Archives for July 2011

Why I’m abandoning TechCrunch and Techmeme

Farewell TechCrunch and TechmemeI’m separating myself from two old friends today, and it’s pretty painful. TechCrunch and Techmeme have both served me well over the years, keeping me informed on the cutting edge of news in the tech sphere. I can honestly say that these two websites have played a major role in my knowledge level, and I will miss them.

However, I can’t keep up with either. My RSS reader is overwhelmed with the stuff they crank out, most of which, frankly, is completely useless reading.

There is this belief in media that more is better. More produces more page views, and page views produce revenue, and so it goes. But this strategy disrespects customers, because I simply don’t have the time to keep up. And rather than stare at 100 unread items a day from each, I find myself simply marking them all as read and moving on.

Twitter is more than capable of keeping me connected with what’s really important.

I’m not sure if there’s an answer. Perhaps if Michael Arrington would personally oversee a specific RSS feed of “important” content, I would subscribe to that, but as of this morning, I’ve dropped both of these sites, along with The Inquistr, from my RSS reader.

Maybe it’s a sign of changing times. I don’t know. The only thing I do know is that time is the real scarcity in the life of any consumer today, and tactical revenue maneuvers designed to capture more of that scarcity cannot possibly win in the long run.

Farewell, old friends. Farewell.

Media companies await Google+ for Business

Facebook launched its “Facebook for Business” subsite this week to take advantage of the tardiness of Google in opening up its new Google+ engine for businesses, Google+ for Business. The Facebook site, however isn’t much more than a primer on how to run a fan page, which is something everybody already knows anyway.

Facebook for Business

Facebook has become a very important tool for media companies, especially as a referral back to our own websites, where we can hopefully monetize the traffic.

But I think Facebook will be child’s play for media downstream compared to the potential of Google+. It’s not that I expect the news conversation to necessarily shift, but Google+ isn’t merely a Google social play; it’s the next version of Google itself, and no company on earth has disrupted the business of media like Google. Media companies look at Google as a competitor for content, but the Web giant is actually a competitor for our revenue, and that’s what makes Google+ for Business both so potentially useful and yet dangerous at the same time.

While we’re thinking that Google+ creates new brand extension opportunities, what it will really do is make it easier for small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) to connect with customers and potential customers. It will also help us reach people in the community, although we’re going to have to figure out how to make that really work for us. Google+ for Business will also tilt the balance of search, and while Facebook and Twitter are feeding local news websites, nobody already does that better and more often than Google. The point is that Google+ for Business won’t be an option for media companies.

The real power of Google is that the Web itself is its business world. You don’t have to be within its proprietary framework in order to be influenced by Google. There is no walled garden, per se. Oh, its tools are all within its cloud, but it doesn’t need to “capture” people to make money. Google provides ammunition for the people of the world to help themselves and their enterprises, and it does that very well. Google+ for Business is simply the latest.

An excellent article in PC World outlines reasons why G+ for Business is a game-changer. Looking at this list as a media observer, it’s easy to see why it will be so important.

Search — Google will incorporate the real time stream from G+ into search, as it was doing with Twitter before its contract expired July 4th. This will radically alter news searches, but it will also create great opportunities for smart businesses who learn how to play the game.

Productivity and Communication — Google has 200 million Gmail users and 3 million businesses already using its Apps for Business productivity suite, and these will be incorporated into its social network. As noted above, Google is already a significant driver of traffic to media company websites, and the addition of Google+1 will accelerate that. Facebook has its “like” button, but it has nothing to compete with all that Google can offer.

Video — Yes, Facebook has a deal with Skype, but Google owns YouTube and has already advanced the interactive video world with G+ “Hangouts.” KOMU-TV in Columbia, MO has already experimented with using Hangouts on-the-air, and I expect we’ll see a lot more of that downstream.

E-commerce — PC World: “Google already has the Google Checkout payment system and its Products search tapping into all sorts of online merchants. Google could theoretically tie both services into Google+ for businesses, enabling a company to link its payment service to a back end database of products within Google’s ecosystem, rather than sending shoppers off to PayPal.”

Business Websites — Google has its Blogger publishing platform, which has a wide variety of implications for media companies and SMBs in a Google+ environment.

Advertisting and Analytics — Google’s highly successful Adwords system has been around since 2000 and Adsense, which enables people to embed contextual ads on their blogs and websites, has been working since 2003. Google Analytics is far ahead of anything Facebook can offer on deeper traffic and ad performance tools.

Mapping and Location-based Tie-ins — Google will likely integrate the new Google+ pages with Google Places, which appear in its Maps search results. This is a natural for SMBs but even more so as a tool for users, because integration with G+ allows for interaction with those search results. PC World: “Say, for example, that a user is considering several local search results for sushi in his neighborhood. He could theoretically not only compare the local results, but also ask questions about the menu or seating on each restaurant’s Google+ business page before deciding where to eat.”

Mobile Payments — Google has been testing various near field communications (NFC) applications as part of its e-wallet concept through its Android operating system, and they give a hint as to what’s potentially in store downstream. In theory, according to PC World, a Google+ user could be tracked from when she clicked on an ad, how much time she spent on the website, when she checked into the store, and what she bought. Google already has proven models for most of these interactions; there’s no reason not to tie them together.

There’s no official timeline yet on when Google+ for Business will be available to everybody, but now is certainly the time for us to begin thinking about and talking about how we fit into the mix. There has never been a more important time to immerse ourselves in all that Google offers and to appreciate the reality that half a loaf is better than none. Google+ for Business has the potential to be something for us that goes far beyond simple brand extension, and the smart local media manager is one who understands that.

The ultimate success of the modern social network, the PC World article notes, will depend as much on its supportive services—in which Google has an advantage—as it will on its aggregate users. This truth is the essence of Media 2.0.

Twitter handles should be personal brands

your personal brand is everythingWhen the BBC’s chief political correspondent jumped ship to work for a competitor last week, she took her 60,000 Twitter followers with her, and that has raised a few eyebrows in media circles. UK blogger Tom Callow made what I believe is an incorrect assumption when he wrote:

On Thursday 21 July, the BBC lost 60,000 Twitter followers when Laura Kuenssberg renamed her @BBCLauraK account to @ITVLauraK.

Callow wrote that the BBC has an ownership claim on that Twitter account, and suggested that those followers were interested in the views of the BBC’s chief political correspondent,” not ITV’s.

Twitter followers aren’t names in an address book. They are more like subscribers to a blog. We must remember that Twitter is precisely that: a microblogging service. Whilst the microblogs of BBC correspondents are running off Twitter’s servers, the BBC is controlling what tweets go out and must be able to stake a claim on the ownership of each official account — not least because they are now promoted so prominently on screen during news bulletins and even shows like Newsnight and Question Time.

Lost Remote’s Cory Bergman advanced the story, and asked the essential question, “Are people following the person — or the content the person represents?” Cory also smartly suggests that, contrary to what Callow thinks, Twitter does function in important ways like an address book.

This is a very important issue for media companies to get right, because in the world of personal media, personal brands are what matters. People follow people, not institutions, and if we try to practice the opposite, we’re likely to end up without any followers at all. This is why I think Callow is misinformed, because he’s viewing Kuenssberg’s (or any reporter’s) use of Twitter from an entirely old school business perspective.

People jumping ship and taking their followers with them is a necessary part of business in the 21st Century. The way to stop it is to make employment with you so attractive that there’s no incentive to switch, but if and when it does happen, the “loss” of those followers is simply a cost of doing business today. I would argue that we don’t really lose anything when that happens anyway, because to think otherwise underestimates both people and the ease with which technology allows them to change, too.

Moreover, we want to actually encourage the growth of personal brands among our employees. Why? Because without it, there’s no incentive for them to use social media 24/7 in the execution of their jobs. If we “own” those accounts, then we must pay people to use them, and that means on company time. Don’t think so? Press the issue and see how far it goes in the courts. No, we’re MUCH smarter to help individuals grow their brands with the quid pro quo being that they will use their brands to the furtherance of our business while our employees. We gain from their brands, which can include all forms of social media, blogging, personal events and appearances, and anything else they do with “their” brands, as long as they are our employees. When that ends, the cross-promotion ends, and that’s the way it should be.

Don’t think this is viable? Ask Arianna Huffington.

Individual people can go places that institutions can’t, and if we limit that in the name of protecting “our” assets, we effectively limit the potential that goes with it. We can’t have it both ways, folks.

Media companies, especially television stations, seem to hyper-react whenever somebody leaves. Their bios are immediately removed from websites with no explanation, and on-air goodbyes are often completely missing, depending on the reasons for departure. We do this despite that fact that it’s an affront to our audiences, who’ve gotten to know these people during the years of their service. Social media changes that dynamic, because true fans can follow them wherever they go. This is a good thing, I think, and another reason why my advice to any active or budding news person is to use their own name as their Twitter handle and not associate it with any media outlet.

Media companies who insist that call letters, for example, be included in Twitter accounts miss the point of social media by assuming it’s simply a way to extend their brands. Why we do this is a mystery, for the online world is not the airwaves; there are far more than four or five antennas in the ground here.

Making money in Media 2.0: It’s all about data

Ben gets a lesson from Mr. McGuireEarly in the film The Graduate, Mr. McGuire pulled Benjamin aside to talk about his future, “I want to say just one word to you. Just one word. Are you listening? Plastics!” McGuire was admonishing young Ben to get into the world of plastics, because it was synonymous with making money in the future, circa 1967. Would that I had invested in plastics back then.

Today, the word is data. Just one word. Are you listening? Data! This word is the essence of all that is new and “future new” in the real business of media, advertising, and if you want to make serious money in Media 2.0 today and beyond, you have to be the owner of data. I can’t say it any simpler. Data equals money. No data equals no money.

But, Terry, “data” can mean a lot of things. What kind of data?

Okay, let’s begin with the basics. What IS the Web? Well, it’s a lot of things, but at core, the Web is a database or, perhaps better, a series of databases that can talk to each other. And what’s IN a database? Yup. Data, all sorts of data, every form of information imaginable, from recipes and scores to news items and bits of information about users. Google knows this. Facebook knows this. Twitter knows this. Apple knows this. Groupon knows this. Every venture capital company funding the disruption knows this. The only people who don’t seem know it are local media companies who are bent instead on perpetuating the folly that content is what matters. It matters, yes, but only to the extent that it can be used to gather data, because it’s the data that has the value. It’s the data that can be sold, not the content.

More specifically, we’re talking about redefining the marketplace and turning that into a database, one that can connect with the Web in profitable ways. There are companies that will sell us data about our markets, and we would be smart to buy it, but only if we can connect it with other forms of data. An email address is a form of data. What percentage of the email addresses in the market does your company have, 5%, 10%? Do you have cookie or IP data about the people who visit your sites? How about the online habits and behaviors of those visitors?

If a local merchant wants to buy a sports-related audience, must you serve their ads in a sports content “section,” or are you able to use content sections to gather data about the interests of your visitors and later serve those individuals targeted ads? If, for example, you have those who’ve previously visited your sports section identified, you can serve them sports-related ads regardless of where they are on your site. Does your company practice this with regularity?

Welcome to the world of advertising by behavior and the targeting of individual browsers instead of content segments. This is how you make money in Media 2.0.

Online advertising’s revolution has already taken place in that advertisers can target by data instead of dropping ads in front of a mass. It’s much more efficient and produces much higher quality results. If you’re still doing the online ad game the old way, you’ve already missed the boat. Of course, you must be able to serve your own ads in order to capture ad data, and, well, that’s just not the way we do things, right? We rely on third-parties to serve our ads in the name of either hosting our website and providing its content management or by taking easy money from agencies who work with third-party ad networks.

These third-parties come as wolves in sheep’s clothing, because they bring value to the table. Whether it’s a company that provides TV websites or one that simply provides ads, media managers weigh the overall value of the cash involved and make decisions based upon that. In some cases, the amount of money they bring to the table is substantial, but it pales in comparison to the downstream data potential of serving our own ads. ESPN and Conde Naste led a publisher revolt against third-party ad networks a few years ago, because they were tired of others setting the value of their web properties. Plus, they wanted the data.

The worst kind of third-party arrangement actually comes from within media companies themselves, those whose digital divisions function as third-party ad networks themselves. In these cases, the division arranges a deal with whichever ad network will give them the biggest dollar value and uses the combined reach of its own network to make money, and again, sometimes a lot of it. The problem is a simple business conundrum, for that which is good for the network always trumps that which is good for the individual properties. And when revenue flexibility is at the local level, this puts companies who behave this way in an awkward business position.

But the most serious problem in banking the future on third-party ad networks is that they use our data to further their own ends while we end up with nothing. Let me repeat: the one who serves the ad places the data cookies on user’s machines, which gives them the value of that user information. To third-party networks, this is worth more than the money they earn from running the ads in the first place, because the better the data, the more value it carries.

While I’m at it, we all need to understand that ANY pureplay seeking “partnerships” with local media companies is likely in it for data. This is evident with Groupon, for example, a company whose algorithms know the very moment the data gathering has peaked. When that happens, the value proposition of the partnership goes down, and new “partners” are necessary to further grow its enormous database. We give this data away, because we’re hungry for the money they put in our pockets, and that’s a shame. In the end, the data is all that matters, because its value lives on when the easy cash has already been spent.

I understand the lure of taking the money, but I want to make sure that those who make that choice fully understand what’s happening. It’s not about the money; it’s entirely about the data and the use of that data.

So if we’re serious about making money in Media 2.0, we must remember this: Data equals money. No data equals no money.

Rethinking the opposition response

President Obama and House Speaker BoehnerPresident Obama went on national television Monday night to address the American people about the looming default crisis in Washington. This was immediately — and automatically — followed by the “opposition response” from Representative John Boehner, the Speaker of the House. As I noted via Twitter following the events, the idea of an opposition response is actually just a form of lazy, “he said, she said” journalism, and we need to start thinking about the validity and consequences of such a format.

A little history first. The idea of putting an political party opposition leader on the same stage with a sitting President all began in 1966 with Lyndon Johnson’s State of the Union address. Bear in mind that the State of the Union annual message is mandated by the Constitution and has been practiced, in one form or another, since the time of George Washington. The opposition response, however, is an invention of the television networks, who first gave time to Everett Dirksen and Gerald Ford to respond to Johnson in 1966. It became an official part of the networks’ coverage by 1976. This makes the opposition response entirely artificial, but the networks like it, and one has to ask themselves why.

The practice has now evolved to include virtually any Presidential speech, so the self-serving national press — in the form of the networks, broadcast and cable — is now dictating to the electorate how politics is to be perceived, and that is apparently to be in Jay Rosen’s “he said, she said” model. Sufficient for analysis is an opposition party response, for, after all, we are a divided people with no single leader in Washington. Nobody’s right. Nobody’s wrong. Every position is equally valid. How absurd.

Consider these thoughts from Jay in his seminal essay, He Said, She Said Journalism: Lame Formula in the Land of the Active User:

Any good blogger, competing journalist or alert press critic can spot and publicize false balance and the lame acceptance of fact-free spin. Do users really want to be left helpless in sorting out who’s faking it more? The he said, she said form says they do, but I say decline has set in.

…Quick definition: “He said, she said” journalism means…

  • There’s a public dispute.
  • The dispute makes news.
  • No real attempt is made to assess clashing truth claims in the story, even though they are in some sense the reason for the story. (Under the “conflict makes news” test.)
  • The means for assessment do exist, so it’s possible to exert a factual check on some of the claims, but for whatever reason the report declines to make use of them.
  • The symmetry of two sides making opposite claims puts the reporter in the middle between polarized extremes.

…Like the “straight down the middle” impulse…, he said, she said is not so much a truth-telling strategy as refuge-seeking behavior that fits well into newsroom production demands. “Taking a pass” on the tougher calls (like who’s blowing more smoke) is economical. It’s seen as risk-reduction, as well, because the account declines to explicitly endorse or actively mistrust any claim that is made in the account.

Rosen goes on to say that the practice is in decline, because journalists are beginning to see that practices like fact-checking are a higher standard. I couldn’t agree more.

I think this “he said, she said” model is at the very heart of what’s wrong with American politics today, because its players are gifted (and trained) to speak out of both sides of their mouths, leaving the decision-making up to so-called experts who are actually a part of the insider culture in the first place.

I think the thing about this that gets to me most is the automatic assumption by both parties that anything a sitting President wants to say to the public carries with it a response from the opposing political party. It strikes me as contrived and accommodating at a time when we all should be questioning everything, because what we have simply isn’t working.

Don’t get me wrong. I fully support the idea of the opposition party scheduling a response, but it is the networks’ decision as to whether such a response warrants live coverage. We need to think about the consequences of that before we automatically assume the answer is always yes.


Close doesn’t count in database advertising

I’m constantly preaching the value of targeted advertising, and here’s a humorous exactly from today’s Web surfing. The image below is from YouTube, owned by Google. A little over a week ago, I did a Google search for “tall nightstands,” because I was in the process of a bedroom remodel. I found what I needed at Amazon, and they’re sitting in the bedroom today.

So YouTube/Google served me an ad today for tall nightstands, which is targeted specifically to that search. It’s very sophisticated, except for one thing: I don’t need them anymore.

So nice try, Googs, ol’ buddy, but close doesn’t count. Of course, I suppose it’s just a matter of time before they get this one right, too. It is, after all, a simple matter of connecting shopping behavior with actual purposes.

The ad I was served this morning via YouTube.