Thou shalt not bear false witness!

People wonder why I come off as angry, especially a certain crowd on Facebook. Well, let me be blunt. The world is so swimming in the muck of lies and distortion that we’re all drowning in our own bullshit. If you dare, take a look at this. It was posted on Facebook by a prominent Christian author, speaker and radio show host, Dr. Michael Brown. As of this writing, it’s been shared by over 2,100 fans. The comments are a long stream of attaboys, backslapping, and “thank you for the truth” accolades. The problem is it’s all crap.

fakemuslimwomen

The problem here is that this isn’t a photo of some random gathering of Muslim women! Who knew, right? I mean, it fits the message so beautifully that I’m surprised Bill Maher hasn’t used it already. I did a Tineye search of that image and discovered that the copyright is owned by a photographer named Scott Nelson, who writes this in his description:

BAGHDAD,IRAQ-APRIL 03: Female members of the al-Mehdi Army march in Military formation during an April 03, 2004 military parade through the streets of the Sadr City neighborhood in east Baghdad, Iraq. The Al-Mehdi Army is a Shia militia aligned with controversial Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr, and the parade was meant to be a show of force in tandem with Sadr supporters’ continued protest against the occupation of Iraq by the U.S. lead coalition forces.

Wait, what? Their faces are covered for good reason? This was a Shi’a (Iranian roots) militia marching in a public parade in Baghdad after we took over their country. In his keywords, Nelson used military and war terms and was careful not to use the word “burka,” Muslim women, oppression,or anything else inflammatory. It is in no way representative of women without political rights. It’s a con job and one that is designed to inspire fear.

Yet the picture has been used in the Dr. Michael Brown context 80 times since. His clever poster is just the latest.

And so I ask, where is journalism in any of this? Why is Snopes the only website dedicated to sniffing out these frauds? Culture is being torn apart by lies, and our only worry is who’s going to pay for “journalism” in the future.

Shame on us!

Free Range Content Consumption

flytvsmHere is the latest in my ongoing series of essays, Local Media in a Postmodern World.

Free Range Content

Facebook’s wish to put media content inside its own application is potentially self-destructive to those providing the content. Moreover, for Facebook, it smacks of the days of AOL. All of this would be irrelevant, if media could bring itself to release its content into the wild of the Net, but that appears more and more to be an impossible task.

To media companies, their competition is and always has been other media, which is an absurd proposition online. When a TV station, for example, behaves online only as it does in the linear world, it has already lost in the battle for relevance.

The power of personal media

I had the good fortune of spending a few minutes today with Amy Wood, the social media pioneering TV News anchor from Spartanburg, South Carolina (WSPA-TV). Amy has an enormous following online and was a very early practitioner of personal branding. Far more people in the market follow Amy than the TV station she works for, which is the point of working social media as a single entity over a “brand.” Her father recently passed away, and the outpouring of love she experienced online was absolutely overwhelming. Enjoy the next 16 minutes and learn a few of Amy’s secrets to success.

Social Media’s Antisocial Behavior

Here is the latest in my ongoing series of essays, Local Media in a Postmodern World.

Social Media’s Antisocial Behavior

My old friend David Johnson calls advertising on Facebook “antisocial,” and I have to agree with him. It’s part of a much bigger argument about the nature of advertising in general on the Web, but for social media companies, it’s even more acute, because, well, they’re supposed to be “social.” Most advertising assumes a mass audience, as if presenting from a stage. However, advertising in a social environment is more like being at a party, and it’s very tricky, because nobody’s there to see a show. On the other hand, Facebook is experimenting with forms of content that are really ads, and I think this has great downstream possibilities for all media online. One thing is certain, changes in online advertising are accelerating, and we all need to be aware.

The WalMart reality: what Silicon Valley doesn’t want (or get)

There’s a certain arrogant but humorous P.T. Barnum flair that accompanies a core Silicon Valley notion that a company’s value is higher if it doesn’t have a growing revenue model. Fortunes have been made via this slight-of-hand, slipping beneath the cracks of common sense and traditional business logic. Money has that effect on people, I suppose. It reminds me of the head-scratcher in the mortgage loan portfolio foolishness that led to our economic collapse five years ago — that you could make a TON of money by selling bad loans. Huh?

The essential lure of technology and technology investments is big money fast, so the core approach of 99.99% of venture capital initiated start-ups is — and must be — top-down. It uses the global reach of the Web to dazzle everyone with numbers so astronomical as to set aside common sense. The trick is to build the scale rapidly to initiate dynamic value, regardless of whether the economics make sense. I got caught up in this game with my own Web start-up and lost. Our investors-cum-“advisors” took a perfectly sound, albeit bottom-up concept and destroyed it by switching it to top-down.

A fascinating CNET article alludes to the same problem with Facebook, and those of us especially in local media need to pay very close attention. Opportunity is knocking. More on that below.

Traditionally — at least in the U.S. — business growth has come through expansion: create something that works somewhere, and expand it elsewhere to grow the company. In this way, systems and processes are put into place that cater to the people who bring in the revenue. In some cases, it’s consumers; in other cases, it’s other businesses. Regardless, the interaction between the company and revenue is the tried and true method of up close and personal.

Walmart logos over the yearsWalmart is a great example of this. According to the Forbes Global 2000 list, Walmart is the world’s 18th largest public corporation and the largest public corporation when ranked by revenue. Wikipedia notes the company is also the biggest private employer in the world with over two million employees, and is the largest retailer in the world. It has 8,500 stores in 15 countries, under 55 different names.

Yet, it all started with Sam Walton opening Walton’s Five and Dime in Bentonville, Arkansas in 1951. Walton’s strategy for success was simple: make money by volume sales at slightly lower prices than competitors. Sounds familiar, right? He opened the first Walmart Discount City in Rogers, Arkansas in 1962 and began spreading outward.

In the modern start-up world, headquartered in Silicon Valley, businesses want nothing to do with 60 years for growth, and so everything is shortcutted in the name of scale. Scale without revenue, after all, provides only the illusion of business bigness, or the potential for bigness.

In the CNET article (Frustrated advertisers to Facebook: Take our money — please!), writer Paul Sloan says Facebook has become a victim of its own success. While Facebook users can interact and relate with anybody, Facebook itself ironically relates or interacts with very few.

It’s automating its process and using technology to increase efficiency. But that’s not the same as dealing with a human being; big advertisers are a needy bunch who want hand-holding. However, plenty say they can’t even find anyone at Facebook to take their calls — or their money.

Here, for instance, is Mike Parker, the co-president of U.S. operations of Tribal DDB, talking about his frustration with Facebook: “For the longest time, we’ve been trying to call Facebook to do business with them and there’s nobody to pick up the call,” said Parker. “They’re very focused on the consumer experience, and less focused on revenue and working with advertisers.”

And here’s David Smith, the CEO of digital agency Mediasmith: “Facebook just doesn’t seem to care. They’re still trying to grow this thing. The question is, do they want the big bucks?”

This inability to make contact in order to do business isn’t limited to Facebook either, especially from a local perspective. Have you ever tried to reach someone at Google to discuss business? I’ve actually spoken with someone at Twitter about local business, but the prices were so outrageous as to evoke only an odd form of belly laugh.

You see, when you build a business from the bottom-up, you have no choice but to immediately cater to the needs of the people who are paying you. Since venture capital supports Silicon Valley, companies are able to sidestep the issue in the name of generating scale, because revenue isn’t really the mission. Local media companies sit back and watch this happen without seeing the opportunity to seize the revenue while others are building the scale. I remember one media company owner who asked, after I proposed creating a local search portal, “Do you honestly think we can compete with Google?” In scale, glitz and tools? Of course not, but most definitely in market revenue, especially with a television station at its disposal to promote the site. Advertising at the local level, after all, is sold, not bought. I don’t care how sweet the social media application is, the opportunity for revenue is local, because the preponderence of the app’s use is local. Self-service ad software, no matter how simple it may seem, is no substitute for listening, interacting, and the occasional hand shake.

Advantage local media.

This bubble stuff feels eerily familiar

Celebrating after the AOL Time Warner mergerI was sitting in a conference room at the hi-tech incubator BizTech in Huntsville, Alabama with hopeful eyes fixed on the TV. It was January 10, 2000, and on the screen was the press conference during which the AOL and Time Warner merger was announced. I remember it like it was yesterday. Here I was trying to raise a million dollars for my own start-up, ANSIR (A New Style In Relating), and these guys were talking about a merger valued at $350 billion. AOL itself was valued for the deal at $165 billion. It was then and remains the biggest merger in business history.

I remember the excitement and the wonder of it all. Little did we know it was all just part of a big market bubble, and I remember especially this provocative line from Time Warner CEO Gerald Levin, a very sane, important and knowledgeable businessman at the time.

“I accept that something profound is happening in the Internet space; I believe that. The new media stock-market valuations are real — not in every case, of course. But what AOL has done is get first position in this new world. Its valuation is real, and I am attesting to that.”

Levin’s attestation would later be proven wrong, and he would be forced out as the merged company shriveled under the blended brand. It is now a case study in why what Levin said is a bad reason to take such an enormous gamble. Walt Disney built his empire with what he called “the plausible impossible,” and I suspect that was at work here. Logic is great, the old saying goes, unless you begin at the wrong spot. Believing the valuations was what grew the bubble. Turns out that if it seems unbelievable, it probably is.

I’m recalling this today, because I’m feeling the same vibe as Facebook is about to approach Wall Street with an IPO valued at $100 billion, a valuation that’s roughly 100 times its earnings from last year. It sounds and feels oh so familiar.

So are we in a bubble? The always astute Mathew Ingram has a nice overview of the subject today that’s worth a read, although his conclusion tends to support those who feel we’re not.

So while some venture funds may be doing their best to inflate expectations and cash in on high valuations, that appears to be causing problems only at the small end of the startup pool — for now. Without any obvious signs of a public-stock mania that puts individual shareholders at risk, it’s hard to argue that we are in a 1990s-style bubble yet (although some critics fear that the new crowdfunding bill could accelerate the problem). Whether Facebook’s IPO triggers a broader inflationary atmosphere remains to be seen.

Dave Winer says we’re “definitely” in a bubble, and I believe him. I mean, look at the evidence. AOL’s model was based on a pre-Internet business model, one we know of as mass marketing. They could make tons of money, if they could just keep people inside their walls, a “walled garden” as many would later call it. When the fickle public disagreed, a new garden called MySpace sprang up. This social network could make money the same way, and for awhile, things looked good, until a young guy named Mark Zuckerberg took over with his Facebook. So here we are again, and the whole thing still hinges on the same value proposition, that Facebook can somehow keep those people within its walls. Old school media value, after all, is about controlling the infrastructure for content, whether its made by the New York Times, Zuckerberg or Joe Blow.

And for the last few weeks, we’ve been treated to justification and rationalization that Facebook is somehow different than its predecessors. The company paid a billion dollars for Instagram in what most (myself included) feel was an overpriced grab at real estate Facebook needed to be inside its wall instead of outside. But is Facebook substantially different that previous walled-garden approaches? Get real. It may have a few more bells and whistles and connections, but the core competency is the same. Web research and consulting firm BIA/Kelsey is hosting a webinar on the topic this week to probe this specific issue:

…questions continue to swirl about its (Facebook’s) actual worth and whether any company can justify becoming public at such a high value. The prevailing question: How will Facebook support this valuation…?

I don’t believe it can be justified, although lots of smart people who’ve doubtless done their homework will try to explain that it is entirely justified.

I’m sure Mr. Levin had done his homework when he made that infamous statement back in January of 2000, but at some point in a gamble, you must consider that you could be wrong, partly or as the AOL Time Warner deal proved, utterly and completely. So in addition to homework, what say we also consider common sense. We could also ask a few teenagers.

“Everybody’s switching to Twitter,” a 17-year old family member told me. She used to be a pretty regular user of social media, but her activity has been shrinking for the last year or so. She doesn’t need Facebook anymore, and besides, “it’s pretty lame.” Think about that for a minute. It’s AOL all over again.

“To everything is a season,” we’re taught. I wouldn’t bet on Facebook’s future if you gave me the money with which to do it.