can do is be the Tyrannosaurus Dad, who sees the late-night flicker of the WarCraft screen and roars: “Turn off that computer, now!” Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media



Information is plentiful. Attention is scarce. That’s why FM Network – the startup announced by John Battelle and funded by web and media luminaries – is destined to lead the new cohort of content creators wherever they may be going. FM Network is short for “federated media,” according to Paid Content, where I first noticed John’s newest venture. He is, of course, well-known in technology and media circles, particularly in the San Francisco area, where his biography on the UC Berkeley J-school website notes his founding roles at Wired, the Industry Standard, etcetera. John recently announced that he had angel funding (money given under less onerous terms than is provided by venture, or as is sometimes joked, vulture capitalists). And what a choir of angels indeed! In his own words: “I'm proud to announce that FM has . . . an extraordinary lineup of investors. Omidyar Network led the round, with The New York Times Company and Mitchell Kapor, Andrew Anker, Mike Homer, and Tim O'Reilly also participating.” The Times needs no introduction. Omidyar Net is the for-profit, non-profit foundation of eBay founder Pierre Omidyar. The other investors are movers and shakers. They provide more than cash. They bring credibility. Paid Content reports that “Battelle hopes to launch FM with 10-20 tech-related blogs including Boing Boing and his own SearchBlog and that he is only inviting "high-quality, high-authority" blogs into the network. He's not trying to launch blogs but looking for established authors. The relationship won't be exclusive and bloggers will retain their own IP -- and, I would guess, liabilities.” It sounds like John intends to aggregate like sorts of content in one place, hoping to draw traffic on the strength of his reputation and following, and to compound that with the reputations and followings of the federated blogs. This strikes me as the virtual-world expression of the Media Mall concept I blogged about recently, though I was talking then more of local (i.e. geographic) communities than of location-independent communities of interest such as technology. Given that FM will exist online, its user interface – the opening page that greets visitors – will be crucial to its function. I look forward to seeing how FM will provide one door thru which to enter 10 or 20 sites (without pissing off the site that feels it has the worst location); and whether it will add value on top of this mix of content – for instance, a look down into what the Federation members are saying. Much of this will be new, exciting and frustrating to the participants, and instructive to onlookers. Good luck! (I had wanted to say more about similar (and not) efforts, from Nick Denton, Jason Calacanis, Tom Foremski, Corante, Pajamas Media, and 9rules, to mention a few, but the baby woke up crying this morning, and now she’s on my lap crying for attention – as are we all!) Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy Cause if you ain't Mass Media, you're Mini Media



I missed the opening third of the panel discussion on citizen media held Sunday night at the Hillside Club in Berkeley (I plead Father’s Day!). The portions I caught, however, offered encouragement that more inclusive media are emerging. How do we make do-it-yourself media self-supporting? Panelist Dan Gillmor was at his honest best when he said, “There may not be a business model here. We’re not certain of this.” Dan literally wrote the book on citizen media (“We the Media”). He is a former technology columnist for the San Jose Mercury News. His current project is the for-profit site Bayosphere. It is a work in progress (Dan is soliciting assistance if you have the time and inclination). His quote notwithstanding, I’m sure Dan has a plan to make Bayosphere pay its way; I took his remark as a realistic admission that there may not be pots of gold (or paychecks) at the end of this particular rainbow. Joining Dan on the panel was Becky O’Malley who, together with her husband Mike, revived the Berkeley Daily Planet as an alternative newspaper for the college town with its own political orbit. Becky (and I’ll tell you a back-story about her in a moment) made an interesting comment about economic sustainability and community journalism, saying they may not be mutually necessary. She cited one Berkeley community, the Le Conte neighborhood, that had about 1,500 people signed up for its newsletter! How many blogs draw such traffic? Her remark reminded me that my neighborhood in San Leandro has a successful (though not quite so well-subscribed) newsletter (edited by my wife, Mia Ousley, who started an email discussion as an adjunct). These efforts keep people informed and develop a sense of neighborhood but there’s no money in them. Peter Merholz, author of the Beast Blog (a compendium of items relevant in the East Bay region of San Francisco) was the third panelist and probably one of the best living proofs of what is meant by citizen media. Peter said he started putting stuff online because he enjoyed doing it, and because he knew how. (If he mentioned anything about commercial potential or lack thereof, I missed it.) Nevertheless, the Beast is useful; it was in his blog that I found a brief mention when Becky revived the Planet. And with that incestuous reference, let me tell you my back story about Becky which, trust me, leads eventually to a point apropos of this blog. Becky and I share a mutual friend, Indiana University journalism professor Carol Polsgrove. The whys of our associations are not relevant. Becky and I simply have this bond, so when I saw her name on the panel list, I thought: “Yes, I can race back from an event with my Sacramento in-laws in time to catch this.” Nor was it just Becky who I wanted to see. Sunday night’s panel was the latest in a series of cybersalons that I’ve been attending for years. I’ve grown to like the people who attend. They’re friends, acquaintances, kindred spirits on at least a few topics of mutual interest, even if we’re not likely to have family picnics together. I’m beginning to think that media and community are a linked pair, much as neutrons and radiation – you’ve gotta have both to achieve critical mass. The question is: can the containment system be built to harvest useful energy. I took a stab at that question with a two-part blog about Media Malls. I'll return to that thought when time permits. (Two last notes. At Sunday night’s event I learned that Kevin Werbach is holding the Supernova 2005 conference on digital media, etcetera in San Francisco this week, and there is a free email newsletter for those who cannot attend. Also I have partially restored the linking ability that I lost (and complained about) last week, but I’m not sure what happened nor am I satisfied with my fix.) Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media


Video Marketplace

While visiting a friend last night, I watched the documentary "Control Room" on a cable video-on-demand channel, The 85-minute show depicted the Iraq war as seen and reported by the Arab-language news channel Al-Jazeera. Watching it on demand gave me a sense of the opportunities in video publishing in the post-network era. (Note: If you follow this blog, you know that I have been unable to paste links into my copy for several days. That problem has followed me to Sacramento, where I'm using my buddy’s Mac – suggesting that my difficulties are not caused by my Toshiba laptop. Blogger Support, if one can even use such a term, has yet to reply to my plea for help. So please forgive my inability to provide the extensibility that I would like to offer through the selective use of embedded links,) The video itself was gripping -- very spare in its production details, using titles over images to introduce the piece, and allowing the imagery itself to provide the "shock and awe" value. (A search for "Control Room Al-Jazeera" will take you to the official movie site, and a place for a free download.) But I don’t want to dwell on the content. I see a business opportunity – video on demand is going to make cable providers hungry for content. That was one of the themes that came through in a recent presentation by Advertising Age editor-at-large Joe Garfield. It was entitled: "The Chaos Scenario: What happens if the old media/marketing model collapses before the new model is built?" In a June 7 article referencing that presentation, MediaNews reporter Wendy Davis writes that Garfield "predicted that the challenges (of this emeging media landscape) will include a dearth of inventory, with publishers unable to create content fast enough." Later, Davis writes: "Garfield also stressed that online content still needs to be created, and that it's not yet clear where the money for this endeavor will come from--especially because there's no Web equivalent to television's "upfront market" that can finance programs before they're available to consumers." Dearth of content. Lack of mechanism to finance works for hire, Sounds like a market opportunity for someone. Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini


Father's Day, Humbug!

Interested in Citizen Journalism? If you reside in the San Francisco Bay Area, or will be in the area Sunday night, try to visit the Hillside Club in Berkeley, for what promises to be an interesting panel, including Dan Gillmor, Becky Malley, Peter Merholz, and possibly Craig Newmark. (Note of apology: for the second straight day, Blogger refuses to accept embedded links. Normally I write in Word, then paste the finished piece into Blogger. Wednesday it started stripping out links. I cannot even insert links when I write directly in the Blogger draft mode! In an effort to serve me better, Blogger Support urged me to RTFM. That didn’t work. So I continue, as best I can in vanilla text mode.) Dan is author of We Media, the manifesto and guide to citizen journalism. Becky is editor of the Berkeley Daily Planet (which I know has a print edition; I wonder about its online presence?) Peter, I learned from the Wikipedia entry on him, apparently coined the term blog. And the Craig of Craigslist needs no further introduction. The program runs from 6 pm to 8 pm, at the Hillside Club, 2286 Cedar Street, in Berkeley. Citizen journalism has been a recurring interest with me and I will attend with the same question that animates this blog (if indeed it has any life!) – how can we make this stuff pay for itself and create jobs. I continue to collect and read material in this realm, and toward that end Mark Graham of iVillage recently pointed me to an eContent Magazine article on the topic. (I don’t think the text is online so in this case my link-lessness matters not.) One tidbit in the article was novel. In a reference to the Northwest Voice,a citizen journalism project serving residents near Bakersfield, California, eContent says the Voice “uses iUpload blogging software, which provides a simple form for participants and back-end editorial control for the editorial staff.” This latter point is important because public discussions can draw a nasty element that drives away the more temperate folks. Now I must run. I had to cut short my alleged vacation. Duty called. Of course, bless duty for paying the bills! Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media


Extra: Blind lead Blind to Payday!

(Note: I know not why, but none of my links nor formatting would paste from Word into Blogger today, and rather than infuritate myself with wondering why, I simply post this crippled version, shake my head and walk away!) Two days of excellent discussion in Paid Content failed to find a simple answer to a beguilingly simple question: “What is a media company today?” But the exercise exposed me to a site – unmediated.org – which seems like a great resource for small producers in what I like to call the Mini Media realm. The dialog occurs in the June 14 and June 15 editions of Paid Content. (For reasons unbeknownst, I could not access the permanent link this morning, so to read the original, please use Google advanced search, type in the title (above) and append Take One; then repeat the procedure with Take Two. Sorry!) When Paid Content editor Staci Kramer posed the question to the e-zine’s readers, the responses were understandably all over the map. Media firms are breaking out of their old silos and converging on the Web. Newspapers, television and radio stations all produce content in multiple forms. For instance, the San Francisco Chronicle (where I work when not on vacation, as I am today) started in print shortly after the Gold Rush, began one of the first newspaper web sites (SFGate.com) more than a decade ago, and today lists a string of podcasts and mixed audio/photography offerings on the Podcast Directory. So what is a media company today could boil down to this: firms that manage to make money. One of the voices that popped up to answer the question was that of Eli Chapman, a co-founder of Unmediated.org, which appears to be a gathering spot for the tools, techniques and people that are making Staci’s question so difficult to answer. I am frankly embarrassed to have only now discovered Unmediated but, after all, I began this blog with the presumption that I had much to learn and, so far, I have been right. One of the tidbits that caught my attention was an Unmediated Q&A with Matt Thompson and Robin Sloan, the creative duo behind the Googlezon video clips.(If you’re not familiar, they’re pseudo-documentaries that postulate a Google-centric media universe within a decade; the Q&A contains link to the originals.) Thompson and Sloan are at the cutting edge of whatever is happening with media, and Sloan’s closing quip suggests they’re mystified: “What I wanna know,” he says, “is when are we gonna start getting PAID? (Hey, would anybody buy an EPIC t-shirt?)” What a liberating admission! I have asked the exact same question in this blog, and have suggested that we’ll be forced to give away content and earn our keep by selling artifacts like t-shirts and personalized magazines. So when I hear guys like these express bewilderment about business models, three thoughts come to mind. First, if they sell a Googlezon t-shirt, I will buy it. Second, thank God for my day job! And third, I’m on vacation, so it’s time I started to act like it. Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media


Media Minutemen

I’m back from a weekend in a lovely Redwood park near San Francisco, a trip too brief to offer much rest, but long enough to distract me from “the conversation.” I did, however, return for a purpose that bears on my interest in new media business models – to wit, if we’re heading into the era of citizen journalism, will out media minutemen want or require training? What brought this to mind were back-to-back meetings yesterday. The first was with a dozen folks who will be running a two-week journalism workshop for high-schoolers, Afterwards, I taught the final class in a 10-week feature-writing course populated by two dozen adults with varied experience in journalism. I’ve seen relative newbies make astonishing progress when exposed to the techniques of story-telling. One woman handed in her final feature last night with the words, “Here’s the day’s spew.” Turned out to be an 1,800-word piece that she’d started writing after lunch. I only read the top but it started well. I was impressed. I don’t know how you write, but I’ve rarely nailed down 1,800 words in five or six hours! Will citizen journalists benefit from training? Absolutely. Even pros need refreshers. Will they seek it? Consider human nature; those who most need instruction will be the least likely to seek it, but those who want to improve will benefit enormously. Should training be required? Absolutely not. The First Amendment, like the Second, presumes the widest possible freedom. People have a right to shoot themselves in the foot, in the literary sense, even if this occurs for lack of formal training. We already have a well-ordered militia in ournalism. It’s called mainstream media, and there are many, myself included, who feel these well-trained folk are doing a poor job of defending the public’s right to know. Where will citizen journalists get training? Good question. I wonder if the education industry is alert to this new market for people who need short courses on everything from techniques to ethics to technology. Let me pause here, because the question just occurred to me and I simply don’t know. Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media


Rebel TV

What if you could make television shows on your desktop and send them out over the Internet? We are about to find out if I understand the upshot of a new software tool based on BitTorrent.

The tool set is called Broadcast Machine. It was released by an outfit called the Participatory Culture Foundation.. That foundation is either related to or spun off from Downhill Battle, which describes itself as “a non-profit organization working to break the major label monopoly of the record industry and put control back in the hands of musicians and fans.”

Regretfully, I have just revealed everything I know about these topics. But do bear with me while I explain why I'm blown away by the potential behind this – and what I am sure are similar efforts as yet unknown to me.

My first media job in 1975 was running a closed circuit television and radio station aboard a U.S. Navy ship in the Pacific Fleet. I was an enlisted man. My television station was, for its time, a marvel of miniaturization. But that meant videotapes – most of the programs I broadcast came in this format – were inch-thick reels. The live camera I used to do news broadcasts weighed about 90 pounds and was literally bolted to the bulkhead (aka “wall"). A control panel routed the various video inputs through coaxial cables to 15 or 20 television sets in the enlisted and officer quarters that reached our ship’s crew of 350. How we got television programming in the middle of the Pacific was a marvel in the pre-Blockbuster-NetFlix-satellite-television era.

Our ship would pull up alongside another ship that had come from port with our mail and other supplies, including those one-inch videotapes. The ships would come alongside, about 100 feet apart as I recall, and rig the equivalent of steel clotheslines between each other. They would then cruise along at the same precise speeds, passing stuff back and forth. The Navy calls this process underway replenishment. It’s quite a sight to behold.

Anyway, all the crew cared about was getting football games and other sporting events, which arrived two or three or four weeks late, on videotape. I could never understand the fascination. They already knew the score. But I had my biggest audiences during games (talk about market research – I could leave the station while the hour-long tape was running itself, walk through the berthing quarters and literally count noses!)

Given this I-used-to-walk-ten-miles-through-the-snow perspective, you can understand my amazement at the ease of production and delivery. On the other hand, given that I've witnessed one slice of the demographic glued to the tube, watching beefy brutes tackle one another in a contest whose outcome was already known, I question how much of today's civilian audience is hungry for alternative content – and, if so, how all this guerilla content will be paid for.

Before I forget, I learned about Broadcast Machine through Informitv.com, which is somehow involved in all this new-fangled TV stuff. I signed up for their email newsletter because I found their writing bright, tight and informative, as exemplified by the following segment that ended their report on the BM announcement:

“The question is,” said Informitv.com, “will Broadcast Machine users want to support “non-corporate creativity and political engagement” and other substantial non-infringing fair uses, or simply to download the latest hit television programs? No doubt the corporate copyright lawyers are already sharpening their quills in anticipation.”

(P.S. I’ll be camping until Tuesday or Wednesday. See you then!)

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


Learnng to think in Hyperlink

I’ve been blogging for about six months now after more than 30 years as a professional writer in the linear medium of print. Professional means I got paid. Linear means every written work, from start to finish, was self-contained. What-you-read-was-all-you-got. So now this old dog is trying to learn a new trick – how to insert useful digressions into a written work by using hyperlinks.

Of course, one of the first things any writer learns is that, when think you’ve had a brainstorm, there’s a good chance that someone else has had it first. That was the case when I used terms like “hyperthinking” and “hyperwriting” to search for this concept in cyberspace.

Sure enough, Doc Searls, who is well known in blogging circles but who may be unfamiliar to newcomers, once delved into this area in his own folksy way by asking his readers whether “they appreciate(d) the linky way I write?” John Waterson responded and Doc posted John’s reply – from which I have snipped this double-edged bit: “Good links should open up the conversation; they should present participants in the discourse with options which they can follow up on, if they so choose.” But, John warned, they can also stifle conversation when and if they present “an obligation that must be fulfilled if you want to keep up.”

A New Zealander named Matthew Thomas also wrote a thoughtful do’s and don’t of links that also marveled at the wonderful new tool of digression which I have discovered through blogging: “This is the true beauty of hypertext,” he wrote. “If someone wants to explore a particular idea, they can jump mid-sentence into a linked document, returning to the original at their leisure — or not at all.”

I must say that the “or not at all” bit worried me. After all, I’m not getting paid for this. I’d at least like to get read.

In looking for how to craft links so as to add information value without losing readers, I came across Kairosnews, a scholarly forum to help “hyperwriters . . . master a new process that includes electronic links, visual images, sound, animation, and other forms of data within a single digitized writing space.”

And the English Department at the University of South Florida offers an introductory course on blogging that would be of particular interest to teachers – and contained this nugget that should be heeded by all denizens of the blogosphere: “Blogs gain power over time, showing how the writer’s (or writers’) mind (or minds) works. Over time, bloggers become known for being informative about a topic or set of topics. Bloggers attract readers by researching their topics, by providing evidence for assertions, and by creating a tone and persona that readers find informative or entertaining.”

Given all this wisdom on the topic, what can an old print hack contribute to the grammar of hyperthinking? Perhaps the discipline of writing short and tight – because even if there exists an infinite amount of space to be filled with our words, links or whatever, who has time to follow them! And perhaps I can offer the occasional amusement.

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

(Note: I removed an expired link and a reference from the end of this piece. Dec. 15, 2005)


Blogger or Blog-air?

There may be lies and damn lies but at least The Numbers Guy has saved us from the pseudo-statistical inflation of the blogsphere. Instead of 31.6 million blogs, an estimate that many, like me, have unquestioningly referenced, Wall Street Journal Online columnist Carl (aka Numbers Guy) Bialik says there may be more like 3.5 million active blogs – if “active” is defined as a posting in the last 30 days. And, he suggests, far fewer than a million bloggers do it daily.

Thanks to Staci Kramer at Paid Content for pointing me to Bialik’s column, which is worth reading in its entirety, as I will only summarize a few points here.

Bialik writes that when BlogPulse researcher Natalie Glance studied activity in January, she found that “the typical active blogger posted an update just once every 10 days.” Elsewhere he writes that, at a recent blogging conference, Technorati chief executive David Sifry estimated that “daily volume is 800,000 to 900,000 posts.” Bialik notes that BlogPulse, “which says it has more blogs in its index, counts only between 350,000 and 450,000 posts a day -- and that number has held steady for about a year, even as the total number of blogs has accelerated.”

But the real thrust of Bialik’s commentary is that counting blogs is beside the point. It’s traffic and readership that matter. And here the message is similarly deflating – blog reach seems to be exaggerated.

He asked ComScore Media Metrix to look at the April traffic for 13 prominent blogs, by counting their unique visits. “Just five met the company's minimum threshold for statistical significance of about 150,000 monthly visitors,” Bialik writes. “Media and gossip site Gawker had the most, with 304,000 unique visitors. The others that cleared the cut: Defamer (287,000), Boing Boing (250,000), Daily Kos (212,000) and Gizmodo (209,000) . . . By point of comparison, comScore says the New York Times's Web site had 29.8 million unique visitors in April.”

Bialik presumably offered that last comparison as a reality check, but it coul be stood on its head. The Times is over a century old. These blogs are barely out of their virtual diapers. I wonder what the comparisons will look like in a few years – or whether incumbent media will simply acquire the top blogs and extinguish any distinctions between the new and old media.

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


Narrowcasting and IPTV

I need to learn more about two related phenomenon, narrowcasting and IPTV. Narrowcasts define themselves by contrast to broadcasts. The former is targeted, the latter less discriminate. IP stands for “internet protocol” – chopping a transmission into bits, sending out its parts electronically, then reassembling the whole at its destination. Sending television to niche audiences sounds like a big new opportunity.

For a concise summary of IPTV, including links for further exploration, read the entry at Answers.com. My one-sentence synopsis would be – with the ability to chop up video and deliver it via the Internet, television programs (an anachronistic phrase!) can be sent anywhere, even handheld devices.

Narrowcasting is the kindred concept – and though it may have slightly different meanings depending on who is using the term, the simple fact it is becoming possible to target video to small audiences. I am sure we will learn in time whether it is possible to make money in narrowcasting, as firms are already popping up to become the consolidators and deliverers of video narrowcasts. To start learning the names of these firms, I found an Associated Press article posted by Wired News. Oakland Tribune reporter Francine Brevetti (a colleague in the Northern California journalism community) recently wrote two related articles, one on IPTV in general, and the other on Akimbo, one of the emerging narrowcasters. A website called Internet Protocol Television seems to track developments in this arena.

At this point that’s all I know about IPTV. It isn’t much so I wont ramble on much longer, except to say that, having written about the tech industry for 20 years, I think this phenomenon is in the early stages of a long-lasting and fundamental shift, that could decentralization the distribution of video and will almost certainly revolutionize the nature of programming. Today we consume TV in 30 minutes chunks (allowing time for commercials). That is an artifact of the need to maintain a broadcast schedule. What happens in a narrowcast world? Well, over the next 10 or 15 years we’ll find out, and I’m sure I’ll have more to say on this – as I learn other things I think worth saying.

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


Being Mouthy

Today I want to remind myself that sales and, by extension, advertising, rely on word of mouth referrals. The Internet is the ideal word of mouth (WOM) medium because it is easy to pass on recommendation (or warnings). But the examples that occur to me involve dispersed communities of interest rather than compact communities of locale. Thus I wonder: can small publishers localize WOM to create a tool to woo local advertisers to the Web?

A recent Wired News article focused a new trade group, the Word of Mouth Marketing Association, provided an overview of the phenomenon in the context of Web media, and related it to kindred concepts like viral marketing.

Another piece in Wired News celebrated the do-yourself campaign to spread Firefox, the freeware browser, citing “users so loyal they devise their own DIY promotion ideas” notably the Funnyfox series of short video clips.

More recently, a Media Post article re-emphasized the importance of referrals and suggested there were three levels of reference-makers: “social influentials, who have large networks of connections to other consumers; category influentials, who are well-informed about a certain product category; and brand influentials, who are strong advocates for or against certain brands.

All of this is interesting if you’re a large corporation trying to manage consumer perceptions or a startup trying to create a community of interest around some notion (as in Move On) or product. But can the Web be used to develop word of mouth for local advertisers?

Many articles, like this piece from ClickZ or CNet item discuss how difficult it has been to get local advertisers to jump onto the Web. Big Web sites can live without the support of these small, local companies. Small Web publishers may absolutely depend on local advertisers – and the lack of success of the search engines may create an opportunity for publishers and marketers astute enough to make the Web-wide word of mouth magic work in the local context.

So what is the sine qua non of the successful viral campaign – creating short, sharp images or thoughts that people want to pass along the item to friends and associates.Word of mouth is about sharing. The Web makes that easy. Small publishers with a local focus merely need look into their communities to find the inside jokes and cute images that help create community – then link some local advertiser to that shared mindset. For example, if the objective is to get the local pet shop to advertise, how about encouraging customers to send in their digital images for a Pooch of the Month contest (be sure to make provisions to scan hard copy prints for customers who take pictures on film; and then there’s the Feline community to consider).

If word of mouth is a powerful Web tool, then it should be exceptionally powerful at the local level – and most accessible to small publishers who observe globally then act locally.

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


Media Malls II

Yesterday I suggested that small, independent media creators should congregate in malls, built around a shared space to hold receptions or run training classes. Today I want to continue making the case that new media may need an old-fashioned retail presence.

Several months ago I was introduced to a San Francisco startup called Memento Press. It is a retail store that shows people how to turn their photographs into books, calendars or other printed keepsakes – and then makes these artifacts for them. Memento’s founders know that web-based firms offer the same service. In fact they’re former web executives. (I apologize for not having more info but I’m traveling and my paper file on this is at home. I did find a reference (if you follow the link scroll to the bottom) that confirms my recollection that Memento co-founder John Litwin used to be an executive with Ofoto and BabyCenter. Litwin apparently wrote a case study about BabyCenter’s that contains some ideas germane to this discussion.).

I don’t know how Memento is doing, nor does one example validate the notion of a media mall. But I am encouraged that seasoned web execs see the value of going retail.

What I don’t know about malls could fill a book (though I will try to learn). But I do know they generally require an anchor tenant. In the media world, print shops are an obvious example. Another possible anchor, with more “new media” appeal would be a store to turn old films and videos into family documentaries or business presentations. People are already doing this as hobbies or stand-alone businesses. For some operators it will make sense to get a retail presence, to draw customers and get business out of the garage.

Who else might populate a mall? Every town and community has advertising agencies, public relations firms , photographers and other professionals who live and die by media. These professionals are going to become more, not less necessary in the era of e-commerce. Just look at the cottage industry that has grown up around teaching firms how to get the most of their search term bidding. Many small businesses don’t even know what they need to know to stay competitive. Creating a media mall will help educate these potential customers about new services they need to flourish..

So far I’ve talked mainly about how a media mall would recruit customers by creating a destination for media services and expertise. But there is another value to aggregating small media firms – they will all need robust networking and data systems, and I find it hard to believe that these small operators will have all the expertise they need to maintain these systems. Therefore, I envision that the media mall would also provided network administration, data storage and recovery services. These could be arranged on a sliding scale depending on use. (Mentioning this makes me think of another potential anchor tenant – a hosting service with the ambition of creating e-commerce web sites for local small businesses. If the mall attracted web designers there would be a synergy between the host -- which would operate all the gear – and these designers, who would recruit the small business clients, design their sites and hold their hands.

I have lots more to learn. I have no idea what the market is for retail space, nor do I understand the process of leasing and sub-leasing. But I think there’s something here. You hear a lot of talk these days about media ecosystems. What is an ecosystem? An environment that facilitates certain processes. That’s how I see the media mall.

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


Media Malls I

Businesses tend to cluster. Buyers like to shop in business clusters. That explains the popularity of food courts, antique districts, farmers’ markets and shopping malls. I think it makes sense for small media producers to create "malls" for printers, web designers, videographers, photographers, newsletter editors, and all the other specialists who produce content. This notion struck me a few days ago and in thinking it through, a picture began to emerge. To understand my vision (fantasy?), I should tell you that this idea struck me while I was attending the 40th birthday party of a neighborhood friend. The party was held at our local coffee shop. There must have been three dozen adults and two dozen children milling about. In this public venue, the party had become a community event. That’s when it struck me that media build communities. Or perhaps communities form around media. Either way, small-scale or amateur media producers who aspire to become professionals, need ways to encourage community formation. It's not all going to happen online. The best communications medium is no medium. It’s face-to-face. That’s why the central feature of my fantasized media mall is a meeting hall or party room capable of holding five or six dozen people. That would be enough space to hold a reception or screen a video, or set up tables for a weekend workshop to teach Photo Shop for, say, $250. This party place would be shared by mall renters. Tomorrow I'll talk about these possible renters. Today I simply want to argue that we need a new distribution channel for small scale media. We already buy mass media though existing channels. We subscribe to cable. We buy mass produced CDs and DVDs at retail chains, though that business model is under attack from both legal and illicit downloads. And we have also purchased custom-made media, generally through face-to-face transactions. In the past such purchases might have included the PTA newsletter, the business brochure, or the calendar with the kids’ photos on each month. Technology is making it possible to create new types of custom-made media. We can make small batches of hardcover books. Filled with family photos, they make wonderful keepsakes. Videographers can create low-budget documentaries, possibly for distribution via DVD – and perhaps pay the rent by giving this treatment to wedding productions. So we are moving into an age of custom media. What better way to alert people that new things are possible than to create the media mall where they might visit one day to get a quote on their PTA newsletter and see something new to them – like the gold embossed 50th anniversary photo book that some other person had made for their parents. Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media


Seoul Man

Dan Gillmor, the former San Jose Mercury news columnist turned citizen journalist, defined particpatory news-gathering and outlined its guiding principle at the World Editors Forum conference that was held recently in Seoul. I will excerpt portions of Gillmor's speech below. But first let me note that South Korea is home to what may be the world's most successful experiment in participatory media -- Ohmynews. This is citizen-driven news operation that, some observers say, influenced the outcome of South Korea's last presidential election. The World Editors Forum, a Eurocentric organization, published a special weblog from the conference, which will give you some of the who's-who and what-was-said of the event. Gillmor's speech touches on themes he explored in his book, "We the Media" -- part-reportage on the changes in media production and consumption, and part-manifesto in celebration of those changes. Media, says Gillmor, are undergoing "an evolution from the lecture model, to which we in mass media have become accustomed in the past century, to something closer to a conversation . . . the former audience can now become part of the journalism process, whether by communicating with professional journalists or, increasingly, producing their own content . . . If we accept the idea that we are moving toward a more conversational system, then we must remember that the first rule in having a conversation is to listen." Gillmor notes that not all bloggers are journalists; some merely wish to create shared, personal diaries. But for those bloggers who wish to produce news, he urges four basic rules: be thorough (in reporting); be accurate (in making factual assertions); be fair (in presenting the complexity of events); and be transparent (in disclosing any bias or perspective that may influence your presentation). "Money is not the major push behind citizen journalism,'' says Gillmor. "It is the entirely human desire to tell each other our stories, to help each other navigate through this complex and often insane world." But, he adds: "This doesn't mean that citizen reporting should always be an exercise in volunteering. We must develop sound business models to support new media forms. They are coming." I look forward to seeing more as Gillmor puts some of his ideas into practice at Bayosphere, an evolving tech-based participatory journalism experiment in his home (and mine!) the San Francisco Bay area. Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy Cause if you ain't Mass Media,