Going Local

There are two great floods in the news today, one in New Orleans and the other a deluge of media coverage of Hurricane Katrina. Pardon me for saying this is not an innovation, only saturation. Decades ago people would have sat glued to the radio. Today they're glued to the computer screen. True, new media offers new ways to help the survivors. But the more important, and perhaps unexploited power of new media is to enable us to get more information about what is happening in our backyards and on topics of interest to us, and not in being innundated by events a continent away. Thanks to an Anonymous poster for putting this thought in my head, and for pointing me to a lovely article on local coverage in Online Journalism Review. Today's posting must be briefer than usual. I've backed myself into a corner and have to rush out. So let me summarize as quickly as possible how OJR writer David LaFontaine put together some great ideas on how local coverage may be the unexploited niche in publishing -- and urge you to go there for details. He started with a focus on the Point Reyes Light, the plucky little Northern California publication that won a 1979 Pulitzer Prize for its investigation of Synanon. Faced in 2004 with a financial crisis, the Light asked readers for help and they said: we'll pay more. Wow! But why should that surprise us. I can get more than I cared to know today about Katrina but if there was a flood down the block, where would I go to learn more? The OJR piece connects this print example to some of the online efforts that seek similarly to drill down into communities, quoting former mainstream media executive Bob Cauthorn and newsman-turned-entrepreneur Mark Potts, a co-founder of Backfence.com. "National news? Piece of cake. Anywhere, everywhere. I can get Pope coverage pretty much anywhere," Potts told OJR, which goes on to write: "Potts and his investors are betting that . . . a site that tells you how to find a good local plumber, what the Little League schedule is, and what the City Council is doing to try to solve the traffic problem could be a real force." Exactly what I've been thinking of late, and with one addition that I hope to add in future posts -- how does a person go-local with some hope of earning at least supplementary income if not creating a replacement job. Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy Cause if you ain't Mass Media, you're Mini Media


Putting Politics in Command

Wikipedia is an Internet treasure, a publicly-composed encyclopedia kept constant by volunteers, and embedded with links for further research. It is my first destination on many new topics. Given its success, I've wondered whether it might be a template for what Dan Gillmor christened citizen media (aka citizen journalism). So I read with interest a 13-page essay entitled, “Wikipedia as a learning community: content, conflict and the ‘common good’.” The essay was written by Wikipedian Cormac Lawler, who is studying for an advanced degree at the University of Manchester. While I enjoyed his essay and am awed by Wikipedia itself, my short, brutal assessment suggests that its governance is not applicable to citizen journalism because the cataloging of knowledge requires a different intellectual temperament than the acquisition of new information -- which is, or should be, the throbbing heart of journalism. But I have jumped the gun and failed to offer a précis of the essay by Lawler or, as he is known inside the Wikipedia community, Cormaggio. Wikipedia had 2 million articles in over 200 languages at the time of Cormaggio’s writing in 2005. Co-founder Jimmy (Jimbo) Wales had receded into the background, allowing the group to organize itself and create its own ethos, conserving his founder’s prestige for rare intercessions if and when conflict threatens the core function. And conflict, Cormaggio writes, is central to the learning that occurs inside the Wikipedian community: “Conflict arises for many reasons in many guises, whether through differences of culture, ideology or belief or simple misunderstanding . . . These conflicts often spill over into flame or edit wars, sometimes with little or no discussion on potential solutions, but simple deadlock.” But such conflicts are obviously resolved and Wikipedia functions, to the benefit of us all. I wish I knew more about the composition of the user base: its numbers, whether it functions under the 80-20 principle (that 20 percent of the contributors do 80 percent of the work), and from whence its membership is derived. My sense is that the core group is comprised of academics, who perform this role out of mix of professional pride, public service and a desire for peer recognition. But this is an inference from Cormaggio’s essay and not an explicit finding. Some empirical data about the community would have been helpful. In any event, my quick journalistic take – arrived at by reading the essay last night and waking early to pound out this rant before I race off to a meeting – is that the Wikipedia model is inapplicable to journalism. “Wikipedia is . . . building a learning community where leadership is distributed and in so doing creating a new kind of academic community,” Cormaggio writes. And there's the nub. Journalism is not an academic undertaking. It is, or at least it should be, an irreverent, inconsiderate, in-your-face confrontation with powers that would like nothing better than to obscure their workings from people who might object. Journalism is short, sharp and rude when need be. Even in this Internet Age, when publishers can theoretically pour out words and images ad infinitum, journalism must boils the most complex fact-sets all down to a headline. Because journalism is the discovery of that which is new. And sometimes it has got to smack you –- or the powers that be -- upside the head just to get attention. So while I am grateful for the existence of Wikipedia, and the time that its participants spend in its composition, I do not think it is a template for what I hope will be the next Net-spawned revolution of citizen journalism. I like to think in terms of movie metaphors. They’re probably the one cultural reference that cuts across classes and even nations. And, maybe I’m wrong, but I just don’t see “Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf” meets “The Front Page.” Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy ‘Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media


Kudos for J-Learning

There is a saying in the martial arts: when the student is ready the teacher appears. In that spirit, last week I came across a desperately needed resource: an easy-to-read guide on how to build websites for online community journalism. The site is J-Learning.org, and it’s a free offshoot of the University of Maryland’s J-Lab. Let me tell you a little about both. The blurb publicizing the J-Learning site is succinct: “This how-to digital handbook offers 20 chapters and 60 subsections of basic skills training on how to plan a community news site, build it, use the latest off-the-shelf software to add online features, and then market it and track users. It was created for citizens’ media projects, small-market news organizations and journalism new-media programs.” The J-Lab is an interesting outfit, a group of university folks with do-good money to spur community journalism in new media formats. I’ve mentioned them in past blogs, such as when I noted their October 24th “Citizens’ Media Summit, and on another occasion, some prizes they’ve handed out to reward novel experiments in community media. This latest project, a collaborative effort with some folks out here in California, could not have arrived at a better time for me. I’m planning a real web page to allow me to practice some of what I’ve been observing and preaching about new media. I've never been terribly swift on the technical uptake. But in the new age, to be a publisher means having HTML running in your veins. The J-Learning material is written for people like me – communicators forced to learn some Internet plumbing. Having now gushed without artifice or reservation let me now make some suggestions that might make the site even more useful. (If any of these are things that have already been implemented and I have simply been too stupid to notice them, please point that out to me and I will point that out here.) Would it be possible to create a PDF version of the entire site? Or to otherwise enable folks to print out entire sections? (I find it easier to read paper than LCDs, and also want it as reference to share with others.) As for print outs, a page format designed for a 3-ring binder seems the way to go. Office supply stores sell pre-punched paper. I got some last week and manually printed out the sections of interest so I could read on the train, etcetera. Finally, a 3-ring format takes into account that stuff will change and pages will be updated, and since the J-Learning site is creating a newsletter, there is already a built-in system for alerting users of new information – and an easy way for them to insert the new page. Let me pass on two other references, written for non-tech types, while I’m at it. “The Unusually Useful Web Book,” by former HotWired executive June Cohen lives up to its name. It’s not meant to be read so much as referenced but things I’ve looked up I’ve been able to grasp. Finally in the free-AND-fabulous category, let me steer you to The Internet Digest, an e-zine created by Florida publisher Mario Sanchez. I’ve never met Mario and know zilch about him – other than that he seems to have much to teach, and concisely, on subjects such as web design, search engine optimization, and so on. Visit his archives and download to your heart’s content. Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy ‘Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media


Shorts, Woes & Mysteries

This week kicked my butt. Fortunately the workaday portion is over and an old Aikido training buddy found and passed on a few interesting bits, including an item about Amazon.com creating an iTunes-like service to sell short stories. Since he is too shy to take a bow by name, let me thank MysteryGuy for pointing me to a news article about a service that will let readers download shorts for 49 cents.
"Amazon Shorts will help authors find new readers and help readers find and discover authors they'll love," said Steve Kessel, Amazon.com's vice president of digital media. "We hope that by making short-form literature widely and easily available, Amazon.com can help to fuel a revival of this kind of work."
I looked for but could not find information on how authors could get shorts listed with Amazon. (They may have a plethora of short printed material broken out of the works of established authors.) However, its publisher’s guide site does seem to be soliciting audio shorts. Interesting. MysteryGuy also pointed me to the journalists at Technology Research News, who run a clean, info-packed site, yet lament that they have been:
“publishing original news stories for over five years, but . . . have yet to find a way to cover our costs. We are fairly popular and well-woven into the fabric of the Web; we have over 200,000 unique visitors per month, we are well represented in Google, Yahoo and MSN search results, and we are regularly slashdotted and pointed to by Wired News, other media sites and countless weblogs.”
The excerpt continues:
"We make money by selling subscriptions to a PDF edition, selling white-paper-like reports through our site and resellers, supplying other media sites with our content through a newswire, selling subscriptions to an off-line electronic edition through a reseller, collecting fees from Lexus Nexis and other online databases, and carrying Google's Adsense advertisements. Most recently we have begun a PBS-like fund drive. That's a lot of revenue streams, but they don't add up to enough. Our costs are modest: two full-time editors, one contributing editor and two part-time staffers."
Sobering thoughts for anyone who aspires to make online publishing into a day job. I’m still searching for a self-supporting business model. Toward that end I took a long walk last night with my friend Tom Foremski, the former Financial Times reporter turned blogger at SiliconValleyWatcher.com. We hiked around San Francisco’s Presidio and caught the sunset over Alcatraz. We talked about some of the same business ideas as the Tech Research folks, and so their admissions are all the more meaningful. Shy of giving away all the particulars on which Tom and I might collaborate, our sense is that free information published over the web must be the lure to money-capturing enterprises such as consulting or compilations – monthlies or quarterlies – that package information already gathered. Packaging, Tom says, is the key. To which I would add, convenience, especially for information aimed at busy professionals. And that suggests audio delivery of capsule info. (Note that Amazon will accept such for its audio shorts program but not print shorts. A market signal?) Tech Research News seems to have tried some of these tactics. How come they aren’t working? Are there simple fixes to boost revenues? Publishers need to share tips and tricks. Add that to the to-do list: find or build such sites. Thanks, MysteryGuy! Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy ‘Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media


Mass Media: Take Two

Good writing is such a delight as I was reminded while reading the Hollywood Reporter piece earlier this month in which Diane Mermigas outlines the financial funk of old media, and lays out three broad rubrics for its renaissance: hire new blood, take more risk and embrace interactivity. Thanks to Rafat Ali’s Content for pointing me the Mermigas’s column, entitled “Balancing new media with old expectations,” as well as two subsequent bits that I will riff off today. My take is that mini media have a stake in mass media angst. Their mega-brethren are in such a panic about the future that their checkbooks are open. Old media purchases of new media venues will fuel the startup scene, for both good (VCs will fund smart business plans) and ill (VCs will eventually overreact and fund stupid business plans). Of course these latter thoughts are my opinions, and should in no way impugn the deft way in which Mermigas chides one current in media-land – the division of mass media and Internet firms, that had been united only recently, (ala AOL-Time Warner), in the hopes of creating properties with the allure of a Google or a Yahoo. (The cynic in me notes that only a few years ago we were advised of the synergies of such combination, but the scientist in me knows that fission and fusion both produce tremendous amounts of energy which, in mergers or breakups, emanate out in the form of fat fees for investment bankers and accelerated stock vesting for the execs.) The remainder of Balancing column is, in my opinion, a wise set of prescriptions for mass media self-revival without this fission/fusion thing, which you read in full if run or work for a big media company. In a more recent column, entitled “Landscape changing for broadcast licensing,” Mermigas zeroes in on television and notes that “For the first time, consumer consumption of all television is expected to decline over the next five years by about 0.8%, compared with a forecasted 7% growth in consumer consumption of the Internet because of broadband migration.” (Think about the deceleration effect after 50 plus years of growth.) Here is the money quote from Mermigas's Landscape column:
“In a world of diffused content offerings and fragmented viewing, the onus is on network-affiliated broadcasters to innovate and produce unique content from their local resources and connections that cable, satellite and other distributors will want enough to pay for. They can only partially rely on the appeal of broadcast- and cable-network generated programs on a fading promise of exclusivity.”
Finally, in case you haven’t seen it, I direct you attention to the Wired Magazine with Jon (Daily Show) Stewart on the cover, and several stories inside along these lines of whither goest television. Wired asks Stewart about his infamous encounter with fit-to-be-bowtied pundit Tucker Carlson – which exemplified the new mediascape because far more people saw that bit online than via the original broadcast. “It was huge, phenomenal viral video,” Wired said, to which Stewart replied, “It was definitely viral. I felt nauseous afterward.” Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy ‘Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media



Earlier this week Sun Microsystems unveiled an open source digital rights management system. Will it pick up steam or get crunched between proprietary rivals and that portion of the Web community that abhors copy protections? CNet filed the story on the initiative, which Sun President Jonathan Schwartz announced Sunday at the Progress and Freedom Foundation’s Aspen Summit. Sun calls its initiative Dream, for DRM everywhere available. Schwartz sounded a populist note:
"Now it's no longer simply about engaging a few corporate interests. The open-source community is all about engaging the planet . . . Dream DRM solution will bypass the InterTrust and ContentGuard and MPEG LA patents, so that when your child grows up they won't have to pay a buck to watch a home movie."
Great line, but is this open source or Sun’s attempt to build a coalition? Perhaps they’re the same thing but I wonder if DRM has the pull that drags open source efforts along. I just went on Technorati to see what were the hot searches. Pat Robertson’s remarks about Hugo Chavez were top of the charts. But discussion of the Ajax technologies were number three. Hard to imagine DRM getting that kind of buzz. Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy ‘Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media

People Who Live in Glass Houses

Yesterday I blogged effusively about a new software architecture called OPML that Dave Winer is promoting as a tool for assembling web publications on the fly. I woke up this morning even more exited about the potential of this open source development project, so let me throw a few more words at a point Dave made in his talk — that content creators had to work hand-in-glove with tech folks in order to put these new publishing ideas into practice. At least that’s what I heard, though I admit to the possibility of selective perception, because I had driven from my home to the presentation site preoccupied with the thought that distributed computing had failed to live up to its promise. You may recall that once upon a time computing meant the mainframe, which lived in a glass, air-conditioned house. One of the big knocks on glass-house computing was that people had to line up and ask the programmers to create whatever utilities they needed to do their work. Distributed computing promised to push programming power down into the organization and enable departments and teams to roll out applications on their own. Spin forward a decade or two. I work inside a distributed environment. But the problems of administering the 500 or so desktops in my organization have become so aggravating that the systems folks have de-distributed the power. When I wanted to install Google toolbar on my desktop, I had to call systems. I lacked the authority to alter my desktop (though, truthfully, I am not that swift on the technical uptake and sometimes require hand-holding even for simple tasks). So, anyway, I head into Dave’s talk with these thoughts in the back of my mind — that wannabe publishers, like myself, may not have the technical smarts to use the existing tools and, even worse, should we envision some useful function for which no software currently exists, there is no line in which we could wait until the developers get around to building our app. And then Dave turns the tables and says OPML developers want the content gang to get involved in shaping the system. A perfectly timed challenge so far as I'm concerned. Now I just have to find the time and the entry point to put my shoulder to this particular wheel. Meanwhile, it occurs to me that there is at least one template for collaboration between content and programming folks. Earlier this year, word guy J.D. Lasica and tech guru Marc Canter launched OurMedia — a sort of depot and meeting ground for indy video and other content folks. That site is built around an open source community building software called Drupal. I’m sure there are other examples that don’t occur to me at the moment. And I have to cut out now because I’m actually sitting down with a software guy in a little while to spin out some ideas and I have to pull together my presentation -- without help from systems :) Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy ‘Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, your’re Mini Media.


Small Websites, Loosely Joined

Saturday night I saw a software demo that, I think, offers an easy way to assemble content, created by disassociated individuals, into a whole greater than the sum of the parts. The software is called Outline Processor Markup Language or OPML, and the demo was presented by computer guru and gadfly Dave Winer. Among the 100 or so folks who saw the demo at the Hillside Club in Berkeley were Microsoft chief technology officer Ray Ozzie and the company’s uber blogger Robert Scoble. I said I think OPML will allow content creators to assemble pages on the fly because that’s what I gleaned from the 90 minute or so demo where Winer, mustering all his patience, tried to bridge the gap in understanding between the likes of Ozzie (who launched Lotus Notes), and reluctant technologists like cybersalon hostess Sylvia Paull, who spoke for me when she opened the session with this remark: “I’m not into computers, I’m into people. The only reason I use computers is because they help me communicate with people.” So given the limitations of my understanding let me tell you what I think I heard. Let’s say a whole bunch of people on the Web decide to download, further develop and implement the OPML code, which is available under open source license. Assume that over time they make a wide variety of Web content available though OPML (I don’t understand the spins and feeds, but conceptually I envisage OPML as some sort of hook that allows stuff to be grabbed and reintegrated into some other Web construct). Now let’s take it a step further and assume that you're a Web publisher. Your passion is fresh fruit and produce and you have created a pretty good site around those topics. Now you aspire to put together a food page. But you don’t know about meat, fish, the grains, macrobiotics, and etcetera. So you visit the OPML search engine (backed by Jim Moore, a VC with the new $100 million RSS fund) and find sites that plug the gaps in your knowledge. You grab the OPML hooks in those pages and somehow weave them into your site (does code need to be built here?) and now you have the page: All You Wanted To Know About Food But Couldn’t Have Assembled Before OPML. Although Winer answered many question (I asked more than my share considering there were 99 other people in the room) he begged off trying to predict where OPML would go. “I’m out of that business,” he said at one point. He seems to be trying to escape the rap that he is difficult to work with on projects like RSS, another of his brainchildren. (One incident during the demo exemplified Winer’s personality and makeover. The demo was projected on a large screen at the front of the room, but the people in back complained the type was too small to read. They badgered Winer to enlarge it. This he was initially reluctant to do because he was showing the demo on a small screen laptop and enlarging the type made it harder for him to see what he was doing. After a minute or so he relented, made the type bigger and sent a titter through the room with this quip: “Never let it be said that I’m not cooperative.”) In any event, I think OPML is one of the tools we need to create citizen media, the movement heralded by newspaper reporter turned blogger Dan Gillmor. (Dan’s brother, tech columnist Steve Gillmor, attended Winer’s Staurday night demo and, in advance of it, has written of Microsoft’s interest in OPML.) The title of this post is an homage Small Pieces Loosely Joined, the book that suggests the revolution implicit in the Web is the ability of formerly disconnected, individually weak units to coalesce into a more powerful wholes. Winer himself invoked the R-word at Saturday night’s presentation in Berkeley which, he observed, drew a larger audience than all three prior presentations in Boston, New York and Toronto, “I want it to start revolutions,” Winer said at one point. “It sounds kind of grandiose but that’s what I want it to do.” Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy ‘Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media


Just Lemming Alone!

Our lives are ruled by numbers. Unemployment rates, interest rates, the pop chart, the best-seller list and the whole yaddy yaddy ya. Computers can count anything and anything counted assumes a greater significance. In that spirit let me draw your attention to an index that promises to track the browsing patterns on 100 Internet news sites in real-time – putting a finger on the pulse of public attention. Paid Content pointed me to the Boston Globe article that introduced this news-tracking index created by Akamai Technologies. Think of Akamai as the place where publishers outsource the delivery of content. Akamai deploys the servers and storage caches and creates a network that is supposed to handle a huge surge of traffic without crashing. In the industry jargon, Akamai is a “content delivery network” (I gave a quick overview of the CDN space and its players in a previous posting entitled “Digital Teamsters.”). I can only guess that someone at Akamai realized that, since the company was already tracking the traffic flows of big sites like CNN, MSNBC, Reuters and the BBC, it merely had to aggregate and publish the data to create a lovely graph that would show peak interest news events such as the London terror bombings and the Michael Jackson verdict. The Globe article offered this quote from Akamai president and chief executive Paul Sagan, a former broadcast journalist and media executive: "It's not commercial. It's purely because we think it's interesting... One of the things you'll be able to see is what kinds of events drive people to turn on their browser to news.” Elsewhere in the article, Globe writer Robert Weisman paraphrases industry experts as suggesting that “Editors and programmers potentially could focus content on topics of consistent interest . . . while advertisers could target their messages in parts of the world, and at times of the day, where news-related Internet traffic was highest.” And Akamai will naturally get a mention, or an elevated profile relative to its CDN competitors. Bravo! Having now saluted the idea, I can’t help but recall an anecdote that I heard while I was attending journalism school at Columbia University back around 1991. The school had arranged for one its alums, Michael Rosenblum, to come in and talk to the class about the emerging field of solo video journalism enabled by the rapid price drop and performance boost of hand-held vidcams. If memory serves me well, Rosenblum told us how he had gone into the office of a TV network executive, ready to preach the gospel of go-anywhere-on-the-cheap video journalism, when suddenly the exec shushed him and took out a stopwatch. Only then did Rosenblum notice the three TV sets on the wall opposite the execs’ desk – each set tuned to a different network. A few heartbeats later the exec shouted, “Six seconds!” and clicked the stopwatch – then bid Rosenblum to begin his pitch. I think Rosenblum told that story to illustrate the old media worship of the scoop. Being first, however briefly, is the hallmark of success. Being first and forcing the competition to chase your story -- well, it doesn’t get any sweeter than that. But that was old media nonsense. This is new media, and the Akamai index shows us how we’ve outgrown that silly fixation with firstness. Nowadays attention matters. We can track it, count it, use it to shape future decisions on which stories to play. No need for us to exercise judgment, to push a story because we think it demands attention. That would be a "hidden agenda." That, we wouldn't want. Better to stay smack dab in the middle of the herd, where it's safe. Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy ‘Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media


It's the network, stupid!

I woke up this morning to find a pointer on unmediated.org that directed me through Howard Rheingold’s Smart Mobs blog to an essay by IBM strategist Irving Wladawsky-Berger on the potential, perhaps even the inevitability, of cooperation in a networked age. I use “inevitable” guardedly. It makes me sound like a commie which I’m not. I’m not even a starry-eyed idealist. It’s tough to be starry-eyed in middle age, when the eyes start to go. Even so I get a swell of hope when I find an IBM guy titling an essay “The Economic and Social Foundations of Collaborative Innovation” and populating it with words like these:
“Collaborative innovation is a serious mode of economic production that has arisen because the Internet and related technologies and standards now permit large numbers of individuals to organize themselves for productive work, in a decentralized, non-market way.”
Later in the essay, Irv – no disrespect intended but his last name is a mouthful – cites Yale law professor Yochai Benkler and Berkeley political scientist Steven Weber, both of whom have studied the Open Source software movement that has arguably produced the world’s most successful collaborative commercial projects.
“Professors Benkler and Weber address the questions of what motivates people to work together as a community for the common good with no direct fiscal gain, as well as how such communities organize and manage themselves. They also point out, though, that these new, collective approaches do create wealth, do create value, and are, in fact, viable business models that can coexist in a fruitful economic way with more traditional business models. We don't yet know all the ways in which this new, dual-track marketplace is going to evolve -- any more than people in the 18th century could foresee the full future impact of industrialization. But I think we have enough evidence already to say with some confidence that open approaches are not a flash in the pan or a flavor of the month.”
When I read thoughts of this nature I wonder whether there is something – if inevitable is too strong a word, then implicit – in Internet technology that conjures up collaboration. The answer has to be yes. To steal a phrase, “It’s the network, stupid!” What's good for computer software should also be good for media. Today media firms are factories that acquire information, entertainment and policy inputs, and pump out tangible or intangible products. In every media the economics underlying the old factory model are crumbling. New metaphors are arising to describe the nature of media in a networked age, starting perhaps with the Cluetrain Manifesto. More recently Dan Gillmor has articulated the notion of citizen journalism or grassroots media. Both are great ideas. But so far I have not seen how they pay the bills. Pardon me for being so crass as to ask: can cooperative media become an economically viable system as well as a socially desirable goal? In my ruminations I have gone back to the farmer cooperatives of the American west to speculate – in a series of postings entitled Food for Thought One, Two and Three – that perhaps such models could work for media. At least that’s my hope. And herein lies the power of the Internet age when it comes to lifting ideas off the ground. Even if you’ve got a bad idea, a brain-dead stupid notion, chances are that there is at least one other equally misguided node out there on the network. And how else can we discover the good ideas except by advancing -- and trashing -- the bad ones? Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy ‘Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media


Unreal Estate

A recent market research report says that while overall spending on real estate advertising has been sluggish, the online share is growing so fast that it is poised to overtake the newspaper spend by 2009. That assessment comes from Borrell Associates which, in a clever business strategy, offers a free download of the $995 report’s executive summary. According to the summary, Borrell projects that overall real estate ad spending will grow 2.2 percent this year to a projected $11.4 billion. The online component is now $1.8 billion or 16 percent of the total. “Online advertising spent per home sold has already reached $210, more than one-third of the newspaper ad spend . . . Paid listings on real estate search pages have exploded. Competitors are paying well over $1 for a single click – and as much as $6 in some cities.” There aren’t many other details in the summary, but I think these guys have a smart strategy. Every business has tire kickers – people who ask a zillion questions and never spend a cent. In my case all I wanted to know was the cost-per-click, to help create a realistic cash flow projection. That's not worth a grand to me. But as a thank you I spread the word -- and maybe it reaches a newspaper publisher or big online site that is willing to spend what would amount to a couple of days worth of sales calls to make the entire team smarter. The Borrell tactic is a lesson that all online businesses should heed -- figure out how to give some away and sell the rest. One last note about real estate. Unless you’ve living under a rock (financed on a no-down, one percent, variable rate mortgage, perhaps) you’re aware of the debate over whether we’re in a housing bubble and if so when it will pop. No need to add words to that discussion (though I can’t resist linking to the housing bubble t-shirt that a colleague mentioned the other day). The question for this blog is what happens to real estate ad spending when the market cools, whether abruptly enough to make a “pop” or slowly and gradually in the hoped-for soft landing. Will the online share shrink as advertisers return to the tried and true print media? Or will the flow of dollars – even if diminished – moving from print to electronic media accelerate as online proves that it can deliver more bang for the buck? I certainly don’t know. The question only just occurred to me this morning. I did a quick search to see if I could find out what happened to real estate ad spending back in 1989, which is when the last big correction occurred (at least here in California. But the search yielded no answer. But before I sat down to do a cash flow that included real estate spending, I would want some idea what happened when the last housing cycle turned down. Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy ‘Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media


Assessment, Potential, Angst

I serve three items today: a sobering look at RSS penetration, a pointer to a web-casting report, and some journalistic ennui. I pretend no unity of message (although the headline betrays the unpublished novelist in me). Truth be told, however, these are simply the ideas I spotted and could compress into the space and time allotted to my mini media persona. Thanks to MediaPost for pointing to a Nielsen//NetRatings survey of 1,000 blogospherians, conducted in June, that suggests only 11 percent of blog readers use RSS. Apparently its name – Really Simple Syndication – is a bit of a misnomer. Only 4.9 percent of blogospherians turn on RSS themselves, according to the survey. Another 6.4 percent accept feeds from Web sites that aggregate and pass on RSSed materials. The vast majority of respondents express varying degrees of bewilderment or difficulty in using RSS. (Shame on me for being in this category: RSS sending and receiving are on my to-do list – along with a blog roll, a real web page, Creative Commons licensing, etcetera.) Viewed in a positive light, the report suggests it is still early days for RSS. So long as I’m on the subject, Bay Area residents mark your calendars: Dave (Mr. RSS) Winer will be hosting a Cybersalon on Saturday, August 20 at 7 pm at the Hillside Club in Berkeley. The topic is OPML, which is described as a way to share “RSS feeds and other online subscription data.” (Details.) One final note on the Nielsen//NetRatings survey. If you download the PDF you will be rewarded with data on the fastest growing blogs (MiniMediaGuy still misses the cut!) and the ad dollars-per-impressions paid by big media buyers. The latter figures can be used to compute a rough cost per thousand, useful in creating cash flows. Moving on to webcasting, today’s Paid Content referenced a recent study by Broadband Directions of video initiatives at 75 cable TV networks and pointed to a free webinar today. If you want to sign up do it ASAP – the event occurs 10 am (PST) today. I don’t know if the briefing will be available later. Finally, I will simply point to the August 14 lament posted by New York University Professor Jay Rosen, author Press Think (which recently enjoyed its one millionth visitor since September 2003). The posting is entitled, “Things I Used to Teach That I No Longer Believe,” and it is inspired by a panel bearing the same title held at a recently concluded conference of college journalism instructors. You can guess the tenor of the discussion. Read it if you can resist the impulse to feel depressed. Personally, I have little energy to spare on hand-wringing. Every minute and every ounce of strength must go into learning the tools – like RSS – that will allow people like me – people like you, perhaps -- to create small examples of the sort of media that we wish existed. Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy ‘Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media


Identity Crisis

An article in The Economist, synopsized by Paid Content, suggests that Yahoo isn’t as clear on its strategy as is Google, because Yahoo keeps creating unique content while Google seems focused on scraping, searching and selling content produced by others. My own opinion matters little or not, nor is it particularly well-informed, but in the blogosphere, every bloghard is entitled to share. I wish I could have read the entire Economist piece, but a stern message on my screen said “This is premium content” and I am not a subscriber. Fortunately, Paid Content provided a link to the MIT press release about the event that provided the basis for the magazine’s analysis: “Students from MIT Sloan School of Management and Harvard Business School,” explained Paid Content, “acted out teams from Google, Yahoo, AOL and MSN, and had to discuss various strategies and scenarios. Google came first, Microsoft second, AOL/Time Warner third, and Yahoo fourth.” This scholarly smackdown was grist for the Economist’s mill. I’ll gloss over Microsoft and AOL-Time Warner. Despite their market mass they lack new media momentum, and are more likely to be followers than leaders of whatever is to come. But which of the new media giants should mini media types be following? Paid Content, delivering the thrust of the Economist piece, writes: “Google is a technology firm . . . (while) Yahoo sees itself as a media company.” Paid Content also noted “the conflict of whether Yahoo is a guide (to Web-wide content) or is trying to create a walled-garden experience with its increasing emphasis on original content. In the end, the (Economist) concludes, Yahoo has old media plans for the new-media era.” And here is where my ignorance of the full article may prove my undoing because I wonder why would that be a bad thing? Do we have to throw out the old world, and abandon its forms and wisdoms to build something new? I don’t think that is the spirit of change in the current age. Change is evolutionary: new technologies offer innovative ways to solve old problems or create new possibilities. It should be no surprise, nor shame, that some old ways are preserved. That’s not to say Yahoo hasn’t got problems. For months I have followed Paid Content report on the hiring of a succession of seasoned media and new media execs. Yahoo has been creating a new media Shangri La in Santa Monica (home of Paid Content founder Rafat Ali). Hire a bunch of executives. Put them in proximity to each other and a certain amount of bickering is inevitable. It may even be necessary and useful because we are on new ground, and therefore experimentation and failure are to be expected. But when I checked Yahoo’s financials (on Yahoo finance, my one-stop-shop for such stuff) the stock chart looks good, the profits are huge and the management is bold. I’m thinking here of the AliBaba investment, which may look like a distraction to some but which I see as the continuation of Yahoo’s view – expressed in a Dec. 1, 2004 presentation at Stanford by Yahoo CFO Susan Decker (see page 24 for a picture) – that web companies must be global. None of this diminishes my admiration for Google, a money-making machine with two core competencies – algorithmic powers of search and an awesome selling ability. Advertising accounts for something on the order of two percent of GDP by some estimates (click here and search for "Over the last decade"), and Google has positioned itself relative to advertising dollars as the whale is to plankton. Still as a content creator, I wonder whether even so magnificent an enterprise can continue to hold at arms length that which its users ultimately seek? For now this remains a philosophical question because I can see no reason why Google should not ingest an ever larger share of advertising dollars without lifting so much as a flipper to keep the content coming. Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy ‘Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media


Disintermediate this.

I just finished reading an interview with the founders of Topix.net, the site that uses algorithms to deliver local news customized to zip code level – and links this content to contextual ads that go beyond word matching to guess at the meaning of stories – all without editors or salespeople. This posting is my condensation of a fascinating conversation between Online Journalism Review’s Mark Glaser and Topix executives Rich Skrenta and Chris Tolles. Here’s a quick intro for those not already familiar with this Palo Alto startup. Topix was launched in January 2004. Its algorithms scan more than 10,000 news sources and decide what locale (or topic) each story is about. It serves this up this localized content through its own web site and also delivers news feeds to America Online, Ask Jeeves and Citysearch. (This morning I popped onto Topix, punched in my zip code, and learned that the California Highway Patrol was planning to put extra speeding patrols on my normal commute route.) This localization capability and other algorithmic inventions recently prompted three media companies to buy a 75-percent stake in Topix that valued the company at about $64 million. Not bad for a site that grossed about $1 million in its launch year, and now gets about 2 million unique visitors a month, according the OJR report. I was fascinated by Skrenta’s comments on advertising and highlight them here, after noting that there is much else in the full story that I have chosen to overlook. Topix bootstrapped itself and thus had to focus on revenue generation. “Because we were working on the advertising with the content from Day 1, we realized that 50 percent of the content that people want in the newspaper is commercial content,” Skrenta said. So while the firm’s underlying technology has to do with analyzing content and targeting it to geographic or social niches (“Our Gay & Lesbian channel is our No. 1 feed on My Yahoo,” Skrenta said.) its ad-focus appears to have yielded insights and innovations. “What we've found is that the ads on the front page, nobody clicked on them,’’ Skrenta said. Topix has relied upon Google AdSense (“Google has 400,000 advertisers,” Tolles said. “We have zero salespeople.”) But using pure AdSense led to some silly mismatches of ads and stories. Skrenta referred to “the famous case . . . when the New York Times' site had a story on a suitcase of body parts that washed ashore in New Jersey, and Google was showing luggage ads beside it.” So Topix has used algoritms to minimize such gaffes and maximize the rate at which people clicked on ads (in new media, the rule is no click-e, no pay-e). Part of the improvement had to do with analyzing what sort of stories a given reader had looked at in the past -- and serving future ads based on that past behavior. Here are two excerpts from Skrenta: “What we found was we started to pour in our categorization technology to the Google [AdSense] ads that were on our site, and it started working a lot better. We doubled the clickthrough rate on them. But beyond that, it made our site look better. Improving the quality of the advertising improved the quality of the entire product . . . What we did was look at the cookie and see what pages they visited on Topix. . . . And it worked pretty well, and we expanded that, so half or a third of the ads you see are relevant to something else you've looked at and not to what you're looking at.” In closing, these guys are cooking up some incredible stuff. True, they seem not to like human beings, or at least journalists, if we still qualify as members of the species (OJR: So are you ever going to add human editors, or are you categorically rejecting them? Skrenta: We could. But as technology people, it's kind of an admission of failure.) But how can I argue with these guys? Their company is worth $64 million, and last time I checked, BlogShares had valued MiniMediaGuy at just under three grand. Besides, Topix saved me money today. I gotta rush off – but I know now to take a different route. Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy ‘Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media


Death of a Salesman?

Google is testing a system that seems designed to marry two powerful ad-serving technologies into an even more potent way to direct relevant commercial messages to a given web site. According to a report in MediaPost, Gokul Rajaram, a group project manager for Google’s AdSense program, said the system under development will allow publishers “to submit demographic and psychographic data about their audiences” so as to better target ads and improve response rates. MediaPost says the new Google pilot program started about a month ago. “Many of the signals that Google will be using are demographic,” MediaPost reports, adding that “Rajaram said that publishers (will) also (be) supplying other indicators, such as information they know about their visitors' other interests.” It sounds to me as if Google is attempting to blend contextual and behavioral ad matching. In the past I’ve tried to highlight the differences between these two approaches, but a quick example here may suffice. An article about the Lord of the Rings might draw a contextual ad for Rings books, movies or action figures. A behavioral ad match might note that Tolkien fans tend to visit online role-playing games, and place an ad for a new game alongside the content. Jupiter Research analyst Gary Stein told MediaPost that the latest Google move is a bid to stay ahead of competitors like Yahoo, which recently launched a publisher network that also seems to allow some blending of contextual and behavioral ad placement. Here is an excerpt from the MediaPost story on Yahoo’s move:
“A music site publisher might know that the site's audience is interested in travel. That publisher will be able to go into a user interface and tell Yahoo! to serve travel ads to his site, or to specific pages within his site. This feature raises the question of whether the ads are still "contextual."
I say: “Context, schmontext.” Publishers want ads that deliver results for their advertisers and revenues to themselves. Call the technology whatever you like. Having said that, I know there is some reticence to put the “behavioral” tag on ad-serving software because that implies publishers and advertisers are tracking people’s behaviors. Well, aren’t they? What is the Amazon suggestion engine but a facility that tracks past behavior and suggests future action? What I find more interesting, in light of these continuing improvements in automated ad-matching, is the extent to which algorithms can replace the old-fashioned salesperson. Certainly for a small publisher, the ability to gain any revenue without a personnel expense is attractive. For larger publishers, these automated responses can deliver baseline revenues, which can be used to hire a salesforce. As I noted in a July posting, Weblogs, Inc. principal Jason Calacanis told Online Journalism Review he “derives the majority of his income from display ads sold directly to advertisers.” Because an algorithm can be liked. But I don't think it can be well liked. Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy ‘Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media


HBO on Steroids?

Unlike Chauncey Gardener, I don’t particularly like to watch, but even my un-hip eyes can see the evolution occurring in television -- the most recent example being the impending launch of Veoh, a peer-to-peer network designed to distribute independent video content. Thanks to Paid Content for heralding this San Diego startup and reporting that it “will launch its software in beta later this month.” Veoh is the brainchild of Dmitry Shapiro, who was founder and chief technologist of Akonix Systems, a security management startup in San Diego. This serial entrepreneur hails from Russia and studied economics at Yale before putting theory into practice in San Diego. The Veoh web site lays out this capsule business model: “Veoh does not charge content producers to broadcast their content, and allows them to specify if they would like to offer that content for free or for a fee. Veoh derives revenues from taking a percentage of the fee, or advertising wrapped around the free content.” A new blog launched to build community around the site offers a whimsical explanation of the company name. (Business tip: Weeks ago, San Francisco Bay Area video maven Mary Hodder clued me in as to the why of all these weird names. They come without the baggage of prior connotations, so startups fortunate enough to get attention define their own identity.) Paid Content tempered its hopeful pre-launch buzz with the caveat that Veoh would have to differentiate “itself from the likes of OMN, OurMedia.org, BrightCove, DTV, and others fast crowding into the field” of P2P video distribution. (Another aside:JD Lasica, executive director of OurMedia, has a new book out called DarkNet: Hollywood’s War Against the Digital Generation.” Speaking of the copyright wars, I came across a bit via the Informitv newsletter that I interpreted as a sign of possible rapprochement between the studios and the indies. Mitch Singer, head of digital policy at Sony Pictures Entertainment, apparently told of group of interactive TV experts in LaLaLand that the video industry would be foolish to repeat the mistakes of the music industry and fight download culture instead of looking for a way to co-opt and coexist with it. The newsletter quotes Singer thus (abbreviated and rearranged by me by use of ellipsis): “There’s no doubt in my mind that we’re going to look back at this time and we’re going to see the internet was the most important tool for the distribution of content to the home . . . and (that) we’re going to end up find(ing) that peer-to-peer is the technology . . . Quite frankly I’m ashamed to say that most of the time we view this as a threat . . . but you can’t stop technology.” Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy ‘Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media


Misinterpreting McLuhan

Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan made what would become his most widely repeated utterance in 1964 when he said "the medium is the message." While that observation has profound implications for sociologists, it is a useless, even dangerous mantra for publishers whose business is predicated on the belief that the message is the message -- and that they can make money by bringing certain messages to particular audiences. What brings this to mind are a couple of bits I ran across – notably a Business Week article on how big media podcasts have shaken up podcast pioneers. But before I launch into my schtick, let me pay deference to McLuhan. A fuller explanation of his insight can be found in an essay written by McLuhan scholar Mark Federman, who began his own analysis by quoting the original remark, made in the opening of his book Understanding Media: "In a culture like ours, long accustomed to splitting and dividing all things as a means of control, it is sometimes a bit of a shock to be reminded that, in an operational and practical fact, the medium is the message, This is merely to say that the personal and social consequences of any medium – that is any extension of ourselves – result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs . . . " Wikipedia describes Understanding Media as "a pioneering study in media ecology. In it McLuhan proposes that media themselves, not the content they carry, should be the focus of study . . . (and) postulates that content had little effect on society – in other words it did not matter if television broadcasts children’s shows or violent programming, to illustrate one example – the effect of television on society would be identical." Who can argue with the first part of that observation in light of the phenomenal potential of peer-to-peer activity enabled by the World Wide Web? I take exception to the second point, but not here and now because that would open a values debate that is re-argued, with little hope of conclusive proof, with each new medium. Most recently, for instance, New York Senator Hillary Clinton has raised the specter of violent content in video games. Publishers should not be oblivious to such debates, nor to the wider implications of the media ecosystem in which they hope to flourish. But if they hope to establish businesses then the navel-gazing and hand-wringing must take a back seat to finding audiences who will, in some way pay, for the content they hope to deliver. That was the message of the Business Week article entitled Podcasts: David vs, Goliath, which describes how some pioneer talkers have been blown away by the advent of big media podcasts. But Business Week also noted that two folks from Georgia, Derek Colanduno and Robynn McCarthy, have been able to generate an audience around a "sci-fi and science news" podcast. Wow, what a concept. Niche audience values quality content. (Science may be a ripe niche. I came across an Associated Press article that said 450,000 people watched NASA’s webcast of the space shuttle launch, compared to 175,000 who watched on the July 2 peak of the AOL’s Live 8 concerts.) So the medium is the message. And the message is the message. But how can the message be monetized? That’s the question that keeps me awake nights. Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media (Note: I am entering this from an alien computer which has thwarted my effort to insert links. I'll figure this out and fix it later when I get back to familiar equipment. DONE!)


Nickled & Dimed

Several times I've blogged about getting paid for online publishing, first summarizing the failures of past micropayment schemes, and later noting how Visa and other players seemed to be inching toward such systems. When getting paid for creativity came up at a dinner recently, I learned about a reverse concept called microrefunds -- an as-yet-unrealized system in which all content would carry a charge, but in which browsers could opt not to pay for any individual item they felt excessive. This unusual notion was introduced to me by online publishing pioneer and Electronic Frontier Foundation chairman Brad Templeton -- whose idea it is. Here are what I take to be the key points of Brad's essay. "When people pay a flat fee for unlimited access, they start thinking of the resource they are accessing as free," Brad writes. Instead of charging an upfront subscription fee, however, which might be a disincentive to going further, he suggests that publishers announce the opposite policy, that all content carries a charge. "I suggest reversing things, so that paying for something is the default, and not paying requires special action," he writes. "As long as payments are small and predictable, or clear and manageable, they could just be made automatically as media are downloaded or played." A little further down the essay, Brad makes some suggestions about implementation: "(T)he idea of developing a set of tags which define some prepared licence rights could work here. This could be combined with tags describing price rules for those various rights, including costs for download, per-use costs, per-use cost caps (ie. 4 cents per play, but no charge after 20 cents is paid) and broad descriptions of the classes of works. One could even charge for a "lifetime relationship" or an annual fee -- You pay the artist $3/year and get everything she produces each year that you stay a fan." Although there are some good ideas here, including the tag stuff above and the notion, which Brad makes explicit, that people can refuse to pay for any charge they deem unwarranted -- a guaranteed refund -- I find the microrefund approach far less plausible than micropayments. And subscription the most likely model of all. Let's begin with the notion of getting a bill containing scads of itty bitty charges. Does reviewing it sound fun or fair? Not to me, even though I actually go through my cell phone bills on occasion (I've begged and browbeaten my family NOT to use costly directory assistance, and I point out any such charges in the vain hope they will cease and desist.) The notion of going through a content bill, or bills if I visit multiple microrefundable sites, sounds to me like a 21st Century torture. And some people will want to go beyond the act of vetoing objectionable charges. They will want to object to the publisher -- and that requires either setting up an apparatus to deal with the objections, or eternally pissing off those who are not able to satisfy their ire by unloading it on a human being. No, the only way I can envision payments -- and, in deference to Brad I am willing to grant that it could be entirely my lack of vision -- is by turning viewers into subscribers with an all-you-can-eat charge. Either that, or waiting for a workable micropayment scheme, which I simply choose to believe will become feasible. Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy 'Cause if you ain't Mass Media, you're Mini Media P.S. Brad has a good page summarizing responses to the copyright crisis which is worth a read.


The MMO Gap

A recent report from GameDailyBiz blew my mind. A Chinese government agency has apparently announced plans to spend the equivalent of $1.8 billion to stimulate the development of dozens of online games and online gaming companies. Thanks to Rafat Ali's Paid Content for pointing me to the GameDailyBiz report, which itself cited the publication Shanghai Youth as the ultimate source of this news. According to GameBizDaily: "The Shanghai Youth recently reported that the 15 billion Yuan would be spent to speed up video game development centers in the cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, as well as in the Sichaun province," and included a comment from an official of what is called, in English at least, the Press and Publication Administration of China (PPAC). That agency would seem to be to source of the investment but that is not made explicit. MondoTimes contains a link to the Shanghai Youth home page, and if your browser accepts simplified Chinese characters -- and you can read them, you can check this out first hand. Meanwhile, let's accept GameDailyBiz at face value when it reports, citing no source, that: "Of China's 1.3 billion citizens, over 500 million live in cities, which allows them cheap online access via Internet cafes. Of those 500 million, only an estimated 22.8 million played an MMO in 2004, indicating significant room for growth. Those 22.8 million spent over $500 million on online games that year, which indicates how incredibly large the market is likely to become, as more Chinese enter the online arena." I recently became interested in what are often called massively multiplayer online games or MMOs in the course of writing an article about the economics of these virtual worlds. The featured online environment was Second Life, created by Linden Lab. Once upon a time I read the novel Snowcrash. Second Life is in many ways an eerie embodiment of the online metaverse that was the core concept of that novel. Among the things I learned in the course of reporting that story was that South Korea -- perhaps the world's most heavily wired nation -- appears to have the largest single concentration of gamers. So something is brewing in Asia in regards to the metaverse. If you're interested in the economics, politics and sociology of these MMOs, visit the TerraNova blog. I got some flame notes from the direction of a blog called BrokenToys that seems to be populated by hard core gamers. My interest in China goes way back. In the Navy I fell in love with Asia and China in particular. I studied Mandarin in college and, but for a fateful choice, I would have finished my senior year at Chinese University of Hong Kong, with the intention of becoming a China correspondent. Instead I ended up a middle aged reporter with a focus in technology. Hence my particular interest in this peculiar news. Here is a nation coming into its own, that is at once trying to crack down on everything from Falun Gong to critical emails, and yet it is pumping money into virtual worlds. I would say incrutable but if this bipolar behavior didn't make perfect sense to this former student of China -- which has long tried to accept Western technology while rejecting western values. Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy 'Cause if you ain't Mass Media, you're Mini Media


Firefox, Mozilla & New Business Models

Since its official release in 2004 the Firefox browser, open source brainchild of the non-profit Mozilla Foundation, has spread with astonishing speed, generating about 75 million downloads and amassing a market share approaching 10 percent. This week the Foundation said it is forming a for-profit subsidiary to make ot easier for this loosey-goosey operation to do business with straight-laced corporations. In so doing, Mozilla has launched an experiment at the intersection of the non-profit and for-profit worlds. Official word of the change came in the August 3rd issue of mozillaZine, along with this assurance: "While the Mozilla Corporation will be a for-profit, the Mozilla Foundation is keen to stress that it is not selling out. The Mozilla Foundation will ultimately control the activities of the Mozilla Corporation and will retain its 100 percent ownership of the new subsidiary. Any profits made by the Mozilla Corporation will be invested back into the Mozilla project. There will be no shareholders, no stock options will be issued and no dividends will be paid. The Mozilla Corporation will not be floating on the stock market and it will be impossible for any company to take over or buy a stake in the subsidiary." The philosphical underpinnings of the move are best explained by new Mozilla Corporation president Mitchell Baker, formerly the "chief lizard wrangler" in the pre-incorporated order. As Mitchell wrote in her blog: "Non-profit law is reasonably well understood for traditional non-profit organizations like museums, universities and the traditional style of charities. But organizations like the Mozilla Foundation, which develops and distributes consumer software, are new in the non-profit world and the application of nonprofit laws to their activities is a developing area. We've found that this uncertainty makes responding to Mozilla Firefox's success very complex. It is difficult to know what relationships with commercial organizations make sense for a non-profit or how to structure them. It is difficult to know what activities the non-profit should and shouldn't engage in." In retrospect, Mitchell telegraphed the move in a June 1 posting entitled Technology and Nonprofits that contained these hints: "I had lunch yesterday with Jim Fruchterman. Jim leads the BeneTech Initiative, a non-profit high-technology organization dedicated to building sustainable technology initiatives that address social problems. . . Talking with Jim is always great. He's got great experience with the organizational issues that affect a non-profit. . . . Jim is also experimenting with different ways of generating funds to sustain these technological projects since traditional models don't fit. And of course he's thinking about how to generate funds and remain true to the mission of the project." Reporter Michael Bazeley wrote a thorough news account of the change for the Mercury News and John Paczkowski added some background on his Good Morning Silicon Valley blog. I would add just two thoughts. First, it would be naive not to mention that Mozilla has powerful corporate friends. Would AOL or Google shed a single lizard tear if this cool-and-groovy-browser caused further aggravation for that outfit up in Redmond? How, or whether, such considerations played into the Mozilla reorg I cannot say but the competition between Mozilla and the monopolist -- and the certainty that there is a corporate peanut gallery cheering on the rebel browser -- must be acknowkledged. Second, and without any cynicism, I am hopeful that the reincarnated lizard will teach us all new tricks about doing business in this Internet age. There is no activity that is more useful, satisfying and creative than bringing people and resources together to build a company. But many people have a negative image of business because they equate it with Big Business and strip-mining and all sorts of excess. If we can create businesses that are large and global without being rapacious, what a thing that would be! Finally, I've just gotta blog this 'cause if you don't blog something like this, why bother blogging. A few months back, while teaching a feature writing course, one student proposed a story (alas not finished in the class) about the software maven at an Internet browser startup whose hobby was performing aerial leaps of the sort that circus performers do. In the months to come we shall all see if Mitchell Baker can truly fly through the air with the greatest of ease. Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy 'Cause if you ain't Mass Media, you're Mini Media


Older Teen Girls Gather While Boy Hunt Online

There is now statistical corroboration for what parents of teens must have known or suspected -- girls aged 15 to 17 tend to spend more online time in search and email tasks while boys in the same cohort lead in the pursuit of blasting, hewing and generally playing online. That is one finding of a report entitled Teens and Technology that was released recently by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. If you're not already familiar with Pew, the project has sponsored a long list of scientifically valid surveys on online behavior, politics and religion. This report on teens confirms what must surely be the general understanding that young people have woven electronic gadgets, communications and online tools into their lives. Parents may want to scan the report, and educators will be interested in this and an even newer companion report from Pew entitled The Internet at School. I want to extract a few thoughts from the overall Teens & Technology report that I deem of interest to current or potential publishers. Most notably is the finding that junior high seems to be the time of awakening for online use. "While about 60 percent of the 6th graders in our sample reported using the Internet, by 7th grade it jumps to 82 percent who are online," Pew reports, "climbing steadinly before topping out at 94 percent for the eleventh and twelfth graders." The girl-boy comparisons, more fun than enlightening perhaps, are best grasped by glancing on the chart on page 37 of the PDF version of the report. More important than the differences, however, are the similarities -- teens of both genders are avid instant messengers, tend to get news online, shop for goods and information and generally embrace new media. I was struck with the finding (page 21) of the prevalence of avatars by teen in the course of instant messaging. This would seem to open a whole new area of identity definition -- or crisis. But that's just my inner-dad in me talking I'd best leave such ruminations to the psychologists and sociologists and get back to business. In that regard I wish the report had more detail on online games, in which I've only recently become interested, never having been much for games myself. Though I used the boy-girl game divide as a silly headline grabber, the more serious observation is the pervasiveness of these virtual pasttimes. Pew reports that 76 percent of teen girls and 86 percent of teen boys play online games. That statistic leaves me with this, as yet, unanswerable question -- are the kids showing us the future of media? Here's what I mean. It is now funny and anachronistic to think that the early television broadcasters sat at desks and performed if they were radio personalities who happened to be in front of a camera. Eventually television invented a new visual grammar and today we have super slowmo, and weather maps and the whole magilla. What if old media farts like me are making the same mistake in a different way? Maybe we are assuming that media is something we create and put out there, and then pat ourselves on the back if we manage to deliver it via podcast or send it to a mobile device. But instead of being cool, maybe we're playing the fool. Maybe the next media is a group sport, a giant game, a collaborative effort, and a remix culture is emerging that will make all our centralized production efforts look as lame as the first television personalities. Come to think of it, I ought to ask my teens. After all, don't they know everything? Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy 'Cause if you ain't Mass Media, you're Mini Media


Don't Just Sit There!

I came across a marketing study from the United Kingdom that examines why there is, as yet, a low rate of interaction with interactive television in the British Isles. The report summary that reached me via the Informitv newsletter suggests that consumer education could persuade more viewers to press the red button that toggles interactive content. Those who shell out $800 for the complete report, entitled Passive2Active, will presumably learn the tricks of the trade. But you can enjoy my somewhat jaundiced analysis here, for free. Informitv neatly summarizes the main findings. There are two groups, roughly equal in size for statistical purposes, who are either "dedicated interactors" or "bitter ad haters." In addition to those groups, roughly half the total sample, exist three other cohorts with neat marketing names: unimpressed pragmatists, apprehensive stargzers and unengaged passives. How can this troika of interactive refusniks be reached? Informitv quotes BBC interactive TV maven Emma Somerville: "The BBC has a major role to play in educating audiences and the industry as to the benefits of interactive TV." The report is the work of Zip Television, a British firm that appears -- I only discovered them this morning and am writing off a superficial analysis of their website -- to be part advertising agency, part technology provider for interactive applications. Zip works with a consortium of advertisers who believe in the value of interactivity and appear willing to support it. Zip provided some additional details about the study on its website, including this excerpt that addressed the opportunity that would exist if only more viewers would interact: "2 key clusters, representing 52% (8 million) of Sky Digital’s viewing audience, are ripe for exploitation given correct targeting and messaging." Such verbiage may be the language of business, but it makes me feel like someone is out to strip-mine my wallet. I get the image of bright people sitting around a polished conference table brainstorming how to train TV viewers to press the red button much as Pavlov once conditioned dogs to salivate by ringing a bell. Oh, well, it may work. There are some natural targets for interactivity that tap into basic human impulses. A cursory web search turned up a Guardian story about an interactive gambling show called Challenge TV where -- later today should you find yourself in the UK -- you could interact with a show called Takeshi's Castle. A blurb on the Challenge TV schedule says: "Comedy game show voiced by Craig Charles in which Japanese star Takeshi Kitano plays the lord of a castle fortified with giant games. Contestants vie for a cash prize by attempting to storm the castle and defeat Takeshi." Those of us in the colonies can only hope that interactivity one day insinuates itself into the highbrow fare that we have come to associate with British television. For instance what if the red button came on during Rumpole of the Bailey, letting viewers hit She Who Must Be Obeyed with a jolt of electricity whenever she gives the old hack a hard time for drinking Chateau Fleet Street. Or during episodes of Prime Suspect, viewers could be asked: should Helen Mirren undo another button on her silk blouse. Press the red button for yes, yes, yes! One last thought. I found another interesting bit on this morning's search of things Britsh and television. There exists in the UK a group called New Media Knowledge that appears to help wannabe content creators. According to the site: "Whether you're a freelancer just starting out or the director of your own company, we provide the knowledge you need to realise your creative and commercial potential . . . Since we began as New Media Knowledge in 1998, we have been supported by the University of Westminster, one of the UK's leading educational institutions for digital media." Sounds suspiciously socialist to me, but then who am I to judge. I don't even own a powdered wig. Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy Cause if you ain't Mass Media, you're Mini Media


Digital Teamsters

Content is easy to create. Cost effective delivery (and collecting payment for same) remains the challenge. Today let me pretend to get technical by referencing an article from Streamingmedia.com the discusses content delivery networks. I will also link to resources I used to help me get a grasp of CDNs. Web managers may get more out of this than pseudo-techhies like me. Thanks to Paid Content for pointing me to the article entitled, Commoditization and the Future of Content Delivery Networks (Part One). Writer Geoff Daily provides this definition to launch the piece: "CDNs provide a scalable means through which content publishers can get their assets onto the Internet without having to pay for, set up, and tend to a series of servers . . . Traditionally, a CDN consists of a network of geographically distributed servers with a suite of services and applications built around managing various aspects of delivering digital media online." The thrust of the article is how CDN vendors differentiate in this commoditized environment. All I need to know on that score is that if I ever need to negotiate for CDN services, I can make the competing salesteams sharpen their pencils. CNDs listed in the article include: "Limelight Networks, a CDN for the media and entertainment industry; Akamai, which cemented its size advantage by its recent acquisition of number-two Speedera; Mirror Image (which, Geoff says, "has tried to stay ahead of the curve through development of its content targeting"); and VitalStream. One other paragraph from the article struck me. Geoff quoted Kris Alexander, product manager for the Akamai Media Delivery division, as saying: “The three major things that we keep hearing from the market other than scalability and performance are how do you store and manage the growing number of digital assets, how do you protect those digital assets through the management of licenses, and how do you gain access to more detailed, granular analytics about how consumers are using those digital assets.” I found another resource on CDNs, maintained by Lehigh University professor Brian Davidson. It contains a longer list of CDNs (though it may not be up to date), and some tutorials about caching that went over my head but might help a webmaster climb the learning curve. Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy Cause if you ain't Mass Media, you're Mini Media